Monday, September 1, 2014

The bullshit of e-books

Comments on my recent adventures into the world of tablet computers and ebooks.

I still use a flip phone. Flip phones have become a public target of jokes. As in "you're so old . . .". But you know something? I've always been an early adopter. I have a whole lifetime of history on this to point to. But I am usually of the 2nd generation of early adopters. I don't like to geek out in zones where I'm always having to tinker. That's not early adopting - that is following fads. And then you can call yourself an early adopter if your fad actually becomes useful, popular, and used.

Seriously, a few years ago, they came up with names for the stages of early adoption for tech devices:  "innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority,  . . ."(Wikipedia). Regardless, for me, a smart phone and a tablet have, until recently, seemed more like fancy toys than serious tech. There was no essential function they filled for me - and they were way too problem-ridden. Too problem-ridden, and too brand dominated. Nobody's stuff works with anybody else's stuff, know what I mean? At least with the prior generation of tech - Palm devices - I could get synchronization between my computers and device with a little effort. But, in this new world, there is no dominant device. If I go with a Mac device, I have to figure out how to make it talk to my linux boxes. Windows, Android, whatever, ETC. Ad nauseum. So, I had no need for them, and they looked to be more like a drag on my time.

Ditto e-book readers. Everybody wants their format on the market, and nobody is standardizing. Hey, anybody remember the magnetic tape market? Reel-to-reel? Cassetes? 8-track? How about video! Betamax! VHS! Sheesh. You'd think people would learn. Nope. Can't happen. Kindle. Adobe. Microsoft must have something in there - I don't know. Whatever. Make the story short - I didn't bother. Precisely because it was a bother. No advantage to it for me.

Until this spring. When I thought I had an expat contract, and was looking at going overseas? All of a sudden an e-book reader makes sense. So, I do what everybody does now - I googled it. Turns out the Nexus (Asus), current version, not early, was getting very good reviews and comments. It used Android instead of MS. It was supposed to be able to read pretty much any e-book format. AND, it was a tablet, meaning I could use it for more than just an e-book reader. So maybe I can finally find a replacement for my last, and long dead, Palm.

Went down to the store, checked it out. Looks pretty sharp. Nice attachments available. Sales person assures me that I had read correctly - it could read any e-book. And I bought it.

And it works pretty good. Except I am QUICKLY reminded of why I HATE touch screens. They are a major pain in the ass. They are extremely inaccurate and unresponsive. Oh - the pictures you see on tv, swish here, swipe there and VOILA! Ending in some graphically wondrous enchantment? All true enough - when it works. But, unfortunately, it often does not work. Typing is more than a p.i.t.a. It is MAJOR pita. Try to get the cursor into a text box? Oh yeah, sure - I have to tap it so many times and so hard I'm afraid I'm going to break the goddam screen! Palm's stylus was a very minor pita in comparison. Make a typing error? Need to go back to the middle of the word and delete one letter and insert a new one? Good luck with that! Tip! Tap. TAP. TAP! TAP!!!!  And still no joy - but eventually I get the cursor inserted. Sheesh. My world for a set of arrow buttons.

Another trip to the store. No more of this. I get a mouse. A mouse makes life much better with the tablet. It works. And later I make ANOTHER trip to the store, to pick out a keyboard. From my Palm experience, I am pretty sure that will go much better if I can do a LIVE test and make sure the keyboard WORKS as advertised. Oh - yeah - and I can't use any sort of thumb drive or flash card - unless I get a USB dongle. So I get a dongle.

Ok, so all should be cool now, right? Wrong. Can't read the USB memory sticks. Wft I say? Turns out I have to download an app. Ok, Learning Curve! I'm not smiling, but perhaps I am becoming operational. Turns out I have to download apps for everything, including e-books. But at least I'm getting used to it.


So. I'm busy with other stuff for a while, and the tablet sits in its drawer. Then its a couple of weeks later, and I figure I'll get something to read. I'm tired, and I'd like a nice break. A good book would do the trick. So, I look up my library's web site. And, it doesn't work with the tablet. Oh, it works - but not really. I can't get to the forms to login, can't navigate, etc. It isn't really functional. I can see it, but not much better. I manage to use mouse and keyboard to login. So I go to the search page. Whoops. This is even worse.

Ok, nvm, . I take the tablet, put it on the desk, and open my regular computer. This is when I WANT to take a hammer to the damn thing. But I exercise my patience! Login to my library account on my desktop, and run a search for some likely reading material in ebook form. Find some stuff, ok. Download? Hmmmm - manage to figure out how to get it to download onto the tablet. It only takes about 5 screens, and signing up for some new account with somebody the library works through. And I have to eventually figure out how to get to the download screen from the tablet, once I get through all the other junk. Ok. Got some downloads!

A few days go by. I try to open an ebook. Can't. No app. So, download an app. It doesn't work very well. Download another app (and I don't have the faintest idea what is any good, the rating schemes are not very helpful). Ok - this one at least I can FIND the ebooks and "import" them. Except - whoops - it wants some kind of password for some Adobe account. Which I don't have.

And it takes a few more days before I have time to figure this section out. I have to go to Adobe while online and register. Just ANOTHER online entity who wants more info about me than they need or should have. You know, Adobe systems has been a perennial disappointment for many years. Adobe - such a fine, grand name. With a name like that, you would have to expect them to be salt of the earth, good neighbors, and downright good steady people, right? I mean adobe - the word for a simple clay, natural, earth-friendly, traditional,  for building simple, down-to-earth buildings. Got to be good, right? But Adobe Flash is a security abomination that has spent as much time not working as working, and should be banned from every computer. Adobe reader, and pdf file ("Portable Document Format") should be righteous standards, right? Weyelll - partly, eh? Except they charge a monstrous big price for a full version of Acrobat - their software to write to pdf files. And Reader is always more crippled than not. But you can gripe with my griping about Reader. They do pretty well on that score, even if they haven't always done. And it is free. Although, frankly, I think they should charge less for Acrobat, and charge a little for Reader.

Anyway, now my library has Adobe E-pub books. I checked them out from the library. Should have been simple enough.  Wasn't, not quite, but got that done. Now, should be able to read them, yes? Noooooo - got to register with Adobe first! Piffle. But I get that done, too. Should be able to read the books now, right? I've had them for five days, they are due back in just over a week.

But can I open them? NOOOOOO! Can't do that! "Download has expired!" Got to re-download!

You have ephing got to be kidding me. This is ephing ridiculous. I checked the books out.  WHY SHOULD THE CHECK-OUT SYSTEM CARE WHETHER I'VE OPENED THE EPHING BOOKS OR NOT!

So guess who's going to get an earful from me. This is ridiculous, and I'm going to hand some of this shit back to somebody in the system.

Oh, and btw, remember that download? Ooops. I should have written down how I got it to work - because now I want to do it again - and I can't! Poop. Which means, more of my time, devoted to making something work, that it seems like SHOULD have worked without all this bullshit.