Kindle 2

First, the results of my laptop hunt.  Thank you so much for all the suggestions — there are a lot more ultraportable options than I realized.  I narrowed it down to two wildly different possibilties:

  1. The Lenovo ThinkPad X200s.  I missed the 200s on my first survey — I didn’t realize Lenovo had one under 2.5 lbs.  It’s got perfect geek-oriented engineering (tough metal hinges, spill tray, incredibly rugged, Linux-friendly, etc).  It’s just a little bigger than I was going for — it’s pretty large for its weight.
  2. The Sony Vaio P.  I love the form factor — 9″ wide but only 4″ deep; you could slip it in a pocket.  And the 220 PPI screen is everything I could want.  It’s shiny and pretty and only weighs a pound and a half, and when I played with one I fell in love.  But it’s a Sony, which means shiny appearance but no openness — repairs suck, and Linux will only work haltingly.

In the end, I decided neither was worth the cost just yet while I could squeeze a little more life out of my old laptop.  A new battery, hard drive, and some antibiotics, and it could last another year.  But if I had to pick now, I’d go with the X200s.  The ability to toss it down a mountainside and have Ubuntu boot when it lands trumps gadgety sexiness.  But only barely.

Kindle 2:

On a contrary note, I have a Kindle 2.  I’ve been really happy with it so far, other than the PDF support being poorly documented (it claims to handle PDFs natively in some of the literature, but you can’t actually just plop them down on the drive — it requires passing them through Amazon or converting them yourself).  But it handles html, text, and some other formats fine when just dropped on it via USB — it’s a lot more open than the Kindle 1.

I’m surprised at the talk of the cost being too high.  For me, the comparison is to a laptop with a cellular broadband internet card — $1440 for a standard two-year contract.  The Kindle 2 doesn’t have a full web browser, but if you’re favoring text-heavy websites (news, blogs, mail, wikis), it’s perfectly sufficient.  Plus, it’s a nice screen and has many-day battery life.  All in all I think it’s a more-than-reasonable price for something that lets me read reddit on the street corner so as to better shout at sheeple about government conspiracies.

The xkcd sysadmin, davean, notoriously scornful of any new technology, took a look at the Kindle 2 after it arrived this afternoon.  He spent several minutes playing with it, discovered he could use it for email in a pinch, confirmed that an ssh terminal could be hacked together using the browser and javascript, and bought one for himself within the hour.

Bottom line, I think it’s a really neat device that fills a niche that nothing else really does.  And seeing the prices, I’ll probably even buy some ebooks and magazines.  But the web access is the real reason I got it.  And if the advertised free access to Wikipedia and other text-y websites is curtailed, (as the Terms and Conditions suggest could happen), the Kindle’s battery life means that I can camp out drunk on the Amazon lawn yelling at Jeff Bezos for quite a while.

171 replies on “Kindle 2”

  1. I frankly don’t understand the resistance to e-book readers in general, and to the Kindle specifically.

    Sure, some people will have requirements that the Kindle doesn’t meet — if you’re interested in reading fully-formatted research papers in PDF form, for example, the Kindle won’t be satisfactory — but I think for most avid readers, it’s a great device.

    People who say “just buy the real books” aren’t considering the ecological concerns (not the paper, the *shipping*) nor the amount of space available to store them.

    People who say “just use the library, then” clearly have mainstream tastes or *very good* libraries (I have neither).

    People who won’t buy anything with any form of DRM kind of have a point — at least Amazon seems to understand that giving up my first-sale rights to sell or lend a book I buy requires that book to be sold at a pretty deep discount.

    On the whole, the Kindle is a great device, and a pleasure to use for reading fiction.


  2. @Darren
    Do you know any ebook reader that can display normal physics/math research papers in their normal ps or pdf form?

    No need for fancy wireless, just an sd slot.


  3. Is it just Wikipedia that you can access for free or are there other sites that you can look at for free? Like xkcd, slashdot, digg, gmail, etc.


  4. Randall, I thought you were against DRM? What about “Steal this comic” and all the other DRM-related comics? Despite the satire in them, they contained a clear statement against buying DRM-encumbered stuff. Or was that only about music?
    Of course it would be nice to be able to read books and newspapers on an electronic device. But when I’ve read a book, I can pass it on to somebody else – for free. If it’s no longer available in stores, but a friend wants a copy, I can make photocopies of it. And if I like an article in the newspaper, I can tear it out and pin it up. Ever tried to print out a news article from the Kindle?
    Books have an almost unlimited lifetime, they are passed on from one generation to the next. When Amazon stops its service, your Kindle will be worthless. And if it’s stolen, you don’t have a backup. Why would I pay ten bucks for an e-book that I can’t back up?


  5. Well, as I said in the comic and the post, I view eBook reading as secondary. I didn’t buy the Kindle as an eBook reader, I bought it as a Wikipedia/news portal point that I might occasionally use for eBook reading.

    But I did buy a couple DRM’d books.

    > When Amazon stops its service, your Kindle will be worthless.

    It will have on it all the books I purchased. I do not think it’s probable that they will revoke my ability to read what’s on the device, and if if that seemed like a danger, I would stop syncing with Amazon and they wouldn’t be able to touch me.

    > And if it’s stolen, you don’t have a backup.

    I can back up to both my computer and to (ick) Amazon’s servers. I can access the device as a drive and move the files around freely. This is enough to make me semi-comfortable, at least enough to enjoy some Terry Pratchett.

    You find some middle ground, you know? You fight in one place, you give in a little in another. You win the music fight, you slack off a little on the eBook one. I think the world is moving in a good direction on these things. I’m not as worried as I used to be.

    And I haven’t spent as much time thinking about the economics of eBooks as I have about music. I just don’t have the same strong opinions yet. I bought a few DRM’d tracks before I really realized how sucky they were, and maybe the same thing will happen with books. It’s hard for me to say because I’ve never read books on a computer. Here, I’ve got a chance at it. I’m going to read some books as converted PDFs. I’m going to read some text files. And yeah, I’m going to try some DRM’d books.

    I suspect that it’s like music and the iTunes store — the publishers won’t get on board without DRM, and then only a little way down the line will they realize that DRM is bad for business and that they can out-compete each other by offering DRM-free stuff. If we don’t give them the option in the first place, something like Kindle wouldn’t get the critical mass it needs to pull publishers over. But, on the other hand, that feels like dangerous reasoning. Still, it worked the first time around.

    I dunno, man. I think DRM is bad. I want my books to be free. And I promise you we’re working hard — starting six hours ago, in fact — at cracking this thing opened, getting our books out, and getting our own software on it.

    But in the meantime, I don’t feel too worried about it. I just don’t get the feeling that this is the place for that fight, not just yet. We want to get our principles out there from the start, of course, but that doesn’t always mean being obstructionist, and sometimes it means conceding a fight here and there to let things advance.

    Of course, I could be wrong.


  6. Considering one of the selling of points of the first Kindle was
    “Includes free wireless access to the planet’s most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia—”

    I don’t think there are any TOS issues with visiting the site. Some of the other applications may cross the line, though.


  7. The Vaio P actually works very well with Linux except the one big issue, the graphics card. That’s not really Sony’s fault though.

    Sony get a bit of an unfair bad rep where Linux is concerned, I reckon. I’ve had two Sonys (an old Picturebook and the Vaio P) and they both worked excellently, except the graphics on the P. All the usual gotchas – suspend / resume, wireless – haven’t been a problem at all. The graphics on the P are obviously a big deal, but that’s Intel’s fault, not Sony’s.

    I was able to both increase the RAM and replace the hard disk in the old Picturebook without much difficulty, which is actually pretty impressive given how much engineering went into the form factor back then. I haven’t seen a tear down of the P yet, but on the form of the Picturebook, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be quite feasible.


  8. The Kindle doesn’t inherently require DRMed ebooks: I immediately downloaded books from to mine. Baen has free ones and I had previously purchased ebooks which I re-downloaded in Mobi/Kindle format. No DRM!


  9. But, about free books…
    I’m cool with those already in public domain, and those whose writers’ place in PD themselves.
    But SOME of us wish to get paid for our efforts, creative or otherwise. How would you address that?



  10. It isn’t being addressed now — people already download illicitly digitised books, make heavy use of libraries, lend copies to each other, and buy second-hand.

    Nothing’s basically changed since the printing press gave people the opportunity to publish stuff (with or without authorial consent) without copying it out by hand. And without authorial consent happened a lot back then, too.

    Writing isn’t something most people are going to make money from.


  11. So I took a look at the terms and agreements and saw that “may charge a fee” for stuff like web browsing and that information on that could be found in their Kindle Store. So is it just saying that in the future if they decide to start charging for web browsing, they’ll put it there or something?


  12. I would love a Kindle 2, I’d be too pissed if they cancelled the cellular internet to justify the cost.


  13. You mean you can get an ssh client loaded on there? I can fixup/reboot my server from pretty much anywhere in the states for a one-time fee of 400 bucks?? And Wikipedia too?? Oh man, you just sold me, it’s now on my list of things to buy!


  14. While having on demand access to Wikipedia on the Kindle is awesome, I’m a bit worried about the ToS for it. Amazon wasn’t that clear on how much they want you to use the browser.

    Though, a work-around would be to download Wikipedia and put it on as a text file or a pdf. (it sound’s crazy, but they’ve done it on an ipod, see links below) That way, you could have an offline copy to save battery life. A drawback would be probably the loss of images, and a huge file to download each time you want to update it. But then again, you would be able to have an offline copy of wikipedia in your backpack.

    iPod wikipedia links:


  15. I hope you’re being sarcastic. “Anywhere in the states” where the connection would work you could just pop in to a library and browse and ssh to your heart’s content. Well, except for porn. But what good is porn in black and white?


  16. I dunno man, some of that greyscale ascii art back in the day was amaaaaaaaazzing


  17. Oh man, I`d love to be able to just toss a laptop down a mountainside somedays. And having it still be alive after would be a super bonus. But shiny things… I can see where the tough choice would be.


  18. Am I wrong, or after a little routing around the Kindle internet thingy only works in the colonies? I mean, dudes and dudettes, that is seriously not fair. 😦


  19. I have to say it: I think the Kindle is amazing. At the entrance to my room there is a waist-high mountain of books, with smaller piles in my bathroom, my bed, and my desk – these are just the ones I read frequently. I’m vastly in favor of digitization. Free internet and SSH is one big bonus – but one that puts the Kindle on the ‘want’ list.

    On the other hand, I’m wary of the implications of their T&C and generally opposed to DRM – not to mention that as a student I am rather low on cash. As it is, my plan is just to wait a few more years, see if internet is still free, and get one (or its successor) when I graduate; by then Amazon’s policies will have become clear, the firmware might have been cracked, and DRM might just be gone – and I’ll likely be able to afford it. Not that I don’t pine /now/, but…


  20. spacecoyote said: “I hope you’re being sarcastic. “Anywhere in the states” where the connection would work you could just pop in to a library and browse and ssh to your heart’s content. Well, except for porn. But what good is porn in black and white?”

    You can’t stop at a local library without going hours out of your way if you’re on the road to somewhere. Not to mention, I get a text that my server goes down, I can find out within seconds, and correct it.

    Add to that, running my server isn’t my dayjob, and I can’t go sshing into my server while I’m at work. But if I could connect to my kindle through the cell network, I could just fix it up on my smoke break.

    And it’s not like I’d buy a kindle to work on my server all day, having reading material handy any time of the day would be awesome.


  21. @Floor
    Take a look at iRex Iliad. It’s got an 8.1″ 1024×768 16 gray levels screen, host usb (just plug in your usb stick in it), cf reader, wifi, optional ethernet, wacom digitizer and runs linux (meaning you can load OSS aps on it to extend it’s functionality).

    It seems it’s the only sensible (e-ink) choice for reading complex PDFs currently on the market.

    Kindle makes no sense outside US and even then it just gets a meh from me. Though one must admit it’s got the best marketing by far.

    Here a usefull resource for ebook readers info:


  22. @ Denyer
    Besides the point and justifying theft of intellectual property (that the writers wouldn’t get paid well anyway).

    Some compensation is better than little or no compensation.

    I borrow from libraries, too. But the book was bought at some point, and the writer got his pennies.

    If I write with no expectation of compensation, why would I write? And how do I live, and support my family?

    Yes, I know, I would write regardless. That, too, is beside the point.

    I’d like to see a better answer than “Go ahead and write, you’re screwed anyway.”



  23. I imagine DRM-free ebooks would work pretty much the same as DRM-free music. Many people who bought music before still buy it now. If anything, I think bookworms are more likely to want to support their favorite authors because there is less of a perception that authors are all overpaid and will do just fine without our money. Steve Jackson Games publishes all of their roleplaying books as PDFs with absolutely no DRM and allow customers to download the PDFs as many times as they want once buying them. Even though these PDFs are pretty widely pirated they still find it profitable enough to continue doing so, and this is in a niche market, where the price of books for consumers is pretty steep and profit margins generally low.


  24. I’m not super tech savvy and dont use that many programs, but personally I’m a fan of the macbook.
    now, dont start flaming me because it incompatible with certain software, as any software you mention i am unaware of due to me not having to use it, but as a machine built solidly, cooly and functionally, i wouldnt pick another


  25. This interests me. The idea of free-internet-anywhere is of course incredibly appealing. Side note: I wonder how well XKCD, notoriously black and white, renders on the Kindle. But really I’m wondering how difficult it might be to process your own books to a digital format. I’ve grokked Kindle’s store and there are a lot of books that AREN’T available, that I would want. Reference books, in particular. A friend of mine would be very interested if he could put his reference books, various dictionaries and writing and such, onto an e-book reader easily, as then he could take his entire bulky collection with him wherever he goes. I’m with him on that thought.

    At the most primitive level, I’m sure you could scan every page of a book in black and white and load that onto the kindle. Not entirely certain how well it loads pictures but it seems feasible. That would certainly work for all of my art books. I’d worry about the size of the files, though, with that many image-heavy pages.

    Theoretically, there are text-to-text scanner programs which can translate pages to their characters within a reasonable degree of accuracy. You might have to clean up the text a bit but the text is there. This would not work terrifically on dictionaries, which require specific formatting to really be effective. But it could still be done.

    The biggest issue is ‘how’. The only reliable, fast way I could see to do this would be to literally cut the binding off cleanly, slide them into a typical office scanner that can take a stack of pages and scan both sides of them, and feed it into a text-to-text program or just sequentially scan them as numbered pages to be compiled into an e-book later. But this destroys the original copy, which for many of the obscure reference books and such would be a complete waste as you likely only HAVE one copy of them. That would be fine if your intention were to then provide said book for pirating to thousands of people, but that is not my intentions.

    Individually scanning each page is incredibly time consuming. Unless you could hook it up to a camera and have some sort of mechanism to reliably turn the pages for you.

    Anyone: How would you suggest digitizing books onto the Kindle for your own uses?


  26. @MKotS

    The answer is the same as it’s been for centuries — work an audience, build loyalty, and a good product will tend to get support in the form of patronage. Yes, it’s very cap-in-hand and throwing oneself on the generosity of others, but it’s how things are. A critical mass of people need to be built who realise and care about the fact that new content from sources they like will go away if they don’t support it.

    Unfortunately the fact is that most content wouldn’t be missed all that much if it went away, because there’s plenty of other stuff to fill people’s attention.

    “how do I live, and support my family?”

    If like most authors, especially of fiction, with a day job (whether lots of copywriting contracts, office work or whatever) and the ability to survive on very little sleep / write after the kids have gone to bed. Leastways, that’s how it works for most of those I know. Wouldn’t expect you to have it much different.


  27. @ CPitt
    Good point, but I note this is after, “once paid..” as in a one-time subscription fee? Might work if demand is good enough.

    @ Denyer
    from a movie I saw once:
    “I hate to pass the hat…”
    Otherwise, point taken. Still… If I’m going to have to create for nothing (effectively) then I’ll have to spend my off hours doing something else to supplement the ‘day job’.
    Thanks for the career advice.



  28. Amazon Kindle app for iPhone now. But then that brings up what is better: bigger e-ink display or smaller color touchscreen, partial stripped-down web or full web, free or monthly fee. Undoubtedly the iphone is more handy with much more function, but its smaller and you have your monthly cell bill. But likely you would have a cellphone anyways, so it comes down to screen size and color vs 16 shade gray.

    Or am I completely blowing things out of my ass?


  29. You can hang out drunk in front of Jeff Bezos lawn for a lot longer if you bring your charger, and then hook it up to the outdoor outlet.

    And, bring a tent and a grill.


  30. I cannot fathom why people like the kindle so much when it lacks a backlight. But I guess not everyone’s primary reading venue is at night in bed. For the love of all that’s elegant, it’s an ebook reader that requires a freaking book light!

    Contrast this with my Nokia N810 ( combined with the free FBReader ( It ships running Linux. It has native wifi support.

    But more on the ebook reading since that’s its primary purpose for me. You can tweak the display settings in FBReader (with a GUI!) to perfection. The brightness can be turned way down and the background and text colors changed to suit your preference. I recommend fairly dark red text on a black background as it won’t result in any eyestrain and won’t ruin night vision. You can also tone the brightness way down so it’s comfortable to read in the dark. And you can switch out to a tiny version of firefox to look up words etc. Or even use pidgin to talk while reading (it has a built in qwerty keyboard).


  31. Just felt I should mention, although it’s not out yet, in a month or two for around $330 you could get a Pandora system from the fans at

    Check the wikipedia entry. It has like 3 cores, the two main ones around 1 ghz total I think, while the graphics can handle 3d, it’s “linux-only”, has a battery life of 5+ hours at max power draw, and like DVD movies will have 10+ hour battery life easy. It also has a 800×440 widescreen, dual flat analog sticks with d-pads and a full qwerty layout and numpad. Of course a usb 2.0 and wifi b/g with s-video or composite out

    It’s all in the size of a Nintendo DS!



    The inside of that Vaio is held together with sticky tape and evil! Okay, its 99% sticky tape, but that 1% of evil… bad idea, boss.


  33. Alas, while this entry and the comments render nicely on my Kindle, and typing this is doable though not ideal, the comics themselves do not show up.

    The public domain etexts of Project Gutenberg and similar are beautifully readable, however.

    Thanks for letting us know these things do so much more than the advertised access to proprietary, non-lendable books.


  34. I believe “trial by peers” is not actually a phrase found anywhere in American lawbooks. That’s generally a British thing, which meant that nobles could only be judged by nobles and commoners by commoners, etc. It had no place in American (read: supposedly class-less) law.


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