Light reading: Why my new Kindle lights my fire

The first time I fell in love with technology was that last Christmas I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. I had confided in brother Andy, two years my wiser, that I knew it was our parents doling out the year-end bonuses. He persuaded me to keep quiet about it as they’d probably already sewn up that season’s shopping; we could always break it to them gently later.

I later calculated it wasn’t fair that we both “came out” as non-believers at the same time, as he had accumulated two extra years of goodies. But what I found gleaming under the tree that year made up for any petty score-keeping: a Japanese-made, sleek Craig tape recorder model No. 2603, with “Solid State Automatic Level Recording.” This was my version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, aka coveted BB gun, from the now-storied A Christmas Story.

craig2603My Craig tape recorder and I were inseparable. I taped everything in sight.* (*Awk. construction.) Dinner conversations, birds out back. I would position it by the radio with a mini-mic and fresh cassette, typically TDK brand, and trigger the play lever while holding down the red record button at the start of every song, preferably after the disc jockey had stopped jabbering. If I didn’t like that song, I’d navigate to “stop” and engage the rewind toggle to cue it up again. Eventually, I’d acquired an entire 30 minutes of my favorite 1972 chart-toppers. Included on that first mix tape, I recall, were such gems as Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.

Ever since, mix tapes have been my calling card. They are audio journals, spanning every technological platform that followed, from the Sony reel-to-reel to the LightScribe CD burner, whose products I dub “Byrnished Memories.” These mini-soundtracks plot the high, low and medium points of my life. Still, I wasted a lot of dollar-a-dozen CDs getting the song order and transitions just right.

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RIP my engraved “TEB tunes” iPod 20GB Click Wheel, December 2004-January 2011.

That’s why my second love affair with technology came in 2004, with my late-to-the-party adoption of the Apple iPod 20GB Click Wheel. I could rearrange songs to my heart’s content and even stretch the playlists beyond the 1.2 hours that fit on a typical 700MB CD. That iPod, outdated as it quickly became, lasted me until last year, when it suffered the click of death. I have not had the courage to fall in love again.

Until now.

I had been bedeviled by technological flings. My reluctance to spend money on the next big thing had kept me sorely behind on cool gadgets. My husband tried to keep me in the game by gifting me an iPad 2. But something about the iPad only fed my discontent. The glare and eye strain irritated my dry-eye condition. There’s no curling up with an iPad, unless you count bicep curls, which is what it took to read in bed. As much as such Apple products resemble the universal device presaged in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn’t feel the love, and just couldn’t fake it.

The problem with today’s Apple products — yeah, problem, you got a problem with that? — is they aim to be the end-all be-all solution. If technology is dominating your life, distracting and detracting from the act of living, then you’re doing it wrong. The best of technology comes in the form of the right tool for the job, like a corkscrew or an apple corer.

In terms of reading, I have found one good purpose for the iPad. It is the perfect paperweight to hold open your place in an actual book.

IMG_1089[1]Yesterday, I fell in love at first sight with a Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader that showed up, surprisingly, at my door in a smiling box. This device took my breath away. In its unassuming simplicity, it fills a technological void.

Compared with the iPad, it is not a burden but featherweight, even next to such actual tomes as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its pages look like a book’s. It reads like a book. Doesn’t hurt my eyes with piercing light rays nor does it overstimulate my brain. Doesn’t beckon to me to check my e-mail or Facebook notifs or to play another round of Angry Birds. It lets me escape and focus on an actual book.

Of all the e-books I had downloaded onto my iPad in nearly two years, I managed to finish only one. For me, the famous “i” prefix stands for “incomplete.” But taking my night-light Kindle Paperwhite to bed last night gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m no Luddite, but this device combines the best of both worlds — the old and brave-new.

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Thanks, Santa Andy. iOU. i♥U.

Takes me back to those good ol’ days of Christmas past, when FaceTime (TM) meant something else entirely.

5 Things Newspapers Are Still Good For

The word is out that newspapers are dying. Is there time to appeal that sentence? As I see it, websites can never fulfill these vital newspaper roles:

1. Silly Putty® medium.

This doesn’t work on the iPad®. Besides, AppleCare won’t cover your gumming things up. What? Silly Putty isn’t popular with kids anymore? Those smart-alecks must see the bloody writing on the wall.

2. Ransom note material.

Sure, other media make great terror tools — the TV’s an evil portal in “Poltergeist” (1982), computers prove threatening in thrillers from “War Games” (1983) to “Copycat” (1995) — even a fax machine masks the villain taunting Tim Robbins in Robert Altman’s “The Player” (1992).  But nothing says derangement and premeditation like cutting out letters over weeks’ time to send a clear message. (And what would the Zodiac Killer have done without the San Francisco Chronicle, or the Unabomber, without The Washington Post and The New York Times?)

This online ransom-note tool just doesn’t have the same feel:

http://www.thek9sblx.co.uk/Ransom/index.asp

Cover of The Economist, Aug 24, 2006

3. Pet care and training. (Dailies as pooping doilies)

This broad category goes beyond wrapping fish and lining bird cages. Anyone who has house-broken a puppy can tell you newspapers are indispensable in their disposability. Also, training a dog to fetch the newspaper is far more serviceable than the stick trick. What are you gonna do with a stick but immediately throw it away again?

Check out this pooch’s time-saving talent!

4. Cost-effective alarm system.

A neighbor’s driveway has not yet reached critical mass.

With crime invading suburban areas, most people these days are careful to curb newspaper delivery when on vacation. (Don’t forget to resume it upon your return home, people!!!) Naturally, papers piling up outside the dwelling may be the only sure sign you are trapped or dead inside and someone ought to call the police.

5. Handy pest control.

Fly-swatter, spider-squisher, ladybug flying carpet (you don’t kill a ladybug, you gently show her the door) … newspapers manage all this and more.

During a storied mouse infestation (not the USB-compatible kind) in our newsroom, glue traps were placed in strategic spots underfoot, bait-enhanced with sprinklings of crumbs from us eating at our desks. Problem was: When a mouse was caught in the Photo Department, it was STILL ALIVE. Page designer Michael B. Smith loves to tell the tale of how he finished it off with a paper stack.

Try doing THAT with a website.