February 24, 2009
Kindle 2 OOBEMy wife ordered me a Kindle for the holidays, but it was back-ordered. Then when the Kindle 2 was announced they said that my order would automatically be upgraded, and would be among the first batch shipped. Sure enough, today there was a package waiting for me when I got home.
The Out Of Box Experience started with the package it came in, which had a unique phrase printed on the tab you pulled back:
The box was custom-made for shipping Kindles; when you opened it you saw a black interior with some Kindle graphics and the definition of the word "kindle" inside the lid (v.t. 1. set on fire. 2. inspire, stir up. -v.i. 1. catch fire. 2. become animated.):
The package inside the box was black paper with more Kindle graphics, also opened by a zipper that said "Once upon a time...":
Inside this was the cardboard container for the actual Kindle:
Remove the lid and there it is:
Under the Kindle is a quick start guide and the power cord. I initially thought the instructions you can see on the Kindle were on the piece of plastic covering it, but actually they are on the Kindle screen itself; the technology can maintain an image with no power. The text at the bottom says "1. Plug in your Kindle" and at the top says "2. Slide and release the power switch above. Your screen will refresh in a few moments.":
This is the unfolded quick start guide; there's a bunch of legal stuff on the back (the back text is white on black and much denser, so it is apparent which side is the one you want to read):
I plugged mine in to charge and left it. The instructions on the quick start guide said that once I slid and released the power switch it would display the User's Guide; I don't think I actually touched the power, but when I came back the User's Guide was displayed:
When I went away again and came back, it had switched to a screen saver:
The Kindle already has the user's guide, a dictionary, and a welcome message on it. The "Welcome Adam" title is somewhat faked, because the device was originally registered to my wife, since it had been bought on her account, and the welcome message was addressed to her before I re-registered it:
Pre-registering the device to the account that ordered it is a convenience; re-registering it to myself was easy BUT (if any Amazon people are reading this) the warning message I got when I deregistered her was a bit scary; it said "By deregistering, you will not be able to buy or receive content on this Kindle. You may want to transfer subscriptions to another Kindle you own using the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com. Are you sure you want to deregister?" Doesn't that message sound like I'm permanently crippling the device, or at least I'll have to go to the website to get it working again? In fact, as I expected, when I did click "OK" to deregister it immediately gave me a "register" option, which was simple and fast (just give your site logon credentials and it figures out who you are).
I'll mention that she had received email when the device shipped explaining that if it was a gift she could go deregister it from the website, which would have meant the only option I had was to register it (and therefore no need to deregister it and fight past the off-putting message) but I assume some number of people who order it as gifts won't bother to do that. Also, the quick start guide doesn't discuss deregistering, in fact it says "If your Kindle was a gift you will need to register your device", which I guess assumes the gift-giver read the email and followed the instructions (there may be an ordering option that says "don't register it to me, it's a gift", but again some number of people won't do that). At least the quick start guide, in its discussion of registration, tells you how to get to the screen where you register (which is also the screen where you deregister).
Anyway, this is the start of the letter, again customized to me, a nice touch (it ends with Jeff Bezos's signature):
You will notice that the letter is dated tomorrow (February 25). I guess mine got here a bit earlier than expected. It was sent Fed Ex 2-day, the label lists a ship date of Feb. 24 and an expected delivery date of Feb. 26. According to the Fed Ex tracking website it was actually shipped out yesterday, the 23rd, from Indianapolis, at 7:07 pm; and for whatever reason it got here in one day. Am I one of the first people on the planet to get a Kindle 2? The mind boggles.
In terms of actually using the thing, it seems pretty intuitive, the dictionary search is easy to navigate:
I browsed for some titles but didn't find anything I wanted to download (only 3 Jack Vance books, all Lyonesse? No The Soul of a New Machine or Ball Four?). I did download a sample to try out the reading and it seems easy to read; I'll have to try a longer book to see how my eyes feel.
P.S. Yes, that's right folks, I'm talking about the Kindle 2: Amazon's New Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation)!
February 14, 2009
Geeks and Anti-GeeksIf you asked somebody for the stereotype of a Microsoft developer, they would probably think of a pasty-faced coder who plays video games, eats a lot of junk food, read science fiction, writes a blog, and so on--your prototypical geek. And of course, you would be somewhat right. But there is actually a second stereotypical developer at Microsoft. This type of person eschews the trappings of normal geekhood in favor of drinking wine, driving sports cars, cooking complicated recipes, reading The New York Times, and the like. We'll call this persona the "anti-geek", because it comes across as a conscious rejection of the geek lifestyle (and to be clear: both types spend their days playing with computers, and are thus, in the greater scheme of things, 100% geeky).
You notice this if you listen to the chatter before a meeting. Half the time people are talking about World of Warcraft; those are the geeks. The other half they are talking about pinot noir; those are the anti-geeks. In either case, the group then proceeds to discuss a pattern-based approach to refactoring your C# class design in order to increase cohesion and leverage mock objects to achieve high code coverage while minimizing your unit test execution time.
I was thinking of this as I read this Princeton Alumni Weekly profile of Nathan Myrhvold. Myhrvold, who I have only met once (during a fancy recruiting dinner where he ordered caviar for the table), seems like a perfectly nice guy, devoted father, etc. But he is also the prototypical Microsoft anti-geek. As the article states, "He doesn’t merely like to cook: He’s a master chef (and has worked in one of Seattle’s best restaurants) who once won a barbecue contest in Memphis. He doesn’t just take pictures: He’s an award-winning wildlife photographer. As for his well-known interest in paleontology, he’s no ordinary bone collector. He has enough fossils to stock a small museum."
OK, so Nathan is an uber-anti-geek. Why does this matter? The part of the interview I would like to draw attention to is the following, which starts out quoting Myhrvold:
"'I wrote a memo in 1991 about a personal communication device,' he says, and then relates how the drawing of this hypothetical gadget, when recently unearthed from his files, showed something amazingly similar to an iPhone. He quickly adds, 'I’m not saying I invented the iPhone. I didn’t.'"
Myrhvold is modest enough to realize that sketching out a device is different from bringing it to market. But what comes across is the sense that if he had merely productized his doodle, it would have been the iPhone--that the important part of the iPhone was thinking of the technology, not the entire experience that Apple has created.
The reason this matters is because Microsoft has recently been pushing engineers to realize that they are not the customer, the customers are not geeks, and therefore engineers can't design properly for our customers. What I think happens, however, is that the anti-geeks hear this and think, "They're not talking about me; I know that those beer-swilling geeks don't understand the customer, but I'm a cultured sort, not a geek--I'm just like our customers!" And so they go out and design software for themselves...and of course they mess it up...because our customers may not spend their spare time playing Dungeons & Dragons, but neither do they spend it tramping across the Burgess Shale.
February 01, 2009
Our Hermetic FutureLast week I went to Chicago for a short meeting, spread over 2 days. My flight landed around 2:30 pm on Thursday, and my return flight left at 7:30 pm on Friday.
The forecast was for pretty cold weather, but I wouldn't know--because the entire time I was in Chicago, I never went outside. If you look at the airport map below:
you can see Concourse L of Terminal 3, where Alaska Airlines has its gate, and the Hilton Hotel (the dark grey arc below Terminal 2), where the meeting was held. You can walk from the gate to the airport entirely indoors; no need for even momentary exposure while boarding a shuttle bus or light rail. I had a room at the Hilton for the night; on Thursday night we were going to take taxis to a restaurant downtown but decided to eat at the hotel restaurant instead. And the other meals were catered to the meeting room. I took a breath of fresh air at 7:15 am on Thursday, just before I entered the doors connecting the parking garage to Skyway 5 at Sea-Tac Airport; and until 10:45 pm on Friday, when I exited those same doors, I did not breathe any air that had not been processed.
I actually could have ducked outside on a couple of occasions--I had two hours free before my flight, for one thing--but of course by that time I wanted to keep my streak alive. I find there to be something infinitely cool about visiting another city and never going outside. It reminds me of the science fiction stock setting of a planet which has been entirely covered by buildings (like Trantor in the Foundation series, or Capitol in Orson Scott Card's neglected Worthing books), with fresh air reserved for the very privileged. Or, short of that, I like (perhaps "like" is the wrong word; substitute "am intrigued by") the fact that it completely genericizes the city, so that I really could have been anywhere, a harbinger of a world where all jarring differences have been removed from the environment you interact with (or possibly a harbinger of people who live in movable shipping containers, but I digress). There were some hints that I was in Chicago--you could buy Illinois lottery tickets, the clocks were on Central time, the food that was being palely imitated at an airport restaurant was deep dish pizza--but it was hard to tell if it was real or fake. Was that the real city I could see out my window, or just a video projection? It was like flying to Paris in France, but getting the experience of Paris Las Vegas.
In fact the meeting was among people who had traveled from various cities to be there, and we all (as far as I know) had similar indoor-only experiences. The group is supposed to meet once a year; it looks like there are other cities, such as Dallas and Detroit (or Miami or Orlando or Vancouver or Boston--seems to be a modern trend), that have hotels inside their airports, so maybe next year I'll have a visit-without-really-visiting of a different city.