2023 in books

Since November, I’ve been loosely tracking my Kindle reading based on three metrics: books purchased, read, and started. Partly, because I’ve wanted to see how my habits changing has influenced my reading.

This year’s goal, has been read a little something every day; for which reading insights currently gives me a street of 351 days in a row of reading since January, which isn’t too shabby on the 364th day of the year; I’ve missed one day since 2023-01-01 according the insights, thus the streak count.

Amazon’s reading insights view, shows me has having read 67 titles this year and my spreadsheet has 64. I’ll probably finish another book or two before January 1st. Last year when I started reading a little something every day, Amazon shows me as having read 44 titles in 2022, which is way up from a few years prior.

Here’s the summary from Reading Insights:

  • 2023 -> 67 titles read
  • 2022 -> 44 titles read
  • 2021 -> 7 titles read
  • 2020 -> 5 titles read
  • 2019 -> 10 titles read

As you can see, the change from reading whenever it crosses my mind to always read something, has made a significant impact upon my reading habits in terms of how many books I finish reading.

Part of what has fueled this has been another change in my habits. Classically, I was a sequential reader. I would read one book from start to finish before moving onto the next, and I still often do when it’s particularly enjoyable. But this year and last, I have tried having a small handful of books to switch between as I care. I might read a few chapters of one then another, or I might read one for a few nights and then switch to another book. I find that this has removed the bottleneck that sometimes, there will be a lull in reading because I don’t feel like reading that right now.

Amazon’s insights do not track books that I’ve started reading but never finished. My spreadsheet tries to, which gives me 15 books, one of which is likely to be finished by the end of the year. That goes to show that there are books, that sometimes fall off my multi-book reading habit and some that I just lose interest in. Looking at the list of started but not finished, a large portion are whatever volume I left off at in some long running serial.

Which brings me to the topic of what I’ve been reading, but I think that will be a subject for a separate journal entry, as this one is getting rather lengthly.

One more number for the statistics before I go: the number of books purchased. There’s two points of value there, one is how much I’ve spent on books, which frankly I refuse to do the math. Between Kindle Rewards Beta and my credit card’s rewards points, it would be a chore to compute and honestly I’ll leave it at my wild estimate, and say it’s likely the most I’ve spent on books since I ran out of bookshelves as a teenager :P.

The other point of value, i.e., my reason for recording this stat: is how many books did I buy, but never read? And how many books did I buy but never finish? That third metric is necessary to use the former two to answer those questions.

My spreadsheet shows me 106 books purchased, which is at least one out of date because I didn’t notice a pre-order landing two weeks ago. And I’ve kinda stopped noting pre-orders on the spread sheet, because the remaining ones are all due next year.

  • Books purchased: 106
  • Books read: 64 (spreadsheet), 67 (reading insights)
  • Books started: 15

From this I can tell that when I’ve bought a book this year, there was about a 60% to 65% chance that I went on to finish reading it. Not great, not terrible, unless you’ve ever seen my Netflix watchlist :P. Now combine the books started: there was a 75% to 78% chance that I started reading a book that I purchased instead of it getting lost in my library view.

Scanning at the list, something that makes it less concerning is the contents of that list. Yes, there are some books that I started reading and just lost interest in. But most of the started and didn’t finish? These are mostly volume ‘n’ of some long running serial, some epic that takes longer than a trilogy or two to read, and the occasional non-fiction that’s less a read it cover to cover and more a read chapters you care about.

But let’s save that for the next entry ^_^.

I Tried to Live Without the Tech Giants. It Was Impossible.

Most people don’t go to such an extent to avoid the big tech companies, even for an experiment it is a bit super thorough. But makes a solid point.
Critics of the big tech companies are often told, “If you don’t like the company, don’t use its products.” My takeaway from the experiment was that it’s not possible to do that. It’s not just the products and services branded with the big tech giant’s name. It’s that these companies control a thicket of more obscure products and services that are hard to untangle from tools we rely on for everything we do, from work to getting from point A to point B.”
Perhaps the question we really should be asking ourselves is whether or not these companies are a necessary evil.
Would such services exist, or be anywhere near as good without the help of such companies? Miss Hill points out the dominance of Google Maps and the interaction with things like Uber, and I think that’s kind of key. We had GPS navigation long before we had Google Maps and smart phones, but which would you rather use? Part of what made Google Maps what it is today is the insane investment: sending people and hardware off into the wild blue yonder to build a better dataset than simply importing maps and satellite photos could. Who the hell has that much money? Well, Google did. Some clown in their parents garage might be able to kick start the next Apple or Amazon, but they’re not going to be able to afford to run Google Streetview without monopolistic funding.
As things worked out, I’d say Amazon turned out to be a pretty great idea. But twenty six years ago: we’d probably forgive you for thinking Bezos was crazy instead of anticipating he would become several times richer than God, building one of the world’s most well known enterprises along the way.
See, we build our success upon the success of others—and our success is often in enabling others to succeed. The question is can we do that without the ginormous bankrolls and the infrastructure that entails.
I’d like to think we have yet to see the last great American tech company. But without a governmental strongarm, I don’t think we will ever see these empires displaced. Not until landmark paradigm shifts cause them to exit a market, or for profitability sake they choose to exit or destroy one. You’re not going to beat Google Maps unless they’re incompetent and you’re hyper lucky and clever at just the right time: or they choose to shutter the entire operation. That’s just how it works at scale.
Yes, I’m pretty sure that we should refer to them as monopolies. But are they ones we need, or are they ones we can ill afford? As someone who long resisted Google and Facebook, I find that a very intriguing question.

So far my adjustment to the new Kindle has been going well. Also nice that I’ve been able to catch up on my reading a bit, hehe.

My biggest real concern was the refreshing, which kept me on the wall a while. E-ink screens are actually pretty fascinating technology, but not your average display. The refresh rates are high enough that hard flipping pages aren’t an issue, but a whole lotta flashin’ is goin’ on when images are involved. Typically this is more towards the UI, browsing covers on shelves kind of things. I assume this is in the name of making book covers render without artifacts. Because the black flashes are often more a ping-ping-ping than a slam-bam, and mostly occur in UI.
Thus far it hasn’t bothered me, or been anywhere near as bad as I had expected. But it should probably come with a seizure warning or something just in case.
The pint sized device is also damned convenient. It’s literally small enough to stuff in the breast pocket of my t-shirt, a feat not even a Goosebumps book could achieve so well. For the most part though, I just carry it like a PADD from Star Trek.
Actually the size and design of the 10th generation Kindle very much fits my mental image of the 24’th century PADD.
This is especially true with the extra bezel towards the bottom. And that the damned thing weighs so little: you could mistake it for a sheet of paper, or a weight reduced plastic Frisbee.
Thus far I’ve found the e-ink rather lovely. It’s suitably sharp that I find it easy to read. Brightness controls range from that’s really friggin’ dim to a fairly bright white. After a few days, I backed off from a few notches over half to a few notches below; the brightness scale is 24 notches.
At really low brightness: for a moment I was reminded of the original GameBoy; which really is an unfair comparison because it’s a much better screen than those ever were. Cranked up the front light makes it feel more like a tablet set to white on black. Dimmed to the middle is like a crossing point between notably white, and something closer to a page in a book.
If you have 20/20 and drop your phone on your face a lot, I could see why higher resolution would be an interest. For me it’s kind of like the 720p vs 1080p debate in phone screens. Yeah, better resolution would be nice, but I’m not inclined to cram the screen close enough to my eyeball for it to be a big return on investment. So I’ve no worries there. Mostly, it’s like paper. Which isn’t all resoluted equal itself, but just fine in the magority.
It’s been a pleasure to read on for conventional text. Most of the content I’ve loaded takes the form of novels. For that kind of text it’s brillant. Haven’t tried fancier technical books but expect anything not too PDF centric rather than reflowable would be fine. For manga it’s a no go, but just like on a phone: this is more a matter of size than quality. The Kindle can render the content well enough but no one really wants to shrink a comic book page down that tiny, and I don’t really like the panel-by-panel thing.
Personally, I think the browser experience sucks like a twenty year old phone, combined with a broken thumb stick. Let’s just say for reading Wikipedia: reaching for my iPad is a better plan.
Battery life is fair. The past week has seen the battery drop from 100% to 68% since Monday, and I’ve probably been reading a mixture of 20~30 minute to 2~3 hour sittings. Unlike my old HDX: the battery is not 7 years old! And much like my various tablets, I don’t need a booklamp.
Actually that’s one of the things I’ve come to like about e-books in general. As a teenager: I spent a lot of time with a book canted towards TV light, reading in the dark. As an adult: my love and respect for a good booklight is such that mine is kept safely on my bookshelf, batteries removed. I can’t say that I really miss needing a booklight, and I reckon the amount of reading I do at night is probably a larger percentage than when I was a kid.
Damned adulting, and all that more wearing pants and reading less :-o.

I finally bought a Kindle

After much trepidation, I’ve finally gone and done it. The 10th generation Kindle makes both the first e-ink device I’ve ever owned, and the first Kindle I’ve actually bought.

A good number of years ago I ended up “Winning” an HDX 7 from a developer raffle that a certain audio company was doing at the time. But I’ve never had one of their dedicated e-readers, and the only Amazonion devices I’ve bought over the years have been their Fire TV boxes, a product I’ve come to enjoy.
For me the HDX7 was both surprising and novel. On one hand, it was pretty much free; on the other it was pretty cool. The device’s battery life and performance was spectacular for its day. Comparable hardware for the day would have been a Nexus 4, if you traded all the Googly services for battery life that was more like a week of mixed us / when the heck did I even plug this thing in, kind of idle time.
Back then my content was more mixed. Amazon Kindle, Google Play, and various odds and ends made up my repository of books. I have gigs of files on my private server from back when I was a heavy use of Calibre. I’ve made pretty good use of the lit’ HDX for reading over the years.
Amazon would go on to become the dominate source of e-books over the decade. But still I never bought one of their readers. In fact, I posted nearly a decade ago about how unlikely me and an e-reader were. That was before tablets came to dominate my computing life. So even after the Tabletination I never really saw the point in a purpose built e-reader versus a standard tablet.
At best: my freebie HDX has always been an auxiliary device. A device that I would mostly use for reading books, many of them converted via Calibre, or passing an insomniac night. Typically I’ve stuck to my regular tablets, since last year: an iPad, and much the earlier decade Android tablets from Samsung and Asus. Even for reading, I’ve usually used a regular tablet about 80% of the time; maybe more.
Lately, I’ve been using the HDX more as a book reader because of its small size. Something that is pretty damned perfect for reading. The folks that designed that generation put much TLC into its build, IMHO.
My iPad is rather large and I’ve always valued the little Kindle Fire’s superb build for reading. Thus not a big surprise when the device still works (hehe). Yes, I preferred paperbacks over hardcovers to the face back when I still had shelf space. After seven years though: the battery life under load isn’t as Hercules strength as it once was, and honestly there are more than a few “Yeaaah pal, your software is so frakkin’ old this ain’t supported no more”. Considering the age, I of course have no right to complain. Especially when it’s a really nice device that I didn’t pay a dime for, lol.
In fact in the past couple years it has spent some time as a clock or a photoframe. Being repurposed for reading once in a while, or to curiously see if the old thing was still turning on.
I’ve recently given some mind to whether or not to trade it in towards some regular tablet purchase, or to buy a modern Fire just for the non-reading parts. But I’ve not seen too much of a point to trading it in. Unless it’s a killer deal, like Samsung / Best Buy sometimes run, it’s too damned old to be worth much to anyone shy of being an alarm clock that reads books. Likewise, I don’t really care much about Amazon’s app store, so much as it can be convenient to read Wikipedia on a 7″ device.
Well, after a while of thinkin’ on it: I finally caved in, and bought a Kindle. So far, I rather like it.
I remember being tempted back when the 3rd generation came out with an accessible price. Think folks call that the “Keyboard” now. It helps that for some years now: the basic Kindle has been pretty cheap. Even more so with another year older, coming up soon.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be dead a few thousand years before I catch up on my reading backlog.

The other day, I decided to plug in my old Thor model HDX7, since I couldn’t remember the last time I had bothered to charge it. Was surprised to find it with 6% remaining. But, my relationship with it regarding battery life has been kind of like the Energizer Bunny commercials with “Going, and going, and going”; or whatever it is they use as a slogan. I don’t think I ever managed to really ding its battery, aside from leaving it idle for a couple weeks.

Extra surprising: the last update it got for Fire OS was installed February, 2019.

That’s really not bad for a device I got free from a Dolby developer raffle. Still running a form of Android 4.4/K, but considering the device came out around 2013, and had internals on par with the Nexus of the day—I’d say the little thang has faired pretty well.

I suppose one of these days, I should probably finish turning it into a digital picture frame, or something.

When Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles originally aired, I didn’t even learn of its existence until some years later. So, I pretty much missed the entire thing. Finding that Amazon’s streaming stuff has it on IMDb with ads, I’m finding it well worth the wait.

It’s also a bit refreshing, given how the films have evolved.

Prime Day Deal on Fire TV Stick 4K

So $25 for the 4K stick and $15 for the 1080p sick? Well I’m likely sold.

A while back I was debating if I wanted to retire my first generation (2014 iirc) Fire TV box with one of the modern iterations of the Fire TV Stick just for the upgraded codec support.

Pretty much my old first generation box and Sandy Ivy Bridge desktop are the last Gizmos I use that lacks H.265 support. My desktop, well it doesn’t spend its days playing video and can probably brute force anything 1080p at this point.

The only reasons to hang on to my first generation box is it still works damned great and the Ethernet port happens to be a short trip to my network. That and the dollars per year of usage must be ludicrously awesome by now, lol.

Hey I’m watching Good Omens – Season 1 (4K UHD). Check it out now on Prime Video!

Never read any of Prachett’s or Gaiman’s books but this is so brilliant that maybe it’s time to stop living under a rock.
There’s really so much to enjoy about this story. An angel and a demon who are pretty much best friends since creation; the four horsemen of the apocalypse on their motorcycles and the rather dedicated delivery guy; the antichrist, his cute hellhound, and his human friends; an oracle witch and witch Hunter and their descendants; and GOD who works in mysterious ways but never says anything unless you’re listening to the narrator.
Really, it’s good stuff.

Sad thought: when I start thinking it’d be handy for my Fire TV box Gen 1 retired and was replaced with a Fire TV 4K stick Gen 1 just for the HEVC support.

The Fire TV box Gen 3 I use in the living room generally does its job well. The older Gen 1 I use in the bedroom also does pretty well and still gets the occasional updates other than Android version) just fine.

Typically I normalize my video rips into H.264/AVC video. Making the audio carry an AAC-LE stereo track and passing through surround; and sometimes adding AC-3 because of surround sound constraints on the platform. Because if you can’t play H.264 and AAC at this point: you should just go home or be recycled.

Lacking H.265/HEAC is a more understandable at this time. But currently the only devices I really use that lack hardware decoders for that are my Gen 1 Fire TV from 2014 and my Kepler era GPU from 2013. Anything else ain’t getting used for video anything anyhow.

A quick little test using Noucome; episode one, chapter one.

The baseline is about 4.18 GB per episode at around 18~20 Mbit input reported by VLC’s stats. Drop the DTS master audio for the regular DTS, and you arrive at about 3.8 GB per episode. The amount of bits is also a bit excessive when you consider the show has a stereo audio :P. Feeding it through my usual HandBrake settings the video gets taken down to about 5 Mbit/s which is plenty for a 1080p source in that codec.

Encoding a few tests, creating AAC and AC3 at 160 Kbit/s both take about equally long as just passing through the regular DTS. Because the video codec is really where the ~5 min gets spent in x264. Using my old desktop’s 2.1 logitech speakers I can’t telly any difference. The file deltas are about 60M for AAC/AC3 versus 90M for DTS passthrough. Not enough to care about that much.

Using my usual HandBrake settings for H.265 HEVC, which aims to achieve comparable quality to my H.264 AVC configuration, my old ass desktop’s encoding time for the short clip virtually doubled but the size drops from about 60M to 35M.

And then there’s the given case when the per-episode file sizes are only about 4 GB, they’re small enough that I don’t really need to give a flying hoop. The 3 TB drive for that part of my media server is only about 43% full, and by the time it is filled up I’ll probably be able to get an 8 or 12 TB drive for the same price point as when I bought my 3 TB. Which in turn cost about as much as the 1 TB drive it had replaced, lol.

Contemplating mutiny from Amazon to Google

Back in August, I rambled a bit about my thoughts on electronic books. Later on I acquired an Android tablet; about 4 x as much as a Kindle for the make/model tablet I purchased, but a hell of a lot more useful than a kindle or my netbook.

Since then, I have more or less established myself with getting books via Amazon. In fact, it’s the only setup I’ve been using these past few months. I like it and my only complaint is I find wish-list issues more useful from a real web browser. Since then the Cloud Reader has become widely available, so Linux/BSD issues are even pretty moot now. I like Amazon and use it for plenty but they may have just lost a customer.
Today I clicked through references to Amazon and Google Play and became angry.
Now Amazon rarely makes me angry, the worst they’ve ever done is hook me up with a seller that bungles tracking data, but hey, packages still got there and it was small stuff. So far as long as I don’t have to work for Amazon, it’s a good enough thing in my books. Up to now, if a competitor would offer a lower price: I would still buy the Kindle version, in order to keep consistency and not have to remember which app/platform I bought it from.  It also sometimes pisses me off that books I want are not always available in a Kindle edition, but that makes me upset with publishers, not Amazon! The price difference of $58.28@Amazon versus $69.42@Google isn’t /THAT/ bad, seriously. Although I will admit I usually find Amazon has much better deals on books that _I_ want, I have never seen this issue with Kindle books before.
Real Time Rendering is available in a Kindle edition but, I can only view it using the PC/Mac clients or the iPad client. You cannot tell me that dinky ass XGA screen on the iPad can display books better than my 22″/1080hd monitor using the Cloud Reader client, or my Android tablet with hit’s 10.1″/720hd screen. OK, I can understand it might not look sexy on my phones 3.8″/WVGA screen but still, wtf? Total steaming pile of stupidity right there. 
I want my content and I want it on all of my able bodied devices!
That discovery inspires me to jump ship and change my purchasing habits: to Google Play by way of Play Books. Once upon a time I thought about just going with whichever resource gave the best price, Amazon, B&N, or Google; Kobo I won’t trust with my $data after poking ’round there site. In practice though I found that having consisency like all my books either via Amazon, or physical books, was much more convienant than maybe saving $2 here or $5 there. Even for price differences between used real books and electronic books, because my shelf space is at a premium in the real world.
Looking at other books of interest, here’s a little break down:


Title Amazon Kindle Price Google Play Price List Price @Amazon Amazon Availability Google Availability
Real-Time Rendering $58.28 $69.42 $89.00 PC, Mac, iPad Web, iOS, Android, eReader
OpenGL SuperBible: Comprehensive Tutorial and Reference $28.59 $37.67 $59.99 Kindle, iOS, Android, Blackberry, PC, Mac Web, iOS, Android, eReader
Essential Mathematics for Games and Interactive Applications, Second Edition: A Programmer’s Guide N/A $47.36 $59.95 N/A Web, iOS, Android, eReader
3D Game Engine Design: A Practical Approach To Real-Time Computer Graphics N/A $66.36 $82.95 N/A Web, iOS, Android, eReader
Linux Kernel Development $17.69 $31.19 $39.99 PC* Web, iOS, Android, eReader
Understanding The Linux Kernel $29.79 $37.67 $59.99 PC* Web, iOS, Android, eReader

eReader in the above table is defined as what is described here. Amazon Availability is what’s listed on the web page, although I assume the OpenGL SuperBible would work with WP7 and the Cloud Reader clients too. Ones marked with a * say what is listed but e.g. can have a sample sent to my tablet, so I’d assume they work anywhere.
Loss of dedicated applications for Windows Phone and Blackberry don’t bother me, I don’t use either, and should have other means of accessing my content off these devices if I ever need to change. I’m also inclined to think that Google’s published policy on removals beats the shit out of Amazon’s track record. From the look of the help pages, Google also offers more natural syncing between devices, as long as you don’t have to resort to pushing files over Adobe/USB. So really the only gripe I can have is the when the price tag may be more drastic (like for LKD).