Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kindle-ing a Buzz

Amazon's new Kindle "wireless reading device" generated a "Yecch!" reaction in my gut when I first heard about it. I love books made of ink on paper. Old ones show the tatters of loving use. Books from my childhood share shelf space with those from my mother's early life. Christmas would not be complete without pulling out my copies of Miss Flora McFlimsey's Christmas Eve, or Big Susan. The content is not the issue - it's the memories that are held between their covers. No electronic device could ever replace them.

Some of my favorite books have underlines and highlights. There is sensual pleasure in the texture of a fine binding and the promise of something new and wonderful as you turn each page. There's a feeling of discovery even with a new mass market paperback. What's waiting there for me? The lyrical writing of Julie Zickefoose would still be beautiful, but her watercolor illustrations add so much to Letters From Eden, and they need paper.

So the Kindle started out as a "no way, no thanks, not for me" device. The name alone turns me off. Why did Bezos choose a name that conjures images of fire? Does this man who's made millions on selling real books believe his new toy will make ink and paper obsolete, leading to bonfires a la Fahrenheit 451?

Then I went to the Amazon site and saw the image - not as bad as I thought. If the screen truly is as easy to read as promised, then it might be a good solution for people who have limited mobility. If you have one arm in a cast, for instance. People with poor eyesight can adjust the type size which will give them access to many books without having to wait for a "large print" edition. Those who commute on public transportation could read the newspaper without flapping it in their neighbor's faces and ending up with blackened fingers. Except if they happen to ride the DC Metro, in which case they'd be out of luck when the trains go underground.

The thing is, though, that you still need to have access to the network in order to read a book. I don't know anything about Sprint's data network, but I do question whether you'd be able to read everywhere. Backwoods of Maine? On a cruise ship in the Caribbean? For $400 plus $10 for each volume I can buy a lot of real books that I can read anywhere in the world without charging a battery or finding a network. And the ones that I love I can pass around to friends, who can pass them on to their friends. Who can pass them on to people who perhaps cannot afford to buy a book at all.

Lest I sound too curmudgeonly, I'm not against the thing - though I really dislike its name. I'm just a very long way from adding it to my wish list. If I see someone using it, of course I'll ask them about it and even try to get my hands on it. But to own one? No thanks.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sideling Up to Geology

A couple of weeks ago we were in Western Maryland where the hills roll from one into the other, and roads do the best they can going up, over, and through. It's all beautiful country, but there's one brief section that makes you say, "Wow, look at that!"

Just beyond Hancock, I-70 turns north into Pennsylvania, and I-68 begins its westward track. Old U. S. 40 follows the same route but then veers sharply south to climb the side of a hill, and then does a switchback down the other side. It's clear that when the old National Pike was built, it was no match for Sideling Hill.

Fast forward a few decades to the building of I-68. Engineers blasted through and created an easy, curvy run for the new interstate highway. And in the process, exposed a remarkable geologic formation that clearly illustrates the immense powers that formed our Appalachians. Thanks to the construction, you can see how the rock layers were lifted, curved, and eroded away over the millenia to the gentle mountains we know today.
Thank goodness they didn't just blast through and leave it at that. In the visitor's center there is an informative display that explains how Sideling Hill was formed as well as a three story-high timeline of the earth's formation. Outside, stairs let you walk up to the rock formations, and a pedestrian bridge across the interstate - complete with "camera ports" that let you photograph without having to thread your lens through the protective wire fence - gives you a remarkable view.

This is one example of your highway taxes not only at work, but doing something very worthwhile.