Tuesday, June 25, 2013

E-Books are real books, and they're okay

Today, I was reading a book and in the text, they referenced something they had said on a previous page. It had taken me a while to get back into reading this book, so I clicked on the page number and it took me back to the page in question so I could reread that part.

Then they referenced an additional audio file to supplement part of the book available on their website, and I clicked on that. I called up the audio file and played it right then and there, before returning to my book.

My mom has a crafting book with embedded videos that display the steps that people might have trouble with. When I have trouble reading a book because my eyes are tired, I can just increase the font size, change the contrast, or adjust the brightness.

On top of all of that, most of the books I have bought lately were ones that were on one day only sales, or temporary specials. The ability of a publisher or author to incrementally adjust the price of their books, and see the response that price adjustment brings them in sales and profits, is changing the entire face of publishing and probably for the better for consumers in the long run (if it helps authors, I don't know yet). The Nook Free Friday books are often books by authors who are releasing something new, so they give away an older book or the first in the series and it works like a free sample at the grocery store.

I've written about this before, but it seems like it bears repeating since it's been almost a year that I've had my Nook. Now I can get books from the library without leaving my house, including audiobooks.

It intrigues me that since the printing press, we haven't really revolutionized how we process the written word. We've changed the sales process, we've definitely changed what's popular and what gets printed. But we haven't really had something quite as revolutionary. And e-books are actually fundamentally changing how we process stories AND how we sell them.

Are there drawbacks? Absolutely. Mostly because publishers are trying to cling to old models for profits and hurting authors in the process instead of embracing the change fully. But I'm really tired of book snobs.

People complain if you read the book after the movie, if you have an e-reader instead of buying hardcovers, if you have the wrong edition, if your paperback spine has cracks in it, and on and on. If you read too slowly, if you read too quickly, if you like to read the end first, if you like to read in order without spoiling yourself. Everybody wants to say "this is the way to read" "this is the way to enjoy books." Like there's only one way and only one thing.

That's stupid. Enjoy stories. That's all that's needed. Enjoy stories at your pace, in your way, and embrace yourself and your life with storytelling. And if anybody gives you grief about it know this: they aren't as good a reader as you if they insult others for being different.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

More on Facebook Games

I've gotten rid of almost every Facebook game I play, once they started turning games off when they weren't popular enough.

But there are a few I've gotten sucked into, and I thought I'd do a quick review of a couple of them and why they can't really seem to bring me back into the fold.

First, there's everybody's favorite Words With Friends. The problem with that one for me is that their mobile app is terrible, I turn off the notifications and everything weird it does and they find more. And another application by Zynga has started giving a friend of mine weird notifications every day and there's no way to turn them off. It's like asking for spam and malware to put them on your phone. So I don't.

Which means that I only have it on Facebook, and I keep myself from playing it too often. The game itself is fine, it's well designed and works. It does what it says on the tin. I end up with nothing but vowels, or no vowels, all the time but that happens to me when I play Scrabble. And it gets rid of the part of Scrabble I hate the most, which is waiting for other people to play. When you're playing Scrabble with somebody who really knows the game and plays well it's BORING AS ALL GET OUT. I'd rather play Monopoly.

The problem, as it is with most games like this, is what they're doing to try to get real money out of you. The ads used to be pretty easily tolerable, but now suddenly they've got audio that you can't mute or pause. And you can't predict when the ad will have sound and when it won't. I play my games while I'm watching other things, so I'd rather be able to pause the ad until I can find a good place to pause the show I'm watching, but no.

But in the end, it's probably the best designed of the ones I play still. Though I usually forget to play it and end up losing because it auto-resigns my games. But I don't want to turn the notifications back on, they're way too intrusive.

I also used to play Songpop but I've mostly given that up now for one main reason - because I'd rather just guess songs until I'm bored with it than play in their rigid structure and deal with their scoring system.

The basic idea is that you have to be playing against a friend, and each round you have to guess five song clips. Then whoever guesses the most right the fastest wins the round. Or at least, it should work that way, each one is worth a certain number of points and the points decrease as you take longer to guess. But they add in this ridiculous thing where the points double as you get more in a row. So if the first one was worth 1000, the second is 2000, etc. So if I got four right and faster than the other person, they could get three right and win because they got them in a row and I missed the middle question.

That's ridiculous, and stupid, and I have no idea why they would bother. I haven't done the math (because it's impossible to figure out their exact system) but I bet somebody could win getting two right and beat somebody who got four. They already have a system in place where you unlock extra songs as you get more questions in a row. So why add this extra scoring thing? It's ridiculous.

And because there's no mode where you can play on your own, once you play all your open challenges against your friends, there's just nothing for you to do, except maybe challenge strangers. But if you get paired up with strangers who don't have similar tastes then you basically trade challenges because you have no clue what they're choosing for their categories.

Overall, it's a fun idea but they really need a free-play mode to go along with the challenge mode so that if I want to just guess some songs I can. Otherwise it's too easy to get bored and then forget to play for six months.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Food busybodies

A few weeks ago I mentioned how much it annoys me when people view spicy foods as more macho but really that whole rant is also part of another problem that's really taken over.

Basically, the thing that bothers me the most is how invested people are in what other people are eating. I'm constantly getting people telling me their opinions on what I do and don't eat, and most of these people know nothing about me and why I may or may not choose to eat something. The only people who's opinions I value when it comes to food are my doctors (and even then only some of them) and a few select friends who understand the complex interplay between my health issues, my personal tastes, and everything else that's going on.

It's when you post a picture of your dinner to social media and somebody just has to pipe up and say something about your food. It's when you order at a restaurant and you ask for something to be left off and somebody gives you a speech about how it's good for you. Or you mention a particular place you went to eat, and the person just HAS to talk about the fat content of the typical meal at that place.

I read stories on websites like "Not Always Working" where even wait staff will have an opinion about what people are getting and sometimes bring them the wrong thing because they "should" want something else.

You also get those people who can't believe you don't like something they love. I was once at a catered lunch (a very informal thing) where they had some eggplant something or other. I didn't get any, and the caterer asked why, I just said I don't really like eggplant and I got the same line I've heard so many times, "that's because you haven't tried THIS eggplant!"

No, it's because I don't like eggplant. This is such a horrible thing to say to somebody, because then I felt required to try it, I didn't like it, and he came by later to ask how I liked it. What do I say, "actually I was right, it was terrible." That's impolite, and unlike those people I don't want to be rude.

Or when you go to a family dinner, and everybody is saying "did you get some of the corn pudding, you have to get some of Aunt Busybody's homemade corn pudding!" What's even worse is when you're not feeling well and you don't want to eat at all, then everybody is trying to force you to eat. "Oh, but you NEED to eat!" No, I need to let my stomach settle.

A few months ago, I made a random tumblr post mentioning different companies that support marriage equality and gay rights. Most of them were pre-packaged food companies, and I'd say a good 10% of the responses were "good for them but they still make poison" or "if their food wasn't such trash that would be great." Really? REALLY? First of all, back off Oreo's man, or we'll have to fight. Second, keep that crap to yourself. Every time there's a news story about a restaurant, somebody will pipe up with "I don't eat that junk" like it makes them superior or special. News flash: it doesn't make you special, it makes you a judgmental jerk who can't keep their mouth shut.

There's a way to express that you like a food without being a jerk about it. If somebody says, "I haven't tried a lot of Mexican food," you can reply with, "I really love the breakfast burritos at Anita's, have you ever had them?" But if somebody says, "I always get sick when I eat avocado" then you don't go "but you HAVE to try my guacamole!" If somebody mentions they're addicted to diet soda, if you know them well enough you could mention that you read an article the other day about some new studies about artificial sweeteners. But if it's a random co-worker that says they can't wait to chow down on some fast food after work, don't start talking about processing plants.

Stop trying to make people eat, stop trying to act like everybody should eat the exact same way, and stop acting like whatever food choices you've made are the only "right" ones.

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

I've really been meaning to read the Percy Jackson books for years. Two years ago, I actually ended up trying to pass some time in a hotel room while I was on a business trip and the first movie happened to be on.

Now, I really didn't have any expectations for the movie, the reviews of it weren't that good and the people I knew who liked the books weren't particularly thrilled by it either. But there was nothing else on and I was rather bored and homesick, so I watched it and I actually thought it was quite pretty. It was enough to make me more certain I wanted to read the books anyway, but I still didn't get around to it.

Then they recently released the first trailers for the second film, The Sea of Monsters. And it reminded me that I wanted to read the books so I finally got it together to read them. Plus I really wanted something fun, simple, and quick. I expected to only read the first one but I ended up reading all five over one weekend.

I really enjoyed these books, even though it might have been easier to read them if I hadn't seen the first movie at all. Because it's a bit hard to remind yourself that Percy is only 12 in the first book, and not 16 like he is in the movie (I don't know what age he actually is, he looks 16). So some of his actions and behaviors are bit dumb unless you remember that he's 12.

The books take a very modern sensibility towards the mythology they include, and so don't except to get some sort of really good education on Greek myths. But it's understandable, in the story itself, how and why that is. Olympus changes as the world changes, that's part of the point, and the gods and monsters adapt to the world they live in. So I really liked the way things were done, because I enjoy the Greek myths but I feel like not a lot of people want to really take any liberties with them anymore.

But my favorite thing about these books was that all of the characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, had complex motivations. Except perhaps Kronos, even the villains were partially right about what was wrong with the world they reside in, it's just that their choices to deal with those motivations are wrong. And Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are often conflicted and confused, and sometimes they make the right choices for the wrong reasons or the wrong choices for the right reasons. In the end, the war is between two sides that both have very valid points to make and that's the kind of complexity that most young adult books don't bother with.

There are a few things that are very "middle school reader" about them, notably Percy's inability to deal with girls and how that's written into the story. But as much as I might roll my eyes at his obliviousness, he's never really maliciously stupid about anything, he's just young and written that way. Normally I'm the first to say that "he's just a 14-year-old boy" is no excuse for a character being stupid and being badly written, because a main character in any fiction shouldn't be held to the same standards as a real person, otherwise why bother reading about them? I don't forgive some of Harry Potter for this, and I hold Legend of Korra on a much lower level because of the way they handled it. But Percy never crossed over into being poorly written, just being a little bit complicated. I especially thought the way they handled the portion with Calypso was really well done.

I also liked that this was, in a sense, a series about how parents actually aren't always right. Sometimes parents are jerks, and sometimes they mean well but they still do stupid things that aren't good for their children. Sometimes they're just doing the best they can. I can see how some parents would be bothered by the idea, but I think it's good to teach kids that their parents don't always have all the answers, and they're not always right, and sometimes they're still thinking of things in the past instead of the future. But even thought family is complicated, it's family.

Overall, a very good series and I'm looking forward to the new series being finished so I can pick those up.