Dear Amazon

Please create the following Java MIDP application for my phone:

When you run the application and take a picture of a barcode using the phone’s camera, it decodes the barcode, and adds the item to my Amazon wish list or some other Amazon list of my choice.

If Amazon doesn’t carry the item, it should add an “unrecognized item with UPC code xxxxx” item instead.

Thanks.

P.S. Please don’t try to patent it.

Christmas music

I just picked up some more Christmas music from the Amazon MP3 store. For all that I like the iTunes Music Store, the Amazon MP3 store is better in every way.

First off, the selection is far, far better. I say that because I don’t buy DRM I can’t easily remove, so the iTMS’s rather anemic selection of “iTunes Plus” albums compares badly to Amazon’s library.

Secondly, there’s the format issue. For all that 256kbps AAC is theoretically better than 256kbps MP3, in practice I tend to encode with LAME’s standard preset, which averages less than 256kbps and is practically indistinguishable from CD in my personal testing. I think it’s easy to be too picky about digital audio. If I could approach my vinyl-buying self of 1983 and offer him his record library in 160kbps MP3s on an iPod, he’d leap at the chance. So given that the quality is good enough, I’d rather have MP3s I can play anywhere than AAC files I can only play most places.

Amazon have the convenience angle sorted too. In fact, it’s a little bit too convenient–it’s one click to buy an album once you install their downloader. The downloader automatically files everything neatly in folders by artist and album, and adds the tracks to iTunes when it’s done.

But enough about the technical jiggery-pokery. The actual music is what counts. First of all I picked up the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s album of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m not a jazz fan, and I’m not a big fan of the TV adaptation of Peanuts either, but somehow the soundtrack is perfect.

Next I picked up a couple of Cocteau Twins Christmas singles from a compilation. This is where digital downloads really shine–I can buy two songs for 89¢ each rather than a 4-CD compilation I don’t want.

I then went looking for quirky Christmas music, and found Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets.  I already have a Tijuana Brass Christmas album and a two different Moog Christmas albums. I’m kinda disappointed that Señor Coconut hasn’t tried his hand at a Kraftwerk Christmas album yet.  Ah well, at least there’s the 8bits of Christmas.

Also in my collection are Mark Mothersbaugh’s Joyeux Mutato, and the Illegal Art A MUTATED CHRISTMAS release. Plus, of course, a hefty dose of bootleg/mashup Christmas tracks downloaded from the web.

If anyone has any other recommendations for quirky but listenable Christmas albums, please post ‘em.

Kindle

Dear Amazon,

You’re so almost there with your new Kindle e-book. There are just a few minor details you need to fix to get me on board.

First of all, you need Mac support, and preferably Linux support as well, both for content creation and for reading books. There’s really no excuse for not having reader support, as you have a working Mobipocket reader in Java that will run on Mac and Linux, you just haven’t taken the time to package it up properly. The creation tools ought to be a pretty simple task to port too; a command line version would be fine. I don’t even care if it can’t apply DRM; I just want a way to be able to package up free text.

Secondly, you need to either drop the DRM, or drop the price of the books. Let’s consider a real example here. I’m about to start reading Charlie Stross’s The Atrocity Archives.

Let’s get one thing straight here: because there’s DRM, I can’t sell the book when I’m done with it, which breaks the first sale doctrine. Therefore, you’re not actually selling e-books, you’re renting them to me for an indefinite period of time, a bit like Netflix does with DVDs. I’d respect you more if you admitted that.

Anyhow, If I go the Kindle route, it’s $9.99 for the book.

Suppose I go the paper route instead. I can pick up a new copy on amazon.com marketplace for $12 plus $4 shipping = $16. When I’m done reading it, I can sell it for $9 second hand. Total cost to me = $7.

So the Kindle is more expensive, and I can’t actually buy the books. That to me is a poor deal.

Oh, sure, Kindle prices include network bandwidth… but with paper books, I had to include the cost of physically shipping dead tree across the country, and I still came out ahead. If you can’t beat the paper book price-per-reading, you’re doing something seriously wrong.

We’ve all watched the music industry flail around overcharging for DRM-burdened files and get nowhere. Learn from their mistakes. Drop the DRM, or drop the book prices to $5 or so (comparable to a DVD or video game rental, plus some markup to cover network costs) and I’ll order my Kindle tomorrow.

Update: Of course, if you gave me the Kindle for free, I’d use it to buy books from you, and look on the extra cost as a convenience fee.

Christmas preparations

We’ve been out getting the food for Christmas. The supermarket sells corn for squirrels—it even has a picture of a squirrel on the bag. I also picked up a big $3 bag of sunflower seeds, it’ll be their Christmas gift. The man standing behind us in the checkout queue was a squirrel skeptic. “You’re feeding rats!”

We got a fake tree this year, after Mythbusters covered how much damage a tree can do if it catches on fire and rothko decided she didn’t want a real tree in the house after all. Safety aside, there’s something to be said for not having needles everywhere, and having branches strong enough to hold up weightier ornaments. You can get Christmas tree smell as scented candles, and probably as an aerosol too.

The big excitement, though, is that we managed to get some mince pies this year. I don’t think I’d seen any since we visited my family for Christmas several years ago.

No Wii for Christmas. I tried stores, I tried online, no luck. I even tried the Amazon customers vote, which said I had a slightly better chance of winning the chance to buy a Wii than I had of getting hemorrhoids, which kinda makes me feel better that that sort of probability is by no means a sure thing.

Dallas

It appears I have located another job within IBM. What’s more, it’s one that’s entirely suited to my skill set, in the technical sales part of the organization. My appetite has come back with a vengeance.

On Saturday we went on a day trip to Dallas. Kind of insane if you look at the map, but [rothko] had a business meeting, and I didn’t want her to have to drive for 8 hours given her tendonitis. Plus, I needed some distraction from my work situation.

We met up with [stick_figure] and had some lunch; then [rothko] took the Prius to Arlen—er, Garland—and [stick_figure] and I went to the aquarium.

If you know me, you can probably guess the big appeal of the aquarium: otters. In fact, the Dallas World Aquarium is the only place in the US to have el lobo del rio, the Giant River Otter of the Amazon. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 5′ otter.

Dealey Plaza was a strange experience. It’s more or less exactly as it was in 1963. The picket fence is still there, with the car park behind it.