Ian Fleming’s James Bond Audiobook Series Reloaded

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courtesy AudioGo (now merged with Download)

Back in 2013, I ran across some audiobooks that sent my inner Bond and audiobook fanboy into a near ecstatic thrill: Ian Fleming’s books were being narrated by some of the best contemporary English actors, some of whom had Bond connections like Rory Kinnear and Rosamund Pike. As quickly as the excitement built over this new, “reloaded” set of recordings, it died. AudioGo (purveyors of BBC audio books) didn’t publish them in the US, only the UK. So, I could pay more money than I had to import the box CD set, but otherwise, I was out of luck. So close and yet so far.

Recently I was on Audible’s site and, lo and behold, I saw one of the audiobooks on the front page. WHAT? When did this happen? I dug a bit deeper – the whole set was there. It turns out that AudioGo was merged into Downpour and, somewhere during that time, Ian Fleming’s estate must have negotiated audio rights to the US.

BondReloaded

courtesy AudioGo (now merged with downpour)

If you like the hard, gritty cold war Bond of Mr. Fleming’s books and you like audiobooks, you’re in for a serious treat. (if you only know the films, this Bond’s a bit more real, a bit less humorous and a whole lot of fun. You still wouldn’t want your sister to date him.) I know I stumbled upon this, so I really wanted to get the word out. (Also, they’re on sale for 1/2 off at Audible until April 20th)

In all of this excitement, I do want to make clear that my excitement does not diminish my appreciation of Simon Vance’s versions. Even though I’ve listened to Mr. Vance’s prolific narrations of many other books, his voice is always the one that is home for me for Mr. Fleming’s novels. I still love his narration for Bond, my excitement is for some of my favorite actors, many of whom have not had previous connection to Bond, join their voices of narration for the Bond series.

Here’s the entire set with links to the Audible versions. Happy listening.

Title Narrator
Casino Royale Dan Stevens (Sense and Sensibility, Downton Abbey
Live and Let Die Rory Kinnear (Richard II, Skyfall, Imitation Game)
Moonraker Bill Nighy (Underworld, Pirate of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Wild Target, Best Marigold Hotel)
Diamonds Are Forever Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers, Homeland)
From Russia With Love Toby Stephens (Die Another Day, Jane Eyre)
Dr No Hugh Quarshie (Star Wars: Phantom Menace, Casualty, White Heat, Holby City)
Goldfinger Hugh Bonneville (Tomorrow Never Dies, Notting Hill, Downton Abbey, Paddington)
For Your Eyes Only Samuel West (Van Helsing, Fleming,
Thunderball Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Peter Pan, Harry Potter series)
The Spy Who Loved Me Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Jack Reacher, Pride & Prejudice, Gone Girl)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service David Tennant (Blackpool, Dr. Who, Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire, Hamlet)
You Only Live Twice Martin Jarvis (Dr. Who, Titanic, Girl with the Dragon)
The Man With The Golden Gun Sir Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Hamlet, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Wallander)
Octopussy and The Living Daylights Tom Hiddleston (Wallander, Thor, War Horse, Avengers, Henry IV, Henry V)

Lucy Fleming (Cold Warrior, Pirate Radio) Ian Fleming’s niece

Matthew Mather’s Darknet: Great Deal on a Technothriller for Six Days

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Put this one in the quick heads up department: Matthew Mather’s Darknet (about which more here) is on sale for $.99  for the next six days. I haven’t read this one yet, but thoroughly enjoyed his Atopia Chronicles, so I picked it up and put it on the to-be-read list. If you’re up for a technothriller, the future is now (or at least for the next six days). It’s a great deal for a short time; actually it’s a great deal at it’s regular price. (For those of you who are Kindle Unlimited members, the deal gets even better since it’s included in the program.) Either way, you’ll want to check this one out.

Golden Moments in Woman in Gold, a Film Journey to Justice

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This weekend, I want to see “Woman in Gold” directed by Simon Curtis, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds with supporting roles by Katie Holmes and Daniel Brühl with Tatiana Maslany playing the young Maria and Max Irons as her husband Fritz. Helen Mirren does a fabulous job, as usual. While she continues to play the role of a proper and tough old bird, she was able to play this one with a slight Austrian and light humored twist. Ryan Reynolds actually is impressive in this role showing subtlety and some depth of character. While most of the screen time of the supporting roles were short, they were universally strong. One of the things I love about the film is that it dealt with issues such as Nazi’s, hate, being ripped out of your family and the world you love head on without becoming depressing. We were given a sense of what it might have been like to have your world upturned as the world turns against you and takes all that you have. People’s fear and hate separates families, attempts to degrade their humanity, and, often, kills them. The film, however, does not dwell on our depravity. Rather, it uses that history to enrich, educate, and move the storytelling along. Clearly this movie was not meant to be a documentary; it was meant to engage us emotionally in the challenges of this Austrian Jewish refugee and her lawyer. It is a story of the efforts that we go through to maintain the status quo, no matter what and the challenges in changing that. While there were clearly morals we were supposed to draw from the story, it did not seem to use a hammer to nail them into our heads. Rather it allowed the story to make its own plea to our conscience. All in all, I think it deftly rode that fine line between entertaining storytelling and making a point. I thoroughly enjoyed all of it: the visuals, the acting, and the world into which we were drawn.

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Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

One particular aspect of cinematic brilliance was Mr. Curtis’ method of handling Maria’s memories. We’ve seen lots of cinematic attempts at portraying trips down memory lane. When Maria is drawn into a memory, it is handled in a beautifully organic way where the present slowly moves and melds into the past or sometimes the past comes up abruptly around the corner. You have that sense, however, that the past is always with her but there are times when it becomes more present. Where those memories impose themselves on her current vision and we have an opportunity to share that with her in the film. I think it’s probably the best way I’ve seen evoking past memories in a film.


While I didn’t look at many reviews of this movie I was taken by surprise by Peter Debruge’s review in Variety suggesting that Woman in Gold was heavy-handed because it didn’t portray both sides of the story. It narrowly-mindedly took Marie Altmann’s side of the story. Now, I can see someone saying it was a bit heavy-handed in its morals, that it wore them out on its sleeve. To say, however, that it wasn’t balanced enough simply seems to misunderstand its point. This isn’t a documentary with balanced journalism, this is storytelling. Now while I’m sure it hopes to be accurate, it is engaging us emotionally in this woman’s and her lawyer’s journey, not trying to provide a neutral article about the case of this particular art restitution. I do not personally know a lot about this case. It does strike me that the Nazis came in, took her family’s home and took everything they owned. I don’t know that that is in dispute. Hence, I’m not sure I’m deeply worried about presenting equal sides when their stuff was taken from them by the Nazis. Also, I don’t know if this particular element of the film was accurate, but it appears that Maria offers to allow the gallery to hang onto the paintings as long as they admit the wrong. They declined. If that’s accurate my sympathy Wayne’s. So I saw that is simply a bizarre response to a non-documentary movie engaging us on this issue.

Chimera: Universe Eventual Reviewed with Great Storytelling Purposely Executed

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Just when you thought it was safe and easy to read YA sci-fi, Chimera: Universe Eventual comes in with a fresh twist. If you like page turner’s with well-timed pacing or sci-fi with large scale stakes, Chimera is the book for you. I’ll attempt to at least hint at why Chimera handles those elements (and more) of storytelling with aplomb without revealing spoilers  It’s premise is that long ago, far far away (no, not that franchise), a big bad corporation on Earth didn’t exactly follow the motto “do no harm.” So all of its member families were shipped off to another habitable moon to live out their lives until the gene pool was different enough from their ancestors that they could return in a “newly diverse DNA, new chance” move. Clearly these folks believed that DNA structure is as least a large factor in your behavior. As you can imagine, it takes a while to diversify the pool amongst members of the same pool. Earth may want to rethink that strategy if future need arises. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (namely, Stephen’s Point), supplies from Earth halted, so they think that that time is up and for the last 15 years they’ve been prepping to go back by rebuilding the ship in which they arrived. Part of manning the ship is a mandatory selection process that’s designed to include the aforementioned DNA diversity as well as all the attributes you want in a crew: intelligence, reasonable risk-taking, good problem-solving and the psychological makeup to allow them to get along. Being selected is coveted among those eligible for selection; they’re fairly desperate to leave the moon and fly the ship back to Earth. Not surprisingly, not everyone will take the legitimate path to become selected and, in some cases, people will try to avoid selection. Mix into all of this a strange religion based on the ramblings of the original navigator that arrived at the moon, and you have a cocktail for some pretty interesting relationships and events.

[Full Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy for an honest review.]

Viewed from on high, there are a lot of elements in this book that we’ve seen elsewhere. There’s the tough sergeant that drills the candidates for selection. There’s the competent, independent girl with a drunk for a father.  There’s the semi-crazy guy that wants to rule the world. There’s the boy who can’t seem to get it together but has talent he hides all to well and the seemingly perfect girl who has an on/off relationship with the bumbling boy with all of this whirling about in an ever-shifting dance of relationship. Of course, these relationships are also lived out within interesting family lives. All of this placed within a dystopian atmosphere. One of the really great features about this book is that, despite surface-level similarities, as soon as you get into the actual story, there are twists and nuances to all of those elements. They’re done in a new fresh way, they’re well executed, they work well for building the story, and they make sense. So while the training is reminiscent of all sorts of basic training scenes, this one’s done differently and done well. The authors also do a really nice job of juxtaposing the different storylines in the pacing between the story threads so, while you’re fully immersed and enjoying the thread you’re on (and want to see where it goes), the new thread’s equally intriguing. You’re pulled throughout the book and it’s a challenge to put down with the “real world” comes pressing for attention.

Overall the relationships are well constructed while not being trivially obvious in the way that they work out. There are even a couple of characters who inordinately difficult to know what they’ll do next. The relationships are also defined by the society in which they live. There are hierarchies, relationships among the hierarchies, and specific elements of that are based upon the mandate to return to earth. The mandate, by the way, is essentially martial law without the military, but with police (Regulators). Along with the obligatory selection process, there are other types of mandatory work assignments for folks not involved in piloting the ship that are mandatory. Permeating everything that people do is the underlying desire for survival. If the status quo were to be maintained, the colony would run out of food and other essentials.

All of the world-building, character development and relationships is harnessed to the story. For example, descriptive detail provided for the world conveys life on Steven’s Point, the moon on which they live, and its environs so that you get a distinct feel for the life of the communities, and the work being done on the Rim and on the Hydra, the ship servicing the Chimera allow you to fill the grit and chaos of the ship port in the order and restrictions of ship life. This level provides the backdrop for the events, the characters and their relationships that allow the story to make sense and progress. So, it’s exactly “right-sized” to do this well and efficiently. It is not, however, to the level of detail that you’ll bask in the world and its various facets. I suspect no one will geek-out over Chimera but will know everything about Chimera required to keep build the story. This allows the book to maintain a fluid and quick pace.

N J Tanger

Courtesy Facebook, The Universe Eventual Team. From right to left: Nathan M. Beauchamp, Rachael Tanger, and Joshua Russell.

I also want to note that, simply from a novel creation process, this story presents a cohesive whole even while three people worked on various aspects of it. I don’t see a dramatic shift in tone, timing, or talk throughout the book. Given the age of the protagonists of the story, I guess it will be considered YA sci-fi. I think it’s appropriate for all ages. If you’re need your sci-fi to be hard or military based, this may not be your cup of tea; while it has elements of both, that’s not its focus. The story is first and foremost about the characters that people it and what becomes of them. So it’s not a character study per se, but characters are key. It’s not just about the events, but the events inform the relationships the characters to provide the basis for the overall narrative drive. It’s fundamentally a story about difficult times which challenge talented people and tries their character and relationships.

So, the characters are believable, the relationships are intriguing, the world building fits the story with the characters and their relationships all driving a fast-paced narrative that constantly keeps you wanting more. Really, a remarkable novel debuting this series.

What I loved:

  • twists on familiar themes
  • all elements come together to push forward the story
  • realistic relationships and context for them
  • world building in support of the story
  • pacing and drive
  • great ending
  • cool book cover

What I less fond of:

  • the idea of fractal space travel was pretty vague, in fact it was pretty much magic, albeit magic you must carefully manage and harness
  • use of AI in the Chimera, spiders and their connection could have been more fully developed; that may be another way of saying that I’m really interested in seeing how they are developed in the sequel.

Anyone who happens to follow this blog knows that I have a pet peeve against poor endings, by which I mean the author simply stops writing without wrapping the book up. This does not mean tying a neat little ribbon around everyone and everything in the book, but taking time to bring some closure. This is especially an issue with books in a series. I’m happy to say that the N J Tanger team do an excellent job of wrapping up this first book. They did a nice job enticing us to read the next book (really looking forward to it) while clearly winding up the first chapter in the lives of those on the Chimera. Nicely done

A solid 4 star debut to the series. Chimera is available April 25th,2015. You can order now.  I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure.

Jean le Flambeur Series, The Quantum Thief Book 1 Reviewed

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In this series, we have The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince, and The Causal Angel. There is so much to love in Hannu Rajaniemi’s books. It is almost an embarrassment of riches. It would’ve been enough if he could tell a good tale, and he does. It would be enough if he had rich, vibrant, palpable detail in his books and he does. It would be geeky cool if he could toss off some references to quantum theory and, oh, does he. It would be coolly retro if he could loosely base a character on a 19th century French gentleman thief (Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin), and he does. It would be amazing if he could have a spaceship that has more personality than its captain, and he does. The truly stunning accomplishment of this series is that he melds all of this together as a seamless whole that makes sense.  I could thoroughly enjoy the descriptions of Game Theory puzzles without ever knowing anything about Game Theory, Hawking drives without knowing anything about blackhole event horizons, and gentlemen thieves without ever having read M. LeBlanc. Knowledge of those things certainly adds layers of enrichment, but it is not essential to enjoying the story. I fear that a number of people might be intimidated by Hannu Rajaniemi’s series due to the sheer volume and esoteric nature of Mr. Rajaniemi’s references. You really do have everything here, whether it’s a an aside to Sherlockian quote or references to particle physics, string theory, game theory, quantum mechanics and logic puzzles. It is a geek’s paradise, but not reserved strictly for geeks. In other words, you do not need to get every reference to enjoy this book. Does it add some to the experience? Absolutely. May the book be thoroughly enjoyed without it? By all means.

In this post, I’ll review The Quantum Thief with separate posts reviewing the subsequent novels.

Hannu Rajaniemi

Hannu Rajaniemi

So it all begins with our gentleman thief in a dilemma prison playing out endless iterations of a dilemma. It is a game he cannot win; one in which failure means being shot and going through the process that entails. Yet he is “resurrected” in this virtual world to play again and again. This isn’t hell, but it’s the next best thing to being there; it makes Groundhog Day look idyllic. He’s set free by an Ooratian warrior and her trusted AI-enabled ship. The adventure begins. (For a slightly more detailed synopsis, go here.)

What is it I love so much about the books and, in particular, The Quantum Thief? Let’s break it down a bit: the narrative is the poster-child of epic. It is writ over a large canvas of the solar system (and many virtual worlds). It is peopled with a variety of types of creatures, virtual and otherwise, from deeply different cultures. The stakes are high, eventually with the continued existence of the universe on the line. You get some sense of that in this book, but it becomes even more apparent in the rest of the series.   The action is clever, varied and “right-paced”: some fast-paced and some providing exquisite detail. The dialog is perfectly fitted to the characters, efficient in use (not a lot of wasted dialog) and, once again, clever.

Despite the author’s penchant for detail, for tossing in pop science and cultural references left and right, and for building this very descriptive set of events that occur, his story still moves quickly. We have lots of terrific detail, we have lots of great characters and we have a plethora of side references, none of which slow the story down. Indeed, they help move it forward. Now, this is a story in which you could easily get bogged down. If, for example, you wanted to tie back to every referenced item or needed to thoroughly explore certain references in great detail, you will likely become side-railed (in a lovely way) but it could distract from the storyline. For me, what made the most sense was to move forward with the story, often listening to the audiobook, and then going back and reading the section over again and exploring the references in which I was most interested. Again, you do not have to do that to enjoy the story, but I really love this story and am inordinately curious about science, literature, geek culture and just about everything. Listening to the story and going back allowed me keep the thread of the narrative whilst experiencing a deeper and richer story and universe. This is atypical of my experience with books. most books don’t contain as many layers. It is rare that I have an opportunity read a book that intersects such a range of interests in such a delightful way; I do not begrudge the opportunity to go through the book again. In other words, I put more effort into this book than most and was amply rewarded.  I did, however, pick and choose my “deeper dives” versus a quick reference.

As a bit of an aside, for the quick references, reading on my Kindle made this effortless. When I came on across a new (to me) but not-invented term, I would simply highlight the word and a pop-up giving a dictionary definition or a summary from Wikipedia would appear. I could find out about the term and move on now. There are number of artificial but derivative terms that this process also helped identify. As far as I know there’s no such thing as Hawking drives, but there is a related concept, Hawking radiation, and that ties into how the Hocking drives work. I love it when I learn more about our world from reading about an invented one. By the way, the worlds of Jean le Flambeur do get a little complicated and hard to follow, here’s a helpful reference wiki.

The Quantum Thief is world creation par excellence. The worlds and their related cultures are detailed with care, using the story, action and dialog to bring out their details. Now, it is interesting to see that there were a number of reviews, at least on Amazon, that loathed the book. One of the recurring themes is that the author will use unexplained terms. He’ll embed in a dialog or description of action a new term, say, q-dots, without telling you what they are. Mr. Rajaniemi’s typical M.O. is to use the term, provide enough context to hint at the basics of what it means and provide exposition through dialog or description later. My guess, and mind you, it’s just a guess, is that by the time he does give a more thorough explanation of a term or concept, you’ve had enough hints that the explanation takes less time than it might otherwise. While this is frustrating for some, it allows the maximum understanding of a term with a minimal effort, thus avoiding dragging the story down with exposition. Admittedly, the delay can be maddening (hence the reviews) but with all of the new ideas he introduces, this story would drag and the books would be the size of Patrick Rothfuss’ or George R. R. Martin’s books. Mr. Rajaniemi leans on the densely packed but slightly delayed side of things.

Mieli Releases the Sentinels by Laczi

Not only are the relationships well-developed over time, not only are they multidimensional and complex, not only do they include the love-hate relationship that often happens between people, but where there are shifts, nuances, changes, or re-mappings of relationships, they all fit in the context of the narrative. Any movement among relationships help drive the narrative as well as help bring sense to the characters involved. It is not as if the changes are inevitable, that they are part of some fatalistic plan on what “must have” happened throughout the story. But they make sense. They are not simply there for their own sake, but help make sense of the narrative drive of the story, of where it’s going, what’s going to happen next, and who’s involved in what way at what time. Even when those characters that we come to love die a sad and lonely death, that even makes sense. There is love and loss, there is heartbreak and hope, there are jaded elements as well as true trust amongst the character, much of which comes from the most unlikely sources. In the Quantum Thief, I love the relationships between Jean, Mieli, and Perhonen. Love/hate, trust/watchful, and humorous/serious facets of their relationships come out at different times. The intricate social relationships amongst members of the Oubliette and the Zoku are a sight to behold. The whole ritual of how much Gevulot to open or how much to pass on to the exomemory are intriguing. Living in the Oubliette is one long, careful dance.

You want characters? It’s got ‘em. Of course you have a whole universe of foreign souls with which to populate the story. When you have lots of canvas on which to paint, “new” and “various” are the watch words of the day.  While Mr. Rajaniemi draws on a ton of reference material, make no mistake: his story, world and people are all quite new. For example, while we see an almost steampunk society in the Oubliette of Mars, we also see a hint of Regency England and more than a hint of a unique future world. We see an oddly communal society in the Zoku based on areas of interest. Later on in the series, you’ll see a whole society built on Arabian culture from Earth full of Jinn and wild stories. In all of this, you always have  the question of whether you’re in the physical or virtual realm, even a world within world. This keeps you on your toes. So you have many cultures and worlds all interacting to move the story along while giving context for characters to grow and relationships to blossom.

As you can probably guess from the above, this is one of my favorite books and favorite series. There is very little not to love with a whole lot to love. It is the book of a renaissance man hitting all of the buttons of things I love, hitting a few I didn’t even know I loved and doing so within the context of great story and relationships.

So what do I not like about the book? Chirp, chirp, chirp – I’m having trouble coming up with much but one of my favorite characters dies in the series and I hate that.

Scott Brick

Scott Brick

As I indicated above, I listened to the audiobook. Because it’s dense material, I don’t recommend that be your only way of taking in the content, despite it being an excellent recording. Scott Brick does his usual fabulous job narrating. Mr. Brick is up there in the pantheon of favorite narrators and hits all the right notes on this one. His pacing, emphasis, and enunciation are nearly flawless, which is a particularly challenging feat since it’s loaded with technical material and new terms.  The good news is that he also narrates The Fractal Prince. The bad (and, quite frankly, puzzling) news is that he does not narrate A Causal Angel. More about this switch and the narration here.

I cannot commend this book and series enough.

 

Recent Technology Changes and their Implications for Music and Books Series, Part 3

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Disruption Happens: A Change is Gonna Come

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Courtesy of Amazon.com

In this third part of the series of recent technological changes, especially in touch and voice interface, and their implications, we’re going to look at how these changes might disrupt both how we acquire, interact, and contribute to content. In our previous posts we touched on the effects that these changes are having, now we’ll dive in a bit more. One of the most startling changes is our access to content. Whether it’s Amazon and their instant download of books, music or movies or services like Netflix, Pandora, Xbox music, iTunes or the ever present Youtube, we have dead easy access to lots of content in a much more affordable way than ever before. That, in and of itself, is a huge disruption to the marketing models of yesteryear and to our interaction with the content – no access, no interaction. As with any disruption, there are good and challenging aspects to it. For less well-known artists, whether they are writers, musicians, or, to a lesser extent, directors and actors, there are many legitimate channels available to make a living off of content creation. Self-publishing is no longer vanity press, webisodes are no longer amateur hour and Noisetrade isn’t just for the artist that haven’t made it. These are all ways that great artists can now connect with their audience which were prohibitively expensive and controlled by publishers under previous marketing models. Now, sure enough, prices have also gone down and it is still a challenge to make a living as a writer, singer or actor. If you’re self-published, you have the additional challenge of all the publishing aspects getting great cover art reviewers etc. along with being a marketer of your product. Not that authors weren’t involved to some degree previously, but it’s completely on them in the self-publishing world. For well-known artists, the drop in prices can mean a drop in income and established brick-and-mortar stores may become unviable. Distribution channels may wax and wane differently as people choose to cut cable and go over the web. Disruptive technologies cause disruption and we haven’t seen the full fallout of these changes in acquiring content yet.

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Courtesy of Hollowcrownsfans.com

From a consumer perspective, it’s fabulous. For example, I am able to interact with writers much more readily, have access to their content, for all practical purposes, instantly and am able to more readily find those with similar interests and connect with them. Building communities around content is not especially new, book clubs have existed for a long time, but more focused communities are more readily available. Whether their for fans of the Bard connecting through ShakespeareSunday and tweeting their favorite quotes to geeking out with fellow sci-fi and fantasy fans on Sword and Laser video various community sites or their Goodreads group. Of course, this also impacts content creation and fanfiction, fan-movies and influencing what’s created through Kickstarter projects. I can readily see short movies like Gödel Incomplete made as part of a student project halfway across the world in Australia. I’ve explained elsewhere the benefits of streaming music services and musical exploration. I’m not sure there’s a better time in history of man to be a reader, movie aficionado, or music connoisseur than now. I’m also not sure that there is a better time to be a content creator with the possible exception of very well-known writers, actors and musicians.

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Courtesy of Microsoft

As we’ve previously touched on, the new interfaces have made access to content easier. Prior to e-readers, we didn’t have instant access to books and they tended to be more expensive. Prior to computers and tablets, we had more limited access to movies, TV shows and other visual content. Prior to smartphones and digital audio players, we had more restricted access to music. All of these are dependent on the Internet. Prior to streaming services, I had much more limited access, financially, to new music, new artists, and new experiences. Clearly I can’t interact with that to which I have no access, so this is the most disruptive part of it all.

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Courtesy of Amazon.com

My ability to highlight and keep notes on books that are available anywhere at any time and that are able to be incorporated into other content like reviews is huge. My ability to impact others is also larger. While word of mouth remains a critical force for influencing others, my blogs, Amazon reviews and freelancing have a much farther reach. With streaming services, I can compare different renditions of Nina Simone’s “I put a spell on you.” As I hear new music in Starbucks, I can use Bing music search or Shazam on my Windows phone to find out who they are and listen to their album. And, of course, I can do this just about anywhere. I can read, listen and view anywhere, at any time (presuming technology works, for example, I’m in a place that has Wi-Fi or LTE access). On the content creation side, I can write, critique and comment from just about anywhere as well. Even things like podcasts or music videos may be done reasonably well from lots more places than a standard studio. Access to prosumer high definition cameras (even my Lumia 920 smartphone has the ability to capture 1080p video with optical stabilization), decent microphones (like Blue’s Yeti) and rudimentary sound baffling can result in a good music video. The hurdles to content creation are starkly lower than they have been in the past.

Courtesy of blog.dnevnik.hr

Courtesy of blog.dnevnik.hr

We’ve seen an explosion in audiobooks with the advent of audio downloads. Long gone are the days of the vast majority of a catalog being abridged. Most audiobooks are being produced in full and with good sound. Access was limited to a CD (or cassette) and a car or home; now you can listen anywhere. Many writers now take into consideration their words being read aloud for an audiobook as they write. This bit of technology, in other words, has changed what writers do. Once upon a time, the only way you heard a concert was to go to the concert hall. If you couldn’t afford it or you weren’t free at that time, no content. Records changed all that. Radios change that. People were able to hear Mozart’s Magic Flute or Beethoven’s “Chorale” Symphony for the first time. In the beginning the sound fidelity was pretty weak by the time stereo records run the scene, the fidelity was pretty strong. Now we can experience The Magic Flute on our tablet. We could go down history lane beginning with handwritten manuscripts, to the printing press and to e-books, but ease of access, financial and otherwise, results in an explosion of content use and, thereby, creation. Bring on the distruption.

Courtsey of Amazon.com

Courtsey of Amazon.com

But all this is been about either access or socially sharing information. Does touch or voice interface have any disruptive capabilities? Well, clearly it does for the visual and hearing impaired; this ought not to go dismissed. Even beyond that however, any time interacting with media is made easier, that changes the game. Simplifying and opening up access is disruptive. Think about the ease-of-use of a cassette player over a record player. It allowed you to be mobile with Walkmans and car players where you had to be home to play your records (with the exception of some awkward portability). The care and feeding of a cassette player was considerably easier than a record player. Music consumption grew. Having music easily accessible on our smartphones without going through a lot of buttons and menus does likewise while encouraging us to experiment more, mashup and mix as well as try new genres. The fact that we can speak to our Amazon Echo increases my family’s sharing music, and sometimes arguing over our favorite music. So it’s not only (typically) easier but more fun. It’s a communal activity. Of course some changes allow us to go back. We can use that Bluetooth speaker to stream things like the audio play Ender’s Game Alive for all of us to sit around and listen just like with the radio plays of old.

Surely there are disruptions that I don’t see coming as a result of voice and touch access, but disruptions will come. Long live the revolution.

East Main Guest House – Quiet Calm, Great Breakfast and Personable People in the Heart of Rock Hill, SC

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EastMainGuestHouseOutside

While today’s post isn’t precedent-breaking, it is only my second travel review (the Minnis House being the first). I recently found myself needing a place to stay in Rock Hill, South Carolina (just below Charlotte, NC). The first night was for four people, the second night was for six and the last night for two. So, I was trying to find a suite that could accommodate six where at least two rooms could do so. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, hotel rooms were booked all over Rock Hill. So I found myself looking at bed-and-breakfasts; I use the word “myself” loosely here. Kelly, my wife, did the research. East Main Guest House seemed like a good destination. It’s within walking distance to downtown, easy driving distance to a mall (which became critical about which more later). The prices were no more than any other local commercial hotel and it had a real breakfast thrown in. Mind you, four of the six guests are teenagers, so there’s some real eating going on here.

EMGHRoom

The B&B turned out to be quite a delight. Not only did they accommodate my expanding needs, but did so with panache. The proprietor (and cook), Melba Peterson was very helpful as were Scott & Donna Peterson who have a little more hands-on taking care of the place. The inn is spotless, the people personable, and the food is fabulous. Ms. Peterson is ready to engage you in conversation or leave you alone, as you desire. What we enjoyed most was the quiet and calm of the inn (compared with most commercial hotels) and the breakfasts. Logistically, as I noted it’s near downtown and there’s plenty of parking in the back with entry and exit easily accomplished. I had to go to the local mall to outfit one of the teen boys in full regalia as he didn’t bring a suit and tie for the occasion. I walked into J. C. Penny with a semi-casual looking boy and came out with a GQ stud (yes they allowed us to buy and wear on the spot – suit, tie, shirt, t-shirt and shoes). Being near the mall proved to be very helpful.

I would highly recommend the East Main Guest House to anyone staying in Rock Hill, whether passing through or staying for a week. You’ll enjoy the ambiance, the conversation, and the food.

Recent Technology Changes and their Implications for Music and Books Series, Part 2

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Part II:  Recent User Experience Changes on Books, Music and Movies

In the first post in this series, we looked at recent technological changes; in particular, we focused on touch and intelligent voice interface. In this, second in the series, we’ll examine how these changes may play out with regard to media focusing on books with a brief look at music, and movies. We’ll look at the current implications of these changes and some potential unrealized. We’ll also look at use of voice and touch to do things other than make stuff happen, in others, look beyond simply seeing them as a replacement for keyboards and mice. Some changes, of course, are already underway. By the way, most of the examples of what I’ll be discussing come from Amazon. It, along with Microsoft (and especially XBox’s Kinect) are doing the most consumer based innovation on interacting with content. So what are the themes as we see technology change our interactions with content, especially regarding books:

  1. We’ll use whatever works best, including combinations of interfacing with it. 
  2. We’ll start doing some new things like bimodal reading
  3. We will do more sharing, commenting and creating of content in reaction to the content we consume.

Current State: Navigating and Syncing with Touch and Voice

If we look at e-readers, we see that voice and touch both already play a role. Starting with the Kindle Touch, we obviously see touch interface with the reader. This continued through the Kindle Paperwhite and the Voyage. Clearly, there are other e-readers that perform similarly.

AmazonKindleFontSelect

What the Kindle readers also bring is Whispersync for Voice. Now this is different from a typical voice interface since this involves syncing between audiobooks (hence, the narrator’s voice, not yours) and e-books. So, it’s neither an intelligent interpretation of words nor a way to directly interact with the book that were reviewing here. Rather, it’s using location recognition within a book that is available for both voice and E text to sync with one another so that you may start the e-book from the last place you listened to the audiobook and vice versa. (More on which here.) So it’s helping navigate, sure enough, in the sense that it’s getting you to the point that you want to be, but not based on voice commands.

Audible-Whispersync-Audiobooks

 

New rule – no rules, mix, match, notes, research: use touch, voice and everything else as needed. 

So that leads us to our first point, which is not all the updates using touch or voice are all about navigating or commanding. Our second point is that you should not limit yourself to one interface even with the same object. This is the “mixed martial arts” version of an interface, use what works. So it could be that you take a combination of pen entry and/or freehand drawing voice and text all to make your point, or convey information. As one of the beauties about Microsoft OneNote is the product’s built-in ability to use as touch, pen, voice, or keyboard – whatever works. That’s really what this is all about making stuff work making it work more easily make it work more quickly being more productive. OneNote can even take an image with text embedded in it and OCR that text to the point where it’s editable. It’s a little like Johnny Bench, it will take whatever you throw at it any way that you throw it.

ONeNoteSample

So, we don’t use new styles of navigation simply for the sake of being new, but they’re actually helpful. Changes in e-book interface using voice and touch are established. There’s also some other sensory data that play a role, for example, on the Voyage there’s a sensor that allows it to recognize the ambient light around the reader and adjust the light accordingly. So the interface is made brighter based on the environment. Also if we turn the device the print will translate to landscape. One of the nice things I like and using the Microsoft Surface tablet in the Kindle app is to put it in portrait mode for comics and there’s a feature where you can tap through sub- pieces of the panel within the comic and it will enlarge that area so it recognizes that you may want a slightly larger viewing area than the whole page and so it will expand out that part and dam and make smaller the rest of the comic so that it’s a little bit more clear and you can actually navigate from sub-panel the subpanel without ever going to the full panel. Practical and brilliant use of touch interface.

Screenshot (20)

We also must recognize what works well and voice and touch have their limitations. In the Voyage, you have the option of using the screen to navigate or using tactile presses called PagePress that are along the sides of the bezel. While the initial push was to mimic the process of reading a book on paper as much as possible, over time, we recognize this may not be the best way to experience an e-book. That sometimes means recognizing that it will involve a different process than paper. In the case of the Voyage, you see a step seemingly backward by now allow separate button-like pushes to navigate. This may simply be recognizing that while similar to a print books, it is different and some things work better than others in that medium. All this is to say touch and voice are already playing a role in how we interact with books, albeit, the voice interaction isn’t our voice directing things.

KindleVoyageFeatures

 

We Can Navigate – What’s Next?

But where could this be going? Well there’s some real clear ways you can see this process moving forward in terms of taking notes. One of the great benefits of having it on Kindle as you can note some highlighted passage and get back to that later for review or research. It would be terrific, if you could simply speak out your notes and their translated into textual notes and saved associated with that passage ala Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Enabling intelligent voice search within a Kindle would be terrific as well and then could be extended to intelligent voice search within an audio book. I can see having a more tightly integrated audible interface into the Amazon Echo, so that you can search, start, stop, and bookmark audible books via the Echo. All of this would simply be an evolution of what’s already there for touch and voice. Amazon also experimented with an artificial voice reader of text for those who have difficulty reading. This was never a substitute for a narrated book, but rather a stop-gap for those who could not read the text well. The Kindle Fire allows for binaural reading, which essentially has the text and the audio portion synced together as your reading. So the text dynamically follows along at the same pace as the voice. There are some studies that suggest the content is retained at a greater level when binaural reading is used. So, touch and audio aren’t necessarily all flash and amazing intelligence; they may work in such a natural and embedded way that you don’t even notice that they’re involved in your interface.

Inside Echo Sound

Inside Echo Sound

From an audio perspective, obviously audio is already deeply involved with books. There are even experiments in providing a more immersive experience with books via background music and noises; a sort of soundtrack for the book. See, for example, Booktrack and read A Scandal in Bohemia complete with music, sounds of horse hooves along cobbled stone Victorian streets, the bell at 221B being rung and footfalls up the stairs. Also check out Soundtrack to a Book. While this may distract as much as immerse, it’s a whole new way to interact with books. For myself, I prefer imagination and a little book music.

booktrack

Booktrack

 

Listening to music is another place where voice and, even touch, have made little change.  Other than generic searches that lead to music, we don’t see much in the way of voice being used to access any of your playlist until Echo came along and changed that to some degree. Now voice can be used to search for music search for artists, request an album, and request a song via Amazon’s Echo. Clearly that’s a bit of a boon to those who are visually challenged, but it does take a practiced effort to get what you want out of the Echo. One of the things that I’ve noticed, for example, is that the search results returned an item as opposed to a list of items among which to choose. So if it’s not the version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that you desire, you don’t have an easy recourse other than more specific searching. In other words, were a long way from using natural English to elegantly interface with music players or anything else. While we have some touch-enabled interface, for example iTunes, Beats Music, Spotify or Xbox Music players on smartphones and tablets. So there’s nice ways to navigate there is well-presented albums and their respective covers, it still mostly around allowing touch is a way to navigate with your music in very similar manner as using keyboard and mouse. It’s nice that they’ve finally gotten to the point where they incorporate the idea that I don’t want to scroll through hundreds and hundreds of things to get to what I want and that search isn’t always the way want to go either. So like this idea of navigating to an album by clicking on the letter brings up the alphabet, then selecting the album beginning with that letter. On the PC it’s even a little bit weaker we see Xbox Music allow you to use touch interface is just as easy to do the same thing with a mouse why then select yellow submarine.

Amazon Fire TV Android App

Amazon Fire TV Android App

In other words, so far, there’s been relatively little effort into how we might interface with our music with touch beyond navigation. Do we want to do some mash-ups. Are there ways that we can use touch to more dynamically build playlists. How about I literally shuffle images to build a shuffle playlist. I honestly don’t think we’ll see a new shift in how we interact with interfaces via touch and tell we have some ability to mimic 3-D, then the possibilities will open up. Are there ways that we can visually represent the music via touch more readily or more creatively at least. So one of the things that I think will see changes not only is touch fused to navigate with our media, potential be used interact with our media. What if I want to build a video/slideshow by grabbing bits of music and pictures and even other video and mashing them up. I suspect there’s a way to do this with multiple fingers in such a way that it’s really creative and fun almost a game. Similarly with voice, not only do we went to navigate via our voice or issue commands, but possibly use a tone for voice to indicate a beginning of a song that we want to pull into a playlist. Hum a song and have it identified on shazam. Build riffs off of current songs that were listening to and place them within another context. Indeed, I think we’ll see that the next step in touching voice is less about navigation commands and making things happen, and more about interacting with the media itself.

XBox 360 with Kinect

XBox 360 with Kinect

Of course, of recent innovations with how we interact with content, XBox’s Kinect where motion is used to interact with the user interface as well as games. Windows also uses movement and gestures to interact with the OS; many people find this interface unintuitive, but it is innovative nonetheless.

Viloin with Books

 

We Creating, Not Merely Consuming

The technological impact on consuming media then it goes well beyond navigating and initiating via voice and touch. We see the enabling of information the idea of x-ray or IMDb together more information why you’re consuming books and or movies, the ability to insert your own notes and highlights and come back to those in the ability to share through things like good reads your experience within that content. In other words creating content sharing via various social media writing your notes bringing it together for a reading group or movie club are all going to change Artie have changed the ways that we consume the content. Will look at embedded trailers before we go to the movie or view it online. We’ll look at reviews before we purchase a book. All of that information changes, at least a little bit, how we interact with our content.

Example Kindle notes

Example Kindle notes

In other words creating content sharing via various social media writing your notes bringing it together for a reading group or movie club are all going to change Artie have changed the ways that we consume the content. Will look at embedded trailers before we go to the movie or view it online. We’ll look at reviews before we purchase a book. All of that information changes, at least a little bit, how we interact with our content.

X-Ray Example

X-Ray Example

A similar notion, using IMDB, holds for movies:

amazon-x-ray

X-Ray for movies

 

 

The Waiting Room

J. T. Frazier:

Cool review of “The Waiting Room” by Alysha Kaye from someone who does not normally love romance novels

Originally posted on sand between the pages:

The Waiting Room

by Alysha Kaye

The Waiting Room

Jude and Nina are the epitome of that whole raw, unflinching love thing that most people are jealous of. That is, until Jude dies and wakes up in The Waiting Room, surrounded by other souls who are all waiting to pass over into their next life. But unlike those souls, Jude’s name is never called by the mysterious “receptionist”. He waits, watching Nina out of giant windows. He’s waiting for her. What is this place? How long will he wait? And what will happen when and if Nina does join him? The Waiting Room is a story of not just love, but of faith, predestination, and philosophy, friendship and self-actualization, of waiting.

I tend to approach romance books like a 10 year old boy: Love!? YUCK!  It’s stupid really because I need love stories as a sub-plot to my murder mysteries, survival thrillers, and superhero stories. …

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Martha Goddard’s Brilliant Film Short Gödel, Incomplete

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It’s funny how things come together. We have times where you’ll see similar themes emerge quite organically in culture. We’ve seen movies recently about mathematical and scientific geniuses like Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. But clearly it isn’t just the smarts that bring us to the movies. There has to be a dramatic element and often a romantic element. I love to see this mix, this intersection of art and science, partly to connect to what would seem so foreign such as esoteric string theory and quantum mechanics or game theory and cryptography. Now, of course, Mr. Turing has built-in drama in his life and in his work during the war. Mr. Hawking has a embedded drama in his life as well in pushing beyond his terrible disease to keep working.

Martha Goddard

Martha Goddard

Austrailian Writer/Director Martha Goddard has a new short (15 minutes) out called Gödel, Incomplete starring Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, upcoming Man from Uncle) and Matt Zeremes (Burke&Wills, Australian TV shows The Surgeon, Home and Away). This movie aligns itself well with the geek chic that we have seen in the last few years with everything from Numb3rs and comedy The Big Bank Theory to Sherlock and Elementary. Gödel, Incomplete celebrates the intellect and relationship whilst leaving an intriguing question about Kurt Gödel’s research that led to thinking on time-travel. Indeed, in a separate post, I’ll explore a little bit more on this coming together of worlds celebrated by geeks and others.

 

Returning to the movie, however, there are some theoretical underpinnings posited by Mr. Gödel related to time travel. In particular, the Gödel Metric, timeline curves which could allow for a form of time travel, are well established. The application of rotating universes leading to time travel was thought by most of Mr. Gödel’s colleagues to be results of Mr. Gödel’s mental deterioration and paranoia. It was a work left undone. So, the title is a nod to both the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem (basically showing , using a self-referential mathematics, that all of math cannot be derived from a set of axioms) and his unfinished work on time travel.

Matt Zeremes

Matt Zeremes

The movie starts out with a young woman, who is a particle physicist, working late at a particle accelerator (in fact the LHC). When she initiates the smashing of atoms at enormous speeds, it seems to put her into a time warp. She is led once to an older Gödel and later to a younger. Now it’s hard to say much about a 15-minute film without giving away spoilers. What I will say is that this short film does what any great form of short story does. It paints in hints and short brushstrokes of brief frames to build a whole relationship, a development over time. It’s rather stunning that Ms. Goddard is able to build this world, this relationship, this idea of time travel with such a brief use of time.

Elizabeth Debicki

Elizabeth Debicki

There are so many perfect production touches in film; I’ll simply give away one (small) spoiler: on returning from an early time trip, our protagonist, Serita, loses her cookies. I can imagine a little bit of time travel might be disorienting. So too, might meeting an older Kurt Gödel. She even puts to good use a bad habit; our physicist smokes, nicely tying into an earlier time when many smoked. Each of these touches make it feel more real. The music (excellent work by Basil Hogios, sets much of the atmosphere of the movie), transition scenes into Gödel’s world, and clarity of the frames without being harshly stark all point to great production value despite being a short film. While the roles only provide glimpses, the actors really do a nice job communicating with eyes, body language and movement to sustain that sense of developed familiarity. As I indicated above, I’ll dive deeper into this intersection of science, mathematics and humanities, for lack of a better word, that seem to be bubbling up everywhere, but I simply love its expression here.

 

It would be fabulous to see this project extended to flesh out the relationship even further, to build out the notion of time travel and the effects that it has on both Serita, Kurt Gödel, and others in their circle. Mr. Gödel clearly had some demise in his paranoia; he was also one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century. I would even say he’s the century’s Fermat. Not only did he rebut Russell and Whitehead, propose the P versus NP problem (which figured nicely in a season two episode of Elementary), provided Einstein with solutions involving close time-like curves related to his theory of general relativity, he even dabbled in theology. In other words, he is an intersection point; back in the day we called them renaissance men (and women) So, it’s at least fun to posit that his theoretical underpinnings of time travel have some less theoretical application. Seeing more bones put on that in the context of this complex cross-time relationship would be intriguing and entertaining. In a mere 15 minutes, Ms. Goddard inflames that curiosity while also leaving us with a sense of, well I can’t say without spoilers (I know mean, right?).

GodelIncomplete_02

So, while it’s hard for most of us regular Joe’s (OK, pun intended) to get to a showing of this, I’ve been in contact with Ms. Goodard and she’s been kind enough to provide access to those interested. Contact her here. I think it’s been in New York and Miami, if you do have an opportunity to see on the big screen, take it. It’s some of the best 15 minutes you’ll spend

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