Yule comes early!

I would like to issue public thanks to userinfomaellenkleth for the kind gift of a couple of 32GB memory cards, suitable for use in my nook!

This now means that the Nookronomicon is now outfitted with a TON more space. I’m thinking I’m going to put the Read books on the memory card, since access to files on it is noticeably slower than in main memory–but that’s fine since those will be lower priority books. The Read non-B&N books, anyway; I’m not sure if I want to bother to put the B&N books I’ve read there, since I’ve been just marking those as Archived on the device, which automatically removes them, and if I want them back I can just unarchive them. And I’ve got local copies on my computer.

This should be nifty, though! And now clearly I need LOTS MORE BOOKS to fill out all this nifty space. :D

Thanks very much, userinfomaellenkleth!

Excellent customer service with Amazon and B&N

I would now like to take the opportunity to give props for excellent customer service to both Amazon and Barnes and Noble!

Y’all may recollect that a while back I had an issue with a Kindle ebook I bought being in all italics, and how even though I only asked about it several months after the fact, Amazon gave me a refund anyway. I had totally forgotten about this until this weekend when I was trying to figure out why I had seven dollars of credit on my Amazon account.

“Awesome,” I thought once I rediscovered the receipt for that refund, “I’ll get something else!”

The problem was, the thing I decided to buy was Carbon Leaf’s EP How the West Was One, which I’d completely forgotten I’d already bought from iTunes. Didn’t realize this until Amazon’s downloader thingamabob plugged the files into iTunes and I saw I now had two copies of every song on the thing. Oops. *^_^*;;

So I flung an immediate, sheepish mail to Amazon’s customer service to ask them if a refund was possible. I got an email back saying that normally they wouldn’t do refunds on digital content, but in this particular case they would. Which was excellent of them, and won them an immediate purchase of another thing, an ebook not available for the nook: The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten!

And speaking of my nook, I just had an excellent experience with Barnes and Noble as well.

I was over at lunch just now reading, and discovered that the lower right hand button on the side of the device, the one I normally press to turn pages, had cracked. This has been an issue with the first run of nooks all throughout 2010, and I’m frankly surprised that mine has taken this long to show the problem, given how much I read on the thing. I wasn’t sure if it was too late for me to get a replacement device, given that I’ve had it for nearly a year. But I called B&N up just now and they said yep, I’m still covered under basic warranty, so they’re going to send me another one!

To wit: AWESOME. I’ll need to wipe all the content off of my current one, deregister it, and send it back to them, and should be getting a new one by the end of the week. :D

So props to both Amazon AND Barnes and Noble for treating customers right.

Can any other Nook users with Macs repro this?

Standing down from silent running for this, because I gotta admit, I’m intrigued by this problem. This is how you tell I’m a QA engineer, people: I’m intrigued by the problem to solve, rather than pissed off that a product I’ve purchased is not behaving as it should. ;)

Here’s the backstory. The other day, as y’all may remember from my (endless, I know) reports of what books I buy, I grabbed an ebook copy of Jessica Andersen’s Nightkeepers. When I pulled it down from B&N, though, I noticed that when I tried to open it up in my Mac-side eReader app, I was prompted as per usual for my name and credit card # to unlock it, and then the program immediately crashed. All subsequent attempts to open the book failed, showing me nothing but a blank page 0, and not prompting me anymore to unlock it. I noted as well that three other books purchased on the same day worked correctly.

Note also that this very same book worked absolutely correctly when I tried to open it in three other places: on my Nook, on my iPhone in the B&N app, and when I pulled it into Windows to open it on the PC version of the B&N reader program. This told me, okay, the book itself is not corrupted, it’s readable by other programs. So something about the wrapping on the book just happens to be confusing the hell out of the Mac version of the reader.

I was able to repro the problem again tonight, on three different purchases. Two of them came from the same publisher as Nightkeepers (since the first book I tried tonight was book 2 of that series, Dawnkeepers), which was Penguin. The third, Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald, was from Pyr.

Barnes and Noble is using the same eReader app, essentially, that Fictionwise uses and which Fictionwise in turn acquired from eReader.com. The main change that B&N has made to it, at least on the Mac side, is to make it able to load epub format books. The version I’ve got is 1.1, the latest version, and the Mac version hasn’t been updated in months. So I’m quite sure that isn’t the problem.

What HAS changed with B&N lately, though, is that they’ve started making all of their downloads be epub format, whereas before they were predominantly using PDB format. So this made me think, “hrmm, so what if I go back and re-download one of my earlier PDB purchases, see if it comes down in epub, and if I can load it correctly?” I was in fact able to do that with my ebook copy of userinfomizkit‘s Demon Hunts, which opened up all nice and shiny-like.

So at this point I’m wondering a few things. One, who does the DRM wrapping? If that’s on B&N to do, it sounds like for some reason, some subset of the DRM wrapping they’re doing is breaking their version of the eReader. Two, what might have changed lately that this problem has only recently cropped up? If it’s because of the shift over to epub files, are there potentially different types of epub files they could be working with that could be breaking the reader app for some books, but not all?

I don’t know enough about the epub format to make a really solid guess, but I thought one of its major advantages was its universality. Anybody out there able to enlighten me on potential gotchas on epubs files produced by different sources?

Now I’ve got four books all exhibiting the problem, but since I’m able to read them on my Nook and iPhone, I’m way more intrigued than I am annoyed that they’re unreadable right now on my computer. It helps as well that really, reading on my Mac is maybe 10 percent of the e-reading I do, at most, so it’s not really an inconvenience, more just an intriguing problem to solve. Yep folks, if books are involved, I can even wear the QA hat when I’m not at work!

The Nook Report, Part 2

Now that I’ve had a few days to read on the Nook, here are my thoughts on the experience.

First and foremost, I am sold on the virtue of a one-use reading device for a reason I hadn’t foreseen: if all the device does is show you the books, there’s nothing on it to distract you from actually reading the story. There’s no “oh wait I’ll just check Twitter/Facebook/LJ/my email/the news/etc.” going on. I really like that. It makes reading on the Nook feel a lot more like reading on a real book.

I was pleased to note as well that the screen refresh stopped bothering me. Apparently I’m not the only one this has happened to, so that’s good to know. If you’re thinking of getting an e-ink reader and the initial flash of screen refresh is weird to you, feel free to take this as consolation!

I’m still disappointed with the device’s general lack of book organization, though. The lovely scrollable display of color book covers only works with your Barnes and Noble content; if you’ve got a lot of non-B&N books, like my Fictionwise and Stanza and Drollerie books, then they all get put into your “My Documents” bucket. Which doesn’t have the scrollable cover capability. This is a drag, and I really wish that Barnes and Noble would allow for, at least, treatment of Fictionwise and eReader.com content the same as B&N content, since they do after all own both of those properties.

Really, though, I’d prefer to just see it give you a way to access all your books the same way. One of the reasons I wanted to shift to a reading device was that I found it annoying on the iPhone to have my library spread out through five, count ’em, five applications. Having the Nook force me to split my library into B&N content and non-B&N content is the same problem, only less severe.

I could do the workaround of just manually sideloading my B&N content to the My Documents directory, sure. But the problem with that is that the display of your content from My Documents is really rudimentary. You get a listing of titles that you can either sort by author or sort by title, and nothing fancier than that; it’s not even visually broken up by first letter or anything.

I did at least discover that the “Reading Now” button on the main screen does take you directly to whatever book you’re currently reading, which is good to know. Before I found that, my only means to get back to whatever book I’m working on reading was to page through the My Documents listing till I found the right file. And since I’ve got 16 pages of files, that’s annoying. The “Reading Now” button is an acceptable workaround until something fancier is implemented, and I really hope something will be. At least, there should be a menu to let you jump to the appropriate letter of the alphabet as I see in several of the reader apps on my iPhone; more elegant would be a little bit of search capability that would let you type in a bit of the pertinent author or title and jump straight to those works.

All in all, despite my issues with the file organization, I’m enjoying the experience of reading on it. It’s very convenient at lunch since I can just lay the Nook on the table in front of me, and it’s bigger and more readable than the iPhone. It’s also easier to manipulate, for me; I find the pinching of the side to turn a page nicer on my hands than having to tap the iPhone’s screen, especially one-handed. (Thumb-tapping on the iPhone one-handedly, I have discovered, weirdly strains the muscles at the base of my left thumb.)

I haven’t yet tried its music playing capability and probably won’t, since the iPhone has that functionality covered nicely and I’m used to having a tiny music player nestled in my pocket. Plus, again, don’t need the distraction from reading! Apparently there are folks who can read and listen to music at the same time, but I’m not one of them.

And now, the Nook report!

Nookish goodness arrived at my house today! Therefore, as promised, here’s my overall initial review post.

First and foremost, y’all may have heard that the Nook comes with insanely complicated packaging. This is absolutely true. When you first get into it, there’s a little slip of paper that has–I kid you not–a seven-step procedure for freeing it from the various layers of packaging around it. This all had the advantage, I suppose, of making damn sure that it got to me intact. But when you have to have special instructions for actually unpacking the thing, I think they might have gone just a touch overboard, y’know?

My reaction on getting it out of the first layer or so though was “It’s a Microsoft Ship-It award!” Because it looked like this, you see:

I had to get userinfospazzkat‘s help to actually liberate the thing; he’d already done the same with his own nook, and his hands are stronger than mine, so he was able to do the last couple of steps to pry the thing out of its plastic support tray. Once that was done, I was able to do the fun part: powering it up, getting its updates on it, and most importantly, firing up the books.

Overall I like the design and look of it. Once I put it in its cover, it’ll be about the size of a small hardback book, and not so heavy that it’ll be onerous to carry in my backpack. I’m not much of a fan of the way the screen flashes when you turn a page, but other than that, I find the e-ink very readable, at least in direct light. It’s not as useful in low-light conditions, so this may be an issue when reading on the bus after dark. I may have to resort to the iPhone as backup reading device then. I am also amused that its default screensaver is the various pictures of authors that anybody who’s ever been in a B&N store will remember as being the artwork on the walls. I like that enough that I’ll probably keep it, for now.

It downloaded updates on its own, which was nice, and it cheerfully went and got all of the ebooks I’ve already purchased from the Barnes and Noble ebook store. This was I admit a trifle confusing UI-wise, since I’d set some of my books as “archived” because I’d already read them, and got confused because I had to tell the thing to go ahead and download those–but I didn’t have to do that with the rest of them. But it was all good in the end.

Getting all my non-B&N content onto it was super easy. You can plug it into a USB port and have it mount as a drive, which is lovely. You can then dump as many files as you like in whatever directory structure you like onto it, which is also lovely. But there are several organizational issues with how the device actually shows you the files, to wit:

  1. Whatever directory structure you use is entirely irrelevant, because the actual device will just do a flat display of all the files it finds; it doesn’t care about your folder structure.
  2. There is currently no way to organize your titles past “sort by author” or “sort by title”, in the “My Documents” section; in the “My Library” section, where the B&N content resides, it’s a little nicer and you also get “Most Recent” as a sort option. But what I would really want to see here is the ability to mark a book as Read somehow, whether that be by a tag or by moving it into a Read folder or what.
  3. After looking at the lovely lists of titles and cover thumbnails in the iPhone’s various reader apps, the black and white file list is really kind of boring to look at. But this is only a mild objection on my part since the tiny cover thumbnails would lose something on this display and not really be worth displaying.
  4. A lot of my PDF files are coming through with really weird mangled names. I don’t know why that is, if it’s a metadata problem on them or what. I may have to see if I can fix those in Calibre or something.

Tomorrow I’ll give it a good test run with actual reading, and report back on that. So far at least I’m favorably inclined to it, but man, I hope they improve the organization of files on the device in future firmware releases.

And oh yes, I also had to take a picture of this, because Kendis says hi:

I was going to do this anyway

But the Amazon vs. Macmillan brouhaha over the weekend has pretty much bumped up the priority on this: I just dropped my first round of shiny royalties on a Nook. The actual device and a pretty cover to put it in pretty much comes to roughly the amount of royalties I got, and that’s quite fine with me. Barnes and Noble thinks it’ll ship probably around the 12th, so it’ll be a couple of weeks before Nookish goodness actually reaches my house; this too is fine, since it ain’t like I’m lacking for things to read.

(Technically, I am not going to spend those exact moneys on the device, I think–just because it’ll be nice to keep them in the account they’re sitting in, quietly gathering interest. I’m actually paying for the thing out of my primary account. But I figure that as long as I have the money, I don’t really give a flying damn what account it comes out of. The important thing is, shiny candy-like buttons! And ebooks!)

I’m also feeling the need to show Macmillan authors some solidarity, so I think my next round of ebook buying is going to be all Macmillan authors! I need to round out my John Scalzi collection anyway.

Since the cover I wanted isn’t actually available yet (a nice leather green one with an embossed quote about how a good book is the best of friends), I have instead selected the punctuation-themed one with a big ampersand on the front and a question mark on the back. This has the added bonus of being nethack-y, and will likely make me do a double-take the first few times I read something on the thing, thinking “AIGH THERE’S A DEMON ON MY NOOK”. Or, if I look at it from the back, wondering if I’ve actually identified this scroll yet.