Dr. John Scanlon - January 2010


The Saga of Kindle
John M. Scanlon, M.D.


   The peaceful solitude of quiet country living on the Eastern Shore can have its challenges. This is particularly so in the new millennium’s high tech gadgetry explosion. Cable and wireless communication arrived late and is still incomplete in many parts of our wonderful region. Here is one tale of electronic updating and innovation that may interest both locals and visitors.
    My children know how much I like to read. They also realize that country living in the Chesapeake area can make it difficult, time consuming and more costly to purchase newly published books. For my recent 70th birthday our three wonderful daughters gave me a Kindle. Prior to that present the only Kindle I appreciated had to do with firewood. This was a thoughtful gift indeed since it held the promise of reading any new tome I desired.
    Because I am intimidated by high tech electronics, the slim, silver 4 x 6-inch Kindle remained in its sturdy plastic container for about two weeks. No need to rush into yet another demonstration of personal ineptitude. However, the ability to download almost any book was seductive. I wanted, no, I needed to learn more. So the last part of that un-Kindled fortnight was spent reading the directions. Instruction manual reading is a discipline I acquired during the seven decades celebrated by my new gift.    Enlightenment came after many frustrating experiences involving “some assembly required” or “batteries not included” novelties.
    To digress. When confronted by complicated mechanical or electronic devices, my former MO was to start assembly and THEN read directions. From Jungle Gym through Irish Mail Racer, Mantis Roto Tiller to multi task wrist watches, I did it, and then read how it was supposed to be done. I believe this trait is controlled by the Y chromosome since it seems ubiquitous in the male. My proclivity often afforded mirthful family amusement just prior to gift giving holidays. Late in my third decade I actually went back to a major toy store and disassembled their floor model of a child-toting, rather large whirling device. Its partially assembled twin lay immobile in our backyard. This unnatural (for me) mechanical act took place after a formerly friendly salesman denied my request for a missing piece to complete home assembly. My error? Not reading the instruction booklet (translated poorly from the Japanese) before starting to put it together. Thus I did not know the exact number of unique plastic washers needed to make it function properly. When I came up one short, read the booklet and realized there could be no substitute, I had to return to the store. The abortive assembly process consumed almost five hours of a pre-holiday weekend afternoon. This time also included a thorough perusal of the toy’s 17-page manual and parts list. I could assemble or disassemble the beast blindfolded by that time. The holiday was perilously close, and this gift for my young children needed to work! I found the specialized “polymer interface bracket washer” about the same time store security located me. By theatrically brandishing channel lock pliers and loudly complaining about TOYS ‘R BROKE, I was allowed to leave with my scavenged prize. As I reflected later, reading the instructions might have avoided this entire confrontation.
    Back to Kindle. I soon learned that through the miracle of wireless communications linked to the vast resources of Amazon.com, a Kindle owner could gain access to magazines, newspapers and blogs, as well as to an unimaginable number of fiction and nonfiction books. All I needed was an active account with an “accepted” credit card. My registration odyssey started.
    For reasons known only to the Internet (thanks, Al Gore), my personal computer only half communicates with many websites. That is, when I am about half way though some task such as logging in, registering or paying for my shopping cart’s largesse, an error pop-up indicates bad things will happen if I don’t close immediately. This is frustrating in the extreme. To add to these intrinsic web-faring woes, my wife had purchased a book from Amazon a few years back. So our e-mail address with her name and an outdated credit card number were carved in stone on Amazon’s pixellated memory. It became necessary for a son-in-law with considerable computer skills to pose as my wife, expunge our old account/password/verifying information, and then set up new ones. But he forgot, or was not prompted, to post a valid credit card number. Security, I guess. Anyway, the first time I tried to Kindle, my book order got bounced because there was “no valid credit card on file.” Long story shortened considerably. I got off my computer and used the phone to contact Kindle-Amazon.com.
    Ms Noori, a very nice English second languager, finally got me registered. She was very patient with my naïve electronic skills and poor hearing. Her accent, Indian I believe, was charming. Now I could wander off into Kindle Land to browse among best-selling, self-help and outdoor book genres. Annoyingly, another glitch arose.
    We live eight miles from the nearest large town, the county seat in our part of Tidewater country. There are wireless towers Route 50, which transects our small town. These, ostensibly, are for emergency responders and close-by businesses or citizens. But there are no towers close to our farm. We live nicely isolated, well off a county road between two creeks. Kindle’s wireless is much less strongly received here than closer to town or the highway. The strength meter at the top of the screen showed, at the most, three “power bars.” Additionally bar numbers and strength dropped when Kindle was open inside the house. Most times there were no bars at all. We have satellite TV and a dish computer server because of our remoteness. I could only get a maximum of three Kindle bars sitting in a vehicle on the driveway with the windows open. Rain stopped this process, obviously. In my driveway I could browse the Kindle Store and read book descriptions. But even in good weather I could not download a book. That, I was told over the phone by a very pleasant Mr. Hakim, took four to five bars, a signal strength not achievable any place on my property.
    As a solution I drove to the Wa-Wa gas and fast food stop on the highway. There, amidst lunching landscapers, itinerant road warriors and truck drivers, I downloaded my first book and scanned several sample previews. The wireless was extremely fast. Three blinks of the Kindle and a 250-page novel arrived ready to read. Because you actually buy each book (quite discounted), you “own” them on your Kindle. When you delete texts from your machine, Amazon stores each book in your personal archive for free. They can be accessed any time you wish. Amazon.com is working to interface Kindle with personal computers as well as developing all sorts of neat “experimental” services, which they describe on your machine. I believe this kind of device will be around for a long while.
    Kindle seems to be a wonderful service, and I look forward to using it a lot. Reading a Kindle book is fun and simple. They have four sizes of type for almost any eyesight, including that of a seventy-year-old. There is even a feature that will read the book to you. Sort of like books on tape. The voice is metallic and garbles a few words, but the gist of the story gets across. I am planning to purchase a carrying case, some earphones, a car charger and other accessories so I can experience the full Kindle effect. I look forward to more downloading to fill my archives. Wa-Wa makes good coffee, too, so the download trip is doubly worthwhile.