Nintendo DSi & FLIPS: A Review

Just before Christmas this year (2009), I was sent a Nintendo DSi and three FLIPS digital books free of charge and no strings attached (well with a view to reviewing them string attached) by O’Leary PR.

First, a word on reviews and sending me products. I’m not normally into that kind of thing. After all, I’m not here for freebies and they really won’t sway my opinion one way or the other. O’Leary responded to a post I wrote about the impact of digital change on Children’s books and the product they sent was very appropriate to my work so I felt it was a good deal on both sides. In other words, it was a rare event and one I’d suggest is unlikely to occur too often.

To business
The DSi is a very pretty piece of engineering and computing. It reminds me almost immediately of my old GameBoy and that can’t be a bad thing, after all that was glued to my hand for about two straight years. But when you start playing with it you realise that a GameBoy doesn’t even come close. It’s not just that the DSi has a camera, wi-fi connectivity, two screens and notably colour (which I never even imagined was a possibility) but it’s also the touch screen interface (admittedly with a stylus which seems very early noughties now) the screen shifting capability and the download-able content that make this a special piece of kit. it won’t ever replace my wonderful iPod touch but I did find myself thinking that for certain purposes, especially complex games like Settlers and Civilization, the DSi would have lots of advantages over the touch.

The meat
Electronic Arts announced its first FLIPS products in October 2008. They went on sale in December. So what are they? Essentially digital book packages.

I spent most of my time using the Artemis Fowl FLIPS, if only because that was the one that appealed most to me and not because the author, Eoin Colfer, is Irish. You get quite a lot for the money you pay. At a retail price of just £24.99 you get 7 books and a bundle of extras. The best thing about the FLIPS is that they are not just books made to work on a device, the books have embedded features like links to information that might be useful or helpful to a new reader, collectible pieces of code that build into a readable text as well as illustrations displayed on a double screen in what seemed to me a most book-like manner.

I’ve enjoyed reading on the DSi, the page turning is much easier to deal with than some e-reading devices, the refresh is quicker and the enhancements bring a new dimension to the experience. I also like the reward structure, that might just encourage some reluctant readers to engage, but then again, given the choice of a game over a book package, I suspect most people will skip the book and buy the game.

One thing I really like about the FLIP though is the fact that it is a bundle of books. I can see this being an attractive way to package books for children and adults. But there again that leads me to my problems with the product which are twofold.

The Problems
Firstly that in some ways, FLIPS just highlights the core challenge of books and reading in a digital connected world, as the possible uses of free time explode the danger for books is that time that might be spent reading can as easily be spent, surfing the web, playing games, watching video, listening to streamed music or doing any of the variety of digitally enabled forms of entertainment what ever handheld device you happen to be carrying allows.

Secondly that the FLIPS feels all the time like a tame version of the web. Why bother with these little cartridges is what I wonder, enable the text on a website with the links embedded, make the enhancements available online too and charge for access to the bundle, update it when new books are released and cross sell products if you want but crucially make it available to anyone willing to pay on any device anywhere that’s connected to the web.

Who wins when book publishers package books like this? Device makers I reckon.

Enjoying the last day of 2009!

Video Review: The Gutenberg Revolution: How Printing Changed The Course Of History

DARN: Somehow I managed to shave the final minutes off the video while recording! Still, the main points are covered.

A short video review of John Man’s book, The Gutenberg Revolution: How Printing Changed The Course Of History, on Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press and creator of the Gutenberg Bibles.

I discuss the merits of the book, how well written it is, the way that it deals nicely with the material, especially relating to the innovation and inventiveness of Gutenberg and how satisfying a read it is.

The Gutenberg Revolution
The Gutenberg Revolution

You can get a copy of the book here from rbooks, Random House’ customer facing bookstore.

A Video Review – The Training Ground: Grant, Lee, Sherman and Davis In The Mexican War 1846-1848

A short video review of The Training Ground: Grant. Lee, Sherman and Davis In The Mexican War, 1846-48 by Martin Dugard (ISBN: 978-0-316-16625-6).

I mention that I enjoyed the writing style but felt the short chapter structure was an annoying feature.
I also mention my bigger issue which was the absence of proper detail on the military aspects of the campaign and the fact that the Mexican side of the story is mostly ignored except for a very cursory analysis.

I encourage people to read the book however as is an enjoyable read despite its problems.

A New Word For Reading (On Screens)

Could scholars and neuroscientists (and bloggers!) benefit from a new word for “reading on screens” and what might that word be, in your opinion?

A guest blog by Danny Bloom in Taiwan. [Thanks Dan and sorry for the delay in running this! Eoin]

I’m on a crusade of sorts to try to find a new word for “reading” on computer screens and Kindle and other e-reader device screens — other than “reading”, that is! — and I wonder if you’d join me in my quixotic quest.

I’m pushing forward with my little crusade, step by step, despite the many naysayers, who keep telling me:

“No, Danny, you’re wrong. There’s no need for a new for reading on screens. Reading is reading.”

Sometimes I feel this word search campaign is like pushing a heavy stone up a steep hill, only to have it roll back a few feet every time we advance a few inches. But along the way, I have met some experts in the education and technology fields who have told me this is a good question to ask, and to keep pushing on, gently, quietly. So I soldier on.

Although few people in the education and technology fields agree with me on this novel idea, but I remain determined. In fact, a few experts and forecasters around the world have told me privately that this crusade is worth it, if only to start a global discussion on the future of reading and the future of E-readers.

Reading on screens is a whole new ballgame, I feel, and I believe Western culture needs a new word for this new human activity. It is more than just “reading”. On a screen, you scroll, you link, you see photos and videos, you use a mouse or buttons on a Kindle, and then of course, you read. This is reading-plus-one.

So I feel we might need a new word for this, although I have no idea what that word will be in the end, because as many people have told me in the past year during the course of my crusade, new words happen organically and naturally, when the time is right, and when the need becomes more than apparent. So this is all just to jumpstart a good discussion, pro and con.

I read, of course, on both paper surfaces and screens every day, and I love both. I am not a Luddite. I love technology as much as you do. One is not a priori better or worse than the other, just different, and we need to study these differences more with brain scan tests and other scholarly research. A new word might help us “see” the differences better. That’s my hunch.

Some people online have suggested such words as “screening” and “screading”. Who knows which words we will adopt for this or when? I have no idea. I just like thinking about it now, and when the time is right, the new words or terms will come. One blogger told me we might even need two words for this, one for reading on computer screens, which are back-lit, and another for reading on e-readers like the Kindle, which uses E-Ink for the screens.

I am open to all suggestions for the new words, and I am very patient about this crusade, while at the same time steadfast and committed to this seemingly impossible word search. Patience is my middle name: Danny
“Patience” Bloom (1949 – 2032).

Do you, dear reader, have any suggestions on this? All ideas are welcome, and all comments are welcome, too, both pro and con. Let the discussion begin!

Guest Post: Louisa From Raven Books

I think it would be fair to say that Raven Books comes close to being my favourite bookstores in Ireland:

It is our intention to provide an engaging and inclusive environment where the lives of individuals and the life of the community is enriched through learning, entertainment and imagination.

Louisa has succeeded in using Twitter and a lively blog to expand the impact of the store well beyond its fairly tiny size. Read the Raven Ramblings blog here, follow Raven books here on twitter and go into the shop and spend some money.

I asked her to submit a guest post for my blog and I think you’ll agree, she has done a fine job!


Storytelling @ Thurdays (Flickr user kodomut & cc)

I never learned from a man who agreed with me ~ Robert A Heinlein

Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse ~ Chris Hedges

I could easily be persuaded that fire was discovered so that our ancestors had a focal point to gather around to share stories. Warmth and toasted mammoth flesh have their place in life, sure, but what made those long Neanderthal evenings magical was the re-telling of the hunt, dramatised for full effect in the flame-flickering light. We are by our nature a social species, one which has drawn together in tribes big and small across the globe and across the millennia to tell our tales.  Common culture binds families, communities, societies, and the telling and re-telling of stories is of crucial importance to the health of the tribal unit at any fractal level. From the time we are infants we learn through stories the customs and mores of those we live with (dependence); we explore our boundaries through the imagination of others to better discover who we are (independence); and through fiction we are able to process difficult truths on personal and societal levels (interdependence).

What has changed dramatically since the discovery of fire is the way we experience storytelling – writing, printing, recording, radio, cinema, television, the internet – all have had their impact in altering how we
tell, absorb, and share stories. Generally in 21st century western culture we absorb a story on our own, or possibly in the predominantly silent company of others gathered around a large or small screen. For most, an essential part of processing that story is in talking about it afterwards with others – dissecting a book, film, TV show, still exploring our boundaries in adulthood as we did in childhood, adjusting (or not) as taboos are broken, traditions questioned, prejudices challenged.

For those who find themselves marginalised in their geographic community, the internet has provided an easy way for many to share and process stories with like minds, regardless of physical location.  These online connections can be of tremendous comfort and affirmation to those who might otherwise feel isolated by their interests; however with the ease of these connections, the danger can arise of solipsistic virtual societies fragmenting the cohesion of the geographic community that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, depend on.  Rather than the post-hunt discussion ’round the fire that strengthened the shared experience of the tribe, stories are now discussed online by anyone with little more than a language and an interest in common.

An added dimension of this shift to the virtual is the evolution of eReaders which has caused the boundaries of the book world to rapidly shift.  As with any upheaval, there are those who unquestioningly embrace the change, the more cautious who may or may not be swayed by what may or may not be progress, and the stalwart who believe the only valid definition of a book includes paper and ink. For all three categories, the internet has provided readers with the means to share why they have taken the stance they have, fundamentally discussing the importance of stories in their lives – is it just about the tale, regardless of the form it is presented in? Is the enjoyment of reading linked to the tactile experience? Does accessibility affect the value of a story? How has the idea of ownership changed from the time the hunter stood before his tribe, seeking immortality through his story being retold by others, to gargantuan intellectual copyright legal documents, to Google pushing publishing boundaries into an unwritten future of who can read what and where and when?

Me, I’m still drawn to the fire, curled up with a secondhand paperback. If I’m lucky, it might even contain treasures from its previous reader – train tickets, shopping lists, a pressed flower, postcards, photographs, a scribbled maths formula; I’ve even found a love letter though, judging by the date, both the writer and recipient were long gone from this earth. Or was the letter never sent and put in the book for safekeeping? This is one of the many reasons why I love secondhand books because right there, before I’ve even read a word of it, I have the whispers of a story waiting to be told.