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Two tales of military intelligence

147-year-old Confederate Army message offers no help whatsoever.

Over in Wired’s Danger Room they recently published a humorous piece on the increasing number of US Generals that are using Twitter. There are two common reactions to this concept. One is the acceptance that the position of General is a prestigious one and not without its own political jockeying, thus the need for social media and public relations. The other is the mental image of a bespangled uniform awkwardly hammering a keyboard, tongue firmly tucked into cheek.

According to Wired’s Spencer Ackerman you can decidedly go with the latter.

Is it really necessary to tweet “Thanks!!!” to everyone who fills out a survey? Ham, the next commander of all U.S. troops in Africa, had the unenviable task this year of studying troops’ attitudes to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. By all accounts, he did a thorough and professional job. But if @GenCarterHam was supposed to supplement Ham’s effort, it didn’t exactly take advantage of Twitter. Not only did Ham tweet a mere 42 times between March and September, only 12 of those tweets asked troops to fill out online surveys about the repeal — and only half of those actually gave his tweeps the URL to do so. None used the popular #DADT hashtag to attract nonfollowers’ attention.

Okay, so the above critique of Gen. Carter Ham clearly demonstrates someone who is new to the nuanced realm of Twitter. Certainly there are worse offenses that a military leader can commit. It does bring to mind the question of why even bother to have a Twitter account?  As Ackerman outlines throughout his piece these suddenly sociable Generals seem merely to be going through the motions of having a Twitter account. It’s as though they’re being forced to do it and awkwardly avoid revealing too much about themselves or their jobs. Well, most of them at any rate. Brigadier General Steven Spano has confidently wandered into the social network to share his special brand of organizational jargon. Emphasis on special.

The previous tweeters are stingy with their big-think. But Spano, the communications chief for the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, has no shortage of way-out-there-in-the-blue tweets. His feed is actually one of my favorites, because rarely am I sure what @accsix is actually tweeting about. “Best practices in theory often result in best intentions in reality,” begins Spano’s Dec. 22 gem, “unique variables must drive unique practices in similar business lines.” Come again? “If the value of information at rest greatly diminishes over time, shouldn’t our security model be more flexible and adaptive?” If only, general! Run with that! Lead the way! I promise it’ll get you more followers.

This Rumsfeldian poetry brings me to the second recently published story about failures in military communication. The AP recently reported a story about the opening and decoding of a sealed Civil War message. The sealed glass vial contained the response of the Confederate Commander in Vicksburg to Lt. General John C. Pemberton‘s request for reinforcements. The undelivered communication offered no solace to the beleaguered Pemberton: “Reinforcements are not on their way.”

Useful information, no doubt, but obviously meaningless when left undelivered. So why did the messenger, who was not slain, fail to deliver his important message? Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright speculated for that since the message is dated the same day that Pemberton lost out to the Union that:

The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river’s edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.

“He figured out what was going on and said, ‘Well, this is pointless,’ and turned back,” Wright said.

I feel like there is a moral somewhere in this.


Canadians rank among most enthusiastic web users|Lastest Ebook News]

Canadians rank among most enthusiastic web users
There aren't many theories as to why exactly, but Canadians rank among the most enthusiastic users of the web and all its various offshoots. The Canadian Press talked to a few of the Internet's biggest properties about what Canadians are doing online.
Read more on CTV.ca


Borders backtracks and sidetracks, but still seems headed off-tracks

Borders Group Inc. seems to be in free fall.

According to a New York Times report by Julie Bosman, yesterday the company compounded anxiety about its future by announcing that it “was not in a liquidity crisis and that its stores were well-stocked” — this despite a press release four days ago in which it announced that it was experiencing a “liquidity shortfall” (see yesterday’s MobyLives report), and despite numerous reports that stores were looking low on inventory … which seems likely as several major accounts have stopped shipping books to the chain since its announcement.

Meanwhile, while the company gives out contradictory statements that it’s not have cash problems but that it isn’t paying accounts either, Bosman reports that it will be holding “hastily arranged meetings in New York later this week” with major publishers at which company CEO Mike Edwards will be present. A spokesman explained “We value our relationships with them, which is why we’re engaging in discussions with them.”

Whatever. The wheels seem to be flying off the vehicle. As Bosman’s report continues:  The company “will enter the talks without two top Borders executives whose resignations were announced on Monday: Thomas D. Carney, the company’s general counsel; and Scott Laverty, the chief information officer.”

As Jeffrey Trachtenberg reports in a Wall Street Journal story, the resignations — which the company revealed not in any public admission of turmoil but only through a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission made public yesterday — are “a new sign of turmoil amid the retailer’s dire finances.”

Asked for comment, a Borders statement to the paper would say only, “We have evaluated our leadership structure and, as a result, some positions have been eliminated.”

All of which was thrown into stark relief yesterday by the news that Barnes & Noble had experienced phenomenal sales during the lead-up to Christmas, including the “largest retail sales day ever in the company’s nearly 40-year history on December 23, 2010,” according to a company press release.

Nonetheless, something important things to note about the Borders collapse: While more publishers than have been reported have stopped shipping books to BGI, one of its very biggest suppliers, the wholesaler Ingrams, announced it would continue supplying the chain, accordng to Trachtenberg.

Then there’s the fact that they obviously must have some confidence that the tactic of withholding payments from accounts will force a re-negotiation of debt payments. After all, they haven’t declared bankruptcy yet.


Google talking to publishers about a digital newsstand for Android|Lastest Kindle News]

Google talking to publishers about a digital newsstand for Android
Despite the iPad’s debut earlier this year, no tablet manufacturer has really successfully made it easy for traditional magazine publishers to push their content out to digital consumers, but Google’s looking to change all of that. According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is in talks with publishing houses to create a “digital newsstand” Android [...]
Read more on Geek.com


Kindle 2G vs 3G Comparison Kindle Free WiFi 3G Review & Sale @ LordKindle.com

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My top e-reads of 2010

LargeTop.jpgHappy new year, everyone! Now that the ball has dropped, I am officially declaring my 2010 reading year over! The final tally is 102 books read, in the following categories:

- 17 alternative or indie books
- 74 commercial or mainstream books
- 10 library books
- 1 freebie from ‘other’ sources

Three books got my lowest rating, two of which were Star Trek novels; I don’t tend to finish most truly awful books anymore so most of the books got higher ratings. So, what were my top books of the year?

The following books, in no particular order, were new to me in 2010 (aka not re-reads) and got either 4/5 or 5/5 on my ratings scale and stood out for me as favourites of the year:

1) Non-Fiction

I was on a big non-fiction kick for a couple months. These were the highlights:

NURTURE SHOCK by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman: This very readable book looks at the latest research in how children learn. A standout chapter widely excerpted on-line on how children learn race drew me in.

RELENTLESS PURSUIT by Donna Foote: on a related theme, this book follows a group of new recruits through a year in the trenches of Teach for America. A bit overly long, but a fascinating journey all the same.

COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen: An exhaustive look at the tragedy of the Columbine shooting, extensively researched and reported on with sensitivity. Probably the most complete look at this story published thus far.

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot: A fascinating story of a woman who unwittingly became a medical research pioneer by donating cells that have continuously been replicating ever since and have been used in a wide variety of research situations. This book tells the story not just of the cells, but of the woman herself, and what became of her family.

NO IMPACT MAN by Colin Beavan: One of three ‘blogger does something for a year’ books (the other two are below). In this case, he tries to live for a year (in the middle of NYC!) making no impact on the environment.

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin: Blogger spends a year exploring different aspects of what makes people happy. Not the best-written of the three ‘blogger’s year’ books, but a very cool idea and it has inspired me to perhaps try my own ‘happiness project’ and that’s a noble goal…

LIVING OPRAH by Robyn Okrant: Blogger spends a year doing everything Oprah says. It had these chapter-end charts that were completely unreadable on the Kindle, but the book had some good observations on the whole Oprah phenomenon and it was alwats entertaining to see what Oprah’s next ‘command’ would be.

2) Fiction

JUST AFTER SUNSET by Stephen King: Under the Dome, another 2010 read, was also excellent, but I think King is really under-rated as a short fiction writer and I always especially look forward to his short fiction collections.

ROOM by Emma Donoghue: The hype was justified in this award-winning book by Irish-Canadian Donoghue. Inspired by several prominent news stories, this book follows a five-year-old boy who has lived his whole life in a small room where a kidnapper has imprisoned his mother for years. The book follows their life in the room and eventual re-entry into the ‘real’ world. Not everyone could pull off a whole novel with a five-year-old narrator, but Donighue had me riveted.

RADIUM HALOS by Shelley Stout: The first book to give me hope that maybe Smashwords isn’t always the Great Slushpile of the World. Stout explores the true story of the ‘Radium Dial Painters’ (a group of women who worked for watch makers painting the glowing numbers onto the dials and became sick years later from the toxic paint) through the fictional story of two sisters who worked in the factory and a secret they shared that fateful summer.

For 2011, I have some magazine issues which have piled up that I want to get through, and I want to clear some pending re-reads off my table. But my big goals are to continue exploring the world of indie books, and just to read more quality stuff in general. It shocks me a little that I had so few truly standout fiction pics this year. I spent a lot of reading time on fairly forgettable (if fun) series stuff and genre impulse reads. I want to have more quality books to tell you about next year.

Did you have a favourite read of 2010? Comment below and let us know what it was!


Amazon sells over 3 million ebooks in one week says Morris Rosenthal

fb.pngRosenthal, of Foner Books, is making this estimate based on an extrapolation from the Kindle sales rank graph. He goes on to say:

Kindle is a runaway train heading for Manhattan, and as it roars through Penn Station and under the city, it is shaking the foundations of New York’s oldest trade publishers. Increasing eBook sales mean increasing cost per unit for print books, since fixed production costs will be amortized over fewer print unit sales.

More details in the article.


Our arts specialists give you the lowdown on what to look forward to in 2011|Lastest Kindle News]

Our arts specialists give you the lowdown on what to look forward to in 2011
FILM SIOBHAN SYNNOT THE film forecast for 2011 may not be bright exactly, but sunny spots include the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit, Mark Wahlberg in the rousing c
Read more on The Scotsman


Amazon on the “Clean up the world” track again. Ebook censorship rampant

Amazon want to clean up the world’s literature – well some of it…………….

You may have noticed that Amazon have withdrawn a number of ebooks lately from their online shop.  apparently what they are now objecting to is any book that has a title with the word “rape” in it.

This was brought to our attention by the author of two books with admittedly rather crude titles, (How To Rape A Straight Guy and “Rape In Holding Cell 6″).

Whilst both of these books deal with sex between men, they are not in fact particularly pornographic, at least that is what the author Kyle Sutherland claims, (I have not read either of them) He describes them as follows:

Curt, is a very in-your-face sort of guy who thinks he can get even with the world by assaulting men.  But it winds up hurting innocent people and destroying him.  I even have a moment of foreshadowing in it, where Curt as a 6-year-old boy watches a cousin of his torture a dog until it bites him, then the boy’s father kills the dog and goes off to buy another one.  The moral of the whole book being, if you treat a man like a dog his whole life, you shouldn’t be surprised if he bites you.  And the sad reality is, when he finally does bite back, he’s the one who’s punished.

Rape In Holding Cell 6″, both volumes, is about corruption in the judicial system, and its main character, Antony, is investigating the brutal rape and murder of his lover in the county jail.  He finds a legal and political system that thinks it can get away with anything and nearly drives himself insane in his quest for revenge, a quest that threatens to harm the innocent as well as the guilty as he becomes exactly what he hates.

Now whilst these two books might not be to your taste, it would seem to me that Amazon is being unnecessarily prudish in dropping these two books from their lists, simply on the basis of their titles apparently.

It can’t be the content of the books, as they happily sell no end of books with amazingly explicit sexual passages in them, to name but a couple of authors whose work is known for its explicit sex or praise of subjects such as incest or pedophilia, Jackie Collins and Robert Heinlein, or even more extreme, the works of the Count de Sade, which deals at great and boring detail with completely revolting aspects of scatology, with kids being central to the plots.

All of these are readily available as ebooks at Amazon, as are many other remarkably sick books dealing with revolting acts of sadistic violence, but, they do not have the word “Rape” in the title.

One wonders, do they actually read these ebooks before banning them, or is it simply the word “rape” that pushes the button?   We shall see when they suddenly drop the ebook “the rape of Nanjing” from their lists.

I suspect a large part of this sudden attack of prudishness may well be owing to their problems recently with the ebook they had on offer which was a book praising pedophilia, which they promptly dropped when it was drawn to their attention.. and amusingly enough, reinstated briefly shortly afterwards.

But if they have decided that ebooks that deal with “unnatural” sexual relationships need to be excluded, it could lead to some quite entertaining happenings shortly as the army of Bowdlerizers get up to speed in Amazon, one can expect books such as the Bible – the Bible has sex, violence and even portrays incest as a positive, at one point (Lot and his daughters) and probably loads of other ebooks will fall by the wayside.

The mind boggles!

Obviously Amazon have a perfect right to choose to sell or not to sell any ebook in their store, but given their powerful position in the market place, it has obviously serious implications for authors (and readers) if ebooks are dropped in this apparently rather random fashion.

It has been suggested that Amazon introduce a sort of grading system with their ebooks, those that are of a nature that might offend (on whatever basis – sex, graphic violence or whatever) be placed in a section of their store that is only accessible to adults – with some form of realistic and reliable way of proving that the customer is actually an adult.

After all, books such as the ones here are read by loads of people without them coming to any major harm it seems to me, and for a company to decide what we may or may not read according to some list of “approved conditions” seems wrong to me.   Particularly given the unbalanced way in which it is being applied, De Sade OK, Michel, not OK.

Share with us:

So, what are your feelings about this form of censorship?   Do let us share them here, it is an important issue I feel.


Why I will never buy a book “App” again: how Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” turned me off to i-Apps

51BqXL93GpL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgI’ve been following the magazine ‘app’ discussion with interest, but not a whole lot of surprise. I have bought exactly one book ‘app’ in my life, and following the recent iPad release of said app, will never do so again. There are two reasons. Firstly, I don’t need all these apps cluttering up my iPad screen when I could buy a hundred plain old non-enhanced ebooks and access them all through one little iBooks icon. And secondly, because I strongly resent the expectation some publishers seem to have that I would be willing to pay more than one time for the same content.

The lone book app I bought was ‘How to Cook Everything’ by Mark Bittman, and at the time, I felt it was a very good little purchase. I already owned this book in print (so there’s payment #1) and felt it was worth the perfectly reasonable .99 to get it all searchable, sortable, filterable etc. in a way you could only get electronically. So I paid, again, and bought the app. Judging from the app store reviews, it seems many people bought it based on prior experience with the book, so I am not alone in paying twice either.

I enjoyed the app, but was dismayed at how terrible it looked on the iPad. I kept awaiting an update that would make it universal, but it never came. Instead, over the holiday break, Culinate Inc. quietly released a brand new iPad-only app—at double the price of the iPod version.

This is a fail of epic proportions. Firstly, Bittman is a brand name already. People are buying these apps because they already have the print copy and are familiar with his work. The iPad-only app would be the THIRD time I am paying for the same content! Secondly, to penalize iPad users by charging them double the price of the previous app—when many of the potential users will own the iPod app already—is highway robbery. Completely unjustified!

I know what the producers of this app would say. They’d tell me that they added features to this new app to take full advantage of the iPad’s screen, and that is worth both the higher sticker price and the expectation that people will pay again. To that, I say hogwash. I would rather give up the ‘extras’ and have a plainer app if it meant I could get a universal version and not have to pay—a THIRD time—for the content. And I would ask them if the extra revenue they’re getting from double-dipping on the people they’ll sucker into buying both versions will be worth the lifetime boycott of their app—indeed, of all book ‘apps’ from whomever—from customers like me who will be wary of getting burned again.

I will not be purchasing the update, obviously. Nor will I ever purchase a book or magazine ‘app’ again. You work with the more universal platforms—Adobe ePub, Zinio, anything I can read on more than one machine or platform—or you don’t work with me at all. Culinate, Inc and Mark Bittman by extension are in my bad books now. Culinate, Inc—you should have gone with a universal app, and if you absolutely could not have made that work, you should at least have kept the prices equal. And Mark Bittman, you should have known better than to lie in a bed with such fleas. This will cost you some PR points from the techies like me who still buy your stuff in paper.