App Review: Kindle App

I use a lot of apps. Even for regular sites like Twitter, I like to try out third-party apps. For work. For games. You get the idea.

But I’d never gotten around to using the Kindle app, primarily because I wasn’t convinced about reading online. I can read news articles and such, but reading entire books was a little tough. It lasted till I forced to switch over to e-books, and finally got used to it. Reading online doesn’t quite have the same joy and fun (and quite often, the sentences just don’t stick in your mind as well). But it sure is convenient. Many books, all the time.

So when Amazon offered ‘Kindle Unlimited’ for just INR 199, I figured it was time to give it a shot.

The first mistake I did was not perusing the books available in this list. “Over 1 million books” says the tag line, but any reader worth his / her salt knows that there are over 1 million crappy books in the world.

Let’s talk about the app itself first:

The Interface:

You’d think that a company whose first business was books would have some insight about readers and what they like. The home page is a film scroll, with editor’s picks listed below. But there is no option for me to make bookshelves. Unlike your book shelf at home, it is annoying to see all your books on a tiny little screen. I’d rather have book shelves on the home page, but that could just be me.

Then the scariest thing: Kindle reads your entire phone. ALL your files. And it lists every bloody PDF, epub, mobi or any other book format that is there in your phone. Now, apparently you can undo this if your documents are not in a folder named documents or books. But I find no way to stop the app from scanning my phone and listing the books. I have several confidential documents on my phone and I hate the fact that another app is accessing it. Even with Cyanogen’s Privacy Guard, you cannot stop this from happening.

There is a folder called ‘Kindle’ on your phone but unsurprisingly, there are no temp files there, but the app thinks it is okay to scan your phone and list all the documents it thinks you want to be listed on Kindle. And there is no option to ‘remove’ the particular file from Kindle. It deletes it from your device. Talk about taking over your phone !!!

The Menu has surprisingly limited options. You can choose ‘All’, ‘Books on your device’ and a couple of other options. Then, of course, settings which is less than nothing. A couple of options for sync, naming your device and that’s pretty much it.

Finding a Book:

If the reason you signed up for Kindle app, like I did, was the ‘Kindle Unlimited’ Option, then you’ll find it frustrating to access the Kindle store. There is no one-click option to access the store. You’ve to click on the cart, go to the kindle store, click on the ‘kindle unlimited’ feature and then you have the further task of narrowing down categories, and browsing through hundreds of titles. I’m not sure what algorithm is used to list the books, but there is no way to change that. This is fine on a bigger screen, but on a phone, it can be tedious scrolling through books 10 at a time.

You can search for a book, but it might or might not be available in the Kindle Unlimited Series. They perhaps expect you to browse like in a library, except on a 5 inch screen.

I searched for nearly 20 titles or more (How to be a woman, Raven Black, Unladylike: A memoir, Wikileaks, Alibi, Secret Sisters, Queen of the Oddballs, Book of Shadows, Run to the Hills etc). Some where available in Kindle format, but the ‘over 1 Million titles’ did not include any of these in the Kindle Unlimited Series.

I finally found one story about Wikileaks that I finally downloaded, and another chick lit. Then the process of downloading it to your phone, which means you need to repeat the entire process of going back to the Kindle store and trying to find a book, if you are trying to build up a collection.

In any case, you cannot have more than 10 books at a time according to Kindle. Not sure what the fuss is in this case, but moving on…

Now, if you want to find the book you downloaded from Kindle, there is no one-tap option to choose the file from ‘My Kindle Unlimited’ or some such thing. You’ve to pick it out of your library, among all the other books. For people like me, who are typically reading more than one book at a time, it is plain annoying. And no, I don’t want to be making ‘ collections’ of books to access.

Reading: 

This was one part I thought would be sorted. Perhaps I was peeved by the whole experience of finding a book to read (which took me over half an hour). The minute I opened the page, I found the settings annoying compared to the other ebook readers I’ve used.

Moonreader, for instance, allows you to handle the brightness of the screen with just a tap on one side of the screen. You can even set up scroll options etc with one-tap.

With the Kindle app, you’ve to go to the ‘menu’ on top of the page. Brightness options are limited – there was only ‘system brightness’ and if you manually tried to set the brightness, even the lowest was too bright at night.

The second annoying thing was something I noticed in the first chapter. It says “2 mins to finish chapter’. What the hell? By this point, I was beyond fiddling with controls of the app, so I don’t know if there is a way to turn this off. It is in unnecessary annoyance and I’m not sure what the developers were intending to do with it.

The third thing: ‘Popular highlights’… some of the lines are automatically highlighted while you are reading. This is turned on by default and there’s a way to turn it off, but again, multiple steps. Again, I’m not sure why this is a default feature.

I hate the entire experience of the Kindle app.

Verdict: The app seems to be attractive to bookworms, but with Google Books and many other third-party apps around, there’s absolutely no compelling reason to use Kindle app. There are no good books and it is simply annoying to handle. And thus far, I’ve not found a good collection of books either. Perhaps they are looking to push their device, but this is absolutely not an attractive preview.

The privacy concerns are quite serious.

Next: Uninstall

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The Secret Of The Nagas

When I first saw this book a few months ago, I was tempted to pick it up. But I was just getting out of  my disastrous run with Indian authors, which I do a few months every year, and decided not to pick it up.

But it lay there, as soon as you enter the book store, every time, taunting and tempting me. Just as I figured what could be the harm, a friend highly recommended the book as well.

And a copy fell into my path… and easily, one the best books I’ve read in recent times, that too by an Indian author.

This book is not for those who dislike mythology. For people who are not aware of the intricate relationships of Indian mythology, this will probably seem like a good read.

The Shiva Trilogy as it is called, beautifully draws on mythological Indian characters and Gods in a reincarnation situation. It is, fortunately, not the 21st century but a land where Kings still ruled. Yet, in their reincarnated forms, these people are human yet gods.

I started at the second book, so it is sort of like walking into a movie midway. Yet, I was impressed by the way the author drew in various characters of mythology into different situations with familiar relationships.

Perhaps I’m easily influenced by plotlines where the author manages to insert a different set of characters into another situation yet keep true to the essence of the relationships. But I rarely like the book. I was interested by Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel but lost interest midway.

Kali & Sati, two faces of the same coin. Shiva/Neelakanta and Rudra – reincarnations perhaps. Ganesha, Veerabhadra, Nandi… all of them exist in this. I like the way that these characters, which are considered avatars of the same God, are treated as siblings in this story. There are reasons behind every action and land, and they seem so logical that you might almost believe this was the mythological story.

Perhaps it is also the fact that Shiva is one of the few Gods that I admire. He is completely in his human element here, yet being the decision maker and Lord.

I look forward to reading the final part of the trilogy, which I’m told is tentatively scheduled for the end of 2012. Don’t you just hate it when they leave you hanging for the ending?

***

On a separate note, out of insomnia, I picked up a book that was abandoned halfway more than a year ago – Confessions of A Wall Street Analyst.

This book seemed highly relevant and interesting during a particular journey of my career. It might Wall Street seem so much more fun and exciting. As I continued where I’d left off, I realised that it does not get any less exciting now that it is no longer relevant. I continue to see the warning flags that the US regulatory agencies should have seen… it is the journey of Wall Street that has brought us to one of the greatest economic hurdles in history.

Concepts that I had forgotten, little rules that we had to navigate by and yet find a story, rumors and facts, speculation and billions of dollars that seemed inconsequential – the life of a Wall Street Reporter.

Real life reporting is no where are glam as the book would perhaps make it seem. Much of your time is spent chasing down analysts who do not want to speak or trying to put the phone down on one who speaks too much but tells you nothing. Then you worry about if what you have is authentic and you can print it. Then you spend more time substantiating what you have written to your editor, doing more follow ups and always trying to stay a step ahead of your peer and a step inside the law.

And yet, when you live in that little hole with your computer as the source of light and a telephone as your contact point, it feels quite adventurous.

A Good Photograph

 

Focus by Lil brah "Going through contacts"Focus Stack by RameshClicks

What makes a good photograph? Or who is called a good photographer?

Someone sent me their portfolio for review. While I was extremely flattered, I was not sure if I was even qualified to judge someone else’s work.

Because I have had these questions for a while. Everyone who can afford a camera – and that’s a looot of people – are photographers. Amateurs, professionals – it is a thin line. The line being the professionals do it for money.

But how do you judge a good photograph?

To me, for a long while, it was just that first impression the photograph made. If it caught me, I liked it.

As I learnt more about photography, I began to notice little faults and things that marred the photo. A little finger chopped off at the edge, the slight blur of something… those errors sometimes added character to the photo and sometimes, well, didn’t.

But I continued to believe that the photo need to capture someone’s attention.

Then I went back to all my favorites on the flickr stream and wondered why I would delete some photos after having marked it as a favorite the previous day.

The first photo in this set, for instance. When I first looked at it, I sorta liked it. Then I looked closer and realised that it didn’t really speak to me. The focussing is good… but anyone can achieve that with an SLR or even a digicam. What really makes this photographer or the photographer good?

The second photo in the set as well… it is unprocessed and plain. Even if he did process it, what would pop out? What is the story here?

Photography is a personal thing, and this argument is an old one too.

But does mere focus points make a good photograph?

I then came across the next two photographs… while the first one again doesn’t have something really fascinating, it does interest you. I’ve taken such photographs… photos of colourful tangles of wires, thorns and such. Nothing really special but just… trippy. Sometimes, it could look interesting with some processing, like the one here.

POM by Jagdey
POM, a photo by Jagdey on Flickr.

I like the sharp focus on the seeds and the contrasting colours.

I found some ‘basics’ steps on Ken Rockwell. They do tell you how to make an interesting photograph… but there is still so much left upto perspective.

I guess that’s why I like shooting people more. Different emotions, expressions, methods… and constantly changing. Product photography is fun… the challenge lies in finding as many interesting angles as possible… but there’s more variety and challenge with people.

The ultimate challenge – and what makes a good photograph – is to tell the story in that one image.

Here is a little photo essay I found… Does that tell a story?

Why Pirates 4 Is Not Savvy?

For starters, Cap’n Jack Sparrow does not think it is savvy. True story. He rarely says ‘savvy’ in the movie. He does not seem as drunk, funny and smart in the movie either.

The movie starts out funny, Sparrow is in chains and at the gallows as usual. But his escape lacks the usual flair. There are long moments in the movie where nothing really happens. There is a lot of conversation and it seems like the movie makers are trying to give Jack some ‘heart’ by adding the whole romantic perspective with Penelope.

Penelope Cruz makes a far more interesting, convincing and hotter pirate than Kiera Knightley did. She has the moves, she has the face and she looks good wearing a captain’s cap. But the whole movie just falls flat because it lacks the one thing that made the other movies in the series a hit – panache and well, fun.

There are far fewer one-liners from Sparrow… there is a lot less swaying… and he does not have a good anti-Sparrow character, which was perhaps Orlando Bloom and Knightley put together. They were straight, simple with a bit of badness… a nice contrast to Jack’s true but slightly twisted concepts of good and bad.

Oh yes… and the lack of weird creates. This is Pirates. We expect Davy Jones’ type of weird beards, Krakens, the witch Tia Dalma and dangerous expeditions… and the Black Pearl!

Instead, we had Black Beard, who did not even have a beard. All he had was a sword that wasn’t even shown properly. Davy Jones least made you feel creepy.

As for the other villain side, you have a bunch of Spanish soldiers who are intent on destroying the fountain for, wait for it…………………………………. religious reasons! Shoot me dead now!

The only interesting character in the entire movie were the mermaids. I wish they had taken over the movie.

Oh and what was the point of 3D?

Let’s not make this a serious message movie. Pirates is supposed to be fun. Let’s keep it on the high seas.

Break Ke Baad

If this movie actually had a break in between, I’m not sure how many people would’ve returned for the rest of it.

Let’s consider the things wrong in this movie…

The female lead, played by Deepika Padukone, is called Aaliya. Every movie that comes out these days needs have exotic sounding names like Aaliya, Alisha etc. And the female lead, in the ‘new’ genre of ‘strong’ women generally smoke, drink and are headstrong and totally pooh pooh theories of love and are ‘career oriented’. Unlike previous movies, they don’t shed their tomboyish attitudes till the last scene.

The male lead, played by Imran Khan, is called Abhay, in another cliche of making cutesy sounding names. He is the male stereotype of current cinema… and after failing to make a mark in how many ever movies he acted in post-Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na– he had returned to the stereotype – the man who is sweet and sensitive to the point of a toothache, cries, is patient and is basically Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Princess Diana rolled into one.

What is the main problem here? Not particularly sure… The movie starts out well, if cliched. Boy and girl are childhood friends and girl is from dysfunctional family. Obviously, they are both very well off, which is crucial for the Volkswagon Beetle, the plush rooms and all that. What surprises me the directors pay so much attention to ‘detail’ but completely overlook the fact that a girl and guy in their teenage years never really remain friends.

Anyway, this couple turned into a couple and have been dating. But then Aaliya or Al, decides she wants to go study Mass Communication in Gold Coast.

And that’s where my sore point No.1 comes in. WHY say Gold Coast when you pick some random, cheesy place in Australia with lame beaches, show a shot of the Bondi Beach in Sydney (that’s about 1000 kms from Gold Coast) for an example and then turn to the Great Ocean Road, which is in Victoria. Just say Australia and leave us be happy in our illusion. A normal tourist might think ‘oh this is Gold Coast’ but I lived in that city. I know that place and what you showed was not GC!

Anyway, to cut the long and boring story short… the couple have fights, the usual long-distance shit. Except Abhay manages to fly down to ‘GC’ after one drunken phone call from Al and some guy and beats up the so-called guy with Al, she breaks up with him and yet he continues to stay in the same place as her.

The place, by the way, looks like a shack outside of Goa. A rocky beach with a single bed, and the usual wood shack thing going run by an extremely plump Sameera Reddy (Nadia) who is a tattoo artist, bar tender, cook, slumlord and all those other things. And Nadia becomes Abhay’s godmother. Abhay discovers his passion in life is to really cook and that’s cuz his fellow taxi driver likes his food, opens up about 3 restaurants under a year as Nadia invests.

Oh yeah Al… she breaks up.. she hooks me and leads him on. She breaks up… she wants to be an actress, that her actress mom doesn’t want but Al lands a role in her first play at her first audition for a Hollywood flick, so mommy forgives all.

And then some more drama. Boy gets brainwave to announce his marriage, make her jealous and hey! It is you I’m marrying.

GAH! If there was ever a guy who was so patient and loving in real life, he’d have shot himself too by this point.

Zilch chemistry between the two of them. Imran Khan knew how to act, I thought but apparently not. Deepika has improved but is cliched and still quite wooden. And the director needs to realise that cute props and a great set does  not really make for a good movie.

Is there any reason to watch this movie? If it is the last DVD lying around the house and you are dead bored with absolutely nothing else to do. Make sure your DVD remote is functional though.

Sex And The City 2

Sex And The City 2

So I finally got around to watching the movie that was made after nearly a decade of the ‘SNTC’ drama.

I first discovered the sitcom years after it had concluded on HBO. I found it with some guy (straight) friends who were absolute fans of the sitcom. I had spurned it when it was playing on television stating that it was all about ‘women and their silly boyfriends and sex.’

But at the age of 20 and entering the field of dating, it was quite interesting to me and my friends. I got the whole series and would randomly plug in an episode.

Then the movie came out and I was a little stunned. To be frank, I barely even recall what that movie was about apart from Carrie getting married.

I found Carrie ridiculous and annoying and flighty, and her sense of style – appalling.

And then the second movie came and everyone was raving about it. Except the critics. And then many of the women I met too. But today, I finally pulled out that DVD I had gotten a long time ago…

Maybe because I was braced for the worst, it didn’t seem so horrible. There are one or two good moments in the movie. My favorite – when they all sing “I’m a woman, hear me roar.”

It was that moment what the entire sitcom had stood for – women’s liberation. Women talking about dating and ridiculous issues because they were important to them. Well, least that’s what it started with.

The rest of it is simply old. Not even boring. Just old. It has some relevant issues… the seriousness of women’s lib in the Middle East.

Watching a woman eat French fries through her veil, lifting it every time to eat a chip, Carrie comments “That’s a lot of commitment to fast food.”

The comment was funny. But it did made me wonder about why was it treated so frivolously? I mean it is all about the ‘desert mystique’ and all that shit but… it is like they picked the image off a tourist poster. The Souk, the desert and the opulence.

True, I’ve not been to Abu Dhabi but don’t they have special areas for women where they can walk around without their veils? It is just so AMERICAN… the way they disregard other’s cultures. There are Americans who respect every culture but there are also the rude, irritating ones. I wish it was Carrie who had been arrested instead of Samantha, who at least never pretended to be something she is not.

The movie is a really sad attempt to portray old women as young. True, it is also about the struggle women face in accepting their age. But it is done so shamefully, that I would hate to waste 250 bucks on watching it.

Yes, it is tough to have babies and bring them up. A woman does not want to be just a mother and honestly, that should be okay. That was one of the most honest moments of the movie – when Miranda confesses to Charlotte that she doesn’t want to be ‘just a mother.’

It is a question of identity and there is nothing wrong with it. Yet it is a question every woman faces these days – the distance between ‘mommy’ and ‘boss’.

 

Marley & Me

I know this is an old movie. But on a quiet Saturday afternoon, without much good bad TV to watch, figured I would watch a movie about a guy and his dog.

Least that is what I thought the movie was all about, initially. A coming-of-age movie, with the girlfriend and all that.

I should’ve known the moment Jennifer Aniston walked onscreen that it would be a bust. I haven’t yet liked a single movie starring Aniston (and every time I think I’ve seen them all, there is some obscure movie that pops up).

The movie isn’t bad in the first half. Here is this guy who is getting married and doing the whole settling down bit, and is trying to adjust to it the best way he knows. Except he finds out on his wedding day that the ‘list’ his then-girlfriend and now-wife keeps talking about is actually a real life. With steps about how to go about life. So the steps of finding a guy and getting married are done. And then they move to somewhere warmer – Florida.

That is when you wonder is this like a decided move or she just decides for them. But you let it pass because this adorable dog – Marley – comes into the picture. And you are laughing at the dog’s antics and seeing how he tries to manage that monster. We all have had the new puppy and we know how much of a disaster it is in the first week.

Except from then on, it gets bizzare. The director tries to rush through the movie (and realise why at the end – there is still so much to tell). So Anison gets pregnant, loses the baby. Gets pregnant again. And again. And again. She’s like a baby magnet or something. Every time they have sex, she seems to have a kid. Thankfully, the director rushes through the pregnancies… or any other scent that might have emotional depth whatsoever.

I wanted to watch the whole movie. I really did. Because the scenes with Owen Wilson and Marley are quite cute and a little soul searching types. But the rest of it depressed me so much.

Here’s a woman who chooses to give up her awesome job as a reporter because she wants to bring up her kid. Here is a reporter who owns like a mansion. And then she keeps popping out kids before the earlier one can say ‘momma’ and then gets pissed off because ‘no one told her how hard it would be.’ Did she forget that bit about protection?

I didn’t watch the whole movie. It began really depressing me, particularly when you go the dog is going to die soon. The movie just loses all sense of fun and depth after the first hour and from then on, it is just like another hindi tear jerker, minus the tears or the good background music.