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I bought a second-hand Cybook Gen3 ebook reader from my writing partner last month, and I've been using it long enough now to have some initial thoughts about it. This isn't a proper review, as I haven't been exploring all its features. What I *have* been doing with it is simply reading some of the books she'd loaded on it, mostly on the bus to and from work.

And the obvious question is — do I regret spending one hundred pounds on this thing? After all, I could buy quite a few paperbacks for that money. To which the answer is "no", and for a specific reason I'll get to at the end of this post. And it's not one of the obvious reasons, like saving shelf space or being able to carry a hundred books with me at all times, although I can see the advantages there.

Would I buy one at full market price? (Currently 269 pounds if shipped to the UK.) Probably not, but mostly because the wee beastie is physically fragile, and I fully expect that I'll manage to break it within a year or two given my current usage of it. I can see why other people would pay that for it, and why I might in other circumstances.

read more about the pros and cons )
And the killer app for me? I can read it on the bus without feeling car-sick.

If I try to read a dead tree book on the bus, I start feeling sick after a few minutes. I can read if I'm careful, but it requires a certain amount of thought and stopping as soon as I feel in the least bit queasy. I took the Cybook with me on the bus the first week I had it, mostly because otherwise I'd have to wait until the following weekend to have time to play with it — and was still reading at journey’s end. By the end of the week, it was clear that this was not a one-off. In the month since, I've found that if the bus is *really* bumpy I need to put the Cybook down for a minute or two, but I can usually read it without problems. I don't know why there's a difference (my guess is that it's at least partly to do with the Cybook being completely rigid), but since I spend around an hour a day on the bus at the moment, something that lets me read during that hour is *well* worth the hundred pounds I paid for it. While I'm doing that commute, you will have to prise my Cybook from my cold dead hands...
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I've been playing with a Cybook ebook reader these last few days, and on Friday morning I was sitting on the bus to work, reading Charlie Stross's Accelerando. I'd just got to the bit where an AI phones the hero on a cheap supermarket pay-as-you-go phone, when a phone somewhere in my vicinity rang. And I blinked, as I had one of those "I'm living in my future" moments.

I'm in my early forties. I'm old enough to remember when mobile phones as we know them today didn't exist outside science fiction novels, when their conceptual equivalent in near real life was the car phone that was built into the car on the cop shows. The first mobile phone I personally used was a Nokia 5110, a device which at the time it came out was a major breakthrough in size, weight, and battery life. I wore it on my belt, because it was too big to fit in any of my pockets. And I didn't pay for it, because when I first got it it was still an expensive beast, both to buy and to run (though that changed shortly afterwards). My employer bought them for the emergency response team to replace our obsolete radio pagers, and we weren't allowed to use them for personal use that first year because the things were still so expensive and desirable as status symbols that Inland Revenue considered that personal use of a business phone turned it into a taxable perk.

I turned it in when I left the job, and I've owned another two phones since then, both Nokias, though a lot smaller and lighter than the first. The most recent one was indeed a semi-disposable PAYG, which cost me the grand total of twenty quid for the handset plus a tenner for some credit, since I already had a SIM.

Mobile phones were the stuff of fiction when I was a kid. There's that scene in Heinlein's Space Cadet, where casual use of what I'd call a mobile phone was a vision of the future. Now they're disposable technology. Electronic paper was the stuff of fiction as well. Now it's real, and while it's expensive *now*, I've seen that price curve as bleeding edge slowly becomes mass market. VCRs, CD players, mobile phones, modems, LCD monitors. That's the future I'm living in already. This could get interesting.

Still no AIs, though. Not yet, anyway...

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julesjones

August 2017

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