"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kindle Kerfuffle

Behold the wonderful Kindle.  It takes up no room on my already over-crowded book shelves.  A simple little package in which I have more than 125 full length books, and a dozen or so that I've archived with Amazon.

Plus two word games that I play in hopes of keeping dementia at bay.

I bought my Kindle a couple years ago, lured by the promise of new best sellers for $9.99, substantially less than the hardcover version.  And not using half my baggage weight allowance on books?  Priceless!  In addition, a number of classics were free.  And then there was the stuffed-to-the-max book shelf thing.

For a year I was thrilled, even if I had to turn it off when the airplane was taking off and landing.  That’s why I stick my nose in a book—so I am not aware of taking off and landing. 

Then early this year Amazon started listing Kindle books for $14.99.  A five dollar increase.  In some cases, the Kindle e-version of a book cost more than a hardcover book.

Kindle book $14.99, hardcover book $14.72.   What's that all about?

That really ticked off the Kindle crowd and Amazon heard about it big time.

Think of it:  An e-book is essentially a word document that is sent to your Kindle.  There's some formatting, but a whole book can be formatted with the click of a few buttons.  No fancy full cover dust jacket necessary, either.

No internet connection necessary.  Right here in Muskeg Manor I can have a new book on my Kindle in a couple minutes.  Now that is magic.  No printing costs, no shipping costs, just a click of the button and Amazon sends it to me wirelessly.

An e-book at the same price as a paperback?  Check the used paperback price.

So what’s with Kindle books priced higher than the hardcover version?  The versions that use paper, ink, designers, presses, delivery trucks, book shelf stockers, cashiers, etc?

Readers can review books on Amazon, awarding any book up to five stars.  Suddenly, Kindle crowd reviewers of best-selling authors struck back, getting mighty stingy with their stars.  So, an author like book-a-week James Patterson or John Grisham were only getting two or three stars in the reviews, and almost always because of the Kindle price.

Ta ta.

Amazon blamed it on the publishers.  Readers wouldn’t buy that, referring to Amazon’s weight in the book-selling business.  I think it's greed on the part of the publishers, wanting a bigger bite of the burgeoning e-book market.

Kindle books dropped to $12.99 for a while for some authors.  They remain at $14.99 for most.   But $12.99 is still three bucks more than $9.99.   Was the slight drop from $14.99 meant to assuage us?  Sounds like the Netflix kerfuffle to me.

And it isn’t any better at iBooks for iPad, either.    They're charging $14.99, too.

This is what gets the Kindle users:  Kindle book $12.99, paperback $9.99.

What it boils down to is $12.99 is the new $14.99 is the new $9.99.    

My purchases are much more selective and much less frequent.  I generally wait until the paperback is issued and the Kindle price drops.  Or I order used books.

Kindle book $12.99, new and used hardcovers from $3.25.

What I really want to know is whether the AUTHOR gets more money for the pricier e-book.

Oh, shoot.  I know how to find out.  I'll write my friend Sue Grafton and ask her.  I mean, we're practically pals,  She sends me post cards and Christmas cards.  Even sent me a tea bag once to enjoy a cup while reading her latest Kinsey Millhone novel.

My bud.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The View from the Back of the Bus, Introduction

(I'll be leaving soon on another trip and have prepared some stories for your enjoyment while I'm gone, just in case I can't get to my blog in Churchill, Canada.  Or don't have time.  Or a polar bear gets me.)

I was in Australia when I learned something that has stood me well on all the travels I’ve done since.  I hesitate to reveal what that is for fear that someday everyone will know and I will have to fight the masses.

If you promise not to tell, I’ll let you in on my secret.

I sit in the very back row of the tour bus.

We were driving back to Melbourne from Phillip Island, specifically from Summerland Beach where we had seen the Little penguins safely from the sea to their inland burrows just after nightfall.  It was a long ride in the dark back to our hotel in the city, and I opted for the empty rear row so I could lie down and nap.

Then, unable to sleep, I sat up and discovered I could see!   I mean, I could see something other than the seat back in front of me and the limited view out the window beside me.  Think of it!  Never in my life have I been able to see what's on the top of the refrigerator, or reach the highest shelves in the kitchen cabinets, or see a parade.

AHA!  See Larry craning his neck to see?

 The rear row usually is elevated and that gave me a view over the seat backs and heads of all the passengers.  If I sat right in the middle of the back row, I could see out the front and both sides, scooting from side to side as the photo ops demanded.

I had no seatmate and room for all my stuff.  It was perfect.  I’ve claimed the rear row ever since.

On my trip through China and Tibet, my fellow passengers began calling me “The Empress.”

And then….  

 One by one, a few joined me for conversation, either sitting in the seat immediately in front of me, or beside me on the rear row.

“Now I see why you like it back here,” they said.

I am going to start posting a series of anecdotes about things I heard and learned while in China and Tibet.  When necessary, because of the political and social constraints there, I will do everything I can think of to disguise the people about whom I write, if I sense they might be subjected to reprisals because of my words.

Everyone will be referred to in the masculine gender and given a name I pull out of the air.

My sources:  my fallible memory, my almost indecipherable notes scribbled while riding in bouncing buses, and information imparted to us by various guides—heard by someone with noticable hearing loss who sat in the very back of the bus.  Plus, conversations with citizens and some online research.

Stay tuned, and don’t forget your promise.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Want to See India, Up Close and Personal?

My friend Cap, who is traveling in India this winter, has started a different blog at Google Blogspot.  He is now able to upload photographs and write about them.  It's much easier than his previous blog and the photos are right there.  They don't take an eon to appear.

Judging from what's there now, I think he spent the entire day yesterday in an internet cafe.  You've got to see what goes on there!

I have changed the link on the right side of this page to take you to that new blog.  Enjoy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tangerine Morning

A pre-sunrise drive into Seward, a slight mist over Resurrection Bay, and an Alaska Railroad locomotive merge on a tangerine morning.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The China Journals, Home Sweet Home, Chapter 3

We have been in Tibet less than four hours and have discovered that moving too quickly makes us short of breath.  

We boarded a bus and headed for Tsetang on the famous Yarlung Tsango River.  With its headwaters in the snowfields of the Himalayas, this river flows east across Tibet, then makes a hairpin turn and flows west to India, finally exiting in Bangladesh.  It is the highest major river on earth.

After bouncing on rough roads for two hours, we arrive at the Layong [sic] River Hotel.  Shortly afterwards, we board the bus again for a seven mile jaunt in early evening to Yambulhakhang (also known as Yumbu Langang) Monastery.  Waiting for us are Tibetans with gaily decorated ponies as well as a camel.

They used to carry tourists up the mountain to the monastery, but once a tourist fell off and broke some bones, that spoiled it for the rest of us who would have given their eye teeth to do that.  Me, for instance.

Yambu Lhakang

We photograph this second century edifice, which I later learn it was destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution, but rebuilt in an exact replica.  I notice a handsome Tibetan woman standing across the road.  She approaches our guide and speaks.  They hug and I guess this is a regular part of the tour.

Later I will learn that our guide did not know her and that the woman had approached and invited us to her home.  

The guide herds us into a group and we walk across a plaza to the woman’s home.  As soon as we enter, she drapes us with traditional white scarves, which to the Tibetans mean, “I trust you; we can be friends.”  (Simplified explanation.)  She lets us wander through her stone house, serving tea to those who want it.    
Front stairs

As in all Tibetan homes, the finest room is reserved for Buddha.  Platforms for daytime sitting and nighttime sleeping are around the walls, blankets and quilts folded neatly out of the way.  

The room for Buddha.
I soon locate the kitchen.  It is  as simple as a kitchen can get.  It is also very dark.  

Outside on a concrete deck, the woman of the house introduces an older woman who is either her mother or mother-in-law.  We are shown traditional Tibetan hats and invited to have our photos taken in them.  We also are shown a churn in which yak butter is made.  Its smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes.

A storm moves in behind the monastery, promising rain showers and bringing a strange light that intensifies the color of the geraniums on the ledge.

Outside, the chickens are settling down for the night not too far from a sleeping dog.  Two young boys race across the plaza.  The men with the ponies are there, smiling as all Tibetans do.  

In a day or so, when I am sure of my observation, I mention to our guide that the Tibetans seem to smile all the time.

Our guide Hue and the yak butter churn.
“You didn’t see that in China, did you?” she responds.  I recall the dour faces of the thousands of Chinese we saw.  

 Occasionally, when you made eye contact they could not avoid, a Chinese woman would smile.  The guide says they are suspicious and not necessarily just of foreigners.  They have been through too much political upheaval, she says, when they couldn’t even trust members of their own family.

I think about the simple lifestyle of the Tibetans and their devout Buddhist faith.  They don’t have much and don’t seem to ask for much, even though their culture is being diluted and in danger of becoming extinct.

I look at the blue Tibetan sky, free of the dreary gray smog that blankets China, and wonder if that has anything to do with it.

“The Tibetans,” I say, “seem to smile from their souls.”


Fodder and firewood for winter.  Note the flag of China in background.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dances with Swans

Very nice.  Now take a bow.


You first, Jacquelina.   A bow.

Now you, Rudolph.

And a final curtain call.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Long Drive Home

Jay maneuvered the Stormbird away from the dock in Halibut Cove at 10 AM Saturday morning and motored towards the mouth of the cove.  Kachemak Bay was, as Lucinda put it, "flat as a fritter."  In less than an hour, we were tied up and unloading in Homer.

Jim, in whose home I had spent the last month, was there to meet me.  He drove into town and we had a late breakfast at the Duncan House, just the kind of simple, down-home place I like.  Good food, homey surroundings, no pretense.
I left Homer at noon, beginning the long uphill drive from sea level to the plateau that follows Cook Inlet northeast.  Home is 131 miles north.  With the speed limit 55mph, except through the five small towns that I will pass, I should have been home in about three hours, including time to stop in Soldotna for a few groceries and to gas up the truck.  I didn't get home until 5 PM.

Across the road from Wells Fargo Bank, a half dozen protesters were holding picket signs.    I could read only one sign, and I think it read, "You are part of the 99 %."  I guess the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations had come to Homer.  I drove on by.

I hadn't even reached the top of the climb before I pulled over. The view in my rear view mirror was irresistible.

That gravel bar sticking  out five miles in the water is the famous Homer spit.  That's Kachemak Bay, with Cook Inlet out of sight to the sight.  A number of businesses, RV parks, restaurants, charter offices, and the renowned Salty Dog saloon are on the Spit.  Quite a few are shuttered for the winter now.

You can just make out a ridge line in the foreground across the water.  The entrance to Halibut Cove is where that ridge meets the water.

I pulled into a scenic park area near the top of the climb out of Homer.  A bald eagle was perched in a leafless cottonwood, surveying its realm.  I walked within twenty feet of it, taking pictures.  It didn't move, though its head swiveled constantly, totally aware of everything in sight.

I passed the eagle, and took another shot of the Spit.

This gives you a better idea of what the Spit looks like.  The boat harbors are in the wider area near the end of the Spit.  You can see the ridge in the foreground across the bay, but not the entrance to the Cove.

I walked to the far end of the paved parking lot and saw an amazing sight.  In the far distance, the peak of Mt. Iliamna was visible above the clouds.  It is one of four active volcanoes on the far side of Cook Inlet, and Iliamna was venting one heck of a head of steam.

Barely visible beyone that was the next volcano, Mt. Redoubt (not in this photo), and it too seemed to be venting, though it could have been an errant white puff of a cloud.

I drove on, hoping to get better photos in Ninilchik,  but that layer of clouds obscured the mountains.  All I could see above Iliamna was that plume of steam going straight up.  That alone should tell you what a nice day it was for late October.  It was shirt sleeve weather, calm and sunny.

Somewhere in this area, I pulled off the highway again and reached for the camera.  This big gal was too close to resist.

I made it all the way to Soldotna before I stopped again this time for groceries and gas.  Then, the next time I pulled over was in Cooper Landing, where the mountains appeared to be twice as high because of an optical illusion that occurs when clouds obscure the middle of the mountains.

The next stop was ten miles farther up the highway--at Tern Lake, only a mile from home.  A number of swans have chosen this place for a pause in their migration.

And, a little closer....

And then, in more ways than one, I was home.