Amazon is listening

There’s a new application at http://kindle.amazon.com where you can view all of the notes and highlights that you’ve made while reading on your kindle. This is a great first step. It is just a first step though and they need to add a bit more functionality to this application such as sending these notes out as email or editing and searching from the web interface.

Overall I’m excited to see the forward progress though.

Is Obama playing with the courts?

There have been a couple of actions taken by the Obama Administration that have left people scratching their heads. The first occurred soon after taking office when his Justice Department, instead of doing as everyone thought that they would and not continuing Bush’s State Secrets claims, instead pushed the idea of State Secrets even further than Bush’s lawyers ever went.  Another occurred today with Obama reversing course on the lawsuit to release photos of Army’s abuses of prisoners. The Justice Dept had initially stated that it would not seek further appeals in blocking the photos release.  However, today they pulled a 180 saying that they would indeed appeal the release.

Of course all of the talking heads on the news outlets talked about how this a complete reversal of policy by the Obama administration and that the transparency is gone. I’ve got a bit of a different opinion as to what’s going on though. Obama is a trained lawyer, married to a lawyer, and definitely believes in the rule of law.  One of the things about the law is that it’s based in large part on previous case precedents. So given the facts of a case, you can predict with some degree of certainty how a judge will rule. I believe that Obama may be using the courts to appear to be a bit more of a centrist than he really wants to be.

With the State Secrets case, I’m fairly certain that he didn’t want to carry it forward. The problem was that by immediately reversing all of Bush’s policies he could lose the right half of the political spectrum. But if he pretends to take a tough stance on certain aspects, but has his lawyers push for an over the top result, that they know they’ll never get and will be thrown out by any judge, then it’s not him being weak, it’s the judges that the right already dislikes. So Obama scores political points, appears to be a centrist, even though he gets exactly what he wants.

With todays decision, the talking news heads kept going on as if this decision was up to Obama. What everyone seems to forget is that it’s a lawsuit in the courts and that Obama has no real power to influence the outcome. All he can do is to let the Justice Dept know that he would like them to continue with the appeals process. The case has already been ruled on by a judge and there’s no evidence that the government will win on appeal. But Obama scores all sorts of points with the military and can counter Cheney’s attacks that he’s releasing damning evidence of the Bush Administration’s wrong doing. Because it’s now not him releasing the photos, it’ll be the courts deciding that he must. I’m sure the Justice Dept lawyers have looked at the case and can be fairly certain what the outcome will be. But Obama gets to have it both ways with this strategy.

If this is indeed what he’s doing I’m not sure how I feel about it. In one sense it reinforces the rule of law, but it would also be using the court system as a political tool.

Shuttle Launch

I caught the space shuttle launch live on the news today and it’s a mighty impressive sight, watching live on the cameras as the Earth pulls away into the background. It’s such a crazy thing to watch, everything seems to be so close to the edge between control and disaster.

It’s a bit emotional to watch the launch live because you never know if you’re going to see something amazing or horrific. I still remember vividly being a small kid, home sick from school watching the Price is Right when the news cut in to announce the Challenger disaster. I also remember just as clearly being in the middle of a masters swimming set in Mountain View when someone ran over and told us that the Columbia had broken up. These events really stuck with me for some reason.

I have to wonder if the space shuttle is the best way to go about getting people into space these days. It just seems so complex, and I wonder if NASA truly had the ability to take a second look at space exploration if they would choose the same route with modern technology available. That’s one of the reasons why I’m excited to see things like Scaled Composites with Burt Rutan making their own attempts at space flight.

New kindle coming soon

kindle1Just saw the specs on the new kindle that amazon is getting ready to release and I’m pretty excited. Some of the items that I’m looking forward to are the larger screen, native support of pdf, book search and annotation.

One area that the new kindle will need to improve, that I didn’t hear mentioned, is with book/document management. If you have anywhere near the limit of 3,500 documents on your kindle, you need a better way to move through them than in a straight list. Folders or tags or some way to categorize items would be a huge help.

I’m a long ways out of college now, but as an ACM member I subscribe to their digital library updates with research papers on computing topics. I’ve got hundreds of papers in pdf format that I currently print out for reading since it’s just not comfortable to read long form papers on the laptop or in the sun in the backyard. I would love to be able to put these on my kindle, but managing that many documents along with books that I’ve purchased could be a headache.

Also while I would love to be able to markup documents for later reference while studying, one concern that I have is the ability to export my markups to some other format. I took advantage of Atlassian’s sale of Confluence and Jira for $5 a piece awhile back and have set up a personal wiki for keeping track of my own notes. Even if it was a simple text export, I would want a way to get the notes that I take while reading out for later use.

Overall though, the new kindle looks like a compelling upgrade.