08 March 2009


Some years ago[1] Purina ran ads for Puppy Chow with the jingle

Puppy Chow for a full year,
Til he's full-grown.

It had a catchy little tune that's currently chasing itself around my brain.

I know this was an ad designed to sell Puppy Chow, but it's actually not the worst advice in the world for feeding puppies. Dogs actually mature at different rates, corresponding to their size, and a year is a pretty good average for a medium-sized dog. The giant breeds may not be completely mature until they're two years old.

What brought this to my mind was that tonight, for the first time in quite a while, I had to loosen Gordo the Wonder Puppy's adjustable collar. He's ten months old now and he's still growing, but the rate has really slowed. He's getting pretty close to his adult height and weight and he's maturing mentally, too. He's markedly better behaved and much less destructive, although he's still fond of tipping over the recycling bin and picking out some box or plastic container to chew on. That's kind of OK with me, so he doesn't get into much trouble over it. He seems to prefer rawhide to cardboard these days and the tipping is getting less frequent.

I really don't know how the medications he takes for his epilepsy are affecting his growth. Epilepsy is uncommon in puppies, so the vet isn't really sure, either. We recently halved the dose of the Keppra. This has made Gordo a litle less somnolent and a little more frisky, and he hasn't had a seizure for almost two months. He also hasn't had any of the little neurological "episodes" that he'd been having. I'm really pleased with how he's doing, in fact.

Anyway, to get back to the Puppy Chow, when he was about seven months old, Nutro discontinued the lamb and rice puppy food and I started trying new brands. This was when we discovered that he's allergic to some ingredient in other foods. It's probably a protein, because allergies usually are, and it's not a grain, because he's allergic to not just one, but two, count them, two super-expensive super-premium dog foods made with no grain at all. It's also not chicken, which is really good because he loves those dried chicken breast strips as treats and inducements.

Anyway, I was having a real problem finding puppy food he could eat and I called the breeder about this. She told me that she put all her puppies on adult Nutro at six months. Well, that made life easy and now Gordo is eating adult lamb and rice food. So much for the jingle.

[1] This is my way of saying I have no idea when, although I think it was probably after about 1972, when we got our first collie. I can remember other advertising jingles, too, which says a lot about their staying power. Some of them are from the '50s and the products are long gone, but the jingle lingers on.

02 March 2009

An Early Birthday Present

OK, this time I did drop off the surface of the earth for a week. On Tuesday, the 24th, FedEx delivered a Kindle 2 into my hands. This is a wonderful toy, which I have stuffed with over 100 books (mostly from Baen.com). I have done virtually nothing but play with it. My husband, who gave it to me, is patiently waiting for my infatuation to diminish enough that I'll let him read a book from it.

I have always loved the printed word. I was raised in a household of people who read all the time and I started with being read to and, in first grade, switched to reading myself. This was literally true; when I started first grade my father would read the paper to me and about halfway through the school year I started reading it to him. I haven't stopped reading since then.

Along with reading went book buying, but not, unfortunately, book disposal. I have many, many shelves of books at both houses, as well as a lot of cartons of books at both. I cling to my books, which I do re-read, as if book publication were going to stop tomorrow and I'd have to spend the rest of my life with only the books I have on hand. This is silly, of course. I actually did manage to give the Lancaster Friends of the Library two cubic yards (eighteen cubic feet) of books about four years ago and I've trained myself to give them some magazines after I've read them. This is a major behavioral change and I'm fairly proud of myself for making it.

However, it hasn't been enough. That's why I'm so pleased with the Kindle 2. It's small, light, easy to read, and doesn't need any bookshelf space at all. I just copied the eighty or so books I'd downloaded from Baen.com to a single CD (81 MB on a standard 700-MB CD). It's less than a quarter-inch wide, put in a minimum-sized jewel box.

The Kindle 2 is great for regular text books, but it's not designed for books with photos and figures and graphs, like knitting books. The Kindle 2 has sixteen shades of gray, compared to the Kindle 1's four shades, but that's gray, not color. That works just fine for covers, but it would be really inadequate for knitting books. This isn't just my opinion; books like that don't come in Kindle versions. I've actually bought four real books since the Kindle arrived. Two of these were about knitting (one was about color work) and two were about bread and pastry. I sure wish I'd known I was getting a Kindle, though, because I wouldn't have bought the seven-volume boxed set of Sookie Stackhouse paperbacks the week before.

Some of you are probably familiar with how the Kindle works, but that's not going to stop me from explaining it. Included in the cost of the book is use of a 3G network (Sprint, I think). Buy a Kindle version of a book from Amazon and it delivers it over the network pretty much instantaneously. E-books from other sources, like Baen, can be mailed directly to the Kindle, via Amazon or they can be downloaded to a computer and mailed from there. I've chosen the second method so that I can back the e-books up on CD. I think that I've bought eternal download rights from Baen, but I don't know that for sure. I know I've bought eternal download rights from Amazon, because they suggest using those rights to "archive" books when my Kindle gets too full (it holds 1500 average-sized books). I can also plug my Kindle into a USB 2 port on my computer and transfer e-books directly. However, my laptop doesn't have USB 2, so that's not an option at this time. My husband's computer has it, so the possibility is there. It's just that the mailing procedure works really well.

If you mail an e-book that's not of the two Kindle formats (.mobi and .prc) Amazon will convert it. There's a ten-cent charge (billed after thirty e-books, so there's no flood of dime charges), which seems pretty reasonable to me. I've been mailing e-books in those two formats, so I haven't been charged for mailing them, though.

Baen has a very clever scheme going with their e-books. At least, I think it's clever and I know they make money on it. The first one or two books in a series are free. Just download and mail to the Kindle (or read them on your computer; a number of formats are available). Then, once you're absolutely hooked on the series, the subsequent books cost $6 each, which is very reasonable. Remember, there's no shipping to pay. Some older e-books are $5 and bundled e-books are $4, so the e-books are economical.

On Amazon the e-books are no more than $9.95 for new hardbounds. When the book becomes available in paperback (usually $7.99 list price these days), the cost of the e-book drops to be less than the cover price, I think. At least the few I've looked at work that way. I can't claim to have looked at the comparative prices of many books and e-books, so I don't really know what the actual Amazon policy is. I will say, though, that I expect to recoup the cost of the device with the savings on the e-books fairly soon, like less than a year.

I also expect to give a lot of books to the Friends, since I will no longer need them. I've got two sets of some of my favorite series, for example, so that I could re-read them at either house without having to pack them and transport them twice a year. These are all in paperback, because I'm fond of them, but not at hardbound prices. Mostly, though, I only buy one copy and end up packing and transporting several (four or five, at least) cartons each way. Now all I'll have to do is take my Kindle 2 and the back-up CD. That will make changing houses a lot easier and reduce the strain on my back and knees.

I'll still have a box or two of knitting books, though. Knitting books are heavier that regular books, because they're printed on glossy paper. On the other hand, they're usually thinner, even though the pages are larger. The latest David Weber book is about 2" thick but it's an unusual knitting book that's over ½" thick.

I don't want you to think I love my Kindle 2 for purely practical reasons like saving shelf space. There's a lot more to it than that. It's just plain cute and fun. It's so light and the ergonomics are really well thought out. It works well with my habit of holding a book in my left hand, as the "next page" and "previous page" buttons are right under my thumb (they haven't ignored people who hold books in their right hands; there's a "next page" button on the right side, too). The screen isn't back-lit, meaning that I need a little book light to read it in bed, but I find back-lit screens to be tiring after a while.

Let's see, what other functions does it have that might be interesting? It can be used to shop directly from Amazon, and not just for e-books. Actually, it'll go anywhere on the Web, although the small screen size makes reading pages that aren't designed for it a bit difficult. You can subscribe to newspapers and magazines through Amazon. The list of magazines is kind of short, but that probably won't last. Amazon will send sample chapters from their books free. These are usually the first couple of chapters.

The battery charge life is astounding, particularly if the net is turned off (like cell phones, it checks in with the cell tower regularly and that can eat battery life in a fringe area). The charging cord is very clever, as it's both the USB cord and a regular electric cord (the far end is a little transformer that the USB cord plugs into). It charges quickly from the wall (I haven't tried USB charging). There are six font sizes to choose from. It'll read the book aloud, although rather oddly. I don't like being read to, though, so I don't really care if it's a little odd.

I bought a Patagonia padded cover for mine, but I don't like it because the zippers don't move easily and the little straps make a funny bump under my hand. So I've ordered a leather cover that just flips open. The additional warranty I bought promises one complete replacement if the device is totaled by owner/operator error. However, it can be dropped and still survive (some of the drop tests are shown on the Amazon page. I like to read in the bathtub, so this coverage makes me more confident, although I've never dropped a book in the tub in all my years of reading there.

I didn't realize I had so much to write about the Kindle 2 and e-books and regular books. I should have known, though, because reading and, therefore, books are such an important part of my life.