Web Reviews: eBooks, Present Solutions, Stupid Movie Physics, AskOxford

Editor's choice: Have you read any good books lately?

Join me as I browse the virtual aisles of online e-book stores, from from eBooks.com) to Barnesandnoble.com (ebooks.barnesandnoble.com).

Almost no one wants to read a novel-length book on-screen — no matter whether it’s on a handheld PC, a notebook, or a special e-book device. Another drawback is the intrusive technology: to download Microsoft Reader for reading Microsoft Reader-formatted e-books, you need a Microsoft Passport account, which keeps track of which MSN sites you visit.

Similarly, Palm, which maintains a pretty good selection of e-books (www.palm.com/ebooks), maintains a “convenient” library of your purchases. And fancy e-book devices like the Franklin EBookMan aren’t good alternatives because many major e-book sellers don’t offer anything for those special formats.

Of course, e-books aren’t all bad; they don’t weigh anything, so you can carry 10 in your pocket. It takes more than that to win people over, though, so I’ve thought of a few more reasons to appreciate e-books:

  • If you’re stuck in front of a computer all day anyway, e-books make sense. For instance, Amazon.com now sells business-focused nonfiction e-books (see www.amazon.com).

  • Many online bookstores and publishers post preview chapters of books online.

  • E-books may be the best way to keep old books ‘in print’. Warren Adler, author of The War of the Roses, bought back the rights to all his novels and now sells them at www.warrenadler.com as e-books.

  • Thousands of public-domain books — both classics and obscure stuff — are available for free from sites such as www.memoware.com and Gutenberg.org.
  • Like MP3 songs, e-books can introduce you to a world of unpublished writers. Adobe has tools for do-it-yourself e-publishers (www.adobe.com/epaper/ebooks).

Present solutions

With Christmas coming up, many of us will likely turn to the Web to help find presents — last minute and otherwise!

For some unusual gifts, point your browser to Present Solutions. This site specialises in adventure and experience gift certificates. You can choose from a range of adventures including a flight in a fighter jet (from $1595 per person) and extreme jet boat rides through to swimming with dolphins and dinner for two on a luxury yacht. EFTPOS-enabled gift cards can also be bought for any value between $40 and $2500.


Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics

Hollywood directors are usually more interested in creating visually dynamic movies than factually correct ones, so it’s no surprise that some of their creations often overstep the bounds of science. Geeks of all varieties will enjoy Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics, which rates movies on their “portrayal of excessively bad physics”. The ratings mimic regular ones; PGP, for instance, stands for “Pretty good physics (just enough flaws to be fun)”. Reviews of various movies detail the film-maker’s gaffes.



AskOxford is an entertaining visit for a vocabulary workout. You’ll find a word of the day, a quote related to that date and “A word from” — little articles looking at interesting language issues (when we visited, the story was on rhyming cockney slang). You can also sign up for word of the day by e-mail and practise your skills with the crosswords. Always wondered when should you use whom instead of who? How about the dreaded apostrophe? AskOxford also has help for better writing and speaking, including a series of articles on better communication.


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