Posts Tagged ‘audiobooks’

h1 feature request – the audiobook you want is now available

March 9, 2010

Books I want to read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. I could just go into Waterstones and buy it but I want to read it as an audiobook.  I get much more time for audible books than physical books.  Anathem has been recorded as an audiobook and is available to audible’s customers in the US.  Unfortunately, due to the usual misguided machinations of publishers, the Anathem audiobook is not available in the UK, at least not yet.

Every now and again I check on to see if it has materialised.  Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon has shown up in recent weeks, but not Anathem.

What I would really like to see is a feature on audible’s website where I can lodge a list of books I would like to be alerted about by email when they become available.  That would be so helpful. I guess there is the issue of making sure that the target book has been identified uniquely. I would have to key in the title and author myself, as opposed to selecting it from a list, so for example  minor spelling errors might cause identification problems.  Maybe we could be allowed to enter the ISBN number of the print version as an alternative.  Or a link to the corresponding page on Amazon.  Should be no issues there since Amazon now own audible.

In addition to helping customers discover when the audiobooks they want are ready to buy, the system could be helpful to audible in assessing the demand for different titles.  If large numbers of people entered Anathem as a book they were interested in, that might help speed discussions with the publishers by demonstrating there was a market for that title as an audiobook.

Just a thought, dear Audible, you might like to consider.

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This iPhoneless Life #5 – Audible adventures

April 7, 2009

iPod If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know I’m in the middle of an experiment to find out whether a  modern Windows Mobile phone can do all the same things as an iPhone, and with a reasonable degree of aplomb. That means serve as mobile phone and media player, provide access to email and the web, etc.

So far I’ve been majoring on the difficulties of getting a slick workflow for podcasts. To my great amazement I think I’ve been successful, and there will be more on WM and podcasts in a later post.

For now, though, I’m looking at audible books (eg from, another mainstay of my out-and-about listening schedule.

Very disappointingly, audible books on a WM device are a far cry from the experience on an iPod/iPhone. With the latter, playing an audible book is just like playing a music file, except that your place in the book remains bookmarked no matter what.  Other than that, the synchronisation via iTunes, selection with click-wheel etc is just as for playing a song or podcast.

Not so with WM, the problem being that Mobile WMP will not play an audiobook file in the .aa format used by  Audible Download Manager will download to WMP on your PC, WMP then plays the audiobooks and you can sync the .aa files to your WM device, but you then need to use Audible’s AudiblePlayer to actually play the books on your phone.  It’s not the end of the world, and AudiblePlayer is well suited to its purpose (revolting green colour scheme aside).  It’s just clunky to have to use different tools when the whole experience is so seamless and simple with an iPod.

I also had some teething problems to overcome, one relating to my pet hate ActiveSync (rebranded as WMDC on Vista) and another involving bluetooth headphones.  More on that in later posts.

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Traffic lights don’t stay red nearly long enough

September 18, 2008

Most of the time when I’m driving around I curse the slow traffic lights, stuck on red for what feels like aeons, and the half asleep drivers who take ages to get going when the lights eventually turn green. Which makes me no different to most drivers.

It’s a different story though if I have forgotten to connect my iPod to the car stereo.

I enjoy listening to podcasts, audiobooks and music when I drive. But what if I have just dropped someone off somewhere and had not got round to getting my iPod out of my jacket pocket to connect it up? My jacket is on the back seat so I need the car to be stopped, just for a few seconds, so I can stretch over and bring the jacket into the front. My battle-hardened enemy, the red traffic light, can be counted on to come to my aid.

Sure enough, it’s only a matter of time and yes, I’m stopped at a red light. Hand-brake on, turn to grab jacket, where’s it gone, damn it’s fallen into the footwell … and suddenly every car behind me is honking. I look up to find the cars in front of me have vanished and the lights are green. What? When did the lights change?

Dammit, I grit my teeth, grab my jacket and drive on. I now need another stop to get my iPod out of the jacket pocket and plug it into the cable in the glove compartment. Ideally the lights will turn red just as I am coming up to them so I get the whole red part of the cycle to do my connecting up without having to hurry.

But it never works out that way. There I am pootling gently up towards each set of green lights, hoping they’ll change just as I get close. They of course remain resolutely viridian as I amble through with a lengthening queue of frustrated cars behind me convinced I must be a 90 year old woman.

Next time the lights do turn red in front of me they are far too far away, and the cars ahead coast up to a gentle stop, taking forever to form a queue and wasting valuable seconds of red cycle. Why can’t they each drive at full tilt up to the car in front and slam on their brakes at the last minute so the queue forms quickly? To hell with their tyres and brake linings! But just as I screech to a halt the lights are turning green. Blast! And now the drivers aren’t half asleep any more. From dopey morons they’re suddenly imagining themselves to be Lewis Hamiltons, Felipe Massas and Kimi Raikonnens at Monza. I’ve only been stopped 5 seconds, was hurriedly fumbling for the iPod cable in the glovebox and the queue is moving again. A resigned expression comes over my face, I slam the glovebox shut and follow them.

I’m now running out of traffic lights before I join the motorway and find myself condemned to an hour of FM radio drivel …

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AudibleReady Zune … Sune

April 22, 2008

iPod and Microsoft have finally reached agreement on audiobook support for the Zune.

It’s confirmed by Paul Thurrott so I would trust this.

I gather the delay has been something to do with firmware. Audible require compatible devices to have the required support in the firmware, but MS were being difficult about this.

Maybe they didn’t like the idea of an outside party dictating what goes in the Zune’s firmware, but Audible support is too important these days. For many people, lack of Audible support alone is a deal-breaker. That would certainly be the case with me.

The Zune (in its second incarnation) is a credible and attractive proposition, but I am one of a growing army of converts who enjoy listening to audiobooks in the car or otherwise out and about. I have enough junk to take with me when I am travelling around so there is only going to be one mp3 player type device. If the Zune remained unable to play audiobooks it would definitely not come into contention when I retire my current iPod.

As it is, with this latest news, it stands a good chance.

I’m assuming here that if, as suggested, it is all about support for Audible in the firmware, then existing Zunes can be made compatible by means of a firmware upgrade, as opposed to having to wait for the 3G Zune.

As for when all this will happen: by the end of the year according to the link above, … so reasonably sune.

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The Huxin Ting Teahouse in the Diamond Age

November 14, 2007

Books There is no doubt that the venue for Judge Fang’s initial meeting with Dr X in Neal Stephenson‘s “The Diamond Age” (Bantam, 1995) is the Huxin Ting teahouse in the bazaar area of Old Shanghai.

huxin ting teahouse shanghai china

The book may be set in a dystopian future where people’s lives have been transformed (mostly for the worse) by nanotechnology, but it’s clearly one in which the famous 18th century teahouse remains intact. There really aren’t any other 2-storey teahouses in Old Shanghai rising out of lakes, accessed by zig-zag bridges with 9 bends and close to a Ming dynasty garden.

The name Huxin Ting is more prosaic than it sounds. It simply means “mid-lake pavilion”. The zig-zag bridge is called Jiu Qu Qiao, the Bridge of Nine Turnings, and is indeed supposed to stop evil spirits on the basis they can’t turn corners – a bit like an American car.

It is an odd feeling to be “reading” a book (I’m listening to the audiobook) that describes an exotic location I have visited in the last few months and can picture very clearly in my mind. The story is set in Shanghai and its environs, some real and some imagined, and the author had already recalled many familiar Shanghai locations to mind – the Bund and the banks of the Huangpu river, Pudong with its spectacular array of skyscrapers – but the treatment of the Huxing Ting teahouse is rather more intimate and tries harder to capture the character of the place.

He does rather over-romanticise it. The building itself is genuine, old and unspoilt but when I was there in April of this year the surrounding bazaar was noisy, crowded with tourists and more like something out of Disneyland than offering any sense of genuine Chinese cultural heritage.

The adjoining Ming dynasty gardens are the Yuyuan gardens.

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An iPod named Lazarus

October 28, 2007

iPod Dead as an iDodo as it might seem, your old defunct iPod may not have made its way irreversibly to iHeaven after all.

As mentioned in my post about, I wanted to revive my son’s long discarded, non-functioning 4G iPod so that my wife could listen to audiobooks in the car. We had never had the heart to throw the thing away and it was still kicking around the house, useless and inert, having given every indication that the hard disk had rotated its last.


I had it in the back of my mind that there was a way of salvaging iPods where the disk appeared to have failed. I was sure I’d seen something on the Internet. I found this set of instructions. I’m not sure if this is the exact same website I’d come across before but it covered the same ground.

The revelation is that the hard disks on older iPods sometimes stop working because the disk cases get misshapen over time, particularly with iPods that get heavy use, due to the temperatures generated. The curvature of the case stops the disks spinning, or something, even though they are otherwise sound. If you can get the back off the iPod and introduce a piece of card or similar to hold the disk casing flat then it can spin up again.

Well it had to be worth a try. The hardest bit by far was getting the silver back off the iPod. You can apparently get special plastic tools to help you, but as I was more concerned about getting the thing working than preserving its dated looks I used a kitchen knife (shame on me). It was still very hard to prise the back off but I managed it without, as it turned out, inflicting any visible damage. I used an old business card between the disk casing and the inside of the back of the iPod to achieve the required flattening effect.

With the iPod case back on and the device connected to my PC via the USB dock connector I was amazed to see the Apple sign appear and then a very long wait for the battery to charge up from flatter than a Des O’Connor joke. After all, the iPod had not been used in around two years, my son having switched to a Creative Zen Vision:M. In due course the iPod made a complete recovery and all the music was still there and playable.

I had thought my efforts had been a waste of time when my wife decided she wasn’t all that interested in listening to audiobooks, but my son was very glad to have his iPod back as he had lost the original source for a lot of the music on there and had thought it lost forever. So there was a happy ending after all. Aaaah!

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Influences strange & Mr Norrell

October 18, 2007

Books It is most curious, but I am starting to wonder whether the writing style so characteristic of Susanna Clarke’s epic tale of gentleman magicians in the 19th Century, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” (Bloomsbury 2004), might not be starting to have an extraordinary effect on me. Indeed, it seems strangely infectious.

Of course, it is entirely appropriate that such a worthy novel, relating magical happenings in the early 1800’s, should assist the reader’s sense of immersion in the spirit of the time by adopting appropriate language. I am tempted to describe the style as sanitised Dickensian. It is however altogether more digestible than real works by say Dickens or Austen, and is a little faster-paced. For example, the reader is spared whole chapters describing the appearance of some character of secondary importance (see Footnote 1). Nevertheless, Ms. Clarke’s manner of writing is highly evocative of the classic 19th Century novel.

I have to say that I am becoming quite used to the character of the book, having now completed more than 28 chapters of it. So much so that I scarcely give it a second thought. I cannot, however, help feeling that the book in general, and the writing style in particular, are having an influence on me in ways I cannot master. I might almost be inclined to describe it as a rewiring of the circuits that make up my mind.

Why, this very morning, while driving my daughter to school I made a remark that seemed very ordinary to my ears but occasioned an odd look from her, as if she were beginning to have concerns about my sanity. My remark was this:

“I think, my darling, that you should ensure you have a warm garment with you when you journey to Manchester with your schoolfriends this afternoon. I fear the weather looks set to turn distinctly inclement”.

Her reply of “Yer what? You gone loopy? What’s with the weird lingo?” I found baffling and quite at a tangent, not to mention bordering on the impertinent.

Her observation did though prompt a double-take on my own part. It is not inconceivable that the book is starting to change the very essence of my waking thoughts. It is important to bear in mind that I am not, as might be imagined, reading the book in a conventional manner, holding an object of paper bound in leather and scanned with the eyes. Indeed no. The content of Ms. Clarke’s publication is, rather, being delivered direct to my ears in an audible form for I acquired it as an audiobook, and use the electronic apparatus in my motor vehicle to reproduce it as sound. The narrator is a gentleman named Simon Prebble, whose agreeable voice and manner of delivery are very apt for the task. This is so much the case that I cannot seem to expunge Mr Prebble’s engaging tones from my head. And whenever I write, it is as if I hear his voice dictating the words to me from within my mind, and spoken in the language of Ms Clarke’s excellent book.

It has not escaped me that I should complete the aforementioned work as soon as I can manage it, and purchase a quite different audio book, before the effect becomes permanent.

Footnote 1: By way of illustration, in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens obliges the reader to endure an entire chapter dedicated to introducing a single somewhat unsavoury character, Jerry Cruncher, who is of little more than incidental relevance to the plot.

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