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Month: June 2011

Question: does having a Kindle mean I buy more books?

A bit of fun for a Friday. I bought a Kindle 3 when they were launched in the UK in August 2010. Over the past 9 months, my impression is that I’ve been buying more books than I used to, and that they’re mostly Kindle books. I have a second prediction, which is that I read more than I used to, but we won’t cover that today.

To check whether my intuition was correct, I decided to take a look at my Amazon order history. I do buy books from other places, but they’re a minority and tend to be photography books, a category which I’m excluding from this analysis as they’re not the kind of book I’d buy on a Kindle. All other types of book are included, even cookery and programming books.

The first task was to grab my order history. US customers have it easy – have a reporting facility that lets you download all your orders by year. Alas, this doesn’t currently work for the UK site, and there isn’t an API, so I resorted to scraping my order history using Python. I’ll cover this in more detail in a later post, but let’s just say that Mechanize and BeautifulSoup are awesome for doing this kind of thing – Mechanize pretends to be a browser, and so enables you to authenticate with Amazon and let Python into the good stuff. BeautifulSoup then tries to make sense of the HTML being returned by letting you parse the tag tree and grab elements of interest.

Thankfully, the updated physical order history uses ID and class names, which makes it a little easier to home in on different aspects of the order, so this wasn’t too tricky. The Kindle order history is another matter though: nested tables with no identifiers, such that my identifier to find an order block is to grab table rows which have bgcolor=’#ffffff’! Not pretty. The Kindle order page also doesn’t give any information about price – and although I didn’t need to include order total in the visualisation below, having price for the Kindle books was crucial because a large chunk of my downloads will have been for the free, out-of-print editions. Including these wouldn’t have been a fair comparison. So, to get price, I had to send another sub-request off to grab each individual order page from the Kindle order history.

A little while later, and the two scripts gave me 581 items ordered since 2000! (including the free eBooks) This includes non-book orders from Amazon, and helpfully, it appears that the Amazon ASIN identifier starts with a B when the product ID isn’t an ISBN, i.e. isn’t a book. This meant it was easy to separate out the two. I then manually removed anything that looked like a photography book, and brought the data into Tableau.

My books vs paid Kindle books purchases (Current Kindle period: September - May)

Powered by Tableau

Surprise! My Kindle purchases per month in the valid period (it’s only been 9 months since I got my Kindle, so I’m only comparing September-May each year) nearly mirror my physical book purchases from last year. The total for this year is higher, but looking further back, my Amazon book buying has steadily increased year on year, so there isn’t justification to say that the Kindle has affected my overall book buying quantity – though it’s clear that the majority of my purchases are now Kindle books.

One assumption quashed – next time we’ll look at the Python scripts, and then take a look at cumulative order costs over 10 years!

[admin note: migrated from FindingVirtue to Ixyl in April 2019]

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 6

BT – This Binary Universe

This album sounds like the gold record on Voyager sent back to earth from another civilisation. I’m sure purists won’t align this with other classic ambient works of the Eno strain, which is probably for the best. This Binary Universe is definitely electronic – it deals in sounds which aren’t familiar, but uses them casually, with a glitchiness, and rides slow waves throughout the few, long tracks. But it is caring, it is taughtly meandering, and its ambition is carefully softened by the new and unfamiliar instruments created and disposed of through the story.

I have long been a fan of BT (Brian Transeau), through his ambient and trance days, and then into more psychedelic hip-hoppiness, but I didn’t expect this. His previous music was tight, new, and complete – a bubbling vision of the future, but tethered to the 4/4 kick drum. Having created a baby girl – who stars emotionally in the final track, particularly in the video form which documents a static legacy of remembrance, way in advance of what we would hope – his work took a right-turn and somehow threw out music for the night: a star-gazing extravagance, highlighting the glories and not the gaps. Perhaps more than anything, I was impressed at his ability to switch from one successful mode to another; an about-face, a decision to say ‘now, this’, and to continue on with a different motivation. The rut isn’t as big as we may think it is.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 5

This isn’t an album, and it isn’t a song.  To me it is a hurricane landing on your soul.  The concert streamed below was part of the TED 2009 conference, where the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra from Venezuela ballooned Shostakovich’s 10th symphony to it’s very limits, and then casually took on Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2.  The conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, who is now practically a global hero for the perpetual and unnecessary resurrection of classical music, conjurs up such emotion and activity that it is hard to imagine how any other orchestra could have been motivated to perform in the past.  Many TED talks came together to change my life – I was in a hard place in 2008 and they gave me the food and wisdom to radically change direction, location, and perspective – but this concert, which appeared as the changes were bedding in, is the cement of it all.

If you can wake up in a house with little food, with little money, with little roof, with little health care or education, and then smile, pick up a violin and explode in such torrents of passion, energy, and happiness, then … well, I don’t know what to say.  It’s beyond my comprehension – it is a level above my intellect, it is the impossible beauty that comes from tension and purity, something the Western world knows but forgets.  I dare you not to feel your heart rumble rapturously during this performance.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 4

Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

The first listen is slightly discouraging.  Wailing vocals, ambiguous guitars and strings, and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s playing in a massive beer can.  But two days after, you remember a hint of it, and want to hear it again.  You return, and the apparent shoddiness turns out to be expression.  From thereon, we’re done.  A tumultuous, rooted, slightly abstract scenic view passed through what sounds like the passionate cries of a man on the crucifix, determined to embed the final statement  and make it so.  The whole album is a unit, but ‘Castaways’ and ‘Uniforms’ stand out as crippling forces of attention.  BBC Music conclude well:

Replete with moments of jubilance and tranquillity, cataclysm and contemplation, it feels like the successful culmination of everything the band have been aiming towards over their career to date. An assured, often fascinating and eminently listenable set, it’s less an album, more a bona fide artefact.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 3

The Kleptones – A Night At The Hip-Hopera

Effortless and deft.  Like anyone, you know parts of the original Queen album but don’t necessarily know it in its entirety, and as with many ‘old’ LPs, the production makes it sound a little alien.  Remastering is one thing, but what Eric has done with this is orders of magnitude further than remastering.  Even in five years, I can see that this will be regarded as childish and dated, but the whole mash-up of a suite of wonderful and quirky Queen songs with zeitgeist quotes (and pre-zeitgeist zeitgeist-premonitions) which relate to politics, freedom in music, corporatism and just plain weirdness makes for a wholly enjoyable 63 minutes.  The fact that it was wholly illegal to create and consume is another kick.  Andy Baio, who earned my respect (amongst many other reasons) for mirroring the album against various legal threats, called it a ‘a plunderphonic call to arms against bad copyright law.’ (  For the next generation without the context, it is twee squared by twee, a fragmentary moment of self-indulgence; in the time, it was a brave cicatrice on the music corporation, which never harmed the music – it amplified it.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 2

Green Day – American Idiot

At times I have said that I feel my 20s were somehow lost as a direct result of the Bush Administration.  I think that’s unfair as a statement across the breadth of life: hell, I fell in love, got married, bought a house, took some great jobs and visited some wonderful, life-changing places.  There is nothing in that I regret, and perhaps, somewhere, it was in part a direct reaction against Dubya.   If so, thanks.  But when I say ‘lost’, I mean a sense of direction, a sense of contribution, of community against individualism, of progress against protection, and of purposefulness and creation.  Bad events took place in any 200* year, but our strength is to know the greater good and carry on.  I don’t feel we had that until Bush left, and I think others agree: Green Day’s epic, operatic punk masterpiece is catchy, as complex as punk might ever get, political and discouraged, but more than anything else, inviting.  People relate to its themes, of isolation, of fragmentation, of the conflict of praising the hero atop a pointless prize.  They sing along with more gusto than you normally see at a concert – it is compelling to always go back, for despite being a pretty damning and destructive body of work, it reflected the world at the time, and to state that, loudly, and then rise above it, is an honest demonstration of virtue.

Unsorted top 10-15 albums of the 10 years following the year 2000: 1

Boy, this’ll be interesting.

This begins an attempt to suggest 10 to 15 albums released in the years 2000-2010 (inclusive) which are noted as amongst the best known to this author.  There will be no ranking, and as the process will be formative rather than summative, I don’t really know whether it’s going to look all that pretty at the end.

Album 1: 30 Seconds To Mars – This Is War

Terrible way to introduce myself to you, but: slick-haired stadium rock with the voices of hundreds of fans and Jared Leto?  Jared Leto? Well, I dunno, but it all combines to create a perfectly pitched, lose your head, don’t worry about the intricacies and intellectualism of music or lyric rumble through the jungle.  The use of the fans as the main voice throughout the album is compelling; most of the songs are powerful but gentle, and finely produced as ever when you involve Flood.  I have always opposed genres – there are only two: good, and bad – but I still feel a little guilty about liking this.  No, loving it.  One of the few bands where a note-perfect live performance would be worth the price of admission.


Decide whether you want money or satisfaction.

If you want satisfaction:

  • build something you care about
  • build something you don’t think works well elsewhere
  • prove to yourself it works well before spending any money beyond the minimum outlay
  • never chase funding
  • remember each returning user is proof of (moderate) success – you don’t need to count and quantify them

If you want money:

  • identify a product or service which receives public negative feedback
  • improve on it, but don’t go too far, otherwise you risk early revolution from competitors and won’t reap your rewards
  • market yourself effectively
  • then market your product effectively
  • take seed funding but don’t expect it to help you identify your business plan
  • wait
  • wait some more
  • if nothing seems to be happening, blow all the cash and start again (irresponsible? Remember, you’re in it for the money, and money has no value until it’s used)

If you want both:

  • move to California