More Good News

I’m going to continue with the good news items until I run out of either good news or good cheer.

Remember last week when I talked about that $50 tablet Amazon was rumored to be working on? Well, yesterday it moved from rumor to reality as part of Amazon’s announcement of four new tablets and three Fire TV devices.

Why is this good news? To put it bluntly, it’s not a bad as expected. That may sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I’m serious. If you’re willing to work within Amazon’s infrastructure, this thing could actually be useful.

For one thing, rumor was wrong about the six-inch screen. It’s actually seven inches–my preferred size. Granted, the resolution is fairly low (1024×600), but no matter what Amazon might hope, you weren’t going to be watching a whole lot of video on a screen that size anyway. But that’s definitely good enough for reading ebooks, and if you’ve already got a library outside of the Kindle universe, there are plenty of reader apps in Amazon’s app store–no need to sideload.

8GB of storage isn’t great, but it’s got a microSD slot, so you can expand to 128GB. It’s not going to hold a dedicated music collector’s entire library, but it will hold enough to occupy your ears for days at a time. Yes, as rumored, it does only have a monophonic speaker, but the headphone jack is stereo (or use your Bluetooth headphones or speakers). And even the best tablet speakers are lousy; you would prefer headphones even if the Fire had stereo speakers.

What’s most interesting is that Amazon recognizes that the Fire may be a underpowered for multitasking. The tablet’s sales page actually suggests using it as a dedicated single-use device: put one in the kitchen as a digital cookbook, one in the family room as a TV controller (as I suggested last week), one in the car for backseat entertainment, and so on.

To make single-use practical, they’re offering a bundle deal: buy five, get a sixth free. That makes the per-device cost less than $42, or looked at another way, gives you a 24-core, 48GB tablet with an unusually flexible screen (2048×2400? 1024×3600? 3072×1800?) for $250. OK, six $40 tablets may not really be able to compete head-to-head with a single $250 tablet, but I think it’s a legitimate argument.

If you’re intrigued enough to get one, let me know what you think–or if you decide to get a six-pack and toss one in my direction, I’ll be happy to provide a hands-on report.

In any case, kudos to Amazon for exceeding expectations and producing something better than anyone hoped.

Moving on.

Today’s other bit of good news comes from Lebanon, NH, where librarians continue to make me proud of my former profession.

The backstory is that in July, the Kilton Public Library dedicated a computer to the Tor Project*. Anonymity comes from Tor traffic bouncing through several “nodes” between the user and the destination website. Consequently, the more nodes there are in the network, the more secure communication becomes.

* Follow the link above for details, but in brief, the Tor network provides users with anonymous, encrypted access to the Internet. Consequently, it’s extremely popular with people living in countries that monitor and restrict Internet access, whistleblowers, or anyone who cannot risk having their identity exposed.

So, by volunteering to be a test site for the Library Freedom Project, which aims to set up Tor nodes in as many public libraries as possible, Kilton Public Library contributed a small but significant amount to making the world a safer place.

Fast forward to last week when the Department of Homeland Services sent a letter to the Lebanon Police Department, warning that the Tor network could be abused by criminals and terrorists. The police brought the DHS alert to the attention of the library, and in the face of concerns about a possible public relations hit through associating the library with “pornography and drug trafficking,” the Tor node was temporarily shut down.

Which brings us to Tuesday. Kilton’s library board voted in favor of reinstating the node. It was turned on as soon as the vote concluded, and the LFP’s experiment continues.

Thank you, Kilton Public Library–librarians and board members alike.