Q: How Can I Get Free Digital Books and Magazines?

Q: I'm an avid reader, but buying audio and e-books can add up. Are there affordable options?

A: I've always enjoyed reading, and after the introduction of electronic devices like Amazon's Kindle (electronic ink reader) and tablets, there's more content than ever! The ability to enlarge fonts on a screen, as well as back lighting and different page background colors (e.g. sepia tones), makes reading easier for our senior eyes.

Amazon was the original successful pioneer of e-readers, and currently maintains a huge Kindle store of e-books that can be read both on their hardware devices or your own tablet/smartphone using the Kindle software app. If you own one of the Kindle devices and have an Amazon Prime expedited shipping subscription ($99 annual fee), Amazon has a lending library where you can borrow one e-book per month for free (the extensive selections include New York Times listed bestsellers). I usually like to browse the Amazon Kindle book reviews to get other reader perspectives, but will end up getting a lot of free content through other sources. 

If you have a tablet, it's usually supported by a manufacturer (e.g.. Apple, Google Android, Kobe), and those companies maintain digital stores.

For example, Apple devices have the AppStore, iTunes, iBooks, Newsstand, iTunes University and Podcast apps, all of which can provide free content with a bit of searching. Our first screenshot is a recent listing of iBook free offerings, including e-books and comic books for the grandchildren, that you can download and read right in your iBooks app on the iPad.

Another great source of free books is of course, your local municipal library. Our Hawaii State Library is affiliated with the "Overdrive" system, so once you've downloaded the Overdrive software app onto  your device, you can specify your local library if they are a member, as well as input your library card number and other account details. From there, you can then browse your library's inventory of both e-books and audiobooks (great for listening during a commute or errands).

Our state system has the digital rights to a large selection, including multiple copies, so the trick here is to use the Overdrive filters to locate your favorite authors or topics. As demonstrated in this screenshot, I've asked the app to show me books on "Pets", and to only show me the titles that are available to be borrowed now. Small icons tell you whether the book is an audio one or an ebook for reading on your tablet. You can also view 'All Titles', and if someone else already has it out, you can put yourself on a waiting list and you'll be notified by email when the item is returned so that you can log on and borrow it at that time. 

Your local library may also have a great supply of digital magazines that you can borrow via another affiliated system called "Zinio".  It'll take setup effort to download the Zinio app which is used to view magazines on your tablet, as well as to activate your library's Zinio account from which to browse and borrow titles, but once you get both accounts set up, you may be surprised at the number of titles that you can borrow. Here are screenshots of our local library's magazine inventory. As you can see, not only are there a lot of titles, but you can also borrow back issues of a particular magazine (e.g. all available issues of Apple Magazine).

Finally, for those of you who enjoy audiobooks, you may want to consider listening to podcasts, which are shorter in length, so that the entire episode can be finished during a walk or supermarket trip. Your tablet will typically have a podcast app already provided, or you can install third party players such as Downcast or Stitcher.

Here's a glimpse at the Apple iTunes top podcast chart. The trick to an enjoyable podcast experience is finding the shows that you relate to. My personal favorite is the 'Satellite Sisters', a podcast by five biological sisters chock full of hilarious and poignant anecdotes from their personal and professional lives. There are recreational podcasts, so that you can be immersed in a fan discussion of your favorite TV show (e.g. Shark Tank, Lost) or a radio or news show (e.g. NPR, 60 Minutes).

Podcasts are also a useful learning tool. For example, if you're trying to figure out a particular software program, gain some knowledge on autism, or get cooking tips, to name a few, you can bet that there is a podcast for your topic. Once you find a good series with personable moderator(s) and guests, you can subscribe to the podcast to get new episodes as they're released. 

Hope that this summary gives you a lot of enjoyable reading and listening material throughout the holidays and the new year! Do you have other favorites and recommendations? Please share them in the comments section.

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Q: What Is Cord Cutting and What Are My Options Afterwards?

A: Cord cutting is a popular term describing the consumer movement away from traditional cable services. For those of you who enjoy your local news, tons of sports via ESPN, PBS shows, and have finally gotten the hang of recording regularly scheduled programming on your DVR/TIVO, 'cutting' that cable cord may not be for you. For the rest, cord cutting may result in one of the following structures.

Bare bones: For some of us on fixed incomes, eliminating cable may have become a financial necessity. After all, decades ago, people just watched broadcast TV in their homes for free, with rabbit ear antennas and networks putting out content and commercials each evening. Stations would go off the air late night and resume broadcasting in the early morning starting with the national anthem. 

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Since 2009, analog signals were replaced with digital feeds, but you can still get free 'over the air' programming by investing in a digital antenna/box (similar to the 'rabbit ears' setup). Inputting my residential address to a website like www.tvfool.com tells me that I can receive almost 20 stations by using a set top box antenna, and if I had the DIY knowledge to install a rooftop antenna, another half dozen stations are possible. Another website, www.AntennaWeb.org, provides a wealth of information on antennas.

If you have a DVD player, local libraries may have a nice DVD collection; ours charges $1 for borrowing each DVD. An entire season of your favorite TV show usually fits on 3-6 DVDs, so you can view one to two dozen episodes, depending on the show, for $3-6. Of course, you'd be viewing older seasons on DVD, and sometimes out of sequential order if someone else has borrowed a disk out of the set.

Meal: A second category of cord cutters are those looking to decrease their total monthly budget from the typical $100-150 cable bill to around $75. This may mean negotiating with your provider for a plan which provides only internet data access. Depending on your location, this type of plan might be provided by a 'dish' satellite company, 'DSL' or 'fiber' telecommunications (cellular) carrier, or 'cable' via conglomerates like TimeWarner or Comcast (which might include some 'basic' stations with that package).

Once you have internet access that is hopefully 'unlimited' and fairly speedy, you can stream TV shows and movies to video playing devices such as your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

A glance through the Apple App Store tells me that the ABC, A&E, CBS, CW, History Channel, Lifetime, NBC and USA networks all have apps from which you can 'on demand' view full length episodes of selected shows. Some networks will give you certain older episodes for free, but charge you a monthly subscription fee to see entire seasons or the most recent episode. A lot of these apps seem to stream video to U.S. viewers only.

Additionally, there are websites available through desktop and laptop internet browsers that provide no-cost movie and TV show content, such as the 'free' version of Hulu.

Fine dining: Finally, there are those who have cut their cords not necessarily for financial reasons, but to better personalize their viewing options through 'a la carte' offerings, and/or to make a point to cable monopolies providing overly expensive packages and poor customer service.  When you add up all of the options below, your overall cost may end up being similar to your currently bloated cable bill, but you'll have more flexibility and control.

First, with a high-speed internet data plan and home media hardware (TV, speakers), you can hook up little set top receiver boxes, such as Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire players. All of these boxes will stream onto your TV the internet content provided by common providers such as Netflix and HuluPlus (the 'premium' version), while various players will offer different content. If you already own a large video collection purchased through Apple's iTunes Store, then the AppleTV box might be your preference. If you have Amazon's Prime Service, the Amazon Fire player may be a better choice. If you like YouTube videos, make sure your box selection accommodates that platform. Google's Chromecast is useful for 'casting' content from your mobile device onto your big screen TV. The prices and features of these boxes vary, so you'll need to do some research on which one(s) best meet your needs.

Finally, you'll add on your monthly subscriptions, including HuluPlus for $8 a month (mobile device streaming, Korean dramas, and full TV seasons), Netflix for $9 (movies, TV seasons, documentaries), and/or Amazon Prime (where your annual $99 membership fee for expedited shipping includes free video streaming offerings, go figure).

With so much available content, hardcore TV addicts have started to 'binge watch', for example, an entire past season of their favorite show over a single weekend, yikes! As cord cutting becomes more predominant, content providers are starting to create their own productions, such as Netflix's 'House of Cards', in order to entice viewers to their service. Even HBO, who has been sensitive about alienating their decades old cable partners, recently announced that they'll provide standalone subscriptions next year, though pricing was not specified. 

We're interested in seeing how long it'll take before the 'new' medium is commonplace, and whether Netflix and HuluPlus' original programming will generate buzz and Emmy awards.

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