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In a development that has surprised me greatly, I’ve recently started including a decent amount of exercise in my weekly schedule. I’m enjoying it much more then I expected to (it seems I have a weakness for group dance!), and find myself actually looking forward to my gym trips.

But there’s only so much time in the week, and there are plenty of other things I want to do with that time. And those things aren’t ‘watch bad daytime tv’, ‘listen to dance music’ or ‘compile a mental list of different types of effort-grunt’. I want to read! And you know what? I can, and do!

Most of the machines at the gym have a handy little ledge on the control panel, conveniently situated at eye level, and just the right size to rest a kindle on. This is where the kindle is really coming into its own. I don’t have to worry about trying to prop the pages open, or hold a paper book with sweaty hands. I can read the kindle without holding it, alter the text size so I can find the right balance of ‘readable from a distance’ and ‘don’t have to turn the page too often’. If my current read isn’t very gym-friendly, I can switch to something else (I find light reads work best). And it means that I’m virtuously doing exercise, while making sure I don’t lose out on too much precious reading time!

I’ve not seen anyone else at the gym with a kindle, but people do take magazines, and once I saw a girl with a paperback, so I’m obviously not alone in combining reading and running (well, more accurately walking/shuffling/panting/collapsing in heap).

So, in honour of World Book Day – where’s the strangest place you read? The oddest thing you multitask it with?

So, I finally get to write a blog post about my Kindle. I’ve managed to restrain myself pretty well, I think – there was the temptation on the very first day of ownership to sit down and immediately dash off an ‘I LOVE IT!!!!1!!11!!!!1’ post. But I resisted. I’ve made it all the way to nearly 3 weeks of ownership and tried out a variety of features before sitting down to write a sensible, measured evaluation. So here we go:

I LOVE IT!!!!1!!11!!!!1

*ahem*

Ok, excitement over. Let’s try again:

The Kindle is magic.

Really magic, I mean. In a way that my smartphone isn’t. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love my smartphone too. Very much. I don’t think I’ve been more than 20 feet from it for the past two years. And yes, it does things that I could never imagine. But it’s not magic – it’s science-fiction.

The Kindle, however, is magic. The enchanted book which is a different story every time you read it; the magic box filled with 1001 stories: these are primal, fairy-tale magic. It’s the sort of thing you can understand at a gut, rather than intellectual, level.

Someone on twitter today (and apologies for forgetting who) linked to this flowchart: Explain the internet, to a 19th century British street urchin. You might have a hard time (and your boots nicked) explaining the internet, but I’ll bet you could explain an ereader…

Part of this magic is the ease with which you can download new books onto the Kindle. I have a hundred books or so on my phone, and thought that was pretty awesome. But that required hooking your reading device up to your computer, transferring files, and then being limited to just reading those until the next time you hook back up, and it really can’t compare to the amazing feeling of having all these books at your fingertips. I can read (just about) anything I want, (just about) anywhere, and (just about) instantly. Until you’ve experienced it, it’s very difficult to comprehend what an amazing sensation this actually is.

This is helped by how extremely easy it is to buy things from the Kindle store. Just as easy – and even more magical! – is this: the magic catalogue of Project Gutenberg ebooks. It’s just about the greatest thing ever!

Step 1: download the document onto your Kindle (use the shortcut http://bit.ly/gutmagic to save typing in the whole url)
Step 2: open it up as a book
Step 3: search it for the author/title/keyword you’re looking for
Step 4: chose search result. Click on desired title. Book will download

According to this article (HT @inthesoup) this doc covers over 30,000 books. 30,000! free! instant! books! (yes, it is more exciting on a Kindle than a computer. I don’t know why. It just is.)

The document isn’t totally up-to-date – I don’t know what the cut-off is, but I’ve already found a book posted to PG on May 8th, 2009 that isn’t in this catalogue. So, not perfect, but still an enormously wonderful thing! As the above article points out, you can also go to http://m.gutenberg.org/ to download Kindle-format PG books that didn’t make it into the magic catalogue.

Another fantastic application (thanks to @MancLibraries) is http://sendtoreader.com/, which will send a webpage to your Kindle. Much easier than relying on the Kindle’s own browser (I have the 3G Kindle, and loading times can sometimes feel like I’m back with a 56k modem), or copying/pasting the content you want into a doc and sending it to your Kindle yourself. I successfully sent myself an Ariadne article and the front page of http://awfullibrarybooks.net/ (complete with images!). The only slight fail was when I tried for Go To Hellman – both attempts sent me only the oldest post from the page. Again. not perfect, but still something I can see myself using often.

I bought my Kindle on a whim, when I realised that I had enough points to get £110 in Amazon vouchers – leaving me able to buy a wifi Kindle for £1. I’ve been waiting and waiting for a decent and affordable Android tablet, and when it didn’t look like the current crop were going to meet my needs, I started looking for alternatives. I decided that I could probably do enough with a 3G Kindle (combined with my phone) to justify this instead of a tablet.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to create new documents on the Kindle, but I thought that – especially with web access – there must be some way around that. Well, I’ve found a few ways I can use my Kindle to take notes on the move:

Online:
Evernote: I can connect to the Evernote website, create and edit notes. The Evernote website doesn’t get on brilliantly with the Kindle browser (the first time I tried, the pointer wouldn’t snap to button, so I had a *very* frustrating few minutes trying to login), but it does work.

Google docs: I’m still slightly undecided whether google docs actually works with the Kindle. One thing I know you can’t do is to go to your google docs homepage and open up docs from there: they open in a new tab/window, and the Kindle doesn’t support multiple browser windows. What you can do is get the link to the individual document, and load it directly. I’ve been able to view (but not edit) a spreadsheet, and edit (but clumsily) a text document. I haven’t done too much experimenting, but for just plain typing it does seem to work – and it autosaves, too.

Offline:
While you can’t create a new document on your Kindle, you can annotate existing documents. I’ve done this with a few case studies for my book – put them on Kindle, read through and annotated on train journey. These notes end up in your ‘my clippings’ document, and once back at your computer you can hook up your Kindle, copy this doc off, and voila! Your notes 🙂 I decided to try this for the CILIP course I went on last week (which I’ve written about here), and while I ended up taking notes with pen and paper and didn’t actually get to try it, I’m fairly sure my reasoning is sound:

Step 1) Create text/word document containing the programme for the day/headings of things you might want to write about (you could, of course, just annotate any existing document, but creating one will help you manage your notes)
Step 2) Transfer/send to your Kindle
Step 3) Navigate within the doc to the bit you want to make notes about. Start annotating. Repeat as required.

Very blurry shot of my Kindle, showing case study with notes

Very blurry shot of my Kindle, showing case study with notes

I’ve written some fairly long notes, and haven’t hit a word limit yet, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one! If you do hit a limit, just move onto the next word or line, and start another note. Again, I know this isn’t ideal, but this really makes the difference for me: it turns the Kindle from a passive-consumption device (which I couldn’t really justify buying) into a really useful tool, that could potentially save me having to lug a laptop around…

Oh, and it’s not too shabby for reading on, either 😉

**edit**
A couple of resources people have linked to in the comments:
Instapaper allows you to send articles/webpages marked as ‘read later’ to your Kindle
Calibre ebook management – allows you to convert to various formats, including Kindle.

Thanks Rob and Alison!

(yes, I apologise for the title. But at least it’s not a pun on ‘Kindle’ eh?)

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