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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 Β£110 in Amazon vouchers – leaving me able to buy a wifi Kindle for Β£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 πŸ™‚ 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 πŸ˜‰

**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?)

Ever since Manchester Libraries introduced ebook lending, I’ve been waiting for the chance to read them on my phone. On Feb 5th, while doing my bit to drive up loan stats, I found that the waiting is over! OverDrive now offer ebook support as well as audiobooks for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and I just had to try it out.

I’ve been reading ebooks on my phone for quite a while, using a nifty little text reader called jjReader. It’s fairly basic, but that’s what I like about it – I can customise text size, colour etc, and it’s quick and responsive. You can choose how you turn pages – I favour an upwards flick that’s easy to do with the index finger, while holding the phone top and bottom between thumb and middle finger. (I thought I’d take a photo of how I hold my phone for reading, then realised that my camera is on my phone. You’ll just have to imagine it.)

Best thing about jjReader? No ‘page turning’ animations! I appear to be the only ebook reader who hates these – for me, they interfere with the clear and direct passage of story to brain. I don’t fixate on page turning when I’m reading a physical book: it’s a mere physical necessity to make my way through the story. Why is it deemed such a desirable thing to have in ebooks?

So it was with a little trepidation that I downloaded Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under‘ to my phone. Out of my chosen books, it had to be that or ‘The Mating Season‘ – this is for bedtime reading, you see, and I don’t read anything with a plot at bedtime. Strictly short stories/humorous essays/poetry/light non-fiction. And Wodehouse. This is in an attempt to keep my reading addiction under control, and stop myself staying up to 3am every night to finish books…

The trepidation was because I really, really wanted to like the OverDrive Android app. Borrowing library ebooks to my computer is exciting enough, but to my phone?!? To be able to choose from current, in-copyright works to read instantly and for free wherever and whenever you like? Tell me you didn’t just come over all goose-pimply at the thought.

But what if the app was horrible? What if it was like the Kindle app? (it lasted about 2 hours before I deleted it. Don’t ask.) What if I couldn’t change the text colour? My phone has a very bright screen, and reading on a white background it simply out of the question. What if next page navigation was awkward? What if it had non-optional page turning animations?

I’m very pleased to report that it isn’t at all horrible. Sure, it’s not as fast as jjReader, but I didn’t expect it to be, and the load times are bearable (faster than Aldiko, for instance). You have only 2 colour choices, but as one of those is white text on black background, I’m happy. Page navigation is a little awkward – you need to tap the right side of the screen to move forward. As I usually hold my phone in my left hand to read, this does mean there’s a bit of stretching, and the occasional finger cramp, but overall it’s ok.

It runs full-screen, unlike jjReader which leaves the notification bar free. This means that if you get a message or email while reading in OverDrive, you either have to try to concentrate with a little green light winking at you (much harder than it sounds), or you have to exit out of the reader, clear the notification, turn OverDrive back on and wait for the book to load again. I realise that this is a peculiarity with my phone rather than OverDrive, and started turning automatic notifications off while I was reading. Then I thought a bit more, and decided that it really wasn’t healthy to be waking up every morning to the ‘you’ve got emails’ symbol staring blithely at me as I fumble for the alarm, so automatic notifications are now off overnight. What started out as a mild nuisance has actually helped me to manage my stress levels.

And the page animations? You can turn them off πŸ˜€

So what don’t I like about it? When you open up OverDrive, it shows you your library – what titles you have available (with cover image, which is nice), and how long is left on the loan.

Ahh. There we are. Every time I settle down for my 20 mins with Bill before sleep, I’m reminded of just how many days it will be before the loan expires, and the book will be gone. Now, barring accidents, I’ll get it finished on time. But there’s still something very unsettling about the prospect of having your bedtime reading whisked away.

I know why it needs to be there. I really do. Once ebooks expire, that’s it. They’re gone. You can’t ‘forget’ to take them back until you’ve finished. You can’t renew them. You get your 21 days, and that’s your lot. I’m fairly sure there’s no limit on how soon you can redownload a book you’ve returned, but you’d still have to go through the checkout/downloading/loading process again. Assuming, of course, no-one else has reserved it. If they have? Well, you don’t mind waiting 3 weeks to find out the ending, do you?

So, Manchester Public Libraries now offer ebooks and audiobooks for download. How excited am I? Well, I read two in the first 48 hours, and have been on the site pretty much every night since, so yeah, I’m pretty gosh-durn happy πŸ™‚

The problem? (you know there has to be a problem, or this would be a short & pointless blog post.) The problem is that the books are in Adobe EPUB format and, as I’ve said before, they will give you a headache. More than a headache: I read a lot of ebooks, and am used to reading on screen for 4-5 hours at a time; with EPUB it’s more like an hour before my eyes feel like they’re bleeding.

So why are EPUB so bad? Well, it’s not just EPUB. Basically, not all ebook readers are created equal. (I should point out here that I’m talking about ebook readers for the PC – not standalone devices.) Some will allow you to do much more with the appearance and format of your document that others, and in this case, the more flexibility the better. EPUB happens to be one of the ones that allows you to do, well, little.

I have 6 ebook readers installed on my PC: Mobipocket reader and Mobipocket reader pc; Microsoft Reader; Adobe digital editions; Amazon Kindle for pc; and Sony reader. Which do I prefer? Frankly, none of them.

Wherever I can, I read ebooks in microsoft word, which is – obviously – brilliantly customisable. You can change everything about the text, get the size and the colours just right for your eyes. Full-screen reading mode with the black/silver office theme is very easy on the eye. I have my background black, my text sans-serif, at least 20 point, and very light gray. When I can’t use word? Mobipocket reader is the next best, as you can easily change background and text colours and text size.

Unfortunately, with most DRMd ebooks, you won’t have that choice – you have to read in whatever format the book has been published. So what can you do to make your reading experience as easy on your eyes as possible?

  1. Download different readers, and try them out. All of the readers I have are free to download, and they usually come with at least one free classic text, so you can try out a few pages and see how the reader works for you.
  2. Try different setting within the reader – what you’re aiming for is as little light/glare coming off the screen as possible. If you can’t adjust the colour or brightness within the reader, alter your computer/monitor settings
  3. Have big text. When you open most ebooks, the text will be set at ‘medium’. Turn it up – you need much bigger text on screen that in a book (partly because you’re further away). This will mean less text on each page and more page turning, so…
  4. Figure out the various ways you can turn pages within the program. Does it have to be mouse wheel down? A click? A click in a specific part of the screen? Arrow keys? Most programs will have at least a couple of options. I use arrow keys if I’m leaning forward, mouse wheel if I’m sitting back. General rule: the less movement you have to make, the better, as you’ll be doing it a lot!
  5. Don’t be tempted into full-screen mode, either. Yes, it looks very impressive, and no, you won’t have to turn the page as often, but it’s very hard on the eye. What works best – unsurprisingly! – is a line length approximately the same to that in a printed book. It’s a length your eyes are used to, and they won’t get lost part-way along. Again, try out slightly different window sizes/shapes until you find a good fit for you.
  6. Take breaks! Yes, I know we’re all fully aware that we should take screen breaks, but somehow it is that much harder when you’re trying to find out whodunnit than when you’re collating stats or writing a report. Even looking to the other end of the room for 30 seconds at the end of each chapter will really help to rest your eyes.

This is fairly basic advice, and probably just seems like common sense if you’re used to reading ebooks. But what if you’re not? Many of your users may never have read an ebook before they borrow one from the library – why not give them some advice about getting the best reading experience from their ebook? Tailor it to the formats you have available, and show your users that you don’t have to squint at a bright screen filled with tiny black writing. As well as saving some eye strain, it might even increase takeup of ebooks. While much of this information will be available on the software websites, we should be delivering it to them, rather than making them go out and find it for themselves.

I’ve seen library sites that explain that you *can* change font size etc, but not saying *why* you should. Is anyone doing this? I’d love to know!

This post from Library Thing’s Thingology blog has had me thinking this week about my relationship with ebooks.

Two disclaimers:

  1. I love ebooks
  2. I hate ebooks

Yeah, I know – how totally uncontroversial. Doesn’t everyone have mixed feeling about ebooks? Does anyone love them unconditionally? Does anyone hate them with a rare and rabid passion? I suppose they must be out there…

So what do I love about ebooks? Well, first off, they’re books. They may not have all those fancy bits-of-paper-with-ink-on, but they contain words that tell stories. That’s good enough for me.

Secondly, they’re immediate. I’m a highly impatient person – I hate waiting for anything – and I’m completely hooked on the idea that if I want to read something *now*, I can. Ok, not everything is available as an ebook, but a suprising number are. Enought to keep me happy, anyway πŸ˜‰ True, it might cost me a lot to read it, but that’s the price of indulgence. And…

… thirdly: so may ebooks are free! It’s almost impossible to say just how much I love Project Gutenberg. It’s a source of constant delight to me. So many books! For free! And I can do whatever I want with them! (within certain limits). What’s really important for me is that Gutenberg ebooks are platform independent. I generally choose to read them in Word if I’m on my pc, and my phone has some good text readers for me to Gutenberg on the go. In fact, Gutenberg are making their texts available in loads of formats, that can be read on almost any device.

But it’s not just Gutenberg – there are loads of good, free ebooks sites. I’m not going to go into details about that here (oh, you insist? ok ;p ), but I will give a shout-out to the Internet Archive texts collection. Sometimes, I really do like the experience of seeing the book in its original layout, rather than robbed of some of their character – as they can be – when they are reduced to just text, and formatted/fonted to your preference.

One of the things I love most about free ebooks is the serendipity involved. I don’t buy new books very often, and when I do, it’s usually by an author I know I’ll like. Most of my reading experimentation is done in the library or the charity shop. But with free ebooks, you get the freedom to try something just because you like the title. I subscribe to the Gutenberg new books rss, and I’ll go through and tag the ones I like the look of. Then when I’m bored – instant reading list!

I know you do get the same kind of low-risk serendipity in libraries, but not to the same extent – certainly not with most public libraries. They’ll have a collection development policy, which will necessarily limit what you will find. The ebooks sites don’t have that – the Internet Archive explicitly states ‘This collection is open to the community for the contribution of any type of text’. This naturally creates a greater diversity (within the bounds of public domain texts, of course) – nothing is excluded, nothing is weeded. Nothing is on loan with a 4-month reserve list!

Before I leave free ebooks, I must mention Distributed Proofreaders, who provide most of the books for Project Gutenberg. Anyone can sign up to start proofreading texts, which have been scanned and OCRd. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, it is! I don’t know why, but I really enjoy it. You can choose which books you work on – some really dedicated DPers work on things in miniscule columns full of Latin and Greek and obscure scientific formulae. I work mainly on children’s books, with about 100 words to the page πŸ˜‰

It’s incredibly satisfying to feel that you’ve been a part of preserving this knowledge, and enabling its dissemination. I also like spotting errors (*ahem* librarian *ahem*), and puzzling out what words might be based on the context. Oddly enough, reading a few random pages of a book can be absolutely fascinating. I don’t do as much with DP as I should, but when I do make the time I love it, and vow to do more.

This has turned into a bit of a monster post, so I’ll save the hate (grr!) for part 2 (which means I have to remember to write it). A few more quick ‘things I love’:

  • Portability! Often mentioned, but the fact that I have about 100 hours of reading material on my phone – including War and Peace and 4 vols of Maupassant short stories – never fails to astound and delight me. And it’s always with me. I never used to leave the house without a paperback in my bag; now I’ll only take one for train journeys.
  • The fact that I can read ebooks while eating (assuming, as I do, that I generally eat in front of my computer) without having to juggle food and book, or concoct elaborate book-proppy-open devices. It’s on the screen – it doesn’t move, or close, or get obscured by gravy. And one finger will turn a page.
  • Left your book at home, and dying to spend lunchtime catching up with it? No problem! Just download another copy. This applies to most paid ebooks, as well as free ones – many (possibly all?) retailers allow multiple downloads of the same book. You may have to enter passwords or register a device ID, but you can get at it. And for those of us with story-addictions, that’s a great big plus.

Ok, that’s the love over. Ready for some hate? Part 2 will turn up some time after I get around to writing it πŸ˜‰

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