Meta commentary – ebooks and ebook readers

“Does the world suck, or is it just me?”

I’m going to ask myself this every time I feel like making another rant on the internet, because I’ve just come across a beautiful example of failing to ask exactly this sort of question before putting fingers to keys and sharing with the world.

John C Abell wrote on Wired.com:

I have never owned an e-book reader, because I have an ingrained opposition to single-purpose devices.

I love this argument. Because what is a physical book, really, but a single-purpose device? (I’m saving the real argument that there is no such thing as a single purpose device or object for a later date.)

The rest of his article “Five Reasons Why E-Books Aren’t There Yet” also reveals a charming, naive, very iPad-centric view of the world.  I don’t mean to criticise, John, really; I think it’s gorgeous. I fully admit that ebooks and ereaders aren’t for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, I want to reproduce John’s five reasons here in case you, dear reader, also suffer the same doubts about digital books.

1) An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.

2) You can’t keep your books all in one place.

Goodreads.com can help in both these cases. Especially if you’re an iPad user who might not be able to use calibre. I love Goodreads because it lets me keep track of all the books I’ve read from the library, as well as what’s on my physical and digital bookshelf. When I start an ebook, I tag it as currently-reading and then I can easily see how long I’ve taken to get through it, maybe even demote it back to to-read.

calibre lets you organise and manage all of your ebooks. It can search the web for metadata for ebooks you already own, trawl through international ebook sellers and give you a list of titles and prices to easily go comparison shopping and convert your ebooks from one format to another. While you can’t use it like Goodreads to keep track of every single digital and physical book you come across (or maybe you can? I admit I haven’t tried to use it this way yet), it is an excellent piece of software for managing your entire digital library. So, yes, all your ebooks can be in the same place.

3) Notes in the margins help you think.

I’d argue that this is a matter of personal preference rather than anything defective about ebooks. And even if margin notes do help you think, perhaps you’re not always reading to think, but to relax?

I admit possible bias in this matter, because I have never felt it appropriate to make margin notes. I always have a notebook on hand to scribble down the page number and line if I want to make some commentary or write down an idea.

4) E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.

Not having paid for an ebook yet, I can’t really comment on their pricing, but I didn’t realise they were positioned as any more disposable than another other book format. In fact, I’d be less likely to delete a digital book than get rid of a real one. My digital storage capacity just keeps on going up, while the bookshelves in my house are pretty much at capacity. In fact, this was one of the reasons I took the leap into getting an ebook reader and embracing digital reading. My bookshelves now are going to be reserved for those books who really can’t make the leap into digital – reference books, picture books, treasured favourites now long out of print but not out of copyright.

5) E-books can’t be used for interior design.

I… I didn’t know that was one of the key functions of physical books that needed to be replicated in their digital counterparts.

If you want to share books you’ve read and liked with your friends, again, you can definitely do that on Goodreads. If you want to start a conversation with your houseguests, you can do it the old fashioned way:

“Hey, have you read —? I just finished it.”

Speaking of which: have you read the latest article about ebooks on Wired.com? And what did you think?

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How to Strip Line Breaks from a .TXT File (Windows)

So now you’ve got an ereader and you’ve got all these natty .txt ebooks but – horror! – the line formatting is all screwy. Fear not! As promised, here’s Ms Prue’s own secret recipe for eliminating those pesky breaks in record time.

1) Open and copy your text file.
Control + A = select all
Control + C = copy
(If you’re new to keyboard shortcuts, go on, try them, they’re magic.)

2) Open a new .html file in Word or Open Office.
Paste your ebook text inside.
Control + V = paste

3) Go to “view html” mode.
Here’s where we get tricky. You don’t need to know HTML to be able to do this bit. Just trust me.

4) Bring up the “Find” dialogue box (Control + F) and get to the “Find and Replace” bit.

4.1) Enter <P> in the Find box, and nothing in Replace (this is a quick way to delete a lot of repeated things). Hit “Replace All”.

4.2) Enter </P> in the Find box, and again, nothing in the Replace box.
You have now successfully removed all those pesky line breaks.
Now to put them back in at the end of paragraphs, where they belong.

4.3) Enter <BR> in the Find box and </P><P> in the Replace box.

5) Switch back out of html mode to text editing mode. Control + A (select all) and Control + C (copy) to copy all your freshly formatted text.

6) Open a new Notepad (.txt) file and Control + V (paste) the text into it. Save it as a .txt file.

7) Upload to your ereader and spend the time you just saved deleting line breaks enjoying your ebook instead.

Do you have a different/better method? Problems with the instructions? Leave a comment!

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Notes on the Gear 2 Go ebook reader

I bought myself the fuschia pink version because… well just because. And I read the Whirlpool discussion about its various preincarnations and was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into.

To whit: If it won’t turn on, hold the button in longer. And if it still won’t turn on, hold the button in for even longer. And reckon on 8 hours to charge the battery fully – rule of thumb is the amount of time you’ve spent reading on it is the amount of time for the battery to recharge.

What I wanted was a simple device with good battery life (> 3 hours by my definition) and no third-party nonsense. I was not in the market for a Kindle or Nook, in other words. And it had to be easier to read books on than my phone (Nokia Xpress Music). (Leaving aside the very good free ebooks I downloaded early last year from Ovi, a couple of Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle titles.)

So I’ve had the device for a couple of weeks now and I can tell you these things:

  • I thought it was dead on arrival, but yeah, I just had to hold the button in for ages.
  • The wall charger is the best thing ever. Eight hours recharge time? I’m asleep anyway! (Though if you only ever let it go down a bar or so of battery it doesn’t take that long to charge up.)
  • Name your files like this: “Name of Book – Author” because the ebook list is generated off the file name, not metadata or the actual name of the book. eg. Our Mutual Friend – Dickens.txt (or “zName of Book – Author” for your special interest literature so that unlike me you don’t have an embarassing moment where you’re trying to show off your Pink eReader Of Awesome and your captive audience goes “Ooh! You’ve got ‘120 Days of Sodom’!” because of course numbers come up first on the alphabetically ordered bloody list.)
  • Set the brightness on 1 (lowest) if you can – it’s plenty bright enough and you’ll get more battery life. Preset standard level is 3 (out of 6).
  • .txt files with ASCII encoding definitely work (ASCII format .txt files require some digging in PG if you source ebooks there).
  • .epub files with images will crash the reader (instant shutdown).
  • .pdf files with full-page images may crash the reader.
  • .html files should have as simple formatting as possible. The <QUOTE> tags don’t work, and indeed any text inside them will just vanish when you view the file on the reader.
  • .rtf files can sometimes be spilt over two pages, with only 1.5 pages of actual text, on default magnification. It’s a formatting issue. I don’t know how but I fixed it by converting my failed .html format files into .rtf (copy html file text and paste into new rtf document).
  • .txt files with line breaks (most if not all ASCII files from Project Gutenberg, for example) might have text that looks

like this

in the default magnification. Two solutions are possible.

Solution 1) If you don’t mind swapping smaller text for better formatting, and you want a fast fix, press the magnification button three times. The first two times will make it bigger and the third resets it somehow so it magically stops

breaking

lines like this and bugging the crap out of you.

Once you’ve sorted out the line breaks with the magnification, you can then rotate the viewer and magnify up again until you’re happy with the text size.

Solution 2) Strip those bleeding surplus line breaks out using a WYSIWYG/source code html editor (MS Word or Open Office Writer will both let you do this – detailed instructions to follow in a seperate post). Of course you can delete each line break manually, but come on, do you really want to? I’ve done it. It’s a waste of time and you end up ruining the ending.

Verdict: It cost ~$100 AUD and I think it was worth it. It’s a joy to carry around and I’m actually having fun working out all the little kinks and unexpected hiccups. And I’m reading a lot more and branching out into authors I’ve never read.

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I have quit NaNoWriMo. Can you tell?

I want to tell you a little story. Ideally it won’t be long, but it will be memorable. Not the actual content, but the emotional resonance. You won’t forget you read it. Even if you don’t exactly remember what it was about, you will remember that it was the best story ever. It was witty, clever, totally true and real in every aspect. Realer than real in some ways, even. You went in not knowing what to expect, possibly even vaguely apprehensive at the thought you might read something unpleasant, something that didn’t live up to your expectations, but then you were pleasantly surprised and eventually even enthralled by those words on a page, perfectly ordinary words, but brilliantly arranged. They dragged you on and on through the paragraphs, following the thread of those wonderful thoughts, except they were more like sentences, and the detail escapes you now but at the time it was like being lost in a maze, a delightful meandering garden path of prose, lush gullies of description that bore you up and over ridges of character from whose heights it was possible to see the plot in the distance. Metaphors buzzed at you like a cloud of mosquitos, or like the whine of a motor gradually being overburdened by a large and heavy load…

I don’t want to write a novel. I just want to tell you something you think you’ll remember.

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Not a zine

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Employment, week three

Three weeks in three pictures:

Interesting things:

  • The peculiar algae-mushroom-salt-tang-chemical smell of the canal
  • Very high tides, and the need for gumboots
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • The Word magazine
  • Eating more calories than are actually required for a 1.5 hour round commute at low speed
  • FUCK YEAH 97%
  • In week three, no less

Coming soon, “I bought it at the Rock and Roll markets!” – the French historical costume edition.

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Cautionary Tales from a Sharehouse

Chapter 2 – I’m moving out!

Bazza: mumblemumblemumblefuckingmumblegrumblebloodyarrrgh…

Hippy: What’s the matter, Baz?

Bazza: Oh, I don’t know, I’m just sick of living in this squalor.

Hippy: Haven’t you been living here for years?

Bazza: Yeah, but I was a student then.

Hippy: And now you’ve got a real job you feel you’ve transcended all this?

Bazza: Pretty much.

[Enter Overzealous Blonde, stage right.]

Bazza: I’m moving out; three weeks notice as of next weekend.

SOME HOURS EARLIER…

La la la, thought the Overzealous Blonde as she entered the house, sated after an overzealous shopping spree. Bazza was in the lounge, watching yet another instalment of some WWII re-enactment films. Hippy was in her room, as far away from the sounds of bombs and young men dying as possible.

“Oh,” said the Blonde. “Are you still watching that movie?”

“Yes,” hissed Bazza. “Do you have a PROBLEM with that?”

“Um, no, but are you going to be watching it all night?” asked the Blonde, thinking about her personal TV plans for the evening.

Silence.

Overzealous Blonde made some overzealous hand movements to facilitate a reply from Bazza.

“NO!”

The Blonde shrugged and retreated into her room with her purchases. She flopped onto her bed, picked up a book and settled down to relax.

BANG BANG BANG.

The explosion seemed to come from her door, so she tentatively opened it. Bazza was there, blocking the doorway with his best alpha-male posture.

“I don’t appreciate being spoken to like that in my own house! It’s 5pm and you’re already snapping at me!”

Huh?

Overzealous Blonde responded the only way she knew how.

“Go to hell!” she told Bazza, and closed the door in his face.

“SEE WHAT I MEAN?” Bazza screeched from the hallway. “This isn’t effective communication and I feel we need to talk about this further!”

The Blonde mulled this over. As far as she was concerned, she hadn’t reacted inappropriately and there was no reason for any further discussion. She stomped out of her room to vent her bewilderment on the neutral housemate, leaving an authentic WWII atmosphere in her wake.

Bazza continued to watch Band of Brothers at an unreasonably loud volume for days on end, but his masculinity still proved as elusive as ever.



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