So as pretty much everyone in the world knows, Apple announced the iPad yesterday. Unlike apparently everyone else, I actually don’t have a problem with the name. Legal pad, note pad, hockey pad, bachelor pad, launch pad…etc. etc. etc. Come on.

Anyhoo…while I’m crazily excited about the iPad (and I will be ordering one the second Apple lets me send them money), I don’t think it will be a Kindle killer for me. It could be for a lot of people, but the way I use my Kindle doesn’t really lend itself to immediate replacement by the iPad. It’s too big, for one, and too heavy. And the Kindle’s buttons are ideal — I often read my Kindle lying on my side (on the sofa or in bed) and the buttons are great. The iPad’s swipe-to-turn-the-page thing is just not going to work for that. As others have said, the LCD screen is a double-edged sword…while I desperately wish e-ink were more contrasty, I’m not sure I could spend more time staring at an LCD screen than I already do. I’m on my laptop or iMac 10-14 hours a day as it is — I use books and my Kindle as a way to rest my eyes, and the iPad won’t work for that either.

I also like that the Kindle is a single-purpose device. Like John, I’m able to read longer and more complex works on my Kindle than on my laptop, with a much better ability to focus. Reading on my laptop, I fall into the trap of responding to IM pings or just flipping over to check a quick email or jot down a note or quickly glance at my Twitterstream, at which point I get lost in the other distractions. The Kindle, on the other hand, is just for reading, a step away from the hurly burly of the internets and all the shenanigans therein. The iPad seems like it will split the difference — other apps will be available, but without background applications there won’t be IM pings and whatnot. I’m not sure what that will turn out to be like in practice.

We will see. I am going to get an iPad, and I am going to try reading some books on it. I’m very much hoping that Apple continues to allow Amazon to have their Kindle app on the iPhone and iPad because at that point they’ll have to compete on the price of content, and less expensive ebooks are something I’m Very Interested In. Once I’ve had a chance to do an actual comparison of both as an eReader device, I’ll post a review.

Honestly, this is all jetpacks and flying cars, anyhow. I like living in the future.

Interesting resource – ManyBooks.net

manybooks-logo-newA friend recommended a Project Gutenberg book last night*, but instead of linking to the Project Gutenberg site, he pointed me to ManyBooks.net. The site, which is apparently the work of one person, is a bit of an Amazon-like site for free ebooks, most (all?) of which appear to be originally sourced from Project Gutenberg. I can’t attest to the quality of formatting and whatnot for the ManyBooks.net books, but the site is interesting in that it has more information about the texts, and it also allows readers to post ratings and reviews (which is the really useful bit).

For example, the Project Gutenberg page for The House on the Borderland is a pretty dry and library-catalogue-like affair, and it doesn’t really contain all the information you want about a book, such as the original publication date and length.

On the other hand, the ManyBooks.net page for The House on the Borderland includes a brief synopsis of the story, the original date of publication (1907), its length (50,975 words, 140 pages**) and a handful of user reviews and ratings (average rating: 5 stars).

So if you’re looking for a Project Gutenberg book to read but are having a hard time digging around the Project Gutenberg site, check out ManyBooks.net. The site isn’t perfect by any means, but I find more approachable, more useful, and easier to browse than the Project Gutenberg site itself.

* The friend: David Humphrey, whose blog is very much worth reading. The book: Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher, originally published in 1898 and now on my very 21st century Kindle.

** “Pages” don’t really exist in ebooks, so I’m assuming this is an estimation of the number of pages the book would be if printed.

Project Gutenberg Project (& Challenge!)

Like reading? Want to support a good cause? Welcome to the Project Gutenberg Project*!

If you’ve never heard of it, Project Gutenberg (Wikipedia page) is an almost entirely volunteer-driven effort to digitize, archive, and distribute “cultural works” (mostly books). It was established in 1971 and now includes over 30,000 free ebooks that you can read on a wide variety of devices including computers, cellphones, various mobile devices, and ebook readers.

Project Gutenberg contains some amazing, unparalleled works of literature and it is an incredibly valuable resource that just doesn’t seem to get the credit (and support) it deserves. This challenge has two purposes:

1) To inspire people to read some of these wonderful old classics, and
2) To support Project Gutenberg.

Here’s the challenge

1) Set a goal: Pick a number of Project Gutenberg books you think you could read over the next year. This can be anything from a conservative 2 or 3, a more ambitious one per month, or a hardcore no-holds-barred one per week. The number is entirely up to you. Post a quick comment here if you would like to make your goal public!

2) Make a donation: Donate a few dollars to Project Gutenberg. I’m going to donate $2 for each book in my goal, but that’s just a suggestion. Just try to send ’em a couple of bucks if you can.

3) Find some books and start reading. Each time you finish a book, blog a quick review of it, fire off a tweet about it, or post to Facebook about it. Encourage other folks to play along, donate a few dollars, and read some of these amazing pieces of literature. Project Gutenberg is a great and under-appreciated project that is doing some fantastic work, so let’s show ’em some love.

Not sure where to start?
Here’s a quick baker’s dozen of some of the fantastic books available through Project Gutenberg:


Here are some stickers you can put on your weblog if you decide to participate. Link the sticker to this blog post, and we’ll see how many people we can get reading some old classics and supporting Project Gutenberg.


* Disclaimers: I’m doing this just for fun. I am in no way associated with Project Gutenberg, and they have no idea I’m doing this. Having read their legalese I think I’m ok calling this the “Project Gutenberg Project”, but I didn’t ask for their permission (so the name may change!) If you decide to donate, please go to the Project Gutenberg site, and follow their directions.

Very cool original stamp graphic is from Wikipedia and is in the public domain.

Happy reading!

On ebooks and living in the future

Rumour has it that Amazon will be announcing (or possibly even launching) their ebook initiative on Monday. Included with this is their first foray into the world of hardware manufacture with the “Kindle”1 ebook reader.

Earlier this month, the good folks at Bookeen launched (as in: actually shipped) their third-generation ebook reader, appropriately called the “Cybook Gen 3“. I’ve been watching their progress avidly, and the second I heard that the Cybook was shipping my credit card and I leaped into action. Being quick on the draw, I managed to get my order in early enough to get one of the first shipments. Within days (possibly hours) their initial supply had sold out and all other orders were delayed from a Nov 2 ship date to sometime in mid-December.

I received my Cybook (from Paris, via FedEx) on Nov 7 and have been using it daily since. I’ve taken some pictures, which you can view over at my flickr photo set.


It is, as I say, very much like living in the future. There are some rough spots of course, but also some unexpected highlights. Here’s a quick rundown:

Readability: The contrast and resolution on the Cybook are great. I’m really impressed by the clarity and readability. These e-ink based ebook readers do not include a backlight, so you can only read them anywhere you can read a regular book. The Cybook screen is nicely matte, so there’s no glare issue whatsoever. Grade: A-.

Memory: The Cybook comes with 64mb of content memory and has an SD slot for memory expansion. The 2gb of additional memory I’ve added will allow me to put somewhere in the region of 3000-5000 books on it. Grade: A+++ I’m living in the future.

Weight and size: roughly 300g including cover and battery; roughly the same height, width, and thickness as a 300 page regular (non-trade) paperback. Grade: A+.

Battery life: the Bookeen folk estimate that a full charge should last around 8000 page turns. The e-ink technology apparently only draws power when changing what’s displayed, using no power otherwise. At this point I’ve read around 300 pages and the battery indicator is still pegged at 100%. Grade: A+.

Ghosting, page turn speed: Both excellent. I have seen no evidence of ghosting yet, but this may be an issue that takes a few tens of thousand of page turns to appear. I will post an update later if this happens. Page turn speed (the length of time it takes to completely change the display after pushing the button) is excellent. Not instantaneous, but still faster than actually turning a page in a physical book. No complaints here at all. Grade: A-.

Formats: The Cybook allows you to read ebooks in four formats — mobipocket, HTML, PDF, and plaintext. The mobipocket format is, by far, the best. HTML is second best being quite readable with functioning hyperlinks (assuming the hyperlinks are within the same document — these things aren’t hooked up to the internet). Plaintext is OK, but hard-wrapped formats get all messed up — I need to find a script to un-hard-wrap the Gutenberg plaintext files. PDF — well it depends for what size paper the PDF was formatted. If the PDF is formatted to a paperback-sized page, it’s fantastic. If the PDF is formatted to 8.5×11, then it’s utterly illegible with no way to resize the fonts or zoom the pages (that I have found). Grade: A+ for mobipocket, B+ for HTML, B- for plaintext, D for PDF.

User interface: Overall the UI is good, but not great. The “menu” button (which you use to navigate back to the main library screen, set bookmarks, adjust font sizes, etc) is awkwardly placed. The main “select” button is really too clicky — it’s just loud, when it should be silent. The little rubber cover for the USB port is a bit flimsy, doesn’t really get out of the way sufficiently, and is bloody impossible to remove when the cover is on. I am somewhat tempted just to rip it off now and save myself the trouble of dealing with it entirely. Otherwise, the Cybook is great. Grade: B.

Cover: Nicely made, well designed, good fit. Only comes in a somewhat disappointingly ugly brown and costs an extra $40. Hopefully other covers will come available over time. The cover is absolutely essential, however, even though it is brown. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. It’s worth every penny. Grade: A.

Manufacturing quality: The Cybook is well made and feels very solid. I definitely don’t feel as if I have to baby it or be excessively cautious when slinging it into bags or backpacks. The cover helps, of course, and I strongly recommend you buy a cover if you get one of these. Grade: A.

DRM: Buying ebooks (mobipocket format, f.e.) requires that you enter your device PID before you can download the book. This, I assume, is how they’re enforcing Digital Rights Management (DRM), which is just a fancy way of saying “you can’t lend other people your ebooks, ever”. Given that ebooks are currently priced roughly equivalent to physical books, this is an annoying pain in the ass. Publishers are really going to have to rethink the pricing scheme on these things, because paying the same for a DRM’d ebook and a regular physical book is just nonsense. Grade: bullshit.

Overall, I’m very happy with my Cybook. It’s small, light, comfortable to read, and does its job well. Unlike the rumoured Amazon “Kindle”, it doesn’t do wifi or have a keyboard or read email (wtf), but I’m really OK with that. I spend all day on the Internet — when I’m reading it’s quite specifically an opportunity for me to get the hell away from the machines.

I’m very excited by the possibilities Amazon’s ebook initiative may open up. Currently buying ebooks can be challenging — the seller sites tend to be atrocious, and selection is slim. Being able to buy mobipocket-format ebooks through Amazon.com (with all its reviews and whatnot) would be absolutely brilliant. We’ll see what happens on Monday!

1 – “Kindle”, seriously? Def’n: catch fire; cause to start burning. That’s a little Fahrenheit 451 of them.

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

My flight was delayed so I ended up spending four hours at the Chicago airport today. Out of desperation I picked up a paperback copy of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (Amazon.com) and have devoured half of it since. Turns out it was originally published in 1998 or something, and there are multiple electronic versions available:

  • eBookMall (PDF, MS Reader, Palm Reader – $8.99)
  • eBookMall (MS Reader, Mobipocket – $8.99)
  • eBooks.com (PDF, MS Reader, Mobipocket – $8.99)

It’s somewhat annoying that the electronic edition is $1 more than the paperback, but I will continue to be confounded by eBook pricing for quite a while, I suspect. Either way, it’s a fun read.

Updated because I managed to fubar the actual links somehow. I need a better blog editor, clearly.