E-book blogging

I’ve had the Sony Reader now for about a week.  In that time, I’ve taken it on a plane trip, read three full books, multiple days worth of the NY Times and I’m in the middle of two books right now.  Observations so far:

  • The electronic paper is very readable.  On my plane trip, I must have read for several hours straight with no more eye strain than if I had been reading a paper book.  The legibility is good regardless of font size.  You might still want to increase the font size if your eyes are tired, but otherwise, there is no need.
  • The menus and button layouts are pretty reasonable.  You can page forward or back.  There’s a up-down-left-right cursor that is used to move around on a page.  Using the number buttons on the right, you can jump to an arbitrary page in the book.  These buttons double as a quick jump to a menu item on the Reader’s standard menus.  One gripe, you can only move to different links using up/down on the cursor, left/right don’t do anything.  At GB, paideka mentioned that it would be interesting to see what Apple did with the layout and look and feel of a reader.  Agreed
  • Battery life appears to be as advertised: 7,500 page turns per charge.  Keep in mind that a page on the reader contains only about half the content of a standard paper back (depending on page layout and font size).  Still, around 3,500 pages of paper back text is still pretty good.
  • Updating the screen is slow.  It takes about .5 – .75 seconds to update the screen.  A few ramifications:  1) this is almost un-noticeable while reading text; and 2) using the cursor keys is painful, you deal with the update time for each cursor pressed – where ever possible I use the numeric shortcuts.
  • A third ramification of the slow update time is that the Reader, and almost certainly any other reader using this generation of e-paper, is unusable as a reference book.  When I use a reference book, I flip around quite a bit.  Forward to the index, back to the text, forward many pages to the next topic, etc.  I suppose if the reference book had a really good index, it might be better, but for the most part, this is still not a good tool for referencing which is a real shame.
  • The bookmarking system is good.  Each book keeps your place in the book.  The top level of the reader keeps up with the last book you’ve read and your place in that book.  You can set any number of bookmarks in each book and then access the bookmarks on a global or a per book basis.  It would be nice if the reader also kept a list of most recently read, rather than just the single most recently read book; but that’s a small issue.  Typically, I’ll just set a bookmark when I pause in reading, then delete it when I pick the book back up.
  • PDF conversion still leaves something to be desired.  I’ve looked into this a bit.  The converter I’m using converts PDF -> HTML -> LRF.  The PDF -> HTML conversion uses pdftohtml (surprised?) which is good in some ways, but still leaves off certain things (like images!), at least as used by the reader’s converter.  Part of this is due to conceptual differences between PDF and HTML.  HTML marks up text, flagging paragraphs, noting images, etc.  Ideally, all of this is passed to the browser which handles the layout.  PDF will have none of that.  PDF consists of a set of primitives that indicate what text (in which font and size) should go in which location on the page.  There is no markup of paragraphs, instead, each line of text is described individually.  There is no easy way to reconstruct paragraphs from a PDF file (as a research note, I wonder if you could use a partially observable markov decision process?). That said, minus the missing images, the LRF result is definitely readable.

So overall, I’m pretty happy with the reader.  The biggest issue is the refresh time on the electronic paper and I hope that will improve over the next couple of years.

p.s. If you’re curious, so far I’ve read: Free for All (a history of open source),  The Authoritarians (a sociologist’s take on a personality type and how it affects politics) and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which I haven’t read in over 20 years).  I’m currently reading Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ and Bruce Sterling’s Hacker Crackdown. 

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