Saturday, November 5, 2011

Setting Kindle margins and justification

A plugin, Kindle Collections, for the app calibre allows you to set margins and justification on your Kindle, very useful.

calibre (the author spells it without a capital C) is itself highly useful, although the interface is less than intuitive. For example it will automatically fetch collections of articles from many, many online publications, and put them on your Kindle or iPad (using iBooks) or other device, including linked tables of contents. Pretty amazing.
Even better: one can ask the right people to create a "recipe" to make this work with a favorite online publication.  I did so with The Online Photographer and Luminous Landscape for example.

Note: I have earlier succeeded in changing the margins and justification (from Full to Left) on my Kindle 3, but for some reason it hasn't yet worked with my Kindle 4 (compact model), even with the latest versions of calibre and KC, durn.
Update: it turns out one has to go to the Home page on the Kindle before doing the procedure, after I did that, it worked. (The author told me: Setting the margin or justification doesn't work for all books. Are you testing with the same book?
Have you definitely gone to the home page of the K4 before connecting to your PC and running the plugin?
Have you restarted the K4, not just powered it off?.)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Amazon's newest freebies

Amazon Lights the Fire With Free Books, David Pogue article.
Obviously, the notoriously e-terrified book publishers wouldn’t sign off on Amazon’s free-book deal without a lot of reassurance — and a lot of payments. And sure enough, Amazon says that these free Kindle books aren’t really free. It’s paying publishers for the right to distribute them.

That's as expected. But it's the same old story. When radio became popular for real, music publishers fought it with teeth and claws, thinking it would kill record sales. But when they found out how much it actually helped sales instead, they started to pay radio stations to play their records! (I think that's illegal, not sure.) Maybe next year ebook publishers will fight for the right to have a book in Amazon's new free (for Prime members) library, maybe they'll try to bribe Amazon even. But til then, it's the same old scared-cat-hiding-under-the-sofa attitudes, like we always see.

Wing Stand

As an early supporter of WingStand, I got mine in the mail today (plus an extra set as a gift, which will come in handy as a bedsit stand for my iPhone). It's pretty amazing how this thing beats most stands solutions in compactness and usefulness by several horse-lengths.

I put in the video here because their web site, if one only looks briefly, only pushes the WingStand as a keyboard accessory, leading people potentially to believe it won't be for them if they don't own an Apple Wireless Keyboard. But it is equally useful as a simple stand for almost any phone or tablet (without a case).

Admittedly, laterally it's not the most stable in the world if used without the keyboard, it can be knocked over if, say, the table is bumped hard. But I don't think it's a real problem, and it's a fair tradeoff for the size of it.

Old book smell

[Thanks to FWR]

Ebooks – Glossary of Terms

Ebooks – Glossary of Terms, concise, but useful post

Kindle tip: use a big font

I still don't like the grey background on the Kindle, but I've found out something which helps a lot:

Use a big font. 

I've tried reading on the Kindle 4 (the new really compact one) with a text size which is two or three sizes bigger than I'd normally use on a brighter screen. That is a very big difference in size. But it does make a lot of difference in eye comfort, and I find I stick much longer with reading on the Kindle this way. 
The one caveat is that you have to be able to hold the Kindle in a way so you don't have to change the hold every time you flip the page, otherwise that becomes a bother. 

I'd like to thank Darlene, wife of Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles. Len once told about how she likes to use a big font* and flip through the pages fast. (With the earlier Kindles which made audible clicks, this could bother bedroom mates, but the K4 is silent.) 

In an early show, Len interviewed Darlene when she unpacked her first Kindle, and when he saw what kind of text size she preferred, he said: "that's a font for old people". Then there was a pause where I could almost feel Darlene's eyes burning through my iPod, and then he quickly added: "that's a nice font, good choice". 

Len himself prefers to keep the font size limited, he states that he likes to keep a few sizes in reserve for as he gets older and his eyes get worse. But heck, I wouldn't let that stand in my way, for one thing there are still a couple sizes to go up from the one I'm trying now, and for another there'll surely be future advances in screen technology and in laser surgery.       :-)   And I'd guess that not stressing your eyes will not make them deteriorate faster. 

*I know I'm using "text size" and "font" interchangeably, but really traditionally, a 9-point Times is a different font than a 10-point Times, because originally they would come in different boxes, little physical lead letters to be put in boxes for printing. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OCR from iPhone

Last time I had to quote some text from a book, I laboriously typed it in. But next time I'll use OCR (optical character recognition) via my iPhone. There are several apps for it, I tried "Image To Text - OCR", and it works well, as well as any desktop OCR I've tried (OK, that's years ago).
This might be quite handy.
The photo, taken on my iPhone, was taken by the light of a desktop lamp, me hand-holding both the book and the camera/phone, so hardly the most ideal conditions, and the photo of course is not darn sharp. Yet there are only a few errors.

Here's the uncorrected text I got from the app:

More about
Protecting Your Wealth
The 1970s and 1980s brought us well-publicized stories of wealthy people who went broke or who lost most of what they had.
Businessman and politician John Connolly, renowned for his "insider's" ability to make money, one day found that he had to sell his most precious personal possessions at auction To the best of my knowledge, years later he still hadn't been able to return to his previous lifestyle. The Hunt Brothers inherited a fortune from their father's oil and food industry successes. But they lost hundreds of mil- lions of dollars speculating in silver and oil in the early 1980s, and I've seen no news that they've been able to earn it back Actress Doris Day lost most of what she had when she discovered that her late husband had squandered their money on bad investments. She was able to recover part of what had been lost, but only through a long series of exhausting laW- SUIt*
Of course, these people aren't you. And it s easy to beJieve you won't make the same mistakes they did. That's true You probably won't. But that doesn't mean you won't make any mistakes There are no books Wg«W to acquaint you with every possible hazard of trusting *°mr 

(The book is Fail-Safe Investing, recommended.)

"Art Escapes" ebook format comparisons

I just found out an old favorite book is now out in ebook format: Art Escapes by Dory Kanter. (US link.)

It pays off to shop around, perhaps even more so with ebooks than anything else (since an ebook can technically be sold at a profit at almost any price). I bought this book at an impulse at the Google Ebook Store for £15.44. Then I read Dory's newsletter which I'd just gotten in the email, and found out the book is out in all the ebook stores, including Kindle, which normally has not featured many graphically rich books. So I checked with Amazon, and there I could buy it for £6.31! (In the US Amazon store it is $10.18) (What's with all the small fractions? How do they decide between 10.18 and 10.19?)

But it is interesting to compare the formats though. The Google format (PDF) is used here to show the whole page from the paper book as a unit. Whereas the Kindle format is chopped up in bits of text and graphics, so it will show better on small screens like the Kindle (or for that matter the Kindle Fire).

I would say the Kindle format is easier to read, and if the reader uses a small screen an ebook format like that is far superior, sometimes necessary. You can set the text size to fit your eyes and mood.  But if one uses an iPad, the PDF full-page format is much more fun to look at, and one gets the full aesthetic impact of the writer's and designer's intentions. (The downside at the moment being that for some reason the Google Ebooks app won't zoom into the pages for easier reading, a big flunk. I hope that gets fixed soon. Their Mac app does it, so they know it can be done...)

Here are samples from this book in the Kindle version and the Google PDF version so you can compare. (Obviously they are both viewed on an iPad.)

Kindle-formatted page (I've used the Sepia view here): 

PDF format:  

Another set:


PDF page: 

I don't mean to imply that this is the only way these formats can be used, of course the ebook designer has a lot of decisions to make. But I think these are typical and show the pros and cons well.

It should be added that with "ePub 3", and Apple's "fixed-page ePub" format, and now with the new Kindle Format 8, full, rich pages are clearly destined to become more common on all the major platforms. I don't know how they will decide how to sell a Kindle book, if a single file will have versions for small kindles as well as for large screens or what, that will be interesting to see.

For further comparison, here is how it looks on the Kindle device itself, in photo and screenshot. (Of course the screenshots show it in clear black-and-white, like I wish the screen itself did.      :-) Apart from no colors, it's actually not a bad experience.

Monday, October 31, 2011

How TidBITS Makes EPUBs in Pages

How Take Control Makes EPUBs in Pages, article.
[Take Control is the ebook arm of TidBITS. Pages is a desktop publishing app by Apple. ePub is a dominant ebook format.]

Wow, cool, I had just mentioned this company and the process in a post. Great that they make an article about this, who else would do such a thing? I mean that literally, I can't think of anybody else.

I love writing like this. Written not for programmers, and neither for the maaaaahhhses, but for the intelligent layman who wants to know more about how things work.

The article for example has some explanation of the differences between the basic formats like PDF and ePub, something we touched upon recently here.
In part:
In a sense, PDFs live at the intersection of print and pixel: an onscreen PDF (such as a Take Control book) should look exactly like a printed version of the document, with the same fonts, colors, and layout characteristics, including the same pagination.
The EPUB format, on the other hand, was designed to present documents in a readable way on portable digital devices, allowing the EPUB reading software to adjust the layout and appearance of an onscreen document to conform to the characteristics of the device on which it is read.

The article also gives a good impression of the complexity of ebook conversion, like we've discussed in the past week.

And it reminded me to try out the Firefox ePub Reader plugin, which is kewl, for instance for reading ePub books on laptops or netbooks. (Amazing really that the Standard ebook format has so little software to read it on desktop/laptop computers. It's a weird world.) The plugin has very good programming, it has clickable chapter headings in a sidebar, and in wide windows it makes more than one column! Excellent thinking.

As an armchair designer and an art lover, I do admire a beautifully designed page. But I must admit that as a reader of middle age, I also do appreciate formats like ePub, where the reader can set the font and size (and sometimes colors) to make the reading experience as pleasant as possible. I have a hardcover book on marketing which I could never read, because it's a big book and set in a telephone-book-like text size. Later I got the iPad and found the book as ebook, what a pleasure!

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

[Thanks to TCGirl]

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs, NYT article.

Even if you're tired of Steve Jobs coverage, this one is recommended. It shows tonnes of stuff about his human side that we have never heard before. A very beautiful eulogy.