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26 March 2010 @ 10:53 am
In Which Your Obedient Serpent Discovers Something Dangerous  
The single biggest reason I've avoided e-books is comfort.

Most PDF e-books are formatted in a portrait layout—tall and skinny. Most computer screens are oriented landscape-wise—short and wide, and these days, even wider.

Those PDF e-books tend to be set up to print on standard printer paper (Letter in the US, A4 in, well, on Planet Earth), and most people find it uncomfortable to read a paragraph after paragraph of 7-inch-plus lines—so the books are often presented in a two-column format.

This means that, unless you have a huge screen that can actually display a full page at readable font sizes, you're constantly paging up and down on the same page to follow the text. I don't know about you, but I find that Adobe Reader gets cranky and glitchy when it has to redraw a page over and over, particularly one with complex graphics.

Thus, e-books are profoundly uncomfortable for me. I find myself scrunching, my brain certain that I can see the parts of the page obscured by the screen bezel if I just get the right angle. More, I like to curl up with a novel; it's one way of getting away from a desk. Of course, now I have a laptop, but still: the limited screen-height is both uncomfortable and taxes the software.

Yesterday, I had opportunity to suggest the works of novelist, blogger and copyright activist Cory Doctorow* to someone looking for "more modern" references for a Cyberpunk game setting. Mr. Doctorow, as mentioned, is a copyright activist, and has released all of his novels freely, in a variety of formats, under a Creative Commons license that expressly allows his audience to reformat, remix, and redistribute the contents, so long as they do so freely.

The PDFs on Mr. Doctorow's site are formatted in two-column portrait layout.

However, he also has plain text and straight HTML files available.

Yesterday, I downloaded the HTML version of Makers. I read the first few pages in FireFox, but decided that the lack of pagination and bookmarks would make it difficult to find my place if I put it down and came back to it later.

OpenOffice, the open-source application suite that's the default office application on nearly every Linux distribution, can distill PDFs with the press of a single button, and reads HTML flawlessly.

I opened the Makers HTML file, set the page layout to landscape, fiddled with the margins, knocked up the font size, and then, realizing that this was my copy and I could do whatever I wanted with it, reset the text font from Times New Roman to the more elegant and readable Genitum.

This turned a 299-page file into 705 pages, but since each "page" was a tidy, legible screenfull, what of it?

I curled up on the couch and spent the evening reading.

In fact, I was up until 1 AM, and almost finished the book.

I have discovered e-books are entirely readable—if I can format them to my preferences and comfort zone. This, of course, requires that I have access to HTML, or, less-ideally, ASCII text versions of the document.

Such as those found on Project gutenberg or The Baen Free Library.

... you know, the goal for this week was to reduce my online distractions.

*Yes, cpxbrex, I know. He's hopelessly bourgeoisie, writing about middle-class characters caught up in middle-class concerns for a middle-class target audience, and if identifying with that target audience and those characters because of my own hopelessly middle-class upbringing compromises my integrity as a socialist, I apologize.
I feel: geekyreading!
John "The Gneech" Robey: Writingthe_gneech on March 26th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
Actually, one of the reasons I'm interested in the iPad is because it'd be a handy way to take, say, a favored blogger up to read at bedtime.

Panpen_umbra on March 26th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks! I just like paper, personally. I can't ever give up books.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on March 26th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, neither can I.

On the other claw, my Hoard Impulse (reflected in the boxes and boxes of books in quelonzia's garage has long clashed with my Life Should Be Portable impulse (shaped by years of traveling in an RV, living aboard a Coast Guard Cutter, and moving as much as eight times in an 18 month span).

Cramming my entire library into an OmniTome has been a Holy Grail for me since the days when a Macintosh Apple was a good source of vitamins and fiber. If I could just turn a decent wardrobe and a comfortable bed into something EQUALLY portable, I'd just sling it all over my shoulder and start walking.
threegoldfish on March 26th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
You might want to check out Calibre. It converts pretty much every ebook format into every ebook format (so say if you have a Kindle file and want to read it on your Sony machine) and it also converts PDFs. I find that depending on the coding on the PDF, it can lead to a decent file or gobblygook, but it's really useful pretty much everything else and you can set your output style to best match your machine.
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on March 26th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
Dood! It was ONE BOOK I didn't like! I mean, okay, I really, really didn't like it and don't intend to read anything he writes every again but I had no intention whatsoever of bring up my personal feelings about Little Brother! ;)

And I'm only sorta a socialist. For progressive post-democratic movement to work, I feel that it must find a way to outreach to the middle class in constructive, non-violent ways. Which definitely means deconstructing media that enhance middle class privilege, yes, but once a person understand that, hey, fantasy is fantasy. I don't judge what other people like (except when I'm feeling cranky, but then I feel bad about it afterward) just what I don't like. So, go ahead, knock yourself out. I don't see the appeal, but I don't have to! :)
Your Obedient Serpent: GRINathelind on March 26th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but I knew that throwing the footnote in there would get something interesting out of you!
Christopher Bradleycpxbrex on March 26th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
You could have just asked. ;)
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on March 27th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
But it's so fun to watch you sputter!
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on March 26th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
I think the biggest problem for me is not the formatting so much as the light. I like a bright computer screen for the contrast it can provide, but I also spend time looking away when not immediately keying something in. The result is a good balance for me.

But reading a book is another matter- the eyes tend to want to be on the page all the time. That pretty much means a regular computer screen, LCD or not, is out. And no, adjusting the brightness doesn't help much- it goes from bright and snappy to darker and murky, which bugs me just as much after an hour or two. E-book readers negate this problem somewhat but, then you have an expensive and dedicated device. The iPad may yet combine the worst of both worlds for this particular role (though it does have wider uses than the E-readers do).

So with dead trees I will stay, for now.
Your Obedient Serpent: Eye of the Dragonathelind on March 26th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
I thought the backlight problem would be more of an issue, but once I settled into reading, it never even occurred to me. If I'd had a headache or something, that might have been a different matter.

I've found that a non-white background is easier on the eyes for me, so I try to get my text editing windows as close to Cosmic Latte as I can. Now that you've reminded me, I might try setting up my PDFs with that as a background color.
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on March 27th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
I think part of it for me is also the idea that something on a computer screen (or computer-type screen in the case of another LCD-based device) is not as... real. Aside from the eye thing, I just find it harder to mentally focus on the stuff, a problem I don't have with the printed page. I don't know if it's the mutability of most computer-based data or the distractions I'm used to having on such devices, but... There's something there that I haven't found a way to completely overcome yet.
Tombfyretombfyre on March 26th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
Aye, being able to edit things into a more readable format definitely makes an eBook more palatable. I've been curious to see if those jumbo sized Kindle things would make for a good reading surface as well. They've still yet to beat an actual physical novel as far as I've seen.
Hafochafoc on March 26th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)


Thank you. MUST remember this and format accordingly.
Wordslingerwordslinger on March 27th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)
Me too!
leonard_arlotteleonard_arlotte on March 27th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
I got a kindle for christmas, and have been enjoying it ever since. I haven't actually paid for any ebooks yet, partly because there are so many good ones in public domain, and I still have a significant stack of real books to go through.

I've got a couple books I want to buy. One of them I have the rest of the series, so I kinda want to get the next paper volume to maintain completeness. The other I've only borrowed the books, so I don't have attachment. i'm almost certainly going to be getting that one as an ebook when it comes out.

In any case, I've found it easy to read. The font can be adjusted in size to whatever I'm comfortable with. People complain that it's not backlit and hard to read when it's dark. I reply that it's just as difficult to read a real book in the dark too.
Your Obedient Serpentathelind on March 27th, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
--Groucho Marx