Random Tales of Total Geekery

The e-Idiotproof Solution

Posted by Q on September 30, 2007

Sony ReaderIt’s been a halcyon month for ebook-enthusiasts – esp. this one as he finally managed to shack himself up with his new Sony Reader over the weekend. In other major news, the ebook revolution has also inched a couple of paces forward with the adoption of an international standard (ePub), Amazon.com’s declaration (not the DRM free music) of entering the devices market with an e-ink based device called Kindle and miscellaneous other equipment manufacturers making proper sounds (IRexiLiad, Bookeen-CyBook et al) including Sony which has brought out an update for its PRS-500 series with a PRS-505 to be shortly available for enthusiasts.

More on Sony than the others…Electronics innovator, owner of the walkman phenomenon and darling of engineering schools around the globe, when Sony announced its foray into ebook devices, everyone stood up and took notice. Many hailed it as the ipod for ebooks (including this author) and the coming generation of ebook publishing. A year down the line, the buzz still hasn’t quite been as infectious as was believed. It hasn’t been a failure, but it has a long way to go before it revolutionizes ebooks the way ipods did for music.

As a device, the Reader is phenomenal. Crystal Clear view (not an LCD), zero strain on eyes, looks and feels like ink on paper, reads better in bright (or sunlight) than shade, is comfortable to hold, even packs in a music player in its tiny frame and provides a extra Memory slot – Adding a 2 GB SD Card (≈$30) to its equipment cost of $249, makes it a clear steal over any 2 GB iPod Nano(≈$200). Not only that, the device is also remarkably petite and easy to carry. If only it had a backlight, and could be read at night without any external sources of light, it would replace my Laptop as the insomniacal device of preference.

The only difference between the two – iTunes Vs Connect. Game Over!

To explain, let me take up an average music collection –

  1. Size – 20GB
  2. Number of files – 6000
  3. Formats – .cda, .mp3 & .wma (ogg/aac/flac anyone?)
  4. Meta tags – IDv3 (mostly unfilled and/or incorrect)

Average time taken to transfer/sync iPod with iTunes music library – 2 mins/GB (the highest data transfer rate from a USB 2.0 port is 3.6 GB/min). This average time includes the time taken to encode tracks to iPod, generating gapless playing information etc.

Average time taken to edit Meta tags – as fast as you can type.

The important thing here is that an iTunes library is scalable, I can put all my 100GBs of music on it (which would be around 30,000 tracks) and the library will still function as perfectly ok. Contrast this with the behavior of a Sony Connect

Average ebook collection –

  1. Size – 1GB
  2. Number of files – 3000
  3. Formats – doc, rtf, txt, pdf, pdb, html, lit, chm, cbz, cbr, rar
  4. Meta tags – File properties

The real trouble begins here. The reader converts all books to its proprietary format (BBeB) but it only supports conversion of rtf, txt, pdf & doc. Let me take up these formats first. Every non-BBeB book takes up about 30seconds to 1 min to transfer, every book. So, if all my books were to be transferred, it’d take me a cool couple of sleepless days before my device is fully loaded and operational. Also, don’t forget that I have to manually tag the file info because the reader does not have any support for picking up Meta from filename itself. So if I have to update my library, I’d really have to think really hard before committing such a timeless folly. And I haven’t even covered books from other formats yet.

Right, now since I’ve had the temerity to have a few books in html format, I’d have to CCP to RTF and say sayonara to its Table of Contents (which was why the book was in the damn format to begin with). Which is alright if you have one book, but isn’t so hot if it’s a short story collection and you have already read some part of it…think turning 657 pages is fun ?

Now, I am using a grand total of 6 applications – Kovid Goyal’s better than Connect’s libprs500, BBeB Binder, Book Designer, ABC Amber LIT/Palm converter & Softsnow’s HTML Book Fixer, which has made my life and reader simpler to use, easier to operate. Above all, I have decided to keep only my To-Be-Read pile in the reader, which amounts to a grand total of 30 books. But I still am stuck with a version of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptomonicon, which is one huge folder of linked html files – now this has defeated me totally. Unless I CCP all those 30 chapters individually to rtf and then convert to lrf, or generate a PDF from these and then convert the PDF using pdftolrf app, I am stuck with an insurmountable barrier of agonizing labor before I can end up reading it on screen.

Which makes me come to my point, finally. There’s no doubt that this is an outstanding device which really has been done in by a lack of understanding about the service requirements for it. The only way devices succeed is it if they are idiotproof and not a test of mental, analytical & technical acumen (can I throw in a Mensa test as well?). I cannot even begin to imagine this device being used by anyone except nerds…wonder what Sony learnt from the Librie experiment..Surely nothing that I can see.

Some DRM rumblings next time, I guess 😉


3 Responses to “The e-Idiotproof Solution”

  1. westsan said

    Actually there is no conversion going on to the BBeB format but the device is slow to display. Most of this trouble exists in the cache handling. Sony refuses to actually fix how it handles the cache and thus the device remains slow over several upgrades.
    It is actually a design fault and poor QA at Sony.

    Currenly Sony Reader is moving toward integration with Adobe’s PDF format.
    The new processing for PDF will introduce reflow. Reflow technology from Adobe will allow formatted PDF files to be readable (they werent before unless specifically formatted for the device).

    Sony also has a tool that you can use to import/read and send to the reader.

    This is all coming up in the new model PRS-505. I would not expect any significant improvements in performance because of added features on the same hardware (even though some cache handling improvements have been released).

    Honestly it is a terribly engineered device. The Illiad is by far a better device, albeit more pricey.

  2. Q said

    thanks for clarifying a couple of issues 🙂 i wasn’t aware of the timelag being caused due to cache handling, though now in hindsight, it makes perfect sense

    While the integration with Adobe PDF is still there, its the visibility that gets affected. A file copied from connect and one which is run through pdf2lrf from libprs500 are drastically different in their readability. IMO, it is more of a software handling problem

    Hopefully the PRS505 will address some of these issues, but as you also said, i am skeptical 😉

    The Illiad, i haven’t had a chance to examine, but then it really needs to come down to realistic costs before people get serious about using it..and not just the early-adopters

  3. I first heard about the Amazon Kindle from my mother. She had considered buying it for me as a Christmas present, but then decided against it. When she mentioned the device, I was intrigued and got on the computer to find out exactly what a Kindle is–I had heard mention of it on occasion, but never really knew what it was. After a little thinking and a lot of saving, I went ahead and got myself a brand new Kindle2, coupled with a leather M-Edge Platform Jacket.

    When my Kindle arrived in the mail, I carefully opened the package, looked over the device, and found my first moment of confusion regarding the Kindle. All I saw in the box was the Kindle, the owner’s manual, and a plug. I thought there was a USB cable included. How was I supposed to connect to my computer?! Roughly 36 hours later (I promise that I didn’t spend all 36 hours staring at the cable.), I realized: The plug IS the USB cable! You just remove the wall adapter from the cord and voila– you have a computer USB cable. Since I tend to lose cords if I have too many of them, I really appreciate this feature. I can leave the wall adapter in the wall and only remove the USB cable when I need to connect to my laptop. How awesome is that?

    The device itself is really neat. The Kindle2 is really, really lightweight. I prefer it to be slightly heavier to keep the feel of an actual book, so I keep my Kindle in the Platform Jacket while I read. However, it is easy to see that the lightness of this device could be a huge asset to the elderly and physically disabled. Aside from the keyboard, whose buttons are very small, the buttons are clear to see and easy to press. There are “Next Page” buttons on either side of the Kindle, accommodating people of either handedness. I’ve also found the buttons on either side great for reading in bed–If you lie on your side, you don’t have to scrunch your arm in an uncomfortable position just to turn the page. Pertaining to the keyboard, however, unless a person is an avid texter, it will take a while to get used to typing on the Kindle. The upside to becoming experienced with the keyboard is astronomical, though: With the keyboard, you can type notes onto a page (you can also highlight). These notes and highlights are then saved to your “My Clippings” folder, which you can then access for use on your Kindle or computer via the USB connection. As a college student, I’m really excited to use this feature for essays.

    The screen is fabulous. I was surprised at how much like the page of a book the display is. Reading on a computer is straining on a person’s eyes, but the Kindle screen is simply amazing. If small text overwhelms you or your eyes can`t take the strain of reading something small, you can change the font size anywhere from a small font (dictionary-sized font) to a huge font (early childhood book sized font).

    The “Home” screen shows a list of your books, which you can arrange alphabetically or by how recently each book was accessed. Under each book is its title, the name of the author, the length of the book (in a line of dots), and your progress (shown by the dots bolded in). If you press the joystick to the right on a specific book, you can see details and options regarding that book in detail.

    If you click on a book with your joystick, you will be brought to the most recently read page of that book (the beginning if you haven’t yet started it). On the screen, you will see the title of the book in the top left, the battery power and connectivity in the top right, your progress in the bottom, and the book in the middle. The progress bar is really cool. Not only does this bar show you what “location” you are at (more on that in a moment), but it shows you the percent of the book read and the length of each chapter. I’m a habitual progress-checker. I don’t know why, but I always need to see how far I am in a book. It’s great that the Kindle doesn’t rob you of the ability to “look at the spine” to see how far you have gotten.

    Oh, locations! Locations are kind of difficult to conceptualize at first, but it`s easy enough to understand why they have been implemented. Basically, they take the place of pages. Unlike pages, though, locations are much smaller. I have my Kindle set on the smallest font, so each page shows me roughly ten “locations”. In my current book, I’m on locations 4865-4874, so about page 487. If I were to decide to switch to another size font, the Kindle would keep me on the page starting with location 4865 (where I am reading) instead of taking me back to what would be page 487 with a modified font (where I was reading several days ago). Because of locations, I never have to worry about accidentally losing my place.

    Another feature I really love is the “Archived Items” folder. Amazon stores every e-book you purchase from them online. If you decide to clean up your Kindle (I know I hate clutter on my electronics), but then want to read something again later, you can turn on your free wireless internet, open your “Archived Items” folder, and re-download any e-book that you bought off of Amazon.com–straight from your Kindle!

    One thing of great concern for people my age (college students) is whether or not they can download their textbooks onto their Kindle. Since the Kindle supports diagrams and pictures, textbooks are becoming more and more readily available for the Kindle. However, they are not all available. I have about half of my books for next semester downloaded. When it comes to the others, though, I personally keep getting on public computers with different IP addresses and clicking the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link, but it isn’t a guarantee that I or anyone else will get every book on Kindle. Your best bet for textbooks is to keep requesting a Kindle-book version, cross your fingers, and buy a hard copy if it gets too close to the beginning of a semester.

    So, I’ve explained a lot of great features. The most common nay saying that I hear about the Kindle is “It’s too expensive!” While I admit that the Kindle2 was pretty costly, I would still buy it if the decision were presented to me again. After reading about some of the features that I like the most, you can make that decision for yourself as well.

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