Bizarre suggestions from Amazon UK

20110413-amazon

Amazon UK has just sent me an email wondering if I might be interested in the following bizarre collection of books:

Wonderfully bizarre!

Amazon Kindle 3G – initial impressions

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

O2 Xda Zest phone sitting on top of an Amazon Kindle 3

On Tuesday my Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi arrived. And there was much rejoicing.

Why I bought a Kindle

For a few years now I’ve wanted an eBook reader to make my growing collection of geeky books in PDF more portable.

I have a laptop, but it’s not terribly practical with its brightly glowing screen and its fan-assisted knee warmer.  And as any reader of Jakob Nielsen will be able to tell you: reading on computer screens is tiring and about 25% slower than reading from paper.

My Psion Series 5mx has a PDF reader but it’s not being developed now and so doesn’t support the latest version of PDF files.  My Windows Mobile phone does support the latest formats, but the screen is so small that it makes reading PDFs cumbersome with all the scrolling that’s required.

So I wanted something in between a laptop and a PDA, that would support PDFs and wouldn’t put too big a dent in my wallet.  The new Amazon Kindle 3G + Wi-Fi seemed to promise all of that, so I pre-ordered one.  It arrived two days ago.

Initial reaction

When I unpacked the Kindle I tried to peel away the cellophane instruction that was telling me what I should do next (plug it in!), until I discovered that it wasn’t a stick-on film it was the screen itself.

Of course! The Kindle doesn’t need power to maintain an image on the screen, it just needs power to change the image.  Genius! and a perfect introduction to the quality of the E Ink technology.

Cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

Close-up of how the Kindle is secured to the leather cover

The first thing I did was fix it into the chocolate brown Kindle leather cover that I also bought.  I decided not to pay £20 extra for the one with the built-in light as I rarely have to read in the dark, what with us having electric lighting in the house and everything.

The Kindle feels great in your hands; the slightly rubberised feel to its casing makes you feel confident that you’re not going to drop it easily.  Once the Kindle is secured into the case it just feels great, like you’re reading a classic, leather-bound book.  It’s a very tactile experience.

First use

I plugged it in, switched it on and very quickly got to grips with the basic functionality: selecting a book and navigating through the pages.

It feels quite intuitive and I love the feel of the qwerty keyboard: the keys are quite rough like very fine sandpaper which I guess makes them easier to use than similar-sized smooth keys on which your fingers might more easily slide off.

Clarity

I can’t compare the Kindle 3 with earlier models to judge whether it does offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader” or “crisper, darker fonts”.  But what I can say is that it just looks great.  And everyone I’ve shown it to today has commented on both the clarity of the text and how easy it is to read, even when held at strange angles and from a distance.

Connection to PC

Of course, what I really wanted to do was check out how my PDFs would render on the Kindle.

The power cable comprises a USB cable (it looks like USB A to Micro-B) that plugs into a … well, a plug.  Unhook the plug and you have yourself a USB cable.  It took seconds for Windows 7 to recognise the Kindle as an external drive.

Screenshot of Kindle folders on a Windows 7 machine

Screenshot of Kindle folders

The Kindle contains four directories:

  1. \.active-content-data
  2. \audible
  3. \documents
  4. \music

I dragged and dropped about 300 MB of PDF files into the \documents directory, ejected the Kindle from Windows and lo-and-behold! there they were.

Collections

eBooks can be organised into what the Kindle calls collections, which is like organising your files into folders or directories on your PC; books can be assigned to more than one collection. This makes it easier to find your books, and cuts down the clutter on the home screen.

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Screenshot of my Kindle home screen

Once organised into collections you can still view a list of all your books by title, author or most recent.

Reading eBooks

While most of my books are in PDF, I have a few eBooks in either .Mobipocket or Amazon’s proprietary .AZW format (which is based on the Mobipocket standard) which allows the text to be resized. There are eight possible sizes ranging from tiny (30 lines per page) to enormous (5 lines per page).

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

Showing viewing options on the Kindle 3 while reading an eBook

With eBooks the typeface (regular serif, condensed serif or sans-serif), line spacing (small, medium large) and words per line (fewest, fewer, default) can be adjusted, and text-to-speech can be turned on enabling the Kindle to read out loud the text on the page, either through the built-in speakers or via the headphone socket.

I spent about 30-45 minutes sitting reading an eBook the other day and it felt really natural.  It really is the quality of the screen that makes all the difference: it really does look like ink printed on light grey paper.

Navigation through the pages is via the forward and back arrows on both the left- and right-hand side of the Kindle; although once secured into the leather cover left-handed users I imagine would have to bend the cover back on itself (the kind of action that is drilled into you from an early age that you should never do with a paperback), or remove it from the cover altogether … or, I guess, use the buttons on the right-hand side of the Kindle.

Reading PDFs

Thankfully reading PDFs was just as easy as reading standard eBooks.

Of course, the whole point of PDFs is that the author can determine how they look and that they will retain their design regardless of the device they are being viewed on.  This means that the viewing options are reduced to just zoom, screen contrast and screen rotation.

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Screenshot of PDF reading options on the Kindle 3

Depending on the size of the text I’ve found that reading some books with the fit-to-screen option and a 90° rotation is best. Depending on the size of the original page, the navigation keys will then shift your view from the top to the bottom of the page before moving on to the next page.  It really is very impressive.

I just wish that there was a keyboard shortcut for rotating the screen.  On the Kindle 1, I’ve read, it is Alt + R, but on the Kindle 3 this inserts a number ‘4’ into the search box.

No support for PDF bookmarks

Here’s my biggest niggle with the Kindle, though, when using it to read PDF documents: it doesn’t appear to have support for PDF bookmarks.  This seems to me to be a huge failing, as it is often the way that I navigate around large PDF documents when viewing them on my PC.

I hope that Amazon address this in a future update.

Crashes

And speaking of failings: my Kindle has crashed about 5 or 6 times since I received it, and it has rebooted itself once.  I’m hoping that the latter was a software update, I’m currently on version 3.0 (515460094).  eBookvine wrote about the freezes and crashes yesterday.  Mine have happened while browsing the Web and viewing long, complicated PDF documents.

[Update: I upgraded to the latest OS and that solved the crash problem.]

I do wish manufacturers would include instructions on how to soft- and hard-reset their devices. On the Kindle 3 you hold in the power switch for 7 seconds to reboot it, and for 15 seconds to reboot (soft reset) it.

For a hard reset you need to hold the power switch for 20 seconds, release it and then hold the Home button while the Kindle is rebooting.  A screen appears asking you to type “RESET” into an input box which starts the factory reset.

It’s inconvenient, but it’s not enough to put me off using it.

Shortcut keys

A few shortcut keys I’ve found useful:

  • Alt + Shift + G
    Takes a screenshot (think of ‘g’ for ‘grab screenshot’)
  • Alt + Shift + M
    Play Minesweeper (press G within the game to play GoMoku)
  • Alt + Home
    Open the Amazon Kindle Store
  • Alt + Q, Alt + W, Alt + E, etc.
    Pressing Alt and the top row of keys will produce numbers 1-9 and then 0.
  • Alt + G
    Screen refresh
  • Alt + B
    While reading a book you can toggle user-created bookmarks
  • Menu
    Pressing Menu on the Home screen will show you both the time and available memory.

Burning to get my hands on an Amazon Kindle 3G

Right-hand holding an Amazon Kindle (e-book reader)

The Amazon Kindle 3G in someone else's hands

Probably like a lot of people of the geek persuasion, I have a lot of e-books: articles, books, cheatsheets, leaflets, manuals. I have e-books about CSS, design, Flash, HTML, JavaScript, jQuery, microformats, MySQL, PHP, regular expressions, RSS, servers, WordPress, XML and a whole lot more.

The only problem is: if I want to read them then I’m tied to sitting in front of my PC, lugging my laptop around, or peering at the tiny screen of my mobile phone and scrolling left-right-up-down for dear life. So for a couple of years I’ve been looking for an e-book reader that would adequately handle PDFs as well as standard e-book formats.

I think (I’m hoping) that I’ve found the answer in the new Amazon Kindle 3 that will be released this week (27 or 28 August, if I remember correctly).  I have had mine on pre-order since 30 July; before they pre-sold out!  I’ve ordered the model offering both WiFi and 3G.

A full review will follow shortly after receipt.

Who needs a Kindle?

In the meantime, here’s a parody video I discovered about the Kindle.  Excuse the rude reference near the beginning of the video if that offends you.

I’m now five-shelves of books lighter

Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor

Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor mid-clear-out

Okay, so whose bright idea was it to try to simplify life a little and get rid of books that I haven’t even opened in years?!

In the end, this afternoon I cleared out five shelves-worth of books which will be donated to charity shops in St Andrews tomorrow afternoon.

I had to be ruthless. I find it really hard to throw away books because there is usually something of me in them (for many books I remember where I was when I carefully selected that particular book, what I was hoping to get out of them) and for many there is something of them in me, a part of who I am today is because of something that I read in those volumes.

And then there are the books that I bought or acquired (freebie hand-me downs from retired clergy) that interested me at the time or reminded me of something that found really interesting at university and was keen to follow up … but never did!

Strangely, between the initial weeding out of my bookcase and my packing them into boxes to take to charity a few of them crept back onto my shelves.  Saved for another purge in a couple of years time.

It feels good, though. No regrets.

Future rounds of my patented game “Win it or bin it” will feature: PCs and accessories, games (board and computer), videos, DVDs, guitar sheet music, and folders of who-knows-what that have sat on my shelves for the last 10 years.

The most dangerous sounding book in the world

I think I’ve just found the most dangerous sounding book in the world on Amazon: Plumbing for Dummies.

I’m surprised on that page it doesn’t have

People who bought this book also bought:

  • CPR for Dummies
  • How to survive a flood
  • Electricity and Water: Practical Experiments for Everyone
  • How to completely invalidate your home insurance in one afternoon

Financial liberty for the Library One

Yesterday I got a call from the University Library asking why I’d not returned the book that was recalled last Saturday.

Erm … because that telephone call was the first time I’d heard about the book (The Warnock Report, in case you’re interested) being recalled.

Seemingly I had already accrued a fine of six earth pounds (£6.00).

They’d sent me two emails, one on Saturday, and a reminder on Tuesday. Only … well, I didn’t get either of them.

IT Helpdesk checked the server logs and sure enough: they’d sent two, but I’d received none of them.

My fine was cancelled and I’d help escalate a new support call: where is the missing email going?!

Learning Subversion

Having effectively moved PCs three times in the last year I’m feeling a little insecure about the safety of my code, so today I’m learning how to use Subversion.

Subversion (SVN) is a version control application that allows me to store my code on a server while working on a local copy. I can then commit any changes made and SVN will keep a track of all the changes I’ve made, so that I can roll-back to an earlier version if need be.

I’m finding the free PDF version of the O’Reilly book Version Control with Subversion very useful. It’s not nearly as complicated as I’d feared it might be.