Thursday, July 10, 2008

I want to see an ebook reader bitch-slap fight




Boy, I had no clue how many ebook reader choices are already out there. Most seem to be based on eInk’s
The ebook readers from Astak look promising, but even the cheap one (5? screen) is not shipping yet. The iRex Iliad looks promising too, but expensive at USD699 for the large-screen (8.1?) version, though it does have a stylus touchscreen and seems more general than just reading (marketing copy claims you can “read comics, sketch, play Sudoku or crossword puzzles…” on it, though I prefer a one-trick pony that does its trick really well, like the beautifully designed iPod Shuffle.)

I’m no longer considering the Bookeen Cybook after one of its users reported that full-page (letter/A4) PDF files are often unusable due to the smaller screen. I intend to read not only technical books but technical papers, so that’s a dealbreaker for me, and I’m looking seriously at the Iliad as a result.

I’ve long complained that if only the Kindle supported PDF, I’d buy that, but I’m not so sure anymore: virtually all the other readers support the Mobipocket format (which has both DRM’d and non-DRM’d variants), and if there is anything worse than a DRM’d ebook format, it’s twoincompatible DRM’d ebook formats (Amazon Kindle has its own .AZW format, and while the Kindle supports Mobipocket, it’s hard for me to get behind a device whose main contribution seems to be a new DRM format).

I definitely want to have one of these loaded up with stuff before our big family vacation in August, so I guess I’ll have to make a decision by then…you’d think academics who read a lot and cart around sheaves of papers printed out from PDF files would be a great early-adopter audience, but only the iLiad seems to be targeting them…


Saturday, July 5, 2008

“Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age”

Paul Graham’s interesting book has a lot of refreshingly iconoclastic ideas around the art and craft of hacking and how that impinges on the Real World, startups, universities, language design, etc. Unfortunately the density of great stuff doesn’t quite justify reading the whole book, but I really liked the chapter called “Revenge of the Nerds” about the “evolution” of programming languages and how they are becoming more Lisp-like, to the point that we’re almost caught up to 1960. Worth a (quick) read for hackers, who will find much to identify with written in a style of discourse that’s natural to them.

Why I still don’t have an eBook reader

My typical packing list for a beach vacation: bathing suit, t-shirt, shades, and 30 pounds of books, plus geek manuscripts in PDF format. You’d think I’d be the perfect eBook candidate, being an early adopter and all. But they all suck one way or another. Never mind usability; never mind the ~$400 price tag. The dealbreaker is that the content situation is laughable, to wit:

Amazon’s Kindle has a pretty good selection, and they’re at least priced intelligently (~50% of print edition), but you can’t view PDF documents on it. Yes, I know about the “converter”. It doesn’t process tables or figures, making it useless for any technical PDF’s, which for me is most PDF’s. TheCyBook uses the Mobipocket DRM format, which is sold by dozens of half-assed retailers whose selection and reputation aren’t even a fraction of Amazon’s and whose pricing is stupid—the ebook costs the same as the print edition, and I can’t even donate it to my library when I’m done with it. But the CyBook does render PDF, so I could at least use it for geek books, technical articles,Gutenberg downloads, etc.

Some libraries have started ebook lending. But the NY Public Library, whose print collection exceeds 50 million volumes, has exactly 945 Fiction titles available in ebook form, most available as only one or the other of Mobipocket or Adobe eBook. Given that Adobe manages to crap on the user experience of every product they put out, and that Adobe Reader still holds my grand prize for crashing Firefox & Safari, I don’t even want to go near Adobe’s ebook format, which they popularized in part by distributing DRM’d versions of Gutenberg etexts—evil.

The book industry seems to be doing its very best to imitate the visionary RIAA and MPAA. I imagine at some point the book industry’s proctologist will call them to tell them that he’s found their head. Until then I’ll keep lugging dead trees around.