Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

My Kindle2 Review

Friday, February 27th, 2009

OK, I’ve spent a total of 48 hours with the new Kindle, and here are my observations:

  • Definitely need to get some sort of sleeve or cover for it. I have visions of opening up my bag to find a broken screen and a grey goo situation.
  • Yes, it looks somebody ran over an iPod and flattened it out. That said, a flattened out iPod-like Kindle2 is preferable to the original Kindle model. It’s like Star Trek v. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sleeker, better special effects.
    The post-cursor to the Kindle

    The post-cursor to the Kindle2: Tablets from TNG
  • And speaking of TNG, Will “The Ensign” Wheaton has a great little post about the whole speech-to-text debate. To recap, the Author’s Guild’s panties are all up in a bunch because Kindle upgrade now reads any text using speech-to-text software (not sure if IBM made the software but it’s pretty good) saying they are taking away the livelihood of people who make their living from audiobooks. Personally I feel this argument is so tired now (see horse-buggy manufacturers and telegraph operators) and so do some of the more forward-thinking authors like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow. Anyhow, Will Wheaton asks “What if we’re wrong?” and does a side-by-side comparison reading of his own book, Sunken Treasure, and the Kindle2 auto-reader. It proves his point pretty well. I’m waiting for the time when authors are up in arms because the computer reads better than a human. Then again, Deep Blue didn’t kill chess’ popularity.
  • My daily interaction with the K2 is: as I’m in transit to the subway, I plug my iPhone earbuds into the jack and fumble around to get the reading started, stick it into my bag, and let it run. I like to keep the reading speed set to slow because otherwise it starts to skimp on the pauses between certain words, basically rendering the experience incomprehensible. (You’d think Amazon would fix the software so it didn’t read its parent company as “amazon point com”.) Also you have to jack the volume way up if you’re outside or in the subway unless you have some noise-cancelling headphones. So I would say if you’re listening to a novel the comprehension level will be sub-optimal, around 75-80%. It’s like when you’re reading a page and you realize you were just reading the words but not actually getting the meaning completely after a certain point and you just zone out. Like I’ve said before, reading is a delicate process.
  • Where I wish it’s more like an iPod is externalized controls over the reading such that I don’t have to turn the damn thing on in order to stop the reading of the text. This is a key user interaction principle that is often overlooked: don’t make your user look like an idiot. Or rather, enable your user to achieve effortless grace. I love the iPhone’s double-click functionality on the home button which brings up the volume and play/pause control on top of the screen lock, so you can pause or change the volume almost effortlessly and then go back to what you were doing before. It’s a subtle but incredibly powerful and thoughtful piece of user interaction design.
  • It is neat that the screen follows along with the reading of the text.
  • They added a USB 2.0 micro port — great, can’t use my old power supply, though that was a mistake anyways. This is what it should have been from the beginning. Much better.
  • The screen is still the same, but it uses the Epson Broadsheet controller which gives slightly faster refreshes by dividing the screen into 16 pixel sets and updating them in parallel. Still doesn’t solve the “black flash” problem though, which is more a function of the eInk technology itself.

Locations/Progress Indicator

pagination

“Locations”?

The “Locations” or Progress Indicator is pretty much the same (it now shows bookmarks and chapters etc). I know from designing the Redub Reader, that this is not an easy thing to design, what with users coming from a book which never really needed a “where am I?” indicator. The problem for eReaders is, if you can resize the text, how do you define what “page” number you’re on? I just don’t like the word-choice.

Home Screen

home screen

Yes, this is my second Kindle.

I like the redesigned home screen far better than the original. The thick black rule indicates which selection you’re on and the subtle dots show where you are in the progress of your book or article. I was puzzled at first by the two arrows to either side of the bar, but they turn out to be some common/useful functionality they moved up from the menu (which is always a chore to use). Left (on the 5-way controller) allows you to remove the item, and right brings up a whole screen of options for that selection, like description, go to the last page read, etc. It’s just a little cleaner and more usable.

Conclusion

All in all, I’d give the K2 a thumbs up. The pricepoint is still too high, but factoring in the on-board text-to-speech software (which I’m sure isn’t cheap) and the more elegant design, I’d give it a B.

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The Kindle2: Initial Reactions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Next Page Button

Next page buttons now click inward rather than toward the outside edge, which solves the accidental paging problem that plagued the old Kindle

The new back

Inspired by the iPod

On/Off button

Spring-loaded on/off button makes way more sense

New 5-way button

New 5-way button beats the hell out of the old vertical scroller

Text-to-Speech

Text-to-Speech, by far the most significant feature addition of the Kindle2*

* A note about Text-to-Speech: This is pretty amazing. I hadn’t thought much about this feature, other than the fact that it was pissing off the Author’s Guild but I just turned it on and let it run. The pages automatically turn to follow the read text. The voice is pretty natural. If it had been crappy, I doubt the Author’s Guild would be crying foul over lost royalties for audiobooks.

General impressions about the machine itself

  • It reminds me of a big, thin iPod.
  • The inward-facing buttons kind of make sense, but I don’t know why they feel weird. Maybe I’ll get used to it, just like I got used to being careful about holding it there because of the accidental page turn design of the previous buttons.
  • Keyboard is way small. Actually, the buttons are actually bigger than the keyboard on a Treo or a Blackberry, but because they’re spaced out, and because of the width of the thing, you can’t type as fast with two thumbs. Maybe I’ll learn to do it faster over time, like I did with my iPhone keyboard.
I’ll be posting more thoughts on the actual reading experience later, once I actually get around to reading something on it.

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The New Redub Reader Site

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Well, after a flurry of slapdash HTML/CSSery done while watching the Oscars, I’ve put up the new public site for the Redub Reader. It’s at http://reader.redub.org. Totally coded by hand, though I’m sure I’ll port it over to WordPress at some point, but sometimes it’s just easier to maintain good ol’ fashioned HTML pages with TextMate.

The New Redub Reader Home

The New Redub Reader Home

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Stuffing our faces (with information)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Aya and I were watching the trailer for We Live in Public on Sunday and there was a line that said something to the effect of “blah blah mumble being online all the time mumble mumble like an addiction, it’s like Attention Deficit Disorder blah blah” at which point Aya shot me an accusing glance, in a kind of non-verbal intervention.

Okay, I admit it (that’s the first step towards recovery, right?). I have a problem. I am online most of my waking hours (see my self-analysis). Rarely do my computers ever get switched off (I just sleep them). I can argue that it’s my livelihood. I can say I’m trying to be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and that I have to amass 10,000 hours of, um, practice so I can be an “expert” on teh internets.

But the truth is, I like the feeling of knowing what’s up with my network, and the rest of the world. I am more aware than I used to be. I care about politics because I am more engaged. I can blame part of it on genetics. Growing up, my brother and I would rarely be without a book. I used to carry a huge backpack filled with books wherever I went — in fact, I would feel naked without the weight around my shoulders. My brother ate sci-fi pulp novels for breakfast. (He is actually a freakishly speedy reader, eating entire pages in a glance.) My dad would spend hours sitting on the toilet reading scientific journals (xeroxed from the library).


from thingsmagazine.net

The point I tried to make is that the only thing that’s changed is that we’ve shifted the same activity from “atoms to bits” (as Nicholas Negroponte likes to put it). No more 50lb backpacks; just a 4lb laptop. Instead of reams of paper, which are now gathering dust in a box taking up space in the basement, I now have Evernote, del.icio.us, and Google Reader that live in the airy Cloud.

The thing we can’t seem to get over is this: when it’s on paper, it’s okay. But when it hits the screen, somehow it becomes problematic, stigmatized, it’s an “addiction.”

One way of looking at it is that we have gotten lulled into the idea that if something made it into print, it had to be knowledge. But we now know this is not the case. We’re all in a jumble right now. The computer is the locus of too many activities: work, play, banking, browsing, rubber-necking at the train-wreck of humanity, study, creativity, etc. They are all crammed together and flattened out such that the bad taints the good (never the opposite).

from blog to newsprint
Two designers in London have printed Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, which is a publication of “stuff from the internet…printed in a newspaper format”

Another way of seeing it is from a very physical reality. For all its atomic encumbrances, the book is portable, and computers, surprisingly less so, though that all is changing. I am seeing more ordinary people whip open their laptops on the subway, more people reading on their phones, and a new wave of netbooks is hitting the streets. The screen forces us to come to it. It emanates information, and it is information of an altogether new and different quality because it is born on a screen and is meant to live on a screen, never to be frozen in print, and we are entranced by its flickering aura.

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The Way I Read Now

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Nothing excites me more than getting my paws on something I really really want to read — a new graphic novel, the latest New York Times Magazine, or perhaps the book I’m currently working on (reading, that is). Maybe it’s the english major in me. I am one of those people who finds it hard just to sit down and eat breakfast without reading something, even the side of a cereal box if there’s nothing else.

Also my destination affects this state of excitement considerably. Perhaps it’s this sense of readerly anticipation that makes me look forward to train rides so much (long plane rides less so). Locked in a train car, I know I will be a willing captive to my reading material, like Ulysses roping himself to the mast so he can hear the aching beauty of the sirens without going mad and throwing himself overboard.

My sirens are the multitude of RSS feeds I’m subscribed to, every item an irresistible maiden of interestingness. I am a creature of distraction. (And I know I’m not alone.)

The age we’re in right now isn’t helping much. I check my precious feeds on my iPhone if I’m not on my laptop or sitting in front of my computer at work. My Google Reader Trends are damning:

As you can see, I'm grazing the Reader almost all of my waking hours

Trends from my Google Reader for 8 Dec, 2008 - 6 Jan, 2009

I redrew the graph to highlight a couple of things:

My Google Reader habit throughout the day

My Google Reader habit throughout the day

I threw a gradient in the background to show approximate daylight versus items coming into my RSS feeds.

Josh (i2pi) happened to be in the office and remarked that he hates seeing the (1000+) indicator in his Google Reader (ie, that a feed group has more than 1000 unread items) because he enjoys the sense of accomplishment of processing through a whole “stack” of items, to see it reduce from 1000 down to zero, what I realized later is called “inbox zero” (from Merlin Mann’s really interesting talk originally about managing email clutter).

What I got from this little bit of self-reflection is:

1. I cast a pretty wide net.

I am subscribed to something like 47 RSS feeds, many of which each yield thousands of posts a day (Digg, reddit). If you’re curious, here’s the public page of my “blogosphere” RSS feed. I occassionally will unsubscribe to ones when they begin to feel spammy, but in general, I like to fly at 20,000 feet, scan the headlines, then zoom down when I see something that catches my eye. Or to quote Clay Shirky once again: “there is no such thing as information overload, there‚Äôs only filter failure.” That said, my filter could probably use some tweaking.

2. I check my feeds. A lot. Maybe too much.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I took the “Items Read” from my Google Trends graph and amplified the range to get a better view:

Actual items read

Actual items read

This represents the actual volume of items I bothered to click on and read through. In online advertising-speak, my clickthrough rate on my blogosphere RSS feed is around 10-12%.

If you suppose that, on average, a blog post is around 500 words, and I read 839 items in the past 30 days, that means I’ve read around 419,500 words in a month. If you then suppose that, on average, a novel is around 50,000 words, then I’ve read the equivalent of 8.4 novels this month!

Who says people don’t read anymore? (We just aren’t necessarily reading books all the time…)

Is this healthy?

Is this healthy?

Gotta run. The Reader calls, but out of curiosity, how do you read?

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