Posts filed under 'Science & Technology'

Why eReading came of age

As I assemble an eReader app for my novel, I get a great sense of deja vu. It was my final year project in college to write an eReader for the PC. The technology hasn’t changed much – got a little smaller. My latest foray into eReading has made me wonder why it is such a popular option now, whereas it never really took off in those “olden days” (15 years ago) when it was limited to just a few curious early adopters.

Oh sure, the old arguments against eReaders are still there: “nobody will read an entire book from a screen.” Those arguments haven’t changed. There are only two factors that have changed in the intervening years, combining to make eReading a viable medium in this era: portability and ubiquity.

No one was ever going to sit down to their PC to tuck into a good book. PCs were for work; the last thing you wanted to see when you felt like a recreational read. Reading was always something to take to a special place, or fit in when and where you had some down-time. Neither of those apply to a PC. But the era of personal portable computing devices has arrived. Like a book, we can take those personal devices around with us; unlike a book, we can even slip a computer into our pocket.

In the olde days, the only way to get the book bits onto an eReader was on a “floppy disk” (look it up), or the very fancy new medium of “Compact Disc”. No USB keys back then. Now we have the ultimate form of digital distribution – the wireless internet. Download any book over-the-air from anywhere. Book access is now ubiquitous, as ubiqutious as the marketing-driven popularity of Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iPhone/iPad – the eReading devices that have become de rigueur.

There is nothing new in software technology, only hardware. All the software tools and techniques I use every day were all invented decades ago. But what is new, is this singularity – the creeping convergence of all technical factors to make the right time and the right place for something to just … take off.

Next … eReading moves beyond the constraints of the old medium to which it is currently compared … matures in its own unique aspects … comes of age … and becomes something new.

Add comment May 21st, 2010

Apple’s iPad unveiled at last

So the Apple’s long-mooted tablet PC has been unveiled at last today.

It’s a big iPhone. It won’t fit in your pocket. Perhaps being seen wearing an iPouch to carry the thing will be the new fashion statement? But I can’t see many people buying it as a phone.

It is Kindle-esque in its proportions, but with a colour screen. Surely the screen won’t be as easy to read as the Kindle’s eInk screen?

Perhaps it’s aimed at home laptop users … who don’t want a tactile keyboard, don’t need to run more than one app at once, and who are happy to only run iPhone OS apps (not Mac OSX apps).

At first, I’m not sure where Apple intend the market for this. In effect, it’s a technology convergence, portable home-media device, but in a recession it must be hard to justify buying one – it costs more that a Kindle or a Netbook. However, no doubt, early-adopters will throng to it. We’ll just have to see where it really settles at home.

Clearly, Apple do intend it as an eBook reader. The incorporation of the new iBooks* strategy is proof of that. It also runs all existing iPhone apps, as I predicted, so existing iPhone book apps would probably command more downloads now that a larger reading surface is there to entice readers.

So it’s ready to go. Time to package up my book for iPhone/iPad after all? However many or few devices they sell, this can only mean more ebook downloads for authors. However, I would be very curious to know the terms & conditions under which Apple are giving publishers access to sell in the new iBook store. Like the success of the iPad itself … that detail will come out over time.

* iBooks appears to be eReader software, using the ePub format, linked to Apple’s own new iBook store.

Add comment January 27th, 2010

The end of sin?

I thought this was interesting, given my interest in all things genetic. A court has reduced a murderer’s sentence because he tested positive for genes believed linked to agression.

Is this yet another potential change in society that genetic knowledge will foist on us? Will we no longer be responsible for our actions, but merely considered slaves to our genes? A society built on lesser personal responsibility does not bode well.

If science has killed God … now sin is shortly to follow. Broken evolution indeed.

Add comment November 5th, 2009

Why wait for an Apple eReader when the iPhone is already here?

Image by William Hook

The iPhone has been grabbing my attention. As if to reinforce the now undoubtable shift in the publishing paradigm, it seems that the number of books being published as apps on the iPhone is growing … fast. Book apps releases in the appstore overtook game apps for the first time ever. 20% of the apps released in September were books. It seems publishers and indie authors are not waiting for the mooted Apple eReader, the one that’s easy on the eyes and the batteries (… yada, yada …), but rather are willing to take advantage of another distribution channel for eBooks here are now. And why not? There are, no doubt, more iPhones than eReaders out there. There’s a huge user base who scan the appstore everyday. Sure, there is eReader software like Stanza on the iPhone, but I can see the attraction of a custom app in terms of its attention, customization, regular updates, linked interactive content, options for free/purchase content, etc. I’m not the only one.

There’s early adopter advantage to be had here. After all, where is an Apple eReader likely to get its content? Are they likely to do a content distribution deal with a competitor like Amazon who have their own eReader to shift? I don’t think so. Maybe Google? Or Stanza. Or will they open up a bookstore of their own, just like they’ve done for every device they’ve made recently. Perhaps. The answer might be simpler than that. It wouldn’t surprise me that many of the books will just come from the appstore anyway, and run on the eReader as they would on the iPhone.

Perhaps its time to dust of my programming skills and write my first iPhone app. As I know from writing software for other handhelds, its not trivial — beyond the ken of most authors. Maybe I should make the fruits of that effort available to other authors and publishers too? Well, let’s see where it goes – that’s pretty much the mantra for the whole publishing business right now.

1 comment November 3rd, 2009

Pimp my netbook

I heard good things about Windows 7 on netbooks. So I took advantage of my MSDN professional subscription to download it and install it on my Eee PC netbook. There were a few tweaks necessary to install it on the netbook, but hey, after thirty years doing this stuff, I’m used to that! Netbook specific install quirks aside, it installed fairly easily.


I must say, first hand, that Windows 7 has surprisingly good performance on a netbook. Microsoft got worried about loss of market share to Linux on netbooks and so took the netbook market very seriously in Windows 7, and it seems to have worked. It performs at least as fast as my old Linux installation, and faster in some ways. Running Google Chrome on Windows 7 responds faster than Firefox on Linux (Chrome has a very fast JavaScript engine – Google’s speciality). The new OpenOffice 3.1 boots up faster on it too. Writing should be a breeze – no excuses now. Lets see how fast it stays when I install the software development tools on it!

They have improved some of the problems Vista had. The annoying UAC pop-ups seem to have gone, now only asking me when it really needs to check access permissions (like the first time a new device driver is installed). The user interface feels a lot “smarter” – the result of lots of little tweaks to it. Cleaner too. Everything seems to be easy to find, where you need it, when you need it, and no clutter. The only downside so far is that shutdown takes a long, long time on my relatively slow SSD drive. But, I’ve set it to hibernate instead of shutdown all the time, which is quicker, and means it can start-up much faster too.

So overall, I’m happy with Windows 7 … so far!

2 comments October 8th, 2009

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