Coffee is such a common beverage all around the world, consumed by almost 150 million drinkers only in the United States of America. So, a lot of people love coffee and they have all the reasons to do so. Coffee has so many benefits and we think of it as our little “escape” every morning because it’s helping us feel more rested and better about ourselves and our day.
Books in the Cloud
One of the benefits of an e-book, over a traditional publication is that it is disconnected from the physical world. It has been virtualized. It is a bunch of bits that reside “somewhere” that you copy onto your reading device which converts it into a visual rendition of the text. The somewhere can be on your PC at home, on a laptop you carry with you, on a thumb drive in your pocket, or stored on a server that you can access through the internet. Once on the internet, the location of the book can no longer be expressed in longitude and latitude, or country and zip code. It is no longer in real space, it is in cyberspace! Since cyberspace evokes scenes from TRON or books by William Gibson, the world marketing minds of the Internet® decided to call it “the cloud.”
The Open Publishing Distribution System (OPDS) is a web service with which e-books can be shared with other connected systems. An OPDS client application can communicate with any server that implements this service. This is how an app on a mobile device, such as Stanza (iOS) or Aldiko (Android), can “get books” from bookstores or libraries.
While OPDS is format agnostic, the reader applications are usually not. As was mentioned in the article Understanding e-Book File Formats, the “universal” format for e-books is EPUB, and most OPDS enabled readers will only recognize e-books in this format. This forces kindle users to get all their books from Amazon. For most, this is not much of a hindrance since Amazon has an enormous selection, and the store is well integrated into the Kindle, but it blocks Kindle users from libraries and small publishing houses (such as WritelyDone). To find something like can someone write my paper for me in the cloud, you need its web address (URL) and then can you can access it where ever you are, and it can never be misplaced or forgotten on a nightstand.
OPDS in Action
As an example, I’ll go through the process of connecting to WritelyDone’s OPDS service using Stanza on an iPod Touch.
Once the Stanza application is running, select “Get Books” from the icons along the bottom. A list of per-configured book sources appears.
Selecting the “Shared” button from the top row of buttons opens a user configurable list of book sources. In my case, I already had Feedbooks set up, so it shows up in the list. Pressing the “Edit” button allows you to add or remove sources.
After pressing the green plus button to add a source, you can enter the URL of the OPDS catalog you are trying to add. Enter that data and press “Save” and then “Done.” The WritelyDone catalog is now added to the list.
Selecting WritelyDone as a book source opens a screen where you can select from the available content on WritelyDone. The “Bookshelf” option, will contain any of the titles you have added to your bookshelf on WritelyDone.com, you will be required to log in to view your bookshelf. Enter your WritelyDone user name and password when prompted.
Selecting a book from your shelf, opens a page with a description and a “Download” button in the upper right. After pressing “Download” you will be prompted to confirm the action, and then the download will take place.
The process for adding book sources is similar in all readers. All you need to know is the location of the OPDS catalog and you can add a source.
Here are some OPDS catalogs to try out
Why can’t I just save my doc file as an e-book?
When I was young, most writers used a typewriter to create a manuscript. There is some nostalgia surrounding typewriter, the snapping of the keys, the sound of the bell for each finished line; this was the sound of progress being made. When people were using typewriters, content was separated from format, layout, and design. You wrote a manuscript, double spaced, with whatever typeface was in your typewriter, typically in 10 or 12 point font. If you wanted to indicate special formatting, you would add hand-drawn markup to the document, or use some simple character based markup such as asterisks to indicate *bold* or underscore for _underline_and a slash for /italics/. At the publishing house, they would also add markup to the hard-copy, indicating margins, fonts, page-breaks, vertical spacing, table layout, images etc.. Authors worried about content, and publishers, for the most part, handled the presentation.
Nowadays, almost everyone uses a word processor of one type or another, with Microsoft’s Word being used by the majority. Publishers still want manuscripts in the same format (double spaced, 1 inch margins, etc.), but with the advent of word-processing, the markup can be embedded in the file. So when you italicize a phrase, as I did in the previous sentence, there is a code embedded in the text stream marking the start and end of the italic text. When viewed or printed, the phrase is shown in italics. This is known as presentational markup, and is what is used most often on word-processors. With presentational markup, you can change type family, size, weight, style, decorations, etc. You can go nut and dO crazy thi=&0=&. This allows writers to make bold, large titles, and chapter headings, or put the telepathic robot conversation in some odd font / style / weight to differentiate it from normal dialog.
The problem with presentational markup is that it is often used where descriptive or semantic markup should be used. Semantic markup differs from presentational markup in that it labels the individual parts of the document, such as the title, a paragraph, an image caption, or a heading, without defining presentation. For instance, the title is distinguished from the rest of the text by surrounding it with the appropriate markup codes, or tags. In html the markup tags are human readable and indicated by surrounding the tag name with angle brackets <tag> to open an element and including a trailing slash to close the element <tag /> as follows.
<title>This is a Title</title>
With semantic markup, the presentation is defined elsewhere, either in a separate file (known as a style sheet), or at the beginning of the document. In this way, equivalent parts of the document will have the same styling throughout. It is therefore easy to define and change the styling of every piece of the document that shares the markup, such as paragraphs, or chapter headers. It also becomes easy to generate a table of contents for a book by creating links to each chapter heading. This is important because the concept of a page is generally no longer meaningful due to variations in reading device sizes and capabilities.
This discussion of markup is necessary because all e-book formats require the document to have some sort of semantic markup. If you are self-publishing or want to understand why you can’t simply publish your MS-Word doc file as an e-book, you need to understand a little of what’s going on inside the e-book files themselves. The “e-book” is a container that supplies the document text, styling information, cover art, and meta-data to the reading application or hardware. A *.doc file is a document with hardly any semantic markup, containing mostly proprietary presentational markup.
File formats: the big 3
There are three major e-book formats that are supported on the majority of reading systems: ePUB, MOBI, and PDF. EPUB is an open format defined by the International Digital Publishing Forum (<idpf>), it is the primary format used on the iPad, Sony Reader, and the Barnes & Nobel NOOK, and can be read by any PC or internet based e-book reading software (eg. Calibre, Stanza, Bookworm, Ibis). Basically, all e-readers except the Kindle can read ePUB files without fuss.
PDF isn’t really an e-book format at all, it is a document format based on PostScript (PS). PDF is useful when you need to keep the “page” concept, and positioning on the page is important. It is also supports scalable vector graphics, so it is good for rendering technical drawings and diagrams. This really isn’t a good format for e-readers, most will read them, but it often requires horizontal panning which is no fun. It is useful if you need the e-reader version to match the printed version, or you need scalable graphics and mathematical formatting.
There are two other formats worth mentioning at this point, plain text (*.txt) and HTML (*.html, *.htm). Plain text has the advantage that it is readable on all e-readers. There are several formatting issues that need attention with respect to line wrapping, and there is no support for images, links or TOC, but for a simple document, it works well. HTML is important because not only is it the basis for web display, it is the underlying format for both ePUB and MOBI! Plain old HTML files can be viewed by the majority of e-readers without modification.
many other e-book formats
WritelyDone is updating some of its branding, inluding the logo and site design. The new logo was designed by Miranda Myrhre and is a much stronger mark. The “Bringing readers and writers together” tag line is not changing, nor is the basic functionality of the site.
I plan to roll out a major theme update in the next few weeks. This will include the new logo, along with bringing in some color (*gasp*) to complete the branding and professional layout to the site. I have also been working on improving the usability of certain features as well as improving the experience for touch screen users. These changes will be incorporated into that release as well.
Book 2, “A Clash of Kings,” was published in paperback back in 2000 by Bantam Books. So first I had to find the book. I’m pretty sure we have two copies since my wife and I both read these before we were living in the same house. We love to read, so our bookshelves are jammed with books, two rows deep. I’m forever pulling out books to search behind them. There are books in stacks, books in boxes, books on top of the shelves where no one can reach, and a couple books scattered through the house. I searched and searched and was just about to give up when I found it. I immediately found a comfy place to sit with good light and started to read.
After reading a couple of pages, it dawned on me that this was the first “paper” book I had read in over a year. Since reading a physical book was a “fresh” experience for me, I thought I’d write about it.
A couple of things I have already mentioned. A physical book takes up space. A large number of books take up a lot of space. Anyone who reads and has moved to a new house will also tell you that they are heavy. Then there is the problem of locating the book, unless you are extremely organized and catalog your library, finding anything becomes a quest in itself. Of course, along with the frustration, this quest does yield a sense of joy when the book is finally found.
Upon opening a book, you are greeted with one thing an e-book will never give you–the smell. Books have a very unique odor that gets associated, at a primal level, with the sense of wonder and enjoyment you experience while reading. I love that smell. There’s also the soft whisper of page turning and the tactile feel of the pages themselves. Books also make a satisfying thump when closed. There a definitely things to love about traditional books.
When I read, I tend to read for hours at a time; this is when I started wishing I had this on my Kindle. The font is too small for my old eyes. Increasing the font size is a simple matter on an e-reader, but an impossibility for ink on paper. Of course, I could get one of those magnifying things, but I find them clumsy at best, and I often like to read “one-handed.” When holding a book by your fingers for hours, it can also get heavy, especially when reading a thick tome or a hardcover. The Kindle does not need to be held open and can be set down or propped up.
A normal lunch for me consists of food and reading. I was having some left over pepperoni pizza while reading “A Clash of Kings.” Since I have to hold the book, and turn pages, I was constantly having to mop my greasy fingers off on a napkin. Even trying to be tidy, the pages ended up discolored with the orange grease unique to pepperoni. There’s also the big splotch where the bit fell off while taking a bite, instinctively I caught it with the book. Over the course of several days, I spilled coffee, wine, and all manner of crumbs into the pages of this book. Am I a slob? I suppose so, but with my Kindle I just set it on the table and can read while using both hands to eat and can turn the page with my pinky which generally stays clean.
Ever drop a book and lose your place? I did the other day. Ever do it with a book you’ve already read? Flipping through the book, everything looks vaguely familiar. My Kindle remembers my place. It even goes to the same spot when I open a book on my computer or laptop or iPod. Of course, I’ve had problems with something pressing on the ‘turn page’ button on the Kindle and paging through all the way to the end of the book. It is far easier to flip though a paper book than an e-book to find your place if it has been lost. It is just less likely you’ll lose your page in the first place.
My background is in engineering, so I don’t have a huge vocabulary. I’ll come across words that I think I know the definition of, but I’m not 100% certain. It is so easy to use the dictionary look up feature on the kindle, that I’ll take the two seconds to find out for sure. I can’t even remember the last time I got up from reading a paper book to find a dictionary to look up a word. It was at least 20 years ago.
Besides the smell and the sounds of a traditional book, I find e-books superior in every way. I can find them easily, they take up no space, I can read with “no hands,” I seldom lose my place, and all the other reasons mentioned above. With the advent of e-ink readers with their reflective display technology, and the improvements in battery life, e-readers are finally delivering on the promise of e-books. Still there are people, like my wife, who will only buy paper books, but I think the transition will be similar to what’s happening with streaming video on demand. I have Netflix, and Hulu, and HBO Go; do I need to buy DVD’s or Blu-Ray disks? But for special movies, having that physical copy is more than a copy of the movie. It’s tied to a memory of watching that movie with friends and family. Books will go the same way. Everyone will have a shelf of paper books, with their special books “on display,” but most of their consumption will be done digitally. It’s just so much easier.