Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Kindle

As an MIT alum I have an automatic subscription to Technology Review, a pretty nice perk. Wrapped around the current issue was a note that I could trade my printed issue for access to the digital issue, with more content and earlier availability. I'll keep the printed issue because I can't read documents on the screen for long periods of time. I get a complementary digital issue of Scientific American by being part of their blog network but end up just skimming it and printing out any articles I really want to read.

But I found I can read for long periods from the Kindle which I got when Amazon released their second edition a few months ago. I've fallen in love with the device. I cancelled my paper subscription to the New York Times and read it now on the Kindle and have downloaded and read several books on the device. Often I'll send text documents to the Kindle for reading. The Kindle has resparked my interest in reading and I love many of the features including automatic bookmarking and easy dictionary look up where before I rarely put in the effort.

I saw recently that the Kindle attracts a much higher age demographic than most new electronic devices. My guess is that us older people have never gotten used to reading off a computer screen and are willing to spend money on a device that just lets you read.

But the Kindle doesn't work for much of my reading—mathematical research papers. The Kindle doesn't do formatting well, just converting PDFs to text. 

Today Amazon will announce the new Kindle DX with a larger screen, true PDF formatter and supposedly textbook friendly and thus I assume math friendly. Imagine for example putting conference proceedings on a Kindle-like device instead of having a heavy book or proceedings one has to use a laptop to look at. Or putting all the papers you need to referee/review on such a device. Would that make it more or less likely you will get the reviews in on time?

But how do I justify getting a new Kindle when I already own one? Sometimes being slightly ahead of the technology curve works against you.


  1. I know that most people are obsessed with the Kindle, but don't some of the other ebook readers already have better support for pdfs that would be able to display equations properly?

    I'm thinking specifically of the imports from companies like Han Lin and also things like the Iliad.

  2. Iliad seems to be the best ebook reader now but is really expensive. If this new Kindle works on math pdfs, I will buy one.

  3. Yeah, the lack of PDF support is exactly why I don't have a Kindle yet. Sure, I'll read books on it, but I currently read papers on my laptop which is painful and inconvenient.

    I'll likely order the DX ASAP.

  4. I have also been waiting for full pdf support (along with a better web browser) before buying a kindle.

    Sounds like the Kindle DX will not be available until later this year. If anyone knows of an existing ebook reader with full pdf support, please post.

  5. According to Wikipedia:

    "PDF files are supported on the following e-book readers: iRex iLiad, iRex DR1000, Sony Reader, Bookeen Cybook, Foxit eSlick and indirectly also Amazon Kindle."

    Of course, the extent to which these devices support images and equations in pdfs rather than just converting them to text is not discussed. However, I did find that there is a script for converting .tex files to Iliad format, which suggests that there must me some sort of support for equations.

    For me, the ability to take notes and annotate documents as well as reading them is the killer app, which suggests the Iliad, but I just wish it was cheaper.

  6. Lance,

    I'll buy your Kindle for $5 at STOC--that way you can justify getting the new one.

    I am also waiting to be able to underline and make marginal notes before I pay more than $5 for one of these devices. To me, that is also the main restrection of getting books from the library (which are free).

  7. Maybe you get one as a father's day present?

    I propose STOC give a Kindle to the best paper. :)

  8. For me, the problem with reading math books on a laptop say, in .djvu format ;), is that it is really hard to skip around. Math books tend to reference things that were defined 100 pages ago or so, making it much less convenient to flip back and forth. Somebody needs to invent a really nice interface that is practically as easy as holding place in a book with your fingers - like a temporary bookmark or something like that. Something along these lines already exists, in the form of pdf tags, where you can click on the words "Theorem 2" and be brought to its definition, only having to press back once to return to where you were. But it would be great if there was some system that was practically as easy yet much more flexible. Anyway, only some .pdf's use tags.

    If someone made a Kindle-like device that answered this vaguely-defined wish, I'd buy it in a second. Until then, I'll be killing trees.

  9. As expected nerdy people are completely fixated on tex-nical problems. no one has issues with Kindle's DRM?

    Lance, when you get a personal copy of the digital version of NYT on your device how do your folks read the newspaper?

  10. "As expected nerdy people are completely fixated on tex-nical problems. no one has issues with Kindle's DRM?"

    I dunno, I feel the same here as I do with the iPod ... the DRM is a consequence of the store, not the device. You can use non-DRM content on either, and I do so exclusively. Now that the Kindle has real PDF support, it's even less of an issue.

    IE, buy a Kindle, just don't buy your books from the Kindle Book store.

  11. Unabashed Amazon Admirer11:03 AM, May 07, 2009

    Anon wrote:
    As expected nerdy people are completely fixated on tex-nical problems. no one has issues with Kindle's DRM?
    Exactly - this is an interesting phenomenon on blogs in general, and this one in particular - the discussions go down the path laid out by the first few commenters, and more likely than not, it's about TeX and pdf and the like here :-)

    and also:

    Lance, when you get a personal copy of the digital version of NYT on your device how do your folks read the newspaper?
    Why can't you just hand them over your Kindle with the NYT downloaded on it? Just like you'd hand over the paper NYT across the dining table. Agreed, with the Kindle you can't hand over the International section and continue to read the more important Sports section...

    Note that Amazon does six Kindle devices to be linked to the same Amazon account, so you can share books among six family members or friends. I believe they don't let you share NYT and similar news content - dunno if this is Amazon's fault or the content providers' fault.

    All in all, I think we need to applaud Amazon for taking us down this revolutionary path; yes, there will be quibbles along the way, but the revolution is happening even as we whine about minor things.

    I can't wait for the day when digital readers replace textbooks completely, and instead of seven pictures illustrating how a plant grows from a seed, "textbooks" will have animations and videos and such.. instead of kids learning about endangered species, they can see footage of some of them in their "textbook"... and yes, you can animate Dijkstra's shortest paths algorithm and max flow and... you get the point. Flash might prove to be a very important software tool...

    I'm off to buy some Adobe stock.