Free E-books Are A Mixed Bag

I am learning a lot in the process of moving e-books I had downloaded to my desktop computer over to my Sony Reader.

Most of these I downloaded as text files.  When I read them, (rarely), I had used an application called yBook.  But on the Sony Reader, text files are not ideal.    They are readable, but the text doesn't "re-flow" to make attractive paragraphs.

There is another program, Calibre, which lets you convert a text file to a much better-looking EPUB format.  But it will not have the hyper-linked table of contents that the EPUB format is capable of.  So I find myself looking for EPUB versions instead.  And I have found that I have to inspect them before I put them on the Sony Reader.

For example, I looked for an EPUB version of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici.  The Project Gutenberg EPUB version was awful.  It looked like it had been derived from an HTML version, with coding for italics and links showing up in it as text.  The EPUB version at archive.org was uniquely awful as well.  It had been made from an OCR scan, and was full of corrupted text.

I found a very nice EPUB version of Religio Medici at the University of Adelaide.


Why You Should Read "A Dance to the Music of Time"

Posted on The Millions blog, Seven Reasons to Read A Dance to the Music of Time, by Marjorie Hakala.  Thanks to the AP List.

Late in life, I've discovered an appetite for monumental works of fiction.  I recently finishedWar and Peace, at 1200+ pages.  But my longest non-series read has to be Anthony Powell's Dance, at twelve volumes.  As I approach 60, I have begun to appreciate how choices and consequences play out over decades, all the time receding into the past, while a new cohort mounts the stage and we look on, older and wiser. 

These works take some patience to get into. Dance, War and Peace, or Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles, to which I am returning now, need a book or three just to set the characters in motion.  But after that, A Dance to the Music of Time is nectar.


Umberto Eco on European Identity

In The Guardian, Umberto Eco: 'It's culture, not war, that cements European identity', by Gianni Riotta.
"When it comes to the debt crisis," says Eco, "and I'm speaking as someone who doesn't understand anything about the economy, we must remember that it is culture, not war, that cements our [European] identity. The French, the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish and the English have spent centuries killing each other. Today, we've been at peace for 70 years and no one realises how amazing that is any more. Indeed, the very idea of a war between Spain and France, or Italy and Germany, provokes hilarity. The United States needed a civil war to unite properly. I hope that culture and the [European] market will do the same for us."
It is hard to believe that he is 80.  In addition to The Name of the Rose, which is in one sense about a library, and Foucault's Pendulum, his delightful send-up of the occult undergound, (years before The Da Vinci Code), I remember him for his brilliant essays, Dreaming of the Middle Ages and Living in the New Middle Ages, in Travels in Hyper-Reality, (1986).  It is time to read them again.


Sony PRS-T1 Reader Up And Running

My new Sony e-book reader came last Thursday.  It took me a few tries to get it working, but by Sunday night I was able to successfully borrow and download a library e-book from OverDrive, and transfer it from my PC to the Sony Reader.

I have been telling inquirers at the library that they must install Adobe Digital Editions, (ADE), on their computers to download and transfer e-books in the ePub and PDF formats from OverDrive.  The walk-through for Sony Readers in OverDrive's "MyHelp" presentation doesn't give any indication that it is any different for the Sony PRS-T1.

Install ADE, says MyHelp, get an Adobe ID for your computer, plug in your Sony Reader, and ADE will ask you to authorize the device.  Your reader will then appear as a "bookshelf" in ADE to which you can drag books from ADE's library.

I've had ADE on my PC for a while, and I had already added a lot of PDF books to it that I had gotten from Project Gutenberg, Google Books and elsewhere.  It is not bad for reading them on my PC.

On Thursday night I unpacked the Sony Reader and plugged it into my PC to charge the battery.  This took a couple of hours.  I looked at the menus on it, set the clock and language, tried some different fonts and sizes on the sample e-books that came on it.

Friday night I sat down to get it working in earnest..  I opened ADE and plugged in the reader, setting it to "data transfer mode".  Nothing happened.  ADE did not ask to authorize it with my Adobe ID.  It did not appear in the ADE "bookshelf" list.

The reader's Quick Start Guide said that I could access Sony's Reader Store  by installing Reader for PC, (RFP) using the installer on the device.  I wasn't interested in shopping at the Reader Store, and the reviewer at the-ebook-reader.com had been unimpressed with Reader for PC, saying that he preferred using Calibre to manage his e-books.  I had thought I wouldn't need it.  But now I thought it might help me somehow.

I opened Windows Explorer, found the installer on the Sony Reader and launched it.  It installed RFP on my computer, updated it, and then updated the firmware on the reader.  I was prompted to create an account with the Sony Reader Store.  I started ADE again.  Nothing happened.  I tried opening an ePub book from Project Gutenberg, and noticed that it opened with RFP, rather than Adobe Digital Editions, (the reviewer was right, the display with RFP was inferior).  I changed the file association for ePubs back to ADE and tried opening the book again.  It opened in ADE, but there was still no prompt to authorize my reader with my Adobe ID.  I had to work Saturday, so I gave up and went to bed.

Saturday night I tried again.  This time, when I plugged the reader in, RFP opened and asked to authorize it, as ADE had been supposed to do.  I successfully authorized the reader with RFP.  Maybe now ADE would detect my reader, but no, it still would not.

I opened Windows Explorer and dragged a PDF book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, from a My Documents folder to the reader.  It transferred fine.  I opened it on the reader.  As I had suspected, the print was too small on the reader's 6-inch screen.  I changed the font size, and the reader handled it well, but I found that when you change the font size for a PDF, the reader has to reformat it every time you turn the page, which takes a couple of seconds, and is a nuisance.  Another PDF book, Lord Dunsany's Tales of War, looked fine.  It had been printed with large type, generous line spacing, and wide margins.

On Sunday, at work, I did some searches for Sony Reader and Adobe Digital Editions.  I found a couple of posts on the Adobe forums which confirmed that the PRS-T1 is not recognized by ADE, even though Adobe lists it as a compatible device.  Then I found a post by a Mac owner with the same problem who claimed to have gotten ADE to authorize her reader by transferring an e-book from the ADE folder with RFP.

Finally, I found an OverDrive FAQ on another library's web site which stated plainly that Sony Reader owners needed to use Sony's Reader for PC to download and transfer library e-books.  Well, well.  Was this in the OverDrive FAQ in our OverDrive page?  Yes!  In the Digital Help FAQ for Adobe EPUB e-books, it said:
Can I transfer Adobe eBooks to a Sony® Reader?
Adobe eBooks can be transferred to most Sony Readers. In order to transfer Adobe eBooks to a Sony Reader, you need to have the Sony Reader™ Library software installed. Some Sony Readers require a firmware update in order to support Adobe eBooks.
 If OverDrive's MyHelp had mentioned this, it would have saved me a couple of days of confusion.  But the "dance" was over.  Sunday night I checked out, downloaded and transferred a library e-book to my reader using Reader for PC easily, with no workarounds.  A nice feature with the Sony Reader is that in your list of e-books, library books have a little clock symbol with the number of days left until the due date.

I was off on Monday.  On Tuesday I brought my Sony Reader to work and tested the wireless and browser.  It connected with no trouble, I navigated to Project Gutenberg, and downloaded a book directly to the reader.

We had a number of inquiries about e-books today, for the Kindle and for an iPhone.  I felt so much more confident, now that I have configured my own e-reader.


Hiring Interview Committee

I spent the afternoon interviewing applicants for the position of bookmobile library specialist, a job I held from 1992 to 2000.  We interviewed four candidates between 2:00 and 6:15, with time at the end to discuss our selection.

I am often called upon to participate in hiring committees because they must be balanced in composition, and as a male librarian I am a rare bird.  You wouldn't think that interviews are much work, but they are exhausting.  Maybe the emotional state of the interviewees charges the situation.  They are performing for you, and for them so much is at stake.  And no matter how they look on their applications and  résumés, the chemistry of the interviews can change everything.

I couldn't help remembering the day twenty years ago when I sat at that same table in the library board room, selling myself with all I had for the same job.  I was 38, with a string of bookstore jobs and a year as a Montessori school teaching assistant, (where, providentially, I had driven the school bus), to my credit, and was then a clerk in the circulation department.  I wept for joy in private when I got it.  It was the beginning of my true vocation.  I would be a librarian.


A Day Without Wikipedia

I knew that Wikipedia was going offline today to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, but I did, absentmindedly, click on a link to it once, I can't remember what for.  I found what I needed elsewhere.

What I would have missed is Google.  I can't remember when I last used another search engine.  What would I have used instead, Bing?  Yahoo?  Remember AltaVista, MetaCrawler, Lycos?

Our public-access users are offered Bing by default in the Internet Explorer search box.  I sometimes have to help them choose the authentic link among the commercial results of their searches.  A search for where to apply for "food stamps" may steer them into confusion if they don't know how to distinguish the state agency link from the others.

Google also places commercial links at the top of search results, but not as much as Bing.  We have an open-source operating system, (Linux), and an open-source encyclopedia, (Wikipedia), but there is not yet an open-source alternative to Google.  And perhaps that is to the credit of Google, which is about as public-spirited a  corporation as you could hope for.


Sony Reader On Order

I should have a Sony Reader PRS-T1 soon.  Clearing off her desk at work, R. found an American Express Rewards catalog .  We had more than enough Rewards points to order one, and it won't cost me a penny.

Why the Sony?  From what I have read, it's supposed to handle PDF's better than the other e-readers, and alone among the non-tablet, e-ink display, wi-fi e-readers, it has a fully-functioning browser, which should allow me to "accept" the Internet policy screen at the library and get wireless access.

It has a "touch" interface, which lets you "swipe" the screen to turn a page, and "pinch" to change the "font", (type face), size.  I'm afraid this goes against the grain for me, continually smudging the screen with my fingers.  I think you can do these things with the buttons as well.

The wireless access is not very important to me.  I do not have a wireless network at home, and I'm not a business traveler who needs hot spots in hotels and airports.  In fact, before R. found the Rewards catalog, I was looking at the non-wireless, and very cheap, Slick 50 e-reader, which is sold by Sears.  I even went to the local Sears store to see if they had one to look at, but they didn't.

It is not a touch device, and it has a larger, 7 inch, display than the other e-readers.  But because it can play video it has a back-lit screen, like the new Kindle Fire and the Nook Color.

I don't watch movies and listen to music alone.  I mostly watch television or listen to the radio with R., as a shared activity.  Reading is what I do alone, and I really wanted to try the e-ink display, though it seems to be losing ground with Amazon and Barnes & Noble chasing after the iPad with their latest offerings.

At any rate, I should soon have the Sony, and begin to get some actual experience with an e-reader.  I have gone about as far as I can go just reading about them.


Nick Lowe: A Melancholy Smile

Nick Lowe got my attention when he performed Lately, I've Let Things Slide a couple of years ago on Prairie Home Companion.  Pain, the seduction of numbness, hope for a new beginning.  He spoke my language.


A Librarian's Downfall

Interesting story Wednesday in Disunion, the New York Times Opinionator blog about the Civil War, Anna and the Librarian, by UT history professor Adam Arenson.  "Did Anna Ella Carroll save the Union, or just destroy an aging librarian’s career?"
Johnston was born in Virginia in 1799, and as the war began he was a bespectacled gentleman much esteemed in St. Louis; his 1859 catalogue for the St. Louis Mercantile Library collection was the first anywhere to use subject classifications, and it became a regular reference in the Library of Congress before they developed their own system. Yet Johnston was also unabashedly pro-Confederate...


Stop The World

I found myself humming this as R. and I drove home from Siam Sushi Friday night.  A great tune from the golden age of music videos.  1983: I was twenty-nine, and we had just moved to Austin, Texas.  And now, twenty-nine years later, I am "embedding" the same music video on my blog.

I am indeed stopping the world, taking eleven days off from work.  On Saturday, we took down our Christmas lights and decorations, and took a car load of electronic devices, (parts of an old IBM PS/2 system, a VHS player, a dead coffee-maker and an old toaster oven), to a hazardous waste collection event at the county operations center.

Today I raked leaves from around the house, moving them to mulching areas, swept the driveway and back porch, wiped the mold on the bathroom ceiling and shower curtain with bleach, took Claudius the cat out.

I'm reading War and Peace., which is a change even  from another 19th century novel, Barchester Towers, which I just finished.  In the recent Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, the first part of book one, which is almost entirely dialogue, is largely in French, with English translations in footnotes.  I respect the translator's reasons for rendering it this way, but it does get tedious.

This evening we watched The Journey Home on EWTN.  The guest was a man whose father had been a missionary  for the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints, a different group from the Utah Mormons.


Paul Johnson On War Novels

In Standpoint Magazine, Novelists at Arms, by Paul Johnson, posted on the Anthony Powell Discussion List.
It is a curious fact that, in the competition to produce the great novel about the Second World War, the two most obvious candidates, Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene, did not even enter...