2012 September 08 Saturday
Electronic Book Readers Increase Reading?

At a presentation Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made for a new line of Kindles an interesting claim was made: electronic book reader devices are causing a surge in reading.

11:09 AM: Stats of post-Kindle world: People are reading more, according to Amazon. 2.5 times as much in 2008. In 2009, 3.5x. 4.21x in 2010. 4.62 in 2011.

Is that true? I can that it at least close to true for me. I buy a lot more books when I can get them instantly and no longer have to worry about full bookshelves. I have a Kindle DX. That is far from the cutting edge tablets. But I love the low power consumption and eInk readability. The internet makes it easy to come across reviews and recommendations for books. So I come across more worthy candidates for reading.

However, the internet boosted my online reading even more than it boosted my book reading. Online web pages compete (rather effectively) for my attention against books. My reading of articles has increased relative to my reading of books

So I'm wondering: As the internet has gotten bigger and electronic book reading devices have become cheaper and more powerful what has happened to your absolute total amount of reading and the relative split between books and non-book reading materials?

Also, when you buy books now are you more or less likely to read them than, say, 10 years ago? I'm not sure what the answer is for me.

By Randall Parker    2012 September 08 11:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2012 January 02 Monday
EBook Filtered Views Needed

Ever looked at a big book on the shelf and thought you wished you had the time to read it? Ray Sawhill (who spent many years covering the book publishing industry for Newsweek) frequently tells me books are too long. Publishers think they need high page counts to justify prices. But since books frequently have too much filler, repetition, and detail we aren't interested in we read fewer books and get less benefit per book than would be the case if books were written and formatted to optimize reader benefit.

Ray tells me he's long wanted publishers to include a 40 page short version at the front of a book. Read it for the gist. Then see if any sections seem worth reading in greater detail.

Now that a large and growing percentage of books get delivered digitally we ought to be able to do something even better. For some years now I've thought the publishing industry should agree to a standard way to provide multiple views into an ebook filtered for different reading purposes. Imagine your ebook reader allowed you to select between 10 page, 40 page, 100 page,and 500 page views of the same book. Writers and editors would need to decide what went into each view. Links in the shorter views could allow one to read a particularly interesting section in greater detail.

With a standard way to call out book subsets it would even be possible for 3rd parties to make and publish their own filtered views of a book. An astute reviewer could select subsections of a book that are most interesting and then publish a special filter file that enabled owners of the full ebook to look at a subset of that ebook as chosen by the reviewer. The subset files would not need contain the actual book text. For example, in the simplest version of a subset file it could contain just sentence numbers or other unique tag for each sentence (so all books would need a sentence numbering system - and that system would need to support fixes where publishers add or delete sentences to fix errors in the original published work). So there'd be no copyright issue with distributing the reviewer's filter.

The filter format should include support for added commentary by reviewers that goes with it. So one could get a filter that basically is both a fast way to read the book and a review of the book that gets into detail tied to specific sections of a book. Viewing software should even be powerful enough to show the subset chosen by reviewer A along with any additional sections which reviewer B wrote specific commentary about. So you wouldn't need to see all the sections reviewer B made visible. But you could still see the sections that reviewer B commented on.

Of course chopping out sentences might require adding bridge sentences. It is harder for a 3rd party to do that without potentially violating copyright. But bridge sentences are still a useful feature even if only publishers could add them.

An optional feature: the ability to link between books. Be able to basically create a view that interleaves 2 or 3 or more books. Anyone would owns all of the books could read them in a way that interleaves different treatments by different authors on the same topic. So, for example, a few books on algorithms could have their sorting algorithm sections linked together. One could cycle between the books to read different treatments of the same topic.

So I'm really proposing a few things here:

  • An industry standard electronic format for making shorter versions of long written works.
  • The ability of third parties to specify subsets without running afoul of copyright law.
  • The ability to use this format to also deliver reviews. The review text should be readable without the book but also readable with ties into the book if you own the book in a compatible ebook format.
  • The ability to link between books.

Any book readers have some thoughts on this proposal?

By Randall Parker    2012 January 02 07:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 December 02 Thursday
Shoe Radar Enhances Inertial Reference Unit

So you go inside a building and your Global Positioning System (GPS) smart phone stops working. What to do? Mini-gyroscopes to keep track of your movements. But the mini-gyros drift. So how to reduce the error? Radars in your shoes could keep track of when you are moving and when sitting still to eliminate much of the drift.

However, IMUs have traditionally faced a significant challenge. Any minor errors an IMU makes in measuring acceleration lead to errors in estimating velocity and position – and those errors accumulate over time. For example, if an IMU thinks you are moving – even as little as 0.1 meters per second – when you are actually standing still, within three minutes the IMU will have moved you 18 meters away from your actual position.

But, “if you had an independent way of knowing when your velocity is zero, you could significantly reduce this sort of accumulate error,” Stancil says.

Enter the shoe radar.

“To address this problem of accumulating acceleration error, we’ve developed a prototype portable radar sensor that attaches to a shoe,” Stancil says. “The radar is attached to a small navigation computer that tracks the distance between your heel and the ground. If that distance doesn’t change within a given period of time, the navigation computer knows that your foot is stationary.” That could mean that you are standing still, or it could signal the natural pause that occurs between steps when someone is walking. Either way, Stancil says, “by resetting the velocity to zero during these pauses, or intervals, the accumulated error can be greatly reduced.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, these technologies would make great enhancements for Maxwell Smart's shoe phone.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 02 08:35 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
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