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Old 10-03-2007, 05:22 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Reader Question: How do you read technical books (.pdf/.chm/.html)?

E-books have come a long way. And e-book adopters often voraciously consume technical books. You know the sort of title I mean - "Maxternactive Parsing Systems for Dummies" or "Contravantous Sprinicking for Profit" or even trivial stuff like "RISC Processor Optimization for Linux Job Queing Algorithms".

We get involved in learning a new technology, and want to carry that book around everywhere. Plus, free .pdf and .html books on software development and topics like Linux are available all over. But without the right e-book device, it can be near impossible to read those e-books. In desperation, we end up buying paper versions. Or we are even read tiny fonts after converting the document to the Sony Reader with one of the nifty conversion programs available at MobileRead.

Some of the wiser among us with a few extra dollars knew from the beginning that only a bigger e-ink screen would do and got an iLiad. Or we read on a smaller device and live with the trade-off, happily focusing mostly on novels, which are reasonably pleasant to read on most any device, even down to tiny smart phone screens.

So here are the questions for you technical book readers:
* What kind of device do you read the technical e-books on?
* What original formats do you use, and how do you prepare/convert them?
* Are you happy with your solution? What would be better?
* Does your solution require perfect eyesight?
* Have you given up and decided to read the paper versions for now?

Let us know your failures and successes, but if you have a plan that works, be sure to share!
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Old 10-03-2007, 05:45 PM   #2
RWood
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* What kind of device do you read the technical e-books on?

A regular PC.

* What original formats do you use, and how do you prepare/convert them?

PDF is the main format. Since most of them come from the outside I am at the mercy of the company preparing them. CHM is the most problematic format for me.

Those documents that are prepared here are mostly in PDF including a Tech User Manual for one company in Sony Reader format. We have used special PDF format and LRF format. The jury is still out.

* Are you happy with your solution? What would be better?

For 95% of the documents, yes. They are reference so search is a requirement. While I would like more material on the Sony Reader that is not an option at this point.

* Does your solution require perfect eyesight?

No. I wish I had it. Most of the people I work with need glasses to read (OK, there is one; but I suspect that she has LASIX surgery and took the one near and one far option.)

* Have you given up and decided to read the paper versions for now?

No, not an option. To get a paper version of most of the material would mean to print the PDF. Few of them are available in hardcopy.
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Old 10-03-2007, 10:18 PM   #3
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Great question, Bob. I'm very interested in seeing other people's answers.

For me, a PC until about 10 weeks ago. Now, I'm experimenting using my Sony Reader. For that, I have more or less successfully converted with PDFLRF from either original PDFs or Word documents that I first convert to PDFs.

Am I happy? Well, they are still pretty hard to read sometimes. Some of it is due to my lack of spending time to play with formatting options. So figures and tables get cut in half and I end up flipping between pages trying to see it. If I'm really lazy with formatting, yes, eyesight's an issue.

But maybe more difficult for me is my frequent need to flip between different portions of the document or even different documents. Even a perfectly formatted ebook won't help that. As an example, I've been trying to review a calculus ebook to help my daughter and I find it pretty frustrating to read a problem at the end of a chapter, look back in the text for the relevant equations, look elsewhere to review the examples, and also look at the back of the book for reference equations in the appendix (hehe, or for the answers!). It's too hard to do that on my Reader well even with well planned bookmarks and it's much too slow. Maybe it's asking too much in this case. It's much better on a PC (larger screen to see more and also it's easy to flip between multiple open windows). But it's really trivial with a paper book: a few sticky notes and you can go back to learning and stop fooling with the medium. Still, it's been fun to try. And you gotta love the incredible portability of it. Terrific for productivity - if it was just a bit more practical.
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Old 10-03-2007, 10:59 PM   #4
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Daig... nobody told me Maxternactive Parsing Systems for Dummies was out!

But seriously, folks, I would love to have my work-related texts in digital files, but so far, all of them are still on paper. This is one reason why I'd like my next reader to be a small laptop, tablet, or UMPC, for its larger screen and color capability. Being able to take that back and forth to work, instead of lugging around my textbooks, would be great.
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Old 10-03-2007, 11:46 PM   #5
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Maybe the more interesting question is:

what sort of technical documents does it make sense to read on a separate device?

As a sidenote, I had a user guide for yu-gi-oh game which I really could have used on my sony reader. full of graphics, regular 8 1/2 by 11.

I tried converting, but that was painful.

I ended up using my laptop when playing with my child, but my youngest was pulling the plug several times and almost caused the laptop to topple over.

Has anyone in the ebook world considered that use case ?
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Old 10-04-2007, 12:15 AM   #6
nathany
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Technical books

* What kind of device do you read the technical e-books on?
* What original formats do you use, and how do you prepare/convert them?

I have a number of PDF books, mostly from Pragmatic Programmers, and all but one is DRM-free. Some I have in paper form too, and just use the PDF for reference. The shorter ones (like on Subversion) I've read entirely on my laptop.

I use Preview on a MacBook Pro to view the PDFs. It's worth playing with the options in the View menu. Like "Automatically resize" so you can simply enlarge the window and the font comes with it. Usually I've been using "Continuous" with page breaks, which lets you keep on scrolling. I recently got an external LCD, so I am trying Book mode.

Another program I've tried is called Tofu, which does some reflowing, but haven't really used it. Interesting concept.

I have a bunch of documentation in HTML form that was either provided downloadable, or I scraped from the web with DeepVacuum. This is more reference material than e-books, and I just have a Docs folder in Safari's bookmarks for all the local documentation.

I've tried Safari Bookshelf, but found it to be too slow, and at least when I tried, the somewhat pricey downloadable PDFs weren't indexed/searchable.

* Are you happy with your solution? What would be better?

It works alright. Sometimes I take notes or key in the examples as I go, so I'd like be in front of my computer anyway.

It would be nice to have a sort of "library" of these books... right now it's pretty disorderly. I suppose Adobe Digital Editions would do something like that. Of course there is source code and such to manage too.

* Does your solution require perfect eyesight?

No. But I imagine an iLiad or something would be better on the eyes. I could only justify buying one if I was for-certain going to develop for it as well. But right now I'm not to excited (nor ready) to jump into Linux/GTK programming.

* Have you given up and decided to read the paper versions for now?

See above.

@hapax: Apple has, that's why the power cable is magnetic, so the laptop stays put when someone trips over the cable. At least a partial solution, which wouldn't be necessary if your battery is charged and will last as long as you need.

Last edited by nathany; 10-04-2007 at 12:18 AM.
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Old 10-04-2007, 12:56 AM   #7
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I convert for PRS-500

I download PDFs, like RFCs, and resize with ghostscript and gv for reading on my PRS-500. With this method, you can zoom in just enough to read a letter size page without going blind.

Basically, you want to find a window around the text body, smaller than the page, and just large enough to see the important text; and create a new PDF focused on that window. gv displays coordinates under the cursor, so that's a good choice for measuring the window, then you make a new postscript file like this:

Code:
%!PS-Adobe-3.0 EPSF-3.0
[/Author (AUTHOR)
 /CreationDate (DATE)
 /Title (TITLE)
 /DOCINFO pdfmark
[/CropBox [XLL YLL XUR YUR] /PAGES pdfmark
/_begin_job_
{
        /tweak_save save def
        /tweak_dc countdictstack def
        /tweak_oc count 1 sub def
        userdict begin
}bind def

/_end_job_
{
        count tweak_oc sub{pop}repeat
        countdictstack tweak_dc sub{end}repeat
        tweak_save restore
}bind def

[ /Title (BOOKMARK)  /OUT pdfmark
_begin_job_
 (PDFFILE) run
_end_job_
Replace AUTHOR, DATE, TITLE, and BOOKMARK with meaningful data. Replace PDFFILE with the name of the file you want to convert. Replace XLL YLL XUR YUR with the coordinates from gv. Then run ps2pdf on your new postscript file and upload the new pdf. You can repeat the last block of code on a bunch of PDFs, allowing you to group files together.

You probably don't believe me, so look it up here: pdfmark Reference.
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Old 10-04-2007, 05:51 AM   #8
Stuart Young
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.CHM support is one of the main reason I'm selling my Sony Reader, and switching to the Cybook Gen3. (If they get around to releasing it). it's not supported out of the box but will be available as a firmware update.

Mobipocket creator does quite a good job with CHM files also.

/stu
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Old 10-04-2007, 09:25 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Russell View Post

So here are the questions for you technical book readers:
* What kind of device do you read the technical e-books on?
* What original formats do you use, and how do you prepare/convert them?
* Are you happy with your solution? What would be better?
* Does your solution require perfect eyesight?
* Have you given up and decided to read the paper versions for now?

Let us know your failures and successes, but if you have a plan that works, be sure to share!
1. PC or Tablet depending on where I want to read them (in my office or in bed) - tried to use my devices but even if I could make them readable, the small screen and poorer navigation made it not worth the bother
2. Pdf/Djvu - take them as they come
3. Acceptable; cannot think of better to deal with formulas (I read mostly math or physics books)
4. Not particularly; anyway I spend my working day in front of 5 monitors, so reading on them is not a problem with eyesight, it's a problem of convenience
5. I occcasionally read the paper version because of better navigation, but I am ok with the pc reading too and I do not feel the need to print things out often
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Old 10-04-2007, 09:28 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stuart Young View Post
.Mobipocket creator does quite a good job with CHM files also.
That's interesting. Do you mean that you can simply drag and drop into Creator without having to compile them to html first?
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Old 10-04-2007, 10:55 AM   #11
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I should add that sometimes I'm just reading to learn something new and having paper and pencil with me is sufficient. But most of the time that I'm working with technical documents I need to do something more than that - I need to do calculations, create retrievable notes, write stuff, etc. In the latter cases, I really need a PC and having the document on my Reader is almost a nuisance, not a benefit. I can't copy and paste, for example. I think I've pretty well concluded that I need an ultralight tablet PC if I'm going to do much more than just read simple stuff.
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Old 10-05-2007, 04:21 PM   #12
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* What kind of device do you read the technical e-books on?
Either my tablet PC or more recently an Illiad

* What original formats do you use, and how do you prepare/convert them?
In the main PDFs. So far I've left them in the original format

* Are you happy with your solution? What would be better?
The tablet PC is a good size, backlit and of course full colour. It has a maximum 2 hours battery life which is poor, it occasionally runs Vista, it takes an age to boot, gets hot and isn't easy to read for long periods. It's my preferred reading method at home due to the search function and multiple windows.
The Illiad is not a bad size, fine for the text documents, needs some zooming for the technical diagrams and data tables. The battery life is great for work (ok it needs a charge every other day) I leave it turned on for quick access. Needs a search function to allow for quickly finding relevent data in a hurry

* Does your solution require perfect eyesight?
Not really, just the occasional use of zoom

* Have you given up and decided to read the paper versions for now?
Nope. The digital copies are automatically updated and carrying all my documents would need a small van and not the travel bag I use at the moment.
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