Thursday, November 3, 2011

E-Reader Pros & Cons

I think e-readers are great mostly, but they do have their downside. Here are the most important pros and cons pertaining to the majority of e-readers.


1) Your heavy 1000-page epic like War & Peace weighs no more than any other book on an e-reader.
2) You can store thousands of books on one.
3) You can still underline and make notations just like on hard copy.
4) Some e-readers like the Kindle-3 have a text to speech converter with a computer generated voice that will read most books to you through the built-in speaker if you want to listen to your books as audio books.
5) You can jump straight to chapters and endnotes by clicking on their number if they've been properly hyperlinked and then just hit the back button to return.
6) You can bookmark pages (Kindle even shows a little dog-eared icon at the top of a bookmarked page) and jump straight to them and back again from anywhere in the text.
7) Kindle and others have built-in dictionaries. Don't know what a word means? Just move your cursor to it and the definition will automatically pop-up.
8) Batteries in e-readers last for weeks without a recharge providing you keep the wireless feature turned off when not in use and actually turn the reader off instead of on standby when you're done reading.
9) You can make folders and use them any way you desire. You could for instance just have a separate folder for each author, or you could have a folder for each genre and then sub folders for the authors etc.
10) You can make the text as big or small as you like.


1) At this point e-readers have not used page numbers. Because the reader is free to change the text size, page numbers are a problem. For authors doing research and who plan on using quotes for books they're writing, it's difficult to footnote the page number when you don't have it available! This could really become quite a dilemma in the future as more and more books are being released as e-text only. At least an e-reader will tell you a percentage of where you are at in a given book (whether you're 25% of the way into it or 40% etc.).
2) For those designing e-books, there are limitations that must be worked around such as available fonts and so on. It’s not always possible to make the text in an e-reader look exactly the same as that in a hard copy book.
3) Books on Mathematics must be shown as PDF files because the text size must stay the same when showing equations so that they don’t break apart, and PDF files are difficult to read on e-readers since you might have to magnify the entire page to make it large enough to read, and then you may be in for some side to side scrolling.
4) There is no standard format across all e-readers as of yet. Actually, most do use epub, but Amazon's Kindle is the holdout using the AZW format (based on mobi format). Other e-readers can't read AZW, and the Kindle can't read epub. So, some books may not be available for download in the format you need for your particular reader.
5) E-books are often digitally encrypted and therefor difficult to copy. This means that you can't always share an e-book with a friend the way you can a hard copy book, nor give them away or resell them. In fact, it's often been said that you don't really own an e-book—you just buy the rights to read it. However, books downloaded through Amazon generally give the reader the privilege of sharing the book with one person. Also, for those with the savvy to do it, any e-book's encryption can be broken.
6) You can't flip through pages quickly the way you can with a hard copy book.
7) Some e-books even from big publishers are poorly formatted with spaces between paragraphs, no indents, and no hyperlinks for the foot/endnotes. I've even come across some (especially free books at Gutenberg) that didn't even bother hyperlinking the chapters, and without a navigable TOC (table of contents) it can be tough maneuvering through an e-book unless you plan to read it straight through.
8) Free e-books at sites like Gutenberg often have several errors in them. Everything from misspelled words to missing words and misplaced punctuation.

The majority of the time I can download books through Amazon or free ones at Gutenberg and have no problems at all with them. But there are times that it’s challenging, especially with the free ones. However, for me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: SD Tabletwear Lighted Case For Kindle

As e-readers are becoming more and more prolific, so too are accessories for them. Just a couple of years ago there were only a couple of lighted covers to choose from for your Kindle. Now there are close to a dozen, albeit most covers that come with a light are very expensive. Today I’ll be reviewing one from SD Tabletwear—a very inexpensive alternative that’s still very high quality and extremely stylish.

I should say up front that I’m not sure who actually manufactures this case. The Kindle Cover I received for review is distributed by Slick Distributions LTD and is sold under the name Luminous in the UK by GearZap. (They have a second online distributive channel called which sells the same case for the same price.) This case is also distributed in the USA by AYL® (A Young Life). Americans can, however, buy the case through also. They currently sell it for £19.95 which I believe amounts to roughly $30 American currency. Amazon’s own lighted cover for Kindle (which I reviewed here) sold for $60 originally. They now have the price down to $50. That’s still $20 more than the lighted cover I’ll be reviewing today.

This Kindle Cover with Light is made from polyurethane leather—basically a low to mid grade leather with a polyurethane poured over it. The result is an inexpensive leather that will now be stronger and more resistant to abrasions and weather (because of its low water absorption) than the highest grades of leather. Adidas Roteiro soccer balls, for instance, and several manufacturers of high quality automobile seats are covered with the same material. The case feels very strong and yet soft to the touch.

The inside is covered with a beautiful soft velvet in your choice of red or purple.

If there was any glue used on the case, I’ve not been able to spot it. Everything I see is well stitched together.

There’s also a convenient strap to carry the case with. It’s made of the same polyurethane leather and is easily detachable if not needed. The case is secured by a tab that slides under a loop on the rear of the case.

If you want to fold the case in half while reading, you can attach the tab backwards through that same loop on the back of the case to keep it from flapping around.

Your Kindle will slide into the straps snug and secure with no danger of falling out. And the design allows you full access to all the Kindle’s controls. Once you’ve placed the Kindle in this case, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have a reason to remove it. It’s as snug as a bug in a rug!

As well-made as the case is, the light may even be better. The machining on this light is as good as it gets with every part well-seated.

It sports a single white light LED (daylight temperature) which is very easy on the eyes. There’s also a diffuser to aid in getting rid of glare.

It uses 3 AG13 1.5V Button Cell Batteries. These are rated at no less than 25-hours of use and are very economical. You can buy them in packs of ten for less than a quarter each and in packs of fifty for about a dime.

You can keep the light in a drawer if you don’t use it much, but the case also has an elastic band for storing the light. There’s even a small hole to allow for easy access to the light’s on/off button.

I did find myself accidentally turning the light off and on with the case folding in half while reading since this makes the button stick right out into your hand; however, you’ll be glad to know that you can simply turn the light so that the button is pointing elsewhere with no problem. In fact, you can just as easily press the button through the fabric holding it in place, so there’s really no problem at all in this regard.

You may even find that there’s no need to ever remove the light from its elastic holding strap. The base of the light is magnetic, and there’s a magnet on the upper right corner of the case to hold it while reading.

However, I found that keeping the light in its holder, and then bending the gooseneck to the side, provided excellent illumination, perhaps even better than when placed on the magnetic holder.

That flexible gooseneck is what really sets this light apart from most others in the e-reader marketplace. You can easily find a position which illuminates the entire screen evenly. You may recall from my review of Amazon’s own lighted case that getting even light distribution was a major problem with theirs because the bottom half of the screen got very little light in comparison to the upper half.

My photo here doesn’t do the light justice as I couldn’t manage to photograph it in such a way that shows even light distribution, but believe me, you can do it.


Don’t get me wrong, although it's close, no one has yet to come out with the perfect lighted e-reader case. My only complaint with this one is that, while the light is sufficient, it could be a bit stronger. I’ve always believed that the best way to attack the problem is to have a case with 4-LEDs, one in each corner of the screen. I’m confident that eventually we’ll see that case appear. But at the moment, this offering from SD Tabletwear may just be the one to beat, especially considering the low price, high quality materials, great workmanship, and an adequate LED light on a gooseneck for easy positioning. My sister wants a Kindle for her birthday, and I intend to give her one of my two lighted cases to go with it. Guess which one I’ll be keeping.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Mighty Manly Dash

Here's a little discussed topic of interest. Men just love to write with lots and lots of dashes—. Women avoid using, or even reading, dashes if they can, as if to say, "Hark! what manner of hellish fiend poketh forth at me?"

Why do men use dashes so much? Probably because a dash implies a forcefulness that other punctuation types—except for the exclamation point—do not! And you know us men; we're all about domineering!

We mostly use em dashes in the USA. Style manuals (the evil beasts!) do generally have specific rules when using en – verses em — dashes, but I find more often than not that most people dispose of those nasty rules and simply use em dashes and hyphens for everything, the main reason being that the en dash is not much longer than a hyphen - and people often confuse the two while reading. The main use of the en dash was always to indicate a range between two things such as months or years. Thus April–June means from April to (or through) June. However, many people do indeed use a hyphen for this: April - June. They generally will place spaces around the hyphen when doing so, but some people don't bother: April-June, and we all know what they mean just the same. Most word processors don't have a keyboard character for either the en or em dash, and this is probably the reason why people have largely dropped the en dash in favor of the hyphen nowadays. Word processors do, however, generally have an insert function for dashes, meaning that you can choose a dash from some kind of "insert" drop down menu where you can choose to insert a "special character" such as a dash. MS-Word has a great feature for inserting em dashes automatically, although you may have to turn it on in "options". If this is turned on, then you merely need to type two hyphens in a row --, and they will automatically be turned into a single em dash —. Pretty nifty, eh? Of course my version of Word is fourteen years old, so yours may treat em dashes differently.

Now, what can a dash do? I'm glad you asked, my punctuation starved friend. There are many things it can do, but the greatest among these is that it can replace many other kinds of punctuation, thereby making the chore of writing less of a chore. And what man isn't in favor of less chores? I can nearly always tell a man's writing from a woman's because women will inevitably look for the hardest way to say something, both stylistically and grammatically, that they can. Thus their papers are full of commas, colons, ellipses, and parentheses when a simple em dash could often be used in their stead. Now any fool knows that you need to use some variety when writing, so I'm obviously not saying that you should always use a dash in place of these other punctuation marks. But men do tend to use dashes quite a bit while women ignore everything about them.

The thing that need be remembered about the mighty dash is that it is indeed mighty! It's often used to set off a thought in the middle of a sentence just as a parenthesis would, but when a dash is used, it generally has a forcefulness about. It almost causes you to see exclamation marks even when they aren't present. For example:

Ron Paul is running for president yet again—the whacko—much to the chagrin of sane republicans.

See what I mean? Women tend to tip-toe around controversy though and would rather whisper their snide remarks:

Ron Paul is running for president yet again (the whacko) much to the chagrin of sane republicans.

It's almost as if the clause inside the parenthesis is the writer whispering in your ear.

It's the same when using a dash in place of a colon. A colon is the sissy version of a dash. It's a suggestion. A dash is a command! Let's say we're leaving a note for our son on the fridge:

Bobby, before you leave the house today, you have a few chores: clean your room; mow the lawn; and practice your trumpet lesson.

Bobby, before you leave the house today, you have a few chores—clean your room; mow the lawn; and practice your trumpet lesson.

In this case it's kind of subtle, but I think you can still see where the dash makes the list of chores more forceful.

Where the forcefulness of the dash really shines though is near the end of a sentence when setting off a phrase:

He was a great American—in his own mind.


She thought she could resist my good looks and charm—foolish girl.

And lastly, though many people frown on it, a dash can be used to show a thought trailing off at the end of a sentence:

I was left for dead, and nearly did give up on living, until I thought of him living it up on my dime, so—.

This last example is one in which I have never once come upon a piece of writing by a woman where she used a dash. (The lesser sex will use an ellipsis every time—shhh.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Literary Fiction Is An Invalid Genre

I found this on the internet somewhere or another a while back and copied it. Here I will lay out several objections:

Great Literature and literary fiction are not necessarily the same thing. Shakespeare's work, while certainly great literature, was genre material produced for general consumption. Both general and literary fiction can find its way into canon; what distinguishes literary fiction is not so much quality or endurance, but idiosyncrasy.

General fiction relies on convention: structured plot, near-journalistic (or alternately, florid) prose, easily recognized character relationships, and typically a third-person omniscient or roving third-person limited perspective. Literary fiction may discard an advancing plot (The Sound and the Fury), specific characters (If on a Winter's Night a Traveler) or even spelling and syntax (Finnegan's Wake), operating by its own rules. It requires more effort of interpretation from the reader, but it can convey thought-structures beyond the means of conventional storytelling.

Most other people don't have a definition of literary fiction, but just a vague sense that it's something like a classic, or that it uses lots of big words, or that it's anything that doesn't fit another category. Do you object to either my description of the qualities of general fiction, my description of the qualities of literary fiction, or the distinctions I've drawn between the two? If so, on what grounds?

I've read a considerable amount of literary fiction, classics, general fiction, and genre fiction, as well as having been exposed to a great deal of fiction aspiring to be literary and received instruction on the qualities of literary fiction, in the course of pursuing a Bachelor's Degree of Fine Arts in the English Language. My opinion is certainly not authoritative, but being conversant in all the sorts of literature under discussion and having intimate knowledge of literary fiction, those who read it, and those who produce it, I'm confident those last two groups of people, at least, would assent to most or all of my description.

"Literary fiction may discard an advancing plot..., specific characters..."

So may genre fiction. A great example would be any of the myriad stories that take place within dreams, and more specifically, stories that leave you wondering if what you just read was a psychological event; a spiritual event; or a material world event based on the science of many worlds, parallel universes, and hidden dimensions. You'll find most of these in the fantasy and science fiction categories.

"...or even spelling and syntax... operating by its own rules."

Many genre specific stories do the same, or would anyone really not consider Lord of the Rings to be fantasy? And Tolkien was not alone when it came to making-up his own language.

"It requires more effort of interpretation from the reader."

This is generally only true because these authors do their very best to use the most obscure and uncommon words they can find. They dig up old lost and forgotten words more often than not, and do so for all the wrong reasons. Why would I use a word like "threadbare" in this day and age when almost no one under thirty would know what it meant? when I can be more effective by speaking in modern language and say "wearing thin" or "getting old" etc. Most authors that get pegged with the LF tag are simply poor communicators who come off sounding like a 12-year old trying to impress their English teacher and failing miserably at it. The one and only reason to use uncommon and obscure words is if they are the only ones available to convey the meaning you need. I fully expect to come upon obscurity when reading something like Chris Langan's Cognitive Theoretical Model of the Universe where he had to actually invent terms where none existed to convey his thoughts. The same would have been true during the fifties when David Bohm was inventing new concepts like nonlocality and quantum potential. I also expect to see uncommon terms when reading good sci-fi. (I don't think I ever read an Author C. Clarke novel without learning some new ones.) This simply isn't the case with hardly any literary fiction I know of. Their obscurity is generally just bad writing.

"...but it can convey thought-structures beyond the means of conventional storytelling."

Name one that I can't find the equivalent of in a genre category.

"Most other people don't have a definition of literary fiction, but just a vague sense...."

That's because it doesn't have one except that of being very focussed on words even at the expense of the story. LF is by its very nature incredibly subjective, and most people realize that.

Where most LF authors miss the boat is that they tend to concern themselves more with these uncommon and obscure words as a way of making themselves appear smarter than they really are. But this isn't what happens. Most readers will simply be irritated because they realize they're reading an author who has a thesaurus open in front of them. They come off sounding more like precocious children than adults. What they should be concerned with is learning to turn a phrase. That, along with having good stories, is exactly what makes a great author a great author. Few were better at it than Mark Twain and GK Chesterton. Consider Twain's describing a child's birthday party as a "pleasant turmoil." No uncommon or obscure words there. Good authors don't need them. Take any number of quotes from Chesterton:

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

"...feminism is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands."

"It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything."

"Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance."

Or how about Ray Chandler:

"To say goodbye is to die a little."

Uncommon and obscure words are almost always an excuse for a lack of talent, and this is exactly why LF doesn't sell. Not because people don't understand it, but because they do.

"I've read a considerable amount of literary fiction, classics, general fiction, and genre fiction, as well as having been exposed to a great deal of fiction aspiring to be literary and received instruction on the qualities of literary fiction, in the course of pursuing a Bachelor's Degree of Fine Arts in the English Language."


"Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously." ~ GK Chesterton

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller

Canticle is a futuristic tale about the world rebuilding itself after a nuclear world war that took place in our time. The novel is in three stages about a thousand years apart. (I've heard it described as three novellas, but I don't know if that's strictly true). After the war, people go on a killing and burning spree where they try to wipe out anything and everything that has to do with technology, including all the books. They think technology caused the problem and want to go back to the way people lived prior to the industrial age. The Catholic Church secretly disagrees, so the priests and monks covertly conduct archeological digs trying to find any books or papers or fragments that survived the war, and they store them in hidden locations. Leibowitz was an electrical engineer before and during the war. After the war, he became a monk and helped to search for books, but he was killed and became a martyr, so later an order of Monks was named after him. Little by little, as bits and pieces of books are examined, the monks and priests, along with some teachers, eventually figure out how to make an electric light using a human powered generator. By the book's final stage, it's beginning to look as though the world may finally get back to where it was before the war a few thousand years earlier. The big question becomes one of, will history repeat itself? There are many philosophical queries into morality along the way, the most significant having to do with suicide in the face of terrible suffering.

As a side note, the author himself committed suicide before finishing the book's sequel. When you learn about the author's life, his lifelong bout with depression, his WWII combat service along with the bombing of a famous European Cathedral that his own plane brought down, his conversion to Catholicism after the war, and his subsequent crises of faith—you'll soon find yourself immersed in a second real life story even more puzzling and tragic than anything you'll find in the book.

This also just happens to be one of the best written books I've ever come across. Miller knew how to write for men. There are very few wasted words and no needless descriptions.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to Prepare a Non-Fiction Manuscript for Publication

While talking about manuscript preparation with a fellow writer, it was brought to my attention how difficult it is to find any useful web pages concerning this topic that showed actual examples from manuscripts in their original format. I hope these web pages will benefit up-and-coming authors in figuring out the submission process as regards to formatting. I'm going to post scanned pages from one of my book submissions from the cover letter all the way to the endnotes. While some people may do things slightly different, most submissions will look very similar to mine. Every publisher has their own guidelines to the submission process, especially regarding the way footnotes/endnotes are handled, so always contact them to find this out beforehand. They will often have this information published somewhere on their website. Of course, if you're writing fiction, footnotes probably won't be a consideration. If you're a teacher, feel free to copy the images from these formatting examples to show your students.

The Cover Letter

Your cover letter should be in block format like this one. What is block format? It's similar to what you usually see on Internet web sites where a line separation is used instead of an indentation at the start of new paragraphs. Notice that everything is left-aligned and that the right margin is left ragged rather than using "paragraph justification." Use single-line spaced paragraphs rather than the double-line spacing you'll use in your manuscript. You can use any font for your cover letter that has serifs. I'm real partial to Georgia. Many people use Times New Roman. Some people may place their name/address info on the right side, but the overwhelming majority of cover letters are formatted exactly like mine is here. Use 1" margins all around. It's okay to use italics and bold type in the cover letter. You can use a dash too instead of two hyphens. I usually stick to two hyphens since I've noticed that most editors use them in their own correspondences. I'm not going to tell you what to say in your cover letter; there are several web sites out there that already do that pretty well. I'm just going to show you the formatting involved; that is, what it should look like. The formatting for cover letters is the same whether submitting a proposal for a book or for a magazine.

(Click to enlarge all photos in this post.)

Title Page

Obviously if you're only submitting a book proposal, then you'll probably only be sending in a chapter or two when asked for it and not an entire manuscript. But should you be asked for the manuscript in its entirety, this is how the title page ought to look. Some people will place the title a third of the way down the page, but most will place it dead center. Place your name/address information on the upper left side and the word count on the upper right. This is the only place in the manuscript where this information should appear, and it should be single-spaced. Everything else on this page, like every other page in your manuscript, should be double-line spaced, and a proportional font should be used. You can never go wrong using Courier. (In MS Word, this is referred to as "Courier New"). Almost everyone uses Courier. This may look a little odd to you at first, but if you print out a few pages of double-spaced Courier text you'll soon get very accustomed to it. It's very easy to read, and it leaves sufficient room for the editor to make correction marks between the lines.

The Preface or Foreword

If your book has a preface or foreword, it should come next after the title page. One of the many rather impractical notions that's been taught in American schools for the past couple of decades has been that, books should not have a preface. A phrase English teachers will often say is, "Just start at the beginning", as though the preface is somehow not the beginning. This is one of several reasons why Americans have a reputation for producing bad literature. If you look through the best written books, you'll quickly find that the majority of them do indeed have a preface. In the past hundred or so years, forewords have been replaced by prefaces. They serve essentially the same purpose and should not be confused with an introduction, which is usually written by someone other than the book's author, and generally as an introduction to the author. A preface is often very important to non-fiction books for explaining the author's criterion for using various writing methods, such as why he felt the need to use one translation of a phrase or word over another during an exegesis of some information within the book. Or he may need to let his readers know why certain editions of texts are, in his opinion, unreliable and so forth. There are any number of things that may need explaining at the forefront. Conversely, fiction writer—Arthur C Clarke—is well-known for the postscripts he often writes for many of his novels. Never let conventions get in the way of a good book. It's nearly impossible to find a book on Dante or Shakespeare that does not have some kind of preface—usually a lengthy and necessary one.

Like chapter headings, the preface should start about a third of the way down the page. I usually hit the space bar six times from the top of the page, type the word "Preface," and then hit the space bar four more times to start my first line of text. The header should contain the page number, your last name, and something pertaining to the book's title so that the editor can easily see where the page came from in case he misplaces it. Keep it short and simple; there's no need to type in the entire name of your book. Also, even though the title page came first, make sure that there is no page number, nor anything else, in the header of the title page. Most word processors will ask you if you want the page number to appear in the first page (the title page is always first), so just answer "no" to that. One last comment here: never use italics or bold type in your manuscript. If you want something to be in italics, place an underline beneath it instead. The typesetter will recognize it as needing to be italicized. If you want something to be in bold letters, put a _hash mark_ on each side of the word or phrase you want in bold and write the word—bold—off to one side in the margins. If you want something underlined, do the _same_. Better yet, stay away from bold and underlined text if you can. The typesetter will of course take care of the bold text in the chapter headings and so forth, so there's no need to mention the obvious to him. Also, don't use any dashes. Instead use two hyphens in conjunction--like this. Again the typesetter will recognize this as a signal to insert a dash.

Preface Part Two

Notice that indentations should be about 5-spaces.


I've nothing new to add here. This is formatted like the other pages with it's heading about a third of the way down the page. You'll notice that I added an extra space between chapters here. That's because I wrote a short book with only six chapters, and I wanted to spread them out a little over the page. I didn't need to do this, and there's no hard and fast rule about it that I'm aware of. If you're wondering why I have the chapters titled Lilith and Phantastes underlined (a signal for the typesetter to italicize them), it's because these are the names of novels, and these chapters are dedicated to a critical interpretation of each of them.


The chapters are handled exactly like the Preface was.

Chapters Part Two

Notice the footnote at the very end of this page . Footnotes should be in superscript. If your word processor has a special function for inserting footnotes, I would advise against it. It can be very hard to undo certain kinds of formatting in word processing applications, and this is especially true of footnotes. Besides, an editor will want to see endnotes, not footnotes. It's much easier just to keep a separate file open for your endnotes, and you'll generally want to have endnotes separated according to chapter so that the first footnote for each chapter will be number 1. Your editor may very well use footnotes rather than endnotes for your published book, but it's endnotes he'll want to see in the manuscript you send him.


This is the way your endnotes should be prepared.

Endnotes Part Two

When quoting from published books, the author's name should come first, followed by the book's title; the name of the publishing company; the city and state of publication; the date of publication; and finally, the page number(s). Notice that I give all this information in footnote number 9, but on footnote number 14, I simplified things by only giving the author; book title; and page number. Once you've given the complete information for a quoted source in your footnotes, there will be no need to give the complete information a second time when further quoting the same source.

This should have the vast majority of you covered. I won't go into Afterwards or Indexes (or Indices if you prefer). Most will never make good use of an Afterwards, and Indexes are easy to make these days, but they're very software dependant. As usual, consult your word processor's help files.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Kindle Lighted Cover

I recently splurged and bought the lighted cover that Amazon sells to go with their Kindle e-reader. And when I say splurge, I really mean it, because this thing is incredibly overpriced at $59 before shipping and/or tax. Best Buy is selling Kindles and covers now, which is where I picked my cover up, so I didn't have to pay shipping, but with tax it was over $65. A ridiculous price for a couple of small sheets of plywood (I'm guessing) covered in imitation leather with a tiny, inexpensive LED light. The markup on this cover must be enormous.

The cover is very well made though. Some people may object to the weight, because it at least doubles the weight of the Kindle once you put the cover on it. This is only a problem if you're like me and read lying in bed on your back with the Kindle raised a little above your head. Actually, it doesn't bother me, but I'm a 6'5" man. A small woman or child may have more trouble. At any rate, the cover is sturdy and will give you good protection for your investment.

The light pulls out from the upper right-hand corner on a plastic (or more likely vinyl) arm. When the light is pulled out, it won't come on until you turn the Kindle on. To turn it out, simply push the light back in or turn your Kindle off. The light is composed of three LEDs and emits a strong enough luminance to read by in pitch darkness. It derives its power from the battery in your Kindle. The Kindle attaches to the cover by way of two metal hooks that go into two slots on the left side of the Kindle. It hooks in very easily, and once attached, will stay in place with no problems. Believe me, you won't have to worry about it slipping out. It's a very smart design.

There is one problem with the light however. As you can see from the photos I took, the light illuminates the upper right-hand corner of the screen more than the rest of it. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

It can be a little difficult to read the bottom left-hand side like this. The reason for the difficulty stems from the fact that the light is angled downward a little too much. If I push back about a 1/4" on the light, it illuminates the entire screen just fine.

After having looked around on the idiotnet and some Youtube videos, it appears that every unit ships like this. My solution to the problem is to place a clothespin across the bend in the light's arm.

Whenever I'm not reading my Kindle, I also hook a pair of clothespins on the top of the light to bend it back even more.

This doesn't place very much weight on the arm, and my hope is that I'll eventually cause the arm to bend back just a tad permanently so that I won't have to use clothespins at all someday. I'll post again in the future to let you know if this idea works or not, and how long it takes.

WARNING: Amazon used to make an identical cover without the light for a slightly lower price. It attached to the Kindle by way of the same two metal hooks. However, they found that many people have complained that those hooks for some reason would cause their Kindles to malfunction. Apparently, the cover that comes with the light completes a circuit, but the covers that don't come with one are shorting out somewhere along the line. Amazon stopped selling the unlighted case a month or so ago, but beware of people selling used ones on Craigslist and the like. Stay away from the unlighted Amazon covers. (This has nothing to do with the many other vendors selling unlighted covers to fit Kindles because only Amazon makes covers that attach by way of those metallic hooks.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Converting Text Files For Kindle 3 Using Calibre

Let me say up front that I've only used this method with Kindle 3, so I don't know if it'll work the same on earlier generation Kindles or not. Also, you can, and should, click on the photos in this post to enlarge them when you get to them.

You can of course find thousands of free books in public domain on Gutenberg's site among others. (Hint: Gutenberg's site in Australia has several books that the American site doesn't have because things go into public domain faster down there, and also just because they have people uploading different books.) One problem with these Gutenberg type sites is that they often don't have a downloadable version available that looks right when viewed on your Kindle. Kindle's own proprietary text format (.AZW) is based on the .MOBI format, so .MOBI seems to work best when converting text files for Kindle. However, many programs I've used for doing the .MOBI conversion don't do it correctly.

Gutenberg does indeed have many of its books already in the Kindle format (or .MOBI) available for download; however, they aren't always converted correctly either, and there are still many books that are only available as Plain Text (.txt), Word (.doc), Rich Text Format (.rtf), or .HTML.

You can transfer plain text files to your kindle, but the line breaks tend to be in odd places, and the lines won't be justified as in this example:

But this is what we're after:

The best way I've found to do things so far is to download .RFT files if available and do my own conversions of them. The next best files are probably .TXT files, and you can almost always find those available. Keep in mind, however, that .TXT files won't preserve certain things found in the original books such as italics, bold print, or underlines, while RTF will preserve those.

For demonstration purposes here, we'll use .TXT files to convert to the .MOBI format. The best program I've found for doing this is a free one called Calibre, so you'll need to download that. And believe me, I've tried several different programs, and this is the only one I've come across that actually outputs a .MOBI file that looks correct on my Kindle 3 unit.

I'm not going to go through a step by step process because it's pretty straight forward. What I'm going to do is to give you some hints that will help you make sure that the files it outputs will be correct for Kindle viewing.

When you get to Calibre's text conversion window, there are certain options you need to make sure are chosen. They are the following:

You'll see several options on the left-hand pane. The first one is called Metadata. You can see at the upper left it shows that I imported a .TXT file to convert, and on the upper right you can see that I chose to convert it to a MOBI file.

Now if you look where it gives info about the book's title and author, Calibre by default will show the author's last name first like this: "Underhill, Evelyn".

However, Kindle uses the author's first name first like this: "Evelyn Underhill," so make sure to change that.

It won't hurt anything if you don't, but this will keep all your book titles sorted uniformly on your Kindle.

Now click the "Look & Feel" tab on the left. Look to the right for the "Justification" drop down menu and choose "Justify text."

Now click on the "Page Setup" tab. Make sure "Kindle" format is chosen from the output profile window or Kindle DX if you have a DX unit. You can leave the input profile window set to default usually.

That's all there is to it. If you import an .RTF file instead of .TXT the steps are still basically the same.

I've noticed that the table of contents on some of my .TXT files are kind of pushed together sometimes, but other than that, Calibre outputs a very nice .MOBI file that will look great on your Kindle.

A Look At Amazon's New Kindle 3

Click to enlarge all photos in this post.

The latest Kindle e-reader from Amazon is the 3rd generation of the device. They make three versions of the new one. The cheapest has wi-fi at $139. The second is identical to the first but adds 3G for $189. And then there's the Kindle DX which has a considerably larger screen size, wi-fi + 3G, and works globally, but its price tag is a whopping $379.

The following photo shows several e-readers for comparison. Top-left is the older Kindle 2. Just to the right of that is the Barnes & Noble Nook. Top-right is the iPad 2 (not really an e-reader, but people often use it for one). Middle-left is the Kindle 1 (ain't she ugly). To the right of that is the new Kindle 3. Beneath those two is a Sony e-reader. At the bottom-right is the larger Kindle DX. Except for the Kindle DX and the iPad, all the other e-readers here have 6" screens, so they're about the same as a small paperback book.

The Kindle DX has a 9.7" screen. As you can see in this next photo, the Kindle 3 fits onto the screen of the DX with room to spare. I circled some controls on the DX in red to show you how poorly placed those controls are. They're exactly where you'd want to put your right hand. They need to move those up to the top.

Finding a place to put your hands and fingers is the one drawback of every single e-reader I've yet to come across. They seem to be designed for the hands of young children—not adults. I just bought the new Kindle 3. I'm happy with it in almost every other aspect, but as you can see, if I were to hold this thing in the most comfortable (and common sense) way, the side of my hand would rest right on the page turning buttons and my thumb would rest on the bottom of the screen.

Also, my Kindle 3 is incredibly thin from front to back (probably about a 1/4"). It would be much more comfortable to hold if it were about an inch thick. Along with making it a little thicker, all they need to do is to make the unit a couple of inches longer, and poof!, problem solved as I show in this PhotoShop mockup. I hope you're listening Amazon. Small is for children!

If you're in the market for a Kindle (or any e-reader), I would suggest you look at Craigslist for a cheaper used one first. You'll find tons of them on there right after Christmas being sold by people who got them as presents and didn't want them.

The wi-fi and 3G features on e-readers are mostly a useless luxury. The best way to go by far is to download books to your computer's desktop and then transfer them to your Kindle via USB. Why not just download them directly to your Kindle from places like Amazon? Because you can't trust Amazon to keep all the books you bought on their servers for one thing (as many people have attested too). If a book they sold you previously suddenly goes out of print, and you later find your version has gotten corrupted and you need to re-download it, they're going to tell you that they no longer have the book available on their server even though you already paid for it. So download books to your hard-drive instead where you'll always have them (and obviously a copy to your backup drive as well—duh)!

(While we're on the subject of downloading books, I'm going to leave a separate post on this blog to show you how to make plain text downloads from Gutenberg display correctly on your Kindle because it took me most of an entire afternoon to find a good way to do it.)

The Kindle comes with a pair of 1" speakers on its backside (not a particularly bright place to put them)! This allows you to download mp3 files to listen to music or audio-books. But something else that's a nifty feature is that Kindle has a text to voice feature. What this does is to take any book that you have loaded on your Kindle and turn the text into speech that's read back by a rather robotic sounding voice. The book's publisher can choose to disallow this feature, but it seems they rarely do. Unfortunately, the speakers are too tiny and under-powered to be of much use except in the quietest of settings. Of course, you could always use the headphone output, and with a strong pair of headphones you'd have all the volume you need. (There's also a volume slider on the bottom of the Kindle.) An intriguing feature is the mini-mic input jack next to the headphone output. It's not in use at the moment, but Kindle apparently has future plans for this. I'm assuming that at some point we'll have the ability to use our Kindles as voice recorders.

Kindle allows you to make folders on the device so that you can more easily find the books you're looking for. For instance, you could make a separate folder for each author. What really sets Kindle apart from most e-readers though is it's small keypad which, not only gives you the ability to highlight text, but to make your own annotations as you're reading, something that's great for doing research work.

Perhaps best of all is that you can now lay comfortably in bed and read an 800-page epic without muscle strain. The Kindle 3 only weighs half a pound.

Other than the Kindle 3 being a little hard to hold, there's really very little to fault this thing with. The text is incredibly easy on the eyes and very much like reading a real book even outside under the sun. You're gonna love it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who Am I?

Cale McCaskey's the name. Irony, satire, metaphor, oxymoron, simile, and sarcasm are the game. But not hyperbole. For heavens sake, never hyperbole!

I like to write. It's like those people who talk just to hear the sound of their own voice, except writers hear a lot of voices, often a mad cacophonous symphony of them. It's how Shakespeare found work. Otherwise he would have been just another village idiot babbling incoherently at the city square. But we have a mayor for that in my village, and we pay him so well he'll never retire, so a writer I must be. Now, I have this here blog to post my fictional work at, but I don't yet have anything to post, so for my opening contribution I will do you the honor of sharing the great wisdom which all my twelve years in public education taught me about proper writing. (It should take about a page and a half). So, here are a few rules that every good village idiot, that is, writer, should follow or be forever damned to an eternity of servitude to that mockery of English known as The Chicago Manual Of Style.

The first thing to remember is that almost nobody knows how to place commas and semicolons correctly anymore. Here are the three most basic things to remember. When separating two sentence fragments with a conjunction present, no comma is necessary e.g.:

Tom and Sally like to fish and go sailing.

If both sentence fragments can be used to make two complete sentences on each side of a conjunction, a comma is placed before the conjunction e.g.:

Tom and Sally like to fish, and they often cast for trout.

If both sentence fragments can be used to make two complete sentences but no conjunction is present, then use a semicolon e.g..:

Tom and Sally like to fish; they often cast for trout.

The second thing to remember is that an ellipsis is always used to show an omission of words. Please ignore the new rules that modern dictionaries are tying to force upon the masses of little children in the public de-education system where an ellipsis can be used for just about anything this side of a curse word from Samuel Morse. An ellipsis in the middle of a sentence is generally used in quotations where parts of two different sentences are strung together to make a point e.g.:

William Wordsworth had a poem that went:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:

If I just want to quote parts of it I might do it thusly:

William Wordsworth said, "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting... And cometh from afar."

Notice that a three dot ellipsis was used to show the omission of words in the middle of the sentence.

We can use a four dot ellipsis at the end to show that a stanza from Wordsworth went on further thusly:

William Wordsworth said, "Our birth is but a sleep...."

Those are the only two ways to use an ellipsis properly. Either you're omitting something in mid sentence with three dots, or you're omitting something at the end with four.

An ellipsis is not used to show a pause in speech. That's what commas are for, and there are other ways of doing this such as with a dash. The following is poor form:

"Tom, I just had to... well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy, " she said.

This is better:

"Tom, I just had to, well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy," she said.

This may be better yet:

"Tom, I just had to," she paused to collect her thoughts, "well, I had to tell you the truth about Billy," she said.

Okay, to be honest, I've used an ellipsis to show a pause in speech before, and I probably will again but not often.
We will not discuss here the incredible element of women telling truths. Arthur Schopenhauer has already said too much, and ruined supper for all of us. (Did the damned fool not know that women could read!)?

Now ladies and gentlehams, you know more about proper writing than every author on any best seller list for the past 50 years, which is a bit like saying Beef Wellington is better than Spam, a hollow victory to be sure, but just remember you have the wit and wisdom of Cale McCaskey to thank for it.