Sunday, April 04, 2010

Amazon Kindle DX First hand

Having borrowed an Amazon Kindle DX e-Book reader for a few days to try out, here are a few first impressions. The device looks like an Apple product, with its stark white case and sparse writing. The unit is very slim, abut as thick as a pencil and along with the slippery aluminium back, it is hard to hold. I would have preferred a unit about as thick as the average paperback (about 20 mm) with a non-slip rubber coating on the back and sides. The screen is very readable but slow to update and a very dull grey. The QWERTY keyboard on the front is annoyingly small and slow to use, even for the occasional search. The other navigation buttons are easy to use. It was surprising the unit did not come pre-installed with some free books. About all there is are some manuals and some PDF documents my colleagues downloaded.

Reading the Amazon format works very well, with the text able to be re-sized and an excellent text-to-speech facility (my Green Technology Strategies book sounds so much more impressive when read aloud by the kindle, than by me). However, the facilities for PDF documents are more limited, with the text not able to be enlarged nor read aloud (you can still make the text larger by rotating the display to landscape mode).

I was able to preview a book, after registering with my account. The preview of my Green Technology Strategies book gave the table of contents and outline, plus a little of the first chapter. This was enough to see that, much to my relief, the Amazon DTP system had done a good job converting the book from HTML to the Amazon format.

Disappointingly the web interface on the Kindle is not available in Australia, apparently due to networking costs. It is frustrating to see a network indicator on the Kindle screen showing it is connected to a 3G wireless network, but not being able to use it for much more than buy books from Amazon.

The Kindle works well for its intended purpose: to lock the consumer into buying materials from the Amazon bookstore. But as a wireless tablet computer it is very frustrating. The device would seem to have very little use outside the niche of being able to display reformatted books. It has little use in education, where the student will need wider access to online material and will need a way to compose text easily, not just read prepared material.

It will be interesting to see how well the Apple iPad answers these needs. The iPad might be a better e-book than the Kindle, but there is still the question as to who wants to buy an expensive netbook computer with no keyboard?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Green Technology Strategies from and Barnes & Noble have my book Green Technology Strategies available in paperback (also on the Amazon Kindle electronic Book reader). Last December I pushed the button to have LuLu distribute the book. That was supposed to take six weeks, but has taken about ten weeks. I heard no more from LuLu about it and just happened to notice the book listed on Amazon today. I don't know if it is available via any of the other channels. It is supposed to also be available from Baker & Taylor, from NACSCORP and the Espresso Book Machine (but there appear to be no working book machines in Australia).

While LuLu's online process for publishing via their print on demand service works well, the distribution via other channels has been frustrating.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Princeton University e-reader pilot

An e-reader pilot at Princeton University, using Amazon Kindle DX ebook readers, found them as readable as printed material, but a major problem was the difficulty of annotating ebooks. There is a 7 page (127 Kbytes PDF) executive summary as well as a full report available. Ironically, these reports are provided in PDF, the format the report finds the students had most difficulty annotating.

In my view a low cost netbook computer would overcome most of the limitations reported with the Kindle for educational purposes at a lower overall cost. This would have a superior keyboard, allowing notes to be taken and add-on software could be used to add notes to PDF documents. Netbooks provide a colour screen, more useful for annotations. Most students could use the netbook as their primary computer, with a low cost external screen, keyboard and mouse at home. The ebook has advantages of light weight, long battery life and daylight readable screen, but require students to have a second computer for their studies, adding cost and complexity.
In the Fall of 2009, the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Princeton conducted a pilot program using electronic readers (e-readers) in a classroom setting. The pilot was conducted with three broad goals. One was to reduce the amount of printing and photocopying done in the three pilot courses. The second was to determine if using this technology in the classroom could equal (or better) the typical classroom experience where more traditional readings were used. The third sought to explore the strengths and weaknesses of current e-reader technology to provide suggestions for future devices.
E-reader technology offered the promise of delivering a large number of digitized documents on a lightweight device with a long battery life, and a display that mimicked the reflective qualities of actual paper. The consumer market in e-readers had already proved it was possible to read on these devices; we sought to see if they could be useful in higher education by conducting a pilot using e-readers in several courses.

Three courses were selected for the pilot, involving 3 faculty members, and 51 students. The e-reader used in the pilot was the Amazon Kindle DX.

The goal of printing less in the pilot courses was achieved: pilot participants printed just over half the amount of sheets than control groups who did not use e-readers. The classroom experience was somewhat worsened by using e-readers, as study and reference habits of a lifetime were challenged by device limitations. This pilot suggests that future e-book manufacturers may wish to pay more attention to annotation tools, pagination, content organization, and in achieving a more natural “paper-like” user experience. In summary, although most users of the Kindle DX were very pleased with their “reading” experiences with the Kindle, they felt that the “writing” tools fell short of expectations, and prevented them from doing things easily accomplished with paper. ...

The areas in which they felt the Kindle could be best improved were:
  • The ability to highlight and annotate PDF files
  • Improving the annotation tools
  • Providing a folder structure to keep similar readings together
  • Improving the highlighting function
  • Improving the navigation within and between Kindle documents
Because it was difficult to take notes on the Kindle, because PDF documents could not be annotated or highlighted at all, and because it was hard to look at more than one document at once, the Kindle was occasionally a tool that was counter-productive to scholarship. ...

What features do ereaders need to be effective tools for higher education?
... One thing that emerged clearly from the surveys was that superb annotation tools are critical for the success of an e-reader used in higher education. ... There were also functional concerns, such as the ability to compare documents, or have more than one reading open at a time, and some ability to “skim” or “flip” rapidly through a reading to see highlights and notes. ...

There was a strong positive attachment to some present feature of the Kindle DX, most particularly the reflective screen, which allowed for long periods of reading, the size, the form factor, and the battery life. When told that any additional features (such as a color or LCD screen) would impact battery life, most students said they preferred to stick with grayscale and e-paper technology – with one exception: highlighting, where more contrast to the page, and a variety of possible marking styles would help create the same effectiveness as color highlighters on a black and white paper page. ...

From: The E-reader pilot at Princeton, Fall semester, 2009, Final report, (executive summary), Janet Temos, Princeton University, February 2010

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Microsoft Office 2010 support for OpenOffice

Microsoft Office 2010 is due for release in May. A Beta version with the new features of Word, Access, PowerPoint, Publisher, Outlook, InfoPath, Excel, SharePoint Workspace, OneNote and Communicator is still available. The new version will be able to create and read document in both the Microsoft sponsored OOXML format (Office Open XML, ISO/IEC 29500:2008) and Sun sponsored ODF (OpenDocument Format, ISO/IEC 26300:2006). This will better allow the interchange of documents with the open source OpenOffice.Org office suite.

OOXML was provided with Open Office 2007 and ODF in Service Pack 2. However, it seems likely that many documents will still be created in the older proprietary .DOC (Word 97-2003) format to maintain compatibility with older versions of Word and other pre XML formats.

Neither OOXML nor ODF can be read directly by a web browser. My preference would be for a HTML based format. Microsoft tried this with a previous version of Word, with a HTML based format which could be edited, however it did not become popular. However, newer versions of HTML and CSS provide more features and so fewer workarounds to implement word processor features. In addition both OOXML and ODF are conceptually similar to HTML based ebook formats, such as Epub and the Amazon Kindle format. These all consist of an XML formatted document, plus formatting and images, zipped into one file.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

BarCamp Canberra 2010

Greetings from BarCamp Canberra 2010 at the famous Room N101 at ANU in Canberra. There are about sixty people here so far and the room is filling fast. About one third of the room seems to be from Sydney, boosting the Canberra economy. You can follow the event in Twitter: #bcc2010.

The infrastructure is well set up with video projectors, WiFi, power-boards and Senator Lundy just arrived with duct-tape to hold the cables down.

For this I have prepared "Making e-Books for e-Learning on i-Pads":
Simple web pages and free open source software
to create an accompanying e-book for a university level e-learning
course. Educational materials can be provided for Netbooks, Amazon
Kindle, Google Android, Apple iPhone. This technique should also work
for the recently announced Apple iPad.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Making e-Books for e-Learning on i-Pads

For the BarCamp Canberra 2010, tomorrow I have prepared "Making e-Books for e-Learning on i-Pads". This is about how I used simple web pages and free open source software to create a university level e-learning course and accompanying e-book. Educational materials can be provided for the Netbooks, Amazon Kindle, Google Android, Apple iPhone. This technique should also work for the recently announced Apple iPad for education.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Green Technology Strategies on Amazon Kindle

Green Technology Strategies Book on Amazon KindleAmazon have my e-book "Green Technology Strategies" available on their Kindle electronic Book reader. The PDF, paperback and hardcover editions remain available from LuLu (and the free web version on my web site). Amazon said it would take 48 to 72 hours to approve the book for the Kindle, but took less than a 24.

I specified a list price for the book the same as the LuLu PDF version. Amazon requires that the publisher specify a price no higher than other version, but then they added $2 to the price for delivery to the international version of the Kindle, outside the USA.

One issue with the e-book is the ISBN. I used the same the ISBN I had issued for the LuLu PDF version fo the book for the Kindle e-book version. This was because I could not find any way to enter the different ISBN for the PDF version into the LuLu system: it seems to use the same ISBN as for the printed book. As the ISBN was not used by LuLu, I tought I may as well use it for the Kindle. In retrospect, this was a bad idea, as that ISBN is already registered in library and book cataloging systems around the world. So I have now requested a new ISBN for the Kindle version. That takes up to five days.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Amazon Kindle e-Book for Australian Publishers

Amazon now allows Australian publishers to publish e-Books on their Kindle electronic Book reader. I was able to register my Australian company address into Amazon's Digital Text Platform. One limitation is that only cheque payments are catered for to Australia, not electronic funds transfer. Due to the high cost of cheque processing, there would have to be significant book sales to make this worthwhile (Google now pay by EFT in Australian dollars, making the process a lot cheaper and easier).

A few weeks ago I attempted to publish an electronic edition of my "Green Technology Strategies" book for's Kindle e-Book device. Using Amazon's DTP web site, I was easily able to convert the book from the web format used by e-learning courses to Kindle's format. But I could not publish the e-book, as Amazon did not cater for Australian publishers with an Australian address and bank account.

Amazon some useful information on how to format your book. I have several version of the book to choose from. The PDF version did not convert well. I could have used the word processing version, but mine is a master document and I was not sure how well that would convert to Microsoft Word, as accepted by Amazon. I tried exporting the OOO version to HTML, but the results were not that good. OOO generated a table of contents with hypertext links, but the links are on the print page numbers, which do not make much sense for an e-Book (as the Kindle has smaller pages than a paper book). I could have used the web version of the book, but would have had to assemble all the chapters, which are separate web pages, into one document.

What worked best was the HTML generated by the Moodle Book module. This produces a good table of contents and creates reasonably clean HTML. I just had to remember to download the CSS file to go with it and zip them for uploading.

One change I made was to move the front matter of the book to after the table of contents. While with a paper book you can quickly flip over the boring stuff at the front, with a e-book this is tedious. It is better to put the table of contents first. Readers will see the front matter if the then scroll through the book, but will quickly learn the can skip this by clicking on the first chapter in the content.

One issue to be resolved are the external hypertext links in the book. In the USA, Amazon provide limited web browsing, but not internationally. The reader can't see the difference between local links in the book and external ones. The reader could get frustrated when the click on links which do not work. I might need to hide the external links for the Kindle version, or at least distinguish them. This is possible with some more CSS.

One catch with Kindle are the high charges by I get only 35% of the recommended retail price of the book. This is more than LuLu charge. Amazon also require that I make the cover price no more than the book is available from other outlets, so I cannot set a higher price for the Kindle version of the book.

In any case I thought it was time to stop theorising and start trying it, so I pressed "publish" and got this message:
Green Technology Strategies Tom Worthington (Author) 01/22/2010 ...

Publishing Green Technology Strategies. Your book is currently under review by the Kindle Operations team as we are trying to improve the Kindle customer experience. Please check back in 48-72 hours to see if your book was published to the store. This will not affect any titles you are currently selling in the store, but uploading updates to existing titles will take longer to process...
It will be interesting to see how long this actually takes for the book to appear on the Kindle catalogue.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

HP Slate Too Big e-Book

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated Windows 7 running on a prototype HP Tablet computer (referred to as a "slate") at CES 2009. This was used to show the Amazon Kindle for PC e-Book reader software. What stuck me about the demonstration was how clumsy the device was to use . With a screen of about 10 inches screen, the device is too large to hold comfortably in one had and operate with the other. The unit in Mr. Ballmer's hand is wobbling as he operates it. This is too cumbersome for a usable e-Book. As suggested previously, 6 inches is about the largest size for a standard format screen which can be held comfortably in one hand (perhaps 7 inches for a wide screen device).

A lighter device, such as the Amazon Kindle, can be gripped by the edge with one hand, while operated by the other. However, the classic computer tablet design, where the screen extends to the edge and the device weighs too much to hold by the edge anyway, cannot be operated this way. It has to be propped against the body or placed on a surface.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Larger Screen Amazon eBook Reader

Kindle DX Wireless Reading have announced the Amazon Kindle DX International, a larger 9.7 inch screen version of their international eBook Reader. This has a 3G wireless modem, allowing for use around the world. The unit has the same format as the smaller 6 Inch screen unit.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Amazon not supporting Australian Authors

I have prepared an electronic edition of my "Green ICT" book for's Kindle e-Book device. are now offering an international version of the Kindle for use in Australia. So it seemed a good time to publish. But after carefully formatting the book and uploading to Amazon's Digital Text Platform web site, I found I was not able to publish without a US bank account and US tax information. I am already registered as an Amazon Associate and receive cheques from Amazon. But the Australian address and Australian tax details which are acceptable for Amazon Associates appear not to be acceptable for Kindle. The result would seem to be that only US based publisher will be permitted to publish with the Kindle. This is unfortunate as it makes the device unsuitable for educational use. I attempted to get around this by seeing if had an arrangement to publish on Kindle, but they don't.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

International Version of Amazon Kindle e-Book

Kindle electronic Book have announced an international version of their Kindle electronic Book reader. This is designed to work with 3G Wireless mobile phone networks outside the USA, including in Australia. The international version has a 6 inch screen (smaller than the USA 9.7 inch model). While wireless access is free in the USA, it appears that usual data charges will apply in other countries (these charges could be considerable). The device could be useful for e-learning.

Technical Details

Display: 6" diagonal E Ink® electronic paper display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale.

Size (in inches): 8" x 5.3" x 0.36" (203.2mm x 134.6mm x 9.1mm).

Weight: 10.2 ounces (289.2 grams). ...

Storage: 2GB internal (approximately 1.4GB available for user content).

Battery Life: Read on a single charge for up to 4 days with wireless on. Turn wireless off and read for up to two weeks. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as shopping the Kindle Store and downloading content. In low-coverage areas or in EDGE/GPRS-only coverage, wireless usage will consume battery power more quickly.

Charge Time: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours via the included U.S. power adapter. Also supports charging from your computer via the included USB 2.0 cable.

Connectivity: HSDPA modem (3G) with a fallback to EDGE/GPRS ...

USB Port: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector) for connection to the Kindle U.S. power adapter or optionally to connect to a PC or Macintosh computer.

Audio: 3.5mm stereo audio jack, rear-mounted stereo speakers.

Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.

Included Accessories: U.S. power adapter (supports 100V-240V), USB 2.0 cable, rechargeable battery ...

Documentation: Quick Start Guide (included in box) [PDF]; Kindle User's Guide (pre-installed on device) [PDF]. ...

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Publishing e-Learning material for Kindle

A few weeks ago I attempted to publish an electronic edition of my "Green ICT" for's Kindle e-Book device. PDF did not work well, as the Kindle uses a version of the Mobipocket format. So I decided to stop at that point and see if I could create a good quality HTML document in the format Amazon requires. It appears that Moodle can generate e-Books suitable for the Kindle which has significant implications for education.

The Green ICT book was originally converted from HTML created by Moodle's Book module. I was able to upload an IMS Content package created by the Moodle Book module to and have this converted to the Kindle format. produced an 80 kByte zip file for the Kindle, slightly smaller than the original 81.5 kByte IMS content package. The Kindle archive appears to have the same folders and files as the IMS original, with an XML manifest, a folder with a CSS file and a folder with a HTML file for each chapter. The only change appears to be that the HTML 4 headers of the IMS content package have been stripped off the HTML documents.

When previewed by the Amazon's Digital Text Platform web site, the book content is displayed in a window of about 50 columns by 16 lines of text, with headings in larger font and hypertext links underlined and highlighted in blue, much like the web page original (current Kindle devices actually have monochrome screens).

Being able to provide educational content via the Kindle essentially unchanged is very attractive, but has some limitations. The Kindle does not appear to display the table of contents for the book. This is displayed in an Learning Management System (such as Moodle) from the XML Manifest. Without the table of contents the e-book is very hard to navigate. This may be a limitation of the way Moodle creates IMS content, or the Kindle online emulator (perhaps the Kindle device creates the contents page dynamically).

The Moodle Book module can also "print" a book. This produces one HTML file containing all chapters (unlike the IMS format which has each chapter in a separate HTML file). I saved this web page from the Firefox web borrower, along with a folder generated containing a CSS file and images. When Zipped, this produced a 73.7 kByte archive file. After conversion by Kindle, a slightly smaller Zip archive (73.5 kBytes) with a similar structure, but slightly simplified HTML resulted.

The converted print file looked very similar to the IMS version when displayed with the Kindle emulator. The table of contents generated by Moodle in the HTML file was displayed.

With a table of contents the e-Book has sufficient for navigation. But I will check the Formatting Guides, before trying to publish.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Publishing on Amazon's Kindle e-Book

I noticed that my "Green ICT" book was available from via a reseller. In the processing of adding some more detail about the book, I noticed that Amazon was offering to publish an e-book version on their Kindle device. So I registered with Amazon's Digital Text Platform, and started the process of submitting the book for distribution. This consisted mostly of copying the book details from where it is distributed on Lulu.Com.

However, I got stuck at the point of uploading the text. I had assumed Kindle would use PDF, so I uploaded the PDF of the electronic version I created for LuLu to distribute. To my surprise, Amazon's system then proceeded to convert this to poor quality HTML. That the HTML generated from PDF was of poor quality is not a surprise: it is difficult to put back the information lost in the conversion to PDF.

So I decided to stop at that point and see if I could create a good quality HTML document in the format Amazon requires. The book was originally converted from HTML created by Moodle's Book module, which creates good quality XHTML (and SCORM Learning Object), so it should be possible to produce something much better than the PDF easily.

However, it is not simple a matter of taking the Moodle file and uploading it, as the book has some subtle difference from the e-leaning module version of the material (as an example, they have difference ISBNs). So I may have to take the Open Office XML file I created from the HTML and convert that back to HTML. provide Formatting Guides, to help convert to HTML, with:
  1. Introductory HTML Formatting
  2. Advanced HTML Formatting
  3. Samples

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009's second generation wireless eBook

Amazon Kindle have released a second version of their Amazon Kindle 2 electronic book. At US$359 the question is if a dedicated e-Book is more useful than a general purpose netbook for about the same price.

As with the previous version, the Kindle2 has a wireless modem built in which comes with a free account allowing downloading books. There are a number of limitations this system: it is only available on Sprint's USA mobile phone network and while the wireless account is free, the books are not.

Changes to the device itself seem to be minor. It still as the same design with a large portrait monochrome screen above a miniature QWERTY keyboard. Amazon claims the new design is "sleek", as thin as thin as a typical magazine and lighter than a paperback book. However I doubt these were great problems with the previous device. There is more storage and longer battery life (e-books have a longer battery life than a typical laptop in any case). More useful for people with limited eyesight is built in text to speech for reading out books (although the Adobe PDF reader has this feature available for netbooks). have a very clumsy way to get non-Amazon publications into the device. You can send files in Microsoft Word, PDF and HTML formats via Amazon to the device, but are charged ten US cents for each. To avoid the fee you have to email the documents for conversion to the Kindle's format and then upload the returned document with USB. There is no WiFi on the Kindle.

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