Sunday, 12 February 2012

Finally I have left behind the printed word

The printing press was invented by Gutenberg getting on for 600 years ago, as a technology the printed book had a good innings compared to the cassette tape or the floppy disk. But maybe its time to recognize that at least as far as text only mass paperback printed media goes, its unlikely to reach that 600th birthday. So I finally decided to stop being a Luddite and buy an e-reader this Christmas, along with 1.3 million other people in Britain. I actually bought it for my partner but I have ended up hogging it.

So what's so great about an e-reader?, well its a good excuse to get back into the classics, anything out of copyright is available free. Over the last month I managed to plough through a book a piece by George Orwell, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and Emily Bronte. But in addition to that any book is available instantaneously either from repositories or Amazon and its competitors. Or for the less scrupulous there is the twilight world of file sharing networks - where all e-books are available for free.

Once the habit is formed of reading via a Kindle or other e-reader it quickly becomes just as natural as turning pages - I prefer the cheaper LCD grey scale readers without touch screen or keyboard - they are the simplest direct replacement for a paperback, and if current price wars continue will soon cost about the same as a hardback! For that you get wireless, space for 1500 books and a month battery life.

So you may be thinking - OK big deal - but why are you talking about this on a python blog? Well the reason is I fancied reading other digital text formats on my e-reader - what if I want a copy of a pdf, some sphinx docs or even a whole website for example. I soon came across the open source Calibre software, written in Python and C and available on linux, Mac and Windows. Kovid Goyal may not be Gutenberg - but he has certainly produced a really good e-book management software package.

Once you have installed the software it sets up that machine as your personal e-book library, to which you can add pretty much any text format you wish, along with news feeds or other HTML content. Plug in your e-reader then press the convert e-book button to translate them to .mobi or whatever, and another to send to the device. BeautifulSoup is used to help with HTML conversion and there is an API for creating conversion recipes. The software also includes a server to make your personal e-library available to you over the web, book repository browsers, synchronisation tools, handling of annotations, etc.

Friends talk about missing the tactile experience, the smell, but with a good e-reader and good e-book management software - I can't really justify lugging around those funny old glued together sheets of  bleached wood pulp any more ;-)