Archive for September, 2007

Gigapan – Multibillion Pixel Panoramas with Off-the-shelf Cameras

Check out the very cool tech from Carnegie Mellon University, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and CharmedLabs. Here’s the press release. The technology includes an inexpensive robotic device that snaps pictures and software for stitching them together and uploading to a community-driven website. In cooperation with Google, a new Gigapan layer is being added to Google Earth to allow fly-throughs of Gigapan-captured environments. Take a look at the Gigapan site and try out some of the shared environments. Very cool.

Put the Use back in Fair Use

Just read an article at Information Week about the business of copyright. The article refers to a recent report by the Computer and Communications Industry Association that shows that more value is generated for the economy by the exercise of fair use rights than is generated by copyright alone. To those of us who have been urging people to exercise those fair use rights aggressively, this is welcome vindication. Like an atrophying muscle, our fair use rights will simply go away – taken by greedy corporations and their lobbyists if we don’t use them and fight for them.

Sweet Lightbox2 Javascript and CSS Code

Just ran across the latest version of the really cool Lightbox Javascript and CSS widget by Lokesh Dhakar today. It lets you link to an image or set of images that appear in a highlighted box while the page in the background is dimmed. It’s a great way to showcase an image on a web page. It’s easy to use and not too difficult to setup on your site. There’s even a nice WordPress plugin by Safirul Alredha. Also check out Leightbox by Simon de Haan, a modification to allow non-image content using inline DIVs

Take a look at how it works by clicking the image of a nice shelf cloud that I snapped with my phone camera on the edge of a thunderstorm in Uptown New Orleans near Tulane last week. Once you have the javascript and css linked to the page, you just add a tiny bit of code to your link tag like this: rel=”lightbox”

Resources for Using the Sony Reader System

As promised, I’m going to try to collect in one place all of the resources I have found for dealing with eBooks on the Sony PRS-500 Reader System.

First let me start with a website that is a central clearing house for all things related to eBooks and eBook readers: the MobileRead Forums. If you can’t find it there, it just doesn’t exist. There are separate forums for each type of eBook hardware – here’s the one for the Sony Reader. In addition, most of the software you would need to edit or convert eBooks for the Reader or any other platform can be found there as well.

In working with eBooks that I already have, I have found that several tools have come in handy: BBeBinder and Book Designer. BBeBinder is especially useful for converting HTML documents to the native .lrf eBook format of the Reader System. Book Designer is a much more full-featured tool for converting almost any type of text file or eBook format to .lrf format (and several other formats, as well). Of course, the files need to be DRM-free for the conversion to work.

Because PDF is such a second-class citizen on the Sony reader, one of the steps in my process is to export text from PDFs (when possible) to HTML or RTF. Once I have the text extracted from the PDF, I can use one of the other tools to create an .lrf file.

In future posts, I’ll create some walk-throughs of selected conversions, including some Adobe Captivate animations.

Living with the Sony PRS-500 eBook Reader

I’ve had about a month to play around with and use the Sony PRS-500 eBook Reader System. The device uses technology called e-ink from E Ink Corporation. The e-ink technology provides nearly the same experience as reading printed paper. I have to say I have been very excited about this technology and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the PRS-500. After a month of use, I can honestly say, I still really like the Sony Reader. But, as with most tech, when it comes to implementation, there will always be room for improvement.

Let me start by listing the negatives (of which there are actually quite few). The biggest problem with the Sony Reader is that there is just not enough contrast between the black text and the light gray background of the screen. There is just no substitute for black text on a white background that regular paper gives you. This problem is really only evident when lighting is too low. A good book light can really mitigate this issue when one is not in a well-lit room. Second, in terms of physical usability, it’s very annoying for right-handed people that Sony has placed both of the buttons to go forward one page on the left side of the screen. This issue, again, is not a very serious one, since using the device for a short period of time is all that is required to get used to the button placement to the point of it fading from consciousness. Finally, the Reader System’s support of PDF eBooks and documents is nearly useless in its actual implementation. The text zoom feature that is available for the native .lrf format eBooks is not available for PDF files. And, for that matter, even text files from the Gutenberg Project require additional processing to work well on the device.

Nevertheless, the benefits and fine features of the device far outweigh these problems. And because there is an active and vibrant community of users, there are several very useful tools and tutorials available to make the most of the Reader System. I’m looking forward to color e-ink displays and to more interactive implementations of color e-ink that would include markup tools similar to Tablet PCs, like those found in the iRex iLiad device, but at a more reasonable price. Look for a post in the near future with all of the tools and resources I have gathered for managing and converting files for use with the Sony Reader.