Sunday, February 28, 2010

My (outside US) Kindle experience

Back in Nov last year, a colleague lent me his Kindle for a testdrive (I'm not sure if the features have changed/ improved since then).

Overall verdict:
  • It was easy to learn how to use it.
  • Handling the Kindle was easier in some ways but harder for some aspects.
  • Whether something like the Kindle is "better than a print book" depends on what criteria we're using. And advantages/ disadvantages might be relative as well. E.g. if cost is the main consideration, I'd go for a pbook anytime. But even then, it's relative. If you regularly buy books, then the cost per book may be lowered as you purchase more eBooks and spread the fixed cost of the Kindle.
  • Though one can't help compare it as an "eBook" Vs. a "pBook" (i.e. print book), I think both formats should be appreciated for what they uniquely offer rather than whether one is better than the other. They both give different user-experiences.
  • Content is still king. Both the electronic and print book versions have inherent pros and cons, which affects the reading experience. But I can still never get through Tolstoy's War and Peace, regardless of "e" or "p" versions.

That said, here's my rambly review (btw, you may find my review contradicting what I wrote about making comparisons, but I'm "comparing" more as a benchmark for explanatory purposes):

My first thoughts were: "Sleek and stylish; makes you want to pick it up and just... use it!"

The whole thing just felt right in my hands. Here's how it looks like in its synthetic leather cover:
My Kindle experience - RamblingLibrarian

This was how it looked like without the leather cover (I placed a pen on it so that you get a sense of its dimensions)
My Kindle experience - RamblingLibrarian

It's really thin and light. The size difference is even more apparent when placed next to a hardcover book (incidentally the hardcover book was titled "The Shock of the Old", heh).
My Kindle experience - RamblingLibrarian

I could operate it with familiarity within 5 minutes of fiddling with the buttons, and without referring to any user manual or asking anyone else. It was like learning how to operate a mobile phone -- just fiddling and by trial and error. The Kindle wasn't going to crash just because you pressed the wrong buttons, so that was its plus point.

My Kindle experience - RamblingLibrarian

Its black-on-grey screen display was easy to read. If an eBook was interesting enough, I could read it through without tiring my eyes. You can also change the text font size, so that helps for prolonged reading.

I could hold the Kindle with one hand and press the "next page" and "previous page" buttons. Together with its light weight, its very handy for reading while traveling on MRT trains (you'll appreciate that if you've attempted to read/ flip the pages of a print book, in a crowded train, while trying to grab hold of support).

The built-in dictionary was really handy. Typing on the keys activated the dictionary.

When you return to the eBook, it automatically went to the last page location when you left the ebook. Like an automatic bookmark.

Battery life was excellent. I charged it once and it lasted for a month easily (I didn't read it everyday though).

There's a text-to-speech feature. Turns your book into a hands-free set. However, after a while I couldn't stand the computer narration and went back to sight-reading (it could just be me).

I also wondered how easy it would be for a Blind person to activate the speech mode. I mean, if you couldn't visually navigate to get to the buttons, then how does one turn it on/ off in the first place? Well, maybe a Blind person would memorise the button sequence.

There's a nifty "note taking" feature. At the 'pages' where I wish to record some notes or thoughts, I simply called up the notetaking feature and typed in the text with the hard buttons.

But the downside was that the recorded notes could only be retrieved for that specific ebook title/ e-copy. Meaning, there wasn't a way to read all recorded notes from the main menu (unlike a true notepad application). You'd have a problem if you wanted to retrieve an earlier note but you couldn't remember which eBook title it was when you typed it in.

You also couldn't export the notes.

So the Kindle wasn't designed as a notepad per se, but more for individual eBook titles to be read (the note-taking was incidental and designed around the individual eBook titles).

Think of the Kindle as more of "a device to read's eBook titles". According to the instructions, will "convert the document into Kindle format and wirelessly deliver to your kindle for a small fee or back to your computer for free."

Of course, you could download free eBooks from sites like, where they offer free ebooks in Kindle compatible formats. Or if you come across authors like Cory Doctorow.

But quite honestly, the general selection of free books -- even from Amazon -- were boring stuff (except for Cory Doctorow's work, but he's more of an exception).

In short, I wouldn't have borrowed those free stuff in the first place, even if they were available in the public library, let alone buy them.

Using the Kindle lacked the experience of physically browsing and turning a print book. Not that I need to feel paper per se, but I realised a print book allowed me to do a very fast -- albeit hit-and-miss approach -- browse of the contents by flipping and stopping at random sections.

With the Kindle, you needed to know the specific page numbers in order to jump ahead the pages. The page number system wasn't intuitive to me. E.g. an eBook could start with a first page like "Locations 19-23", then the very next page was "Locations 23-30", and then next "Locations 30-37". Maybe there was a pattern to it, but I'm the sort who do badly at IQ tests. Then again, you shouldn't be a genius to use a Kindle...

Oh yeah, it came a point when I needed to charge the Kindle. But as I mentioned at the start of the post, it shouldn't be a case of eBook device Vs. Print Book (like how we don't complain about charging our mobile phone Vs. talking face-to-face with a friend -- if you can reach them in person).

Anyway, the battery charge lasts quite a long time. No complaints from me for that aspect.
My Kindle experience - RamblingLibrarian

Many times in using the kindle, I was reminded at how it lacked the visual and physical navigation that I took for granted with a print book.

The horizontal bar gives a visual clue how much of the book has been completed and how much is left. But you don't get any other visual cues of the thickness of the book, because the horizontal line is the same length for a 10 page book and a 100 page volume.

Flipping physical pages was still the most efficient way to browse a book, I thought. At least, when you didn't need to look for something specific. With a physical book I can jump very quickly to the middle or end parts of the book.

With a Kindle, there was only the "Go to Beginning" and "Go to Location" options from the menu. The horizontal bar might have given me a visual cue which point I was in the book, but to "get there" I had to press the forward/ backward buttons repeatedly.

Personally, I don't get the "X-is-better-than-Y" argument about eBooks and print. Both reading formats should be appreciated for what they uniquely offer rather than whether one is better than the other. They both give different user-experiences.

eBooks have been around for years, but never got the buzz until Amazon's Kindle came along.

Until I tried the Kindle, I didn't think it would be feasible to read a book on an electronic device, for protracted periods. The Kindle isn't the only well-designed eBook reader out there. There's Bookeen, for instance. And of course the more well-known Sony reader.

However, I don't think all the buzz was just from one or two single factors like eBooks or the eBook reader (although they could be fairly important ones). In totality, it was probably a combination of range and choice of eBook titles, their affordability, a trusted brand/ store, a loyal and ready customer-base, online purchasing habits, a well-designed eBook reader...

All things considered, I suppose the Kindle was the tipping point.

Even Sony seems to know that it has got to offer both an ebookstore and a reading device.

One other thing that was quickly apparent: a difficult (I choose not to use the word boring) book remains a difficult book. Regardless of whether you read it on a paper-based book or on a kindle.

At one point in my Kindle test drive, I had 92 books in it, including the Kindle compatible ones I downloaded.

But the only eBook that I read from beginning to end was Cory Doctorow's "I, Robot".

I'm sure if I had purchased some good eBook titles (and I knew a few), my "cover-to-cover" completion rate would increase.

The Kindle is a device designed by, for the specific use of buying and reading eBooks from I can attest that it's a great product. But after the initial novelty, the device became less important.

I wanted more of the good stuff. has lots of good stuff. But I've never been one to buy books. I'm so used to just borrowing the good stuff from public libraries that I automatically close myself off any notion of buying books.

From that perspective, I suspect those who use public libraries will continue to do so. And those who buy books (electronic or print) will probably carry on and aren't that much of public library users.

Do I think public libraries should offer eBooks like how print is offered? Yes, for sure.

But whether it's a sustainable model, that's a whole other issue (and for another blog post). [update: I posted this in response to the sustainability issue].

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

CC resource: Learning Music Monthly website

I learned about this website called "Learning Music Monthly" - LMM - (
Learning Music Monthly
"Learning Music Monthly is an album-a-month project. Each season of LMM lasts for twelve months and includes twelve issues. Every album features artwork by a different visual artist, and is released under a Creative Commons license.

Every album from the series is available on this website for free stream or download. If you like what you hear, you can help us continue improving the project by making a small donation or purchasing a subscription to receive limited-edition, hand-made CDs every month in your mailbox.

At the bottom of the page, it says:
"All downloads are offered under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. You are encouraged to share and remix as long as you give credit."

According to this Creative Commons' tweet, the LMM site has been revamped. Not sure how it was like before but the current look and feel is really clean, intuitive and easy to navigate.

When I visited the site, there were two seasons (i.e. 2 x 12 months) of albums posted. Each of the graphic bar represents an album.
Learning Music Monthly

Clicking any bar would drop down the individual album playlist.
Learning Music Monthly

There's a "read liner notes" link, which will pop up more information about the album. The illustrator is credited in the liner note section.
Learning Music Monthly

The one-album-a-month part is clear. I'm not that sure about the "learning" aspect though. The word learning made me expect that each album artist would share more insights on how they created their works. But most liner notes didn't go beyond listing the creators.

But it's a great initiative, nonetheless. I'm not complaining or criticising.

A Singapore version?
Suppose there was a Singapore equivalent of the LMM site, where there's a new track shared online monthly. Or a video (not limited to music). One of the requirement would be for the creator to provide information on the creative process. Could be a simple form to fill up, as a guide. And in the spirit of learning and sharing, the content would be licensed under Creative Commons.

The main recurrent cost for such a site would be the hosting bills. Well, the alternative would be to upload the audio/ videos to -- it's their mandate anyway. Then one has only to link to/ stream from the host site.

Actually the maintenance cost isn't the biggest challenge. What's harder, I think, is in getting regular contributors for such a site. And getting them to understand and agree to releasing their works under a Creative Commons license.

Wonder what our own National Arts Council (NAC) and Media Development Authority (MDA) would make of a site like LMM. Would they see such a website as part of what they want to promote with regards to media and arts in Singapore?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Speaking at Young Writer’s Seminar 2010

It's 2.30am as I post this.

In about seven hours time, I'll be at The Arts House. Scheduled to speak, with my friend Lucian, at one of the concurrent session titled "The Age Of Blogging - "Why We Write: The Future of Content-Creation".

Originally, we were to take 45mins each. But serendipitously, Lucian contacted me via IM Chat about a week ago. Asked if I'd be interested in a combined talk, since our topics had some overlapping points.


It gave us a good excuse to seriously try out the collaborative capabilities of Google Wave, heh.
Ivan - Google Wave

It was fitting that we were collaborating on this. The gist of our talk was on how writing has evolved beyond plain text, how communication has evolved and how that would relate to "writers", writing in the context of creativity and collaboration (here's where I'll talk about Creative Commons), an introduction/ exploration of Transmedia (Lucian's pet topic).

And we intend to provoke the audience with this basic question: "Why do you write"?

The organisers say 160 participants have signed up; mainly students from polytechnics, junior colleges and the local universities.

Up till a few hours ago, Lucian and I were still working and discussing on our presentation, typing away on our laptops, at our own homes, connected over the Internet.

We were still debating (amicably) whether collaborative story-writing would work in reality. Lucian felt that "the crafting of an individual story is always best achieved alone" and that "the storyline needs to originate from a single source".

I agreed with the part about writing being an essentially solitary process (writing by committee doesn't work, in my experience).

But I argued that collaboration could also be about editing, proof-reading, feedback.

Also, collaboration doesn't simply mean "only writers collaborate". Why not "writers + illustrators + musicians"? The most memorable tales I've come across are Children's stories, often a collaboration between the writer and the artist.

I also feel that it can be collaboration across time, long after the writer is dead. Like how I compose song lyrics adapted from public domain poems.

That's a form of collaboration to me.

We'll be posting our slides online.

I think Lucian is still doing up the finishing touches as I post this.

All IN! Young Writers Seminar 2010
[image source:]
All In! Young Writers Seminar 2010
Theme: Writing and the New Media
Date: 20 February 2010 (Saturday)
Time: 9.30am – 7.00pm
Venue: The Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane)

I took a look at the list of speakers. Very impressive (4 pages worth).

I joked to Lucian how we'd be lucky to get five people for our session. Out of which four might have wandered into the room by mistake. Heh.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Two recent media releases from NLB

Two recent announcements from the National Library Board, Singapore:

1) Launch of an online archive of Singapore's newspapers, called
Singapore, 28 January 2010– From today, library patrons can search, browse and retrieve full-text news content from as many as 17 newspapers titles through the multimedia stations at the National Library Board's (NLB) network of libraries. NewspaperSG (, an online service initiative of the National Library Singapore will also provide library patrons access to selected full text archived news content conveniently from the comfort of their homes through the Internet. The use of keyword searches in NewspaperSG represents a significant leap in time-savings for both general users and researchers as before the introduction of NewspaperSG, users could only access archived newspaper articles by searching through reels of microfilms manually.

2) New Public Library in 2011: Serangoon Public Library
Singapore, 3 February 2010 – Come March 2011, residents of Serangoon will have a new public library to call their own. The National Library Board (NLB) today announced that the new Serangoon Public Library (SRPL) will be located at nex, the biggest mall in the North East of Singapore, located in the heart of Serangoon.