Archive for the ‘ebooks’ category

Sony eReader format (LRF) viewer for the Mac, Linux and Windows


Thanks to Kovid Goyal, the Sony Reader’s very own terrible software (iTunes wannabe) can very soon be decommissioned from my software collection. The libprs500 project, multi-platform solution written in Python works very well and allows to move data between Sony and your Mac / Linux / Windows. The UI is actually pretty decent, considering that it is not native Cocoa app:


You can also edit metadata, which is very important because of the limited screen space on PRS500. As added benefit, the application gives you a reader for LRF file format that allows reading unprotected LRF books on the Mac/Linux as well in addition to Windows. Here is a snapshot:


And best for the end: the libprs500 can do format conversion from TXT, HTML, RTF and LIT (haleluja !) as well as PDF – as long as it does not contain too many images. Seems like Christmas arrived twice this winter – and we have still Macworld ahead 🙂

Huge thanks to Kovid who wrote this thing and to Peter who made aware of it …

iPod Touch eBooks reader – problem solved


As I noticed on Apple Website, the SDK for developing 3rd party applications for iPhone/Touch will be available in February. This solves the biggest problem – offline reading – because with SDK, storing a downloaded copy will be trivial. It also will most likely fix the annoying lack of updatability of calendar and add few more interesting apps.

It is only matter of time until the other eBook formats will be be readable on iPod – such as CHM or PalmDoc (non-DRM-ed version).

With only 8 days remaining to Leopard and this anouncement, it feels like Christmas is here early this year 🙂

iPod touch – first impressions


No, I have not bought it yet, to big disappointment of Gabo and Shane – sorry guys. I wanted to buy it but all FutureShop stores in Ottawa are hopelessly sold out and on-line delivery is 7-10 business days – which I hope I will beat if these guys get new shipment (maybe tomorrow ?).

I played with two demo pieces though for about 30 minutes, and here are the first impressions:

The screen is VERY nice. It reads well, and the touch interface is plain fantastic. No issues there. I tried the YouTube videos via wireless – worked OK, I also tried the web interface and was surprised that on such small screen the combination of touch interface and the way Safari renders pages gives you actually very usable browsing experience. Typing on the keyboard works better than I expected – almost no typos.

I tried to open up a PDF file from Web and read it. It was best PDF reading experience so far (on the really small screen – I was comparing to PocketPCs). What works much better is that resizing of the PDF actually works – using the two fingers you can stretch the page and get the character size to what your eyes can handle. I guess it is even possible to read really small fonts this way – you can always increase them so that the page is bigger that the screen and move it around with your thumb while holding it in single hand (although you may get quite muscular thumb after a while :-))

The biggest issue right now is how to read offline. There is no built-in way how to save something from the Web on the device – neither HTML nor PDF – and iTunes will synchronize only music and videos (plus address, pictures and web bookmarks). So you cannot simple load few books and go ahead. This makes it unusable outside of home or other WiFi accessible content. There may be some solution soon as first hacks are appearing – and even officially sanctioned applications for iPhone and iTouch are multiplying nicely and some of them point to right direction. So either Apple will provide these options – or the hacks will bring them, it is only matter of time. The temptation is too large … Another possibility is the direction of Google Gears which could pretty soon bring an offline mode for Web application. This most likely will need some cooperation between Google and Apple -but judging by the keynotes, Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt are good buddies 😉 – let’s keep our finger’s crossed.

I did not test the actual music playing – I had no headphones and the demo pieces had no music (this says something about the professional skills of the sales force in FS).

Free PDF ebook 'Build your own Ruby on Rails Application'


For sixty more days (actually 59 days and 17 hours as of, or if you prefer to speak Javaish rather than Rubyish, new java.util.Date()) you will be able to download free PDF version of the book by Patrick Lenz Build Your Own Ruby on Rails Web Applications – courtesy of nice guys of Sitepoint.

The book download page is here, no strings attached – all it will cost you is disclosing an email address (book download link will be emailed to you) and bandwidth to get the 20 MB PDF. Mine is downloading right now, so I cannot tell anything about the book yet. It has 447 pages and from the table of content it looks like solid beginner’s book.

As a nice surprise it covers Ruby installation under OS-X 10.5 (Leopard) :-). From the rumors I have heard, Leopard should come with Rails preinstalled and with current version of Ruby (1.8.6) – which will not stay current long because Ruby 1.9 as well as Rails 2.0 are quite close.

So hurry up and get your copy until Sitepoint’s ISP does not disconnect them from excessive bandwidth usage :-). I am not joking, the first surge of download already did take down their server once :-).

After you download – spread the word.

BOTD: The Reader


Today’s Blog of the Day is “The Reader”.

Everything about ebooks and readers – all the stuff I like. See at

Here I discovered that Sony is assumably preparing new version of reader – PRS 505. From the changes that should be included, none is IMHO really so important. The memory capacity of the reader with SD cards (which are reaching 8GB these days) is much bigger than you ever will need. If I should pick some enhancements hat would make a huge difference, it would be:

1) price. Make it accessible, meaning ~ 150 USD (which is about 145 CAD 🙂 – just kidding)

2) content – price and availability of books. The fair price for eBook should not be more than 30-40% of the paperback. Without DRM, of course. Who would want any DRM from the company with 2 rootkit fiasco’s in last 2 years (first and second) ?

3) Software – Sony please stop trying to create these terrible slow knock-off of iTunes, and outsource it to somebody that will write decent client, preferably in Java, so that it runs everywhere. Considering Sony’s software history, making it opensource would help to restore the trust …

Speaking of software, it should provide an easy way how to download and format RSS feed and web pages for offline reading, ideally again something in the way how iTunes handles podcasts.

I do not think that adding WiFi (what many people call for) will work on the eInk device – speed and lack of interactivity would allow to read only very static Web pages, and user input handling would be a big challenge.

New iPod touch as ebook reader ?


As the September 28th is approaching (the day when the new iPod touch will be available in Canada), I have a real dilemma: do I go with the “iPhone without the phone” or not ? The price $329 for 8 GB iPod is pretty high – compared to $279 for 80GB classic – which would allow me to carry all my music, some movies and all podcasts with me. On the other hand, the Touch has WiFi and can be used as pretty decent Web browser on top of iPod functionality.

What will be the decision point for me is probably how good or bad is this device for reading eBooks – as I am real eBook junkie :-). HTML books should not be an issue (Safari), the real question is how the PDF will look like. According this video, reading PDF on iPhone should be fairly OK and iPod touch is  same or better …
And according to this:

“Subjectively, the iPhone’s display is clearly superior to any computer display I’ve ever seen. While this is a function of many factors, the high pixel density plays a huge part in creating the extraordinarily tack-sharp perception”

Hmm, that sounds very good. Reading is all about display – the better screen, the more fun. Especially when you use properly formatted PDF – you can go for example to FeedBooks and use the PDF formatted for Sony PRS 500. It will certainly not offer Sony’s battery life (it lasted for almost 2 weeks during my holiday) or readability in a bright sun … but the screen and UI should make it up.

Let’s hope that the hack allowing install Skype (and other apps) and run it on iPod touch will come soon :-). If that happens, that’s good enough reason for buying it – OS-X in a pocket …

One more reason to like TWIT


As it happens, both my most favorite podcasters – Leo Laporte as well as Steve Gibson are passionate e-book readers. They have both purchased and are (mostly) happy users of the Sony PRS-500 aka Sony Reader in addition to several other platforms – (Palm, Pocket PC). In the latest podcasts – both in TWIT as well as Security Now!, the eBooks and eReader got quite some publicity :-).

Both had similar experience with PDF format on PRS-500 as myself – but Steve mentioned the PDF re-flowing the document to make it better suites for small screen – something I have looked into but did not get it working quite right. The preferred approach to using Reader is RTF format – which again, matches my impressions.

Nice discovery was that some independent sources – other than Sony store – are offering ebooks in LRF format. As an example see McCollum’s books – a hardcore, scientific sci-fi (no dwarves, elves, spells and dragons here :-)). Thanks for tips, gentlemen – I have added McCollum to my reading list.

Converting eBooks to Sony Reader format


Since yesterday, I made nice progress in solving my issues with content creation for PRS500 and it’s readability. There are several ways how to proceed:

The simplest is to download Book Designer. It is free for non-commercial use and current version 5.0 Alpha does the job very well. It allows you to load source in text, HTML, Lit, PDF, PalmDoc (prd/prc), rb and few other formats and process them into native LRF format – plus few others I do not really care about. The result is nice, readable LRF file with three sizes, nicely formatted, with metada. As added benefit, because the author is Russian, the program does not assume that English alphabet is the only one in existence and allows to select encoding. The result is quite good – most of the extended characters from Czech/Slovak are there, some are missing and displayed as space (namely ř,ě,ľ …) but it is readable. What is maybe better option is that with English as language and default encoding, the software “downscales” the extended characters to closest English pairs: ř -> r,ě -> e – which results in familiar computer Czech/Slovak. I am very comfortable with option 2, and will work on getting correct font for #1.

If you want to read more about the program go here and here – as long as you can read Russian. I found out that even after 22 years of not using Russian, I can still reasonably well read and understand it …

The program is useful for creating Palmbooks as well as Microsoft Reader Lit book. I did not try that yet. User interface of Book Designer is not exactly Apple-made – extremely technical,  geekish – looking like designed  by engineer for engineers 🙂  – here is how it looks like.  But it is the functionality that counts. Thank you – whoever made this possible :-).

If you want actually understand how the LRF format works and how the book is formatted on very low level, read the format spec and then download the BBeBinder from Google Code. It is C# 2.0 project, which aims to create something similar that BookDesigner – but as opensource, GPL-ed application. It is very early version (0.2) but in the true spirit of opensource, it actually (mostly) works. I have downloaded it and looked inside the code. The solution contains BBeB encoding/decoding library and main program, which was nicely designed with extensibility in mind. Using plugins, it allows to add additional input data formats (currently works well for text files, some HTML and I had mixed results with others).

If both of my projects were not in C# space (which is causing me being slightly over-see-sharped at the moment), I would not mind volunteering few hours into this – to make sure that Central European encoding is handled OK :-).

Sony eBook Reader – software updated


After few weeks, I have got back to actually using my PRS500 again and I have finished the books loaded on the device. When I have connected the reader, first the CONNECT software as well as the PRS500 downloaded the updates. The firmware in reader is up to version from and should bring longer battery life and stability improvements. It better does, because so far the battery life is nowhere in the proclaimed range of 7000 page turns … Time will show.

The desktop software update actually did improve user experience a lot – it went from “terrible” to “almost acceptable”. New version added full screen preview mode and the interaction with CONNECT is much more pleasant – it does not freeze any more, contains “Eject” button to disconnect the Reader and (although it may be subjective feeling) the communication with the device is much faster. The program looks more and more like iTunes 🙂 – but I have no problem with that …

Last thing to do is to verify whether Sony did not install some rootkit, trojan or another pest on my machine. Since the last debacle with rootkit DRM I simply do not trust them any more. Good news is that the update did not require reboot, which lessens the likelyhood of a rootkit …

I  have played a bit with formatting content for the reading. So far I am mostly using TXT books because there is no conversion required. To get best results try avoid hard line breaks – leave long lines – one line per paragraph and separate the paragraphs with empty line. TXT format can be presented in all 3 sizes and usually is quite acceptable. The problems of TXT based books is lack of ANY formatting (beyond paragraph), no metadata (author, year, tags), no images … If your book is not in English, you may have problems with extended characters. So far I have not found good encoding that would present the extended Slovak/Czech characters correctly.

To get any kind of formatting, you need to use PDF, RTF or native LRF formats (the LRF format is also known as BBeB – broadband eBook). The PDF files needs to be specially formatted to be readable on Reader – ideally with the font size 12 to 20 and page size about 8.8 x 13 cm. More detailed instructions on PDF formatting from Sony are here. With PDF, device will allow only two font sizes. The Feedbooks web site offers some preformatted books for Reader.

For RTF, the size or the page does not matter so much, what is important is the font size. Best results are with 16 to 20 points and device alllows three sizes. The reformatting can be done in Word or OpenOffice. Unfortunately, same issue with extended characters is present in RTF rendering as well.

To get the best results, you need to convert eBook from TXT, PDF or RTF to LRF format. The LRF books can have metadata, table of content and nicer formatting with 3 sizes. I started to evaluate few tools to create the LRF content – will get back to it.

Few more good resources on the Net: the discussion forum on MobileRead  as well as Wiki. If you are into Shakespeare, here are his works in PRS500 format

More on Sony Reader


I have been living with my Sony eReader for almost a month now and managed to read about two full books. If not the time crush in biometric project, I would have probably read much more than just two books – nevertheless, I do have some real life experience with the device.

First – the claimed battery life of 7500 page turns is BS. I have observed real battery life about 15-20 hours, so unless you manage to turn about 500 pages per hour, it just does not add up. I have observed that battery was good for about 1 full book (about 400 letter pages, or about 900 “small” pages on reader), read over 2 weeks period, the battery dropped from full charge to one segment. It is possible that it depends on how reading style – if you are turning pages and reading continuously, it lasts longer. Browsing through books seems to consume considerable energy. I think that 15-20 hours reading time is more than enough – it will keep you busy on flight to Australia :-). Certainly huge improvement against PDA based readers, where the battery life is 4-5 hours max. My 2 years old PocketPC is now down to about 3.5 hrs. I am still using it because a) I have lots of books in PalmDoc and CHM formats and b) I like to read in bed …

I have looked at the content of the SD card as it is in file system. The Reader does not seem to do any conversion for the files involved – the copied PDF and RTF files are binary equal to the original files. The structure of the SD card is:

\Sony Reader\
\Sony Reader\books
\Sony Reader\database

The books folder contains all files copied into SD. The database contains single XML file cache.xml, which holds directory of the books. I do not know yet whether the file indeed a directory or what it says – a cache. Simple experiment to do is to copy few files and test of Reader will find them and updates the cache. The book metadata has following format as:

<text author="AUTHOR NAME" page="0" part="0" scale="0" sourceid="37" id="269">
date="Sat, 30 Dec 2006 22:42:12 GMT" mime="text/plain"
path="Sony Reader/books/FILENAME.txt" size="339623"
title="BOOK TITLE">
<layout part="0" scale="0">

I am not sure how the one or more encoded binary chunks – layouts (for various scales) work. The encoded jpeg -thumbnail is on the hand pretty obvious.

The source of the information appearing in the metadata depends on the source format. For PDF and RTF files, Connect software seems to access the document properties, for TXT files I did not figure it out yet.

So to get good content on the Reader requires

a) get the metadata right and
b) convert the content into best readable format.

Which is, unfortunately the proprietary format BBeB. The readibility of the BBeB is far the best, it offer nicer text, better sizing and overall much better reading experience. The good news is, that it is possible to create content in this format and first few tools are appearing on the net. I will try them out and post the results here as soon as I am done. Until that time, you can download free ebooks (Project Gutenberg and others) on directly in the eReader format.

This site is very good source of information on the eReader and things around it.