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protonic.com Newsletter
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Issue 30 - September 23, 2009
Table of contents:
????Ebooks and the Written Word
????Related Software: Mobipocket Reader
????Software Review: Launchy
????How-To guide: Turn your PC into a beautiful work of art with the Enigma Desktop
????A few words from Philip
????Credits

Ebooks and the Written Word[ TOP ]
The ebook revolution is at hand! Paper users have nothing to lose but their chains, they have a device-that-can-store-more-books-than-the-average-library-and-fit-in-your-back-pocket to win. EREADERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

Or so they?d like you to believe. Over the past few years the idea of electronic books has developed into a number of ?ereader? devices. Here in the UK a big chain of bookstores (Waterstones) now has a large number of posters up advertising the Sony ereader and a section of their website solely for the purchase of ebooks. There are obvious advantages to reading electronically; of particular convenience is the ability to store hundreds or thousands of books on a single device. Rather than filling half a suitcase with books when going away on holiday, one can now simply take a compact ereader.

Once more, the days of forgetting what page you?re on are over with electronic bookmarking and the ability to automatically load the text exactly where you left off even if you forget to bookmark the place. Looking for a specific chapter title or quote? Search features can save masses of time. Instead of buying a newspaper every week it?s possible to set up a subscription and have the New York Times, the Guardian or another paper automatically download to the device every day or, on the more advanced devices it?s possible to browse the internet - with services like Wikipedia this adds volumes of academic information. A particular favourite feature of mine is the autoscroll function - whilst it requires relatively constant concentration it does make for a much smoother reading experience. For those with impaired sight it?s possible to make the text as big or (if you don?t want people reading over your shoulder) as small as you like. Finally, E-Ink advances prevent the problems often associated with reading from a screen for long periods of time and allow you to see the screen in full sunlight.

Then there?s the other side of the argument. Essentially, people like books. For many the distinction between work and leisure is defined by computer usage ? at the end of a long day of staring at a screen the last thing one wants to do is go back to technology ? much better to relax with a newspaper on the train home or curl up with a book. There are many other defences of paper - despite the convenience of a display that shows exactly how many pages you?ve read, how many are left and a progress bar for quick reference there?s something special about feeling the thickness of the pages in your right hand decreasing and the opposite happening in the left ? in some cases it?s a sense of achievement, for others it?s a sense of loss as the final Harry Potter book dwindles into nothing. Personally, I found it somewhat depressing to have a constant reminder of how many pages of War & Peace I had left though I did greatly appreciate not having to carry round the hard copy! On top of all this the average ereader will set you back a minimum of $100 and more likely it?ll be closer to $200. There isn?t a massive difference between the price of ebooks and the price of real books so going electronic isn?t exactly a cheap option!

I?m going to briefly dip into my personal experience of e-reading. A couple of years ago I was reading a huge novel (680 A4 pages) which was only available in digital format. It was a highly addicting read but, short of taking my laptop with me everywhere I went, I couldn?t read it on the train, on the beach and outside generally in any kind of sunlight. So I looked for a solution. I?m lucky enough to own a windows mobile 5 Smartphone ($100 in 2007, best deal ever!) so I figured that there should be some kind of application that would allow me to read large amounts of text ? the phone definitely had the capabilities what with standard SMS and it also had the memory (even a massive book will likely take up less than a megabyte of space). My first method was to try print screening the book page by page and believe me this is the most time consuming and unrewarding process ever! Eventually I discovered the product made by ereader.com and found a converter to get the text into the right format. Suddenly my humble cell phone became a fully-fledged ereader and I hadn?t spent a penny! The software came with several ebooks that had entered the public domain (for more on this see below) and had all the various autoscroll and bookmarking features. Since it was using the hardware of my phone there was no E-Ink technology and I couldn?t afford to use any of the online features. Anyway, it?s been great and here are some of the highlights:

?I can?t speak for everyone but I haven?t had any overwhelming issues with reading from the screen. In some cases it?s better than a ?real? book what with being able to increase the text size

?Backlight! I do not recommend this in terms of keeping one?s eyes healthy but it is an incredibly useful feature for reading in the car or in a tent at night. But to stay safe, best to read in well lit zones (and keep eating those carrots).

?Taking a library of good books wherever I go ? sometimes you don?t want to have to carry a book around but could really do with some entertainment ? with the ereader on my phone I know that wherever I am I can take out Breaking Dawn and pick up where I left off.

?Search feature. It was fun to astound people in class when I found quote?s from Lord of the Flies in seconds. Also generally useful if you?re out and want to look up a quote or something. I suppose I could also download some of Wikipedia and have an encyclopaedia at my fingertips...

?I have fallen in love with autoscroll recently ? going home on the train I just prop my phone up, start autoscroll and spend the rest of the journey effortlessly reading. Once you get used to it it?s fantastic. However, it?s essential to have the ability to quickly and precisely change the scroll speed (this is done better by the software I use now)

?I?m sure there?s more so if you are lucky enough to have a Smartphone to give it a try!

Having said all this, I?m not about to go out and buy an e-reader device without any significant discount on prices. And this is the crunch for many people ? without a Smartphone (or a super portable laptop...) e-reading is expensive. Then again I can?t do an article on e-books without discussing piracy. Sure ? there are thousands of books that have entered the public domain (where the copyright has expired) available for free [1] - you get everything from the complete works of Shakespeare to some relatively modern titles but this isn?t enough to satisfy everyone?s appetite. Electronic books are ridiculously easy to pirate. It would be a simple task to email 20 books to someone, not to mention file-sharing networks. I remember reading an article that suggested the main draw of ebooks for students would be pirated textbooks and it could very well be that piracy causes the industry to take off. Libraries provide books for free but with a limited loan period ? an ebook library would have no such luxury what with the simplicity of copying and pasting text to save permanently.
There have been some interesting developments in the industry. On Demand Books is a company that is going in the opposite direction ? their book ?espresso? machine [2] takes advantage of the massive online library of free and commercial books but, instead of providing them electronically, prints them off into quality paperbacks. These machines are too pricy for personal use but would be ideal to help high street bookshops compete with the online giants of amazon and play.com.
In conclusion, it is my belief that the future of reading will involve ebooks in a big way. They might not bring freedom and equality to the workers of the world but e-reading devices pack some sweet features.

Author?s Note: Hello! Hoped you enjoyed this or at least found it informative. I?ve tried to keep commercial products out of this article but if you?re interested in purchasing an ereader device Asus have recently revealed perhaps the cheapest device with the interesting addition of a dual-screen setup. Otherwise there?s Amazon?s ?Kindle? and a range of devices provided by sony. I?m sure there are many others around.

[1] http://www.mobipocket.com/freebooks/default.aspx (you can also do a search for ?free ebooks? ? there are hundreds of sites)
[2] http://ondemandbooks.com/history.htm

Related Software: Mobipocket Reader[ TOP ]
I discovered this program whilst looking for a PDF reader that would work with my phone. The best way to explain it is as the Windows Media Player of ebooks. With the software you can build a library of the books you own already, buy books from the mobipocket store (or choose from a large range of free books), subscribe to enews (anything from the new York times to mugglenet.com), synchronize software and books to your PDA / Smartphone and, last but not least, read books! There are also a million other features such as annotation, a dictionary and the ability to publish your own ebooks with a simple drag and drop. The best thing to do to find out more is to visit the link below [1].

I have only good things to say about this software ? it makes reading on a computer so much more interesting. Sadly the desktop application appears to lack autoscroll but the autoscroll on the device software is to die for ? simply press up and down to fine tune the speed. I find that in one reading session I read at varying speeds. If I want to force myself to read faster then I put the speed up, or if I want a more relaxing reading experience I take it down a level. Whilst we?re on the subject of reading speeds, why not try Word Flash Reader to have yourself reading at a hundred miles an hour [2] One particularly notable feature of mobipocket reader is the ease of synchronization ? even if you don?t have a usable internet connection on your device you can sync news to it via your computer quickly and easily.

[1] http://www.mobipocket.com/en/DownloadSoft/ProductDetailsReader.asp
[2] http://wordflashreader.sourceforge.net/

Software Review: Launchy[ TOP ]
These days, I very rarely look at my desktop. The key functionality of it ? a landing page with convenient icons to folders, files and applications is made redundant by this excellent task launcher. The way launchy works is as follows:

?You press a hotkey combination to make it start, by default Alt+Space
?Start typing in the name of the program/file you want to access
?Hit enter when the file appears and it will load up

All this can be done in a matter of seconds once you get the hang of it which, in the long run, saves hours of time.

Okay so I haven?t really explained properly what this software is. Essentially whenever you click an icon, whether it is on your desktop, in your start menu, on your quick launch bar or in your Documents folder one of three things will happen. Either you will open a folder, launch (or ?run?) a program or open a file. In many cases you click a shortcut to the program or folders? actual location, so for example if you open Windows Media Player from the start menu what you are actually doing is running the executable file ?C:\Program Files\Windows Media Player\wmplayer.exe? but rather than have to search for this each time you want to run the program all you have to do is click the shortcut.

What Launchy does is create an index of all these shortcuts and files ? an index that can be searched very quickly so as you type the name of the file, folder or program that you want to launch it soon finds what you are looking for. How it performs this search I will not go into here. Suffice to say that Launchy isn?t just a search application ? it learns what programs etc you commonly access. So whilst the first time you run ?internet explorer? you might have to type ?internet expl? before it knows what you want, eventually you may just have to type ?int? or even ?i? before it guesses which program you want to run. You can speed up this process by selecting the program from the drop down list that appears after a second or so.

Launchy comes with a host of options which can either be accessed by clicking on the cog in the top right or by right clicking and going to ?Options? ? many of these are self explanatory but I want to draw your attention to the ?catalog? tab. Here you can choose what type of files launchy searches for and where it looks. The more places you add the more useful it is but the slower it takes to search, which is why by default launchy only checks a few common locations, the main one of these being the start menu. This may be enough for some but if you want to use launchy to open word documents, image files and music tracks you?ll need to make some changes.
Clicking on the various Directories (white box on the right) will show you what types of file are searched for within them. My main suggestion is to add your my documents/documents folder to the list of places to index. To do this click the + under the directories box, select the folder and press okay. Next you need to add filetypes. The ones I would suggest you add are listed below:

-.doc .docx .ppt .pptx .xls (for word documents, powerpoint shows and excel spreadsheets)
-.jpg .png .bmp .gif (for image files)
-.mp3 .wma .mp4 .m4p .wmv .avi .mpg (for audio and video files)
-.lnk (for shortcuts)
-.pdf (you guessed it ? pdf files!)
-.html .htm (web links, you may want to add your favourites folder as a directory...)
-You should also tick the ?include directories? box in order to open folders from launchy

If you want to just search for everything then put a . in the box on its own, though be warned that this will increase search time and may produce a lot of unwanted results. You may not want to include all of the filetypes I?ve mentioned ? not everyone needs quick access to image files as they?d rather see the entire folder at once. Once you?ve finished adding directories and filetypes click ?Rescan Catalog? to add all these to Launchy?s index.

I must warn you that whilst Launchy is great, it does come at a cost. To be any use it has to be running in the background all of the time and this can use up anywhere between 18 and 50mb of physical memory (or RAM). To find out how much memory you tend to have free open the programs that you commonly use then press ctrl+alt+delete to launch the task manager. Go to the ?performance? tab and under the ?Physical Memory (MB)? tab look next to where it says ?Available?. Another way of testing to see if your computer can run launchy okay is to install it and use it and see if you notice any performance dips. My 512mb laptop just about managed but that was with the fantastic Avast! [4] free antivirus ? those of you with complete Norton or Mcafee suites may have issues. You may find that launchy?s usefulness is worth the performance drop.
Anyway, this is a great application that is definitely worth a try. I could go on for longer about its various features but the best way to find out more is to go to its website [1] where you can see some screenshots of launchy in action [2]and find help and documentation on its use [3]/

[1] http://www.launchy.net/#introduction
[2] http://www.launchy.net/#screenshots
[3] http://www.launchy.net/#documentation
[4] http://www.avast.com/eng/download-avast-home.html

How-To guide: Turn your PC into a beautiful work of art with the Enigma Desktop[ TOP ]
Lifehacker.com frequently has articles on customizing your computer but one of their favourite desktop customization guides is the ?Enigma? desktop, made by Kaelri.

The best way to check it out is to look at this screenshot [1] and the author?s flickr page [2]. I think you?ll agree with me that it?s a beautiful work of art. It takes a while to get used to ? for example the taskbar is now at the top of the screen. The desktop also takes a fair while to set up, though with the more recent release you don longer have to mess around with text files to configure the various gadgets [3]. The setup relies on Rainmeter, which can be downloaded from here [4] and can be used for any number of customizations once you get the hang of the software. If you just want the Enigma desktop, however, it?s included within the Rainmeter package and will launch as soon as you run Rainmeter for the first time. A full explanation with the latest version of this beautiful desktop setup can be found here [5].

[1] http://ecomm1.csug.rochester.edu/~lore/hosted/Preview2.5a.jpg
[2] http://www.flickr.com/photos/11398192@N02/3783328575/
[3] http://lifehacker.com/5332071/rainmeter-10-brings-the-enigma-desktop-to-everyone
[4] http://rainmeter.net/
[5] http://liquidcrystaldiscourse.blogspot.com/2009/08/enigma-rainmeter.html

A few words from Philip[ TOP ]
That?s it for this edition. It?s ended up being two mammoth articles and two small ones but I hope there was something of use or interest for everyone! Any queries, questions or suggestions should now be sent to philip@protonic.com - I?m open to any kinds of feedback, positive and negative alike. If you think I need to go into more detail with my explanations or are completely bored by the content do tell me and I?ll do my best to change!

Credits[ TOP ]
Newsletter Administrator - Ross Connor (ross@protonic.com)

This issue has been entirely written by Philip McMahon (spoon@protonic.com)





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