Out of Hanwell

May 8, 2009

Computers Aren’t Books!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Matthias Miller @ 5:42 pm

I’ve never liked the idea of reading e-books on a computer. I tried it once five years ago. I downloaded a classic novel from the Gutenberg Project and tried reading it on my computer. It was an awful experience.

Things haven’t gotten better. Right now I’m trying to read a PDF e-book on my computer. It’s miserable.

The computer is the worst imaginable device to read books on. My Eee’s screen is way too small, exaggerated by the PDF’s strange two-column format. I have to scroll down, then up, then down, then jump to the next page, then down, then up, then down, until I’m quite dizzy.

But worst of all, the computer’s much too powerful. When I read, I like to completely change my atmosphere, get far away from the computer, and get into a fresh state of mind. Computers make me very ADD. I read a little bit, then get something to drink. I read a litttle more, then get something to snack on. I read a little more, then check my e-mail. I read a little more, then get caught up in an article about human psychology. I read a little more, then realize how much I dislike reading e-books on my computer, so I blog about it, as if anyone cared.

Trust me, this is no idealistic scientific experiment about the usability and readability of e-books on computers. I need to read this book, but I can’t get a print copy right now. I’ve tried to convert this PDF into a more readable format with a superbly clever Python script, but I’ve wasted too much time trying that already, and it’s not worth it.


I guess there’s nothing to do except to go back and keep reading.



  1. Sounds like your gripe is more with the format of the PDF than of e-books in general. I’d be interested in hearing why you didn’t like the straight plain-text version of a Gutenberg Project book.

    I’ve read several books on the computer, and actually like it. One complaint that I occasionally hear from people is that “you can’t turn the pages”, but yet people seem to like the Kindle. Personally, I think a lot of it is what you get used to.

    Comment by josh — May 11, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    • What application did you use to read your books?

      Granted, any time you read something that’s incorrectly paginated, you’re going to have trouble.

      The first thing I did when I tried to read something from Gutenberg was to copy it into Word to change it to a variable-width font. If you like to read fixed-width font, you probably spent too much time coding. 🙂

      However, I still have trouble reading it because I distracted by the action of scrolling, whether by lines or by pages. OpenOffice Writer (since I’m running Linux on my laptop) is particularly bad. If I try to scroll line by line, it still jumps about five lines at a time. If I try to scroll page by page, it leaves about five lines of context in view. It makes it hard to regain my context when I’m reading.

      This, by the way, is very different from the Kindle. While you don’t physically turn the page, I think it’s very similar to a traditional book because 1) the next page continues *immediately* from where the previous page left off, and 2) you have a fixed point to which your eye can return to continue reading. There’s no scrambling for your eye and mind to figure out where it had been.

      There’s also the screen. I’d pick the Kindle any day for readability, just because its easier on my eyes.

      I don’t know how I’d respond if I had a good e-book reader on my computer. Prove me wrong. 🙂

      Comment by Matthias Miller — May 12, 2009 @ 5:47 am

  2. at 5 taka or less a copy (even less if you do it on your own laser printer), print the sucker out. after you are done, pass it on to someone else who may be interested. paper reading and good deed all in one go.

    imagine if you did that with classics, share with people who may be learning or improving their english, though i hate to advocate using more paper. if you reformat the text, you can even fit 2 pages on a A4 sheet.

    Comment by stoneßµ∂∂hå — June 6, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    • The best part is that after it’s recycled, I’d get to see people engrossed in Dostoevsky while they’re munching on jhal muri, badam, etc.

      Comment by Matthias Miller — June 6, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

      • ha,ha,, that is funny.. hmm..jhal muri.. i miss it..

        Comment by Josh T — August 18, 2009 @ 6:34 am

  3. […] Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: kindle — Matthias Miller @ 4:46 am Kindles are not books, […]

    Pingback by Kindles Aren’t Books, Either « Out of Hanwell — September 28, 2009 @ 4:46 am

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