Category Archives: book

E-Readers Live On



When it comes to longevity, electronic gadgets aren’t known for their long lifespan. Manufacturer support, battery life, features and fashion all conspire to consign tech to an early grave. Bucking that trend and heading for a ten year lifespan are e-readers, proving that technology isn’t out of date as soon as the box is opened.

The original Amazon Kindle came out in the US in 2007, with limited availability until 2008, and there wasn’t an internation version until 2009. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble‘s Nook e-reader appeared in late 2009, with devices coming to the UK in 2012. That’s the one that had the main e-Ink screen above a small colour touchscreen below.

I’ve always been a big e-book fan as I did a great deal of travel on business: I started out reading on a Palm III with books from PeanutPress. I didn’t get a Kindle immediately because I wasn’t fan of only being able to read content from Amazon but when the Nook appeared with more open software, I had one imported from the US to the UK as soon as I could, probably in 2010. I seem to recall that I had to buy pre-paid US-based credit cards to get books from the B&N store as it otherwise rejected my British credit card.

Mind you, the big benefit of the Nook is support from Adobe’s Digital Editions which is used by the library service here in Northern Ireland to lend out e-books. There’s a good selection and they’re all free to read.

Sadly, I received an email last month from Barnes and Noble to say that the first gen Nook was no longer supported from the end of the month. Frankly I was surprised it was still supported at all and on reflection I’ve had my Nook for eight years. Kudos to B&N for supporting the Nook for so long when most devices are obsolete in a few years. Having said that, the last software update was v1.7 in 2011 but you could still buy content through the device. I think Amazon still support the 3rd gen Kindle too so a thumbs up there as well.

Some might observe that the longevity of e-readers indicates that the rapid upgrade cycle of smartphones and tablets is driven by the hardware manufacturers to maximise profit. I would imagine that there’s some merit to this, as in contrast, the sellers of e-readers tend to be sellers of books and it’s the media that makes the money rather than the devices. Additionally, e-readers don’t suffer from feature bloat. They do one thing and they do it well. Why upgrade?

Hopefully I’ll be able to continue to use my Nook for many years while it remains supported by Adobe’s Digital Editions. Thanks Barnes and Noble.


iBooks Now Syncs Across Devices with iCloud Drive



iBooks logoWith the first iPad came iBooks, Apple’s default e-book reader for Macs and iOS devices. iBooks has always been somewhat quirky when it came to using local files. Of course, it worked fine with books that were purchased from the iBooks Store. But if you wanted to load your own PDF or ePub files into iBooks, you had to jump thru a series of hoops to make it work correctly. And if you wanted to sync those files between multiple devices, you had to rely on good old-fashioned iTunes syncing to get the job done. With the recent release of iOS 9.3, Apple added support for iBooks syncing via iCloud. This makes it possible to load your DRM-free files into the iBooks app on any device and then access them on all of your iCloud-enabled products.

I’ve done some testing with iBooks sync today and so far, it’s worked as expected. Here’s the steps I followed to set it up:

  1. Make sure all devices are running their latest operating systems. OS 10.11.4 for Mac and iOS 9.3.1 for mobile devices.
  2. Check the iCloud preferences for all devices and make sure iBooks syncing is turned on.
  3. Launch the iBooks app on each device and enter your iCloud username/password if prompted.
  4. Add ePub or PDF files to one device. This will transfer the files into your iCloud Drive.
  5. Check iBooks on other devices. You should now see these titles available for download.

iBooks sync uses your iCloud Drive to store the files in the cloud until you choose to download them onto a device. With the old iTunes sync method, book files would be copied onto the mobile device and stored there. iCloud sync mimics the functionality of purchasing books thru the iBooks Store, so you don’t have to use up valuable on-device storage if you don’t want to.

While my experience with iBooks sync has been good, it hasn’t been a smooth transition for everyone. If you’re managing a very large library of books, you may run into some challenges. Hopefully, Apple will address this issues in the next iBooks update.


Pony Palace Camp



Pony Palace IllustrationAt the Pony Palace riding school, ponies Barney, Biscuit and Kaz are getting up to their usual mischief during Summer Camp with their riders Holly, Carrie and Patrick. With a clear round needed to clinch the winning rosette, it’ll take tumbles and tears before everyone’s back safely in the stables.

Pony Palace Camp is the first in a new series of books, Pony Friends Forever, that all pony-mad children will love. Based on the animals and events at Lessans Riding Stables outside Belfast in Northern Ireland, author Pauline Burgess tells the stories from the ponies’ point of view. Although light-hearted and fun, each book will will deal with a situation that young people face, from illness to family-breakups. Launched today at Lessans, the book is available from all good retailers, including Amazon and Waterstones.

For regular Geek News Central readers who fear that they have inadvertently logged onto Mumsnet, the author Pauline, is a friend and neighbour, hence the diversion from the usual tech topics. Normal service will be resumed shortly with reviews of the Motorola Moto X and the Archos Helium 50 smartphones.


Reading Together, Reading for Pleasure



Booktime LogoMore time is spent reading with children but parents are finding modern life tiring and stressful, according to research commissioned by Booktime. The average time spent by parents reading with their child (4  & 5 year olds) is now one hour 26 mins per week, an increase of 10% over 2009. 60% of parents read with children for pleasure on a daily basis.

Tiredness was cited as the main reason for shared reading not being fun, but it was the tiredness of the parents (18%) rather than the child (6%) that was the problem. Getting home from work in time was also a problem, with 30% of dads getting stuck at work.

Regardless, 71% of parents and carers said that reading with their child was always or usually the highlight of the day. 80% of the parents said that reading was associated with fun with 86% of children laughing out loud.

The book is still the main reading device (86%) but other devices such as smartphones, tablets and e-readers are becoming more prevalent. By the time a child is six, nearly a quarter of parents use technology in addition to paper-based books.

In a time of economic doom-and-gloom, this relatively minor story made my day. It costs so little to read to children especially when books are available from libraries or the Booktime programme, yet the benefits to both parents and children are immense. As a father of a 4 year old daughter, I love reading with her, especially at bedtime. It’s just us, with no distractions and we read the story together. If she grows up with a love of reading and learning, I will have done my job as a parent.

Booktime is a national (UK) free books programme for pre-school children that aims to promote the pleasure of reading by encouraging families to have fun reading together. This year, nearly 1.4 million books will be given away in partnership with Pearson.


eBooks with a Sound Track?



US company Booktrack has just released a new concept onto the literary market – ebooks with a sound track. Yes, you read that right, ebooks with a sound track. To quote from their website, “Booktrack represents a new chapter in the evolution of storytelling, and an industry “first” in publishing, by creating synchronized soundtracks for e-books that dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and engagement. The company’s proprietary technology combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual’s reading speed.

One of the first Booktracked novels is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Speckled Band. Plenty of scope there for creepy sound effects but…

…does anyone else think this sounds (sorry) doomed to fail? I’m all for new ways of experiencing stories but we’ve done pretty well with books, radio and TV / film. Each medium has its own strengths and for me, the attraction of a good book is that your imagination creates the world in your head. Now when I read that the door creaks open, I hear it too. Surely if I want a story with sound effects, I get an audio book? Maybe I’m being too critical.

If you want to try it out, it’s available from the Apple App Store for the iPhone et al. There’s only five books available at the moment, two for adults and three for children. On reflection, children may well respond to this approach and it might encourage reading, so that changes my opinion a little. Great idea for kids, bad idea for adults.

What do you think?


CyanogenMod 7 On The Nook Color



CyanogenMod 7I’ve had my Nook Color for about a month at this point, long enough to develop a real feel for how it integrates into my life.

Keep in mind, the Nook Color is not an iPad and sells for half the price of the cheapest Apple jewell. I’ve already got the latest iPod Touch with dual cameras, so I don’t need or currently want cameras in a tablet device.

The Nook Color shines best as a word-centric consumption device. It takes the Internet and turns it into a very portable book.

To be perfectly honest, the stock Nook Color version of Android is very locked down. Besides being a good reader platform for books and magazines, you can browse the web, do email, do social networking, and run a limited but growing number of apps (mostly paid but a few for free) from the Barnes & Noble Nook Color App Store. The Nook Color stock software experience is nice for what it does, but still rather limited overall. The included stock Android browser does include the ability to run Adobe Flash. The Nook Color has a bright and very clear 7 inch widescreen capacitive glass touch screen along with about 10 hours’ worth of battery life.

What makes the Nook Color a great value at $249 dollars is its ability to boot into other versions of Android FROM the built-in internal Micro-SD chip reader without affecting the built-in Nook Color’s Android operating system.

After experimenting with different bootable Micro-SD card arrangements, the best pre-built Android solution I’ve found so far comes from http://www.rootnookcolor.com, a website that is selling pre-configured versions of Android to give a good overall tablet touch screen experience starting at $39.99 for a pre-configured 4 gigabyte Micro-SD card.

Cutting to the chase, the best version I’ve gotten so far from Root Nook Color.Com is called CyanogenMod 7, also know as Gingerbread. This version offers great battery life (almost as good as the stock Nook Color Andriod at about 7 hours) and even enables undocumented Nook Color features such as its built-in Bluetooth radio. It also comes installed with the full Android Marketplace, enabling the ability to browse, download and install most of the available Android apps, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands. As mentioned above, since it’s running entirely from the Micro-SD card slot, the stock Nook Color Android operating system remains entirely untouched and completely intact. It’s not even necessary to remove the Micro-SD card to boot back into the stock Nook Color operating system since it comes pre-configured with a dual-boot loader.

While it’s possible to play YouTube and other videos along with apps such as Pandora, by far the most use I find myself making of CyanogenMod 7 is as a highly portable news feed consumption device. I am currently compiling a list of Android apps that take the best advantage of the Nook’s 7” display and will report on these apps in future posts.

Overall, the Nook Color opertated with the CyanogenMod 7 version of Android from Root Nook Color.Com offers a genuine Android tablet experience at a bargain basement price with very good overall performance.


The Tablet Influence



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I’ve had my Nook Color Android-powered e-reader for a few weeks, long enough to really get a feel for not only the e-reader experience but a bit of a tablet experience as well.

I have to admit I was initially somewhat dismissive of tablets. My feeling was though they would be useful in many situations, I personally had little use for one. I spend the majority of my time in my truck, where I’m already equipped with an iPod as well as laptop computers. I felt that the iPod had most of the functionality of an iPad, and that since my MackBook Pro was running most of the time when my truck is parked I really wouldn’t have much use for a tablet.

Since having the Nook Color I find myself spending quite a bit more time on it than I initially thought I would. I use the iPod for listening, and I’m using the MacBook for tasks such as recording my own podcast as well as email and iTunes. However, a great deal of the time I find myself using the Nook Color to browse and consume web-based content.

I believe the adoption of tablets is going to change the content that people consume from the Internet. The change isn’t going to be dramatic or overnight, however it does seem to me that if I’m browsing on a tablet I’m much more likely to read certain types of articles and/or news stories that I probably wouldn’t read in a laptop of desktop browser.

In other words, tablets are turning the Internet into the equivalent of a digital book or magazine as opposed to something that is best used sitting at a desk. The effect of this change in consumption psychology is likely to be subtle but relatively substantial over a period of time.