Read your SciFi like it’s the Future and get smarter faster
Books have been around for a long while. I love them but it takes a lot of resources to make a book: trees, a plup mill, a printing press, a way to ship them to your door or nearby store.
In SciFi stories, people aren’t reading using parts of dead trees. They’re using some cool holo-something or thin e-paper thingy. Now days, we can read books with devices similar to scifi characters, and the devices are improving every generation. Two I’d like to talk about are the Kindle and Calibre.
Kindle devices are pretty cheap at under $300 or $200 (model depending). My experience has been with Kindle software on the iPhone, and OSX. Kindle software can be downloaded for free from Amazon.(Windows, OSX, and other phone devices.) There’re benefits using an ebook reader instead of a paper book. My favorites are: within seconds, you can start reading a book you found online (this is important because with the coming of The Singularity we don’t have much time to read); the ability to highlight text and then see a report on how many other people highlighted the same area (ever wonder how many other people thought some line deserved highlighting?); and clicking on any word in the text and getting its definition (China Mie’ville and William Gibson, you make me work so hard ;-)).
Yes, I’m saying that reading ebooks will expand your vocabulary more quickly and with less effort than standard books! Face it. Sometimes we get tired of thumbing through the dictionary and decide to guess the word by context so we can just keep reading the damn story.
The biggest drawback to the Kindle is that you can ONLY read books you buy from Amazon. (You can get around this by installing the Kindle Previewer–also free from Amazon, and then using the previewer’s “view->open on Kindle for Mac/PC” option, and the previewer will send the book to your Kindle software.)
Calibre is an open source project that produces a free reader for the big three computer platforms: OSX, Linux, and Windows. Calibre allows you to download books from any book you can get your hands on, be it from an email, to an online book repository (can anyone comment if they’ve purchased a book in the Kindle store and then viewed it with Calibre?). Calibre’s UI is busy and isn’t intuitive like the Kindle. It’s a very effective ebook reader but my version (V 0.7.23) has some layout problems because it isn’t honoring section breaks.
Compare the screenshots of Calibre (OSX) and Kindle (iPad version) in the below gallery. (If you hover over the pics, you’ll get the caption in a bubble.) Notice Calibre supports every font my computer supports and displays the custom fonts used in the Honolulu Hottie ebook. The Kindle book supports only two fonts (a serif font and a sans-serif font), italics, bold, and a few sizes of those fonts. Once Calibre supports section breaks, it’ll render books much more beautifully than the Kindle. (You’ll get used Calibre’s strange user interface.) And Calibre will help make you smarter with it’s integrated dictionary.
If you want to give ‘reading like your living in a SciFi story’ a shot, you’ll find plenty of free and cheap reads in Amazon’s Kindle store or you can search around for more open alternatives with Calibre. If you don’t know where to start, click on the Honolulu Hottie book cover on the right side of this webpage and for less than the cost of a latte and within seconds, you can read an exciting Hawaiian cyberpunk novelette about surfing, a beautiful woman, and corporate malfeasance. With an an ebook, groking words like malfeasance, and well grok, are just a finger tap away.