Friday, April 16, 2010

Kindle for Technical Content

I'm a reader. I started reading novels at a very young age. As a developer and reader, I'm addicted to reading technical books. I am also a technical writer so I'm constantly buying and reading books. And I'm not a fan of reading on-line. When I sit in front of my PC, I expect the instant gratification of coding or writing. I find it difficult to read a PDF book cover-to-cover (or should that be byte-to-byte?) Case in point: To save money, I opted for the PDF version of Venkat Subramaniam's "Programming Groovy: Dynamic Productivity for the Java Developer." Great book, by the way. But I ended up getting frustrated and printed the book -- which ended up costing me more in paper and ink than that print version would have.

A month ago I was at Barnes and Nobles and I became intrigued by the Nook. The Nook is B&N's book reader. I almost bought it. Luckily I backed out of the store and began researching the Nook and compared it with Amazon's Kindle.

The Nook is pretty neat but, unlike the Kindle, it does not have a keyboard. With the Nook, you can bookmark your documents -- but you can't highlight text or add notes. The Kindle has an integrated keyboard and you can highlight and add notes.

I got my Kindle yesterday. And, so far, I love it.

Book Availability:

I am currently researching Cloud Computing for use in Grails applications using both Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine. To that end I've been wanting to buy two books: "Programming Amazon Web Services" and "Programming Google App Engine" (both from O'Reilly.) Curiously, the Amazon book was not available for Kindle at Amazon's site but the Google book was. So I bought the GAE book from Amazon and went to the O'Reilly site for the AWS book. At O'Reilly I found that they do make an eBook download available that is Kindle compatible (.mobi.) O'Reilly gives you both the Kindle and PDF versions of the book. To get the AWS book's mobi file on my Kindle I simply plugged in the Kindle's USB and copied the mobi file from my PC to the Kindle's documents directory.

My next issue was that I wanted to get some of my PDF books on the Kindle. All I had to do was plug in the USB and copy the PDFs from the PC to my Kindle. There are two issues with PDF on the Kindle: 1) It shows the entire page on the screen, which requires a very small font (but it is readable). 2) While you can add bookmarks to a PDF, you can't add notes or highlight text. Note that I believe there are PDF to mobi converters available. But, for right now, I'm happy with Kindle's PDF reader.

Reading Experience:

I was reticent to get an electronic reading device because I thought I needed the spacial context of a printed book. When I first get a printed copy of technical book, I put a half-dozen sticky notes inside the front cover. Then I hook a highlighter and a mechanical pencil on the back cover. I use the sticky notes to bookmark important sections and my current page. Those sticky notes stay in the book forever. When I go to my book shelve, I usually find what I'm looking for by going to the various bookmarked pages.

As I read my print books, I use the highlighter on important sections and I use the pencil to make notes. If I'm doing research for an article, I also write notes on the front cover with page references.

The Kindle does all that for me only in a cleaner, greener fashion. First off, I love that when I put the Kindle down (which has been difficult) and power it off and then later return to the Kindle and power it back on, it goes right to the page of the document that I was last reading. I also love that I can make bookmarks with notes and then Kindle shows me my bookmarks, notes, and highlights in an easy to read index. For article research, the notes are invaluable. For programming, the bookmarks and highlights are extremely useful.

I was also concerned about the display of tables and code on the Kindle. But I discovered that the Kindle allows you to change the view from portrait to landscape (a feature the Nook does not provide.) The Kindle also allows you to change your font size (which the Nook allows as well.)

At any rate... I'm loving my Kindle


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arnaud.bos said...

Fast forward to today, are you still satisfied with your Kindle? For technical books I mean.
The reason I buy printed copy is because I also use sticky notes and a pencil to write and add lots of context into the book.
I've had a Sony E-ink reader a few years ago (2010-2011), I actually still have it but do not use it anymore because I'm not comfortable with the low rate of screen update when writing virtual notes or "highlighting" text.
On the other hand, some books might be heavy to carry on, and it's also more complicated to carry several printed copies instead of having them all in a digital device.
Also I read mainly in public transports, so highlighting and taking notes while in the traffic sometimes give bad results.
So six years later, did you stick to your Kindle, or went back to pen & paper?
What strategies did you implement?

P.S: I stumbled upon your blog while reading the comments on this article:
I liked your comment there and much agreed with it, and so was in search of your writing piece on "My Drive for Mediocrity".
I've actually read something along this line a few times, like here (, and most of the time the recurring saying of "The Passionate Programmer" (
In French we'd translate it by "un gros poisson dans une petite mare", literally "being a big fish in a small pond".
So did you write something about it in the end? Some draft maybe?