goldkin: i has book (goldkin bookly)
While not as revelatory as my last post, I've quietly been making changes to my reading habits to better suit my time and needs as I crawl back into the working world. One of these changes, re-adopting my hitherto forgotten Kindle 2, was one of the best decisions I've made in recent years.

Tersely, there are three reasons why I've returned to using my Kindle 2 as a main reading device: organization, ease of accessing syndicated reading like newspapers, and text-to-speech when my eyeballs are focused elsewhere.

My Kindle 2 saw no love for the past year and a half, as I tinkered with newer technologies to adjust to a kleptomaniacal pattern of picking up and reading new books. The evident problem, though, became finding and finishing what became a worryingly large backlog of books and media that I'd started on a whim, put down, and never quite got back to because it would rapidly get piled ten books deep in sales and promoted "free" books the next evening.

This isn't a problem for me with physical media. When I buy books printed from dead trees, I naturally organize them into book stacks by category, adding the newest thing to the top of each stack as space allows. Occasionally, I will dig into one of these stacks -- by popping all books off the top to reveal the target one, taking the desired book, and replacing the remainder -- but again, no big deal. Each category in my mind maxes out at one to two dozen books in my backlog, so forming these physical pylons to my luxury reading isn't that ominous a proposition.

Interestingly, my Kindle 2 supported this reading model well in digital form, which made me quite happy. Its display model has a setting that pushes elements accessed or purchased most recently to the top of each stack, recurring forward as new items are purchased and read. It also supports folders that ascribe to this model, allowing for multiple, distinct virtual book stacks. As a bonus, books could be added to multiple folders if there was ever indecision as to which stack they should live within.

This works extremely well for me. Foregoing the discussion on why stacks work better than queues in this scenario, the organizational control of folders with a naturally ordered pattern in time and virtual space made for easy flow and low-stress management of what I was reading at any given time.

In addition to proactive organization, any new reading material that I have serialized for me -- for example, newspapers, Calibre feeds, and items from Instapaper -- would naturally appear at the top of my home screen with a clear label defining it as new. This made reading in my mornings especially easy: turn on my Kindle, wait for its screen to (briefly) refresh, then proceed to read the Seattle Times and "The Daily Nibble", my custom selection of RSS sources rolled into a tidy little personal newspaper.

Bizarrely, this organizational layer did not repeat itself in the Kindle Fire or Kindle Apps for iOS or Android. Those applications use different organizational models (and in my opinion, not for the better), balanced with good features that support rapid browsing of books-at-a-glance. The Fire's Carousel is a cute model reminiscent of Apple's take on the same, with favorites and enqueued reading placed just below the One True Stack, but it just doesn't work for any sane reading plan threaded through multiple topics or subjects of interest. The Kindle Apps eschew folders and stacks entirely, instead assuming that the reader immediately knows what they wish to read and can select it from the contents of their device or their entire library, which is always a chore when I just want to resume reading where I left off. And both of these models live within devices that are inherently noisy ("Play this game! Read this email! Hey! Hey! Listen!"), such that uninterrupted reading and flitting between books is not elevated especially well.

And then there is Kindle text-to-speech, this wonderful invention that allows me to listen to books while I spend my time whittling away at household chores or driving around Seattle.* Research indicates this is actually provided by Nuance technologies, and hearsay indicates... only for e-ink devices. So, even though I have this wonderful Kindle Fire that should be able to dictate books to me, and despite the fact that the TTS service can be clearly seen living as a background task on the device... no reading function exists. Thus, another point in my Kindle 2's favor.

I admit frustration that Amazon, in a rush to make new features available and sell all of the ebooks (all of them), has forgone some of the fundaments that make reading so enjoyable for me. I believe there's lots of opportunity here for Amazon's competitors to catch up... and if they do, I will have no regrets switching allegiances.**

* Piped through my car stereo, such that I'm not inhibiting my ability to drive or breaking any state laws.

** Subject to DRM restrictions and license portability, which is still the elephant in the room for digital media.

October 2015

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