Oct 5, 2013

Two years with an e-book reader

Author = NotFromUtrecht (see link). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Nearly two years ago I acquired my first e-book reader, an Amazon Kindle like the one shown here. I had various thoughts of using it professionally but was in any case delighted with the fact that I could read text without eyestrain on it, even without my reading glasses. Some colleagues shared their experiences, and one was kind enough to mention Calibre, which I use periodically to convert file formats for better use in e-book readers or other media.

So what's the score after two years? On the professional side not so hot, because other distractions have prevented me from exploring all the possibilities of converting reference data for use on my reader. It's possible, but I'm still tweaking the technology to get exactly what I want with formatted, searchable RTF and HTML from terminology exports from my many CAT tool termbases. I could do that all along without much trouble using SDL Trados MultiTerm and various XSLT scripts, but I went down the rabbit hole of trying to make these solutions more accessible to colleagues who don't like a lot of technical fiddling, and though I think the problems are solved, I haven't had time to share most of the solutions or implement them on a large scale myself.

I do read literature related to the translation profession with some frequency. Found in Translation by Jost Zetzsche and Nataly Kelley gave me many pleasant, entertained hours with its Kindle version, attempts to read texts in PDF format by others have been less successful because of display issues, and the current version of my own book with memoQ tips is not a happy experience on a small black-and-white ebook reader. The latter has me thinking about what information might work in formats for e-book readers and smartphones, and the latter has been one of the motivations for my recent experimentation with short video tutorials on YouTube. Not only should we consider the current trends in media such as e-book readers, tablets, smartphones and whatnot for our own professional leaning and teaching needs, but also how our clients and prospects may use these media to create content which we might be asked to translate. This has already begun to happen with me in a small way, and those projects were possible only because of things I learned in my teaching experiments shortly before.

I also copy web pages into text or HTML files "to go" when I want to read up on a subject in the park while my dogs play or in a local café somewhere. My reader has a web browser, but many sites are difficult to view in a way that is friendly to a smaller screen. It's easier to grab what I want in separate files and organize these into a "collection" I can refer to easily later.

I never have done any proofreading or review with my Kindle, though I have used texts on it to translate manually (in a separate notebook) on occasion. However, that's not really compatible with most of the texts I work on.

What I have done most with my e-book reader is carry a growing library of world literature with me, familiar and unfamiliar old works and some new. I still hear some people talk about how they could not imagine reading without the heft of the book and the feel of the paper pages turned by their fingers. I'm just as caught up in the sensuality of a dusty old library as any other obsessive bibliophile, but the heft and feel don't mean much when accumulated nerve damage means that the book is more a source of pain than pleasure after ten minutes in your hands, and my once excellent eyesight has now decided that its term is served and I can find my own way with small type and lousy lighting conditions: there, the e-book reader is gift of great value.

Most important to me, however, are the words. The finest binding, gold-edged pages and elegant type mean nothing if the words mean nothing. Words of beauty and power are worth straining to read in weathered stone inscriptions, on crumbled clay tablets written before the founding of Rome or on crumbling acid-paper pages in books forgotten in an attic. How much better then to have these same words in a legible format on your reader in minutes after a short search in an online database and a quick download or a purchase and transfer.

The Velveteen Rabbit had the same nursery magic on the Kindle in the cantinho last night as it would on the delicate old pages of the original edition, but I didn't have to worry about spilling my sangria on it. In the two years since I received my Kindle I have re-read many books that were lost as my library of thousands was slowly dispersed in my many relocations. Hundreds of new books from classic literature in two languages have come to me, go with me in my small, black volume with its Cloud-based backup, and this library will likely not be lost again wherever I go and no matter how lightly I travel. 


  1. I understand that you save web pages into HTML, convert them with Calibre, and read them on your Kindle. Is this more or less correct? There is no need for such a manual method here.
    Instapaper (or Readability, or Pocket, or…) allows you to save articles for reading later via a browser extension, and then connect your Instapaper feed to Calibre and have it regularly broadcast those articles to your Kindle via WiFi. Or, Instapaper lets you save a MOBI file with your pending reads to load onto your Kindle. Or, just log on to your Instapaper feed from the Kindle browser: the articles are shown optimised for a mobile device.
    Another possibility is to use a browser extension such as Send to Kindle for Google Chrome, which will send any single article to your Kindle:
    As you can see, there are many possible options for reading web articles from your ereader!

  2. I, too, have become an ereader fan for its convenience as I travel (I have a Sony). Having the selection of books I'm currently reading in my bag without weighing it down...

    Professionally I discovered by chance a great combination: my eReader and Dragon, with a desk you can raise up to work in a standing position. The picture while I translated a couple of significant projects recently: me pacing up and down in front of my desk looking at my eReader and dictating to Dragon, glancing across to check the dictation and continuing back to my 'book'. Works better for longer 'prose' texts than for more technical ones. Results in significantly less eye strain because of the alternating focus on the screen and the ebook, and because pacing up and down leads to more looking out of the window as well!

    1. Very interesting, Craig. Ages ago, Corinne McKay wrote about her treadmill desk and its health benefits, and in the 5 years or so since then there have not been many weeks when I did not want to stand more often in my work. Your configuration offers another nice possibility, especially for one who likes to pace anyway. Obviously you have a wireless headset (mine is USB, but despite the dire warnings of the real sound experts, I find that colleagues using Dragon on a wireless Logitech headset don't fare any worse than I do). And I presume you do alignments as needed with the dictated texts if you want a TM or want to perform certain QA operations (in some way similar to what I documented in a few blog posts and/or demo videos). In any case you now have me thinking I should be on my sunny terrace dictating, not shut up in the house typing....

      When I fist started using Dragon, I wrote a few blog posts by taking a walk in a local park with an Olympus dictaphone and transcribing later with a cable connection or by copying the MP3. That works just as well with translation, though I don't do it often because many of my texts are very tag-laden and require careful attention to a screen. Dictation work has made me even more acutely aware of the productivity losses translators suffer from formatting tags. We work with them, because clients save a lot of time and money "downstream", but unfortunately lack of awareness and timidity has prevented many from receiving appropriate compensation for the additional burden. I find, for example, that the raw text of material like I might find in a chemical SOP is easy stuff; I can translate nearly 10,000 words in a restful, relaxed day in reasonably good quality for that subject or another I know very well if I do not have to deal with formatting and I dictate the draft before revising at the keyboard. But add tags for table formatting, subscripts, text format changes, etc. and a healthy dose of bad segmentation from poorly configured segmentation rules and put all that crap on a server where the PM has not given me rights to change segmentation, and my productivity drops to 30% of the former figure at best and probably much less.

      When I explain this problem to corporate clients, they never have an issue with a fair increase in fees to cover the greater effort, but some youngsters at Linguistic Sausage Producers who call themselves project managers are too terrified to raise the question with an end customer or automatically assume the answer is "no" and project that attitude when they "negotiate". Not all though. When one "youngster" understood the project recently, she immediately changed the compensation model for the customer in question, adding about 50% (my rough guess estimate) to the value of each future project, and she did so with no prompting or suggestion from me. I was just trying to explain a scheduling matter. One never knows when communication might actually work better than expected :-)

  3. Since I just saw this on Twitter and it's relevant to e-readers, I'll add a plug for a Kindle book from an author I rather like:

    RT @BarbaraHambly: "Those Who Hunt the Night" - Kindle Daily Deal today, $1.99.

    Barbara used to work as a tech writer with a friend of mine at Aerojet years ago; if I recall correctly she got her first book accepted for publication the same day or around the same time as she got her layoff notice in the same economic downturn in the 80s that also nailed my friend. Her large output since then has included many very well-written, entertaining stories with a nice range of genre. I read this book as a hardback when it was new and reread it several times after, because I think it's well done.

  4. Thanks for mentioning The ‘Velveteen Rabbit’ Kevin, which I had never heard of before. It looks great! I just downloaded it and will stick it on my Kindle.

    By the way, PDFs and such are much easier to read (and navigate!) on an iPad. I send things for reading later either to my iPad (via Pocket or the Google Drive app) or my Kindle, depending on the type of material. Long live the digital revolution!


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