Thursday, September 8, 2011

My History with eBooks

I’ve been in a lot of Twitter discussions on eBooks, but I have a history with eBooks that simply doesn’t fit in 140 characters. Every book I’ve read for pleasure since 1999 has been read in a digital form. It started when I bought a Handspring Visor in 1999. For those unfamiliar, it was a Palm operating system handheld device like the Palm Pilot, but not as expensive. There weren’t many places (if any) to buy eBooks back then, but there were newsgroups dedicated to digitizing books. Groups like alt.rec.books, alt.rec.e-book, etc. There was also software like Newsbot that would download the files from the newsgroup and put all of the parts together into a book. Files came in lots of different formats, but there were converters and eReader programs that could handle them. My preferred reader was iSilo (still available at 

I built up quite a large library. I had so many files that I could never keep up with weeding the duplicate copies of the same works. They did come in very handy for answering questions on the Stumpers listserv. I can remember a question about the first Bond book to use “Bond, James Bond” including a request for citation of page number. I searched all of the Bond books and found it. I quoted the section, but had to say it is on a page 37% into the book, since I didn’t have any page numbers. Someone got the book, saw 697 pages, did the math, turned to the page and was able to give a definite citation with page number.

There was another Stumpers question that I answered with a quote from my eBook, but one of the names was misspelled. Someone on the listserv responded with ‘that’s a horrible typo for a commercial product’ and I said, “Who said it was a commercial product?” 

That’s the part that will probably upset the most readers. These were books that were still in copyright that someone was scanning and OCRing. Just like folks were doing for Project Gutenberg, they were scanning their own books and posting them anonymously to newsgroups. 

The rest of the history is a little fuzzier. I know I eventually moved on to a Dell Axim which was a Windows Mobile OS handheld. The screen was better and in full color, but the reader and book source was still the same. Then came the iPhone and for the first time I was able to merge my handheld with my cell phone. At the same time, Nook and Kindle apps made buying eBooks a reasonable, efficient, & cheep option.

I’m still looking for a Library based lending service for eBooks that is simple and easy with lots of digital books. I’ve looked at Overdrive through the Maryland Library System, but the selection just isn’t there yet. I now have both an iPhone (version 4 at this writing) and an iPad (version 1). (We bought my wife the iPad 2 and I got the old version 1 as a hand me down.) I use the iPad only at home since it is wifi only, not 3G. I do love features in readers like Nook that open the book to the page I last read even when I change device. I always wondered why that was pushed as a feature, until I became someone that changes devices. I just didn’t think there were that many people doing that.

So now you know why I say I’m an expert eBook reader and incidentally some of the backstory of how we all got to be here today. I apologize to any author who didn’t get paid for the books I read. I would have paid you, but the means weren’t there.

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