Friday, October 15, 2010

Are page numbers becoming obsolete? Check out how a Kindle app handles them

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Since I don't mind and actually kind of like to read (as well as listen to) books on my iPod Touch and I'm not going to spring for a Kindle (though the "experience of reading*" might be better) anytime soon, I discovered I can use an app for my Touch that will let me read books I buy on intended for a a Kindle Reader. At the moment I'm enjoying reading "The Science of Liberty" by Timothy Ferris. One problem I have is knowing what page I'm on. You see eBooks for Kindle do not keep track of location by page numbers but rather according to units dependent on bytes (1 unit = 16 bytes or 16 characters.) It really didn't matter that much as long as everything worked properly, but since electronic devices have a habit of causing trouble, so when I had to reinstall my operating system on the Touch I lost my location in the eBook. I knew what chapter I was in (because I printed out the TOC of the physical book from the Amazon website)  so I searched for the title and found my location that way. But what if I didn't know the name of the chapter or remember any key words on the page** that I was last reading?
This is a 4 unit location.
The final unit is at 8486.

I scratched my head and figured I could set up a function relating the number of units in the eBook with the total pages in the real book which is what I did. The accuracy was not great. Anyone one out there want to do another example and check the accuracy? Download any free Kindle book. Check out how many units long it is. Comapre that with the number of pages the physical book has. Let me know what you come up with. (I'm being purposely "less helpful" here to honor Dan Meyer who has coined the phrase in a teaching math context.)

*Positive attributes of reading on a handheld: All the usual suspects including: easier to carry and manipulate device; you can carry more books and articles than you probably can read in a life time etc. But also the most important one for me: I don't need a lamp to read at night since my wife can't sleep if there is any ambient light on. And so far the back lighting of the ipod touch doesn't bother her.

**Chronological pages on the screen depend on factors such as font size and the size of the screen. So the units used for the numbering system is based on the number of alphanumeric characters used in the book. So 1 unit in a Kindle eBook is 128 bytes or 16 characters (which include spaces and other punctuation.) My Science of Liberty ebook has 8486 units which means 8486 * 16 = 135,776 characters.