By McVries, Geek, Dad, Avid Reader, Open Source Enthusiast, @mcvries_ on twitter.
Distraction free reading, a bliss after a day of notifications, phone calls, co-workers with questions and the lot. Just kick them shoes off and put your feet up, maybe sippin’ a glass of Laphroaig. Lovely. And in the last four years or so the idea of me ploughing through a pile of books is no longer a reason to worry about our oxygen levels, paperless it is. An E reader, specifically a Kindle, is my way to protect the environment.
Using Calibre, a multiplatform Ebook management suite, to manage my ebooks gives me the freedom to use actually any format with the Kindle. Calibre reads any Ebook format I can think off and is able to convert them to about any other format. So the usual setup is something like this, I add an epub, txt or doc file to my collection and with a single click I tell calibre to email it to my Kindle. Calibre knows that that little device isn’t multilingual so it translates the whole book into the mobi dialect it does understand. Sweeps it out through port 25 and it lands on my nightstand.
So although I actually own a quite locked down device I don’t really notice it as such.
Throughout the week I tend to collect quite a few articles and blogposts which I all mean to read later. I save them to my Pocket account if they are a bit longer then usual and if I don’t have a direct need for the information. They wait patiently inside my pocket account and every time I have the time to read up at all the interesting stuff I didn’t get to in that week I can use the Pocket webapp on my laptop, or the application on a tablet. That is just fine and dandy, but the setting is not that of distraction free reading. Popups are still there, the screen is still a glowing display and it just doesn’t feel like reading the way it does on a Deadtree or Electronic book. Especially the well written informative and longer articles I like to read in a more Zen situation. And here comes calibre to the rescue again.
Calibrate my Pocket.
Calibre contains some nifty tools and one of them is “Fetch News”, which comes with a trunkload of predefined scripts. One of them titled “Pocket”. And although there are some caveats, with sorting and archiving the downloaded articles and working with the correct tags it actually works pretty well for me. And while I was ironing out the forementioned caveats, all of a sudden I ended up creating an Ebook containing six months of weekly columns by a well known columnist here in the Netherlands. Neat.
Presuming you have a Pocket account and have your credentials available and you have got a copy of calibre running on your preferred OS, here we go.
Summary: In calibre click Fetch news and select Add a custom news source.
Now choose to Customize a builtin recipe. In the next screen you want to select Pocket.
In the edit screen as below you can select the Script on the left en in the right panel scroll down to the “Settings people change” to finetune the recipe for your needs. The picture (click to enlarge) shows the defaults.
I changed some options for my needs. My version reads:
- #Settings people change
- max_articles_per_feed = 50
- minimum_articles = 1
- mark_as_read_after_dl = False # Set this to False for testing
- sort_method = ‘newest’ # MUST be either ‘oldest’ or ‘newest’
- # To filter by tag this needs to be a single tag in quotes; IE ‘calibre’
- only_pull_tag = None
If you don’t meet the required minimum_articles, the script fails with an error. And since I push that button, I want those articles, even if there are just a few. So I lowered this to 1. The mark_as_read_after_dl. I changed this to false, since I want to use my webapp for managing my pocket account. And the sort_method I changed to newest, so if I fail to manage my pocket account I get the latest articles first instead of wading through a whole lot of stuff I have forgotten to clean out. The “only_pul_tag = None creates the situation that only untagged articles are pulled down. So if you would like to create a dedicated stream to your ereader the tag “calibre” or “ebook” would be approriate to use. Just don’t forget to tag them correctly when tagging to pocket!
And don’t forget to save your script (Add/update recipe on the left) and click close. Some loose ends here, even if you saved it it will still warn you you might lose the changes. Take a risk for once and click close. On we go:
Under Fetch news, schedule news downloads will tie your freshly editted script to your pocket account. Just pick the Pocket script under custom, create a schedule and fill in the credentials.
Allright, after this the actual building of your ebook will take about 2 minutes, tops. Done, you now own an Ebook with all the needs to reads you collected throught the week. And the next time it will only take about a minute. Transfer it to your E reader and discover it is menu driven, with smart links within the ebook for navigation and enjoy your distraction free quality time with the interesting stuff you harvested.
Books : Some like the smell of paper, the sounds of gentle footfalls in the hushed silence of libraries, some like flipping though pages and the rustling sound of paper turning in the night … I’m not one of those persons. To be honest : I’ve been reading digital books since the beginning of this century. From devices as primitive as the Palm to my much beloved Sony PRS-505 I am proud to say that I only read about 2 paper books in the last 12 years. My latest device of choice on which I have devoured many a book was my iPad mini. ( I had ‘loaned’ my Sony eBook reader to my 86 year old gran .. and she’ll never ever give it back). But where the iPad mini shines in the dark (its active screen is great for reading in the bedroom) it gleams in sunlight (its reflective glass is terrible for outside reading). So with my holiday coming up and plenty of reading to do .. I thought I would try out something new.
It was in fact Niejana who pointed out the Trekstor Pyrus Mini on our last visit to our favourite geek-friendly store in Aachen. Three things immediately made me fall in love with the device : The size (It reminds me of my trusty Palm devices) The color and texture (It has this rubbery enclosure thats a dark blue) and its price : 49 euro’s ! I mean : What could go wrong for 49 euro’s ?
The Pyrus has a 4.3 inch 800 by 600 Pixel E-Ink display. It has 2 gigabytes of onboard storage that you can extend by shoving in a micro SD card. There is no Wifi, Bluetooth or 3G connection. Just some buttons to navigate pages and adjust things like character size and the language of the interface. In the end this device is horribly horribly simple .. and that is just brilliant ! The Micro Usb connector is used for charging and adding titles to the onboard memory and since the screen is pretty small .. the battery time will last you quite a while. It can read all popular formats (it does have a hard time with large PDF’s) but can not read .mobi (Epub is fine though).
But aside from the price, the one thing I love more about this gadget is that its so small, thin and light that you can just slide it into your coat pocket and whip it out anywhere without having to bother with lids and casings and having enough room on the bus to read your book. At the size of a smartphone it might appear to small to read on, but the variable character sizing does make up for that. The screen has a very good contrast ratio and not a micron of ‘glare’.
Sure its not as robust as some of the ebook readers out there, sure it does not have all of the functionality of a Kindle or a Fire .. But for 49 euro’s this is the “paperback novel cousin” to the “hardcover collection” ebook reader that you can find on the market today I’m NOT afraid to use it, loose it, break it or get mugged for it. It just lets me read my favourite collection of Justin Bierbers Fanfic .. anywhere.
When I opened up my window to cyberspace this morning, the news was all over the web : Google announced the termination of Google Reader starting June 1st. This extremely handy service that has been a major source of information and content filtering for me over the last couple of years , is about to return a ‘404 not found’ page when summer rolls along. Suggestions for alternatives are abundant and possible “replacements” for Google Reader see their servers crumbling because of the massive exodus off yet another Google product that is sinking. As I fret to find out a way to sustain my automated information scripts .. I fearfully glance towards Feedburner and their single basket holding all my podcast feeds (and the only link to my subscribers). As cries of outrage (in the form of animated gif images) fill the web .. the sets in : The cloud fairy tale has no “happily ever after”.
After the collapse of the web 2.0 bubble and the zillions of startups that had no sustainable business model (aside from burning venture capital) we thought that “The Cloud” had come of age. Surely the big players like Microsoft and Google with their countless free services would be a “Safe bet” for our internet needs ? So we laughed at the nerds who ran their own mail servers. We scuffed our local ISP’s with their POP3 accounts and shoved our entire digital communication stream towards Yahoo, Microsoft or Google. As these giants lured us in with extra services and functionality .. that “webmail” account soon started to become a part of an ever growing ecosystem in which we entrusted our data and our workflows. Pretty soon “Sign up here” became the surrogate for “install now” and we watched our laptops turn into nothing more then pimped out Thin Clients. Office in the cloud, Mail in the cloud, Storage in the Cloud, Backups in the Cloud.. everything was possible and we thought it would last forever.
But there is no such thing as happily ever after.
As a cross platform slider who moves from OS to OS (and from device to device) the cloud was a great solution. The downside is that it is not one that is going to last forever. Somewhere, cloud based solutions from big players got the status of being eternal, but they are not. Google Reader brings another name to the list of soon to be terminated services, Hotmail and MSN Messenger being other A-listers here. As we signed up to yet another free service we boldly shouted : ‘If they ever make us pay .. we will leave’. Today I hear people offer cold hard cash to keep their Google Reader (or IGoogle service) alive.
So not every fairy tale has a happy ending and you don’t always get a chance to pay. Sometimes free services don’t stop becoming free, they stop becoming anything. Think about it next time you sign up for an online backup server to house the pictures of your newborn, or as you drag your tax papers onto Dropbox. Will they still be there tomorrow, and if not .. where can YOU go ?
Thus we dig frantically through our mailbox for the address of that geek who runs his own mail server , we hope its not too late to ask him if he ever built an RSS Reader on his own machine. For as this grey cloud crawls across the sky .. we know Google Reader isn’t going to be in it much longer.
The internet is a valuable source of information but the question is : How can we get the most out of it ? In this show we take a look at the possibilities of gaining knowledge and experience from the wide wide web. We look at the different sources of information that are out there and how you can streampunk these informationstreams into your way of life. Last but not least we give you some essential tips on where and how to consume your carefully selected information to “curate the library of your mind’.
Music by Aes Dana : Principles of Gravity.
Calibre. Without a shadow of a doubt out favorite cross platform ebook management application, is once again the topic of conversation for today. For whoever came up with the idea that ebooks should and could be managed through iTunes .. should be shot, brought back to life, shot again, cremated and have his/her ashes scattered on piles of horse shit. Managing your eBook collection in Calibre on the other hand is a bundle of joy. Ordering and cataloging your books, adding keywords, sorting them around AND converting them to your favorite format .. is exactly what Calibre is good at. So what gives ? Well , imagine you and your favorite ebook reader are out and about on the road ? What if you would like to grab that copy of the Twilight Saga you have stored on your computer at home ? Is there no hope ? Sure there is ! Calibre comes with a built in webserver that lets you acces your ebook directory via a browser .. exactly what you want .. is it not ? “Hotdiggedy YeS” I hear you scream .. but what if you don’t have access to a browser ? (or are in the inability to transfer the downloaded files to your favorite reading app ?) Are you lost ? Should you revert to reading the cerealbox for all eternity ? No ! Enter ODPS : A standard for interacting with ebooks libraries.
How does it work ?
- Make sure you have installed calibre on your machine (Duh)
- Enable the Calibre web service and make sure to enter a username / password. (you don’t want the entire world to know you read my-little-pony cartoons )
- Open up the correct ports on your router (if you want to access this from the outside)
- Pick up an ebook reader app on your IOS or Android device that is able to open OPDS libraries.
- Setup your home calibre library in the apps OPDS preferences.
- Access your ebooks from anywhere.
What do you need ?
- One copy of Calibre.
- On IOS an OPDS compatible ebook application Shubook
- On Android you might want to use FBREADER
- Connect to your Calibre library via the correct url : http://yourcalibreip:8080/opds
Since I’ve ported my brand new 11.6 inch Macbook Air to Ubuntu Linux, I’ve noticed that I seldom boot back into OSX on this little machine. Life is good on the Ubuntu side. Because for where it might lack powerful video editing tools or multitrack recorders that come with the same ease of use as Mac, Ubuntu (and Linux in general) shines when it comes to the myriad of free software that is available. Many blogposts will tell you the “top 5 apps” you NEED to install on your Linux machine, but you might know those lists by heart because they always offer the same apps. Today I’ll serve you up three applications that don’t necessarily show up on those lists , but for me make all the difference.
Though, with the Unity interface, Ubuntu might have moved on from spinning desktop cubes and wobbly windows, ‘looks’ are still a big part of the experience. Because 80 percent of your “post install” work consists of looking for “the right wallpaper”, I decided to ‘have somebody do that for me’ : Enter “Variety” a light, well written and awesome application that will switch wallpapers for you. You can choose the interval time, but also many many external sources of wallpaper material. Predefined Flickr groups of wallpapers are just one of the options, you can have Variety search Flickr for certain tags and keywords and pull down those wallpapers for you automatically. Luckily Variety also has the option to add your own folder filled with your personal wallpapers and mix everything up a bit with the external feeds. The menu bar icon up top lets you know it’s been installed and gives you access to all the settings. A cute little app that gives my tweaked system a little extra shine. (AND lets you use the fantastic KNIGHTWISE.COM WALLPAPERS on your machine Available from the Ubuntu software center or via sudo apt-get install variety
Although it was a pretty tough call between ‘soundconverter’ and ‘kazam screencaster’ to make this list, I chose the latter. Having to “capture” some internet video lately, I decided to give my Ubuntu machine the chance to prove its worth. Kazam is an online screen recorder that does its job well. You can record your entire screen, or sections of it, and have that video recorded in H264/mp4 format or VP8. You get to pick the framerate and the folder where the recordings are stored. No rocket science here. However the beauty comes with the combination of Kazam and Pulseaudio Volume control that let you record a much needed ‘sound input combination’. You cannot only record the screen with audio coming FROM ‘the sceen’ (your computer output) OR from your Microphone .. You can combine those 2 sound inputs and give “live” commentary on whatever youtube video you are grabbing. For a screencaster like me thats essential, AND damn handy when you want to record Google hangouts and the like. The output is very reliable and the process is dead easy. Kazam can also be found in the Ubuntu Software Center or via sudo apt-get install kazam
As the winner of the “Ubuntu app showdown” competition Rightlead is an RSS reader. Whow ! I hear you say, another RSS reader ? In order to make this list it better come with belly dancing Ewoks as a key feature because when it comes to RSS reader we have seen them all. The kicker with Lightread is that it constantly “syncs” with your Google Reader feeds ( you subscribe to new stuff, your stuff is in Lightread ) Lightread is simple, elegant, lets you tag and star articles and export them to Instapaper and Pocket. No rocket science but brilliant in its simplicity. I dare say that Lightread could be a native Mac app .. thats how good its done. I boot it up when I open my machine to read my feeds instead of surfing the web. To see is to believe. Lightread is available from the Ubuntu Software Center or via sudo apt-get install lightread.