Pay the writer

A glorious rant from one of the keystone authors of my first couple of decades on this spinning rock, Harlan Ellison. This is a clip from the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which is itself quite good. (I'd forgotten that I'd linked to this clip before. Forgive me!) I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost all of HE's books are available in Kindle format via Amazon and at great prices.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

 

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52 Killer Tricks for Your Kindle

Of the 52 Killer Tricks for Your Kindle, some are useful only for the first 3 series (#'s 2, 3, 5, 6), others for Fire only (#8), others are so arcane and specialized as to be almost nonsensical (#'s 9, 15), some are DIY and may require more nerve than even I have (#'s 1, 14, 26, 42), some are only tangentially related to the Kindle (#'s 16, 30, 36) and on and on. So right away, you can simply skim this list and reduce it to something more manageable. Is it possible that your humble correspondent may have a few tricks that didn't make it to the list? Verily, I saith unto you: Yes.

As I'm using a Kindle Touch, some of the "killer tricks" (which I daresay would reveal themselves with a skim of the manual) don't apply. Some of the tricks reveal themselves with a simple read of the manual: keep the wi-fi turned off to save your battery, email PDFs to yourself, play MP3s, and so on. And I have, of course, already thoroughly documented my screensaver workflow.

There were a few things the original article missed, so allow me to add to the conversation.

For web pages

I would add Readability to #11 (Readability can include images and photos, Instapaper can't -- or didn't the last time I looked).

For ebooks

For public domain books in Kindle format (#3), I'd also recommend Project Gutenberg, which offer Kindle versions of its texts in .mobi format. You can download the Magic Catalog (.mobi file) and get a list of all the books and texts they offer. Click on a book title and it's downloaded to your Kindle in the background.

Even better: use your Kindle's browser to navigate to m.gutenberg.org, where you can have a more interactive experience searching for and downloading ebooks.

Another neat way to get Kindle-formatted public domain books is to navigate to this page on the MobileRead forums site and search the page for "MobileRead's Download Guide." Download that file and transfer it to your Kindle (or download it directly from the MobileRead page), wait a bit while the Kindle indexes it, and then you have a file containing a list and descriptions of 11,000+ books formatted by MobileRead members; click on a link to download the book in the background (wi-fi has to be on, of course). The file is updated daily. There's overlap between the MobileRead and Gutenberg lists, sure, but it's fun to compare them and see what they offer. I use both and sometimes just have fun browsing the lists.

I also like the Delphi Classics site, mainly for just knowing that it's possible to download the complete works of most any "classics" author.

Keep your Kindle software up to date

Bookmark the software update page and set yourself a reminder to check it monthly or whenever is convenient. You won't get any notice from Amazon that updates are waiting for you.

See what other Kindle owners are highlighting

One of Kindle's features is that you can highlight passages from any book or article you're reading and it's saved in a file called clippings.txt. Findings lets you upload your clippings.txt file so others can read what you've highlighted, and you can read what other Kindle owners found worth noting. It started as a Kindle-only hangout, but they've since rolled out bookmarklets and such so that you can highlight anything you see on the web and have it posted.

Convert clippings.txt to more readable formats

The clippings.txt file contains the contents of all the highlighted passages from everything I've read on the Kindle. So it includes tips and tricks, quotes I want to remember, procedures, beautifully written passages, etc.

You can open and browse the file from the Kindle home screen and it's easy enough to copy the file to my MacBook and open it up in a text editor, but it looks ugly and there is no easy way to browse the collection. So a lot of what I've highlighted is trapped in a file that is difficult to navigate, read, and use.

The amazing and free Clippings Converter site will transform the clippings.txt file into more attractively formatted Word, PDF, or (my favorite) Excel files. It provides a much better and easier method to process and re-use this text in other ways.

Yet, for all my snark...

The 52 tricks site convinced me to download Calibre (#16) and give it a try, and I'd not heard of the KIF project (#40) that lets you play old Infocom games on the Kindle, nor did I know of the justification hack (#44). Off now to do some minor-league hacking...

 

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Jailbreaking my Kindle Touch

To get screensaver images of my choice onto the Kindle Touch (the one without the special offers) required several steps:

  • Jailbreaking the Kindle Touch
  • Installing the screensavers hack
  • Gathering the images
  • Formatting the images
  • Grouping and renaming the images
  • Transferring the renamed images to the Kindle Touch

I won't go into exorbitant detail on how I did what I did, but this post will pull all the steps together into one place so I have a record of what I did in roughly the order I did it, in case I need to do it again, God forbid. I also throw in a few stray observations along the way.

Jailbreaking the Kindle Touch

"Jailbreaking" is such a harsh word for what Wikipedia more delicately refers to as "privilege escalation." The Kindle Touch (also referred to as the Kindle 4) has been slower to fall to jailbreaking and custom hacks, but entropy catches up with everything.

Jailbreak your Kindle

  1. In Pathfinder, use the Edit>Select... dialog to select all JPG files.
  2. Right-click on the selected files, select Services>Convert to PNG. The Automator workflow takes the JPG files as input, churns away, and creates PNGs with the same filenames in the directory.
  3. Select all the JPG files again and then move or delete them. So we now have a directory full of PNG files.
  4. Starting from the top of the file list, use Pathfinder to view each file's Info and check the dimensions. I used Pathfinder's drawer for this part, which showed both a preview of the image and its attributes. About two-thirds of the files were in the proper 600x800 format. When I found a file that was not, I selected the file and ran a Keyboard Maestro macro that opened the file in Preview, entered new dimensions of 600x800, and then saved the file.

So, after another few minutes, I had a directory of files in the required format and size.

Grouping and renaming the images

There are two more constraints on image files for the Kindle.

First constraint: The screensavers directory is limited to a maximum of 99 files. I had collected a little over 200.

I decided I wanted a few different sets of files that I could switch out every now and then when I got bored with the current set. So I broke the files into 5 directories of roughly 40 files each. To ensure I had a fairly even, yet somewhat random, collection in each set, I used the Finder's color labels to help me visually differentiate files into various stacks.

In Pathfinder, starting with the first file, I gave every 5th file a red color. Then green after red, then blue, and so on. I then used Pathfinder's Edit>Select facility to copy all the red-coded files to a "red" folder, all the blue-coded files to a "blue" directory, and so on.

Great -- I now had five groups of files reflecting a mix of styles and images. Not boring!

Second constraint: Filenames. Here's what the simple screensaver readme has to say about them:

  • Each image MUST be named bg_xsmall_ss##.png, where ## is a two digit number from 00 to 99
  • You MUST have an image named bg_xsmall_ss00.png and you CANNOT skip a number (ex: bg_xsmall_ss00.png, bg_xsmall_ss02.png but no bg_xsmall_ss01.png)

Pathfinder to the rescue again! A new feature in Pathfinder 6 is a Batch Rename facility that uses an Automator-like workflow interface. I quickly created a renaming workflow for the first group that I could save and re-use for the remaining groups.

If I decide later that I want to instead have larger sets, it's very easy to move all the files into a single directory and run the renaming workflow again.

Transferring the renamed images to the Kindle Touch

The easiest part! Hook up the Touch to the computer, select and drag the new screensaver files to the Touch's screensavers directory, unmount, and unplug.

Bah-dah-bing! I now can see a carousel of fun images whenever I put the Touch to sleep.

The above steps did not arrive cleanly and without effort. The process involved lots of trial and error for every phase before I finally hit on the right combination and sequence of steps. You could say that this was an awful lot of work to serve a fairly trivial purpose -- and you would be right -- but I would say that it was not work: it was good, clean, nerdy fun.

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Kindle Touch screensavers

The Kindle Touch (non-ad supported) comes with 20 attractive gray-scale screensaver/wallpaper images. They're fine, but after a while, I wanted to see some different images. One of the reasons I got the ad-free Touch was so that I wouldn't be assaulted with an ad every time I picked up my Kindle to read something. I returned the ad-supported Kindle 3 because -- among other reasons --  although I can take ads in magazines, I didn't want to see them in a book -- not even an e-book.

The web is full of Kindle-supported screensaver images that I would have preferred to see on my device, but Amazon doesn't allow me to customize the Kindle in even that harmless way. And this annoyed me.

So I took matters into my own hands, did a bit of hacking on my Kindle over the weekend, and now I have a pool of about 200 attractive, varied, and unusual images I can use as screensavers on my Kindle, as the following gallery shows. Tomorrow, a post on how I did it. If you want to see the many (many) sites I scoured looking for images, and thus get a peek into my own little OCD manias, you can browse them via my Pinboard links.

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Kindle for Mac

In late August, I had bought Timothy Pychyl's e-book The Procrastinator's Digest via Xlibris for use with Adobe Digital Editions. (I subscribe to Pychyl's iProcrastinate podcast.) However, trying to get Adobe Digital Editions set up and registered on my MacBook was a pain, and then my credit card number was stolen suspiciously close to the Xlibris purchase. Then, over the weekend (as I was procrastinating on my research project and, thus, decided that reading his e-book would be nourishing for me) I could not for the life of me find the file that I had downloaded.

I saw that Pychyl's e-book was available on Kindle and also happened to see in the margin of the book's Amazon page that Amazon is releasing Kindle software (free!) for other platforms -- including the Mac. The install went great and I was able to quickly download Pychyl's book into the Kindle software. Whilst there, I also downloaded a few of the free e-books, just to play. Everything went very smoothly.
And no, I did not start reading the procrastination book. I had spent so much time looking for my original download and playing with the Kindle software, that time demanded I move on to other chores. Maybe later.