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Monthly Archives: February 2012

I’ve recently become involved with ebooks on both a personal and professional level. As a keen reader I’ve been considering whether ebooks were for me and whether I should consider a dedicated ebook reader (ereader). We are also considering ebooks and ereaders, for our distance learners, as an alternative to supplying them with traditional textbooks.

A little research reveals that ebooks are produced in different formats but not all ebooks are available in all formats… and not all readers can display ebooks in all formats. There are extremely detailed comparison tables of ereaders (this one, for instance) and unless ebooks can always be converted into a format of choice, the user is left making a decision on their choice of ereader based on what format of ebook they foresee wishing to use. A less than optimal situation.

As well as dedicated ereaders there are of course other options for reading ebooks, including tablets/PCs/laptops/netbooks and mobile phones. The first group offers the greater flexibility in formats that can be displayed, but possibly a less comfortable reading experience than with a device with an e-ink screen and less mobility some cases. Mobile phones offer the greatest access when it comes to mobility, but the small screen size brings issues of its own along with limited memory size.

Attending the very well attended JISC Digital Media online surgery ‘Getting Started with ebooks’ this week we learnt more about creating ebooks including multimedia, insuring accessibility and copyright.

Those producing ebooks have obvious responsibilities (eg accessibility and copyright) but many options with the technology they choose to use. Recognising that readers may be using one (or more) of many possible devices to access the ebook must be the first consideration, because it determines:

  • what formats of ebook can be accessed (and therefore what titles)
  • the screen size which could affect how well the pages can be displayed (eg large tables or detailed diagrams)
  • whether colour can be seen (coloured diagrams rendered in B/W may be much less useful)
  • memory size (if the ebooks are intended to be stored on the device)

 

Possible solutions to this for ebook producers are:

  • produce ebooks that can be viewed fully on  the lowest specification device (eg smallest screen, B/W, lowest memory)
  • produce ebooks in all the major formats

 

Those wanting their students to access available ebooks could:

  • prescribe a device that the student would need to provide for themselves
  • provide a device for each student (could be a loan)

 

I would be interested to hear if anyone has succeeded in making what they feel is a successful choice of ereader/other device for students to access academic texts.

Since moving to Bath I’ve been privileged to be able to attend Bathcamp meetings (http://bathcamp.org/). I’d picked up on these events via Twitter before I moved here, even before I knew I was moving here, and at the time couldn’t help wishing that I could somehow have the opportunity of attending. And here I am in Bath… which is how life works sometimes.

The theme of Bathcamp 29 was design.

Richard Caddick (@richardcaddick) kicked the evening off with a presentation entitled The Value of Imagination which touched on the importance of the interplay between differing fields (eg artist and scientific approaches to cooking). It’s not the first time this has been pointed out and it always makes me think of the lack of design for (almost design-against) cross-fertilisation in organisations; but I digress…

Many interesting points about form design in Forms are Boring from Joe Leech (@mrjoe) based on his experience of designing them and, perhaps more importantly, seeing the user experience test data when forms are trialled. Just as I’m convinced you can’t effectively proof your own writing, it’s got to be just as important to get someone else (preferably a member of the target audience or at least a real person*) to try using a form you have designed. Tips included dropping the asterisk next to mandatory  fields and just putting ‘optional’ next to the others (since real people tend not to look for the meaning of the asterisk, and ‘optional’ is a term real people understand). For the slides that accompanied the talk see: http://joeleech.net/user-experience/forms-are-boring/ which proved that forms are not boring and there really is no excuse for a badly designed form.

Last but not least was Jon Waring on Designing Recognisable Sites that have an Agenda, a really inspiring look at how a creative organisation looks at design when they work with clients. Slides for this talk can be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/3SixtyInternet/measurable-meaningful

*if you’ve scrolled down here to look for the meaning of the asterisk this may mean you are not a ‘real person’. Don’t worry, I would have scrolled down too, and yet I still find I am able to live a full and active life.

This was the title of the presentation given by Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). Dr Bowyer is best known for the RepRap (replicating rapid prototyper), a 3D printer capable, of amongst other things, of reproducing its own composite parts. However, rather than focus on that, this talk comprised a number of ‘problems’ (or at least, situations) where Dr Bowyer offers his particular insights and possible solutions based on currently available technology or understood principles.

Ideas on which he elaborated including translating glasses (based on holography); explosive-metabolising microbes; robots that created photovoltaic cells from desert sand (laying them as they were produced and powering the robots to continue);  shoes with inbuilt bellows for cooling and a chemical name capitalisation convention to aid pronunciation.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, Darwin, the first machine released by the RepRap project, is currently on show in BRLSI (Queens Square, Bath): http://www.brlsi.org/

More information on the RepRap project can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project