[Humanist] 24.279 e-book referencing and evolution

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Aug 24 23:11:31 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 279.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (35)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.276 e-book referencing

  [2]   From:    Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>                    (66)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.264 e-book referencing and reading

        Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2010 17:57:16 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.276 e-book referencing
        In-Reply-To: <20100823195942.3144B679A3 at woodward.joyent.us>

Sharon -- my only experience is with the iPad.  It does display page
numbers, but of course you're right, they're not static.  Text that is
on page 23 in a vertical orientation is on pages 44-45 in a horizontal
orientation.  I'm fairly certain that everyone using the iPad will see
the same text on the same page(s), but I should have considered that
it's very doubtful that the same text would show up on the same page
ranges in the smaller-sized Kindle or the Nook or other book readers.

I think that paragraph numbers are the only way to go, or to refer to
the print edition page numbers as another contributor suggested.  But,
that latter route can cause problems.  For example, I'm looking at a
copy of the Confessions of St. Augustine on my iPad right now, a free
text provided by Project Gutenberg (thank you!).  The front matter
informs me that the text was prepared from the 1921 Chatto & Windus
edition of the Confessions translated by Edward Pusey.

I can find quite a few versions of Pusey's text on Google books, some
reprinted very recently, but in a short search can't seem to find that
exact edition (I think there's a 1909 CW edition.  I've just
downloaded an 1838 .pdf).  So the best that I can do is read it in my
iPad, search the .pdf for the text that I want to quote, and then cite
the edition... that I'm not actually reading.  I could read the .pdf
on my iPad, and could on a Kindle if I owned one -- and then I would
have the benefit of fixed page numbers.  So perhaps the easiest route
would be to just cite editions of texts that do indeed have static
page numbers whenever possible?

I am aware that not everyone uses MLA, but suggested it because it
does establish conventions for this sort of thing and can provide some
guidance to someone not seeking to reinvent the wheel with their
citations, or seeking at least some ideas about solutions that others
have already come up with.  I think any sensible and intelligible
citation would work, though.

Jim R

> Jim, .mobi (Kindle-compatible) and .epub files (displayable on nearly
> every other dedicated e-reader device) don't have page numbers unless
> someone went to the trouble of encoding them that way. The advantage is
> that text reflows depending upon the display size.

        Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2010 11:28:41 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.264 e-book referencing and reading
        In-Reply-To: <20100820213732.966B3695B1 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard and HUMANIST,

At 05:37 PM 8/20/2010, you wrote:
>[Following is an article from the online edition of The Washington Post.
>Note the argument concerning e-book readers vs the iPad. As far as I
>know, the former fall short for consistently readable versions of
>everything but specially prepared e-books. That is, they do not do well
>with pdfs one scans oneself. And I have found that in many public
>locations, such as trains, the lighting is too dim to make the E Ink
>technology effective for comfortable reading. I think, in other words
>that we're dealing here with two different styles of reading.
>Comments? --WM]
>E-reading: Revolution in the making or fading fad?

The development of robust electronic devices for reading and 
reference will take much longer than people now imagine. Decades 
rather than years. In this early phase, we have not settled on many 
of the basics, such as whether and when one wants electronic ink, or 
a back-lit display, or both or something else; or how a persistent, 
device-independent, and sufficiently granular referencing apparatus 
should be designed, implemented and deployed. In spite of these 
questions, we are seeing the beginnings. But there is also much more 
to come, which we hardly now imagine.

In addition to the way in which we get hung up on the details (which 
are sometimes critically important, but not of the essence), our 
expectations are also at fault for distorting our understanding. We 
suppose that easy things are hard, and hard things are easy. In 
particular, we are simply oblivious to the high level of expertise we 
ourselves already bring to reading, even in the most ordinary 
quotidian uses of newspaper or novel, to say nothing of the expertise 
embedded in the material technologies that support these. Both the 
production and "consumption" of books and magazines are outcomes of 
years of learning and centuries of evolutionary development in the 
interaction of hand and eye with ink and paper. As technologies, they 
are well-suited to niches, which are not necessarily filled easily by 
interlopers. Yet there may also be other ecological niches possible 
in our oceans of information.

This being the case, why should an e-book reader do well with a PDF 
one scans oneself? PDF isn't designed to support such a use -- its 
roots are in a printer control language for laying out pages, and an 
electronic device with a display screen (or two) has no "page" in the 
sense that PDF understands it. To the extent we can get an e-reader 
to emulate a page, something can be done. But to expect it to be 
beautiful or even very serviceable may be no more reasonable than to 
expect to cook a fine French dinner out of an already prepared 
Japanese meal. Were I a French chef presented with such a challenge, 
I hope I'd have the presence of mind to invite myself to sit down 
with my guests and enjoy it, fresh in its lacquered boxes, without 
further interference from me.

E-readers will become more interesting and useful as they develop 
into themselves. The current generation of "page-turner" technologies 
will seem like those printed incunabula that left blanks for the 
decorator to add illumination. It's not that nice things cannot be 
done. It's that, in view of the wider possibilities, it seems a very 
strange thing to be devoted to exclusively.

One thing e-books are not is a fad. But they are not books either.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
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