Do you read more in winter or in summer?

Winter is a popular time for book lovers, the season where many of us enjoy staying in, rugging up and delving into a good book. But do we read more in the winter months or in summer?

Summer brings to mind images of sunny days, cool drinks and reading a book on the deck or under the shade of a tree. Many of us take our holidays in summer, reading in airports, on buses and at caravan parks. In summer we seem to be out and about more, enjoying the sunshine and daylight savings, BBQs and day trips, festivals and markets; but do we have more time for reading?

The only time I read during the day is when I’m stuck waiting. It might be waiting at the Doctor’s office, waiting at a cafe for a friend or waiting for a plane. None of these daytime waiting and reading opportunities are at all weather dependent. In fact, when it’s terribly hot and I’m heading out and about, I’m more likely to slip a bottle of water into my handbag in place of a book. For me, summer is a time for travelling light and keeping out of the sun.

I don’t know about you, but I do most of my reading at night and in bed. I find reading before sleep is the best way for me to unwind from the day, tell my body it’s time for rest, and occupy my mind on a single task to minimise the internal chatter.

It’s a fact that in winter we sleep for longer, and when it’s time to get up in the morning we find ourselves reluctant to venture out into the frosty morning. There’s actually a scientific reason for this. In winter there is less daylight, and as a result the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. When we wake up it’s still dark outside and the pineal gland has yet to shut down, hence our reluctance to get up in the morning.

I’m a city dweller, and in the summertime, hot nights are often filled with the sounds of music, BBQs and parties finishing long into the night. In winter, people are keen to get home and don’t seem to venture much outside (except to get from A to B), meaning the city is much quieter. Quiet time is a great time for reading.

Taking all of this into consideration, I think I’ve decided that I do read more in winter than in summer. There are less social gatherings to attend, and it’s nice and cosy in bed with the electric blanket on and a good book in my hands.

What about you? What are your reading habits and do you read more in winter or in summer?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of Incourage

iPad 2 Sells Out in the US: Should You Buy One?

 

As some of you may already know, the iPad 2 was announced on 2 March, and released on Friday in the US to much fanfare. News has officially surfaced about the tablet sales over the weekend and it seems overwhelmingly good (for Apple, at least): the iPad 2 has completely sold out, and sold more than half as many again as the original iPad. What does this mean for Australians – and more importantly, what does it mean for you?

The answer? Not much. Going by the early reviews of the second iteration, your decision to get an iPad should not be much different from when the first one was launched last year. If you were waiting for Apple to iron out the bugs for the second version, then wait no more – the iPad is ready. If you were dubious about the iPad the first time around, then it’s likely you’ll feel exactly the same way now.

Almost a year on from getting my iPad, I realise that although it’s a desirable product, it is something I found a use for rather than found useful in and of itself. It is a gadget, and as a gadget lover it is a beautiful thing. As an editor, I’ve found the iPad far more useful than I thought it would be. It’s versatile enough to read any manuscript you can throw at it, and as a device for editing it is as good or better than a laptop. As an avid reader of websites, blogs and other social media, it is a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop. It’s also fantastic for travelling – ten hours of battery life takes you a good long way into a long haul plane trip. It is not ideal for writing – the on-screen keyboard is great for short bursts of text but for the most part it is inferior to a laptop.

For most casual users of a computer who are not yet in the habit of checking social media sites or email every hour or so, it is less useful than a laptop, and not as specialised as an e-reader in either battery life, screen quality or heft. And that means it falls between use cases. I am not an average user, and the iPad is not an average gadget.

For the most part, people still don’t really know why they want an iPad (or any tablet for that matter). Apple seems to be adjusting their own expectations as well. The original iPad was launched with a keyboard dock and a suite of Office-like apps. The iPad 2 has dropped the keyboard dock and is now concentrating almost entirely on casual media creation – it sports new video editing and music mixing apps, as well as a photo booth app for taking and editing photos.

Having said all that, if you’re still entranced by the shiny new iPad 2, and you have the money, then you should get it. This is a purpose-defining gadget – something you will use once you own, because it is a pleasure to use. If you’re a reader of ebooks, despite all my reservations about the direction Apple is going in, it is still more open and more versatile than a Kindle (or any other straight e-reader).

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner for my last post’s giveaway. Congratulations to Melinda! I’ll be in touch with Melinda by email this evening to arrange the $100 worth of Booku Bucks.

What Do You Want From Your E-reader?

Has the focus on reading – and reading anything you want – been swept aside in order to make it easier to buy content? Until very recently, relatively speaking, e-reading was all about what digital text you could get your hands on. Most of it was free, out-of-copyright stuff from the web. Some of it came via longform journalism (also on the web). And some of it, yes, came from piracy. Although nowadays content can be purchased easily from multiple sources, I would argue the e-reading experience as a whole has not improved as much as Apple, Amazon, Google and their ilk would have us believe.

I first started reading ebooks and other digital content on a Palm Zire in 2003. It had a tiny screen, no wireless capabilities, and the only two stores you could buy content from were Mobipocket and eReader (both of which have since been bought out and absorbed by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively). At the time there were virtually no books available on these stores that I actually wanted to read, so my reading was heavily supplemented by free material from elsewhere. To add my own reading material, I had to convert the files manually, plug the device into my computer and transfer them across. Although wireless and screen technology are light years ahead of my old Palm Zire, the process of reading non-standard material  has not really changed dramatically since then.

At the time I owned the Zire, I also had a first generation iPod, which seemed to me to be the most amazing piece of technology ever. Just plug it in and fill it up with music. Conversion and transfer was all handled through iTunes, which could also organise your music library and play your music for you when you were at your computer. People have had their share of complaints about iTunes, and I certainly have issues with it in its current incarnation, but to begin with it was an incredibly freeing experience. The iPod was portable digital music. To your iPod, the music you got from a CD (or free off the web) was no different to the stuff you could buy (much later) from iTunes itself.

So where was the iPod moment for e-reading? It has never come. Although the Kindle ecosystem has come the closest to recreating the ease of use of the iPod it’s still not there yet, and may never be. Primarily it is a device intended to be used with purchased content – and that content has to come from the Kindle store. Can you imagine if you were only able to load songs onto your iPod if you’d bought it from Apple first? The iPod would never have achieved such a dominant position with such a narrow focus.

Where is the device out there that puts the act of reading at the centre of the experience? Where is the device that doesn’t care where your text comes from, but just wants you to read? My list of demands is not unachievable. Completely wireless loading and conversion of any piece of text I’d like to read; a built-in dictionary; highlighting and annotation (and wireless export of these annotations); Bookmark syncing between devices; and, of course, the sharing of passages and annotations through social networks. Most of these features are available to readers if you buy your books through Amazon or Apple and only read on a Kindle or an iPad – but what about other content? Reading has never been just about blindly buying what’s served up to you in a store – it’s an organic, social experience. And none of the major reading platforms cater to that.

My ideal reading platform has not been created yet. All the major players are far more interested in locking you into the device they make and the content they provide than wanting you to have an ideal reading experience. But I suspect that when that platform comes along, there will be another iPod moment. And the way things are going I very much doubt it’s going to be Apple or Amazon.

What do you think? What do you want from your e-reader? Are you happy with what’s already out there? Or do you think I’m just being a giant early-adopting whiner? Sound off in the comments.

Speed Demon

A recent study by Useit.com has concluded that reading on an e-reading device is, on average, slower than reading a traditional book. The study used a Kindle, an iPad, a book and a PC for the study. The participants were given a comprehension test at the end to make sure all readers were understanding what they read, but were apparently no differences between formats for comprehension. Snip:

The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print … Users felt that reading the printed book was more relaxing than using electronic devices. And they felt uncomfortable with the PC because it reminded them of work.

Aside from the fact that the study was only conducted on 24 people, and reasonable margins of error mean that they can’t say for sure which device is faster, what does a study of this kind mean for readers? Is the speed at which we read actually important to our choice of format? Personally, when I’m reading for relaxation, I don’t care how quickly or slowly I get through a book. But reading is kind of like chocolate cake. It’s excellent when you get to decide how much you eat, even if you sometimes overindulge and give yourself a stomach ache. However, if you were forced to eat six chocolate cakes in a row the experience is not as much of a treat. When I read for work I sometimes need to get through books as fast as humanly possible – without sacrificing my ability to understand what’s happening or work out whether what I’m reading is any good.

It’s a difficult balance to strike. I’m naturally a very slow reader, and tend to slow down the more absorbed I am. To get through something quickly, I need to constantly tell myself to move faster. It’s not a very pleasant experience. Nonetheless, it’s an experience that many people are looking for – sometimes we just need to absorb information as quickly as possible. As a format agnostic, I’ve looked at many ways to speed up my reading. The fastest I’ve found is to use a speed reading program. There are a number of paid software packages, but I prefer the web-based solutions, as you can get to them anywhere, and add any text you like by just copying and pasting in a web browser. Two good examples of this kind of thing are Zap Reader and Spreeder. Using these sites, I’ve sometimes reached speeds of around 700-800 words per minute reading, which is almost triple the average reading speed (most people read around 250-300 wpm). I can get through an average length book in an afternoon. However, there is a terrifying, brain-bending element to reading in this fashion. It feels a bit like downloading a new skill in The Matrix, and tends to give me a massive headache.

I know kung fu.

So, in the hunt for the fastest reading experience, in my next post I’ll be road testing a number of reading technologies  to see if I can balance speed with enjoyment. In the meantime, sound off in the comments and let me know whether you think speed is a plus or minus for you when it comes to reading a book.