Computerphile and the Kindle text problem

Recently, I have been watching a few videos on the Computerphile YouTube channel. I’ve found a few publishing related videos about typesetting, printing, and ebook text. Computerphile take the most interesting aspects of digital technology and explain them in non-abstract ways that a computing novice can understand. The Computerphile videos I’ve been interested in lately have been ‘The Kindle Text Problem’ and ‘EXTRA BITS – More on E-Reader Text Layouts’.

Last month, I started to commute from London to Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge twice a week, and so am becoming increasingly keen on the idea of buying a Kindle or a similar device. Lugging books around on trains is quite tiresome – Kindle’s are lightweight, sleek, and make reading constantly accessible. One thing that has put me off the Kindle in the past is the ugly and inefficient text justification. The text does not flow neatly like it does with a PDF or a print book unless the text size is very small. Once we increase the text size (something I imagine I would want to do), the text looks particularly bad, with large gaps of white on the right side of the display.

Dr Steve Bagley and Brady Haran explain in ‘The Kindle Text Problem’ that, interestingly, this problem is easy to fix, but, if fixed, causes more problems. If the text was able to set itself using a more complex algorithm, the layout of each digital page would be far neater and therefore more enjoyable to read. However, by using a more complex algorithm, the device would need to use more power, and so the battery life would be very short. The price of the Kindle would also dramatically increase as a result of development, and ebooks would take a longer time to load to allow the algorithm to calculate where the text should be split up.

I would highly recommend Computerphile’s videos, as these publishing related ones in particular demonstrate facts, problems, and positive aspects to do with the technological side of publishing. As I have no real knowledge or experience of computer science or coding, they introduce an unfamiliar area of publishing which I might otherwise never be exposed to.


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