Hardware: Ebook Reader and Go Books

BGJ 147 Spring 2009

Reviewer: Pat Ridley

The article has its origins in a conversation with Gerry Mills, our esteemed Bookseller, one night at the Chester Go Club. Gerry asked us if we thought the future for books lay with ebooks rather than with traditional paper copy. I suspect he didn't learn much from our answers at the time, but I found myself wondering how many ebooks on Go one might hope to find. I was aware of a handful of Go texts on the web provided by public-spirited individuals, and that general ebooks from commercial publishers exist, though probably a rather low percentage of all newly published books. But what about commercially published Go books? Are there any, and is there any sign of them for the foreseeable future?

Here I describe my recent experiences of using a ebook reader to read Go books. It is not a comprehensive review of either ebook readers or Go ebooks, nor is it an endorsement of any particular product or book and the opinions expressed are simply my opinions, but I hope it will give the flavour of what is available and a foretaste of what might one day become a standard option. Whilst I refer to books in this article, but of course an ebook reader should be able to read any document in a supported format.

The ebook Reader

First I will say a little about ebook readers and in particular the one I use, which is the BeBook, produced by the Dutch company Endless Ideas. A popular alternative is the Sony Reader. The BeBook is roughly conventional book size and weight (184 x 120 x 10 mm, 220 gm), with an internal memory of 512MB and a slot for an SD card such as commonly used in digital cameras. You can download ebooks to the internal memory or SD card via a USB cable, or simply download to an SD card on your computer's SD card reader if it has one. The screen is 120 x 90 mm (6 inches diagonally), with 600 x 800 pixels.

The number of books you can store on the BeBook depends a lot on the file format, of which a large number are supported by the BeBook. The Kiseido books I mention below are in pdf form and average around 80MB each, so a 2GB SD card should be able to hold around 25. This is larger than the average file size of the preloaded free ebooks (189 in total of which 100 are in English, occupying 150MB). There are other far more efficient formats, and the manufacturers claim the internal memory is enough for 1000 books. If all this is not enough, you could of course have a library of SD cards. Anyway, this should make for lighter suitcases. The BeBook will also play MP3 files through headphones. The software can be updated from the Mybebook web site.

Why Bother

Ebooks can be read on desktop PCs and laptops, so why bother with a special purpose ebook reader? The BeBook screen does not use an LCD. It uses the rather different technology of 'epaper' and 'eink' the upshot of which is that text is black on a white background and can be read in the same environments as a conventional book. This includes bright sunlight, where LCD screens struggle to be seen, for example on the beach, where you might want to do some holiday reading (though I would hesitate to read it in the bath - could be costly). The lifetime of a battery recharge is estimated at 7000 page turns, which is enough for reading War and Peace several times over should you be so inclined, though in practice the lapse of time is also a factor. The BeBook is substantially smaller and lighter than even the small laptops ('netbooks') and the controls are tailored for the task. There is no long delay while the device 'boots up'; it turns on in seconds and you can quickly resume reading where you left off. On the other side of the coin, the images are black and white only. Ebooks can be read on PDAs, but I have not attempted this and cannot comment on that comparison.

Commercially Published Ebooks

I have visited the web sites of publishers of Go books to see what ebooks, if any, they might have. The only commercially published Go ebooks I have come across so far are from Kiseido. It has published its Digital Bookshelf One, which is a DVD holding five out-of-print books: What's Your Rating - Miyamoto Naoki; Kato's Attack and Kill - Kato Masao; Enclosure Josekis - Takemiya Masaki; All About Thickness - Ishida Yoshio, and Breakthrough to Shodan - Miyamoto Naoki. Kiseido have also released the first 108 issues (1977 - 2006) of Go World on 3 DVDs, the Go World Archive. I have tried the sample edition on the Kiseido web site. This is a large (58MB) pdf file and equally readable on the BeBook. The Archive immediately provides a good selection of reviewed professional games. Kiseido also plan to release the Go Review Archive, covering all 160 editions (1961 - 1977). The release was due in Autumn 2008 but does not appear to have happened yet (Jan 09). The sample copy is an even larger file (95MB), perhaps because it was scanned from a printed copy, but displays in the same way on the BeBook.

'Free' Ebooks

The Wings Across Calm Water Go Club has a number of free go books: classic Chinese problems - Guan Zi Pu; How to Play against the Stronger Player - Sakai Michiharu; Go on Go - Go Seigen's commentaries on his own games; The Way to Go - Karl Baker (beginners' introduction).

Yutopian make editions of the magazine Go Winds freely available at, but even at the highest BeBook zoom level I found the print unreadably small.

How Well Do They Work?

All the above mentioned books are in pdf format and, with the exception of Go Winds, all are readable on the BeBook, but with some caveats. How to Play Against The Stronger Player is also offered in doc (MS Word) file format, but in that case the diagrams do not display, so stick to the pdf! There are 3 'zoom' levels available on the BeBook, though availability seems to depend on the document. Also depending on the document, the smaller text sizes may be rather small for comfortable reading, and the board lines may be indistinct or even invisible. At the largest size, which is displayed in landscape orientation, large diagrams may be split across two pages. Text size on the Go books may be an issue for those of us of advancing years and diminishing eyesight, though this does not seem to be a problem for the more general books, e.g. from Project Gutenberg.

Other Issues

There are many ebook file formats, a situation described in Wikipedia as sometimes referred to as "The Tower of eBabel". The BeBook currently supports 23 file formats, but this does not include every format used by ebooks. In particular there seems to be a current issue with files protected by the DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems. The BeBook is not a general purpose computer and sgf files are not supported. HTML is a supported format, but I have not had any success so far in displaying diagrams embedded in an HTML document. The software on the BeBook is upgradeable and therefore the range of supported formats is expandable, in principle.

A number of web sites offer free ebooks. Project Gutenberg claims to have a library of 27000 books with expired copyright in the USA book listings, with links to other sites giving a combined total of 100,000.

As ever, you should check for copyright restrictions before downloading anything.

Conclusions

The market for ebooks and ebook readers is evidently immature. The only ebooks I have bought so far are the five in the Kiseido Digital Bookshelf One, so I have very little experience of the general ebook marketplace. My attempts to find specific recent books in ebook form have not been successful. If you are not choosy about which book on a particular topic or in a particular genre of fiction then you may be more successful. However you have a good chance of finding the classic novel of your choice in text or audio format or both, free of charge from a site such as Project Gutenberg.

Few Go books are currently available as ebooks, and for those that are they are much more pleasant to read on your desktop or laptop computer, and of course a computer allows you to read sgf files and play! Juggling for an appropriate balance between text size and diagram readability can be a little irritating on the BeBook, and the lack of colour can seem dreary (though not an issue for any Go books I have seen). When portability is important, however, the ebook reader comes into its own, making it a useful device for the traveller.



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