Checking out the Competition: Clip Studio

So, last week I read a review in the German C’t magazine of Krita 4.4.0. It was all very complimentary, but the conclusion was:

Mit seinen Animations- und Vektorfähigkeiten hebt sich Krita von der Konkurrenz ab. Funktional bleibt das Programm allenfalls hinter dem japanischen Clip Studio Paint (ehemals Manga Studio) zurück.

Well! I mean to say, that’s not what we want to hear. I’ve played a bit with Clip Studio on iOS, but I never really dug into what made the application different from, say, Paint Tool Sai or Medibang.

So I got a trial license and gave it a try, first on my macbook pro (2015), then on Windows on my Thinkpad T470p. I recently got a new cintiq, a 24″ Cintiq Pro Touch, to replace the broken Cintiq Hybrid Companion and the even more broken Mobile Studio Pro. It’s conquered my painting table…

The first thing you notice when starting Clip Studio is the really busy opening screen, which is actually separate from the actual painting application. Just like Krita, it shows the latest news, but also featured images, new tutorials and so on. There is a row of options on the left side, some of which open a browser, some of which open a page in the right-hand panel and one of which starts the application.

Clip Studio's Starting Screen
Clip Studio’s Starting Screen

I kind of like the presentation of the news items, and the featured image on top.

Starting Clip Studio shows a rather traditional window. On macOS, you can only open Clip Studio on the primary display, you cannot move the application from, say, the monitor to the Cintiq without making the Cintiq the primary display. On Windows, that’s not a problem, but several of the dialogs will show up on the primary display, not the one where the Clip Studio window is placed. This even happens for the brush editor floating palette.

Clip Studio's main window
Clip Studio’s main window

Also on macOS, Clip Studio comes with its own titlebar and titlebar buttons which don’t work like the default ones on macOS do.

Then I loaded one of my old comic pages in PSD format, and started experimenting.

I found out, in the settings, that Clip Studio has the same problems with Wintab vs Windows Ink Krita has, which is kind of a relief. I also got the same problems with the rocker switch set to right-button, and with misplaced cursors if not all screens have the same display scaling. In general, the touch screen functionality of the Cintiq is quite bad…

Something that Krita has, that Photoshop doesn’t is group layers that are either pass-through (as in Photoshop) or have their own projection. Clip Studio has that, too, but it’s a global option in the preferences dialog, and cannot be set per group layer.

Another setting is between “default” and “high quality” canvas — that sounds a bit like Krita’s setting where you can choose between nearest neighbour, bilinear, trilinear and high-quality scaling mode. It suggests that Clip Studio is also using OpenGL for their canvas implementation, but… Their canvas is really smooth and responsive on macOS, where we are still struggling with OpenGL on macOS.

Their tool system is different: they have separate tools for pencil, pen, brush and eraser. Tools then have “sub tools” that you can select in the top-left second column panel, and then settings in a panel underneath. That works quite well, much better than Photoshop’s fold-out toolbar buttons where you long-click, then select a tool, and the others are hidden again.

The panels show text and icon for the currently selected tab, and icons for the unselected tabs. Those icons are, on Windows, a bit cut off, and hard to recognize. To me, it looked a bit like Hangul…

What I really appreciated is that the layer properties aren’t in a dialog, but in a panel, and this works really quite well. There are layer-style like things you can add to a layer, and mark a layer as “draft” — so for instance the fill tool doesn’t take that layer into account when using the composed image for filling, or as a “reference” layer. I want to convert Krita’s layer properties dialog to a panel, too!

There are two color modes: dark and light, and both lack contrast a bit. It doesn’t help that if you make the cintiq brighter than 50% a boeing 747 starts taking off in your work room, drowning out music and speech. Such fans…

Clip Studio Paint really is geared towards making manga, manhwa or manhua (even though it isn’t for sale in the PRC, only Taiwan). So there are lots of options for showing things like bleed margins, and I want that, too, for Krita. A new canvas decoration would be the best place to implement that.

Krita does have a comic book manager which handles pages and generating epubs, so we’re equal in that regard. What we’re missing is the number of templates and presets; what is also missing is the frame layer type, for comic book frames. And our text tool and balloon collection isn’t good, but I already knew that.

There are a bunch of other useful features, some of which already got discussed on krita-artists.org, like an option to assign a color to a grayscale layer and use that color to render the pixels. That should be implementable, though, and the workarounds discussed in that thread shouldn’t be necessary.

There’s a filter that makes raster line-art fatter — not sure how useful that is.

There are two other big differences that I could see in one Sunday of playing around and following tutorials: materials and 3d models. Materials are things like patterns, but also models of buildings and other resources that you can use to, for instance, easily add a lace border to a dress. This is worth investigating. The inclusion of the 3D models is something we had tried to achieve in one or two Summer of Code projects, but it never got anywhere. Might be worth reviving as a project.

Another thing worth investigating is whether we shouldn’t create something like Blender Cloud or the Clip Studio community system, where people can take out a subscription and access and share resources, tutorials and so on.

Painting-wise, I think Clip Studio is doing fine, though our brush engines are more versatile, but their performance on macOS is much better.

In the end, I probably should go through all the menus and make a detailed feature comparison, and then we, Krita developers, could decide which features are neat enough to nick. I wonder when Adobe will then poach those new features for Photoshop…

 

Letter From Nanette — Or How Brexit Came Home

Just back from Fosdem, where thousands of people from all over the world came together to celebrate Free Software and to work together towards one goal, I found a letter from the Dutch Customs Office on my desk.

I’ve been following the Brexit news, of course, learning how for the past decades plutocrats have used right-wing media to spread lies about the European Union, how the Leave campaign was financed in illegal ways, how basically it was people who were hurt most by the dumb idea of austerity who voted leave (on that topic, read “Austerity, the History of a Dangerous Idea” by Mark Blyth) and how this was the inevitable consequence of trying to keep two opposing camps in one political party.

And now Brexit came to me, in person. The letter Nanette van Schelven, General Director of Customs sent me, tells me I’ve been doing business with the UK, which is true, though I had never realized it, thanks to the friction-less trade we have in the EU. We order the Krita usb sticks from Flashbay, which is a UK company, even though the website is in Dutch and uses the .nl top-level domain.

So, I’ve been going through the Brexit preparedness website, which is admirably thorough. Apart from importing USB sticks, for now, whether there’s a deal or not, the Krita trademark will hold in the UK, until it’s time to renew it in the EU.

For the usb sticks, it turns out that I would have to get an EORI number, register with the Dutch Customs Office, and get import permits. That’s a bit much, for a box of usb sticks… So, after Brexit, we won’t do that anymore, and find a different supplier.

 

 

 

The Awful Dilemma

I like fixing bugs… It makes people happy who have their bugs fixed, it makes Krita better, and it can be done in relatively small time laps. And it gives one a sense of having been usefully productive to go to the weekly bug summary, and see oneself in the top-five of bug resolvers. Not that I’m there right now, though I was last week, because sometimes one has to dig deeper.

These weeks I’m working on refactoring Krita’s resource systems. Resource in graphics app parlance are things like brushes, gradients, patterns — mostly small files that are stored somewhere on disk and that are loaded on start up. This code dates back to 2000 or so and was originally designed for a world where people would have a few dozen of each resource installed, and where brushes and patterns wouldn’t be bigger than 64 x 64 pixels.

These days, people want to have libraries containing hundreds of resources, and many are huge, like 5000×5000 pixel images. Krita cannot simply load all of that in memory like we’re doing now. It takes too much memory. It takes too much start-up time. It makes organizing resources too hard for the user. Because it uses the ancient KDE system for finding resources in the installation, local installation and local user folder in a tiered system, some resources cannot be edited, like with kxmlgui customization files, any application update will spell disaster.

The whole system will have to be scrapped. We’ll have to have a buffer between the actual resources on disk and the application — a caching database. I kinda feel like I’m jumping down an akonadi-type rabbit hole!

And then there’s tagging and organizing and all the bugs that 18 years of accretion have both fixed, added and papered over. The codebase is the most amazing mix of simple-minded, fiendishly over-complicated and sometimes downright mis-guided patterns and anti-patterns.

So, I’m coding, for the first time since the export filter warning project a couple of years ago, lots and lots and lots of new code. It’s fun! It’ll take at least two months of solid work, probably more, especially since most of it is actual research…

Still, going so deep and losing oneself in the high of concentrated coding means that bug fixing falls by the wayside — even though the result should end with scores of bugs closed — that I feel pangs of guilt. I know that this or that thing is broken, and my fingers itch! But I find it impossible to really carry all that’s needed for this refactoring in my head, and dig into problems in other systems.

Two Awful Books

So… My blog originally started out as a book review blog, and to celebrate its return (we moved from a home-hosted server to something cloudy), let’s talk about two gosh-darned awful books.

The thing is this: I’ve been so busy with actually maintaining a 600 kloc project that I’ve neglected keeping up with the changes in the language the project uses. Yet C++ has changed a lot, even if our codebase hasn’t. I did buy Stroustrup’s C++11 Programming Language book, but never had time to read it.

And now we’re at C++17. So I thought I’d get a couple of books with C++17 in the title to help me figure out what has changed, why it has changed, how it has changed and what the changes are good for. I got two books from Apress, which is a Springer imprint.

So let’s go for a quick syntax overview. C++17 Quick Syntax Reference. The author, Mikael Olsson, is a Fin, and weirdly enough his bio is smaller than the technical reviewer’s bio, Massimo Nardone. Massimo also gets his picture printed, Mikael doesn’t. Judging from the layout, the book itself is obviously either meant for pre-school children or people with vision problems even worse than mine: the letterpress is enormous. All that would not be a problem, but…

A quick syntax reference has no business explaining how to choose an IDE or how to create a Hello World application. A C++17 syntax reference should also teach modern, 2017-level C++, not 1972 level C. The final chapter, Chapter 27, explains what Headers are, Why Use Headers — with this gem of an observation “C++ requires everything to be declared before it can be used.” Then it goes on the show how to #include a header — heady stuff! After some more kindergarten stuff it finished up explaining include guards.

The book isn’t actually written in broken English, but it is unreadable all the same. Just look at this quote from page 58:

“In addition to passing variables by value, reference, or address, a variable may also be returned in one of these ways. Most commonly, a function returns by value, in which case a copy of the value is returned to the caller.”

Okay, writing this book was a waste of time for the author, unless he’s getting rich from it, which I doubt. It’s a waste of time for the reader, and spending more time on it is going to be a waste of time for both me, and you, my reader. The book will be pulped and recycled.

Next. “Clean C++”: Sustainable Software Development Patterns and Best Practices with C++17″ by Stephan Roth.
Same publisher, same awful print quality, but since Stephan produced a lot of text, the font size is very small. This time the author gets his mugshot printed, and the technical reviewer, Marc Gregoire not. Marc is Belgian, Stephan German and I suspect that the copy editor was Martian. The very first sentence is already broken:

“It is still a sad reality that many software development projects are in bad conditions, and some might even be in a serious crisis.”

The author then continues riding his hobby horses, even quoting the long-discredited “broken window” theory.

Some things are nice, the author uses actual code samples from actual projects, like Apache OpenOffice, to show problems. Some chapters have promising titles, like “The Basics of Clean C++”, but then start exhorting the reader that “Names Should Be Self-Explanatory”. I thought I was reading a book on clean C++, not Java for high school students? Apparently, removing the license header from your source files will also make your code more Clean!

“Advanced Concepts of Modern C++” is more interesting, though either I am dumb, or the author was in need of a good editor to help him explain what he means, because much of the text I just cannot follow. I would also have liked some clear explanation of why automatic type deduction is good, while at the same time, we’re exhorted to do Type-Rich Programming. The rest of the book rehashes in an an abbreviated way what was explained much better elsewhere: Object Orientation, Functional Programming, Test Driven Development, Design Patterns and UML.

The book promised to show how to use C++17 to write clean code. Instead it regurgitates every bromide from Code Complete and similar books published in the past two decades without adding anything interesting or even talking about C++17 much.

Maybe I’m hypercritical these days… But this book will also be pulped. In any case, any suggestions for something that will teach me to read and write real modern C++17 are very welcome!

Why I Stopped Reading Books Written By Judith Tarr

Not about Krita or KDE… Instead it’s about my reaction to a blog article or two by an author whose work I used to buy.

Some time ago I read an article by Judith Tarr on Women In Science Fiction. It sort of pissed me off. Recently, she recycled this article on Charles Stross’ blog. The gist of it is that the world is unfair to women because readers stop buying sf/fantasy books by female authors when they are no longer pretty thirty-somethings, and that that is unfair. Now I noticed these articles because Judith Tarr used to be one of my favourite authors…

Personally, I don’t care whether the authors of the books I read are thirty or sixty, have tits or balls, although, to be completely honest, I probably read more books by female authors than by male authors. Sometimes I think it’s because most readers, these days, are women, and many women strongly prefer to read books written by their own sex, so it would make sense that more books by women get published. I didn’t do any research and did’t compile statistics, of course, but then, Judith Tarr also hasn’t done the statistics, that I could find. Sometimes I think I might be reading more female authors because for some weird cultural reason, female authors put more character interaction in their books, and male authors more — dunno, stuff that bores me. Like Malazan or Game of Thrones. Bad world-building, lack of interesting people, prosiness. Sometimes I think it’s just because I get recommended more books by female authors because I know more female SF/F readers than male readers, which is back to square one. I know that when I was sending manuscripts out, I thought I’d better use a female pseudonym. I probably was wrong, since it seems agents still prefer authors with male sounding names.

In any case, the reason I stopped reading Judith Tarr is simply because her books disappointed me more and more… We bought a lot of her books, but the one that started it was Ars Magica. That book blew me away. Not because the author was a sexy twenty or thirty-something. There is no backflap picture on the paperback. But, in fact, we thought Ars Magica was so good we went on buying her books, disappointment after disappointment.

In the nineties, a book-buying expedition to the American Book Center in Amsterdam would have us first check the T’s for a new Tarr, then the K’s for a new Kurtz, then the P’s for a new Pratchett. This was before the Internet, so the only way we had to figure out whether there was a new book by our favourite authors was to go to the bookshop. After the ABC we would hit Waterstones, to check the J’s for a new Diana Wynne Jones, and then the W’s to make sure there really wasn’t one. We’d end up buying second-hand books in the English Book Exchange, and go home with a dozen paperbacks each.

So… After Ars Magica, we got Alamut. That was quite decent, the bits with the ifreeta and her human sister in the cave where Aidan was kept were great. Oodles of interesting character interaction. The whole elves/magic stuff… Well, not so much. A bit standard and not really well thought-out, I felt back then. Then, A Wind in Cairo was short enough to finish before putting it aside. The Dagger and the Cross had a few nice bits, but was on the whole rather a disjointed read. But… Ars Magica was great.

So we got The Hound and the Falcon. I never got through the first few chapters. I thought, well, maybe the three volumes in one cover was just too heavy to read comfortably, besides, an early work, reissued, so let’s get The Hall of the Mountain King. First part in a longish series, which we never bothered to get the other parts of. Lord of the Two Lands failed to grip, Throne of Isis ditto.

Still, you never know, and Ars Magica had made a deep impression. By now, I didn’t dare re-read it, for fear it would disappoint as much as the other Judith Tarr titles we bought. So, when The Eagle’s Daughter was released, we hesitated. But the idea of a novel around a Byzantine Princess in Ottonian Germany was delectable. Unfortunately, the author seems to detest Byzantium and revere Rome, something which already was apparent in The Dagger and the Cross, and that took away some of the enjoyment of what, had it been better constructed, better told and contained more interesting characters could have been a great book. To me, nobody in the book came alive, and I did give it a good chance, three or even four times.

Pillar of Fire was the last Judith Tarr we bought. Our copy is chiefly remarkable for not having a single crease in its spine. It was a disappointment from page one.

Well, that’s not quite true. We never got anything by Caitlin Brennan or Kathleen Bryan (by now the internet existed and put us wise), but after the first article mentioned above, I got her “Living in Threes” It was cheap, and, well, I remember Ars Magica as a really good book. “Living in Threes” is not a good book. It’s construction is shoddy, it’s world-building is basic, the characters are cardboard cut-outs. It reads as if it was written without any focus, as if the author had better things to do, things that took up all the brain-power.

I stopped reading Judith Tarr, not because she’s gone invisible because she’s a middle-aged woman and I’m a man who only notices under-thirty women, but because, after reading a bunch of her books I found that I’d better read books by other people.

Like… Aliette de Bodard, Virginia deMarce, Esther Friesner, Irina Rempt and a host of other people… R.A. Macavoy is surprising, Caroline Stevermer never fails to enchant, Mercedes Lackey is usually diverting, when one has flu, Karen Mills sets the standard for bickering characters, but is often entertaining, Katherine Addison has really original world-building, Genevieve Cogman’s worlds are weirder and her characters deeply interesting and Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria — well, a bit mixed, the first part was far more interesting than the second part. And let’s not mention the woman everyone always mentions when it comes to SF, who is being called a “smurfette” by Judith Tarr: Lois McMaster Bujold, maybe a bit too fond of Dorothy L. Sayers, but still putting down an incredible universe full of interestingly interacting characters. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget Pamela Dean. Connie Willis, on the other hand, is a bit Judith-Tarrish, in that one book, Bellwether, really gripped me, and all the other books bored me. Well, To Say Nothing of the Dog had good bits, though there the Dorothy L. Sayers worship definitely was too much. Liz William’s SF Singapore is incredibly fascinating, and I’m saving some of her books so I’ve got something stashed away for a rainy day.

I could go on, though, mentioning authors and books, and it’s already late. Let me conclude: I’m sure women are being disciminated against, and I can be convinced men find it easier to get their SFF published. But I stopped buying Judith Tarr’s books because I didn’t like reading them, not because the author became a middle-aged woman.

Memories

I first encountered Terry Pratchett’s work in 1986, when Fergus McNeill’s Quilled adventure game adaption of the Colour of Magic was released for the ZX Spectrum. Back then, Fergus was a bigger name in my mind than Terry Pratchett. I enjoyed the game a lot, but couldn’t get the book anywhere — this was 1986, the Netherlands, no Internet, Oosterhout, so no bookshop carrying any fantasy books in English beyond Lord of the Rings.

When I was in my first year in Leiden, eighteen years old, studying Sinology, a friend of mine and me, we went to London for a book-buying expedition. Forget about the Tower, the V&A or the National Portrait Gallery. We went for Foyles, The Fantasy Book Center and the British Library. I acquired the full set of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” series, Frank got Lord Dunsany’s autobiography, I got Clark Ashton Smith’s collected short stories and Lord Dunsany’s Gods of Pegana (straight, apparently, from the rare books locker from the University of Buffalo).

I also bought Mort.

That was the first Terry Pratchett novel I read, and I was hooked. I read and re-read it a dozen times that week.

When I first met Irina, we had an overlapping taste, but very few books in common… The first book I foisted upon her was Equal Rites. I think, I’m not so sure anymore, I recognize books by their colour, and all my Terry Pratchett paperbacks have vaguely white splotchy spines by now.

If you look at our fantasy shelves, it’s easy to see when I got my first job. That was 1994, when I bought my first Terry Pratchett hardcover. Since then, I’ve bought all his books in hardcover when they were released.

I fondly remember the Terry Pratchett and discworld Usenet newsgroups, back when Usenet was fun. alt.books.Pratchett, alt.fan.Pratchett. The annotated FAQ. L-Space. Pterry.

Deciding that, well, sure, I couldn’t wait for the paperback, and would get the hardback, no matter what. Seeing the books’ spines go all skewed with re-reading.

Were all his books awesome? No, of course not. Though I guess nobody will agree with me which ones were less awesome. And I sometimes got fed up with his particular brand of moralizing, even.

But, in my mind, Terry Pratchett falls in the same slot as Wodehouse and Diana Wynne Jones. Wodehouse had about thirty years more of productive life; and Wodehouse’ sense of language was, honestly, better. But Terry Pratchett’s work showed much more versatility, though there, Diana Wynne Jones surely was the greater master. But there are books, like Feet of Clay, that I read, re-read and will keep re-reading.

An author of a body of work that will last a long time.

1633

By Eric Flint

Talk about a timely release — just when I was down and out with a spot of pneumonia, Eric Flint releases the sequel to 1632 in Baen’s Free Library. I rather liked the people in 1632, even though I didn’t like Eric Flint’s preaching that republicanism is the panacea for all evil, so I downloaded the html version, and began reading.

1633 however, is definitely not as good a book as 1632. There is almost no coherence in the storylines. I don’t simply mean that there are things going on at four or five places (that’s okay, and could be handled well), but from one point to another, it reads like the authors got a bit excited at times and decided to throw yet another constitutional reform into the air. Strands and threads (like the advent of princess Kristina) are left dangling. The book also reads like it ends somewhere half-way…

Parts of it are still fun to read, other parts show a nice bit of tension. In some places, as for instance the pages of formal American Army-ese in the letters and reports after a battle, it’s a cheap tear-jerker effect, albeat one that works. And the constant harping on the uselessness of the aristocracy got my goat — not that I’m a great fan of inherited wealth, but because Weber doesn’t ask himself the question about why these people had gotten wealthy in the first place, and doesn’t realize that there is no difference between a rich aristocrat bent on getting a bit richer and keeping the money in the family, and a succesful businessman who does the same.

On the other hand, much of his historical research is extremely good. I mean, I’ve visited the grave of Tromp, and I still thought he was called ‘Harmenszoon’, instead of ‘Harpertszoon’, so I know I have learned something. It’s a pity that in this alternative universe, Weber has to have Tromp lose the naval battle against Oquendo.

  • Author: Eric Flint and David Weber
  • Title: 1633
  • Pages: 608
  • Published: 2003
  • Publisher: Baen
  • ISBN: 0743471555

You can buy this book or download it from Baen’s Free Library in various formats. I read the HTML version. The prequel is also freely available, except for the first twelve chapters.

Finis

About a year ago I started with Fading Memories, both to experiment with Zope, and to provide some kind of track or trail of my readings.

I’ve kept a reasonably meticulous record for a year, and in that year I read about a hundred-fifty books, less than I thought, but still about three a week, seen maybe three movies, and done notes of most of them. I managed to royally piss off one person, mildly pique another and to gain top rank for searches for “Latin Lyrics” on Google.

I didn’t finish every book I started: I didn’t finish The Dragon Waiting, Byzantine Commonwealth, Max Havelaar (again!) and a few others.

I didn’t review every new comic I bought — the latest Ragebol, the very, very, very excellent Agent 327 albums, the pretty new Melisande and pleasant new Cupido, all read, but not reviewed. If I remember correctly — because I notice that after a year I start to mistrust my digital trail as much as I mistrust my memory.

I didn’t write a notice for Gaudy Night, nor for Thrones, Dominations, even though I feel I’ve got a lot to say about them, and I never got down to doing notices for Mijmeringen and Capriolen, nor for that JMS book I read, but which was forgettable enough, nor that O’Reilly book on web services that is so bad it’s funny — lots of companies like Sonic Software give it away as a freebie. I read part II and III of the Belisarius series, and a few others from the Baen free library, but didn’t do notes.

Irina and I read four books to our children this year: De Zevensprong, De brief voor de Koning, Meester van de Zwarte Molen and Superdetective Blomquist leeft gevaarlijk. And Irina is now reading Man en Muis by Paul Biegel, which is very, very good.

I read one book of poetry, but also the regularly appearing issues of Het Trage Vuur, a journal of translated Chinese literature that features poetry, and I read a lot of the psalms. And I discovered that Kipling is not for me.

I read one book in French (although I restarted Madame Bovary, but I didn’t finish it), read twenty-eight books in Dutch (including the books we read to the children) and about a hundred or so books in English. I didn’t get round to reading much in Greek, even though I studied Greek from February to June. Didn’t bother to review the two Teleac courses in Greek, though. (Oriste sucks and is way too short, and the other one, with twelve chapters, the title has escaped me, is excellent.) Quite a few, at a rough count about twenty, of the English books were e-books, retrieved from Gutenberg or Baen’s free library. Many of the paper books I acquired second-hand, but it was a good book-buying year in general. At an even rougher estimate, I bought about three hundred books… And again, I must admit to a reading/buying deficit.

I did watch three or four movies: The Two Towers, Matilda, Remains of the Day and Harry Potter II. Remains of the Day was easily the best of those four. Oh, and I saw two episodes from the Hamelen television series and a few Charlie Chaplins.

It was a busy year. The company I work for went broke and was rebooted, I tried to teach myself Zope, but find that, in the end, I would have preferred to create Fading Memories as a simple CGI script so all notices are simple, separate files — and maybe I’ll change to pyblosxom, or something like that after all.

Within the space of this year, I read and re-read two Connie Willis books (Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog), read quite a bit of Wodehouse (my favourite author, it seems, with nineteen books read), much of it re-reading, started again with Havank after a long absence, and with van Gulik. Bomans was a relatively new arrival in my life, and Sarah Waters a new discovery: two books, both new, both immediately re-read. I read books by 87 authors.

And I wrote about seventy thousand words of my new novel, and that’s just not enough. Combined with attempts at hacking Krita, studying theology, earning bread and honey for the family, I have decided I need some refocussing to do. Updates and notices will from now on only appear when I really feel like it. C’est fini, for now. Nu is ‘t liedje uit.

An e-reader

In the past two years I’ve travelled a lot, on average about a week a month. I usually take about six books with me if I’m away for a week, but I also started reading books on my laptop, just to have more variety. But my laptop is heavy and not comfortable for reading in a hotel bed. Then I realized that it might be a smart thing to buy a dedicated e-reader. I’m a reader, and I’ve got about ten thousand books, but I’m not a bibliophile, I don’t care about first editions, for instance.

But which one? Kindle was out of the question, since I don’t want Amazon to be able to track or even delete my reading habits. I also am quite sure that I will carry around a lot of books, so I wanted to have an SD card slot. And if the device is hackable, that’s a plus.

I got the Sony PRS T1 reader on the day it was released:

I’ve had it for a month now, there are about 500 books on the device, I’ve spent quite a few hours with it and I’ve learned what this kind of device is good for, and what it isn’t suitable for. In short, it’s great if you want to read a novel from cover to cover, and it’s atrocious if you’re actually someone who uses books.

An advantage or disadvantage is that nobody can see what you are reading: no more peeking around you on the plane or train to see what people are reading, no more smiles of understanding between two Terry Pratchett lovers. On the other hand, since nobody sees what you are reading, no longer sharp remarks about being a poser who is just trying to impress if you accidentally happen to be reading Donne. Or sad looks about your lack of taste if you happen to be reading 1634 by Eric Flint.

Technically, my Sony PRS T1 is pretty ok. There are some bugs, especially in the touch screen which is prone to getting confused and will then turn dozens of pages in a quick succession, but nothing too serious.

The screen is good, though a the white is bit too gray, and it’s too small. They tell you that your e-reader will be the same size as a paperback, but that’s only true if you count the bezel and buttons. There’s much less text on the screen than there’s on a page of a real book.

I like the fact that this device has real buttons to go to the next and previous page — I find that easier to use than the screen gestures. The touch screen keyboard is pretty good, very usable.

The back is rubberized for good grip, and I wish the front was as well, but it’s shiny plastic. Not so good. The whole device feels a bit cheap, which is actually a good thing, because it means I don’t feel forced to be too careful with it, even though it cost 150 euros. I pop it in my coat pocket or backpack, carry it everywhere.

Battery life is wonderful, and for reading long stretched of text it’s great that I can change the font size. When I read in bed without my glasses, I can make it small, when I’m using my glasses it needs to be bigger. But the choice of fonts is pretty limited.

It’s pretty easy to add new books from Linux, I don’t even use Calibre for that, I just copy them to the right location on the device. And Project Gutenberg is stuffed with the kind of thing I like to read.

Ideally…

The thing is, this e-reader is nearly good enough. It’s tantalizing. Already ten years ago I was dreaming of a device close to this one. But an e-reader made for serious users of books.

It should have a bigger screen, at least A5, but color isn’t necessary.

it should come out of the box reasonably well-formatted copies of all the classics, from the Odyssey to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, from Jane Austen to Kalidasa, from Mengzi to Layla and Majnun, both in the original language and in an English translation, and a way to show both in parallel.

The text should be searchable, but there should also be some serious smartnesss in that search facility: I want to be able to select a passage and nearly immediately get a list of places from which that passage can be a quote and where that passage is quoted. Wikipedia integration is great, but selecting a name should give me a list of all works where that name occurs. A chapter quote should link to that book, as well as books about those books.

There should be a serendipity feature, where browsing through the list of available books is replaced by “give me something that suits my mood” or “give me fiction about Tipu Sultan”.

More and better fonts. I want to have Bodoni for my French books, Bembo for my books in Italian and Caslon for my books in English. I got a copy of Mengzi on my Sony, but there’s no Chinese font!

It should be much easier to have a set of books open at the same time — instead of having just one open and the rest remember their current page. Opening a new book doesn’t mean closing the other one!

Text to speech — especially in the dictionary, especially important for English, which does pose some challenges for a foreign reader.

The Small Bachelor

By P.G. Wodehouse

A couple of quick notes, both because I’ve got a big stack of books I’ve read cluttering up my desk, table, floor and mind, and because I want to go on with learning C++.

  • Author: P.G. Wodehouse
  • Title: The Small Bachelor
  • Pages: 204
  • Published: 1987 (1927)
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • ISBN: 0-14-008506-8

Right, The Small Bachelor is a novelisation of a musical comedy Wodehouse wrote the book for, with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton, namely Oh Lady.

This heritage shows in many of the characters, like the small bachelor of the title, George Finch, who needs a lot of description of his exterior to convey the impression he must have made on the stage.

The story is curiously rambling for a Wodehouse, but it’s an early one. And some characters, like Hamilton Beamish the author of the famous Beamish Booklets (Read Them And Make The World Your Oyster) are delightful. Still, it’s galling that this is one of the few Wodehouses that I simply cannot read straight through; I have to skip.