The little details, like hyphens and em-dashes

As you may or may not know, I got myself a Kindle a few months back. To be more specific, it was the Kindle DX — a bit more expensive, but the bigger screen and native PDF support was more than worth it in my case. My thought at the time was that it would mainly be used for technical documents. A large part of what I do is reading several-thousand-page chip datasheets, reviewing product documentation, and reading manuals for new technologies. I am a big fan of the O’Reilly Rough-Cuts series of books, which might be thought of as books in beta form. With Rough-Cuts, books about extremely new technologies get written and published electronically, then as the technology gets honed, so do the books. Revisions are frequent. You have access to those revisions as they occur as well as the final electronic version, and have an option to get the print version at a reduced price. I find these cutting-edge books invaluable in a field that changes all the time. Although a lot of the material is available from a variety of websites, it is often worth the price to have it consolidated in one PDF.

While I have read quite a lot of technical information, I find, surprisingly, that the vast majority of my Kindle reading is for pleasure. I have been reading (and re-reading books I last read years ago) a lot of fiction and non-fiction that is in no way technical. Although surprising, it is in no way disagreeable. I find that I am reading more, and this is a good thing.

As positive as my Kindle experiences have been, there is one minor nit-picky pet peeve about some of the content. I ranted about this on Twitter last night and expanded upon it a little bit in a Facebook response, but figured I would share it for all right here. Although the majority of modern content — that is, content published in the last year or two — seems to have been translated directly from a digital source document into a digital ebook file, older titles (and by older, I mean books even as recent as the late ’90s) feel as if they have gone through scanning, imaging, and optical character recognition to make digital ebooks out of print source material. Although there have been a number of examples, two recent sets of annoyances spring to mind:

* In So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, one of the characters has an unusual name, Fenchurch to be exact. I assume this is not a word that appears in the typical hyphenation dictionary. In a few random places in the ebook, the name is written as Fen-church. It feels as if the name was split across a line-break in the print edition, but the OCR that scans the book into a digital file could not tell a hyphenated word spanning two lines from a compound word spanning two lines, because it wasn’t in the dictionary so decided it was a compound word.

* In Starship Titanic, the em-dashes (or, rather, the haphazard transpositions from em-dash into hyphen) are really annoying. I am only a few chapters in to the book and already the swizzling of em-dashes with hyphens is starting to drive me crazy. There will be parenthetical thoughts that start with an em-dash, but end with a hyphen, or vice-versa. So you would be reading a sentence and get an interruption — like this-and not realize it just ended because the second em-dash is printed as a hyphen.

These are relatively minor annoyances, but stand out to my eyes. Others may skim by without noticing. These irritations aside, I am quite happy with the Kindle platform as a whole.

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