Why I don’t use my Kindle much

I realized recently that I had not used my Amazon Kindle (Kindle 3, or now Kindle Keyboard) in more than a month, despite the fact that I read books every day. In fact, I found it buried under some physical books, battery dead, and then charged it, forgot it again for another month, and discovered it dead again.

As an HCI advocate, avid reader, and someone who initially enjoyed the Kindle a lot, I want to examine some of the reasons I drifted away from it. I think there are five key reasons, which I’ll discuss in turn.

  • Multiple books & tactile
  • Notes
  • Random access
  • Layout
  • Content pricing

Multiple books & tactile. I usually read multiple books at a time, and the Kindle doesn’t fit that very well psychologically. True, you can easily navigate from the current book back to the home menu, select a different book, and pick up right where you were reading earlier. But the psychological problem is this: the book will look exactly the same as the one you were just reading. There is no tactile, olfactory, kinesthetic, or any other sense that you have changed your reading material and returned to another place. This reduces the psychological effect of having switched gears, which is a bit of excitement every time I set down one book and pick up another. You also lose the sense of place within a book (the differential weight of pages on each hand, the sense of location within the text, etc.) Thus, the Kindle pulls strongly for reading one book at a time, which I don’t do.

Notes. I often take notes as I read, and the Kindle is not good for that. True, you can select the menu, insert a note, and type it on the miniscule keyboard “ but going back to those notes later is tedious at best, and in fact only once have I reviewed notes that Iv’e taken. In a physical book, there is a sense that marginal scribbling is a creative act in some way. Indeed, I’ve seen scholarly libraries where margin notes were the primary value. On the Kindle, it feels like notes are an afterthought that exist to check off a feature list, not something that actually works well.

Random access. Closely related to the notes issue, there is no good way to skip around in a Kindle book. The physical nature of printed books is extremely helpful for both memory and search. One may recall, for instance, I saw that chart somewhere around the middle and it was at the top of a page, and a quick flip through the pages will reveal it. Likewise, reading often needs a quick flip-back-and-return to locate some fact (now who is Charlotte again?) before continuing. The Kindle is terrible for that. Partially offsetting this is that one can do a text search; but I suspect the need to find a particular word or phrase is less than the need to do quick page-throughs and reviews.

Layout. The Kindle layout is great for fiction and general non-fiction, but not very good for technical materials such as books about statistics and programming. At any given time, I’m usually working my way through a couple of technical books, which I prefer in print. (Besides the layout problem, technical books also pose issues for note-taking and random access, as described above.)

Content pricing. Finally, Kindle has not yet nailed its pricing model. Amazon seems to be apologetic about this, with notes on some titles proclaiming that the price was inflated by the publisher. For my part, I often see things like this: printed technical book is $40 while Kindle is $35. Ouch. In that case, I get print because it adds a lot more value. What I’d really like, however, is a bundle option: Kindle = $35, print = $40, print + Kindle = $50. I need the print edition for all the reasons noted above, but would like to add a Kindle edition for convenience.  But that’s not worth an additional 80-100% of the print edition price. I’m guessing that publishers insist on this, and don’t want a bundle model because someone could buy the bundle, sell the print copy, and keep the Kindle copy at a discount. But come on! My guess is that such behavior (a) would be rare; (b) would be more than offset immediately by market gains; and (c) would increase overall readership and loyalty which has downstream bonuses.

Positives. Of course there are many positive aspects of the Kindle. In particular, the form factor is nicely engineered for a compromise between size and comfort; text is crisp and easy to read; the price is amazing; the availability of content is enormous; and the portability of one’s library is delightful. I won’t rehash those in detail, but they are the reason I bought one to begin with, and why I enjoyed it so much for the first couple of months.

Conclusion and recommendation. If you read a lot of fiction or general non-fiction (history, etc.) that proceeds linearly through a text, then it’s a no-brainer: Kindle is great. If, however, you read mostly highly formatted or technical works (statistics, science texts, cookbooks, art, etc.) then Kindle is mediocre to poor. And if you want PDF support, then it’s downright terrible (except perhaps for the DX, which I haven’t tried).

Great laptop sleeve from SF Bags

I posted earlier about my new favorite laptop bag. Now I’d like to mention the laptop sleeve that I use with it.

I wanted a sleeve to add some protection and have an alternative to carry it when I don’t need the whole bag. I found SF Bags and was delighted with their service. I specified my laptop model and the kind of sleeve I wanted. There was great follow-up from them and the bag shipped quickly. But what I didn’t expect was the fabulous quality — very nicely made and a perfect fit for my laptop. And it was made in the US. I’d order again in a heartbeat.

My favorite laptop bag

I got a laptop bag at work that was just perfect — padded laptop pocket, room for books, not too large, with lots of pockets and great design for pens, a note pad, business cards, MP3 player, even airline tickets. But it had been embossed for an event with a logo I didn’t like.

It took a while to find but I tracked down the exact bag and ordered another one without the logo: Ogio Jack Pack. If you’re looking for a stylish messenger-style laptop bag, it would be hard to do better. About $45, depending on the color.

Now fixing the Lenovo F1/Esc layout

Using CapsLk to mimic CTRL is going well. The frequency of my inadventent “FN-C, FN-V, FN-X” presses is down about 90%. (See previous post).

But a new annoyance has surfaced: I keep pressing F1 instead of Escape (which on Lenovo is by itself above the F1 key). It pulls up Help, which is esp. annoying in Office apps because it launches a new window.

Solution: I use Help very, very rarely, so I map F1 to be Escape. (And then I map F12 to be F1, since I have no idea at all what F12 does, and I occasionally do need F1.)

The program SharpKeysmakes this very easy: run it, add a new key map, write the change to the registry, and reboot. Only works for Windows (and works fine in Windows 7, which I’m using). It can also handle the CapsLk issue instead of the .REG file I posted earlier.

So now my Lenovo keyboard is mapped like this:
CapsLk –> Left CTRL
F1 –> Esc
F12 –> F1

I still wish I could swap FN and CTRL. It would save me at least 10 mistakes a day. Lenovo: please make your BIOS update available retroactively!

Improving the FN/CTRL keys on my Lenovo laptop

Got a new Lenovo X301 ultralight laptop that I absolutely love (thin, light, very quiet with the SSD drive) except for one horrible flaw: the FN key is where CTRL is on every other PC keyboard. Instead of CTRL-C and CTRL-V, I’m always hitting FN-C and FN-V, which are useless.

If it’s your only PC keyboard, you might get used to it. But if you switch back and forth with a desktop keyboard like I do, it will most likely be infuriating.

At some point soon, Lenovo will come out with a BIOS — on new machines only – that allow the keys to be swapped. Meanwhile, there are various workarounds ranging from removing the FN key to trying to glue FN and CTRL together. (Unlike every other key, the FN key cannot simply be remapped by itself because it does not generate a keyscan code.)

The solution I’ve adopted is to remap the (useless) CapsLock key to CTRL. This works across keyboards so it applies to both my laptop and my external desktop keyboard when docked. So now I can use CapsLk-C and CapsLk-V, which are pretty easy to learn and get accustomed to. Here’s discussion about the CapsLk issue.

If you’re using Windows, the easiest way to turn CapsLk into CTRL is to add a Registry key and then reboot:

1. Open Notepad and create a file called “RemapCapsLock.reg” (be sure to turn off the dedault *.txt file extension)
2. Put in these lines:

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
“Scancode Map”=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,02,00,00,00,1d,00,3a,00,00,00,00,00

3. Save it to Desktop. Double-click on it and say Yes to add to Registry. Then reboot and your CapsLk key will be remapped.

Lenovo: PLEASE make the BIOS update available for older machines!

Parental filter: Goodbye SafeEyes on Mac … no more crashing, I hope

I’ve been using SafeEyes at home for 3+ years on our Mac PowerBook. SafeEyes provides very good parental filtering and is one of the few clients available for OS X, but … the whole time it has been plagued with periodic crashes. In the middle of doing something, it just quits and nothing on the Internet works until the system is rebooted. After trying upgrades, uninstall/reinstall, the whole works, I give up.

I’ve switched for now to OpenDNS, a free DNS-based solution. What is DNS? It’s the Internet service that turns friendly names like “” into a 32 (or 128) bit numeric address. What OpenDNS does — if you enable the parental controls — is intercept those requests when they are for sites you’re blocking. It can do this with no client software needed. Just point your network setup to their servers, create a free account and configure your settings, and you’re good to go.

Unless your kids have administrator privileges to change your network settings (in which case you would need something very root, like SafeEyes, to stop them), this should work pretty well. So far it looks great. And did I mention that it’s free? You can choose whether to protect just one computer (as I did) by changing its settings, or point your router to it to protect everything on your network all at once. And dynamic IP/DHCP addresses are no problem: it has a light client app for OSX and Windows that will update your IP address automatically. Just be sure to set it to run automatically (read the “readme” file).

You might ask: why not use OSX parental controls? Because I don’t use Safari, and it doesn’t work with Firefox. I wanted something that is as light as possible on the client, as up to date as possible, and works for everything.

Assessing persona prevalence empirically

I just obtained permission to post our latest paper on Personas. We argued previously that the personas method should not be considered to be scientific, and that a complete persona almost certainly describes few people or no one at all. In the new paper, we present a complete formal model, and evaluate the prevalence of “persona-like descriptions” with both analytical methods and empirical data. Full paper on persona prevalence.

There are two key implications here: (1) if you want to claim that a persona describes real people, you need strong multivariate evidence. (2) Without such evidence, we provide a formula you can use that will give a better estimate than simply assuming something. We show how this formula has a better than chance agreement with 60000 randomly generated persona-like descriptions in real data with up to 10000 respondents.

None of this says that personas are not inspiring or useful. It just says that they cannot be assumed to have verifiable information content, unless that is demonstrated empirically. As for alternatives to answer key design and business questions using empirical data, check out our paper on quantitative methods for product definition.


One of my papers from 2 years ago is still causing discussion: “The Personas’ New Clothes: Methodological and Practical Arguments against a Popular Method” by me and Russ Milham. Email from researchers I didn’t know led me to look up citations, and the article appears to be commonly cited when people present criticism of the personas method. Google search. The paper itself is here.

There are a few misunderstandings of our position out there. Our basic argument is simple. Persona authors often make two claims: (1) personas present real information about users; and (2) using personas leads to better products. In a nutshell, we argue that neither claim has been supported by empirical evidence; rather, the claims for personas’ utility are based on anecdotes, generally from their own authors or other interested parties (such as consultants selling them).

This does not mean that personas are bad, but they cannot be taken at face value. As researchers, we suggest that persona authors should either provide better evidence (and we suggest how) or make weaker claims.

Some persona users don’t make claims about their personas’ usefulness or correspondence to reality; they simply say that personas might be helpful for inspiration for some people or teams. We take no issue with that, as long as they don’t forget those caveats and reify the persona. Unfortunately it is probably very difficult for people to read a persona and not think that it describes a user group.

We’ve recently published empirical work on (quasi-)persona prevalence using several large datasets, demonstrating that once a description has more than a few attributes it describes few if any actual people. I’ll put that paper up as soon as I get reprint permission. (If you have access to HFES archives, it is “Quantitative Evaluation of Personas as Information”, Christopher N. Chapman, Edwin Love, Russell P. Milham, Paul ElRif, James L. Alford, from HFES conference 2008, New York.)

What should one do instead of personas? I advocate stronger empirical methods that have more demonstrable validity.

New papers on user research

Just uploaded 2 new papers on user research. First is work on a multi-factorial product interest scale, designed to be easily administered in survey format and applicable to consumer products. See the abstract on my “papers” page, or get the file directly: wip337-chapman.pdf

Second is an overview of quantitative methods that are helpful in early evaluation of product needs and strategy. The abstract is on my “papers” page, or the complete file is chapman-love-alford-quantitative-early-phase-ur-reprint.pdf

I’ll be uploading more papers soon.

Printing in landscape from Mac to HP LaserJet 1200 on Linux print server

Yes, this is a very specific post but having seen many questions about this online, I wanted to post my solution.

First the setup: HP LaserJet 1200 connected to a Linux machine running CUPS print server, sharing the printer out to my home network. Client machines include a Mac OS 10.3 notebook, Win XP desktop, and Win Vista notebook. All are set to use the HP 1200 Postscript and/or PCL driver that came with OS.

The problem: Printing from the Mac to the HP1200 in landscape mode (in any App: Word, Excel, iCal, etc) prints in portrait mode instead, with the edges of the page truncated. Could not find a driver update, and deleting/reinstalling does not fix it.

Solution that worked for me:

(1) go to system properties | printers and “add new printer”. Add it as a “windows printer”, browsing to the workgroup and picking it. The printer should be detected and show up. (If you’re not using the Linux CUPS server, this step will differ. Browse to the printer in the way that fits your setup.)

(2) Give it a name you’ll remember, such as “HP1200v2″. Now the key part: for printer model/driver, do NOT use the LaserJet 1200 driver. Instead, use the “HP LaserJet 6 gimp-beta” driver. This should be available by default in Mac OS.

(3) Click OK, etc., to finish. Test it. Go back and delete your older HP1200 printer setup, and make the new one the default.