The Smell of Paper

Being a student brings many challenges. Last night I tried doing a budget—tried coming up with a sense of financial direction for my life, if you will. The challenging part is that expenses outweigh income by such a huge margin. I suppose it’s like being retired, which is still what I tell people I am when they don’t understand the student concept. Being retired makes it sound like I am living from a stockpile of funds from an earlier, more real, life. Which isn’t an altogether bad impression to leave people with, regardless of how much or how little truth there is in such a statement. Except that I dislike people who don’t have to work to live. And, unlike ending retirement, finishing school will bring a set of its own challenges.

I’ve mentioned the moving challenge several times. In a nutshell, again, is that I must move to a new place every few months. Buying things—stuff—is not a sensible option because this stuff all has to be junked, donated, stored, or sold when moving. This means that either I or a brazen friend must handle this stuff. But I still buy stuff because buying stuff is fun. Hence, the challenge. So the biggest challenge is not moving, but what to do with stuff.

Like books. Books should be kept forever. Unlike the majority of the population, I reread books. Sometimes more than once. As a student, my home away from home is my backpack. Defending the title of ‘student’ requires that I carry one or more textbooks on my person at all times. My backpack is not large enough, nor do I possess the stamina, to keep my library in proximity throughout my day—let alone my life. One of my first presentations in college examined how ebooks might revolutionize the book industry. Little did I know.

I have a fairly respectable pile of electronic books. Most of them are older, public domain classics that I got solely because they were free. Others I picked up here and there, dumping them all into an “Ebooks” folder on the hard drive of my computer. The “Ebooks” folder is an intimidating place—and I consider myself somewhat adventurous—for me to enter. From the folder properties I know that the folder weighs upwards of six gigabytes (the equivalent of 6 tons of paper books), which is a monumental pile of data considering ebooks are typically measured in kilobytes. And that is about as much as I know about my library. Another thing I know about my library is that if it was written before 2006, I probably have it but I won’t be able to find it.

The Challenge, with a capital C, is to organize all these books into something useable. Ebooks come in a dozen formats, depending on which media the book is meant to be read on. I have all twelve formats in various combinations. I also read books in several formats, depending on which zipper of the backpack I am nearest to. The problem is how to convert every format to every other format and make it searchable, findable, and accessible to improve humanity everywhere and end world problems for good. A program called Calibre just might be the solution I am looking for.

For the last sixteen hours my computer has been scanning, cataloging, and organizing the “Ebooks” folder. At least that is the premise. This Calibre program has a few features which precisely address issues I face while traversing the ebook realm. Calibre nails the formatting problem. It can convert from any format to any format in an instant. Another useful feature is that it moves books from the mysterious library inside the computer to the device of choice. It supports all known ebook formats and connects with dozens of popular devices. The email feature is very useful to me. I find the book I want using the iTunes-like program navigation, select the desired format, and hit the email button. Done. From my laptop, iPod, or work computer (theoretically), I can get the book out of email and read it.

Managing a giant ebook library is not an easy task. This is done by using information contained in the file known as metadata. In ebooks obtained from dubious sources, metadata tags seldom exist—if they do, the information will likely be skewed. For example, the author of a book could be a string of random letters, or it might simply state “unknown.” Calibre also takes this into consideration by filling in this information from the Internet by using a single correct tag such as Title or Author. This relatively simple process becomes enormous when applied to 60,000 books in an evening. Not sure yet how these tags will get fixed so the library becomes useable at a world-improvement level. Thankfully, the search seems to work okay in spite of motley tags.

A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend. ~Author Unknown

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. ~Author Unknown

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. ~Chinese Proverb

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all. ~Abraham Lincoln

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting. ~Edmund Burke