Saturday, 12 May 2007

Rubik's Cubes, iBooks

Confiscating or attempting to confiscate Sony Walkman phones and iPods all the time is one of the untrammeled joys of my profession. I can get a bit carried away: meeting recently with two Ukranian friends I had to stop myself from yanking the ear-phones out of the ears of one, and restrict myself to an "If you were one of my students..." admonishment.

Recently a bit of variety has been injected into the situation at school by some genius deciding to present all of the students with a Rubik's cube each, and giving them a month to hone their skills before a competition at the end of term. What a great idea. I guess someone thought that there was a risk, however infinitesimal, of students getting bored of listening to BX or System of a Down or wottevah, and actually start paying attention to their classes. Happily that possibility has been averted, thanks to the timely intervention of Professor Rubik's 1974 invention - a record low of attention-paid has been achieved, and I've got a growing collection of the bloody things in my locker.

These kids with their iPods though, tchah! I have complained often enough on this site of the difficulty in finding decent English reading material in Ulaanbaatar (I mean, what is this place, Outer Mongolia?), and mentioned that I have been very much taken by the ebooks available to download from the Project Gutenberg website. The problem with ebooks is that while they're convenient with clogging your hard drive with every major work of literature in western civilization, even laptops are not very portable as far as a quick read goes. And there's me with an iPod mostly empty other than a very extensive collection of Bluegrass and Johnny Cash (the new 'Personal Files' release is, incidentally, just incredible) and now the occasional video download of Prime Minister's Questions and the sister broadcast Ask A Ninja. Well, slowly the wheels of my brain ticked and I thought to check online whether it's possible to download an ebook onto an iPod. Of course it is indeed possible - the book gets stored in the iPod's 'Notes' section. There's a website where over 11,000 books from Project Gutenberg have been converted to formats for downloading to 'readers', including iPod Notes.

Of course many people will say that it's no fun reading from a screen slightly smaller than 2 inches across, and on the whole it's not - I do find it leaves me a little groggy after an hour or so. However, it's tolerable, especially when the alternative is reading a disintegrating copy of R. F. Delderfield's "God is an Englishman" and paying 3000 Tugrik for the privilege. The backlight of course means that you can read without disturbing sleeping companions or indeed getting out of bed to turn the light off when you're finished (which has always been a considerable chore during those times of my life when, as now, I've been without the luxury of a bedside lamp). And when someone asks "Is that Jeremy Clarkson yer watching there on yer iPod?" you can reply "No, I was just reading 'Jurgen' - you know, the controversial 1919 James Branch Cabell satire. It's rather good, actually." This affords a warming glow of smugness and self-satisfaction that can sustain oneself long after the battery on the bloody thing has died again.


Trevor & Rachel said...

Thanks for checking out our site. If you ever decide to visit Korea, we would be happy to show you around.

JMcIntyre said...

Glad to see you've discovered the benefits of eBooks! I have recently made a bit of a switch myself to the electronic format. While I believe that the West Coast of Oregon, USA has a bit more selection with regards to English books than Mongolia does, I still find the benefits of eBooks to be pretty exciting. I've been downloading all of my teaching materials from, and so far I've been really happy with it. There's more room in my middle school classroom without shelves full of reference volumes, and I find myself using these resources more often when searching them is so easy.

However, I wouldn't want to be using them to read for recreation, especially off of an iPod, so I'm sorry to hear that it's your best option. Have you looked into the Sony eBook reader at all though? It's supposed to be quite good; easy to read with lots of space. Pricey, but worth it if your iPod screen becomes too much to bear...

I've been enjoying your blog, please keep up the good work!


ulaanbaanjo said...

Thanks for your comments, Joan.

I have honestly had no problems with using the ipod so far - no brain ache, no tunnel vision. It's come as a bit of a surprise - having a love of the printed word, the smell of a book, and having previously suffered from sudoku induced nausea. The Sony Reader looks attractive - I'll wait for the next wave of technology to knock the price down a bit before I think about buying one, though.