Stanza and ePub

This week I was looking up some long magazine articles and I thought this would really be better to read on my iPod than while sitting at the computer. There are choices on the iPod including Instapaper and Browse Later for saving web pages to the iPod, but reading articles in the browser is not one of the iPod’s strong suits. You wind up having to scroll left and right to read each line.

Instead I figured I could just get the text of the article and read a text document. But you don’t just put files on the iPod and open them like you do on a computer. I have a free eReader called Stanza on my iPod. It is pretty good, allowing you to customize the text size, color, background, etc. and it is easy to flip through pages with just a tap (as opposed to scrolling by brushing your finger on the screen).


Reading up on Stanza’s help it said that I could add eBooks to the library in iTunes by dragging them to Stanza’s file list. I wasn’t aware iTunes had such a feature, but if the iPod is connected to the computer you can click its icon. Then click the Apps tab. Then scroll down and see a list of apps that support file dragging. Stanza was there. So I clicked on Stanza and a window of files opened. I could also add files manually by using the Add button. Pretty neat. The other good thing about this is my database program supports dragging as well and now I can save a copy of my databases this way instead of by moving them wirelessly one-by-one.

Stanza supports pdf’s so I made a .pdf of my text file through Word. The result was a fixed page that I had to scroll around on and I couldn’t zoom in without the text getting jaggy. No good. So I made the text bigger and then did a .pdf, but I seemed to get the same result. It turns out .pdf’s don’t get along that well with most eReaders. So I tried a HTML file, which Stanza is supposed to support, but it wouldn’t open the file despite the HTML codes being incredibly simple.

Another thing I wanted to do was get my copy of the 9/11 Comission Report onto my iPod as it had been on my old Palm. I had never finished reading it. Stanza supports Palm formats which are .prc files. But for some reason my copy of the book was .pdb and it was also unrecognized.

Stanza’s website said that really everything needed to be in ePub format and that in order to translate you would need to download a free tool called Calibre. I started the download on that, but it was 50MB! So I took a little break.

It turns out ePub is some kind of XML format, so it is based on HTML and therefore translates best from HTML formats.

It turns out Calibre is much more than a format translator. It is really a manager for eBooks on your computer. But it can do translations. I translated my HTML magazine article and the PDB copy of the 9/11 report. Then I opened up iTunes and added those to Stanza’s document list. I had to tweak Stanza’s appearance setting for bigger text and to turn off right-justification. There seems to be a line of thought that right-justified text is easier to read but the resulting varying spaces between words are awful. It seems like most books are not right-justified but have a ragged right edge (this may not be true). Anyway, it is just a setting in Staza so I now I have things like I like.

Well, except that the quotation marks in the magazine article aren’t normal quotation marks, but curly quotes and those didn’t come over at all. Nor did the frequent em dashes used in the article or the apostrophes. So I went back and cleaned that up in the HTML by using extended character codes. There are some HTML codes that are supposed to be easier to remember than numbers that you can use for curly quotes, for instance &ldquo for “left double quote”. But XML doesn’t use those codes, so you need to use ASCII numbers. So I started using 146 for apostrophe and 147 and 148 for opening and closing double quotes. But reading further it turns out that those ASCII numbers were not adopted in HTML 4.0 (what!?) and so there are 4-digit codes you are supposed to use: 8220, 8221, and 8217 for left quotes, right quotes, and apostrophe, along with 8212 for an em dash. The good thing is it was pretty easy to do some find and replace commands and fix the whole file.

There is actually a series of about four articles, so I think it could be worth all the trouble and at least now I know how to turn long text files into something I can read on the iPod.

5 thoughts on “Stanza and ePub

  1. re: “There seems to be a line of thought that (left and) right-justified text is easier to read.” Blocks of text look nicer but they don’t read easier. Designers like full justification. The erratic spacing reads to me like a bunch of spacing errors.

    It seems like you are having to do a lot of steps. I have a bookmark applet from Readability.com that I use frequently on my computer to focus on a longer article. It has a “Send to Kindle” option you could consider. You can have a free Kindle account and run off your iPod (and computer.) I’ve also used Instapaper.com a lot for the iPod, but I never paid the money to have more than 10 articles, so it has limited my use. It rendered articles very cleanly with no extra steps. I think both of these approaches involve fewer steps.

  2. It is a lot of steps, but it works. I tried out the Kindle thing, installing Readability’s toolbar in my Firefox browser on my laptop and downloading the Kindle app on my iPod. Then, in my Amazon Kindle account, I enabled personal documents and added the Readability email address to my authorized senders on Amazon’s Kindle page. Back in the browser, I chose to read the article in Readability (it works, nice!). Then I clicked a buton on that page to send to my Kindle and it let me enter an email address with either @kindle.com or @free.kindle.com. I sent the article to my usual email username @free.kindle.com and got nothing. Tried @kindle.com. Nothing. On the iPod and the Kindle account, I deregistered and re-registered the iPod device, changed its name. Still nothing. I think there is something wrong with the Kindle email address, but I don’t know what. Nor can I see any way at Amazon to find out what that address might be. I think maybe since I don’t own a Kindle, I can’t use this service. That was a lot of steps.

  3. Instapaper worked quite well though. I found the article in the Safari browser on my iPod, bookmarked it to Instapaper (had to log in; it had been a while since I used Instapaper) and then opened the Instapaper app. Instapaper transformed the article into something easy to read on the iPod.

  4. I will say that sending an article to a real Kindle is a pretty cool idea, almost making me think it would be worth $79 to get a Kindle (though I think the $79 version sends you ads; don’t like ads). If you use wi-fi instead of 3G, it is free. That is a great way to read long articles and the bigger screen of the Kindle definitely beats reading on the iPod. Of course those people who have iPads seem to have the best of both worlds.

  5. Well, Stanza doesn’t work in iOS 5 and one reviewer on iTunes says development of Stanza has been abandoned. That’s not too surprising since the people that make Stanza were bought out by Amazon.

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