Fractals and Kindles

I just can’t help myself. Whenever I get a new gadget, I have to customize it. When my wife and daughters gave me a Kindle four years ago, I was thrilled. It’s a Kindle 3, and it opened to me the amazing world of ebooks. My library now includes collections of G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare. I like the fact that the screen isn’t backlit, so there is no eye strain. It’s a wonderful device that has completely changed the way I purchase and read books.

However, I thought the screensavers that Amazon preloaded on the Kindle were really unattractive, so I tried to replace them with images more to my liking. Easier said than done! I assumed that all I had to do was locate the folder containing the screensaver files and dump my own in there. It turns out Amazon does not want you poking around in there, so that folder is hidden.

Fortunately, after a little research online, I was able to hack into my Kindle and change the screensavers. There are thousands of great images online to choose from (just Google “Kindle screensavers”), and I had a blast exploring them. Then it occurred to me that I could create my own fractal screensavers – all that is necessary is to make sure they are gray-scale images that are 600 by 800 in size.

I decided to use Chaoscope to create my screensavers. (I posted a tutorial on how to use Chaoscope here.) Make sure you render them in either Gas or Liquid mode. My first batch is posted below. They are already correctly sized – just click on a thumbnail to access the full-size image, and then save it to your computer. Enjoy!

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Kindles In The Classroom

This post isn’t particularly math-related, but I wanted to shine a spotlight on some amazing things a colleague of mine is doing with technology in her classroom. Meg Griswold teaches high school English, and at yesterday’s faculty meeting she made an outstanding presentation of all the ways she is taking advantage of the Kindle.

She uses the Kindle app on her tablet computer to quickly locate and display important passages from whatever book her class is discussing. She also has her students highlight their own passages and add notes that can be referenced later during discussion. Meg also uses Twitter to send out to her students study tips, helpful notes about book passages, or questions to be thinking about while reading.

Since so much classic literature is public domain, many titles that English courses cover are free or incredibly inexpensive. When I got my own Kindle, the first purchase I made was the complete works of Charles Dickens. Total cost: $2.99! With the free Kindle app, students can access thousands of classic works on their smartphones or computers at little or no cost.

It is such a privilege to work with creative and pioneering educators like Meg. Check out her blog where she is chronicling her efforts to incorporate Kindles into her classes. It’s fascinating.

Goodbye, Printed Word

My wonderful family gave me a Kindle for my birthday. I was curious to see what the reading experience is like on one, and I have to say that I am a bigger fan than I expected I would be.

First, the screen is completely different from that on a computer. It is truly no-glare and very sharp in contrast. Second, the controls are ergonomically well-designed – going from page to page is as effortless and unconscious as turning pages in a real book. Third, the simple convenience of being able to carry hundreds of books and periodicals in a small, lightweight device is liberating. Fourth, the built-in dictionary and highlighting features are really helpful. Finally, the instant gratification of considering buying a book and having it downloaded and ready to read in seconds is irresistible.

There are lots of other features that aren’t essential, but they are certainly nice – such as the ability to play mp3’s while reading, changing the font size, text-to-voice, and a “My Clippings” file that you can transfer to a computer.

The first book I bought was James’ Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. I also downloaded The Orthodox Study Bible, which has the best footnotes of any study Bible I’ve read. For classics lovers like myself, the Kindle is a dream come true.  I purchased the complete works of Charles Dickens for a whopping $2.99! The fact that I can have access to every word he wrote for less than 3 bucks is mind-boggling. I’m hopeful that I can find some G. K. Chesterton and Dostoevsky that are navigable and cheap.

A disappointment is the lack of decent poetry collections. I would like to have a Kindle edition of Harold Bloom’s The Best Poems of the English Language, but it is not available. Also, some poetry collections have terrible formatting, so I’ve learned to read the customer reviews before downloading.

I feel a twinge of guilt every time I switch my Kindle on. After independent Davis-Kidd bookstore closed last fall, Nashville is now losing a huge Borders store near Vanderbilt, and as far as I know there are no independent bookstores that sell new books left in the city. I think the only store in Davidson county selling new books is a Books-a-Million. One of my favorite things to do is just browse through a bookstore, perusing the shelves and checking out the latest titles. I guess that is becoming a thing of past.

Are books themselves becoming a thing of the past? I don’t think so; there will always be a market for attractive editions of literature and art. However, it’s hard to see how most journals, newspapers, and magazines will be able to keep printing hard copies. Getting a newspaper downloaded instantaneously to a Kindle is convenient and cheap. Environmentally responsible, too, when you think about it. I can foresee the day in the near future when my students will not carry a single book in their backpacks, but rather an ereader like the Kindle, and a tablet computer. I know of one school (Cushing Academy) that has already eliminated books from their library. I posted my notes from a presentation their head and English department chair gave at the 2011 NAIS conference here.