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TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

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Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

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Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

By Charles Maurer
http://tidbits.com/article/17850

Apple’s Web site makes the iPad sound like a gift of God for graphics, but the company hardly mentions the iPad’s main purpose for some of us: reading books. Nor I have ever heard of anyone who switched on a new iPad, saw the screen, and exclaimed: “What a pleasant way to read! Surely I ought to empty my bookcases and put all of my books onto this.”

I suspect the marketing moguls at Apple do not care much about reading books, because if they did, they could set it up to induce that reaction. Indeed, after fiddling with the settings and buying some cheap apps, my wife Daphne and I both find ourselves preferring the iPad to paper. Not only do we buy ebooks by choice, we have even found ourselves buying ebooks to replace hardcovers on our shelves, because reading on the iPad is quicker and easier.

We have optimized the iPad for reading by working with our knowledge of visual perception. Daphne is a prominent visual scientist and I have worked and written with her extensively. In this article I shall share our approach.

Black on White -- To begin I feel obliged to point out the obvious — or at least what ought to be obvious but appears not to be in the curious world of Web designers: our brains are built to read black on white, not white on black. From the first day of life we prefer dark-on-light and the preference never stops. It is built into the brain. However old you are, and however much experience you have had viewing photographic negatives or working on ancient video terminals, your visual system will still find it easier to process black on white.

This preference does not stem merely from custom and familiarity. You can see this in the pictures below, where all of the colours are bizarre. The colours are so bizarre that familiarity is not a factor, yet the dark-on-light portrait on the right is easier to identify. Although light type on a dark background may look spiffy, and you may have managed to get used to it, it is intrinsically more difficult to read.

Image

Unless you want to read in the dark, don’t waste your time with white type on black. If you see a Web page designed that way, tap Safari’s Reader button — the stacked bars that sometimes appear at the left end of the address field. However, that button is often unavailable or fails to capture the whole page, so it is sensible to set up an alternative to keep at hand, a “bookmarklet” that runs a JavaScript to redisplay the page sensibly. Bookmark some page — any page — and put the new bookmark in the Favorites bar. Now edit it. Change the bookmark’s name to “Clarify” and change its URL to this text:

javascript:styles='*%20%7B%20color:%20black%20!important; %20background-color:%20white%20!important;%20background-image: %20none%20!important;%20%7D%20a:link%20%7B%20color:%20%2300007F %20!important;%20%7D%20a:visited%20%7B%20color:%20%23007F00 %20!important;%20%7D%20a:hover%20%7B%20color:%20%23FF0000 %20!important;%20%7D%20a:active%20%7B%20color:%20%23FF7F00 %20!important;%20%7D';%20newSS%20=%20document.createElement('link'); %20newSS.rel%20=%20'stylesheet';%20newSS.href%20=%20'data:text/css,' %20+%20escape(styles);%20document.documentElement.childNodes%5B0 %5D.appendChild(newSS);%20void%200

Tapping this Clarify bookmark will not bring up a new Web page. Instead, it will usually (JavaScript permitting) reload the current page with black type on a plain white background. This makes almost any white-on-black Web page easier to read unless it depends upon white graphics or white controls. It ought to work in any browser on any device.

Brightness -- I now hear somebody grumbling in the background: “But the white screen of an iPad is hard on my eyes.” Yes indeed, it can be hard on the eyes. It must be tamed. Paper reflects about 90 percent of whatever light strikes it, but the iPad’s glow is constant and often brighter than anything else indoors. It must be matched to the ambient brightness. Unless you are outside, when the screen may not be bright enough, you will likely need to reduce the iPad’s screen brightness by a lot. iOS’s automatic screen dimming can do this to a certain extent, but I frequently find my finger fiddling with the brightness slider in Control Center.

Tint -- Diagrams of the brain are usually overly simple. They show one function here, another function there, and no interaction between them. The reality is complex. Neurons fire more like shotguns than rifles, so neuronal activity spreads broadly. To one extent or another, different parts of the brain commonly interact.

One such interaction is between areas perceiving colour and areas perceiving lines. These interactions can affect reading. Unfortunately, this is a topic that has seen extravagant claims, sloppy research, and scientific interest damped by patents in North America. However, some good research has come out of the UK, largely by Arnold Wilkins. Wilkins has shown convincingly that real interactions do exist, and these interactions affect a large minority of the population. Little else is known for sure but:

  • Coloured overlays can help many people read the printed page.

  • Tinted computer screens can help many people read a display.

  • Tinted eyeglasses can help many people read anything and/or can lessen migraines.

  • The tint will be unique to the individual.

To see if you may be helped by a tinted screen, I created this test using colours that Wilkins suggested. It’s a rough electronic equivalent of a test he developed using transparent plastic overlays. Click through its different colours. If one of them makes the text clearer or more stable or easier to read in any other way, then tint your iPad’s screen. Don’t expect to duplicate the colour of the test exactly — it’s just a starting point — but fiddle with the hue and intensity sliders in Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filter.

Most likely you’ll see no difference on the test, but if one or another colour makes the text stabler or clearer or easier to read, you might also benefit more generally from tinted eyeglasses, especially if you get migraines from time to time. In the UK, many opticians prescribe and dispense tinted lenses inexpensively under the National Health Service, based on technology that Wilkins developed at Cambridge University. Outside the UK this technology is available sparsely but a sales force set up by Helen Irlen is ubiquitous. See Cerium and Irlen.

Matching Light -- If you see no difference with the colour test above, you can still make reading more comfortable by matching the colour of your screen to the colour of the ambient light.

To see how much ambient light varies in hue, take a look at the photo below. It shows the light I see in the background while reading in my easy chair. Cloudy days see all of the window shades up and all of the colours cool; sunny days see all the shades down and all the colours warm; nighttime sees no sunlight at all, just light from lamps that are warmer still. The colour of light doesn’t matter at all when reading paper, because paper always reflects the ambient tint, but if a screen glows a different colour than the background, it will distract.


Apple’s True Tone control in Settings > Display & Brightness is supposed to modify the display’s colour to match the ambient light. It provides a modest improvement, but the iPad’s default tint is unlikely to be ideal. You can tickle this default in Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. For me, what works best is to slide the hue slider rightward one-eighth of the way.

Also, True Tone never makes the screen warm enough to match artificial lighting at night. To warm the screen more at night, I schedule Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift to sunset-to-sunrise, and I slide its colour-temperature slider two-thirds to the right.

Reading -- When you look around the world, your eyes do not see all that you perceive. You stare for a half-second or so at one spot then move your eyes suddenly to another. While you fixate on a spot, your eyes see a small spot of sharp lines surrounded by a ring of blur; between the fixations your eyes see nothing. Almost all that you perceive, your brain infers from rings of blur.

This holds when you are reading too, which has significant implications for the layout of a page. The illustration below shows circles of text your eyes might see clearly enough to read while scanning the first paragraph. At the bottom, I’ve copied the text from the first paragraph contained within each circle. This is the information your eye might have picked up.


Here is the same text laid out in a column. Here each circle presents more of the text, and the circles overlap, so more of the meaning comes through.


Of course, in neither layout could your brain could process all of the text at once. In both layouts, your eyes will zigzag across and down the page. However, every fixation on the vertical layout feeds the brain more information than any fixation on the horizontal, making the words easier to process.

On the other hand, these are individual words and meaning comes more from phrases than from words. Phrases are the molecules of language, words are merely atoms. Thus, the optimal width of a column is determined by how clearly it presents phrases, not words. This varies with the complexity of the text.

At one extreme is
a modern newspaper.
Newspaper prose
builds simple words
into short phrases,
so narrow columns
display them well.

In contrast, the considerate cadences,
the sesquipedalian and Latinate vocabulary,
and the archaic usages and structures
of Georgian literature — all of these several
attributes condense and assemble themselves
within the brain most sensibly and clearly
when traced by the eye across broader lines.

Newspapers and magazines often use columns appropriately but books seldom do. That’s because the layout of a printed book is optimized not for readability but for sales. A publisher can sell X copies if he can keep the price to $Y, but that requires using a small, thin font at its default spacing with minimal margins, and filling the page with text. Moreover, to sell in a shop the book needs to look attractive, so the text will be justified neatly on the right.

None of this is good for reading. A larger and possibly thicker font would be more legible. The default spacing of type is the minimum possible but reading comfortably requires some space between the lines. Justifying the right edge of text requires varying the spacing between words and letters, a variation that’s a form of noise the brain needs to ignore.

On an iPad, I can adjust all of those parameters and more, not with iBooks but with the third-party app MapleRead. I can also switch off hyphenation so that the eye does not need to process broken words. The next two screenshots show how I set it up for two different books: a serious history (horizontal) and a modern novel (vertical). The font is Futura. To my eye, Futura is the clearest for full pages of text on an iPad (although not on my Macintosh), but your eyes will differ, so experiment with different fonts. Some of Arnold Wilkins’s work suggests that Verdana would be a good font to try.



MapleRead is designed to read books in EPUB format. That is the standard, generic format for ebooks, the format used by virtually every source of ebooks other than Amazon. Amazon uses the Mobi format for its Kindle books. Both formats are similar under the hood but Mobi is locked to Amazon’s products, so if an ebook I want is available only from Amazon, I convert it to EPUB.

I convert Kindle books on my Mac in a cross-platform shareware product called Calibre. Calibre also stores my books on my computer, where they are automatically backed up, and sends them to my iPad either by mail or over the Web.

Neither Calibre nor MapleRead will open any book that is protected by digital rights management (DRM). However, anyone living outside the United States may legitimately search for a Calibre plug-in that will automatically remove DRM from ebooks, and then may legally download and use any such plug-in he may find on any ebook that he buys. That is my situation living in Canada.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act applies. This law not only forbids U.S. residents full and free access to their electronic purchases, it also forbids U.S. publishers like TidBITS from describing workarounds. Thus, I may not discuss here my own legal attempts to remove DRM. I may state, however, that, whether or not I have easily found DRM-removal tools for most ebooks, I have found no way to remove the DRM from ebooks purchased through Apple.

On the other hand, DRM is irrelevant to classic literature. A vast number of books that are in the public domain can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg. (It’s worth checking Project Gutenberg’s Canadian and Australian sites, too, since I have found books there that are not on the U.S. site and vice versa.) You can also download complete works of many classic authors for a few dollars from Delphi Classics. I find Delphi’s editorial work to be well worth the money.

EPUB is the most practical format for reading most books but only PDFs will do a good job with pictures. Also, many ebooks and nearly all journal articles are available only as PDF files. PDF basically gives you a printed page in electronic form, so a PDF file is almost always most legible when printed on paper. That said, skimming and reading PDFs on the iPad can save a lot of time and trees. Calibre can extract the text from a PDF and convert it to EPUB format, but the result is usually grotesque. I prefer to leave them as they are, but I do usually magnify the pages and read them not in iBooks but in DjVu. This app lacks gimmickry that gets in the way of reading and, unlike most other PDF readers, it maintains its magnification across pages.

System Settings -- A winter wonder of downtown Toronto is women wearing high heels to walk on ice and snow. Nothing could be less sensible but thus does appearance sell clothing — and iPads. Just look at this clever animation! So what if the needless movement distracts you. You no longer need to read, just as you no longer need to walk.

Many of these graphical high heels are built into iOS and cannot be changed — for example, the login screen, where the virtual keyboard shows grey characters on grey instead of black on white. However, some of them can be changed and may improve your book-reading experience. Here is a list of some additional settings that make the iPad less spiffy but easier to use. All are buried in the Settings> General > Accessibility:

  • Bold Text > On
  • Button Shapes > On
  • Increase Contrast > Reduce Transparency > On
  • Increase Contrast > Darken Colors > On
  • Reduce Motion > On
  • On/Off Labels > On

Finally, you might try the $1.99 keyboard PadKeys. As you can see in this comparison with Apple’s default keyboard (top), PadKeys (bottom) is easier to see.


PadKeys is also easier to use because its layout more closely approximates a conventional keyboard. It even includes left-right cursor-control keys plus buttons for undo, redo, and paste.

Like Apple’s keyboard, PadKeys lets you type alternate characters by flicking your finger, but PadKeys has you flick your finger upward rather than downward — toward the character you want, not away from it. This feels more natural. You can also drag your finger from key to key if you prefer, although that requires teaching PadEye’s autocorrect dictionary that you usually mean, for example, “dessert” rather than “desert”. I prefer to type with one or two forefingers and forgo the keyboard’s attempts to help me choose and/or spell my words.

I suggest setting PadKeys to use the bold theme with All-Caps Keycaps and Dark Mode switched off, and with Show Shift Hints switched on.

[If you found the information in this article valuable, Charles asks that you pay a little for it by making a donation to the aid organization Doctors Without Borders.]

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Article copyright © 2018 By Charles Maurer . Reuse governed by Creative Commons License.




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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

@lbutlr
On 2018-03-15 (13:37 MDT), TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> Apple’s Web site makes the iPad sound like a gift of God for graphics, but the company hardly mentions the iPad’s main purpose for some of us: reading books. Nor I have ever heard of anyone who switched on a new iPad, saw the screen, and exclaimed: “What a pleasant way to read! Surely I ought to empty my bookcases and put all of my books onto this.”

<slowly raise hand>

> I suspect the marketing moguls at Apple do not care much about reading books, because if they did, they could set it up to induce that reaction.

I think it is more the case that while many people read a lot, that is an overall very small fraction of the population and that most people either read book not at all, or rarely.

> Indeed, after fiddling with the settings and buying some cheap apps, my wife Daphne and I both find ourselves preferring the iPad to paper. Not only do we buy ebooks by choice, we have even found ourselves buying ebooks to replace hardcovers on our shelves, because reading on the iPad is quicker and easier.

Certainly. And more convenient as well. I can pull out my iPad anywhere and catchup a couple fo pages, and I have thousands of books on my iPad and it has storage for about a quarter million are so.

> Unless you want to read in the dark, don’t waste your time with white type on black.

While it is certainly true on a page (that is, on a surface that does not emit light), it is not the case for me on a screen. Black on white causes me much more eyestrain than white on black, and iBooks defaults to that for me. If it is a brightly lit environment, I will change it to black on ivory, but I read most in the evening and night, and less light coming off the device is definitely better. I also generally have my iPad set to about 20% brightness when reading. The letters are crisp and emit light, but not so much that I feel they are glaring at me. Normally, I let true-tone on my iPad Pro manage this, but when I am settling in for an hour or more of reading, i have to take the setting into my own hands as the brightness I want for video (100%), video games (80-100%) is too high for extended reading.

> Also, True Tone never makes the screen warm enough to match artificial lighting at night. To warm the screen more at night, I schedule Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift to sunset-to-sunrise, and I slide its colour-temperature slider two-thirds to the right.

I tried night-shift for quiet awhile, thinking I could find the right setting for me. And I guess I did, that setting is off.

> The font is Futura. To my eye, Futura is the clearest for full pages of text on an iPad (although not on my Macintosh), but your eyes will differ, so experiment with different fonts. Some of Arnold Wilkins’s work suggests that Verdana would be a good font to try.

Wow. I can't do extended reading with sans-serif fonts unless they are monospaced. It is one of the things that limits the length of article I will read on the web, in fact. After a couple of hundreds lines, I get sick of not having a readable font and lose interest. With mono spacing, the lack of serifs isn't an issue. Also, I find I read faster and loose track of the lines less with justified text than with ragged right margins unless the app does a poor job of flowing the text. iBooks does a better job of this than the Kindle app, for example, and it is one of the main reasons that all my kindle books get converted to ePub: so I can read them in iBooks.

> MapleRead is designed to read books in EPUB format. That is the standard, generic format for ebooks, the format used by virtually every source of ebooks other than Amazon. Amazon uses the Mobi format for its Kindle books. Both formats are similar under the hood but Mobi is locked to Amazon’s products, so if an ebook I want is available only from Amazon, I convert it to EPUB.

I do the same, and a friend recently told me (but I haven't confirmed) that recent Kindles read ePub as well.

> I convert Kindle books on my Mac in a cross-platform shareware product called Calibre. Calibre also stores my books on my computer, where they are automatically backed up, and sends them to my iPad either by mail or over the Web.

I export my Calibre library to my Synology and use a tool named COPS to serve my ebooks via a webpage. It is a much lighter and faster web host for calibre than the builtin server. This means I don't have to punch a hole through my network to my Mac running calibre, but it also means I only need to use calibre when I add books to my library.

<https://github.com/seblucas/cops>

> A vast number of books that are in the public domain can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg. (It’s worth checking Project Gutenberg’s Canadian and Australian sites, too, since I have found books there that are not on the U.S. site and vice versa.) You can also download complete works of many classic authors for a few dollars from Delphi Classics. I find Delphi’s editorial work to be well worth the money.

I second both of these recommendation. I have a lot of books from PG and a few from Delphi.

--
I WILL NOT SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM Bart chalkboard Ep. AABF03





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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

Curtis Wilcox
On Mar 16, 2018, at 1:42 AM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> On 2018-03-15 (13:37 MDT), TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:

>> MapleRead is designed to read books in EPUB format. That is the standard, generic format for ebooks, the format used by virtually every source of ebooks other than Amazon. Amazon uses the Mobi format for its Kindle books. Both formats are similar under the hood but Mobi is locked to Amazon’s products, so if an ebook I want is available only from Amazon, I convert it to EPUB.
>
> I do the same, and a friend recently told me (but I haven't confirmed) that recent Kindles read ePub as well.


Mobi is Amazon's old format, Kindle File Format (.azw, .azw3) is their current format. You can get an EPUB-reading app from a third party for Android tablets like the Kindle Fire but Amazon's Kindle app and e-paper Kindles do not read EPUB files nor will Amazon's send-to-kindle service convert from it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindle_File_Format

https://www.amazon.com/gp/sendtokindle/email

However, if you're an author, they will accept EPUB as a manuscript format.

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200634390




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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

Alexander Forbes
In reply to this post by @lbutlr


On Mar 15, 2018, at 10:42 PM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:

Black on white causes me much more eyestrain than white on black, and iBooks defaults to that for me. If it is a brightly lit environment,

I agree. This is an even more important issue for readers with vision issues, such as cataracts. White letters on a black background reduces glare (and light scattering within the cornea) by probably more than 90%. Fpr books, I read e-books on my iPad Pro. I do use text-to-speech on the iMac wherever possible, such as web pages and e-mail, because it is faster and easier for me. 




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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

dianed143@comcast.net
I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading on my iPad but I was pleasantly surprised.

The only thing I found though, was that it doesn’t work for reference materials. For those I seem to like a physical book. I actually had to return a couple of reference books I bought as they didn’t work with the way my mind processes them.

But pleasure reading is a joy on the iPad. Except outside on my deck. Then it is hell. :( Maybe I need to experiment with different colors.

Diane




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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

Alexander Forbes


On Mar 16, 2018, at 8:10 AM, Diane <[hidden email]> wrote:

he only thing I found though, was that it doesn’t work for reference materials. For those I seem to like a physical book. I actually had to return a couple of reference books I bought as they didn’t work with the way my mind processes them. 

I can identify with that. I used to feel the same way. But I ran out of physical bookshelf space for my technical and reference books and manuals, and then my vision went south too. I can no longer even read a book without handheld magnification - 5 or 10X - which slows me down and therefore reduces reading comprehension. I bought epubs and PDF’s to replace most-used technical books and favorite novels.

There WAS real comfort in being able to insert a cardbard bookmark or thumb into a physical volume! We'd facilitate flipping back and forth on technical manuals and textbooks, which cannot be read like a novel. I have learned the analogy:  to use page flipping on the iPad or right-left arrows on the iMac, and even use the dread Bookmarks on occasion. For its iBooks, Apple thought that part out carefully. In my own case, I admit that the biggest hurdle was just training myself to get used to it.






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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

dianed143@comcast.net

On Mar 16, 2018, at 11:32 AM, Alexander Forbes <[hidden email]> wrote:



On Mar 16, 2018, at 8:10 AM, Diane <[hidden email]> wrote:

he only thing I found though, was that it doesn’t work for reference materials. For those I seem to like a physical book. I actually had to return a couple of reference books I bought as they didn’t work with the way my mind processes them. 

I can identify with that. I used to feel the same way. But I ran out of physical bookshelf space for my technical and reference books and manuals, and then my vision went south too. I can no longer even read a book without handheld magnification - 5 or 10X - which slows me down and therefore reduces reading comprehension. I bought epubs and PDF’s to replace most-used technical books and favorite novels.

There WAS real comfort in being able to insert a cardbard bookmark or thumb into a physical volume! We'd facilitate flipping back and forth on technical manuals and textbooks, which cannot be read like a novel. I have learned the analogy:  to use page flipping on the iPad or right-left arrows on the iMac, and even use the dread Bookmarks on occasion. For its iBooks, Apple thought that part out carefully. In my own case, I admit that the biggest hurdle was just training myself to get used to it.


Oh, I was using bookmarks and even highlighting!  But it’s not the same as my books with tons of little flags sticking out of them. And frankly, I’d forget I even had them.  :(

Diane




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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

Marilyn Matty
In reply to this post by @lbutlr

>> On Mar 16, 2018, at 1:42 AM, @lbutlr <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>
>> On 2018-03-15 (13:37 MDT), TidBITS Articles <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>
>> Apple’s Web site makes the iPad sound like a gift of God for graphics, but the company hardly mentions the iPad’s main purpose for some of us: reading books. Nor I have ever heard of anyone who switched on a new iPad, saw the screen, and exclaimed: “What a pleasant way to read! Surely I ought to empty my bookcases and put all of my books onto this.”
>
> <slowly raise hand>

I did too. But although I find reading books on the iPad much better than on the third generation Kindle I got as a present a few years ago, I 100% prefer paper books. Though the iPad handles type much better than the Kindle, the kerning, letterspacing, widows and orphans drive me nuts.

>
>> I suspect the marketing moguls at Apple do not care much about reading books, because if they did, they could set it up to induce that reaction.
>
> I think it is more the case that while many people read a lot, that is an overall very small fraction of the population and that most people either read book not at all, or rarely.

Though I no longer have access to syndicated market research numbers, the numbers have always been very small. Newspapers even Even sadder, they grow smaller every year. iPhones and iPads haven't helped, though TV, radio, gaming devices, iPod, Walkman, etc. are all equally guilty.

>
>> Indeed, after fiddling with the settings and buying some cheap apps, my wife Daphne and I both find ourselves preferring the iPad to paper. Not only do we buy ebooks by choice, we have even found ourselves buying ebooks to replace hardcovers on our shelves, because reading on the iPad is quicker and easier.

I have a ton of classic DRM books on my iPad/iPhone library, and I also occasionally check out ebooks from the library from time to time. I read them when I'm not at home. It beats lugging a paper book around.

>
> Certainly. And more convenient as well. I can pull out my iPad anywhere and catchup a couple fo pages, and I have thousands of books on my iPad and it has storage for about a quarter million are so.

Marilyn



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Re: TidBITS: Better than the Printed Page: Reading on an iPad

adamengst
Administrator
In reply to this post by Alexander Forbes
I agree. This is an even more important issue for readers with vision issues, such as cataracts. White letters on a black background reduces glare (and light scattering within the cornea) by probably more than 90%. Fpr books, I read e-books on my iPad Pro. I do use text-to-speech on the iMac wherever possible, such as web pages and e-mail, because it is faster and easier for me. 

Charles provided me with some explanation to share:

——

Several factors are involved here.  To understand them let's first consider a normal eye, without cataracts.

Like any optical system, the eye is imperfect.  It always scatters some of the light passing through the lens.  When text is white and the background black, light scattered from a white letter will spread across the black background, creating a broad gradation of greys beyond the edge.  This is a form of optical blur.  In contrast, when the background is white, light will spread across letters from all sides.  This will reduce the contrast of each letter against its background--it will make each letter a bit greyer--but since the letters are thin and the gradation of greys come from each side, the blurring is unnoticeable.

To normal eyes, the blur of white text on black affects clarity and computer displays used indoors have more than enough contrast for comfortable reading.  Thus, normal eyes are optimized for black-on-white, as is the brain.  However cataracts are cloudy diffusers inside the lens of the eye, diffusers that blur lines and reduce contrasts.  Once cataracts begin to form, the added blur of white-on-black becomes unnoticeable and the added contrast of white-on-black may become helpful.

But the brain is still geared toward processing black-on-white, so before switching to white-on-black, it's worthwhile trying to maximize the contrast of black-on-white.  Assuming that the black text is maximum black, not some designer's attempt at elegance using dark grey, then the first step is counterintuitive:  turn the screen's brightness up full.  This boosts contrast because to the visual system, contrast is a function of both the ratio of dark to light _and_ of the maximum lightness.  However, an extremely bright screen is uncomfortable to use unless the surroundings are also bright, so you will probably need turn up a lamp or two as well.  This is how my wife worked before she had her cataracts removed.  To read she needed her screen and its surroundings to be so brilliant that I couldn't stand to sit at her desk.

As I said in the article, colour can affect perceptions in ways that visual scientists do not understand, and these ways are idiosyncratic.  Indeed, all perception of colour is idiosyncratic.  The formal standards for colour displays do not define the perceptions of colour any more precisely than the formal standards for lengths of beds define the heights of sleepers.  If your feet hang over the edge of a standard bed, you will want to buy a longer one.  If you are not comfortable reading an iPad, play with the colours as I suggested.  If you still find yourself preferring white text on black--well, when once I threw out my back, I slept on the floor.

——




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