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Kindle and Math

Added January 6 2012.  Note that this post refers to the kindle circa 2009.  See this discussion on reddit for more recent (late 2011) information.  Unfortunately I no longer use a Kindle so I cannot provide any updated information.

The new Kindle from Amazon is out, and it is receiving a lot of press.  Aurelie Thiele points out the funny pricing of Amazon.  Of course, none of this is open in any sense of the word:  Amazon wants to keep control here.  I bought a Kindle for a trip I am on, and I really enjoy it so far, but I really bought it for research reasons: for reasons I’ll make clear in an upcoming post, I really need to travel with a large amount of technical material, so I thought this would be a good thing.  But how to get math on the Kindle?  My friend and sometime co-author Stan Zin has been working on this and writes:

I converted a pdf file of a paper with lots of math into a
Kindle-readable azw file (using @free.kindle.com).  It can’t handle the math very well, especially multi-line formulas.  Basically the math is completely garbled in translation.  I also tried to first convert pdf to a graphics file (eg, jpg, gif, png) then convert that to an azw file.  Now it’s unreadable because of scale.  The Kindle version doesn’t seem to be zoomable, and so is also unreadable.  Since Kindle’s azw format will handle Greek letters, as well as subscripts and superscripts, it would seem to have all the necessary components for generating complicated math.  But the conversion step from pdf doesn’t seem to be the way to go.  I was wondering if your OR blog readers might take this as a challenge.  How hard could it be for a hacker to create a LaTex2azw program?  I think there would be a big demand if it worked reasonably well.

What do you think?  Is there a way to get math on the Kindle?

{ 10 } Comments

  1. Matthew Saltzman | March 2, 2009 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Some random, rambling thoughts to kick the discussion off:

    LaTeX2azw isn’t the solution, because most of what you want to read isn’t in LaTeX by the time you get it. The most likely sources for published academic papers are PDF and PostScript. The former is far more common for online journal articles, but converting back and forth isn’t too hard. ps2azw might be a more likely tool.

    Is azw an open format or proprietary? Apparently, it’s a proprietary version of Mobipocket format, which is in turn based on an open format.

    I don’t think you’ll find that Greek letters are all there is to displaying TeX-quality math.

    An issue with PDFs may be inclusion of fonts. NSF, for example, won’t take just any PDFs. They insist on a particular toolchain for LaTeX->PDF. It may be that the PDFs you have don’t have all the font information they need embedded.

    It’s not too hard to scale graphics files of various formats.

    A quick Google turned up a PDF->Mobipocket->azw toolchain described at http://packratstudios.com/index.php/2008/05/04/how-to-hack-your-amazon-kindle-to-read-all-your-ebooks-and-documents-including-pdf-doc-xls-chm-lit-etc/. No guarantee that it handles math any better than whatever Stan tried. In fact, I suspect it doesn’t (from other things I’ve seen). The last step may not be necessary; Kindle may read Mobipocket directly.

    Say hi to Stan for me 8^)

  2. Larry (IEOR Tools) | March 3, 2009 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I would love to hear a review of the Kindle Michael. I’m interested in getting one myself. I was wondering if it would be worth just getting a netbook instead with Linux. That way you could hack it all you want with Latex, postscript, or whatever available font formats you can find. So as you can see I’m debating between getting a netbook or kindle. If Kindle were open then I might be more inclined to just get it.

  3. Matthew Saltzman | March 3, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Got a kick out of this Kindle review:

    http://www.xkcd.com/548/

  4. Chris Hane | March 3, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Why Kindle? what about Stanza on your iPod or iTouch, http://www.lexcycle.com/? It supports pdf.

  5. Michael Trick | March 3, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I have an iTouch and a Kindle, and there is no comparison which I would rather read from: it is definitely the Kindle. In addition to the larger screen, the electronic ink is wonderful to read. And the convenience of downloading books without a computer is very handy. But I will check out Stanza.

  6. Matthew Saltzman | March 4, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    And speaking of iTouch, iPhone, etc., it seems Amazon will support reading their e-books on those as well as Kindles:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/technology/04kindle.html

    Not obviously related to the math question, though.

  7. Esi | March 16, 2009 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I study physics and to be in front line of research I need to read tones of papers every day. Unfortunately my eyes get really tired looking at the computer for an extended amount of time. So, I got the Kindle. Too bad it can not handle the math very well :(
    If only there was a way to read scientific papers on Kindle… That would change my life. I wish I knew a little bit more computer programming so I could do that myself.
    Please someone does something about it. If your converter really works you might even be able to make some money with it. I will definitely buy it!

  8. Anna | April 12, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone bought (or downloaded a sample chapter from) one of the Springer mathematics books from the Kindle store? There are many (not cheap) and are mostly typesetted in LaTex. So, there must be a way to convert mathematical formulas to Kindle format. Do they convert directly from LaTeX or do they do so from PDF?

  9. Matt | April 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m considering a kindle as well if the support for equations is there. Here is a third-party app which looks promising. Of course I don’t own a kindle, so I’m not sure how well it works in general.

    http://blog.fsck.com/2009/04/savory-screenshots.html

  10. Matt | April 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, I went ahead and got a Kindle 2. I haven’t tried out the Savory product that I linked to previously as it involves essentially a non-Amazon firmware modification.

    Besides, I think in the near term, that PDFRead provides enough functionality to read pdfs on the Kindle.
    http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21906&highlight=kindle+pdf

    It basically can cut each pdf page in half, convert it to an image, and repackage it to display each image in landscape. (Refer to the above thread on mobileread for appropriate settings to accomplish this). Depending on the paper’s font, the text will probably be a bit on the small side, but is perfectly readable for me. Since it is converted to images, you have great fidelity for equations and figures, but of course no control over the size / layout.

    On another note, I downloaded some samples from some of the Springer books on Amazon. Not only do the equations look great, but they also scale when you change the font size of the text! So it seems there already is some quite good support for displaying equations in the Kindle, but it is unknown to me how they accomplished that feat.