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Low Tech Gutenberg? 108

Peace Corps Guy asks: "I have a friend who recently left for a two year Peace Corps stint in Mozambique. While there she has limited access to electricity, no technology, and not a lot to do with her 'off' time. She's a big literature fan, and many of us here at home would like to send a care package - but how best to ship pieces of free online text like Project Gutenberg to a developing nation? We can print it (high shipping and printing costs), print it very small and ship her a high quality fresnel lens (awkward), or put it all on a cheap PDA, which would be a high theft risk en route and in situ. High shipping costs on weight and volume are another major limiting factor. What alternative solutions can Slashdot readers suggest for shipping a freely available byte-stream to someone without a computer?"
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Low Tech Gutenberg?

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  • by Macphisto ( 62181 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:28PM (#11634364) Journal
    You've got the right idea, but let me build on it. A relatively new development you may not have heard of has been created by some industrious Germans several centuries ago. This new method of presenting byte-streams is highly affordable, portable, and contains an embedded reader which does not require an external source of energy. While the initial selection of material was limited, I understand that the idea of the Gutenburg press has taken off to some extent in the following centuries, meaning that you should be able to ship any number of Dungeons and Dragons paperbacks to your friend.
    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:46PM (#11634598) Journal
      Yeah, I've tried to swear off responding to Ask Slashdot's with "Don't even bother!" but, really, he's right.

      You're talking about books that are off copyright, anyway -- buy some cheap or used paperbacks and send them as parcels. (I think there's even a discount books-only rate.) It's foolproof, familiar and when she's done, she can distribute or trade the books. A much better plan than microfiche and a Fresnel lens.

    • Sounds good, but they do in fact require an external energy source. Solar power is your best bet, but any of the solar subtitutes availble will probably work fine.

    • embedded reader which does not require an external source of energy.

      No no, you've got the specs wrong. The embedded reader is based on reflective technology and absolutely REQUIRES an external energy source. Best results may be achieved using a giant ball of flaming gas positioned above and behind the user's shoulder. This is actually the preferred source of energy, since giant flaming balls of gas are abundant on this world. In this case you don't have to worry so much about environmental conditi

  • local (Score:1, Troll)

    by ryanelm ( 787453 ) *
    the country has internet therefore there is probably an internet shop in the capital city. i would find one and pay them to print out the material and then have it shiped from there.
  • Digital media (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mpmansell ( 118934 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:29PM (#11634389)
    If she already has a PDA, or can get one, then the best way would be to send data via SD media.

    As for powering the PDA, there are a number of options using solar power
    • Well, first of all whoever modded this Troll is a complete moron. Metamods: fix it.

      I don't know why a cheap PDA is not a viable option. Seriously, you could get some really old Palm PDA's so cheaply that it wouldn't matter if it got stolen. Just load one up with a few books (txt's don't take very much space) and mail it to her. If it doesn't get there, or somebody swipes it, send her another one.
      • No joke. You can buy Palm IIIs for pretty cheap. I've seen iPAQ 3100s and 3600s for $40-60. I guess I'd say go for something like that- cheap- and with 8 MB or more RAM if you can, 16-32 MB if possible. Most ebooks are 400-700 KB, and you can fit a lot on an iPAQ 3650 with nothing else installed but uBook from
        • I'd stay away from the Pocket PC world side of things because of battery life in an application like this. Go get an old Palm IIIxe off Ebay for a few bucks and send it loaded with several megs of text and a reader, and a pack of AAAs from Costco. The old IIIs were super thrifty on the battery life becuase they didn't have to drive a power hungry display. I used to read ebooks on them all the time and even with heavy use (like 1-2 hours a day) only had to change batteries every once or twice a month.
          • I second that, for this application. But if it's between some really good deal on a few old iPAQs and something a lot more spendy on the old Palm side, then I wouldn't have any problems doing the iPAQs. If someone had some free ones to let you use, etc. But the old iPAQs were especially bad- 2-3 hours of life in them. Stray away from newer Palm OS devices too, which are no better than a Pocket PC, with the exception of the Zire 21, but it's still not as good as the Palm III, V, etc.
      • Send it _as_ a book (Score:4, Interesting)

        by leonbrooks ( 8043 ) <SentByMSBlast-No ...> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @07:11PM (#11636085) Homepage
        Get a genuine hardcover book, preferably a boring one from an op-shop or bargain bin with a stark (black and white) cover, easy to read through the packaging. Open it, use a craft knife to chop out (a) hollow rectangle(s) for the PDA and accessories. Pad the PDA so it doesn't rattle, tape the book shut with clear tape so it doesn't flop open in transit.

        Runs up the shipping costs a little, but since hardcovers feel heavy anyway, only an xray will show it up. You can even thwart some of those by putting a couple of leaves of tinfoil inside the covers, but you'd be better off using tinfoil silhouettes to spell out "P D A" to help avoid bomb scares.
        • That's a pretty clever idea, but I think it would be more usefull for hiding it while she's there. Admittedly I've never shipped anything to Mozambique, but I assume it is possible to ship valuables some of the time if not most of the time. Really, it's hiding the PDA while it's not in use that will be the big challenge, but who would think to check a random boring looking hardcover book on the shelf?
    • She's likely to be able to lay hands on a reader for it, too. Shipping her a couple of kilos of microfiche is more likely to succeed and less likely to get stolen than a PDA. At a pinch, she can use a random light-source and a magnifying glass, and/or ship her a fold-down Fresnel lens too.
  • But what the heck. I'd send it as a PDA with a huge storage card of some sort- but I'd disassemble the PDA first, send it in a few separate packages, marked "miscellaneous electronic parts" to avoid it being stolen, and to go for smaller packages thus minimizing shipping/customs costs. It can be reassembled at the other end. Plus, might be usefull to include something like This hand crank charger [] or This Solar charger [] considering that she has limited access to electricity. Far cheaper than shipping printout, books, or other items of the sort.
  • Make books on CD (Score:4, Interesting)

    by p7 ( 245321 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:30PM (#11634391)
    Find a decent text to speech software and make cds of the audio. They are small and light can be played in a cheap portable cd player. A cassettes would work also.
    • Are you seriously suggesting that hours upon hours of horrible monotone text-to-speech voice samples would be REMOTELY pleasurable to listen to?

      Even the best text-to-speech stuff I've heard is, uh, not something I'd want to listen to for hours on end. What you've descrived sounds like a particularly excruiating version of pure hell.
  • Here's a suggestion - there are many companies that offer to print such free online text onto smaller than letter-size paper, and they even bind it for you for much lower printing costs than doing it yourself. They call them "books".

    These "books" aren't that much heavier to ship than high quality fresnel lens or PDAs.
    • Hmmmm... back in 1989 I was working with a friend to try nd find a way to send audio over a modem connection (Atari ST Amiga) so we could share albums with each other. I knew the audio was going to be shitty because it would have to be super low bandwidth, but that didn't matter since he really just wanted to hear the albums and it wouldn't be any different than radio. I told another less technical friend about this endeavor and she stared blankly at me and asked, "Uh... why"? I couldn't believe the ques
  • Not Gutenberg (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:33PM (#11634426) Homepage

    Amazon delivers to Mozambique (linky []). Just order some actual books and have them delivered. Some nice Penguin Classics paperback edition or so would probably be more practical to read than any of your ideas for delivering a Gutenberg text as well, I would think.

    (Possibly giving this answer makes me a total moron because I obviously forgot about a number of problems with it, and it's not even an answer to the question. If so, kindly explain why it won't work. Ta)

  • If they already had a decent PDA it would be fairly easy to stash a memory card in something like a sock or normal book where it might not get noticed. As to getting the PDA there I have no clue.

  • My first thought was to go with an iPod mini, and just be sure to convert the pages to Notes format before sending it to her.

    The more I think about that though, you'd be better to send her something cheap that can read compact flash, then just mail exchange the compact flash...

    Then PDA's come to mind. :\

    Why not find a really old laptop with PCMCIA, load a minimal linux with a reader? That way if it were to be stolen, no big loss?
  • It saves the hassle, and it probably doesn't cost any more money.
  • by ratboy666 ( 104074 ) <fred_weigel AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:56PM (#11634691) Journal
    The Internet rises to the challenge!

    RFC 1149 'IP Over Avian Carriers' t []
  • One suggestion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LordOfYourPants ( 145342 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @04:57PM (#11634708)
    Project Gutenberg has some ebooks done by text-to-speech synths [] as well as those read by human readers [] which were donated by []. A note about the final site mentioned: if you want their material for free, it requires you to sign up, download low-quality versions, etc. The rest comes at a price.

    From there you can burn to a CD, easily playable in any $40 portable player. Heck, you could send 2 or 3 for the price of a PDA if theft concerns are that high.

    If you want to send over a real reading experience and PDAs are risky to send and there are no computers, then I dunno how you're going to get around sending either the real thing or the text in microfiche or something along those lines.
    • AudioBooksForFree is an excellent site. The free bitrate used to be better (but included ads). But it is still 'almost' usable. But for a minimal price of $120 [], you can get hundreds of hours (300 audiobooks) on 5 DVDs. Burn them out to CDs, and a cheap CD player will work just fine.

      Same power problems as a PDA, though.

      I've tried the text-to-speech books, and it loses so much in the translation as to be unusable. Human read are soooo much better.

  • Here's an idea. Open a website that allows people to donate books to this person, much like a paypal donation site. On top of you shipping books to your friend, other people can also ship off a couple old books that they don't want anymore.

    It would save on shipping costs for you (I think what you're trying to do is ship a huge amount of printed material, right?), and wouldn't cost many other people very much either.
  • Just buy real books (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @05:01PM (#11634756)
    Anything that's on Gutenberg is probably something you can pick up in a 'thrift edition' at the bookstore for less than $10 if a short book and less than $15 or $20 if a long book.

    At those prices, just buying the book is probably going to be a whole lot cheaper than printing the files yourself, and is going to be cheaper to ship as well (since the paper in pulp paperbacks tends to be lighter weight than printer paper.)

    On top of that, the dimensions of real books are going to make them a lot easier for your friend to store and transport, and the covers are going to prevent as much wear and tear on the books. (I have lots of computer printouts of free books online. They don't last long, even though I just keep them on a desk.)

    If you really really want to send a LOT of books, you can send a PDA, but that's also going to be expensive, and it's going to harm the ability of your friend to enjoy the books - she won't be able to read them just anywhere, because she would be attracting attention to herself, and in almost any country in the world foreigners with expensive crap are going to be more likely to be mugged. On top of that, you're going to have to send her a regular wall charger since she doesn't have a computer, and those things are bulky and annoying to carry around. And nobody likes a book that starts bitching about low batteries while you're reading it.

    Do her a favor, don't bother being trendy or 'e', and just buy her some real books. Heck, maybe there's an online bookseller in Mozambique that sells lots of english-language books, so you can save even more on shipping costs.
    • $10?? Hell, you could get them for a buck or less (US) at a Goodwill or other thrift store, maybe as much as $3-5 at a used book store.
    • First of all, I'd like to compliment the courage of your friend. But really, just send a real book. They are nice. You can keep a slip of paper on them, share them with others, and they are very easy to read. Besides.. depending on where they are, electricity might not be always there. Batteries are just going to poop out. One of the best things about being out there is removal from electronics and crazy things like that. A book will do nicely :D

    • Real books are much more useful under the circumstances. Sending electronics, PDAs, printers - that makes no sense. Even a PDA is a bad idea - batteries are probably expensive as hell, especially good ones.

      Gutenberg is overkill. Most of the texts in there are unlikely to be of interest.

      Bound paper editions of Gutenberg's top 50, or 100, or 200 would be far better. Many would be available, cheap, at used book stores, or as discount reprinted classics at Barnes & Noble.
  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @05:02PM (#11634761) Journal
    Explain her part in detail in a letter you send beforehand.

    At a mutually agreed upon time have a powerful laser flash against a satellite that will be passing overhead (for her) during the early evening. The flashes will encode the text in morse-code going slowly enough for her to read.

    There are some practical details to work out, but this will work.

    Or, of course, you could just send her a 10 cent paperback book from a used bookstore, but if that were practical you would have already thought of it and not asked Slashdot.

  • Use the right tool for the job.
  • Send books (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @05:08PM (#11634849) Homepage
    OK, so others have already suggested this, but really, it's probably the best solution for many reasons. For example, when the person is done reading them, give the books away to locals to promote the stories. It's educational, and a great way to expose others to the literature. The problem with at PDA is that its the usefulness is really limited to that one person, but if you send books, they can be passed around to countless people. We take things like this for granted but many would love to get their hands on books to pass around...

  • Send her a handheld microfiche reader [] that runs off of 120VAV, 12VDC, or ambient light. Fiche-ify the books, voila!!

  • Don't be selfish! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bluGill ( 862 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @05:13PM (#11634914)

    Ship paper, not electronics. Don't ship small print either!

    Your friend is supposed to be helping these people. When you ship an electronic book she reads it in her off time, and then what? Ship paper and she has something to leave behind as a gift when she leaves. (Note, there may be laws against this) Something that might encourage some of the natives to read for fun, which makes them better.

    Prefer books printed on acid free paper. With lose pages from a printer you can count on one getting blown away in the wind and then what? (Note, you can bind your own books, something to look into though I don't know if it is worth it) Normal acid paper will be destroyed in a few years. These are people who will have enough trouble getting books, they don't need to have the few they have destroyed early.

    • Re:Don't be selfish! (Score:3, Informative)

      by SamHill ( 9044 )

      Normal acid paper will be destroyed in a few years.

      Unless you're using something like newsprint, they don't make acidic paper anymore [].

      Granted, that doesn't mean that there aren't other possible issues, and while most paper today is acid-free, it's not generally buffered, so contact with acidic materials can still ``infect'' it. But most laser-printer and copy paper isn't going to fall apart due to acidification.

      • "Unless you're using something like newsprint, they don't make acidic paper anymore"

        Cheap paperbacks are, most likely, still acidic. Budget "classics" like are sold at Barnes & Noble are probably also printed on cheap paper.
  • I'm sure there is some wisdom to the idea of just sending books, but you might also consider checking out a program called FinePrint []. FinePrint can print 2, 4, or 8 pages per sheet of paper and can also streamline the process of duplex printing (giving you up to 16 pages per sheet). I use it all the time just to save paper, but it might suit your purpose as well. I know that there are similar programs for processing text files under Unix, but I can't recall the name(s) at the moment.

    You might also want
  • Can they acquire an old laptop with a CD-ROM drive? Maybe something that can be recharged via solar power?

    Someone else mentioned shipping things disassembled so they won't get stolen. Laptops are easier to reassembled than PDAs. Marking them as broken parts and REALLY pack the hard drive.

    Better yet: make the CDs bootable so they don't even need a hard drive.
  • Is decent paper available locally? Ribbon or ink cartridges are small and weird enough to ship without being stolen. Send her a cheap old printer and an old PDA that can drive it. Since the printed books can be taken anywhere, the theft-targets can be left at an arbitrary secure location. This has the advantage of being able to print as many copies as resources and time allow, and once the printed volume exceeds the shipping weight of the equipment, you're winning.

    I wonder what it would take to modify the
  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @06:00PM (#11635432) Journal
    I have a friend with a similar problem.
    He is going to Namibia for a year trek into the deep jungle. He will have a lot of down time. He is an avid musician, primarily playing the Harmonica. He currently creates music using GarageBand on his Mac, sticky solely to his sampled harmonica sounds. He is wondering how to bring his Macintosh, multiple CinemaDisplay LCD screens, and surround-sounds speaker setup into the jungle since he has to carry everything in his backpack and there will be no electricity.
    He can't bear the thought of not making or hearing any Harmonica music for an entire year. I was thinking I could ship him a PDA and he could write down the sheet music, ship it to me, then I would enter it into GarageBand for him, create a Harmonica song, cut it to MP3, download it to his PDA, and ship it back to him. But this would be difficult and expensive.

    Can anyone think of anything else that might work?

    • He could stop being a fucking yuppie and carry a metal harp in his pocket?
    • Buy him a harmonica? They are pneumatic-powered. Now, all your friend has to do is to find a source of hot air.

      Seriously. If knows how to play the harmonica, and he likes to hear harmonica music, then what is wrong with just playing the darned thing? Maybe he will screw up his performance occasionally. But who cares?

      Or, he can mail hs Mac to me just before he leaves, and I will take care of getting it to him -- promise!
    • While I'm with the other dude who says he should just bring a few harmonicas with him, you can just use a PDA and skip the sheetmusic insanity. There are programs like Ewok Tracker [] which is OSS as well as commercial tools like Griff []. Both are probably adequate...
    • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @06:40PM (#11635823) Journal
      What's REALLY REALLY funny about this is I purposely picked the most absurb example I could think of, with the SMALLEST, LIGHTEST, MOST PORTABLE musical instrument in existance and compared it to hauling a TON of unnecessary high-tech equipment.

      And still I'm getting serious replies.

    • He is going to Namibia for a year trek into the deep jungle.

      Ah shit, I know it was meant to be funny, but this is Slashdot so I am not going to feel guilty about making fun of your geographical skills.

      Namibia. A country pretty much named after the Namib desert. A country largely consisting of sand, diamonds and a few people who like sand and/or diamonds. Not much in the way of deep jungle.

      But look on the bright side, if he takes some solar panels along he will have no problems powering his Mac. And i
  • It's worth looking at the cost of getting a printer in South Africa. Email them some PDFs of the books and get them to print and ship the order for you.
    Though, I suspect it may be cheaper to find a 2nd book dealer (in South Africa) with the titles your friend is after.
    • I thought about a printer too, but emailing them pdf's??? Why?

      If she has access to a computer and internet, unless there's some magic email that doesn't need internet, and you send a printer she can download the text documents from the internet and format them herself

      The second option, if you like your friend, is te send her frequent letters and add a 6 or 7pt chapter or two of the book. If she has access to a copier, which is probably easier than getting to an Internet connection, then she can blow them
  • Go to EBAY and get a handspring or other PDA for next to nothing that accepts some form of extra storage like SD memory or compact flash cards and uses regular batteries, not rechargables.

    I've got a Visor Platinum with a Kopsis compact flash card reader right here. A cheap 128MB compact flash will hold over 200 books.

    Use Adobe's FREE Acrobat reader for Palm to port the files to the Handspring, and the copy of Acrobat you need to set up the files doesn't have to make the trip.

    If your friend runs out of b
  • by tyen ( 17399 )

    Find out if the Peace Corps sends other people either to where she is doing her stint, or if someone will pass through. Send the PDA with them, and have her meet them at the airport. This won't solve the theft in situ problem, but she probably has quite a few personal possessions in that category already, so it is not like an unaddressed problem. At least if you get a PDA to her, shipping her bytes consists of just sending a flash media card in a letter.

    She might not live near an Internet cafe, so printing

  • There are so many post by people who just don't seem to get it. (yeah, yeah, I know this is /.)

    Africa is a diverse place with different needs. Many of these project are looking for solutions that are not that different from your typical under funded public library or university. They may have a donated server in the back room that they need to figure out how to best utilize it.

    Our project, is working with non-profits and public institutions we have a few systems set up there with OpenBSD and Koha. K
    • A mimeograph machine + a dot-matrix printer + a few volunteers. The consummables are the stencil, ink and paper. Download the books, use the dot-matrix to print to the wax stencil. Mount the stencil to the mimeograph machine, add ink. Then tell the volunteer with a bright smile on her face to roll the fine machine. The printed papers could be glued or stitched together to form a book. Now if you are determined like the book makers few hundred years ago, the paper could be hand made from wood pulp and a few
  • Maybe the problem of getting books there is something that the Peace Corps should be looking at. Teach a man to fish and all that...
  • tm [] I recently got one of these things and it's a great deal. It cost me around $100 (I think it's gone back up to $130 now), so it's not terribly expensive, and it only weighs about a pound or so. You can import your own texts to it (i.e. project gutenberg texts), it can use Smartmedia cards (up to 128mb), so you can store a LOT of books, and the batteries last for about 25 hours and can just be charged off of 12V dc. Hook up a small 12V solar panel to tr
  • This reminds of the time in the early 90's when I was working in Russia and an American Peace Corp worker came to my Hotel Room. All I can remember about the visit was that he kept asking for books to read. The lesson we should all learn from this is to always bring something to read.
  • by monopole ( 44023 ) on Thursday February 10, 2005 @08:09PM (#11636631)
    Lik-Sang has a GBA Movie Player module for $24 which reads text files off of CF cards. Use old CF cards for cheap. Get a mini-winder charger (Lik-Sang) (8 mins of hand cranking generates 30 min of operation) and either a Game Boy SP for ~$59 used (smaller than a wallet easy to hide) or a refurbished GameBoy advance ~$35 (nearly disposable). Toss in a magnifier (they do work) and you have a portable human powered library.
  • Pick any random old winCE PDA from ebay, preferably one that takes standard size batteries, buy a big CF card and a wind-up or solar charger, Send them over wrapped in wadding packed in a video tape box inside a padded envelope. Customs agents will almost certainly just read the postmark from the US, feel that it's a video tape and pass it through. Unlikely to be stolen en route, and if it is, you're only down $70 or $80. You can send another half gigabyte of books for $40 if she can't get the card back to
  • Bound Printed Matter (Score:2, Informative)

    by JadesFire ( 604779 )
    In regards to shipping books, the USPS has special information for sending _only_ bound printed matter. Link []
  • I am currently living in SA, and if I had to do this, I would go to [] (a local online bookstore) and have them ship the books to Mozambique. Orders over R300 (about $50) are shipped for free in SA. Their shipping info page says that people in neighbouring countries can contact them for a quote.
  • sorry, up a creek without a paddle.
  • Get a Palm M125 from eBay.

    1)They're dirt cheap - no big loss if stolen. Get two in fact, one as a backup.

    2)They run for weeks on 2 AAA batteries, no need for a recharger or access to a power supply.

    3)They take MMC cards. If you use Weasel reader and the ztxt fomat for compressing books, you can get an average Guttenberg text down to about 250K. So that's about 1000 books on a 256M card. More MMC cards can be posted out from home, as an when required.
  • How about audiobooks on an iPod Shuffle?

    Get two and when she ships one back, ship her another one updated with new audio books.
    • DOH! And I forgot to mention a solar recharger for the iPod.

      AND it's made from recycled materials in a developing country :D

  • Seriously. Why on *earth* would you hide in your room & read?

    You sign up for '2 years that'll change your life', that'll show you another world, let you make a difference in that distant place, and then you use your off time to read a stack of old books?!

    Send your friend a few classics, in hardcover, because a little reading material is always a good thing. Shop around and you'll find 'pocket' editions of classics: smaller books with durable covers and a premium thin/strong/opaque paper. I buy 'em

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken