I know many people are fond of waxing nostalgic about the joys of curling up with a good book and how much better that is than trying to read something on a computer monitor. And to a degree I can appreciate that perspective. Because you can take the book to bed and read it there or on a train or plane while traveling and because there is a certain joy in the feel of just turning the pages, staring at a CRT or an LCD screen isn’t nearly as convenient and that represents something of a hurdle that one must overcome to see any benefits to reading something online. But as I’ve done it more, I’ve now actually come to prefer curling up with a good CRT to read many things. Why? Well, that’s what I want to talk about in this post for a moment.
Technology can aid aging eyes
This is a screenshot of an article my friend Paul Moor pointed out to me recently, shown at the font size I normally use for surfing. If you click on the image to open it in a larger view, you’ll notice that the text is rather small and therefore uncomfortably dense to be read online, or at least it is to my aging eyes. However in Firefox, I can quickly press Ctrl + a couple of times to increase the font size temporarily when I am going to read something like this online so that it becomes easier for me to see.
Here’s what it looks like when I do that. Why don’t I just make that increased font size my normal surfing mode, you ask? The answer is pretty simple. Although the font size is better for reading an article like this, that large font size distorts the web page layout when I leave it that large for most web pages, so I prefer to only increase it temporarily when I’m reading something this lengthy. If you visit the link to the article, you’ll see that it is quite long and reading it took me about an hour, so I wanted the comfort for that period but not permanently. When I’ve completed reading something like this, I can simply close the tab in which I have it opened and I am back to my preferred font size for surfing.
This one simple change, increasing the font size, does wonders for my enjoyment of reading things online.
Being online enhances the experience of reading
In my experience it has always been a good idea to have a dictionary handy when you are reading something. While I have a pretty good vocabulary, it is limited, of course. So if I really wanted to get something out of an article, I’d need to look up the meaning of some of the words in the article. As I curl up with my CRT, looking up words like “ululating” is a matter of copying the word I don’t know to the clipboard, opening a new tab to Dictionary.com and pasting that into the search box and bingo I’ve got the definition.
However, Firefox has made the process of looking up a word at Dictionary.com even easier through the use of a neat little concept called a keyword for linking to a web site. At the right is a screenshot of the “Quick Searches” folder of bookmarks that are stored in Firefox by default. If you’ll notice the items highlighted in yellow in this screenshot, you’ll see that for a number of them keywords have already been defined that for that particular link. I can press Ctrl T to open a new tab, and type “dict,” a space and then paste “ululating” and press Enter, and it will open Dictionary.com with the definition of that word displayed. Because it is so much easier to look up words when I am reading something online, I find myself much more likely to actually look up those words that I’m unsure about than I would be if I had an Oxford English Dictionary at my side. And I am back to reading the article in which I am interested much more quickly than I would be otherwise.
But reading online is not just useful for solving my ignorance about the meaning of some words. Sometimes references are made to someone like Norbert Weiner, with whom I am not familiar, so I can copy that name to the clipboard, open a new tab (Ctrl T) and type “wp,” a space and then paste “Norbert Weiner” and press Enter, and bingo I have an elaboration of who that person is. “Wp” is the keyword assigned to Wikipedia in the default installation. By becoming familiar with the various keywords already defined in the Quick Searches bookmarks in Firefox, it is possible to speed up the use of these resources for enhancing the experience of whatever you are reading.
And for me, the advent of tabbed browsing, which has finally come to Internet Explorer too with version 7, has made using the browser so much more efficient that I can’t imagine having to go back to surfing without it.
Have it your way
What I have described up to this point is using the out-of-the-box configuration of Firefox. However, I can change things to suit myself and my own habits better. For instance, “wp” doesn’t seem as natural to me for Wikipedia as the keyword “wiki.” I find that easier to remember. So if I prefer “wiki” to “wp” as the keyword for Wikipedia, I can just change it.
In Firefox, go to Bookmarks / Organize Bookmarks and open the Quick Searches folder. Highlight the Wikipedia entry, right click on it and choose Properties, and change the keyword so that it is what you want rather than what it was. This is what that dialog looks like. Notice the Keyword field is highlighted in yellow in this screenshot.
What’s best about this capability is that you can assign your own keywords to any link that you have bookmarked. If you want to create a keyword for a link to your blog, for instance, you can bookmark the page, then go to this dialog in Organize Bookmarks and add the keyword, say “myblog” for instance, and then any time you want to visit that link, you just open a new tab (Ctrl T) and type “myblog” and press Enter. By tailoring the browser like this, I think you’ll find, as I have, that the experience of curling up with a CRT is more pleasant than you might have previously imagined.