Sunday, June 6, 2021

Jim Kwik Speed Reading On Mobile Devices

In Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, I reported how I found the speed reading method that Kwik describes to be effective. That was for printed books, where the method involves running your finger along the lines as an eye-tracking target, physically in contact with the page.

I also like to read on my Android phone and Galaxy Tablet. I have the Kindle app installed on both. But because they use touch-screens, the finger-tracking is problematic. I wanted to find a way to deal with that.

Touch Screen Pointer

It turns out to be trivially easy. Modern screens use capacitive-touch technology, sensitive to skin capacitance (they are not pressure-sensitive as people might think). This is why gloves prevent touch screens from working: they insulate the finger contact from the screen.

So simply folding a piece of paper such as a tissue, napkin, or receipt into a "pointer" that you can hold loosely in your hand under your fingertip allows you to run your finger along the screen without affecting it. Then just tap the screen with your pinky or thumb to change the page.

A pen or pencil also works as a pointer, but makes an audible tap touching the screen. The paper pointer is silent.

Kindle Setup

I did a little quick research on speed reading with a Kindle. The Kindle app provides a word-runner speed-reading method, but I don't like it as much as Kwik's method. 

It turns out there are entire religious wars over the effectiveness of various speed reading techniques. The only thing I'll say with respect to that is I have zero comprehension and retention of things I haven't read. If this technique gives me even just 10% comprehension and retention of things I wouldn't have read otherwise, that's a win. And I expect it will be much higher, especially as I gain facility with the method.

I did find a nice article that talks about how screen layout affects speed and comprehension, based on an academic study and resultant paper. The article does say eliminating subvocalization is not effective, but I'll conveniently ignore that assertion for now.

The article is How To Speed Read On An Amazon Kindle (or any digital format), by Jon Brooks, and the paper it links to is How physical text layout affects reading from screen, by Mary C. Dyson.

I had found the physical page layout of the Limitless printed book to be easy to read, so I set up my phone's Kindle app to be as close as possible, with a similar number of characters per line.

Starting with locking screen orientation to landscape (i.e. turn the phone sideways to wide view), these are the settings I came up with.

For Font, this screen shot shows the settings and what they look like:

For Layout:

  • Margins: widest margins (narrowest text line).
  • Spacing: largest line spacing.
  • Columns: one column.
Under Themes, I saved the customized settings as new theme "Speed reading size".

Other devices with different screen sizes may require different settings to match that physical layout, and might also be usable in portrait orientation.

For instance, my tablet is large enough that I can use portrait, with the next-larger font, and the narrowest margins (widest text line). It also has an extra Alignment setting, that I set to right-justified (fixed line width).

Reading PDF's On Kindle

I read a lot of things in PDF format, such as e-books and Dyson's paper. It would be nice to read these in the Kindle app with these layout settings.

One thing I don't like about academic papers is the typical layout of densely-spaced, narrow two-column lines of text. I don't like that in hardcopy print, and even less in electronic form. 

It makes reading with a typical PDF-reader application annoying, complicating page navigation. The page doesn't match the screen layout at all, so requires various scrolling, zooming, and panning, very disruptive to the reading flow state.

The Kindle app also doesn't have a way to open PDF's.

There's a simple solution to both of these: Amazon provides a Send To Kindle service that both reformats a document to work with Kindle, and adds it to the device library.

I used that with Dyson's paper, and voila! The paper shows up on screen using all my speed reading settings, nicely spaced single-column layout that is easy to navigate. The screenshot above is from it.

That makes the paper much easier for me to read. As we geeks like to say, how meta and recursive!

The service doesn't work with all PDF's. I tried it with an e-book I was reviewing, and received an email indicating it couldn't be converted. I don't know what the specific issue was.

For such documents, I'll still need to use conventional PDF reader apps, which means I need to read them on the larger tablet rather than my phone. But at least I have the touch-screen management resolved.

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