Before becoming a consultant, I used to build and support vSphere environments every day. I used to have a desk, with a computer, a couple of displays, a desk phone, some drawers, all things I’ve now forgot what it’s like to have at work. I used to be very good at anticipating changes and improvements in the next release of vSphere, always being on beta programs and basically knowing whatever I needed to know about a new version of before the product even reached GA. I them moved into consultancy where I am home and client site based, without a permanent desk or office to call home, and with very different job deliverables and a bunch the travelling thrown into the mix as well. Suddenly, it became harder to keep up that momentum of staying on top of things even before they were officially released.
Where in the past I’d simply download a beta version and work it out for myself, I now have to rely on reading documentation and blog posts whenever I get the time and then maybe “lab” the software if and when I ever get time to do so. There are however several problems with that approach. The first thing is, I do not like reading documentation from computer screens, in fact I hate reading documentation from computer screens. I don’t know why, but it’s just not comfortable and I guess with all the activities that comes with a desktop operating system and constant internet connectivity, I’m bound to get distracted whist at the same time dealing with the constant glare of the display. Also, a tablet such as the iPad is a better device to read from, but still not ideal as it still has that shiny glass reflecting stuff into your eyes all the time, causing distractions.
The second issue is that I don’t have time to sit in front of my computer and to read documentation. When I’m at my computer I’m normally responding to a heap of email messages, writing a design document or other document of some sorts as part of a work deliverable or just trying to sort out a mess somewhere else. Simply finding time to write a blog post like this one has become a tough battle and I’m finding that things like this now need to be “scheduled” into an evening time slot when I’m in a hotel or the kids have gone to bed.
I found that when I’m on the train, which is normally around 45 – 60 minutes non-stop from Peterborough to London, I actually can sit back and read some documentation. I now have almost 2 hours per day to read! Wow! 2 hours! Believe it or not, but it’s on train journeys where I managed to skill up on vCAC 6.1 without actually doing a course (although I’m definitely going to book a vCAC course!!). I would read a few chapters in the relevant document for vCAC and then whenever I got a few minutes spare time, I would practice what I’ve tried to memorise on the train, in my homelab. This has worked a treat up to now.
Using a Kindle eReader for Documentation
So I've mentioned that I don’t like reading from computer screens and that I have tried the iPad and that it work a little better, but to be honest, I’m a paper boy. I like reading from paper! But I also really didn't want to print each document and carry that around with me. That’s just not going to work for me! I do however have a Kindle Paperwhite, and it’s the closest I’ve been able to get to a paper look on an electronic device. So I started to look at how I can use my Kindle Paperwhite to do the job. I know it can handle PDF files, so I tried uploading the documentation PDFs to it and use it like a tablet, but that didn't last very long. PDF page scaling is simply too large for the Kindle to draw it properly. I also knew that VMware makes documentation available in different formats, so I went and had a look at what my options were.
On the VMware documentation website, you will see that each document can be downloaded in .html, .pdf, .epub and .mobi formats. I knew from past experience in trying to convert documents to work on Kindle, that Kindle books are basically formatted in html, so that could be an option, but clicking the html link on the VMware documentation website simply takes you to the online documentation section rather that providing a download for the document in html format, so that option is not going to work in this case. I already know that PDF doesn’t scale correctly on the Kindle Paperwhite screen and is almost unreadable so that isn’t going to work either. Looking at the file formats that Kindle supports, .epub is not one of them, so that only leaves me to try .mobi, which is supported on Kindle.
This works really well, the documents are properly formatted, the table of contents works properly and even the document cover doesn’t look too bad either!
Getting the VMware documents in .mobi format is an easy task. Simply download the relevant document in .mobi format and use the USB port on the Kindle to upload the document. But even better, how about making the document available to all your Kindle devices and Apps? The answer is to email the document as an attachment to your Send-To-Kindle address. This address can be found on your Amazon Account under Digital Content -> Manage Your Content and Devices -> Settings. The email also has to be sent from an address that is approved by your Amazon account, which can also be specified on the same settings page as your Send-To-Kindle address, under “Approved Personal Document E-mail List”
Also, it’s worth enabling “Personal Document Archiving” as it will add all of the document you email to your Kindle to be in your Amazon online library, and they will be available to your other devices and apps as well!