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Lawrence "The Dreamer" Chen's REB1200 Library

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My Story

While chatting with a penpal/girlfriend, of the period, about my reading habits, I concluded that I had lots of reading I wanted to do....but just never found time to sit down with my books. My friend suggested books on tape and listening to them on the commute to work, however there is one major flaw in that. I don't drive. And, on top of that, it's only a mile to work so its not much of a walk.

Thinking about the problem, I naturally turned to search out a technological solution to my problem. I figured an eBook might be the answer, it had been a while since I had looked at it and I had hoped that a stand-alone eBook device had evolved to a level that I could use.

Well, in the quest for information, I fell in love with the REB1200 (maybe that's why I'm still single 8-). So, despite the high cost and lack of actual support, but there were enough rumors to make up for that. I went ahead and bought one. I ended up getting it direct from RCA, which also meant that I paid tax on it, because all the other online places I checked didn't have it in stock.

Originally, when I was looking at these devices, I was only interested in purchased content. Though the result has been decidedly mixed. Not much in the way of directly appealing content, and what potentially interesting content isn't much cheaper that list price for the printed version. In fact some of it is more expensive....especially periodic publications. And, I have a bigger piles of unread magazines than unread books. Though after some thought, the publications are cheaper than newstand price....but that's why I subscribe to too many magazines.

Shortly after I purchased the REB1200, I upgraded the memory to 128MB. And, not exactly much in the way of purchased content, I started exploring the possibility of adding my own content. During the upgrade I stuck the old memory card into my memory reader and it was recognized. And, I was able to copy the content to the new card, which was good since the sample book can't be re-downloaded. Meanwhile, it occurred to me that the REB1200 would be a neat way to manage computer documentation. So, I started looking into ways of loading my own content on to the device. In this quest, and for other reasons, I started a discussion group on Yahoo! (formerly eGroups).

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Anyways, after much discussion a potential solution came forth. And, the timing was perfect because I was thinking I wanted to read "Thinking in Java" without having to lug the heavy book back and forth between office and home. As it is, I'm going to be lugging the REB1200 back and forth....because the print version is the 1st edition while I have obtained the 2nd edition in electronic form. But, it turns out to be easier to read the REB1200 at work than the book.

Here are some utilities:
  • SoftBook Personal Publisher 1.5 -- ~4.3MB
  • unimp.exe -- ~6KB
SoftBook Personal Publisher can be used to generate SoftBook content with .imp extensions. The problem is there is no user mechanisim for loading .imp files onto the REB1200. But, using a Compact Flash reader, the content is in .RES directories. And, it was found that SoftBook Personal Publisher creates a .RES directory before creating the .imp file. Well, using version 1.0, it is possible to have the software leave the .RES directory behind by add the following registry key:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\SoftBook Press\BookMill\Preferences]
"Delete RES"=dword:00000000

Currently, there is no equivalent trick for version 1.5. But, to this end I was sent the utility unimp.exe which will convert a SoftBook .IMP file into a .RES directory. This is better, because version 1.5 of Personal Publisher supports color images.

For details on the file format, check out Jeffrey Kraus-yao's Page

Once you have this directory, it's just a matter of copying it into the SOFTBKS directory on the compactflash and away you go.

So, the final step was to obtain "Thinking in Java, 2nd ed." in a format that could be processed by SoftBook Personal Publisher. This unfortunately eliminates PDF. But, officially the electronic book format of the series is Word97 or HTML. Where the HTML is formatted from RTF output from the Word97 document.

This meant that it would be almost too easy to generate a version for my REB1200.

And, it was. The Word97 format was set for letter size pages, but the finished print form uses smaller pages. So, the document contained graphics to offset the reduced page area. The Soft Book conversion results in expensive graphics on the pages, and very little text area.
This meant that I should reformat the Word97 file to use a custom page size, and eliminate the "registration" marks in the border area. This wasn't a simple matter of reducing the page size and adjusting the margins, because some of the images in the document were anchored to page positions. So, I had go through the 1000+ pages and adjust images as needed. Finally the 2nd edition version had extra section tags, evidently to aid in the formatting of the HTML version, where are post processed out of the final version using an author written proc in Phyton. This required me to manually go through the entire file removing these tags as well.

Finally, I had a document that would resemble a usable eBook and I generated the content. While I was at it, I also converted the "Thinking in C++, 2nd ed." Volumes.

REB1200 Content Library

  • Thinking in Java, 2nd. Edition -- ~2.5MB (IMP)
  • Thinking in C++, 2nd. Edition, Volume One -- ~1.1MB (IMP)
  • Thinking in C++, 2nd. Edition. Volume Two -- ~870KB (IMP)

September 8th, 2001 - I updated the CODE style blocks in the documents, so the indenting wouldn't be lost in the conversion. Only the IMP files have been updated. The RES files live on my old website, which will eventually go away.

In the continuing saga.... A while back I decided that I needed an extra adapter/charger for my REB1200. I had contacted RCA about getting one, but they told me to contact my dealer....but I bought it direct from them. So, they rephrased it to be find a local dealer. Well, I didn't have a local dealer, otherwise I wouldn't have paid list price + tax and shipping. Of course we have different definitions of local. My idea of a local dealer is one that I can walk to in less than an hour. RCA's idea of a local dealer is one that is in the same state as me.

So, I went looking through some electronic catalogs that I get around here, and found one that looked right in the Jameco catalog. I had measured the outside diameter of the plug and it matched. And, when the adapter arrived, it was infact the same make and almost the same model as the one supplied with the REB1200. It only differed in the last letter. I had concluded that it was probably a distinction of the channel that the adapter was obtained through.

But, when I went to use the adapter recently, I discovered that it wouldn't fit. I kept looking for why, because I had measured the outside diameter carefully with a vernier caliper. But, then looking around I discovered that there are two plugs that are available with outside diameters of 5.5mm. The more common one has an inside diameter of 2.1mm, but the REB1200 uses the one with an inside diameter of 2.5mm.

Mainly for aesthetic reasons (but office safety standards is a factor, and I don't want to use the supplied adapter at work), I want to find an adapter that works. Rather than cutting the end off of the one I got and soldering on a proper plug. Also the electronics supply house has a minimum order size of $25, otherwise there is a $5 handling fee. Which kind of makes a 45 cent part kind of expensive. Plus I would probably have to hunt around the apartment for all my soldering equipment, which I haven't used since I boxed it up and last moved back in 1998.

So, it looks like the basic specs of the power adapter are: 18VDC, 1.0Amp, 5.5mm (od) x 2.5mm (id) plug, center positive.

Well, I placed an order (in June, 2001) for one from Fox Electronics, the company RCA told me to get one from. Well, they took my order and immediately charged my credit card. But, they tell me they won't actually have any until the end of October 2001.

UPDATE: 2001-11-30 -- Well, the charger finally arrived. Of course, I don't need it anymore...because the firmware update has rendered my REB1200 no longer useful.

My next project was how to put The Motley Fool's 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly on to my REB1200. The document is distributed as a PDF file, and there no PDF to SoftBook converter. But, the SoftBook Personal Publisher will do images that are inside of a word document or a PowerPoint Presentation. After some experimentation, I got the PDF loaded onto my REB1200. Roughly, here are the steps:

  1. Using GSView/Ghostscript -- convert PDF document into a series of JPEGs.
  2. Using IrfanView -- batch rotate the JPEGs left.
  3. Using PPTImport -- convert JPEGs into a PowerPoint Presentation.
  4. Export the PowerPoint Presentation to a SoftBook -- using the Rotate Clockwise option.
  5. Using unimp.exe convert the SoftBook .IMP file into a .RES directory
  6. Move the .RES directory to my compactflash card