Years ago, I took a sped riddin' class. I increased my reading speed a bit but found the whole thing unsatisfactory. Along the way, though, one of the exercises had one reading text presented in a column, one or two words at a time. That seemed to work for me.
Since then, sometimes, when I have something long to read that I'd like to get through as quickly as I can, I narrow the window as much as possible. Sometimes I have to copy the text into an editor in order to do so.
The other day I was reading a provocative piece to which my friend The Misanthrope had sent me a link. When I was finished reading it, I thought I'd see what else was on that site. The thing that caught my eye was that a piece of software called Vortex xStream was offered for sale.
Remembering my experience with columnized text, I checked around and decided to buy it since I had not, by that time, found any alternatives. I found code snippets that people had written to do a similar thing, but I'm not good with code snippets and just wanted a program.
I'll have to write to these folks about some deficiencies in their product, but I think I'll keep it. My primary tool for this purpose, though, and assuming I continue reading some things this way, will probably be a free add-on for Firefox called RSVP Reader. RSVP Reader could use a few tweaks, too, but it's pretty close to prime time. It adds a toolbar to Firefox with a few controls and a space to present text. You select what you want RSVPed and push the Play button. Works pretty well.
RSVP, by the way, stands for Rapid Sequential (or Serial) Visual Presentation. Vortex xStream calls itself MARS, for Machine Assisted Reading Software.
Since I started playing with this stuff I found, as usual, that there's nothing new aside from my awareness. There are lots of options. Here's one person's writeup.
In my short experience so far, going through most documents at anywhere from 450 to 600 words per minute is satisfactory. I find myself reading things I would normally pass up simply because of my reading speed and available time. I find that I retain enough to make the exercise worthwhile.
Apparently, researchers have discovered effects such as reduced or confused retention when the reader encounters repeated words. Surely there are other findings, but I'm not sure I'm motivated to dig deeper. In other words, it's a mixed bag. Overall, I'll keep it.
Now maybe I'll finally get around to reading a few books I've downloaded, like Sam Cohen's Shame.
Shame has been renamed F*** You Mr. President.
SAM COHEN'S "SHAME" ONLINE
Nuclear weaponeer Sam Cohen's memoir "Shame: Confessions of the Father of the Neutron Bomb" is "not a good book in any conventional sense," Secrecy News observed a while back (SN, 01/16/01).
"It is long, whiny, profane, and self-indulgent. It seems to have escaped editing altogether. Part reminiscence, part crank manifesto, it is a mess. But it is an honest and compelling mess that students of nuclear history will not want to miss."
It is now available online here: