Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

In between the poles?

An interesting engineer’s understanding of writing from MIT’er Philip Greenspun. He divides publishing into a couple of poles and argues that the other stuff doesn’t get a look in:

The pre-1990 commercial publishing world supported two lengths of manuscript:

  1. the five-page magazine article, serving as filler among the ads
  2. the book, with a minimum of 200 pages

Suppose that an idea merited 20 pages, no more and no less? A handful of long-copy magazines, such as the old New Yorker would print 20-page essays, but an author who wished his or her work to be distributed would generally be forced to cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimum size to fit into the book distribution system. 

Lots of room for discussion about how expressing an idea might deserve more words, and how arguing for the idea might also rate a few paragraphs or pages, but I think there’s some substance to his idea that objects constrain publishing possibilities and try to force them into habitual formats. That’s something that digital does much better…

(via Daring Fireball)

Next on the agenda??

Nice rant in Wired arguing (well almost pleading) for cash to go away:

In an era when books, movies, music, and newsprint are transmuting from atoms to bits, money remains irritatingly analog. Physical currency is a bulky, germ-smeared, carbon-intensive, expensive medium of exchange. Let’s dump it.

Kind of tangential to the book thing, but it’s all ink on paper, or polymer 🙂 Besides, as noted in the article, just as with books, the way of the future might already be in our pocket:

Mobile phone penetration is 50 percent worldwide, and mobile money programs already enable millions of people to receive money from or “flash” it to other people, banks, and merchants.

Makes e-books look easy, doesn’t it?

Keitai Writing in Manhattan

We all know about the Japanese practice of reading and writing novels on cellphones. Now there’s a US example (or the writing at least). From the Boy Genius Report

For those of us who like to think we’re being productive during our travels, or maybe just productive in general, meet Peter V. Brett. While commuting on the subway to and from work, Brett was writing a novel — on his smartphone!

Brett’s 100,000 novel (The Warded Man) was written on an iPaq 6515 over a couple of years. And yes, you can buy it in kindle and ereader versions so you can *read* it on your smartphone as well 🙂

Kindle DX

As predicted on the rumour sites, Amazon released a bigger kindle today. The same as the old one, only with a bigger screen and an emphasis on newspapers (and education?) rather than books. No colour, no wifi, no video, no browser…  From the BBC:

The device is 250% bigger than the recently-announced Kindle 2 gadget.

The device has a built-in PDF document reader and the company announced deals with three leading textbook publishers to put their content on the reader.

Amazon announced deals with the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe to put their editorial on the device.

The jury is out on whether this will help or hinder the ailing newspaper industry (kindle DX is nearly US$500 which is a lot of newspapers and a pretty damn good netbook). And I’m confused as to why companies feel the need to add meaningless letter combinations to identify different models. What does DX stand for anyway? 

Wolfram Alpha – a possible future?

As we await confirmation of the rumoured big-screen kindle, it’s worth noting that there are mutterings about Wolfram’s new Alpha search engine. Rather than trying to be google, it claims to be able to identify ‘facts’ from that morass of data that sits in the great internet swamp. What’s the difference? According to Searchengineland:

Where’s all this information coming from? Unlike Google or a traditional search engine, Wolfram Alpha isn’t crawling the web and “scraping” information, a process where you try to extract data from a web page. Instead, it’s working with a variety of providers to gather public and private information. More important, it then uses a staff of over 150 people to ensure the information is clean and tagged in a way that Wolfram Alpha can present.

Hmm… sounds a bit like what publishers do, except with more computers 🙂


Back in the day when I actually *did* stuff, I used to design and produce multimedia CD-ROMS for some big book publishing companies. On pretty tight budgets, we’d play with quicktime videos and hack Macromedia Director scripts to turn out something that was glued to the front of a big illustrated reference book. The publisher, of course, wanted something with all the bells and whistles – something like Encarta, they’d always say. Of course, with a team of a very few, it’s pretty difficult to compete with the big M. Today, news from the wire that Encarta itself can no longer compete. Whilst the move from printed encyclopedia to digital is pretty well complete; the consequential shift from branded CD-ROM/DVD-ROM publication to ‘whatever’s in the cloud’ is apparently upon us. From the New York Times:

THIS is the end of the line for Encarta, the encyclopedia that Microsoft introduced in 1993 and still describes boastfully on its Web site as “the No. 1 best-selling encyclopedia software brand for the past eight years.” Microsoft recently announced that sales would soon cease and that the Encarta Web site, supported by advertising, would be shut down later this year.

More Print is Dead – Jarvis on magazines

I’m probably not alone in spending less on magazines now than I did a decade ago. All my geek reading is now online, and just as printed newspapers seem dated by the time they reach my breakfast table, magazines seem positively ancient. And yet, zinio has yet to be as regularly used on my iphone as the New York Times app, or stanza for that matter. Anyhow, Jeff Jarvis turns his attention to magazines and concludes that they’re doomed too. Riffing on the death of Portfolio magazine:

So in a rare moment of preparing for a panel, I actually thought about what I thought and I concluded that magazines weren’t doomed. They have the unique value of slickness and focus that their publishers always brag about. And, I reasoned, magazines already were communities and so they should be perfectly positioned for the community-based internet. Magazines are collections of people who are interested in the same stuff. The challenge for an editor is to figure out ways to enable them to share with each other, to become a platform for that community.

Afraid I was wrong.