Shakespeare Star Wars

19 Jul
July 19, 2013

Shakespeare Star Wars

Yeah, the literary mash-up genre does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

But Star Wars-meets-Shakespeare sounds like a fun idea that at least needn’t be taken too seriously —  Slate has an excerpt of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (available in print and ebook).

 

I do rather like the woodcut-style illustrations. Huffington Post has some additional examples to check out: “Inside William Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars’

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Edit: And, Boing Boing has an even better, 16-page preview here.

 

“Tsundoku: Illustrated Definition of a Book Lover’s Problem”

17 May
May 17, 2013

I love that there’s a word for this:

(n). buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands

Tsundoku: Illustrated Definition of a Book Lover’s Problem

From GalleyCat (“Tsundoku: Illustrated Definition of a Book Lover’s Problem“), via reddit.

Pretty good for a 12 year old illustrator! She’s got a bit of Edward Gorey-style, too.

 

“What If We Put DRM on Chairs?”

31 Mar
March 31, 2013

DRM CHAIR from Thibault Brevet on Vimeo.

(DRM = Digital Rights Management)

Chairs and ebooks don’t have a lot in common. But just what if they did? From Escapist Magazine: (“Chair With DRM Collapses After Being Sat On Eight Times“):

“A team of creators working on a global project called The Deconstructionhave put together the world’s first “DRM Chair,” which falls apart after being used just eight times.

At a casual glance, the DRM Chair looks just like your average everyday wooden chair. However, a special built-in mechanism and sensor count how many people have sat in it, emitting a loud clicking noise to indicate the number of uses left after a person stands up. After eight people have used the chair, its joints start smoking, melting the special material that holds the chair together and causing it to collapse into a heap of parts after just a few seconds.”

It might not be a perfect analogy here, but it’s clever and I think gets the point across.

Also, MakeUseOf has a handy rundown, if you’re interested: What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It’s So Evil?

On Not Reading Books

29 Mar
March 29, 2013

I like to assume, in all of my bookish hubris, that the reading of books is an excellent use of our free time. But in the interest of open-mindedness, let’s consider: what if we don’t read books?* What then?

The question reminded me of a New Yorker piece from a couple of years ago (“The Year in Not Reading“), with some Schopenhauer musings thrown in for good measure —

schopenhauer on reading books“Perhaps there’s consolation to be had in Schopenhauer’s remark that “buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents … 

I like browsing for books; I like the sense of endless possibility, the promise of freedom, of new life that seems so close at hand. There’s also something sad about browsing, though—a tugging awareness that what you’re doing is a waste of time, that your work is still all ahead of you.”

I also find the act of browsing books very pleasurable. The endless possibility of choosing to read a book (or not) is stimulating and makes me want to take up permanent residence at Powell’s Books — if anything, I feel the sadness of browsing tends to center on the Books We Could Have Read But Didn’t.

But so much for cognitive dissonance. Perhaps the simplest solution is to choose no books at all? I rather liked this post over at The Bygone Bureau (“In the Land of the Non-Reader”). It’s a healthy exercise to revisit our assumptions about reading, and why we do it. Far better to question than mindlessly assume we know what’s good for us —

7563338

I must have some free time. Perhaps the “I don’t have time to read” line is just a cover. A way that people excuse themselves from the uncomfortable truth that they do, in fact, have time but that they would rather do something other than read with that time (such as pretending to be a wood-elf). We exalt reading as “good” like exercise and vegetables and so we are always making excuses as to why we avoid it.

 I knew that I had taken up residence in the swamp of the non-reader. Here is what life is like in that swamp:

  1. The world is flat. Not in the sense of a level economic playing field (an idea I once read about, when I read). No, the world is flat because I see no depth. I make no associations. Life unfolds as a rather dull soap opera with bathroom breaks.
  2. I can no longer reason and cannot be trusted to make a decision. My brain is distracted by second-hand sensations. When the slightest complexity arises in my life, I crave the screen world – the simple goal of building a house in Minecraft or the easily dis-entangled one-hour conundrums that beset the Voyager crew.
  3. I can no longer relax. My Skyrim character now has a longer to-do list than my red-flagged Outlook task-list at work. My days at work and home consist of quests and side-quests leading to more quests and side-quests. I have lost the main narrative.
  4. I am empty, but not in a monkish way. I am just kind of dumb. Also, without the pleasing empathy that comes from engaging with new ideas, places, and characters, I am afraid of foreigners and easily manipulated by politicians and advertisements.
  5. I have the attention span of cocaine-addled four-year old. My mind is an ’80s Scorsese montage on fast-forward. It’s all sound and fury signifying – are you kidding me? Star Wars in 3D? WTF?”

I don’t really know about Skyrim is, but the “I am empty” was an apt way of putting it. For some reason, it made me think of John Milton’s “On His Blindness“.

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* I thought it was important to make the distinction of “reading books.” After all, even we choose not to read and engage in all sorts of non-bookish activities like video games or internet browsing, we are all still reading in some shape or form.

Do you sleep with your iPad? Stop doing that.

25 Mar
March 25, 2013

sleeping ipadAre we getting too addicted to our gadgets? “Ubiquity” would be likely be something of an understatement to describe our tablet/smartphone use.

To help us think about where and when we spend our screen time, Mashable compiled some numbers into handy infographic form [see the full, super large version at: Mashable, “Late-Night Gadget Use Damages Your Sleep Cycle”]. 1 in 2? Geez.

As it turns out ,shining a lighted screen a few inches from your face hampers our sleeping. Scientific American brings the science, “Bright Screens Could Delay Bedtime” —

This is an actual thing.

This is an actual thing.

The dose of light is important, Figueiro says; the brightness and exposure time, as well as the wavelength, determine whether it affects melatonin. Light in the blue-and-white range emitted by today’s tablets can do the trick—as can laptops and desktop computers, which emit even more of the disrupting light but are usually positioned farther from the eyes, which ameliorates the light’s effects.”

In other words, maybe we should try a book instead. Or, a Kindle, according to UCLA’s Sleep Disorders Center [Los Angeles Times: “Reading on iPad before bed can affect sleep habits“].

This topic interested me, and also inspired me to stop think really hard about not doing (some) of these things.

Here are some additional numbers on our gadget habits, from a survey of some 3500 gadget users. The survey is from 2011, so maybe let’s add another 10 or 15% to the numbers below. [GigaOM: “Sleepless? Then Stop Taking Your iPhone To Bed.“]

gadgets vs. sleep

” [People] … have a hard time being physically separated from their smartphones, even when it’s ostensibly time to sleep. More than half at 61 percent of those surveyed keep the phone in the bedroom, and 41 percent have it within arm’s reach of where they sleep. Those figures jump to 77 and 60 percent respectively when you’re talking about the younger crowd (respondents between the ages of 22 and 34).”

On a somewhat related note, Nieman Lab (“Let me guess: Let me guess: You sleep with your iPad, don’t you?“), discusses a recent Pew Research survey of almost 10,000 American tablet users, with some insights into our news consumption and reading habits.The data point that jumped out at me was how surprisingly domestic tablet use is —

“Tablets are designed to be portable, but Pew found most people — 85 percent — are still using them mostly from home. Pew’s findings also reinforce the idea that tablets are an after-work “lean back” experience for most users. Evening remains the most popular time of day for people to turn to their tablets.”

swoop-owlOr, for those that have fully embraced their addiction, there is this. [GigaOM, “Sleep with your iPhone? Now you can make it cuddly”].

 

 

 

Are Pay-As-You-Go eBooks a Good Idea?

22 Mar
March 22, 2013

apple-iphoneGizmodo (“Would You Buy Ebooks on a Pay-As-You-Read Basis?“) reports on a start-up with an intriguing approach to ebook pricing.

“The idea is simple: instead of paying for a book up front … you instead pay a small fee for each page you read. Only read a quarter of a book? No problem: you’ve only paid for a quarter of it anyway. Of course, it’s unlikely that such a model would ever result in big discounts, but that’s the financial trade-off.”

BookRiot (“Should EBooks Be Pay-As-You-Go?“) weighs in with some additional thoughts. On the one hand, the opportunity to avoid buyers remorse is certainly a win-win for us readers and consumers —

“But would it be good for publishers, authors, and the future of books? I don’t know. I think it’s certainly worth a try, though, and there’s useful stuff to be learned from how far readers get into a book before they abandon it. In the present “buy a book before you read it” model, publishers don’t really have to care if readers like or finish the book–they just have to get you interested enough to want to buy it. If, hypothetically, Total BooX’s attempt to invert the model was successful in moving all ebook sales to the pay-as-you-go plan, publishers and authors would have to produce material that kept readers engaged all the way through in order to earn a full payday. Could they afford to do that? What would happen if authors started tailoring books to what they knew of readers’ habits and interests? Would the overall quality of books improve and lead to an increase in reader satisfaction?”

These are all good questions. In general, diversity in the marketplace is always a good thing — and the idea of giving book readers another option than a $14.99 ebook is certainly worth a try.

Lots of people expected ebook prices to come down (it hasn’t happened, New York Times: “Little Sign of a Predicted E-Book Price War“), and why should there be? Ebook sales are robust, so there is little incentive to offer lower prices at the moment.

Speaking of diversity, TechCrunch also reported earlier this year on another startup venture, with similar aims that has gained some traction with publishers: “ValoBox Launches Pay-As-You-Go eBook Offering; O’Reilly Media, Guardian Books & Other Publishers Sign On.”

TotalBooX (“BooX” as in “books”) and ValoBox, besides having terrible, terrible names, present a creative approach to the large and vexing question of how to make ebooks: a) affordable for readers and b) sustainable for publishers. I hope pay-as-you-go does work. I’ve been an advocate of a subscription-based ebook model for some time now.

This all reminded me of the Stephen King experiment which is something of a primogenitor for these new ebook pricing ideas.

Interesting: Social Media and Higher Education

18 Mar
March 18, 2013

From Mashable: “How Higher Education Uses Social Media

Looking at the infograph below, the overall trend is, unsurprisingly, upwards (the numbers are from 2012). Section #2 and and the first portion of #3 were most interesting to me. Personally, I am heartened to see the new ways universities are putting social media to good use. “Lack of Features” jumps out as an area for improvement, or opportunities for improvement, depending on how one looks at it.

(Click on the image below for an even larger version):

infographic: social media use in higher education

Interesting: How to Read Faster, by Bill Cosby

15 Mar
March 15, 2013

billcosby4What a neat post, from Brain Pickings: “How to Read Faster: Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies” —

“Bill Cosby may be best-known as the beloved personality behind his eponymous TV show, but he earned his doctorate in education and has been involved in several projects teaching the essential techniques of effective reading, including a PBS series on reading skills. In an essay unambiguously titled “How to Read Faster,” published in the same wonderful 1985 anthology How to Use the Power of the Printed Word (UKpublic library) that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, Cosby offers his three proven strategies for reading faster. Apart from their evergreen application to the printed word, it’s particularly interesting to consider how these rules might translate to the digital screen, where structural factors like scrolling, pagination, hyperlinks, and adjustable font sizes make the text and the reading experience at once more fluid and more rigid.”

The three tips boil down to —

1. Previewing: Read the first two paragraphs, the last two paragraphs, and the first sentence of any paragraphs in between.

2. Skimming: Read very quickly, to pick up a few key words at a time and get the general idea, like so:

billcosby2

 

3. Clustering. The most important of the three — “word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down on your speed.

Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.

Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to three or four words at a glance.”

billcosby3

billcosby1Reading on the screen doubtless brings its own unique challenges. I’m starting to think about hyperlinks differently — Nicholas Carr makes a compelling argument about the hyperlink as a distraction technology. From Wired: “The Web Shatters Focus, Wires Brains

Nowadays it feels like avoiding distractions are our biggest hurdle when it comes to how fast we read. How well do we avoid distractions while reading?

(I love this picture by the way).

“How to Use a Kindle as a Bookmark”

13 Mar
March 13, 2013

874b3a668b4011e29a9c22000a1fbe09_7GalleyCat posted a collection of Twitter responses to the image in question.

Perhaps books and ebooks can live in peaceful coexistence after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Writing: Standing vs. Sitting

11 Mar
March 11, 2013

hemingway-standing-desk

I love writing while standing up. Sitting at a desk all day might conjure up a romantic, monkish sort of image; but it’s unnatural to me. And apparently, standing is probably healthier for you than sitting all day, every day anyways.

Ernest Hemingway was perhaps the most famous proponent. Here’s an excerpt from the classic Paris Review interview

“It is on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed—that Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.”

The whole interview is well worth the read by the way. Hemingway’s reflections on writing are timeless.

I think the bookcase is an inspired desk choice. And here’s a great photograph of Hemingway’s standing desk from kottke.org, who also notes: “Other famous users of standing desks included Winston Churchill, Lewis Carroll, Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Dickens, Otto von Bismarck, Henry Clay, Thomas Jefferson, John Dos Passos, and Virginia Woolf.

For the multitasking sorts, there’s also treadmill writing. (Example: GalleyCat, “Do You Write While Standing Up?“) Too distracting for my tastes, though.