January 30, 2010

What’s been gnawing at me lately

Posted in books, business, e-books, hardware, Rants, Reading, technology at 7:23 pm by India

cat chewing on an e-reader

One of the things that I find gets more difficult year after year—and I can’t tell if this is more because I’m getting older, or because I’m letting myself be pelted with information faster and harder than ever before, or because I don’t write as regularly as I used to—is synthesizing ideas. I spend hours each day gathering information, and some days it seems like for every page I read on the Web, I open or bookmark two more to read later. Yet when an occasion arises for me to state what I think about what I’ve read, I most often end up blurting out whatever my gut tells me, rather than what’s the result of deliberate analysis and consideration—because who has time to ruminate? I’ve heard the rumor, of course, that our guts know more than we think they do, but as I haven’t yet had time to read up on the subject, I can’t say to what extent or in what circumstances that’s true. My gut is whispering to me, however, that my gut is often misguided or misinformed.

For at least the last few months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do (a) for my master’s thesis and (b) to pay back my student loans after I finish the damn thing, I’ve been trying to absorb as much information as possible about e-books, e-readers, and the future of the book in general. I’ve read articles, essays, and tweets; listened to podcasts, panels, and lectures; watched videos and (sorry to have to use this word:) webinars; and talked with a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of talking at people, too, pushing and no doubt breaking the limits of courtesy with dozens of unfortunate friends, acquaintances, and strangers as I try to articulate what my gut tells me about all this partially digested input. And I’ve written about a few small things, trying to finely chew at least some corners of the subject.

Just in the last week, thanks to the Digital Book World conference and Apple’s iPad announcement, I’ve skimmed, read, watched, heard, or bookmarked thousands of chunks of content—most of them tweets, since I wasn’t present at either event but followed along through hashtags and Twitter lists—having to do with books in the digital era.

And what do I think about all of it?

I don’t know.
Read the rest of this entry »

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August 22, 2009

When, not if

Posted in advice, hardware, technology, Tools at 10:32 pm by India

Backup Tapes

Today over tea I was holding forth about backup methods, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to post something about how I’ve been handling it. To wit: right now, I’ve got a two-part system—constant partial backup online via SugarSync and less frequent but complete offline backup using Time Machine and an external hard drive.

Yes, I got backup religion the hard way, by having my laptop drive fail in 2006 when it was six months out of standard warranty. I was able to salvage most of my data using Prosoft Data Rescue, but only because I happened to notice before it went into a complete dive that the drive had failed its S.M.A.R.T. status test. Now I keep Smart Reporter in my menu bar, and I back up constantly and redundantly, over and over again, a lot. And I always fork up the money for AppleCare, which replaced that dead drive in a weekend.
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March 27, 2009

The future of publishing is here today!

Posted in books, Design, hardware, humor, production, technology, Tools at 9:43 pm by India

wire-sewing machine

The oddest thing about the newly announced winner of Bookseller magazine’s annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year is not its title, The 2009–2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais, but rather that its author, Professor Philip M Parker of the French business school Insead, has produced more than 200,000 books,

thanks to his invention – and patenting – of a machine which writes books, creating them from internet and database searches in order to eliminate or substantially reduce “the costs associated with human labour, such as authors, editors, graphic artists, data analysts, translators, distributors and marketing personnel”.

I think the graphic artist–eliminating part of the machine may need a bit of work, since if the competition had been based on covers rather than titles, I feel certain that Fromage Frais, for all its charm, would have lost out to either Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring or Curbside Consultation of the Colon, which were merely shortlisted.

The 2009–2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring Curbside Consultation of the Colon

More: “Oddest Book Title prize goes to treatise on fromage frais” by Alison Flood, Guardian, March 27, 2009

October 17, 2007

The Future of Paper

Posted in books, hardware, printing, technology at 10:49 pm by India

rolled paper

I realized the need for e-paper in 1989. At Xerox PARC, we had long predicted the advent of the paperless office, with the widespread adoption of the personal computer we pioneered. The paperless office never happened. Instead, the personal computer caused more paper to be consumed. I realized that most of the paper consumption was caused by a difference in comfort level between reading documents on paper and reading them on the CRT screen. Any document over a half page in length was likely to be printed, subsequently read, and discarded within a day. There was a need for a paper-like electronic display—e-paper! It needed to have as many paper properties as possible, because ink on paper is the “perfect display.” Subsequently, I realized that the Gyricon display, which I had invented in the early 70s, was a good candidate for use as e-paper.
(Nick Sheridon, “Father of E-paper,” interviewed at The Future of Things)

I confess that I print nearly everything I have to read for my job, even though I spend all day (and night, obviously) reading text—much of it far longer than half a page—from a computer screen. I try to justify this by saying that I need to be able to mark things up, and that I don’t print anything at home. (Because I can’t. Because my inkjet got gummed up and I’m tired of fixing it.) But I do often e-mail PDFs to myself and print them at the office. Have you ever tried to cook from a recipe on your laptop screen? It sucks, especially if you have limited counter space.

At least I usually print on both sides. Read the rest of this entry »

September 20, 2006

Mighty Stupid Mouse

Posted in hardware, Tools at 12:19 pm by India

I’m still not posting. I just wanted to point out that the Apple Mighty Mouse? Sucks. It’s too round and is always getting oriented just a little bit too far counterclockwise in my hand, so that I try to left-click and get a right-click instead. Also, the buttons on the side are impossibly placed. Looks pretty; lousy design.

My workaround, until I get pissed off enough to request a normal two-button mouse from GoG, has been to mark each vague-button-area of the mouse with one of those little doughnut-shaped stickers you use to reinforce the holes on looseleaf pages, so I can get my fingers in the right spots without looking. The mouse now looks like an owl:

Owl Mouse