Falling out of love with ebooks

October 4th, 2015

When Amazon released the first Kindle, Craig Mod had high hopes for the future of ebooks:

[You…] could trace elements of that first Kindle – its shape, design, philosophy – back 70 years. It evoked the Memex machine that the American inventor Vannevar Bush wrote about in 'As We May Think' (1945), a path-breaking essay for The Atlantic. It went some way toward vindicating Marshall McLuhan's prediction that 'all the books in the world can be put on a single desktop.' It was a near?direct copy of a device called the Dynabook that the early computer pioneer Alan Kay sketched and cardboard?prototyped in 1968. It was a cultural descendant of the infinitely paged Book of Sand from a short story of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges published in 1975. And it was something of a free-standing version of the ideas of intertwingularity and hypertext that Ted Nelson first posited in 1974 and Tim Berners-Lee championed in the 1990s.

The Kindle was all of that and more. Neatly bundled up. I was in love. […]

(Mod has written a post that amounts to a supplement to his Aeon piece here.)

Some of the strands of Mod's argument leave me cold. His perfectly understandable enthusiasm for the tactile and aesthetic pleasures of opening up a beautifully designed book printed on high quality paper isn't something I feel all that strongly about,1 but beyond that it seems to me that sensual qualities of that sort are pretty much never going to be replicated by a slab of glass, plastic and metal no matter how clever the software it runs. Even so, Mod is absolutely right to criticise Amazon for not having advanced the state of the ebook reading experience much since they launched the Kindle. Ultimately, the name of the game isn't to imitate what paper books can do, it's to do things that they can't. Amazon have unquestionably done good things with their Kindle software recently – the X-Ray feature is marvellous if the book you've bought supports it2 – but the long wait for left-justified text on Kindles rather suggests that Amazon are fundamentally more interested in selling ebooks than reading them.

  1. I'm ultimately more interested in the text of the book than the paper quality. Yes, I'm a philistine.
  2. It was a huge help recently when I read Neal Stephenson's Seveneves and needed to remind myself who some minor character who'd just shown up for the first time in 300 or so pages was.

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Do It for Mom

October 4th, 2015

Danish moms are being asked1 to send their adult kids on baby-making vacations:

[Via @cityofsound]

  1. Which is to say, invited by advertisements for a travel agency – there's nothing 'official' about this.

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A vague dread of a malicious world

October 3rd, 2015

The price of the Internet of Things will be a vague dread of a malicious world:

Just as any user feels their computer to be a fairly unpredictable device full of programs they've never installed doing unknown things to which they've never agreed to benefit companies they've never heard of, inefficiently at best and actively malignant at worst (but how would you now?), cars, street lights, and even buildings will behave in the same vaguely suspicious way. Is your self-driving car deliberately slowing down to give priority to the higher-priced models? Is your green A/C really less efficient with a thermostat from a different company, or it's just not trying as hard? And your tv is supposed to only use its camera to follow your gestural commands, but it's a bit suspicious how it always offers Disney downloads when your children are sitting in front of it.

I have a feeling that the only thing that can save us from the IoTpocalypse is the failure of efforts to roll out high speed broadband across the nation. Between the software updates and the uploading of data about your dietary habits by your freezer and the adverts, there'll be so little bandwidth left for us end users to do little things like browse the web and send emails that our broadband internet connections will feel as if we're all connecting via V.34 modems.

[Via Tao of Mac]

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We owe someone awe

September 30th, 2015

This screenshot of the user interface of a cash-for-phones machine is both horrifying and oddly alluring. I really want to see what's lurking behind the other tabs, yet I'm not sure my brain could cope with even more of this.

(I tried to get a screegrab of a small portion of the screenshot above to serve as a taster, but it was just too tricky to find a rectangular area that both captured the sheer range of controls they've crammed into their design without also catching the edge of an adjacent control that wasn't aligned to the same grid as the control I was trying to show. Better to just say 'Click on that link and know awe,' and be done with it. )

[Via @daveaddey, via @cabel, via Daring Fireball]


Record Club's Kick

September 26th, 2015

(I saved this link ages ago, and now I feel very silly for having followed it sooner because it was every bit as enjoyable as the MetaFilter writeup suggested and my hesitation deprived me of the fun of seeing Annie Clark stand in for Michael Hutchence.)

Back in 2010, Beck and some of his musician friends spent a day in the studio:

Joining in this time we had three of my favorite bands – Liars, Annie Clark and Daniel Hart from St. Vincent, Sergio Dias from the legendary Brazilian band Os Mutantes, as well as RC veteran Brian Lebarton, just back from the Charlotte Gainsbourg tour. The record covered this time was 1987 blockbuster ‘Kick’ by INXS. The record was chosen by fellow Aussie, Angus from the Liars. It was recorded in a little over 12 hours on March 3rd, 2010. It was an intense, hilarious, daunting and completely fun undertaking. Thanks to everybody for being there and putting so much into it. Many classic moments, inspired performances and occasional anarchy.

Some of the cover versions came off better than others, but when they worked they really worked:

You can also get the album on YouTube if you'd prefer to hear it as a single piece.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Wire Cutters

September 20th, 2015

Wire Cutters:

A chance encounter proves fateful for 2 robots mining on a desolate planet.

[Via Blog of the Long Now]

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Life is a joyful science

September 16th, 2015

The Duke, the Landscape Architect and the World's Most Ambitious Attempt to Bring the Cosmos to Earth:

Last fall, a hand-picked group of the world's top theoretical physicists received an invitation to a conference about the multiverse, a subject to which many of them had devoted the majority of their careers. Invitations like these were nothing unusual in their line of work. What was unusual was this conference was not being hosted by a university or research institute, but rather by a Scottish Duke.

And its organizer was not a physicist, but a landscape architect by the name of Charles Jencks. […]

[Via The Morning News]

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Night of the Lepus

September 12th, 2015

Peter Watts encounters His Royal Bun of the Exalted Yet Trailing Ears:

I'm not even exactly sure what that even is, actually. It has obviously been engineered, but by some agent lacking even the vaguest grasp of natural selection. Its continued existence hinges on actions that would be described as "Extraordinary Measures" had it landed in a palliative care ward instead of my basement. Drinking water must be provided in a special bottle, for example, because its ears would fill a conventional water bowl, soaking up liquid like a sponge. All vacuuming within a 50-meter radius must be performed without the use of any rotary rug-beating attachment, for fear the ears could get slurped up into the gears and jam the mechanism. Anyone approaching within fifteen meters must affix themselves to a ceiling-mounted track harness and keep all body parts at least 10 cm off the floor. […]

Not quite as alien as The Things, but maybe not that far off.

[Via MetaFilter]

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5 mètres 80

September 7th, 2015

5 mètres 80:

C'est magnifique!

[Via Rands in Repose]

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2 Kinds of People

September 5th, 2015

No doubt about it, there definitely are 2 Kinds of People in this world.

2 Kinds of Mac Users

Me, I'm closer to the second type in terms of desktop clutter (unless you think all that Geektool output at the left of the desktop disallows me.)


[Via Daring Fireball]

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