January 4th, 2014
Paper Pong is a very strange, yet oddly appealing idea – a Choose Your Own Adventure-style implementation, on paper, of a very old video game. It almost seems like cheating to play a version of the book online…
As Sarah Werner observes in her musings on the alleged "death" of the "book":
I spent a lot of time as a kid playing Pong at home, so perhaps that's why I enjoy this book so much. But I love it, too, for its ridiculousness. It's a paper replication of a video game! Why would you do that? Why write lines of code to create a game of Pong that you then remediate in paper form? I don't know that there's a good reason to do that, other than you can. And, actually, that's a decent reason, one that drives more than a few novels.
December 24th, 2013
(Part of me can't stop thinking "But you could fit so many more books on there if you'd just straighten those shelves up a bit!" Which isn't the point, I know, but I can't help myself.)
[Via Bookshelf Porn, via Bookoisseur, via POLISH GIRL ®]
December 2nd, 2013
Putting O.W.L.S. into commercial use will take a number of years as it takes ages to train owls to do anything and we only just thought of it this morning.
I can but echo the first comment on that post: Well played, Waterstones. Well played…
October 26th, 2013
Jenny Diski has a problem:
The Poet, who made Chairman Mao's red-braised pork for supper last night, so I am not entitled to complain about anything, has a dark side. Before he was an academic he was a book dealer. He gave up book dealing but not the books. We live in a terraced house which backs on to the railway line. These houses were all railway worker's cottages. They have tiny rooms and steep staircases. They are lovely, well-built but must have been cramped even with a smallish family living in them. [...]
What isn't good about them is that there are only four walls per room, and the problem of housing The Poet's 5000 books grows daily as he scours the second-hand Internet sites for volumes he's been searching out for years or a surprise first edition of a 1930's novelist that no one alive (apart from The Poet) has ever heard of. Every wall is covered. We built a shed in the garden for the overflow. There are still piles of books on the floor of his study. And the bottom of the staircase to my attic study is a dangerously tottering pile of books I've reviewed and have not got round to taking to the Amnesty Bookshop. [...]
I love The Poet's explanation, later on in the piece, about why he doesn't shelve his books in order.
May 19th, 2013
Tsundoku, a Japanese word for buying books and letting them pile up rather than reading them.
September 9th, 2012
I think Charlie Stross may have been lightly traumatised by his latest book signing tour:
I am going to have this recurring nightmare for the next few years … I'm trapped in a reality TV show after the model of "The Apprentice", in which the marketing folks at a publisher responsible a bunch of aspiring authors are gifted with the marketing and promotion budget of a best-seller to spend on their pool of newbies, in a gruesome elimination match to see who can survive the signing tour. Sort of like "The Hunger Games" for authors.
How can we make a reality TV show out of this?
Here's my idea: first, we need a Publisher. Preferably a charismatic, intense, skinny English guy with a posh accent. (Hello, Tim!) We also need a Production Company, a TV content maker, with a budget. As TV programming costs on the order of a megabuck per hour, and signing tours cost maybe a kilobuck per author per day (including travel, hotels, guides, and so on), they can afford to front the cost of about a dozen signing tours for first-time authors. No publisher in their right mind will turn down that sort of free marketing money (in exchange for allowing a camera crew to shadow the authors), and the hapless midlist grunts are of course not going to turn down a marketing budget a bazillion times bigger than their book advances (plus, the chance to look good on TV). [...]
July 1st, 2012
Neal Stephenson's forthcoming collection of essays and interviews, Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson looks like being the first Stephenson book I've bought in more than a decade:
Stephenson ponders a wealth of subjects, from movies and politics to David Foster Wallace and the Midwestern American College Town; video games to classics-based sci-fi; how geekdom has become cool and how science fiction has become mainstream (whether people admit it or not); the future of publishing and the origins of his novels. Playful and provocative, Some Remarks displays Stephenson's opinions and ideas on:
- The Internet, our dwindling national attention span, and the cultural importance of books and bookishness
- Waco, religion, and the cluelessness of secular society
- Metaphysics and the battle between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
- The laying of the longest wire on Earth – and why it matters to you
- Technology, freedom, commerce, and the Chinese
- How Star Wars and 300 mirror who we are today and what that spells for our future
- Modern Jedi knights, a.k.a. scientists and technologists, and why they are admired and feared by both the left and the right
[Via Memex 1.1]
June 30th, 2012
James Bridle, on Amazon's seductively convenient mix of books and infrastructure:
The great fear of the Internet is that we will be washed away in a tide of information, that the sheer scale of everything will overwhelm us, and that that everything is inferior, condemning us to wallow in the mud at the foot of an ever-receding Parnassus. And yet one of the many things the Internet has taught us is that surface quality of media comes a poor second to access, whether it's typographically inhibited self-published fan fiction or barely discernible YouTube camera-phone films.
What makes the Kindle unique is what makes Amazon unique: its physical presence is a mere avatar for a stream of digital services. In the spirit of its parent, it is more infrastructure than device. And it is as infrastructure that it disrupts, as its biblioclastic name intends.
June 12th, 2012
John Dupuis reviews Nine algorithms that changed the future by John MacCormick:
John MacCormick's new book, Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers, is very good. You should buy it and read it.
Among all the debates about whether or not absolutely everybody must without question learn to program [...] it's perhaps a good idea to pause and take a look at exactly what programs do.
Which is what this book does. It starts from the premise that people love computers and what they can do but don't have much of an idea about what goes on inside the little black box. And then, what MacCormick does is take nine general types of high level functions that computer perform and explain first what those functions really mean and second a general idea of how software developers have approached solving the initial problems. [...]
Sounds like something I'd enjoy. The Kindle edition is quite expensive so I'm not going to rush and buy it now, but I'll certainly be interested in picking up a copy at a reasonable price once it shows up in paperback.
April 14th, 2012
Charlie Stross sees one bright side to Amazon's current domination of the ebook market: it could just be that publishers not wanting to be beholden to Amazon will have little alternative but to abandon the use of DRM software in the interests of breaking the Kindle's stranglehold on the consumer ebook market.
This would require a touch of corporate schizophrenia on the part of some of the corporations involved, what with their book publishing business deciding piracy is a price worth paying even as their music, film and TV divisions insist on totting up the value of all the sales they'd lose if they dropped DRM, but perhaps the dire straits they're in will finally push them into giving it a try.
I just hope the publishers realise that the abandonment of DRM is a necessary but by no means sufficient step. They need to make the process of buying a DRM-free ebook and transferring it to the device of your choice as painless as possible – not for the sort of techies who would happily use Calibre, but for normal people who have neither the time nor the inclination to learn three different bits of software from three different publishing houses. I'll believe it when I see it.
January 31st, 2012
Can you tell the movie from the book cover?
I only got 5 out of 20. Pretty poor, really, considering that I reckon 4 out of the 20 are blindingly obvious or easily guessable.
January 9th, 2012
The Joy of Books. I'll bet you don't get that sort of unruly after hours behaviour in Amazon's warehouses.
[Via The Awl]
August 27th, 2011
Andrew Kolb on his David Bowie Children's Book:
Have you ever listened to a song and your mind's eye is immediately filled with visuals?
David Bowie's classic space epic is one such song for me. Every lyric paints such a vivid picture that I figured "Oh hey, I guess I'll make that into a children's book!" Yes, I talk like this. [...]
August 18th, 2011
My first thought upon reading National Public Radio's list of the Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books was that they desperately needed to impose a one-book/series-per-author rule. I like Neal Stephenson's and Neil Gaiman's work as much as the next man, but I'm pretty sure that between them they haven't written eight of the 100 best science fiction and fantasy books of all time.
A list with a one-book-per author limit would have had room for something by Frederik Pohl, and C J Cherryh, and John Brunner, and Alfred Bester, and John Varley, and Ken MacLeod.
July 23rd, 2011
Adrian Hon reckons that Unbound is a Crowdfunding Cargo Cult:
I genuinely admire the sentiment behind Unbound, but there's been a real lack of understanding of what makes for successful crowdfunding. I hope they can fix it soon.
I think that it's far too soon to dismiss the Unbound model. The relatively slow start has caused them to re-think the deadlines they've set for projects, but better that than to drop all the partially-funded projects and start again.
I'm not too bothered about the fact that the Unbound model is a little different, a bit more corporate and perhaps even impersonal that the Kickstarter approach. Unbound is providing a crowdfunding service for a particular type of client. A year or two from now it'll be clearer whether the public are willing to pay for books in this way.
As I observed when I wrote about Unbound the one big difference between Unbound and Kickstarter is that the authors using Unbound were mostly published authors already, with the real test being whether the service is used again by authors after they've managed to get one book crowdfunded. If authors use Unbound primarily to prove the commercial viability of their work so as to snag a deal from a publishing house next time round then Unbound will probably fail. If authors come back for a second or third book then Unbound and Kickstarter could happily coexist for years to come.
July 22nd, 2011
Excerpts from the index to Samuel Butler's Alps and Sanctuaries of Piedmont and the Canton Ticino:
Absolute, we would have an absolute standard if we could, 196
Absolutely, nothing is anything, 196
Bullocks, how I lost my, 154
Evolution and illusion, 43
– essence of, consists in not shocking too much, 110
Maoris on white men's fires, 117
Professions should be hereditary, 155
Rhinoceros grunts a fourth, 233
Toeless men, 129
Undertakers' blinds and art, 145
[Via Making Light (Particles)]
July 7th, 2011
Novelist Alex Shakar remembers The Year of Wonders:
"We're closing in on a deal," my agent told me on the phone. "I'm just turning him upside-down now and shaking him for loose change."
It was midday on a Monday in early August of the year 2000. The Nasdaq, rested from its breather in the spring, was sprinting back up over 4,000 toward its March peak. Vice President Gore, demolishing the Bush son's early lead, was pulling even in the polls. TV commercials depicted placid investors being wheeled on gurneys into operating rooms, stern-faced doctors diagnosing their patients with dire cases of money coming out the wazoo.
The previous Friday, bidding on my first novel had reached six figures, then paused for people to track down more cash. I'd later learn one editor spent the weekend trying to reach her boss on his Tanzanian vacation, finally getting through via the satellite phone of a safari boat on the Rufiji river, but that he wouldn't OK a higher bid because he couldn't get the manuscript in time.
I was 32. I'd never made over $12,000 in a year. [...]
June 7th, 2011
A Google Oddity:
A comment to the last post mentioned that if you search the word "biotechnology" in Google's Ngram search engine, something odd happens. There's the expected rise in the 1970s and 80s, but there's also a bump in the early 1900s, for no apparent reason. Curious about this, I ran several other high-tech phrases through and found the exact same effect.Here's a good example, with some modern physics phrases. And you get the same thing if you search "nanotechnology", "ribosome", "atomic force microscope", "RNA interference", "laser", "gene transfer", "mass spectrometer" or "nuclear magnetic resonance". There's always a jump back in exactly the same period on the early 1900s. [...]
There's no doubt a really boring explanation for this but there are other possibilities. I like Joe Loughry's theory:
The brief fashion amongst Victorians for writing articles about string theory and dark matter could be the result of '1999+1=1900'. Perhaps. But how likely is that really, a decade past Y2K? Is it not more plausible that today's students remain unaware of results in dusty journals on library stacks that are not easily available on-line yet?
The Higgs boson was found was in Prague in 1925. It just hasn't got through peer review yet.
[Via The RISKS Digest]
June 5th, 2011
Unbound is essentially a UK-based version of Kickstarter aimed at writers. Pay £10, and if enough of you subscribe you get the promise of an ebook edition of the book, your name listed alongside the other supporters in the back of the book, and the opportunity to read progress updates from the author and perhaps get some sneak peeks of the work in progress. Pay £20, and you get a hardback copy of the book too. Pay more, and you get goodie bags and/or an invitation to the launch party.
The biggest difference between Unbound and Kickstarter is that so far all of the writers seeking money through Unbound are published authors:
- Jonathan Meades has written several books, not to mention scripting and presenting umpteen televised essays in his inimitable style.
- Amy Jenkins wrote This Life, then wrote a couple of novels before taking time off to have a family.
- Tibor Fischer was one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Writers back in 1993 and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
- Gavin Pretor-Pinney runs the Cloud Appreciation Society and co-founded The Idler.
- Terry Jones has been writing and broadcasting since before he was a Python.
- Elliott Rose, the only name on the list I didn't recognise, turns out to be a new pseudonym for twice-published author Will Davis.
Not that there's anything wrong with people with a track record turning to Unbound. Given the long, slow death of the midlist, I think it's a positive sign that established authors are turning to the micropatronage model rather than being lost to publishing completely.
I suppose the real test for the system will come as authors successfully complete their first Unbound project. Will they use Unbound to fund their next book, or will it turn out to be a way to convince publishers that they're worth a contract/a decent advance for their next book?
[Via Word Magazine Blog]