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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Google W*ve

May 29th, 2015

Kevin Marks:

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Unintentional time-lapses

May 18th, 2015

A group of researchers from the University of Washington and Google have found a way to construct time-lapse video sequences from within the millions of photos to be found online:

First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker.

The results are downright spectacular in some cases, and just plain odd in others.1

[Via kottke.org]

  1. Wait until right at the end, when the video gets to the Charging Bull statue from New York's Financial District. Why is it doing that, exactly?

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Minimal Status Bar for Safari

February 27th, 2015

Minimal Status Bar for Safari:

This is an extension to provide a minimal (Google Chrome-like) status bar for Safari. It also has built-in longurl support to convert those pesky and opaque short urls to long ones again.

Minimal Status Bar


[Via Useful Mac]

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Holy war

January 19th, 2015

[Via acb, commenting at MetaFilter]

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Tab Snooze

December 22nd, 2014

Tab Snooze is for Google Chrome only at the moment: I'll be very interested to see the Safari version.

Tabs are like ToDos in the browser.

Stop staring at tabs you can't deal with now. Tab Snooze lets you put off tabs until later and returns them to your browser automatically, so you can focus on what's important now.

Tab Snooze for Chrome

[Via One Thing Well]

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A Bridge To Nowhere

November 13th, 2014

A Bridge To Nowhere:

A bridge builder was completing his inspection of Zjing's Bridge when he spied master Kaimu standing nearby.

The builder said to Kaimu: "I have heard your monks speak of themselves as 'software engineers.' As a true engineer I find such talk absurd…"

"In my profession we analyze all aspects of our task before the first plank is cut. When our blueprints are done I can tell you exactly how much lumber we will need, how many nails and how much rope, how much weight the bridge will bear, and the very day it will be completed…"

"Your monks do no such things. They churn out code before your customer has finished describing what is desired. They improvise, reconsider, redesign, and rewrite a half-dozen times before delivery, and what they produce invariably crashes or proves vulnerable to attack. If I were to work in such a fashion, no one would dare set foot upon this bridge!"


Read on…

[Via The Tao of Mac / links]

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A little bit of creativity and a whole lot of scutwork

July 22nd, 2014

The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect chronicles the work of Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, who implemented AutoCorrect back in Microsoft Word 6:

It wasn't long before the team realized that autocorrect could also be used toward less productive – but more delightful – ends. One day Hachamovitch went into his boss's machine and changed the autocorrect dictionary so that any time he typed Dean it was automatically changed to the name of his coworker Mike, and vice versa. (His boss kept both his computer and office locked after that.) Children were even quicker to grasp the comedic ramifications of the new tool. After Hachamovitch went to speak to his daughter's third-grade class, he got emails from parents that read along the lines of "Thank you for coming to talk to my daughter's class, but whenever I try to type her name I find it automatically transforms itself into 'The pretty princess.'"

[Via Longform]

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July 21st, 2014

Michael Lopp remembers how playing Mtrek set him on the path that led to his becoming a software engineer:

Mtrek is a real-time multiplayer space combat game loosely set in the Star Trek Universe. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Check out a screen shot.

Mtrek screenshot

OoooOooh yeaaaaaaaah.

Designed and written by Tim Wisseman and Chuck L. Peterson in the late 80s at University of California, Santa Cruz, Mtrek is completely text-based. To understand where an enemy ship was, you had to visualize the direction via the onscreen data. If this wasn't enough mental load, it was absolutely required to develop a set of macros on top of the game's byzantine keyboard commands in order to master a particular ship. Furthermore, if you weren't intimately familiar with the performance characteristics of your particular ship, you'd get quickly clobbered.


After months of playing, I learned that one of the the game's creators, Chuck L. Peterson ("clp") was a frequent player. After one particularly successful evening with my Romulan Bird of Prey, I mailed clp and asked if there was anything, however small, I could do to help with the game. Without as much a signal question to vet my qualifications, he gave me a project. […]

By way of contrast, consider Robin Sloan's piece, posted earlier today, on The secret of Minecraft. Twenty years from now, will we see a generation of coders inspired by Minecraft?

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Do not look for the sense in it.

July 2nd, 2014

Craig Mod answers the question – especially relevant in the light of yesterday's postHow are apps made?

stoke fire

The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, innumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns  –  you can't scrape our content! you can't monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.

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