Monday, October 30, 2006

On e-books

When I talk about books going electronic, bibliophiles and librarians go apeshit, insisting that a book will never be replaced by another object because... well, because. You can't curl up with a PDA is the inevitable conclusion. My favorite variation of that is: you can't read a PDA in the bath. Here's a hint: Water and wood pulp don't mix that well either.

The main complaint about reading a "book" on a computer seems to be that it's hard on the eyes. The Sony Reader seems to use a reading interface that is not hard on the eyes.

This review agrees, but finds plenty of other tangental things to complain about. Because he likes to "focus on the positive," the reviewer notes that the format is fine... the device is lightweight, the text is comfortable to read... but it's not backlit, so you need a reading light to enjoy it, files don't enlarge well, it isn't searchable, and there aren't enough titles available.

"Herr Gutenberg's half-a-millennium-old innovation stands the test of time." Sez he.

So, says the reviewer, the Sony Reader is worse than a book because it's no better than a book. Personally, I think he worked harder on the "catchy" title than he did "focusing on the positive." It's a weird review, made even weirder by the fact that the reviewer links to a near rave review he wrote about a technology from eight years previous: the Soft Book.

Yeah. I don't know what that is, either.

Let me point out that paper books don't enlarge at all. The answer to small text in a paper book is a whole 'nother book, which we in the book industry call large print.

Paper books also do not light themselves. Neither do they offer any searchability except for thumbing through them and using your eyes to find a word. Or, as the current joke about republicans would have it, "bending over a page." How exhausting. How analog.

Some of those complaints are valid, of course. But for the wrong reason. They don't have anything to do with readability. What fool makes an electronic information storage device that isn't searchable? Why not take the trouble to make other formats scalable, so your device is more useful to people (and therefore more marketable)?

I'll add another complaint to the list for free, actually: Not only will the list of titles be moderately limited for the near future, I bet it takes Sony for-fucking-ever to make sure libraries have access to readable Sony Reader formats. Like Apple is doing with their books on tape format for iPod.

But really, all those problems will get fixed, by Sony or someone who finds a way to make a similar, but better product.

Don't get me wrong: I won't be buying a Sony Reader anytime soon. I don't have 350 bucks to blow on it. I may buy the "Reader Nano" that comes out next year because I don't need to keep 1,000 books in my hip pocket.

500 will be fine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Today has been a fucking hell kind of day. I just needed that to be documented somewhere.

The art of a well kept blog.

I don't know how other people do it. Among the many things I don't do well is keep a writing schedule. I am a "writer" in the sense that I write, not in the sense that I get published. I write nearly every day, though much of it is tabletop RPG stuff. Writing is largely easy for me. Ironically, keeping a regular personal blog is not.

Now, this is not to say that I can't keep blogs. I have two others:

The Rosy Rod of Wonder is a tabletop RPG blog focusing on magic items, that I update at least twice a week, barring catastrophic writing delays.

The Good Reads Blog is a review and library resources blog that I keep on behalf of the library that I work for. That gets updated bi-weekly, usually. I see a day in the near future when it won't be, largely because I am running out of submissions.

Both blogs have been relatively successful for me, however, in terms of regularity. There are two reasons for this: one is material. The Rosy Rod is actually a by blow of the extensive amount of thinking I do about my games and paracosms. I could probably come up with ideas to update that with from now until I die. The only time it takes is in editing, which is no small time requirement, but easier to find if you have the material come crawling from a crack in your skull as fully formed as Athena crawled from Zeus'.

The material for Good Reads comes from by browsing and thinking at work, if not directly from my co-workers.

The other reason they've been successful for me is that I pre-load my articles, sometimes months in advance. Neither subject is perishable: people will be playing dungeons and dragons and reading till long after I die, so I can kind of parcel out posts over time.

My personal blog gives me some problems for just these same reasons. Material is harder to come by in my personal life because:

I'm not that interested in myself.

I am often unsure of the wider validity of my opinions (though like most, I hold them dear).

It takes more time to fuss with your day and turn it into a readable post than it does to turn how-to instructions into something clear and readable.

The most interesting thing in my life right now is my daughter. There are several problems with this: Audiences have a variable interest in kid and pet stories, I spend the least part of my day with my daughter which means that the lion's share of her awesomeness passes me by, and I have a terrible memory for non-proceedural real world stuff (which technically, makes me an terrible person).

The only other interesting things that happen to me involve the foolishness of people I meet at work. And frankly, it would be bad for my continued employment to talk much about that.

Regularity is further hampered by the fact that banking a diary would seem like having a 90 second taped delay on the news: It would give you time to get it right, but is a newscaster's reaction really news after 90 seconds?

I think the most successful personal blog would actually treat life as a broadcast commodity. Probably the ones that have resulted in book deals have done so. The real problem with reading blogs is making the time: there are lots of good ones. I don't have time to remember to go back to them again and again. You need a reason: the continuing story of a life you're interested in is compelling in the same way that a soap opera or TV show is.

So good personal blogging probably requires that you a) know your niche, and b) have a commitment to biographical writing.

There are some format issues here that may be largely overcome by the new version of windows. It's supposed to have an feed reader in it. What's a feed reader? It's a piece of software that makes your computer look at each blog address you have entered into it, and check to see if they have a new post.

This means, theoretically, that you could be a lousy poster: every second week, and every third every few months. But if someone liked your "voice", or subject, they could stick your blog's address into their feed reader, and only check your site when their reader tells them you've posted.

Quantity of writing will always mean something: not everybody will want to keep fallow blogs on their feeders. Though many people will chunk feeds into their reader, and forget about them until the next post comes by, I can imagine some users simply not wanting to clutter up their readers with irregularly updated blogs.

Feed Readers aren't particularly new. When I was fooling around with a feed reader last year, it looked like a cool toy. But it was a pain to page through feeds and add them, one by one, AFTER finding the blog feeds. Also, I was suffering information overload, which is something that you will have to deal with if you feed a lot of prolific bloggers.

If Vista has a feed reader, then they will be common. Microsoft is "the" operating system, and unless Vista is as bad as ME, then everybody will have Vista. Feed readers will be mentioned in books about Vista, classes about Vista, and people will figure out how easy it is to get info from the blogosphere.

In the meantime, however, you can find a lot of other feed readers by googling "RSS Feed Reader". RSS stands for really simple syndication, and is one of the formats of software that feed readers "read." I'm fiddling with Google Reader right now, though, and it's hella easy. A little slow, but all you need to do to add a feed is add the host site's URL. You don't even need to add the RSS or Atom address. Plus, you can divide your reading interface into subjects with folders and stuff. It's obvious that feed readers have come a long time in just a year.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

This is nice:

Not snotty, but firm.

IAP Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

I liked this, which rather was more snotty.