Reading


So, maybe the Kindle beats the iPad as an ebook reader (although, at $140, I could justify a Kindle now and still buy myself a second-generation iPad next year), but with the iPad, things like this are available to a mass audience with a couple clicks:

One example is the ‘Enhanced Edition’ of Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein, a chronicle of our 37th President. The book contains the full text of the book first published in 2008. It also includes 27 videos of the former President and newsreels that put those turbulent years into perspective.

Or things like this:

Civil War: America’s Epic Struggle (US$4.99) from MultiEducator Inc. is a full history course in an iPad and iPhone app. It contains at least as much information as most textbooks on the Civil War at a fraction of the cost, while adding elements that no textbook can. There are 24 multimedia presentations, some as long as nine minutes, a nice selection of music popular during the Civil War, and a wonderful navigation system that just makes sense.

Actually, I went through a few new looks.

I was happy with my old theme, Ocean Mist, and may go back to it at some point, but wanted a bigger change than just a new header image.

Motion is beautiful, but I can’t inflict white-on-dark on anyone. I could just about read the white-on-teal, but it seemed hypocritical to stick with it.

I quite liked the dark blue Neat! theme (can’t find a link), especially the random little flowers, but it seemed to require me to bake the Prone to Laughter title into the custom header image—which is fine, that’s right about my level of photo-editing skill—but I couldn’t handle the thought of trying to figure out the perfect font to express Prone to Laughter. I dismissed Bueno as a theme option because it put Prone to Laughter in very blocky capitals that just didn’t match the words.

And although I’d put up with sans serif for ages, I really prefer to have the post text in a serif font, so I went looking for something that used serifs. There didn’t seem to be very many options.

So I went with Connections and a custom header: sulfur steaming from the ground in a valley I hiked over a mountain to get to.

By the way, for Blogger users: I get the sense you all have a lot more control over specific elements of a theme. WordPress.com is pick a theme and that’s what you get, with maybe a few elements customizable. To be honest, I prefer the Blogger themes (especially the blogrolls that re-order for recent posts), but I hate the way Blogger handles comments way more than I care about how the blog looks.

Jakob Neilsen did a usability study on e-book readers; kinda pointless in its design, but interesting to read the short report (hat tip Macworld).

The overall test had “avid readers” reading Hemingway short stories and concluded that reading a printed book is faster than reading on e-readers (iPad slightly faster than Kindle), but comprehension is the same. I don’t see why anyone cares, especially when the sample size was 32, reduced to 24 examples of unflawed data in the calculations. But whatever.

My attention was caught by this aside:

At the beginning of each session, we quickly assessed the study participants’ reading skills by administering the REALM literacy test. (This test asks people to read words of varying difficulty and scores them based on the number they mispronounce. In our study, most users got all the words right; 2 people failed on one word, which indicates at least a high-school literacy level.)

Mispronounce? Because I’m pretty sure I’m highly literate, and I can’t pronounce anything.

So I googled up the REALM literacy test, and it appears to be this:

The Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM) screening instrument is a word recognition test commonly used in health care settings. The tool is a laminated sheet containing 22 common medical words or layman’s terms for body parts and illnesses and is arranged in three columns. The words are written in large font and arranged in order of difficulty. Patients are asked to pronounce each word aloud. If they are unable to pronounce several consecutive words, they are asked to look down the list and pronounce as many of the remaining words as possible.

Words such as:

Osteoporosis Anemia Colitis
Allergic Fatigue Constipation
Jaundice Directed

Okay. Interesting approach. And, totally irrelevant to anything that might conceivably produce useful data about who can benefit from ebooks for what type of content.

I think there are people out there who see the internet as a way of employing the same old techniques of SHILL, SHILL, SHILL. A hundred years ago, they would have rolled up to you in a wagon, shouting about their tonic. Fifty years ago, they would have rolled their vacuum cleaners up to your door.

Maureen Johnson, “Manifesto

I missed Robert Darnton when he came through to speak about the future of the book, but in the Wall Street Journal:

In “The Case for Books,” he described the ideal book he imagined a decade ago. He envisioned a pyramid, with the top level a text monograph with links to supplementary essays. Readers could then “continue deeper through the book, though bodies of document, bibliography, historiography, iconography, background music, everything I can provide,” he wrote. “In the end, they will make the subject theirs, because they will find their own paths through it, reading horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, wherever the electronic links may lead.”

Technology is about to make real this sort of deep engagement with information. Mr. Darnton’s next book, “Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in 18th Century Paris,” will be a history of street songs in the French capital. There were no newspapers and half the population was illiterate, so news was spread by song. “Parisians wrote new verses to old tunes literally every day,” he says, “tunes being a great mnemonic device for spreading the word in a semiliterate world.”

He found the original tunes in the National Library in Paris and had a cabaret singer record them for a modern audience. These recordings can be incorporated with text to create a full information experience. Combined text and audio seems like a perfect offering for the iPad.

Coming up to red lights, I change lanes so that I won’t be the car holding up a stream of right-turn-on-red drivers.

I think small things are IMPORTANT. Here’s why.

A scene from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (intro and novel text quoted from this webpage making a similar point about coding):

Some demons are meeting and discussing the evil things they’ve done — tempting a priest, corrupting a politician, etc. — and one of them proudly declares that he tied up a phone system for most of an hour:

What could he tell them? That twenty thousand people got bloody furious? That you could hear the arteries clanging shut all across the city? And that then they went back and took it out on their secretaries or traffic wardens or whatever, and they took it out on other people? In all kinds of vindictive little ways which, and here was the good bit, they thought up themselves? For the rest of the day. The pass-along effects were incalculable. Thousands and thousands of souls all got a faint patina of tarnish, and you hardly had to lift a finger.

Oh, and that series of ads where people see someone doing something nice, and then do something nice themselves, and a third person witnesses it, and so forth?  I LOVE those ads. Can’t believe I haven’t already blogged about them.

Internship for the bright or advanced individual under guidance of a more senior practitioner. No making copies or coffee.

I have to say, though, I worked as a research assistant for my professor-mentor for three summers in undergrad. Basically, I made lots and lots of photocopies. If you asked me concretely what I spent my time doing, I made photocopies. I knew the people in the copy office really well, because I spent a lot of time there (this totally paid off when I had to produce copies of my thesis at the end of senior year). I also fetched tons of books from the library to make the copies from.

But I ALSO read and looked at the copies I was making. My professor gave me a draft syllabus, and I looked for potential readings for each class topic (this is back before the copyright crackdown on packets). She talked to me A LOT about the process of putting the class together, about what she wanted the readings to do, about how to juggle the calendar and deadlines against the natural flow of interconnected topics, etc. I produced a few options for each class, she didn’t like any of them and went and found something better, and told me why.

So yeah, if I tracked my time, 90% of it was photocopying or fetching from the library. But I learned a WHOLE lot in that other 10%.

in this age of entitlement failure to deliver is worth [worse] than death for some people.*

Huh. I’m feeling like anger that people don’t live up to their own pronouncements or standards is pretty much exactly the opposite of what professors mean when they talk about entitlement.

*This comment comes from a little brouhaha over people harassing an author for not publishing the next book in a series after several years.

Pick up the specially requested third-volume-of-a-trilogy-not-yet-out-in-paperback from the library on Friday, return it on Monday, speeding everything up for the two pending requests after me.

NOT, return third-volume-of-a-trilogy-not-yet-out-in-paperback THREE WEEKS after the due date, while requests are piling up on it.

Author John Scalzi puts part of a book in progress into Wordle. What a tease!

I’m just looking for something I want to do with Wordle. I would totally put text-based art on my walls.

When I see this:

Times

I just stop reading. Rarely do I find an article on the web so interesting that I am willing to click Next Page ten times. Now, if there were a Single Page, or a Print link, right there at the bottom, I might continue with the article. But lately, I find I just give up.

Also see a more scholarly take at Not of General Interest.

My library does a whole series of these bookmarks. If you like Tom Clancy, try Clive Cussler! So, one summer, when I had re-read my way through the entire Brother Cadfael series about a 12th century monk solving mysteries, and was looking for more, I picked up the “If you like Ellis Peters…” list.

Uh-huh.

NO, I will not like a book with crappy dialogue, minimal character development, and zero history just because it’s a mystery set in a medieval convent.

If you like Ellis Peters, try Lindsay Davis. (ETA: and I guess I’ll try nominees from this award over the years, also)

PS. I kinda trust Amazon’s approach a bit more—”people who bought this also bought…” no promises about liking, no attempt to guess taste, etc. Just a statement of fact.

I’m not one to get real snobby about romance novels, but that title does pretty much encapsulate the worst of the genre. Funny how enlightening it can be to take a wrong turn in Target.

[movie spoilers ahead]

I caught The Day After Tomorrow on tv the other day. And from the minute I saw they had taken refuge in the library, my heart sank a little. You know some book-burning is coming. And it was the NYPL, which has archives!

But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. They had a debate over which books to burn, and finally settled on law textbooks from the 1970s—about as painless as possible. In one of the final shots, there was even a librarian clutching a precious volume as they got evacuated to Mexico.

I don’t mean particularly mean to indict Teeny Manolo, because that’s a pretty frivolous blog and I think this was a throwaway comment, posted a ways back:

Between the dangerous lunchbags and leaden Dora the Explorers, China will assure it’s world dominance by having the US produce an entire generation of IQ-challenged children!

But I worry that this attitude might be common. Because that crack reminds me very strongly of a book I once read: Her Father’s Daughter, by Gene Stratton Porter, published in 1921. Wikipedia says:

This novel presented a unique window into Stratton-Porter’s personal feelings on WWI-era racism, especially relating to orientals.

Uh-huh. This was the plot of the book as I remember it:

A plucky band of teenagers, led by a beautiful and intelligent young girl, must expose their high-achieving Japanese classmate as an impostor—an adult planted in California by the Japanese government in order to repeat high school. His mission? to demoralize American youth by graduating as the valedictorian of a Los Angeles high school.

Seriously. You can read the first few pages.

What freaks me out about the book is not so much the sentiment of the author, but that anti-Japanese sentiment ran so high in the 1920s, that people were willing to accept this totally idiotic and preposterous plot about weakening the nation by depressing the students who came second instead of first on tests. The notion of the inscrutable Oriental whose age cannot be distinguished by appearance is only to be expected, but this seems a ridiculous use for it.

Wikipedia also says “She wrote some of the best selling novels and well-received columns in magazines of the day.” I fear this was one of them.

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