Saturday, October 30, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Print is Dead" by Jeff Gomez

Not very good.

I have a lot of notes that I made as I read it that I think I'd like to combine with some that I made while re-reading "Being Digital", and that I hope to make when I read one more book on a similar subject. But this book just ticked me off, less by any outrageous thing he said, but by the very sloppy way he went about saying it. A lot of inconsistencies in his argument, let's just leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Being Digital" by Nicholas Negroponte

Re-read, actually.

I first read this, I don't know, 13 or 14 years ago. There were a couple of things that I remembered about it, but only vaguely. I thought it might be interesting to read it again and see what has held up in the intervening years and what seems hopelessly naive in retrospect. However, I was mildly surprised by how far out the book DIDN'T seem. Negroponte wisely did not make hyper-specific predictions or lay them out on a timeline that would be too easy to nitpick. (No "...and the Age of the Jet Pack shall be ushered in on May 15, 1998...")

He liked to write about "digital butlers" and "agents" that would do our bidding, finding information that we would want while filtering out the data that we wouldn't have any interest in. What are those but things like RSS feeds and our TiVos, making suggestions based on our likes and dislikes? His "asynchronous broadcatching" as an alternative to synchronous broadcasting has taken form as radio shows downloaded in seconds as podcasts, or TV shows downloaded in a few minutes from iTunes.

There's a lot more, of course. He was sometimes a little too optimistic about the unfettered good that a digital future might bring. I took some notes while I was reading, and I may expand on this a little bit more later on. I'm still mulling over some thoughts, both about what Negroponte wrote and what can be predicted about the digital world in another 13 or 14 years.

(Funny thing, though? I looked and could not find an ebook version of this title for sale anywhere. I re-read my old paper copy. And what's sobering about that is the fact that any electronic version I might have bought this in in 1996 would almost certainly be in a format indecipherable by now. Plus I found the damage pictured below, that was either done by the cat my room mate had at the time, or by the cat of the friend I remember lending the book to. (A post-it with his email address is still affixed inside the front cover. Yikes!)

Comparable damage to a digital file would probably have rendered the whole thing useless. It's easy enough to read around the tears in an analog format, but any wonky bits in a digital file can just shut the whole thing down. Something that hasn't improved significantly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Monsters and Angels" by Voice of the Beehive

For close to 20 years, I have been trying to find this damn song. I remembered it being really beautiful, with a kind of haunting female voice, and that one of the lyrics went "(something) (something) angels." (So I got that part right.) But damn, I couldn't remember who sang it. No one else did, either. (Although now I'm sure that everyone will say, "Oh yeah! I remember that song! Really? You didn't know who did it? I did!")

After years of occasional unsuccessful Google searches, I tried again last night -- "kroq playlist 1991"* -- and found this. There it was at number 38.

And you know what? It's not that good.

Our memories? They lie to us.

* I actually tried "kroq playlist 1990" first, with a vague memory of hearing it in the fall of that year. I guess I was wrong. But I *knew* it was KROQ. EVERYONE at USC listened to KROQ when I went there.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Books Read in 2010: "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson


This is another one of those books that, because of its size and scope, took a long time to get through. I started it before we left on our trip to Illinois at the beginning of August, so at least two months to work through nearly a thousand pages.

And it was good, but not the transcendent experience that some reviews led me to believe I would have. I wasn't sure how seriously to take the science, and whether it was based on real theoretical stuff that some readers were whooping over because "Yes, yes, yes! Someone gets it!", or if it was just "Star Trek"-like technobabble that didn't mean anything outside of the story that Stephenson wanted to tell.

May I also add that this is an example of how great ebooks can be. I bought both a paper copy of the book and the Kindle version from Amazon. As I mentioned above, the book is almost a thousand pages long, and even though I have the mass market paperback, it's a bit of a thing to schlep around. Between my Kindle and my iPhone, however, I could slip it into my bag or my pocket and dip into it easily whenever I happened to have a few minutes free. The paper copy, however, proved extremely useful when I wanted to look something up in the glossary that Stephenson put in the back of the book, or one of the appendices that explained the technobabble, since navigating on a Kindle is still a kludgy experience compared to the time-tested stick-a-finger-where-you-left-off-and-flip-to-the-back technique.

PLUS!, the ebook was priced at the same price as the mass market book. THIS MAKES SENSE! An ebook, especially a text-only, no value added edition, should cost at most as much as the least expensive print version.