The following is an interview with Simon Reynolds, author of Retromania
At the time, it never seems conceivable that a thing from everyday life will become a collectors item. For instance, I was thinking about all those garish-looking energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull. Will their cans one day have the same vibe as a lovely old Coke bottle?
Reading; Literacy… What do they really mean?
Books have staked out their own special territory over the past (is it decades or centuries?). The book's recent rise in popularity has determined how people read: There had already been reading, but the arrival of the book changed the parameters.
Books are protean: they occupy a vast range from disposable paperback to priceless art object. You might take one book to the beach, while you would rarely take another book out of its glass display case. E-book readers are not that way at all: they are computers with data storage, not disposable or priceless. If the texts are stored on-board, then an entire collection can be lost or destroyed. And, yet nothing of great beauty can be presented on a small screen.
If you say the charm of a book is its physicality, you're talking about more than one quality inextricably tied together. This means that the future of books is precisely in their physicality. People will go on reading wherever the opportunity arises. E-reader devices allow you to read without the physical book – a benefit whenever the physical book is cumbersome, but a drawback whenever physicality is part of the joy of reading.
I am still uncomfortable with the term “e-book”. Something like “e-reader” or “reading device” makes more sense. There were already mobile devices. You could already read text on a computer screen. Where we always get stuck is in translating the experience. No one could quite agree on the proper formats, and jealousy sets in where money and reputation was at stake. If someone wrote a book, it made sense after the fact to redistribute the text contained within in an electronic version. Online reality beholden to the printed book industry. At what point does the flow reverse, making paper books beholden to the formats that exist on data networks?
Think about how bookbinding works: Bind books that need to be bound. Either because the material is not conducive to the screen on a mobile device (e.g., coffee table sized atlases and art books), or because it can be produced cheaply (e.g., pulp romances at the grocery checkout). But bookbinding can now be the handmaiden of a wider knowledge industry, just as E-book readers had to be from the start. So many things we used to bind up in books is better kept online. You don't need to carry around an entire encyclopedia, even if it does fit in a chip the size of your fingernail – that space is wasted. Don't print and bind volatile information – that's called a newspaper.
Electronic devices for reading don't have to follow the book format at all. They make more sense for reading newspapers and magazines. Weren't a lot of novels published in serial anyway? Short fiction and essays show up in magazines or journals.
What does a library do now? …Warehouse print? What are the occasions for patronizing a library now that the Internet exists?
I read a newspaper article about how the Columbus library decides what new books to collect. Something didn't add up… The industry releases a hot new book on a predetermined day, and this library needed to decide in advance how many copies to purchase. There was a waiting list to check out the hot new book. Most patrons won't have to wait more than a week because the library ordered nearly enough for everybody on the list.
(Evan: remind yourself how to blockquote this is RedCloth…)
As a bookseller, I would like to argue that libraries just NOT carry new books. Maybe if you are so hot to read the new J. K. Rowling on the first day, you should drop a couple dozen bucks for the privilege. Then, the library can offer more depth in their collection, and you can read that book a few weeks (months?) down the road for free. When we all get into this rhythm, you find yourself reading more and better books AND living in a world that supports kick-ass libraries and bookstores.
I spent a little more time over the past two days on an algorithmic music project. As before, I used Nyquist/Lisp to to generate the sound files, but I used Ruby to prepare & manipulate the Lisp files.
Because doing it this way forces me to think about both composition and instrument-building at the same time, I use random numbers to generate the composition. To be more precise, I wrote an algorithm to introduce layered sounds at different times throughout the composition, and the random numbers are constrained to values I consider interesting… That is, I used non-uniform distributions: step functions, curves, lists of constants.
“Beacons (Version 1)”:
“Beacons (Version 2)”:
The result reminds me of when I used to run guitar sounds through long delay lines. Precisely because the “notes” all repeat some number of times in the code. I also see some affinity with the mobiles of Calder. I presented a loose set of rules and constraints on randomness, then chance did the rest.
I am finding out that Nyquist is not so easy to learn… I thought I understood the basic premise behind Lisp, and I probably still do, but there are so many dialects that the help you can find is mostly useless. The Nyquist manual is indispensable for explaining many of the signal processing functions, but so far all my attempts to to any meaningful list processing or closures (um… by wich I think I mean passing anonymous functions as arguments). That stuff is easy in Ruby, but I don't know how to even begin linking Ruby with the sound hardware. Apparently, the people who use Nyquist are not using the Lisp mode, because there is a non-lisp mode. I wanted a practical use for Lisp, and I wanted to do things my way, so I continue to build Lisp files in Ruby and feed the results to Nyquist.
I just picked up a copy of Jane McGonigal's Reality Is Broken. She reports that so many people spend so much of their time playing computer games that Reality has suffered.
My first impression was that I avoid computer games because it would scramble my brain… and then I realized that I also try to avoid Reality for the same reason. So I'm what?… Overwhelmed by inputs. Forty years in, and some of the pieces are starting to come together.
I realized right away that I think about Gamers and Potheads in roughly the same way. Escapist is a word often used. You can tar avid readers with that brush, too. Drinkers seem to be looking for an escape. Porn also looks like a means of escape. But, isn't this just a matter of how broadly you define your reality? I know plenty of heavy pot smokers and heavy drinkers who still live active, rewarding lives regardless. I couldn't do it.
One of the major ideas in McGonigal's book is that people who don't find work rewarding in their daily lives will put great effort into overcoming obstacles in a game, and this might indicate something wrong with the world outside. I find that I can't just brush it aside: A good puzzle can often be more rewarding to solve than anything I've ever been paid to do. And some of my jobs have, on rare occasion, been good places to be a creative problem solver. Legend has it that there are people who get to do that on a regular basis, but I was always skeptical, because my boss at the garbage company actually told me I should have a creative outlet so that I wasn't tempted to be creative in routing garbage trucks. They knew who I was. They saw me coming. They told me not to be so creative.
Is it wrong of me to think that the menial, repetitive, or boring jobs will be done by machines in the future, offering the possibility of creative work for all?
An Aside: I'm reading a hardback book from about a year ago. The author has written academic papers on the subject, which I could have read years ago. I have come to believe that book publushing is the wrong model and books are the wrong format. I'm also re-reading “Gulliver's Travels” on my Kindle. I'm a little worried about the timliness of “Reality Is Broken”, whereas I would never worry about Swift going out of style. Books are almost hopelessly out of date for discussion of fresh ideas, and I don't necessarily need an author to put all that time into a long-format work just so it can be printed and bound later. Not that I want publishing to stop entirely, it's just that nobody writes in manuscript these days—the texts begin their existence in electronic format, and sharing the idea is as easy as a mouse click. Why do we produce books just in case?? Volumes are printed “on spec”.
From Marketplace I see:
Same old story: I run a business, and suddenly I need skilled workers that I didn't need for years. I don't know what those people were doing all those years, but now that I can't find them I am cranky.
But go ahead and read the article. When the jobs got shipped to China, those skilled workers went back to their countries in Latin America… So, these companies weren't employing Americans anyway – by which I mean resident American Citizens with a vested interest in the success of the company. I love the fact that somebody got some benefit at some point: Chinese factories who did some volume for a while, Latin immigrants who wired money home to families.
I feel like I just talked about this the other day… Because I was talking about how the garbage company I worked for (well, certainly the owner) wanted non-skilled helpers to be available whenever his machine broke down. But, I'll sympathize for a moment: It is unrealistic to expect such a small company to own and maintain extra capital equipment, or train workers and keep them on the payroll just in case. And we're talking skilled workers, here.
What I do expect these companies to do is form some kind of joint venture or industry association to train prospective workers. Share the cost of education – everybody involved kicks in a little something to get the ball rolling.
I took five minutes this morning to invent a silly new number system: I asked myself if it was possible to represent every number when every digit had a different base. Start with base two on the least significant digit, use base three for the next digit, then base four, etc… Of course, as the numbers got big, you'd run out of symbols to use in the higher range — I said it was silly.
Ruby will convert a number to its representation in any base, up to 36 — for which it uses all the digits and the letters of the alphabet. So I wrote a quick loop to divide a number by progressively larger bases & tack on the remainder to the result. That gave me a bit of this:
When I started working on this, I had a vague feeling that it would have something to do with the factorial numbers, and sure enough, it represents every factorial number as “1000…”, since those forms are the product of all the consecutive bases used below that digit from 2 on up.
1! = 1 (1) 2! = 10 (2) 3! = 100 (6) 4! = 1000 (24) 5! = 10000 (120) ...
With all 36 alphanumeric symbols at its disposal, you won't run into a problem with notation until you get up around 37!
Well, I can't think of any other good uses for such a thing. How about you?
My Android phone's text messager has the nasty habit of sending messages to the wrong person. At first I was willing to believe user error, but yesterday I finally caught it red-handed: A text came in, I opened it up to read it, I typed my reply, & hit send. But today, I got a message (Sprint offering to keep me posted on NBA results), and when I opened the program to respond, the message I read yesterday was marked unread & the reply had gone to somebody else. Gotcha!
This is disturbing behavior for a fly-by-wire system like a cell phone. I have no way to force the computer program to get it right. I'm not allowed to run a debugger and alter the program's data structures directly…. So I have to have complete confidence in the hidden inner workings of my phone. This issue doesn't get much play in the marketing blitz to sell the devices. At least with Android I can download a free development kit and write a replacement, but that's still a lot of overhead: Re-learning Java, learning system idiosnycracies, etc. And I might arrive at the end of it all with renewed certainty that the original problem was in the kernel all along.
It's sneaky, So You Have to Watch It
If the premise of the technology was power & convenience, I've noticed that it has a mind of its own. Tech is great when it allows you to do what you want, but I see the designers these devices trying too hard to suggest while not trying hard enough to allow.
My text messager opens with a list of contacts in order by most recent message timestamp. It's perfect for extended exchange with one person, but if you carry on three or more slowly developing exchanges, the list is constantly getting shuffled. It won't be weird to click the wrong name from that list, so the first few times I sent a replyy to the wrong person, it just seemed like my fault. No doubt it often was. A few more times & I started to notice when things went wrong: I'd see the wrong name at the top of the screen. But, sometimes the touch screen isn't so easy to work with, so I must have missed the spot. It happened enough that I started to get suspicious.
You probably never had to add lines to your Apache Config files. Then again, you're not me. I wrote a bunch of Ruby scripts with a .rhtml file extension, and the web server had to know that they were scripts — In server-speak, this involved associating a MIME-type and a Handler — That was fairly easy. When I wrote one for this blog named “index.rhtml”, I wanted to make it the default file for the directory, and I also wanted to make all the files look like they were in a directory called “blog”, even though it's only a symbolic link, not really a directory at all.
Apache is great because it checks every directory for a local config file. Otherwise, on shared hosting, like I use here, I wouldn't have permission to make changes. Put a file called “.htaccess” in the directory, and the server temporarily reconfigures itself for anything requested there. There is some processing overhead when this happens, so there is a kind of “Zen” to writing them. The .htaccess directives are powerful and potentially dangerous, and some people warn you about this. Rewrite rules can interfere with each other, not only because they use regular expressions. Two rules can apply to the same thing, and if you're not expecting it, the results can be bizzare.
Handlers & MIME Types aren't so complicated. I got it to work on the website, but when I tried writing a little server on my Windows Laptop with a Ruby script, the code copied from a textbook
failed to invoke the script and the server returned the plain text, not the output.
So there's The Manual
But I'm tempted to write my own guide — once I understand more of it — because the examples tend to be recipes for more complicated situations. That's nice if you need it, but I've got to walk before I can run. I may never need all the power and flexibility of a whole 'nother computer language for this purpose. I just want to substitute one file name for another. I think that would make a nice first example. When I tried adapting the “All my files are scripts” example, something went wrong, and I momentarily took out my sister's website in the process. One book details the precise order in which all the Apache modules process a request, in view of you eventually writing one more for the stack. I have my eye on one slightly more complicated goal, but it still pales in comparison: Typo really streamlined the look of the URLs by forcing everything to look like “site/category/action” instead of “site/script?action=one_thing&modifer=some_other_thing”.