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Will there be books in the future?

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Recently, someone asked me if I thought there would be “books” in the future.

So, never to over analyze things, whenever someone poses a question like this a few things occur to me… What does this person mean by a “book”?  And, what motivated this person to pose such a question in the first place?

The “book” – container and contents (“medium and message”)

In 2013 the question of “what is a book” certainly is legitimate.  Does the person think of a book in the traditional sense – that is, a physical object that carries/conveys/transports writing?  In this sense, the physical medium of paper and ink is a container.  Is “the book” the container or what it contains?

So, in 2013 with the ascendency of digital distribution and the decline of traditional bookstores it’s easy to understand the difference between the container and the contents of the container.  In brief, the new container is the digital distribution but “the book” remains the same – if what you mean by “book” is the contents (the message)

The deeper question of “the book”

It begs the deeper question.  Will there be “books” in the future?  And here we mean by book not so much the content as a genre of thinking.

Back in the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan came on the scene with a phrase that is linked to his basic insight – “The medium is the message”.  Prior to McLuhan people had the idea that the medium is an innocuous container and what really mattered was the content.  So in the case of a book the container should not matter in the least.  What is important is the content (message) and it does not matter if the “book” is in digital form, “paper and ink” form, or any other form or container.

The idea of an  innocuousness container goes far deeper than the simple example of a book.  What about the containers of mass media such a radio, television, newspapers, telephones, and the internet?  Are they all just innocuous containers of content?

“The Medium is the Message”

McLuhan says, no.  “The medium is the message“.  Briefly, what this means is that the medium (radio, television, newspapers, telephone, etc) changes us in a way – perhaps a diabolical way – that lies below the level of consciousness.

In essence, the message (content) is the meat that distracts the guard dog so the thief can rob you. The crime is the theft of the way we think.  The thief is the medium and the content (message) is the distraction.

Building on McLuhan, the idea is floating around that the medium of the internet is changing the way we think – and not in a good way.

Briefly, the internet has made us “shallow”.  On the internet we see a page at a time.  And even on that page we might skim a few lines of each paragraph.  Pages on the internet are filled with links.  And in some cases –  like the link I used above to Marshall McLuhan to help people if they don’t know who he is – is not so much helpful as it is a distraction from reading the rest of this blog entry.

Maybe someone clicked on the link, read about McLuhan in the Wikipedia, followed the links on the Wikipedia page, and never came back to this blog.  Those people are not reading this paragraph.  Those people fell for the power of distraction inherent in the medium of the web.

The Take – Will there be books in the future?

So, will there be books in the future?  Perhaps there will be old books in the future.  But, if McLuhan and others are correct about the medium’s ability to change us in diabolical ways below our level of consciousness then we might say that “books” might not exist in the future.  And in this case, by books I mean a genre of  “long form thinking”.

After the affect of the internet perhaps our ability to think deeply about anything will be diminished to the point that people of the future may not be able to read the books of the past nor create new books for future generations.  People living at “internet speed” simply will not be able to pay attention long enough nor think in a sequential manner or deep enough to read a book or write a book – as commonly understood in the 20’th century.

Find out more…

Check out this video from the 1960’s.  As for the term “Global Village” in the 1960’s who doubts that we have truly arrived and that “Global Village” may not be a term we use anymore since this is now our native habitat in the early 21st century.  What about the  prediction of the end of “literary man” and the rise of “tribal man” (a new man created by the electronic media).  When you hear the term “tribal man” in the video think about today’s social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and all the rest  Think about the diversity of  “public identity” that people fashion for themselves in social media.  Does anyone have an identity anymore other than what the media creates for people?

Written by frrl

February 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Quick review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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So what’s the deal with the new Kindle Paperwhite?

I purchased a new Kindle Paperwhite book reader a few days ago.  Since I have two other Kindle devices – an original e-ink Kindle and Kindle Fire – I pretty much knew what I was getting.

Really, if you already have a Kindle e-book reader then the only reason to get the Paperwhite is for the built-in reading light.  If you have the earliest Kindle, the one with the keyboard sans touch screen, then the addition of the touch screen is nice but not essential.

One step forward, two steps back

The amount one reads, all other things being equal, is about both availability and convenience.  With the addition of the back-light, the Kindle Paperwhite adds another level of convenience.  With my older e-ink kindle it was something of a bother, or at least an inconvenience, to get an external light source just right in order to see the e-ink Kindle screen in a dark room.  Now, with the built-in reading light, all that inconvenience is eliminated.  As for availability, there are more books then every available for Kindle through purchase, public library lending, Amazon lending library, and books being place in the public domain.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite takes two big steps back through, what I would call, “the great silencing of the Kindle”.  Unlike earlier versions of the e-ink Kindle e-book reader the Paperwhite is mute – it has no speakers… and it has no speakers because it is incapable of making any sound whatsoever.  No text to speech, no audio books, no music, no nothing.

Every product has a set of features.  Some people just count features – the more features the better.  Right?  Well, no.  Different consumer segments (and individuals) place a different value on each feature.

I’ll take a long-shot here and propose that there are very few avid book readers that would judge the value of text-to-speech as “low”, or “frivolous” to the point that this feature should be eliminated from a product.  Or, to put it another way, that the ability of an e-book reader to play audio books, and more importantly, the capability to convert any e-book to human speech would always enter into a buying decision.

The generic text-to-speech capability of the older Amazon e-ink Kindles along with voice navigation of the screen gave those with a visual disability the world of books that they may not have any other way with such convenience.  Now Amazon has taken that capability away.  Why?

Companies don’t do things without a business justification.  But, does the business justification outweigh the benefits the speech-enabled Kindle gave to certain under-represented segments of society.  Google as a company started out some simple values.  One of them was, “Don’t be evil”. (” …said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out”, ”  read more )

The Take

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is fine addition to the Kindle e-book reader line of products.  It’s outstanding feature is the addition of the built-in back light.  I find that I read more books more often on the Kindle Paperwhite for the simple reason that I don’t have to fuss with finding the lighting to read the Kindle in a dark room.  In a well-lit room there is little difference between the Kindle Paperwhite  and any of the older Kindle e-book readers.

Amazon took two steps back with the Kindle Paperwhite by silencing it.  No audio books and no capability to turn “any book into an audio book” though its excellent text to speech capability.  This was a wondrous feature.  My older Kindle e-book reader with aural capability will not find its way into the trash any time soon due to this lack of capability of the newest Kindle e-book reader.  The visually impaired have lost a friend at Amazon.

Amazon should take a look at Google’s informal corporate motto in their pre-IPO S-1 filing and re/think the Kindle product roadmap in this context.

We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.  (reference)

Read More

Read other postings on this site related to the Amazon Kindle  ( https://frrl.wordpress.com/?s=kindle )

Folks that have any e-book reader would benefit from Calibre

Folks that want the audio for a large collection of books in the public domain should check out LibriVox

Written by frrl

December 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

Advice to Engineers from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple

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I was looking over some old books that I have and I came across this paperback:  “iWoz – Computer Geek to Cult Icon; How I invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it by Steve Wozniak.  As you might know, it was the “Two Steve’s” that created Apple – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.  iWoz was published a couple of years after another book: iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business. So, the title of Wozniak’s book is a nice play on the title iCon – the book about the other Steve.  Significantly, iWoz was written by Steve Wozniak.  iCon does not claim any authorship by Steve Jobs.

So, I went flipping through the book and there it all was mostly as I remember reading it several years ago.  It’s a quick read.  If you know the history of the personal computer revolution (or, if you were there to experience it, first hand) then much of the book is a fond remembrance.

Personal observations by Woz on happiness, life, and the world

But there is much more in this book than the history of the personal computer revolution and the founding of Apple.  This book, written by the Woz himself, is filled with personal observations on many things – the goal of life, women and marriage, starting a company, and what he thought of large companies in general and Apple in particular after the Apple IPO when it became a “real company”.

The last chapter in the book is entitled: Rules to Live By.  This chapter is advice to young engineers.

Advice to Engineers

The chapter is fascinating in that it gives an insight into the mind of an engineer – or at least one type of engineer.

Here is a short summary of the advice to engineers  from Steve Wozniak

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Written by frrl

July 5, 2011 at 5:02 am

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Kelly Bundy would recommend: How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes

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Bud:    In college, I’m reading the philosophy of Plato
Kelly: You mean Mickey Mouse’s dog wrote a book?

If you want to know how an economy works and you don’t want to read one of those dry textbook-style books then you might want to try How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes by Peter D. Schiff and Andrew J. Schiff

A Fish Story

Wrapped appropriately in a fish story, this book is about the mechanics of a nation’s economy – growth and crash and some of the reasons for both.  I am not sure who the target audience for this book would be but when I picked it up from the new books table at the local public  library I thought of Kelly Bundy of Married with Children fame. (more

The Kelly Bundy character played by Christina Applegate certainly did not like reading books.  But Kelly may like this book by Schiff.

The authors say the island fishing story is an allegory of U.S. economic history.  That is true, but what has been practiced as U.S. economic and monetary policy has antecedents well back to the time of Rome.  So the book is also an allegory of decisions governments made when they got into monetary trouble throughout history – not just what happened in American history.  What was that saying about learning from the past or being condemned to repeat it?

Island Fishing & Entrepreneurship

The book starts out with three men living on an island – Able, Baker, and Charlie.  It’s a closed economy.  The three of them live at a subsistence level.  They spend all their time catching fish by hand to live.  It takes all day to catch one fish and they need to consume one fish per day to survive.  So, the book starts out with the most simply economy possible.  There is no savings, no credit, no investment, and nothing that increases a man’s productive capacity to catch more than one fish per day. 

Man has more of an aspirational vision than this.  Wake, fish, eat, and sleep.  And Able was just the guy that was going to take some risk to make things happen on the island.

Able in an entrepreneur and he comes up with the idea of a fish catcher.  A fish catcher could increase his productivity so that he does not have to spend all day catching a single fish.  If this invention works then he wouldn’t have to spend all day catching fish and he could use his time for something else.  For example, Able could use this extra time – made possible by the increase of productive capacity of the tool – to make some clothes, build a shelter, and write a screenplay for a feature film.  Able sets out to build a net.

Taking Risk, Lending, Interest Rates, Banks, Inter-island Trade, and the Crash

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The invention of FM Radio and the power to stifle the effect of technological change

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If you take a read of the book Free Culture (get the PDF for free) you will find the story from the early days of radio. 

It’s the story of the invention of FM radio in 1933 by Edwin Howard Armstrong and how this new (superior in audio quality) technology challenged the dominant technology (AM modulation) and the dominant corporation in the marketplace – RCA (Radio Corporation of America)

AM radio technology was at the heart of RCA Corporation and RCA saw FM as a threat.  RCA used its power to influence the government to its cause to undermine this new technology – FM Modulation of a radio wave.

RCA began to use its power with the government to stall FM radio’s deployment generally. In 1936, RCA hired the former head of the FCC and assigned him the task of assuring that the FCC assign spectrum in a way that would castrate FM—principally by moving FM radio to a different band of spectrum. At first, these efforts failed. But when Armstrong and the nation were distracted by World War II, RCA’s work began to be more successful. Soon after the war ended, the FCC announced a set of policies that would have one clear effect: FM radio would be crippled.

In the end, this was the tragic result

Armstrong resisted RCA’s efforts. In response, RCA resisted Armstrong’s patents. After incorporating FM technology into the emerging standard for television, RCA declared the patents invalid—baselessly, and almost fifteen years after they were issued. It thus refused to pay him royalties. For six years, Armstrong fought an expensive war of litigation to defend the patents. Finally, just as the patents expired, RCA offered a settlement so low that it would not even cover Armstrong’s lawyers’ fees. Defeated, broken, and now broke, in 1954 Armstrong wrote a short note to his wife and then stepped out of a thirteenthstory window to his death.

The insight

This is how the law sometimes works.  Not often this tragically, and rarely with heroic drama, but sometimes, this is how it works.  From the beginning, government and government agencies have been subject to capture. They are more likely captured when a powerful interest is threatened by either a legal or technical change. That powerful interest too often exerts its influence within the government to get the government to protect it. The rhetoric of this protection is of course always public spirited; the reality is something different.  Ideas that were as solid as rock in one age, but that, left to themselves, would crumble in another, are sustained through this subtle corruption of our political process. RCA had what the Causbys did not: the power to stifle the effect of technological change.

Here is the full text of the story from the Introduction of the book Free Culture: how Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity by Larry Lessig

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Written by frrl

July 13, 2010 at 11:42 am

Get Free Culture

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For those who want to learn about Free Culture but don’t have the time to read Larry Lessig’s book, Free Culture , can listen to the audio book which has been released by the author under Creative Commons.

You can listen via a stream or download the mp3 files (100 MB) from this site

http://www.archive.org/details/free-culture-audiobook

Read a related article with video – https://frrl.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/who-owns-culture/

What is Free Culture?

It was culture, which you didn’t need the permission of someone else to take and build upon. That was the character of creativity at the birth of the last century. It was built upon a constitutional requirement that protection be for limited times, and it was originally limited.

–Lawrence Lessig

All creative works—books, movies, records, software, and so on—are a compromise between what can be imagined and what is possible—technologically and legally.  For more than two hundred years, laws in America have sought a balance between rewarding creativity and allowing the borrowing from which new creativity springs.  The original term of copyright set by the First Congress in 1790 was 14 years, renewable once. Now it is closer to two hundred. Thomas Jefferson considered protecting the public against overly long monopolies on creative works an essential government role.  What did he know that we’ve forgotten?

Lawrence Lessig shows us that while new technologies always lead to new laws, never before have the big cultural monopolists used the fear created by new technologies, specifically the Internet, to shrink the public domain of ideas, even as the same corporations use the same technologies to control more and more what we can and can’t do with culture. As more and more culture becomes digitized, more and more becomes controllable, even as laws are being toughened at the behest of the big media groups. What’s at stake is our freedom—freedom to create, freedom to build, and ultimately, freedom to imagine.

Written by frrl

July 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm

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The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

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“The conscience of a people is their power” – John Dryden

“Minds differ still more than faces” – Voltaire

Have you ever heard someone say “I did nothing wrong” when in fact you and a great many other people thought what they did was very wrong?  In fact, so wrong that the majority of people asked themselves, “How could anyone possibly do that?”

The risk to yourself  is to think that other people think like you or me.  Or, to think that the great majority of people are ruled by some sort of  standard of right and wrong; standards of which, are accessible to all of us – a sort of 6’th sense that we all have.

Martha Stout Ph.D is a clinical psychologist in private practice who also served for twenty-five years on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

Dr. Stout has an interesting description of public figures or people you might know

Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern of the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members.  Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. 

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.  Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. 

Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.  You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness.  The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.  You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences, will most likely remain undiscovered.

How many people are like this?  Dr. Stout thinks that 1 in 25 people in the population is a sociopath.

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Written by frrl

June 23, 2010 at 3:15 am

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