Copyright concerns are always with us. Too much with us, in the view of some. People in the arts, advertising, education and a number of other areas have great ideas, and often they go looking for an image which will help them make their point. But, they are then often stymied by uncertainties about using it. They either don’t know whose property it is, or they are in the grip of some misunderstanding about copyright protections. So, it’s nice to hear about a situation in which these concerns don’t arise, because they can’t. The Dover Bookstore in London deals largely in art work, and all they titles they sell are in the public domain. The place is rather small, one of the multitude of small bookstores that are generously strewn around in London, largely for the purpose of providing shelter into which tourists can duck when a shower comes by, which is pretty often. The Dover deals in what we have come to call clip art. “Clip” because the compendia on sale are collections ‘clipped’ from magazines, books, newspapers, broadsides (placards or posters) and all other types of material which might have illustrations. You want a book on hands? Lotsa hands? Or nautical things? Pots? Flowers? Dresses? Mustaches? Beards? You get the idea. If you do, hie thee to the Dover and feast. The London bookstore and Dover Publications in the USA are not officially connected, but are aware of each other, and coexist peacefully. In fact, the London store was doing very nicely as a source point for artists, architects, designers, and all other types of creative people until the Internet arrived and until the current economic slowdown, which is our euphemism for the Great Depression of the 2000s. The USA Dover is planning to sell individual images online and the London store owner thinks that will be it for his place.
HP decided to reverse itself and not divest its PC design and production arm after all. The new CEO and the Board huddled recently and had a re-think of the previous CEO’s decision to unload the PC division and concentrate on something else… a rather hazy vision of some kind of software and consultancy business. But out with the old and in with the new. Oh, and don’t feel sorry for Lou Apotheker who was booted out of the top job by an unusually assertive board. He got a nice little treat in his lunch pail, more money than you and I and the entire regiment of the Coldstream Guards would ever see in several lifetimes. But, no matter. The conclusion is that HP is still in the PC biz, and the printer biz and so on. Whether the CEO decides to walk back the decision to can the laptop that the company abandoned after about a month of product life is another matter. That whole debacle left everybody pretty shaken. HP poured a lot into that effort and then it was canceled. You couldn’t give the damn things away, quite literally. I suppose it’s not too late, if the Chief wanted to launch the tablet. And it might even give the company a chance to review the design and profit from the unintended dry run.
HP has had some very rough water to navigate, and that’s been due in very large part to the antics of the guy on top. The captain sets the course. But if the captain is confused about the way the tub is headed and about what all these big shiny things on the bridge are for, then matters can get very scary.
Here’s a rather breathless piece on the future of the e-book reader. I think the basic direction of the article is correct. E-books of the “future” are going to be more visually interesting than they are now. All that having been said, I think it’s important to rememeber that developers can easily go overboard on visuals. The story comes first. I think the movie and TV versions of the Jane Austen novels benefited from great shots of beautiful English countryside, photographed on the two or three days a year when it’s not raining, or cold, or raining and cold. But it is also possible to let this stuff intrude on the book, the characters and the story.
The Kindle Fire will start shipping on November 15, according to the story linked to below. Amazon is offering the K-Fire as a platform for the authors of children’s books to think about when they are writing new books for kids. Amazon also inked a deal with DC Comics…publishers of BATMAN and other classics…for rights to one hundred graphic novels. A graphic novel is a big comic book. Sorry, but that’s what it is, all other pretensions and protesting about a new art form to the contrary notwithstanding. Amazon has gone against the industry’s traditional practice, in which one devices or products supersede older ones and the previous offerings are either abandoned or left to whither through lack of support. But the A is keeping all its Kindle lines going. The Fire was big news, but also part of the product announcement was the release of a number of other, lower price point units that keep the original line going. In other words, Amazon is not abandoning the first generation of e-reader clients, with a dismissive shrug and a coupon to buy new gear.
One characteristic of uncertain times is experimentation with what MIGHT be the new version or model of things to come. For example, after World War I, there was a great deal of messing around with the design of submarines. Some were built to carry a small airplane. Some were built with very large deck guns. There was even a Royal Navy experiment with steam power for a sub. None of these designs went anywhere but they were important in showing what couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. In the crazy world of publishing today, we are seeing some of these efforts at ‘future casting’. Everybody agrees that digital publishing techniques are offering the possibility of recasting the publishing industry and its products in significant ways. They don’t agree about what will emerge from all the turmoil. So, with that little prelude under our belts, we proceed to today’s story of interest. It seems that Conde Nast, the large magazine publisher has entered into an agreement with HP to provide subscription service to some of its content to subscribers connected via the net. But the user will print the material on personal equipment. So it’s digital delivery, paper and ink processing. And HP is offering a deal on cartridge refills, because it’s clear that routinely printing CN’s glossy magazines will run through cartridges pretty fast. All this has some industry observer pulling long faces. It does seem a little daffy. Print a whole magazine? An article maybe, even two or three, but the whole thing? It’s not clear where the money is. Still, these guys are supposed to be smart, so maybe they know something the rest of don’t. But I’m not getting something. Why would I want to turn my home machine into a print shop device? If I want the whole mag, I could just go buy it, right? One wise guy says that the deal is aimed at the ‘connected dinosaur’ segment of the population: those who are online, but whose heart still yearn for paper and ink. I don’t know. I don’t care much for that ‘dinosaur’ crack, being one of that species, because it cuts a little too close to the nerve, and besides, who does this guy think he is? Anyway, the deal is on and we’ll see what turns up.
Publishers are sweating and smiling…sweating because Amazon has undertaken a program of publishing on its own. The company deals with authors, takes manuscripts, does some editorial work and publishes/markets, all without reference to the traditional structure. They are smiling because they don’t want to do anything that will annoy the big A, on which they depend for a lot of revenue. But, a whole lot of people quite suddenly feel threatened. This crowd of the concerned includes editors, book designers, agents, and the whole crew of people behind book tours, signings and the rest of it. I have been hearing rumors about this for some time, but nothing really reliable. There was an article in the Sunday New York Times about it, which gave a lot more detail. This may not be the death knell of publishing “as we know it, Jim”, but it is an interesting development. Some university presses might be able to make a deal, keeping the editorial work but consigning the publishing to Amazon or something along those lines. As the news pundits put it: “Only time will tell”.
There is a common assumption, a superstition really, that people mature as they get older. But, maybe not. What happens when journal editors get caught padding their impact factor scores? Why, they get paddled on the behind and are told to stand in a corner or sit in the shower, for a “time out”. What, you say, grown men and women act, and are treated, as children? Yes, I say and I have a story to prove it. It seems that Thomson Reuters, the now proud owners of the former Eugene Garfield empire, monitor the data flows to their popular and influential Journal Citation Reports (JCR) in order to see if anybody is gaming the system by inflating counts to their own journal through self-citation. Does this really happen? Yes! And the offenders are given “time outs” of various lengths. You can even find out which journals are getting their fannies smacked. The only way to explain this silliness is to point out the artificial and ridiculously excessive reliance placed on impact factor scores by deans, department chairs, funders, P&T committees and other bureaucrats. If you publish in a journal with a high IF, it is assumed that you are a hot property. And editors are anxious to have their mags classed as important because they have high IF numbers. So, what we have here is a kind of conspiracy of dunces, to lift John Kennedy Toole’s title. The IF was concocted by the said Eugene Garfield as a rough measure of quality to help librarians in selection/deselection decisions. It was never intended to rate individual researchers, and its use for that purpose was specifically denounced by its inventor. Never mind. It’s a number. That means it is “objective”, and we can move it around, put it onto pretty graphs, and all the rest. So even those grown men and women, with high intelligence and considerable professional training, resort to grubby little schemes such as telling contributors to include more cites from the mag in the references of submitted manuscripts. The JCR police catch a lot of this and try to shame the offenders. It’s all rather sad, really.
It’s hard to shake the fascination with the Black Death, that plague which swept through much of the Mediterranean area and then on into northern Europe in the 1340s. Maybe it’s something like our fascination with dinosaurs. We are really, really glad that those things are not around any more, and it’s kind of fun to look at them and be glad they’re all gone. So we like to probe into the BD, to get the same feeling of relief, just as a scared kid does when he opens the closet and finds blankets and shoes and other dull stuff, but no monsters. A recent study of plague DNA in a ‘plague pit’ in London has been the subject of genetic analysis and the bug’s genome pretty well worked out, about 99% of it, they say. The bacterium is Yersinia pestis, and the surprising thing is that the genomic profile of the variant that caused the Black Death is pretty much like those of variants circulating today. What made the BD such a killer is still a mystery. The crappy weather and poor harvests in Europe at the time may have resulted in a malnourished population with little resistance to a new bug. But what was true in northern Europe wasn’t true over much of the rest of the world, and the Plague was a first-rate killer there too. Still a mystery.
Steven P. Jobs died yesterday after a long illness. He had struggled with cancer of the pancreas for a number of years and had undergone transplant surgery in an effort to bring the disease under control, but was finally overcome. The press is full of obits and tributes, and it is clear that his passing marks the familiar end of an era in more ways than one. While a full biography may not be written for a while yet, the outlines of his remarkable life and career are clear enough. It has been said that hardly anyone in the USA is unaffected by his work. It’s difficult to find a parallel, but the only one that suggests itself to me is the life of Charles DeGaulle: obscurity followed by fame followed by exile, then recall at a time of crisis and finally triumph. Other posts are more likely to enumerate his technical innovations more lucidly that I can. I found the long obit in The New York Times very interesting. He seems to have kept his private life very much that, private. Jobs seems to have been oddly, perhaps uniquely in tune with the emanations from the buzz of popular culture, and knew how to field products that answered the call for this or that service even before people realized that they wanted them. At a time of lowest-bidder awards and ‘saving’ on quality, Jobs insisted that his company’s products be well-designed, and was almost alone in this. Much speculation attends the fate of Apple now that its pilot has gone. Clemenceau said: “The graveyards are full of ‘indespensible’ men”. Now the company has to manage on its own.
Well, things have been happening in our little world, haven’t they. Let’s see now, hmmmmm. Oh yes, Amazon finally cut down all those pundits and experts hanging from the trees when it launched another gadget called the Kindle FIRE. Get it? Kindle, and then Fire. OK, enough. The Fire is a gussied up tablet style e-reader with the apparent goal of making it easier to buy stuff from Amazon. It makes perfect sense, and it puts an end to all the silly talk about an Ipad killer. The Fire has color capability and a web browser; it’s about as big as the previous models of Kindle, although improvements have been made. Not content with that, The Bezos Flying Circus unveiled a new line of little Kindles, or old fashioned style Kindles. The price for these entry level or non-Fire devices has been reduced considerably. Even the Fire starts at about 2 C-notes. There are various connection options. Bring your lawyer along when you make the purchase. You want to be sure that part of the contract isn’t a requirement that you work 11 hour shifts in an Amazon order processing center, in 110 degree heat or picking tomatoes on a farm in Alabama now that all the indocumentados are being kicked out of there. Onions too, if you like onions, you’ll love Alabama….twelve hour days, $10.50 an hour. And the workday starts at 6 am.