athelind: (Default)

The Kno: A giant double-screen tablet to replace giant textbooks.



Kno Movie from Kno, Inc. on Vimeo.



I'm not much of a tech-fiend or an early adopter. My usual reaction at the Shiny Tech Toy of the Minute is, "huh, that's kinda cool", but it's seldom if ever "OMG I GOTTA HAVE IT".

Even now, as I'm looking at the Kno, my reaction is, "Yes, this is finally getting to what I want in the elusive 'electronic book' -- something that retains the utility of a hardcopy book while simultaneously taking advantage of the new medium."

Up until now, the ebook readers I've seen haven't done either. They've been the Worst of Both Worlds: a static page without any of the convenient features that let the spine-bound book render the continuous scroll obsolete. That's fine for a novel, but for any kind of reference work at all, it's useless. If I'm, say, playing an RPG, and trying to run combat, even the best-organized rulebooks I've seen have me flipping back and forth between three or more widely-separated sections at once.

A reader-tablet that's set up to properly display two-page spreads, to let me jot notes, to let me flip back and forth casually between sections? One that's ALSO set up to hyperlink and cross-reference? And, of course, to have animated illustrations and even embedded video? To have two books open at once, or a full-on web browser on one screen with a textbook on the other?

This is the frakkin' Diamond Age, boys and girls. Or the first real stab at it, anyway.

[livejournal.com profile] halfelf is holding out for a tablet that has both a capacitive and a resistive screen, so you can do both the Cool iPhone Multi-Touch Tricks and the Pressure-sensitive Drawing Tablet Tricks. Call it the "fingerpaint interface".

It would be NICE to be able to use something like the Kno as a full-fledged graphics tablet, but it's not a deal-breaker for me. I can live without that. After all, I can't use my laptop as one, either.

In short: WANT. If this thing isn't just vaporware, I'll be eagerly awaiting announcements of price points.

Even if it is ... this is the interface of the future. This is what an "ebook reader" will have to look like to be as useful as a spine-bound book. It doesn't have to be this large, but it's going to have to be this flexible.

Take a good look, people. This could be the printkiller.
athelind: (Sci Fi)
For years, I've been calling Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination/Tiger! Tiger!* "a forgotten cyberpunk classic from the '50s" and "more cyberpunk than cyberpunk".

I was even more correct than I thought: William Gibson, one of the progenitors of the Cyberpunk Movement, has just cited it as one of his favorite novels, going so far as to say "I doubt I’d have written without having read it."

Hunt it down, people.

It's still high on my list for Books That Oughta Be Movies.


*Tiger! Tiger! was the title of the first book publication, but it was originally serialized as the Stars My Destination, and, frankly, that's a far better title.
athelind: (Warning: Motivation Hazard)
The single biggest reason I've avoided e-books is comfort.

Most PDF e-books are formatted in a portrait layout—tall and skinny. Most computer screens are oriented landscape-wise—short and wide, and these days, even wider.

Those PDF e-books tend to be set up to print on standard printer paper (Letter in the US, A4 in, well, on Planet Earth), and most people find it uncomfortable to read a paragraph after paragraph of 7-inch-plus lines—so the books are often presented in a two-column format.

This means that, unless you have a huge screen that can actually display a full page at readable font sizes, you're constantly paging up and down on the same page to follow the text. I don't know about you, but I find that Adobe Reader gets cranky and glitchy when it has to redraw a page over and over, particularly one with complex graphics.

Thus, e-books are profoundly uncomfortable for me. I find myself scrunching, my brain certain that I can see the parts of the page obscured by the screen bezel if I just get the right angle. More, I like to curl up with a novel; it's one way of getting away from a desk. Of course, now I have a laptop, but still: the limited screen-height is both uncomfortable and taxes the software.

Yesterday, I had opportunity to suggest the works of novelist, blogger and copyright activist Cory Doctorow* to someone looking for "more modern" references for a Cyberpunk game setting. Mr. Doctorow, as mentioned, is a copyright activist, and has released all of his novels freely, in a variety of formats, under a Creative Commons license that expressly allows his audience to reformat, remix, and redistribute the contents, so long as they do so freely.

The PDFs on Mr. Doctorow's site are formatted in two-column portrait layout.

However, he also has plain text and straight HTML files available.

Yesterday, I downloaded the HTML version of Makers. I read the first few pages in FireFox, but decided that the lack of pagination and bookmarks would make it difficult to find my place if I put it down and came back to it later.

OpenOffice, the open-source application suite that's the default office application on nearly every Linux distribution, can distill PDFs with the press of a single button, and reads HTML flawlessly.

I opened the Makers HTML file, set the page layout to landscape, fiddled with the margins, knocked up the font size, and then, realizing that this was my copy and I could do whatever I wanted with it, reset the text font from Times New Roman to the more elegant and readable Genitum.

This turned a 299-page file into 705 pages, but since each "page" was a tidy, legible screenfull, what of it?

I curled up on the couch and spent the evening reading.

In fact, I was up until 1 AM, and almost finished the book.

I have discovered e-books are entirely readable—if I can format them to my preferences and comfort zone. This, of course, requires that I have access to HTML, or, less-ideally, ASCII text versions of the document.

Such as those found on Project gutenberg or The Baen Free Library.

... you know, the goal for this week was to reduce my online distractions.


*Yes, [livejournal.com profile] cpxbrex, I know. He's hopelessly bourgeoisie, writing about middle-class characters caught up in middle-class concerns for a middle-class target audience, and if identifying with that target audience and those characters because of my own hopelessly middle-class upbringing compromises my integrity as a socialist, I apologize.
athelind: (coyote laughs)
The other day, I came home to find a note on the door from the local utility company, warning me that on Thursday, 18 Feb 2010, there would be two scheduled power outages for foir maintenance: one from 9:00-9:30 AM, and another from 2:30-3:00 PM.

On waking up this morning, I started to turn on the computer, and realized that it was 8:30. I decided, instead, to leave it turned off, and just curl up with a book until the first outage had come and gone.

At 2:20, having read the whole day without interruption, I went off to an appointment. When I returned at 4:40, all the clocks were still functioning happily, with nary a blink to be seen.

Neither scheduled outage occured as scheduled.

Needless to say, there was Stuff I Could Have Been Doing Today -- not just on the computer; I needed to get laundry done, as well.

I refuse to acknowledge that this is a subversion of my Lenten refutation of procrastination, however. The book in question is Neal Stephenson's Anathem, a 900-page doorstopper that I've renewed twice, but heretofore had only read about 140 pages. I'm now on p. 422 -- so I did something I've been putting off for more than six weeks, even if it wasn't what I'd planned.


athelind: (Default)
The other day, I came home to find a note on the door from the local utility company, warning me that on Thursday, 18 Feb 2010, there would be two scheduled power outages for foir maintenance: one from 9:00-9:30 AM, and another from 2:30-3:00 PM.

On waking up this morning, I started to turn on the computer, and realized that it was 8:30. I decided, instead, to leave it turned off, and just curl up with a book until the first outage had come and gone.

At 2:20, having read the whole day without interruption, I went off to an appointment. When I returned at 4:40, all the clocks were still functioning happily, with nary a blink to be seen.

Neither scheduled outage occured as scheduled.

Needless to say, there was Stuff I Could Have Been Doing Today -- not just on the computer; I needed to get laundry done, as well.

I refuse to acknowledge that this is a subversion of my Lenten refutation of procrastination, however. The book in question is Neal Stephenson's Anathem, a 900-page doorstopper that I've renewed twice, but heretofore had only read about 140 pages. I'm now on p. 422 -- so I did something I've been putting off for more than six weeks, even if it wasn't what I'd planned.


athelind: (AAAAAA)
I'm not in the mood to watch TV, not in the mood to mess around on the computer, and it's too danged early to go to bed.

The box of "Feed Your Head" books hold no appeal, nor do the Lankhmar books that I put in the same box. Of course, the rest of my fiction is all tucked away in [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia's garage, awaiting the purchase of satisfactory bookshelves.

I finished the last of China Miéville's "Bas Lag" trilogy last week, and dropped it off at the Santa Clara library. I think I need to cruise back by there and pick up a Stack of Random, just to have something to occupy my brain in these late hours.


athelind: (Default)
I'm not in the mood to watch TV, not in the mood to mess around on the computer, and it's too danged early to go to bed.

The box of "Feed Your Head" books hold no appeal, nor do the Lankhmar books that I put in the same box. Of course, the rest of my fiction is all tucked away in [livejournal.com profile] quelonzia's garage, awaiting the purchase of satisfactory bookshelves.

I finished the last of China Miéville's "Bas Lag" trilogy last week, and dropped it off at the Santa Clara library. I think I need to cruise back by there and pick up a Stack of Random, just to have something to occupy my brain in these late hours.


athelind: (Sci Fi)
Almost every library I've patronized in the last four decades has used the same basic set of icons to delineate the various genre ghettos: a skull for mysteries, a stylized atom or a rocket ship surrounded by "atomic" rings for SF, and so forth. Most of them even seem to use the same company, with red ink on yellow stickers.



Why can't I find these icons on the web? I find several places selling library genre stickers, but not the classic old red-on-yellow designs.

I know they're OUT there -- I see them at my local library all the time, on brand new books.
athelind: (Default)
Almost every library I've patronized in the last four decades has used the same basic set of icons to delineate the various genre ghettos: a skull for mysteries, a stylized atom or a rocket ship surrounded by "atomic" rings for SF, and so forth. Most of them even seem to use the same company, with red ink on yellow stickers.



Why can't I find these icons on the web? I find several places selling library genre stickers, but not the classic old red-on-yellow designs.

I know they're OUT there -- I see them at my local library all the time, on brand new books.
athelind: (hoard potato)
As Salon reminded me this morning, 2008 marks the 100th Anniversary of The Wind in the Willows. This is not merely a classic of children's literature; it is, quite possibly, the furriest book of all time.

Read it online, or pick up a copy for the holidays -- it's public domain, so you can find any number of inexpensive editions.

I first read it at the age of 38, and found that, despite being undeniably a book about Youth, it also has much to say to Adulthood and Middle Age.
athelind: (Default)
As Salon reminded me this morning, 2008 marks the 100th Anniversary of The Wind in the Willows. This is not merely a classic of children's literature; it is, quite possibly, the furriest book of all time.

Read it online, or pick up a copy for the holidays -- it's public domain, so you can find any number of inexpensive editions.

I first read it at the age of 38, and found that, despite being undeniably a book about Youth, it also has much to say to Adulthood and Middle Age.
athelind: (hoard potato)
You hear a lot of discussion these days about the sudden surge of fantasy and SF epics. Some people can't fathom it. Some try to explain it by socioeconomic circumstances, claiming that hard times give a boost to "escapist" media -- and ignoring fact that the steady increase in such fantastic fare was unaffected by the boom times of the '90s. Some are actively offended by it: anything with an element of the extraordinary has been thrust into a literary ghetto for the last century and a half, and, by golly, that's where it belongs.

At least one writer has looked at the clamor to adapt SF and fantasy works a half-century old or older, and used that as evidence that the Speculative Fiction genre is so tapped out that Hollywood can't find anything new to adapt.

To me, it's straightforward. Why are all these movies coming out now? Why has it taken more than half a century for some of thse works to reach the screen?

Simple. It wasn't possible before now.

The convergence of animation and special effects has finally reached a point where entirely new realities -- or surrealities -- can be portrayed convincingly on the big screen, without recourse to full cel animation. Works that were simply unfilmable before now offer new opportunities to exercise this technology, to entice an audience eager for larger-than-life spectacle.

The question isn't why Hollywood is dredging up old works to adapt. The question is, why aren't they adapting more of them, the really good stuff?

In other words... the stuff I like?

Well, Your Obedient Serpent had a list of "Books That Oughta Be Movies" simmering on the back burner for a long while, and I'm in the mood to start posting about'em.

Farmer Giles of Ham )

The Stars My Destination )

Elric of Melniboné )
Argue about my casting choices or directorial dictates in the comments.


Hey, kids! You know you have a list of your own, so why not treat it as a meme? )
athelind: (Default)
You hear a lot of discussion these days about the sudden surge of fantasy and SF epics. Some people can't fathom it. Some try to explain it by socioeconomic circumstances, claiming that hard times give a boost to "escapist" media -- and ignoring fact that the steady increase in such fantastic fare was unaffected by the boom times of the '90s. Some are actively offended by it: anything with an element of the extraordinary has been thrust into a literary ghetto for the last century and a half, and, by golly, that's where it belongs.

At least one writer has looked at the clamor to adapt SF and fantasy works a half-century old or older, and used that as evidence that the Speculative Fiction genre is so tapped out that Hollywood can't find anything new to adapt.

To me, it's straightforward. Why are all these movies coming out now? Why has it taken more than half a century for some of thse works to reach the screen?

Simple. It wasn't possible before now.

The convergence of animation and special effects has finally reached a point where entirely new realities -- or surrealities -- can be portrayed convincingly on the big screen, without recourse to full cel animation. Works that were simply unfilmable before now offer new opportunities to exercise this technology, to entice an audience eager for larger-than-life spectacle.

The question isn't why Hollywood is dredging up old works to adapt. The question is, why aren't they adapting more of them, the really good stuff?

In other words... the stuff I like?

Well, Your Obedient Serpent had a list of "Books That Oughta Be Movies" simmering on the back burner for a long while, and I'm in the mood to start posting about'em.

Farmer Giles of Ham )

The Stars My Destination )

Elric of Melniboné )
Argue about my casting choices or directorial dictates in the comments.


Hey, kids! You know you have a list of your own, so why not treat it as a meme? )
athelind: (Ommm)
Back in my high school years, the fantasy shelves had yet to be overrun by never-ending phone book sagas, superficial Tolkien ripoffs, and cheesy D&D-based Imprint Novels.

In those days, D&D players didn't have to suffer through the regurgitation of other people's games for inspiration. We were fortunate enough to have the primary source materials conveniently available in inexpensive paperback editions. I speak, of course, of classic Sword & Sorcery, a genre subtly but significantly different than the quest-based High Fantasy that follows the Tolkien mold.

Alas, graduation from high school began a phase of my life that demanded mobility, and that in turn demanded a winnowing of my library. In a move that seemed reasonable at the time, I purged my collection of the books I deemed easily replaceable -- after all, they'd been in print for years, and would remain in print for the foreseeable future.

And so it was that I divested myself of the works of Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock.

Foresight has never been one of my strong suits.

Now, decades later, I feel the lack most keenly. I would love to dive back into those worlds, and immerse myself in Lieber's wry humor, and Moorcock's psychedelic prose.

And they are no longer in my grasp.

Back in those ancient days of yore, the sagas of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
and Elric of Melniboné were available in elegant matched sets, each volume in their respective series having a continuity of cover design, and tales arranged chronologically. Now, alas, I can find no evidence that all of the books are even in print in the U.S., much less available from the same publisher.

I would, ideally, like to restore these two classic epics to their proper place in my hoard. I know that Moorcock added additional volumes to Elric's tale in the 1990s, and I would, ideally, like to read these in the proper sequence with the older works. Similarly, there is an additional volume of Fafhrd and the Mouser that I've yet to read.

I beseech you, loyal readers: can you direct me to one or both of these series? My preference is for matched sets: all of one series, from the same publisher, in the same format. Mismatched brings out the Mister Monk in me, and the closer I can get to "one-stop shopping", the better. I would also prefer hardback over paperback or trade paperback; though I mourn the loss of editions that are both easily accessible and inexpensive, if I am going to go to great efforts to find these tomes, they should be in a format that will endure the years. I am willing to entertain the purchase of UK editions, if US editions are simply unavailable.

By and large, my preference is for new editions. Haunting the used and out-of-print shelves for a whole series can be frustrating, as I learned years ago whilst gathering my mismatched collection of Doc Smith's Lensman titles. I find it vile indeed that these works have been allowed to go out of print, when entire forests are razed for hacks like Salvatore.

(And yes, I'm looking at the Science Fiction Book Club website. Their omnibus collections appear to lack the seventh volume of F&GM, and the second of four volumes of Elric. Still, if I manage to land a decently-paying job, it might be worth my while to rejoin the SFBC for the first time in three decades...)
athelind: (Default)
Back in my high school years, the fantasy shelves had yet to be overrun by never-ending phone book sagas, superficial Tolkien ripoffs, and cheesy D&D-based Imprint Novels.

In those days, D&D players didn't have to suffer through the regurgitation of other people's games for inspiration. We were fortunate enough to have the primary source materials conveniently available in inexpensive paperback editions. I speak, of course, of classic Sword & Sorcery, a genre subtly but significantly different than the quest-based High Fantasy that follows the Tolkien mold.

Alas, graduation from high school began a phase of my life that demanded mobility, and that in turn demanded a winnowing of my library. In a move that seemed reasonable at the time, I purged my collection of the books I deemed easily replaceable -- after all, they'd been in print for years, and would remain in print for the foreseeable future.

And so it was that I divested myself of the works of Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock.

Foresight has never been one of my strong suits.

Now, decades later, I feel the lack most keenly. I would love to dive back into those worlds, and immerse myself in Lieber's wry humor, and Moorcock's psychedelic prose.

And they are no longer in my grasp.

Back in those ancient days of yore, the sagas of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
and Elric of Melniboné were available in elegant matched sets, each volume in their respective series having a continuity of cover design, and tales arranged chronologically. Now, alas, I can find no evidence that all of the books are even in print in the U.S., much less available from the same publisher.

I would, ideally, like to restore these two classic epics to their proper place in my hoard. I know that Moorcock added additional volumes to Elric's tale in the 1990s, and I would, ideally, like to read these in the proper sequence with the older works. Similarly, there is an additional volume of Fafhrd and the Mouser that I've yet to read.

I beseech you, loyal readers: can you direct me to one or both of these series? My preference is for matched sets: all of one series, from the same publisher, in the same format. Mismatched brings out the Mister Monk in me, and the closer I can get to "one-stop shopping", the better. I would also prefer hardback over paperback or trade paperback; though I mourn the loss of editions that are both easily accessible and inexpensive, if I am going to go to great efforts to find these tomes, they should be in a format that will endure the years. I am willing to entertain the purchase of UK editions, if US editions are simply unavailable.

By and large, my preference is for new editions. Haunting the used and out-of-print shelves for a whole series can be frustrating, as I learned years ago whilst gathering my mismatched collection of Doc Smith's Lensman titles. I find it vile indeed that these works have been allowed to go out of print, when entire forests are razed for hacks like Salvatore.

(And yes, I'm looking at the Science Fiction Book Club website. Their omnibus collections appear to lack the seventh volume of F&GM, and the second of four volumes of Elric. Still, if I manage to land a decently-paying job, it might be worth my while to rejoin the SFBC for the first time in three decades...)

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