Monthly Archives: August 2008

Apple Sleight of Hand Sets the Stage for Tablet Macs

Further to our discussion of Kindles as learning tools, if Apple can pull off a scheme to create a full-sized keyboard for a tablet device, they will be that much closer winning what I call the Premio Gordo: universal adoption of a tablet (or tablet-oid) computer by colleges.

According to Sam Oliver, writing in AppleInsider, a 52-page patent filed by Apple Inc. “illustrates a number of techniques that would pave the way for tablet Macs that display a near full-sized multi-touch keyboard and run an undiluted version of the Mac OS X operating system.” In plain English, Mac users would be able type with both hands on the screen, an absolutely essential feature of any student computer.

– Richard Curtis

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Kindle Sequel on the Way, But Will it Play on Campus?

(Pictured right: The Intel Classmate prototype)

Speculation on the next generation of Kindle (my wife refers to them in Yiddish as Kindeleh) is reaching fever pitch, such as this piece on cnet news by Adam Richardson and another on engadget by Thomas Ricker.

The prognostications seem to be focusing on student applications, and though Kindle 2.0 will probably be a bit bigger for collegiate use, my own opinion is that that is not where e-book readers have to go to win the premio gordo of universal college adoption.

At the dawn of the E-Book Era, circa 2000, I recognized that pocket-portable e-books would never succeed for student use. The reason is size. Textbooks and other illustrated books simply cannot be crammed into anything smaller than a screen close to the size of a laptop. That’s why I advocated the tablet concept and design. Tablets have all the virtues of laptops PLUS touchscreen functionality. For students, reading books on an e-reading device is highly desirable but not as imperative as the ability to handwrite notes on their device’s screen. Resistance to widespread adoption of e-textbooks is explored in an excellent article by Andy Guess in Inside Higher Ed, Next Step for E-Texts. “Whether — or when — e-textbooks become as ubiquitous as laptops or smartphones on campuses depends on several factors that continue to hinder widespread adoption. Observers of the nascent market point variously to available hardware, consumer demand and the dearth of content made specifically for digital formats,” writes Guess.

Manufacturers are not unaware of these issues and have been developing a variety of readers, variously called netbooks, ultraportables, and mini-notebooks such as the Intel Classmate, that appeal to the specific needs of the student. No one has hit a home run yet, but there’s a fortune waiting for the manufacturer that does.

– Richard Curtis

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Cellphone Fiction – Can 20 Million Japanese Be Wrong?

An article by Leon Neyfakh in the Observer notes that Love Sky, a debut novel by a young woman named Mika, was read by 20 million people on cellphones or on computers.” The book, a handwringer and tearjerker, was first uploaded on Maho no i-rando, and though the author made no money on the avalanche of hits, she made a fortune on the subsequent printed book and movie.

“Why don’t these exist in the United States?” asks Neyfakh. “Obviously everyone would read them. This…is what the publishing houses should be doing if they want to keep up instead of thinking about Digg and Yelp or whatever, as some people seem to think.”

Would everyone read them in the United States? The American populace does a lot of things on cellphones and computers but reading books on a mass scale is not yet one of them. The e-book business has been growing by double-digit jumps for a decade, but when a bestselling e-book is still defined here in the hundreds, we realize how far Americans have to go before a texted work of fiction published here will make its author rich and famous.

For an idea of how huge cellphones are in Japan, there are even magazines devoted to them. An observer counted half a dozen devoted to the iPhone alone!

– Richard Curtis

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Kindle Makes Bid for High-Profile Content

After saying no to e-books for years, a big-name author, Terry Goodkind, has now said yes.

Though reluctant up to now to put his books into e-book format, Goodkind surrendered to the allure of Amazon’s Kindle (plus an undisclosed sum of money), according to a story by Rachel Deahl in Publishers Weekly. Goodkind agreed to let his first novel, Wizard’s First Rule, be rereleased on an exclusive basis on the Kindle. Read the story here.

The fact that Amazon offered competitive terms is a promising sign of financial health for the e-book industry. But it also means that Amazon has placed itself into competition with publishers for content.

For an interesting analysis of the pros and cons of e-books and Kindle in particular, check out this commentary by Hugh D’Andrade on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation entitled,What If the Kindle Succeeds?

– Richard Curtis

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Publisher is Civilian Casualty in Proxy War Between Barnes & Noble and Amazon

Barnes & Noble has canceled a 10,000 copy order to punish a publisher for giving Amazon.com a short exclusive window on a soon-to-be-published book about Barack Obama.

According to Associated Press’s Hillel Italie, Chelsea Green, a small Vermont publisher, gave Amazon and its wholly owned on-demand print division BookSurge, an exclusive window to distribute Robert Kuttner’s “Obama’s Challenge” at the Democratic Convention next week in Denver. Chelsea Green’s action put B&N’s nose so far out of joint that it canceled a very big order. Smaller bookstores were reported to be equally ticked off, but none has the clout to hurt a small press the way B&N does, and B&N wielded its battle ax with a will.

This is just the latest skirmish in the escalating warfare between bookstores – in particular the behemoth B&N chain – and Amazon, and this time the publisher couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get out of the line of fire.

Chelsea Green President Margo Baldwin was defiant about Barnes & Noble’s action: “They are not going to bully us and the book will be a huge success in spite of their boycott.”

 

– Richard Curtis

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A World Where All Escalators Go Up – Part 2

In Part 1 of this two-part article, we introduced a term commonly heard in discussions of book deals: “escalator.” Escalators are additional advance payments made by publishers to authors if and when certain contingencies occur. What are those contingencies? How much are they worth? And what, if anything, is their real value? We homed in on bestseller bonuses. In Part 2 we focus on award, book club, movie and other types of escalators.

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Mac iPhone Ebook Reader Software Rocks, Says Wired

Charlie Sorrel reviews, in Wired’s Gadget Lab, the Stanza, a free version of the Mac ebook reading software, and gives it high marks. Read “how to turn your iPhone into a mini-Kindle.”

“I really like this application,” writes Sorrel. “It means you can quite literally carry a small library in your pocket. The one problem is that, unlike the Kindle, you can’t buy new titles direct from the iPhone. Stanza supports most e-book formats, so if you buy a .mobi book, for example, you’ll be able to read it. But imagine if you could browse Amazon and buy things directly. It might kill the Kindle, but Amazon would sell a lot of e-books.”

When asked in January 2008 why he hadn’t built e-reads software into v. 1 of the iPhone, Apple CEO Steve Jobs sneered, “People Don’t Read Anymore.” Anybody think he’ll sing a different tune now?

RC

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BookLocker and Amazon Duke it Out in Court

Amazon has filed a motion to have the antitrust lawsuit filed last May by BookLocker thrown out. Publisher BookLocker launched the suit when Amazon started leaning on print on demand publishers to use its subsidiary BookSurge to print their titles or risk having deactivated the Buy buttons for the books they sell on Amazon.com. For a fuller description, click on this article by Jim Milliott in PublishersWeekly.com.

For background on the issue, you can read Richard Curtis’s blog The Nine Gazillion Pound Gorilla Bears its Fangs.

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John Norman Introduces Volumes 4-6 of His Bestselling Gorean Saga

Introduction to The Gorean Saga Volumes 4-6
By John Norman

#4 Nomads of Gor
#5 Assassin of Gor
#6 Raiders of Gor

The concept of an unknown planet in our system, of a particular and interesting sort, rather unlike other planets, perhaps a mysterious sister or visitor to more familiar worlds, is quite an old concept.
The expression in Greek, transliterated into English letters, is “Antichthon,” which we may translate as “Counter-Earth.”
The Greeks, you see, had the concept of another Earth, a different Earth, a “Counter-Earth.”
It is interesting to speculate on these matters, to wonder, for example, from whence came this ancient, provocative concept. Had they evidence we do not? Had something touched them, perhaps carelessly, or inadvertently, long ago, at a given moment, a moment which was seldom, if ever, repeated, or, if repeated, repeated more selectively, less obtrusively? In any event, the universe is a mysterious place, and when it first opened its eyes, here or there, in one species or another, for it is through the eyes of its children that the universe sees, it doubtless began to suspect how unusual and strange it was, how sublime, mighty, vast, beautiful, terrible, indifferent, and cruel it was, how lovely, and strange it was.
In any event, speculation on the existence of the Counter-Earth is ancient.
I do not think there is much point in going into the Pythagorean cosmology in which this concept figured.
Suffice it to say that the Greeks, as the expression makes clear, did have a conception of the Counter-Earth.
I find this exciting.
Doubtless there are many Earths, grains of sand washed up on the scattered, endless beaches of space, but let us concern ourselves with one such world, a possible world, which we will call the “Counter-Earth.” Surely it, or something like it, exists somewhere.
Might it lie as close to us as was speculated, or feared, by ancient astronomers and mathematicians, whatever might have been the basis of their conjectures, whatever might have been the foundations for their belief?
One does not know.
Surely somewhere there is a Gor, or something like a Gor. Is it not a mathematical certainty? But perhaps not. But, if not, is it not a tragedy to suppose that our own world is the only world, so to speak, the only world in a cosmos in which galaxies are as plentiful as blackberries, endless horizons of blackberries? Could the universe not do better than produce our world, with its spawn of hatred, pollution, greed, corruption, misery, and fanaticism? One would hope so.
The Gorean world, of course, is not perfect.
To be sure, many would exchange it, quickly enough, happily enough, for ours.
It is surely not a Utopia but who would care to spend one’s life in a Utopia; would you not attempt to escape at the first opportunity? Some seem prisons, others cribs, perhaps padded cells, appropriate enough for any so foolish as to seek them. One notes that most propounders of Utopias wisely forbear specificities, preferring to leave the details of their projected paradises conveniently obscure. In this way, one may fill in matters with much the same liberty as is accorded to the reader of Rorschach blots. Fill in the blank checks as you wish, but, alas, there is no bank on which they may be drawn. Too often the road to paradise leads to the gates of hell. Did not Hegel lead to the Gestapo and Marx to the KGB?
So the Gorean world is far from a Utopia. It is replete with hazards and perils, and there are humans there, and humans come with natures, natures forged in the smithies of hunger, suffering, and war; natures alert to the small sounds of a predator’s paw, to the broken twig and dislodged pebble, to the scent of game, to the menace of strangers, to the grace of a lonely, uncaptured female, to the scarcity of resources. Human beings are complex, rich, and deep. Would you have them otherwise, really? But Gor is a green world, a fresh world, a world unpolluted, a world such as our Earth might once have been, and may never be again. One misses the grasses of Gor, flowing in the wind.
Let us embark on some remarks, having to do with Gor. There are many premises on which this unusual series is based, and it will not be remiss, I suppose, and it might be helpful, to call our attention to two or three of these. There is much to be said concerning each of these premises, incidentally, but the constraints of time and space effectively militate against any extensive explanation, against informative, multiplex detail.
1. Gor is near. Presumably it is an immigrant to our solar system, governed by masters of gravity, perhaps having sought a viable sun, deserting a dying star, and may emigrate, should it be deemed judicious, and be the will of her masters.
2. The word ‘Gor’ in Gorean means “Home Stone.” Gor and Earth have a common star, which we call Sol, and which in Gorean is spoken of as “Tor-tu-Gor,” which would translate as “Light upon the Home Stone.” It is not easy to convey to one unfamiliar with Gor the nature, the meaning, of the Home Stone, so we will not attempt to do so, certainly not within our present limits. Let it be said that a city, a town, a village, will have a Home Stone; too, even a peasant’s hut is likely to have its Home Stone, and the peasant, in his hut, with its Home Stone, is, in effect, a ruler, a king, a monarch, a Ubar. A human being without a Home Stone is a fragment, a leaf at the mercy of the wind. He is alone, shorn of fellowship. He lacks brethren. Who will care for him? Should he be in need, who will stand with him? Those with whom he shares a Home Stone. Without a Home Stone how is he important? How shall one justify his existence who has no Home Stone? The humans of Earth, and their domiciles, and their cities and towns, many of them, it seems, lack Home Stones. One wonders if they understand the emptiness of their skies, their poverty.
3. The human being is not the dominant life form on Gor. That form is the Sardar, or, as Tarl Cabot, whom one will encounter in the series, will have it, the “Priest-King.” These are the masters, even the gods, of Gor, at least for those limited to the First Knowledge. They have imposed technology restrictions on humans on Gor. It is, after all, their world, and they see no point in risking its ruination at the hands of a reckless, unsupervised hominid species, one brought to Gor over millennia, largely for aesthetic and scientific purposes. Gor, for the Priest-Kings, you see, is rather like a zoological or botanical garden, or an observational laboratory, if you wish, which they have stocked, bit by bit, with an interesting variety of species, exotic and otherwise, from throughout the galaxy, over millennia, as it pleased them. Priest-Kings, on the other hand, it should be noted, while enforcing their technology restrictions on humans, particularly those dealing with weaponry, transportation, and communication, accord human beings almost total freedom, allowing them to behave much as they like, killing one another, loving one another, whatever be their wont.

I wish you well,
John Norman.

Note from E-Reads: Readers and fans interested in learning more about John Norman and his Gorean world can visit John Norman’s Chronicles of Gor.

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