Archive

Leftover Thoughts From 2017

I’ve never been much of a fan of the ‘What I learned in this year doing X, Y, and Z’ tradition of many bloggers.

Over-engineering is under-engineering

There’s a gif going around presenting a debate about whether websites are under-engineered or over-engineered as Daffy and Bugs doing their duck-season/rabbit-season skit.

Anger feels like poison

Consider the contrasts between the recent tragedy in Iceland and how similar events usually play out in the UK or US.

Is JavaScript more fragile?

‘JS is more fragile’ is a stance common among Progressive Enhancement advocates (and I’m certainly guilty of this myself).

Debating Progressive Enhancement

One problem with the debate around Progressive Enhancement is that it bundles together a bunch of concerns and tactics under a single label.

When fear is rational

Today’s news is personally devastating for those of us who have lived as immigrants in the UK. The right explicitly campaigned on the idea that we are a cancer on British society and a majority of British voters answered that call with “yes, yes you are a cancer.”

A few thoughts on standardisation, W3C, and the IDPF

The news that the World Wide Web Consortium and the International Digital Publishing Forum are planning to merge has prompted many to reassess the state of publishing industry standardisation.

A few simplified points on web and document security

(I’m largely thinking out loud with this and noting this down for myself, so feel free to ignore. Also, most of the following is extremely simplified. The actual security issues involved can get quite a bit more complicated.)

Judge the work

Watercolours are done—history. Oils have won. Anybody who is serious about making art has to paint with oils now.

You can't solve people problems with software

You can apply various technologies as a part of the solution, but unless the people part of the problem is addressed specifically, at best what you’ve done is punt the problem down the road.

Modern software sucks

We have fantastic and beautiful devices but horrifying usability.

Blogger nostalgia

Some people miss the old days of blogging. I don’t.

The rules of the game have changed for RSS

Feeds—RSS and Atom—failed pretty spectacularly back in the day. They went from being the ‘next big thing in technology’ to ‘that out-of-date thing that makes podcasts work’.

Burnout

It worries me how familiar the symptoms of burnout are, both when I read about them and when they actually hit me.

From the other blog: "A few quick links and thoughts on big web problems"

When websites fail, it isn’t because people are dumb—not smart enough—or lazy. As I and others have said before, people aren’t doing progressive enhancement because it is harder than not doing it. ‘Hard’ in this context isn’t a measure of how much intelligence or skill is required to solve the problem. ‘Hard’ here is a description of the volume of effort required, namely that it’s more than you would have otherwise needed to make a passable website.

From the other blog: "I really want the Supergirl TV show to be fun"

Superheroes and romance are a natural fit and it’s a crying shame that nobody has properly gone for that particular genre amalgamation before. It would be a mistake for the show to shy away from combining the two. So, I, for one, am hoping that the upcoming Supergirl series is all in on the romance. Read more…

Grim Meathook Present #2

Everything is always getting better everywhere, all the time (#pangloss #progress).

Other people talk about startups and entrepreneurship

You don’t need to look far to find examples of how dysfunctional the Silicon Valley/San Francisco startup culture is. It seems to exist in a worldview bubble, even if it might not be an economic one.

From the other blog: "We are a violent species"

Stephen Pinker and Nassim Nicholas Taleb had a brouhaha a while back about the statistical validity of Pinker’s claims in The Better Angels of Our Nature. Looks like Taleb really likes having the last word. We are a violent species.

We are a violent species

Stephen Pinker and Nassim Nicholas Taleb had a brouhaha a while back about the statistical validity of Pinker’s claims in The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Looks like Taleb really likes having the last word.

Where I write about Facebook's Instant Articles

I’ve switched to blogging back on my old site (www.baldurbjarnason.com). The latest post there is Facebook and the media: united against the web. A few media websites have made a deal with Facebook to present their articles within Facebook’s iOS app instead of on their own websites. Apparently, it’s all the web’s fault. Although, it should be mentioned that Instant Articles are published only on Facebook’s iOS app and degrade gracefully into links to the media site’s original website elsewhere, so it isn’t nearly the wholesale assimilation of everything everywhere that people present it to be.

2015-05-11-18-39-16

Here goes. Hopefully this will work. And if it doesn’t nobody will notice. Win win. ETA: It worked! It worked! Yay!

2015-05-07-00-59-18

No, you aren’t mistaken. I’m resurrecting my old blog after a two year stretch of blogging over on Studio Tendra. I have no idea what that means but I do have a hint of a plan for this, which I will explain in a blog post at some point. Just not today.

Five publishing-related thoughts on a Friday afternoon

Re-posted here from Medium for my own archives. Feel free to ignore. I figure that since I broke my resolution yesterday not to blog about publishing, I might as well throw a couple more thoughts out today in an attempt to clear my system completely of useless speculation on publishing. Hopefully this means that I won’t have to do this again for another year or so. Clay Shirky’s [“Fast, Slow, Fast”](http://publiceditor.

Why should people read more books?

Re-posted here from Medium for my own archives. Feel free to ignore. I don’t know how many books I read last year. I probably could find out if I wanted to but I don’t particularly care. It isn’t important. What I _do_ know is that I read a lot of interesting and thought-provoking writing. I watched videos that changed my mind and my approaches to life. I listened to podcasts and other media that taught me new skills and opened up new perspectives.

How is taxing ebooks as print books supposed to work?

Re-posted here from Medium for my own archives. Feel free to ignore. It’s a popular stance among publishers that they and their industry are a gentle sprinkle of special snowflakes and that their software (i.e. ebooks) should be taxed at a lower VAT rate than other software (i.e. websites or any other kind of digital file). They’ve managed to [wrangle several EU member countries to their cause](http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/04/france-germany-italy-poland-call-for-lowering-vat-on-ebooks/): According to the four ministers, to foster innovation and secure the future of Europe’s e-publishing, technology-neutral regulations must be clearly asserted at the European level.

Kathy Sierra's Badass: Making Users Awesome – the book you all should read

I’ve been reading and re-reading Kathy Sierra’s book Badass: Making Users Awesome since it was released the other day and I can’t recommend it enough. I’ve been obsessing about teaching and skills development theory for over a decade now, ranging from the ideological like Ivan Illich and Neil Postman to the philosophical like John Dewey. Oh, and so many research studies. All this time I have never encountered a book that so cohesively ties together so many of teaching and training best practices into a single, sensible conceptual model.

Idle Sunday thoughts about web trends

I’m packing my stuff into boxes. At the last minute, of course, since the truck arrives early tomorrow morning. While I’m packing, I’ve been listening to a variety of podcasts on web development. I don’t listen to these podcasts for their information. In between the casual banter and chat that surrounds the usual talking points, a sense of a cohesive and mature craft starts to form. The conversations surrounding the craft bring out the art in it.

Repetition only works in fiction

Re-posted here from Medium for my own archives. Feel free to ignore. Again. Again. Again. It’s the mainstay of every narrative genre. In romance you have the persistent suitor. In comedy you have the running joke. In the heroic journey it represents the protagonist’s perseverence in the face of adversity. It’s the iconoclast fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. In plotting it’s an essential part of the narrative rhythm.

The web has covered the basics — that’s why it’ll get harder from now

This is a combination of two posts I originally wrote on Medium. Re-posted here merely for my own archives. Feel free to ignore. “Tired of Safari” and “Apple’s Web?” The drama surrounding touch events is a long-standing one and Apple has done a good job of playing the villain in this particular farce. This is just one facet of the core problem with the web as an application platform: we will never have a unified web app platform.

A draft of a chapter of some thoughts on things.

The following is a very early draft of a chapter from a book I’m writing with Tom Abba. Think of it as a couple of academics/creators trying to help other creators avoid all of the dumb mistakes they’ve made. It’s very early stages still but all feedback welcome (send them to baldur.bjarnason@gmail.com or to Tom, if you can dig up his contact details somewhere. Probably on his twitter. Or his home page.

Taking stock of 2013 and 2014

I’ve never been much for end-of-year traditions. New year’s resolutions, for example, seem like a reliable way of setting yourself up for the fall. Taking stock of the passing year, figuring out what worked and what didn’t, seems to be a sensible thing to do, though, irrespective of tradition. As I was sitting in a car stuck in a blizzard the other day (yay, Iceland!), I began to see the past two years as a unified whole.

The weather, of course

I’m back in Iceland, visiting over the holidays, and the local weather gods seem intent on making the visit as memorable as they can. Turns out that my flight yesterday was the last one that could land safely. I stepped out of the terminal, with my dad, into a snow storm with only a few yards of visibility. Now, normally, in Iceland that wouldn’t be a cause for much concern. With a decent driver, as long as you can see the road and the car in front of you, you’re going to be fine.

Publishing business ideas are a dime a dozen

Execution is the only thing that matters. So, here are a dozen simple ideas that popped into my head while I was on the train the other day. Keep the dime because ideas are actually not even worth that much. Some of these ideas are quite crap and dumb and vague so caveat emptor. Use software to leverage an old business model Use ecommerce to build a print book distribution company.

EU VAT changes shift the digital landscape

From The VATman Cometh, Destroying Businesses by Cheryl Morgan: Except that the new rules coming in next year have a turnover threshold of zero for digital products. Yes, that’s right. If all you do is sell one ebook, or a few knitting patterns on Etsy, or a little app you made for fun, you are required to register for VAT and file VAT returns once a quarter. Even if the tax involved is only pennies.

Money is a poor measure of value

A recent report on a report on ebook-lending by libraries decided to headline the fact that the lending didn’t increase ebook sales. Of course, when you dig into the thing you find that it isn’t that simple, that it only didn’t increase sales via a single specific mechanism, and that there is no real way here of connecting the dots to see if A causes a change in B (whatever A and B are).

On conferences

Publishing conferences are deadly serious Publishing conferences are ritual performances. They are to the varied segments of publishing what morality plays are to the various forms of Christianity. They are narratives that are organised to demonstrate, emphasise, and reinforce the orthodoxy. When heterodox speakers—like myself—are invited, we are there to perform a liturgical role. By providing a clear demonstration of threatening ideas from the outside, we end up giving the orthodoxy’s ideological centre a clearer delineation—reinforcing it.

Crushed by multinationals

From an interview on Salon with Cory Doctorow: But I don’t think that’s true of the majority of artists. I think the majority of artists get the least that the investor class can get away with. They are, from the perspective of the investor class, largely interchangeable. That is to say, if you plan to publish 15 fantasy novels this month that are going to be primarily aimed at people who are buying them in airports to read on an airplane, then really what matters is that you just have 15 novels that are of readable quality.

Software as a strategy: prefabricated publishers

Redux:

> > Activities that make money aren't strategic. Activities that affect a company’s ability to make money in the future are strategic. Where is the leverage? That's what is "strategic." Only software provides significant leverage in business today. (Alan Cooper – [https://storify.com/fakebaldur/software-and-strategy](https://storify.com/fakebaldur/software-and-strategy)) > >

Most publishers today don’t understand the role software has come to play in business strategy.

Software as strategy in the ebook world

The other day I storified a bunch of tweets by Alan Cooper on the strategic role of software in business.

Here’s the first half of it. You should go and read the rest.

> > All business activities that used to be strategic are now hygienic. Today, all that is strategic is software. Activities that make money aren't strategic. Activities that affect a company’s ability to make money in the future are strategic. Where is the leverage? That's what is "strategic." Only software provides significant leverage in business today. If your office lacks electricity or wifi, nobody shows up and nothing gets done. But neither electricity nor wifi are strategic. (Alan Cooper – [https://storify.com/fakebaldur/software-and-strategy](https://storify.com/fakebaldur/software-and-strategy)) > >

The five types of unpublished books

TL;DR version: go big or self-publish.

(The following was written to help me think through the possibilities for a couple of project I’m involved with. It may or may not be useful to others. Also, none of the following takes the need to diversify into consideration which could completely change the picture. As always, YMMV. And ‘book’ for the purposes of this blog post is any project, digital or print, that is primarily intended to be read.)

If you’ve written a book, there are basically five things you can do with it.

Four hundred words from Anita Elberse's book "Blockbusters"

Rather than spreading resources evenly across product lines (which might seem to be the most effective approach when no one knows for sure which products will catch on) and vigorously trying to save costs in an effort to increase profits, betting heavily on likely blockbusters and spending considerably less on the “also rans” is the surest way to lasting success in show business. […]

The splintered author

One of the major problems with yesterday’s blog post was my use of a derivative of the word ‘professional’ (or, ‘de-professionalised’ if you want my garbled, distorted, and modified to hell derivative).

That word, helpful and specific as it might seem at first glance, has a long history of being stretched, manipulated, and abused to suit people’s agendas. It has served very well those who have sought to be exclusionary and divisive.

It was quite possibly the worst term I could have used, except there aren’t that many alternatives with the meaning and history that fits.

So, instead, I’m going to describe very quickly the process that I’ve labeled as a ‘de-professionalisation’. That way, if you still disagree, you’ll at least know whether you disagree with my use of the term, my version of history, or my view of the present.

There is no war between Amazon and Traditional Publishing

There will never be peace in the war between Amazon and traditional publishing because there is no war.

One of the defining qualities of the current dispute between Amazon and Hachette is just how softly softly it is. These kind of disputes between a mega-retailer and a major supplier happen every day in other industries and are notably brutal. The retailers promote the supplier’s competitors heavily and with eye-bleeding discounts; they remove the supplier’s goods from sale completely; they pressure other companies to stop dealing with the misbehaving supplier. Most large retailers have clout and wield it. Amazon just lost ten times more on the Fire phone alone than they were ever likely to lose from properly blacklisting Hachette. In turn, Hachette isn’t playing hardball either. They aren’t making sweetheart deals with Amazon’s competitors. They aren’t organising eye-watering sales or promotions with B&N. They don’t have a competent direct sales platform they can use to leverage the publicity the dispute has generated. Both parties are just continuing with business as usual, just with a little bit less effort. The predominant characteristic of the argument is its sheer lack of inspiration. It’s pedestrian and mundane.

Ebooks suck for learning

On Twitter earlier I said this here thing:

> > There’s an implicit assumption in publishing commentary that the trajectory of media evolution (books, ebooks, websites, apps) is a known. That the long-term effects, drawbacks, & benefits of each medium will follow a predetermined path towards its manifest destiny. That ebook apps are as good as they'll ever be and will never integrate what research is discovering about learning and memory. That apps will always play the roles they play today. That websites will never reach beyond their current niche, except maybe into apps. > > > > These assumptions are all unsafe. Ebook apps are a young and unformed species. The future of web and app dev is dynamic and changing. > > > > What's more, the publishing industry isn't in charge of this evolution except insofar as it can sabotage ebooks with its misconceptions. > >

The Poisoning of Social Media: A Reading List

(Also on tumblr here.)

From What Is Privacy? by danah boyd:

> > When powerful actors, be they companies or governmental agencies, use the excuse of something being “public” to defend their right to look, they systematically assert control over people in a way that fundamentally disenfranchises them. > >

Wobbly Amazon

Breaking my blog silence for a thought

I remember two or three years ago at Frankfurt (I think it was three years ago, but not quite sure) trying to convince people that Amazon’s position wasn’t as strong as the industry thinks.

This week's must-read post

Clare Reddington has written this here post (based on a talk she did) on some of the things she has learned from leading the Pervasive Media Studio and working at the Watershed.

I could have quoted almost every paragraph but this particular one describes my personal experience with the publishing industry, in a nutshell:

Friends don’t let their friends become authors

Being an Author is a Shit Job

Even if you don’t believe any of the pessimistic reports and anecdotes about author income and even if you do believe all of the overly optimistic ones (hi Hugh ::waves::) being a book author is one of the shittiest jobs in the media industry. And that’s saying something, since sleaze and exploitation is the rule rather than the exception in media.

Both at the same time

I shouldn’t have to say this before but it obviously needs saying.

Everybody speaks as if only one thing—the thing they want to be true—can be true at a time.

Fucking morons.

So I had to make an ebook cover...

Making ebook covers is a relatively new task for designers and there haven’t exactly been many lengthy discussions on the topic. If there were any lengthy discussions I completely missed them which is entirely unsurprising. (I was probably too busy watching videos on Youtube of dogs running into walls and cats falling off furniture.)

I didn’t think of googling “how to make an ebook cover” until last week and my first advice is don’t buy a book about designing ebook covers if the book in question has an ugly cover. It’s just good sense. Otherwise googling ebook covers is good fun and I highly recommend it.

So long, Readmill, and thanks for all the fish

I wish it had gone differently. I don’t fault Readmill for selling at this point. They did excellent work.

I’ve previously gone on record about my enthusiasm for their platform. (Which reminds me, I need to do a followup to that post, Kindle for iOS has improved dramatically.) Unlike most other firms designing ebook readers, Readmill understood that all of the typographic variables are interconnected. Unlike others, their defaults were beautiful to read.

What ebook production problems are self-publishers facing?

Driven by curiosity (as always), I’ve just spend a large part of my lunch break browsing through various forums[1], trying to get a handle on what problems self-publishers are facing when they are creating their ebooks.

My impression is that, unlike what I expected from the work and challenges I face making ebooks for a traditional publisher, styling and formatting isn’t a major issue—formatting problems seem limited to edge cases. I’m assuming this is because most self-publishers are doing novels with very simple style needs.

The problems people seem to be facing, in no particular order:

Many stories, many truths

Once upon a time there was a man from Iceland who attended a conference in Canada.

The weather was, by any sane measure, awful. The temperature was borderline arctic. Snow covered everything.

But it reminded him of home.

Problem statements for digital publishing research

The publishing industry has an absolute mess of unanswered questions that need further investigation if we are to solve its problems.

Here are a few relevant problem statements, off the top of my head. I’d be very surprised if these questions aren’t answerable with a bit of work.

To do, to do

Yesterday’s blog post is the last in the pile of previously unpublished posts that I intend to publish.

There’s more left in the pile, about ten last I checked, but I’m not going to be publishing them.

iBooks Author tempts you with bling

It’s very easy to make a decent-looking ebook in iBooks Author, then drop in a bunch of expensive and badly thought out interactive doohickeys and call it a day.

This is a mistake. A regular book ‘decorated’ with interactive tumours growing throughout its body is not an improvement over even a regular ebook.

Microsoft Word is a liability

Word has for many years now been the publishing industry’s de facto editorial and production format. Once you move into the world of digital, Word ceases to become a foundation and instead becomes a pair of cement shoes dragging you underwater. It is the worst possible format for the purpose.

The print design mentality

Screen design isn’t print design and will never be print design, no matter how high the screen’s resolution gets.

Digital design needs to account for a level of changeability and dynamism that print has never had to deal with. The interaction model of print is embodied in the book object and not in the on-page design. The interaction model of digital has to be accounted for in the screen design itself and functionality needs to be specifically designed.

Book contracts

Reminder to aggrieved authors: Nobody holds a gun to your head and forces you to sign a contract. > > -- Don Linn (@DonLinn) [February 12, 2014](https://twitter.com/DonLinn/statuses/433573195476508672)

Normally, whenever Don tweets anything I just nod my head in agreement and move on.

My response to this tweet, however, was more ambivalent because it seems to imply that we shouldn’t be complaining about unfair standard practices in the publishing industry.

Intermission: sorting through the banal

Everybody who knows what I do assumes that I’ve given up on print books.

You make ebooks? Haha, you don’t need any bookcases then, do you? Must be nice.

Not that I haven’t used it as an excuse once in a while. As a rejection, it’s a little bit nicer than telling somebody that I don’t want their book because it isn’t good enough to put on my shelf—oh, and the cover’s ugly to boot.

HTML is too complex

(This is the ninth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) The syntax of HTML and XML—angle brackets and closing elements—isn’t complex. It’s tedious, but it isn’t complex. If the problem lay in the basic syntax we’d have an easy time fixing it. The problem with markup complexity lies in the underlying model. Or, in the lack of one. Simply put, HTML is a mess. This is from an email sent by Matthew Thomas to the WhatWG mailing list (that list was at the time responsible for the development of HTML5) almost ten years ago.

The ebook as an API

(This is the eighth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) The problem many publishers are facing is that their titles need to be reused in a variety of contexts. Book apps are very unfashionable at the moment but there is a brisk trade in small, fairly cheap, and functional apps based on book content, where the content is often licensed by a small app development outfit from a small publishing outfit or book packager.

My last word on DRM

Trying to change a major publisher’s mind on DRM is a lost cause. That’s why even though I disagree with IDPF’s DRM efforts, I can only hope that their work will result in the wholesale adoption of a completely ineffective and useless DRM technique and bring us into a de facto DRM-free world. (You could argue DRM isn’t a problem for existing consumers. That’s true, but only because we just buy from Amazon.

Except, except, except

—_Publishers really invest in quality and editing._ Except editors keep getting laid off as a part of cost cuts. —_If you want proper marketing for your book you need a publisher._ Except you’re expected to do most of the online marketing yourself, and online is where all the sales are happening. —_You need a publisher if you want the book to look good.

A thought exercise

Which may or may not make sense. Imagine that we have a resource mineral that, while not vital to the survival of the human race or essential to continuing technological progress, plays a pretty important role of making said things easier, more convenient, and bearable. Now imagine that this mineral needs to be refined before it becomes a useful product. The big six refineries have locked down all of the rights to all of the major sources of the mineral, which they stockpile.

Losing faith in yourself

(This is the sixth Stumbling into Publishing post.) It always starts well because I always start alone. Working by myself, I have the peace of mind to just focus on the work, work on the components, polish the details, and simply go where my interest takes me. Sometimes you share with people you trust; never more than with a small group. Sometimes you lose interest and just stop. You are working alone and so who is going to judge you for giving up?

Changing your readership mix

(This is the seventh post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) The mix of reader types in your readership isn’t an unchangeable fact, a curse bound in iron by the gods of old, a universal constant for all eternity. It can be changed. Actually, that isn’t really true. The readership mix for most titles and genres is probably set in stone, one of those big blocks of ‘fixed, can’t change’ that you just have to work around.

Sex, education, readers, and futures: what works, what doesn't

Now that I’m running down a long queue of mostly ready posts, it’s interesting to see which of them get traction and which don’t. These are posts that were written at varying times and in varying situations over the past year and a half and have received a diverse amount of attention when it comes to rewriting and editing. Unfortunately, I pretty much nailed the pattern last week in when I wrote that blogging has trained me to assume you’re stupid.

The various types of readers

(This is the sixth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) (Before I start, I’d like to make sure you know this is all speculation and probably wrong.) My guess is you can break book consumers into broadly five different kind of behaviours. Emphasis here is on consumers so this doesn’t cover corporate, institutional, or similar professional purchases at all. Heavy reader. People who buy several books a month, read most of them, and still have a mile-high ‘to read’ list.

The unevenly distributed ebook future

(This is the fifth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) Data serves the status quo. Anything new or undiscovered by definition does not have a data footprint. Existing data collection and filtering techniques have biases that do not take the unknown or unfamiliar into account. Unless you have a clear theory and a well-designed experiment to prove or disprove it, the only thing more data will tell you is that your preconceptions and existing biases are correct.

Sex, violence, and stílbrot

(This is the fifth Stumbling into Publishing post.) One flaw (out of many) that’s endemic in my writing is that I tend to introduce detail that’s either irrelevant, too early, or too late. Like describing the cut and pattern of somebody’s clothes before the cultural origin of said design becomes important or adding superfluous technical detail to a post when you only need the general idea. A lot of the time adding detail detracted and obfuscated the effect I was driving for.

Recipe for pundit response to Hugh Howey’s suggestions

Recently, Hugh Howey wrote two interesting blog posts that outline what changes he would enact if he became the benevolent dictator of a large publishing company. Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge I recently posted an audacious claim that major publishers are bound to emulate indies, which would be quite the reversal. I want to now explore how publishers could actually do this, how they could learn from self-published authors.

Bling it up for education

(This is the fourth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) One industry gambit these days is to annotate a literary classic with videos and audio and all sorts of interactive content before foisting a cacophony of celebrity videos on unsuspecting students—who are wholly undeserving of the torture, annoying as they can be. The theory is that these apps are the natural progression from those hefty annotated versions of Shakespeare’s crap and other similar monstrosities that are used in education.

Blogging has trained me to assume you’re stupid

(This is the fourth Stumbling into Publishing post.) One of my biggest regrets with the Knights & Necromancers series is how generic it sounds. Not just the title—if it were just the title I could have fixed that by changing it. No, the problem is that the stories seem impossible to summarise without sounding like generic cookie-cutter sword and sorcery fiction because that was the foundation I built on. I’d like to think I made something more of it but that ‘something’ is a thing too vague to boil down and market.

Ergodic literature

(This is the third post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) Ergodic literature is a fancy term for being intentionally over-wrought and difficult. Sometimes this can be an effective tool, much like when a psychotic gym teacher forces you to run several times around the Reykjavík Pond the exercise makes you appreciate a coke and a hot dog (with ketchup and crispy fried onions) that much more.

What I thought I wanted versus what I really wanted

(This is the third Stumbling into Publishing post.) The project idea was simple: write and publish a series of novella-length ebooks. The reason was even simpler: to learn about ebooks and publishing. I had a few requirements at the start. I was only going to put together four to six stories. Not just for my sake, but also for the reader. I wanted to make sure that the reader had an end in sight.

The mistake of 'enhancing' novels

(This is the second post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) A novel does not benefit from a host of videos of talking heads, interactive maps, or the kind of gunk that clutters up most DVD extras. A novel is not a movie. The film production and marketing process lends itself towards the whole DVD extras phenomenon. You have dozens of unused scenes, a special effects team, the filming crew, and an army of people performing various roles.

Pessimistic ramblings and other fun links (week overview + further reading)

My stuff ### I wrote an end-of-year, start-of-year post Lot of people thought it was pessimistic and depressing. It’s probably depressing, but that’s because life is depressing (economic collapse, environmental collapse, corruption, plutocracies, etc., etc., it’s sensible to be depressed about the state of the world). Is it pessimistic? No, I don’t think so. I can think of a lot worse scenarios (lot lot worse). In this scenario at least people are writing.

Stumbling into publishing

(This is the second Stumbling into Publishing post.) If it looks like I have focus, that’s just because every hour, every minute, every second of every day, I feel lost. I eye the world seeking sense and finding patterns in the same way a man on a sinking ship eyes the horizon desperately for sight of land. I’d like to call it curiosity but it really is more than that; deeper and more obsessive.

The publishing industry's new product categories

(This is the first post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.) A while back it was popular at many of the bigger publishers out there to release apps that they called ‘enhanced ebooks’. Some of them were branded as ‘book apps’, but that name too suffers from the same basic idiocy. Enhanced ebooks is quite possibly the worst possible name that anybody could have thought of for a piece of media.

The last two Knights and Necromancers stories

(This is the first Stumbling into Publishing post.) A while back I started an experiment where I self-published a series of sword and sorcery novellas. I’m ready to declare the experiment a failure for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason isn’t that I didn’t get any readers (although they were very few and far between) but that I’m dissatisfied with the product. When I started I had what I thought were six decent novellas.

Random, loosely connected, thoughts on the future

Some end-of-year thoughts. Few of them happy ones. Rule of thumb, anybody who hesitates to spend $10 on a product that will improve an activity is performing that activity as an amateur (i.e. isn’t earning an income on that activity or doesn’t see it as an income-earner). This is a rule of thumb for the producer, not a judgement of the buyer. The idea is that if you produce a work that improves somebody’s professional activity your price, even discounted, should be much higher than that of an entertainment product.

The Checklist: fix iBooks image handling

Mike Cane suggested that I put together a checklist of problems that need to be fixed in ebook format handling so those at fault could be made accountable. So here goes the first entry: Hey Apple! Fix iBook’s image handling! Because it is totally broken. When building an ebook with images you have two options today for how to prepare images for iBooks: None of them will display properly

Great text transcends nothing

Disclaimer: Working on ebooks is how I make my living. Therefor you should take everything I write about ebooks with a grain of salt. Anybody whose economic future depends on specific viewpoints is more likely to hold those views, if not for any other reason than to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Yes, that does mean you should be sceptical about bankers on banking, real estate agents on real estate, and insurance salespeople on insurance, especially when they are defending the societal value of their profession as a whole.

Quarantine all ebooks

Michael Kozlowski had this here reactionary fit: I think its very important for all major bookstores to have an indie section because small publishers and indie authors are abusing the system. Others have highlighted the problems with this plan. The short version of the counter-argument: what’s a self-publisher? Most of the major ebook retail platforms direct small publishers to use their self-serve platforms not everybody who uses them is a solo author publishing his own work.

The self-publisher's perspective of the ebook market

The writer Rosen Trevithick said this here thing: For goodness sake Kobo, I took a risk publishing some of my titles with a relatively small eBook vendor. It took days to jump through your formatting hoops and I lost my bonuses for being exclusive to Amazon. I did this because I wanted to support an alternative to the market leader. You reward me by stabbing small publishing companies in the back.

Light evening trauma

One of the guilty pleasures me and my sister have is our enjoyment of crap TV, usually chatting on IM as we do, shaking our heads at the crap we’re watching. —OMG, I can’t believe X did Y to Z.’ —I know! That is sooo out of character, the writers must have it in for X. And so on. Last year Grimm and Warehouse 13 served the purpose nicely. Mostly inoffensive silly fun.

Just say no to ebook CSS and JS

You think I’m joking? One of the biggest issue publishers face with ebook production is the somewhat adversarial attitude ereader and app vendors have taken towards publisher stylesheets. Publisher styles are largely overridden by default at Kobo, B&N, and in Aldiko. Even iBooks requires you to slot in a set of proprietary meta tags before it respects your font and image decisions. Problems with vendor stylesheet overrides: They are inconsistent from platform to platform, vendor to vendor, and device to device.

The Google Wave Heuristic

What dooms software projects? Everybody quotes the opening lines of Anna Karenina at some point. You know the one. It’s the bit about happy families being all alike in their yaddayadda-blabla and how unhappy families are all unhappy in their unique blablabla. There’s plenty of stuff in Anna Karenina you could quote, but I guess most people give up on it before they get to the second half. Which is a pity because it’s a good book.

Amazon's biggest ally is Apple

I’ve never understood why people position Apple and Amazon as rivals in the ebook game. While it’s true that the two have clashed that conflict is a result of incompatible platform goals, not rivalry. Conflict is not rivalry and two organisations that conflict occasionally may well be allies in the bigger picture where rivals may not. Let me elucidate… The Apple/Amazon conflict has presented itself in a variety of ways:

Readmill versus Kindle – Readmill is worth the hassle

Last week I decided to reread a couple of books in Readmill that I had previously read in the iOS Kindle app. Let’s see how the two compare. Kindle for iOS It’s a turd. There’s no way to express just how awful that app is while still couching your annoyance in polite language. It’s not awful. It’s fucking awful. Of course, some of the annoyance stems from general Kindle awfulness such as frequent bugs in how the platform does sharing and general disregard for basic typography.

Proprietary ebook formats versus DRM

Micah made this here statement on Twitter the other day, articulating neatly what a lot of us have been thinking for a while now: It is not random that Amazon does not use EPUB. Consumers dislike DRM, but are all right with proprietary formats. -- Micah (@micahsb) [August 17, 2013](https://twitter.com/micahsb/statuses/368546780943642624) Very true. It’s something that has bothered me for years and years. I spent years arguing against the use of proprietary formats in interactive media academia (they were unnaturally fond of what was then Macromedia Director).

Publishing has catered to dumb for a long while

The following is from The Technique of the Novel - A Handbook on the Craft of the Long Narrative, originally written in 1947: Why aren’t novels better? It is surprising that they are not worse. Real profits are made in the publishing business by employing highly talented individuals who understand, intuitively in most cases, I believe, the dumb yearnings of dumb people and devise products to please them and keep them dumb and happy.

Computers are too difficult and people are computer illiterate

There are quite a few things that prevent people from learning and acquiring new skills. This isn’t a bad thing since what many of these ‘blockers’ have in common is that they tend to help us in unfamiliar environments and new problems. Some of these ingrained heuristics are biological (i.e. infants begin to exhibit them early). Some of them are cultural. We have an internal built in physics model that helps us interact with the world around us.

Why disruption goes unchecked

Good advice goes counter to established common sense A few months ago, while I was filling an unexpected surplus of free time, I asked myself the following question: —Hypothetically, what would your advice be if a medium-to-large publishing company came to you asking how they should handle the shift to digital? On face value, this is an easy question with an easy answer because the literature and research tells us exactly what they should do.

Make ebooks worth it

Turns out this post is a part of an impromptu series of blog posts. Didn’t plan it this way: Ebook silos and missed opportunities Ebook silos, update Ebooks and cognitive mapping There’s a theme been running through all my blog posts this week. In fact, a single theme runs through all of my writing on ebooks; the driving idea behind all of my thoughts on the subject.

Ebooks and cognitive mapping

The following series of tweets by @seriouspony (Kathy Sierra) tie into a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, namely cognitive mapping. "...digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues..." [http://t.co/zjjRC4W2gA](http://t.co/zjjRC4W2gA). [#](https://twitter.com/seriouspony/statuses/364786401159561217) * * * I'm gonna error on the side of Carry Context Forward. Too many books assume reader has preternaturally awesome memory.

Ebook silos, update

Yesterday, I wrote a post on ebook silos and missed opportunities. Some people seem to be missing the core criticism in the post. The problem, as I see it, is in the infrastructure and in the market we have in place. This is not a lament for how lazy people must be or how stupid existing developers are for not implementing these things already. Existing ebook reading apps are bland out of necessity.

Ebook silos and missed opportunities

ETA: I’ve posted a followup to this post that hopefully clarifies things and offers a few suggestions: Ebook silos, update. Ebooks can be transformed by context. Print books cannot. No matter where you take the print book, no matter what room you read it in, it will remain in the same form and have the same affordances as it did on the day it was first stacked in the bookstore.

Technology is not inherently good

Technology won't solve the world's food problems; without better institutions, it will simply amplify inequality and inequity. -- umair haque (@umairh) [August 5, 2013](https://twitter.com/umairh/statuses/364464699481812993) I’ve never meet a self-proclaimed geek who understands this. Technology is not something that’s inherently good, where more of it solves more problems and improving it improves our lot. If we implement servile AIs and pervasive automation, that won’t be used to create a society of abundance and leisure but to make the rich richer while the unemployed starve.

Administrative note on baldurbjarnason.com and feeds

This just a short note to say that I’m planning on doing most of my blogging here at Studio Tendra. I will be pointing the RSS feed at www.baldurbjarnason.com at the one on this blog from now on so some of you might get double entries if you are subscribed to both. I’ll put a similar note up on www.baldurbjarnason.com whenever I get around to it :-) Oh, and I wrote a blog post over on futurebook.

Posted without comment

From Black Mass by John Gray: Secular thinkers find this view of human affairs dispiriting, and most have retreated to some version of the Christian view in which history is a narrative of redemption. The most common of these narratives are theories of progress, in which the growth of knowledge enables humanity to advance and improve its condition. Actually, humanity cannot advance or retreat, for humanity cannot act; there is no collective entity with intentions or purposes, only ephemeral struggling animals each with its own passions and illusions.

The inefficiencies of joy

The following is from Joseph A. Tainter’s paper Social complexity and sustainability (2006): Subsistence farmers also tend to underproduce, so that labor is underutilized and inefficiently deployed. Posposil (1963) observed Kapauku Papuans of New Guinea, for example, working only about 2 h a day at agriculture. Robert Carneiro found that Kuikuru men in the Amazon Basin spend 2 h each day at agricultural work and 90 min fishing.

Winner takes all versus the Matthew effect

Winner takes all There’s a vague notion going around. For some it’s a suspicion, for others it has become a certainty, the rest of us worry and hope it’s wrong. It’s the idea that the internet exaggerates the sales inequality of media markets. That, by massively enabling word of mouth and social networking, the web means that we will only get mega-bestsellers or flops, with little to nothing in between.

What you people read (on my websites)

One of the basic problems with website ‘analytics’ is that a lot of the data is just noise. We have no real insight into cause and effect—that traffic sources section is insidious because it often amounts to little more than misdirection, knowing where people come from almost never tells you why they came. The scary and frightening fact is that the effectiveness of our online marketing and traffic generation tactics is probably due to random chance—spending time on a particular source of traffic is no different from just buying more lottery tickets.

Tolerating the heat, noticing the water

I’m not suited to this heat. I don’t know if it’s genetic or merely a side effect of being raised in Iceland but my comfort zone for outdoor temperature is anywhere between 10-18˚C, 15 degrees being ideal. So, in an effort to keep going during very English heatwave (‘30˚C! how will we survive?’) I headed out to a café with a book (Black Mass by John Gray) intent on surviving on icy cold lemonade for the afternoon.

If the Kindle fails so will ebooks

I don’t get why anti-Amazon people get up in arms whenever they find an author who links to the Amazon pages for their books. Or whenever a publisher out there seems to favour the Seattle Behemoth over the ‘honourable’ opposition. I get why people don’t like Amazon. They are a big, competitive, ruthless, anti-union tax avoider that treats low level staff (like, say, warehouse employees) like slave labour. There’s a lot not to like.

Followup to 'this ebook is a lemon'

There have been a few responses to my ‘This ebook is a lemon’ post earlier. Most of them either omit or misunderstand details from the post, which means that I probably wasn’t clear enough in the original. So here is a followup with a few clarifications based on issues raised. It’s not an analogy I was not comparing ebooks to cars. I was, like Akerlof in his paper, using cars to explain the ‘market of lemons’ dynamic.

This ebook is a lemon

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of both Akerlof and Romer, not just the paper they co-wrote on looting in the financial system but also their work individually. Turns out one of Akerlof’s most famous papers is directly relevant to the ebook market. For starters, a few basic premises. If you disagree with any one of these you can feel free to ignore the entire argument. I can easily pick apart any one of these statements myself, so I’d understand it very well if you disagreed with them.

Caught between madmen and mercenaries

This is not a comment on the recent court ruling on Apple, agency contracts, and price fixing. But a cursory glance at the history of ebook retail makes one conclusion crystal clear: Ebook retail is a horrible horrible business to be in. On one side you have self-destructive madmen like the big publishers who have done the following lovely things to their ebook retail partners: Abruptly changing all ebook distribution contracts to agency.

Major update to Studio Tendra's Oz project

The Oz Reading Club has been updated with books seven and eight. And since I forgot to blog about books five and six, that means we’ve de facto got a massive four book update on our hands. And we’ve reached a major milestone. Yup. We’re more than halfway through L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. What do you think about the covers Jenný has illustrated so far? [caption id=“attachment_875” align=“alignleft” width=“281”] 1.

What are self-publishing's biggest pain points?

I’ve found that the more time you spend in a problem area the more you realise how many of your preconceptions were mistaken.

So, instead of just assuming I know what the pain points of self-publishing are based on my own experience, I figure the best thing to do is to simply ask people.

In general, publishers face two separate problem areas:

  1. Making the book as good as possible. This means making the text as good as possible (writing and editing) and making the product as good as possible (typesetting and design).

  2. Finding a paying readership for the book. (Selling, marketing, PR, events, etc..)

I’m pretty sure most problems self-publishers face fall into those same areas but I also suspect that their specifics and details are going to be unique to self-publishing.

And by self-publishing I basically mean any publisher with only one or two employees and who publishes only ebooks.

So, what are self-publishing’s biggest pain points? I’d really appreciate any answers, either in the comments below, twitter or, if you want, in email. (My email is baldur.bjarnason@gmail.com for those who prefer not to contribute in public.)

Intellectual terrain

Books today are for sharing, not reading

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be read once. Cyril Connolly, [Enemies of Promise](http://www.amazon.com/Enemies-Promise-Cyril-Connolly/dp/0226115046)

I’ve been reading Cyril Connelly’s Enemies of Promise. It is wonderful, brilliant, and meandering; analytical where complexity requires it to analyse; spiritual where the soul needs to be fed; and optimistic just when your spirit is about to break.

It also manages to make you think about what you’re doing and where you’re coming from.

Which is humbling.

Despite the wide ground it covers — style, autobiography, grammar — it maintains a steady focus on the subject of promise, what it means to be a promising writer and how it either pans out or doesn’t.

It’s meandering in the same way that a hiker meanders. Like Connelly, the hiker has a destination and they aren’t diverging from their path, but the terrain they are covering simply doesn’t lend itself to direct routes. You can’t run a marathon or sprint without a road or a track. Uneven terrain requires a wandering path.

Modern writing, the chatter that fills websites, newspapers, and short ebooks, doesn’t account for terrain. They are mental sprints — short bursts along a paved road where everything uneven and unnatural has been removed, cut away, or flattened. The longer books might qualify as marathons, but they still only track along the ready-made roads of pre-fabricated ideology and and cookie-cutter abstract arguments.

Good books don't win

> > The editorial fallacy is the belief that all of a publisher’s strategic problems can be solved by pursuing and publishing the finest books and articles. (From _[The Editorial Fallacy](http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2010/09/08/the-editorial-fallacy/)_) > >

This is a belief that seems to be pervasive among large sections of the publishing industry. It’s also a very mistaken belief. The problem isn’t just with the idea that the only thing a publisher needs to do to succeed is publish good books (which is patently untrue) but also with the basic premise.

Namely, what is a good book?

Why does it matter?

Last week I wrote a blog post where I outlined some of the reasons why I think ebooks aren’t a disruptive innovation. Latched onto that argument was the observation that despite all of the changes the publishing industry has seen over the past few years the actual shape of the market hasn’t changed that much. Amazon was the dominant force in the market before ebooks. Indigo, Kobo’s former parent company was a dominant force in Canadian book retail.

Which kind of innovation?

Arresting iterative improvement. A key property of disruptive innovations is that they improve very fast. Ebooks have stalled. Instead of iterating on ebook formats and features based on customer adoption and needs, ebooks are leaping headlong into complexity. They are sustaining to the current order—a disruptive innovation hijacked, controlled, and directed by the incumbents. It could have been truly disruptive but is now instead a discontinuous sustaining innovation. So…

Books and Print Showcase

Yesterday (1 May 2013) I went to the showcase for the REACT Books and Print sandbox. In their own words: Books&Print Sandbox is supporting eight ground-breaking collaborations between creative economy partners and academic researchers to explore Books and Print as historical, contemporary or future phenomena. In other words, a sandbox for trying crazy things, where failure is relatively safe for everybody involved, something that’s a rarity for many of the ‘creative economy’ partners (I always find the term creative economy weird for some reason).

Peasants

I have moved from Iceland to the UK three times in my life. The third, which not so coincidentally took place in 2008, is likely to be the last.

(The two attributed quotes in this post are thanks to Íris Erlingsdóttir’s awesome blog post where she collected them all in Icelandic.)

The first time I moved back to Iceland was in 1984 when my parents returned after finishing their studies abroad. Of course, knowing our luck, we returned at the start of what ended up being one of Iceland’s longest general strikes, lasting from the 4th of October to the 30th.

Iceland was in an economic crisis, what we call ‘kreppa’. What most foreigners don’t realise is that Iceland has been in a bipolar boom-bust cycle ever since we declared independence from the Danish. And before that we were in a poverty spiral of misery, hunger, and sky-high childhood mortality rates.

For the love

Why I joined Unbound and other assorted observations on the publishing industry. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I fell in love with the book as a form – a medium – but it must have happened when I was seven. That’s when I began my twice-weekly treks to the local library, maxing out my library card in each trip. Of course, years later I discovered that some of the books I loved as a child actually sucked in other languages, that the Icelandic translator had ‘fixed’ the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and other series as he translated them, smoothing out inconsistencies, improving the dialogue, and generally turning them from tripe to tolerable entertainment literature.

The idiocies of young men

Giles Bowkett on one of Silicon Valley’s most persistent delusions: If by "the smartest people" you mean "the smartest young, single geeks in Silicon Valley with time on their hands but no idea how to party," then it's basically true, or close enough. It can even stay mostly true when you broaden it to "the smartest geeks in Silicon Valley." But if by "

Studio Tendra's grand and marvellous Oz Reading Club

Revealing our super-secret project

It’s time to announce Studio Tendra’s second major project: The OZ Reading Club.

The idea is simple:

We are going to release two ebooks in the Oz series per month until we’ve released all fourteen of L. Frank Baum’s original ebooks. Each ebook will have a new cover illustrated by Jenný and will be designed and formatted by me, Baldur.

You, if you are so inclined, are invited to read them along with us, two per month, as we release them. Every book page also has a comment thread where you can tell us what you thought of it. (Comments are moderated, of course.)

We’ll announce every new release here, on the OZ Reading Club site, on twitter, and on Google Plus.

The first two books are available now.

Iceland’s ‘crowd-sourced’ constitution is dead

The true history of Iceland’s ‘innovative’ constitutional reform.

One of the recurring issues in news coverage on Iceland is how absolutely rubbish foreign news media is at reporting about Iceland.

We’ve seen how detached from reality economic news on Iceland is, ignoring our burgeoning mortgage crisis and the consequences of the government’s harsh austerity measures.

Their frothy and exuberant reports about Iceland’s proposed new constitution also tend to gloss over the details and ignore domestic discourse in favour of completely fabricated spin.

If you read what foreign language blogs and newspapers wrote about the constitution you’d believe that it was a daring experiment going from success to success and that we were now enjoying a completely new crowd-sourced constitution that had been passed into law with a referendum last autumn. Which is not true.

A complete and total clusterfuck is much closer to the truth.

The B&N fallacy

Ebook retailers should stop making hardware and stop making ebook reading apps. This blog post is written in the time-honoured fashion of blogging where I aim to clear up what I think is a common misconception, get carried away, and spiral into an almost philosophical point on bigger issues. The misconception that serves as the seed here is the idea that Barnes & Noble is in the devices business. They aren’t.

Hire me!

I’m without a day job as of a few days ago. You can help me find new work. I hope. :-) About a month ago, the company that had recently acquired my employer decided to ‘refocus’ (the details are a long story and not mine to tell). As a result I, along with a platoon’s worth of engineers, salespeople, and marketing folk, was suddenly without a job. They took great pains to tell us all that they had no complaints about our performance or capabilities, it was just that they weren’t going to do what we do anymore and so didn’t need us.

A question only you can answer

Knights and Necromancers three and four are finally out on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes, Below is a full list of links to where you can find them. But first…

I have a question only you can answer. Which isn’t saying much, since every question I can’t answer is one only you can answer, ‘you’ being the quintessential ‘not me’.

The question is this:

What reviewers do you think might be interested in reviewing the Knights and Necromancers series?

What would a matriarchy look like?

While working the last two stories in the Knights and Necromancers series (stories five and six) I ran into this simple, yet complex, problem.

What does a matriarchy look like?

Or, more to the specific point I ran into with those two stories:

How would a woman from a matriarchy respond to visiting a patriarchy?

Respect the reader

I'm sitting here trying to write but a web page I saw a few weeks ago keeps bugging me. Gather together a bunch of web developers and you’ll find it hard to get any of them to disagree with the principle that you should always respect the user and their wishes. Of course, they all turn around and make hideous websites, with awful readability, loaded with ads, but they will all also loudly proclaim that they had no choice.

33 observations on the year 2012

The year in retrospect. Doing good work is its own reward, while sharing it leads to suffering. Most of the time nobody will notice, so it’s hard to see why anybody should bother. My ideas got a lot more attention than I expected, which has been very cool. Best case scenario for doing stuff online is that people will start knocking on your door, asking you to work for free, never offering to give anything in return.

Knights and Necromancers: new books and megapacks!

Knights and Necromancers three and four are ready to be released but you can get them a bit earlier than the rest.

The third and fourth book in the series have both been submitted to Kobo, Apple, and Amazon for their pre-publication vetting process (which, frankly, can take days).

But you can get them sooner, if you really really want. :-)

The falcon's shriek

I was just strolling through downtown Reykjavík, it being one of my quiet days off (no twitter, no social networks, limited email), munching on a hot dog, as I spotted a couple of ravens. One thing that people often forget is that Iceland has a rich mythology beyond that of the nordic mythologies. Of course, without us, nobody would remember much about the nordic gods, since Iceland is the only place that properly documented and preserved those myths, but Iceland’s myths continued to evolve and grow after we turned to Christianity.

What is actually going on in Iceland

Because I’m tired of you people spreading untruths Since people continue to spread the factually dubious statement that Iceland “told creditors & IMF to go jump, nationalised banks, arrested the fraudsters, gave debt relief and is now growing very strongly, thanks” I find I have to write this here thing. (This specific example comes from twitter but is almost identical, word for word, to the standard ‘Iceland is an economic utopia’ mantra that is being repeated ad nauseam.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy Yule etc… From the Yule Cat. [caption id=“attachment_629” align=“aligncenter” width=“480”] Fine, I won’t eat you this year.[/caption] Hope you had a nice one.

Tag soup is history

HTML5's biggest and most important feature has gone unnoticed by many outside of browser vendor circles. HTML5 has been hyped for so long now that sometimes it feels like it has looped through the hype cycle several times. We’ve all seen the hype around the media tags and its associated codec scandal. Then we had the hype around the semantic elements, some of which are practical, some of which aren’t (coughhgroupcough).

Schlock

One question that often pops up on twitter or in discussions around algorithmically generated books like these is, well, how do we stop them? We can’t. Free access to publishing tools means something different from what you thought it did, and has different consequences. One of the consequences of anybody being able to publish is that everybody can publish, not just the worthy few who big publishing never got around to or those who were a little bit too weird, innovative, or unique for an editor to take a risk.

Strange definitions of 'nice'

This post caught my attention the other day and it has been bugging me since. Unfortunately, and I never thought I’d have to write this on one of my blog posts, this one needs a trigger warning for rape. The post is ‘Nice guys commit rape too’ and the nuttery doesn’t end at the title. On the night in question, there was drinking. A lot of it. I wasn’t there, but there was probably some drugging.

Books of Christmas Past

My original intention with this post was to write about beautifully designed books from past years but I admit I lost my way a bit. No matter, it was mostly an excuse to talk about a lovely book published last year called “Íslenskir fuglar” by Benedikt Gröndal. Benedikt Gröndal was a very talented man. He was a poet, artist and a natural scientist. He was the first director of The Icelandic Natural History Society in 1889 whose main goal was to build a Museum of Natural History in Reykjavík.

Using IDs in CSS

I made the decision a while back to not use ID selectors in my CSS code. Although the decision was informed by the discussion and debate surrounding Nicole Sullivan's OOCSS the reasons, ultimately are more wider ranging than that. The conversation so far On one side we have a group of experienced CSS developers who say that it is advisable to use ID selectors as little as possible. The reasons are generally simple:

Design highlights from the Icelandic book season

[caption id=“attachment_549” align=“alignright” width=“293”] Gísli from Uppsalir[/caption] Like so many professional illustrators, I just happen to work in retail. My particular expertise is actually art supplies but the store I work in also sells office supplies and books. And since now is the most exciting time in Icelandic publishing, I’d like to talk about a few books coming out in this year’s Christmas Book Flood. During this time a lot of our effort goes into piling up books on massive tables, constantly changing the prices in attempt to have the best offers and flipping through “Bókatíðindi” (Bókatíðindi is a catalogue that lists all the books published this year) trying our utmost to memorise every single book.

News, updates, and the Icelandic book market

I’ve been mouthing off all over the place over the last few days, as usual. I wrote a blog post on the Tools of Change blog on ebook standardisation issues. One of the comments on that blog annoyed me so much that I replied to it on my own blog. The entire kerfuffle was enough for me to swear off online format and standards discussions entirely. Not much loss, IMO, as I plan on spending my time instead blogging about design, development, and process issues.

A response, of sorts

I wrote a post on Tools of change a while back on issues that need standardisation. Because the ToC blog doesn’t do comment notifications I didn’t notice that Bill McCoy had replied to it until today. Since the comment thread on the original post is quite dead, I decided to reply to it here. (I don’t understand why people keep demanding that blogs implement comment support. They clearly don’t work on most sites that do have them and the responses you get via email or other blogs are always much more substantial than anything you get in a comment thread.

High tide and a room of your own

[caption id=“attachment_532” align=“alignnone” width=“600”] Under the glacier[/caption] The germ of the idea behind ‘Loot, kill, obey’ comes from two sources, one literary, one from real life. The literary germ is going to be obvious to you once I mention it: Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Specifically the scene with the wreckers towards the end. Of course that led to a bunch of research that revealed how the whole scenario doesn’t really work, you’re more likely to wreck a ship by turning off a real lighthouse than by erecting a fake one.

Knights and Necromancers 2 has been released

My second ebook, Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey, is available now from Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo. From the Knights and Necromancers 2 page on the Heartpunk website: The wreckers have their shipwreck and their loot. Their next step is to get rid of the witnesses. Grace and Cera’s only hope is to make it to safety in Galti; a small fishing village ignored and forgotten by the outside world.

The comment-fiction challenge post-mortem

Almost a month ago I started the Readmill comment-fiction challenge. The idea was to add a secondary layer of back-stories to Knights and Necromancers 1 as comments in Readmill. I explained the idea in more detail in my original blog post. I uploaded the last comment-fiction earlier today. The good news is that the entire thing was a lot of fun to do. The bad news is that I was probably the only one who enjoyed it.

Fantasy, Collapse, and a sense of history

A few incoherent random thoughts on fantasy and progress. One of the things that fascinated me as an adolescent reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was its sense of history. The writing’s crap. It reads as if it were written by a pastoral poet who, on a particularly invigorating walk, decides that the rustic drizzle is gloomy enough to inspire him to write about war. The characters are simplistic and one-dimensional cyphers who serve mostly as structural building blocks and arbitrary plot engines.

Two questions on putting books on the web

I’ve put together a web version of Knights and Necromancers 1: Days of wild obedience. You can have a look at it here. Read the entire thing online. I decided to keep it simple, no javascript, just focus on making readable, linkable web pages. So, I have two questions for you: What do you think about the design? What do you think about offering full versions of ebooks for free on the web while charging for the EPUB/Kindle versions?

iBooks 3.0

Over the last few weeks I've been hearing persistent rumours that the next major version of iBooks would be the first major ereading app to support most of EPUB3's features. So, it was with some anticipation that I waited for the update to hit my iPad. Armed with a host of test files (mostly from the epub-samples repository, but with a couple of my own) I took a break from my otherwise busy day to discover the truth about iBooks’ EPUB3 support.

Perceptions of society

Descriptions of a society is like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant; a partial insight is indistinguishable from a lie. Iceland just had a referendum on its constitution. Over two-thirds approved and, moreover, over two-thirds voted in favour of specific reforms that they felt the new constitution had to have. The story told about post-crash Iceland is almost like a fairy tale. A nation that threw out the banksters and cleaned up after being betrayed by its financial class.

What I've been up to

I’ve been quite busy over the last couple of weeks. Some of it may interest you. I wrote up a long post over on baldurbjarnason.com called ‘Is it safe?’ on some of the issues currently facing web and ebook development, especially focusing on the spiralling complexity. Then I told the world about some of the things I’ve learned while setting up Studio Tendra, namely that all ebook publishing platforms are a joke

The Readmill comment fiction challenge

From the challenge page: Over the next twenty six days I am going to add a flash fiction piece to every chapter of Knights and Necromancers 1 as a comment in Readmill. These comment fictions will be 300 to 1000 words long standalone scenes that add some context and background to the the story. Go read more about it on the comment fiction challenge page itself. Each comment fiction will start with a § to signify that it is a piece of fiction and not a regular comment or annotation.

Is it safe?

Web formats are too complicated for the publishing industry. My father was of the firm opinion that it was an essential part of any child’s upbringing to teach them about film and film history. Unsurprisingly, me and my sister have been watching movies with him ever since we were small children. Then, when we got a VCR, our education began in earnest. Throughout the years, our dad covered all bases (except for horror, he’s never been able to watch horror movies beyond the stuff Hitchcock made).

Sanitation in fantasy world-building

Where I address one of the most important questions in fantasy fiction: [caption id=“attachment_442” align=“alignnone” width=“600”] Batgirl needs to know![/caption] But first… There are, roughly speaking, two different ways of approaching world-building in fantasy storytelling: mythological and anthopological. (Yes, I’m grossly simplifying things, bear with me here or bugger off.) The mythological approach is easy to find; it’s what almost everybody who writes fantasy, science fantasy, or steampunk does by default.

The time work takes

A week ago me and Jenný launched Studio Tendra, which going to be the central hub of our publishing experiments. The first project is Heartpunk, a series of sword and sorcery books on the travels of a musician and a martial artist through a world still recovering from massive war. My sister does the cover illustrations. I do the writing, design, and markup. The first responses have all been promising and positive but a few of them have made me chuckle.

I need your help

Studio Tendra’s first week has gone better than I expected (although the post on our cover design process kind of sunk without notice). We’ve seen some downloads, some feedback, some positive word. All in all pretty good for a five day old venture. But, as you may not know, we don’t have a grand master plan here beyond making the books as good as we can make them. Sure, we’ve got ideas and plans for how to market these things but they’re all still pretty much up in the air.

Designing the covers

One thing me and Jenný have in common with our parents is that we tend to talk about our work a lot. As a result we know way too much about linguistics and journalism (our mother’s fields) and psychology (which is what dad does). It also means that we are very much aware of each others tastes and priorities when it comes to design, writing, and illustration. And one particular taste we share is a dislike – bordering on grumpy annoyance – of typical fantasy and science fiction covers.

Free Kindle version

Giving away the first book in a series is a good idea, right? Right? One fun fact people tend to forget is that Amazon puts a price floor on all self-published ebooks: they can’t cost less than $0.99 unless they come from a distributor (like Smashwords) or are being price matched with other retailers that do allow free books. Of course, I’d hoped that Amazon would have match the price of the Kobo and iBooks editions by now, but since they haven’t I’m going to post free mobi versions of the first book here.

What is this?

This is the home to a series of publishing experiments. Me (Baldur) and my sister (Jenný) have joined forces in making books we hope you will find interesting. [caption id=“attachment_282” align=“alignright” width=“225”] Knights and Necromancers 1: Days of wild obedience[/caption] Some of you may know us from the work we’ve done separately. I’ve been heavily involved in ebook discussion, production and research. My sister has been painting and illustrating children’s books in Iceland.

The stillborn creature

To say that my cousin was tired was an understatement. Her fatigue drained energy like water flowing into a sinkhole. But she was happy. It was done. Her art book was done. She had spent most of the evening with the printer, navigating problems, overseeing the process, making sure everything went well. It had, this time. An earlier print run had been ruined due to a mistake made by the printer.

EPUB javascript security

This is a followup to my earlier post on javascript in EPUB, this time focusing on EPUB javascript security. Every industry has its apocryphal tales, stories that are presented as true but too neatly demonstrate the truths of day-to-day work, too tailored to their message, to be entirely true. Stories are a big part of every industry’s true education. They highlight dangers, reset expectations, and define boundaries. Most stories told about work over coffee or at lunch contains essential information related to the work and tasks at hand.

I be writing

I received the following question in email the other day and figured I might use the opportunity to clarify a few points I failed to make in the original Bad Writing post. My earlier post was mostly about language in fiction writing. This one clarifies how those points work from a broader perspective. Since the incorrect use of words like there/their/they’re can still create effective writing (since I suppose readers interpret the meaning), should those words now become common practice in the English language?

Farce

I was asked these three questions the other day. In answering them I discovered just how bloody annoyed I am about the farce that is today’s ebook landscape. Much to my own surprise, I found that I'm more than a little bit angry about the madness that dominates ebooks. The questions Christine asked me are in italics. 1. You mention that a standardised DRM loses adaptability - could you please expand on this further.

Bad writing

I’m posting this here because there’s no way I could get this across on twitter. You are all going to disagree with this, without exception. I don’t care. I’ve made a statement several times to several different people that what we call bad writing isn’t necessarily so. If we evaluate the writing based on its effects – its success at delivering an emotional message – then I find it hard to label a lot of it as bad.

A few random points on DRM

What follows is my response to the IDPF's EPUB content protection proposal. DRM works, in some contexts such as software. One of the advantages of software and apps is that you can apply different forms of copy control for each product or even for each release, catered to the needs of each product. Big budget games have extremely front-loaded sales (most of it in the first few weeks) and so heavy-handed DRM actually makes economic sense.

The web and ebooks have little in common

But that will change. Hopefully. My ‘End of ebook development’ post got a couple of replies. One thing that struck me about them is that they seem to assume there is some sort of equivalence between websites and ebooks. There isn’t, at least not when it comes to development, production, design, and editing. The only thing the two have in common today are some of the nuts and bolts that make up the file formats.

The end of ebook development

A bit of an utopian fantasy but, I think, an essential one. We need visions of where we're heading with this. Everybody knows what it feels like. You’re thrown from crisis to crisis, locked into solving problems, resolving issues, keeping things from breaking down, grasping the duct tape with one hand, and your sanity with the other. Every time you look up, you see more trouble coming your way and no time to avoid it.

Aftermath – notes on the Amazon post

A few random thoughts on Amazon, London Book Fair, comics, and Tolstoy. Judging by some of the emails and responses I get to my blog posts, I’m a pro-Apple fanatic, anti-Apple shill, pro-Amazon hack, anti-Amazon stooge, anti-publishing nitwit, and a pro-publishing establishmentarian, all at once. I didn’t intend my today is not tomorrow post to be an anti-Amazon screed, although many seem to have read it to be one.

Today is not tomorrow (or, how to beat Amazon)

Amazon's weaknesses. What can publishers and ebook retailers do? What should Amazon do? (Or, how not to get beaten.) The world doesn’t look the way it should. From a publishing perspective, the ebook platforms are too fragmented, ebook creation and design is too complicated, expensive, and limited, and sales are too dominated by a single platform that has a history of being aggressive towards its suppliers. And readers are getting screwed.

Bits, bobs, and anecdata

Just a few things I’ve been reading over the last few days: Bedrock. The web has evolved into an application platform from simple hypertext. It is a mess, both in concept and in practice. Alex Russell explains the mess and outlines a path forward. Marketing Stories Are Not About You. Don’t forget to read the comments exchange between Danc and Tadhg Kelly. Profiling CSS for fun and profit. Optimization notes.

Lessons in interactivity

PhD. Being wrong. Interactive media's long history. Lessons learned. One of the cornerstones of my PhD work was that interactive media fiction would evolve out of ebooks, which in turn would be a straightforward transposition of the print book medium into digital space. Of course I wasn’t blind to the sheer wealth of interactive media works that had grown over the years, but this was ten years ago, a couple of years after the dot-com crash, and the only immersive interactive media that had been broadly accepted as a mass medium were games.

Hierarchies of ebook design

Design varies. Not just in its quality and implementation but also in its purpose and kind. In my mind, visual and interactive design should be treated as separate but interdependent problem domains. What follows are two hierarchies of ebook design, outlines that climb from the trivial and decorative to the integral and necessary. The visual design examples are books that I happen to have on my desk. The interactive design examples are, for the most part, major titles from interactive media history.

It's time to treat ebook developers as developers

One of the biggest surprises to those of us who come to ebook development from the web development side of things is the scarcity of documentation. For years we’ve come to rely on the extensive documentation and information provided by each browser vendor and to come from that to a field where documentation is either non-existent or hidden behind non-disclosure agreements is a massive culture shock. More than that, the situation prevents us from doing our jobs and holds back ebooks as a business.

Code doesn't change minds

And asking people to contribute code isn’t an effective way to deflect criticism. My post on Amazon winning has resulted in a few emails that politely suggest that I shut up and contribute code to this or that software project which will supposedly solve everything I’m ‘griping and whining’ about. As I said in my Readium post, the problem isn’t on the engineering level but on the business level. B&N, Kobo, iBooks, all override the author’s stylesheet by default to one degree or another.

Game over, Amazon wins

Peter Sorotokin responded to my griping about IDPF’s CSS Page Templates. I pretty much agree with everything he says, but it doesn’t bring me to a conclusion ePub proponents will like. Baldur, First of all, thank you for taking time to read the spec and write down your thoughts. I really appreciate this. There are certain things in your post which boil down to perspective. One person’s “edge case” is another one’s hard customer’s requirement.

On CSS Page Templates

I was asked on twitter why I think IDPF’s CSS Page Templates spec is a bad idea. I’m posting my reasons here because, well, they wouldn’t fit on twitter. Reasons why I think CSS PGT is a bad idea, off the top of my head, written while I’m sipping my tea and preparing lunch: Anything not covered by the combination of being able to set a page’s basic styles (backgrounds, borders, margins, etc.

Javascript in ebooks

There is a way to solve this problem and keeping almost everybody happy. But first the case against and for javascript in ebooks. Against The reasons not to support javascript are quite numerous. When you list them all I’m almost embarrassed about how much of an ebook javascript supporter I’ve been in the past. (I still am, in a way. But more on that later.) Problems for ereader vendors:

Explanatory windows

Where I use examples to prove a point few people care about. It struck me that one of the many things I never got any response to in my ‘ePub Windows and Widgets’ post was my explanatory windows proposal. So, I decided to go through some of the apps I use every day (with Google Maps as a bonus) and see which of them use explanatory windows and for what purpose.

Readium and other good intentions

The Readium project is important, interesting, and to be welcomed. But there are issues. (I’m a sceptical bastard. What else did you expect?) Update: It’s clear from updates, both on the Readium website and their forum, that the primary goal is to work on WebKit itself and deliver library-based components. I’ve struck out the passages below that were wrong. Update 2: I’ve added a comment from Bill McCoy Executive Director – International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).

ePub windows and widgets – a proposal

Ebooks have one major advantage over other forms of interactive media: They are extremely late to the game. One of the benefits of arriving after everybody else is that you get the chance to avoid their mistakes and learn from their experiments. Interactivity in ebooks today sucks. Implementations are non-standard, diverge from their web-based parallels in both subtle and substantial ways. Implementations are buggier than Internet Explorer 6 on a pirated, compromised, Windows 98 machine.

The semantics of ebook widgets

Over the past few days I’ve had several interesting conversations on ebooks, interactivity, widgets, standardisation, and other issues that have cropped up as a result of Apple forking the ePub3 format. Most of them have been people making very good points that have forced me to clarify my thoughts and reconsider some of my ideas. One such conversation was the following email exchange with Grant Sutherland (posted with his permission).

What do we want from the Kindle platform?

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to brainstorm a list of things developers, designers, and readers need from the Kindle platform (or any ebook platform, I just started with the most dominant one). What follows is a quick, rough, unedited, off the top of my head, list. What do book developers need from the Kindle platform? Firebug or Webkit Inspector in the Kindle Previewer and, preferably, on the devices as well.

iBooks widgets – to javascript or not to javascript

Opinions are a nuanced thing and not to be caricatured by people with an agenda. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the attention my three iBooks posts have recieved1, but one aspect of that attention is something I never expected. Although, I should have, I guess. I have been quoted in so many different contexts and to support so many different sides of somebody’s pet argument that I’ve long given up keeping track.

Disruptive crap

One of the reasons why big publishing is in trouble is that they have overshot the quality requirements of most fiction readers. I’ve been circling this point for a while now1 but I believe that the big publisher, the international titans of publishing, are inevitably going to stop publishing. That isn’t to say that they will exit the book market or the content industry, just that they will migrate towards higher margin businesses such as publishing services and more wide-ranging content development.

Me, elsewhere

This blog post collects a few of the things I’ve been doing elsewhere on other sites. I’m doing this more for my own records (it’s dumb to have to google for your own stuff), so feel free to ignore. Bookseller article: In depth: Iceland’s book market Futurebook: Facebook isn’t the content industry’s saviour Futurebook: The nine problems that hold back Icelandic ebooks Futurebook: Futurebook 2011 Impressions: New publisher business models Futurebook: A few future sources of ebook innovation All of my Futurebook pieces so far are listed on this page: Baldur Bjarnason’s blog posts I wrote a short piece on the Publish!

The pros and cons of the iBooks 2.0 textbook format

Delivering a bespoke format cannot have been an easy decision for Apple, since, as a company, it has come to know very well the benefits of working with standards. This is the third post I’ve written on the iBook 2.0 textbook format. Previously: “The iBooks 2.0 textbook format” “The iBooks 2.0 built-in widgets” There has been a lot of discussion on all sides on this new format Apple rolled out with iBooks 2.

The iBooks 2.0 built-in widgets

The built-in widgets that provide the brunt of the interactive features in iBook’s textbook format do not use javascript in any way. Some additional reading before we dive into my short post… Daniel Glazman (CSS working group’s co-chair) wrote about iBooks Author and the format it generates: “iBooks Author, a nice tool but…” “Apple (re-)invented the Web totally incompatible with the Web. “ Turns out you aren’t allowed to sell the books you create in iBooks Author outside of iBooks: “The Unprecedented Audacity of the iBooks Author EULA”.

The iBooks 2.0 textbook format

Today, Apple released both iBooks 2.0 and an authoring app called iBooks Author. The new iBooks, the authoring app, and Apple’s new textbook category are all based on a new ebook format Apple has invented. I’ve spent a few hours staring at the innards of a file exported from iBooks Author in an attempt to understand what it going on. I still only grasp a fraction of what they are doing, but I figured I might share my theories at this point.

The publishing animal

Publishers, in ecological terms, are at the top of the publishing industry’s food chain. They are highly adapted to their, now changing, environment. The fauna The value that most publishers have provided in recent history1 has been relatively clear and obvious to even the most biased outsider. They provide capital for writers and others involved to finish their work. They arbitrage between the numerous unknown writers who think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread2 and the even more numerous readers who are tired of the unimaginative, self-important, idiots who think they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.

What a publisher does

After reading the discussion on Google+ on Edan Lepucki’s post on why not to self-publish (read it, it’s pretty good, not as one-sided as you’d think) I began yesterday to think again about the changing role of the publisher. What follows is a stream-of-consciousness list of tasks a publisher should be able to tackle. It requires a pretty wide-ranging set of skills. Off the top of my head, so apologies if I miss any obvious ones or if some of these make limited sense:

Design pseudoscience

Designers use rounded corners so much today that they’re more of an industry standard than a design trend. They’re not only found on software user interfaces, but hardware product designs as well. So what is it about rounded corners that make them so popular? Indeed they look appealing, but there’s more to it than that. From Why Rounded Corners are Easier on the Eyes On the surface level, this is a well-researched design article, full of examples and references to research that supports its statements.

A tale of three blog posts

A week ago, a blogger named Guido Henkel posted a blog post about Amazon’s new and upcoming Kindle Format 8. He pointed out what he thought were serious shortcomings in the format, namely that it had no realistic mechanism for backwards compatibility for those devices that would not support KF8 “Amazon introduces new Kindle eBook format and makes a major misstep.” That Saturday, a day later, after seething in annoyance since reading Guido’s blog post, I posted a response on G+.

CSS and ebook design

As often happens, a post I wrote on a Saturday, to no response, suddenly took on a life of its own on Monday. In this case I vented my spleen in response to what was a fairly ill-informed post on a major mistake Amazon is supposedly making with its new Kindle Format 8 (KF8 for short). The problem being that the problems as outlined are problems only if you don’t understand the technologies underlying both KF8 and Epub31, namely, HTML5 and CSS3.

The loss of ambient intimacy

Ten thoughts on the problem with Twitter and why my life improved by escaping planet Twitter. Two months ago, I decided to concentrate on finishing one of my projects and one of the things I sacrificed in the name of productivity and time was Twitter. Strangely enough, but also unsurprising, my productivity didn’t change in any measurable way. (Turns out other things like regular sleep is more important than a mild addiction to a social service, whodathunkit?

Friday links and reading

Just a few things that caught my interest this week. From http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/08/accessibility-vs-access-how-the-rhetoric-of-rare-is-changing-in-the-age-of-information-abundance/: Because here’s the thing: Knowledge is not a lean-back process; it’s a lean-forward activity. Just because public domain content is online and indexed, doesn’t mean that those outside the small self-selected group of scholars already interested in it will ever discover it and engage in it. The article references the curator buzzword, but the basic point is sound.

Convert or engage

The ebook debate is locked into dichotomies of past versus present, dynamic versus fixed; split into factions, when all that matters is engagement, both with the readers and your colleagues. On my way to work this morning, munching a croissant as I walked through Reykjavík city centre1, I thought about Joseph Esposito’s post on the role of dynamic versus fixed publishing in scholarly publishing. It’s a thing I do when I walk: leisurely ponder stuff I’ve read recently.

CSS3 Hyphens

This piece of code:

Modernizr.addTest("hyphens", Modernizr.testAllProps('hyphens'));

Adds a test to Modernizr that will add ‘hyphens’ to the class attribute of the HTML root element when the browser claims to support CSS3 Hyphens.

Just you & Google

One of the things I’ve noticed in Google+, a side effect of the Circles feature, is that many people have no public life whatsoever on the service; everything they say is to one Circle or another.

HTML5 history API

The problem with Backbone.js and Spine.js gracefully degrading History API routing to hash fragment routing is that it’s entirely reasonable to want to use both the History API and hash fragments together in an AJAX app.

Localstorage & messaging in ePub

I decided to try and find out if localStorage and Cross Document Messaging could be used with ePub's non-linear documents in iBooks The short answer is: no. The good news is that localStorage otherwise works in an ePub document in iBooks. The idea I had was that, since we have to deal with the idiocy of having no CSS absolute positioning, I could use a document marked as “non-linear” in the spine as a kind of popup window.

Javascript in epub

I used some spare time this afternoon to throw together a few ePub experiments After throwing together the Modernizr ePub experiment earlier today I decided throw together another one. The code isn't the prettiest I've written, the page itself is ugly as sin, and some of the transitions are a bit jumpy, but on the whole it works. In web browsers, that is. Two out of the three experiments work in iBooks, the third does not.

An epub experiment

How can people say book design is dead when they see something like this? I'm going to post this one without much comment. You can find more information on Modernizr on its website and if you want to, you can download the "Modernizr in ePub" file itself. ETA (July 2012): Apple turned off access to many of these APIs a while back. The lesson is that iBooks isn't a stable development environment.

What is an ebook?

A few days ago I participated in an online discussion on the nature of the ebook Edited a bit for coherence and clarity. Introduction neustudio: Today we will here from @MatthewDiener, @pablod, @ebookNoir, @BookDesignGirl, @FakeBaldur. neustudio: They are all ebook pros and frequent contributors to hour discussions Mathew Diener MatthewDiener: Snuck out of benefits meeting to be here for first half hour at least. Can’t miss time with my peeps.

Hypotheses and testing

Customer development for publishers I’m continuing my thoughts and research notes on electronic publishing here, obviously written mainly as personal notes, unedited, disorganised and possibly quite incoherent. Since my earlier research notes were comprehensively poo-pooed by the few that read them, take all of the following with a grain of salt. Most useful theories and models of entrepreneurship are subsets of Saras Sarasvathy’s Effectual Reasoning model. The core of her idea is to use the dichotomy of causal reasoning versus effectual reasoning to analyse the differences between the established business decision making process and the entrepreneurial decision making process.

Identifying publishing innovators

Changing dynamics Some thoughts on publishing innovation, largely based on Clayton Christensen’s writing on innovation in the tech industry and personally informed by being a part of the software industry. Raw notes. Shitty first draft. Etc. You have been warned. Part of my effort to find my path forward, both in my personal life and in my career, I’ve spent some time thinking about what an innovative publisher would look like.

On quality in publishing

If you do not know who the customer is, you do not know what quality is The issue of quality in publishing has been on my mind over the last few weeks, culminating in a short twitter debate I had with Mike Cane yesterday on editing. ‘Quality’ isn’t a simple subject: O’Reilly’s notions of what’s NOT important for publishing were surprising to hear. They’re shaped by O’Reilly’s formative experiences in publishing.

An interesting discussion

Twitter stage fright You wouldn’t think that you could get stage fright in anticipation of a twitter discussion but last week proved that I can. I had the immense pleasure of being asked by Lindsey Martin to talk about interactivity for ebooks as a part of #ePrdctn hour. It was a lot of fun to be able to discuss a subject I’ve researched for years and years with people whose practical knowledge of ebook production and design vastly outweighs my own.