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.
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.
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.
A few words on not using the standard publishing industry processes for making digital work.
(This is a follow-up to my earlier blog post Von be don: A few notes on a recent digital publishing project in Iceland)
You may or may not know this, but last year my mother, Bergljót Baldursdóttir, and my sister, Brynhildur Jenný Bjarnadóttir, published a children’s book in Icelandic, Von be don, Magnús og Malaika leysa málið.
The debate surrounding the W3C’s involvement has polarised. Unfortunately for the W3C, both sides are right.
Here’s what’s going to be a very unpopular opinion: the biggest hindrance to productivity apps on iOS isn’t the app store but nonexistent support for indirect pointers.
Consider the contrasts between the recent tragedy in Iceland and how similar events usually play out in the UK or US.
‘JS is more fragile’ is a stance common among Progressive Enhancement advocates (and I’m certainly guilty of this myself).
One problem with the debate around Progressive Enhancement is that it bundles together a bunch of concerns and tactics under a single label.
The backlash against Apple’s Mac event is entirely of their own making.
A few basic facts.
The history of the web according to journalists and punditry.
Don’t. Just don’t debate. Especially if the issue is an important one.
In yesterday’s doodle, I left out a note on why I positioned the iOS App Store in the upper right hand corner.
The following is a very rough sketch followed by very rough notes on the modularity and coupling dynamics in digital products.
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.”
Then Microsoft released version 6.0, bringing the Mac version ‘in line’ with their Windows version.
What if the market for the services offered by publishers and agents is an Akerlof-style market for lemons?
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.
If I had to pick one and only one bad writing habit of mine (I have many) I’d like to fix, it would be my tendency to skip over the things I find obvious.
Earlier today, I asked the following question on Twitter:
(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.)
—Watercolours are done—history. Oils have won. Anybody who is serious about making art has to paint with oils now.
He has, in a very short space of time, written two different essays that argue in favour of economic inequality.
Some thoughts on how to make iOS better for pro apps.
It’s very easy to look at an organisation from the outside—to look at its position, strength and weaknesses—and come up with strategies that build on those attributes.
I wanted to highlight an observation I made in my and Tom’s latest podcast episode.
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.
It’s incredibly obvious that despite the importance of ad blocking to their own livelihoods, journalists are incapable of actually doing any sort of research or investigation into what the technology does or can do.
In which I and Tom natter on about all and sundry interactive media.
It’s almost a week since Tom and I launched the This is not a book website/book/digital text and the response has been greater than I expected.
We just did a thing.
Specifially, a new bookstore app.
We have fantastic and beautiful devices but horrifying usability.
The web is both becoming more powerful and more confusing.
The future of sex is unevenly distributed.
Only a few random thoughts on this. Not particularly coherent. Not sure if I have a point to make or not.
And the existence of LGBTQ people continues to surprise some.
Oh, and ad blockers.
And other hopeful thoughts.
And piss-poor conversion rates.
And, is the world getting better?
Spoiler: yes and no.
Something awesome for sure.
And mislabeled fiction.
We need more Old Internet Proverbs.
Loving amateurs. (No, not like that.)
I made my first website more than twenty years ago. It was horrible.
But you better pay attention to this, especially the systems theory one on leverage points. Don’t trust me, I’m an expert.
Adama’s rule, AI arms race, and a topless Chris Pine (we hope).
Sucky websites and ruthless capitalists.
I’m a wire service for nonsense.
Some people miss the old days of blogging. I don’t.
Bringing you small DOMs and no descendant selectors.
A bunch of notable tweets for your reading pleasure.
Part four of this week’s epic bookmark dump.
Part three of this week’s epic bookmark dump.
Quotes from Myth and Sexuality by Jamake Highwater.
Part two of this week’s epic bookmark dump.
Part one of this week’s epic bookmark dump.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Ben Thompson’s writing over at Stratechery.
A short and simple guide on how to get the most value out of what I write.
Sometimes I think the Holacracy is just a really involved, long running practical joke played on the rest of us.
(This is a short repost of a series of tweets.)
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’.
The ‘Safari is the new IE’ rhetoric highlights the pipedream at the heart of the universal web app vision.
The paradigm shift from offline to online media has thrown a lot of people.
Medium announced a while back that it was shifting gears:
It worries me how familiar the symptoms of burnout are, both when I read about them and when they actually hit me.
Steven Pressfield has written a series of posts on how he organizes his writing using a simple set of files.
Over the past couple of days I sat down and did what most tech columnists seem unwilling to do:
I actually looked into what an announced API is capable of.
Namely, the upcoming iOS 9 Safari content blocking extensions.
I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. All it took was a blog post.
I’m only going to make one quick prediction:
Everything is always getting better everywhere, all the time (#pangloss #progress).
Quite a few people are noticing that our apps are a little bit more crap than they used to be.
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.
I’m in the middle of a short vacation but can’t resits the urge to pull these points and links into a post.
If I can’t have effeminate male heroes, you can at least let me have feminine women heroes.
A few links on where we stand, posted without comment.
For web development to grow as a craft and as an industry, we have to follow the money. Without money the craft becomes a hobby and unmaintained software begins to rot.
But which money?
Wherein I gather together some of what has been said about Mad Max: Fury Road.
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.
The absence of women in tech is a symptom of a systemic problem in the industry. But what exactly is the problem?
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.
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Following a thread of ideas to an interesting idea about productivity and work.
A wondrous exploration of:
Join me today on an adventure:
To expand your mind:
For your pleasure:
In this edition:
> > 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.
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)) > >
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.
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 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.
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. > >
(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. > >
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Driven by curiosity (as always), I’ve just spend a large part of my lunch break browsing through various forums, 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(This is the tenth post in a series on the publishing industry’s new product categories.)
The reason why the term ‘book app’ is so dangerous is that it blinds people to the sheer variety there is in content apps and to the many possibilities apps and websites offer.
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:
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).
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 email@example.com for those who prefer not to contribute in public.)
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.
> > 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?
[caption id=“attachment_780” align=“alignnone” width=“563”] The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger[/caption]
Out now: Ozma of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
The monthly challenge continues with the next two books in the series.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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. :-)
I’m here at the Media Futures day on books and innovation and the future, that sort of thing.
This piece of code:
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.
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.
As a comparison, this is still a greater percentage of people than use Twitter.
From Podcasts: Who still listens to them? on the BBC’s website.
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.
Can We Ever Digitally Organize Our Friends?
He, and almost everybody who thinks about thinks about social networks, including Google, asks the wrong question.