It ain’t easy

April 22nd, 2014

(With apologies to Three Dog Night) The Economist has a fascinating article about the travails of ebook production. Producing the printed book turned out to be much easier than the ebook edition, though as The Digital Reader points out, had some different choices been made at the beginning of the process, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. Both articles are well worth reading if you have any interest in ebook production, but do read the Economist’s article first.

ONE might easily think that print publishing is a fussy business: all of that preparation to put ink on paper seems rather last century—or last half millennium. Electronic books have been hailed as the future and the perfection of the codex format, because of their ease of production, distribution, and infinite perfect replication.

Yet this Babbage has found that not to be the case, even though he has worked with e-books for decades across many formats. Your correspondent also has printer’s ink in his veins: he trained as one of the last dedicated typesetters, worked in a printing plant in his 20s, and designed and produced dozens of books in the 1980s and 1990s. But even he was unprepared for how easy it has become to print a book and how difficult it remains to produce an electronic version suitable for a range of e-readers, including the Kindle.

An author I know was in a similar situation recently. He wrote a book in Microsoft Word and his publisher converted it to InDesign to produce the final book. They wanted to produce an ebook edition, but the author hadn’t hyperlinked his endnote reference to the endnotes. Had he done that when writing the book or before submitting the manuscript, InDesign would have maintained the linking. To do it now is an expensive process (manually create the links in InDesign or pay someone to write a script to do it) and it looks like the only electronic edition will be a PDF, with no hyperlinking.

It’s a situation most technical writers would know to avoid.

2014 Hugo finalists

April 22nd, 2014

The finalists for the 2014 Hugo Awards have been announced. These awards are nominated by and voted on by SF fans who are members of the World Science Fiction Convention, which this year is Loncon 3 in London, UK in August.

I’ve not yet read any of the best novel finalists, although I have Charlie Stross’ Neptune’s Brood in my Kindle’s to-be-read queue. He’s also nominated for Equoid in the novella category.  I’m disappointed that Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise didn’t get a nomination. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is nominated as a series — the award rules allow a series nomination if none of the books have previously won. Mira Grant, who is nominated for Parasite, is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, who was the guest of honour at SFContario last year.

In the short fiction categories, authors have half of the 14 nominations. Analog has two nominations; Asimov’s and F&SF none. The market has clearly shifted to online publications. The SF Signal link above has links to many of the stories so you can read them online.

Off for Easter

April 19th, 2014

Just in case you’re wondering where I am, I’m taking the weekend off – actually an extra long weekend because I’ve booked off Monday too. I’ll be back on Tuesday.

Google Camera – a review

April 17th, 2014

In my brief review of my new Samsung Galaxy S4, I mentioned that I was a bit frustrated with the performance of the camera. It takes excellent pictures outdoors or in good light, but its low light performance is less than stellar. Most of the pictures I’ve taken indoors suffer from either motion blur or are a bit out of focus.

So I was excited to hear that Google was going to release the stock Android 4.4 camera app through Play Store (if you have Android 4.4 KitKat). It was released today and I downloaded and installed it as soon as I got home. My first impressions are mixed.

The interface (and the features) are decidedly minimal. There are very few settings. You can pick three sizes for pictures, while the Samsung app gives five and a choice of aspect ratios (16:9 and 4:3), while the Google app allows 4:3 only. No JPEG quality settings unfortunately; I was hoping for that because the Samsung app doesn’t have that setting. Other settings are flash on or off, grid lines on or off (but they’re almost impossible to see anyway) and that’s about it. No HDR mode, although it should be available if one of their screen shots is any indication.

Google Camera

There’s an exposure adjustment setting, but I can’t get it to work.

So, a very basic camera, outside of the fancy modes (Photosphere, Panorama, Lens Blur) which I don’t have much interest in.

As for picture quality, it seems to be a bit better indoors than the Samsung camera app in its default Auto mode. Pictures I took indoors were slightly sharper with little or no motion blur. Outdoors the results were mixed. The Google app seemed to overexpose slightly compared to the Samsung app, but I didn’t take enough pictures in bright light to be sure of this. The Samsung app, with it’s HDR mode, can take excellent pictures in bright sunlight – I doubt the Google app can match it.

So to sum up, I’ll continue to use the Samsung camera app as my main camera app, but will use the Google app indoors for quick grab shots. (The Samsung app has a Night mode that does equally well, but takes a little longer to set up.)

I have read that Google is making the camera API available, so you’ll probably see people releasing filters and other enhancements to it in due course.

Sony is blowing it, again

April 16th, 2014

It looks like once again Sony is blowing a chance to grab a piece of a market or even develop a new one. They’ve introduced a big ereader with a 13″ screen, but are selling it for $1100, instead of the $300 or so that it’s probably worth. Who in their right minds is going to pay $1100 for a black-and-white ereader that Sony has limited to reading PDFs, when they could buy an iPad or Android tablet for half the price, or less? Sony claims they’re aiming it at “professionals”, but in the business world I live in, you have to get technology purchases past the accounting department first.

As MarketWatch point out, Sony is missing a big opportunity here. A 13″ ereader would be perfect for newspapers and a lot of magazines, even limited to black and white. And if it could display ebook formats, it’d make a wonderful ereader. But $1100? What were they thinking?

A short while ago I sat down in Boston with Giovanni Mancini, director of product development at E Ink, and got an early peak at Sony’s new “Digital Paper” product. This is basically the closest anyone has yet come to a digital piece of paper.

It uses E Ink’s new “Mobius” display and proprietary Sony technology. It is the size of a letter-sized piece of paper—which makes its screen more than four times the size of a regular e-reader.

It’s excellent. The screen is bright and clear and the page turns are fast. The product is light, about 13 ounces. The battery lasts for a month. It has a touch screen so you can mark up documents and so on.

This could be the future of reading. This could be the future of newspapers and magazines. (It’s so much better than trying to read the news on a tiny 6-inch screen, or, indeed, on a tablet). This could be the future of documents.

I know that 90% of the population no longer reads anything longer than 140 characters, and that those of us who still read, when we could be playing Angry Birds or watching that interminable shaggy dragon story “Game of Thrones,” are just a bunch of Luddite wierdos. (David Carr at the New York Times admits he is basically abandoning reading for watching TV.)

But some of us are still out there. And this is just what we were looking for.

The only problem? Sony just launched the Digital Paper in the U.S. with a sale price of $1,100.


Correy’s The Expanse to be TV series

April 15th, 2014

SyFy is going to do a 10-episode series based on James. S. A. Correy’s space opera series, The Expanse, which started with Leviathan Wakes. It’s a dark gritty series that represents modern hard SF at its best and could be great for TV if done right (say like the first or second season of Battlestar Galactica before it jumped the shark).

The NBCUniversal-owned cable network has picked up 10 episodes of The Expanse, based on James S.A. Corey’s book series that includes the well-known Leviathan Wakes.

The drama is described as a thriller set 200 years in the future and follows the case of a missing young woman who brings a hardened detective and a rogue ship’s captain together in a race across the solar system to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.

The series hails from Alcon Television Group, with Oscar-nominated screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Children of Men, Iron Man) attached as writers and exec producers. Sean Daniel and Jason Brown of the Sean Daniel Co. developed the pitch with Fergus and Ostby and are also on board to exec produce. Alcon co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson will exec produce alongside company president Sharon Hall. Alcon’s Ben Roberts will co-produce, while Ben Cook will produce. The series marks the first series order for Alcon Television Group, a division of Alcon Entertainment.

Given SyFy’s track record, I’m not going to get too excited until I see some footage, but they certainly have some quality source material to work with. OTOH, the authors (Correy is a pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) are very happy about it.