The Roots of the Paperback

March 6th, 2015

Older readers of this blog may remember Aldus, the company that originally developed PageMaker. Likely fewer will know that the company was named after Aldus Manutius, one of the earliest printers. Many of the books he printed are part of an exhibition currently showing in New York and the subject of a long article in the New York Times. I’d love to be able to see this.

The exhibition that opened this week at the Grolier Club in Manhattan, “Aldus Manutius: A Legacy More Lasting Than Bronze,” gathers nearly 150 Aldines, as books from the press Aldus founded in Venice in 1494 are known, for a more sober tribute. Gutenberg may have invented the movable-type printing press, used to create his monumental Bibles. But anyone who has ever sat in a cafe, or in the bath, with a paperback owes a debt to Aldus and the small, cleanly designed editions of the secular classics he called libelli portatiles, or portable little books.

“It’s become a cliché to call them the forerunners of the Penguin Classics,” G. Scott Clemons, the president of the Grolier Club, said during a recent tour of the installation in progress. “But the concept of personal reading is in some ways directly traceable to the innovations of Aldus’s portable library.”

Digital Tools for Artists, Photographers, and Writers

March 5th, 2015

Working as I do in software development, it’s easy to think that every problem can be solved with software. So when I think of photography, for example, after the camera and lens, the first thing I think about is the software I’m going to use to digitally process my image. However, perhaps I should be thinking of using a filter instead, or a tripod. The same hold true of other fields, like art or writing. There are lots of useful tools out there. The New York Times has a review of several tools that artists, photographers, and writers might find useful. Out of all of them, this is the one I want.

With flexible, ball-jointed legs that rotate 360 degrees, the GripTight GorillaPod tripod, which costs $30, allows photographers to get great shots from unusual angles. The GorillaPod’s mount expands to hold any phone securely, even when turned sideways, keeping the camera lens steady and the subject in focus.

The durable GorillaPod has a quick-release clip and folds up for easy storage. For those looking to step up to the next level, the GripTight GorillaPod Hybrid costs $50 and features a bubble level and pan-and-tilt knob.

Ebook Development Resources

March 4th, 2015

A few years ago I wrote an article for about ebook resources. That’s a bit dated now, and one of these days, I will update it, but in the meantime, here’s an article summarizing some more up-to-date resources.

Webinars and tutorials are available in numerous places. In each case, the resources below have several service areas. For my purposes here, I am going to focus on resources for ebook developers.

eBOUND Canada is a publisher service organization that has a tidy treasure trove of webinars and tutorials. One of my favourites is EPUB3: When and How by industry leader, Joshua Tallent.

The Book Industry Study Group is another publisher service org with an excellent webcast archive. Highlights include their 4-part fixed-layout ebook series. They have also branched out, in partnership with eBook Architects, into the business of in-person workshops for people wanting to learn more about ebook production, with classes coming up in Austin, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.

The Last of the Typewriter Men

March 2nd, 2015

Here’s a paean to a vanishing breed – the typewriter repairman. Yes, there are a few left, but you might have to travel to New York to find one.

On a recent bleak, winter afternoon in the Flatiron District Paul Schweitzer was once again hard at work, trying to breathe life into a black, jazz-age Underwood typewriter. Behind his spectacles was a furrowed brow and behind that was a tangle of keys, steel, carrying cases and filing cabinets of rollers, spools, levers and keys, a morgue of mechanical guts.

To Schweitzer’s right, his son, Justin, performed a surgery of sorts on an IBM Wheelwriter, its beige frame cast aside and green electric boards splayed open. The smell of ink and WD-40 hung in the air, and only the occasional phone call or test clank of a machine’s keys interrupted their focus. The elder Schweitzer had spent the morning schlepping around the city with a black leather bag doing “house calls.” Some of Gramercy Typewriter Co.’s clients have had relationships with the company dating all the way back to its founding during the Great Depression.

Well aware of his status as a walking anachronism, Schweitzer, 76, now fixes approximately 20 typewriters a week. Some of them are used as props for movies or television shows recreating eras he was a part of, a fact that makes him laugh when he happens to see his machines while flipping through reruns. Schweitzer’s clientele, recorded in two boxes of handwritten notecards behind his desk, includes several high-profile names, including noted typewriter aficionado Tom Hanks.

“They don’t have a choice!” Schweitzer said, strolling through the two rooms of his office. He pointed at the wall of photographs and news clippings with weathered hands, which he concedes have been ink-stained since the Eisenhower administration.

The Tragedy of Canada’s census

March 1st, 2015

In 2010, the Harper government, in a fit of ideological insanity, decided that the census would no longer be mandatory. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, as provincial governments, cities, non-profit organizations, and corporations are finding that they lack crucial, up-to-date information about the makeup of our country.

Here’s the kicker, though: This new survey, the one that provides less data than the one before it and has left academics, government officials, demographers, social planners and businesspeople wondering how to calculate exactly how many people live in Canada, and where, also cost more money. Maclean’s, the Canadian weekly, reports that Statistics Canada needed an extra $22 million to cover the “costs associated with increased questionnaire production and mail-out.”

“Voluntary surveys are simply a waste of money,” Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician who resigned over the switch to the voluntary census, tells CityLab in a phone interview. “[They] cannot provide you the kind of accurate information that you need to make your policy decisions. So in my view, this is the worst of both worlds.”

Whither democracy?

February 26th, 2015

SF author, Charles Stross, has been working on some near-future SF recently and thinking a lot about what could happen in the next twenty five years or so. He’s not optimistic. Start at the beginning, work your way through his train of thought, and see how you feel.

  1. We’re living in an era of increasing automation. And it’s trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).
  2. A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren’t enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they’re guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).
  3. Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.
  4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization’s employees.)