Nook iOS App Updated

The [Nook app for iOS][] has been updated to include assistive technologies of *zoom* and *voiceover*. (H Who knew they had an app? Given Amazon’s DRM and their tendency to nuke your content and ask questions later, Barnes and Noble has an opportunity here to be the “other guy.” Amazon played that role well for years. B&N needs to catch up. Voiceover is a step in the right direction.

**Update**: Oooo, you can lend books to friends. I think B&N just did something there.

**Added note**: Sorry, Amazon, your insistence that voiceover cuts into audiobooks would mean a little bit more if you hadn’t already acquired Audible. Some of the package deals being offered are getting more interesting, but I don’t think consumers are going to make the leap until the packages for a book include the codex, the ebook, and the audio version approach something like the $25 price point. Maybe $29. The codex, the physical book, may be optional in the near future, but until Amazon makes its DRM and licensing more consumer-friendly, I just can’t risk going all in with digital versions of books.

[Nook app for iOS]:

Hitchcock’s First Film is Free to Watch

Alfred Hitchcock wrote “A White Shadow” in 1924. The National Film Preservation Foundation has managed to find a copy, and has generously made it available for any and all with a decent Internet connection to [watch][]. A 24-year-old Hitchcock also served as assistant director for the 1924 movie, which was recovered back in August from New Zealand collector Jack Murtagh — who in his lifetime amassed one of the largest libraries in the country. Sadly you’re in for an incomplete viewing: only three of six reels (totaling 43 minutes) have managed to survived the decades since White Shadow’s release.


Fur Trappers in a Cubicle Forest

I find myself most fascinated of late by fiction that takes some “taken for granted” dimension of reality and inverts it in some fashion. Examples would include science fiction by Gregory Benford where the minotaur in a labyrinth turns out to be a singularity or the novella of John Scalzi where gods are harnessed as engines — obviously Gaiman’s _American Gods_ deserves a nod here, too. In our own moment moment, there’s this from the New Kids in the Hall:

Pixar’s HQ

Space matters. Always. Especially those spaces within which are imaginations are supposed to be working. The Gothic builders understood this perhaps better than we do in the present, but sometimes we remember the purpose of space is not only to house our bodies but also our minds and we build “inspiring” buildings, both in the denotative as well as the cliched sense of that word. [Pixar’s headquarters is a good example][]. (In the article, Steve Jobs sounds a lot like Thomas Jefferson when the latter was building Monticello.)

[Pixar’s headquarters is a good example]:

Rebooting the Tractor

Bloomberg Business Week has an interesting report on a [post-acolyptic survival machine farm][]. The farm’s founders say they are working on a “civilizational reboot”, which is an interesting idea in and of itself, but what I found most interesting is that they are trying to re-create basic machines using a semi-standard set of spare parts. The tractor below is but one example of a variety of machines that are all running off what they describe as a “power cube”:

> Most of Factor e Farm’s equipment runs on an in-house invention called a Power Cube. It’s a black metal box about the size of an office copier, with a 27-horsepower engine that runs a hydraulic pump. The Power Cube’s engine can drive the bulldozers; the pumps can power the table saws and other smaller, stationary machines.

[post-acolyptic survival machine farm]:

The Book I Am Trying to Write or the One That Perhaps Follows It

A month or so ago I re-discovered the BBC series from the late seventies and early eighties _All Creatures Great and Small_. I had first encountered the series when they were re-run, like so much British television during that time, on my local PBS station. (An entire generation of us came of age within the anti-rational realm of _Monty Python_ and _The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy_ thanks to this cross-atlantic fertilization.) I was in high school, and I remember finding the books at my local book store and consuming that just as quickly as I could.[^1]

With the election just behind us, recaps of the final weeks are rife with all kinds of explanation, but one in particular caught my eye: Bruce Springsteen campaigned for Obama. Ignore the politics of it. I was very fond of Springsteen in graduate school. _Nebraska_ especially haunted my days at various moments.

Later in graduate school, I discovered the work of Wendell Berry, and, like _All Creatures_ and _Nebraska_, his work captures some dimension of small towns in a way that I find quite appealing. Sure, Springsteen’s work isn’t really about small towns, but the way it so often seeks to vivify a small cast of characters, to make them fully human, feels similar to the work done in the other works.

In recalling these works to my imagination, I am also reminded of the role that James Agee played and Sherwood Anderson. These are the books I loved, admired. These are the books I wish I had written. And in thinking that I realize that perhaps I have the chance to write them, only set here on a landscape, or collection of landscapes, that I have come to know reasonably well.

This note is a placeholder for now.

[^1]: My rediscovery came about thanks to Netflix’s similar largesse with BBC programming: I had consumed several seasons of _Foyle’s War_ and decided that while I liked the time period and setting, I could do with a bit of a break from what can sometimes be the extremely tense plotting of the series. And so I remembered _All Creatures_ and was pleased to find the first two seasons available to watch on Amazon Prime.

Problem Report for Safari

So you’re happily work in a Mac application and it suddenly quits, and you get the notice that “Safari quit unexpectedly.” It’s a brilliant observation, capturing as it does the thing which just happened. The intelligence, the verve of it! And just below is a blank text box asking you to type something into it. Sometimes you do try to report what you were doing, or trying to do, or thought you were trying to do but maybe now that you think about it that wasn’t the way to do it. And you’ve done this often enough that you have a kind of history here. Wait a minute. There is history here, but it’s been all you. You have never gotten a response back. Who’s to say anyone ever reads these things? Maybe you’re like the mouse trained to click the bar for cheese who keeps clicking the bar for cheese even after the researchers have gone home. Maybe they’ve locked up the lab for the weekend. For the holidays. Maybe the university has shut the place down and no one is ever coming back, no cheese is ever coming your way again, but you’re still clicking the damn bar.

And so you write a note that attempts to find the human in an inhuman environment, and in writing it confront ugly epistemological and metaphysical realities:

> Never try to undo editing you’ve done in a text box in a web page in Safari!
> Safari does not like it, and when Safari does not like something, it quits.
> And when Safari quits, you will be asked to report it as a problem.
> And when you report it as a problem, you will type things into a text box and be forced to answer life’s greatest mystery:
> OK or Reopen?
> You will click one of the two, the text box will go away, and you will wonder what happened to those words you typed.
> Did they disappear into the maw of a giant trouble-ticket system?
> Or are they more like the close and open door buttons on elevators?
> Put there to placate the impatient.
> Alas, you will never know the truth.
> Can never know the truth.

For the record, the machine’s own report looked like this:

Process: Safari [29193]
Path: /Applications/
Version: 6.0.1 (8536.26.14)
Build Info: WebBrowser-7536026014000000~2
Code Type: X86-64 (Native)
Parent Process: launchd [155]
User ID: 501

Date/Time: 2012-11-09 15:03:49.432 -0600
OS Version: Mac OS X 10.8.2 (12C60)
Report Version: 10

Interval Since Last Report: 603431 sec
Crashes Since Last Report: 2
Per-App Interval Since Last Report: 520875 sec
Per-App Crashes Since Last Report: 1

Crashed Thread: 0 Dispatch queue:

Bloggers Who Write

Perhaps an obvious distinction, perhaps not. *Writing* here may not be the verb that captures what matters, but “writers who blog” gets into the realm of the pretentious — well, usually dealing with people who call themselves “writers” gets you there. The pieces published by the folks/sites below are considered, thoughtful, and generally reveal an individual mind working out for themselves some detail of the world, rather than yet another piece of the web-collective talking into the echo chamber.

* Michael Lopp writes [Rands in Repose]( which has a publication schedule somewhat like Paul Graham’s site (see below): he aims to publish something about once a week. Like Graham, Lopp also has a book out: [Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager][mh]
* I first came across Paul Graham in the guise of his very interestingly titled book, [Hackers and Painters][hap], and then found his [eponymously-named website]( Graham is a coder cum entrepreneur cum brilliant essayist — perhaps one of the best working in the genre now. (If you want a great example, take a look at his essay [“The List of N Things”][lnt].)
* Perhaps the best known of these technologists/essayists is Joel Sposky, whose blog [Joel on Software][jos] also ended up being compiled into a [print book][josbook] (and another) as well as an anthology he edited of the best writing on software.
* Finally, [John Gruber][jg] is someone who decently moves back and forth between blogging and writing. I like him best when he’s doing the latter, and he’s stated at various events that his goal is to write about software in a way that it might grace the pages of _The New Yorker_ — I think that’s setting the bar at the pretentious and previous, but Gruber seems to avoid that particular failing of TNY. Gruber is alone among this crowd in not having a book out, but perhaps that is not far away. Certainly his writing would be worth having on paper.

The Best

Dustin Curtis has a small essay up entitled simply [“The Best.”][best]. In it he describes how a three-month journey in Southeast Asia changed how he thinks about the material things with which he surrounds himself: since his belongings were limited to what would fit in a backpack, he had to find, as he puts it *the best* handheld lamp, *the best* wallet to carry money and papers, etc. He is not alone in his search of course. The fundamental fabric of the Internet, in terms of blogs and forums, is made up of individuals embarked upon similar searches: look no further than the number of sites dedicated to “life-hacking” and/or “productivity.” Clearly, a lot of people are seeking out solutions that will fit their particular needs, their particular proclivities, their particular way of working. That is, while Microsoft Word is omnipresent in most writing contexts, how to bend it to your own way of working is a continuing conversation, or what word processing application you could use in its stead that would more accurately reflect *your* way of writing seems a continual search for some. (My recommendation, by the way, is [Scrivener][].)

There are two senses of best here: Curtis seems to be arguing, at times, that there really is a universal best, that if you do the research, you will come to the same conclusions about what is the best flatware as he did. (I could be wrong about my sense of his argument, however.) This is, of course, a bit of Enlightenment residue, and something all successful individuals, especially those who make a living with ideas, are prone to succumb to, if in fact Curtis succumbed to this.

The other sense of best is the sense I was describing above: best *for me*, for my needs, my way of working, my way of living. In that case, I wholeheartedly agree, and I confess that I arrived at that conclusions after too many years, and really more years than I want to admit even to myself, of buying cheap things that I thought would suffice but in the end, didn’t.

It’s not that I didn’t have some early, positive reinforcement that one should find a thing one really loves and buy it when you can afford it and not waste time and money in buying poor substitutes. When I was a graduate student in the late 80s, I stumbled upon an art and drafting supply house in Syracuse, New York. It was an old-fashioned affair with lots of space and an island of glass cases, set in a rectangle, in the middle of the front of the store. It was there, in those glass cases that I first glimpsed a fancier version of the $5 Shaeffer fountain pens that I had started using at the end of my undergraduate training. Some of you will know what these Shaeffer pens are: they were $5 and you could find them at places like the old TG&Y. They were a bit leaky; they didn’t feed well; but when everything worked, they introduced you to the world of fountain pens, which is a glorious world after all, and, for seeking distinction through the color of the ink in which they wrote, you could fill them all kinds of colors.

Under the glass of the case lay the slightly upscale version of the Shaeffers, the Lamy. I bought one, but the nib never felt right, and so one day I returned, screwed up my courage, counted the nickels and pennies in my pocket, and spent my money on a Mont Blanc pen. If memory serves, I paid something like $35 or $45 for the pen. It was an absurd amount of money for me at that time, and most of you will recognize that I was buying at the bottom end of the Mont Blanc line, but it was a real fountain pen, in the sense of having a reliable feed system and a smooth-writing nib. I was hooked.

Many years and pens later I eventually settled upon a [Pelikan M215][], and I haven’t bought another pen since. Honestly.

This should have taught me the lesson I needed to learn, but in the intervening years I spend less money per item but more money in toto on a variety of objects which populate my world. (Okay, *populate* is weird to use there, but it works.) I bought coats that weren’t quite what I wanted, but were, I argued to myself, close enough and an awfully good deal, that I would like them, *well enough*. I bought backpacks and clothes and even pieces of software with much the same rationale. Only always to find myself not wanting to wear them or use them. Only to find myself looking again, looking around, looking for something better.

Well, no more. To some degree, fiscal responsibility has pressured me into some consumptive maturity. And so I save for some items, or, if I find something on sale and it goes over my monthly budget, I forego things in the months ahead in order to pay myself back whatever I borrowed.

What has that meant? The most ready to hand example, thanks to the somewhat cool mornings we are enjoying of late in south Louisiana, is the [Columbia fleece jacket][cfj] hanging over the back of my chair right now. I got it from [REI][] on closeout ($50) plus I used a dividend payout and another discount. I think I payed $35 for it in all. While I got a good deal, I bought it because I have a pair of Columbia shoes that I have had for over ten years that I still use for field work and that will not die and continue to look and feel good. Columbia gear is more expensive than other gear, but I am now willing to save, or shop, carefully, to get exactly what I want. The fleece jacket fits perfectly and feels great: no baggy arms, no overly tight cuffs at the wrist, nice weight of fleece. I’m going to have this thing for years to come and look forward to wearing it every chance I get.

For me, it’s one of my *best things*. The advantage os acquiring *best things* is that it clears up your day, your mind; it clears you from the distraction of looking. It’s a lot like those folks who have routinized their days by wearing the same clothes or eating the same thing. It’s one less thing to think about, to find pulling at your attention. Steve Jobs famously did this with broken-in jeans, black turtle necks, and Adidas tennis shoes. It’s as if you’ve decided *this is who I am* so now you can focus all your energy on *this is what I do*.

[Pelikan M215]: