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  • 29 December, 2008

    Surprise, surprise, surprise.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 2:10 pm permalink

    I’ve always thought this (along with the notion that long distance charges are a holdover from analogue days, and also are for the most part bogus), but I always had lingering doubts, since no one else seemed to pipe up about it. Now the NYT confirms:

    A text message initially travels wirelessly from a handset to the closest base-station tower and is then transferred through wired links to the digital pipes of the telephone network, and then, near its destination, converted back into a wireless signal to traverse the final leg, from tower to handset. In the wired portion of its journey, a file of such infinitesimal size is inconsequential. Srinivasan Keshav, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said: “Messages are small. Even though a trillion seems like a lot to carry, it isn’t.”

    Perhaps the costs for the wireless portion at either end are high — spectrum is finite, after all, and carriers pay dearly for the rights to use it. But text messages are not just tiny; they are also free riders, tucked into what’s called a control channel, space reserved for operation of the wireless network.

    That’s why a message is so limited in length: it must not exceed the length of the message used for internal communication between tower and handset to set up a call. The channel uses space whether or not a text message is inserted.

    And why have I always thought this? Because if you know half a thing or two about how information moves from place to place, it just makes sense. The telcos take advantage of the fact that most people won’t be bothered to work this stuff out for themselves, which makes us all suckers. If I had my druthers, we’d all be using VoIP on community ad-hoc WiFi networks.

    What Carriers Aren’t Eager to Tell You About Texting [NYT]
    via
    The New York Times: Text messages cost carriers virtually nothing
    [Boing Boing Gadgets]

  • 26 December, 2008

    On the Publishocalypse

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 1:02 pm permalink

    Salon.com’s got a nice post-game on the Publishocalypse that went down earlier this month in Jason Boog’s “Read it and weep.”

    Who will survive publishing’s Ice Age? Undoubtedly, the companies that can command developments in the impending digital book revolution.

    Well thanks, Captain Obvious. The word “book” in the phrase “digital book revolution” is unnecessary—the so-called digital revolution is upon, above, behind, around, inside, between and [insert more prepositions here] us, and it affects everything. To think that printed books are somehow immune to the sea-change that the information economy is imposing on our society is silly and near-sighted, to say the least.

    The question isn’t so much the “what”—it’s the “how ” of the matter that really has a lot of people stumped. For what it’s worth, I don’t disagree with Boog: the real winners here will be the small, agile shops. Hopefully the indies, like McSweeny’s, and Subterranean Press in the SF/F world, but also (and I admit I’m slightly biased, because well, I’d like to keep my job for now, thanks) small spinoffs from large, corporate publishers like HarperStudio and Tor.com.

    Working in publishing, being relatively new to it, and being involved in one large publishing corporation’s efforts to make sense of this series of tubes, I have some thoughts about how things should maybe play out in order for publishers to adapt to modern times.

    On the role of the Publisher

    I think publishers (and editors) need to start thinking in slightly more media-agnostic terms, and they need to embrace the opportunities afforded by being shoved into the digital age (sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes not), where your cost-per-unit is not dependent on bulky, expensive, and wasteful physical manufacturing processes (which, in essence, is what commercial book-printing is). While there are other costs associated with eBook production that may not be evident at first look (especially at the onset), electronic always trumps physical when it comes to the accessibility of the means of production.

    Additionally, I think fiction editors need to look beyond the novel—or even the book as we know it—as the final product of their efforts. To paraphrase a co-worker, the truly great editor is an advocate for his authors and their ideas, and I think that this advocacy needs to extend into as many realms as necessary. Upon acquisition, an editor should ask themselves not what kind of book should this piece of intellectual property become, but whether it should become a book at all! Should it instead be an information-dense website; or a live-action movie; or a serialized, episodic narrative on the internet (see how far I’ll bend over backwards to not say “TV show”?), or a video game; or a presentation (think Al Gore); or a work of graphic narrative; or an animated movie (these last two most definitely NOT being the same thing)? Once the editor and the author have decided what this piece of IP should be, media-wise, it’s then the editor’s job, with the backing of the publisher, to find the correct producers for that idea, be they printers, eBook-makers, film-makers, game designers, comics artists, etc.

    On books, specifically

    As a book lover and collector, I do think there will be a space for printed and bound books for a long time to come1. I just think that it will be a very limited market: for people who like books as objects, for art or photography books (including graphic storytelling), or beautiful collections.

    On the technological side, however, things are moving fast. People are starting to read on their iPhones and other smartphones, the ePub format is gaining some serious traction, and devices like the Kindle and the Sony Reader are also becoming more sophisticated (think about the current iteration of the Kindle and similar devices as the same as the 13-inch, black and white tube television prevalent in the fiftes ans sixties). I wouldn’t be surprised to see colour, increased resolution, and maybe even rudimentary animation on eInk technology by the end of 2009, at least in proof-of-concept form.

    This very well may be wishful thinking, but my vision for a holistic book publisher of the future is one which concerns itself with both the analogue and the digital life of a work of fiction, and works at or around three editions of a work that probably need to be published at the same time—this whole business of waiting a year to publish a mass market edition of a book is nonsense in a digital world.

    1- Premium Printed Edition—The first edition would be a physical object: a beautifully-designed Premium Printed Edition, exquisitely-printed, bound in small numbers, destined for a small market of higher-end customers and collectors—much like music and movie boxed-sets.  Accompanying this tome would be a Unabridged Digital First Edition, which would include any multimedia elements that make up a part of the book (such as embedded movies, music, maps, illustrations, etc); as well as ancillary material that is not necessarily part of the book itself (think documentaries on related subjects, interviews with the author, etc). This would sell for a premium price, let’s say $50-$602.

    2- Unabridged Digital Edition—At the same time as the Premium Printed Edition is released, you release that Unabridged Digital Edition that you included with the Premium Printed Edition as a stand-alone purchase, priced at around $10-$20 bucks. I think this price range is justifiable for a first electronic edition that is chock-full with additional elements that you don’t have in a regular, printed edition of a book. Additionally, buying this edition automatically entitles the buyer to download future, updated editions of the same book, either for free, or for a ridiculously low fee (I’m thinking like a dollar). Once you start including multimedia content with a work of fiction, and packaging it all together in an attractive way, editions become version numbers, and books truly become software in an ideological sense. This changes the work of an editor and an author: if an author so chooses, their work is never finished, and the author retains a very accessible way of adding, amending, and otherwise iterating on a previously-published work in a timely manner; likewise, an editor becomes even more of a shepherd, and the act of editing a book can become an ongoing curatorial pursuit. But I digress. Moving on…

    3- Abridged Digital Edition—Still at the same time as the Premium Printed Edition and the Unabridged Digital Edition are released (remember, staggered publishing is for suckers in the digital age—you only need to walk Canal street on a movie’s theater release date to see the DVDs on display, and the fallacy in that model), you release the Abridged Digital Edition at mass-market prices: Say, $2-6 bucks, tops. This Abridged Edition is just the plaintext of the work in question—well-designed, nicely typeset, but no multimedia, no maps, no art, no entitlement to future iterations, no nothing. Words on a screen. Hell, if it were me, I’d offer this edition as a free download.

    An aside: While incredibly nifty technology, I see Print-on-Demand as a stopgap measure between the phasing out of mass markets and trade paperbacks, and the true ubiquitousness of e-reading, so it doesn’t really fit in this model.

    As it becomes more and more obvious that digital is the way to go for publishing (not that it ever wasn’t, really, it’s just that the big boys are now actually altering course on their big boats), many ideas will hit the market, and many will die before a successful model is found. This, I think, is a scheme that could be sustainable, and embraces the best of both the digital and the analogue worlds. Would it work? Is it too simplistic an approach? Is it going too much against accepted practices in the publising industry? Does it leave too many people that now depend on the infrastructure surrounding printed books out in the cold? I don’t know. What do you think?

    1 At least until people around my age all die off—children nowadays are consuming most of their media via digital interfaces earlier and much more often than before. I would be very surprised if a thirty-year-old of 2030 has a problem with reading off a screen, like many of my contemporaries do.

    2 All dollar values are purely off-the cuff, and more meant to reflect a relative pricing scale for different editions, than reflect any real costs associated with publishing—I’m just sayin’. A formal P&L is not part of this excercise…yet.

  • 13 December, 2008

    Dick to the Dawk to the PhD!

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 3:05 am permalink

    Aw yeah!

  • 10 September, 2008

    …and I feel fine.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:53 am permalink

    I apologize for the lack of posting around these parts recently. This summer has been hectic, to say the least: travel, moving, new projects, old projects, and a job shuffle (more on that later) have all taken a toll on my time over the last two or three months.But I couldn’t let today go by without giving a shout out to CERN.

    Today’s the day, folks. The Large Hadron Collider goes online (or technically, first collides particles-the LHC actually came online this morning at around 2AM)! No we won’t all die a horrible death by black hole, despite what all the anti-intellectuallists and the bible-thumpers might tell you. We may, however, gain a significantly better understanding of our universe, and the origin of the same.

    So: happy LHC day. If they find the Higgs Boson (do NOT call it the “god particle”, for fuck’s sake!), I propose we declare a worldwide holiday.

  • 4 September, 2008

    LHC Rap.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 8:59 am permalink

    A little old school party rap to take you back to the days before imminent, tin-foil-hatted ragnarok:

    And remember, kids: the shit goes down on 09 September. Set your calendars.

  • 25 August, 2008

    Richard Dawkins Reads his Hate Mail

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 12:10 pm permalink

    Via boingboing, the title says it all:

  • 5 August, 2008

    From the Void: A Bit of Speculation.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:56 pm permalink

    Jo Walton has a fantastic breakdown of possible solutions for life on other planets, based on different takes on the Fermi Paradox by various SF luminaries over on Tor.com. This reminded me of this post which I’d begun to write a little while ago, but languished in the obscurity of my ‘pending drafts’ queue for some reason or another. Regardless, here it is:

    Scientists in Australia have determined that some of the organic compounds found on a meteor they’ve been studying were created in space and survived the meteorite’s entry and impact on Earth. From the paper’s abstract:

    Carbon-rich meteorites, carbonaceous chondrites, contain many biologically relevant organic molecules and delivered prebiotic material to the young Earth. We present compound-specific carbon isotope data indicating that measured purine and pyrimidine compounds are indigenous components of the Murchison meteorite.

    The big news is that some of those molecules are basic components of amino acids, the building blocks of life. So, what does this mean, exactly? Phil Plait has a great post on his site, Bad Astronomy, where he clearly explains the discovery, outlines the possible implications, an debunks all the “Iz I teh alienz?” chatter that’s been making the rounds through the internet since this discovery was announced.

    In short, it is possible that some of the elements that created life on this planet may have come from space, but it’s also equally possible that they developed here on a young Earth, since any conditions that would enable the compounds to survive after impact would also be conditions primed to host the development of these compounds independently.

    Regardless, it’s big news, and brain-candy for those of us with a science-fictional bent, who like to extrapolate from these scientific discoveries. This discovery, while not necessarily implying that life on Earth has its origins elsewhere in the universe, does seem to indicate that the elements required for the development of carbon-based life exist outside of our planet, and could have found a hospitable environment in which to develop and flourish into life on some other planet. This opens up the possibility for many interesting scenarios.

    There could be very distant genetic cousins to humans living on a hospitable planet somewhere out there. Given the right conditions, such as those on Earth, they could have developed into as wide a range of flora and fauna as we find on Earth, and even developed sentient life forms. Unfortunately for xenophiles, cross-breeding would probably be out of the question (assuming we are still tethered to our meatspace bodies by the time we discover our cousins).

    There could also be sentient life just now crawling out of their primordial ooze as we speak, giving us a chance to observe, sometime in the future (when our technology is sufficiently capable to observe direct, on-the-ground action in faraway places), the initial stirrings of evolved life. Could we also, at that point in our technological development, have access to tools that enable us to edit and alter that genetic evolutionary process? This is very likely, and opens up the door to some ethical debate as to whether our involvement would be appropriate. This could turn into the hot-button, abortion-like issue in the political world of the 24th century. Trekkies will bust out copies of the Prime Directive as reference. Furious debate will ensue regarding the age-old question: When does life begin?

    In short, a bit of news that helps to place humans as a species, and humanity as a civilization, into perspective. Every new discovery like this helps us realize that more than even global citizens, we’re denizens of the universe, which serves to reinforce the need for us to explore the stars, and start working towards taking our place among them.

  • 5 August, 2008

    A Fantastic Idea

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 9:41 pm permalink

    invisible streetlight, solar streetlight, leaf streetlight, solar leaf streetlight, biomimetic leaf street lamp, jongoh lee, solar powered streetlight, led lamp, light-emitting diodes, bio-morphic, lighting
    Solar, LED, leaf-shaped, bendy ‘invisible’ streetlights, designed by Jongoh Lee. I don’t know how well they’d stand up to the harsh elements, but in theory it’s a fantastic application, especially for places that are still off the grid.

    Via Carey Tse’s twitter feed.

  • 20 July, 2008

    It’s go-live time for Tor.com

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 12:12 pm permalink

    The not-so-super-seekrit project that’s been sucking down so much of everyone’s time over at Tor Books finally goes live today. Tor.com is a new science-fiction and fantasy themed community site, where a whole lot of luminaries from the SF/F fandom community will be contributing content about ‘Science Fiction. Fantasy. The Universe. And Related Subjects.’, as the tagline says.

    Tor.com started as a glimmer in the eyes of Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Irene Gallo, and Fritz Foy, over a year ago. With the design direction of regular badass Jamie Stafford-Hill, they’ve been working tirelessly, quietly, and sometimes not-so-quietly on it since. Tor.com will feature original content from some of SF/F’s most talented voices, such as John Scalzi, Charles Stross, and Cory Doctorow; as well as blogging from both genre authors and genre fans (including yours truly). It also features a kickass gallery of SF/F artists, with work from cover artists, game designers, conceptual artists for film and TV, you name it. Additionally, the site is a social network, so you can create a profile and connect with artists, writers, and fellow fans.

    As launch date loomed closer, and it came time to recruit bloggers and beta testers, pnh and Irene approached me to see if I would be interested in contributing, to which I replied “Yeah!”. Once they realized that launch date would be the same week as Comic Con San Diego, and that they’d need people there to cover what is probably one of the largest fandom events of the year, Irene popped into my office and asked me if I wanted to go to Comic Con, to which I replied “Fuck yeah!”.

    So I’ll be going to and blogging from Comic Con San Diego this week. Don’t hate me too much.

    Aside from reportage, I’ll also be posting about other SF/F-related stuff on Tor.com, including a regular column which was originally planned for this site. A while ago, the crew in the art department at Tor realized that there really was no SF/F-specific book cover review blog out there, and we felt there should be. After all, SF/F book design is a very particular thing: we are much more illustration heavy than other genres, we have a particular visual language and ideosyncracies that may be beyond (or beside) the scope of traditional book cover reviews. I shot off an email to my co-workers proposing to start something up, and it became incredibly obvious that the perfect home for a feature like that would be Tor.com. So there you go. Here’s a link to the initial post for that, outlining all the ins-and-outs of how it’s gonna work.

  • 25 June, 2008

    It’s Tuesday, I’m packing. Have some Stross.

    posted by Pablo Defendini at 7:57 am permalink

    Here’s an oldie but a goodie. I’d read this before, but came across it again last night while reading the comments on a BoingBoing post. Charles Stross on the future of history, the future of lifelogging, and the future of privacy. Utterly fascinating stuff.

    EDIT: And by ‘Tuesday’, I mean ‘Wednesday’, of course. Slow down, week! I’m not done with you yet!