Thursday, December 20, 2012

eBooks and the Library

David Vinjamuri, writing at Forbes, points out that how libraries lend books will change as more and more people read eBooks. The problem is that neither pricing nor usage has stabilized  as a result, libraries are spending a significant amount of money on eBooks that a limited (but growing!) amount of patrons use, and publishers are looking to charge higher prices - and dictate more limitations - for eBooks than they do for printed books. Money quote:
For better or worse, Big Six publishers are unlikely to adopt a pricing model for eBooks that mirrors how print books are sold to libraries.  But current pricing and lending restrictions unfairly penalize libraries to the detriment of publishers and readers.  A system based on actual use would more fairly allocate cost and risk as long as eBooks are not governed by the First Sale doctrine.
Personally, despite reading more and more eBooks, I use the library less and less because I don't really understand the lending process and so few eBooks are available for lending. It's a problem that will need to be solved at some point, between the lack of eBooks at the library, the question about what happens to eBooks when an account goes dormant, and other factors, a real availability issue may be starting to take shape.

H/t to the Dish for pointing out the article. Also interesting at the Dish is the reading trends graphic.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Lines of "Wool"

"The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do. While they thundered about frantically above, Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads."

- Hugh Howey, Wool (omnibus edition).

The first novella in the collected omnibus edition is absolutely fantastic. I'd recommend it to anyone. The fact that it was originally self-published makes the story and its success that much more impressive. The second novella is less immediately compelling  but part of the reason for this is that his purpose has changed - he's quite obviously building up a world for future stories. I'm really enjoying his breezy yet thought-provoking style, and the storytelling is top-notch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Theory Behind the "Cloud Atlas" film

Emily Eakin writes a somewhat arch but interesting article behind the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas, one of my favorite books. Her point is that Ken Wilber - the author of an ambitious effort to reconcile empirical knowledge and mystical experience in an “Integral Theory” of existence - provides us the proper framework to view the movie (and also, presumably, read the book). She details his thinking as:
"...reality is composed exclusively of holons, a term borrowed from Arthur Koestler to denote that which is simultaneously an autonomous whole and a part of something larger. Just as a brain cell is both a self-contained unit and part of a larger organ, so, too, a human being exists as a single individual and as part of a larger collective—a family, an ethnic group, the human race, all living things—in a pattern that extends indefinitely in both directions."
Sounds interesting! And she even includes some nifty graphics from his books to illustrate his points. It sounds a little complex and ratholeish to be my cup of tea, but it's always interesting pondering these things.

Eakin also details what sounds like what sounds like what might be the biggest criticism for the movie. SPOILER ALERT! She writes: "With these gestures, the directors made literal what Mitchell had left playfully ambiguous: characters in later sections are the spiritual embodiments—reincarnations—of those in earlier ones." Not sure I like things spelled out in this way but that's Hollywood for you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Moral Courage

"Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men."

- George S. Patton Jr.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

First Lines of Octavia Butler's "Dawn"


Still alive.

Alive... again.

Awakening was hard, as always. The ultimate disappointment  It was a struggle to take in enough air to drive off nightmare sensations of asphyxiation. Lilith Iyapo lay gasping, shaking with the force of her effort. Her heart beat too fast, too loud. She curled around it, fetal, helpless. Circulation began to return to her arms and legs in flurries of minute, exquisite pains."

- Octavia Butler, from Dawn (Book One of Lilith's Brood). A really intriguing first contact book so far. I alternate from thinking it's written really well and not so much, but regardless I haven't been able to put it down.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Might As Well Be Infinity...

To expand upon this post a bit, Voyager I is almost at the edge of our galaxy. To put that in perspective, TPM writes, it's "some 11 billion miles away from the Sun, with its signal taking about 17 hours to get back to Earth." It took Voyager - a nuclear-powered spacecraft - 35 years to travel to the edge of the solar system.

It's always hard to really grasp distances like this, but Alan Lightman devotes an entire article ("Our Place in the Universe") to it in the December 2012 issue of Harper's:
"...Newton correctly concluded that the nearest stars [beyond our solar system] are about 100,000 times the distance from the Earth to the sun, about 10 trillion miles away. ... If we traveled in the fastest rocket ship ever manufactured on earth, the trip would last 100,000 years, at least a thousand human life spans." 
Pretty stunning numbers. And that's just to our nearest star, to say nothing of other galaxies. Lightman quotes a scientist studying a galaxy named UDFj-39546284 that is 100,000,000 trillion miles from earth. Damn.

Practically, this means that, since our current understanding is that speed-of-light travel is impossible, the rest of the universe is out of reach for manned space travel. Its reasons like this that make SciFi authors like Kim Stanley Robinson limit themselves to our solar system: the distances between systems are just too vast. And they're getting bigger all the time!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

When Plunder Becomes a Way of Life

Frédéric Bastiat wrote of this human trait in 1848, "When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dave Brubeck, RIP

One of my favorite breakfast albums is Dave Brubeck's Time Out. It's an amazing album whose polyrhythms can entertain without overwhelming the moment - but is not strictly background music either. So it was with sadness that I heard that Brubeck died recently at the ripe age of 91. Rest in Peace.

If you've never heard the guy, go to YouTube or check out this 1966 concert to listen to what you missed.

The Big Primary-Color Emotions of a Dog

"This state of being-in-the-moment is what’s so compelling about dogs. It’s hard for a human to get to it. Even in the most difficult times, dogs are cheerful and ready for experience. A dog can’t figure out that it’s being measured for its grave. ... if you resist too much the power of the big primary-color emotions that surround the dog, you’re missing the experience."

 - John Homans, from What’s a Dog For?: The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend

h/t Brain Pickings

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whispers Against the Great Roar of the World

"I wouldn't have done it this way!" Sax exclaimed. 
Ann stared at him. He steadfastly regarded the TV.

"I know," she said. And then she was tired of talk again, tired of its uselessness. It had never been more than it was now: whispers against the great roar of the world, half-heard and less understood.

- Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, page 555

Sunday, December 2, 2012


“When I’m alone”—the words tripped off his tongue
As though to be alone were nothing strange.
“When I was young,” he said; “when I was young...”

I thought of age, and loneliness, and change,
I thought how strange we grow when we’re alone,
And how unlike the selves that meet and talk,
And blow the candles out, and say goodnight.
Alone. . . . The word is life endured and known.
It is the stillness where our spirits walk
And all but inmost faith is overthrown.

- "Alone" by Siegfried Sassoon (h/t The Dish)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Words and Action

"It was a world of acts, and words had no more influence on acts than the sound of a waterfall on the flow of the stream."

- Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, p. 461