Amazon just announced a new water-resistant Kindle Paperwhite

16 October 2018

From CNBC:

Amazon upgraded its popular Kindle Paperwhite eReader on Tuesday with new features that align it more with last year’s Kindle Oasis — but this device is more than $100 cheaper.

The Kindle Paperwhite is probably the e-reader you should buy if you’re in the market for a new one, but only if the following features sound like they’re worth the upgrade.

. . . .

The new device is water-resistant, which means it can be dropped into a pool or up to 6 feet of water for 60 minutes without getting damaged. Amazon also added Bluetooth and support for Audible so users can switch back and forth between listening and reading if they connect headphones or a speaker. You still need to own the Audible and eBook formats for this to work.

The Kindle Paperwhite is thinner and lighter than last year’s model and has one additional LED light that makes the screen brighter even when it’s used in the dark.

Amazon is adding new presets to its fonts, too. You might read a book in a certain font and size, but then hand it off to a child who prefers a different setting. It’s a useful feature if you share your Kindle with multiple people, or if you wear glasses occasionally but want to toggle between certain fonts and sizes at different times of day.

Link to the rest at CNBC and here’s a link to the new Paperwhite.

PG bought the original Paperwhite not long after it was released and, for him, it’s the ideal device for reading ebooks. He prefers the screen and form factor to that of a tablet for extended reading.

Contra to the OP, PG likes the fact that his Paperwhite automatically dims the screen brightness when the lights go out. (He doesn’t remember if it’s a setting he selected or the default.) For him, a dimmer screen provides a better experience when the room is dark and his eyes are dilated. If Mrs. PG is prudently going to sleep at a reasonable time, the Paperwhite barely brightens the room at all. YMMV.


Librarians Are Heroic

16 October 2018

From The Literary Hub:

Libraries function in myriad ways. They’re public spaces, information repositories, and places you can go to break the copy machine by stuffing them full of broken crayons. They’re also living organisms—a body that is constantly morphing and shifting, aligning itself with whatever the community needs. A library is the materials it houses, but it’s also the people who use it.

Susan Orlean writes about the library body extensively in her upcoming book, The Library Book. Her work examines how libraries function—including deft research of essential library history and an investigation of the massive fire that incinerated over 400,000 at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986—but it’s also a look at how loss and trauma can lead to necessary growth. The book is startling and gorgeous. As a librarian, I find it to be an essential text on the past, present, and future of libraries.

. . . .

Kristen Arnett: You speak a lot about libraries as community spaces. You talk about the ever-present noise; how odd it is when you’re finally in the building before opening and it’s actually quiet for once. Libraries are generally bustling! Was this surprising to you? Did you find yourself preferring the noise over the quiet?

Susan Orlean: There’s such a stereotypical image of a library as being a hushed place with stern librarians keeping everyone quiet, so it was a delight to realize that libraries are lively, bubbling with activity and even conversation. I found the noise really pleasant—it’s the noise of people engaged in what they’re doing, which delighted me.

KA: I know we both prolifically use Twitter—have you noticed a difference in how libraries are keeping up with their communities via social media platforms? Have you had any libraries approach you this way regarding your book?

SO: Social media has been a great boon for libraries—it allows them to stay connected to their communities and highlight their programming. I’ve had a lot of libraries say hello to me on Twitter since I began tweeting about the book, and I love it. I also love how being active on social media makes libraries feel like part of the here-and-now and not the fusty old institutions some people might imagine them to be.

. . . .

KA: Since you don’t work in libraries, did you come up against any push back from librarians or library staff about writing this book? Were there any issues with providing information for your book regarding privacy rights of patrons?

SO: The librarians I encountered were all helpful and patient and, I think, excited that someone was looking at their profession with real interest. There were details about patrons that they couldn’t share, but it never became an impediment to my reporting. I loved writing about librarians; they remember everything and they’re so organized that they could find anything they wanted to share with me!

. . . .

KA: When I was in undergrad, I had a professor who told me they didn’t use library books because they didn’t like the idea of someone else having that book before them. You write a lot about the appeal of new books—that idea of owning something personal and important, the particular smell, the feel and sound of cracking a fresh spine. What would you say is the allure of circulating materials? Is there a different kind of love affair to be had with a book that a community owns versus a book that a single person owns?

SO: There is something about sharing that makes a library book different; maybe it’s just our ability to imagine who else has held the book and experienced reading it before us, and who might after us. It’s like being part of a daisy chain of narrative. There is also something heartening about being part of a community that shares—the way being in a public park has a different feeling than being in a private backyard. It feels good to know we can cooperate with one another peacefully.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG thinks he may have experienced the appeal of new books when he was young. However, the cost of buying books during college and law school dimmed that appeal and it has never brightened since.

A used book was a much better experience. Obviously, it didn’t cost nearly as much as a new book, but there was sometimes the added bonus of someone smart being the original owner and underlining the important parts.

When he first was looking at a used book that had been underlined, PG sub-consciously analyzed the academic skill of the prior owner to determine how much he could count on the underlining to skim past the dull parts while still getting the gist of the topic necessary for the final exam. If the bookstore had more than one used book for a course, PG sometimes compared the underlines of the books to select the most valuable one for acquisition.

When he went to law school, he usually encountered a somewhat different situation that reflected the developing business philosophy of academic publishers. Legal publishers issued new editions of their case books quite often. (In the United States, legal textbooks, particularly for lower-level classes, are often composed of case summaries that illustrate the particular legal principle being taught. It is (or was) not unusual to find excerpts from the original decision written by the court comprising over 90% of a summary with only small additions from the publisher.)

Often the changes between the new edition and prior edition were small, but the addition of a new case summary that wasn’t in the previous edition and which might be the subject of one or two class periods increased the risks of buying a used legal text. Given enough advance notice, a student might be able to obtain a copy of the original case opinion from the school library, but casebooks would often distill a 20-page court decision down to 3-4 pages that illustrated a particular legal principle that was only part of the original opinion so there was a time penalty involved in reading the entire opinion.

Epidemics as Entertainment

16 October 2018


Plagues are a staple of modern day popular culture. There’s the actual news cycles dominated by the disease du jour—Ebola, H1N1, SARS. Then there’s an entire genre of film based on mysterious bugs that wipe out populations, or turn people into the murderous undead. A popular online game, Pandemic, has you deliberately infecting as many countries as possible.

You would think that our fascination with epidemics might be a natural human reaction to a threat, and yet, our specific fear of certain diseases has little to do with their actual degree of deadliness. We pay much less attention to hypertension, respiratory diseases, and diabetes, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the deadliest conditions in the United States.

Scholar Nancy Tomes set out to interrogate what exactly makes an illness newsworthy. She writes that although “historians and literary critics have produced many useful studies of individual diseases, they have only rarely explored the larger process of competition for attention that operated in making one disease seem a more compelling subject than another.”

Tomes revisited the literature and culture of the early twentieth century, interrogating past patterns of mortality and press coverage to determine what factors might contribute to the public’s fervor around a particular disease. What she found was a complex interplay of factors: political agendas, scientific advancement, and media interest fueled fear more than a straightforward correlation between “danger” and “publicity.”

From “parrot fever” (a respiratory infection caused by an avian-borne strain of chlamydia) to “undulant fever” (also known as brucellosis, caused by a bacteria in raw milk), Tomes investigates what diseases were seen as newsworthy, which were best suited to plays and entertainment that captured the public’s imagination, and which could be safely designated to “the other” and therefore titillate as well as deepen social divides for political reasons. None of these on their own create a public pandemic panic—but together, they’re a powerful vehicle that can distract us from what’s really dangerous.

. . . .

For example, we are familiar with tuberculosis from its prominent place in the art and culture of the early twentieth century. Given its prevalence in popular culture, we may assume it was decimating populations. According to Tomes, however, T.B.’s notoriety is not a fully accurate representation of the peril it caused. While indeed a fatal and contagious disease, other equally terrible afflictions may not have been awarded the same level of attention. Sexually transmitted diseases, for example, were on the rise and taking a toll on the population at the time, but were not seen as fit for public discussion.

“T.B. became the ‘master disease’ of early-twentieth-century reformers and editors not because it was on the rise but because it served other compelling agendas,” writes Tomes. It bolstered the then-new germ theory of disease. Although it hadn’t previously been considered a communicable disease, when the medical profession proved its contagious nature, germ theory took hold in the public’s mind.

. . . .

“Themes of cross-class infection and romance were staples of… disease melodramas. Sick workers infected the beloved wives and children of greedy businessmen and slum lords; innocent young women and noble doctors served as instruments of their salvation,” writes Tomes. She also notes that politically, “T.B. served well as a vehicle for pushing a wide range of societal reforms aimed at easing the dislocations of urbanization and industrialization.”

Link to the rest at JSTOR

Amazon Shares a Selection of Customers’ Favorite Books from Indie Authors

15 October 2018

From The Associated Press:

Hundreds of thousands of independent authors are finding their audiences through self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). More than ever before, authors are reaching new readers directly and cultivating communities as they grow their writing careers on KDP. Readers also relish the value and entertainment from these authors. On average, 20% of books on this year’s Amazon Charts Top 20 weekly lists are self-published.

“We launched KDP in 2007 with the first Kindle, and since then hundreds of thousands of independent authors have chosen to self-publish their books, earning up to 70 percent of their royalties and retaining the life-long rights of their work,” said Charles Kronbach, Director of Independent Publishing Worldwide for Amazon. “In 2017, thousands of KDP authors earned more than $50,000 in royalties, and more than a thousand earned more than $100,000. We are inspired by the success of these writers and how they are delighting readers.”

Below is a curated list of top-selling books on Amazon from independent authors and why customers love them (average customer rating as of October 2018):

(Thriller). Overall rating: 4.3 stars. “Fantastic plot, characters, writing, etc. Can’t recommend it highly enough! I’m so glad this is the beginning of my new journey with this author and with Noah Wolf!!” – Amazon customer (Thriller). Overall rating: 4.6 stars. “I could hardly put this book down. First book I have read by John Ellsworth. I cannot wait to read more. Well written and holds your attention!” – Ann C (Romance). Overall rating: 4.6 stars. “I don’t know that I have ever laughed so much at a novel. This was a great read. It had me feeling all the feels in a happy and unique way.” – Kindle customer (Science Fiction & Fantasy). Overall rating: 4.8 stars. “Awesome….Exhilarating….Aleron takes you on a journey that transports you to a magical world with unlimited possibilities. These books are truly amazing. I can’t wait for more to come out.” – Frank (Mystery). Overall rating: 4.7 stars. “I just can’t say enough good things about Pratt’s writing style. He gets you hooked from the first chapter and before you know it the end is here all too soon. He’s a must-read author on the top of my list.” – MzCarrie (Romance). Overall rating: 4.8 stars. “Denise has done it again. The Rose Gardner and Neely Kate novels keep getting better and better. Definitely didn’t expect the twist in this one. Anyone who enjoys a strong female lead, humor, loyal friendships and romance needs to read these books!” – vic 55 (Suspense). Overall rating: 4.2 stars. “This book is full of action, mystery and suspense. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. Great writing and characters. And of course it ends on a cliffhanger that has me itching to know what happens next.” – LeKeisha (Young Adult). Overall rating 4.8 stars. “This book deserves so many more than 5 stars. So emotional and moving. Ren and Della were so raw and touching…real. Gawww this book is now 1 of my very all-time favorites.” – Kelli B

Link to the rest at The Associated Press

Richard Prince defends reuse of others’ photographs

15 October 2018

From The Art Newspaper:

In two cases testing copyright law in social media, the artist Richard Prince is asking a federal court in Manhattan to rule that two of his Instagram-based works constitute fair use of photographs taken by others.

Both are from Prince’s 2014 New Portraits series, in which he enlarged and printed Instagram posts with such images. One uses a Donald Graham photograph, Rastafarian Smoking a Joint, and the other Eric McNatt’s photograph of the musician and artist Kim Gordon. Before enlarging the posts, Prince deleted some comments and added one of his own but left the photographs largely unaltered. Graham and McNatt sued, alleging copyright infringement.

Last year a US District Court judge rejected Prince’s motion to dismiss Graham’s case. To constitute fair use, the judge said, the “reasonable observer” must conclude that Prince imbued Graham’s photograph with new meaning, expression or purpose. Because Prince used essentially the entirety of Graham’s photograph without “substantial aesthetic alterations”, he said, the artist needed “substantial evidentiary support” to prove that his work was transformative.

This time around, in summary judgment motions filed on 5 and 9 October, Prince argues that he had to use as much of the photograph as appeared in the Instagram post to accomplish his purpose. In a 15-page statement calling his iPhone a paintbrush, Prince explains that he wanted “to reimagine traditional portraiture and bring to a canvas and art gallery a physical representation of the virtual world of social media”. Had he altered the photographs, he says, that intent would go unseen.

To establish what a reasonable observer would see, Prince has enlisted art world luminaries. For example, the director of the New Museum, Lisa Phillips, says in court documents, “An image need not be altered to be transformed into a new work of art”, noting Prince’s long practice of appropriation. Whereas the photographs convey meaning about individuals, says Brian Wallis, curator of the Walther Collection in New York and former deputy director of the International Center of Photography, Prince’s works “refer to the way these portraits are already transformed by Instagram as a medium of communication”. And the dealer Daniel Wolf says the meaning in Prince’s works “is not in the photograph; the meaning is in the Instagram”.

. . . .

Amy Whitaker . . .  says, “While I admire the imaginativeness required to wrest [transformative] meaning from five words and one emoji”, that interpretation “rests solely” on the “brand of the artist”.

Link to the rest at The Art Newspaper


From Page Six:

Controversial artist Richard Prince is back in court for an ongoing copyright case over two photographs used in his 2014 “New Portraits” series that were taken by artists Donald Graham and Eric McNatt. Prince — who took the images from Instagram and printed them largely unaltered with a comment he added — is arguing that his iPhone is a “paintbrush.”

Link to the rest at Page Six

PG observes that using a paintbrush to modify an original work without also using paint is a very conceptual alteration of the original to create a new work. PG thinks the Instagram artist will not be successful with his second legal theory, either. But, as usual, he could be wrong.

Here is a photo of one of PG’s Coke Zero cans (empty) for which he used his iPhone as a paintbrush. It is placed here strictly as an illustrative demonstration that it is not fair use for purposes of existing as an independent work of art (although PG believes his depiction is more transformative than Mr. Prince’s is because he used his iPhone as a camera instead of as a paintbrush without paint).

PG has elected not to disturb his shrinking group of Instagram followers by inflicting a copy of this photo on them via online means.

Two Wrongs

15 October 2018

If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.

~ Laurence J. Peter

Confusion Pops Up, in a Pop-Up Bookstore

15 October 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s funny what can happen when you throw around industry jargon assuming everyone is familiar with only to find that they are not, in fact, familiar. I’ve written here before about trying to phase out my usage of the terms “middle grade” and “young adult” in store signage and handselling. These phrases tend to be heard as “middle school” and “young adult” (as opposed to 12 years old and up) by anyone not in the book business. And what’s the point of holding on to a phrase that doesn’t communicate what we intend it to?

. . . .

I’ve been running an after-school pop-up [bookstore in an ice-cream shop] which has, so far, been met with frequent delight and only occasional confusion. One of these occasions involved a very sweet elderly lady who came up to me as I was setting up for the afternoon. Setting up involves moving a fairly hefty sales counter — on wheels, thankfully —180 degrees so that the open side with shelves of books is on display to the room. As I was slowly spinning the purple behemoth that is Spellbound’s pop-up bookshop, this exchange happened.

Sweet Elderly Lady: I just have to ask. What is this?

Me: A pop-up bookshop!

SEL: A puppet shop?

Me: No, a pop-up book shop [gesturing at books now that they’re visible].

SEL: So you do puppet shows about the books?

Me: No, “pop-up,” not “puppet.”

SEL: Oh… so these are all pop-up books?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

How Robots and Drones Will Change Retail Forever

15 October 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon’s one-million-square-foot distribution center in Baltimore is a massive fulfillment machine. Stand at one end of the warehouse, and its titanium-white scaffolding and seemingly endless conveyor belts disappear at a vanishing point that is, somehow, within the building. The machine is a dazzling combination of chutes, ladders, rollers and 11 miles’ worth of conveyor belts. Customers’ orders move from shelving into bins and from bins into boxes as they travel via the machine straight into delivery vans, passing by stationary workers at various points along the way. Humans are rarely required to move around here. It’s much faster, and cheaper, to have stuff brought to them.

This is where robots come in. Resembling oversize Roombas topped with Ikea shelving, these Kiva robots can carry up to 750 pounds of goods in their 40-odd cubbies. After a customer places an order, a robot carrying the desired item scoots over to a worker, who reads on a screen what item to pick and what cubby it’s located in, scans a bar code and places the item in a bright-yellow bin that travels by conveyor belt to a packing station. AI suggests an appropriate box size; a worker places the item in the box, which a robot tapes shut and, after applying a shipping label, sends on its way. Humans are needed mostly for grasping and placing, tasks that robots haven’t mastered yet.

. . . .

Amazon’s robots signal a sea change in how the things we buy will be aggregated, stored and delivered. The company requires one minute of human labor to get a package onto a truck, but that number is headed to zero. Autonomous warehouses will merge with autonomous manufacturing and delivery to form a fully automated supply chain.

We are in the early days of what might be called the “physical cloud,” an e-commerce ecosystem that functions like the internet itself. Netflix caches the movies you stream at a data center physically close to you; Amazon is building warehouse after warehouse to store goods closer to consumers. And the storage systems at those warehouses are looking more like the data-storage systems in the cloud. Instead of storing similar items in the same place—a helpful practice when humans were fetching the goods—Amazon’s warehouses store multiples of the same item at random locations, known only to the robots. Trying to find an Instapot at one of Amazon’s warehouses would be like trying to find where in the cloud one of your emails is stored. Of course, you don’t have to. You just tap your screen and the email appears. No humans are involved.

. . . .

Delivery is about to change drastically too. Amazon, Google, Uber and many startups are working on autonomous delivery drones that will one day connect us to the physical cloud. Remember the days before ride-sharing apps, when we hailed cabs with our hands or a phone call? Uber and Lyft made it easier. Now imagine summoning power tools or appliances delivered by drones. We may someday store objects we own in the physical cloud the same we way store photos in the digital one.

. . . .

A fully automated warehouse is just the beginning. Amazon and Walmart have patented blimplike warehouses that will float 1,000 feet in the air, armed with drones ready to deliver toothpaste and toilet paper to your doorstep as if they were files. Welcome to the physical cloud.

Before we get there, robots need to be able to perform every warehouse task on their own. While no other retailer comes close to Amazon in terms of scale, Ocado , an online-only grocer in England, has more sophisticated automation by far. In a brightly lighted warehouse an hour north of London, a swarm of Ocado’s R2-D2-size robots scurry about on an elevated grid of squares, crisscrossing and coming close to crashing into one another without ever doing so.

. . . .

More impressive than the robots is the software behind them. Ocado’s system requires an AI of unholy complexity. The AI is trying to optimize every aspect of Ocado’s fulfillment: where to store its tens of thousands of items, which of those should be packed first and into which bags, which items should go on which trucks, which delivery route to take so that ice cream doesn’t melt on the way. The optimal solutions for different factors don’t always agree with one another: The fastest way to load a truck may not be the most efficient use of its space. As a result, adding just one more variable to the system increases the difficulty exponentially. And Ocado is optimizing for millions of variables.

. . . .

Ocado’s system takes a fundamentally human and Byzantine process—receiving shipments from food manufacturers, stocking and restocking a warehouse, assembling customers’ orders and placing them into baskets, scanning them and packing them into bags—and automates it to an unprecedented degree.

It took 18 years and many iterations to create this system, which has enabled Ocado to quickly deliver groceries to a customer’s front door for about the same price as they would cost at the store.

Selling groceries may be just the beginning for Ocado. The company also has patents related to using its system in indoor, vertical-farming operations. One day, food might be grown in the same facility that stores and delivers it. Companies like AeroFarms are growing greens in giant warehouses on the outskirts of major cities. In the future, a robotic hand could pluck a pint of strawberries from the bin they were grown in and then pass them to a delivery drone.

. . . .

After warehouses, delivery vehicles are the next target for automation. Amazon and Walmart are working on how to get packages from a self-driving van to you, whether that’s by deploying an even smaller autonomous vehicle or by delivering to a locker in your neighborhood.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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