Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Great Transmogrification of Atoms to Bits

3 April 2016

From IEEE Spectrum:

Yes, the print and electronic copies of the same book contain the same words, but it’s obvious to most people (and, increasingly, to researchers) that the two reading experiences are quite different.

We need to understand such differences because the world is going to see a lot more digital data in the near future. This includes born-digital [pdf] data, which is originally created in an electronic format, as well as born-analog data, which starts life as a physical object and then is reborn digital. A great example of this digitization came earlier this year when the New York Public Library announced that it was making more than 180,000 digitized items available to anyone with an Internet connection, no questions asked.

That librarians would turn themselves into digital curators is no surprise, since as analog curators for the past few centuries they have been constantly bumping into the physical constraints of storage space and material decay. One approach is to get rid of stuff, and librarians and archivists employ a pleasing variety of terms related to the removal of unwanted or duplicate material from their collections: Weeding and culling generally refer to the removal of individual items, while purging, screening, and stripping are most often used for the removal of multiple related items. But the main problem with physical materials is that they possess what archivists call, poetically, inherent vice: the tendency for something to deteriorate over time because of some fault in the material itself (for example, the presence of lignin in cheap paper, which causes the paper to yellow) or the way the material reacts with its surroundings (for instance, the fact that bugs eat some books because they’re attracted to the mold that grows in damp paper).

. . . .

Having digitized some data, the archivist now faces a new problem: the eventual obsolescence of the data structures or media used to store the data, necessitating a format migration (or a media migration) to something newer. Copying the data without changing the format or media type is called refreshing.

Link to the rest at IEEE Spectrum

Books are no more threatened

3 April 2016

Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.

Stephen Fry

ASCD/OverDrive survey shows 80 percent of U.S. schools using ebooks, digital content

3 April 2016
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From TeleRead:

Educational systems developer ASCD and OverDrive have teamed up to survey “over 2,000 school- and district-based administrators” in the U.S. on their use of digital content. The resulting survey, “Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K-12 Classroom e-Learning,” found the headline figure that 80 percent of the (large) survey sample are already using “digital content – including eBooks, audiobooks and digital textbooks.” Furthermore, “digital content currently occupies about one-third of the instructional materials budget and the use of digital content continues to grow.”

Out of the 80 percent in the ASCD/OverDrive survey already using digital content, the survey finds 40 percent are actually using it as part of their curriculum.

. . . .

What should be very clear from all of this is that, whatever the print v. digital debate among general readers, and the periodic scare stories about kids’ digital addiction, where content and texts really matter and make a genuine impact on lives, professionals are fully committed to digital solutions.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Life without boredom would be a nightmare

3 April 2016

From Aeon:

What about boredom? Might it serve some useful purpose, too? It certainly has no shortage of philosophical defenders. Bertrand Russell and the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips both spoke of the importance of being able to endure it. Russell asserted that the capacity to weather boredom is ‘essential to a happy life’, whereas Phillips speculated on its developmental significance for children. Friedrich Nietzsche commented on the creative power of boredom and found value in its relationship to art. So did Susan Sontag, who in a brief diary entry suggested that the most interesting art of her time was boring: ‘Jasper Johns is boring. Beckett is boring, Robbe-Grillet is boring. Etc. Etc. […] Maybe art has to be boring, now.’

Martin Heidegger discussed, at length, the ontological lessons that profound boredom can teach us. And the poet Joseph Brodsky, in what might be the most famous and sustained defence of boredom, exalted its existential import. In his commencement address to the class of 1989 at Dartmouth College, he called boredom a ‘window on time’s infinity’ and spoke of its ability to put our existence into perspective, to demonstrate to us our finitude and indeed the futility of our actions.

All of these authors are correct to value boredom. However, they miss what is most important about it. Boredom is precious, but there’s nothing particularly good about being bored. Its unpleasantness is no illusion, its subjective character no taste worth acquiring. We should give thanks for it – and avoid it like the plague.

. . . .

Similarly, the life of someone who cannot experience boredom will be free of boredom – but only because the subject of this life cannot experience boredom. If we did not have the capacity for boredom, then any situation – regardless of how trivial, banal, or humdrum it might be – would fail to strike us as boring. Nothing would be boring. Not the experience of listening to the same lecture over and over again. Not the seemingly endless time spent waiting in offices. Yet some situations should bore us.

Often, boredom arises as the result of the perception of a mismatch: a gap between the need for stimulation and its availability. We want something that simply is not there. Boredom is our awareness of that absence. In monotonous activities, we are bored because we want more variety than we can find. In familiar situations, we are bored because we crave novelty, yet none is offered. And when engaged in compulsory tasks, we are bored because we want to do something other than what is demanded from us. If boredom stems from unfulfilled desire, then in order to allay boredom we would need to satisfy that desire. To escape boredom, in other words, we need to seek activities that seem congruent with our wishes.

Think of boredom as an internal alarm. When it goes off, it is telling us something. It signals the presence of an unfulfilling situation. But it is an alarm equipped with a shock. The negative and aversive experience of boredom motivates us – one might even say, pushes us – to pursue a different situation, one that seems more meaningful or interesting, just as a sharp pain motivates us not to put pins into our bodies.

Link to the rest at Aeon and thanks to Julia for the tip.

The Indie Author Behind the Official ‘Dracula’ Prequel

3 April 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

After an aborted trip to Stephen King’s vacation house, a successful indie thriller, and a subsequent Bram Stoker Award nomination, author J.D. Barker’s career is only getting more unusual: the writer has been tapped to coauthor a prequel to Dracula with Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew. “I’ve received over 500 emails and messages on social media telling me not to flub this up,” Barker says. “It’s extremely daunting.” While he can’t reveal any spoilers, Barker says they’ve created a book—with the blessing of the family estate—that Bram Stoker would be proud of. But how did a relatively unknown indie author end up cowriting a prequel to one of the world’s most popular novels?

It began when the pair met at the Bram Stoker Awards in May 2015. Barker’s Forsaken was a finalist for the award for best first novel, and Stoker was a presenter. “I gave him a copy of Forsaken, and we parted ways an hour or so later,” Barker says. Stoker read the book and liked it, and got in touch to ask whether Barker would be interested in coauthoring a Dracula prequel. (Stoker had previously written the authorized Dracula sequel, Dracula the Un-dead.) “At that point,” Barker says, “I checked the room for cameras and waited for Ashton Kutcher to jump out to tell me I had been Punk’d.” When he realized the offer was genuine, he accepted, and the pair got down to work.

. . . .

 He sent hundreds of query letters to agents but became discouraged by the lack of response. “I knew I had a good story, but I couldn’t get a single person to take a look at it, let alone get me in front of a publisher,” he says. “I decided I might be better off proving myself on the indie path and approaching the publishers down the road with a strong track record behind me.” Forsaken has attracted a loyal following since its release in November 2014. “I’ve received drawings of the characters from all around the world,” Barker says. “One reader in the U.K. painted a picture of one of the monsters on glass.” Forsaken reached the top 100 bestseller list on Amazon in the U.S. and U.K. and the #1 spot on Amazon Canada. It also hit the #2 spot on Audible. “I got stuck behind Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman,” Barker says.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Violet for the tip. Here’s a link to Forsaken.

And the Awards for Best Audio Fiction Go to …

2 April 2016

From The New York Times:

First came the Oscars, then the Tonys. Now, get ready for the Sarahs.

Sarah Lawrence College, which produces the radio drama anthology podcast “Serendipity,” on Friday hosted the inaugural Sarah Awards, billed as the first award ceremony for audio fiction.

The awards are the latest sign of a booming market that hardly existed five years ago, when there were too few fictional podcasts to warrant a meaty Top 10 list. But that was before the success of “Welcome to Night Vale” and the debut of “Serial,” the nonfiction show that raised podcasts to the level of popular culture.

Four awards, including one for best new artist, were presented at the awards ceremony, held at the Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR in Manhattan and hosted by Glynn Washington of “Snap Judgment.” Among the submissions were stories from established fictional podcasts like “The Truth.”

Ann Heppermann, a Sarah Lawrence faculty member who was a founder of the awards and “Serendipity,” said that the idea for the Sarahs goes back to 2012. Their debut happens to coincide with what she called “a thriving community of audio fiction.” Going forward, her hope is that the award prompts producers to “challenge themselves to make radio drama for the 21st century.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

If I was a book

2 April 2016

If I was a book, I would like to be a library book, so I would be taken home by all different sorts of kids.

Cornelia Funke Third-Party Sellers Drive Profitability

2 April 2016

From Seeking Alpha:

Did you know nearly half of all of the items you order from Amazon don’t come from Amazon itself? That’s right. Over 47% of units that are shipped are actually sold by a third-party seller on Amazon. This amounted to more than 1 billion units. Even better, these units are actually more profitable for Amazon than when it ships its own inventoried units. No other company comes even close to matching the depth, selection, price and number of sellers than Amazon.

. . . .

There are roughly 2 million sellers on Amazon, many of which are small mom and pop businesses that are running out of their garage/home. There are, however, a number of significant enterprises building their business on Amazon. There are sellers that do hundreds of millions of dollars in sales on the Amazon platform and are growing quite rapidly. And there are lots of them.

It is astonishing how much revenue growth these sellers have experienced. Revenue and order growth are growing double digits year after year and this is a very profitable business from Amazon as compared to even their own operation.

. . . .

Amazon realizes huge benefits as their third-party marketplace grows. Some of these include:

1) Selection – Third-party merchants provide an incredible amount of selection and increase customer choice.

2) Competitive pricing – Prices come down to very attractive levels to most consumers due to intense competition.

3) Inventory ownership – Amazon does not own or take risk of the inventory that is being sold on Amazon.

4) Supply chain and logistic cost reductions – Third-party sellers increase the volume of packages being shipped and received thereby achieving greater economies of scale.

5) Amazon builds a huge moat around their retail business which is extremely profitable.

. . . .

There are tens of thousands of new sellers every year and prices continued to get driven down by intense competition. This can be seen because prices are competitive down to the penny. The seller that has a lower price by even one cent wins the “Buy Box” and gets all of the sales. You can imagine what that does to the price. So while competition is incredibly intense for sellers, it creates a wonderful situation for the consumer who benefits from a wide selection at a competitive price. This obviously helps Amazon even more.

This moat is ignored frequently as most of the discussion around Amazon lies on how much they are investing in new warehouses, new phone development costs, etc. However, Amazon is quietly but surely strengthening this moat by opening up marketplaces around the world. There are now third-party marketplaces in the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, India and China.

. . . .

For most items, Amazon actually makes more profit from selling a third-party item then from selling their own in-stock item (even for the same item). Let’s take a look at all of the profits that Amazon collects from a third-party sale:

1) Amazon charges anywhere between 14%-40% to third-party sellers for most categories outside of electronics.

2) Amazon charges fulfillment fees for those items fulfilled through them (FBA). Sellers are charged a per order, per item, and a weight based fee. This covers much of the fulfillment cost of an order.

3) Amazon charges sellers to utilize the real estate of Amazon fulfillment centers. Essentially, Amazon has become a huge warehouse REIT that is massively profitable. They are charging anywhere between $.48 – .64 per cubic foot per month. Amazon is typically locating their warehouses in rural areas where land is extremely cheap. Charging this kind of “rent” brings in incredible profits.

4) Amazon makes a profit from all of the shipments that come into their fulfillment centers as most sellers are utilizing Amazon’s rates to ship their products.

5) Amazon potentially “double charges” for shipping if a customer ends up placing an order with a shipping charge. (Amazon charges the seller a fee to fulfill, and the customer also pays for shipping even though one package is sent)

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

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