Students, librarians urge professors to use free, online textbooks

5 February 2016

From The Seattle Times:

A student advocacy group, along with one of the University of Washington’s top librarians, is urging faculty members to take a good look at using more free online textbooks.

And two bills in the state Legislature would promote and facilitate the use of such open-source textbooks and course materials.

The problem is the high price of textbooks. U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and student affiliates of that nonprofit, including WashPIRG, say the cost of textbooks has gone up 73 percent in the last decade –four times the rate of inflation. About 80 percent of the textbook market is controlled by just five publishers, and individual books can cost as much as $400, according to PIRG. The College Board says students should budget about $1,200 a year for textbooks and supplies.

Nearly a third of students surveyed by PIRG recently said they had to use financial-aid dollars to pay for textbooks. And when broken down by college type, the survey showed that the cost had a disproportionate impact on community college students, 50 percent of whom had used financial aid to cover textbook costs.

. . . .

Faculty members sometimes say they don’t want to use free textbooks because they don’t offer the same quality as books by traditional textbook publishers, Danneker said. But open textbooks are getting better all the time. “We’re highly in support of it here in the libraries, and across the UW,” he said.

Matt Stasiak, a UW junior and member of WashPIRG, said students employ a variety of strategies for avoiding having to pay for expensive textbooks. Sometimes, they’ll wait until after the first few weeks of a course to determine if the textbook is really necessary, or will buy an older version.  Recently, pirated copies — scanned copies of books — have appeared online, he said.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to JA for the tip.

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How Do You Speak American?

2 February 2016

From Atlas Obscura:

Nearly a century ago, just after World War I had ended, there was a groundswell of linguistic patriotism in America. All of a sudden, scholars, writers and politicians were interested in studying, defining and promoting a distinctly “American” version of English.

In 1919, H.L. Mencken published the first edition of what would become one of his more popular books, The American Language. In the early 1920s, some of the country’s leading linguists started work on the “Linguistic Atlas of New England”, one of the first attempts to systematically document a regional dialect; in 1925, the journal American Speech published its first issue.

By 1922, Rep. Washington J. McCormick had introduced a bill to Congress proposing that the country’s “national and official language” be “declared to be the American language.” States followed suit, and while most of these bills failed, in 1923 Illinois actually did declare the state’s official language to be “American.”

But what is American, exactly? In every place that people speak English, whether it’s Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Ghana, South Africa, or Canada, the language has its own essential character, sometimes so distinct that people from one place can hardly understand people from another. In this mish-mash of Germanic and Latinate forms, what distinguishes the language that’s used in this country? How do you speak American?

English in America has always been different than the English spoken in the British metropole. In his 1992 book, A History of American English, the late linguist J.L. Dillard, who specialized in African American Vernacular English, demonstrates that the most originally American form of English was a pidgin, originating with sailor’s language. Early explorers of North America, he argues, would have used nautical pidgins and passed those on to native people. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, there were people here—most famously the men the new arrivals called Samoset and Squanto—who already spoke a version of English that Puritans could understand.

. . . .

It’s more correct to say, for instance, that people living in England developed a new accent than that Americans “lost” their British way of speaking. Not long after the Revolutionary War, it became common among British people to drop r sounds—”card” became “caahd”—while Americans held onto their r-pronouncing rhoticity.

It was around this time, too, that Americans first started feeling a little bit nativist about their English. As Mencken reports, in 1778, one political directive advised that “all replies or answers” to a minister of England should be “in the language of the United States.”

It’s not clear exactly what that meant. Only recently had English emerged as the dominant language in New York City, which had been a polyglot town for centuries, and where Dutch held on as a major form of communication through the mid-1700s. Pidgin English was widely used by native tribes to communicate with people of European origin. Enslaved people had brought with them a version of English from the nautical, slave-trading regions of West Africa, and that had been developing for centuries, too.

. . . .

Residents of the United States hung on to words that dropped out of British English: guess, gotten, cabin, junk, molasses. We also began using words lifted from native languages—maize, canoe. But, mostly, Americans would just make words up. Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a friend to neology,” created the word “belittle.” British writers despaired over it; he simply made up more.

For starters, just think about some words we borrowed from Dutch and decided to keep: boss, cookie, stoop, scow, sleigh, snoop, waffle, poppycock, pit, when used to describe the seed of a stone fruit. Dumb might be Dutch, or it might be German, or it might be a bit of both, but it’s a uniquely American bit of English.

There’s so much more. In his book, Mencken amasses piles of particularly American words: rubber-neck, rough-house, has-been, lame-duck, bust, bum, scary, classy, tasty, lengthy, alarmist, capitalize, propaganda, whitewash, panhandle, shyster, sleuth, sundae, alright, go-getter, he-man, goof. Only in America can you go upstate for the weekend. Here, we engineer, stump, hog, and squat on a piece of land. We’ve stolen loads from Spanish: corral, ranch, alfafa, mustang, canyon, poncho, plaza, tornados, patio, bonanza, vigilante, mosey, and buckaroo. Americans are very talented coiners of words—including of “talented,” another new one that sent British writers into spasms of horror.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

Swear Word Coloring Book Will Help You Stop Swearing And Start Coloring In 2016

29 January 2016

From Bored Panda:

It’s no secret that lately adult coloring books have been taking over bookstores. Most of them are very detailed and sophisticated, even spiritual. But Sarah Bigwood, a 30-year-old artist from UK, known as PixieRah Design, has taken a whole different approach – relaxation by coloring… swear words.

Sarah’s book, called “Sweary Colouring Book,” consists of 20 different swear words . . .  – you can definitely find something suitable for the occasion. And many people already have.

Although the artist planned it to be a less mainstream project, released only in a digital format, the book had attained so much attention, that she had to make a physical version of it

Link to the rest at Bored Panda

PG wonders why you would ever buy ebook version of a coloring book.

Lessons learned

26 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

Are textbooks obsolete? And is the structure of the academic book trade about to fall apart?

I think it is. Our experience of running the University Bookseller in Plymouth points that way. This bookshop, which I started 42 years ago, has provided a living for 39 years. I was actually surprised that we survived the first three very tough years, but with hard work, clever work, we expanded into the premises next door, opened the basement up and even had an office and accounts area above the shop. It provided the springboard for us to open Falmouth Bookseller and St Ives Bookseller. We prospered. We grew with the expansion of the University of Plymouth as it introduced courses in marine science, business, psychology , biology, medical, law—all strong subjects. We became HMSO (Stationery Office) and British Standards Institution agents, and the business felt permanent.

But the academic trade has evaporated for us, even though less than 100 metres away there is a massive organisation devoted to teaching.

. . . .

But nowadays trying to run a bricks-and-mortar bookshop on 30% discounts from publishers is not possible: bookshops need 50% to run an effective business.

I always told folks: “It’s better to sell books to people who have to have them”, but that isn’t the case now. Information is available for free and I believe the textbook has no commercial future.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Never have an affair with a memoir writer

25 January 2016

From The Washington Post:

You shouldn’t have affairs. But definitely don’t have one with a memoirist.

That’s one of the few real conclusions I can draw from “Why We Write About Ourselves,” a collection of reflections and justifications from 20 practitioners of the memoir art. You know they’re going to tell everyone about it.  It’s what they do. It’s all they do.

“The thing that was hardest to figure out was how to handle the affairs I had with men who were married,” says Pearl Cleage, a contributor to this volume. But she soon found a way. “Talking about those relationships didn’t make me look so good, but I wanted to talk about my own growth and development as a free woman who consciously committed to telling the truth about all things. No exceptions!” Memoirist Sandra Tsing Loh found another path to the same destination. “The most painful thing for me to write about was when I had an affair and blew up my marriage,” she says. “I tried to write about my affair in a way that made it clear that I was the worst-behaved character, to cast blame on no one other than me.”

. . . .

“Why We Write About Ourselves” offers a jumble of answers. They engage in memoir-writing as therapy, these authors say, except they absolutely don’t. They mix elements of fiction writing into their work, except they would never do that. And they go out of their way to avoid hurting other people in their memoirs, except when their memoirs couldn’t exist without other people’s hurt.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Warrnambool quilting teacher releases three books

14 January 2016

From The Standard of Warrnambool, Australia:

Learning about graphic design has allowed Fiona Schiffl to turn from a quilting teacher to a self-published author.

The Warrnambool quilter has just released three books on her craft after beginning a South West TAFE graphic design course as a computer design novice in 2011.

The books include “how-to” advice for using computers to create patterns and two publications highlighting her favourite patterns.

Mrs Schiffl tailored parts of the graphic design course to suit her goals, starting with [Adobe] Illustrator in 2011 and continuing with a basic introduction to web design, Photoshop and InDesign.

. . . .

Learning how to modify a design into a circular pattern was a game-changer, she said.

“I developed a system for creating hundreds of patterns on the computer. That’s been great for me and made me want to produce the books,” Mrs Schiffl said.

“When I was just exploring what I could do with Illustrator I made up about 2000 patterns and ornamental designs.

“Because I’d created so many patterns I thought I needed to write a book. I’ve put the best 400 in the other two books.

“Ask any quilter and they’ll tell you quilting is more than just cutting up fabric and sewing it back together.

“It can get you through the tough times, gives you confidence, helps you to solve problems and changes you in ways you weren’t expecting. It’s a fabulous hobby to get into.”

Mrs Schiffl said she decided to self-publish to keep copyright of the designs and so they “will be available forever”.

Link to the rest at The Standard

Elsevier and the 25.2 Billion Dollar A Year Academic Publishing Business

29 December 2015

From Medium:

Twenty years ago . . . Forbes predicted academic publisher Elsevier’s relevancy and life in the digital age to be short lived. In an article entitled “The internet’s first victim,” journalist John Hayes highlights the technological imperative coming toward the academic publisher’s profit margin with the growing internet culture and said, “Cost-cutting librarians and computer-literate professors are bypassing academic journals — bad news for Elsevier.” After publication of the article, investors seemed to heed Hayes’s rationale for Elsevier’s impeding demise. Elsevier stock fell 7% in two days to $26 a share.

As the smoke settles twenty years later, one of the clear winners on this longitudinal timeline of innovation is the very firm that investors, journalists, and forecasters wrote off early as a casualty to digital evolution: Elsevier. Perhaps to the chagrin of many academics, the publisher has actually not been bruised nor battered. In fact, the publisher’s health is stronger than ever. As of 2015, the academic publishing market that Elsevier leads has an annual revenue of $25.2 billion. According to its 2013 financials Elsevier had a higher percentage of profit than Apple, Inc.

. . . .

 Brian Nosek, a professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Center for Open Science, says, “Academic publishing is the perfect business model to make a lot of money. You have the producer and consumer as the same person: the researcher. And the researcher has no idea how much anything costs.” Nosek finds this whole system is designed to maximize the amount of profit. “I, as the researcher, produce the scholarship and I want it to have the biggest impact possible and so what I care about is the prestige of the journal and how many people read it. Once it is finally accepted, since it is so hard to get acceptances, I am so delighted that I will sign anything — send me a form and I will sign it. I have no idea I have signed over my copyright or what implications that has — nor do I care, because it has no impact on me. The reward is the publication.”

Nosek further explains why researchers are ever supportive by explaining the dedicated loyal customer base mantra, “What do you mean libraries are canceling subscriptions to this? I need this. Are you trying to undermine my research?”

In addition to a steadfast dedication by researchers, the academic publishing market, in its own right, is streamlined, aggressive, and significantly capitalistic. The publishing market is also more diverse than just the face of Elsevier. Johan Rooryck, a professor at Universiteit Leiden, says, “Although Elsevier is the publisher that everybody likes to hate, if you look at Taylor & Francis, Wiley, or Springer they all have the same kind of practices.”

Heather Morrison, a professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, unpacks the business model behind academic publisher Springer and says, “If you look at who owns Springer, these are private equity firms, and they have changed owners about five times in the last decade. Springer was owned by the investment group Candover and Cinven who describe themselves as ‘Europe’s largest buy-out firm.’ These are companies who buy companies to decrease the cost and increase the profits and sell them again in two years. This is to whom we scholars are voluntarily handing our work. Are you going to trust them? This is not the public library of science. This is not your average author voluntarily contributing to the commons. These are people who are in business to make the most profit.”

Should a consumer heed Morrison’s rationale and want to look deeper into academic publishers cost structure for themselves one is met with a unique situation: the pricing lists for journals do not exist. “It’s because they negotiate individually with each institution and they often have non-disclosure agreements with those institutions so they can’t bargain with knowing what others paid,” says Martin Eve, founder of the Open Library of the Humanities.

In addition to a general lack of pricing indexes, the conversation around the value of a publication is further complicated by long-term career worth. David Sundahl, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, says, “We actually understand how money passed through to artists who wrote music and authors who wrote books — but it is not clear how the value of a publication in a top tier journal will impact someone’s career. Unlike songs or books where the royalty structure is defined, writing a journal article is not clear and is dependent not on the people who consume the information but rather deans and tenure committees.”

Link to the rest at Medium

A passion for Pomerol: the self-published wine book that flew off the shelves

27 December 2015
Comments Off on A passion for Pomerol: the self-published wine book that flew off the shelves

From The Telegraph:

he last consignment of Pomerol is spoken for. The books will be FedExed from Safestore on the Slyfield Industrial Estate in Guildford to the slightly more glamorous environment of Château la Conseillante on Bordeaux’s right bank for a dinner to be held by the US Commanderie de Bordeaux next June. And then that’s it – after three years of handselling; of taking individual orders through Facebook, by email, through his website and on Twitter; and of parcelling up every single hefty, 2½kg copy himself, Neal Martin’s Pomerol adventure has reached its conclusion.

He’s kept back 23, “plus one that got pronged in the warehouse”, as a private stash, but Pomerol is officially sold out. That’s pretty good going for a self-published book with a print run of 3,000, costing £50 per copy, that has never been sold on Amazon.

I wanted to tell the story of Pomerol on Boxing Day because this is a time for regrouping and, over a glass or two of fine wine, perhaps, for gestating the dreams of next year. The sales team of nearly every publisher in existence will tell you that “drinks books don’t sell”, and that it’s almost impossible to cover costs. Martin says Pomerol broke even at “1,200-1,300 copies”, which by my calculations leaves a handsome profit even after research and review copies are taken into account.

. . . .

Arguably, his luckiest break with the book was not having to take the financial risk himself; the project was funded by the wine-loving entrepreneur Keith Prothero. Martin still had to work to a tight budget, but this proved less tricky for someone prepared to break conventions than it might have done.

For instance, maps are an important part of any wine book. They are also expensive. So Martin bought a sketch pad, a packet of HB pencils and some felt-tip pens and asked wine producers to draw their own estates. Were any so artistically ungifted that their maps were unusable?

“Yes, Christian Moueix [of Petrús], unfortunately. I went back to him and said we needed some new ones. He asked his daughter-in-law to draw them and they were so good one of my editors wanted her to do all the maps for the whole book.”

The production process when you self-publish, says Martin, “is like seeing a wine from vine to shelf rather than vine to vat. Pagination was the trickiest thing. Some sections open with a double-page photograph – which means getting the rest of the text to fit.” It involved recruiting friends to help with editing, design and photography, flying to Italy to sign off the beautiful screen-printed fabric cover, as well as writing 220,000 words and proofreading them, too. And then piling all the pallets of books up in a warehouse in Tottenham and wondering if anyone would buy them.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

The book every new American citizen — and every old one, too — should read

18 December 2015

From The Washington Post:

I picked a hell of a year to become an American.

In late 2014, I rose to my feet in a Baltimore auditorium, alongside two dozen other immigrants from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and swore an oath to defend a nation. In return, that nation has surprised and challenged me every day since.

My first full year as a citizen of the United States was also the year Donald Trump made nativism a viable political project. It was the year college activists battled racism with their own peculiar intolerance. It was the year Rachel Dolezal was redefined, Atticus Finch rewritten, Caitlyn Jenner revealed. It was the year police shootings became viral, mass shootings became daily and same-sex marriage became law. It was a year America did little else, it seemed, than fight over values, identity, premises.

It’s exhausting, being American. Seriously, do you folks do this every year?

I’m not a recent arrival. I graduated from college here, got married here, built a family here. But only with citizenship did I grasp the distance I’d always kept. I left my native Peru behind 27 years ago, but whenever this country seemed too painful or complicated, I’d shake my head sagely. Estos gringos locos. Except now everything about the place — its virtues and excesses, its history and future — is all mine, too. For the first time, I feel the glorious burden of being American.

To carry it, I’ve realized I need help. Sure, I passed the citizenship test, even practicing the list of 100 questions with my kids. (They’ll ace elementary school civics now.) But for the advanced coursework, my instinct was to turn to a book. What could I read that would guide me through the chaos that is democracy in America?

Fortunately, there’s this little book called “Democracy in America” — written 175 years ago by, of all people, some know-it-all foreigner.

. . . .

“Democracy in America,” for example, explains why Americans always want you to join things and sign stuff. As soon as they welcome you to the whole, the parts start claiming you. It could be your race or ethnicity or sexual identity. Or your hobby, your school, your politics, your team. Where do you belong? Which identity is strong enough to get you to commit and be counted? With options multiplying, “American” is just the beginning.

Tocqueville obsesses over this freedom of association. “In America, citizens of the minority associate primarily to ascertain their numerical strength and thereby weaken the moral ascendancy of the majority,” he writes. “The second purpose of association is to promote competition among ideas in order to discover which arguments are most likely to make an impression on the majority, for the minority always hopes to attract enough additional support to become the majority and as such to wield power.”

I first grasped this when I arrived here after high school and collegiate groups tried to mark their territory. Would I join the Hispanic Americans organization? The international students? Pick! Now I get to vote, but I have to register with a party. In America, you’re always taking sides. “There is only one nation on earth where daily use is made of the unlimited freedom to associate for political ends,” Tocqueville writes. Americans not only use it daily but obsess over whether that’s enough. Bowling alone is frowned upon, FYI.

“Democracy in America” also notes that Americans go temporarily insane every election cycle. New citizens will be relieved or unnerved to learn that the 2016 campaign is not entirely unusual.

. . . .

“Democracy in America” also captures the fights between security and liberty, a battleground long before Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency, religious tests and Syrian refugees. “What good does it do me, after all,” Tocqueville asks, “if an ever-watchful authority keeps an eye out to ensure that my pleasures will be tranquil and races ahead of me to ward off all danger, sparing me the need even to think about such things, if that authority, even as it removes the smallest thorns from my path, is also absolute master of my liberty and my life?”

. . . .

“As Americans mingle, they assimilate,” Tocqueville assures. “Differences created by climate, origin, and institutions diminish.” But he doesn’t think those differences are all that vast; and in his time, he was right. “All the immigrants spoke the same language,” he writes, referring to English, and “all were children of the same people.” And he praises America’s homogeneity — of interests, origins, language and education — as an enabler of federalism. “I doubt that there is any nation in Europe, however small, whose various parts are not less homogenous than the people of America.” Americans today speak of diversity with reverence, but also with the comfort of an eternal aspiration.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post


10 December 2015

From The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

demonagogue, n.
. . . .

A medicine used to exorcize a demon.

. . . .

1905 Brit. Med. Jrnl. 21 Oct. 1048/1 The treatment of the effects of witchcraft was so frequently called for in medical practice that almost every therapeutist had his own favourite demonagogue.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

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