Friday, July 31, 2009

Send to Trash After Reading

The last two years, I've reviewed a book of the year's best technology writing. If I could vote on entries for this year's, I'd have to include this New Yorker piece by Nicholson Baker on the Kindle. In it, he explains how the Kindle is still light years away from providing a superlative reading experience. Some consider Baker a bit of a neo-Luddite, but I can't sling that pejorative at such a good writer - especially since by the article's end, he does recommend using the iPhone with the Kindle app, as well as several other apps.

The whole article's definitely worth a read, but I found this section in particular on the experience of reading The New York Times on the Kindle particularly telling.
The real flurry over the new DX, though, has to do with the fate of newspapers. The DX offers more than twice as much Vizplex as the Kindle 2—about half the area of a piece of letter-size paper—enough, some assert, to reaccustom Web readers to paying for the digital version of, say, the Times, thereby rescuing daily print journalism from financial ruin. “With Kindle DX’s large display, reading newspapers is more enjoyable than ever,” according to Amazon’s Web site.

It’s enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts. The Kindle Times ($13.99 per month) lacks most of the print edition’s superb photography—and its subheads and call-outs and teasers, its spinnakered typographical elegance and variety, its browsableness, its Web-site links, its listed names of contributing reporters, and almost all captioned pie charts, diagrams, weather maps, crossword puzzles, summary sports scores, financial data, and, of course, ads, for jewels, for swimsuits, for vacationlands, and for recently bailed-out investment firms. A century and a half of evolved beauty and informational expressiveness is all but entirely rinsed away in this digital reductio.

Sometimes whole articles and op-ed contributions aren’t there. Three pieces from the July 8, 2009, print edition of the Times—Adam Nagourney on Sarah Palin’s resignation, Alessandra Stanley on Michael Jackson’s funeral, and David Johnston on the civil rights of detainees—were missing from the Kindle edition, or at least I haven’t managed to find them (they’re available free on the Times Web site); the July 9th Kindle issue lacked the print edition’s reporting on interracial college roommates and the infectivity rates of abortion pills. I checked again on July 20th and 21st: Verlyn Klinkenborg’s appreciation of Walter Cronkite was absent, as was a long piece on Mongolian shamanism.

The Kindle DX ($489) doesn’t save newspapers; it diminishes and undercuts them—it kills their joy. It turns them into earnest but dispensable blogs.
Emphasis mine.

None of this is to say that the Kindle (or, more accurately, the e-reader) isn't a revolutionary device. But sometimes we can get so caught up cheering on the technology that we overlook its obvious deficiencies.

  • New York mag article in which Lane Brown guesstimates Baker's expenses for the piece, only to be corrected by him in comments.
  • Stephen Johnson's more positive forecast for the impact of the e-reader on the future of books in April 20th's Wall Street Journal. He concludes, "We all know the story of how the information-wants-to-be-free ethos of the Web threatened the newspapers with extinction. Wouldn't it be ironic if books turned out to be their savior?"
  • On the Media podcast from May 8, 2009 on a Senate committee hearing on the "Future of Journalism."
Image above from my Flickr stream

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Profiting from Healthcare

Ronald Reagan decries socialism

I don't agree with everything Michael Moore says, nor with the strident tone he often adopts, but on some things he's just dead on. Like with these thoughts on "socialized medicine" aka universal healthcare:
Socialized medicine. Ooh, socialized. Bad. Really? Isn’t that what our police departments are? Socialized? Run by the government. Free service. Do you think anybody would ever ask if the fire department should have to post a profit? You know? Seriously. Would we allow a fire department to every time they get a call for a house fire, when they arrive at the house determine whether or not this is going to affect the fire department’s bottom line. We wouldn’t allow that, would we? When someone is wheeled into a hospital, that question should never be asked. That is an immoral question amongst a—in a humane society to ask that question, where is the profit here? How will it affect our bottom line? How do we make money off this sick person? I mean, this doesn’t look good, folks. It doesn’t look good to the rest of the world and it won’t look good to the anthropologists who dig us up hundreds of years from now. They will wonder what were these people thinking?

- Michael Moore addressing California lawmakers in 2007

Saturday, July 18, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite
I can't imagine a person becoming a success who doesn't give this game of life everything he's got.
- Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009
Walter Cronkite has died at 92.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.
- Shepard Fairey in his Obey Manifesto
Visited the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA in Boston this weekend. It's the first museum exhibit for Fairey and features examples from his earliest work up to his iconic Obama posters, as well as a handful of brief documentaries and clips. In the brief documentary, "Andre the Giant Has a Posse," Fairey explains how his original Andre stickers (which he refers to above) were meant to poke fun of gangs and skater culture, but evolved into much more.

The exhibit lasts until August 16th and is definitely worth checking out if you're a Fairey fan.

I know plenty of folks are critical of Fairey's work, but I don't find much of the most-repeated criticism terribly compelling. It's simplistic, some say. The music of the Beach Boys sounds simple, too. Try recreating it. It's derivative or he steals from other people are the most frequent arguments. What isn't derivative? And Fairey's been completely open about his sources since his earliest work. See Warhol and Rauchenberg, two of the luminaries he's compared with in this exhibit.

Fairey's work is often succinct and iconic. Those are valuable traits that might look easy, but prove quite difficult to pull off with any regularity.

  • "Street Cred," ARTINFO - explains the origins of the pointed "Obey" meme and offers thoughtful criticism of the commercialization of his work
  • Video: Shepard Fairey on Fighting the AP Over Obama HOPE Image

Monday, July 06, 2009

RIP Robert S. McNamara

Robert s. McNamara
“We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo — men, women and children. LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He — and I’d say I — were behaving as war criminals. What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” - Robert S. McNamara
Robert McNamara seemed a tortured soul towards the end of his life. Errol Morris's compelling 2003 documentary, The Fog of War, found him apologetic, even haunted. Can we imagine Donald Rumsfeld, who served in the same position, Secretary of Defense, as McNamara, similarly apologetic some time into the future? Or Bush? Or Cheney? It's hard to imagine. But I suppose it's possible.

More: McNamara writing in Foreign policy in May/June 2005 on the dangers of nuclear proliferation

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Subway Poem 7

Young European girl, twenty-something
slouching beside her hooded friend
She sucks her thumb
And I smile
Hoping she sees it
not as a smile of derision
But of understanding
I know, it's a big city
Filled with buzz, jitter, and judder
Like so much else of the world