LOTRProject: Visualizing the Lord of the Rings

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Emil Johansson, a student in Gothenburg, has created a fabulous site called the LOTRProject (or Lord Of The Rings Project. The site provides different types of visualizations about Tolkien’s world (Silmarillion, Hobbit, and LOTR) from maps to family trees to character mentions (see image above).

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Dennis Cooper: Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel)

Dennis Cooper has created an interesting novel of looping animated gifs called Zac’s Haunted House (A Novel). The novel is published by Kiddiepunk. I’m not sure why he deliberately calls it a novel when it has so little language, though one can think of the animated gifs as some sort of linked visual language. Perhaps animated gifs are becoming the visual equivalent of words with which we can compose.

I found this courtesy of 3QuarksDaily.

Alain Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde

Thanks to 3quarksdaily.com I came across the wonderful short film by Alan Resnais, Toute la mémoire du monde (1956). The short is about memory and the Bibliothèque nationale (of France.) It starts at the roof of this fortress of knowledge and travels down through the architecture. It follows a book from when it arrives from a publisher to when it is shelved. It shows another book called by pneumatique to the reading room where it crosses a boundary to be read. All of this with a philosophical narration on information and memory.

The short shows big analogue information infrastructure at its technological and rational best, before digital informatics disrupted the library.

The future of the book: An essay from The Economist

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The Economist has a nice essay on The future of the book. (Thanks to Lynne for sending this along.) The essay has three interfaces:

  • A listening interface
  • A remediated book interface where you can flip pages
  • A scrolling interface

As much as we have moved beyond skeuomorphic interfaces that carry over design cues from older objects, the book interface is actually attractive. It suits the topic, which is captured in the title of the essay, “From Papyrus to Pixels: The Digital Transformation Has Only Just Begun.”

The content of the essay looks at how books have been remediated over time (from scroll to print) and then discusses the current shifts to ebooks. It points out that the ebook market is not like the digital music market. People still like print books and they don’t like to pick them apart like they do albums. The essay is particularly interesting on the self-publishing phenomenon and how authors are bypassing publishers and stores by publishing through Amazon.

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The last chapter talks about audio books, one of the formats of the essay itself, and other formats (like treadmill forms that flash words at speed). This is where they get to the “transformation that has only just begun.”

The Material in Digital Books

Elika Ortega in a talk at Experimental Interfaces for Reading 2.0 mentioned two web sites that gather interesting material traces in digital books. One is The Art of Google Books that gathers interesting scans in Google Books (like the image above).

The other is the site Book Traces where people upload interesting examples of marginal marks. Here is their call for examples:

Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.

Book Traces also has a Tumblr blog.

Why are these traces important? One reason is that they help us understand what readers were doing and think while reading.

A walk through The Waste Land

Daniel sent the link to this YouTube video, A walk through The Waste Land, that shows an iPad edition of The Waste Land developed by Touch Press. The version has the text, audio readings by various people, a video of a performance, the manuscripts, notes and photos. I was struck by how this extends to the iPad the experiments of the late 1980s and 1990s that exploded with the availability of HyperCard, Macromedia Director and CD-ROM. The most active publisher was Voyager that remediated books and documentaries to create interactive works like Poetry in Motion (Vimeo demo of CD) or the expanded book series, but all sorts of educational materials were also being created that never got published. As a parent I was especially aware of the availability of titles as I was buying them for my kids (who, frankly, ignored them.) Dr. Seuss ABC was one of the more effective remediations. Kids (and parents) could click on anything on the screen and entertaining animations would reinforce the alphabet.

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The Sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face

Steve Silberman has writing a great story about The Sketchbook of Susan Kare, the Artist Who Gave Computing a Human Face. Susan Kare was the artist who was hired to design fonts and icons for the Mac. She designed the now “iconic” icons in a graph paper sketchbook. The story was occaisioned by the publication of a book titled, Susan Kare Icons which shows some of the icons she has created over the years. (She also has prints of some of the more famous icons like the Mac with a happy face.

LOGICOMIX: philosophical comics


Sean lent me LOGICOMIX (Doxiadis, Apostolos, et al. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell and logic. The comic novel has a series of frames, the outer of which is a discussion between the real authors about logic and passion. They end up going to see Orestes and the novel ends with Athena’s judgement that brings the fates (passion and revenge) together with reason into wisdom in a city (Athens) through justice.

This frame echoes the main internal story which is Russell’s struggle to found math in logic. Much of the novel is a tour through the history of logic and important paradoxes. This tour runs in parallel with a biography of Russell. At all levels the novel seems to argue that you have to balance passion with reason. Russell tried to do it in his life, logicians discovered there was no logical foundation with paradoxes, and the graphic novel uses comic art to illustrate the story of logic (hence “logicomix”.) There is dog called “Manga” (which apparently in Greek means “cool dude”) who chases the owl (of reason.)

Amazon and Waterstones report downloads eclipsing printed book sales

So, ebooks are finally taking off! The Guardian reports that Amazon and Waterstones report downloads eclipsing printed book sales . This doesn’t mean that the value of print sales has been surpassed, but it is still indicative that ebooks are here to stay.

Now, can we redesign the book for the ereader? The current crop of ebook readers are page turners that don’t use the medium. Instead the medium has been made to work like the book and perhaps that is right, but I would still like to see something more interesting. Here are some ideas:

  • e-audio-books – ebooks that come with either voice synthesis or synchronized audio so that you can listen or read them.
  • An API for reading apps so that you could buy apps that work with all your ebooks. The apps might allow you to search across books or visualize books. There might be apps that quiz you with random quotes or help you pull linked data out of a book.
  • A standardized way of citing passages in an ebook.