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.

Issuu – You Publish

Thanks to Sharla I came across Issuu a site for publishing online magazine like documents. You get an account, you upload documents, and they create an interactive page-flipping e-publication out of it. When you “Click to read” a publication an application takes over your screen to give you a reading environment. They seem to have a lot of publications made available this way.

Craig Mod: Books in the Age of the iPad

Jon pointed me to an online and illustrated essay Books in the Age of the iPad by Craig Mod that makes an interesting argument about the relative uses of digital reading devices like the iPad. He argues that there are two broad groups of content:

  1. Formless Content which doesn’t have a well-defined form. This sort of content can be easily poured into new bottles from iPhones to iPads. It doesn’t matter what form you read it in. (The illustration above is meant to suggest that such content can be poured into print, screen, or moble.)
  2. Definite Content which does have a definite form. The form for such works matters to the content so you can’t easily pour it into a new form. Such content could be designed to be viewed on an interactive screen (and hence it would be awkward to pour it onto print) or it could be designed to be read in paperback (and hence it would be awkward to read it on the screen.)

Mod argues that we should start moving Formless Content to digital devices and in the case of Definite Content we should be willing to leave it on the platform it was designed for. Thus art books should stay on paper while cheap novels should be available also in digital forms for mobile reading.

Contrast this to Dale Salwak’s To every page, turn, turn, turn (Times Higher Education, Sept. 2, 2010), an online essay  with the Times Higher Education bemoaning the loss of “deep reading.” I have no problem with Salwak’s defense of reading and the reading of books, but I’m not sure that there is anything inherently “deep” about books unless by deep he means longer (than essays on the web.) I don’t see why one can’t have a quiet, deep, reading experience off an iPad, though the argument might be made that the iPad has more distractions available. He ends with an argument I haven’t heard before – that books can be your friends (when you don’t have any?)

We all know that a love for books usually starts early in life. If our students come from homes where the predominant sound is the turning of pages, then from our experiences they will hear an affirmation of their own; if, on the other hand, they come from homes in which books are rarely seen, never talked about and seldom read, they may in time feel angry or cheated by their intellectual void. It is our task as educators and adults to provide a model for the reading life and the rewards and insights it can yield.

“Hold on to your books,” I say. “They will help you through. Let them be your best friend, and they will remain a solace in your life as they continue to be in mine.”

Of course today youth find false friends online not between the covers.

Sam Winston : Darwin

I came across an artist, Sam Winston, whose work often explores language. For example Darwin (see image above) compares Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Ruth Padel’s Darwin, A Life In Poems.

Some of the panels/pages in Darwin are visualizations, even if hand drawn.

Many of his other works also play with language and language artifacts like Folded Dictionary.

JSTOR: Journal of Educational Sociology, Vol. 23, No. 4, (Dec., 1949)

In 1944 the Journal of Educational Sociology had an issue on “The Comics as an Educational Media”. The Editorial by Harvey Zorbaugh began by quoting Sterling North of the Chicago Daily News who wrote,

Virtually every child in America is reading color “comic” magazines- a poisonous mushroom growth of the last two years. …

Badly drawn, badly written and badly printed – a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems – the effect of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. (p. 193-4)

Zorbaugh and the other authors of the articles collected in this issue are, however, interested in how comics can be leveraged for learning. Zorbaugh ends his editorial with,

It is time the amazing cultural phenomenon of the growth of the comics is subjected to dispassionate scrutiny. Somewhere between vituperation and complacency must be found a road to the under- standing and use of this great new medium of communication and social influence. For the comics are here to stay.

I was struck reading this journal issue how we are going through the same motons with videogames. We have public anxiety about video games, we worry that videogames are violent stimulants, and yet we recognize they are here to stay. Someone gets the bright idea then of trying to create serious games that stimulate the mind, not violence. Academics (like me) follow. Here is the argument from one of the other articles in the issue,

In recent decades, invention and technology have developed motion pictures, the radio, and, latterly, the comic. The first two have already been harnessed to the purposes of education. It is appropriate to examine from the standpoint of educational method this most recently ar- rived entertainment device that has attracted such an extraordinary following. Any form of language that reaches one hundred million1 of our people naturally engages the attention of educationists, whose major activity is communication. (W. W. D. Sones, “The Comics and Instructional Method”, p. 232.)

What then happened to serious comics? I can’t think of any educational comics even though I collected comic books as a kid. Were serious educational comics a failure? If they were, what does that suggest for serious games? It is tempting to say that the lesson of educational comics is that serious games too will vanish as another educational fad. I suspect there are other answers:

  • Perhaps serious comics did work. There were, after all, educational comics like GE’s Adventures in Electricity. Perhaps they were effective educational (and promotional) tools even if never as popular with youth as action comics. Now, of course, we have a wealth of serious graphic novels like Maus by Art Spiegelman.
  • Perhaps textbooks learned from comic artists and began to use graphic elements where they illustrated the point. Many of the books I read my children like those by David Macaulay (Castle, City, Cathedral, and The Way Things Work) were drawn, though they didn’t use all the comic conventions. The comic may have evolved as it got serious.
  • Society eventually finds a way to manage new media. No one thinks comics are poisoning our children any more. Something happened and now comics are not the threat. Hence we don’t need to tame them any more … or perhaps they aren’t the threat because we tamed them?

MagCloud | The Best New Magazines, Printed on Demand by HP

Looking at my Flickr account (where I’m steadily uploading pictures taken in Kyoto) I came across MagCloud, a print-on-demand service for publishing magazines, catalogues and other visual printed works. The idea is that you upload a PDF and then people can come an buy a copy off MagCloud who then print and mail it. I wonder what the quality is like.

Onè Respe is an example of a publication using MagCloud. It is a collection of photographs of Haiti donated by many photographers. The proceeds from sales will go to benefit the victims of the disaster.

Princetonian: Kindles yet to woo University users

Thanks to Sean for pointing me to a story about Princeton’s experiment with Kindles replacing textbooks. In a pilot program students in certain courses were given a Kindle DX with all their course readings. Princeton was partnering with Amazon.com (Bezos went to Princeton) as part of a sustainability initiative to save paper. The problem is that the students didn’t like using the Kindles.

Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.

Stan Katz (who was one of the instructors experimenting) is quoted in the Princetonian story supporting the student view. He found the Kindle hard to annotate and he found that without page numbers it was hard for students to cite accurately.

The Kindle doesn’t give you page numbers; it gives you location numbers. They have to do that because the material is reformatted,” Katz said. He noted that while the location numbers are “convenient for reading,” they are “meaningless for anyone working from analog books.

There is a Slashdot summary with lots of comments too.

Ben Fry: The preservation of favoured traces

Picture 17

Sean pointed me to a lovely visualization by Ben Fry called The Preservation Of Favoured Traces. The animated visualization shows the edits of Darwin’s The Origin Of Species edition by edition. It is a rich-prospect view of the entire work with color coded lines where changes were made. It was developed in Processing. Ben Fry says the following about the project:

We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.