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DeptofDepartments writes "With Kindles and ebooks on everyone's lips (sc. hands) nowadays, this might come as a surprise to some, but besides being a techie, I have also amassed quite a collection of actual books (mostly hardcover and first editions) in my personal library. I have always been reluctant to lend them out and the collection has grown so large now that it has become difficult to keep track of all of them. This is why I am looking for a modern solution to implement some professional-yet-still-home-sized library management. Ideally, this should include some cool features like RFID tags or NFC for keeping track of the books, finding and checking them out quickly, if I decide to lend one." For more on what DeptofDepartments is looking for, read on below.

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Amazon made back-to-back videogame announcements last week, showing its dedication to moving beyond music, video and e-books in the digital content space.

The first piece of news was Amazon’s new GameCircle, which allows gamers on the Kindle Fire to record and track their achievements and to save their game progress to the cloud — similar to features found in Apple’s Game Center.

The second addition is called Game Connect, an e-commerce distribution system that lets customers discover and download free-to-play PC games. Amazon is also handling some of the back-end features for the developers, such as selling virtual goods and subscriptions.

Take, for instance, Uber Entertainment, a 16-person development shop in Kirkland, Wash., that started distributing its game, Super Monday Night Combat, through Game Connect last week.

John Comes, creative director at Uber Entertainment, said that, until now, the company distributed its games only through Steam, the Valve-owned-and-operated digital game distribution platform on the PC. With Amazon, it now has two points of distribution.

“We’ve been working with them for six months. We were talking to various people about getting the game to more people, but for us, they can bring a lot of users,” he said.

Uber Entertainment’s Super Monday Night Combat game is a free PC download that makes money through the sale of virtual goods, similar to games distributed on Facebook. Uber does not have the infrastructure to charge customers directly, which makes a partnership with Amazon sensible. The retailer has millions of credit cards on file, enabling customers to quickly link their game play to their Amazon account.

Once games are linked to Amazon, users can pay and shop for virtual goods on Amazon’s homepage. For instance, Hippies in the game cost $9.99, a tank costs $4.49 and Captain Spark costs $7.49. Each character in the game has a landing page on Amazon’s site, enabling all the sorts of features you would normally associate with a product for sale on the site — such as the ability to add it to your cart or add it to your wish list.

The wish list capability appealed to Uber. “A kid can say ‘I really want this character for Super Monday,’ and parents can buy it for them,” he said.

This is not Amazon’s first foray into the digital distribution of videogames.

In October 2010, the company launched its digital games store, which offers customers more than 3,000 titles, including free-to-play and massively multiplayer online games. But with Game Connect, it makes shopping for virtual goods much easier. It also makes it much more comparable to the Steam service, though that targets a much more hardcore gaming demographic.

Amazon said terms of the store will be similar to industry standards used by Facebook and Apple’s App Store. It will share 70 percent of virtual good revenue with developers.

However, when it comes to price, Amazon will decide the cost of virtual goods, not the developer (although he or she will have some influence). Amazon will set a sales price for an app, and developers will set a list price. Amazon also uses this model on its Appstore for Android, where it distributes games and apps for developers.

It claims to have the resources to monitor sales across the board and come up with a strategy that will maximize sales much faster than a developer or publisher would normally be able to react.

In addition to helping with the payment process, Amazon says with Game Connect it will provide significant resources to the developer, including marketing, discovery, customer service and downloads. A spokesperson said in a statement, “We work hard to help customers find and discover great new games they never knew about and are focused on offering a great shopping experience along with fast and excellent customer service. We do provide a download service from the cloud for client-based games but provide a link to developer servers for browser-based games.”

The one situation where payment terms could get a little sticky is when a player originally discovers a game on Steam’s service, but then connects to Amazon to pay for the virtual goods. Amazon and Steam have likely figured out a way to compensate each other behind the scenes.

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If I had to make a list of the top 10 things I've done in my life that I regret, "writing a book" would definitely be on it. I took on the book project mostly because it was an opportunity to work with a few friends whose company I enjoy. I had no illusions going in about the rapidly diminishing value of technical books in an era of pervasive high speed Internet access, and the book writing process only reinforced those feelings.

In short, do not write a book. You'll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

As I see it, for the kind of technical content we're talking about, the online world of bits completely trumps the offline world of atoms:

  • It's forever searchable.
  • You, not your publisher, will own it.
  • It's instantly available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • It can be cut and pasted; it can be downloaded; it can even be interactive.
  • It can potentially generate ad revenue for you in perpetuity.

And here's the best part: you can always opt to create a print version of your online content, and instantly get the best of both worlds. But it only makes sense in that order. Writing a book may seem like a worthy goal, but your time will be better spent channeling the massive effort of a book into creating content online. Every weakness I listed above completely melts away if you redirect your effort away from dead trees and spend it on growing a living, breathing website presence online.

A few weeks ago, Hyperink approached me with a concept of packaging the more popular entries on Coding Horror, its "greatest hits" if you will, into an eBook. They seemed to have a good track record doing this with other established bloggers, and I figured it was time to finally practice what I've been preaching all these years. So you can now download Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code for an introductory price of $2.99. It's available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF formats.

 More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood)

I've written about the ongoing tension between bits and atoms recently, and I want to be clear: I am a fan of books. I'm just not necessarily a fan of writing them. I remain deeply cynical about current book publishing models, which feel fundamentally broken to me. No matter the price of the book, outside of J.K. Rowling, you're basically buying the author a drink.

As the author, you can expect to make about a dollar on every copy that sells. The publisher makes several times that, so they make a nice profit with as few as, say, five thousand copies sold. Books that sell ten or fifteen thousand are rare, and considered strong sellers. So let's say you strike gold. After working on your book for a year or more, are you going to be happy with a payday of ten to fifteen grand?

Incidentally, don't expect your royalty check right away. The publisher gets paid first, by the bookstores, and the publisher may then hold on to your money for several months before they part with any of it. Yes, this is legal: it's in the publisher's contract. Not getting paid may be a bummer for you, but it's a great deal for the publisher, since they make interest on the float (all the money they owe to their authors) - which is another profit stream. They'll claim one reason for the delay is the sheer administrative challenge of cutting a check within three months (so many authors to keep track of! so many payments!)... a less ridiculous reason is that they have to wait to see whether bookstores are going to return unsold copies of your book for a full refund.

Here's one real world example. John Resig sold 4,128 copies of Pro Javascript, for which he earned a grand total of $1.87 per book once you factor in his advance. This is a book which still sells for $29.54 on Amazon new.

Resig-book-check

Tellingly, John's second book seems permanently unfinished. It's been listed as "in progress" since 2008. Can't say I blame him. (Update: John explains.)

When I buy books, I want most of that money to go to the author, not the publishing middlemen. I'd like to see a world where books are distributed electronically for very little cost, and almost all the profits go directly to the author. I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon.

I admire people willing to write books, but I honestly think you have to be a little bit crazy to sit down and pound out an entire book these days. I believe smaller units of work are more realistic for most folks. I had an epic email discussion with Scott Meyers about the merits of technical book publishing versus blogging in 2008, and I don't think either of us budged from our initial positions. But he did launch a blog to document some of his thoughts on the matter, which ended with this post:

My longer-term goal was to engage in a dialogue with people interested in the production of fast software systems such that I could do a better job with the content of [my upcoming book]. Doing that, however, requires that I write up reasonable initial blog posts to spur discussion, and I've found that this is not something I enjoy. To be honest, I view it as overhead. Given a choice between doing background research to learn more about a topic (typically reading something, but possibly also viewing a technical presentation, listening to a technical podcast, or exchanging email with a technical expert) or writing up a blog entry to open discussion, I find myself almost invariably doing the research. One reason for this is that I feel obliged to have done some research before I post, anyway, and I typically find that once I'm done with the research, writing something up as a standalone blog entry is an enterprise that consumes more time than I'm willing to give it. It's typically easier to write the result up in the form of a technical presentation, then give the presentation and get feedback that way.

Overhead? I find this attitude perplexing; the research step is indeed critical, but no less important than writing up your results as a coherent blog entry. If you can't explain the results of your research to others, in writing, in a way they can understand, you don't understand it. And if you aren't willing to publish your research in the form of a simple web page that anyone in the world can visit and potentially learn from, why did you bother doing that research in the first place? Are you really maximizing the value of your keystrokes? More selfishly, you should always finish by writing up your results purely for your own self-improvement, if nothing else. As Steve Yegge once said: "I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging." Then you can take all that published writing, fold in feedback and comments from the community, add some editorial embellishment on top, and voilà – you have a great book.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that writing is just plain hard. Seth Godin's advice for authors still stands:

Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.

Which, I think, is also good life advice in general. Maybe the easiest way to lower your expectations as an author is by attempting to write one or two blog entries a week, keep going as long as you can, and see where that takes you.

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The internet is disrupting many content-focused industries, and the publishing landscape is beginning its own transformation in response. Tools haven’t yet been developed to properly, semantically export long-form writing. Most books are encumbered by Digital Rights Management (DRM), a piracy-encouraging practice long since abandoned by the music industry. In the second article of a two-part series in this issue, Nick Disabato discusses the ramifications of these practices for various publishers and proposes a way forward, so we can all continue sharing information openly, in a way that benefits publishers, writers, and readers alike.

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On a warm summer day in 2002, in Charlevoix, Michigan, Richard Joseph’s bad luck began. The lawyer, husband, and father of two was walking across the driveway with a bag of garbage when his bare foot slipped in a puddle of water that had collected beneath his car’s air conditioner. His leg gave out and he landed on his back. While nothing was broken, the blow prevented blood from reaching his spinal cord. He laid there for an hour, unable to move, while his daughters watched television in the living room. By the time he was discovered, the damage had been done. He'd never walk again.

Eventually, Joseph would make it back to work at his law firm, although he couldn’t keep up his old pace. By August 2007, complications prevented him...

Continue reading…

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I don’t think anyone can deny that the Web has changed the way people teach, learn, and do research. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything we read online is true and accurate—far from it. But I believe that through honest discussion and objective collaboration, accurate and useful information is much more likely to be the end result of any educational endeavor.

In the final week of November 2011, a smart group of developers launched a project called Move The Web Forward, which you can read more about in Addy Osmani’s Smashing Magazine article.

For this post, I want to focus on one piece of advice given by those developers in that project, under the heading “Write”.

The advice is: Publish what you learn.

As soon as I read that exhortation (which originated with this tweet), I knew this was a project made by a group of people who cared about the Web and that they understand what it takes to move forward as developers, and as an industry.

Let’s explore those four simple words, because I believe that concept is at the heart of how much progress has been made in the front-end development niche. And it’s something that could help almost any industry, in any field.

Just Do It

Very few blogs start out with much traffic at all. Unless the blog is based on an already existing brand that has a lot of exposure, most blogs will begin with very few readers. Even Smashing Magazine, who now has millions of readers, subscribers, and followers, started out with nothing.

CSS-Tricks is another good example of a blog that started out as nothing, and has grown into a thriving, collaborative community. Its founder and curator, Chris Coyier, certainly couldn’t have predicted how much that website would grow. And I’m sure we could come up with additional examples of websites that went from zero to hero in a relatively short time.

Why did they become successful? Because they published what they learned. At one time I somewhat favored the view that too many blogs were being launched. But I think the benefits of so much being published in so many different places outweigh any drawbacks.

Of course, this is not to suggest that the reason you want to publish your thoughts is to “make it big”—that should be secondary, if considered at all. In fact, what you publish doesn’t necessarily have to be on a run-of-the-mill monetized WordPress blog. It could be a GitHub account, a Wiki-style website, a Tumblr feed, or even a bunch of quick tips on a simple Twitter account.

Which brings us to another important supplement to this theme. Immediately after the folks at Move The Web Forward told us to publish what we learn, they made an equally important statement.

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

You might be thinking: “Wait. What? Me? Publish a blog? I’ve been coding websites for a measly six months (or some other ostensibly short period of time). Even if people visit my website and read it, my articles will probably get torn to shreds!”

That doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you recognize the value in researching, teaching, collaborating, and correcting mistakes. That’s why the Move The Web Forward folks went on to encourage writers to “keep your posts updated.”

And that’s why Rebecca Murphey, when discussing how to get better at writing JavaScript, said:

“The number one thing that will make you better at writing JavaScript is writing JavaScript. It’s OK if you cringe at it six months from now. It’s OK if you know it could be better if you only understood X, Y, or Z a little bit better. Cultivate dissatisfaction, and fear the day when you aren’t disappointed with the code you wrote last month.”

In this case, Rebecca was talking about actually writing code, not writing about code. But the same principle applies: you will get better when you make mistakes and correct them.

And if you think you’ve made some progress and you have something unique and educational to share, don’t be afraid to offer it to one of the many design and development blogs that will gladly pay you for content.

Comments Are Part Of The Content

There are too many websites that view the readers’ comments as secondary content that is not nearly as valuable as what the author has to say in the main article. Every website should continually make changes or updates to content that is clearly shown to be incorrect. This shows that the publisher wants to provide accurate information, and that they respect the views of their readers.

In fact, you could make the argument that without reader comments, the quality of content on many design and development blogs would not be as strong as it is today. On my own website, I’ve written so many things that were just downright wrong. In some cases, things can be a matter of opinion and personal preference. But in other cases, they’re just factually incorrect. In indisputable cases, I’ve always tried to post updates to articles and credit the commenters who pointed them out.

Teachers Learn By Teaching

Randy Rhoads, a popular rock guitarist (who died in a plane crash in 1982), was well-known for being a guitar teacher. He once said:

“I’ve been playing about 18 years and I started to get a style when I started teaching.”

In other words, he believed that his success as a guitarist was largely impacted by the fact that he spent time teaching his skill to others. The same can be true for any one of us.

I’ve learned so much from readers’ comments and from doing research on stuff that I plan to publish. I’ve even learned from content I never actually did publish. The Move The Web Forward project, once again, summarizes this point quite nicely:

“Teaching is a great learning tool as well. So, even if you are getting started in an area, you’re helping yourself by writing about it as well.”

GitHub Gets It Right

The collaboration level on many projects from the “social coding” website GitHub is truly amazing, and is something that shows how revolutionary the Web really is.

GitHub's method of social coding is revolutionary

Think about a large project like HTML5 Boilerplate. When that project was first released, many front-end devs were amazed at how much front-end knowledge had been packed into a single starting template. Many were even intimidated by it. But what it is today is nothing compared to what it was when it first launched.

Why? Because from the get-go the contributors to the project had the same attitude that Paul Irish expressed in the launch post of his blog:

“I’m very interested in your contributions… what else deserves to be in this base template?”

With those words, Paul began what might be the most important front-end development project in the Web’s short history. And the collaboration continues today. In fact, there have been over 1000 issues opened and closed on that repo. All because Paul Irish—who has every right to never solicit feedback, because he’s so dang smart—encouraged collaboration.

Blog Posts Should Be Like GitHub Repos

The collaboration on apps like GitHub should be exactly what happens on blog posts. The readers posting comments should read the entire article, and should offer constructive, polite criticism and suggestions, without any unnecessary negativity.

An end to negativity

If the author feels the advice is not accurate or best practice, than he should explain why. If it’s established that the point needs clarification and/or correction, then he should humbly accept this and post an update, crediting the person or persons that brought it up. Personally, I’ve seen too many posts where the author doesn’t make corrections, even when clear technical or factual errors are pointed out.

This doesn’t mean that “majority rules”—that would be ridiculous, and would probably cause more problems than it solves (particularly in matters of opinion, where often there are no hard-and-fast rules).

But if it’s a technical matter, then the author has the responsibility to make updates and keep the information fresh, practical, and relevant. This is especially important if readers are finding the article via search. The “copy-and-paste-but-don’t-read” mentality is common among developers looking for quick solutions. We all face tight budgets and even tighter deadlines, so the last thing we want to do is verify a piece of code’s quality by reading a 900-word accompanying article along with 50+ comments.

If you notice a lot of search traffic coming in for older articles on your website, that might very well be incentive to update those older posts, and ensure you’re not promoting something that you no longer believe is accurate or best practice. And this has a twofold benefit: It will get you even more traffic, and your readers will have accurate information that they can trust.

So let’s do our best to imitate collaborative communities like those found on GitHub and StackOverflow, and continue making progress by correcting our errors. This will help all of us overcome the fears inherent in publishing what we learn.

The “TL;DR” Conclusion

If you don’t read this entire post, or if you take nothing else away from it, then just remember these points:

  • When you learn something, write about it, and don’t do it just to make money off it.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Teaching others will help you learn.
  • Encourage collaboration by allowing a free flow of constructive comments.
  • If you make a mistake, fix it.

I think this is a winning strategy for all those who are involved in design or development blogging, as well as tutorial writing.

When we’re willing to put ourselves out there, listen to what our peers have to say, and improve as needed, we will become better developers, and will help each other solve design and development problems in a more effective manner.

As this article suggests, your voice is just as important in this discussion. What do you think? Are you motivated to publish what you learn? Do you think collaboration and constructive feedback is an important part of moving the Web forward? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image used on frontpage: opensourceway.

(il) (jvb)

© Louis Lazaris for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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As a Japanese person living in Europe, I’m sometimes asked: “Japanese is a difficult language, isn’t it?” Those asking are often surprised when my answer is a simple: “No, actually, it’s not.”

While it is true (at least to many Westerners) that Japanese is an exotic language, when compared to learning other European languages, it may seem harder because it has has no relation to their own language. But from my own experiences of learning English and German (and also from seeing some European friends learning Japanese), I can say with confidence that learning spoken Japanese is, in fact, not so difficult. The grammar is in many ways simpler than most European languages. Take for example the fact that we don’t have cases, grammatical genders, nor articles. However, reading and writing in Japanese is… well, not so simple.

While discussing typography we most often focus on English language problems, which is only natural considering that the majority of design material is written in English. However, a lot can be gleamed by looking at how other languages are used as part of communication and design — it helps to lend context and a different point of view.

Japanese Scripts

Modern Japanese is written in a mixture of three basic scripts: Kanji — which are Chinese ideographic symbols — as well as Hiragana and Katakana — two phonetic alphabets (syllables). There are a few thousand Kanji characters, while Hiragana and Katakana have 46 each. Although there is a basic rule for when to use which script, there are many exceptions, and what’s worse is that words written in Kanji have often multiple pronunciations, depending on the context or conjunction. This is hard enough for native speaker to get right every time, so I almost feel sorry for those non-natives who are learning to read and write Japanese.

Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana Japanese scripts
From top to bottom: Kanji is mainly used for the lexical elements: nouns, verb stems, adjective stems, and so forth; Hiragana has rounded letter shapes, which are mainly used for the grammatical elements of sentences such as particles, auxiliary verbs, and suffixes of nouns; Katakana has an angular letter shape, which is most often used for foreign words and also for the purpose of emphasis.

Some say that the “tragedy” started when Japan decided to “import” the Chinese writing system, inscribing it into their own language in the 3rd century.

Since Japanese is as different from Chinese as it is to any other language, simply using the Chinese writing system was not sufficient, and a more appropriate way of writing Japanese was sought out. Some Chinese characters began to be used not for their meaning, but purely for their phonetic value. So by the 9th century, Hiragana and Katakana scripts were derived from simplified Chinese characters that were used to write Japanese phonetically.

The story doesn’t end there. As if using three scripts isn’t enough, we write in both horizontal and vertical orientation.

Horizontal? Vertical? The Unique Case Of Japanese Typography

“Vertical or horizontal?” — when setting a piece of text in Japanese, this is a question that Japanese designers constantly need to ask themselves. Being able to use both vertical and horizontal writing orientations is something so normal for us native Japanese speakers that most of us won’t even stop to wonder why this is possible, or even when and how it was first introduced.

The identical piece of text set vertically (right) and horizontally (left).
The identical piece of text set vertically (right) and horizontally (left). When it is set vertically it’s read from top to bottom, as the lines go from right to left; when it is set horizontally, it is read from left to right, like in European languages.

In general, these two writing orientations have a clear usage: vertical for something “Japanese”, “traditional”, “novels and other humanistic writings”; horizontal for “contemporary”, “business documents”, “scientific & foreign language related writings” and so on. When a main text is set horizontally, the binding is on the left-hand side, and pages progress to the right, like books in Latin scripts. Traditional books in vertical setting are the other way around, with the binding at the right hand side, and pages progressing to the left. So when you handle a Japanese book, don’t confuse the front with the back!

A typical page layout of a Japanese paperback novel
A typical page layout of a Japanese paperback novel using a vertical setting. Ogai Mori (1913), “Abe Ichizoku”, Shincyo-bunko.

traditional calligraphy is always done vertically
With its organic flow, characters are often connected and have different heights and widths
Needless to say, traditional calligraphy is always done vertically. With their organic flow, characters are often connected and have different heights and widths — which makes it impossible to disconnect and align them horizontally. Calligraphy by Keiko Shimoda, 2011 (tsukushidesign.com)


Horizontal setting is preferred for scientific texts, mathematical texts and language related books, where words and phrases in foreign scripts and signs are often included, as they are more easily incorporated horizontally. The example (above) is a Japanese-English dictionary. (Pocket Comprehensive English-Japanese / Japanese-English Dictionary, 2000, Obunsha)

Where the efficient use of space is important — namely newspapers and magazines — both orientations are often combined. Although it may appear a bit chaotic, or even random to foreign eyes, these two directions are usually used in a systematic way as a means to indicate different text elements on a page. For instance, a main text is often set in a vertical setting, but headings and captions may be set in a horizontal setting.

A typical newspaper layout
A typical newspaper layout — the main text is vertical but headings, diagrams, tables, and captions are placed horizontally.

The same newspaper as above, but highlighting the vertical text (orange) and the horizontal text
The same newspaper as above, but highlighting the vertical text (orange) and the horizontal text (blue). © The Nikkei (May 8th, 2009)

In a way, it’s comparable to “typographic variants” which are found in Latin typography — in Latin script text one may use bold, italic, or a different font to differentiate things such as pull quotes from the main text, whereas in Japanese we can do this by using a different orientation. Publications which accommodate non-linear or complex text (as opposed to linear text, such as novels) seem to benefit in particular from having these two orientations, which allow the layout to be highly flexible, and also to create strong visual impact.

The extreme cases of “space-efficiency-oriented typography” are informational-heavy pieces of text, such as diagrams and signage — also exploiting the two directional orientations. The Tokyo Metro map (Fig 10) is a good example of this — as you can see, both orientations are used accordingly, so that everything fits best within the limited space.

Tokyo Metro Map.
Tokyo Metro map

Tokyo Metro map with more typography in differing directions.
Tokyo Metro route map. The large type on the top is the station name which is placed horizontally. The name of the metroline may be horizontal, but the name of the stops are placed vertically.

It’s true that in many cases they look quite chaotic and sometimes even aesthetically questionable to eyes that are used to “orderly” design. But it’s easy to appreciate the visual impact and energy they create — they remind you that effective, appealing informational design does not always have to look “neat and tidy”.

Letters from my friends
Letters from my friends: when it comes to handwriting, orientation is up to a personal preference or simply one’s “mood”. But when you are writing a more official letter, or writing to somebody who is much older than you, it’s probably safer to opt for vertical orientation.

What’s Happening On Screen-Based Media?

Since the introduction of horizontal writing in the Japanese language, print-based media and signage have been employing both of these writing orientations effectively, and in ways that complement one another. But what’s been happening to screen-based media? With a few exceptions — such as word-processing machines made exclusively for the Japanese text output, or subtitles for film and TV screens, which tend to use either depending on the background image — horizontal orientation has been the dominant choice.

The prime example of this is the Web: horizontal orientation has been used almost exclusively. For the past 15 years, I have hardly come across a website that uses vertical setting. Mobile phone screens also use a horizontal orientation. I believe this may be due to the relations of hardware, operating systems and user interfaces that have become the norm, all of which have been designed to work with horizontal writing. It feels somewhat awkward to see vertical writing while all the other elements on the screen, such as the menu bar and UI elements, are horizontal.

Needless to say, the technical limitations (the support of a vertical setting by browsers is a fairly recent introduction) have largely contributed to this too. Perhaps underestimated, maybe the biggest factor for not using vertical setting for screen-based media could well be the mental association with horizontal orientation being used for something “modern” and “contemporary”.

The Nihon Keizai Newspaper website.
The Nihon Keizai Newspaper website. Although the printed newspaper employs a vertical setting for the body texts, the web-version uses a horizontal setting.

A Japanese Tea Ceremony website
So far, even with content as Japanese as a tea ceremony, a website will use a horizontal setting. (Accessed Jan. 20th, 2012)

Will Vertical Writing Orientation Die Out?

Will vertical writing orientation die out from screen-based media? Or can it make a comeback, when the technological environment allows us to use vertical settings more easily? Many e-book apps on smart phones and tablets have already started using vertical settings. With its intuitive way of navigating the screen along with the lack of external input devices (and apps being able to have more flexible/responsive layout), vertical writing seems to be incorporated much more comfortably.

I’ve spent some time reading these e-books — and pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to read. Apart from the fact that you need to scroll the screen horizontally, it’s just as comfortable as reading “normal” or horizontally set text. In fact, it’s even better for some types of publications like novels, or Manga. Our association towards this type of content when compared to the vertical setting is pretty strong mdash; it would somehow feel “wrong” to see them set horizontally.

Amazon’s Kindle has yet to support the Japanese language, but apparently they’re on their way to doing so. If they seriously want to attract Japanese readers, it would be unthinkable for them not to support vertical setting.

Soseki Natsume's “Sanshiro”
Soseki Natsume’s “Sanshiro” (1908) e-book on iPhone.

Kotobuki Shiriagari's
Kotobuki Shiriagari’s “OSHIGOTO” (2010) e-book on iPhone.

The situation also seems to be slowly changing on the Web — some interesting attempts have been made in order to familiarize ourselves with Web pages that have vertical setting. One such example is Taketori, which works just like Google translate — you can type in the URL of a Web page you wish to see in vertical setting, and Taketori does it for you. There’s also a piece of software called Kagetaka, which can switch any Web text into a vertical orientation.

Personally, I’m not too sure how well vertical setting will be supported by the users of normal Web pages, unless the way we navigate Web pages is re-developed, or a new type of browser with more innovative UI appears. Even though I complained earlier about the difficulty of the Japanese writing system, I do appreciate its diversity and flexibility, while making use of its three scripts and two orientations allows us to express subtle nuances of content — and we have been benefiting from that for decades.

I thought it would be a shame if we lose these methods of textual articulation in an age of screen-based media. But what has been happening for the last couple of years on touch-screen mobile devices (as well as the Web) can reassure us that both writing orientations may happily co-exist and collaborate on screen in the future, just as they have done off-screen for the last hundred years.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

(jvb) (il)

© Shoko Mugikura for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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I'm really happy to be a part of Download the Universe, a new group blog dedicated to reviewing science e-books and apps. No dead trees allowed. It fills a long-ignored niche, helping readers find high-quality science writing in the digital realm, and my partners in this little side project are all top-notch. Download the Universe will feature reviews written by best-selling authors like Sean Carroll and Deborah Blum, new media gods like i09's Annalee Newitz and Not Exactly Rocket Science's Ed Yong, and some of the best science journalists at work today.

The whole thing was organized by Carl Zimmer, who also wrote the most recent review on the site—all about Controlling Cancer: A Powerful Plan for Taking On the World's Most Daunting Disease, by Paul Ewald.

Ewald's basic thesis: What if cancer is really a virus? We know that viruses do cause some cancers. For instance, most cervical cancer is pretty definitively caused by the human papillomavirus. But Ewald theorizes that this virus-cancer connection could be a lot further reaching than we now think—and it could have profound impacts on how we treat and prevent cancer in the future. The document is published by TED Books, and Zimmer says it bears the pretty obvious imprint of the TED brand—really provocative ideas that may or may not be correct, but are definitely fascinating.

[Ewald] has long been an advocate for putting medicine on a solid foundation of evolutionary biology. In the 1990s, for example, he came to fame for his ideas about domesticating infectious diseases. The deadliness of a parasite can evolve, and in some situations, it may pay for parasites to be milder instead of meaner. He went on to argue that many supposed chronic diseases--from heart disease to schizophrenia--are triggered by pathogens. Ewald's work has been mostly theoretical--extrapolating from what we know about evolution in general to diseases in particular. His ideas are tough to test, if only because our bodies are so complex. But they have certainly been influential, as scientists have developed better tools for detecting microbes in our bodies and probe their effects on us.

Controlling Cancer is a quick read, without any photographs, videos, or other ornaments found on other ebooks. It does include footnotes, where Ewald back up most of his points. The citations are a good thing, but sometimes it's hard to tell when Ewald citing well-established cases of pathogens causing cancer and when he's only pointing to suggestive hints. The scientific literature is loaded with papers in which researchers describe tumors brimming with viruses. These associations could be evidence of viruses triggering cancer, or they could be evidence that tumors are good places for viruses to breed.

Read Carl Zimmer's full review of Controlling Cancer

Check out Download the Universe for more science e-book reviews

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Walt's People

Over the last seven years, with quiet persistence and unwavering dedication, French animation historian Didier Ghez has been publishing one of the most important animation history documents of our time. His book series, Walt’s People: Talking Disney With The Artists Who Knew Him, is an incredible accomplishment that casts new light onto the operation of the Walt-era Disney Studios. Each edition of this ever-growing interview anthology series reprints rarely seen and unpublished interviews with Disney artists, both famous and unknown.

Didier’s newest volume, the eleventh in the series, is also the largest to date, weighing in at over 600 pages. The historians who have contributed interviews are a who’s who of Disney research royalty. The volume is expansive and extends to a handful of contemporary figures who didn’t personally know Walt (Ed Catmull, Brad Bird, Glen Keane), but who have absorbed the Disney tradition into their work.

In fact, the sheer scale and scope of this volume guarantees something for everybody. The interview subjects are Ray Aragon, Frank Armitage, Brad Bird, Carl Bongirno, Roger Broggie, George Bruns, Ed Catmull, Don R. Christensen, Andreas Deja, Jules Engel, Joe Hale, John Hench, Mark Henn, John Hubley, Glen Keane, Ted Kierscey, Ward Kimball, I. Klein, Mike Lah, Eric Larson, Ed Love, Daniel MacManus, Tom Nabbe, Carl Nater, Dale Oliver, Walt Pfeiffer, Jacques Rupp, David Snyder, Iwao Takamoto, Shirley Temple, Frank Thomas, Ruthie Tompson, and Richard Williams.

Walt’s People #11 is available for $25 on Amazon and you’d be wise to add the rest of the series to your library as well. Didier has provided us some excerpts from the new book, offering a glimpse of the hundreds of stories that can be found in the book. Read them after the jump.

Ruthie Tompson by Didier Ghez (Dec. 21, 2007)
DG: There is a famous anecdote about Snow White that the girls who were painting Snow White would apply real makeup on her cheeks.

RT: Oh! That’s right, they did. We had one girl, her name was Helen Ogger… They all tried it, and she was the only one that was really successful at it, so she got to put the blush. Before she came to work at Disney, I understand that she was a cartoonist, like cartoon strips and things like that, in the newspaper. We had quite a few talented girls, but they were relegated to the Inking Department. Girls didn’t animate at the time. It was all a man’s game.

John Hubley by John Culhane (c. 1973)
JC: Do you remember when Frank Lloyd Wright came to the Studio? Did you see that film he had with him?

JH: Czar Durandei. It had a big influence on us guys who later became UPA. It was Ivan Ivanov-Vano’s first film, one of his early films. He was a young rebel in those days. He made this very avant-garde kind of thing, highly designed. It was in the, I suppose you can call it expressionist style, the kind of style from the Twenties and Thirties. It was so modern and fresh and violated so many of the totems. Shostakovich score, too, that was modern, exciting. It was a two-reeler. There was a marvelous eating scene, a big banquet, a long pan and all kinds of different types of faces, all eating in different ways. That was so funny. There was a minimum amount of animation.

You remember John Rose? He was a P.R. man and he was also working in and out of story meetings, but essentially his job was cultural relations. He’s the guy who, if somebody visited, he would show them through. So he had heard about this film that Frank Lloyd Wright got. He’d read or heard somewhere that the Russian government had given him a print of this thing when he was a guest over there. Wright went over there in the early Thirties. And so [Rose] wrote him and said, “We at the Disney Studio have heard about this and are very much interested if you would see your way clear to lending us the print.”

So next thing he knows he gets a telephone call, “This is Frank Lloyd Wright, Mr. Rose. I’ve just arrived in Los Angeles. I have the print with me. I would like to come out and show it to Mr. Disney. I’ll be out this afternoon.”

Now the rumors were around that Disney was going to build a new studio. Wright got wind of that. It made a lot of sense to him that he should design it. Rose was frantic. He went to see Walt’s secretary. She said, “He is in a big meeting and nobody goes in there.” But she let him go in there and Walt is in the middle of a story conference, which is sacrosanct. [Rose] kneels down next to Walt’s chair and says, “We’re gonna get a visitor coming this afternoon. Frank Lloyd Wright is coming up.” And Disney says, “Jesus Christ, who’s Frank Lloyd Wright?” So he had to explain who Frank Lloyd Wright was and Disney says, “Oh, yeah!”

So [Rose] set it up. [Wright] came out, the big man himself, white hair, and Disney said hello to him. And they had this projection with all the story guys and the top brass. They ran Snow White footage for him, pencil-test stuff. They had a reel of Fantasia, too, and they had Sorcerer’s Apprentice in pencil test. And he went, “Well, that’s magnificent. That is exactly the way you should do it”. And Disney said, “You have a film to show us?” “Oh yes, yes.” “Put the film on.” The lights came up and nobody said a word. Frank said, “Walt Disney, you too can be a prophet!” And Disney said, “What, Jesus Christ, you want me to make films like that?!” [Laughs]

Ray Aragon by Didier Ghez (Feb. 23 and March 5, 2009)
DG: Did you interact a lot with Walt Peregoy?

RA: We were close friends. I can tell you [a story] right now. I can tell you for sure. I was there and I saw it. We did the drawing on paper and that drawing was transferred to the cel, as you know, by Xerox. We had to layout in line drawing on the cel. The idea was to paint on a board the color. Then put the layout drawing, which was on cel, over the painted background, which was on an illustration board. We couldn’t find the answer. The answer that we got at first looked like a comic book. It looked like a cheap comic book. Then the Background Department tried this and they tried that. It didn’t work. This went on for some time. Then finally Walt Peregoy took the painting style of Raoul Dufy. Walt Peregoy took the style where you paint beyond the line. Where you just ignore the lines and paint over and beyond. It looks like nothing. But when you put the line on the thing, there it is.

So what Walt did was he took an illustration board and he made color swatches this way and that way and every which way. But of course using the line drawing as the guide, but never going right up to the line of the drawing. Sometimes overlapping the line. If you look at Walt Peregoy’s color on the illustration board, you saw this crazy stuff that almost makes sense. But it didn’t really make sense. But when you put the cel with the line drawing, it was beautiful. Walt Peregoy was the man who discovered and styled the background technique for One Hundred and One Dalmatians. That I know because I saw it. I saw it happen right before my eyes. He solved it.

Ed Catmull by Didier Ghez (April 20, 2011)
DG: If I move up quite a few years, in 1972 you are studying with Professor Sutherland. And I think that is when you really have your first contact with Disney. Right?

EC: Yes, Ivan [Sutherland] wanted to send a student to go to Disney and then have an animator from Disney come to Utah. I was sent as the student because of my interest in animation. I went out to Burbank and met with Bob Gibeaut, who was Head of the Studio. I remember they had to clear the Studio that day because there was a bomb threat.

I also met Frank Thomas in his office. I remember seeing his old typewriter which I thought was there as an antique, but it was actually the typewriter that he still used. This, of course, was in the Animation building.

It turns out the Studio was not terribly interested in making the exchange, because they didn’t see any relevance of computer animation to them. What they were really interested in was hiring me at WED (now Walt Disney Imagineering).

Cartoon Brew: Leading the Animation Conversation |
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