Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Morning Coffee – 30 October 2014

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 07:09 PM PDT

The death of enhanced ebooks, Victoria Strauss’s take on Kindle Scout, and Juliet’s anachronistic balcony top the reading list this morning, and an old school book discovery engine brings up the rear.

  • Does the Closure of Atavist Books Signal the End for Enhanced Ebooks? (DBW)
  • The Internet Archive releases tools to let anyone store community content forever (VentureBeat)
  • Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons (Victoria Strauss)
  • Music Education Linked to Increased Reading Skills in Low-Income Kids (Arts To Grow)
  • Romeo and Juliet Has No Balcony (The Atlantic)
  • Self-published authors – Please Quit Picking Fights! (The Passive Voice)
  • What Book Should You Read Next? Putting Librarians And Algorithms To The Test (FastCo)

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Want to Assemble Your Own eReading Device? Google Shows Off Project Ara Modular Phone Prototype

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 03:08 PM PDT

3[1]The idea of assembling a DIY mobile device has long since fallen out of the mainstream, but if Project Ara is successful then that could change.

For the past couple years Google has been working on, well, they’ve been working on many hardware projects, but the one that has me waiting with bated breath is Project Ara.

This project has a goal which is as simple in concept as it is complex in practice; Google is trying to develop a platform for a modular smartphone which would enable owners to upgrade their existing phone piecemeal rather than junking it simply because the screen is broken.

In theory Project Ara will enable consumers to buy a base unit as well as components which met their needs: camera, screen, battery, wirless chip, etc. When all the parts arrive the consumer will be able to plug the parts into the base unit and have a working phone.

The following gallery should help explain it better.

Project_Ara_scattered_parts ara.hands_ para project-ara-3 ara3[1] Project-Ara3[1]

Project Ara is still in the prototype stage, and it’s scheduled to hit the market early next year. Right now the only units floating around are in the hands of the original project team as well as a select handful of outside developers who (hopefully) are creating modules which you can buy.

You can see the latest prototype in the video below.

Google is planning to offer 3 different base units, enabling fans to choose between a phablet or a more pocketable smartphone. The largest is said to be about the size of a Galaxy Note 3. (Just to give you an idea of the size, that phone sports a 5.7″ screen.) The smaller Project Ara base units  will be about the size of a 5″ phablet and one of the early iPhones.

The platform is designed so users can hot swap modules without shutting down or rebooting the phone.  I’m not sure how well that will work in practice but the idea has me interested. Want more battery life? Add a better one. Need a better camera? Just swap out your existing one. Don’t like the sound quality? I’m sure you’ll find a Chinese OEM with a compatible module.

I don’t know of any plans to make a tablet sized unit, which is a shame. The larger area would enable you to add far more modules.

But even with the size limitations, I am keeping a close eye on Project Ara. While I don’t think that this is an explicit part of the plan, I am expecting one Chinese OEM or another to create a module with an epaper screen. I am going to have me some fun assembling my own Android ereader.


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Wylie Compares Amazon to “a Digital Trucking Company”, Terrorists

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 12:29 PM PDT

wylie1[1]Andrew Wylie has long taken the side of Hachette inits dispute with Amazon, and he doesn’t see any reason to change his views following the news that Simon & Schuster had struck a deal with Amazon.

PW reports that Wylie gave  a keynote address at Toronto's International Festival of Authors (IFOA) today, and if the quotes are accurate then Wylie hasn’t softened his position one bit. In fact, he may have adopted an even more extreme position than ever before.

To start with, Wylie relayed a conversation he had a few years ago with a music industry lawyer,  John Eastman, who believed that publishers should have given Amazon zero percent of the retail price, and not 30%, because without the content Amazon’s hardware was “useless pieces of high grade plastic. So if they want to give you 30% of their profits, I would trade 30% of book publishing profits for 30% of Amazon's profits,” he said Eastman advised him.

The fact that the content was also worthless without sales channels such as the Kindle Store seems to slipped by both Mr. Wylie and Mr. Eastman.

It sounds like Wylie sees no value in Amazon at all, and that Amazon could easily be replaced. He’s quoted as saying that there is a strong chance that in the end “Amazon will be told you either do business on our terms or we are going to develop other channels of distribution”.

I wish him luck with that; others have tried to best Amazon at selling books and most of the companies who have succeeded have since been bought out by Amazon.  The publishers certainly haven’t proven capable of doing so.

Wylie goes on to describe Amazon as “a digital trucking company” which “the publishing industry, up until now, has cowered and whined and moaned and groaned and given Amazon pretty much everything they want”.

And it gets better. Not only is Amazon little more than a glorified shop clerk, it is also the equivalent of a terrorist organization which has killed children, beheaded journalist, and cause untold suffering.

According to PW, Wylie believes that “with the restored health of the publishing industry and having some sense of where this sort of ISIS-like distribution channel, Amazon, is going to be buried and in which plot of sand they will be stuck, [publishers] will be able to raise the author's digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.”

It’s not clear who Wylie thinks is going to sell the books after Amazon has been buried, but I guess he is willing to leave minor details like that to underlings. Andrew Wylie, after all, is a literary agent.

While I know several words I would like to use to describe Wylie, I am unfortunately not allowed to write any of them on this blog. I will note, though, that the idea of making peace is not part his lexicon.

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The EU’s Proposed New Google Tax Would Hurt Too Many and Help Too Few

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 09:56 AM PDT

Gunther-Oettinger[1]Many legacy publishers have turned an envious eye on Google’s ad revenues, and now it seems they’ve found an ally in EU’s new Digital Commissioner.

Günther Oettinger is going to start his new 5 year term as a commissioner next week, and he recently gave an interview and shared a few details about his plans and goals. GigaOm first caught the story yesterday. It was originally published in German, so I’ll quote GigaOm’s summary:

Günther Oettinger, the man who will next week become the European Union's digital economy and society commissioner, may be considering taking the so-called "Google tax" law from his native Germany and applying it across the EU.

Oettinger, who will report to digital single market commissioner Andrus Ansip, has been tasked with reforming European copyright law (a brief that was previously one for the internal markets department, rather than digital economy). He told Handelsblatt on Tuesday that he wants to introduce an EU-wide copyright law, to replace the current patchwork of national laws.

There are any number of problems with this idea, including the fact that it could result in the act of linking or quoting an excerpt being declared copyright infringement.

While that might sound strange, the fact of the matter is you can’t effectively compel someone to pay a license fee without making the act of nonpayment illegal. In this case that would mean that quoting an excerpt without a license would be copyright infringement in Europe.

And since recent events have shown that Google would rather not use excerpts than pay such license fees, I see the very real possibility that this proposed law might be pushed to cover links as well. Otherwise there would be no way to force Google to pay.

And as the fallout from Spain’s proposed Google tax shows us, that could hurt everyone.

Spain is currently considering a new addition to its copyright law which would give copyright holders an inalienable right (derecho irrenunciable) to be paid for the use of their excerpts. In other words publishers would be forbidden under this new law from granting a free license for the use of the quotes. (The coalition of publishers who wrote the new law learned from past failed attempts to extract unearned fees from Google.)

To be fair, the proposed tasa Google (Spanish for Google tax) is a unique law and the EU statute might end up looking nothing like it, but the fallout from that Spanish proposal shows us that this type of law would affect more than just Google.

As I reported in July, the news aggregator Menéame, as well as social networks like Twitter and Facebook, voiced objection to the tasa Google. They would get hit by the tax when a user shared an excerpt, and they could not afford to pay it. Menéame was actually looking at relocating outside of the EU, just so they could be sure to escape that tax.

Can you imagine how much it would cost if Twitter, Facebook, Pocket, Flipboard, or Reddit had to pay a fee every time a user posted a link and an excerpt? The cost would be astronomical.

And what about smaller sites such as myself? While one might assume that news sites might get a get out of jail free card, I’m not so sure that would be the case. Many news sites are also aggregators, so there’s a good chance that we’d all get swept up as well.

Oettinger’s proposal is a remarkably bad idea, and it comes from someone with a history of not understanding technology. Oettinger's also the guy who blamed the victims of the celebrity photo-hacking incident for being “stupid”.

Something tells me his five-year term will be a vastly entertaining one – but for all the wrong reasons.


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New LCD Screen Tech Can Display Static Images With No Power

Posted: 29 Oct 2014 08:19 AM PDT

orwlcd[1]Displaying an image without having to use energy to refresh it is the holy grail of screen tech, and a team of researchers may just have found a new way to do that.

Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have developed a new type of LCD screen that only requires power when when it is refreshed.  It’s based on optically rewritable liquid crystal display (ORWLCD), an LCD tech that has been batting around the research labs for the past several years.

While a regular LCD screen requires a constant supply of power so it can display an image, an ORWLCD only requires power when an image is first displayed. After that, the power can be turned off and the image will continue to be shown on the screen.

That is really quite similar in concept to an E-ink screen, but unfortunately ORWLCD tech also shares one of E-ink’s weaknesses; they’re both limited to grayscale screens, and not the 3 pigment color screen you expect to see on LCD screens.

The demos do look nice, though:


While this tech is interesting, I’m not sure what value it adds or if it can do anything that E-ink can’t already do.

But if it could display color, that’s another matter.

I have much higher hopes that we will one day see JDI’s solution to the LCD power problem hit the market. For the past few years Japan Display has been working on a way to add a tiny bit of RAM to each pixel in an LCD display. The idea here is that the RAM would reduce the power requirements from the full power required to constantly refresh the screen multiple times a second to a lower level which would provide just enough power to keep the screen from going dark.

JDI’s tech could prove useful in smartwatches and similar products where battery power is at a premium, but I don’t know that it is being used anywhere yet.


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