Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Fairbanks

Just returned from the Occupy Fairbanks march. I wasn’t dressed for the weather, a clear, relatively mild day (13 °F), and had to bail before all the speeches were done. About 40 people marched, pretty much the same crowd I saw when I protested the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike those protests, this time I didn’t see any passers-by flipping us off or screaming insults. There are a few people camping out in a city park in solidarity with other protesters around the world, but they are having problems with the city and police. Nothing major yet. I've read in the news how other cities are holding their fire against Occupy protesters because they think the coming winter weather will do the job for them. It seems to me that Fairbanks protesters might have some cold weather expertise to share.

Though the Occupy movement has no generally accepted list of demands yet, I agree with most of the ones I’ve heard: breaking up financial institutions that are too big to fail, bringing criminal charges against the managers and executives of institutions that caused the recession with illegal activities, ending the wars, ending corporate welfare, and so on.

My biggest beef is with the Supreme Court that, beginning with the 14th amendment in the 19th century, declared corporations to be persons with civil rights. I’m concerned about the political power that major corporations are able to muster with large amount of money, of course, but being a science fiction writer, I can’t help projecting my worries beyond the current situation to the not-to-distant future when science has invented true Artificial Intelligence.

Corporations are cleverly crafted machines, and machines do not have to be sentient to have an agenda and the means to pursue it. Their ultimate purpose is profit, not providing products or services. Products and services are merely the means to that profit. They have no inherent interest in human affairs, the planet, justice, or any other issue insofar as it doesn’t turn a profit. They are eternal entities but not very good at looking at the long-term consequences of their actions. A corporation will catch and sell the last fish in the ocean before it wonders where all the fish have gone. Supposedly people drive corporations, but it seems clear to me that the bigger and more successful a corporation becomes the more the corporation drives its board of directors and executives. If they do not serve its purposes (profit), they are discharged.

Thus the corporate model is a perfect, ready made immortal “body” for an immortal AI to move into. When AIs arrive on the scene, I imagine they may have a hard time winning their own civil rights at first. The same people who give corporations a pass on social issues will object to conferring equal rights to soulless, unchristian AIs. However, enterprising AIs will be able to incorporate themselves and step right into personhood. In this sense the coming Singularity may look something like a hostile takeover.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Steve Jobs

Of all the tributes I've heard this week, I was most moved by people who told how the works of this man changed their lives. I must raise my hand and declare myself one of these.

Back in 1986 I was in bad need of a job. Both my private business and marriage had just failed. Counter intuitively, I felt that it was a great opportunity to finally quit stalling and begin to work on my dream of becoming a published author. But I needed income, something to get by with while I took the time to write.

I interviewed around town for a job. My most marketable skill in those days was as a graphic designer. I had worked at the local paper for a few years. They had turned my boyhood training in fine art into a rough and ready commercial art skill. I sold and laid out auto and real estate ads, a lot of them full-page ads during those boom times. The newspaper taught me the skills to manually lay out a mechanical, a blueprint of sorts in different colored inks on tissue paper. The typesetters, compositors, camera, and others in production used them to build the ads, Within the confines of the medium, I grew to feel quite proficient, if not artful.

So in 1986, I was lucky to interview with the owner of Express Copy & Graphics for a job. She had a full time designer position to fill, one of the earliest Mac computers, laser printers, and version 1.2 of PageMaker.

Thus I arrived at the ground floor of the digital revolution in printing. Desktop publishing, launched on Apple's machines, eventually brought down an entrenched giant of an industry--traditional printing. And I was not only witness to the complete upheaval, but served as a grave digger. It took me almost a year to translate my manual layout skills onto the Mac, and I never looked back. What with practicing, teaching, and free-lancing, I earned my bread and butter for over 20 years in graphic design on ever-improving models of Macs.

The fall of traditional printing was followed by the fall of traditional publishing, a revolution we are witnessing these days with ebooks. In this the iPad, revolutionary in so many other areas, is running a distant third (I'm only guessin) behind Kindle. The Kindle Fire, just released, could be the final nail in the coffin of print books as big business.

But by far the newest technological revolution Steve Jobs cast upon the world has been largely unnoticed in the press. I'm talking about Siri, the personal assistant on the new iPhone 4S, which was released on the day before Jobs died. I wonder if he had any free attention in those last hours to marvel at the little wonder he had just tossed into the world. I've heard that people were expecting Apple to announce the iPhone 5 and were disappointed when it didn't. Don't they know that the lucky owners of the iPhone 4S will hold in their hands the first iteration of . . . wait for it . . . the first iteration of the belt valet? Trust me, boys and girls, this is major. Even if Siri flops, like the Newton tablet did, the AI assistant cat is out of the bag. Thank you, Steve Jobs. We won't soon forget you.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The New Book Cover

I've gotten some helpful feedback on the cover in the comments section. It provides gist for a few blog entries starting with this one. Renelle (one of my first readers) asks:

It's a nice cover, David. Do ebook covers serve the same purpose as (real books? meatbooks? what the heck do I call them?) printed book covers? Does it need to stand out in a crowd? Pique your interest?
She also says: How many sizes is it going to be viewed at? How small will it be on, say, an iPhone?
These are all great questions because they reflect the revolution going on in media, with the rise of the phones and tablets (the fifth and fourth screens, respectively, in the life of the modern consumer). If paper books are truly going away and ebooks springing up to replace them, then what of the cover? Is the ebook cover the same or is it different from the paper book cover? (I don't know what else to call them either--traditional books, hard copy books, eventually POD books.)

It seems to me that all commercial covers, whether traditional or digital, must stand out on the crowded rack. Their purpose is mainly to sell the book. The method they employ is usually to be somehow evocative of the subject of the book while piquing the reader's interest. In this the digital book cover is no different than the traditional one, except the crowd it needs to outshine is digital. That is, the ebooks I'm doing will have no POD incarnation and will only be sold online. The online racks belong to Amazon, B&N, and others, and they display covers in sizes ranging from about 60 pixels to about 200 pixels in width, depending where on the site they are displayed. A 60-px cover is really tiny. Here's an early attempt at the cover for My Morning Glory at 60 px. You generally can't read any of the text at this size, not even the title. Objects are hard to distinguish. You may have only a shape and a color. But if you've already looked at the cover in a larger size, then this one acts like a little icon or trademark (a glyph).

Here's an intermediate size that appears on some Amazon pages. (I'm basing these on the Amazon site. Other sites have own sizes. And I have no idea how they appear on a tablet or smart phone.)It's 100 px wide, and at this size you should be able to read something, probably the title, maybe the author name. Object should be discernible.

And finally the size on an individual book's main page. As far as the buying experience goes, this 200 px size cover is the largest that will appear. Sometimes, you can click on a cover and see a larger size, or you can click on "Inside this Book" and see a larger version of the cover, but I would guess that most people don't. So this size has to do all the work.

You should be able to identify objects portrayed and read the title, author's name, and maybe the pitch line (subhead). IMO, there is no place for sub-sub heads.

That's on the sales side. On the reader's side, e-readers also display the cover at about the size of a paperback book. The older Kindles displayed in B&W, but the iPad and Nook are color, and now with the introduction of the Kindle Fire, it seems to me that color will rule on the cover as well as inside the book. The insides of print books have only been shy of color in the past because of the cost of extra print runs that color entailed. But e-color is free, and I believe that ebook designers will embrace it.

More discussion later.