Monday, June 14, 2010

Nicholas Carr: "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains" -- it's not all bad!

Author: Nicholas Carr

Title: "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains"

Publication: 2010, W.W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-07222-8, 276 pages, 10 Chapters, Prologue, Epilogue, hardcover; Amazon link.

The title of the book suggests a certain negativity, that the easy “fix” of constant information from the Web is making us narcissistic, unable to maintain emotional connections to others, and unable even to concentrate enough to win a five-hour chess game, no less read a Tolstoy (or Ayn Rand) novel. (On the cover, the first part of the title is written last: interesting!)

But in fact, as he shows in the later chapters, the non-linear approach to gather information does make us more flexible and smarter in some ways, able to connect new memories to old ones, “connect the dots”, see around corners. We become different, more independent in some ways, and more connected in others. Just look at the debates over how Facebook works and its effect on “privacy.”

The author traces the history of communication and writing back to ancient times, when tablets and paper were expensive. In time, the relationship between writer and reader became a matter of controversy: after all, the writer reaches people he does not know or become committed to in anyway (so does the painter or music composer), and that possibility has been understood since Da Vinci’s time.

New technologies would change the “balance of power” in communication: newspapers today seem to be hurting because of the Web, but journalism itself must change, as it becomes more of a citizenry pursuit. In earlier times, the phonograph record was a thought a threat to the book, but it wasn’t. Maybe the web is not either, as books (on iPads), and even movies and DVD’s incorporate social networking.

He traces how web publishers have experimented with the format of web pages, originally making them like book chapters (as I did when I put “Do Ask Do Tell” on the web in 1998), before breaking them up into sellable morsels.

He talks about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s memory experiments in the woods (enough for a n 11th grade English essay), and then bridges to a discussion of the hippocampus and how it integrates our short term and long term memories. It may be that our understanding of how the information flow with the Web affects our brain may help us deal with memory loss and Alzheimer’s in the future.

ABC GMA followup on multi-tasking and our brains, June 30, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another Washington DC independent book store for sale; a new business model for bookstores?

Today the Metro section of the Washington Post reported (Thursday June 10) that the Politics and Prose independent bookstore (link here ) in northwest Washington DC is looking for a buyer, as Barbara and Carla want to retire. The story is by Michael S. Rosenwald with link here. The Post headline claims (online) “a bookstore’s legacy is up for grabs”. But the book's website says that right now everything is "business as usual."

I’ve been to booksigning parties there (not mine). At the end of 2009, Lambda Rising (Washington DC’s gay and lesbian bookstore) closed, probably because it was difficult to compete with the large chains, all of which have LGBT sections (Barnes and Noble in Minneapolis carried my first printing of “Do Ask Do Tell” for most of 1998 and 1999), and particularly with online retail sites like Amazon, less so with ebooks. However the article proposes a new business model, whereby print-on-demand computers (whether Mac, Unix or Windows is unclear) manufacture books right on site (often by independent or self-published authors), somewhat in the way that larger CVS stores make photo CD’s and sometimes DVD’s on site.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Should "self-published" authors pay for book reviews?

Should self-published or print-on-demand authors accept offers to pay for book reviews?
A recent opinion from December 15, 2009 by Stacey J. Miller on the Book Promotion Blog says no (link here). It gives away “amateurism” and money could be spent on more above-board book promotion tours and campaigns. Unsolicited reviews (if favorable) obviously can help a book promotion campaign.

Back in 2001, Wired ran an article “Pay to Publish, Pay for Review” about the concept, link here.
The article discussed “ForeWord Reviews” (“Good books independently published”) on which authors could pay for reviews but would not have to disclose that they had purchased the reviews, but the site would (the site today is here. )

Of course, in academia, there is a sense of “payment” (through university tuitions) for peer review of theses and dissertations that get published and often add a lot of value to the latest material on a challenging subject (Ph.D.’s are supposed to require originality of concept in some way).

See also "BillBoushka" blog Aug. 22, 2011 for related story.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Reviewing my structural experiments for my first "Do Ask Do Tell" book (1997; 2000)

I thought I would put up a posting with the Amazon link to the first of my two major books, “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back: Individualism, Identity, Personal Rights, Responsibility and Community in a Libertarian Third Millennium”. The book was first published in 1997 under my own imprint, “High Productivity Publishing”, and then republished as print-on-demand by iUniverse in 2000.

I discussed the evolution of my “screed” on the BillBoushka blog on Jan. 2, 2007, in its current six-chapter (plus Introduction) format. The first four chapters are narrative, almost like a “non fiction novel”, sometimes making me think that truth sometimes writes better “plots” than can an author’s imagination. There is a beginning and middle, but not really an end. The last two chapter have much less narrative and more analysis.

Originally, as I wrote in January, I had imagine a “two part” form. The original first part had three chapters that started with the William and Mary Expulsion, went through the Vietnam era draft, and jumped to the 1993 debate on Gays in the Military (a sort of segmented structure like a Lars Van Trier film, perhaps). I then inserted a narrative of my “Second Coming” as a chapter 3, move the 1993 “don’t ask don’ t tell” narrative to Chapter 4, and then applied the military issue to the “civilian” world in the last two chapters in concentric fashion, winding up with a proposed constitutional amendment. This Chapter 3 covered both the energy crisis of the 1970s and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and could have been broken into two chapters. But what I wound up with would be like a “six movement symphony” (maybe like Hevergal Brian’s “Gothic”).

But the format originally submitted to the literary agent in 1996 had a “theme and variations” for part 2, with four topical essays. Because I’m thinking of doing another e-book now, it’s good to return to the structure of these essays:

The first essay was called “Morality’s Third Normal Form” (as with relational database parlance), which was the Honor Principle, originally stated in former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s 1992 book “Honor Bound”. But that comes from the idea of “personal autonomy” or “individual sovereignty” so important as a moral basis (almost in the sense of mathematical linear independence) for libertarians. But then we look back further and find a paradox: there can be no sustainable individualism without some notion of a common purpose, such some religious conservatives tie to the “natural family.” Life cannot be both free and completely just on an individual level; there is a bit of quantum physics or Heisenberg uncertainty in moral thinking (as with the movie or play “Copenhagen”).

The second essay was “Family Values: Let’s Have an Honest Debate”. One can tie this back to the “shared common purpose” concern which drives how parents start teaching their kids right and wrong, sometimes to the consternation of kids mature enough to have their own goals. A particular quote from this essay seems to sum it up now: “The concept refers to the increasing emphasis our culture has allowed to the development and indulgence to the adult individual, and the apparent complications that this cultural permissiveness (along with economic Darwinism) creates for the raising of children, particularly in disadvantaged communities.” One could add that complications ensue for taking care of the elderly without putting them under expiration dates, valuing all human life.

The third essays was “A Fair and Prosperous Workplace” and took the position that “To keep our jobs, we must be worth what we make; then address ‘discrimination’”. This had become apparent enough in previous recessions, and I’m not so sure that today’ unemployment crisis is that different from those of the past.

The fourth essay was “Personal autonomy: a new Dawn of Man” which aimed toward the “Right of Privacy” constitutional amendment (after starting with a comment by Bill Clinton on “not going back to fending for yourself”). My reaction to the chapter now is that Facebook has changed everything! Well, it really hasn’t!

In the fall of 1995, I had actually experimented with an earlier format of the book. Chapter 1-3 would be the same as the “Two Part” structure. But there would be three parts (fourteen chapters). Part two would review my earlier upbringing, especially the dichotomy between being an individual and being a member of the group (a duality expressed in elementary school report cards back in the 1950s). I was able to make a metaphor out of music (especially a less frequently played Beethoven piano sonata, the one in F that starts with a Minuet). The last part would then round out the military issues (the college-draft-military ban line of thought) with the conclusions for the “mainstream world” in terms of the workplace, employment discrimination, and health care policy, before moving to the constitutional amendment question.

There is a second book: "Do Ask, Do Tell: When Freedom Is Stressed" (2002) at iUniverse.  There is a little booklet (96 pages) "Our Fundamental Rights and How We Can Reclaim Them" (1998).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

NatGeo, SciAm, Discover come up with important features on climate change and "futurism" for June 2010

Maybe magazines don’t make for legitimate book reviews, but a couple of upscale pubs have some critical book-like coverage of some critical issues.

National Geographic, in April 2010, covered the issue of water in the developing world with a special; issue “Water: Our Thirsty World” with a worksheet “Hidden Water” about how much water is consumed with ordinary consumer items. This blog had covered this topic on June 2, 2007. The loss of mountain glaciers to global warming will exacerbate global warming.

Then the June 2010 issue heralded the reader with “Greenland: Ground Zero for Global Warming.” There are two big articles, “Melt Zone” by Mark Jenkins, and “Viking Weather” by Tim Folger. Greenland has been warmer in the past, during the time of the Vikings (something we started studying history with in grade school). There are illustrations describing cryoconite, a mixture of ice and water with debris blown in from drier places, reducing the reflectivity of the ice and increasing the speed of melting.

The June 2010 issue of Scientific American weighs in on these problems, with a feature “12 Events that will Change Everything and not in the ways you think”. One of these events is indeed the melting of the icecaps (a “polar meltdown”), particularly Greenland. But some of the others were interesting, too. One was the sudden arrival of extraterrestrial intelligence, in a very public way. Most interesting is the possibility that the Hadron supercollider finds extra dimensions. Earlier articles in magazines like Discover have said that the reason you can’t be in two places at the same time (whereas subatomic particles can), is gravity, but the way gravity works in other dimensions gets interesting. Possibly that would be the portal to other worlds (the “reconciliation” between dominions in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica” (1991) which seems to make more sense all the time). Other ideas are the creation of life (without procreation) and room-temperature superconductors.

Discover, in June 2010, has a “5-year energy fix” : Micro nuclear power plants, bloom boxes, “clean” coal (of sorts), using the hydrogen inside coal; and a smart grid. There’s also a new view as to whether we have already found life on Mars (by Andrew Lawler).

Wikipedia attribution link for Calabi-Yau maniford