Kindle for Book Editors: I'm doing it wrong

A while back, I smugly tweeted that I was using my Kindle to read early-draft books by friends of mine. (Hi, Curtis! Hi, Piaw!) These weren't detailed mark-up-every-sentence read-throughs. Just gathering initial impressions. You know, general stuff like "This story would be awesome if only it had some Morse code in it. Morse code is my obsession; it should be yours, too. Plz add."

One of these books is now ready for a detailed review. So on my bus rides, I sat down with the Kindle and typed in more detailed notes. E.g., "You should delete this phrase here; it has nothing to do with Morse code and therefore bores me." Today, I stepped back and considered: how far have I made it through the book? Not far. Not far at all. Why so slow? The Kindle is set up for reading books. But. It's not set up for rapid text entry. It feels like I type fast: my fingers fly. But... it's two-fingered typing. And to enter, say, a semicolon, I go to a little menu. And I keep messing up trying to enter quote marks. And I have a surprising amount of trouble with the teeny-tiny little shift keys. And... and and and it adds up.

Maybe I'm just doing it wrong. I was inspired to try it because Curtis mentioned that one of his reviewers used a Kindle—and handed over comments as a Kindle .mbp file. And that worked OK. Then again, maybe that was just going for a high-level reading, not getting into a red-pen rampage.

(This isn't a slam at the Kindle. It's not supposed to be a tool for book editors. I'm not sure anyone has ever designed a tool for that market. Would you want to design a product for people who complain about stuff for a living? Yeah, me neither.)

I guess I'll fall back to using a desktop computer for this, instead of reading on the bus. It's probably just as well. I find enough things to complain about when I'm marking up a manuscript; I'm probably insufferable when I do so while carsick. "I feel nauseous; it's either the bus' poor braking or it's this paragraph. Better delete this paragraph just to be on the safe side. Also: dot dot dot; dash; dot; dash." I'll go back to reading feeds on the bus and keeping my editorial remarks in my head.

Labels: ,

Book Report: Giant Robot 55

I don't know if anyone mailed an announcement to the Bay Area Night Game list about the upcoming BANG 19, a.k.a. a "simulcast" of Seattle's SNAP 4. I don't want to think about it. I'm too sleepy to do much beyond post this previously-composed blog post about the recent issue of Giant Robot magazine:

It's a new issue of Giant Robot! Probably the best thing this time was a two-page spread with some photos of pencil boxes from the 80s. People see my Hello Kitty pencil box and they compliment it. But I'm not sure if they compliment it because they like it, or if they're trying to cover up the fact that they started to laugh at, you know, the big shambling guy with the bright pink Hello Kitty pencil box. Anyhow, they compliment it and I usually look at them funny. I'm not exactly sure how to take the compliment. It's a nice pencil box. But I remember the pencil boxes of my youth.

They're here, pictured in this magazine. Back when pencil boxes had more compartments than you could stand. Mood-sensing panels to touch. Actually, most of the pencil boxes in this photo spread are more elaborate than those I remember. There are pencil boxes with features I'd forgotten, if I ever knew about them: a plastic dial-driven calendar, pushbuttons, thermometers, articulated pencil-rack raisers. Useless frippery, sure. But now I look at my pencil box which lacks these features and think "This ain't nothing special." That's probably healthy. You don't want to invest too much feeling in your pencil box. Instead, concentrate on what you do with your pencils.

I mean, be creative. With the pencils. Not like that, you pervert. Never mind.

Labels: ,

Book Report: Keeping Found Things Found

This book's title is misleading: it make sense. This book's preface is misleading: it makes sense, too. It took a while before I realized that the book was noodling all over the place but not actually saying much.

It's tragic. The book is about personal information management. Everyone cares about personal information management: everyone has personal information. TODO lists, emails, schedules, articles, ... I'm a writer. As an information provider, I care about other people's PIM. It's not enough that I keep track of my own info. When I distribute the technical documents I write, I want to make sure that other people can keep track of them--this desire affects my choices in my publishing medium. (I'd love to distribute my documents on Hello Kitty stationery (It smells like bubble-gum!) but my customers couldn't track paper documents easily.) Alas, this book is no help. Or maybe it's some help, but I ran out of patience trying to slog through it.

Early on, it tries to define "information." When it comes to personal information management, spending more than a couple of paragraphs on the definition of information is philosophy. Where by "philosophy", I mean "not useful".

What is information? This question has been a repeated topic of discussion in its own right. Buckland provides an analysis illustrating that the word "information" alternately denotes a process (...), a result (...), or a thing (...). In reaction to the definitional inclusiveness of "information" and the many senses in which the word is used, Buckland concludes "we are unable to say confidently of anything that it could not be information".

I can't believe someone asked me to sit still for a paragraph like that--a paragraph that included the phrase "definitional inclusiveness"--just to tell me that some guy named Buckland pointed out that it's hard to nail down the meaning of a hand-wavy term like "information". But we go on for a chapter rambling on about what can be considered "information".

Let's keep going.

A wiki can be likened to the field in a public park after a snowfall. We can write what we like in the snow but others can too.

This is a pretty image. I appreciate the fact that he didn't compare a wiki to a palimpsest. I am so frickin' tired of people comparing wiki pages to palimpsests. On the other hand, we're already on page 39 and I have been slogging through this book for quite a while without encountering any insights. Why make me sit through a paragraph of simile about a wiki? Why not cut to the chase? Does this book have a chase?

I gave up on this book. There might be some insights buried in here somewhere, but extrapolating from the first 40 pages, I project it's a waste of time.

Maybe I'll just flip ahead. Angry technical writer challenge: choose random paragraphs; reduce each of them to a sentence.


Planning--whether planning a party, a vacation, or even a weekly meeting--can be fun and, anyway, it needs to be done. Chapter 5 considers the possibility that, given the proper tool support, an effective organization of information (based on file system folders, even) can emerge as a natural by-product of the planning we must do in any case. Chapter 9 generalizes by considering various activities that help us to make sense of our information. These activities help us understand and make better use of our information. These activities can alse be a way of managing our information.

Sentence: You can use information that you capture and organize while planning, but I won't say anything concrete about this for a few more chapters because I'm wordy.


It is time to consider a single, unified, and smarter auto-complete facility that can be accessed from all our machines and that works consistently across multiple applications. At the core of this would be a database such as "person" and "budget" and associated properties such as "cell phone number" and "current budget amount." Email applications, word processors, web browsers, and other applications could access this either to store new information or to retrieve information.

Sentence: Omnipresent strong AI would be awesome, but I would still be wordy.

We might hope that somewhere--perhaps at the Library of Congress--legacy applications will be preserved that are capable of rendering and supporting the manipulation of information kept in legacy formats, although support for legacy applications, in turn, may require preservation of legacy operating systems and even legacy computers to run all of the above. Better for most of us might be a web-based service to which we could submit information items in legacy formats--especially photographs and videos--and have them returned in a current format of our choice--in a manner reminiscent of the way we once sent exposed film to a film development lab for processing into prints or slides.

Sentence: It would be awesome if someone figured out legacy formats, but I would still be wordy.

Oh, even the individual paragraphs make me mad in how they waste my time. I need to put this book down. I think the root problem is that this book was written by an academic for other academics. But the title made sense, so I thought it might be written for human beings. That title tricked me into reading forty pages + three paragraphs, but no more.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Better

You think I read this book because of my recent hospital visit, but I swear it was already on my to-do list. And it's not just about medicine. Sort of.

This book, by Atul Gawande, is sort of about medicine, but if you work on anything where quality is important, you'll probably see some things that echo with your experience. Doctors have a tough job. They face many problems, some of which have no solutions. It's not always easy to tell if what you're doing is helping or hurting--if you try some procedure, you'll always wonder if things might have worked themselves out on their own. And yet they do feel their way towards solutions. This book talks about maintaining hygiene; about medicine in a public hospital in India; about measuring your own performance; about stranger things.

Labels: , ,

Site Update: Contact, Links

I updated the site's Contact and Links pages.

A few months back, Gavin Bell gave a talk at work. He mentioned in passing how various folks are using hCard to say "this web page is about a person" and using XFN to represent the relationships between people. Then he got on to the point of his talk: data-mining social networks. And figuring out how you could use them to get interesting reports on friend activities vs. separate reports for your friend's photos on flickr, status updates on twittr, etc. And the privacy concerns.

As so often happens at these talks, I was surprised by the part that I was supposed to already know. I hadn't heard of hCard nor XFN and the "excitement about microformats" had not yet caught my eye. (Maybe it hadn't caught yours, either. That's why I tried to summarize what each of those formats is for.)

So I set up my home page, contact page, links page, and blog page to point at each other with links that say rel="me". That says, "If you think of a web page as representing a person, then all of these pages represent the same person." (Of course, not all pages represent people--but some do--personal personal home pages, personal blogs, profile pages...) Then I set up some hCard info on my Contact page to say "Yes, indeed, there is a person associated with this cluster of pages." That page now links to some of my profile pages on social networks, each link marked with a rel="me" to say "That's me, too."

My Links page is mostly links to other people. But not all. Can I link to the dog-trainer continuing education page and say "That is Veronica Boutelle."... with a straight face? Not really. Anyhow, I gave some of those links, which were definitely about people a rel="met" tag, meaning "That's a person, and I've met them." For those pages where people gave their names, I also added some hCard information, saying, "This link is to a person named 'Kiem Sie'."

This is, of course, a silly thing to do. A very small fraction of my friends have publicly-visible web presences for which they declare their names. Many of them don't want lots of public "social" information about them out on the net. Some of them have been stalked. Most of this "social" information about people is locked up behind Access Control Lists, and that's probably a good thing.

The hard part about making these relationships visible to computers isn't the data structures, it's the permissions. If I have a private account on two sites and I want to consolidate their information somehow, I'm not likely to convince either site to send information to the other--they're probably competing.

Oh, there's more to say, but I gotta go soon. I guess the short story is:

I've been wasting time with links and social networks.

But the interesting part is that I found out that I know the guy who made the Machinima animation for that "Code Monkey" video. How cool is that?

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Dreaming in Code

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day, but I'll probably buy some food. Usually, I Buy Nothing for Buy Nothing Day. To make that work, I stock up on food ahead of time. I was going to do that late Wednesday night, but I was sick then. I guess I could have picked up some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner just now, but I didn't think of it. So I'll buy some food tomorrow. I guess I can make myself feel like less of a consumer whore if I share this book report on a book I got from the library, Dreaming in Code.

It's a book about software projects and where they bog down. Scott Rosenberg hung out with the Chandler Project for a few years and watched them stagger towards creating a working piece of software. He also talks plenty about software projects in general. I get the impression that this book is supposed to be accessible to the layman, sort of a "Soul of the New Machine" for the aughts. I can't tell whether it succeeds--I've been soaking in this stuff for too long to figure out what does or does not make sense to outsiders. But there's plenty in this book that rings true. I've worked with teams who argued about which approach to take--and argued about it longer than it would have taken them to code up both versions and measure which was faster. (On the other hand, you also worry about programmers who just jump in and spend a week coding using some approach which they would have known couldn't possibly work if only they'd talked with someone about it for five minutes.) Anyhow, reading about another project that bogged down... oh, it was kind of sad. Maybe it's a good thing for folks to read when they wonder why the IRS/FAA/etc can't replace its antiquated software.

The best part of this book was a cameo by Ducky Sherwood. Ducky was an intern at my place of employment after the events described in this book. I talked with her at an ice cream social and she was pretty cool. Since she was an intern I didn't think to ask her about her past--all too many interns can only answer "Well, I've been in school, you know?" (Kinda like when I made the mistake of attending my 5th year high school reunion.) But Ducky's actually worked on plenty of projects. Peeking at her web page now, I see that she's working on her MS in computer science, specializing in... programmer productivity. Hmm, maybe she got tired of working on projects that bogged down.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

Context matters. At work, I'm sitting in a new area with some folks who don't know me very well. Today, someone asked for some help making a decision. I didn't have an opinion, so I sought an executive decision-maker. That is, I stuck a finger into my pocket to fish out a coin. But instead of encountering any coins, my finger encountered only a hole in my pocket. My jeans... Uhm, I'm in a delicately-balanced laundry situation right now, wearing a pair of jeans poised on the edge of total systemic failure. Anyhow, I didn't have a coin. Thus, I had no fast way to make binary choices.

So I said, "I can't make any more decisions until I change my pants."

In context, this statement made complete sense. From the remarks of people sitting nearby, I learned that this statement also made complete sense out of context, but it was a different sense. I tried to clear things up, saying, "Well, I've got a hole in my pocket--", but this was, apparently, "Too much information."

Now I forget what my point was. Oh, right, context.

As for the book Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, it's a tongue-in-cheek pulp science fiction novella. At the time it was published, this might have qualified as parody--this was 1973. It was probably a good parody--Harry Harrison has written some good stuff. Nowadays, this book seems almost cruel--it pokes fun of works which have been largely left behind, kicking them when they are down. But maybe when this book was kicking them, they weren't down yet? I don't know.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: JPod

I bought an episode of Sam & Max. I hoped that there would be good jokes. I was nervous that it wouldn't run on my windows machine. It's a laptop, so I figured it doesn't have a 3D graphics card, but the game has 3D graphics. But when I tried it, the graphics worked fine. I should have worried about memory. The game juddered and shuddered, Windows threw up a dialog box saying that it was expanding my swap space. I searched YouTube for videos of other people playing the game--maybe I could still enjoy the jokes vicariously. I found some videos, and they were pretty funny. Frustratingly, those videos only showed about 2/3 of the game; I still don't know how it ends. Computer games promise fun but always lead to misery. Except for Paul du Bois' Emacs port of Bubblet, which I've happily played for years now, no problem, never runs out of memory.

Bah, stupid computer games.

If you visit, the official site with information about the Douglas Coupland novel JPod, it says that this novel "updates Microserfs for the age of Google" but that is so misleading because the characters in in JPod obviously work for the computer game company Electronic Arts, not MicroSoft, not Google. Anyhow, this is yet another Coupland book in which characters who bespeak their era find out about the timeless value of friends and family.

I liked this book plenty, but I have a warning. Towards the second half, there's a lot of filler. Digits of pi, random digits, stuff like that. It's all very nice and it fits just fine with the artistic vision of the whatever and all that. But it might fool you into thinking "I just need to pack this one book in my backpack and I'm covered for my commute to work and back", and you'd be mostly right except you probably don't read many of the digits of pi and then bang you've finished the book and the bus is still in Burlingame, miles from home. Bring another book along, just in case.

Bah, stupid books.

Labels: , ,

Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Agile Programming

I haven't memorized the Braille alphabet nor the Morse alphabet. I even set up a little Morse training drill web program dealie, learned a little more Morse that way. But it doesn't stick. When I'm on puzzle hunts, I use a cheat sheet. When I'm leading a team, I pass out photocopies of this cheat sheet. This is an Nth generation copy of a cheat sheet the Burninators provided to players in BANG 7. I tried designing a better cheat sheet, but that didn't turn out very well. Yeah, yeah, that sounds pretty pathetic. Now I'm thinking that the root problem was that I was trying to lay all of these codes out on one page.

I read this LJ post by Brian Enigma. It starts out scary, like he's going to try to tell you that Agile Programming isn't just snake oil. But then he gets into the other stuff, the useful stuff, ideas for puzzle-hunt teams (although he thinks of it as a handy hint for Alternative Reality Game players). Instead of a single 8.5x11 "cheat sheet", carry around some index cards: one card for Morse, one card for Braille, etc. You don't need to think of how to lay all of these things out on one sheet of paper. Each card can have its own layout.

The Lester siblings threw a birthday party last night, and various cheat-sheet-card ideas bounced around. Laminate the cards so that they can tolerate wear and tear. Print the different codes on differently-colored cards so you can find the right code in a hurry. Keep the cards on a ring like those language-study flashcards. There might have been other ideas; I stayed up way past my bed time, and my memories are pretty hazy.

Labels: , ,

[Powered by Blogger | Feed | Feeds I Like ]

home |