Friday, April 01, 2011 12:37 PM
Defying the illegitimate authority of his crypto-fascist homeowners’ association, a punk dad issues an uncompromising manifesto.
A couple of Miami Beach buddies score some good weed—and some international arms contracts.
A diet change, instead of Ritalin, might be just the prescription for many ADHD cases.
Glimpse the elusive waterbirds of Manhattan.
“[O]ne day, while screening some episodes of HBO’s The Wire, it hit me: [Charles] Dickens was back and his name is David Simon.” Bill Moyers interviews David Simon at Guernica.
Tax-free online sales are taking their toll in Washington state, the home of Amazon.
Visit the Los Angeles you’ll never know: a city devoid of cars.
Who hasn’t celebrated a major victory by firing guns into the air, a la Yosemite Sam? Slateexamines what happens to the bullets after you’ve emptied your clip (and whether or not they can kill you).
Rupert Murdoch acquires New Internationalist. (Make sure to check the date that this one was posted.)
Thursday, December 09, 2010 9:33 AM
Though some of us persist in our refusal to even enter into discussions regarding “the future of the book,” there’s no longer any point in denying that there are now all sorts of people who are positively gung ho about the possibilities of portable reading devices and electronic books. People are buying them in staggering numbers and you can already buy some knock-off version of a Kindle at the Pump N Munch. Print devotees may relish fantasies about these gadgets ultimately languishing in thrift stores, garage sales, and landfills—someday every Third World urchin will have an e-reader! How can that not be a good thing?—but for at least one more holiday cycle we’re all just going to have to play along with what is essentially an upscale Cabbage Patch Doll phenomenon that creates serious money for maybe a dozen already onerously wealthy people.
This week’s big news on the e-book front is Google’s launch of its eBookstore. One more pig has joined the pile! According to MobyLives, however, this pig might not be quite so piggish as the other pigs in the pile; through Google’s entry in the e-book biz, Nathan Ihara writes, “American Booksellers Association bookstores now have the opportunity to sell eBooks directly from their websites, offering them a first opportunity to take advantage of the rapid increase in the eBook market and to fight back against the corporate juggernauts of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, andApple.”
It’s obviously early, but the list of independent stores that are already hawking their e-book wares over at Google is modestly encouraging. Paul Constant, writing for the Seattle Stranger’s Slog blog (quoted in the MobyLives piece), says that before indies can hope to generate real online traffic and sales, they “need to figure out ways to make their websites into destinations that are just as interesting, appealing, and welcoming as their physical stores.”
The Google development is encouraging, in other words, but Constant reminds the little guys that they still have work to do:
Like it or not, your website is just as important as your physical store; the bookselling business is about to go through a change as dynamic as when Barnes & Noble and Borders first came on the scene, or when Amazon suddenly became the go-to bookseller for America. This time, indie booksellers have a shot at reclaiming some ground from the big boys; if you blow it, you'll go out of business. It's that simple.
Source: MobyLives, The Stranger
Image by anitakhart, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:55 PM
For many people, the books of Ayn Rand are a source of great spiritual, philosophical, and political wisdom. Her readers, furthermore, demonstrate the kind of devotion most writers can only covet from afar. In a show of gargantuan appreciation, one of those devotees recently scrawled the commandment “Read Ayn Rand” across the United States using a GPS tracking device as a makeshift pen, according to World’s Biggest Writing.
In the comments section of the New Yorker’s Book Bench, one quipster has remarked that it is “sad that such a cool thing, and a pretty neat ambition, was wasted on something so frivolous as ‘Read Ayn Rand.’ Unless someone's willing to spell out ‘Don't’ all over Canada.” That made me chuckle, but then I was reading the World’s Biggest Writing a little more closely, in particular the bottom of the page, where links and small thumbnail images of Rand’s books suggest buying her work on Amazon. Below that, the proprietor of the site—reachable at nick at worldsbiggestwriting (dot) com, an email address that suggests he is the same Nick Newcomen who pulled off this nifty stunt to begin with and therefore seems to be talking about himself in the third person on World’s Biggest Writing—has included a note making it clear that “[i]f you click on the above link(s) and buy a product(s) at Amazon.com, the owner of this site will earn a commission.” Then I really chuckled, because I can’t help but wonder if he’s talking about himself in the third person in order to cover his self-interested, entrepreneurial tracks. Oh, he’s so Rand-y!
(Thanks, Book Bench.)
Sources: World’s Biggest Writing, Book Bench
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 2:51 PM
According to an interview with The Bygone Bureau, literary journalist and author Tracy Kidder came to hate his first book so much that he wanted to prevent it from ever being re-published. His solution: He bought the rights to The Road to Yuba City—his 1974 nonfiction account of a California murder trial—and it is now out of print. You can find used copies of the book through Amazon, but the prices start at just under $100. In the interview, Kidder explains this act of bibliographic erasure and also reflects on his writing process, the future of books in print, and how to become a professional author.
(Thanks, The Book Bench.)
Source: The Bygone Bureau
Thursday, May 13, 2010 2:31 PM
James Cameron is funneling some of his energies into a new role: that of environmentalist and indigenous rights advocate. But he’s finding that this can be tricky territory for a blockbuster director.
Nikolas Kozloff, the author of No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010), writes at the rainforest conservation website Mongabay about Cameron’s recent forays into the activist realm:
To his credit, Cameron has sought to address not only fictional struggles in the virtual world but also the real-life plight of indigenous peoples fighting to preserve their ancestral lands from hydropower development. Recently, the Hollywood director toured the Brazilian rainforest in association with Amazon Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO [nongovernment organization] which is performing valuable environmental work in South America.
After meeting with the Kayapo Indians, “real life Na’vi,” as Cameron put it, the director got inspired and has been campaigning for indigenous peoples. Cameron says the Belo Monte boondoggle dam planned for the Amazon is a “quintessential example of the type of thing we are showing in Avatar—the collision of a technological civilization’s vision for progress at the expense of the natural world and the cultures of the indigenous people that live there.”
On a tear in New York, he spoke before a United Nations committee on aboriginal rights and even launched an environmental scholarship at Brooklyn Tech high school. Not content to stop there, he updated the Avatar website to keep fans informed about environmental issues and sponsored the planting of a million trees around the world as part of Earth Day.
Kozloff writes that “Cameron has done more than many other Hollywood directors to bring environmentalism into the mainstream.” This is certainly a more charitable view of the director than many on the left seem to hold. Critical theory heavyweight Slavoj Zizek, for example, recently raked Cameron over the coals in Britain’s New Statesman in a commentary that purported to expose the “brutal racist undertones” lurking under the director’s “superficial Hollywood Marxism.”
Zizek might have been impressed (OK, probably not) to see Cameron checking his allegedly Amazon-sized ego and addressing this sort of critique head-on during his New York tour. Cameron spoke on a panel about indigenous issues at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, and Kozloff notes on Mongabay that the director deferred to indigenous representatives in answering many questions.
A smart move, given the climate observed by New York City’s Indypendent newspaper:
While the film was well-received by the largely indigenous audience, Cameron did field some tough questions.
[Mohawk journalist Kenneth Deer] pointed to large Hollywood films, such as Dances with Wolves, Little Big Man, Wind Talkers and Avatar, where the hero who saves the indigenous people is always a non-indigenous person. He asked Cameron why he also chose this narrative, and instantly received a large cheer from the audience.
Cameron responded, “That was one of the backlashes against the movie, that the so-called main character was not an indigenous leader himself.” However, he said that the goal in making the film was not to try to “tell indigenous people how bad things are for them,” but rather to “wake up” people who play the roles of economic oppressors or invaders in real-life. “I understand the white messiah argument,” he said, “but in this movie, I am trying to make everybody a white messiah, for everybody to have the sense of responsibility to help with the problem. I think it is such absolutely courageous how you are fighting for your rights … But it is going to take people from the other side meeting you part way and taking responsibility for what has happened in the past and the way we need to live in going forward.”
Sources: Mongabay, New Statesman, The Indypendent
Image © 2010 Atossa Soltani, courtesy of Amazon Watch.
Thursday, June 04, 2009 1:46 PM
We’ve previously written about “The True Cost of Leather,” citing the Ecologist’s reporting about toxic tanneries in Bangladesh. It turns out there’s even more to the story if you follow the shoe industry’s supply chain to Brazil—and it might change the way you feel about the shoes you’re wearing right now.
Greenpeace this week announced the release of a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that calls out several major shoe makers for using leather from cattle farms in the Amazon, which are gobbling up rainforest at an alarming rate and hence driving greenhouse gas emissions. Among the makers singled out in the report are Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and two brands that have a place in my own closet: Timberland and Clark’s. I specifically sought out the Timberland brand because of the company’s stated environmental consciousness.
Grist’s Tom Philpott notes that the report “is really about the perils of using state policy to prop up global, corporate-dominated trade” and notes three clear themes:
The expansion of cattle production in Brazil drives Amazon deforestation—and deforestation in turn drives climate change.
The Brazilian government and the World Bank actively support the expansion of the nation’s cattle sector.
The real beneficiaries of such policies are not Brazilians. Indeed, labor conditions on Amazonian cattle farms are harrowing—and often tantamount to slavery, Greenpeace shows. Rather, it’s the companies that buy the products cheap and sell them dear.
Greenpeace allows that some of the companies named may not in fact know that they are using leather from unsustainable Amazon farms, due in part to a convoluted supply chain that effectively “launders” leather supplies from criminal or “dirty” sources. But that doesn’t let them off the hook, it argues, and suggests that people write to the companies and urge them to clean up their acts. Timberland and Clark’s, my letter is in the mail.
(Prologue: Timberland spokeswoman Kate King writes that “Timberland wants to engage with Greenpeace on the issue of tropical deforestation” in a response on Greenpeace’s blog.)
Sources: Greenpeace, Grist
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009 10:47 AM
David Gaffney has created his own innovative marketing technique on Amazon.com while trying to push his new book, “Sawn Off Tales”. The more aggressively he tries to dissuade customers from buying his merchandise, the more he sells.
The secret formula as revealed in Prospect magazine is more of an exercise in farce. Offering a best-selling book, free, with every purchase of his novel quickly turned into offering a free copy of his book, with each order of a best-seller—books which naturally received much more traffic on Amazon. Brilliantly using the Amazon marketplace as a space for free advertisement, he decided even if customers didn't want his used copy of a best-seller they could read his book's Amazon page, read reviews, and perhaps buy it. He writes, “I identified the top 20 fiction sellers on Amazon, bought a copy of each and put them up for sale, trying to ensure that mine was both the cheapest and—crucially—that no one in their right mind would actually buy the book I was offering, thus maximising my advertisement’s time on the page." Eventually, he started selling random books from his own collection.
Some of the adverts he used: “QI: The Book of General Ignorance. ₤4.50. Dropped down toilet so still damp and a bit smelly. Free sample of David Gaffney’s hilarious Sawn Of Tales with every purchase.”
“A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian ₤3.00. Book stored on pig farm so strong odour of animal feed.”
Or: “Cheap ink used in this edition causes headaches and comas in pets”; “Blood stains on cover and inside from bedroom fight”; “Has had eye-holes drilled through for comedy spy prop”.
The plan ultimately backfired when these decoy books sold like hotcakes, and he was losing money on every transaction, while losing his high-profile ad space. Gaffney realized this type of marketing wasn’t doing him any good, and concludes for next time, “I should just write a better book.”
Monday, February 09, 2009 2:54 PM
The big dogs of the internet, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo, are stocking up in an arms race to power the future of information, according to the new issue of IEEE Spectrum. The companies are building gargantuan data centers, or “warehouse-sized computers,” that will theoretically create the backbone for the future of the information economy.
The data centers are designed to facilitate “cloud computing” where people will be able to store much of their private information remotely, rather than on a physical hard drive. Gmail or online banking are manifestations of this idea. In the future, people may be able to store much more.
Housing the servers that will store these massive troves of information is proving to be a challenge for electrical engineers. Microsoft’s datacenter in Quincy, Washington, for example is nearly 43,600 square meters in size, and consumes enough energy to power 40,000 homes. The article profiles some of the (rather complicated) steps that these companies are taking to control their energy usage, and cut down a bit on their carbon footprints.
Image by Paul Hammond, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:13 AM
The issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM)—that is, technology that controls and restricts how consumers purchase, store, and copy digital media—hasn’t exactly riveted the mainstream. Calls for DRM-free media, which can be copied and distributed across different playback devices, rather than limited to, say, products licensed by Apple, have echoed mostly from web technologists and their ilk.
There are signs of change, but it’s not exactly coming from the grass roots. Billboard reports that Amazon.com will unveil—during the Super Bowl, no less—a promotional arrangement with Pepsi whereby participants will receive DRM-free MP3s at no charge. Amazon hopes to “give away” 1 billion such song files.
But, as is the case with all worthy promotional campaigns, the music is not actually free. You’ll have to consume the equivalent of one large pickle barrel full of soda (er, five Pepsi products per song) in order to obtain the activation codes for the music.
Writing for the web-tech and media blog Read/Write Web, Marshall Kirkpatrick notes that once Amazon and Pepsi launch this campaign and flood music libraries with 1 billion DRM-free songs, “consumer expectation of a DRM-free experience in music may be a whole lot more mainstream than it is today.”
That sounds great—the promo is certainly likely to raise the visibility of DRM-free music. But will demand for the kind of product Amazon offers vastly increase the availability of DRM-free MP3s? Most importantly, might such an increase lower the price of digital music? Let’s remember: This campaign ain’t no consumer revolution, it’s Super Bowl marketing. Pass the Pepsi.
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