Future books, mags, publications. Very Slow Movies. Shenzhen to Africa. Hassabis. Cafes. Libraries. Trappist monks. — No.62

Welcome back and happy new year! Lots of stuff so lets get right to it. (Admin notes and announcements, if any, will now be found at the end.)

The ‘Future Book’ Is Here, but It’s Not What We Expected

Craig Mod looking at what “we” thought would be the future of the book and where we are today. Basically; it was supposed to be an interactive, multimedia, ever-changing form, and instead the book itself is roughly the same but a lot has changed around it. The process and industry of creating books is much more accessible and multi-dimensioned. He includes newsletter and audiobooks in his reflection, advocating for every writer (and artist) to have a mailing list, and that a year’s worth of a good newsletter is a book (“take a year of his essays, edit them for brevity and clarity, and you’d have a brilliant edition”). I agree with much of what he’s writing and in large part you can read it while replacing “books” with “magazines” which are, I’d argue, a much better analogous for newsletters and have benefited from all the same changes.

Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. […]

Almost every writer or artist I know has a newsletter. One way to understand this boom is that as social media has siloed off chunks of the open web, sucking up attention, the energy that was once put into blogging has now shifted to email. […]

By contrast, there’s something almost ahistorical about email, existing outside the normal flow of technological progress. It works and has worked, reliably, for decades. There’s no central email authority. Most bookish people use it. Today I’m convinced you could skip a website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, and launch a publishing company on email alone. […]

Our Future Book is composed of email, tweets, YouTube videos, mailing lists, crowdfunding campaigns, PDF to .mobi converters, Amazon warehouses, and a surge of hyper-affordable offset printers in places like Hong Kong.

Towards the Future Book

Carmody at Kottke, bouncing off the Mod piece and considering the noncommercial future of the book.

[Google Books] I think that project, the digitization of all printed matter, available for full-text search and full-image browsing on any device, and possible conversion to audio formats and chopped up into newsletters, and whatever way you want to re-imagine these old and new books, remains the gold standard for the future of the book. […]

[T]he basic idea of linking together libraries and cultural institutions into an enormous network with the goal of making their collections available in common is an idea that will never die. […]

But the noncommercial future of the book is where all the messianic energy still remains. It’s still the greatest opportunity and the hardest problem we have before us. It’s the problem that our generation has to solve.

Very Slow Movie Player

Smart and thoughtful is probably how I’d describe Bryan Boyer, whom I’ve been following for years through his coding, architecture, and strategy projects. This one, the Very Slow Movie Player, fits the bill. Some well thought out ideas and reflections, brought to life through code and design. Lovely and probably something he could Kickstart with success. Read the whole thing, the project opens onto lots of other potentials for epaper in architecture and urbanism.

A film watched at 1/3,600th of the original speed is not a very slow movie, it’s a hazy timepiece. A Very Slow Movie Player (VSMP) doesn’t tell you the time; it helps you see yourself against the smear of time. […]

It is impossible to “watch” in a traditional way because it’s too slow. In a staring contest with VSMP you will always lose. It can be noticed, glanced-at, or even inspected, but not watched. […]

LCD, OLED, and other emissive screen technologies do not respect context, they obliterate it. Displays using ePaper are still largely black and white but here’s something ePaper can do that emissive displays cannot: work politely in the dark.


Inside Shenzhen’s race to outdo Silicon Valley

An Xiao Mina and Jan Chipchase with some of the history of Shenzhen, its current transition to more design and consultancy, “China as a service,” the human toll of decades of rapid change, the hurdles of political restrictions, and exporting the model to Africa.

Moving beyond its reputation for developing cheap rip-offs of other people’s ideas, it’s become more of a hub that connects innovation, manufacturing, and knowledge all over the world. […]

“I think the real hero of the story is the small-scale businesses in Accra, in Lagos, in Nairobi, in Shenzhen, reaching out across to each other and building things they think have value for their own people.” […]

“Products made in Shenzhen have a hundred percent Chinese DNA and a hundred percent Western DNA. A hundred percent Western because, even if they’re made in China, they are consumed by the world.”

Hinton and Hassabis: AGI is nowhere close to being a reality

A bit more detailed than usual (for a mainstream piece) overview of AI and machine learning with some good quotes by Hinton and Hassabis, downplaying some of the extravagant proclamations seen elsewhere.

Unlike the AI systems of today, he says, people draw on intrinsic knowledge about the world to perform prediction and planning. […]

“We don’t have systems that can … transfer in an efficient way knowledge they have from one domain to the next. I think you need things like concepts or extractions to do that,” Hassabis said. “Building models against games is relatively easy, because it’s easy to go from one step to another, but we would like to be able to imbue … systems with generative model capabilities … which would make it easier to do planning in those environments.”

In an older piece, Hassabis again. As I mentioned on Twitter, it feels like a much more attainable and important vision of AI than self-driving and face recognition for surveillance.

But with rigorous attention to programs’ capabilities, and more research into the effects of the quality of the data we use as inputs and the transparency of their workings, we may find that AI can play a vital role in supporting all manner of experts by identifying patterns and sources that can escape human eyes alone.

How oil traders make big bucks by using satellite surveillance

I keep thinking we are just dumping piles of “junk” in space, learning nothing from our past. At least, super interesting possibilities.

By 2019 [Planet Labs] are likely to be taking a million high-resolution photographs a day, covering anywhere on the globe that anyone might want to photograph, every 24 hours.

Now, machine-learning means that the sudden surge in the volume of images from private CubeSat fleets is manageable. Algorithms can ask questions such as how many of those Brazilian favela dwellings have new roofs? What percentage of roads in Uganda are in good shape? Economists are now frantically scrambling to sharpen their skills in handling these tools.


Report suggests Toronto library should handle data governance for projects like Quayside

Interesting idea by the Toronto Region Board of Trade regarding Sidewalk Labs’ project.

The library should be tasked with creating a data hub that protects personal privacy and provides opportunities for economic growth, including policies and protocols for the collection and use of data. … It recommends that enforcement of the policies, however, be handled by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and include the ability to impose fines, which would require that the province expand the commissioner’s powers.

Also, good profile of Toronto privacy advocate Bianca Wylie.


What Cafés Did for Liberalism

Review of a book on “how cafés created modern Jewish culture” but really, a good read for anyone interested in cafés, especially their seventeenth and eighteenth century incarnations. Closes with a good quote on the current laptop lined version.

The theory, associated with the eminent German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas, is that the coffeehouses and salons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped lay the foundation for the liberal Enlightenment—a caffeinated pathway out of clan society into cosmopolitan society. Democracy was not made in the streets but among the saucers. […]

Pinsker, lovingly attentive to the habitués of his cafés, leaves the economics of the cafés quite shadowy. The rule, still in place in much of Europe, was that you need buy only a cup of coffee to occupy a seat indefinitely. Customer loyalty is the commercial principle here. […]

[Regarding hordes of laptop wielding workers.] Yet all those lonely and alienated Jewish writers were elsewhere, too—lost in books and newspapers, which were the true pastime of the café. What matters is not the words of the person at the next table but the feeling of nearness—the sense of being able to carve out an identity among other identities, of being potentially private in a public space and casually public even while lost in private reveries.