Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peace, y'all

(Traditional sign from the French Quarter in New Orleans)


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harper's, you poor thing

That didn't take long:

Similarly, writers and editors, as Harper’s Magazine’s Thomas Frank points out, are being driven into penury by Internet wages — in most cases, no wages.... I have been radicalized, both as a publisher and a writer, and have instituted a “protectionist” policy in regard to the Internet and its free-content salesmen.

Does that mean that Harpers is going to take my money in return for access to their website (otherwise known as "paid subscription")? I think not.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bye-bye, New Yorker

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a regular reader of the New Yorker. Until a few weeks ago, practically all of the magazine was available for free online, so I simply read everything online and provided gift subscriptions to friends in the US in return. The US annual subscription price is 40 dollars, whereas the international subscription rate is 120 dollars – and I do not need to hold the thing in my hand. Reading the articles online was fine for me; after all, I sit at my screen all day anyway.

But a few weeks ago, the New Yorker started charging for access to many full articles; only abstracts are online for free. So I signed up for the "digital edition," which costs the same as the US postal subscription, but you do not get anything in the mail. Essentially, it's what I wanted at Harpers, but they don't offer it.

Unfortunately, the digital edition of the New Yorker is a travesty. Check that first screenshot above from a 24-inch screen (click to enlarge) – this is what you see. They have essentially scanned in the print version, so you get a full two-page layout (I cannot find a way to make this thing visible as a single page), and the writing is simply too small to read. There is also no full-screen version; that you get both pages at a time on a part of your screen.

Granted, you can zoom in (see screenshot to the right), but the page is not scrollable; you have to drag the page down, and in doing so you need to be careful not to shift left and right too much lest you lose the beginnings or endings of columns. Need I point out that the three-column format, which may be useful in print versions where you can easily follow a column all the way down the page, is worthless on modern computers, whose screens are almost always much wider than they are long. Also, the text is no longer accessible as such; you are looking at an image – a major drawback for a blogger like me, who enjoys copying and pasting sections.

Of course, I could buy myself an iPad, but each issue there costs $4.99, which essentially means that you pay 250 dollars for an annual subscription – twice as much as for the international edition. And I'm not even sure that that offer is open to me over here in Europe. I own a Kindle, and although the New Yorker is available there, it is not available in Europe. I'm sure that licensing is the problem, but these publishers are shooting themselves in the foot. They complain about us not wanting to pay, but then they make illegal versions attractive by restricting access so much.

In short, this year my annual donation to the New Yorker does not go out as a subscription to anyone, but rather as digital access for myself, but I cannot use it. The New Yorker makes it practically impossible for me to read the magazine. They could have simply provided subscribers with access to an HTML page with the text. I was happy reading everything like that up to now. Hell, they could have made this readable via RSS or sent me the text by e-mail. I wouldn't have minded.

So if the authors of the New Yorker start complaining about how readers are not willing to pay for content, I will probably not even realize that they are complaining because I will no longer be reading the magazine even though I have a paid subscription.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Interesting twist on Wikileaks


judging by my email traffic, not all American officials are all that upset. Some, in fact, are delighted with the whole affair, for reasons ranging from professional pride in their handiwork to the opportunity to air longstanding grievances over possibly wrongheaded public perceptions of foreign events.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mono Lake - not of this world

A tufa tower rock formation in Mono Lake, 2006.Image via WikipediaA few years ago, I managed to visit Mono Lake and I made a pledge to myself that I would get my kids over to it one day.

Last summer, that dream came true. On a trip from Long Beach to San Francisco, through Yosemite, from Mono Lake to Las Vegas (where my boy turned 13) via Death Valley, over to the Grand Canyon, and back to Long Beach via Joshua Tree National Park, I told the kids that they would see at least three places that simply do not seem to be on the earth. One of them is Mono Lake (the other two are Joshua Tree NP and Yosemite, but actually Death Valley should be included; I simply had not been there before).

I told the kids to be on the lookout for places where Capt. Kirk could beam down with Spock, and no changes to the scenery would be necessary for us to believe they landed on a different planet.

Now, there is news that scientists have discovered a bacterium in Mono Lake that basically constitutes a new form of life. As one NASA scientist stated on television, we can go looking for ET now.

It should be kept in mind that Mono Lake was almost depleted to provide water to the city of Los Angeles, but environmentalists stepped in, and the lake is now gradually being refilled.

Imagine the loss had Mono Lake been drained. As of this writing, Wikipedia still contains the following sentence under "phosphorus": "Phosphorus is a key element in all known forms of life." As of today, that is no longer true. All forms of life use of phosphorus, and arsenic has a similar structure but is toxic to every living organism – except the one now discovered.

Phosphorus is used in farming (it is a main ingredient in fertilizer), and supplies of it are limited. Countries like Morocco are main exporters of the material. There is even a theory of "peak phosphorus"– the point where it will not be possible for the earth to have any additional living organisms for a lack of phosphorous (see this). The theory of peak phosphorus is quite mainstream now; see this article from April and Foreign Policy, which points out:

Nearly 90 percent of the world's estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world's oil reserves.

The discovery of this new bacterium will not allow us to switch to arsenic when we are out of phosphorus, however. But it it is the kind of thing Spock and McCoy would have been fascinated to find, and which TV viewers would have thought too fanciful.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wikileaks - who needs it?

Now that Amazon has announced it will no longer be hosting Wikileaks documents, the first Germans are announcing in Internet forums that they have deleted their Amazon accounts.

I side with George Packer of the New Yorker on this:

If WikiLeaks... were uncovering crimes, or scandals, or systemic abuses, there would be no question about the overwhelming public interest in these latest revelations. But the WikiLeaks dump contains no My Lais, no black sites, no Abu Ghraibs.... Should no government secret remain secret? Is diplomacy possible when official views have all the privacy of social networking? Assange’s stated ambition is to embarrass the U.S. This means that his goals and those of most journalists are not the same.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Faveread: Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.

Banks claim that we need them because they finance our businesses, but this recent report at the New Yorker finds that most of what banks do is not financing businesses:

"In the first nine months of this year, sales and trading accounted for thirty-six per cent of Morgan Stanley’s revenues and a much higher proportion of profits. Traditional investment banking—the business of raising money for companies and advising them on deals—contributed less than fifteen per cent of the firm’s revenue. Goldman Sachs is even more reliant on trading. Between July and September of this year, trading accounted for sixty-three per cent of its revenue, and corporate finance just thirteen per cent."