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Reif in Brief: Twitter Fiction & the Pauses that Refresh

In music, in poetry, and in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole. —Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid (Harper Perennial, 2008; p. 213) I’ve been thinking a lot lately about silence, about contemplation, about the meaning we derive from the blank spaces artists leave unoccupied. The novelist Reif Larsen did something on Twitter last week that showed how, in an age of Information Overload, sometimes the best stories are those that arrive in small morsels, spaced generously. So, here’s what Reif wrote on July 19th:

Package from Serbia just arrived. I did not request such a package. I wonder the % of unrequested packages that end up being life-changing.
That’s odd, I thought. A little quirky, a little spooky in our post-Unabomber world. Next, came…well, what came next is I went away. I didn’t check Twitter for a day or so, determined to keep my vacation ... Read More

The Latest vs. The Most Important

Facing info overload, I ponder more efficient ways to find what's newsworthy I don't necessarily want to give up Twitter, Google+, blogs, Zite, and so on. But it's clear: they're too much for my single core, ADD-prone brain to manage. Gone are the days when I try to consume, or even just scan, all the social media I've signed up for. I've tried drinking from the Internet's firehose and what I've ended up with is a wet face and a headache. After a couple recent experiments in offline living I'm sold on the idea that, for me, less is more. I think more clearly, and more creatively, when I unplug. It seems kinda obvious but it's taken me a decade or so to figure out: info-gorging leaves me feeling fat-headed and logy. Now, for example, rather than web surfing and info snacking in the morning, I get up early and read ... Read More

Nota Bene: Foot- and Endnote Designs Worth Copying

Two examples show how digital pages can improve upon the traditional print layout Footnotes have got to be one of the more frustrating aspects of ebooks today. For starters, woe to the fat fingered among us who read on a touchscreen device. Even simply tapping the asterisk takes a couple jabs. Once you hit the tiny target, off you go to Footnote Land, the return from which depends on how well you understand your e-reader’s “Back” button system. Even in print, getting readers to shift their attention from body text to note is a tough sell. Schlepping to the bottom of the page—or worse, the end of the book—takes time, disrupts focus, and offers rewards that appeal mainly to the PhD set. Now, of course, dedicated readers are perfectly capable of taking these kinds of excursions and preserving their attention. Heck, nursing mothers plow through War and Peace amidst interruptions. But the point ... Read More

Body Text, Meet Image: You Two Should Spend More Time Together

Thoughts on how callouts & captions can make images easier for readers to understand Don’t you find it annoying when you have to flip back and forth between a page of text and a picture it describes a few pages away? Consider, for example, this passage from an art history book on how Michelangelo combined doodles, text, and drawings:

At the top the horizontal sketch of a leg universally credited to Michelangelo and apparently belonging to a woman or a boy. At the left of the open top of the leg, the artist has written Am and fig, the latter actually appearing inside the outline of the upper part of the limb.
The text is on page 37 (of Michelangelo: A Life on Paper); the figure that the author, Leonard Barkan, refers to, meanwhile, is over on page 39, looking like so: Michelangelo drawing in </a> ...                
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Digital Bookmaking Tools Webcast: Links & Slides

Big thanks to all who came out to today's webcast. Below are links to my slides as well as a list of all the tools I profiled. Digital Bookmaking Roundup-Peter Meyers View more presentations from Pete Meyers

Letter to the Editor: The NYT Book Review’s New “Mechanic Muse” Column

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to the New York Times Book Review on June 25, 2011. It's wonderful to see the Book Review add regular coverage of technology and literature's intersection in its new column, The Mechanic Muse. But devoting the inaugural space to Professor Franco Moretti's dubious project feels like a missed opportunity amidst the many reader-pleasing digital innovators at work today. I can't find much to quibble with in Ms. Schulz's "huh?"- and "duh"-laden reaction; she convincingly pegs this effort to quantify literature as part of an age-old campaign to reverse engineer the arts. Statisticians and computer scientists may find the research interesting, but most serious literature fans won't so much disagree with the professor's conclusions as find them unenlightening. Here's hoping that future essays in this series will cover some of the many ways in which digital tools are transforming the ... Read More

Webcast Preview: Digital Book-making Tools Roundup

Looking forward to the webcast I'm giving next Thursday (June 30th; sign-up info) on digital book-making tools. There’s quite a land grab happening right now, as software manufacturers—new and old—try to become the tool of choice for authors, small publishers, and illustrators. I still haven’t finalized exactly which software I’ll be talking about, but now seemed like a good time to share a selection of my research notes. Tool Name Comments Demibooks Composer iPad-based app gives authors a touchscreen-based development tool from which they can create an iPad app. You can do things like move objects to indicate motion paths. Ideal for kids books with lots of illustrations. In private beta, planned release later this summer. My Story Book for the iPad Like Composer, this app lets you create kids books on the iPad itself—though with fewer interactive & motion capabilities. Includes basic ... Read More

Book Meets World: Augmented Reality-powered Pages

Most people—certainly readers of this blog—know about “augmented reality”, whereby camera-powered computers gussy up the real world with extra layers of info. A popular example: point a smartphone’s camera at a crowded city street and watch a bunch of labels appear onscreen indicating bars and restaurants. (The restaurant-finding Yelp app does that trick; just tap Nearby and then Monocle.) It didn’t take long, of course, for publishing types to scratch their heads and wonder: you know what? We could use the same trick in our products. And, man, have people come up with some pretty neat examples. Already we’re starting to see models from human anatomy books “jump” off the page and become animations on nearby screens. Or dusty architecture tomes whose fragile and one dimensional drawings get charmed into 3D versions on a computer. AR-powered architecture book Here, then, ... Read More

Live Do-overs

By now you’ve probably seen that crossed out text style that bloggers use to indicate revisions:

Never, ever Only if you’ve tried everything else is it okay to give your crying baby a shot of vodka.
While some regard this kind of formatting as overly cutesy, it serves a genuine editorial purpose: either slyly injecting a bit of humor or, for accuracy-minded folks, publicly preserving the revision trail. In a digital book, with just a bit more special sauce added (namely, animation), a live view of such changes could serve a similar role—one that might add an entertaining bit of dynamism to the writing. In the hands of the right author the creative possibilities are intriguing. Early passages in a novel could be presented anew to the reader, updated in front of them to incorporate new information. Characters could shine a spotlight on previous exchanges and “edit” or comment on what they said, ... Read More

The “Reading Order” & Layouts that Make You Zig Zag

Lots of innovative work in the new poem app, The Waste Land, from Touch Press: synchronized text & audio scrolling; a birdseye navigator; a video “performance” of Eliot’s masterpiece by the actress Fiona Shaw. But one design decision that I keep tripping across is the placement of the annotations in the left column: Note placement in The Waste Land app Why was this bothering me, I wondered? It’s because the layout imposes a “reading order” that feels disruptive. In English, of course, we read from left to right. So here’s the sequence that the position of these notes force you through:

  • You start reading the poem on the center part of the screen,
  • then you move back to the left column to read the note,
  • then read down through the note and, finally,
  • make your way back to the main text.
It’s too much zigzagging, ... Read More