Monday, December 31, 2012

Books and EBooks

Kathleen Parker has become the latest to bemoan the rise of electronic media over print. Like many, she has a sentimental attachment to ink on paper.

Paper, because it is real, provides an organic connection to our natural world: The tree from whence the paper came; the sun, water and soil that nourished the tree. By contrast, a digital device is alien, man-made, hard and cold to human flesh.

Yes, paper is organic although books are printed on paper that is mostly cotton, not wood fiber. Raising cotton stresses the environment. So does ink. I keep my ebook in a nice cover that feels like real leather and is much nicer than a glossy paperback cover and has much less impact on the environment.

Parker believes that real paper adds to the reading experience.
One can read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" on a Kindle or an iPad, but one cannot see, hear, feel and smell the story in the same way. I'm unlikely to race to the sofa, there to nuzzle an electronic gizmo, with the same anticipation as with a book. Or to the hammock with the same relish I would with a new magazine. Somehow, napping with a gadget blinking notice of its dwindling power doesn't hold the same appeal as falling asleep in the hammock with your paperback opened to where you dozed off.
I read One Hundred Years of Solitude from a paperback. I don't remember much about the texture or smell of that particular book but around that time many science fiction books were printed using a very low-cost method. The pages smelled bad and often came loose from the binding as I read. Sometimes it was a single page that came out. Sometimes it was a whole section. Yes, it did add to the sensory experience but not in a good way.

My wife still mainly reads printed books. When she falls asleep with one she loses her place. That doesn't happen with my ebooks.

As I have said before, the important thing to me is the content. I don't read because I love fondling pieces of paper. I want the easiest access to the actual words. Right now I am alternating between a novel and a non-fiction history of Marvel Comics. I have both on a 7" tablet (a Nook Color) and I can switch between them painlessly. If I was reading the printed editions I would be carrying two books around, one of them a heavy hardback or trade. And I can read them in a larger font on a brighter surface than a printed book. If I find myself waiting at the doctor's I can use my phone to pick up reading either one without losing my place.

Another important factor is availability. Parker mentions One Hundred Years of Solitude which was written around 40 years ago. How many other books from that period are still in print? And how hard is it to find them? There are several writers from early 20th century whose works I like but are not in print. Sometimes they are available through the library. Many of these are available for free through Project Gutenberg. I've read several novels that way and availability will only become easier as more books are converted to electronic format.

It doesn't matter how nice the feel of a book is if you can't get a hold of it. Conversely, if I hear of a book I can start reading it in minutes electronically.

There is nothing special about paper. It was the only technology available for centuries. Now other options exist.

Get used to it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The End of Spider-Man

In Amazing Spider-Man #700, the hero dies and the comic book is cancelled.

Of course that's not the end of it. It's actually Doctor Octopus who dies but manages to transfer his mind into Peter Parker's body, essentially killing and replacing him. Instead of an issue #701, they will have a new comic - the Superior Spider-Man.

We all know that eventually things will go back to the status quo. Nothing has changed in Spider-Man since the 1970s. We thought that it had but the demon Mephisto wiped out 30 years of continuity.

Besides, killing or crippling a hero and replacing him is so 1980s. It's already been done with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern (multiple times) and (ahem) Spider-Man.

Reportedly there have been death threats over this plot line. Why bother? As soon as they have enough material to fill a graphic novel or two they will put things back like they were.

Personally, Spider-Man has been dead to me since they rolled back the continuity five years ago.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit

Fans of the novel The Hobbit may be disappointed to know that the movie of that name is not exactly an adaptation of the book. Yes, the movie features Bilbo Baggins and 13 dwarves (which Tolkien later admitted should have been spelled "dwarfs") but the movie goes beyond this and expands on every reference made to contemporary events in the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings.

These changes were inevitable. There was a lot of pressure to expand the project from one movie with a cut-down plot to two. Add in the desire to link this more closely with the LotR movies and you get the final product.

The result works pretty well. The movie did drag in a few places, mainly because I was wondering exactly where it would break off. The LotR has several natural breaks but the Hobbit is one continuous narrative. That means that the producers had to arbitrarily divide it up. I'm sure that it will flow better on future viewings.

There is a lot of foreshadowing that was not in the Hobbit but implied by the appendixes. That is fair since we know more than Tolkien about the results of this quest.

The tone is lighter than the LotR which matches the book. The scenes with the three trolls and with Gollum have laugh out loud moments. The movie is also lusher. Hobbiton and Rivendale look bigger and more detailed. Gollum is even more realistic.

Martin Freeman eases into the character of Bilbo so easily that you forget that he shares the character with Ian Holm.

About the only change I didn't care for was the addition of a one-armed orc as a sworn enemy of Thorin.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lincoln and 1776

The movies Lincoln and 1776 are very different in tone but they make interesting bookends to a chapter of American history.

1776 is a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It follows the months from the original motion to declare independence to the signing of the document. It was adapted from a stage play so the action takes place on a few sets and location shots.

Lincoln is a drama about the passage of the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery. It runs from early January, 1865 through Lincoln's assassination. It was adapted from a non-fiction book. The movie goes to lengths to appear to have been shot completely on location with natural lighting.

Both movies take a few liberties with history but strive to accurately show the behind-the-schemes maneuvering that went into these events. Some of the best lines in 1776 are actual quotes and care was taken with the script for Lincoln.

In both movies the tone is fairly light considering the subject matter. Both have a good deal of humor. Both of them also have a message about the horrors of war. 1776 has a soldier singing a mournful song about the dead on a battlefield. Lincoln begins with a gory (and slightly over-the-top) battle followed by some soldiers relating their experiences to Lincoln himself. There is also a scene at a hospital for soldiers with mangled legs.

In both a vote that seems impossible finally comes together at the last minute.

1776 shows the beginning of America and makes it clear that we would not have existed as a nation if the free states had not accepted slavery. Lincoln shows the struggle to bring that chapter of history to an end.

They would make an interesting 4 of July marathon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Windows 8 - XP or Vista?

The initial press on Windows 8 has been negative. Some of it very negative.

More recently there has been some push back, reminding people that Windows XP also got some initial bad press. Obviously, XP overcame the initial problems but after twelve years, three service packs and innumerable hardware upgrades, XP seems rock solid.

Compare that with Windows Vista. Vista also got a lot of bad press when it came out. After a service pack and a new set of drivers it became stable but it already had a bad reputation. It was also a memory and CPU hog at a time when the big thing was low-end net books that could not run XP.

So, where does that leave Windows 8?

It has a lot of problems and most of them relate to the user interface. They can probably be fixed with a service pack but in the meantime it has the reputation of being hard to use and of removing functionality.

It doesn't help Microsoft that businesses are still running out Windows 7. It will be a couple of years before most businesses seriously consider Windows 8. Microsoft might have Windows 9 out by then. At minimum, they will have a service pack or two out.

It is possible that Microsoft will continue to push Windows 8 long enough to iron out its many problems. By most accounts, the underlying operating system itself is very fast and stable but Windows 7 is also fast and stable. The issue is in the user interface and Microsoft's goal of having one interface for PCs and tablets. If they abandon that goal then there are no other issues with Windows 8. If they continue to make a workstation act like a touch-screen then the complaints will continue. Dredging up old articles will not affect this.