Tag Archives: technology

The Evolution of the Bit

What would the reaction be like if we could go back in time to the 50s to tell computer researchers that, yes, not only do we have more powerful computers than anything they could imagine–and we carry them around in our pockets–but that we spend the majority of our usage talking to one another in little text chunks and playing games.  Seeing as our phones are likely orders of magnitude more advanced than what folks in the 60s used to ship people to the moon, it only makes sense that the main usage for our iPhones and Androids is to hurl little aviary missiles at the digital equivalent of Lincoln Logs.

Would it blow their minds to learn of the vast server farms that we run or the coverage of 3g connectivity? Wireless Xbox controllers?  Accelerometers in Wiimotes? The consumer-available motion capture technology in the Xbox Kinect? Could they even imagine the flood of cheap processing, memory and storage that made all of this possible? Would they understand how much we rely on it?  Hell, I haven’t used a phone book in at least a decade. Imagine all this from the perspective of a time when computers were the size of a small house and processing the motion of a peripheral to update a mouse cursor on a display would have been too much computational overhead. A “waste of cycles.”

I had an electronics teacher who, in addition to working in the industry, also worked for a while at NASA, teaching radar to astronauts. One day, he told the class about a day in the lab where everyone gathered around a display and watched as one letter at a time blipped up on the screen in slow succession; someone was sending them a message from a remote location.  It was the first time anyone in the room had ever seen anything like it.

Despite being raised on technology (my parents joke that I was born with a Nintendo controller in my hand), four areas of computation still amaze me:

  • Touch screens: Until we get implants and equal rights for cyborgs, there’s not much we can do to remove the barriers between computers and humans, but this was huge.  Touching things is just human nature.
  • Speech recognition: This one goes both ways, text -> speech and speech -> text. Another barrier knocked over, one that makes computers more like us, and is only in its infancy.  If I could go back in time, computational linguistics would be a fascinating career choice.
  • Drivers, hardware / software interaction: despite my years as a computer user and programmer, somehow it still twiddles my mind that on some fundamental level, these 1s and 0s interact with physical things.
  • Virtualization: The guys in 1950s lab coats were so proud of their room-sized computers.  Imagine their faces when we tell them, “Oh yeah?  Well, we have computers that run entirely inside of other computers,” like some kind of binary turducken.

Where do we go from here?  Is there a limit to Moore’s Law? If we look at what has happened in the last fifty years, can we even predict what our digital lives will be like in another fifty?  Or even another ten?  We’ve come a long way from the period I call, “Geocities, 1999,” where the only dynamic content was the animated GIFs we all loved, then hated, and now love again, thanks to Tumblr.

Time For Some Updates Around Here

I’ve become frustrated with the theme setup that I’m using one too many times, as well as the structure of the site, so expect some changes around here soon. This is the downside to using these huge, convoluted frameworks/systems (like wordpress, drupal, etc) coming from a programmer perspective: I have zero capability to fix it without plowing through who-knows-how-many lines of code.  Or I could fiddle with themes and plugins and hope I hit some magical combination.  I’ve been trying to resist rolling my own code for the sake of freeing up time for writing and composition, but sometimes….

Meanwhile, I have a few ideas for an ongoing series of posts, as well, and I’m excited to get those rolling now that Number Four is done.

I’m also about four months past-due for a new “About” blurb.  Once a year seems a pretty good time frame for writing them.

On The Fate of Paper Stories

Readers are passionate people who care about what they love. As such, the proliferation of ebook readers and ebooks has stirred up the readership side of the publishing industry as well.  People seem fairly divided along the spectrum: some have adopted ebooks whole-heartedly, others mix them in, and still others have drawn a line.  With the latter, the implication is that you can have their paperware books when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

But what these people I think are missing–and like I’ve explained to people who have asked me about my Kindle and what I think of it–is that paper isn’t going anywhere. For some books, I read them and forget them, and they stay on my shelf, sometimes shoved into the back or with other, newer books stacked on top of them.  These are the books that I can’t remember when I read it last, only somewhat remember what the story was about, and can’t see myself reading again any time soon.  This is one of the sweet spots for ebooks: the joy of reading it, immediately and at hopefully lower cost (here’s looking at you, publishing industry), and then it doesn’t clog up your shelves.

Then there are the books that I remember very well:  those old friends who I’ve read time and time again.  These are the books that ebooks will never replace, the ones with dog-ears, underlined passages, scuffs and scrapes, and so on, memories of buying it in high school or as a gift from a college romance, books where I’ve taped up the spines just in hopes that they’ll last longer.

As the future grinds on, bookshelves will become a showcase.  Not like the ones like Michael Nye mentions (bookshelves for show, to project a cultivated image), but rather an honest showcase of the stories and authors we hold most dear.  Our homes are full of the things that matter to us and the space we give to our books no less so.  The same drive that motivates readers to drive hours to visit an author signing or to locate and buy an old first-edition copy is the same drive that will ensure the acquisition of a paper copy of our favorites.  I have books that I would never consider an ebook copy “enough” and will always keep a paper copy.  There will always be a market for these paper stories, and where there’s a market, there’s a profit to be made and a company to fill it.  Papers books might just be tomorrow’s collector’s edition.

After all, I don’t own every single movie I’ve ever watched.  But I do own a copy of my favorites.

Proofreading on the Kindle

I’ve had my new Kindle v3 for about two weeks now.  It’s my first Kindle, so I’m still getting used to the whole thing, but overall I love it so far.

About a week ago, I was due for a read-through of MOROCCO, yet I also wanted to read something on my shiny new toy.  Then bingo: I combined the two.

And I have to say that I think I’m going to make the Kindle a big part of my proofreading process.  Not in the beginning, when I have to scribble notes to myself and draw so many squiggles and arrows and boxes that my manuscript looks more like a football play sheet, but after a few revisions, most of that work has been done and then it’s a matter of finding smaller mistakes and things that need tuned a little more.

The Kindle makes this easy in a few ways.

  1. the screen is an awful lot like paper, and I found that I caught mistakes on it that I missed when reading on my computer screen.
  2. I don’t have to print as many copies of my story.  This saves paper and waste and suchlike.  All I do is delete the copy on the kindle and email myself the new one.
  3. the notes feature.  As I’m reading, I still get the benefit of being able to “scribble” notes to myself via the notes interface on the kindle.  The bonus here is using the “My notes” feature:  It gives me a list of all the annotations that I’ve made, three per “screen page,” and includes both the surrounding text and the actual note.  This made it ridiculously easy to go back through my manuscript on the computer (via Scrivener), find the places, and make my changes/rewrites.  Then I deleted all the notes since I don’t need to save my mistakes for posterity.