Archive for July, 2009

Why eBooks must fail

Monday, July 27th, 2009

John Naughton, writing in The Guardian, identifies excellent reasons why eBooks must fail:

I own my copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four and can do with it what I wish. I can, for example, lend it to friends, family and students. I can, if I wish, tear out pages and send them to people in the post, or stick them up on noticeboards. I can sell the book – if I could find a buyer. I can donate it to the local Oxfam shop. I can read sobering or inflammatory passages from it at political demonstrations. And so on.

But if I had purchased an electronic copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four to read on my Kindle device, I would have none of those freedoms


Up to now, the debate about eBooks has been dominated by technical issues: ergonomics, portability, storage capacity, the readability of display screens, the quality of the user interface and so on. These are important matters, but ignore the biggest issue of all, namely the ways in which the technology enables content owners to assert a level of control over the reader that would be deemed unconscionable – and unacceptable – in the world of print.

He’s right – designers tend to focus on the aesthetic and affective aspects – how useable is the technology, how open is it, does it replicate the “experience” of reading a paperback… but the real “experience” of reading a book is bound up in the tactile and the social. Lending a book to someone – or even just saying you’ll lend it to someone, is an important part of reading.

All the hoo-hah about Amazon deleting books and tracking what you do with what you buy aside, the real issue with eBooks is that all the focus and research has gone into the technology and completely missed what it means to read a really good book.


Critical Response to Art Projects

Monday, July 27th, 2009

It’s a dirty little secret in art and design education that the beloved routine of the “critique” or “crit” doesn’t work. Although many tutors cling to it as an essential way of providing guidance and feedback, plenty of research has shown that it leaves the vast majority of students confused and, in some cases, distressed (trust me, I’ve seen the tears – and from normally “tough” students).
The only purpose the crit appears to serve is to emphasise the tutor’s status as alpha male (or female, but it’s usually male).

The crit was wonderfully lampooned in “Art School Confidential” by Daniel Clowes (transferred moderately well from comic book to big screen in 2005).

The big problem with crits is coming up with things to say. From my observations they have to sound profound, critical and completely vague and meaningless so that what a student thinks is “encouraging” can later be claimed to have been a warning of dire consequences. And with so many students these days, it’s becoming much more difficult to come up with something new.

What we need is a tool to create endless amounts of critical responses to art projects (CRAP) from a few random seeds. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the CRAP generator!

Click the green button to start!

Disclaimer: the words come from a document circulating among staff at the university I worked at, and I don’t know who wrote them (I added some of my own).

Incidentally, if you’re interested in the research I mentioned, drop me a line and I’ll send you a list. It’s interesting that I’ve never found one bit of research that suggests the crit is a positive experience for anyone other than the person doing it.


Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Some photos from Tentsmuir that I took a couple of years ago.


Onto the dunes

In case you skipped the link in the last post, here’s the official website for Tentsmuir, a large nature reserve about five minutes from where I live. It has everything – seals, sand, forest, deer, red squirrels, rare flowers, rare insects (and their not so rare or lovely cousins, unfortunately), an icehouse, world war 2 pill boxes and anti-tank defences, an RAF airbase…

The odd cat…

Cat waiting for mice in the undergrowth

African plain - in Scotland

Beginning of the bog

Well worth a visit if you’re in this (pardon the pun) neck of the woods.

You can see some of my photos of the area on my other website

Accidental bike ride

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Tayport to St Andrews and back
Find more Bike Rides in Fife, United Kingdom

I went for a bike ride the other day and decided that instead of the usual ride to Tentsmuir Sands through the forest near where I live that I’d head on to Leuchars. But when I got to Leuchars it felt too easy so I decided to carry on – to St Andrews (home of golf!)

The weather was pleasant and warm, I had plenty of water with me and even thought I’d never cycled that far, or that way, before I reasoned that as I was on part of the national cycle network I couldn’t really go wrong (plus I had my iPhone with me so if I got lost I could locate myself on Google Maps).

It was a fairly easy ride through a couple of small Scottish towns. After Tentsmuir Forest it is, for the most part, a mix of small suburban districts and cycling alongside a small motorway – not much to see really until you get to just outside St Andrews when you once more begin to see the coast.

What was odd was that even though I’d cycled quite a long way, all I’d done was cycle inland a bit, following the estuary, cross the bridge and then cycle east again, which meant that just as I was reaching the outskirts of St Andrews I could easily see RAF Leuchars across the water, which made my achievement much less impressive!
(Cycling near the RAF base is quite impressive as aircraft regularly come in to land. Last week at the beach I’d seen about four or five come in to land in close formation, sweeping out across the North Sea and back in again. On this ride two flew just a few hundred meters – if that – above my head – again in close formation. RAF Leuchars lost a plane a couple of weeks ago when it flew into a mountain near Glasgow and even though it looks like they’re going slowly from the ground, it must be a case of split-second timing inside the cockpit).

Anyway, just as I was reaching St Andrews I could see dark clouds looming from the south and realised why all the cows had suddenly started lying down when I was cycling through the fields just outside Leuchars. It began spitting at first but as I got in to St Andrews a steady drizzle started. Fortunately I’d packed my raincoat and went off to find a café to have lunch and a sandwich.
St Andrews isn’t short of nice independent cafes but of course I ended up in Starbucks! As it turned out, I was served by one of my own students! Small world…
I could see outside that the rain was now quite bad so I went back to the bike and got my waterproof(ish) trousers out, intending to change out of my shorts. Which meant finding another café…

The cycle back was in the rain which didn’t feel so bad but when I got back to the forest I took a wrong turn and ended up getting a bit lost, finding a small group of houses and following a minor road/track figuring it must end up in civilisation. I stumbled upon a bridge standing in the middle of a clearing. It didn’t connect to anything, just an old brick bridge on its own. Turns out it used to be part of the railway line that led from Edinburgh to Tayport, back when it was called Ferryport-on-Craig and was the main route to the north. Before the Tay rail bridge was built you had to get a ferry (while still on the train). After the bridge was built the line became less important (until the bridge fell down, of course) and eventually it disappeared, leaving just the bridge standing alone in the forest. I’ll go back and take a picture next week maybe – it’s very strange.
It turns out I’d ended up in a nature reserve and in better weather I’d have gone looking for deer and highland cattle, but as it was I was now feeling rather wet and despite it only being about 4pm the light was very poor. So I kept cycling and found a row of telegraph poles and cycled under them for a while, coming out at a farm and onto the road just south of Tayport. Home at last.

When I got in I realised quite how wet I was – absolutely soaked to the skin. But feeling quite good. A few minutes later, after a shower and a change of clothes, though, I sat on the sofa and my body caught up with what had just happened…

45km or 28 miles. That’s nothing to some cyclists, of course but considering my longest ride up to that point was about 18km, it’s quite a leap. Three hours, excluding the rest at St Andrews.

So, a somewhat unplanned adventure but a good one – fairly flat and easy. I intend to do it again when the weather improves (we’ve had a week of sun and showers after a couple of weeks of hot sunshine when, of course, I mainly sat around). But I also fancy trying a few other local rides. The Salmon Run goes from Dundee to Dunkeld via Perth, following the Tay and the route the famous Tay salmon take. There’s also a ride from here to Arbroath where the Smokies are produced (I could follow that route up to Aberdeen and then on either to John O’Groats or take a ferry to Orkney, but I think that would be a bit too much!). And the route to St Andrews carries on to Edinburgh and beyond in to England. You can see all the routes in the National Cycle Network at Sustrans’s website. But all those routes are trickier, over hills and a mix of on- and off-road.

I had planned to use my holidays for this but they seem to have flown by with little achieved – which is of course the point of a break. But there’s still plenty of summer left so time to do a few of these rides yet.

Microsoft’s failed marketing strategy

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Having staked out a business that serves PC makers first, IT drones second, and consumers dead last, Microsoft is left only to advertise that its software arrives on cheap hardware that isn’t burdened with being cool or sexy like Apple’s. As a marketing strategy, that’s so blatantly moronic that it’s hard to imagine a Fortune 500 company could decide to do that.

Roughly Drafted Magazine on why Windows 7 is Microsoft’s next Zune. It’s a long article but well worth reading. Having lived through 1995/96 it brought back a lot of memories…

Big Brother Amazon is Watching You

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

This is why I don’t think books are going to be replaced by e-readers anytime soon. Bizarre (and ironic):

Amazon apparently sent out its robotic droogs last night, deleting copies of the George Orwell novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindles without explanation, then refunding the purchase price. As you can imagine, a lot of people caught in the thick of Winston and Julia’s love story aren’t very happy — and rightfully so — the idea that we “own” the things we buy is pretty fundamental to… ownership.

Jeff Jarvis Kevin Marks says “I dread to think what happens if you buy Fahrenheit 451 for your Kindle…”

The Guardian covers the story too and Talking Points Memo is calling it a “big, big step backwards” for the platform. David Pogue of The New York Times is also covering it.