Sunday, March 30, 2008

Game Theory and the Short Story

I just came back from Minnesota, where I gave a talk to the Concordia College faculty on the future of literary culture. They may upload it to their web site, and it may appear in writer/editor Scott Olsen's cultural magazine Ascent. In the meantime, look at this "Guardian" article about the use of game theory to create original short stories.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Apple iReader

Here's The New York Times take on whether Apple will develop an e-reader. Not much, if you ask me: a snippy answer from Steve Jobs, confused speculation. But let's look further and make a few recommendations (which no one has asked for, but so what).

If Apple has become the de facto market creator for small electronic devices (iPod, MacBook Air, etc.), then when Apple puts its collective mind to the creating of the iReader, using existing Apple technology, the e-book market will arrive. First, Apple design for such products is better than anyone else's out there. I use Apple products at home and Windows products at work, the latter only because I have to since the software we need runs only on Windows. Two, Apple products are perceived as cool, a perception they have shoved down our throats with those obnoxious television commercials. Come on, on which device would you rather be seen reading Terese Svoboda, Proust, or Neil Gaiman: an Amazon Kindle or an Apple iReader? Three, Apple users are early adopters. Four, they'll be very smart and make the iReader into a multimedia device. Five, sweep technology is a very hip transitional piece of page-turning fun. Six, in the realm of full disclosure, I own a small number of Apple shares, which I bought when it was about 30% higher than it is now, and will buy more as soon as I get the cash.

But this is what I want: slim and lightweight, no glare, water-resistant, screen-based keyboard or, better yet, voice recognition. An e-reader that will allow me to download any e-book or digitized magazine out there on the web: Project Gutenberg, Amazon, Sony, Google Book, Narrative, Words Without Borders, etc. Then let me format it to my liking, using any of about a dozen fonts regularly used in books and allowing line-breaks where I want them. There's nothing worse than having a five-inch wide reading surface and a two-inch wide text. Access to web dictionaries of my choice in about 15 languages, since so many web dictionaries are inadequate. Movie downloads so when I finish reading Balzac's Colonel Chabert (in the public domain so I don't have to pay for it) I can watch the Gerard Depardieu film (under copyright so I'll pay NetFlix or iFlix for the privilege). Free access to criticism about the books I'm reading so I don't have to pay JStor. Music downloads so I can listen to Louis Armstrong while I'm reading the first section of Invisible Man. Complete wifi so I can download from anywhere. iChat capabilities so I can talk to my friend Min Jin in Japan about Colonel Chabert as we both make our way through the Human Comedy.

Then I think that Apple should give two large grants: one should go to the Council on Literary Magazines and Presses so CLMP can help small presses digitize all their books and make them available over the Web, just as the large publishers are doing. Another should go to PEN or a similar type of organization to digitize thousands of translated books and make them available to the American public. This will be a big public relations plus for the iReader and give many more people access to lesser known literature at the touch of a screen button.

That's not too much to ask, is it Mr. Jobs?