Condé Nast and/or WIRED owes me five dollars

I wrote my first review of an app on the iTunes Store yesterday after I downloaded the “update” to the WIRED Magazine App for the iPad. It was not a favorable review, either.

Just to back up a second here:  as I previously mentioned, I bought the WIRED iPad App when it came out with the June issue of the magazine, and I was pretty impressed.  I thought most of the critiques about it, while basically accurate (a lot of ads, you can’t copy and paste, etc.), didn’t take away from the experience for me.  While there’s no way I would pay $5 an issue to read WIRED on my iPad, I would pay the same amount of money as a paper subscription to read it for a year– I think that was something like $25 or so the last time I subscribed.

Anyway, I plugged in my iPad yesterday to my computer for charging and synching and when I was prompted that an update of the WIRED App was available, I did what I always do and agreed to automatically update all apps.  But the WIRED App’s “update” replaced my purchased June issue with a free preview and the opportunity to buy the June and July issues issues for $3.99 each. In other words, I was downdated.

So, here’s my review of the new WIRED app on the Apple iTunes Store site:

If you bought June 2010 WIRED, DO NOT UPGRADE!

I bought the June 2010 WIRED (18.06) and was quite happy with it.  Then I “upgraded.”  This new version of the app overwrote the previous version, which means that my previously purchased issue was erased and replaced by a “free” promo that does nothing more than show me the covers of the June and July issues and invites me to spend $3.99 to buy what I already bought.  And I’m guessing that if I WERE to buy either of these issues, it’d disappear again with a new upgrade.

Not cool. Not cool at all.  Conde Nast and WIRED owe me $5 and I most certainly will not be buying any WIRED anymore, electronic or print.  Boo. Hiss.  Boo.

I don’t know why I said “upgrade” instead of “update.”

So I poked around the web site WIRED has for this app a bit, and at the bottom of it, there’s some information on how it’s supposed to be– my June issue was not supposed to be deleted. I don’t know if this is the difference or not, but the instructions here make it sound like I was supposed to update the app while my iPad wasn’t hooked up to anything, which is something I almost never do.

Then there was this:

If you’ve purchased the June issue but it is not available for installation after you’ve updated your app, please send an email to WIRED [at] cdsfulfillment.com requesting assistance. Our customer service team will get back to you with further instructions.

Which I did; they haven’t responded yet.  Grr.

Two brief thoughts: iPad book design, and what “books” are (or not)

Via Mark Crane, I came across this:  “Designing for iPad: Reality Check,” from iA.  This is pretty geek-heavy because iA is a web design firm (as far as I can tell, they do a lot of German language newspaper web sites) and it’s talking about some of the complex and largely invisible design issues of type and readability.  For me, the most accessible/usable points they make here are toward the end, and how the design elements being encouraged for the iPad by Apple to make it more object-like– wood and leather grain, for example– are what they refer to as “kitschy.”  I don’t know if I agree with that or not, but I think they are spot-on with the problems of the iBook app (and, for that matter, kindle) in terms of not knowing how many pages are left.    As they put it:

Having the same static thick paper stacks left and right in your e-reader application on the first as well as on the last page, is not just visually wrong, it is also confusing; it feels wrong and it is wrong. It’s kitsch.

I have to say that this is one of the things that I don’t particularly like about electronic reading on my iPad or my iPhone, and I’m not quite sure what it says about me as a reader.  Do I really need to know how many pages are left?  Is that a bad thing, always wanting to know where the end is?  Especially when I read before I go to bed (which is about half the time before I go to bed), I often will look ahead to see how far I’ve got to do before a logical place to stop.  Reading on an iPad doesn’t facilitate this that well, and some of the elements that the current designers are doing to help people bridge that gap between paper book (like these fake page stacks) and electronic book don’t help much.

I’ve also been thinking lately and again about the definition of “book.”  The experience of reading electronically– be it on an iPad or a phone or on a computer screen– has bubbled up in the news a bit lately because of Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows. I’d buy it to take on my upcoming vacation/trip and also because it sounds interesting, but it isn’t available for Kindle or iBook yet.  (Yes, that irony is intended.) But as far as I can tell, it is a book-length treatment of Carr’s 2008 article in The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” To over-simplify, I think Carr’s basic point in the article and (probably) the book is that reading a book on the page is a more “real” and meaningful, deep-thought experience than reading it on a screen.

This is problematic for lots of different reasons, but the one that struck me again this past weekend is the definition of “book.”  What I think Carr means is the same sort of thing most of my students mean when we discuss the anxiety around the end of “the book.”  Generally speaking, I think Carr et al thinks of books as the sort of thing you buy in Borders and take with you on a trip or you give as a present or you read while in bed or in the bathtub or while sitting in an easy chair listening to soft music and drinking Chardonnay.  But a lot of books aren’t these kinds of “books” at all.

Last Saturday was the annual Normal Park (my neighborhood) yard sale, where there are like 100 yard/garage sales all going on at the same time on the first Saturday in June.  We didn’t have anything to sell really, but I put out some boxes of “books” that were in the garage and that needed to be disposed of with a sign that said “free.”  There were a couple of things that did actually get taken, a twelve year old copy of What to Expect When You are Expecting, for example.  But most of these books were textbooks, anthologies, writing handbooks, and instructor manuals, and those books, even free, were not taken.  And as I tell my students all the time, computers have eliminated all kinds of things that we used to think of as “books,” things like research databases and indexes, the MLA bibliography, dictionaries, and soon (more or less now), the phone book.  No one seems particularly broken up or wistful that these “books” are no longer.

Anyway, while I would like my iPad books to have more of a look and feel of a “book,” I have a feeling that Carr et al’s anxieties about these new electronic books will fade sooner than later.  And then we can all lament the loss and feel if the iPad book for something new that comes along.

A few miscellaneous thoughts on iPad reading

I’ve come across a lot of articles about reading on the iPad lately, and thought I’d pass along some of them with some thoughts:

  • Jakob Nielsen doesn’t think the iPad is that cool in terms of usability. I dunno, seems a little like he’s a hater, though Nielsen does raise some interesting points about how the iPad exhibits the growing pains of moving from one kind of literacy technology to another.
  • How to self-publish a book for iPad. Really, how to self-publish a book for ePub format period.  This combined with this NYTimes editorial from Garrison Keillor, “The End of an Era in Publishing,” makes me think.  On the one hand, I don’t think that “self-publishing” is automatically going to spell the end of publishing business simply because there has always been self-publishers trying to get their work out there. Some were, for their time, pretty successful too– I believe Leaves of Grass was initially self-published.  On the other hand, this certainly changes the ease and scale of delivery possible with self-published electronic books.  Print something up on paper and your distribution point is pretty much limited to the street corner, maybe the trunk of your car; make an ePub book and the distribution point becomes international.
  • An interesting review of reading on the iPad, comparing iBooks, Kindle, and GoodReader. I personally think the differences between iBook and Kindle are pretty negligible, and really, Kindle has two possible advantages right now.  First, amazon.com/Kindle has A LOT more books available than Apple/iBooks.  Second, I can read Kindle books in multiple places.  So, for example, I have been reading (very slowly, in fits and starts) The Omnivore’s Dilemma on Kindle.  Sometimes, I read it on my iPad, but as often (maybe more often, since I do this at the gym while on the stationary bike) I read it on my iPhone.  What’s nice about Kindle is the book syncs up to my place.
  • I think a lot of the “love of the object” of the book is sort of misplaced, sort of like the sentiments in this NYTimes editorial, “Further Thoughts of a Novice E-Reader.” Verlyn Klinkenborg is mostly lamenting the loss of paper and look, probably smell and touch too.  Interestingly, it seems to me that a lot of what’s going on with the iPad is also a love (or hate) of the object.  I don’t think that the iPad or other tablets is going to completely eliminate the sort of fine books that Klinkenborg feels she (or he?  what is Verlyn?) might miss, but what might be a good thing is that these devices might save a lot of trees.  As the post “To Kindle or not to Kindle?” from “Limited Prerogatives” points out, a lot of those wonderfully smelling and feeling paper books end up wasting a lot of trees.  She quotes a NYTimes article about how the book and newspaper industries harvested something like 125 million trees, and something like about a third of books printed are returned to the publisher and/or “pulped.”
  • And while I don’t have any links to it, I’ve heard some interesting reactions to the Wired iPad App, which I (of course!) bought.  I don’t think it’s fair to complain about it because of all of the ads, because a) the print version of Wired is basically a Geek Glamour magazine, intensely heavy on ads that many of its readers actually want to read; b) a lot of the ads are pretty cool and interactive, and c) it’s how magazine publishers make money (dirty little secret).  I don’t think it’s fair to complain that it is just the print version on the iPad since I never had a print version of Wired that included video and audio.  And I also think it’s only a little fair to complain about how the Wired iPad app doesn’t allow for “cut and paste” copying or bookmarking, because while I would agree that these features would be nice, Wired is not exactly the kind of thing I read to “cut and paste” from.  Besides, they still have a web site.

    What I thought was more interesting with the new Wired App and all of these other things is how they are the latest in a long history of what happens when we make the transition from one literacy technology to another.  A number of people talk about this with the transition from early handwritten manuscripts into printed books:  at first, the printed books looked a lot like the handwritten ones, but then, after people figured out the capabilities of the technology, they looked different.  We still call web pages “pages” because they initially looked a lot like “words in a row” pages with some links, and once we figured out the technology, they ended up looking a lot different.

    But I’m not going to keep paying $5 a pop for it.  They either are going to have to set up some sort of subscription service (the print version delivered was about a third of the price on the newsstand), or they are going to have to drop the price for me to be a regular reader.

  • Finally, I downloaded and installed onto my iPad (as part of my iBooks library) Cory Doctorow’s new YA book For the Win. Despite his dislike of the iPad, I like Doctorow’s thinking and writing a lot, and I very much admire his practice of putting books up online for free.  But the iPad and similar devices raise an interesting question about the sustainability of this practice:  before the iPad, I might have been inclined to buy one of Doctorow’s paper books because as a matter of convenience and form, I would much rather read the paper book than the PDF (or whatever) on my computer screen.  As a result, Doctorow (and his publishers) would still sell a lot of books.  But if I’m inclined to read one of his books on an iPad or similar device anyway, why would I do anything but download the free version?  In other words, since the “free” version is no longer is a means of selling/promoting the “not free” version, how long will it be before Doctorow starts charging something to download the ePub from his site?

Just a couple Facebook Privacy thoughts I’m willing to share…

I’ve come across a lot of stuff about Facebook Privacy lately– for example, there’s this piece from Read Write Web, “More Web Industry Leaders Quit Facebook, Call for Open Alternative,” which has a ton of links both in the article and in the comments on the “quitting Facebook” trend, and then there’s the often reposted “Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook.” In no particular order, I had a couple of thoughts:

  • There’s something interesting? odd? ironic? well, maybe just something– about how people seem to be rediscovering the privacy issues here a couple of years after the conventional wisdom for sites like Facebook and MySpace is that “kids” were being pretty stupid by putting up stuff that will come back to haunt them later. I realize that part of this new wave is a result of Facebook’s increasingly squishy privacy issues, but some of it also has to be because the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is “grown-ups” who supposedly know better.  And who don’t.
  • The concept/definition of “privacy” is not exactly stable, and this is by far from the first time that it’s been a contentious and potentially interesting issue. Remember Jennicam? Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia page I am linking to here says that Jennifer Ringley, who once pretty much broadcast “everything” out to the web, says she is now “enjoying her privacy.”  And maybe that’s part of what the deal is here too:  a lot of people kind of went a little over-board on the whole Facebook thing and now want to scale back a bit.
  • A lot of the complaints about Facebook seem to forget that it is not a “public space” or a completely free “community asset.”  Sure, they might be kind of asshole-ish as of late with various policies (not to mention just kind of tone-deaf to public critique), but they are a business that is trying to make money.  Part of the way they do that is by using your content; if you don’t like that, then don’t put up your content.
  • On the one hand, I don’t really care that much.  I mean, I’ve already got over 1600 pictures on Flickr all pretty much share-and-share-alike and there’s this and previous blogs; it’s not as if I’m leading that super-private of a life as it is.  And given that folks are okay with Amazon and Netflix making “choices” for you based on stuff you’ve browsed before, I don’t see exactly what is so wrong with Facebook targeting ads at you and treating your pages as if they are not completely private.  On the other hand, all of this dust-up is a reminder that Facebook is a public space, that those updates and pictures and stuff you post really can/will be seen by lots of people.
  • 16 or 15 years ago, I remember going to a talk at BGSU where someone was talking about this newfangled “email” system that was going on campus, and the presenter warned people then of their privacy:  don’t email anything you wouldn’t want to see showing up on a billboard or in the New York Times. That’s probably a little extreme for email nowadays, but words to live by on the book o’ face.

Thinking about “Getting Things Done”

On the way back from Will’s and my recent trip to Alabama, I finally managed to finish reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I am aware of the irony that it has taken me months of off and on reading to finish this book. Why was I reading it in the first place, you may ask? Well, I picked up this book and, my next read on productivity, Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, vaguely thinking that there might be a scholarly project of some sort in there.

Based on flipping through both books and reading their back covers, my initial impression was that these books take opposite views on the notion of “productivity.” Allen’s book, I presumed, was about how to get more things done, while Ferriss’ book was about how to recognize what you don’t need to do so you have more time to do thing things you want to do. I thought (and still do think) that dichotomy is potentially interesting, though don’t ask me now what that paper/presentation/article/web site/book looks like.

And besides that, I thought I might actually learn something about being more productive.

Continue reading “Thinking about “Getting Things Done””

I was doing and thinking about a lot of other things while writing this post

There’s an interesting article in CHE right now, “Scholars Turn Their Attention to Attention,” about various research and perspectives on multitasking– or rather, the myth of multitasking.  There must be something in the air about multitasking and the bane of every non-multitasker’s existence, talking on the phone while driving.  Just yesterday, I was listening to NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” to US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sounding a little like a crazy old man about the need to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  I do not understand how someone can text and drive at the same time, I don’t think bus drivers or truckers ought to be talking on their cell phones (unless they have something like a head set), and I try to use my headphones when I’m driving and talking on the phone.  But doing anything while driving is pontentially dangerous, including perfectly legal (and even encouraged!) things like eating, drinking (I’ll bet spilled coffee in the lap is responsible for many more auto accidents than cell phone class), talking to others, listening to super-duper loud music, etc.

Wait, I got distracted.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, multitasking….

The CHE article is good and probably worth teaching because it covers the issue from a variety of different angles– certainly not just from the “multitasking is bad” one.  There’s some kind of information here about the “history” of research on multitasking and various experiments, but I have to say (as someone who doesn’t do this kind of research) that a lot of this seems kind of like parlor games to me.  For example:

As far back as the 1890s, experimental psychologists were testing people’s ability to direct their attention to multiple tasks. One early researcher asked her subjects to read aloud from a novel while simultaneously writing the letter A as many times as possible. Another had people sort cards of various shapes while counting aloud by threes.

Well, duh, but isn’t that more like making someone say the alphabet backwards during a sobriety test or something?  I don’t know if that necessarily tests a person’s ability to do more than one thing at once though giving most attention to a single task.  For example, as I am writing this post, I am listening to my iPhone (REM right now) and I was just interrupted to take a phone call from my wife.  That’s multitasking, but it’s not like what these people seem to mean by multitasking.

Or I guess that’s the problem here– I’m not sure there’s a very clear definition of what multitasking is.  For example, part of the argument that comes up against multitasking is that increasingly old school argument about no laptops in the classroom.  Here’s an extreme example of that:

“I’m teaching a class of first-year students,” says David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “This might well have been the very first class they walked into in their college careers. I handed out a sheet that said, ‘Thou shalt have no electronic devices in the classroom.’ … I don’t want to see students with their computers out, because you know they’re surfing the Web. I don’t want to see them taking notes. I want to see them paying attention to me.”

I don’t know who Meyers is or what his scholarship says, but that last line– I want them paying attention to me– seems pretty telling and egocentric.  And  it’s this potential lack of paying attention to me, the professor/teacher/sage on the stage/keeper o’ wisdom that has got most people like Meyers thinking like this.  Don’t get me wrong; I will sometimes ask students to close up their laptops to pay attention to something, especially if it is one of those times I have to go into a five minute lecture “about important stuff for the class” mode.  But generally, I don’t want to be the center of the class, and if my students find it easy to be distracted by Facebook (or whatever), then it’s probably a combination of me being boring or them not wanting to be in class.

One more thing:  I don’t think multitasking is even remotely a phenomenon that has come abut only with the age of the Internet.  I grew up in a multitasking household.  The television was ALWAYS on when I was a kid, and now when I am home visiting my parents, three sisters, and all the kids and in-laws (I think it’s 17 0r 18 people total), it is not at all uncommon for their to be three different televisions in different rooms but still within sight, all tuned to different channels.  My parents always read the newspaper or magazine while watching TV (or with the TV on– I’m not sure the difference was ever very clear when I was a kid), and layered over that would always be some kind of conversation.  When I go back home now, all of my adult siblings and their spouses will sit around watching TV, playing some kind of game, checking laptops or cell phones, watching children, eating snacks, and planning the next meal, all at the same time.

I mean, really:  in “real life,” who just “pays attention?”

“Downloading Optimism” (and btw, what’s new with electronic books?)

I know that the image there is going to be too small to read, but go ahead and click on it to read it.  This comes from Lucy Knisley who seems to be a bit of a Renaissance woman of sorts with comics, journal writings, illustrations, crafts, etc., etc.

Really REALLY smart stuff about a group of old school comics folks lamenting the falling of print, which was written and drawn by a comic artist who is obviously enthusiastic about digital books.  As she points out, there was a point in the past where these codex book things were weird (where’s the scroll?), and of course there was a time where print itself was weird, too (why are all the letters so neat and orderly?), not to mention stuff like page numbers, etc.  And, as she writes here, “I’d just rather not expend all my energy worrying over how my words are delivered, and instead concentrate on the quality and content of the words.”  Exactly, and the problem with journalism and traditional publishers is that they keep thinking that they are in the bottle business instead of the wine business.

Anyway, this also jarred in me the question again about “e-readers” or electronic books or whatever you want to call them. Knisley talks in this comic about reading stuff on her iPod/iPhone, but I don’t know if I could/would be willing to do that.  I don’t mind reading blogs or email or similarly “short” sort of things on my iPod, but I don’t know if I’d want to read a book-length work on my phone.  Too little of a window for me.

The Kindle is still problematic for my own reading tastes, as far as I can tell.  I don’t really like the way that the device is locked down/locked into amazon.com only content (remember that infamous 1984 issue?), it apparently doesn’t handle PDF files well, and it doesn’t allow for easy annotations.  I’ve heard good things about Barnes and Noble’s Nook, but I’d certainly want to play around with it.  For me, the ability to handle the PDFs from academic journals and the things I assign students to read in various classes.  I don’t need one of these things to “just read” novels or magazines or whatever, which perhaps makes me a reader who is not in the marking plan for companies like amazon.com or B&N.

Anyway, must reading for 516 and/or 444, probably for 328 too.

The remains of the weekend

There’s actually a longer post embedded in some of these items, but for now, I thought I’d just get some of these down here.  After all, I had intended on doing so last night but went to bed instead….

  • Cheryl Ball posted on Tech-Rhet asking about a Mac organizing software from a company (or maybe that’s the software) called Circus Ponies. It’s an organizational tool, which might be useful, though I find that my problems with organization and/or “getting things done” are not software-related.
  • Talking/working with Derek on a panel, and two ideas I want to get down before I forget: 1) it sure seems like a lot of people (including me) aren’t blogging at the same rate they used to blog (that’s a post one of these days, btw), and 2) while Facebook and Twitter are kinda cool, they aren’t a very good replacement for blogs.
  • Where have blogs gone?  Well, one theory I have is as newspapers and other print journalism go online, they are pressing into the space that was once occupied more by individuals.  This is not to say that individual blogs are going to go away, but why read (or even write) on your own individual blog if there is going to be a big newspaper out there willing and able to host your posts and comments?
  • Clancy “CultureCat” Ratliff notes some of the writing on the backs of desk chairs of classrooms where she is doing evaluations.
  • Alex Reid has a nice post about learning to write and how it impacts how we should and shouldn’t teach classes like first year writing.  I’ll need to come back to this.  I never actually took first year writing– I tested out of it.  I even was videotaped giving the speech I gave to get out of it, and I believe they took me and the other people who tested out to a lunch.  Thinking back on it briefly now, I believe we were an informal focus group.
  • Fine writing advice, he gist of which I give all the time and which I have to work very hard at myself to follow (and I frequently fail at that).
  • I kind of feel like I been a teleworker/web worker/distance worker/whatever for a long time, but that’s because I teach a fair amount online, and also because tenure-track faculty tend to have the luxury of working wherever they want.  Of course, the problem with “decentralized” work in general and defining “the work” of a college professor in particular is that I’m always working, in an office or not.
  • What’s the big trend now?  Nowism.  Actually, it’s more interesting than it sounds.  I like the list of “now applications” that are down the page a ways, and I like the term “Liquid Modernity” which comes from Zygmunt Bauman.
  • “The lost chicken hatcheries of Iowa City, IA.” Of course I have to note that, even though I am not all that crazy about chickens in Ypsilanti (I have yet to spot a coop in my neighborhood).

The problem with book stores

I like book stores, and I was pretty bummed out when Shaman Drum closed up in Ann Arbor in the spring.  In my estimation, it was clearly the best bookstore in the area and one of the best academic/independent bookstores in the country.  And I also like the “big box” stores like Barnes and Noble and Ann Arbor’s own Borders for the variety, all the extras (CDs, coffee shops, etc.), and, of course, books.

Still, there is a reason why Borders (and I presume Barnes and Noble, right?) are losing money hand over fist and why I end up spending a lot more money on books at amazon.com nowadays.

I went into Borders today while running some errands to buy Crossing the Finish Line:  Completing College at America’s Public Universities and The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. Initially, I can’t find anyone who actually works there to help me, so I head to the computer system to look up the Crossing the Finish Line book.  I learn the book is “likely” in the store in the “Education and Parenting” section, though I have no clue where the “Education and Parenting” section is in the store.   So I wander around for a while (is it near psychology?  self-help? business?), and I finally find someone, who tells me it’s back in the children’s section.  I find the shelf, which is a mish-mosh of books on stuff like potty training, Hirsch’s “cultural literacy” books, and high schools today, and remarkably, I do find this book (which is a somewhat controversial book about graduation rates at universities in the U.S.) stuck in there.  So I picked it up, comfortable enough with the $27.95 price.

Then I decided to look for the other book.  Again, I tried it on the computer system, but the answer I got was confusing, so I asked for some help from the person who helped before.  She actually logged into a completely different computer system and was able to find the book, which was in the store (though not anywhere close to the children’s section).  But it was priced at $40, and I knew that I could get it on amazon.com for $26.40, and it wasn’t going to cost $13 to ship it.  So I took a pass on that.  And in hindsight, I should have left Crossing the Finish Line on the shelf too because I would have saved $10 buying that via amazon.com.

Oh, and just to add to it, there was but one cashier at the register, so it took me about 10 minutes just to pay my bill.

So, let’s review:

  • Buying online would have been faster, easier, cheaper, and more convenient, by far.
  • It would have been easier to find what I was looking for online.
  • On the other hand, actually going to the store allowed me to communicate with a human and to make an impulse buy (in this case, a different anthology of comics).  That’s certainly a plus of “real world” shopping, but it’s also one of the reasons why I wish Shaman Drum was still open.