Friday, January 29, 2010

65 years ago this week

Came across this article Out of Auschwitz this morning. Mr. Pisar, the author, writes that
"Today, the last living survivors of the Holocaust are disappearing one by one. Soon, history will speak about Auschwitz with the impersonal voice of researchers and novelists at best, and at worst in the malevolent register of revisionists and falsifiers who call the Nazi Final Solution a myth." This is not a groundless worry. It is easy to diminish the intensity and very realness of this tragedy as history removes us farther from it and the personal connections to the Holocaust are lost as its survivors pass away. As our daily encounters with temporality increase and it seems that we as a culture/people are less concerned with establishing concrete connection back to our own history, it is vital that as individuals we become students of this history. It is unfortunately impossible to know/remember everything. But something needs to be selected, some part of history that resonates with you should be so deeply internalized that it affects the way you see the world. This will be our preservation and our new history.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nook vs. the Sony vs. Barthes

Today I got to play with the Nook which is B&N's e-reader. I know that a bunch of other people have posted stuff on this but I finally actually got to touch these technologies myself and would like to talk about it.
So the Nook first:
The Nook has a bottom screen which used like the touch pad for a laptop to navigate through its menus. The bottom screen has decent responsiveness for 'clicking/selecting' but the scrolling responsiveness of going up and down the menu(s) is pretty poor.
The Nook offers a dictionary and notes section in the bottom so that you can interact with the text while you read. However,the bottom screen is significantly brighter than the top screen which messes with my eyes even though the bottom screen eventually goes dark. The Nook does have a good feel/heft to it. Anecdotally, and especially in comparison to Sony's 2nd generation E-Reader, the Nook is a bit slow. The screen rendering is definitely slower. One thing I had not realized is that when changing pages or books or making any sort of screen change the reading screen inverts colors. The Nook flashes repeatedly on transition while Sony typically only flashed once. It might be a good thing that the screen is a darker hue because if the flashing/rendering where to happen at any brighter light spectrum I'm fairly certain it would be seizure inducing. It is fairly brutal as it is.
Other items in random order:
--The home button is a tad ridiculous-no indication of anything loading/response. You just have to rub your thumb around and hope you hit it.
--It does not let you surf/pick your own blogs via the Nook's interface. I'm guessing you can probably do so via your computer but that means you are still tied to the computer.
--For my hand size holding the nook with one hand is awkward when trying to turn pages. My thumb naturally lands on the back button rather than the fwd button.
--There were also some formatting issues with spaces between words where there should not have been spaces.

I used the Sony E-Reader in Staples so it was securely locked down and keeping me from holding it. All in all I really like their 2nd generation which sports a fairly responsive touch screen . The screen is lighter the rendering is faster and the buttons make a lotmore sense to me. The touch screen interaction is really nice though the page turning motion was a little odd. You swipe your thumb in the lower right hand corner of the screen about .5 inches from right to left to turn the page forward (i.e. 1>2) and swipe from left to right about .5 inches to turn the page back (i.e. 2<1).>2) Maybe this could be switched in the settings but I did not delve into this area. The Sony E-Reader also had a larger screen for reading which I preferred.

The end result: Frankly I don't like the e-ink screen on either the sony or the nook. My eyes focus on the screen differently than with physical paper and felt tired after only 10 minutes of reading. I think that my eyes were working harder in some respects to navigate the color differences. In all honesty the 'rendering flicker' is just disturbing. I'm not sure why the screen has to flux so badly during any interface change.
I've not used the Kindle so I'm not sure if it does the same thing. At this point, I am not interested at all in buying one of these yet. I doubt that I ever will be though I would possibly be more open to it if it were free. The rendering deal brings to mind Proulx's quote of "...a twitchy little screen." Depending on who else comes out with one of these things in the next year or so I would be interested at some point in using a couple of e-readers for reserve reading in the library. If I could have a couple of iPads that would work as well though I've not had a chance to play with one yet.

And then there's Barthes the French semiologist. I've been reading a collection of interviews he did ranging from 1962-1980. He's a fascinating man and his interviews are exercises in mental strength and durability on the part of the reader. He ranges from barely understandable rhetoric in which I understand the words but not entirely how he strings them together to straightforward prose that lays out exactly what he is thinking. The easier interviews are, in my mind, rewards for slogging through the more difficult ones. All this to say is that in his interviews Barthes talks about the signifier and the signified. He talks about these two ideas pretty much all the time. Barthes defines the signifier as the bold word in the dictionary and the signified as the words that make up the definition except you have to remember that the definition is made up of signifier as well. It's all interconnected and language informs language and everything is a text that can be read regardless of whether or not it is actually/physically written down.
So what is the (possible) signifier/signified of the e-reader. (Barthes also believes that he exists to subvert the text. He hung with/read Derrida so the deconstructionist reading was not far from Barthes but as far as I can tell I don't think he takes it quite as far as Derrida has or at least as far as Derrida's devotees have.)
At the base level take the word 'nook'. there are several definitions of nook . For our purposes the OED defines the nook as 1) Any small corner or recess. or 2) A place or spot having the character of a recess shut in by rocks, trees, etc.; a secluded or sheltered place among natural or garden scenery. I'm guessing that the creator of said Nook are going for numero dos. Attempting to tap into the secluded or sheltering historical nature/character of the text especially in fictional narrative. That one has drawn oneself away into a quiet place and has been fully sheletered and secluded. This is the message of the Nook; it is the medium to draw you out of your busy world and into that special sheltered place where you can read quietly away from all those distractions. Or nook refers to the implied carrying of your books/texts. You can stash your many, many titles into its 2 GB quiet recess where they are sheltered but ready to reach out and draw you in among them, as into a grove of trees with a bench and a small garden, upon request. At least sony had the sense to simply call their product an e-reader though it is much closer to a digital product reader rather than something electric or even electronic.
Even the word concept of an "e-reader" is somewhat silly because the technolgoy is not really doing any type of reading at all. The individual is still doing the reading; the Nook/Kindle/Sony is simply a content delivery system/interface or perhaps more simply a content management system. Until the audio portion of the e-reader group of technologies is made available the real purpose of the e-readers is to be able to buy pixels faster. Mind you these pixels sort of read like/have titles like books and since books have a remarkably cultural even ideological following there is good reason to think these will catch on.
I can still only read one book at a time. It's not helpful to my attention span to be able to order another one if I get distracted/bored or don't think that this particular book is meeting my readerly needs.