Print on demand edges forwards

The Espresso machine, currently on loan to the New York public library system where users can print free copies of about 200,000 public-domain books and a few others, costs about £25,000 to buy (and measures 8 by 5 feet), but its makers are in talks with several bookstores and libraries about leasing it — and making it faster and smaller (4 by 5), about the size of a photocopier. According to a recent Bookseller, Matthew Crockatt, a London independent bookseller, would love one. "We are a small shop and having a self-service print-on-demand machine on site would mean we could potentially have every book in print…It’s now just down to the publishers to come on board." Bill Samuel, vice-chairman of Foyle’s bookshop, said "The hardware seems to be there. The software needs to be sorted. But there is a definite market…."

The future is on its way: slowly maybe, but it will arrive.

Desirable scientific addresses

Matt  Brown at Nature Network’s Editor’s blog has listed the top ten most desirable addresses for London scientists. These are all genuine addresses listed in London’s A to Z. Amazingly, I lived at the number 1 address on his list for eight years.

1. Agar Grove, NW1
2. Flask Walk, NW3
3. Bunsen Street, E3
4. Doctors Close, SE26
5. Ion Square, E2
6. Tweezers Alley, WC2
7. Scales Road, N17
8. Magnet Road, HA9
9. Electric Avenue, SW9
10. Conference Road, SE2

Do you have any scientific addresses in your own local area?

Harry Potter science

Eva Amsen, on her Nature Network blog, reviews past science and medical extrapolations of Harry Potter novels and asks: "Are there science (or medical) lessons to be extracted from Harry Potter? I think so! For example, I have a very clear idea of which of the characters would make good scientists and why, and will discuss this later this week. Meanwhile, tell me: which of the HP characters do you think would make the best scientist(s)? And who would be terrible?"

Here is my answer: what’s yours?

Well, obviously Dumbledore would make a good scientist as he has an enquiring mind, is wise and non-judgemental, and he has a sense of the “joy of discovery”.
I have to say that Snape is also a good scientist, look at the depth of his potions knowledge.
Hermione, naturally (she’d be good at whatever she decided to do).
In an eccentric way, Fred and George Weasley, as their joke shop depends for its commercial success on innovation and targeted R&D.
Quirrell, well, maybe a bit of a failed scientist but he tries (tried).
I suppose one would have to say Voldemort, that recipe at the end of book 4. Very precise, and his life depended on it.
Minerva McGonnegal would have been one of those solid but uninspired scientists.

Now, terrible scientists. Harry and Ron, obviously. Technically incompetent and not the brightest bulb in the box. Sirius, far to impatient and rebellious. Lupin, too mystical. Moody, too impatient and ready to chase after crazy hypotheses. Luna Lovegood, also, is too ready to believe in cranky theories. Rita Skeeter would make a pretty bad scientist as she makes up her conclusions.
Barty Crouch Sr (too blinkered) and Jr (too erratic) would not have made good scientists.
OK, I’m stopping now before this gets out of hand. As you can see, I am suffering from “waiting for book 7 syndrome”, rather badly.

Economist screensaver and blogs

No doubt on the "don’t be first, be best" philosophy, The Economist Screensaver is a treasure trove of fascinating data on 66 of the world’s major economies. Drawing on the 2007 edition of the bestselling “Pocket World in Figures”, it presents facts and figures on population, demographics, the economy, society, health and education around the world. The screensaver also features a ticker displaying the headlines of new articles published on, as well as some of the witty one-liners used in The Economist‘s renowned advertising campaigns. You can read technical details and download the screensaver via this link.

And even more revolutionary (?), The Economist now offers four (or, as it puts it, three) "lightly moderated" blogs for opinions, observations and to share your views with other readers and journalists from The Economist, and the Economist Intelligence Unit. You can choose some or all of: Free Exchange (a general debate on economic issues), Certain ideas of Europe (the project, the people, and the gap in between them), Democracy in America (a potluck discussion on society, politics and culture) and The inbox (letters to the Editor).

Late breaking news: they now have an audio edition as well.

Dave asks about hardbacks vs paper

Dave of Dave’s Fiction Warehouse asks a perennial question about hardback vs paperback books. "I have fairly strict criteria for buying hardbound volumes: If the book is a gift, if it is a work I expect to frequently reread, if it is a reference book, or if it is something I just can’t wait to get my hands on. (Also, if it is offered at steep discount from Sam’s Club or Costco, but I can be flexible on that point.)". Dave has just sent his brother the hardback of Ian Rankin’s latest for a birthday present. He does not reveal whether he read it first ;-). Nor shall I reveal whether I would have done under similar circumstances ;-).

So when do you buy a hardback rather than wait for the paperback?  There are some authors I just can’t wait to read: I used to buy Elizabeth George in hardback when her books went through a phase of covering an issue that was particularly relevant to me. At the moment, though, I’m unlikely to read her at all, paper or hard. I buy J K Rowling in hardback the instant her latest is out (naturally). Other authors I buy in hardback include Ian McEwan, Mary Higgins Clark and Nicci French. I don’t buy hardbacks for gifts, though — I prefer paperbacks to read because you can easily fit two into your bag (I always carry two books, "an heir and a spare", to misquote). So I give paperbacks as presents — unfortunately this means my recipients would have to wait as long as I am having to, to read the last (?) Rebus novel.

Typepad updates

Typepad is continuing its programme of providing its happy bloggers with more upgrades: Everything TypePad: Feature Updates: Comments, TrackBacks, sharing, URLs and statistics. I presume these upgrades are driven by the competition of the many free blogging platforms that are available, not just Blogger and WordPress, but blogs on many social websites at Facebook, MySpace, Ning, Nature Network et al..  But the winner is the user, and I like the additional features Typepad is offering its bloggers.

Typepad offers many custom widgets, its latest being a Twitter widget, which "displays your latest tweets on your TypePad blog, and makes it easy for your readers to follow you on Twitter. It even auto-magically formats itself to match your blog’s theme!" I’m a very occasional twitterer myself (I go there only when I want to check up on Debra, Ian and Susan!), and know that too many widgets make the blog slow to download (or do I mean upload? I am never quite sure), but this widget will be great for those [Typepad users] who are into it.

Auntie knows best

From the The BBC’s technophile executives see the BBC as the only European organisation able to rival Google as a new media brand but the British public seems more comfortable with its more familiar incarnation as “Auntie”.

A survey of 4,500 licence fee payers, commissioned by the BBC Trust, found that viewers rate “innovation” highly but are more interested in new programming than new technology.

The same research showed audiences’ priority was that the BBC should “help children learn”, but Sir Michael stood by the trust’s decision to suspend BBC Jam, its online education service. “It was done with regret to its impact on users,” he said.

Blogging heroes?

Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog: Which Cover Do You Prefer?

At the link above, Joe Wikert of Wiley shows two alternatives of the cover of a book called Blogging Heroes, and asks his readers which they prefer. I didn’t like either. Well, the one with the man on it would have been OK if he’d had a better pair of knickers.

Do take a look. I think Joe needs some good advice if he wants the book to sell on the basis of its looks. He says it "features wisdom and wit from some of the world’s most successful bloggers, how they got to the top of the rankings and recommendations they have for the rest of us."

Interview with a Twitterer

So I learn from Bryan Appleyard — see Thought Experiments : The Blog: Twitter — that he isn’t a fan of Twitter (or Twittr as might have been a trendier name for the mini-blogette). That doesn’t surprise me. Bryan points to an interview with Twitter’s founder, Evan Williams, at Technology Review, to which I subscribe but had missed this article.

"Launched in March 2006, Twitter lets people broadcast short messages from computers and phones to anyone in the world. The idea has generated a fair amount of buzz, but while some people love the idea of a constant stream of updates, others are appalled. "

I still find it hard to gain access to Twitter and hence have never really got into it. From the little experience I have had, I can see that it is a great resource for one’s online circle of friends, if one has such a thing and if they are all the Twitter type. But although in principle I might like knowing what they might be up to at any given nanosecond, I would not be interested in knowing what everyone in the world is doing at the same frequency. Even if my day wasn’t full with my job, I don’t have the time or patience for the permanent distraction from a longer-term task, maybe something that would take a whole five minutes.

But the flip side is that I bet Twitter is great for people who are isolated and who have time to kill — it probably prevents a lot of nervous breakdowns. Hence I would not call it a "vision of hell", as does a certain person. I am definitely not an "instant messaging" kind of person, particularly when I do manage to log on and I see a message from the Twittermakers saying "what are you doing  to help with our climate crisis? Live Earth has great tips". In 140 words max, I presume.

Vanity Fair’s innovative Africa issue

Via a publishing industry press service, I learn that Vanity Fair (not a magazine I read) made singer/activist Bono the guest editor for its July issue. The result: New writers with new perspectives came out of the woodwork, showing how publishers can reach beyond their usual bounds.

The issue is focused on the continent of Africa: its people, its youth, its music, and its small, successful attempts at economic development. Bono is praised by the industry press service not so much for the content (though they like that) but because he turned "beyond the usual suspects" for the reporting and writing, including former Viacom CEO Tom Freston (writing about a Mali music adventure), artist Damien Hurst (writing about a Congolese artist) and novelist Binyavanga Wainaina (writing about her Kenyan generation’s downs and ups), among numerous others.

"When an article about Bono guest-editing this issue appeared in The New York Times, an unprecedented torrent of story ideas — sometimes dozens in a single day — poured in from photographers, writers, and non-governmental organizations," wrote Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter in an editor’s note. "Most of them were substantive and interesting."

According to the press service, all publishers and editors can learn from this modest experiment, which need not be limited to the Vanity Fair or celebrity editor market. Every community has its own "Africa," an area little covered, and it has many local Bonos, people with wide name recognition and strong networks of relationships. The local "Africas " may be communities poorly covered, from barrios to the working poor to immigrant groups to local education issues of many kinds. Such experiments don’t mean relinquishing editorial authority; they mean reaching out to new contributors and in the process many new potential readers, in print and online. One of the distinctive attributes of the Vanity Fair special issue is an online resource bank and interactive map. Nature does a lot of this kind of thing, one example being Declan Butler’s award-winning Google Earth-avian flu mashup, the first of its kind.