Right Reading

concept to publication

Month: April 2007

I Want to Take You Higher

sfmoma rotunda

That’s what Sly Stone sang back in the day. Well — boom shaka laka laka boom shaka laka laka — it turns out he wasn’t just on something, he was also onto something. At least, that’s what researchers at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management maintain.

Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing (hmmm) there, says that recent studies have shown that “when a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly. They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

I don’t know. I can see it for the SFMOMA rotunda, shown above. But what about the Oracle Arena, where I watched the Warriors defeat the Mavs, shown below? It’s got a pretty high ceiling. I suppose in a sense you could say the Dubs fans were thinking abstractly, but doesn’t that sense become itself so abstract as to be useless?

oracle arena

Gill Sans

examples of gill sans

examples of Gill Sans, an English institution, from Designer magazine

Ben Archer has an interesting article in Singapore’s Designer magazine Typotheque which he compares Eric Gill’s Gill Sans to its predecessor, the typeface designed for the London Underground by Eric Johnston. “To pick an argument with something that is akin to a typographic national monument might appear unwise; it is so very much ‘ours.'” he writes. “But it is a flawed masterpiece. How flawed? Well, monumentally flawed, in fact.”

Seen on eBay

It must be the desk that ups the price.

writhing desk

This “writhing desk” recalls Harry Potter, or maybe Lewis Carroll:”The regular course was Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with; and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

Tutorial: Restoring a Dark Image in Photoshop

west group, kabah

I’ve written about restoring dark images before, but the other day I was working on a less radical image than the ones I was writing about then, and I thought a more detailed step-by step tutorial might be in order. In the image above — a picture of the western group of ruins at the Maya site of Kabah in the Yucatan — the original is on the left and the corrected version on the right. Follow me through the process here.

The Observatory at Chichen Itza

el caracol, the observatory at chichen itza

I’m having some trouble getting my Maya materials online because there are so many of them, and there’s just so little time. So, we’ll do this one building at a time. This is “El Caracol” (“the snail,” so called in Spanish for its winding internal staircase), which is called “The Observatory” in English.

It’s not hard to see how it gets that name, because it looks a lot like a modern observatory. It’s quite unusual for a Maya building, with its round dome placed on a square base. Slits in the dome allowed viewing the sky at the cardinal and subcardinal directions. Certainly the movements of celestial objects were important to the Maya, and their astronomical reckoning was quite advanced (witness their highly accurate calendar). But I’m not sure that we can say definitively how this building was used in its particulars. As with all Maya sites, a great deal of fancy has come to surround the ruins, making it difficult to separate fancy from fact.

The earliest parts of the Observatory were probably constructed in the ninth century. The building underwent several modifications over the succeeding centuries.

Click the small image in the post to see several more images of the Observatory.

Colbert Rapport

“People who regularly watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report could correctly answer more political trivia questions than those who watch CNN or Fox News or especially the teevee network news — those people were only barely cognizant of their own arms.”

Via Wonkette.

Are you a yankee or a rebel?

dixie or yankee

Take the quiz.

More Left Face – Right Face

sarah jessica parker, left - right

I’ve added a few more examples to my exercise in comparing the left and right sides of people’s faces. The new examples are:

  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Tim Gunn
  • Andre Breton
  • Johnny Depp
  • Miles Davis
  • Jane Fonda
  • Ron Artest
  • Moby
  • Pedro Almodovar


rejection letter

Nobody likes to be rejected, but that’s life in sales — submitting a manuscript for publication amounts to making an offer to sell a product. No salesperson closes every deal every time (especially when making cold calls). Persistence increases the odds.

From the publisher’s side, the onslaught of submissions is an endless plague. Yet finding the right manuscript is still the foundation of much of publishing (despite an increasing tendency to commission work rather than respond to it). So the publisher approaches manuscript submissions with a mixture of annoyance and desperate hope.

The result of all this is a minor art form known as the rejection letter. Regrettably, form-letter communication has drained the genre of much of its creativity. But beauty may still be found in some examples.

In the Peanuts comic strip Snoopy received many rejections, including these masterpieces:

Dear Contributor
Thank you for submitting your story. We regret that it does not suit our present needs. If it ever does, we’re in trouble.

Dear Contributor
Thank you for submitting your story to our magazine. To save time we are enclosing two rejection slips: one for this story and one for the next one you send us.

When I was an editor at North Point Press, I once had occasion to reject a manuscript submitted by Steve Allen. But I don’t think I did so with nearly the flair Allen showed in one of his own rejections, when he wrote to an author:

I thought you’d like to see what some fool is sending out under your name.

Samuel Johnson is supposed to have sent (or received, accounts vary) this wonderful rejection:

Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.

Then there is the often-cited Chinese rejection letter that appears in Louis Zukofsky’s A. It is delightful despite overtones of cultural stereotyping:

Most honorable Sir,
We perused your MS.
with boundless delight. And
we hurry to swear by our ancestors
we have never read any other
that equals its mastery.
Were we to publish your work,
we could never presume again on
our public and name
to print books of a standard
not up to yours.
For we cannot imagine
that the next ten thousand years
will offer its ectype.
We must therefore refuse
your work that shines as it were in the sky
and beg you a thousand times
to pardon our fault
which impairs but our own offices.


A manuscript’s subsequent history can put a new spin on a rejection letter. Ursula LeGuin’s agent received the following from an editor:

21 June, 1968
Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I’m sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.

Does anyone have any noteworthy examples to add?

Image from Living the Scientific Life

Brownback Remembers!

Apparently the following is a real post from Senator Brownback’s real website. This man wants to be your president!

Why is memory not taught at every level of our educational system

April 11, 2007

The greeks believed in such a discipline and the best became Roman slaves, who taugh the Romans. All around the med this was true. Then Atilla must have given all the slaves their freedom, put them on his payroll, send them to Austria to discover Mozart, and guess what, Rome with out Nomenclators (you look it up) Yep Rome fell.

Consider the alternative, teach memory to everyone … this country has always been built by the poor and those in power do not want to continue to lose their advantage.


Publishing Wiki

publishing wiki

To help answer people’s questions about the publishing process, and I hope to provide a forum for collaborative thinking, I’ve started a publishing wiki. Follow the link on the welcome page that leads to the overview of contents to get a sense of the probable content. (Please bear in mind that this is just in the beginning stages at this point.) Some items are already links, others are just placeholders. They are listed more or less in the order in which they would occur in producing a book.

This is not a public wiki like wikipedia — unregistered users can’t edit content. But I’d like to collaborate with some people on this, so if you have experience in the publishing industry and you’d like to help out, send me an e-mail.

Those who don’t want to register and participate can still follow the link from the welcome page to this post and leave a comment here.

Answering the copyright question for books published 1923-1963

Okay, we know books published in the U.S. before 1923 are probably in public domain. And the copyright of books published after 1963 was automatically renewed. But books published in the forty years between those two dates might or might not be in public domain, depending on whether the copyright holder renewed the copyright.

Books published in the U.S. during those years received an initial copyright term of 28 years, meaning the if the work was originally published in 1932, for example, its copyright would expire in 1960. But the copyright holder could renew the copyright for another 47 years in the final year of its first term (that is, in the 28th year). And, further complicating matters, anything that was under copyright in 1998 had its term extended for an additional 20 years. That means that a book published in 1932 is either in public domain or under copyright until 2027.

That’s a big difference, so which is it? To find out whether the copyright of a book from the 1923-1963 period was renewed, one used to have to commission a copyright search through the copyright office, which generally costs about $75. But now some institutions are putting the copyright database online, so if you’re planning to put some classic text on your website, and you want to be sure you’re legal, you can research it here:

Editing Reality

No, despite the title this is not another post about the Bush administration. It’s a link to an interesting video demonstrating how editing can manipulate viewers’ impressions of reality — the basis of “reality” television shows.

Via Swiss Miss via Random Culture

It seems so right somehow

Cheney video set to Radiohead’s “Creep.”

Free Vista Fonts

If you have a Windows system but you aren’t running Vista you can still legally install the new Vista fonts (which will work fine without Vista) for free. They are packaged with Microsoft’s PowerPoint Viewer 2007. You can download the viewer here, and the fonts will be available on your system after you install it.

vista fonts

link: About Vista fonts, from PoyterOnline

Strange Maps

kerouac map

Swiss Miss called my attention to this excellent blog called “Strange Maps.” Many of the maps aren’t really strange, but almost all are interesting. Shown is Jack Kerouac’s map of a cross-country trip that served as fodder for On the Road.

Compare Kerouac’s map to this one, the Bellman’s ocean map from Lewis Carroll‘s “The Hunting of the Sanrk.”

bellman's map

An Economist Writes on Love

The letter to the Financial Times went like this:

Dear Economist,

I’m looking for ”the one”. Is he out there?


Ruth, Barcelona

And the answer, from Tim Hartford, the “Undercover Economist”:

Dear Ruth,

It might help if we understand which elements of marriage are common to many potential husbands, and which are unique to ”the one”.

First, marriage offers economies of scale in production, particularly production of children. Husband and wife can each specialise in different skills, according to their comparative advantage. I fail to see why you cannot realise these economies of scale with almost anyone. Second, there are economies of scale in consumption. One garden will do, so will one kitchen.

The real question, then, is whether you can stand the person you marry enough to enjoy these efficiencies. Here, economics had little to say until a recent breakthrough by the economists Michele Belot and Marco Francesconi. They examined data from a speed-dating company, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that women like tall, rich, well-educated men. Men like slim, educated women who do not smoke.

The more intriguing finding emerged when pickings were scarce. Women ”ticked” about 10 per cent of men as worthy of further investigation, regardless of the quality of a particular crop. If the men were short and poor, then the women lowered their standards, and still picked 10 per cent. The men, too, abandoned unrealistic ambitions. They ”ticked” about a quarter of the women, regardless of quality. This happened even though each could have a complimentary speed date another time if he or she found no one they liked.

My conclusion: even when there is little to be lost from maintaining standards, people are very quick to lower them. My advice: do likewise.

Orwell Saw the Writing on the Wall

No, wait, it’s a camera.

Orwellian Evening Standard article on surveillance cameras around Orwell’s home via exploding aardvark

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