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concept to publication

Month: August 2007 (Page 2 of 3)

Redesigning the Penguin UK website

penguin uk website redesign

At theBookseller.com, Ann Rafferty talks about her redesign of the Penguin UK site. In essence the site is moving a little in the direction of web 2.0 — of adding more interactive features and offering more content. Rafferty explains:

As to why we’ve redesigned (and this is by no means the end – there’s a list of more changes just waiting to take effect), the answer is simple. Our readers told us to. We conducted extensive quantative and qualitative usability research with a specialist consultancy involving a lot of sitting behind two-way mirrors and biting back squeals of frustration when real-life readers couldn’t use our site – and we listened to all of the recommendations that they made. Months of workshops, designing, testing and re-designing later and we’re happy that we’ve shifted our site from being a company on broadcast to being genuinely reader-centric.

Left Abe, Right Abe

left abe lincoln, right abe lincoln

Using life masks of Lincoln owned by the Chicago History Museum, scientists have determined that Abraham Lincoln had an unusually asymmetrical face. Lincoln had a condition called cranial facial microsomia — the left side of his face was much smaller than the right. The results of the study have been widely reported, including in The Independent, in which Leonard Doyle writes:

Lincoln’s contemporaries noted his left eye at times drifted upwards independently of his right eye, a condition now termed strabismus. Lincoln’s smaller, left eye socket may have had a displaced muscle controlling vertical movement, said Dr Ronald Fishman, who led the study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Most people’s faces are asymmetrical, Dr Fishman said, but Lincoln’s case was extreme, with the bony ridge over his left eye rounder and thinner than the right, and set backwards.

So what did I think when I read that?

Right. Fodder for “Left Face, Right Face.”

Read the contract

You don’t want this sad story to be yours.

your book contract: read it

Journalistic ethics and Publishers Weekly

Ed Champion excoriates Karen Holt for writing in Publishers Weekly that includes passages such as this:

There was the time at BEA when I wanted to ask Margaret Atwood a few questions so she took my arm and steered me toward some chairs in the corner (”Margaret Atwood is touching me!”). There was my trip to Maine last summer to interview Richard Ford when he and his wife put me up for the night in their guest cottage (”I’m staying in Richard Ford’s guest house!”). There was the night I capped off an interview with Gay Talese by joining him for dinner at Elaine’s (A double shot of literary New York icons).

“When a journalist conducts an author interview or writes a profile, a journalist has the duty to maintain some sense of independent authority, which will permit her to ask hard-hitting, challenging and thought-provoking questions. One must ask questions that nobody else asks. One must practice journalism,” Champion insists. “Karen Holt has, with one simple sentence, revealed that Publishers Weekly has little concern for journalistic ethics. Her stay at Ford’s home is not unlike some of the egregious influence peddling that studios use to buy the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s votes for the Golden Globes…. I think it goes without saying that staying at the guest cottage of your subject’s house is highly suspect and deeply unethical.”

I have to confess I felt a little foolish reading this, because it had never quite occurred to me to think of these pieces as journalism, exactly — I thought of them as a form of publicity and marketing. PW has always been a chummy publication, serving a chummy industry. Maybe that’s a factor contributing to book publishing’s recent difficulties. Champion makes us imagine the possibility of things being different.

Novelist, Murderer?

Are those bullet points on Krystian Bala’s multifaceted resume?

Or does art just happen to resemble death?

French teenager in trouble for translating Potter

Meanwhile, French readers are frustrated that it’s taking the official translator more than two weeks to complete a translation of the 759-page book.

LINK: French teen detained over unauthorized Harry Potter translation

Damn, your captchas are hard

There’s some Steve Martin movie — okay, we’re not at le niveau culturel le plus élevé here — where he’s pulled over while driving, and the cop asks him to do handstands, backflips, and god knows what.

“Damn,” he says, “your drunk tests are hard.”

Some captchas are just about as hard. Here’s a sample from the list over at the English Headwear Blog.

difficult catchas

You say I’m a bitch like it’s a bad thing

Eighteen members of New York’s City Council have sponsored a resolution to ban the use of bitch and ho as “hateful language [that] creates for all women a paradigm of shame and indignity.”

Dennis Baron at the Web of Language (link may require academic affiliation authorization — borrow a friend’s, or maybe use bugmenot if you need to) has some thoughts on this:

Language works much like a free market, defying regulation but responding to consumer whims, and just as English dictionaries will continue to define words the way that people use them, not the way some expert thinks they should be used, the music industry will continue to peddle nigga, bitch and ho as long as the music-buying public wants to hear them.

Instead of manipulating words through laws and reference works, activists interested in changing offensive language have had more success taking negative terms and flipping them. Flipping can stop the vicious cycle whereby a taboo word is replaced by a euphemism which then itself becomes taboo.

Daily Lit

If you like your literature bite-sized, Daily Lit could be the answer. It will send you a five-minute passage of a selection of public domain books by e-mail or rss every day (or on request). War and Peace, for example, comes in 675 parts, so you could finished it up in a couple of years, reading five minutes a day. So if you are long-lived and read your e-mails regularly you could make your way through as many as two or three dozen books of that length in your lifetime. Then again, you could knock off the Daode jing in just a couple of weeks.

The Daode jing (Tao Te Ching) is an interesting case. Daily Lit’s web page for that book shows an image of the cover of the Stephen Mitchell edition. If you click on the book it takes you to the book’s Amazon page. But the Mitchell rendering is not public domain. The sample text Daily Lit shows begins like this:

Ch. 1. 1. The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
2. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all …

That doesn’t sound much like Stephen Mitchell to me. The Mitchell version starts this way:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name

The unnameable is the eternally real
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

For comparison, here the version I published, by Red Pine:

The way that becomes a way
is not the Immortal Way
the name that becomes a name
in not the Immortal Name
the maiden of Heaven and Earth has no name
the mother of all things has a name

Why does Daily Lit link to a copyrighted version of the book from which they are offering public domain snippets? I suppose they monetize their site through the Amazon Associates program, figuring after a few months of e-mailed bits of a book you might be hooked enough to actually buy the book. Why you would do so by clicking through from Daily Lit isn’t clear to me, but I imagine the link is included in the feeds and e-mails. Is that a viable business model?

Stray Quotes

I’m trying out a new plug-in called Stray Quotes. You can see it in the left sidebar under the categories drop-down, under the head “Duly Quoted.” The plug-in can function as a widget. It displays a random quote from a user-created list (refreshing the page will likely produce a new quote). Basic html will generate links, etc. I’m using it here as the creator intended, to display a random quote. But it could also display any kind of random link, text, or even image (I’m not sure what length limitations it may have).

For now I’ve taken down the “now reading” plug-in, because I haven’t updated it in a while. Once I do that I may bring it back.

Typographic humor

A font walks into a bar. Bartender says, “We don’t serve your type here.”

Via fontblog.

(I assume the font was Comic Sans.)

Polish Posters

polish posters

There’s a nice selection of (mostly) postwar Polish posters at a Grayspace Poster Gallery.

I’ve set the background to white in the selections above, using the “remove background image” and “page color to white” bookmarklets (I realized afterwards that I should also have set the text to black, and I found the zap colors bookmarklet that both sets the background to white and the text to black). I like clarity. Not everyone does. Without the bookmarklets applied the site looks like this:

grayspace gallery

Left Matt, Right Matt

matt damon

I noticed in the ads for The Bourne Whatever that Matt Damon has an asymmetrical face. So I thought he might be a good candidate for Left Face / Right Face.

Letterpress printing

Why can’t we produce a computer printer that bites the page?

Embedded journalism

The LAT covers the Mirthala Salinas affair.

UPDATE, Nov. 18, 2007: The above link (now removed) has gone bad. Here’s a summary of the story.

Take care with cookies

At the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas it was demonstrated how log-in data can be stolen via cookies exchange when using hi-fi hotspots.

UPDATE: See the comments to this post for more.

The Photoshop Wizardry of Al Qaeda

al qaeda image manipulation

A new program reveals manipulation in still photos and videos. It shows Al Qaeda images have been heavily manipulated. Story via Wired.

Faulkner’s sorority pledge

Turns out Faulkner wrote a sorority pledge for a friend of his stepdaughter. Unfortunately, the full six paragraphs don’t seem to be available online. But we do get passages, like this one:

I am the university of friendship, the college of sisterly love, the school for the better making of women. I am the sorority.

An Essay on Translation

new world coverI’m posting this again because, when I linked to it before, a few weeks ago, there was an error in the link (I only recently discovered that — I’ll try to get it right this time). This is the introduction to my book on literary translation from the Center for the Art of Translation (link below). The final stages of proofing have really been dragging on, but it’s beginning to seem the book will finally appear before too long. I think the essay isn’t too bad; I’m hoping it might pick up a link from somewhere. Here’s the opening:

In the Popul Vuh, one of the handful of Mayan texts to escape the auto-da-fé of the Spanish missionaries of the sixteenth century, the story is told that the first people who had speech sufficient to praise the gods were made of maize. Their language was the language of the gods themselves. When those first people gazed into the distance, they could see clear to the edge of the world and the end of time. But the perfection of the people of maize alarmed the gods, especially when they began to multiply and overrun the earth. Their perfect speech was withdrawn, and instead each group was endowed with its own language.

So we live in a broken world, the world of Babel. Our world is broken, because our language has been shattered into thousands of fragments. Words are no longer the perfect, transparent embodiment of things themselves but instead are mere pointers, signs by which we grope to know the world from multiple viewpoints….

LINK: New World / New Words

Robert Ludlum keeps cranking them out …

… even though he’s been dead since 2001.

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