Saturday, November 06, 2010

Media Week (Vol 3) No 45: Attention and Information, British Museum Manuscripts, Irish Shorts, Audio Books, Renting Textbooks, Cooks Source

I don't normally quote blogs on these weekly round-ups (for no real reason) but I came across this post by The Aporetic questioning whether we are really suffering from over abundance of information versus what our ancestors faced:
Rus­tic sim­plic­ity, except that the farmer in charge has labor man­age­ment problems–who are these work­ers, how is he com­pen­sat­ing them? He has to man­age the horses–how is their health? Do they need feed­ing and water­ing? He’s got to get the har­vested wheat stored prop­erly: he’s check­ing the weather all the time–just imag­ine how much infor­ma­tion is involved, in an age before reli­able fore­casts, in guess­ing the weather! He’s scan­ning the crop itself, to see how much he lost to insects or dis­ease. He’s got a good idea of crop prices in Chicago and whether they’re trend­ing up or down. The scene was information-dense, and if you click on the image, you can see how the orig­i­nal title frames the scene. The mod­ern farmer climbs into the air con­di­tioned cab of a com­bine har­vester, and turns on the radio. The radio fills the atten­tion spaces left by, say, read­ing the weather signs or man­ag­ing the work­ers or the animals.
But the argu­ment about atten­tion here is that atten­tion is a constant–it just directs itself, when freed, to whatever’s avail­able. The arrival of online archives gives us “sur­plus atten­tion.” What do we do with our­selves now that the time required for basic research has been (in many cases) so dras­ti­cally reduced?

I visited the Ritblat Gallery at the British Library in October which contains a wide variety of original manuscripts and other material on permanent display. It is well worth the trip and in this article Andrew Motion, chairman of the Booker Committee takes us on a tour (IL):

The gallery is easy to take for granted. Compared with the visual arts, the thrill and beauty of manuscripts are not widely celebrated, but this single mid-sized room, with its black walls, lowered lights and atmosphere of something approaching reverence, is one of the world’s great treasure-troves. It is a place of delight as well as learning, and of astonishment as well as understanding. Whenever I have a group of students, I insist that they come here: it’s an Eng Lit version of the geography field trip.

Some parts of the collection are on permanent display—the material relating to Lewis Carroll and the “Alice” books, and the manuscripts of several songs by the Beatles. These songs are as good a place to start as any, as they abolish any idea that displays of this sort are somehow dusty, or of narrow academic interest. The Beatles’ music and words continue to live in the world as few other kinds of writing have ever managed to do. Yet their composition, judging by the evidence here, depended on a similar blend of luck and labour. Paul McCartney’s “Michelle” turns out to be based on a tune he first tried to get down when he was at school, “in an attempt”, the label says, “to write a French-sounding song at the time when the bohemian Parisian Left Bank was a fashionable influence on art students”. Several years later John Lennon suggested that if Paul wanted it to sound French, he’d better use some French words—hence “ma belle” and so on. It was hardly Proust, but it did the trick, and the song was included on “Rubber Soul”. It became the only Beatles track to be named Song of the Year at the Grammys.

Anne Enright in The Guardian looks at the Irish short story and tries to fathom why they are so good at it (Guardian):

Perhaps Irish writers, like Irish actors, rely more than is usual on personality in that balance of technique and the self that is the secret of style. The trick might be in its suppression, indeed, an effort that must fail, over time. John Banville, Edna O'Brien, McGahern, Tóibín – these writers become more distinctive as people, even as their sentences become more distinctively their own. It is a jealous kind of delight to find on the page some inimicable thing, a particular passion, and if the writer is dead, it is delightful and sad to meet a sensibility that will not pass this way again. The shock of recognition runs through this anthology. As much as possible I have tried to choose those stories in which a writer is most himself. A writer has many selves, of course, and an editor has many and mixed criteria – some of them urgent, as I have described, and some more easy. The selection is from writers who were born in the 20th century (cheating a little for Elizabeth Bowen, who was born in 1899); I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary.

Audio books are on the upswing in the UK as reported by the Independent:

According to the most recent sales figures from the Publishers Association, downloads of audio books grew by 72 per cent between 2008 and 2009. Sales of talking books on CD, cassette and DVD also grew to an annual £22.4m, according to the sales monitoring company Nielsen BookScan.

It all began very differently. Exactly 75 years ago today, audio books were first produced as a public service for soldiers blinded in the First World War. The Talking Books Service, an audio library run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, was launched in 1935, when Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was recorded on to LPs and distributed to users, along with a large record player. Modern technology – particularly MP3 players – and a growing roster of high-profile narrators, have given the format a dramatic boost.

From the WaPo: Textbook rental programs offer no relief to rising textbook prices (WaPo):

In the end, students will decide how they get their textbooks - and they have an ever-expanding galaxy of choices. They can buy them new, shrink-wrapped at campus stores. They can search online for discounted used copies at numerous websites like or They can download them to their computers or rent them - from their campus bookstore, from online websites and even the publishers themselves. Two of the largest bookstore operators, Barnes & Noble and Follett Higher Education Group, have spent millions to build their own Internet rental portals in the face of competition from websites, stocking up on inventory and developing tracking software. Yet for all of the innovation from digital media and the Internet, prices are still set by publishers, who market directly to faculty. Faculty, in turn, decide titles for study, often without considering cover prices. That means students are still paying hundreds of dollars each semester.

For entertainment value alone the controversy over Cooks Source lifting a blogger's article was enough to keep your attention and to get an idea cast your eye over their facebook page to see how the internets are taking to it. Far afield the Sydney Morning Herald takes a bash at explaining it (SMH):

That's what Cooks Source was relying on. The New England-based bottom feeder lifted Gaudio's piece, gave it a few tweaks, and reprinted it as new copy without attribution. Exactly the same sin of plagiarism for which Helen Darville/Demidenko was finally run out of publishing about 10 years ago.

When Gaudio discovered the theft –for that's what it was, not inadvertent borrowing, or sub editing error, her work was stolen– she contacted the editor of Cooks Source, Judith Griggs, asking for a correction and an apology. As a show of good faith, just to prove she wasn't some sort of egomaniac greed head, she asked the magazine to make a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism rather than to pay her.

Some of you will already be aware of what happened next. Griggs sent a frankly amazing e-mail, full of legal errors, claiming the Internet to be entirely public domain, a place where copyright did not apply, and told the freelancer she should be happy the magazine didn't lift the entire article before putting somebodyelse's name on it. In a deliciously droll passage which was either completely clueless, or shaded with cartoon villainy, the Cooks Source editor informed Gaudio that this was standard practice online and happens "clearly more than you are aware of".

From the twitter (@personanondata) this week:

British Library hints at videogame archiving plan Grand Theft Cataloging..

JSTOR and Serials Solutions Partner to Enhance Discoverability of Resources Nov. 4, 2010

Online Learning Is Growing on Campus - Bricks and Mortar a thing of the past?

Times's paywall figures don't add up to a new business model

And in sports, Jenson Button is welcomed to Sao Paulo (Independent)

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