Sunday, April 26, 2009


First one out of the gate...

...a starred review in Kirkus!


The Hottest Book in Charing Cross

I've long been convinced -- see my Village Voice piece from a few years back -- that the eventual maturing of in-store Print on Demand technology could spell the end for chain stores in their current form. Chains rely on an insane system of return credits to wallpaper their stores on everyone else's nickel; take away the need for returns or for massive retail spaces with huge physical inventories, and you pretty much take away the chain's reason to exist.

Although it hasn't been covered nearly as much as the new Kindle, the unveiling of the Espresso 2.0 Book Machine at the London Book Fair sounds like a big step. The bugs haven't been worked out, but an account in the Times of London this weekend sounds intriguing:

Yesterday The Times was offered a special preview at Blackwell's in Charing Cross Road, in which we were allowed to print the book of our choice and take it away, literally hot off the presses. How hot? Well, the glue used to bind the book is heated to 350F, that's how hot. It has cooled down by the time it pops out at the end, though.

Our first attempt to print a book was not entirely successful. The Times's choice - from a rather limited list, the full catalogue not being available until next week - was a 1919 volume called Heroes of Aviation.... Thor Sigvaldason, co-founder of On Demand Books, the people behind the machine, clicked a mouse and it started making whirry, photocopier-like noises. Laser-printed pages started flying out from the first half of the machine into the second, where the book is made. It was clamped, glued, stuck to the cover, cut to size and spewed out of a letterbox-sized slot in the side of the machine - where it promptly fell apart.

“Things do happen,” said Mr Sigvaldason, phlegmatically. “It is actually perfectly bound. It just doesn't have a cover.”

Another attempt and, after 13 minutes - rather slow, but then there was a pause to empty the wastepaper box - a perfect, warm and rather industrial-smelling copy of Heroes of Aviation was in my hands, mint-fresh and looking just like a real book. Which it was.


Bull Market

The banjo music is a nice touch:

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The DJ of 1830

Today's Guardian reports a pretty nifty find at the Bodleian: the first known dust jacket.

A librarian at Oxford's Bodleian Library has unearthed the earliest-known book dust jacket. Dating from 1830, the jacket wrapped a silk-covered gift book, Friendship's Offering. Unlike today's dust jackets, wrappers of the early 19th century were used to enfold the book completely, like a parcel. Traces of sealing wax where the paper was secured can still be seen on the Bodleian's discovery...

"These books were like gift books, often bound very nicely and probably in silk," said Clive Hurst, the Bodleian's head of rare books and printed ephemera. "Silk bindings are very vulnerable to wear and tear and handling so bookselllers would keep them in these wrappers to protect the silk binding underneath. When you bought the book you would take the wrapper off and put it on your shelves, which is presumably why so few of these covers have survived."
Taking a quick trawl through reviews and ads for Friendship's Offering reveals something curious: none mention the wrapper, including this one from New Monthly Magazine that does make a point of praising other "novelties" in its binding and contents. If the wrapper was not considered a novelty even in 1830, I can only wonder whether there may be an even older one out there, still waiting to found...


Party of One

I'm in Cookie magazine with an article on hosting autistic kids at birthday parties.

Speaking of such things, Science Daily and Time magazine (of all people) seem to be among the few media outlets covering a fascinating development: a theory about why fever seems to temporarily lessen autism's symptoms.

Like other parents with autistic kids, I've noticed this effect for years -- even before I knew Morgan had autism. (There's a scene in Sixpence House where an 18-month old Morgan suddenly becomes uncharacteristically pliant and demonstrative. Turns out it's a fever.) I wouldn't say that Morgan stops being autistic when he gets a fever, but he's noticeably more engaged. The most startling thing is that he makes far more eye contact, something so out of character for him that in at least one case, it alerted me to his fever before a hand to his forehead did.

Here's why, according to this new study:

The brain region that drew the attention of the authors is known as the locus coeruleus, a small knot of neurons located in the brain stem. Not a lot of high-order processing goes on so deep in the brain's basement, but the locus coeruleus does govern the release of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, which is critical in triggering arousal or alarm, as in the famed fight-or-flight response. Arousal also plays a role in our ability to pay attention — you can't deal with the lion trying to eat you, after all, if you don't focus on it first. And attention, in turn, plays a critical role in such complex functions as responding to environmental cues and smoothly switching your concentration from one task to another. Those are abilities kids with autism lack...

The locus coeruleus does one other thing too: it regulates fever.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Busy, Busy, Busy

I'm giving three talks this week, all open to the public:

University of Washington (Bothell)
"Writing For Their Lives"
Thursday April 23th @ 3:30 pm
Library room 205

University of Washington (Seattle)
"Writing Technology: Uncommon Histories"
with Erik Davis & Joe Milutis
Thursday April 23th @ 7 pm
Communications 226

Pacific University (Forest Grove, OR)
"From Sherlock to Sheldon: Explaining Autism in Movies and TV"
Saturday April 25th @ 5 pm
Taylor Meade Performing Arts Center

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Victorian Gamers Get Wired

The Illustrated London News for 12 April 1845 depicts the first online match in Britain

I'm in this week's New Scientist to talk about the Victorian fad for chess by telegraph... and just about everything else by telegraph...

After the first Newnes [transatlantic chess] match, the British humorous magazine Punch published what it claimed was an interview with a London telegraph office's new "sport by wire" manager: "We cable over to the Associated Press full particulars of our imaginary [soccer] kickoff... [they] wire back their return kick with name, age, weight and address of the kicker... There's our Ladies' Inter-Varsity Stay-at-Home Hockey Contest... That's the river editor, hard at work in that armchair, rowing against Yale by cable... But I must ask you to excuse me now, as I have a billiard tournament, a yacht race and a cricket match with all Australia to manage simultaneously."

Punch's satire wasn't so wide of the mark. A number of North American cities began to stage telegraphed intercity bowling tournaments, with one in 1911 pitting New York, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Seattle against each other simultaneously. The telegraph was rather less practical for other games. Telegraphed billiards matches used a gridded table that enabled players to cable the positions of the balls, but the system proved frustratingly slow - though not as slow as previous attempts at billiards by mail.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Mr. J.D.

Once again a journalist turns up at J.D. Salinger's house, and once again gets turned away.

In Japan -- not being in easy driving distance of Cornish, NH -- they must turn to Blankey Jet City's song "Salinger," with its chorus: "Mister J.D. Salinger / Tell me why / Tell me why / Tell me why, Salinger..."

Saturday, April 04, 2009


Not All Newspapers Are Hurting for Money

...especially when it's worthless.

(via Daily Dish)

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