Sunday, May 31, 2009


Coffee and Cigarettes

One unexpected Wayback Machine trip produced by Google Books: it appears that all of New York magazine is available in full text, something that produces such charming finds as this pre-Starbucks cover story from June 27, 1977:

The results? Well, back in those days, you had to go to Zabar's or Macy's for good coffee:

Which you'd presumably follow up -- it being 1977 -- with a cigarette:



Little House on the Amazon

Galley Cat notes speculation on a patent filed by Amazon for a small building design. (The patent's here...) The Street weighs in with that claim that "If, indeed, Amazon were to embark on retail locations, analysts think it would only spell disaster. "

Well, maybe it depends on what you mean by a "retail location." It's true that you'd have to be bonkers to build a bricks and mortar bookstore these days. That means that either Amazon is bonkers, or... It's not a bricks and mortar bookstore.

Along with some good guesses at TechFlash (including a reprise/hangover of Amazon Fresh), I'll venture one that hasn't been raised yet: that this is not an outdoors structure at all, but rather a kiosk for rail stations and airport concourses. Specifically, it's for renting out Kindles.

Right now Amazon's the only place to get a Kindle, meaning that there's no in-store way to "try before you buy." Once Amazon's pretty well scooped up early adopters from their own customer base, they've got to start hitting John Q Public. The easiest place to do that is in railways and airports filled with travelers ready to spend on books and magazines for their trip. Why not spend the same money, plus a modest deposit off the credit card, on a preloaded rental Kindle?

And, of course, if you get hooked on the Kindle during your flight... why, they'd also be happy to sell you one as well. It's a way for Amazon to expand their reach into a natural market, all while keeping a tight rein on overhead by keeping clear of big-box retailers and other middlemen.

While Amazon's Terms of Service prevents owners from renting out Kindles, it doesn't prevent the company from doing it. (In fact, digging around reveals that they did indeed try a Kindle student rental pilot program last year.) And if they're doing a fresh load-up of the books and mags with each rental, the publishers won't care either.

We'll see. But if you notice a bunch of workers building stuff by that transfixingly awful magician mural in SeaTac, don't say you weren't warned...

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Science Coverage Explained

From PhD Comics, via The Stranger:

Sunday, May 24, 2009


"Not Even Wrong" Hits the Stage

S'true! "Wild Boy" is debuting this week at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California -- it's a stage adaptation of "Not Even Wrong" by Ugly Betty and Lipstick Jungle executive producer Oliver Goldstick.

There are now stage versions of a "Paul," "Jennifer," "Morgan" and "Uncle Marc" ... something I find both flattering and totally surreal.

Oliver first encountered the book during some down time on the Ugly Betty set, and actually flew up to meet us -- in fact, I took him to the house in the Hawthorne where the events of the book took place, and then headed over to the Pied Cow, where he laid out a series of index cards wrestling with a plot -- and I realized just how extraordinary it was that he was taking an absurdly discursive memoir with a nonverbal lead and actually turning it into a recognizable story.

Shows start this Friday, and run through July...


Flying Purple People Tweaker

In the Guardian coverage of the Hay Festival, nature author and forager John Lewis Stemper warns from experience that if you eat the wrong mushrooms from the English countryside, you become simultaneously heavy and light, and then everything turns purple.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Tape Oddity

After my Believer piece a couple years ago on the Birotron -- a 1970s analog sampling keyboard constructed from 8-track tapes (!) -- I heard from a documentary maker who wanted to find inventor Dave Biro for the documentary she was making about the Mellotron.

The Mellotron, for non-gearheads, is basically what the Birotron was meant to replace -- check out the awesomely L7 demo video above. It was analog sampler intended for home cocktail parties. But the instrument was instantly hijacked by rock musicians -- check out the strings in "Space Oddity" -- or Paul McCartney in Abbey Road Studio 2 demonstrating "Strawberry Fields" on his:

Anyway, now the Mellodrama documentary is making the festival rounds. Check it out!:

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Recreated Victorian Village for Sale

From the Guardian:

The entire collection of the Shambles, a museum of Victorian life recreated as a small town on an acre of land, has been split into 2,300 lots and is up for grabs.... From the taxidermist's shop, a pair of stuffed guinea pigs (guide price £10-£15) has piqued the interest of collectors, and a very battered, stringless double bass that Jenner-Fust had wanted thrown away has attracted a surprising number of inquiries. Very collectible items that are bound to do well include a vast array of stoneware, enamel signs and metal tractor seats, which turn out to be surprisingly desirable.

Inexplicably, they don't link to the auction itself -- it's here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


We Inspire Complete Coincidences

Amazon, last seen on Slate not answering questions about corporate philanthropy, now has a new web page up -- complete with an application form for "nonprofit author and publisher groups that share our obsession with fostering the creation, discussion, publication, and dissemination of books."

(Hat tip to Dizzyhead Ed!)

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Penguin Geeks Are Go!

The Guardian's books blog finds a wonderful website on old Penguin sci-fi covers.


Headline of the Week goes to...

"Hat for Hitting People."

Though I think Malcolm McDowell established the correct hat for hitting people as the bowler.

Sunday, May 03, 2009



New Scientist turns up a new patent for rapid infrared scanning over at Google Books:
...Bindings cause pages to arch up either side of the spine - bending text and making it hard to interpret. However, last week Google was granted a patent (US 7508978) on an answer to this problem. Its trick is to project an infrared pattern onto the open page spread. This lets a pair of infrared cameras map the three-dimensional shape of the pages by detecting distortion to the pattern. This in turn allows the distortion of the text to be determined - and therefore the degree of correction needed to read it accurately.
Meanwhile, the patent for the infrared Flashing Earring Heartbeat Monitor goes tragically unused:


Somewhere There's a Town with More Rain Than Portland...

...and that town's name is Carrbridge:

The sun may be out, but storm clouds are gathering over the tiny Highland community of Carrbridge. For come rain or shine, the BBC's weather forecast invariably predicts showers, infuriating the village's 700 residents.

Now they have declared war on the corporation...

Saturday, May 02, 2009



Len Deighton's Action Cook Book -- the long-lost 1965 gem by (yes) the airport-novel writer, which I pressed upon the public a few years ago in the Village Voice and on NPR -- has been reissued!

Well, reissued in Britain, but still. Pay airmail and make yourself a terrine:

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