A 3cmx3cm Apple touchscreen is spotted.
A 3cmx3cm Apple touchscreen is spotted.
Here is an excerpt of my Preface from Dot Chess-The Cricket in Between (2007)- where this topic is touched upon.
I have always wished for a credit rating system in every sport which allows us to recognize contributions of players who may not be in the top 10 or in the ‘medals’ category in an event such as the Olympics.
For instance, athletes who ‘finished’ 5th or 10th in a world event, must not to be seen as those who failed their nation, because not many professionals can ever brag to be in the top 10 or 100 or even 1000 in the world of their specific field. Yet such professionals- doctors, engineers etc- get their due credit in society because their jobs are more ‘necessary’. They can save lives or improve living conditions. Sure, I agree being an engineer myself.
But in my view, deeper down we make our lives worth living because we (should) pursue our interests in our free time- which is typically about sports, art, travel etc. So in effect the quality of our free time depends on the quality of the sportspersons and other creative persons. If we fail to credit sportspersons, then most of them have to quit and do routine jobs which many others might do just as well (as Alexandra has pointed out about women players quitting earlier than men).
Legendary Hockey Player Dhyan Chand- and leader of an invincible Indian hockey team during 1930’s-40’s adviced his son not to play the sport, as he would end up starving. Sports, Chess, and Art in India and elsewhere are filled with such stories- which might make for a great movie but do little for the well being of the discipline.
This debate- whether women’s events and norms must be any different from men’s in chess, (since it is an intellectual sport), are best answered by Alexandra- who is a women’s world champion. There only about 20 women in the top 1000 FIDE rated players. She explains that performance of women in chess is yet to reach standards of men- for various historic/social reasons but most of all people fail to gauge that to concentrate for 3 weeks during an international event, is physically demanding- where men hold the advantage like in most other sports. I guess her viewpoint matters, as she has been through the process and hurdles beyond chess.
Now coming to the credit rating of sportspersons. I can tell you that chess is in fact, is ahead of other sports and society as well. You can be IM or GM or (WGM/WIM) if you are indeed advanced in chess. This gives fans a way to recognize that even to be in a top list of 1000 in the world takes unbelievable effort and sacrifices. Such credits are missing in other sports, where players have made similar sacrifices in their youth but may yet be in the top 100 or lesser.
Next is the gender based issue. If there is a norm few notches lower for women, no problem, the title attributed is also not the same. So there are no qualitative concessions as such- you get a WGM instead of GM. But there is an acknowledgement about the fact that it is a bit more demanding for women to participate and progress- so crediting effort at an intermediary level – which still is like an ivy league achievement, mind you- which make sense.
In fact, in society, the variations of degrees such as PhD or Masters are far far greater. Graduating from Harvard or from another average institution leads to the same title such as MS or Dr. This is a lot more inconsistent than chess, as you cannot get the same title in chess with different effort.
So rather than reduce norms in chess, we need to see how we can learn and apply it to other disciplines. As a chess enthusiast I can easily understand that a WGM also took years of sacrifice and that it is not some diluted attribution. It will be a privilege to ask questions and get tips from a WGM or WIM (I do not think that Alexandra’s twitter followers undermine her tips or podcasts, saying ‘it is only women’s world champ’).
It is easy to write about sports. Figuring out what it takes to be in a list of 1000 who have contributed for decades, is another matter.
18 Oct 2009
5 points that ebook gadgets will need to address to be viable alternatives to print.
A blog debate at nytimes about whether our brains like ebooks, has some excellent views across the history of reading, and if humans were meant to read at all.
For instance, Plato disliked reading because it was apparently a ‘new’ distractive medium. Incidentally, I just bought an audiobook of Plato’s Republic (itunes for $1.99). This is great, as the masterpiece is anyway in a dialogue form.
In ancient India, oral traditions of knowledge were the key (partially because there was no printing technology few thousand years ago, but it was about listening more than writing or reading). Sound permeates the space around and mantras had chandas (a meter of specific syllables per quarter-verse) for rhythmic renditions. In fact, letters and words represent the sound they make. So reading is about speaking sentences to yourself.
However, no one can dispute the value of a printed page, which offers parallel pieces of information. Can be distracting or can be useful as a whole, if it is a chart or a graph.
Ok, the debate is, if electronic publishing such as ebooks (with or without audio visual additions) will be viable alternatives to printed books.
Firstly, there is no reason to believe that print will be totally obsolete- just as drawing and painting are still valid art forms even after photography and film have been around for over 150 years. Now it is digital photography… So a book like a drawing- requires ‘no processing’ or rendering on a device. It just ‘works’ when you flip pages.
Now looking at it from the view of ebooks. Based on current options the readers are not quite there. Most gadgets-kindle or whatever-fall flat. The iPhone versions are crisp, but way to small to be meaningful alternatives to print.
So what enhancements are needed for ebooks to be seen as viable alternatives to print?
1. It should feel like a real book!
Yes, we need at least a tablet of 5×7 inches. Then you need a curvy-curly feel with the look of pages/binding etc. If Apple makes a tablet, they will have focused half their efforts on just this aspect. So comparing a yet-to-be-disclosed tablet vs printed books are not meaningful, because half an Apple can overhaul the current state of (pathetic) ebook renderings. … the test for this will be if a book is open on a tablet and lying on a sofa or desk, would you mistake it for a printed book?
2. Free of Distractions.
Since your book and content are electronic, you have an option to keep looking for different options because of widgets, notifications, and just our ever inquisitive behaviour of looking for updates or doing a cover flow of your virtual library.
But just as they overcame distractions in Plato’s time, they can eventually in this era. The device has to impose a stricter locking metaphor. For instance, many writing tools- such as WriteRoom on the Macs black out the screen- windows and icons- so that you can do nothing else but write. If it is a ebook gadget, such an impostion for reading will be needed. Can be done.
Such distractions are valid, for instance, on the iPod as well. Since you can access all your song albums you might tend to not listen to anything specific properly. But nobody can dispute the fact that an ipod is a viable alternative to CDs or tapes. (Of course the main difference between ipod and ebook analogy is that the way we listen to music- the speakers or earphones have remained the same, so an iPod was instantly accepted as a new technology. This is a matter of point 1, above).
3. Fixing/Flexing Book Sizes?
I can tell you that arriving at the right size for a book is one heck of a major time consuming headache (having printed photographic travel guides, in postcard size and mini-coffee table format). When you print, the sheet sizes of a press have to be fully utilized in order to save costs. This is not much of issue for novels, but for photographic books, you want a large size for impact and for convenience you need a small one (especially in travel).
So the ebook will solve this problem? Not sure!
Scalabilty of content has progressed (for sure) since two decades of desktop publishing. PDF and Postscript were invented exactly for this- to scale shapes and fonts- and to render on screen and print in a consistent manner. Safari on the iPhone displays web content brilliantly with pinch-zoom…. but wait.. is not our point 1 about a feel of the book? If you pinch-zoom-scroll then it is not like a real book!
However, this does not mean that when content does not fit in a tablet or display, you undermine the medium just because of scrolling or zooming.
But this issue of size, is where utmost caution will be needed by designers of ebook gadgets-
a) those books which can fit the display, they need to make sure the zoom options are kept off the interface and users are forced to dig in if they need to zoom, (only it they must). Perhaps revert to normal page size when powered on/off/or launched. When all is exact, let it look real!
b) When the content does not fit display, use an overall containing frame as ‘virtual’ magazine or newspaper. The internal areas can then follow conventional zoom, scroll mouseover etc.
The Times Reader (RSS) by Dustin Macdonald on Mac OS X – does a brilliant job off fitting dynamic content within a look of a newspaper, with headlines and articles flowing into allocated columns. The overall newspaper look is of fixed size, but content flows in, and then details can be viewed (as in RSS summary and full page etc).
I would also love to see what I have mentioned in a earlier blog- to dock an ipod touch into many CPU-less tablets of various sizes
4. Annotation and scribbling as if it is paper.
A lot of avid readers love books because of the ability to mark, highlight and scribble notes on the pages. The digital medium should do this better than print (Preview, the default Mac viewer already does a basic job), and if openURL is adopted then referencing other books in a collection will just take research and referencing to new levels.
Also, for touch based devices the disadvantage of accurate scribbling an annotation has to be addressed! see tweet
5. Text to speech cannot be ignored.
Audio books by real people narrating a story is great. But Text to speech (TTS) has made huge strides. Alex the new voice introduced in Mac OS X Leopard was is an indication of how natural it can be. So listening to text rendered by a computer should not be underestimated. My first podcast on a famous cricket match after Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 was using TTS.
We may be in for an era of listening and reading to go hand in hand. Both are after all sequenced forms of communication. I do it all the time, rather than print. Relaxing my eyes and saving trees as well!
16 Oct 2009
So the buzz is that Android sales (OS for handhelds, from Google) may tip the iPhone by 2012? Sounds like a Mac vs PC debate. Well sort of, but the Mac debuted in 1984, when PCs had already been pushed by IBM with DOS. However, Apple was in the Personal Computing business earlier than the PCs and was already the pioneer to beat. So there is some similarity here, but this time
1. The iPhone is already in by a few years, so developers have invested in this platform. Legacy is what dictates the future more often than creativity (unfortunately), but in this case Apple has both.
2. Buying apps from a store which guarantees one-click download, no silly forms each time you buy something for $0.99 and ensuring -what you pay for you will get for sure. This is what the iPhone App Store has achieved.
This however, does not mean that things cannot change. We live in a world where you cannot predict technological breakthroughs (in price or paradigm).
Now getting to the heart of the debate-
3. iPhone and Apple products are proprietary as have always been. Android is open source based on Java, and will run on various hardwares (like Windows on PCs), whereas the iPhone/Mac OS run on Apple products.
My view about this open/close issue has always been that Apple never lost out to the PC for this fact, but had more to do so with Macs in 1984 were way ahead of their time for most programmers to learn a GUI and event driven model, when all they could do was write print commands on a black screen. 1984, User friendly = developer demanding, and the Mac was always the second choice for those learning computer programming.
However, today Apple has done a brilliant job in making sure that developers get all the resources to learn and build for their platforms. User interfaces and GUI libraries are object oriented with tools/support from all over the web. So there is no reason a developer who wants to do just simple things -like a report or costing for internal use, needs to stay away from a platform which demands sophistication (the DOS printouts were not WYSIWYG, but useful enough to output as rows on a dot-matrix).
Being ‘closed’ will not dictate the future of iPhone, though Android will get market share being licensable to third parties. Personally, I’d care less if Android has more numbers in 2012, as many handheld devices will do many trivial things for which an iPhone or smart PDA will be an overkill.
In fact, this time it may be a win-win for all.
The generic devices running Android are truly open (unlike generic PCs which had a proprietary Windows on top). The world always needs many generic tools which can be tweaked- which Android can be right for. The world also needs nifty gadgets which have everything consistent and designed insanely right. This can only happen when a platform is closed and developers see the same API but things can be fine tuned inside. Apple will deliver that-as proven time and again. 68K-PowerPC-Unix-Intel, yet the Mac is not that different in experience!
4. So the key for Apple is to keep an eye on development ease and productivity- if someone comes out with a radically easier way to code (you never know!) and programmers can build something in minutes instead of days, Apple can adopt/promote it.
Apple had missed the boat with Hypercard in the ’80s (hypertext links in a stack of cards, leading eventually to the web/http) and then with Applescript ’90s (GUI Scripting/Recording has by far been the most productive non-programmers tool- but Quickeys and OneClick were needed!).
ObjectiveC may not hold up too long when Java and Ruby are languages that most programmers talk in. The good news is that they are ahead with Ruby support on the Mac.
Win-win for all? We will need to wait a bit longer. I had the same hope in last year’s blog article
10 Oct 2009
iPodTouch 64Gb has more speed and space than Mac minis and iBooks just few years back… It is slimmer than iPhones, so if docked into tablets, overall thickness will be acceptable.
To begin with Apple will (if) roll out tablets which are monolithic… but it will be really disappointing if we cannot have touch/display devices for various purposes but which use the CPU/Data consistently from one source- your iPod….