Daily Office:


Matins: At last! Jason Epstein’s dream of books-on-demand will be getting a serious try-out, using the Espresso Book Machine (made by a company that Mr Epstein founded), in Manchester Center, Vermont. You must watch the video! (via Arts Journal)

Lauds: Architect Michael Sorkin appraises Manhattan as a pedestrian town, and tries to think of buildings to suit.

Prime: More about Chris Anderson’s Free: from Mr Anderson himself, at The Long Tail; and, in not so loyal opposition, from Choire Sicha, at The Awl and from Brian, at Survival of the Book. A new digital divide?

Tierce: A star is born: Lisa Maria Falcone, formerly a person with money (and, more formerly, a person with no money), seeks a place in Gotham’s philanthropic firmament. A Cinderella story — adjusted for real time.

Sext: We don’t know whether to laugh or to shudder at this Sixty Minutes segment about fMRI mind-reading.

Nones: In futures trading on Iraqi stability, China gains access and standing in the petroleum business — aided by the American Senate.

Vespers: Watch that Tweet! In case you don’t “follow” Alice Hoffman — provoked, over the weekend. by an unfavorable review of her new novel, The Story Sisters, into an authorial “meltdown” — you can real all about it at Salon. (via Arts Journal)

Compline: The always thoughtful Richard Crary considers Michael Jackson, at The Existence Machine.

So I find myself listening to songs I’ve known forever for really the first time, in my own time, paying attention to stuff I’ve taken for granted. And the main thing I’m struck by is the evident rage and pain in Michael’s vocals.


§ Matins. All we can say is, what has taken so long? We distinctly recall seeing an illustration of the Espresso Book Machine in The New York Review of Books, but we can’t find it online; at any rate, Mr Epstein broached the idea at least nine years ago.

Technology never was the issue (although we certainly hope that these machines prove to be sturdy: they’ve got a lot of moving parts.) The issue is creating a large-enough pool of available titles for the process to be economically viable.

Northshire wanted the new machine to connect the store’s customers to millions of book titles. That part of the business has developed slowly, as On Demand Books works to develop partnerships with publishers. Morrow expects millions of books to be available by the end of the year.

In its first year, Northshire’s book machine printed dozens of original books by customers, including memoirs, autobiographies, poetry collections, and cookbooks, usually producing from 30 to 50 copies of each. The bookstore also published a young adult novel written by a local 12-year-old and a previously out-of-print guide to Manchester.

Meanwhile, Northshire discovered that the machine’s ability to print original books in very small numbers was attracting a lively customer base of local authors. “Self-publishing was a plus we didn’t expect,’’ said Annette Rodefeld, Northshire’s print-on-demand coordinator.

The publication of local memoirs isn’t exactly what one hand in mind, but perhaps it’s the best way to initiate the business practices of publishing on demand. At least the bookstore staff will become familiar with Lurch’s quirks.

§ Lauds. Some people will undoubtedly feel that Mr Sorkin looks at New York through the wrong end of the telescope, but we’re in accord.

We now need to start with the image of a desirable city and then imagine the transportation technologies that might produce it. Only neighborhoods and communities structured to eliminate the need to move long distances at high speeds will wean us from our automobile addiction. My book, like Jane Jacobs’s great The Death and Life of Great American Cities, imagines a city based on bodies and basic principles of affinity.

Jacobs was a tireless activist, and small-scale initiatives and community solidarity are both important. Neighborhoods and localities must be empowered; we need to leverage cooperation in tractable and inventive ways. This is something I try to do with Terreform, my nonprofit organization—to raise expectations, to show what the possibilities are, and to help give expression to dreams and desires that find difficulty reaching the mainstream. As I say in the book, the future of the city lies not in the superposition of the next great idea but in the careful articulation and expression of many fresh and familiar differences.

§ Prime. Chris Anderson, like Esther Dyson and others before him, seems to regard writing as a service that people provide out of social decency, much like warning someone to get out of the way of a bus. You don’t expect to be paid for doing such things.

Ken is, by day, a civil engineer working on the BART extension in the SF Bay Area. But by night he is an amazing community manager. His leadership skills impressed me so much that I turned GeekDad over to him entirely about a year ago. Since then he’s recruited a team of volunteers who have grown the traffic ten-fold, to a million page views a month.

So here’s the calculus:

  • Wired.com makes good money selling ads on GeekDad (it’s very popular with advertisers)
  • Ken gets a nominal retainer, but has also managed to parlay GeekDad into a book deal and a lifelong dream of being a writer
  • The other contributors largely write for free, although if one of their posts becomes insanely popular they’ll get a few bucks. None of them are doing it for the money, but instead for the fun, audience and satisfaction of writing about something they love and getting read by a lot of people.

But as Alex Balk points out, this is fairly feudal.

What he is proposing is down somewhere, on the scale of ethics, well beneath Wal-Mart’s policies of no longer hiring any full-time workers so as to avoid health and unemployment insurance. It is in fact some weird sort of neo-feudal, post-contract-worker society, in which he will create a dystopian and eager volunteer-slave system of “attention-paid” enthusiasts (which is to say, people with no other options, and no capital of their own) to create products from which rich people can get richer.

We do agree that the Anderson model is “worse than Wal-Mart.” We also share Brian’s concern about carelessness in digital environments. Because they can be manipulated and corrected quickly, they are approached with an urgency that some would call “bold,” others, “rash.”

In addition, I feel this error, occurring in a rush to get a book into production, serves to remind us of how easy it is for errors to occur when we’re all doing everything online and expecting it all to be done so much faster because of technology. Yes you can reach people easier and yes you can edit quicker without shipping manuscripts and yes you can fix errors later than ever. But it is important for those in publishing to remember to catch details, and that can mean slowing down in this manic hyperdigital world and READING what you’re PUBLISHING. 

If nothing else, this debate will force writers (especially writers who are serious thinkers) to make a better case for what they do. It’s time, I think, for writers to stop moaning about the implosion of the Gutenberg Galaxy and to argue that what they do is vital. And a lot more complicated than warning someone to get out of the way of a bus.

§ Tierce. Ms Falcone’s husband, Philip, made a lot of money a couple of years ago, betting that the subprime mortgage market would collapse. So, you see? Not everyone was wiped out.

This unscripted, somewhat messy moment may go down in the annals of cultural philanthropy as the debut of a major new donor on the New York scene. Although the Falcones have given money before to the High Line and other organizations, they have usually done it less conspicuously. But little by little Ms. Falcone — along with her husband, No. 296 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires — is stepping into the spotlight, beginning the transition from one wealthy patron among many to the kind of highly visible player sought after by the city’s leading arts organizations.

§ Sext. We were set to dismiss the report as simplistic and credulous. But it seems likely that fMRI could be used right now to determine — among other things — desires and aversions.

§ Nones. Oil flows back into Iraqi life.

Iraq’s oil fields were nationalized under Saddam Hussein and were closed to foreigners for decades. The industry’s infrastructure crumbled under international sanctions imposed in the early 1990’s. The Bush administration had planned for Iraq to finance its post-invasion rebirth with oil revenues, but that idea failed in the face of technical problems and sabotage.

There were no bids on Tuesday for the undeveloped Mansuriya gas field in violence-prone Diyala Province. A group led by ConocoPhillips bid for the Bai Hassan oil field in Kirkuk Province, but Mr. Shahristani said the offer did not meet the ministry’s minimum bid requirements. With companies refusing to come down to the Iraqi government’s maximum remuneration fees, there were no deals on the West Qurna, Missan, Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Zubair oil fields, nor on the Akkas natural gas field.

Last week, Sinopec, China’s refining giant, offered $7.22 billion to buy Addax Petroleum, a Swiss-Canadian company with operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and in West Africa. If Addax’s shareholders and Canadian regulators approve the deal, which Addax’s board is recommending, it would be China’s largest overseas energy acquisition.

The Iraqi government originally tried last year to award oil fields to Western companies through a no-bid process. That prompted objections from a group of United States senators, who wanted greater transparency, and the plan was replaced with the auction, which had the effect of letting Chinese companies play a much larger role.

§ Vespers. You have to wonder how long it’s going to take for a dedicated Tweeter to appear, perhaps with voice recognition software that translates your words into leetspeak, thus allowing you to dictate Shakespearean tirades in 140 characters or fewer.

Meanwhile, guess what they’re doing over at E!…

§ Compline. The bottom line about Michael Jackson’s fame still seems to be the magnifying effect of repeated exposure on broadcast television, which we can now conceive of as a single product in three colorways. Mr Crary ends by quoting Steven Shaviro.

It used to be that you could accuse somebody (as Marcus liked to accuse black artists) of being a bourgeois sellout; but today, everyone without exception is a “bourgeois sellout,” because (in the age of “human capital” and self-entrepreneurship) being such is a minimum requirement for mere survival. Today, this is a structural condition of social existence, rather than a matter of personal integrity or choice.

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