Friday, April 21, 2017

Google Books reviewed

After the settlement failed, Clancy told me that at Google “there was just this air let out of the balloon.” Despite eventually winning Authors Guild v. Google, and having the courts declare that displaying snippets of copyrighted books was fair use, the company all but shut down its scanning operation.

It was strange to me, the idea that somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It’s like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

James Somers at the Atlantic on Google Books, the whole thing here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

fixing it


What can you say about the movement towards writing in a regional dialect, rather than in Modern Standard Arabic? Is it very common, and has it affected the audience or marketability of the texts in question? What about logistical issues, like accurately representing a spoken dialect in the Arabic alphabet given the presence of non-standard phonemes?

This is such a meaty question! We could do a whole interview on this topic. I'll try to hit some of the highlights.

[Children's literature] is a thorny issue. Some authors want to write picture books in spoken dialect—and some have, like Sonia Nimr—but publishers tend to be very opposed, as they want to be able to sell into multiple markets and submit to prizes. Unfortunately, this even goes for dialogue. I loved Rania Amin's Screams Behind Doors, which won the Etisalat Prize for best YA novel last November, but it felt weird to have these girls speaking to each other in Modern Standard Arabic. Rania told me she'd written the dialogue in Egyptian, but the publisher “fixed” it, worried they couldn't otherwise submit to prizes and suchlike. A bit galling.

Henry Ace Knight interviews Marcia Lynx Qualey, blogger at ArabLit.org ("Arabic literature in English").  The whole interview is terrific, with many new names (to those, anyway, hitherto unfamiliar with ArabLit.org) to follow up.  The rest at Asymptote, here.

allegedly salubrious

Burger’s second novel, Die künstliche Mutter, is significantly more autobiographical than one might suppose, given its fantastic setting. In this glum but sardonic account of a specialist in German Literature and Glaciology, Burger took up the theme of his own psychosomatic affliction, his “genital migraines,” as the protagonist terms them. The book takes place in an otherworldly institution where patients, lying on beds in tunnels carved in a massif, absorbing the heat and moisture, are subjected to a battery of bizarre therapeutic measures. To devise his hero’s elaborate medical history, Burger devoured reams of psychiatric literature and even took a cure himself near Bad Gastein, in Austria, where guests rest in underground caves to enjoy the allegedly salubrious effects of the area’s high radon concentration.

Uwe Schütte (translated by Adrian Nathan West) on Hermann Burger.  This sounds amazing, I thought, and would have wondered why I had never heard of Burger if Schütte had not helpfully explained:

Hermann Burger (Menziken, 1942) is one of the truly great authors of the German language: a writer of consummate control and range, with a singular and haunting worldview. Yet it is not surprising that he fell into obscurity after his death, from an overdose of barbiturates at age forty-six. He shares this fate with many of the most august names from the peripheries of German-language literature who, never managing to escape from the ghetto of Austrian or Swiss publishing, either gave up in exhaustion, or went on writing and were forgotten nonetheless.

I have not yet renewed my membership of the Staatsbibliothek, but perhaps the Gedenkbibliothek will have Burger even if he is only on the periphery of German-language literature.

The whole thing at Asymptote, here.   (HT @timesflow RTing @a_nathanwest)

je n'interviens pas

Rodin, l’exposition du centenaire, dans les galeries nationales du Grand Palais, n’évite pas entièrement l’écueil. Chronologique et thématique, elle constitue sans doute une bonne introduction, un rappel des fondamentaux pour les néophytes. Rigoureuse d’un point de vue académique, pertinente dans sa progression, l’exposition échoue pourtant à recréer la magie qui caractérise l’œuvre rodinienne, ce parfum de scandale et de radicalité. La faute aux lieux, sans doute, ces immenses galeries froides, difficiles à investir quand on est habitué au sublime et intemporel musée Rodin, qui semble pénétré par l’âme de l’artiste.
...
Aucune mention de la réception presque traumatisante de ses premiers chefs-d’œuvre ici exposés, entre incompréhension, malaise et sidération. Ces Bourgeois de Calais qui choquèrent par leurs corps décharnés et misérables, aux antipodes des héros courageux et fiers qu’espéraient ses commanditaires de la municipalité. Ce Balzac qui fit d’abord ricaner, avec sa redingote informe et son aspect massif, presque monstrueux, sans bras ni jambe apparente. Cette Porte de l’Enfer enfin, matrice d’où il tira la plupart des grands motifs de sa carrière à venir, œuvre maudite jamais exposée de son vivant. C’est un Rodin trop propre sur lui, sans porosité, qu’on nous présente ici. Officiel.
Yann Perreau at Les Irrockuptibles on the Rodin centenary exhibition, the whole thing here.


Discussing the Kiefer-Rodin exhibition at the Musée Rodin, Perreau quotes Rodin:

“Je sais pourquoi mes dessins ont cette intensité (…) déclara Rodin avant de mourir. C’est que je n’interviens pas. Entre la nature et le papier, j’ai supprimé le talent. 
My collection of the essays of Rodin is unfortunately in storage in New Jersey.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

get me out of here

For 26-year-old Guillaume, the trade-off is all too easy to understand. In May 2016 he finished his graduate-school training in business law. A few months later, he decided he didn’t want to work in law after all; he wanted to play video games. Guillaume likes adventure games, which allow players to immerse themselves in fantastic and foreign worlds. During his studies, he could only spare a couple of hours each day for his habit. Now he can slip into his video-game worlds for five or six hours at a time. A law career would have meant more money. Yet it would also have meant much more time spent at law.

(Mutatis mutandis, this is the world-view of many writers. Except, did they but know it, they could probably drastically diminish their real-world exposure if they ditched writing and focused on video games.)

Terrific piece in the Economist's 1843 magazine, the whole thing here.

HT @TimHarford

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tim Harford on facts, damned facts

Terrific piece by Tim Harford in the FT on The problem with facts. (So terrific it is terrifyingly tempting to purloin the whole text from the FT.)  Harford talks about the lessons learnt from the response of the tobacco industry to evidence connecting cigarettes with lung cancer, how frequent attempts to discredit a claim unsupported by facts only make it lodge more firmly in the minds of casual onlookers, how the current obsession with bubbles ignores the fact that very few people read serious news (of any ideological tendency) at all. 

A couple of quotes:

OK, an attempt to copy and paste a brief quote has, not unfairly, elicited this response from the FT:

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our T&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights.







It's possible that if I checked out the T&Cs I would find a brief quote was acceptable, but sloth prevails.  The whole thing here.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Truer words

If you want to attract and keep developers, don’t emphasize ping-pong tables, lounges, fire pits and chocolate fountains. Give them private offices or let them work from home, because uninterrupted time to concentrate is the most important and scarcest commodity.

Joel Spolsky on Geekwire.  (Mutatis mutandis...)