Free eBooks Revive Classics

January 3, 2010

AxisPortals has always been a bookworm.  She loves the smell of libraries and bookstores (and always did, long before the latter began to be redolent not only of paper and ink but also of lattes and biscotti). She considers books the perfect marker for any occasion, whether of celebration or of mourning. She may someday forgive her mother (also rumored to have cleared the old homestead of an impressive stash of baseball cards) for giving away her carefully preserved collection of favorite childhood tomes, but it isn’t likely.

Kihachiro Kawamoto of Shiba Productions created a set of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale books with inset lenticular illustrations on their covers, and gorgeously photographed, beautifully detailed scenes within. AxisPortals used to own several of the books (including Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and The Tin Soldier), in this now highly collectible set.

She is not much of a cook, but collects vintage cookbooks, nonetheless, poring over their mysterious measurements (a #5 can apparently translates into about  7 1/3 cups of the ingredient in question),  and approaching their illustrations as an Egyptologist might approach a dig in an ancient tomb.   Could an Egyptian queen’s cursed gems glint any more seductively than those perfectly molded aspics of bygone days?  AxisPortals doubts it.

In short, AxisPortals digs books.  Anyone could rightly accuse her–her webby, technogeeky ways notwithstanding–of being a thoroughgoing bibliophile.

What, then, could be more appealing than the ability to carry, access, read, and annotate hundreds of books all contained in one slim volume like this?

What could be better? Not much!

The Pros and Cons

of eBooks for Bibliophiles

Will eBooks ultimately replace old-fashioned texts?  Maybe, but a true bibliophile will still always love holding a rectangular block of paper, print, and binding.  For the bookish faithful eBooks do involve some drawbacks:

  1. Crispness and, depending on the reader, color of illustrations are sacrificed.
  2. Since most readers display only a single page at a time, one must turn the page twice as often.  Time spent with one’s reader of choice mitigates this effect somewhat, but it can be a bit jarring at first for the long-established and thus unconscious and reflexive act of page-turning to come zooming back into the realm of the conscious and effortful.   Those who typically read quickly might feel slowed uncomfortably down.  The trick is to figure out which page turning gesture (button or screen swipe) yields the fastest turn, and then to stick with that until the motion becomes relatively natural.
  3. An eReader delivers texts, but it can’t deliver books.  An electronic reader will satisfy the voracious reader’s yearning for text, but those who love the heft and history of books will likely see their readers as a way to complement and extend their libraries, not a way to replace them.

Unexpected Gift:

Collecting the Classics

On the other hand, this modern and rapidly evolving technology actually offers the certified (or certifiable) book lover a  perhaps unexpected gift:  the possibility of reviving interest in and readership of the classics. AxisPortals has owned her black leather clad Sony eReader for a very short time–just over a week.   In that time, she has purchased one book (Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia), downloaded several free relatively contemporary books from online bookstores, and grabbed dozens of free classic texts, including:

  1. The Complete Little Women/Little Men Series by Louisa May Alcott
  2. All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories
  3. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions
  4. Several collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories,  along with his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  5. Two volumes of Robert Frost’s poetry.
  6. A Bible.
  7. Four Charles Dickens novels and one collection of Christmas short stories.
  8. Three of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels and one collection of related short stories
  9. P.G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves
  10. The autobiographies of Charles Darwin and Frederick Douglass
  11. A volume of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales
  12. Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
  13. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  14. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I have never read, and never owned, though it is often cited as the greatest novel)
  15. Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.

And I’m just getting started.  This eReader has AxisPortals feeling particularly acquisitive.  What’s the allure?  Without a reader, it would be virtually impossible  for any one person of ordinary means to have so many classic texts constantly at her finger tips.  In the world of bound volumes, heartrending choices must be made:  what can I afford, which books are most important to own, how should the limited shelf space be alloted?  Plus, the constant influx of new publications complicates things.  To purchase War and Peace, though one might, alas, never complete it, or to acquire the latest best seller, or complete one’s collection of a favorite author’s works?  Tough choices, all.

Of course, the public library is also an option (and many of them do make eBooks available, as well), but it’s one thing to borrow a book for a week or two, and quite another to own one, which makes it constantly accessible in a way that enables deep literacy.  What did Twain’s Eve say of fire?  “Fire is beautiful; some day it will be useful, I think.”   That is precisely how AxisPortals feels about the ability to tap so readily into to a collection of classics:  it’s warming, it’s beautiful, and it’s useful.    How wonderful it would be, for instance, to make not only a single novel available to a class full of students, but also to make available the many related texts that would help them understand it. And how wonderful for any writer to dip, at will, into such a rich source of models, allusions, and historical connections.

The Sony Reader Store is fully integrated with Google Books (which can, of course, also be accessed on any computer), so that certainly promotes interest in free classics  among those who use the Sony Reader, but there are other sources of free classics, as well, notably  including ePubBooks. Because new books, even in their e-versions, are expensive,  AxisPortals is hopeful that even those who might more naturally gravitate to the latest thriller, romance, or vampire novel (I’m fond of the Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison versions of vampire worlds) will be tempted to fill their “digital editions” folders with free, literacy enriching classics, as well.

It’s fun and exciting to realize that very latest in eBook technology promises to  revive interest in and readership of the old, the vintage, the classic.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The future of the book is

intimately tied to its past.

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The Small Business: Bridging the Digital Divide

April 21, 2009

As we have seen, small businesses too often miss opportunities to make good use of websites and other aspects of online presence. Robert Scoble notes that this is an area in which the leading tech bloggers have failed to offer much leadership, and AxisPortals agrees.  There are many blogs devoted to things such as  

But often this advice is aimed at early adopters and current enthusiasts of technology, not at those who are just beginning to explore these spheres.

Only 44% of small businesses have a website.

Where to begin?  With the very basics.  Here are some initial suggestions for small business owners who want to begin bridging the digital divide:

  1. Secure a Domain Name:  If you haven’t already purchased a domain name to match your company, do so immediately.  Because the internet is now a quite a crowded space, your first choice will not always be available.  Use a tool such as Register.com  to search for available names and variations. Choose something relatively brief, descriptive, and easy to remember.  Then, make sure that you fully own and control the name.  This may seem obvious, but AxisPortals has too often worked with business and organizations whose domains were owned and controlled by a former employee or a long-since disappeared web designer. Owning and controlling your own domain name is key.  Keep your ownership current, and your user name and password secure.  Do not pass this responsibility off to an employee or a web designer without ensuring that he or she is putting everything in the company’s name, and without insisting that you can access the account.  
  2. Launch Your Initial Website in a Timely Fashion:  It does take some time to design a good website, but it does not and should not take months and months.  Select a competent designer; provide the designer with key content about your products, services, location, personnel, vision, and goals; review and revise an initial draft or two, and then publish.  For the vast majority of small local businesses, this is not a process that should take months and months of painstaking review and effort.  Review a list of some of the basic qualities of a good website, get those items checked off in a timely manner, and then put your website where it belongs:  online where clients and colleagues can access it, not on the drawing board, where it serves no one.
  3. Continuously Revise and Update Your Site:  Keep in mind that print publication and web publication are entirely different creatures. Once the process of revising a print publication is over, it heads to press, and then distribution can begin.  Not so with a website or any online presence.  Online, texts evolve, and content is constantly refreshed and regenerated.  Move online quickly, then, and make updating and maintenance priorities.  Unless you a) have an internal employee who is very talented in this arena and b) can afford to allow this person to devote a good portion of his or her time to working with your online presence, consider outsourcing this funtion.  It will be most cost-effective for you in the long-run if your web design company also provides ongoing maintenance services, as well.  That way, the integrity of your design will not be compromised by necessary updates.
  4. Track and Analyze User Statistics:     Make sure that your designand maintenace company also provides feedback about your users: How many people are visiting your site?  How often?  Which sections do they most frequently visit?  Which portions of various pages do they click through on?  How loyal are your visitors?  Where are they located?  How do they find your site?  Gather and evaluate this information on a regular basis, and revise your site accordingly to optimize the user experience.
  5. Don’t Mistake the Chassis for What’s Under the Hood: A website is a lot like a car.  We all drive cars.  We know how to get from point A to point B inthem. We know how to keep them fueled, and we know we need to service them regularly to keep them in tip-top running condition.  Most of us, though, aren’t experts on what’s beneath the hood.  Just so with a website.  A very nice lookingcar-red, sporty, and fast looking–might be a perfect lemon beneath the surface,  and this can also be true of a website.  Keep in mind, then, that while looks are important, they aren’t everything. Your website should both look good and fulfill it’s basic purpose, which is to allow users to locate you, learn something about you, and contact you.   Just as you test drive a car, you should test drive your website, approaching it as a user would.  Once the site is up, head to Google and put yourself in the role of a customer or colleague who is looking for you. Then, test the site itself.  How easy is it to navigate?  Do all the features load?  Do all forms and interactive elements work flawlessly? Does the site not only look good but also function well in a variety of browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome)?  Ask a few trusted colleagues to test drive the site on their computers as well, and to offer you feedback.  Then, bring your questions and concerns to your design and maintenance team, and make sure that they are quickly addressed.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Now is always the best time for a small business to begin bridging the digital divide.

Next Time:  Adding interactive features and social networking elements to your site.


Technology and Education: Kaplan Ad

January 19, 2009

This terrific new Kaplan spot beautifully captures the deep changes technology is bringing to higher education.

AxisPortals Aphorism Question:  Is it time?


Tech History and Nostalgia

January 19, 2009

AxisPortals has been collecting computer history artifacts on YouTube, this morning, and has run that playlist into a widget on the AxisPortals site.   The nostalgic aspect is fun, but this is also a good reminder of how rapidly things evolve in this sphere, and of how important it is to be comfortable and confident enough about technology to go with the flow of change.  Now more than ever, it’s crucial to have general technological aptitude and understading as opposed to narrow expertise.

 AxisPortals Axiom:  Aptitude determines altitude.


The Delicacy of Balance

January 2, 2009

 “Balance“, Wolfgang and Christoph Lauenstein’s Academy Award winning animated short, is one of AxisPortals’ favorite animated films, and it’s a good one to ponder in January.

After all, balance is a perpetual problem, isn’t it?  We constantly strive to balance the professional and the personal.  When we’re working, we worry that we should be spending more time with our families, and vice versa.  Technology makes the balance both easier and much harder to strike.  If we’re with our loved ones, but constantly checking our Blackberries and iPhones to ensure that we haven’t missed a single professional communication, then are we really focused on our families at all?  It’s perfectly possible to be physically present at a meeting, but totally absorbed in texting our teens about their crises of the moment, or to be physically present at home but so totally connected to our workplace technologies that we might as well not be there at all.

AxisPortals loves “Balance” for perfectly capturing the intricacy and delicacy of any balancing act that involves others (as most balancing acts do), and for suggesting the price we must pay when we attempt to put ourselves (our needs, interests, and passions) too much at the center of things. 

AxisPortals Aphorism One (Courtesy of Confuscious):  Balance is the perfect state of still water. Let that be our model. It remains quiet within and is not disturbed on the surface.

AxisPortals Aphorism Two:  Being thrown off balance is an essential and inescapable aspect of cooperative relationships.

AxisPortals Aphorism Three:  Balance is a Delicate Dance


Technology in 2009: Resolution Schmesolution

December 29, 2008

 

Try not to be deadly serious about all things technological.  Play, as noted earlier, is the best way to learn.  Besides, play is fun, and people who are always up to their eyeballs in making smart technological decisions really need some healthy play to keep their lives in balance.

AxisPortals realizes that some folks just can’t stand not having a real goal or task, though, so here’s the “resolution schmesolution” assigment:  make a Wordle

axiswordle2

A wordle can actually be a very good brainstorming and planning tool, as well, so this is play with a purpose.  No guilt allowed.  Besides, if you’re the competitive sort, you’ll not want to be the only one left in the whole wide world who hasn’t yet created at least one wordle. 

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Play is its own reward.

 


Technology in 2009: Resolution Number 3

December 29, 2008

Take advantage of free online opportunities to learn, and to share what you’ve learned with others.  CommonCraft’s series of “In Plain English” videos are a particularly terrific example of granular, just-in-time learning in action.  The videos are clear, clever, and brief.  They make learning  both accessible and fun.  Here’s one example.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Click and learn

Lifelong learning is literally at your fingertips!