Category Archives: reaction

Steve Jobs.

I think John Perry Barlow sums it up:

I’m still in shock, of course. And it’s a very strange feeling; I haven’t used Apple products for very long. I became an Apple user in June 2006. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked and never looked back.

I never knew Steve Jobs and yet I feel incredibly saddened by his death. And honestly, I find this perplexing.

This relationship I had (have?) with Steve is difficult to explain, and I’m sure other Mac users can share this sentiment; I feel so close to him, and yet he’s a stranger. At the end of the day, we will never meet – he will never know my name.

But this reminds me of what’s probably the closest connection I’ll have to Steve Jobs: in 2007, I my laptop died. It was a first generation Macbook I received as a graduation present. I used this laptop for everything – my classes, my illustrations – it was my life. The day my hard drive failed was also the same day the warranty expired. As a college student, I couldn’t afford the AppleCare renewal, so I thought all was for naught, and that I had lost all my work for good (I couldn’t afford an external hard drive then, so none of my work had been saved elsewhere).

So I wrote a desperate email to sjobs [at] apple [dot] com, a much-too-long letter explaining all the issues I had with my Macbook (affectionately named Sam – I don’t know, I was young?), detailing all the problems I had with it over the course of a year, including cracking palmrests, a faulty CD drive, battery failures, and frayed power adapter cords. I couldn’t imagine repurchasing a laptop after a mere year of using one. I wrote,

I know you probably have thousands of other emails to sift through and answer, but I sincerely hope you consider mine to be an honest message. I have nowhere else to turn to, and I believe that you can help me.

He somehow answered mine, indirectly. The next day I received an email from Nicholas Applewhite (not kidding about the name), a member of Apple’s Corporate Executive Relations, with the following message:

Dear Ms. Iris A. Febres,
Thank you for your email to the executive offices of Apple. Your correspondence concerns an issue that we believe would be better handled in a phone conversation.
Unfortunately, no telephone number was provided in your email below. I have summarized the contents of your letter in case number [XYZ]. If you have not yet resolved the issue, please contact me at [number] Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific time, and reference the above case number.
You can also find service and support options to fit your individual needs at the AppleCare Support web site,www.apple.com/support.
Thank you for taking the time to email us.

Long story short, this happened:

New laptop replacement, after this happened:

I think about that exchange now, and seeing “forwarded message” again after a good four years since opening that email that now sits in an ignored mailbox, and I’m left speechless. He obviously cared enough about my user experience – the one belonging to a college student without a dime – to forward the email to the right party, who in turn took care of my problem.

I still feel so perplexed. Using the products Steve Jobs created and spearheaded have been essentially second nature to me. I don’t think about my iPhone or my Macbook like I do my other devices; they’re just there. They are so integral to my day-to-day work, my interactions with my friends and family, my [future] career – essentially, and this may sound dramatic, the fibers of my being – that I can’t help but feel sad about Jobs’ passing.

He was the face of a technology that has helped me develop as an individual – academically, professionally, personally. I owe him a lot. And now he’s gone.

Thank you, Steve. Thank you for forwarding that email to Mr. Applewhite. Thank you for making my college experience richer. Thank you for helping me discover I want to make ebooks, as well as my love of tech. Thank you for changing the world.

Thank you, Steve.

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Reflection & Reaction: The eBook Architects Workshop

My flight back to Boston isn’t until 6 p.m. tonight, so I’m writing this from the eBook Architects office – lovingly known as “where the magic happens.” The eBook production workshop has finally wrapped up, and the Ninjas are back to work. All I can hear is clicking, typing, and Toby going over a project with another Ninja, pointing at two different monitors. Across from my laptop are six different e-readers, including three Kindles. I know exactly where I am.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I prepared for this trip, as I sat on a plane to Austin, as I waited at the baggage claim for the Ninjas to appear from the darkness. I certainly did not expect the overwhelming warmth that came from the professionals I met at this workshop, including the original Ninjas themselves: Toby, Chris, and Joshua.

They picked me up and were all smiles; it was like returning to a group of friends. At the hotel, we all got together at a pre-planned mixer. I had dinner and met most of the attendees. Some came from publishers, others were freelancers, but all were eager to learn about successful eBook production.

The workshop was intense. I learned how to make a Kindle file (and the messiness that endeavor entails), how to create a book with fixed-width (iBooks), a whole mess of work in Regular Expressions and Perl, and what’s coming into play with EPUB 3. I learned about workflows and ways to make them more efficient, along with different tools that can guide ePub creators and help detect issues. I learned everyone has a lot to learn from creating ebooks, and that it’s a collaborative effort. And above all else, I learned that while I may still be a student, and not a professional in a technical sense, I’m not the only one curious, fascinated, and yes, overwhelmed with the affairs of electronic publishing. This is (a) serious business!

I think the best part of the workshop was this: it was amazing to talk to people who loved, lived, and breathed this stuff, this delightful chaos we’re trying to harness for readers all over the world. There is a community within electronic publishing that is growing, and it is full of people who are looking ahead to what can be discovered in this realm of digital content.

This workshop gave me a fantastic opportunity: I learned practical skills to utilize whenever I work within the ePUB format. I learned some good habits to practice during coding. I also networked with accomplished, driven professionals who have been involved with publishing for years, and all of them brought so many approaches to the table. After all, there is no one, perfect way of doing things.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a workshop of this kind, whether it’s hosted by eBook Architects or anyone else, do it. Please, please, please do it. You’ll gain an incredible understanding of not only what makes up the field of electronic publishing, but who. And if you’re anything like me, you’re not going to want to leave. It’s these kinds of opportunities that can give you a boost of confidence for your work – you won’t regret it.

eBooks and Education

So I made a pseudo-cameo in Joshua Tallent and Co.’s eBook Ninjas podcast! I had asked a question about how to prepare to enter the field of ebook conversions – I pretty much inquired about what to read, what to practice, etc. Joshua, Tobias, and Chris were kind enough to share their thoughts and advice. (To hear it, listen to the most recent episode, episode 41, about 10 minutes in. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy when they mentioned me, this blog, and my Twitter account!)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they mentioned two things:

A) The date for the eBook Production Workshop(!) – September 19-21! If you’re interested in learning about eBook conversion and the like, check out this workshop. When I first learned about it, I knew I had to go – despite the $600 price tag. I’ll be booking my flight and hotel stay once more details are announced. I think what’s even cooler about this workshop involves who’ll be attending. I can’t wait to meet these professionals and learn about their work.

B) Near the end of the podcast, Joshua mentioned an interesting topic he and the fellow ninjas wanted to discuss within the next few podcasts: ebooks and education. While I’m mildly interested in the realm of digital textbooks, I’m more concerned about how ebook creation is being taught in schools.

With the number of times I’m asked about my current academic program by strangers and family members alike, I’m starting to feel like a poster child for the electronic publishing track at Emerson. I’m immensely proud of the track and believe it’s a fantastic avenue for students to get into the nitty gritty of online publishing. Emerson has taken an initiative in addressing the shift to digital among publishers; after all, it’s now required for incoming graduate publishing students to take an overview course in electronic publishing in the fall.

I have one year left at Emerson, and so far I’m looking to have taken at least four electronic publishing courses. These include the aforementioned overview, my thesis project (a forthcoming illustrated graphic novel I wrote/drew that I’ll be digitizing for view on the NookColor), a focused course on creating content for the web and e-readers (essentially, basic HTML and EPUB work) and a possible web development course. As a result of the web/e-readers class I took this past spring, I not only know how to create an EPUB file, but I understand how it works and know the limitations it can bring to certain texts.

The New York Times ran a piece about the famed Columbia Publishing Course, an intense program for students to learn the ins and outs of publishing. Inaugurated in Cambridge, Mass. at Radcliffe College, the course allows students to network with editors and learn about the trade; aside from attending lectures, students complete complex projects and proposals and present them to real editors for review.

Now, as ebooks have gained footing, the course has had to address their presence, ensuring its students to have the edge in the shifting industry.

But is the Columbia Publishing course teaching anything about EPUB? As far as I can tell, not really*, according to the second segment of the course, which involves digital media:

During the magazine and digital media workshop, student groups develop proposals for new magazines or Web sites, researching possible audiences, establishing editorial mission statements, designing layouts and wireframes, assessing competitors, determining potential advertisers and developing a Web strategy. By the end of the six weeks, course graduates have a greater understanding of book, magazine and digital media publishing than many people now working in the field. – CPC Course Description

Of course, my view of this course is limited because, hey, I’m not attending it. For all I know, I’m sure the word “epub” has been uttered a few times during a lecture or three. But I’m sure they’re not going into the details Emerson has begun to dig into with its epublishing track. There’s a difference between learning about ebooks and making ebooks.

Now, I don’t want to knock Columbia’s course; after all, I’m sure it’s an amazing opportunity for future publishing professionals. And let’s face it, you can only do so much within a few weeks! But while it’s very nice to gain an understanding of what ebooks are doing in the greater scope of the industry, I don’t think a future editor can genuinely understand what an ebook is until they catch at least a glimpse of how one is produced. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really work if you just read about it. There is a chemistry – a physiology, even – within an ebook, making it tricky to pin and analyze. Coupled with the nature of the ebook’s evolving culture and economy, many can find themselves at a loss to understand how it all fits together.

At Emerson, I’ve been able to learn about ebooks through three lenses: in one, I’m the programmer, dealing with cold code and troubleshooting the issues that plague text when read on a device. In another, I’m the editor examining ebooks as a platform for marketing a product; and thirdly, I’m the reader, trying to understand what I want from my own user experience as I consume books. I think future publishing professionals need to take to a three-pronged view in order fully comprehend what ebooks are doing. Print books aren’t going anywhere, but ebooks are indeed here to stay.

Aside from this, The New York Times article also bothered me because of the dismissive approach it took to Cambridge/Boston in general:

Since it moved to Manhattan, students have been able to plug directly into the industry and mingle with editors at book parties in the evening, a far cry from the cozy isolation of Cambridge.

“Cozy isolation”? Did The New York Times miss a memo about how many publishers are in Boston, including

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Bedford/St. Martin’s
  • Beacon Press
  • Pearson Education (Custom Publishing)
  • MIT Press
  • Candlewick Press
  • Shambhala Publications
  • Cheng & Tsui

and many, many others. Yes, they’re not the Big Six, and they’re not in the middle of the busiest city in the world, but the publishers located in Boston and the greater Massachusetts area offer valid experience and opportunities for students to become involved in work they want to do by supplementing their learning experience with hands-on work. And certainly, when it comes to digital publishing, it  goes way beyond the Big Apple to, well, almost any place with an Internet connection.

I used to believe I had to force myself to live in NYC in order to “make it” in publishing. Based on my experience at Emerson so far, that is no longer the case.

* If any CPC students want to let me know what the program has covered in terms of ebook production, please feel free to comment.

Standards & Amazon

Today’s DBW roundtable discussed standards – more specifically, a bunch of acronyms I need to begin to memorize, including ISTC, ISNI, NISO, IDPF, BISG, and GS1. (My head is spinning.)

An interesting point that I asked and had wonderfully answered by Todd Carpenter of NISO dealt with Amazon’s proprietary standard for its e-reader (.AZW) and how that would influence EPUB3’s development and use. Carpenter responded, essentially, that the value of EPUB stems from its ability to be used in different distribution channels. This in itself is valuable to publishers – you reach more devices through those channels, and in turn, contact larger audiences. Laura Dawson of Firebrand Technologies asserted that Amazon moving to accept EPUB on its devices is not happening anytime soon; Joshua Tallent agrees.

And why would it? This question boggled me because yes, Amazon is doing well without reading EPUB, and conversions from EPUB to .mobi/.azw can still happen through KindleGen. While I in general don’t particularly want a Kindle and don’t see myself using one in the future, the fact that it still doesn’t read EPUB bothers me. It bothers a lot of people because Amazon is ignoring a standard. But should we fault Amazon for ignoring what’s becoming considered a universal standard (as I see it) and creating their own?

This move bothers me as a reader (if I were a Kindle user) because I potentially have fewer options. I am limited to what’s available in the Amazon Marketplace unless I take to converting titles myself.

This move also bothers me as someone looking to become involved in ebook production because, hey, it means more work for me – work that is essentially unnecessary. But I suppose you can argue that work is still going to be there because, lo and behold, every e-reader renders an EPUB file in their own way.

Even though there are more people using the Kindle than other readers, I still think EPUB has the edge. Though the question that still lingers in my head is, who really wants EPUB? I am guessing this audience is somewhat limited (among average readers); I doubt the average Kindle user knows what EPUB even is. Though I could be wrong on both counts!

Courtesy of TeleRead

This makes me want to cringe. Wait, no, I take it back – it make me cringe already. Would it kill someone to hire a copyeditor/any editor? Seriously. I would like to hear Miranda‘s thoughts on the matter.

It’s these little screwups that I think undermines the integrity of ebooks. Print feels more legitimate because it’s on paper – what could possibly have gone wrong? Isn’t it expensive to print things?

Yes, it is, but it looks ten times worse (in my opinion) when there’s a mistake. In an ebook, you fix some code. In the print world, you stop the presses.

I could feel Adin’s tears from here.

On Pottermore, Or: I should have expected that

As a fan of the Harry Potter series, when I first heard of the Pottermore website, my immediate thought was: “Hm. She’s doing more Potter stuff? Why? She doesn’t need the cash…” I was skeptical of the site, but I had no idea as to what it could possibly entail. I had caught a leak about Pottermore being some kind of MMO, which kinda-sorta piqued my interest, but nothing worth getting excited over.

Then, it happened:

NY Times – ‘Harry Potter’ Series to Be Sold as E-Books
Publisher’s Weekly – Pottermore Web Site to Sell E-Books in October
The Bookseller –  Confirmed: J K Rowling to sell Harry Potter e-books exclusively from Pottermore website

Of course. Of courseHarry Potter e-books. The thought of that is absolutely, positively, fantastically magical to me.

While some likely fictional people are unimpressed with the overall idea – this online network/community of new content for readers – the bigger, more important facet of this announcement warrants a lot of attention. E-books, guys! Harry Potter is coming to your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and – dare I say it – iPad! It’s a landmark that’s long overdue. Whether J.K. Rowling or her publisher is to blame, I don’t know. Nor do I care. But I know several thousand (at the very least) did.

What does this mean to publishers? What does this mean to readers?

I think this serves as a signal. With a series as popular and as permanent as Harry Potter turning to digital means in such a profound and personal way, publishers need to re-evaluate what that digital experience means to them in regard to their readers (and e-readers).

This could be the PR magic working on me, but I don’t think the digital medium, whether it be the web or the e-reader, can solely be a medium. It needs to present something else, something that goes beyond print – not just in form, but in content. We get that with many of our books, and I think even children’s books capture it best: an isolated space where content lives and thrives because of the interactivity it offers to young readers.

Yet I look at the stuff on my Nook and merely think “text on screen.” It’s my book, but it’s digital. It’s only another way of presenting the information I want to read. And I know a big part of it has to do with what the material is – obviously a personal reading experience lends itself more to an adventure series than a medical textbook – but are publishers doing what they can to go beyond bringing titles to a screen than just for convenience’ sake, or the chance to go “look at us, we’re digital now”?

That’s why e-readers (both the devices and the human counterpart, like myself) receive so much flack from those traditional foils: “I could never leave my [printed] book. I keep books for the experience of reading.” We haven’t figured out how to genuinely tap into and capture that experience within our devices.

Maybe Harry can help.

Apple doesn’t fall far from fortune

TechCrunch reports that Apple is worth “roughly $301 billion.”

What does that equal? Well, aside from three hundred and one billion dollars USD, it’s the combined (approximate) values of

Dell ($29.3 billion)
Hewlett Packard ($72.8 billion), and
Microsoft ($200.3 billion)

Jeezus. According to TechCrunch, the difference between Apple and Microsoft – you know, that $100 billion – equals Nokia, Netflix, eBay and Research In Motion.

Again: Jeezus. I wish I could picture all that money somewhere. Like in my closet. Or under my bed. Or as my bed.