Tao of News

The future of TV news will be decided on Sunday

On Sunday, July 11, 2010, the future of
television news will be decided in South Africa.


As billions watch the Netherlands and
Spain play for the FIFA World Cup, a few tens of thousands will be
watching that all important match in 3D actually “stereoscopic
3D” (the official term, you’ll hear a lot from now on, as well as

The experts are already saying that the
main electronic item this Christmas will be the dual capacity 2D and
3D HDTV set, so the consumer can watch 3D broadcasts (with glasses
for now) from cable, satellite or off air, and switch to standard 2D
for the rest of the program schedule.


Three-D is coming
faster than anyone expected. The experts, those who are already
shooting 3D, say technical requirements of 3D will demand a highly
professional approach that, done properly and skillfully, will
return the photographic profession to the standards of the film era.

In May, I attended
the HotDocs conference in Toronto.

There were two
sessions on emerging 3D, one focused on production, the second on
technical issues.

I walked into the
first session, “Crafting 3D,” expecting to hear about megabuck
high tech equipment and a future years away, only to find out that
the future is now.

It began with the
release of James Cameron’s Avatar in London on Dec. 10, 2009. The
next phase of evolution began on June 11, 2010 when the first games
of the FIFA World Cup opened in South Africa. Twenty-five of the
games were to be broadcast in “stereoscopic 3D” using Sony
cameras, the $100,000 HDC-1500 and the new $30,000 P1, plus the
backend software required to put it all together. The 3D games will
be broadcast by EPSN’s, Sky’s new 3D networks and Al Jazeera.
(There’s a summary in this report from Broadcasting and Cable )

The final game will
also be broadcast in Canada in 3D by the CBC which has the Canadian
rights for the World Cup. Unfortunately the CBC (once long ago a
leader in technology) was, under its current management, late to
announce they would broadcast the 3D game -and my usually reliable
sources in the Toronto Broadcast Centre that it was pressure from the
Rogers cable company which is also one of the sponsors of the
broadcasts that forced CBC Sports into the 21st century,

The buzz was out
there for 3D coverage long before the first whistle of the World Cup.
Three-D sets were already in sports bars and sports pubs (the
Masters was broadcast in 3D) and according to the members of the
second, tech panel, “Stereoscopic 3D from script to screen” what
fans were seeing in UK sports pubs in May was already driving
consumer demand for the sets far beyond anything Avatar could have
done. It was that panel that predicted that the biggest electronic
item this Christmas will be a dual capacity 3D/2D HDTV monitor. The
standard HDTV set is already obsolete.

This week,
newspapers around the world are full of ads for 3D sets. (But one
has to wonder if the bean counting corporate publishers are paying
any attention beyond the revenue from those ads.)

The networks around
the world are keeping a close eye on the World Cup and there are
already demands for 3D content as the world telecoms put together 3D
offerings on satellite and cable. (This is also going to be a huge
headache for network bean counters who, just a couple of years ago,
spent hundreds of millions implementing HDTV, only to find that
investment has be made all over again with 3D).

There are already
shoulder mounted 3D cameras, about the size of the first heavy video
cameras or a large, professional 16mm film rig.

At “Script to
Screen” I asked the panel when there would be news crews using 3D
cameras. The consensus answer was “‘within two years.” Discovery
already plans a 3D channel
for nature and science programming,
which was also the first first attractive market for HDTV. 

The consensus of
the panel was that like HDTV, the first efforts in 3D by news
organizations will be high-end, prestige documentaries, then the
current affairs programs and finally the evening newscasts. The
panel said that there were rumours in the 3D community that 3D
planning by CNN was already well underway.

140-walleesk.jpgPanasonic is
expected to launch a smaller, lighter 3D camera costing $21,000 this
autumn, a camera that reminds one of the movie robot Wall-E.

At the
recent Profusion trade show in Toronto, both Sony and Panasonic had
3D displays. The Sony display was a mind blower, a large 3D HDTV
with a video of fish in an aquarium, quality that came close to
Avatar. Panasonic had a prototype camera that did not impress the
tech savvy crowd, whether it was the technology or the sales tech staff that set it up. The glasses didn’t work well and there were ghost
images on the screen. (But it is likely those bugs will be worked out
by the official launch)

The electronics business wants  a consumer-friendly 3D market ( amateurs and family
shooters are now an estimated at 90 per cent of the photo and video
market) and wants those photographers to shoot 3D, and already have
announced low end 3D equipment. But the experts on that panel said
that shooting 3D so that it creates an environment that draws in the
viewer–and doesn’t make them sick or trigger a headache–will
require high skill levels to shoot.

In others words it
could be a return to the film era. There were millions of amateur
photographers during the film era, but in 95% of cases, the
professional was paid for the professional product.

141-Panasonic_3d_camerask.jpgProfessional photographers and
videographers have been facing the future with
fear and loathing for the past few years as the value of their work
has declined in competition with the prosumer and amateurs whose work
is easily available for a just a dollar or more often for free.

By Christmas, 2010,
that too will begin to change. The best present for those who want
to create visually and earn a decent living, is that a blue alien and
the beautiful game will revive and reinvigorate professional

The professional
will have to master parallax, depth cues, stereoscopic depth
perception and depth resolution, interocular distance, depth
placement, convergence, orthostereoscopy and the audience’s 3D
comfort zone. (All beyond the scope of this blog).

So whether you are
cheering for the Netherlands or Spain, give a couple of cheers for
the 3D crews as well. Because if it works, it’s a whole new ball


Panasonic introduces 3D  videocamera.


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Link farm April 20 – Apple takes Fiore’s cartoon app – and other news

Nieman Journalism Lab

Apple approves Pulitzer winner’s iPhone app; cartoonist
now free to mock the powerful on cell phones

The media business (Robert Picard blog);  Search for alternative media business models hampered by narrow thinking

Journalism 2.0    NPR executing the ultimate distribution strategy

Columbia Journalism Review Robot journalism and the future of digital media

David Brooks New York Times  Riders on the storm
Does the internet undermine the commons. New study says no.

The study:
Ideological segregation online and offline,  by Matthew Gentzkow and Jessie Shapiro

EFF  Facebook reduces your control over personal information

Steve Berlin Johnson  Old growth media and the future of news

Link farm April 19, 2010 – More on Apple and I was pirated

Ken Auletta in the New Yorker

Publish or perish.
Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book

From the Cloud Four Blog

Apple’s Policy on Satire: 16 Apps Rejected for “Ridiculing Public Figures”

From my personal blog Robin’s Weir

I’ve been pirated!
Chinese book pirates print a copy of my book Researching on the Internet

Link farm April 18, 2010 – more on the Apple controversy

Key links for April 18, 2010
More on the Apple control and censorship controversy
National Public Radio, All Tech Considered
Apple Acting Like An Old-Time, Broadcast Network?

From John Battelle’s Searchblog

Apple, the media and temptation

It’s so tempting.

The news media is in deep financial trouble, especially in the United States, where the economy is still weak.

Now comes a promising savior, a popular device that once again might mean that the public pays for news media content. It’s called the iPad, and it’s made by Apple.

So tempting.

Ironic that in popular mythic culture in the west, it is the apple that is the symbol of the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Apple is tempting the media.

As the King James version of the Bible says “The serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field…”

Genesis says of the tree of knowledge, and poor Eve, who is blamed once she “saw that the tree was…pleasant to the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise…..

The iPad is a knowledge device. The iPad is pleasing to the eyes and perhaps the iPad can make one wise.

There’s a catch.

Put your content on the iPad and you cede control of your content to Apple.

The castle gatekeeper

It is Dan Gillmor on Mediaactive and Jack Shafer in Slate who both warn that the there are bigger issues involved,

Apple’s aim to  control the draw bridge, the castle gate and the castle towers.

Shafer in his article warns Apple wants to own you.Welcome to our velvet prison say  the boys and girls from Cupertino.

Shafer follows the controversy from its beginning and says:

it’s easy to see that Apple’s rules are more about blunting competitors and creating a prudish atmosphere guaranteed to offend nobody than they are about throttling viruses and improving the user experience. I don’t think Apple should be enjoined from imposing its dictatorial edicts about what can and can’t run on iPhones, as long as consumers know the score going in.

But do they know the complete score? With the release of the iPad, Apple has hastened its censoring, competition-blocking ways. Even though the iPad doesn’t connect to the telephone system, Apple is still insisting on locking the device down as though it were an iPhone: No third-party apps can run on it unless they’re approved by Apple.
Apple wants to play gatekeeper so it can establish itself as toll-taker.

Dan Gillmor first warned about Apple’s plans in February with:

Why journalism organizations should reconsider their crush on Apple’s ipad

In his most recent post, Gillmor says:

Fiore’s iPad rejection harbinger of a bigger story

I asked the Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — following up on a February posting when I asked why news organizations were running into the arms of a control-freakish company — to respond to a simple question: Can Apple unilaterally disable their iPad apps if Apple decides, for any reason, that it doesn’t like the content they’re distributing? Apple has done this with many other companies’ apps and holds absolute power over what appears and doesn’t appear via its app system.
Who responded? No one. Not even a “No comment.” This is disappointing if (sadly) unsurprising…

Apple reconsiders

Neiman Labs which first broke the story that Apple was refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to produce an cartoon syndication app now says the company is reconsidering, as Laura McGann reports:

After our story ran, Fiore got a call from Apple — four months after receiving a rejection email — inviting him to resubmit his NewsToons app. Fiore says he resubmitted it this morning. We’ll keep you posted on what happens. If history is a guide, though, this is likely to be good news for Fiore. Tom Richmond’s Bobble Rep app was initially rejected, then approved after a firestorm of online criticism. Daryl Cagle went through something similar last year.

Pulling up the drawbridge


Social media advocates have likened the news media to a castle and say that the rise of  user generated content and citizen journalism is opening the gates, as Charlie Beckett  said in his  Polis blog, on June 19, 2009  (Polis is a joint journalism project with the London School of Economics and the London College of Communications)

  …most media fortresses are opening up. They have lowered the draw‑bridge. They have invited the local peasantry inside and some of the brave editorial knights are learning about life outside of the castle.

Now with the iPad, the gates are guarded, may even close.

Shafer says in Slate, paraphrasing Frédéric Filloux

Filloux, who writes for Monday Note, agree that what Apple wants is to replace the commodity-distribution channel that is the Web and replace it with an Apple-owned distribution channel for applications, music, movies, books, and anything else that can travel down a wire or through the ether…..

Apple isn’t the only behemoth bullying its way in the marketplace. Filloux identifies Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo as companies seeking to replace (or augment) the commodified Web with something more proprietary and lucrative. Apple is just the most conspicuous in its efforts.

Castles, historians will tell you, are not defensive, they are an offensive weapon, aimed at control, whether it was the Welsh borders or the heights overlooking the war scarred Middle East.

So the social peasantry are invited in, as long as they pay the toll, behave and pay fealty to the baron.


Signing away your company’s soul to Apple  may not be a bad deal for the current crop of mostly aging oligarchs who pretend to manage the news media today, gathering huge salaries and bonuses while the business is dying from a thousand cuts. After all for those managers, especially those who came from the corporate world with no experience or respect for the traditions of news media independence, it’s just another corporate deal.

Dealing with Apple to get on the iPad and the iPhone,  the way Apple wants, full control, is like someone who renovates a building and one by one takes out the support beams and load bearing walls.

For the news media, the  load bearing wall of the building is credibility and the news media’s credibility is now at an all time low, despite the efforts of  the thousands of men and women in  news to do the best job they can.  There are many reasons for the decline in credibility.   Part of the problem is that many of  more conservative readers and viewers just don’t want to believe in the world as it exists, they long for a past era and call reporting of today “bias.”  Part of the problem comes from the pressure from news consultants and  the managers who hire those consultants  to concentrate just on  sensational “wow and now” content. Part of the problem is that the news media is generally seen as failing in his public duty (even though definitions of public duty differ) by bowing to government or corporate interests.

The debate over Apple’s control is currently confined to those who are concerned about the future of the news media.   There is a parallel debate among software developers who are chafing at Apple’s strict controls over code.

If the media accede to Apple’s control, then very soon will come a tipping point.  Apple will arbitrarily block or censor some item  of content, probably not realizing the significance of that content.

That censorship will be revealed by a blogger or by rival media and from that moment on the public will no longer trust the (at least the news) content on an Apple device.

That is the day the  Credibility Building collapses into a pile of bricks and stone, the day the castle itself collapses.


Update: Censoring the dictionary

A reader sent me this link, showing how absurd the Apple censorship has become.
From engadget   Apple’s new low, censoring a dictionary  refusing to allow Ninjawords to be an app unless “objectionable words” were removed.

“We were rejected for objectionable content. They provided screenshots
of the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ showing up in our dictionary’s search

Joshua Topolsky of engadget comments: “it’s making the company that asked everyone to “Think Different” look like a company that can’t think at all.”

Let that be a warning not only to the news media but all book publishers out there.
The news media may not want to quote a soldier swearing in combat in Afghanistan.
Apple will object. 

If you want to make sure that your book gets published on the iPad, make the characters all 1920s style clean-cut, all Americans, who never say a nasty word  That is if you can find such a book these days. 

Make  the book sure it is acceptable to someone who has never left Cupertino even if  it  is set outside the walls of windy Troy or on a blasted heath or in a game keeper’s cottage, among the naked and the dead in the south Pacific or even on  the Klingon homeworld.

Link farm April 16, 2010 – the collapse of complex systems

Key links for April 16.

The collapse of complex systems

Adam Westbrook
The future of news belongs to those who….kiss
(Keep it Simple Stupid)

Adam bases his post on idea from Clay Shirky comparing the news media to ancient empires.  “They collapsed because they got too big, too complex and couldn’t adapt
to a new world.”

Shirky’s post

The collapse of complex business models

The idea must be in the air,  Niall Ferguson has a similar essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs

Complexity and Collapse, Empires on the edge of chaos

Note. Teaser paragraphs only on the FA site, you must subscribe to the magazine, pay for the PDF or buy the issue on the newsstands

I also recommend Google’s horseless carriage by  Quentin Hardy, in Forbes

“Writing was always about reaching out to other people, usually to affect
them in some way with information. Online collaboration does that
faster and more efficiently, speeding the back-and-forth of improving
the work. “.

Apple censors hit Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons. Who’s next?


Nieman Labs reports this morning that the Apple app censors are refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to syndicate his work on iPhone and iPad apps because editorial cartoons”ridicule public figures”

Complete Nieman Lab report

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

We’re now seeing our creative freedom further diminished by the computer industry.

First Google  engineers are killing good, creative writing by demanding that text copy fit into their search engine parameters (at least that’s what the more spineless media managers demand….smarter media organizations encourage good writing but make sure the keywords are there so Google can find a story).

Now Apple, which may soon may be a powerhouse with iPad, has arrogated to itself  (through corporate arrogance and caution and probably also at the behest of corporate lawyers and image makers) the right to censor the content on their devices.

This isn’t just a censorship issue. It is another case like the Google books controversy of an large American company imposing U.S. law and U.S. corporate custom on the rest of the world.

Now it appears that Apple believes that lowest common denominator of American culture will apply to the rest of the planet, that is if  the world wants to use  iPhones or an iPads.

So just how is Apple going to deal with the rest of the world once the iPad is finally released internationally in about six weeks or so?

As Nieman and the blog Gizmodo have reported, Apple is already cracking down on the European custom of  (what is called in the UK)  “page three girls”  Today they censor nipples,  tomorrow editorial content.”

Apple took down Stern’s iPhone app without notice. Stern–a very large
weekly news magazine-
-published a gallery of erotic photos as part of its
editorial content. It wasn’t gratuitous…

The origin of the term “page three girl” is of course Rupert Murdoch’s money maker, the London Sun.
Watch for developments there….

The letter to Fiore, as quoted by Nieman says Apple’s policy is:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of
any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in
Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example,
materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

What would be “defamatory” in Apple’s “reasonable” judgment? Under whose law would something be defamatory? The state of California?  The United States? Canada? Common law or civil law? Or even defamatory in dictatorships where it is illegal to criticize the current great leader?

Investigative journalism is almost always vetted by lawyers working for a news organization. A good lawyer knows how to protect the news reporter or producer while ensuring that the story, often vital to the public interest, is published or broadcast within the legal framework of that country’s media. 

So imagine this,  there was an iPad  on June 13 ,1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers about how the United States made mistake after mistake in Vietnam.
The Washington Post soon got its copy of the papers and published. The Nixon administration tried to get an injunction stopping publication but failed when the U.S. Supreme Court  ruled that the attempt for an injunction was unconstitutional prior restraint under the U.S. constitution.

In a democracy, government prior restraint can be contained by constitutional law.
Given the track record of Apple and other similar corporations, it is likely in that in a similar situation, either out of corporate policy or on the advice of their lawyers, the Pentagon Papers would not have been published by an app controlled by a company such as Apple.

Corporations are not always restrained by constitutional limits on government actions. especially when it comes to censorship.

What Apple is doing is as if Goss, the giant maker of printing presses, or  a pulp and paper company that supplied newsprint to a newspaper decided that they had the right to control the content of that paper.

Corporate PR is now  corporate prior restraint, at least as far as data, web and app delivery is concerned.


Columbia Journalism Review now warns the media to be aware of Apple.
It’s Time for the Press to Push Back Against Apple
The writer of the piece, Ryan Chittum says:

And this is a good excuse to more closely scrutinize the market
influence that Apple, now the third largest corporation in America,
behind Exxon and Microsoft, is gaining on markets, including software

Other key links from the CJR story

Dan Gillmour in Mediaactive Complicating Relationships in Media: Apple, NY Times Dealings Raise Questions


an early warning from Wired by Brian X. Chen in Gadget Lab

IPad Apps could put Apple in charge of news

The iPad is an evolutionary link, leading to a new species, a hypo-active computer

    I got to play with an iPad during a business lunch yesterday.  I have to say that I was impressed. I’m still not going to run out and buy one–at least not right away.
    The iPad is a step on the evolution toward a new, simpler, less active,  species of computer system, one that follows the axiom of Keep It Simple Stupid. 
    Call it hypo-active computing (as opposed to today’s hyperactive over-featured systems)
    A hypo-active computer tablet can do what computers once promised to do, make life simpler.
    The hypo-active tablet will be the death blow to newspapers printed on paper.   Whether “newspapers” will die with the newsprint or whether there will be a renaissance will depend on how today’s corporate management adapt to a new world. (I’m not optimistic. If news media corporate management still don’t “get” the web, they’re certainly not going to understand tablet computing)
    It’s also an open question whether the iPad and Apple will survive  and win the evolutionary race as the new species of hypo-active tablet emerges.
    The iPad is not yet available north of the border, although lots of people lined up in Buffalo and Bellingham to get one last week.    My luncheon companion had a friend send an iPad up from the United States.
    (Apple has just announced it’s delaying the international launch of the iPad  due to high consumer demand in the United States. The Canadian iPad launch was originally rumoured to be about 10 days from now. )
    As a photographer, I fell in love with the Guardian’s photo of the day app. Crisp, gorgeous resolution and colour. 
    I checked out the teaser edition of the New York Times (a few top stories). But for the Times to work it should have a couple of more teaser editions, one for sports fans and one for the arts.
    I reread part of the Winnie the Pooh that Apple bundles with the iPad.  The colour illustrations appear much better than faded editions on a printed page.
    Google maps in satellite mode are much better than on my current home monitor.
    Those critics of the iPad who wanted a laptop with camera and phone are caught in old-style, hyperactive computer mode, although there will likely be a hyperactive version of the iPad offered to those users.
    I can see myself reading the morning news on a tablet device of some type, rather than leafing through the morning paper (and ignoring the hyperactive morning news shows on TV) .
    I would like to get my photography magazines on a tablet. Wouldn’t take up so much space in my office and might spare a few trees.
    As a hiker, I would love a GPS-enabled tablet device with not just Google maps and satellite image but full  topographic map capability (perhaps tied into those satellite images). The iPad is about the size and shape, and just a little heavier, than a plastic map case.  It would need a robust housing, but unlike maps (unless they’re  plasticized) it won’t dissolve in a heavy rainstorm.  A night and storm proof display system would be a big help. (Today’s hand-held GPS hiking devices are too small and the automobile GPS are not really suited for hiking)
    Yes, I would pay for all three of those applications.

    At this point, it looks like Apple is cramming too much into the iPad to be a true make life simple, hypo-active computer system.
    A good KISS hypo-active computer tablet should have

  •     Lots of memory (Moore’s law applies here, memory capacity will increase)
  •     Good display for text and graphics   
  •     Flexible and powerful connectivity, through Wifi and 3G  and USB.
  •     The ability to operate completely independent of  any wireless or wired communication system.  (In Canadian, terms you can take it to the cottage and read  Harry Potter on the deck overlooking the lake?
  •     Programming apps and features that enhance its simplicity. That means ease of use.  Programmers and software managers must have a Zen-like approach to the hypo-active. Give up your ego. Write simple programs that do basic things (remember the days of MS-DOS programs that did just that?)
  •     The user decides how the hypo-active computer works for them.  That means the person with the hypo-active tablet can read a book bought from any e-book store.   Watch a movie with an external Blu-Ray device plugged in to that USB port.

    A hypo-active tablet computer and higher level hyperactive tablets will mean the death of broadcast television entertainment once you can download and watch your favourite shows directly from the original producer.  
    It will also bring changes in broadcast television news, sports and specials   All the tablet would need would be a built in tuner and a USB HDTV antenna or connection to a mini satellite dish. For sports fans, it means watching the big game anytime, anywhere. 

For news,  it brings more uncertainty. No one could have foretold the changes that cable made to news.  

    If I can venture one prediction, a hypo-active tablet with TV capability will finally bring the end of the hyperactive always breaking breaking news nonsense.   Especially if a viewer has Twitter available on the same tablet, they’re going to know  that “breaking news” story happened five hours earlier.

    (Also might be time to consider selling your cable company stock unless it has other telecommunication arms)

    The key point in the evolution of a popular hypo-active tablet  is price.

     The iPad is too expensive.  With prices starting at $499 US for a Wi-Fi, connection, a 3G version  starting at $629 for the 16-gigabyte version up to $829 for one with 64 gigabytes of storage, the iPad is competing with the work horse, the laptop. Consumers, apart from Apple evangelists and early adopters don’t need both.
    Apple is pricing itself out of the key  market,  teenagers and college students.   Can teenagers and students and young  cubicle workers afford  afford a laptop (and at this point the iPad is not a substitute) plus an iPhone plus an iPod? The digital generation may love Apple products but the iPad, at the moment, may be one device too many.

    There are other rivals coming to the market soon, much cheaper rivals. The Canadian bookstore chain Indigo is pushing the Kobo reader, priced at  $149  (Kobo products are already available for the Blackberry and smart phones). There are reports of a $99 reader later this year.

    If  I can venture a guess, a hypo-active, keep it simple stupid, tablet computer that wins in the marketplace is not going to come from Apple or Amazon.   That computer will come from some small company in Asia: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan or India, where the demand  for cheap hardware is highest. If that company comes up with a hypo-active tablet computer in the $80 to $100 range, one that has ease of use, simple, minimal features but a powerful memory and display system, it will capture the market.

    That form of hypo-active computer will be the winner. It will be a compliment, not a substitute for a laptop or a smart phone.

    Imagine this.   Breakfast time on a weekend.  You get your morning coffee or tea.   You  put your tablet on a little stand and read the morning wires and tweets. Since, it’s the weekend,  you’ve got time, you decide to call up that fancy omlette recipe you always wanted to try, so you take your tablet into the kitchen (something you really wouldn’t want to do with a laptop and your smart phone screen is too small), move your hypo-active tablet into the kitchen counter, call up the recipe and whip up that omlette.  Back at the dining room table, you then read through the feature section of the paper and finally call up a map for your afternoon outing.

    This scenario has been written about by futurists and tech writers for the past 30 years. Perhaps, now, it’s here. Perhaps. We’ll see.

    (Note in a tweet in response to my blog on books and apps, Cody Brown noted: “I wouldn’t imagine an iPad app/book being that different than a video game for the first gameboy-It’s bound to a delivery device.” Smart thinking on a slightly different track than where I’m going, but certainly prescient)

A book is a book, an app is an app

One the smartest  members of  the new generation trying to find their path in an world  where the current news media is in mortal danger is Cody Brown, a 21-year-old student at New York University.

He has posted an very interesting column in TechCrunch, Dear Author Your Next Book should be an App, not an Ibook.

Brown asks:

So much has been said in the past few weeks about how the iPad will change the book industry but in almost all of the tweets, posts, and articles I’ve come across a simple questions seems to be completely dropped. Why do we have books in the first place?

And goes on

If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious‑readers anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.

And concludes

I can say with a lot of confidence that the ‘books’ that come to define my generation will be impossible to print. This is great.

Later in response to comments on  TechCrunch, Cody Brown tweeted

To address a lot of initial comments. I’m suggesting a new medium, not *total displacement* of books. Just registered www.padature.com

Dear Cody:

An app is an app and a book is book.

I’ve published five books and written another five or so that weren’t published (and the first few weren’t publishable).

So here’s the first big question. If the next generation of books become impossible to print, how long will they last?

As many critics of  the iPad have asked, how long will the iPad last?  Will your iApp be obsolete in ten years, while the book printed on paper is still read?

I’ve spent this weekend preparing to move from Toronto to British Columbia.

I’ve been dividing my books into three piles.

Some of my research material from my books are going to libraries and archives. Some I’m donating to my sister’s church for a bazaar sale (I have so much to do I can’t be bothered with the used bookstore route).

The third pile has those books I’m keeping.  


The oldest book in my collection was published in 1874, written by American war correspondent Januarius MacGahan, covering the Russian conquest of  central Asia, Campaigning the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva.  (Khiva is an ancient city in what today is Uzbekistan.)

Let’s compare that with news on the web, which often disappears as soon as management changes a sever.

When Wikileaks  this week released the controversial video of the 2007 shooting in Baghdad. I went hunting on the web for another piece of  airborne video, the USAF pilots dropping a bomb on Canadian soldiers in Kandahar on April 18, 2002, now known as the Tarnak Farms incident.

Some years later, probably in 2006, that Kandahar video was leaked to ABC News.  I was one of the CBC news staff assigned to track down the video. (I’ll never forget the USAF spokeswoman who told  me, “Just because it’s been on television doesn’t mean it isn’t classified.”)

The video was eventually released by the USAF (I am not sure when, but probably sometime during the court martial proceedings).  The problem is that if you want to compare the pilot’s attitude over Kandahar with those of the Apache pilots over Baghdad, you can’t.  The video is gone from the web.  The links on both the CBC and CNN sites are dead.  I was unable to find it on the ABC News site (which originally broadcast the video)  and the video is not linked on the Wikipedia page on the Tarnak Farms incident.

Shortly after the Tarnak Farms incident, I produced a multimedia piece for CBC News, a combination of  stills, video and text, on three Iraqi exiles living in Toronto on their thoughts prior to the upcoming US led invasion. That too is gone from the web.


I was always a klutz with a typewriter;  one reason I fell in love with computers.  I wrote my first book, King of the Mob, on an Osborne  1 (double density), with a tiny four inch screen.   The operating system was CP/M and the word processor was Word Star. Both are long gone.

A few years later, I did  convert the manuscript from CP/M Word Star to MS Dos text. The problem is that the manuscript is stored on 5.25 inch floppy disks.  Today’s computers don’t even take the successor, the 3.5 inch floppies.  (My first PC had a “giant” 40 megabyte hard drive. Now the photographs  I take with my DSLR are all greater than 40 mg)

It’s interesting that you are quoting George Orwell.   So I’m  wondering, along with many others, if Steve Jobs is the new Big Brother, with all the controls that Apple is placing on the apps.  Apple seems to want to control not only the  programming language but likely the content as well, as outlined in this New York Times article, Rethinking a Gospel of the Web.
As reported by Mashable, that has sparked a war with Adobe and as one widely quoted blog has reported, raised concerns among multi-platform app developers.

What if Steve Jobs and the Apple staff don’t approve of that app you have spent so much time to create?

If you do all that work, do you want to have to hire an expensive lawyer to make sure that a 200 page digital rights management agreement doesn’t  screw you and leave you with just pennies from that $9.99? Will that Apple DRM  prevent you from porting that app to another system? 

Will that DRM prevent you from taking advantage of some new technology not yet thought of? (After all the big book publishing firms are already trying a rights grab from authors to convert existing material to e-books based on the word “book form” in original contracts. The only people going to profit from that are the lawyers as they argue the meaning of “book form.”)

If you do you all that work, what happens if your project is arbitrarily deleted as Amazon deleted George Orwell’s Animal farm from Kindle (George Orwell again)?  Even worse, what if somehow accidentally your project is deleted from the server (as has happened to me)?  Even if you have backup, it might take days or even weeks to get the app back on the system, if ever.

I agree with your Tweet and your new term “pdature” that some interactive app system is a new medium with a great deal of potential   

But the comments on TechCrunch are right. Is this something that an individual can do?   It’s very time consuming just to research and write book length journalism without having to program an interactive flash map of the character’s movements (Oops. Flash is a no-no for Apple).  Can you do that or will that be something taken over by a gaming company like Electronic Arts?

Will you have the time? Especially if there is no advance or only a small advance for a project like that, especially if it sells for just $9.99 while you’re trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table.

Don’t get me wrong. I want projects like that to succeed and make a lot of money for you, the creator (not just Apple or Electronic Arts).

A book is a book and an app is app.  

In 2074, people will still be able to read MacGahan’s Campaigning the Oxus two hundred years after it was published (especially since it was printed on acid free paper).  I am sure you can produce as brilliant a piece of journalism sometime in your future career. But if it’s an app, and not a book, will people be able to read it in 2074?

best wishes


(P.S. I am looking for a good home for my Osborne, since I don’t want to to take it with me across the continent. Any ideas would be welcome)

Cassandra contemplates the iPad 1.0

It’s  iPad day in the geek world, April 2, 2010, the day that Apple releases the long-awaited iPad.

Cassandra, is worried, but unfortunately no one listens to her. People should listen.

Millions apparently have already rushed online and pre-bought or pre-ordered an iPad 1.0, just as others lined up for Iphones a while ago. Then from my friends with 3G Iphones, especially those in New York, came the tweeted, blogged and voiced complaints about poor connections to wireless networks and poor battery life if you have too many of those delicious, but power-draining apps.

As for myself,  I’m going to wait and see how the iPad actually works.  Whatever happened to the old adage of never buy Version 1.0 of anything?

Just how good is the iPad battery life?

What about predictions that the iPad will overwhelm bandwidth in some parts of the world?

Just how will the public react to news originally from newspapers, wire service or TV on the iPad?

Will the public pay for news on an iPad? Some media outlets say they will charge for material on the Ipad, others say they won’t charge.   That media question alone will keep economics students writing their Phds long after the current crop of iPads is being torn apart by child labour in some developing world hell hole.

I decided that my own media preview of the iPad was in order.


So through sources on Mt. Olympus (I have family connections in that part of Greece) I asked Hermes, god of both messengers and thieves, to use his skills to obtain an iPad from Cupertino and deliver it to Cassandra, the princess from Troy who had great beauty and the gift of true prophecy but was cursed by Apollo (whom she spurned) so that no one would believe her prophecies.

It was Cassandra who warned the Trojans not to bring that wooden horse inside the city walls.

Her first reaction was, “What do I need this for? Since Apollo’s snakes licked my face, I can see all and know all.”

“I can tell you this,” Cassandra told me in an interview from an undisclosed location. “There will be unintended and surprising consequences from this iPad thingy.

“There was a day like this, not long ago, Oct. 13, 1994, when the beta version of Netscape Navigator was released. I said then that this Netscape would change the entire world within days, and no one listened, and Netscape did, the world, until today, has run on browsers.  Now there are iPads. Of course, I warned Netscape there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but did they listen? No.

“Take that all seeing eye, the digital camera.  At first, the digital camera was expensive, and only a few professionals used one. Now millions have digital cameras and it is destroying the world of professional photography– although that world can be rebuilt in time.”

“Some expert last year welcomed the world inside what he called the castle walls of journalism in encouraging ‘user generated content.’     Well the Trojans welcomed that horse, despite my warnings, and we know what happened….

“The city was destroyed?” I asked.

“Oh that too,” Cassandra snorted.  “But can you count just how many bards, poets, writers, artists,  potters,  painters,  historians, archaeologists,  actors, movie makers, TV producers, game designers have been living off that story for the past three thousand years? Not to mention what’s coming up in 2025…..”

“What in 2025?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,  even if I told you.”  .

“So what changes will the iPad bring?”

“Well these ones you will believe because all have happened so many times before.  

“One. The war between the creators of content and the  computer engineers goes on and on just like the wars with the centaurs.  I see no end there. 

“About ten years ago, I appeared in human form at a conference of media executives. I warned them that while they had to spend money on computers, their bards and chroniclers were their most important asset.  Did they believe me? No, they didn’t. Now for every journalist they can out on to the street they have to hire three IT people.   The iPad doesn’t run Flash. That means hiring more IT people to do the same work over and over, while throwing away the people who actually create the content.  But did anyone listen? No.

“Two.  Not all centaurs were bad guys of course, look at Chiron. Some years from now, some kid will find a new and amazing way to use not just the iPad but all the tablets out there.”

“Who, what, where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. But believe me, that kid will be fabulously rich before he’s 28.”

“Three. A lost or misplaced iPad will be the centre of a major world crisis before the year 2020.”

“What will happen?”

“You won’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“How will the iPad change journalism?”

“There will be a new device, after the iPad. It too will come from a geeky kid, in a workshop, somewhere in the developing world. Even my vision cannot see where or when this will happen.

“The browser, the smart phone, the tablet/ipad, no these will remain but this new, new thing, that will be the most profound change of all. The creators will once again be able to earn their coins. But there will be many more creators.

“Can you tell me some details?”

“You wouldn’t believe me…..”

“What do you think of the iPad?”

“The battery run out too soon.  I asked Hermes to return it.”

“Thank you Cassandra.”

“Thank you. There’s one prophecy you can believe. Copy desks around the world are going to hate the spelling i-P-a-d”

“You’re right. Thank you again.”