28 April 2011

First Thoughts on iPad + Ebooks

Work bought me a new 64gb iPad 2 (wi-fi only). Not really a bonus for finishing my dissertation, but it feels that way. Impressions? Like everyone says, it's just a big iPhone. If you are used to the iPhone/iTouch, it won't wow you. But it will still fill you with a slow, fizzy elation, if only from the undeniable fact that you are holding the future of reading in your hands.

This fact really hit me when I downloaded a copy of Wired magazine for the iPad. It incorporates innovative navigation and formatting, audio, video, and other rich content in a seamless and compelling way. You read a book review and then just hit a button to download a chapter from the book. A film review will have a stills gallery and trailer, etc. It sounds (duh) like the Web, but the tablet format and touch navigation make it much more compelling experience. It really is comparable to reading a book, but a super-book.

It's way beyond the Kindle. When Tani the Kindle User first saw my iPad, she had zero interest. Ten seconds into browsing Wired, she said, "Oh, I have to get one of these." The future of glossies, clearly, will be on color tablets.

The future of ebooks more generally will be on both color and e-ink tablets, it seems. E-ink readers will soon be cheap as chips, though already, even the Nook Color is just $250. And now that I am actually using a tablet, I confess that my love of analog books is a bit diminished. The ergonomics of tablet reading are great, I'm used to reading on screen (anymore, who isn't?), and the convenience is surprisingly compelling. It's increasing the amount of discretionary reading I do, which I would never have expected. (That may just be Shiny New Toy Syndrome. Time will tell.)

Yet another surprise: I'm seriously reconsidering the future of my physical book collection. I have a whole wall of my large study taken up with books I never read. Many I have never read once. I have hundreds more at work, in boxes, on other bookshelves, etc. A certain subset I own as a collector, and that segment I expect both to keep and to grow. But all those crumbling Baen and Del Rey paperbacks? As physical objects they give me little pleasure, and space is at a premium. Why keep them? Nostalgic commitment to print, even among print lovers, is evaporating before our eyes.

This is why we are using a very, very precious empty staff position
at my institute to hire a digital publishing specialist. We're rapidly
reaching the tipping point where if your publications are not pushed to
portable devices, you are severely limiting your readership. I've been asked to take a point position on the hire. This should be interesting.

27 April 2011

Out with a Whimper

Somehow I thought the completion of my PhD program would end with more fanfare. Meh. So it ends.

    Dear __________, Congratulations. Your submission, 10195 has cleared all of the necessary checks and will soon be delivered to ProQuest/UMI for publishing. Regards, Mary Elwood

26 April 2011

Penguin Group Starts New "Writing Community"

Just saw this in a NYTimes article.* Writers have been forming collectives themselves for ages, but now a major press is doing it for them. For Penguin, clearly it is intended to be a low-cost bush league. Why spend the money to work through slush piles and coach developing writers when you can get others to do it for you?

*Tip of the day: If you run of out monthly free views for the New York Times, just start up an anonymous session on your Web browser. An anonymous session clears your cookie cache and resets your view counter.

25 April 2011

To Reality Check or Not?

I know Fweem is looking at a PhD program. I also speak at least a few times a year with undergrads looking that direction. Employment prospects for humanities PhDs are dismal, and graduate professors brazenly spout lies about the academic vocation.

But do aspiring grad students really want to know the ugly truth?

Yes, just doing a little more post-PhD reflection . . .

04 April 2011


I passed the oral defense of my dissertation today. That means I'm all but done with my PhD. Afterward, they called me "doctor." They even gave me a little card that says so. Cake was cut, champagne served. It felt surreal. I was exhausted. I just wanted to leave, call my family, and then crash in my hotel. Which is what I did.

I'm forty-three. I've been in school almost my whole life. I've spent about nine years just working (or, ahem, not working) on my dissertation, in some form or another. I don't mind the time so much, but the stress? There are no words. There have been times where I literally felt like I was slipping into cardiac arrest. Today, waiting to go into my orals, was one of them. Really, there are no words.

It took too long, the cost was too high, the grief too great, to celebrate this as an accomplishment. At least right now. I don't want to walk at graduation, and won't. I don't care about the diploma. I'm not happy, or relieved. I'm numb. Numb. I just want to be with my family, and really, really relax, and start to discover what life looks like post-PhD.