Tag Archives: chairman

The Future of Paper

The Observer has an interesting piece on the future of the book. For some the future of the book is electronic:

[Bloomsbury chairman Nigel] Newton is certain that ‘within seven to 10 years, 50 per cent of all book sales will be downloads. When the e-reader emerges as a mass-market item, the shift will be very rapid indeed. It will soon be a dual-format market.’ That prediction makes a lot of sense. E-books will not replace the old format any more than the motorcar replaced the bicycle, or typewriters the pen.

This 50–50 division may occur largely between genre, where electronic books are largely used by reference and technical publishers. Meanwhile to survive the ordinary book trade will turn to

‘on-demand printing’, in which on-demand printers, installed in bookshops and service stations, will enable the reader to access a publisher’s backlist and make a high-speed print-out of a single copy of a book.

Print on demand already exists, of course: Many of the books you order from Amazon are printed in response to orders. But not by the bookseller: that technology has still to come. But I remember how as a bookseller in the early 1980s we dreamed of that world. If smaller bookshops were able to do that they may yet stand a chance against the big guys. Imagine knowing that any bookshop you walk into, however small, could zip off a copy of some obscure, out-of-print tome while you wait? Bookshops would suddenly become more like a Kinkos or a Post Office: A place where anything can be done. (But then again, the technology to do this in music already exists, so why hasn’t HMV and Tower Records made it possible to burn a CD on demand?)

This all said, the book is not dead yet:

There is every reason to want to see the printed word enhanced by something more in tune with current information technology, but until the geeky entrepreneurs of MIT, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the rest can come up with something that looks like a book, feels like a book and behaves like a book, those who handle such items every day, and marvel over the magical integration of print, paper and binding, will probably continue to read and enjoy books much as Caxton and Gutenberg did.

The point really is that the book is not just a sentimental throwback to a happier time, but a superb piece of technology that maximises all those things we digital generation hold dear: great screen and easy to read in poor light conditions, indefinite battery life; light and highly portable; cheap; won’t break in water (just put on heater to dry); easy to navigate through content (just flip pages); nice to hold.

The other point worth making is that e-paper is much more likely to catch on in other areas before it catches on with books. Newspapers, magazines, journals, reports and exhibition flyers are much better suited to this kind of technology, because they need to be read while mobile (the newspaper on the train); they have no emotional hold on the user (a book is usually kept; a magazine is thrown away. The user therefore handles a book better and preserves its condition). Newspapers, getting smaller as our lives get more crowded, are an obvious target for a digital makeover, since we rarely keep them and yet every day fill the same space in our briefcase with an identical replacement.

In the case of flyers and reports, the ability to share and broadcast the content is an important part of the process. E-paper would be great at this, since it would be no harder (or easier, for that matter) than beaming what’s on your e-paper to someone else’s. Indeed, wherever reading is not a solitary activity, e-paper makes sense: bring an agenda into a meeting and fire it around the room by Bluetooth to other attendees (rather than printing out copies and stapling them, or demanding bring their laptops). Instead of walking around exhibitions weighed down with brochures and flyers, attendees could carry around one e-paper and receive blasts from each booth they are interested in.

I don’t think publishers need to worry that much. But elsewhere e-paper is long overdue.

How To Get Infected

What does it take to create a chain of infection? Perhaps just one credible link.

Last night I came back to my computer to see a an IM message from Josh Rowe, an Australian contact who is active in the anti-spam world Down Under. You couldn’t find a more diligent, experienced and responsible person, so when I saw his message —  http://home.earthlink.net/~gallery10/omg.pif lol! see it! u’ll like it — I didn’t think too hard before I clicked on it.

Of course, you know the rest of the story — it was a copy of the WORM_KELVIR.B which propagates via MSN messenger. According to Trend Micro, it attempts to send that message to all online MSN messenger contacts of an affected user:

When the user clicks the given URL, this worm downloads a copy of itself, named OMG.PIF, from the given URL. When this downloaded copy is executed, it downloads another malware file from the Internet, which Trend Micro detects as WORM_SDBOT.AUI.

Luckily the file had been removed by the time I clicked on the link. What intrigued me — and perhaps lulled me — was that I figured that by using Trillian I was immune to these kind of infections.

The other factor: It came from Josh, chairman of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk Mail in Australia and a pillar of Australian tech society (and a very nice guy.) So why shouldn’t I trust the link? Indeed Josh, who was very apologetic, said that he had become infected because he had received the link from someone else he regarded as having impeccable tech credentials.

So, perhaps this is the secret of good viral infection: Get one credible figure infected, and then you’re on the way to getting everyone else infected. A sort of LinkedIn for viruses.

News: Wanted, Dead Or Alive: Virus Writers

 Microsoft is a mite upset, and is offering $500,000 reward to inform on the virus writers responsible for the Blaster and Sobig worms. (In August, if you recall, the Blaster-A worm infected many unprotected home and business computers, attempted to launch a denial of service attack against a critical Microsoft security update website, and, most importantly, mocked Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. The worm exploited a critical security hole in versions of Microsoft Windows. Just days later the Sobig-F worm, which spread on the Windows platform, bombarded email users around the world, clogging up email servers.)
 
Sophos, the anti-virus people, had this to say: “It’s no surprise to hear that they are fed up with this situation and prepared to offer a reward for the capture of these virus writers,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.  “There must be people out there in the computer underground who know who is responsible for the creation of these malicious worms. Offering a total of $500,000 will be a great temptation for someone to break their silence – and do all legitimate users of the Internet a favour.”

News: Is It Me, Or Is SMS Levelling Off?

Seems the UK is still sending lots of SMSs — text messages — to each other. The Mobile Data Association (MDA) today said the total number of chargeable person-to-person text messages sent in the UK in June 2003 averaged 55 million per day, compared to 45 million in June 2002 and 30 million in June 2001. This takes the cumulative total for 2003 to 10 billion, against a 12 month forecast for the year of 20 billion. “Text messaging is continuing to rise in popularity and diversity”, comments Mike Short, chairman of the MDA, not unsurprisingly. But if you look at the graph:

it looks to me as if the whole thing is levelling off. After all, how many text messages can folk send? After all, there are less than 59 million people living in the UK, which means at the moment nearly every person is sending one SMS a day. That can’t be right. My mother hates her cellphone and keeps trying to throw it on the compost. I’m no expert but it looks as if people haven’t really been sending more text messages since last October. If that’s the case, are they going to move to MMS?

Column: search software

Loose Wire — Organize Me: Give us some software that really makes the information age meaningful

 
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 3 April 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Every time I visit a computer shop I get nostalgic for the dotcom boom. In those days people with money were throwing their cash at people with ideas, however silly, with interesting results. Sure, most of the ideas were so dumb they never saw the harsh light of day — or the harsh light of a business model — but at least some new stuff was appearing.

As I gaze over the software shelves nowadays, empty but for yet another minor update of word processors or system utilities and (admittedly rather cool) games, I wonder: What happened to software innovation? Where are all those great promises of what we could do with our computer beyond using it as a glorified typewriter or calculator?

Sure, folks can now do some interesting stuff with video, pictures and music, but is that what the information revolution was all about? I’ve got a tonne of stuff on my computer — letters, novels, memos, Chairman Mao-type thoughts, mortgage calculations — but what good is it if it just sits there, hidden behind arcane file names I’ll never remember, even under threat of torture? I fear the information revolution — at least on a personal level — has come and gone.

This is all very disappointing. I’d love to see our data made accessible for all sorts of imaginative things that make use of the power of our PCs. A program, say, that goes through all your e-mails and tells you, based on some fancy algorithm, how many Christmas cards you should send this year and to whom. A program that looks at your finances and, while you’re shopping for furniture, works out whether you need a second mortgage and finds the best one for you.

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here. That we still can find something more easily on the Internet — or in the attic — than we can on our computer is a depressing reminder of how far we have to go. Indeed, in 1999 a small California start-up called Enfish produced the most revolutionary piece of software I’d seen in years — a search program called Tracker that allowed you to search rapidly and easily through everything on your computer. It was magical in its simplicity, elegant in its design, and suddenly made having a hard disk full of all your stuff a sensible idea.

If you could check in a flash what and when you last wrote to Aunt Edith, all the previous litigious letters to your tenants, the last time your country declared war on another country, life really suddenly could get a lot easier. The index would update itself while you were asleep, so you didn’t have to do anything beyond installing it. You could save complex searches with simple names, so that you could exclude letters about Aunt Edith from nosy Cousin Connie, or include only those that referred to her pet poodle Alfie but not to Phoebe the cat. It was fab. And as with all things fab, it didn’t last (the software, not the cat).

Well, that’s not strictly true. Enfish is still going, doing its best to convince a sceptical public that this kind of thing is actually useful. But in the meantime their subsequent software has never approached the quality of Tracker, which sadly won’t work with Microsoft’s most recent version of Windows XP, and that effectively renders it useless. But at least Enfish is hanging in there: Version six of its software ($100 for the basic product, from www.enfish.com) is released this week and to me it’s the closest the company has got to its old Tracker.

I can only guess why such a great idea hasn’t caught on. There’s no great learning curve involved: Once you’ve explained to users that Enfish is essentially a Google search engine for your computer, there’s not much more to say. Sadly Enfish is not yet a household word. But Enfish does have competition, and perhaps they’ll be more lucky.

One is the Australian company 80-20 Software, which has this month released version 3.0 of its 80-20 Retriever software ($50 from www.80-20.com). While previous versions of 80-20 Retriever will do pretty much what Enfish does — index your documents, e-mails and whatnot, let you search quickly through them — only this version lets you view the documents without having to launch the program you created them in (say, launching Microsoft Word to view a Word document). This is a vital feature, since you can quickly scroll through documents retrieved by your search, all in one place.

In fact, Retriever does a fine job but falls down, in my view, by trying too hard to integrate itself into Outlook, Microsoft’s calendar, contact and e-mail behemoth. My advice to 80-20: You’re nearly there, but drop the Outlook interface and just be yourself. It should be a stand-alone program.

Both are worth trying (Enfish Find and 80-20 Retriever can be downloaded and used for a month free). For the heavy lifters, I’d recommend dtSearch Desktop. Although a pricey $200 from dtSearch (www.dtsearch.com), this is a super-fast, super-reliable program that tells you a lot about what’s on your computer. By launching your search from a viewable index of words, you can see how many misspelled words you are missing in normal searches. The interface isn’t particularly friendly, but it’s a workhorse for the serious searcher. Now if only it could help me on my Christmas-card list.