Category Archives: Asides

Little things worth saving.

I wish I had all my notes from college in plaintext Markdown-formatted files. As I get back in to reading more difficult texts I’m writing up chapter notes in nvALT.

The more I do this, the more I find myself going back to them and searching for previously noted phrases, definitions, or quotes. My reminiscent wish is for nvALT to be a single data store for all my reading annotations. The problem is I have all these NeoOffice and Pages files from college.

What is the business of literature?, by Richard Nash, is one of my all-time favorite essays about authorship and publishing. The entire piece is phenomenal and this bit was perhaps my favorite:

It was a sign, almost one hundred years ago, of the book beginning to achieve what most technology will never accomplish—the ability to disappear. Walk into the reading room of the New York Public Library and what do you see? Laptops. Books, like the tables and chairs, have receded into the backdrop of human life. This has nothing to do with the assertion that the book is counter-technology, but that the book is a technology so pervasive, so frequently iterated and innovated upon, so worn and polished by centuries of human contact, that it reaches the status of Nature.

Add that to Instapaper and settle in for some thought-provoking reading.

Bonus link on a related note is Fetishizing the Text, by Kieran Healy.

Nicholas Carr writes of a study that shows students still prefer printed texts:

What’s most revealing about this study is that, like earlier research, it suggests that students’ preference for printed textbooks reflects the real pedagogical advantages they experience in using the format: fewer distractions, deeper engagement, better comprehension and retention, and greater flexibility to accommodating idiosyncratic study habits.

Or, put another way, it shows that students who were taught to read through printed texts still have a bias toward that medium as they grow older. Humans are highly adaptable creatures and I’d bet the preference these students have is more a result of pedagogy than the inherent values of digital texts.

I think we won’t truly see the effects of digital books until these studies focus on students who learned to read on digital devices. In other words, people who don’t look at an iPad or Kindle as an e-book but, rather, just as how you read.

Listening to @informative talk about content strategy at the WordPress meetup tonight. The approach of first considering what questions your content has to answer seems particularly useful for support documentation. By laying the groundwork for questions first, it makes the writing more effective.

This post from Marco Arment, about a less-than-stellar experience his grandparents had at an Apple Store, is such an important lesson to learn:

 It wouldn’t be the first time a technology expert lacked empathy for a customer, or made bad assumptions about what would be fast and easy for the customer to do on his own — especially when deciding to perform an easy, predictable, cure-all “restore”.

Reminds me of something I wrote earlier this year about asking questions and avoiding assumptions. Spending the time to do something right matters much more than doing it quickly.

Not sure when they launched but the topic pages that Evening Edition added are interesting. Syria’s one example I dug up. They seek to answer three questions: What’s happening? Why you should know about this? and What now?

At the bottom there’s then a list of related stories sorted chronologically. Cool to see some real-world experimentation with explainers. It’s probably a lot of editorial work to craft those summaries but the payoff is worth it, I think.

Cami wrote a really nice post about WordCamp Portland:

The past years there has always been some knowledge to glean. Some lesson to learn. Some new person to meet and relate to. And it has always been WordCamp. And it has always been special. But this year for some reason it was magical again, fresh and new and full of community and hope just as it was the first year Portland held a WordCamp.

Having been a part of the organizing team I was really proud of how yesterday went. We had about 250 attendees, lots of BBQ, beer, great conversation, and a keynote from Matt.

Matt Pearson got a really great shot of the swag too.

Everyone I talked with said they loved the event. WordCamps are certainly a lot of work; seeing everyone have a great day, learn new things, and meet new people was so rewarding, though.