Saturday, 5 April 2014

Conclusion: Books of Futures Past

Our last class considered the theme of the future of books as imagined from the past, but also drew together a threads running through course as a whole. Lecture slides are posted in the usual place on BB.

On Claude Shannon's mathematical model of communication and the difficulty of accounting for meaning within that model, I recommend Katherine Hayles's book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (downloadable in PDF via the U of T library catalogue).

On Leonhard Euler's use of visual models to help readers think through the Bridges of Königsberg problem, as distinct from diagramming the (non-) solution, see Stephen Ramsay's article "In Praise of Pattern" (which is relevant to our course theme in other ways as well).

For links related to Portal, including the Aperture Science website we looked at, see the reading schedule entry for last week's class.

Finally, we looked at an early appearance of the word computer in a 1613 book called The yong mans gleanings. If you'd like to look at the rest of the book (which might include more of the photographer's thumbs!) you can browse it via Early English Books Online.

Thank you all for being such an engaged and stimulating class! As I mentioned in the last class, I'll be heading off on sabbatical soon to work on my second book, which is closely connected to this course, and I'm very grateful for all the illuminating class discussions, examples, assignments, and conversations that I've been lucky enough to experience with you all. Of the making of books there is no end...

Illustration from Octave Uzanne's 1894 short story "The End of Books" (see course readings)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

follow up to today's class on digital narratives and new media experiments

Hopefully I'm posting this in time to catch the various things we discussed today, before they vanish from my ever more sieve-like memory. Lecture slides are posted in the usual secret location (Blackboard), but we also looked a couple of videos that you can find online. Taking Kirschenbaum's concept of medial ideologies (as described in his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination) we looked at the trailer for Al Gore's web app adaptation of his previously published book Our Choice, available at the Push Pop Press website.

Another example we considered was Steve Jobs's demo of the iBooks app and store from the 2010 iPad rollout event. You can download that video through iTunes if you search for "Apple keynotes" under podcasts (it's a free video podcast), or you can watch a streamed version on Apple's website. The segment we watched starts at about 51 minutes into the presentation, though I also recommend watching the opening sequence as well. I find this presentation fascinating, in terms both of text and of subtext, and have written about it in an article called "The Enkindling Reciter" (linked from our Week 8 readings) and in a book chapter titled "The Tablets of the Law: Reading Hamlet with Scriptural Technologies," in this book.

Next week we'll return to Portal, especially in relation to the ideas of paratexts and palimpsests (good prog-rock album title right there, if you need one), and pick up some of the threads that we covered only briefly today. If you didn't get a chance for this week, I recommend checking out the links to this week's recommended reading on the game. Also, here's another of Portal's paratexts in the form of an Aperture Science "investment opportunity" ad (voiced by the great J.K. Simmons):

Some other ads from the series should be linked among the related videos. Please note that Aperture Science is not a real company; actual investment is not recommended. Next week we'll also consider the future of the book through the lens of an earlier semi-satiric story in the form of Octave Uzanne's "The End of Books," along with a couple of other views of the future from the past. Happy reading in the meantime -- for science!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

follow-up to today & final blogging question

Thanks, everyone, for a great discussion today with our guest lecturer, U of T's Copyright and Scholarly Communications Librarian, Bobby Glushko. Bobby has kindly sent his slides, which are posted in the usual place on BB. I was glad to hear that today's class has given a few of you new ideas for your final project.

We also spent some time setting up next week's class topic. I've just updated the schedule of readings to include some links connected with our main case study, the video game Portal. Spoiler warning: I will be giving away the ending of the first Portal game, but will refrain from spoilers for the related games Portal 2 and The Stanley Parable. (Actually I'm not sure how to spoil The Stanley Parable even if I tried -- if you've played it, you know what I mean.) However, with all this tempting video game arcana to distract us, let's not neglect our main readings, especially as they're two of the most important readings of the course, Matthew Kirschenbuam's article "Editing the Interface" and Steven Jones's introduction to The Meaning of Video Games. Both are important recent examples of scholars taking the perspectives of textual scholarship and bibliography into new digital territory.

I'll be away at a conference this week, so I've posted the course's final blogging question a bit early. It's deceptively simple: if you could go back in time to whatever year you choose (by whatever means you choose, which doesn't really enter into the question, so don't get distracted by that aspect...), and if you could tell people in that era one really important thing to understand about the future of books and reading (without, let's assume, needing to worry about polluting the timeline), what would you tell them -- and why?

As I mentioned, this will be our final assigned blog question for the course, though you're welcome to keep on using your group blogs however you like -- they are, after all, your blogs. My hope is that this final question will also help set up our final time-travel-themed class on Books of Futures Past (the title of which shouldn't be mistaken as trademark infringement on any upcoming Marvel/Fox films...).

Friday, 14 March 2014

blogging question for the week: workshopping essay topics (or rough ideas, or just vague inklings)

With the deadline for the final project/paper on the horizon, I thought we could use this week's blogging question to share the ideas that you've all been working on. I've been talking with some students already and have heard some really promising ideas, both for traditional papers with interesting topics, and for more experimental approaches to the assignment.

It seems a bit of a waste if it's only the professor who gets to hear about the various ideas that students have been cooking up, so let's use this week's blog posts to share final paper/project ideas -- and especially to get some feedback from each other, which is essential for a course like ours. If you don't have a well-developed idea yet, that's ok -- you can post something speculative and use the exercise to work through some ideas. Even if you have no idea of your topic as you read this, you'll be further ahead by next Friday! If your idea is well-developed, that great; you can use the post to solicit some feedback, and to inspire your classmates. As I've been suggesting all term, there are many ways into a course topic like ours, and a diversity of perspectives is not only a strength, but a necessity.

A few caveats. I won't be treating these blog posts as contractual or as research proposals, so don't worry if your final product changes from what you write about in your post. Also, when I grade these posts I'll use a fair bit of latitude, and I won't be grading the viability of your proposed topic so much as the thought you've put into the post. (In other words, feel free to post about problems you haven't solved yet!) Finally, if you've already decided to do a collaborative final project, all group members should still post individually for this week.

I've been seeing some great commentary happening in the blogs, and this post is a chance to keep up the good work.

Finally, if you're in need of inspiration, I never fail to find some in the videos put out by the New Zealand Book Council, especially this first one (based on Maurice Gee's Going West, animated by Andersen M Studio):

And if you liked that one, here's another...

Closer to home, Toronto's own independent bookstore Type Books has done some fine bibliographic animating of their own:

And if you've come this far, why not watch this video of a husky playing in a pile of leaves? It'll ease some of that mid-March stress:

Ok, enough with the videos -- back to work!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

follow up to today's class on sound and image

Various and sundry things to include here, in the spirit of today's composite lecture topic on sound and image.

First, those of you looking at doing an experiment of some kind for your paper might be interested in an upcoming iSkills workshop on HTML and CSS. Or if you've simply heard me mentioning these terms in class (especially HTML5 and CSS3) and wonder what all the fuss is about, this might be a good workshop for you, too.

For more on Martin Luther King's sermon "The Drum Major Instinct," including a downloadable mp3 recording and historical background, see Stanford's King Institute's page for the sermon: . Images of the original "drum major" inscription on the King memorial in Washington are easy to find with a Google image search; images of the recently erased monument, not so much. has a good collection of images of the inscription's erasure -- or is that the right word? -- taken some time since August of last year. On a bit of a tangent, but not unrelated, Sarah made a great point today about the nature of texts like sermons being intensely referential, and even built out of other texts. Her comment reminded me of the Viral Texts project at Northeastern University, which maps networks of reprinting in 19th-century newspapers and magazines. Finally, in the spirit of using visualizations to search for patterns, here's a visualization of the portion of the King sermon we listened to today -- all I did was open the mp3 file in the Audacity audio editor and zoom in to a 7-minute portion:

Even in this small snapshot, you can see the aural rhythm of this part of the sermon as it unfolds, building toward an intense section at the end. A visualization like this is useful for helping one notice patterns of silence, too. Of course, as with all important cultural works, there's a point at which one should put the visualization and analysis tools aside and just listen.

On Alice in Wonderland and the history of its publication and illustration, see the Harry Ransom's Center's description of John Tenniel's work. Also, the British Library has made available a digitization of Lewis Carroll's illustrated manuscript, which he gave to the original Alice in 1864. Finally, if you'd like to explore the Brabant Collection of Lewis Carroll material at the U of T's Fisher Rare Book Library, you can read about it here:

Friday, 7 March 2014

this week's blogging question: of content and containers

In this week's class we considered how the relationship between e-books as "content" and various e-book file formats (such as EPUB, the Kindle formats, and PDF) as "containers" isn't so simple. This week's blogging question asks you to share a specifically digital example of a case where the line between content and container has become blurred.

One digital example that we considered in class is what happens when you copy and paste text from an MS Word file into the text field of, say, a Blogspot wysiwyg editor -- or, for that matter, one of the similar text-entry boxes on Blackboard. On the surface, your copied text probably pastes fairly seamlessly with formatting mostly intact. But under the surface, pure horror awaits. As we saw in class -- and I apologize again for the unavoidably graphic nature of the demonstration -- if you view the HTML code after pasting the Word text, you'll see some of the most tortuous and misbegotten XML ever created by human or machine: unnecessary tags, unreadable attribute names, proprietary extentions, bloated code -- it's all there, lurking under the surface of the text like some horrible nightmare on the edge of rationality. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit -- just a bit -- but we can learn something from the tension between the supposedly fluid and transferable "content" on the surface and the madness-inducing, tentacled code that serves as its "container." [Note: parts of the preceding paragraph were written with the help of the H.P. Lovecraft Description Engine.]

Here's another example of a digital container showing up where it shouldn't in printed content, which I learned about only last night thanks to a great CanLit scholar named Jenny. This comes from the 1990 New Canadian Library edition of Ethel Wilson's (fascinating) novel, Swamp Angel, published (and typeset) by McClelland & Stewart. Note the "<ed space>" in the lower-right quadrant (you might have to click to enlarge):

What's that "<ed space>" doing there anyway? My best guess is that it's a digital typesetting code that was supposed to remain invisible, along with myriad others required to help a text become printable sheets, but in this cases was inadvertently printed along with the text. Note that if you read the text around it, this seems like a natural place for a blank linke to indicate an ellipsis in the narrative. A cursory search of quick reference guides to the TeX typesetting system (following a hunch), has revealed nothing, and a broader search for "<ed space>" on Google (incl. Google Books) seems difficult because Google disregards the angle brackets -- though I haven't exhausted that avenue yet. A more sensible approach, from which I'd likely learn more than I would from Google, would be to show this to someone who works with modern typesetting software, who'd likely recognize it immediately. Whatever the specific technical cause, it's a glitch in the matrix, or a glimpse behind the curtain as the stage hands set the next scene, or as D.F. McKenzie put it, an instance of the "human presence" discernible in "any recorded text" (p. 29).

(Incidentally, Swamp Angel has an interesting textual history of its own, having been printed in somewhat different British and American editions. Note the other error -- "want" for "what" -- visible in the image above on the facing page.)

What examples can you think of that show the supposedly seamless world of "content" being disrupted or otherwise affected by that which contains it? Remember, your example doesn't have to be from a book or even textual, but it should be digital.

Works Cited:

D.F. McKenzie. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Ethel Wilson. Swamp Angel. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1990.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

follow up to "E-Books, Part 2"

First, links for the upcoming events mentioned:
The 2014 Pages Festival + Conference, March 13-15:

The iSchool Student Conference 2014 -- Information in Formation: Building a Profession, March 21-23:

The Book History and Print Culture program's student conference -- Toronto and the Book, March 28-29:
Tonight only! Critical Gaming Night at Semaphore, in which a mystery selection of retro games will be played and considered, critically:
On the topic of software for creating and working with e-pub files, the application I used in class today was Sigil (, but the most common application is probably Calibre (

I also mentioned Apple's iBooks Author software (, but you should be aware of criticisms to the effect that "Apple is sabotaging an open standard for digital books." In a vein similar to the Apple iBooks Author page linked here, Amazon also has a page describing its new KF8 format.

We also looked at a recent edition (6th ed, ver. 1.7) of Adobe's PDF Reference, which you can find here: The section we glanced at, which deals with PDF-supported annotation types, is sec. 8.4.5.

Today's lecture slides are posted in the usual place -- including the full citation for the two terms from Kirschenbaum that we considered at the end.

And now, because we were talking about how the history of a text includes the unexpected meanings it accrues over time, here's Jay Z with the Magna Carta: