New Book: Old Peculiar Tales / Book Creator App

Posted in art, books, computers on October 13th, 2011 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on New Book: Old Peculiar Tales / Book Creator App

A new book on the iBookstore:

Old Peculiar Tales

This is a book of eleven speculative tales of fantasy. Image rich, created as a “picturebook”.


I used a new App called Book Creator for the iPad to construct this book. There have been no dedicated tools for creating fixed position books, and, out of the blue, a wonderful developer in England, Dan Amos, has done what billion dollar corporations could not. Picturebooks are books that look like formatted books; like a PDF, rather than flowing web pages. An excellent format for image heavy eBooks, but mind-numbing to create from scratch by code.

Dan uses a very simple, transparent interface – he had set out to make this App useful for kids – but it turns out to be fully capable for professional production as well. In the latter case a bit of knowledge about CSS would help for tweaks, but in most cases, you can get along with just the tools offered by Book Creator.

Book Creator is fun. You open the app and you immediately figure it out.

You create the book in the app. Instead of following a meandering path to get the eBook into iBooks, you simply tap a menu choice and BC constructs the ePub and places it in iBooks. You can edit without the usual hassle of creating on the desktop, transferring to iTunes and syncing – a tremendous time saver. Dan is currently working to enable audiobook capability and later videos.

I once taught in an after school center with the charge of introducing printmaking. You should have seen the pure delight expressed by children when they see a print of their drawing appear. It made you smile. Some kids would laugh out loud or even shriek. I can imagine whole classes filled with delighted children at seeing their creations appear in iBooks using Book Creator.

At first it was a surprise to see the solution BC offers; one expects a desktop application to create these picturebooks. It makes so much more sense to have the app on your iPad.

At the App store: Book Creator

Dan’s site,

Steve Jobs

Posted in computers, economy, ideas, pop culture on October 6th, 2011 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Steve Jobs

The enormous response to the death of Steve Jobs is remarkable. For a public figure, a man who ran a corporation, to have entered the emotional life of so many is an affirmation of Jobs beyond his industry. People are grateful for the tools he made. For the enjoyment and possibility those tools have brought. The tools he made, or made possible, have opened so many possibilities for me in my work.

He was more identified with his multi-billion dollar corporation than people who run small businesses who have their name on the door. He didn’t push himself forward to gain fame; he was up front making presentations because he loved the products he was so involved in creating. He never felt a salesman – always an enthusiast who shared his audience’s pleasure. He had an aesthetic response to objects and tools. He was proud of what he did.

His signature quote: He didn’t give people what they wanted, he gave them what they didn’t know they wanted. That quality of breaking the mold and believing you can accomplish your self-set task is an essential of true creativity.

It also seems likely that the outpouring of sadness over the death of Steve Jobs has to do with his personality and the times. His body frail, but his spirit vigorous, even at the end; he had an optimism and belief in the future. A vibrant, creative individual at a time where there seem no leaders, no easy answers.

Netflix: On. A. Roll.

Posted in computers, miscellaneous on July 19th, 2011 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Netflix: On. A. Roll.

So after trying to access Netflix streaming we were finally requested to reset our password. When that did not reconnect us we followed the Wizard of Trouble and found it was not Netflix that was to blame, but rather Samsung. So Netflix said. So, knowing that was unlikely, we kept trying and finally logged in via Sammy app. Or not. Because each device had to be reset. This covered, intermittently, a six hour period.

Now we’ve read today online that we were not the only ones with Netflix issues. In fact they are offering, via email, a whopping 3% refund. If you get the email. And if you click the link. This would amount to say, thirty cents. We never received the email.

Netflix has raised its prices in an ungainly fashion. They have raised those prices 3%. I mean 60%. Netflix made no online effort when there were problems to tell customers; let them eat cake and waste time. And today, the coup de grâce, we received a DVD which was cracked.

Stuff happens, but this begins to accrue to a bad smell.

NYTs’ Keller On Friendship and Facebook

Posted in computers, ideas on May 23rd, 2011 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on NYTs’ Keller On Friendship and Facebook

Bill Keller of the Kingdom of the NYT makes a point that he knows will be labeled as Luddite, but he persists admirably. Keller despairs of new media and its illusion: virtual connection.

Keller says,

My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect…

The shortcomings of social media would not bother me awfully if I did not suspect that Facebook friendship and Twitter chatter are displacing real rapport and real conversation, just as Gutenberg’s device displaced remembering. The things we may be unlearning, tweet by tweet – complexity, acuity, patience, wisdom, intimacy – are things that matter.

The subtleties of human connection, all our sense data aggregating to patterns of connection, will unlikely be communicated with a digital filter in the near future, if ever.

Apple and Adobe and Flash

Posted in computers on April 29th, 2010 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Apple and Adobe and Flash

The battle between Apple and Adobe over Flash is unusual, both in the public nature of the argument, and the strength of the feelings expressed.

“Go screw yourself Apple,” wrote Lee Brimelow, an Adobe platform evangelist, on his personal Web site, The Flash Blog…Adobe, evidently, was at least aware of the blog post just as it went live. The second paragraph mentions that a line was edited out on behalf of Adobe. The earlier version of the post apparently stated that “What is clear is that Apple has timed this purposely to hurt sales of CS5.”

Steve Jobs today personally replied ,

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short…Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games…New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

These are technical issues; Jobs’ reasoning made sense to me. You do wonder why, if Adobe wanted to port Flash produced apps to Apple devices, they didn’t just develop a Flash HTML5 compiler.


In general the powers that be let everyone else fight for the crumbs while behind the scenes they make a profit and deflect. Now, it is almost as though the sour air of dispute, evident nearly everywhere in the media, has even poisoned the air of corporate board rooms.

Normally corporations are all about profit, all the time, and could care less what anyone thinks. They leave that to their public relations departments. But this battle between Adobe and Apple feels personal.

Wikipedia Editors and Jimmy Wales

Posted in books, computers, miscellaneous on December 7th, 2009 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Wikipedia Editors and Jimmy Wales

Wikipedia editors are leaving.

One factor is that many topics already have been written about. Another is the plethora of rules Wikipedia has adopted to bring order to its unruly universe — particularly to reduce infighting among contributors about write-ups of controversial subjects and polarizing figures.

“Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment,…Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again.”

Wikipedia’s struggles raise questions about the evolution of “crowdsourcing,” one of the Internet era’s most cherished principles. Crowdsourcing posits that there is wisdom in aggregating independent contributions from multitudes of Web users. It has been promoted as a new and better way for large numbers of individuals to collaborate on tasks, without the rules and hierarchies of traditional organizations.

I’m dubious about crowdsourcing myself. But Wiki speaks for itself. If Tim Berners-Lee is being suggested for a Nobel Prize then Jimmy Wales and team should get two for Wikipedia. With all its problems, patchiness, drift, Wiki is an enormous contribution to the betterment of the world. Wiki is an Ancient Library of Alexandria brought up to date and democratized (to some extent – there have been discussions about just how large the significant cohort of contributors truly is [see Aaron Swartz]). If you take Wiki with a grain of salt you will do fine. But that is true of Britannica as well. It’s true about most things.

Nicholson Baker Inhabits The Kindle

Posted in computers, pop culture on August 12th, 2009 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Nicholson Baker Inhabits The Kindle

What a great job Nicholson Baker did in this article examining e-book readers, in particular, the Kindle. Baker is the perfect choice for such an article. Fastidious to the point of obsessive, extremely interested in book preservation, the editors of the New Yorker could not have chosen a more appropriate or balanced reviewer. Baker’s article harkens back to the old New Yorker, with its fetishized detail providing languorous tributaries of endlessly exfoliating factoids for the rich with lotsa leisure. In Baker’s revalorization of that approach, he manages to infuse the brew with energy and useful information.

The e-book reader could be yet-another-gadget soon to be eclipsed by yet-another-gadget, or a Stargate portal to a brave new future of reading joy; and what does Baker (finally) declare?,

I began pressing the Next Page clicker more and more eagerly, so eagerly that my habit of page turning, learned from years of reading-which is to reach for the page corner a little early, to prepare for the movement-kicked in unconsciously. I clicked Next Page as I reached the beginning of the last line, and the page flashed to black and changed before I’d read it all. I was trying to hurry the Kindle. You mustn’t hurry the Kindle. But, hell, I didn’t care. The progress bar at the bottom said I was ninety-one per cent done. I was at location 7547. I was flying along.

David Pogue, Twitter, Snark

Posted in computers, pop culture on April 27th, 2009 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on David Pogue, Twitter, Snark

This blog post criticizing David Pogue’s plans for a book listing Twitter comments met with a response. From the pogueman himself.

The blogger feels that Pogue’s payment of the book for contributor’s 140 word tweet is a rip-off in several ways. But what really irks him – he is a publicist – is that the proposed book really isn’t a book. There is no writing. It’s lazy and a rip-off, he says.

Pogue says, “But don’t spit on the thousands who are excited about the prospect (and yes, there are thousands so far).” This is the Nurse Ratched defense. “Maybe others like the music loud.” Other people like it. So there. Do numbers validate a project in anything other than commercial terms? Pogue has deflected the criticism of exploitation of his audience for profit to one of a criticism of thousands.

Pogue responds further that the blogger contradicts himself. He says he is being told the book will fail and that he will make a bundle.
Pogue says, “ Can’t remember anyone laying on the snark so thickly about anything.” Pogue usually keeps his cool so clearly this got under his skin – some insight about the public figure. I’m sure if he thought real hard other examples of robust snarkiness would occur to him. Pogue implies that any criticism is “snark” – because he offers no explanation as to why it isn’t simply a criticism – based on values. Yet he feels there is enough substance in the publicist’s post to go to his blog and post a comment about mere snark. The subtext of Pogue as public figure – as opposed to his role as a gifted writer of manuals (no small feat, good teachers are hard to come by) – is one of cackling disparagement. That’s snark.


Pogue’s invitation to get involved in his project included:

Useful parental life advice…

If you caught a fish every time you went fishing, it’d be called catching. (@BruceTurkel)


She was only a moonshiner’s daughter, but I loved her still. (@matthewdooley)

The book will probably be entertaining.

Under the Hood — Update to Jolly Days

Posted in computers, jolly days news on March 21st, 2009 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Under the Hood — Update to Jolly Days

I knew my update of Movable Type, the blogging software used on Jolly Days, would not go quickly – hours aggregated to days.

I finally did a clean install which caused issues on importing. But the upgrade – from 2.65 to 4.24 (and now 4.25) – was worth it for the under-the-hood improvements. I sure learned a lot in the process.

There are probably some presentation errors. I know the text parsing on import was munged at times – I’ll try and fix those goofs; the design has been even more simplified so as to be as little distraction as possible. I want the weblog to read easily. Have not been able to test in all browsers.

Hope that the pages load faster, that the weblog has a simplicity that encourages reading, and that the formatting looks good in your browser.


There are some issues:

* Whether the change in site links from numbers to text-as-is-now-the-default in the URLs will cause problems – internal links and external links breaking.

* Whether the redirect from the old blog will work?

* The parsing of the text via Textile 2 is not working as expected in some areas. I use double dashes a lot to indicate an em dash but it isn’t working anymore – so I’m using an entity.

We’ll see…


Well, it came over mostly, for which we are grateful.

However, all the formatting has been lost.

The links seem to work and the redirect, using an htaccess RewriteRule, from:

is working.

Will just have to figure out how to re-establish the paths to css internally.


Just an @import path was breaking the formatting.


Okay, enough of this behind the scenes stuff…

VR Head Tracking

Posted in computers on October 26th, 2008 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on VR Head Tracking

This remarkable video shows how to perform head tracking using the Wii remote. When Johnny Lee sets it up so you can see what a player would see you can hardly believe it. Even more promising for general usage is at the end of the video when he shows a sports stadium in VR.

Still in development, this foldable interactive display is right out of science fiction. Johnny Lee is one clever guy.

Steve Jobs and Pixar

Posted in computers on June 22nd, 2008 by Ira Altschiller – Comments Off on Steve Jobs and Pixar

This tale of Pixar and Steve Jobs confirms the self-evident. Steve Jobs is some kind of business genius. This is evident in a book that was not even trying to emphasize that point.

Without Jobs’s relentless drive, Pixar would have been an inferior and probably bankrupt competitor to Sun Microsystems, not the most important movie studio of our era (and certainly the only one interesting enough to write a book about).

Jobs not only conceives great products, beautifully produced (if not always as reliable as they once were), he creates entirely new categories that impact the general culture, from iPhones to iPods to the Apple stores. Jobs is one of the few business leaders who can really lay claim to oft-heard corporate-talk: Jobs really does have “the vision thing”.

But, as with all things human, there are ambiguities…

…Jobs appears socially awkward and unsentimental to a fault…The longtime Pixar romantics are heartbroken to realize they’re actually working at a business. What am I doing? one employee asks in a moment of clarity. I’m sitting around here trying to make Steve Jobs richer in ways he doesn’t even appreciate.

Business leadership seems to require a simple, optimistic, aggressive nature. Such a personality matrix is often also accompanied by a lack of emotional depth.