Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Why I Wear Black All the Time

Not that I think anyone really cares, but occasionally someone comments. And because today I am wearing a light-wine (or dark-mauve) colored dress…

I used to think it was because I had little kids and I would get their Nutella-smeared fingerprints all over my clothes. These kids are now 19 and 14. I used to think it was because I lived in an urban area and had city grit floating around rubbing itself into my clothes. Now I live on Staten Island on a tree-lined block in an old Victorian house, and drive to work every day. I used to think it was because I had no time to coordinate outfits and black was the quickest way to get dressed in the morning. Now I have to face the truth.

I spill food all over myself.


Nights Like This

Tonight I left work and went across the street to the gym and did an amazing cardio workout. Just the bike – but stupendous…I finally got through 14 miles in 45 minutes. (Yes, well, hip injury. It was exciting for me, personally.) In a state of bliss I drove home, to find Bernardo and one of his BFFs, Charlie, greeting me as I pulled up against the curb. They were going to rack the wine a final time, and begin bottling.

But they needed fuel. Bernardo had put up some flounder in crazy water, with sauteed spinach. So we had a bit of the 2012 before dinner – it is coming along deliciously – and sat down. Fish in crazy water is substantial enough to warrant a red wine, and Charlie brought us a robust California cabernet. And in the middle of dinner, the doorbell rang – it was our neighbor Rich, six weeks post-knee-surgery, come to see what the wine-bottling was all about.

We persuaded Rich to have a little fish, and then the men disappeared downstairs. As I was nestling into the couch with my laptop, I heard the sound of pool balls being smacked into pockets. Eventually, this turned into the sound of wine being bottled.

A beautiful night to come home to. Friends, food, wine, and the lingering endorphins of an amazing workout.

The Luxury of Morals

I was reading this today. Quite shocking, particularly this bit:

I’ve optimized soups,” Moskowitz told me. “I’ve optimized pizzas. I’ve optimized salad dressings and pickles. In this field, I’m a game changer.

To think of food as being “optimized” (and I am a product manager; I “optimize” products all the time) is one thing. But Moskowitz followed up:

There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.

This sounds so much like the ultimately destructive scientist in dystopian movies, making excuses retrospectively while also trying to establish his brilliance.

If being a “moral creature” is a “luxury” – and I say this as someone who has struggled to survive myself, with two children, no less – then we’re here. In the future. Day by day I go past the New York harbor, watching our ships come in – literally. Ships filled with cheap merchandise made by who knows what impoverished men, women and children from who knows which lands, unloading from their containers and shipping off to Wal-Mart in a logistical wet dream. I spend a considerable amount of money each week (and time, in terms of food prep) on Real Food because eating what I’m apparently being programmed to is literally an exercise in futility (if not morbidity).

The only ones who benefit from this level of mass-production – and it is everywhere, from our food to our clothing to our furniture to our transportation, our movies and TV and even our books – are the corporations. And they seem to be quite happy to merely repackage their messages until we swallow them like we do Cheetos.

I don’t want optimized pickles. I want the real thing. And that’s the least of it. I want my daughters to grow up and grow old. I want the world to have green in it, for my grandchildren and their grandchildren. And I want them all to do good things – because doing good things is not a luxury. It’s how we’re going to continue to live.


I don’t think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but twice a year – August and February – a seasonal malaise sets in. Stasis is boring. By now, the thrill of snowstorms, possibility of skiing, winter stews and soups…has worn off completely. Even on a sunny day, so long as it’s cold outside, I’m depleted.

I know it’s only a few weeks until things begin to thaw. But now I crave ramps, the first shoots of rhubarb, garlic scapes, pea tendrils. Nettles. Delicate green things. My brown, dry garden fills me with despair. I don’t want to go outside, but I can’t stand being inside. I am always cold. I go silent. I should not be left alone in my own company.

Enduring these two weeks – just as in August I endure the final two weeks of the month by going stir-crazy in the oppressive humidity – is made worse by posts like this. So tantalizingly near…and yet not at all.

Tools of Change 2013: You Must Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On

As usual, some themes grew out of this TOC conference – this seems to happen every year. And of course, it varies from person to person, so I can only speak from my own perspective, and perhaps there’s a little wishful thinking there as well.

But the fact that the World Wide Web Consortium not only had a concurrent conference about the Web and ebooks, but W3C members also attended regular TOC sessions (and gave a keynote) spoke very loudly to me. And it was a one-way conversation.

I do not see very many book industry people approaching the Web. But the Web is certainly approaching the book industry. It’s not enough to digitize text, wrap it in DRM, and sell it. The Web demands more than a silo’d experience. It demands interconnectivity. Links. Since the inception of the Web, content of all kinds has not simply been digitized, but contextualized by open-ended conversations with other content. An ebook is a closed system. The Web is open – and when it encounters a closed system, it tends to find ways to open it.

The question is whether that opening happens with or without publishers. And that is the elephant in the room.

That elephant was very firmly in the room during my “Open Book” presentation on Wednesday. It was a short talk, making some short points – that there has been explosive growth in published text over the last 14 years. That putting all that text on paper is not scaleable as a business. That digitizing it is scaleable, but invokes the problem of discovery. That discovery is best enabled by interoperability and structured markup. And if publishers are not making their own texts discoverable, someone else will.

Presumably publishers are publishing because what they are publishing has value. The fact that someone else perceives that value and makes the content more valuable is – again, presumably – a good thing.

The implication, however, is unnerving to traditional publishers. Opening up content – willingly or unwillingly – means a lack of control of that content. And dialing back “control” to mere “participation” is an idea that’s extremely tough for traditional publishers to get comfortable with. For 500 years, publishers have been broadcasting, not conversing. But the Web is a conversation.

The response to my talk was indicative of this discomfort. In a way, I was satisfied with the response because it confirmed for me the difficulties that traditional publishers are having. I was also saddened by it, of course. But those emotions don’t get us very far. What does get us far is simply putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing. It’s not romantic, but it’s movement. And it’s how real progress happens.

Tools of Change 2013: Some Fun

Tools of Change always starts out with Book^2, an unconference founded by Chris Kubica, Ami Greko, and Kat Meyer. Stewart Cauley captured the very best moment:

Stitchin' 'n' bitchin'

Why, yes, that is my Scamp sitting next to me. She stayed throughout the entire event, despite the fact that she had two weeks’ allowance burning a hole in her pocket and we were in Soho. And she had quite a bit to say:

And this:

Things really got kicking the next day in the W3C Ebook conference, which I will write about in a bit. What really struck me about W3C’s involvement is this: Whether book publishing plays along or not, the web wants books. I felt very heartened after leaving the sessions on Monday.

Tuesday was Author (R)evolution Day – Kristin McLean’s all-day workshop helping authors understand the traditional publishing landscape as well as some of the disruptions the landscape is experiencing. I was really struck by the incisiveness of the questions – it’s apparent to me that authors have been kept in the dark about how publishing works for far too long.

And Pablo Francisco Arrieta drew this picture of me as an alien, which I immediately made my Twitter avatar:


On Wednesday, I gave a presentation about marking up ebooks with semantic tags, just to introduce the idea to the book publishing community. Amazingly, Ivan Herman, who directs the W3C’s semantic web efforts, attended – both he and Tzviya Siegman of Wiley were phenomenally helpful. Last night, Tzviya sent me a TOC photo, which India Amos immediately turned into a LOLLaura:


Thursday, Pat Payton, Carl Kulo and I led an “Ask Me Anything” session, which was great fun and a new twist on Bowker’s traditional presentation methods.

It may be the weekend before I can digest all my takeaways from this conference, but it was phenomenal this year.

Data Points And Spaces

In my resolution-keeping, I’ve been doing some data collection. As I mentioned, I’m using a program called “Perfect Diet Tracker” – ugh, how I hate the name, but the app is really good – to track what I consume and what I expend. I actually have “numbers time” every day where I also do Quicken – tracking is tracking, after all.

What has struck me, in all this extremely incremental data entry, is that any single data point is not all that valuable. What’s valuable is the relationship of multiple data points to one another. It’s a lesson I keep learning. And it’s a good thing to keep in mind as new sites launch before gathering a meaningful data set. To a certain degree, metadata’s a commodity. The relationship of one set of metadata to another is the product or service.

Of course, this is why I feel so strongly about the semantic web. It’s in its infancy – and toddlerhood is not much prettier – but over time it will prove meaningful. Helpful, even.

But what’s even more fascinating, in a way, is what’s NOT there. Yet. We can only gather data that’s been recorded. So much hasn’t. And when we finally do amass a corpus of data that we can blend with our existing data, the results can be surprising – even gratifying to some.

So That Went Well

My work and home lives – which are more or less inseparable, really – have been on fire lately. And I haven’t blogged. I’ve written – many, many things. A chapter for a book that NISO is publishing; a remit for an ISNI task force; a hell of a lot of emails; two presentations for TOC (the third doesn’t have a script).

So I am uncertain about my resolution. Have I kept it? I have been writing every day. Just not publicly. :/

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