The Revolution Before eBooks

Andrew Shaffer wrote an article for Mental Floss about Paperbacks in America:

“Half a century before e-books turned publishing upside down, a different format threatened to destroy the industry…

“A movie ticket set you back 20 cents. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the year’s bestselling… book, was $2.75. For a nation suffering 20 percent unemployment, books were an impossible expense.”


The Worst Sentence of the Year


Cathy Bryant of Manchester (England, not New Hampshire) is the winner of this year’s coveted Bulwer-Lytton Contest for the Worst Opening Sentence for an Imaginary Novel. Hers is the overall winner, but there are many runners-up proudly displayed on the Bulwer-Lytton results page. Some go for elaborate set-ups of punch-clause puns, but I most enjoy the ones like Ms Bryant’s that really mimic an untalented author whose novel I’m glad I don’t have to read.

Here, for your delectation and anti-edification, the prize-winning run-away sentence:

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

Petition in Prayer

‘While he was praying in a certain place, after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples”‘ (Lk 11:1).

What prompted the disciples to ask, I wonder. Many of them were John’s disciples before they were Jesus’ disciples. Was there something different about Jesus practice of prayer that caused them to ask for teaching?

In any case, Jesus’ response was to give them what we call the Lord’s Prayer (Lk. 11:2-4). In Luke’s version, it’s told in a way that emphasises petition, asking for things – for the text immediately goes off into the parable of the friend at midnight, followed by the aphorism Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you (vv. 9-10).

I think other passages teach us that prayer isn’t simply filling in an order form and waiting for the delivery (as Luke shows in his own telling of the Gethsemane story, Lk. 22:39-44). But the aspect of asking and receiving is emphasised here (perhaps in deliberate dialogue with John the Baptist) and prayer cannot be fully understood (or practiced) without it.

Why iPad is noGood

Tom Warren, writing for theVerge, cites Lenovo’s advertising checklist (above) which explains at last why it is that the iPad isn’t selling and why no one likes it.

In the same spirit, here, on behalf of typewriter manufacturers everywhere, is a checklist about why it is that computers haven’t caught on:

Typewriter – Computer – Feature

YESNO — Direct-to-Paper technology
YES — NO — Easy to change ribbon when type gets faint
YES — NO — Automatic bell-noise signals line end
YES — NO — Effortless copies via carbon paper
YES — NO — True WYSIWYG real-time display

What are you waiting for? Get a typewriter today!

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

I ran across this profile of Sir Tim today after discussing the Olympic Opening Ceremony with some Americans who didn’t know who he is. He’s a hero, that’s who he is – not only for what he accomplished but for his intentions for it (concerning which, see also his Scientific American article).

Even those things he wished he’d done differently, he did for thoughtful reasons. Another favourite fact of mine: the article doesn’t mention it, but Apple’s HyperCard was one of the things that inspired him.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to have invented something so powerful and widely-used and -enjoyed? Hero.

Don’t Aim for Success

Quoted from an article by David Orr, called “What is Education For?”:

There is a myth that the purpose of education is that of giving you the means for upward mobility and success. Thomas Merton once identified this as the “mass production of people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade.”…

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

The Lesson of Job

Job’s friends weren’t right. He hadn’t done the wrong things, the judgments weren’t lessons that he should accept and repentingly learn from. Not in the way that they meant, anyway.

Job’s wife was wasn’t right. God isn’t a masochistic overlord; he isn’t uncaring of us, not in the way that she meant, anyway. He did right to not take her advice and unrepentingly curse God and die.

Job does the only thing he can do. Observe, evaluate honestly, and protest vehemently. We admit we don’t ‘get it’ and bring that to God with whatever honest emotions come with that, as a child should be able to do with a parent. His only explanation may well be that we’re not old enough to understand the explanation, but even when he can’t or won’t give an explanation, if he gives his presence, that’s enough.

Perhaps in any relationship among such unequal parties, it’s not the answer that is given that matters nearly as much as that he answers.

The Jesus Scandals

We’ve all been to galleries where the paintings or fossils or whatever are presented badly. Most of the time, we don’t really know what it is we’re looking at and there are explanatory blurbs but they’re long and detailed and make us wonder if there’s a tearoom in the building. But have you ever been to a good one? Where you get real exposure to the real paintings and real fossils but also crisp commentary that leaves you understanding clearly yet also wanting to learn more?

David Instone-Brewer’s The Jesus Scandals book is such a gallery. The chapters fly by and you can’t stop turning pages. And all along the way you learn amazing things.

The second thing you think will be “where can I learn more about this?” but your first thought will be “wow.” And if you’re like me, you might even find yourself saying it aloud, even sitting alone in the café.

Good book; highly recommended.

Instone-Brewer, David, The Jesus Scandals, Oxford: Monarch Books, 2012. ISBN 978-0-85721-023-4

Musings re Excellence

It’s like a three-ring circus in my brain at the moment. I’ve been thinking about excellence and how it applies to the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, to higher education and to writing stuff like theology or comedy dialogue. And I think I want to say three things:

1) Getting the details right is important, but not because of the details. When enough details accumulate, you lose sight of details and see instead a rich environment. That’s when you win big time.

2) The second one is like it: The best reason for complexity is to get to simple. And often a simplicity that comes from a place of complexity is the most satisfying / funny / beautiful of all.

3) The point of standing on the shoulders of giants is to look out at the vista not just to look at the giants. For my money, too much scholarship is scholarship aimed at understanding scholarship, and too many ‘ultrabooks’ are about being what the other ultrabooks are.

I doubt these are “three rules for excellence” or anything so grand. They’re just things I’ve been thinking of.