Most of my waking hours are currently occupied in compiling the index to my book Screening the Royal Shakespeare Company: A Critical History. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but this is to be published by Bloomsbury in The Arden Shakespeare series in June. Instead of writing this blog post I should be compiling my index. Instead of eating — and indeed, probably, sleeping, I should be compiling my index. But, well, compiling an index is a process that is both fascinating and deeply, deeply dull, and the occasional distraction has to be a good thing. I asked colleagues whether I should compile the index, or whether I should pay a professional to do it.
Most professionals (see below) advise against an author doing it themselves. But that’s what I opted to do — and I’m not regretting that call. Really I’m not. Along with all else, the process has made me curious about the creation of indexes.
When Take Control Books ran a customer survey last summer, asking which Apple software products people would most like to read about, Siri got the most votes. In keeping with their theme of giving you what you’ve asked for, they are delighted to announce our latest book, Take Control of Siri by former Macworld editor Scholle McFarland! This book is the definitive guide to Apple’s voice-controlled digital assistant across all platforms–iOS, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and even HomePod. If you own any Apple device with Siri support, this book will tell you everything you need to know about being more productive, saving time and effort, and having fun with Siri. And you may be surprised at how powerful Siri has become since its early days!
This book is a terrific resource. Here’s just a tiny sampling of what’s in this 138-page book:
The numerous ways to activate Siri (by touch or by voice)
How to personalize Siri by telling it about yourself, your contacts, and more
How to use Siri with AirPods, wired earbuds, or third-party headphones–or in your car
How to ask Siri about sports, math and conversions, time, food, movies, people, stocks, the weather, jokes, and random facts (including follow-up questions)
How to control music (on any device, with or without an Apple Music subscription)
Techniques for using Siri to get directions, set reminders and appointments, send messages and email, and take notes
Ways to use Siri to search for files on your Mac
What Siri can and can’t do for you on an Apple TV or HomePod
How to make and use Siri Shortcuts on an iOS device or Apple Watch
Everything you need to know about your privacy where Siri is involved
In addition, Scholle has made a series of videos to go with the book, showing you exactly what happens as you use Siri. (Two are ready right now, and eight more will be available in the coming days.) You’ll get to see and hear how to make the most of Siri (as well as its sense of humor).
It started with six pieces of Lego. Dan Lyons, former Newsweek technology editor, as well as writer on the HBO series Silicon Valley (and former Fake Steve Jobs), meets a Lego “Serious Play” trainer who asked him to make a duck in 30 seconds. He fretted, then worried, wondering if it was all a trick, before finally presenting his duck to her. It turned out that it didn’t matter what he did, that it was all just a game, a way to jump-start conversation. And that left him rattled.
In his book, Lab Rats: How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us, New York Times bestselling author Dan Lyons critiques how this sort of “Serious Play” activity is all the rage in Silicon Valley, as startups and tech companies mess with the heads of their employees. He criticizes how it looks like a “cult of happiness,” which is facilitated through a new way of working.
And if you’re not in Silicon Valley, it’s coming soon to a company near you.
I got three interesting new photobooks this week, and rather than review each of them separately, here are some notes about each of them.
The Landscape, by Don McCullin
Known for his work as a war photographer, Don McCullin has also long shot landscapes, notably near his home in Somerset, in the UK. This book contains five sections. The first contains photos taken in a number of locations, the second photos from Somerset and elsewhere in the UK; the third consists of photos taken in India and the Middle East; the fourth returns to Somerset; and the final section contains photos of Somerset, Northern England, Scotland, and France. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
These photos are all dark; not just black and white, but they contain brooding tones, often with stark clouds, tangled trees, and lots of water (photos of flooding in Somerset). There is a unity among the style of the photos, which cover several decades of work, though not all are really landscapes. Many of the photos from India are of people in a landscape; there are photos of ruins in Palmyra; and there are a few photos of grimy cityscapes in the UK.
Nevertheless, there is something majestic about the darkness of these photos, especially the ones from Somerset, or the astounding photo of Stonehenge (below). This is a composition of vastness, of the spaces in front of his eyes, of the contrast between land and sky, which isn’t always clear. A stunning book of black and white photos.
Michael Kenna, rafu
Known for his beautiful black and white landscapes, Michael Kenna has published his first book of portraits. This slim book contains 41 photos of nude Japanese women. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
In a short text at the end of the book, Kenna explains that he had been shooting nudes in Japan for about ten years, and these 41 photos were selected for an exhibit in Japan, and for this book, out of some 9,000 photos that he had shot.
They have the Micheal Kenna touch; they are square, use a hint of toning, and are not particularly erotic. If anything, they recall Edward Weston’s nude photos of the 1920s and 1930s.
These are subtle photographs where there is much more than the female body being shown, and this slim yet attractive book is a very interesting new aspect of Michael Kenna’s work.
Todd Hido, Bright Black World
Even for someone familiar with Todd Hido’s work, this book is a bit of a shock. In 48 large format photos – some of which fold out to double- or quadruple-size – Hido explores locations outside the United States, with a stunning level of darkness that pervades the works. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
An epigram from Hido sets the tone: “It’s been said that Inuits have many words to describe white. As the polar snow caps melt faster than we ever imagined, I wonder how long it will be before we have as many words to describe darkness.”
There is light in some of these photos, but most of them give off a level of angst that can be overpowering. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful book that is full of moving, atmospheric photos.
Four companies are at the top of the pyramid for technology and digital media: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Each one is very different, but there are many similarities that have helped these companies become so dominant.
Amazon’s reach is extraordinary, with 64 percent of people in the United States being subscribers to Amazon Prime. Apple, while far from being the leader in smartphones, commands one of the highest profit margins in the tech sector, currently around 38 percent. Facebook has two billion users, and four of the five most popular mobile apps are owned by the company. And Google owns 92 percent of the search market.
Much has been written about the successes of these companies, and of the unique qualities of their founders: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page. And much has also been written about how these companies strategically created or took advantage of sectors where they could disrupt existing companies.
Scott Galloway, professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, and longtime entrepreneur, looks at these “four horsemen,” as he calls them, in his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. In his book, he highlights many of the negative aspects of their business models, and their effects on society.
We are all familiar with the expression “timing is everything.” From ice hockey to investing, success often depends on doing things at the right time. But how do we know when it is the right time? Sometimes we can play where the puck is going, or figure out the right moment to act by a careful read of the market, but in other cases the right time depends on us; it depends on us knowing when to do things.
Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets to Perfect Timing, looks at when we should do things to be the most efficient, the most productive, and the most inspired. The “when” he discusses is the time of day, the time of the year, or even the point in a project where we should or shouldn’t do certain things.
He poses a certain number of questions early in the book:
Why do beginnings–whether we get off to a fast start or a false start–matter so much? And how can we make a fresh start if we stumble out of the starting blocks? Why does reaching the midpoint–of a project, a game, even a life–sometimes bring us down and other times fire us up? Why do endings energize us to kick harder to reach the finish line yet also inspire us to slow down and seek meaning?
We’ve all experienced flagging interest in projects, or difficulty trying to make it through the day, the week, or the month, but we generally don’t think that we might have started — or continued our projects — at the wrong time.
The lightning bolt blasted down from the fast-moving summer storm, exploding into our roof, through our attic, and into the guest bedroom. Fire erupted on the bed. My sons put out that fire in the bedroom, but the roof and attic were ablaze. Within two minutes, my family were out of the house, with our pets, pulling our cars out of the garage, as the flames spread. Despite the heavy rain, smoke already wreathed our home. We got out with the clothes we had on our backs. We were safe. We watched our home burn as multiple fire departments responded, as news crews and the Red Cross arrived, as dozens of our neighbors gathered around us to offer comfort, as our family tried to grapple with what seemed an unimaginable new reality.
Hours later, after the fire was out, the fire chief helped my wife and I wade through a foot of water in the remaining shell of our home. We surveyed, in disbelief and shock, the catastrophic damage–missing walls and floors, splintered beams, debris everywhere. The air reeked of smoke and the raw, wet innards of our house. Then I saw, by the glow of my flashlight, sodden and burned books on the shelves and in the water and I thought, for the first time: Oh. All my books.
Jeff Abbott is a best-selling crime fiction author who I have known for more than twenty years. Last year, a lightning bolt struck his house, burning the entire house down. Fortunately no one was hurt, but his huge library was decimated.
You don’t think something like this will ever happen to you, but Jeff gives some tips about recording information about what you own just in case.
My motives for writing this story are conventionally American. I value my freedom to be what others may not wish me to be. I am proud to read whichever book I want, from The Satanic Verses to S&M pictorials to the speeches of Saddam Hussein. Although I sometimes write about politics, I do not consider myself political — or is it in fact political to hold some degree of disrespect for whichever fellow citizens have been set in power over me? In this, if Steinbeck is to be believed, I am very American: “Americans almost without exception have a fear and a hatred of any perpetuation of power — political, religious, or bureaucratic.” Yes, like my father, I am proud to be an American, at least sometimes. (Shortly before he died, in 2009, he told me: “I used to be proud to be an American. Now I’m ashamed.”) I’m proud that when I’m ashamed I can say so without being hauled off to a secret prison. I must love any government that allows me to excoriate it.
I am an aging man, more or less satisfied with life, self-employed, able to turn down jobs that don’t suit me, free to say no to almost anybody and accept the consequences. I have gotten out of the habit of being a “team player,” if I ever was one. I am proud of this American Way of Life in which I am, at least in my own view, anyone’s equal. These ideas that I have are predicated on the notion, common to my fading generation, that my private life is no one’s business.
William T. Vollmann, the polymath author of fiction and non fiction – most recently of the fascinating, yet frustrating, two volumes Carbon Ideologies (Amazon.com) – wrote this essay for Harpers in 2013 after he learned that he had been suspected of being the Unabomber.
At first, I do not mind admitting, I was thrilled to have something new to report to my friends. No other member of our circle had ever been mistaken for the Unabomber! Their expressions of astonishment flattered my vanity; I nearly mistook myself for someone important. But presently I began to feel offended, and when I learned that the Unamericans had watched me for years, indeed surveilled my house, I felt, as people say after burglaries, violated.
The nude female body as a subject has a long history in art, and in photography. In fine art, it has always been more or less sedate – though see Courbet’s L’Origine du monde – but in photography, it has often been more osé. Nude photography follows the unwritten rules of the patriarchy; in most such photos, the woman is an object, often in ludicrous positions, or in situations that serve as nothing more than backdrops to their bodies. Photo magazines are full of nude or semi-nude photos – so-called “boudoir” photography – that serve to codify the tropes of this genre: for example, a naked women in high heels in front of a waterfall. There are certainly many exceptions, and nude art photography – to distinguish it from “I know it when I see it” pornography – can be very attractive, without demeaning its subjects.
Amazon UK runs a lot of deals on Kindle ebooks. There’s a daily deal, where there books are offered, usually for £0.99, there are other occasional daily deals, and there’s a big monthly deal, with hundreds of books ranging from £0.99 to a few pounds. Lots of people take advantage of these deals to pick up books they might not have read at bargain prices, or often to begin or complete a series of books, such as mysteries, fantasy novels, etc. I check the list every month, and often find books that I’d been wanting to read; for a pound, it’s a no-brainer to buy them.
Among these deals are non-fiction books. This month, Amazon’s selection is surprisingly political; not that there are a lot of political books in the lot, but that most of them are pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, and anti-Corbyn (Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party). Here’s what you can find this month in the monthly deal selection.
This one’s thesis is very clear from its title: the EU is bad:
Here’s a biography of Jeremy Corbyn. It might not be biased, but the title is clear. It’s published by Biteback Publishing, which is owned by Michael Ascroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party:
Here’s another one attacking the Labour party. Coincidentally, also published by Biteback Publishing:
In fact, it looks like Michael Ashcroft’s publishing house has quite a deal with Amazon this month. I wonder why? Perhaps because it’s likely that there will be new elections in the UK soon?
This one is also pretty clear; another from Biteback Publishing, as are all the rest of the books I cite below:
Here’s a memoir from the person who led the Leave.eu campaign:
A book “written” by Nigel Farage:
Here’s Ann Coulter’s pro-Trump screed:
And another pro-Trump book:
Another pro-Brexit book:
And one more for good measure:
It’s not uncommon for a publisher to offer a bunch of its titles at a discount to Amazon. (It’s worth noting that the first book above, The Great Deception, is from a different publisher, Bloomsbury, who is a generalist, not a propagandist.) But having this many books that clearly lean in a specific direction politically is dangerous. People who scan the sale titles will see these books, all clearly ideologically biased, and not see only other options at these low prices. A publisher funded by an ideological politician is selling books at bargain prices in order, perhaps, to try to sway public opinion at a time when the UK is in crisis. I think this shows Amazon’s bias as well.