Feudalism 2.0

Bruce Schneier on the state we’re in.

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals. We might refuse to pledge allegiance to all of them – or to a particular one we don’t like. Or we can spread our allegiance around. But either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not pledge allegiance to at least one of them.

Nice essay and a useful metaphor. Worth reading in full.

How the world ends

Jeremy Bernstein’s Memoir: At Los Alamos in the LRB.

He advised me to face away from the explosion and count to ten. I was also given some very dark glass to put over my own glasses. Even the reflection from the bunker walls could damage your eyes. I don’t know how far away from the explosion we were but we were close enough to see the 700-foot tower that had the bomb on top of it. I noticed a hill behind the tower with a grove of Joshua trees. They looked as if they were praying. A loudspeaker counted out the minutes until the explosion and then counted down the last sixty seconds. I had turned my back and covered my eyes with the dark glass but the bright flash still made me shut them. I counted to ten and then turned round.

The horizon in front of me was in turmoil. In the centre was a livid red-orange cloud. The hugeness of it was what impressed me. I had had no idea of the sheer scale of a nuclear explosion. Peaslee had prepared me for the next step. I felt a sharp and slightly painful click in my ears. This was the supersonic shock wave. At Hiroshima it produced a wind stronger than any known typhoon: it knocked over the kerosene cookers the Japanese used to make breakfast and caused most of the fires at Hiroshima. Then came the sound: a sort of rolling thunder. The cloud had turned purple and black and hung in the air like a radioactive cobra about to strike. There was talk of taking cover, but it didn’t move in our direction. I stood there mute. We went back to the dormitory to get a little more sleep.

Nooks and crannies in eBooks

Lovely story which highlights one of the hidden affordances of eBooks:

Some weeks ago I decided that I wanted to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Lou Ann loaned me her copy. At more than 1100 pages, reading it in bed required as much strength as balancing a box of bricks in my hands. In my senior years I have developed arthritis in my thumbs, which made the effort not only difficult, but painful.

I had read about half of the novel when I was given the gift of a Nook, the e-reader from Barnes and Noble. Although I am committed to supporting my neighborhood independent book store (Books to be Red), and enjoying honest-to-goodness books, the .99 Nook edition was so lightweight that it has made reading War and Peace a genuine pleasure. For those of you who have not tackled this tome as yet, it is a page-turner.

As I was reading, I came across this sentence: “It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern….” Thinking this was simply a glitch in the software, I ignored the intrusive word and continued reading. Some pages later I encountered the rogue word again. With my third encounter I decided to retrieve my hard cover book and find the original (well, the translated) text.

For the sentence above I discovered this genuine translation: “It was as if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern….”

Someone at Barnes and Noble (a twenty year old employee? or maybe the CEO?) had substituted every incidence of “kindled” with “Nookd!”

I was shocked. Almost immediately I found it hilarious…then outrageous…then both. It is definitely clever. But it raises many questions. E-books can be manipulated at will by the purveyors of the downloadable software. Here is a classic work of fiction (some claim it is the greatest novel every written) used for a sophomoric and/or commercial prank. What else might be changed in an e-book? Fears of manipulation for economic, political, religious, or other ideological ends come to mind. It makes one wary of the integrity of any digital version of not only War and Peace…but any e-book.

Yep. Great blog post.