Riding the long tail


A professor at INSEAD has come up with a system that generates tomes full of stuff on obscure topics, and sells them on Amazon, only printing them when they’re ordered.

Supposedly, he has over 200,000 books available, with such racy titles as “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats, and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India“.

This article includes a video by the author, talking about his book “writing” process, and also about his ambitions for automatically-generated video games, teaching and game shows.

Not everyone is happy about what he’s doing, though.

I wonder if Jeffrey Archer knows about this.


Short cuts for 2009-03-17


Niche books, such as the one we did to celebrate a venerable calculator club, have been possible for a while now with digital print-on-demand publishing. Now, Magcloud does the same for glossy magazines.

If this makes you want to publish your own magazine, please do get the typography right; it makes such a difference if what’s on paper isn’t completely hideous. This Periodic table of typefaces is a good place to explore the commonest options (although, if he were real, I suspect Jack Bauer would be annoyed that it doesn’t include Bank Gothic).

Speaking of when calculators were on the cutting edge of computing, none of the hardware modifications I did to mine were quite as illegal as turning one into a pipe for smoking weed. I guess I was never stoned enough to think that would help my programming.


Michael, is that you?


I am in the camp that thinks that the next Trek score is in good hands with Michael Giacchino.

As far as I am aware, none of the trailers to date have had his music on them, so they can’t really be used to judge what he’ll do.

But perhaps the (mono, tinny) background music on the main part of the Flash presentation that passes for the Star Trek movie’s official site is a clue. It sounds a bit Lost-y at the start, then opens up into a fairly straightforward romantic-ish melody over what seem to me to be strongly Goldsmith-y chords (with maybe some Horner-y tritone steps).

On the one hand, I think the arrangement could be more smooth and subtle, especially at the start. On the other hand, the music as a whole is growing on me.  Although it’s not a patch on Goldsmith’s gorgeous romantic themes for Ilia or First Contact, it’s definitely more appealing to me melodically than, say, Horner’s clunky “Wrath of Khan” theme.

I don’t know if this is actually Giacchino’s work, but I’m not familiar with it, and what else would they be playing on the official Trek movie site at this point? Still, I’ll appreciate when there is a real confirmation of the composer.

(A side effect of wanting to listen carefully to this music is that I learned to use SWF Tools to extract the MP3 file from the Flash presentation.)


Can I get a refund if it works?


These days, lousy manufacturing quality would normally be an excuse for returning a product. But this camera on amazon is apparently being sold on the basis that it’s poorly made.

From the description:

Soft focusing, […] intense vignetting, and unpredictable light leaks all contribute to the Holga’s incredible photo effects.

Certainly, a use of the term “photo effects” that would confuse Photoshop users, methinks.

Each Holga is unique and produces signature images and peculiarities of its own.

Yeah, who needs to squander creative bodily fluids on the drudge of post-processing, when the camera can screw up your pictures right away?


Where no $x has gone before


Apparently not an early April Fool’s joke, three Star Trek fragrances are coming out soon.

The smell of fear

Presumably, if those do well, more will follow. I’d propose calling one Khaaaaaaaan! , but I believe Brent Spiner has won any possible naming contest .

In a more subtle and practical way, here are two of the best home-made MIDI controllers ever, with one having a design based on the LCARS touchscreens seen in Star Trek: the Next Generation.


Short cuts for 2009-02-27


If you’ve ever wondered when the relentless pace of miniaturization would finally cram your computer into its mains plug, wonder no more. Here’s a better picture, and here’s a nice diagram.

Packing data into small spaces has been the enabling technology for practical digital video, but what happens when  you tinker with what the playback devices expect to find in their compressed data? Data corruption as emerging art, that’s what (although when Rambo emerges from it, I think it’s done).

And speaking of cramming things into unexpected places, don’t forget that tomorrow is Sword Swallower’s Day. I’ve heard August 17th is lined up to be Goldfish Regurgitation Day, but I’m awaiting confirmation from the League of Magicians’ Assistants (Gill-breathing Office).


Short cuts for 2009-02-26


If you thought living in a cave would make you immune to economic problems, think again. The cave in question is now one of the most followed auctions on eBay.

If you’re interested in finding out what the area’s like close to that cave, or indeed, close to anything that’s been photographed, Flickr’s new “nearby” feature might help.

The only disappointing thing about that feature is that it doesn’t have a sufficiently mockable name to show up in this game of buzzword bingo. (Be sure to click the Make another card button if your favourite mock-magnet doesn’t appear right away.)