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peterwayner writes "Comic book lovers in search of a deep understanding
of electricty can now turn to the "Manga Guide to
Electricity", a beginner's textbook filled with
cartoon characters struggling to learn about volts,
watts and joules. At first I thought it
was a gimmick, but after reading it I've started
to see it's a good step forward in textbooks.
The book begins with a typical Manga premise: a young
girl from an alternative world is magically transported to
modern Japan with her robot. She's failing her exams at home
and for some odd reason they send her to learn here on Earth.
Oh she comes with her electrically powered robot who is her
only way to get back home again. Gosh, I hope the robot doesn't
get injured and need an electricity sensei to fix him.
It's not important because the story only serves to set up
a teacher-student relationship for the book. In other editions
from the Manga series from No Starch Press,
girl pines for a good looking guy from a distance. Then,
in a twist designed to get the book moving toward the
right goal, we learn that the guy knows plenty about statistics.
They're all pretty contrived.
So the girl meets her tutor and starts to learn
the basics. The text begins with "What Is Electricity" (volts, joules, etc)
and finishes with examining how electricity works. It's got most
of what you need for most beginning science courses.
There are five major sections: What is electricy, what
are electric circuits, how does electricity work, how do you
create electricy and how can you conveniently use electricity.
You're not going to get a job at Intel by the end of the book,
but you'll know more about what they do.
All of the action is a give and take between the girl and
her tutor. He introduces the topic, she doesn't understand,
he refines, she questions, he answers, and finally she
gets it. Victory! The characters celebrate like they just
defeated some villain.
After getting past the novelty and the excessive cuteness (kawai!)
of Manga art,
I started feeling like the technique was ideal. Most
textbooks present the information as a fete acompli
spelling out that in the past, geniuses discovered that the world is This
Way. The authors may try to break down the topics into
manageable chunks, create a workable taxonomy, and deliver
each part with plenty of pictures, but it's still one
author telling the audience what to think.
That omniscience is still present in the voice of the sensei, but the
girl's voice turns the narrative into a dialog by speaking
what the readers are probably thinking. The all-seeing
wisdom of the Great Oz is replaced by Socrates and Plato.
One famous editor I know told me long ago that the secret
of a good magazine piece lies in simulating a dialog by
anticipating the questions the reader will probably be
asking and then answering them in the next paragraph.
This format forces the author into imagining the reader
and placing them in the structure of the book.
While I ended up loving most of the book, I felt like the
story line and dialog were a bit too simplistic. All to often, the girl's
boil down to either saying she's confused or announcing that
she gets it. It's rare for her to have truly good questions that
push the tutor to admit the limitations of statistics. She does offer
some obvious ones, but I think it would actually slow down the book if she
were too clever.
Does the girl get back home? Will the robot be fixed? Just what do those
silicon and boron atoms do in a semi-conductor? Are electrons in a wire
like boxcars behind a locomotive? Is the ending satisfying and final? What? And
write away the chance for a sequel? No Starch Press is also
publishing translations of Manga guides to Physics, Calculus, Statistics,
Molecular Biology and other topics.
peterwayner writes "Six of the top ten links on a Google search for one of my books points to a pirate site when I type in "wayner data compression textbook". Others search strings actually locate pages that are selling legit copies including digital editions for the Kindle. I've started looking around for suggestions. Any thoughts from the Slashdot crowd? The free copies aren't boosting sales for my books. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything? I'm open to suggestions." top
What do I do about websites distributing my books?
peterwayner writes "I recently noticed that some of my books are widely distributed on places like Pirate Bay. They're so widely distributed that typing "wayner data compression textbook" into Google returns ten pages and none of them are selling my book. Some are devoted to other books, but the bulk of the results are filled with sites like ExtraTorrent pushing a big download "Great Science Textbooks". While it's a great complement to be included in such a list of books, it pretty much confirmed that I won't be able to pay the rent or support my family writing these books as I have in the past. If others found success giving away books, it's eluded me and I'm guessing that the hype is what really drives sales. (The proliferation of digital readers is going to really hurt the viability of this mechanism.) So I've started asking people for advice. Do I (1) get another job, (2) sue people, or (3) invent some magic spell? Is society going to be able to support people who synthesize knowledge or will we need to rely on the Wikipedia for everything? I'm open to suggestions." Link to Original Source top
peterwayner writes "If you're jazzed by the communitarian impulses driving Wikis, idea agora, Web 2.0 and other collaborative
happenings, you'll be pleased to know that the new book Wikinomics is a great gift for that boss, spouse,
or friend who doesn't quite grok it yet. The only logic bomb hidden in this statement is that much of what is
wonderful in this book is wonderful because it's a book printed on pulp and written by two and only two authors. That
is, the book is good because it's not a wiki.
This statement isn't exactly true. The authors, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, have a wiki site
at www.wikinomics.com devoted to the book. You can edit the
wiki and have your say, but that's not what they're asking folks to buy. For the price of the book,
you get a well-designed collection of thoughtful anecdotes stitched together by two talented business writers
and polished by a good editor. They've made a good attempt to cover most aspects of the topic and they
do an excellent job of explaining why the ideas are important for CEOs that are struggling to move their
business forward. All of this is almost as portable as an iPod
, dramatically less expensive and guaranteed
never to need new batteries.
The tone of the book is bright and optimistic about how openness and wiki principles will help companies.
We hear about how the wikipedia covered the London subway explosions,
the way that Innocentive is opening
up the R&D process for companies and the surprising inventiveness of Google maps
users. The descriptions are
thorough and well-researched, as far as they go, and when they're done going, the writers summarize them
well. It's clear that the writers feel that the word "wikis" should be the new one word answer that CEOs should
trot out when faced with the kind an impossible question, the kind of question that they the answered
with "Internet" during the 1990s and "China"
after the turn of the millenium.
The great advantages of the pulp-bound book become clear as you work your way through the text.
In one section, for instance, Tapscott and
dismiss Jaron Lanier's worry
that wikis can devolve when a smart mob
develops the the same kind of "mass stupidity" that brought us Pol Pot or the Stalinist movement. "The winners will
outnumber the losers", say the authors and conclude that Lanier "ran afoul".
I don't really agree with the easy way that they dismissed the danger and if I had a wiki edit button in front
of me, I would change the text to amplify Lanier's warnings. I've watched the mob rule delete perfectly good information
from the wikipedia for no other reason than it wasn't "notable". The revision wars are legendary and any savvy wiki reader
knows that skirmishes are more common than we would like. The well-meaning editors at the Wikipedia have probably
destroyed more knowledge in the name of notability than the book burners of history. At least it's still there in the
article history. But since Tapscott and Williams
wrote a book that doesn't come with a wiki edit button, the text is better off
because I didn't glue in my own divergent rant.
The optimism of the book is contagious and it would be a shame for it to be limited by a neutral point of view.
Wikis organize casual information like how
to install software ,
and this is the kind of job that is very important to business. Wikis may just be the wrong tool
for, say, capturing political truthiness, but the book
gives several good examples of how they energize corporations
by making it easier for divisions, groups, and project teams to cooperate without going through traditional
channels. If a business wants to formalize its collective intelligence, a wiki offers an ideal amount of
If the book needs any editing, it would be to add
more skepticism. At the beginning, they hint that they will address the
kind of concerns that led Bill Gates to wonder about how society will pay for innovation if there's no profit
incentive, but analyzing the limitations of the wikiworld isn't really their goal. There's little discussion
of endeavors that have largely failed like Wikinews. That
experiment with collaborative reporting had two articles on the day I wrote this and one article on the day before.
19 and 20th).
It's probably too early for us to have a firm grasp on the downsides to the wiki world and so it might be unfair
to expect the book to be much of a buzz kill. One of the biggest logical problems I've found
with the wikipedia is the inconsistent way that the movement treats traditional scholarship.
On one hand, we're supposed to revel
in the way that the wikipedia is often better than traditional mechanisms, but on the other hand the wikipedia gives more
weight to outside sources. On the day I wrote this, the guide counseled, "Avoid weasel words such as, `Some people say...' Instead, make your writing verifiable: find a specific person or group who holds that opinion and give a citation to a reputable publication in which they express that opinion."
If the wikis become good enough to rival if not replace original sources, where will the wikis find the outside beacons of authority?
Any strict logician will realize that there's a danger of proving 1=0 with this system, although I realize that all grown
ups know that life is filled with logical inconsistencies like that.
The book, for instance, doesn't really question why the Wikipedia worked but the Wikinews didn't, something that no one may really
know. The tone is closer to Ray Kinsella
than Crash Davis.
It celebrates Cory Doctorow, the famous editor of BoingBoing.net,
a wonderful blog that I read daily. The authors explain how Doctorow gives away digital copies of his books because
"his problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity."
Perhaps that's true, but a deeper question is how the wikis, mashups, and mixes will find their benchmarks of authority,
their geodetic markers in memespace, their means of support.
To test this danger, I wrote this
greasemonkey script to count the words in
a webpage between certain tags. On the day I wrote this, the admittedly imprecise script found 11788 words on the
front page of Boing Boing, of which 6472 were between <blockquote> tags. That's about 50% borrowed text.
So far, this non-stop homage, this pantheon of fair use sells ads and seems to do quite well — Wikinomics suggests that BoingBoing's
"readership now eclipses most mainstream media outlets." So why
bother playing by the old school rules
when you can just let others do the work while you
push the boundaries of fair use and make money? There is a real danger that the original sources will
find themselves starved for air as the Wikipedia and others fair use devotees suck up the
top search rankings.
This may be why I think the book was right to bring these wiki worlds to the business community. At first I thought it
was rather cynical to package up the wiki ideals into a neat bundle for the business leaders, but now I think that businesses
are the ones who can really use and support
the ideals. We now know that wikis can't be trusted for important, contentious areas of
truthiness like politics,
history, or any place where there's a difference of opinion
about the facts,
but it can still be ideal for semi-closed environments with outside
means of support. I can imagine that wikis would be great for a corporation that needed to manage communication between
the two divisions in different states. Openness gets rid of the natural inertia of bureaucracies. And it's clear that
every company should have a wiki devoted to the user's guide so the customers can add what the manual writers never anticipated.
Wikis allows one groupto move ahead without asking another "mother may I". The umbrella business can pay the bills for
keeping the lights on.
My guess is the folks in business who need to get
things done may be the only ones who support the wikiconomy in the long term after
the average joe gets a bit bored
and tosses the wikis onto the pile of amusing distractions with the CB radios. The businesses are the
ones with the real incentives to embrace the values of wikiness. And if you've spent a few years in the cubicle
trenches, you know that words like "truthiness" have a certain ring to them.
peterwayner writes "There are few corners of the world that are more closely associated with the word "nerd" than comic books and physics. Despite the large overlap in the fan base, the two disciplines seem doomed to live forever in different corners of our minds. Superheroes don't have to obey the laws of physics and that's probably what makes them so attractive to the poor physicists who labor long and hard in the hope of making those laws work correctly. James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, has produced a book, "The Physics of Superheroes" (now in paperback). The surprise is that the two don't behave like matter and anti-matter. They don't explode on contact.
There's no reason to spoil the book. You'll have to read it if you want to know why Superman can't change history, how Magneto becomes Electro when he runs, and whether Spiderman could really do those amazing things with spider silk. Some of the chapters are devoted to celebrating the accuracy of the comic strips by working through the physical equations. Much of what the comic book writers imagined is actually pretty reasonable. These sections bring new discipline to those old debates over who's stronger, bigger or most capable.
Other sections spell out just how wrong some of the assumptions are. Even when he's deflating the hopes of those kids who wish they could fly like Superman, he uses the disconnection with reality as a chance to riff on some what-if questions. What if Superman came from a planet that had a gravitational field 15 times stronger than earth? Would he be able to leap tall buildings? And then what would happen to a planet that was 15 times denser than earth? Would it fly apart as it rotated? Could you build one by just making a bigger version of Earth? What if you put some superdense material in the center of your new Earth? These are the questions that Kakalios works through.
The core theorem or narrative device of the book (choose your point of view) is that comic book authors can't bend too many rules. In fact, they usually can't get away with breaking more one or two. Then the hero must live a conventional life in our world and that's what makes it interesting. Spiderman may have a superstrong webbing, but he's still as vulnerable to depression as the next man. Batman may have unlimited wealth, but that won't bring back his parents. To paraphrase Robert Frost, comic book authors aren't playing tennis without a net.
In this world, science and comic narrative aren't bizarro versions of each other. Stories are sort of like free-form experiments where the scientist tries to change just one thing and measure the results. From this viewpoint, there's little difference between the two disciplines. A comic book is just a shorthand version of a scientific experiment.
This link implies an interesting and perhaps dangerous notion: science is just a longhand version of comic books. Sure, the folks at the cell phone companies have been striving mightily to make real that button on James T. Kirk's chest. That's the good news. But what about the darker notions? Anyone who's dealt with the side-effects of supposedly safe drugs like Vioxx knows that the bench scientists are as constrained as the comic book authors. They've got to come up with research that satisfies their customers and provide a simple resolution before that customer loses interest. (And won't those scientists come up with an ending for the debate about the link between cell phone-brain cancer before a jury does?)
But such speculation may kill the fun in the book. It's really just an excuse to toss around some equations and ask "what if" with a bit more rigor. This book may not be a grand, unifying theorem for the big plots of comic books and the big theories of science, but it's a neat first cut. It's as fascinating as much for its nuts and bolts description of physics as its offhand way of mixing together mathematical frameworks with narrative understanding.