Why, Mr. Pinkus!


Harper Lee, author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has sued a literary agent who allegedly tricked her into handing him the copyright to the book.

Lee, 87, says Samuel Pinkus took advantage of her poor hearing and sight to transfer the rights and has failed to respond to licence requests. She says when her long-time agent, Eugene Winick, fell ill in 2002 his son-in-law, Mr Pinkus, switched several of his clients over to his own company.

Mr Pinkus is alleged to have transferred the rights to secure himself “irrevocable” interest in the book’s earnings. It is further alleged that Mr Pinkus failed to respond to offers on e-book rights and questions relating to the book’s 50th anniversary. The suit, filed in a court in Manhattan, New York, aims to re-assign the book’s rights to Lee and recover any commission Mr Pinkus has taken since 2007.

To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It has since sold more than 30 million copies. It tells the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in depression-era community tainted by racism.

The novel is Lee’s only published book. She lives in Monroeville, Alabama, is rarely seen in public and declines almost all interview requests. Mr Pinkus did not immediately respond to an email from Reuters news agency seeking comment.

Hmmm… l recall a sayin’…

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Don’t rightly know who said it, can’t quite recollect… but it seems to me she oughta stick to that.

Knew there’d be a hitch!

Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?


I received a Kindle for my birthday, and enjoying “light reading,” in addition to the dense science I read for work, I immediately loaded it with mysteries by my favorite authors. But I soon found that I had difficulty recalling the names of characters from chapter to chapter. At first, I attributed the lapses to a scary reality of getting older — but then I discovered that I didn’t have this problem when I read paperbacks.

When I discussed my quirky recall with friends and colleagues, I found out I wasn’t the only one who suffered from “e-book moments.” Online, I discovered that Google’s Larry Page himself had concerns about research showing that on-screen reading is measurably slower than reading on paper.

This seems like a particularly troubling trend for academia, where digital books are slowly overtaking the heavy tomes I used to lug around. On many levels, e-books seem like better alternatives to textbooks — they can be easily updated and many formats allow readers to interact with the material more, with quizzes, video, audio and other multimedia to reinforce lessons. But some studies suggest that there may be significant advantages in printed books if your goal is to remember what you read long-term.

Kate Garland, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England, is one of the few scientists who has studied this question and reviewed the data. She found that when the exact same material is presented in both media, there is no measurable difference in student performance.

However, there are some subtle distinctions that favor print, which may matter in the long run. In one study involving psychology students, the medium did seem to matter. “We bombarded poor psychology students with economics that they didn’t know,” she says. Two differences emerged. First, more repetition was required with computer reading to impart the same information.

Second, the book readers seemed to digest the material more fully. Garland explains that when you recall something, you either “know” it and it just “comes to you” — without necessarily consciously recalling the context in which you learned it — or you “remember” it by cuing yourself about that context and then arriving at the answer. “Knowing” is better because you can recall the important facts faster and seemingly effortlessly.


“What we found was that people on paper started to ‘know’ the material more quickly over the passage of time,” says Garland. “It took longer and [required] more repeated testing to get into that knowing state [with the computer reading, but] eventually the people who did it on the computer caught up with the people who [were reading] on paper.”

Context and landmarks may actually be important to going from “remembering” to “knowing.” The more associations a particular memory can trigger, the more easily it tends to be recalled. Consequently, seemingly irrelevant factors like remembering whether you read something at the top or the bottom of page — or whether it was on the right or left hand side of a two-page spread or near a graphic — can help cement material in mind.

This seems irrelevant at first, but spatial context may be particularly important because evolution may have shaped the mind to easily recall location cues so we can find our way around. That’s why great memorizers since antiquity have used a trick called the “method of loci” to associate facts they want to remember with places in spaces they already know, like rooms in their childhood home. They then visualize themselves wandering sequentially through the rooms, recalling the items as they go.

As neuroscientist Mark Changizi put it in a blog post:

In nature, information comes with a physical address (and often a temporal one), and one can navigate to and from the address. Those raspberry patches we found last year are over the hill and through the woods — and they are still over the hill and through the woods.

And up until the rise of the web, the mechanisms for information storage were largely spatial and could be navigated, thereby tapping into our innate navigation capabilities. Our libraries and books — the real ones, not today’s electronic variety — were supremely navigable.

E-books, however, provide fewer spatial landmarks than print, especially pared-down versions like the early Kindles, which simply scroll through text and don’t even show page numbers, just the percentage already read. In a sense, the page is infinite and limitless, which can be dizzying. Printed books on the other hand, give us a physical reference point, and part of our recall includes how far along in the book we are, something that’s more challenging to assess on an e-book.


Jakob Nielsen, a Web “usability” expert and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, believes e-reading does lead to a different type of recall. “I really do think we remember less” from e-books, he says. “This is not something I have formally measured, but just based on both studies we’ve done looking at reading behavior on tablets and books and reading from regular computers.”

He says that studies show that smaller screens also make material less memorable. “The bigger the screen, the more people can remember and the smaller, the less they can remember,” he says. “The most dramatic example is reading from mobile phones. [You] lose almost all context.”

Searching by typing or scrolling back is also more distracting than simply turning back pages to return to an important point, he notes. “Human short-term memory is extremely volatile and weak,” says Nielsen. “That’s why there’s a huge benefit from being able to glance [across a page or two] and see [everything] simultaneously. Even though the eye can only see one thing at a time, it moves so fast that for all practical purposes, it can see [the pages] and can interrelate the material and understand it more.”

Flipping through pages is also less mentally taxing. “The more you have to expend your minimal brain power to divert it into these other tasks [like search, the less it is] available for learning.”

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for e-text books or computerized courseware, however. Neither Nielsen nor Garland is opposed to using new media for teaching. In fact, both believe that there are many situations in which they can offer real advantages. However, different media have different strengths — and it may be that physical books are best when you want to study complex ideas and concepts that you wish to integrate deeply into your memory. More studies will likely show what material is best suited for learning in a digital format, and what type of lessons best remain in traditional textbooks.

But someone — perhaps the publishing industry? — is going to have to take the initiative and fund them.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer for TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

Source: Time Inc.

Britannica No More

Britannica ends its print edition – Updated 5 April 2012


After 244 years reference book firm Encyclopaedia Britannica has decided to stop publishing its famous and weighty 32-volume print edition. It will now focus on digital expansion amid rising competition from websites such as Wikipedia.

The firm, which used to sell its encyclopaedias door-to-door, now generates almost 85% its revenue from online sales. It recently launched a digital version of its encyclopaedias for tablet PCs. “The sales of printed encyclopaedias have been negligible for several years,” said Jorge Cauz president of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “We knew this was going to come.”

Companies across the globe have been trying to boost their online presence in a bid to cash in on the fast-growing market. Various newspapers, magazines and even book publishers have been coming up with online versions of their products as an increasing number of readers access information on high-tech gadgets such as tablet PCs and smartphones.

Britannica said while its decision to focus on online editions was influenced by the shift in consumer pattern, the ability to update content at a short notice also played a big role. “A printed encyclopaedia is obsolete the minute that you print it,” Mr Cauz said, “whereas our online edition is updated continuously.”

At the same time, frequent users of the encyclopaedia said they preferred using the online version more than the print one. “We have to answer thousands of questions each month through chat, through telephone, through email and we have to do that as quickly as humanly possible,” Richard Reyes-Gavilan of Brooklyn Public Library said. “In many instances doing a keyword search in an online resource is simply a lot faster than standing up looking at the index of the Britannica and then finding the appropriate volume.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica, the company, has largely moved away from its encyclopaedia work focusing most of its energies in recent years on educational software.

Source: BBC

I want to complain and decry the loss of another great institution, of another great book ripped from the ever-diminishing library shelves in our rapidly disappearing libraries.

Not everyone has access to a PC [sic] and despite Government targets and the apparently low cost of technology, and not everyone ever will.

We need libraries, and we need an up-to-date copy of Britannica for reference in every one. £300 for a computer is still very expensive if you don’t have it, let alone the cost of the CD-Britannica, which, as a final thought, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as The Encyclopaedia Britannica does it?

So boo, I say, overall – BOO!

UPDATE 5 April 2012
Encyclopedia Britannica’s final print edition on verge of selling out

Big Infograph

Confirmed: The Internet Does Not Solve Global Inequality
Despite the Internet’s global reach, the lion’s share of the content comes from the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world.

If you live in a rich country, the Internet has probably changed the way you consume (and produce) information. But when you look at global-scale knowledge production, things are as they ever were: the Anglophone world dominates with the United States doing the lion’s share of academic and user-generated publishing.


Those are the messages of the Oxford Internet Institute’s new e-book, Geographies of the World’s Knowledge, from which these two graphics were drawn. In the book’s foreword, Corinne Flick of the Convoco Foundation reluctantly concludes that the Internet has not delivered on the hopes that it would make knowledge “more accessible.”

“Many commentators speculated that [the Internet] would allow people outside of industrialised nations to gain access to all networked and codified knowledge, thus mitigating the traditionally concentrated nature of information production and consumption,” she writes. “These early expectations remain largely unrealised.”

We’re not only talking about publishing in academic journals or Wikipedia. The book’s authors, Mark Graham, Monica Stephens, Scott A. Hale, and Kunika Kono, sampled user-generated content on Google and found that rich countries, especially the United States, dominate the production of user content.


The fact of the matter is that people without money can’t afford to get the education necessary to publish in academic journals, Internet-enabled or not. The other fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in very poor countries don’t spend their time producing content for free. Hope as we might, the Internet isn’t a magic wand that makes the world more equal.

Source: Oxford Internet Institute

Language Schmanguage, say American Physicists


A group of physicists recently collaborated on a statistical survey of words. You may be wondering why physicists are interested in language. In this case, it is not language per se, but how words imitate the statistical patterns of the stock market and animal populations. This group of researchers, led by Alexander Petersen of the IMT Lucca Institute for Advanced Studies, culled data from Google’s digitized books to analyze how word use varies over time.

In particular, the scientists looked at “word competition.” Why would words compete? Well, this isn’t about competition between words. Obviously, for language as a whole to function, nouns need verbs, which need prepositions and adverbs. In this sense, competition refers to aggression between different variations of a word: is “color” used more than “colour”? It may be hard to imagine this, but before spell-check there were often misspelled words in newspapers and published books. As the researchers point out: “With the advent of spell-checkers in the digital era, the fitness of a ‘correctly’ spelled word is now larger than the fitness of related ‘incorrectly’ spelled words.”

How does spell-check (and grammar check) work in the first place?

Completely new words are often the product of an innovation, such as the internet, but languages also evolve because of new settings. Who knows if Americanisms like “skedaddle”, “rambunctious” , and “discombobulate” would have survived spell-check if they had arisen later in time.

The physicists also looked at synonym death. Have you ever heard of a radiogram? Probably not. The words radiogram and roentgenogram mean an x-ray. This may come as a shock, but before the 20th century, the word “roentgenogram” was used most frequently. Today, x-ray is the dominant word, while radiogram and roentgenogram are nearly extinct. Shorter more efficient words can eventually kill their longer, clunkier brethren.

Due to synonym death and the widespread use of spell-check, words are dying. Using complex algorithms, the scientists discovered that in the past 40 years more words have died than during any other period in their data (from 1800 – 2008). At the same time, fewer words are being successfully introduced into the language. As the scientists conclude: “In the past 10-20 years, the total number of distinct words has significantly decreased, which we find is due largely to the extinction of both misspelled words and nonsensical print errors, and simultaneously, the decreased birth rate of new misspelled variations.” Statistically speaking, the language is shrinking.

Academic paper: Statistical Laws Governing Fluctuations in Word Use from Word Birth to Word Death

Source: Dictionary.com

I do have to wonder if this article would have been written in quite the same way had the remit been given to some at the OED, or indeed had the research been conducted outside of the United States, and in light of the (again, US) research that people who text more often are more reluctant to take on new words… who is responsible for the shrinkage of the English language?