Books and music are best chosen by recommendation, because there’s something more organic about the process that way…more human. No algorithm will ever generate a suggestion as good as a friend who has just listened to or read something amazing.


To give credit where credit is due, this isn’t something that occurred to me unsolicited. I actually heard the idea brought up by Leo Laporte on one of his podcasts this week, and have found myself thinking about it since.

Every operating system, every user interface of every website, most printed graphic design used in advertising and marketing, utilizes icons. Go into the home screen of your smart phone, and you see a screen full of icons symbolizing where you tap to access different applications. The same concept exists on your desktop in a somewhat different format. The thing that is interesting about these icons, and the things that Leo points out, is this: many of these icons are symbols of old technology, things that would have made sense and would have been easily recognizable to mine or my parents’ generations, but which may well be largely unrecognizable now. For example, what icon symbolizes voicemail access on your phone? Usually a tape with a reel, or an envelope. When is the last time you used an analogue reel-to-reel tape device? For that matter, how often do you actually address an envelope and send it off?

I’m typing this in Blogger’s new interface now (which, incidentally, gets high marks from me), and I see icons along the side that include a price tag, an analogue clock, and a gear. Nearby is an old scene marker to symbolize a video. Do you wear a watch? I don’t. I check my phone when I need to see the time. Many people use a barcode scanner, either on their phone or in the store, to check the price of an item, or read the price printed on a sticker: they don’t read a pricetag dangling from the item on a string. I would guess that  most of us don’t think of greasy gears turning inside of mechanical devices, nor have most of us every handled one.

For that matter, as Leo points out, think about the icon for folders on your computer: typically, a manila file folder. With the rare exception of when I’m organizing hard copies of research for a project, I certainly use those infrequently.

I think it’s interesting that the icons we find in our daily digital lives are…well, iconic. It’s as though our modern technology is paying homage somehow to it’s predecessors, the technology that started all of this.

When I was in middle school, I had a best friend who was in high school at the time. He had an older sister who was ready to enter college. I remember her musing to me that she knew many people my age who could not read an analogue clock, who had to read digital time. Certainly, I learned digital first, and learned to read analogue clocks much later (and with much struggle). She anticipated that, in a few years, very few people of my age group would even be able to read analogue clocks.

As we move forward at an exciting, and sometimes frightening, pace in our technological developments, its good to think that here, at least, we remember our history and are able to recall those inventions of old which have become so commonplace to mankind, and upon the shoulders of which our ridiculously powerful smart phones stand.

I bet you’ll look at your icons a bit differently, now, won’t you?

Photo Attribution: kennymatic under a Creative Commons license

Each time we make the choice to show kindness…to not react in anger, to treat the waiter as a human being instead of an object, to consider another’s needs before our own…we make a difference. The change is incremental, but redemptive. May our choices be kind ones.

The Nature of a Hero, Part IV

While I was blogging my way through a week of Avengers retrospectives, leading up to my review of the film last weekend, I realized an aspect of the nature of a hero that I had mentioned in nearly every post, but that I did not, for some reason, recognize as being it’s own component of this puzzle until the end of the series. How I missed it, I don’t know, but I can’t do justice to a discussion of the nature of a hero without giving this it’s own post.

Part of the nature of a hero is self-sacrifice.

I think that this comes in the motivation behind the desire to be a hero, or the desire to use the power that one has. The hero is motivated to use their power to help others against evil that would be otherwise unable to be defeated. The hero is willing to place their own well-being aside in order to help those around them. Villains or antiheroes make a different choice.

(Disclaimer: if you are one of the two people on the planet that haven’t seen the Avengers yet, you shouldn’t proceed due to a significant spoiler)

When Tony Stark assumes the identity of Iron Man in the cinematic version of his adventures, his motivations are complicated and mixed. After all, he declares on national television that the public can always count on him to “pleasure himself,” and reveals at least a part of his motivations in this statement. By the time he appears in the Avengers, he recognizes himself as the star of the show, so to speak. He sees himself as superior to all of the other heroes around him, and presumes to assume control of the situations that the group initially has to handle. By the end of the film, events have brought the group together as a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Stark chooses to sacrifice himself in order to preserve the city and his fellow heroes, in a particularly poignant scene in which he attempts to call Pepper but is unable to reach her, leaving the audience to realize that he will die alone in another dimension, without having been able talk to the woman he loves a last time, in order to save a city of people that he largely doesn’t know.

Stark makes an interesting example of this aspect of the nature of a hero, because he arrives at this point through an evolution of his personality. What’s even more interesting is that the evolution occurs after Stark moves through other aspects of the nature of a hero. Maybe the manifestation of two or more aspects in one character will be the topic of another post in the future.

I think that this trait is critical in the evolution of a heroic character, and I’ll be taking a new look at my own characters to see if they measure up. The character of a hero somehow simply isn’t as heroic without, when arriving to save the day, the recognition that they will lay down their lives for those they are protecting if need be. I think that this is because most of us cannot motivate ourselves to be self-sacrificial for those we don’t know and love…and some cannot even get there for those that they do. For the hero to be self-sacrificial is for the hero to possess something that the rest of us cannot. Our heroes, after all, must be larger than life, otherwise they could not be our heroes.

And if that were the case, we wouldn’t need them as badly as we do.

Photo Attribution: marvelousRoland under Creative Commons

Nooks at Night

Publishing news obviously interests me, because I’m a writer. Technology news obviously interests me because I’m a geek. Of course, lately, those two things merge rather frequently, what with this little event known as the ebook revolution. So, in a way, this news grabbed my attention because I much prefer my Nook to a Kindle. In a way, it was disappointing, because I’m certainly no fan of Windows or anything else Microsoft has ever thrown together. At the end of the day, though, I really felt that it was interesting, but ultimately one more in a constant stream of news items on the rapidly changing landscape of digital publishing.


I think that this is really important from a cultural standpoint, and I mean that in a bigger way than the obvious ways in which our technological developments impact us as a culture. I think that it’s summed up well in the article’s statement that it will put ebooks  front and center in the hands of “hundreds of millions of users.” I think that this is especially important because Barnes & Noble is much more focused on literature than is Amazon. This is more than simply a technological advance that is good for end users. This is about getting literature and good books into the hands of more readers.

Anything that gets us to read more is good for everyone. Anything that exposes us to more good literature is also a situation in which we all win. It’s fascinating how our technology is increasing our access to art and literature, and other information that is of enormous and irreplaceable value to our culture. I wonder if there’s anyone out there that still writes off the digital realm as unsubstantive or as being all about useless videos and time-wasting games?

I’m no fan of Microsoft, but it is still the lowest common denominator upon which most people do their computing. I’m thrilled that ebooks will become even easier to access and more prominent on the screens of more people. The more we read, the more we grow.

Growth is a good thing.

Photo Attribution: Mostly Muppet