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I found an interesting story in the New York Times today about the ever-evolving nature of print on demand books. The quality of these self-publishing has drastically increased as technology has improved. “As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse…

Rewriting the Book

I found an interesting story in the New York Times today about the ever-evolving nature of print on demand books. The quality of these self-publishing has drastically increased as technology has improved. “As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market,” writes Petere Wayner in the Times.

“The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb’s product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.”

Posted by Joel on July 21 2006 • Books

Critical Mass

I realize it has been some time since my last post. It has been a busy couple of weeks: birthday, high school reunions and family trips. I promise to post blog entries on a more regular basis.

I have a book to recommend, and I haven’t even gotten more than a third of the way through it. It’s called Critical Mass. Author Philip Ball asks the question, “Are there laws of nature that guide human affairs?” It’s a fascinating look at how the principles of statistics and physics might be applied to social, political and ecnomic fields to form a “physics of society.” He doesn’t look for rules that govern how individuals make decisions. Rather, he looks at how laws that can be applied to particles in mass on a large scale may have some application to understand how individuals act together “to understand the way [society] is and how it evolves.” The chapter “On Growth and Form” on its own is worth the price of the book.

At the moment, I am reading about two types of transformations: phase transitions (for instance, when water turns to ice - whereby the individual atoms themselves don’t change, only their collective behavior) and nonequlibrium bifucations. Ball has this to write about equlibrium.

“[Many of] the processes of change that go on around us ... are ongoing processes - as if that stream of water were forever meandering in the hills, looking for a nice stable basin to fill, while rain forever replenishes its source. They are, in short, processes that are not in equilibrium and never will be, or at least in our lifetimes. Even when there seem to be stable starting and end points to a transition, like vapor and crystal, the form that results from the change can be complex and impossible to predict. That is because, in the case of a snowflake, the growth process takes place far away from the equilibrium states.”

This is the key takeaway sentence that comes later in the chapter: “The two kinds of transformation - phase transitions and nonequilibrium bifurcations - have features in common because they are both fundamentally of the same ilk: they are both collective modes of behavior arising from the mutual, local interactions of many individual components. There are conditions both in equilibrium and away from it for which these interactions can make one part of a system almost miraculously sensitive to what is happening far away. Every particle is suddenly in touch with all the others via intricate networks of mutual nudges - and all at once, a new steady state emerges.”

Posted by Joel on July 09 2006 • Books