Friday, April 25, 2014

Enhanced E-books May Finally be Hitting Their Stride

After several years of floundering with technology that publishers seemed not to really know what to do with, there may be some authors with strong visions of what enhanced e-books (EEBs) could really bring beyond the world of print and the bland digital facsimiles we have seen so far. I was thrilled to read the article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education's Digital Campus magazine, "What Enhanced E-books Can Do for Scholarly Authors." Biblical scholar Jacob Wright explains in the article how he used the format for his new book, David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory. The book is being issued in traditional print, conventional e-book and enhanced e-book formats.

According to Wright, print and conventional e-books are limited to "...two layers: the main body and a thin stratum of footnotes and endnotes." He uses the eeb format to add multiple narratives that readers can select among, allowing him to address varying audiences with the same publication. Wright compares the design, actually, to that of Daniel Bomberg's 1523 design for Talmud editions, with a running source text at the center, with an array of commentaries surrounding it.

Wright comments that the opportunity thus opens up for academics to appeal in a single publication to scholars in their own discipline, explaining in full detail how they researched and came to their conclusions. But at the same time, they can appeal to non-specialists who may be interested in the topic on a less technical level. For instance, he mentions the ability to include links to maps, video clips, images as well as icons leading specialists to lengthy quotes from sources that would be unpalatable to lay readers. While scholars like footnotes for ease of consultation, publishers prefer endnotes to avoid breaking up the flow of text and intimidating potential readers. Icons or links to references avoid the debate, and please both parties. An author can include as many references, in as much detail as needed for the scholars, without distracting or driving away the non-professional crowd. References appear in a window which can be scrolled. If you go to the online version of the Chronicle article, in particular, you can see some very beautiful illustrations and interesting in-sets from this book, which give you an appreciation for what Wright has added, visually, at least to the text. I have to say, though, that some parts of the illustrations for this article reminded me a bit of Encarta...

The end of the article includes a brief survey and review by Wright of his own efforts to find a program to build an enhanced e-book. He settled on the free app from Apple, iBooks Author. It is a very interesting and exciting article, not least because Wright really opens up the idea of what an enhanced e-book might be.

If you use iBooks Author, be careful of the license - I pulled up an Information Week article from 2012 complaining about the iBook Author license, and warning that Apple claims the sole right to sell any publications created with their free software unless they give a written authorization otherwise. This may have changed since it is apparent that Wright's book is being published by Cambridge University Press. Or the press and author may have negotiated a written agreement with Apple at the beginning of their work. In February, 2012, Apple clarified this to explain that only materials published with the .ibooks suffix are covered by this claim. If you publish as a .text or .pdf file, that EULA clause does not affect you.

Here is an article about enhanced e-books with a handy review of several platforms for creating enhanced e-books. It seems quite apparent that the Apple is by far the best and most robust. The article also is helpful in thinking about the various enhancements that are available and what is and is not a real enhancement. When you look at a Publisher's Weekly article from a year ago about Harper Collins' EEB collection, you can begin to understand why the tradebook EEBs have not been big successes. They added video interviews of an author, and audio excerpts. To me that does not seem like it is reaching the potential of the format at all! It is possible that trade books just are not the right area for enhanced e-books, and that until you get to a scholarly publication with the possibility of becoming a cross-over book of interest to a wider public, there is not a real application. Does anybody remember a year or two ago when they brought out this e-book, Chopsticks? That actually seems to have been fairly successful, though I don't know that it's been duplicated with another successful EEB tradebook. Anybody know?

The image decorating this post is from Wright's book on King David, reproduced from the Chronicle. article.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Senator Warren's Autobiography to be Published

Jill Lepore's review of Senator Elizabeth Warren's new autobiography, A Fighting Chance, in the current issue of the New Yorker, makes for fascinating reading.  Lepore compares Warren's book with Louis Brandeis's Other People's Money and How the Bankers Use It, which was published in 1914.  "Brandeis was concerned with Gilded Age plutocrats' use of people's bank savings to build giant, monopolistic conglomerates answerable not to the people but to shareholders."  The writings of the future Supreme Court Justice, well known for his "ability to enlist data in the service of a legal argument," which came to be known as the "Brandeis brief," were instrumental in the effort to reform antitrust law and regulate the financial industry.  Lepore argues that these reforms "in the middle decades of the [twentieth] century, made possible the growth of the middle class."

Unlike Brandeis, who focused on saving and monopolies, Warren focuses on borrowing and debt.  She is concerned about the collapse of the middle class.  Warren blames the rise in personal bankruptcy on credit card companies that "lured borrowers in with 'teaser rates,'" and on mortgage companies that sold "'mortgage products,' with low down payments, ballooning rates, and prepayment penalties."  After home prices skyrocketed and then plummeted, the middle class was left holding the bag.  Brandeis and Warren share the Progressive distrust of "legislatures and courts that have allowed the nation's social and economic policies to be made by corporations and bankers."

Warren shares some of her compelling personal story with her readers.  One vignette to which I could easily relate occurred in 1978.  Warren was holding her baby son on her hip trying to calm him down, while frying pork chops and keeping one eye on her daughter, who was coloring on the floor.  In the midst of this controlled chaos, she received a call from the University of Houston Law Center about a possible teaching position.  Somehow she made it through the conversation and got the job, the start of her academic career.

Like Brandeis, who worked to abolish child labor and to establish maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws for men and women, Warren is concerned about women, in particular "the unintended economic consequences that arise when women rearing children enter the paid labor force ... earning money has made women who are mothers more economically vulnerable, not less."  The two-income family has been hard hit--with two wage earners and low down payment requirements, middle-class families assumed larger mortgages than they could afford.  If one wage earner loses a job and the family is forced to live on one income, bankruptcy is the almost inevitable result.  The situation is aggravated if the family includes children.

A Fighting Chance will be published next week.  Warren denies that she is planning to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, but the publication of her autobiography is fueling the rumor machine.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Internet Security Alert: Heartbleed

OOTJ readers may already have read about Heartbleed, the newest Internet security problem. But just in case you have not heard about this, here is your heads up. The Boston Globe today offered an article by Hiawatha Bray, their wonderful tech columnist, who concludes that "The Heartbleed scare is as bad as it sounds."

Heartbleed is a security glitch at the heart of the security of the Internet, that came about through sloppy coding, in an update of the OSSL software that provides the encryption for about two thirds of Internet sites worldwide. Encryption means the software that scrambles your data as it leaves your computer so it travels safely over the Internet. Only the target network should be able to decrypt the data you sent. So, if you are buying something from an Internet vendor, you send your name, address, credit card number over the web, feeling secure with that https:// in front of the URL. That is what the additional "s" is telling you - that the information is being decrypted between your computer and theirs, for secure transactions.

But a little bit of bad code (OSSL is Open Source, collaboratively coded), in 2012 (!) introduced a serious security lapse in how OSSL has been working. The "secure" data stored at the OSSL-secured servers can be searched and retrieved by hackers. Somebody at Google and at a Finnish security company discovered the problem and announced it this past Monday. A security researcher, for instance, was able to retrieve a name and password from Yahoo mail. Hiawatha Bray did a little checking:
Yahoo says it has fixed the problem on its servers. Meanwhile, other major Internet companies are also offering reassurances. I pinged, Facebook, tax preparation company Intuit Inc., and the Internal Revenue Service. All replied that their computers are not vulnerable to the Heartbleed problem.
He then points out that nobody has reported that their bank accounts have been emptied over the past two years while Heartbleed was laying out there waiting to be exploited. On the other hand, Bray also notes that spy agencies like the NSA or China's Ministry of State Security could have been using Heartbleed as a backdoor for some time and nobody would know. Unlike other hacking access points, Heartbleed leaves no marks!

So, the recommendations of security experts? For at least a few days until the Heartbleed code problem is repaired and replaced at all relevant websites,

1. Do not do any shopping or enter personal information on websites.
2. Wait a few days for Heartbleed to be repaired, then change all your passwords, at least for websites that collect personal information, and
3. Remove all the cookies from your computer, at least the ones for websites that collect personal information.

Image of the bleeding heart flowers is from the Wikimedia Commons, a photo by Pharaoh Hound, who posted it under the the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. The photo is of the flowers of a pink Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)- I couldn't bear to put up the more anatomical bleeding hearts I found out there! Thank you, Pharaoh Hound!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Laptop Debate Continues

Faculty members in all disciplines have debated for years whether students who use their laptops during class actually benefit.  Some claim that permitting laptops in Internet-enabled classrooms leads to students distracting themselves with Facebook, email, Twitter, etc., rather than focusing on the lecture or discussion.  I once visited an adjunct professor's class, and figured out that around 60% of the students were not using their laptops to take notes or do anything else related to that class.  When I mentioned this to the professor, he was surprised, thinking that all the clicking of keys meant that students were taking copious notes.  This was not the case.  The ease of distraction has led some professors to switch off Internet access altogether during their classes, which has always seemed rather paternalistic to me.  Law students are adults, and should be permitted to make their own decisions, even if the decisions are poor.  The other concern about laptops in the classroom is that students, instead of participating in the class, become scribes who take down every word that is said and do not retain anything they hear. 

When I was a student, I always found that I learned best by taking copious notes by hand.  I even chose my bar review course because it didn't have a lot of printed materials, but required students to attend lectures and take notes.  Something about taking down the information by hand seemed to help me retain it.  It wasn't just taking notes in class that helped me; I also went through my notes after the class and amplified and organized them.  It was the only way I could truly master the material. 

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education presents a study done by two researchers on students' note-taking preferences and supports those who believe that laptops are more hindrance to learning than help.  The researchers found that laptop users took more than twice as many notes as students who wrote longhand, but that "While more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindless transcribing content ... the benefit disappears." These findings will be published soon in an article entitled "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard:  Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note-taking," in the journal Psychological Science.  This article is sure to fuel the ongoing debate over laptops in the classroom.