16 April 2010

Random Thoughts on the iPad

I find it is easier to justify ridiculous purchases when it's close to my birthday. Not quite two weeks ago I got myself an iPad. Since I've had some time with the thing, I thought I'd make a few random comments, in no particular order or relatedness.

First, I don't travel in teen or even tween circles, so it has been some time since I got called names relating to my sexual orientation. Yet mentioning that I had got myself an iPad leaves some complete strangers with the urge to call me things — online, at least, where being a flaming jerk is some sign of conviction. It's very odd. There's a lot of bruhaha about restrictions on the iPod, but I don't really have anything to add to it. Howard Stearns had more interesting things to say about the matter already, and better than I could. Besides, I've lived all my professional life neck-deep in the Unix and free software world and I've always managed to live happily in mixed environments — open tools on closed OSes, open OSes running closed tools — whatever can be made to work reliably without going over-cost is fine by me. If I really want to program an iPad directly, I can always fire up jsforth.

I personally cannot stand laptops — this is a quirk, I realize. They're too big to be really convenient, and too small to be comfortable to use for very long. That the iPad doesn't try to be a laptop is actually a plus for me. I've had an iPod Touch for quite a while, and while one can visit web pages, read documents, compose email or post to web forums from it, it's really not very nice. On the iPad, this is all much more pleasant. The device was made for casual browsing at a coffee shop, and I've adjusted to the freaky keyboard fairly quickly.

I've been waiting for something like an iPad running something like the GoodReader app for more than 15 years. While I may be a professional computer geek by day, when not at work I turn into the Dilettante Philologist. I do use some of my computer skills for my dead language work of course, but my computing needs are very different when I'm on the Philologist setting. I've transferred a large stash of journal articles, old books, Helmut van Thiel's magnificent editions of the D scholia on the Iliad and Odyssey, PDFs of my own notes on Greek work to the iPad. Now when I'm waiting at the dentist's office I can once again try to comprehend Matic 's paper, Topic, focus, and discourse structure: Ancient Greek Word Order; or Dale's classic three papers on the metrical units of Greek lyric verse. The iPad may be a bit heavy for a mobile device, but it weighs considerably less than the print edition of the unabridged LSJ, which I have at my fingertips in the Lexiphanes application. I can only hope someone will write an application to interact with the Perseus corpus.

On a whim, I downloaded Charlie Stross' Iron Sunrise into the iBook application. I'm about three-quarters through the book. I'm a big lover of the traditional book format even for casual reading, but I have to say reading on the iPad has been very comfortable. The amusement value the over-wrought page-turning animation passed quickly enough, and I can read for hours at a stretch without the thing distracting me from the novel. The only small complaint I have is about some of the typesetting. For chapter and major section starts Iron Sunrise was probably typeset with a few words in small caps, but that font didn't make the transition to the iBooks app. The first three words are in slightly large all lowercase. More careful editing would fix this.

All said, I love this device, mostly because I know I can travel a lot lighter in the future (I used to have to be content with the Middle Liddell, heavy enough in carry-on). For me, the iPad is mostly a way to interact with text — lots and lots of text. Thanks to some development time with the iPad Touch and the iPhone, the iPad is awfully good at that. It'll be interesting to see what the next five years bring to the entire industry around devices like this.

13 April 2010

Scholiastae.org: not entirely a success

It's been a bit more than a year since I announced my scholiastic Wiki, Scholiastae.org. In that time by far the majority of text and annotations published to the site have been my own. When I started the project I had hoped other people would use the site to make notes on texts, but except for a few random drive-by notes (no more than a few comments), this has not happened. I'm not sure exactly why this is, given the enthusiasm for the idea when I first made the announcement, but I have a few guesses.

First, while a Wiki can be made to work for what are basically margin scribbles, it's not an entirely natural fit. Here's the last line of Catullus 48 marked up —

sit nostrae <sch lemma="seges segetis" grammar="f.">seges:: crop, grain field.;;</sch>
<sch lemma="osculātiō ōnis" grammar="f.">osculationis:: kissing.;;</sch>. //

That's sort of messy, though it gets the job done. Other people have been able to use the system without too much difficulty, though sometimes with rather different style habits than I favor.

There are probably other ways to handle text annotations like this that are a lot more natural for people who are classically inclined but don't have my background in computer programming, publishing, etc. But I'm not sure that would result in more people adding to the site, which leads to the second thing I believe has kept submissions slow — annotating a text well is a huge pain in the ass. Some people even mentioned this when I made the Scholiastae announcement. The technology isn't the hard part. The research, the double checking, the hunting down citations, the worrying about what really needs comment and what does not — all these things are a much bigger commitment. Even a simple 10 line poem by Mimnermus for Aoidoi will take me a week or two, which includes checking up on different versions of the text, as well as dealing with comments from the small group of people I can send out early drafts to (who probably deserve some sort of award). Someone has to be very committed to a text to mark it up formally and carefully in any medium at all, much less on a Wiki run by someone you've never met.

My first thought on putting up Scholiastae.org was that I'd give it a year or so, and if no one was interested enough to publish on it, I'd just close it down. But I still find it useful as a dumping ground for my own purposes. It's the best place for me to keep notes on prose works, but I've found it a nice place for smaller poems, too, like things from The Greek Anthology or the fragments of Pindar. Besides, I can hope someone else will find it interesting enough to add comments to eventually.

08 March 2010

ὀτοτοῖ, ὀτοτοῖ

Why oh why is this book so expensive? And this one?