Paperbacks or Ebooks?

Paperback or Ebook?

This seems to have been a debate for quite a while now. The question of whether an electronic book or a book made of real paper is best.
Of course printing and print books have been around for centuries. The earliest form of printing was probably ’block’ printing in Asian countries like China and Korea, where carved wooden blocks were used to print text as far back as the year 220. Although people were probably using stencils and printing with carved vegetables or something like it long before this (didn’t you just love doing Potato prints as a kid?). By about the 1040’s the Chinese had presses with moveable type. In Europe, printing was invented by Johannes Gutenburg and his famous press in 1450.
The first mass market ’paperbacks’ became popular in the early 19th century. They were cheap versions of more expensive hard-cover books. These were called ’Yellowbacks’ due to their yellow covers and were sold in Britain by W H Smith’s from shops on railway stations, to give passengers something to read on their journeys. Not much changes, you can’t go on a train now without seeing someone with a Kindle. You can still find W H Smith’s at railway stations throughout the UK and now they even sell ereaders (Kobo ereaders).
It is argued that the idea ‘electronic books’ dates back to the 1930’s where some were worried that films with sound, ’the talkies’, would replace reading and books, and by the 1940’s with the advent of the first giant clunking computers (like those used at Bletchley Park to decode Hitler’s ’Enigma’ machines) some attempted to use them to organise large catalogues or indexes of books.
The first patented electronic book came in 1949 – an Spanish teacher named Angela Ruiz invented the ’Mechanical Encyclopaedia’ to try and reduce the amount of books her students had to carry. This somehow ran on compressed air and allowed students to add content with ’spools’. Apparently you could move to any section you wanted mechanically and it supposedly even had a ’zoom’ function! From the picture this looks like a genius ‘Heath Robinson’ contraption, like something from a steampunk novel. I would love to have a play with one.

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Angela Ruiz and the Mechanical Encyclopaedia

Nowadays lots of people love their Kindles and iPads and they are becoming a more and more familiar sight as we go about our everyday business. I feel that we sometimes forget how new these things are. The first Kindle only appeared in 2007 (although this was preceded by the Sony Ereader a year earlier and by things like the ’Rocket Ebook’ in 1998). The iPad only appeared in 2010. It’s funny to me sometimes how ubiquitous these things have become in such a short space of time (’YouTube’ for example has only been around since 2005).
So, in some senses the ebook is still very much in its early days.
Which do you prefer? There are many who say to me “I still like to hold a real book in my hands,” and others who say “I love that I can carry all my books on my Kindle, so much easier when you travel,”
Personally I think it is a kind of non-argument. Of course we all love to hold a real book. But more and more of us are reading on electronic devices. I don’t, for one minute, think that print books will disappear (they said that computers in the workplace would lead to a ’paperless’ society – how wrong was that?). I do, however, think that the devices we read on will improve and change beyond anything we can imagine.
Really, at the end of the day, the real point is that people love stories. Great stories. They always have and always will. Before ebooks people typed and printed books. Before printing people wrote stories with pens and pencils and brushes. Before writing people told stories and handed them down through the generations.
So it doesn’t really matter how the story is delivered people will always have an appetite to read a great story.
To that end I decided to make my novel available as a paperback book, with real paper-cut inducing pages, as well as an ebook.
You can get my novel, The Last Englishman and the Bubble, as a paperback – click here, or as an ebook, click here.
As ever any comments are thoughts are welcome…

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© 2013 Simon Poore

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Star Trek, Computers and Pulling out the Plug!

So…here is an idea. A science fiction idea? I will let you decide.
It is a fact that the processing power of computers is growing exponentially. And there is nothing to make us suppose that this will not continue to be the case. I still marvel at the things that can be done and continue to be done by computers.
I grew up watching Star Trek – in the early seventies I used to walk around the corner with my brother to my aunt’s house to watch it, she had that most wondrous of things; a colour television. Our TV was black and white and you had to get up from the sofa to change between one of the three (yes only three!) channels.
Anyway, my young self marvelled at the original series of Star Trek. It captured my imagination in many ways. Of course I loved the thought of travelling to distant alien worlds. I grew up thinking that if I ever got into a fight with an alien then the worst that could happen was that my shirt would get ripped and a small drop of blood would appear at the corner of my mouth, just like Captain Kirk. I loved the possibility of the Enterprise and all the technology contained within. Phasers and tricorders and replicators and communicators. All of that seemed so impossibly wonderful and distant to my young self.
And yet, here I sit, typing this on an iPad. Just like Star Trek. I can talk to my phone and it can talk back. Just like Star Trek. I can find vast amounts of information on the internet. Just like asking the computer on Star Trek. And some clever scientists and engineers are building machines now that might even mimic replicators (I will blog about that soon hopefully). I couldn’t have imagined those things would happen. And I can’t imagine the wonders of technology that my five year old daughter will experience in her life.
So, here’s the thing. The ‘Science Fiction’ idea. As I said, the capacity of computers grows ever larger as does the things they can do (compare the computers on Apollo 11 to an iPhone!). If this continues then it is conceivably possible that eventually computers will have the processing power to re-create everything within them. Yes, everything. A future computer could re-create our whole world for example, down to the molecular and sub-atomic level. Every animal, plant, human being and object re-created and modelled. And perhaps, the whole universe too.
Now I know this isn’t a new idea (I bet some of you are thinking about ‘The Matrix’). But here’s the part of this idea that gets me thinking; if that will be possible in the future (and we have no reason to suppose it won’t) then how do we know it hasn’t already happened…
I can envisage two scenarios:
1. An alien race has already done this, and our world and universe are part of some vast computer science project.
2. Humans develop computers in the future to do this and they re-create our world in order to study history.
In both scenarios I imagine that we are being watched and observed and studied.
If we are part of some vast computer project, then what will happen when we develop computers fast enough to create and re-create worlds? Worlds within worlds going on forever?
Some of you may think this idea is far-fetched and it probably is. Is this Science Fiction? The truth is that we have no way of knowing. You could be part of a computer generated world right now. And my question is this: what if someone pulls out the plug?

© 2012 Simon Poore

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“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!”