epub vs pdf for borrowed ebooks


I’m in a group of academics putting together a subject in Research Methods for design students. We’ve got a book we want to use for assigned readings. I’ve been going through, picking out chapters and sections of chapters. The university library offers the book as an ebook which can be borrowed and viewed on an iDevice. You get two options for how you’d like to download the text, as an epub or a pdf. Either way you need to view it in an app called BlueFire Reader because the text is protected with some sort of Adobe DRM that Bluefire can authenticate. My preference is to get the epub as the file is smaller and the text is resizable. But, as I’ve just realized, it doesn’t use consistent page numbering and so all my careful notes about which sub-sections I want to match with which lectures are all wrong.

This is me shaking my fist at the epub file while I wait for the pdf to download.


Get to the end. It’s important.


I’m going to guess that you’ve seen the Motherfucking Website that’s been doing the rounds of social media. But, I’m not sure that everyone made it to the end. It’s pretty important:

I’m not actually saying your shitty site should look like this. What I’m saying is that all the problems we have with websites are ones we create ourselves. Websites aren’t broken by default, they are functional, high-performing, and accessible. You break them.

If you look at the source of that page, it’s pretty basic. It reminds me of the day when I would code HTML by hand, from scratch, in a text editor. (In other news, get off my lawn.)
But why are we creating these problems? Where do they come from? Today I read this article about research by Erin Cech on the ways that engineering education might diminish concerns for public welfare.

“Issues that are nontechnical in nature are often perceived as irrelevant to the problem-solving process,” Cech said. “There seems to be very little time or space in engineering curricula for nontechnical conversations about how particular designs may reproduce inequality – for example, debating whether to make a computer faster, more technologically savvy and expensive versus making it less sophisticated and more accessible for customers.”

Motherfucking Website isn’t specifically concerned with accessibility or social justice. But it does (swearily) identify things that are now so “normal” to do in software that it’s surprising to have them drawn to our attention.

It’s not about new things


Via Chairman Gruber today, Darby Lines on Apple’s (great, in my opinion) “This is our signature” ad. Lines:

In my opinion this has been, from the return of Steve Jobs at least, the singular goal of Apple. Not to make all the moneys, not to dominate markets, not to impress bloggers but simply to make products that enhance our lives.


Apple’s “This Is Our Signature” mantra is in defiance of this superficial demand for an endless stream of new new new. Apple is saying they’re above the churn of the news cycle, and if you don’t understand that yet, they don’t care.

Both of these remind me of the John Thackara quote I have on my office door:

Designers have an important contribution to make. Not much, any more, as the creators of completely new products, buildings and communications. New is an old paradigm. But designers can very usefully cast fresh and respectful eyes on situations to reveal material and cultural qualities that might not be obvious to those who live in them.

That’s what design is now. It might be about new things. But it is about seeing things in new ways.

Fundable but not funded


In 2012, the NHMRC reported (link goes to .xslx file; full reporting here) that while 20% of applications were funded, 72% (seventy-two!) were assessed as fundable. That is, 50% of applications were good enough to get funded, but the money wasn’t there. This makes me think that the ARC’s similar success rate might also be concealing a similar fundable-but-not-funded story.

Minor referencing revelations


In both of the fields which make up the majority of my research experience (HCI/CSCW and Design Research) peer-reviewed conferences are an important way that research is published. In most other fields of research, conferences aren’t sites of publishing so much as precursors to it. In, for example, the social sciences and humanities, you go to a conference to present a paper that you’ll later submit to a journal.

This leads to minor problems in referencing (and in trans-disciplinary discussions of what “counts” as a research publication, but that’s not the topic of this post). One of the main problems is that a some reference management software has problems with referencing conference publications and many of the “official” reference styles supported in most reference management software, or required by many journals, have poor or no support for conference publications. I’m looking at you, AMA style.

However, in a blinding flash it occurred to me that conference proceedings are effectively a book and conference papers are chapters in that book. Changing the “kind” of the conference papers I want to reference to from “conference proceedings” to “book chapters” in Sente, solved all my referencing problems and, importantly, meant I didn’t have to cobble together a conference proceedings style myself.