Going Paperless

When my Time magazine renewal came in recently I decided not to renew.  I had been paying about $29 a year and now it was $49, and I thought that too much.  Then on Saturday I saw the new issue at my favorite bookstore and wanted to read it, but I passed on it thinking I’d need to learn to do without.  Later that evening I had a V-8 moment where I imagined hitting my head.  Hell, I have a Kindle and I can get Time from the Kindle store, I thought.  It turns out subscribing to the Kindle version of Time is only $1.49 a month or about $18 a year.

Flipping on my Kindle I zoomed over to their store and subscribed and instantly saw a download completed message.  A couple clicks later I was reading the article I saw at the bookstore about George Clooney being the last Hollywood star. 

Then it occurred to me that I should check Time’s web site, and I’ll be damn if the whole article wasn’t there for free.  Not only was the read for free it also included a video segment of George Clooney going into the writer’s crawl space looking for source of an alarm that had gone off unexpectedly.  Seeing the video of a fancy movie star at the writer’s modest house for dinner doing ordinary things really did accent the piece.  I could have had all of this for free.

The trouble is reading Time online isn’t exactly pleasurable, and reading the Kindle is, so I’m happy to pay for my Kindle copy.  However, this experience reminded me of an article in the latest issue of Wired (hard copy $12 a year) called “Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business” – which I now link so you can read for free.  Once again I wished I had this article on my Kindle.  The Kindle is actually as near perfect for my eyes as I can imagine anything formatted for reading.  Among all the little buttons at the bottom of online reading material I now wish there was a “Send to Kindle” button.  It would be worth the dime Amazon charges for receiving such stuff.

We are really very close to having a paperless society that pundits have talked about every since I can remember.  People always exclaim they hate reading off the computer screen even though they spend hours a day doing so.  Now the Kindle offers a better way to read, even better than paper, and that starts to suggest going paperless is possible.

By the way, I kid you not when I say I prefer to read the Kindle over paper.  If my paper material was formatted like the Kindle, paper would be fine, but modern layout artists format magazines for people with 20-15 vision.  The typeface on the Kindle is sharp, large and the scan line is just a few inches across – very easy on the eyes.

I subscribe to a lot of magazines, most of which I only read a tiny fraction of each issue.  All those trees cut down and processed with tons of water, power and dangerous chemicals so I can just flip through and read a few tidbits here and there.  Now that’s wasteful.  I’ve been feeling guilty for years, but with global warming I really feel terrible about such waste.  I’ve decided it’s time to go paperless.  Besides that I’m tired of carrying so much paper out to the curb for recycling.

I canceled the paper over the protest of my wife – we finally compromised and get just the Sunday edition, but I’m aiming to eliminate that too eventually.  I hate to see newspapers lose business and carriers lose jobs, but we recycle pounds of newspaper after only reading ounces of pages.  That’s just too wasteful.  Now I’m on to finding new ways to read my magazines.

Most magazines do not have Kindle editions, but they usually have a web edition.  However, many of those do not have full text online.  I got the latest Scientific American today and checking online I find two articles available as full-text, including the cover story “The End of Cosmology,” the one I wanted to read the most.  The others articles are available for money online and SciAm also offers a digital subscription for $39.95 a year that includes 12 new issues and access to 180 old issues.  That seems steep because my paper copies cost just $24.95, and that includes shipping and the slaughter of the pulp trees.  Seems like bits of electrons would cost less.

What I’d really like is a service like Netflix that for a single fee provided me with full access to a range of magazines and their back issues.  I still don’t believe Wired hippie pie in the sky about everything being free.  And if everything free is going to be plastered with ads like a race car then I don’t want free.

Going paperless will be tough.  I don’t think the online Popular Photography will be as nice to read online as flipping through the paper version.  They do a pretty good job and sometimes the photos look better online.  And it’s much easier to maintain back issue information online.  It would be great if they truly showcased every photo with a 1920 x 1200 pixel version.  Now that would be worth subscribing too.  This would be especially great if I could add them to my Desktop Art Gallery.

I currently subscribe to two paper editions of science fiction magazines, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Asimov’s Science Fiction.  Recently I bought an issue of Analog which had the #2 part of a serial so I zipped over the Fictionwise and bought the past issue and as it turned out the third issue was already on sale too.  Fictionwise then sends me my magazines to my Kindle for reading.  So I read a Kindle issue, then read a paper issue and then finished up with a Kindle issue.  That really convinced me I preferred reading SF by Kindle.

The SF mags are slowly losing subscribers so I’m wondering if e-book subscribers are helping or hurting their business.  It costs the same to sub with either edition and once again I feel like I’m getting more for my money with paper but I actually read more stories when I get the Kindle edition.

It will take a year or two for all my paper subscriptions to lapse.  During the time maybe more magazines will come out on Kindle, or I’ll just start reading them online.  I hope the Kindle does become a success and the “Send to Kindle” button starts appearing on web pages.

Going paperless is a lot like going CD-less.  I assume DVDs will be next.  Can magazines and newspapers survive and thrive off of online and e-book editions?  That’s the real question.  If Wired is right then they can, but I don’t know.  So far the tide is against online subscriptions – people expect everything on the web for free and I don’t know if that’s possible in a paperless world.  Right now publishers make the bulk of their income off of paper editions.  Can they even survive in a paperless world without charging?  I don’t know.  I do know I gave up reading my local paper years ago when I discovered I could read the NY Times for free online.

Maybe they could combine free web versions but have a fee based button for sending to the Kindle.  I’d gladly pay 10-25 cents an article for such a fee.

With global warming, oil and water shortages, paper is an expensive luxury if you have a digital world.

Going Paperless 2

Jim

Science Fiction Overload

I’ve always loved science fiction but keeping up with the genre is a big damn job.  I constantly worry I’m going to miss a breakthrough novel with the impact of Neuormancer or The Life of Pi or Replay just because I was wasn’t keeping up with the times. 

As a young bookworm I read several books a week at a time when the science fiction section at the bookstore was a wire rack at the drugstore where I bought my Popular Science and Mad Magazines.  There just wasn’t that many new books being published every month and the real focus was on feeding an indiscriminate reading appetite.  Reading the book review sections in Amazing, Fantastic, Analog, Galaxy, If, and F&SF kept me perfectly up-to-date on the world of science fiction publishing in 1968, but it’s not enough for 2008.

Every year now Locus Magazine reports there are over 2,000 SF&F books being published as well as a large variety of magazines, graphic novels, online zines, ebooks and other outlets of SF&F storytelling.  The field is long past the size that I can comprehend.  I’m a small town bookworm living in a giant metropolis of fantastic fiction.  Last night I was watching a documentary on Discovery HD about Miami, the town I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.  My father’s family moved there in the 1920s.  The show made me realize just how much of the city and its glamorous history I had never noticed even though I had lived in many places in Dade County.  If I went back home I’d be just another tourist.  That’s how I feel about SF&F today.  I can’t believe I miss so much.

What I need is a Lonely Planet Guide to the vast hyperactive country of science fiction.  For years that was Locus Magazine’s job but even it overwhelms me today.  Thank God for the Internet, and a special prayer of thanks to the guys who invented RSS.  This year I’ve been on a voyage of discovery to find just the right RSS feeds that are easy to read and reduce the fire-hose of SF information overload down to a water fountain burble.

Of course I added the RSS feed to my old favorite Locus Magazine but strangely enough I was disappointed with its cryptic posts in my Outlook inbox.  Some RSS feeds send the entire article and others just send snack-size snippets to entice you to click on a hyperlink and jump over to their site to eat the whole whole meal.  The bite-size phrases from Locus seldom get me to byte.  I do click now and then and sometimes discover perfect little gems like 2007 SF/F/H Books on Year’s Best Lists, which cross-tabs several review sites to list the books that have gotten the most recommendations for best books of 2007 (first posted on 2/13/8).

This same article was written up by SF Signal on 2/20/8.  SF Signal is a fantastic web site that very successfully reports on the most tasty data bits about SF&F.  It serves the same function for our genre as Slashdot does for computer news.  I’m now trying to decide if I can abandon my RSS feed for Locus Magazine and depend on SF Signal to keep me up-to-date about anything worthy that Locus does publish.  In other words a plain RSS feed is not always perfect, so maybe a meta-feed is even better.

Of course the best solution would a single RSS feed that notified me from many sites just the stories I would likely love to read.  So if I could train my feed from SF Signal for just the kinds of stories I want to read then that would really save me some major time, but that might be too science fictional of an idea.  What I’m wishing for is a reading robot companion that gets to know me perfectly and then spoon feeds me just the right stories.

The trouble is I can only read maybe 7-10 science fiction and fantasy novels a year and maybe another 20-25 short stories.  (OK, yes SF&F is great, but there’s actually more healthy stuff to consume too, like science and history books, so I have to limit my SF&F candy.)  Logically I should ignore all books but the very best sellers and also read one SF best of the year anthology to sample the best of each year.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well doing that.  I can dip into several best of anthologies and only find a few real nuggets among the fool’s gold.  Not that a diamond to me won’t be cut glass to someone else, or vice versa.  And many best sellers are less than filling to me.

What I’m learning to do is search out blogs by various SF&F bookworms with the hope I’ll find a few taste-clones of myself.  I’m currently reading:

These readers don’t have my exact reading habits but they read much slower than review sites and they comment about books in a low key personal manner that I identify with.  This slows the pace down for finding books. I hope to add other blogs in the future.  I find it very easy to keep up with their blog feeds and figure I can eventually handle maybe ten or twelve blogging friends this way.  It’s a virtual book club and we chat with each other without even knowing the other is in the room, so to say.

I also find speciality sites like The Internet Review of Science Fiction and SF Audio to be very helpful too.  They cover more stuff than I ever want to handle, but I can easily pick and choose.  SF Audio has a good RSS feed with enough content in each post so I quickly click yay or nay with my mouse.  IRoSF is formatted like a magazine so it’s easy to pick and choose in the TOC, however I think I would like it better if they sent out RSS feeds of their full stories.  Although that might not be what they want after creating such a nice magazine format, but my desire does fit with the new reading paradigm of the RSS.

When it comes down to it we spend a lot of time reading emails, so RSS feeds simply spoon feed us reading material in email size bites.  I wish my Kindle was more of a true RSS reader.  I haven’t experimented with it using RSS feeds, but I will.  The Kindle is even easier to read than my Outlook client.  And that’s what my needs comes down to, an easy method to shovel just the right words into my head.  I’m getting old, so I can’t process as many words as I want, but these futuristic times really do have the technologies to do less with more.  Imagine if I could get all my reading through email sized chunks of words?

Sure, there are downsides to the emailization of reading.  It’s all fast food consumption and nothing is saved for studying.  What some clever programmer needs to do is marry Outlook with MediaWiki.  That way we could read and digest our words into something for long term memory.

I wish I had more time to read more books.  Reading reviews at least show me the myriad of ideas being explored in the world of SF&F.  To get an idea of what I mean just read January 2008: Short Fiction at IRoSF – there’s a reason why the old magazines were called Amazing Stories or Astounding Stories of Super Science and Fantastic Tales.  There’s a lot more to SF than spaceships and more to fantasy than hobbits. 

SF&F are the genres that require their writers to think up wild ideas, and boy to they ever.  And me, I’d love to explore than all, but I can’t.  I just can’t.  So what I want to do is find the most sense of wonder I can for my limited reading time.

Jim

The Kindle is My First Portable Auxiliary Memory Device

My Kindle started out as a crutch for my handicaps, but it’s becoming a cybernetic tool to supplement my brain. Necessity really is the mother of invention. The Kindle has come at just the right time to be a multipurpose tool.

I miss my epic bookworm days of youth. Most of my current reading is done in front of my widescreen LCD monitor because my greatest source of reading material is the Internet. Fiction usually enters my brain via my ears with books bought at Audible.com and played through my iPod. I plug into my audio book whenever I find myself doing something that doesn’t require my full attention, like doing the dishes, exercising, or eating alone. I get about fifty books a year read this way – far more than I read in paper form, which only averages about four books during the same period. I’m still a bookworm, but a strange technical geeky bookworm I guess.

I’m not quite becoming the bionic man but I need gadgets to supplant what my body used to do. One reason why I don’t read as many books is because my eyes demand large print despite my thick prescription reading glasses. The reason I ordered my Kindle is it’s a high-tech magnifying glass that instantly makes all my Kindle books into large print editions.

Another reason why I don’t read like I did when I was a kid is my back and neck can’t take hours and hours of holding a book. To read I must sit in my La-Z-Boy with a swing-arm book holder. Reading is no longer casual, but a strain I must gear up for. I bought the Kindle because it promised a wider selection of large print reading material, including magazines and newspapers, in an easier to hold portable format.

This blog is named Auxiliary Memory because that’s my dream gadget – a device to carry around everywhere that helps my brain function better. I’ve always considered my computer and the Internet my first auxiliary memory, but I’ve wanted a smaller more portable edition. The Kindle is the first of many machines that will ultimately fulfill this dream. It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.

While sitting in my La-Z-Boy with my cats, Nick and Nora, in my lap the other night, I struggled to recall facts in my failing brain which has an average seek time that varies from microseconds to hours. The cats were sleeping so peacefully that I hated to disturb them by getting up to go over to the computer. Google and Wikipedia are great for free association to improve my neural access time. Then I saw the Kindle, and luckily, it was within arm’s reach. I thumb-typed into the search box and bingo I was on Wikipedia recalling forgotten knowledge. This was when I realized the Kindle was my first portable Auxiliary Memory Device that I could carry with me everywhere. The Kindle offers limited access away from the computer, but it also means reading for fun away from my chair and bookstand too.

The Kindle isn’t the perfect reading machine but it’s a start. Breaking the tether from my desktop computer means a paradigm shift. Laptops are portable but not that portable. I was thinking about buying an Asus Eee PC just before I bought the Kindle, and I still might, but the Kindle trumps the Eee PC with its free broadband cellular wireless. I also considered buying an iPod touch, Nokia N800 or a Palm TX all of which also depend on the less universal Wi-Fi for connectivity. On the plus side these devices offered better user interfaces to the Internet. On the third hand though, is the fact that the Kindle is very readable.

My penultimate science fictional auxiliary memory would store a copy of everything I’ve ever read and it would help me call up ideas and reference them when I needed. My ultimate auxiliary memory would record everything I see and hear for ready reference. At fifty-six memory loss is a regular problem and scares me about the future. The idea of having a little device I carry everywhere that helps me remember produces a warm fuzzy feeling. The Kindle is my experiment expanding on that idea.

I bought a 2 gigabyte memory card for my Kindle and that will allow me to store about 2,000 books. I only want to store books and articles I’ve read on that memory card and use the built in memory for books, periodicals and audio books I’m currently reading.

Moving ahead poses many interesting obstacles. I don’t think I’ve read 2,000 books, but I’m sure I’ve read more than a 1,000, but finding them in Kindle format will be tough. Even though Amazon crows about the 90,000 Kindle books available through their store, it’s really just a page in the Encyclopedia Britannica compared to how many books are out there on the world wide bookshelf. Also, 2 gigabytes of memory is skimpy when it comes to audio books, which I’d also like to store in my auxiliary brain.

Nonetheless, the Kindle is a great start. The internal memory allows me to listen to a book while reading one on screen. Now that might sound silly, but it’s a useful function for memorizing stuff. I took a series of Shakespeare courses in college and I would read the text while listening to recordings on LPs (it was the 1970s). I aced every exam for remembering details. I recently bought A Midsummer Night’s Dream on audio but found it extremely difficult to follow the details. I plan to get a Kindle edition to follow along while I listen. I’ll supplement my reading and studying by connecting to Wikepedia. Not only will the Kindle be a reading and external memory device, it will also be a study device that helps reinforce my real brain’s ability to think and remember.

For a future Auxiliary Memory Device I’d love to store all my music and audio books on it. Hell, at the science fictional level, I’d like it to be a black hole of personal experience and include everything I’ve seen or heard, thus all movies and television shows I’ve seen and any book or article I’ve read and all my photographs. But that’s too much to expect of the current generation of Kindle.

The 1.0 Kindle will store books. I’m also thinking of going through My Documents folder and looking for stuff that will help my faulty memory. I think I’ll start making memory lists. People gripe about the ten cent fee Amazon charges for converting documents for the Kindle, but I’d gladly spend a dime rather than hooking the Kindle to the USB cable. What I’d like to see is the equivalent of the RSS symbol on Internet pages, so when I read a good article or essay I can zap it over to the Kindle to live on my Auxiliary Memory and recall with a quick search.

I’m even thinking about cutting and pasting all the stuff I read each day into an email, adding comments and thoughts and then emailing the results to my Kindle. For three dollars a month it can become a diary.

This is why I love that the Kindle supports magazines and newspapers and has the save clippings feature. Many of my conversations with friends involve starting my conversation with, “Well I read this cool article…” and then stumbling over the details, forgetting the source, and like telling a joke badly, not quoting the essential facts correctly. If I carried my Kindle everywhere, I could pop open the article and just quote the damn sucker.

Here’s where the experiment needs real world testing. I’ve been so afraid of hurting my Kindle that I don’t carry it everywhere. I’d hate to smash up a $400 device. If it was a $100, I’d wouldn’t worry because I’d gladly rush out and buy another. But I just don’t know how many $400 readers I want to buy and how often. (My friend Linda knows the sick feeling that comes with smashing an ebook reader.) Not only do I need to get over my fear of taking it out of the house, but I need to get over my fear of carry it everywhere in my house, including the bathroom. (Is that too much information?) For an auxiliary memory device to work it needs to be by my side constantly. (Note to Jeff Bezos, how about adding a voice recorder – that’s another device I carry everywhere now.)

The current 1.0 version of the Kindle is not grab-and-go friendly. I’m constantly pushing the wrong button and so does everyone I let play with it. To make me feel better about carrying it around I keep it in its cover. I think I’d prefer a hardened Marine version designed for combat in all-terrain conditions. Something my cats could puke on and it would survive. Something that I could drop several times a day. Like a cell phone I expect to upgrade regularly and carry with me 24×7.

That brings up how to carry such an Auxiliary Memory Device. I keep my phone in my left pants pocket and my iPod in my shirt pocket. The Kindle isn’t quite pocket-able or even purse-able. I do carry a messenger bag, but not around the house. I do have a potbelly big enough to make a kangaroo pouch but that might make some people squeamish. I can picture a flat purse like holder to be worn around the neck, but when it comes down to the realistic nitty-grity, the Auxiliary Memory Device might be something we constantly carry in our hand. That means it needs to be rugged, waterproof and food-proof, and handle extremes in environment. The Kindle isn’t that device, but I not saying don’t buy one because it’s not. The Kindle is more than good enough to start practicing on having an Auxiliary Memory Device, and there’s plenty of room for inventors to make clever holders for it.

The idea now is to explore the ramifications of having an Auxiliary Memory Device, and you can’t do that without road testing something. The Kindle may be the best device to start with because of its broadband communications and combination of features.

JWH

Too Many Opinions on the Kindle and What it Says about the Internet

    Amazon introduced the Kindle on Monday and I ordered one on Wednesday. It didn’t take me long to decide I wanted one even with all the bad web press. I can understand why most casual readers wouldn’t feel the need for an ebook reader, but I can’t understand why so many people are attacking the device. I need large print books to enjoy reading, and the Kindle offers me the widest selection of reading for instant large font viewing. Easy decision. However, on Monday, the Kindle seemed to generate more opinions than the Presidential election.

    If you visit the Kindle site linked above you will find hundreds of customer reviews, most of which are by people who don’t own a Kindle and don’t plan to buy one. This really annoyed me. I shop Amazon all the time and I love reading the customer reviews but I hate when someone uses the service to just post their vague opinions. It wouldn’t bother me at all if Amazon only allowed people who purchased a product to post a review.

    Amazon releases a revolutionary gadget and hundreds if not thousands of writers across the net shoot it down because of whim opinions about the concept of ebooks. I think we need to show some self-control here because the ratio of signal to noise is cluttering up the Internet. Slashdot.org has always had that problem, as has every forum, bulletin board and mailing list since the start of the net. Slashdot however, has mechanisms to try to control the noise. I’m wondering if self-control shouldn’t be part of net-etiquette. Unless you have actual experience or expert knowledge, limit your comments to blogs, chats and fun forums, and let general information sites work at being clear and focused on their subjects. What if books, magazines and newspapers just let anyone jump in and say stuff?

    I’m sure Amazon appreciates having an active community on their customer reviews, but as a customer trying to buy something I’d like reviewers with actual experience posting comments. When I read general news and magazines sites I want a qualified person writing up a worthy review. I hate googling a product I’m considering buying and getting endless hits with a couple paragraphs of natter in the returns. I also hate getting dozens of product comparison pages that have no real information. People complain about Wikipedia not being valid, but it does have mechanisms to police its content. I think we need something like that for the web in general.

    I’m the first to talk since I’m a verbose bastard but blogs are designed for diarrhea of the brain. On the other hand, does every web page need a forum page attached to it allowing just anyone to chime in? Slashdot made a business out of the concept and they make it work with control. When I search the Internet I’m trying to find solid information about a particular topic, like when I was shopping for the Kindle.

     When David Pogue from the New York Times writes about the Kindle I expect a certain level of real information and he delivers because he’s an expert on technology and he has actually used a Kindle. When I go to Amazon and read customer reviews on the Kindle I expect to find less professional writers but ones who have actually bought the device and have used it. I also expect to read on any magazine or news site, whether based on a print edition, or purely online journalism, a professional level of writing based on actual experience.

    It’s too bad HTML doesn’t have tags like <news release></news release>, <review></review>, <opinion></opinion>, <discussion></discussion>, <news></news>, <scholarly></scholarly> or <advertisement></advertisement> and Google could filter returns based on those and other tags. Of course Google is in the business to sell ads so maybe it doesn’t have a real incentive to police the quality of information. The obvious solution is to learn to trust only specific sites and not use Google.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to use a search engine that allowed users to control how deep and wide to return searches? What if search engines had check boxes for:

  • Sites you have listed with us (we could list our favorites to save)
  • Top 100 sites
  • Top 1,000 sites
  • Top 10,000 sites
  • All the billions of pages
  • Sites noted for their authority
  • Scholar sites
  • Governmental sites
  • Sites tied to a print publication
  • Sites written by professional writers
  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Etc.

    When you go down to your favorite bookstore and buy a magazine you expect it to have high quality content, even if you’re just looking for celebrity gossip. I’ve gotten so used to using Google that maybe I should go do a search on search engines and see if someone hasn’t already developed the one I wish for above.

    I’m tired of web pages that look like Venus flytraps for Google ads. I’m also sick of writers and articles that have an array of icons trying to get me to increase their readership on forum sites like Slashdot and Digg. I accept the reality of advertisements, but integrate the ad visually into the web page like magazines do in print. And if you want me to read your content, format the text so it’s easy to read. I’m tired of web pages looking like racing cars. And if I’m going to have to wait through an ad page before seeing my content you better make sure the content is worth it.

    The content level of the web is quickly moving towards total noise. Even in blogs and forums I think we all could spend more time focusing on what we write and trying to be clear, because many blog writers are now producing content that’s better than some professional sites. Maybe we should all work on content and spend less time trying to trick the system into returning our link on the first page of a Google search. I hope I’m not hypocritical.

JWH

    

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