Tuesday News: Penny books, iPhones & warrants, SXSW struggles with speech, and visualizing poetry
A Penny for Your Books – I’ve actually always thought of these books as $4.00 books, because while they technically sell for a penny, Amazon’s $3.99 shipping effectively makes them $4.00. What I did not know, though, is that these books are basically picked from garbage. How brilliant is that?! It’s pretty interesting, actually, because I know there are authors and publishers who dislike used book sellers and in particular dislike books being sold as bargain basement prices, and yet, these outfits are basically rescuing and recycling books, giving them a new life and renewed value. How ironic.
“At some point in the next two to three years, I predict that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be selling for a penny,” says Mike Ward, president of the Seattle-based used-book seller Thriftbooks. Ward would know; though it isn’t considered in the same league as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, Thriftbooks sells about 12 million books a year, mostly on Amazon, and many for a penny. (In comparison, Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest book retailer, sells somewhere around 300 million books a year, but has the added weight of hundreds of enormous, expensive megastores to run and thousands of employees.)
“We are taking garbage [and] running it through a very sophisticated salvage process in our warehouses, to create or find or discover products people want, and then we sell them at a very, very cheap price,” Ward explains. Garbage isn’t a value judgment: His company, along with several other enormous used-book-selling operations that have popped up online in the past decade, is literally buying garbage. Thrift stores like Goodwill receive many more donations than they can physically accommodate. Employees rifle through donations, pick out the stuff that is most likely to sell and send the rest to a landfill. The same thing happens at public libraries; they can take only as many donations as their space and storage will allow, so eventually they have to dispose of books, too. (For libraries, the process is a little more complicated; they can’t legally sell books, so they essentially launder them through groups with names like Friends of the Library, which sell the discards and donate the proceeds to the library.) – New York Times
Feds: Since Apple can unlock iPhone 5S running iOS 7, it should – So first things first: Apple has historically been cooperative with the government when they demand that it unlock phones seized as part of a criminal investigation. Anyone shocked? No, of course not. Anyway, it seems that Apple is starting to change their position on this issue, given their current refusal to assist the government in getting data from a phone seized as part of a drug possession and distribution case (secondary issue: when are we going to admit that the “war on drugs” is a disaster?). The feds have some pretty interesting legal reasoning to go along with their attempt to get Apple’s cooperation in this case:
The government also made a rather novel legal argument, claiming that because the iOS software itself is sold under a license rather than a true sale, Apple therefore maintains a controlling interest and is required to help. However, some civil libertarians argue that not only is that a creative line of reasoning, but Apple is perfectly within its rights to refuse to aid the feds.
“Apple’s decision to prioritize customers security is a valid one,” Esha Bhandari, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars. “Just because a company has voluntarily complied with law enforcement in the past doesn’t mean it’s obligated to do so in the future. Offering encrypted devices is lawful and companies are entitled to prioritize their customers and their security.” – Ars Technica
SXSW Cancels Online Harassment, GamerGate Panels Due To Unspecified Threats – When news that SXSW had canceled two panels that addressed (respectively) the gaming community and harassment in games, there was a lot of backlash on Twitter. SXSW issued a statement (quoted in part below), and while I understand the anger over the cancellations (and think that at the very least they should have waited to take any action), I also know how frightening it can be for an organizing body to get threats of violence. There are just situations where you will never get the people who make the threats see “reason” as you see it. Still, I think you have to take the time to really measure how legitimate and likely those threats are before choosing to shut up rather than empowering the censors. Especially if SXSW is truly dedicated to “new ways of thinking.” Because “civility” often serves as a euphemism for avoiding difficult, contentious speech, the kind that actually can disrupt old ways of thinking and provoke the shift to a new paradigm.
“However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.
Over the years, we are proud of the healthy community of digital innovators that has formed around SXSW. On occasions such as this one, this community necessitates strong management to survive. Maintaining civil and respectful dialogue within the big tent is more important than any particular session.” – Kotaku
Poetry of Perception – A Harvard online course, “HarvardX’s Fundamentals of Neuroscience” features visual representations of the work of famous poets. Right now you can view artistic renderings for poems by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams. Among other things, the course is investigating the way the mind’s eye “sees” language, poetry in particular. Vimeo & Harvard University