Sprague Word

The future and more from Richard Sprague

Archive for March, 2011

WordPress unblocked in China

Posted by sprague on March 20, 2011

Something odd is happening on the Great Firewall of China. Last week my VPN service suddenly stopped (I won’t mention the name specifically in case somebody wants to shut them down again). It’s not impossible for the authorities to stop a particular VPN provider: they can just turn off the IP address.  When that happens you can simply get a new IP address, either from that provider or from a different one. It’s very hard for the government to shut down all of them.

But a much more nefarious way to censor is to keep the VPN unblocked, but make it much slower. This makes it nearly impossible for normal users to know how to fix. Is it my current ISP? Is it the VPN provider? maybe the internet is just overloaded right now.  Should I just wait to see what happens?

Here’s my internet speed today from my apartment near Dongzhimen:


and here’s my speed when I turn on the VPN: Speedtest China Internet

Meanwhile I just noticed that the wordpress.com domain is unblocked. I can read/write to blogs hosted here.  The Google-operated blogspot domain is still blocked, so this is my only way to publish something without a (fast) VPN.


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Kindle Singles and the future of publishing

Posted by sprague on March 20, 2011

The print publishing industry thinks a lot has changed in the past 20 years,  but they haven’t seen anything yet. The transformation from print to all-digital publishing will happen very quickly.  We are months and years, not decades, from when electronic distribution on Kindles and iPads becomes the mainstream format of choice.  The TED people just announced TEDBooks, available for about $3 each as Kindle Singles, and I can’t wait to see much more like it.
Creating and then publishing to Kindle is  straightforward: create a document in Microsoft Word (though, curiously, they want you to save in the old .doc format, rather than the much more flexible and modern .docx format), test the formatting on Mobipocket Reader, and upload to Amazon.  Besides the odd prohibition against the .docx format, your text also must be free from special fonts or character formats like bullets. You can include .JPEG photos, but you need to be sure they look okay on the Kindle greyscale screen.

Kindle ebooks have several big advantages over internet web sites or blogs:

  • The content is final.  It can be referenced later as a single, fixed work. There may be updates or corrections, just like there can be a new edition of a hardcover book, but the original stands as an unchanging point of reference.
  • It can be viewed offline.
  • Standardized display and viewing conventions.  It can be easily printed when necessary and it “makes sense” when printed because it has an clearly identifiable start and finish.

If the end user cost were 99 cents or lower, or if there were the equivalent of completely free content, then eBook publishing will be open to many more new applications:

  • Class notes, published by the instructor or a motivated student note-taker
  • Church or other non-profit organizational bulletins and newsletters.
  • Company catalogs or detailed product descriptions
  • Help and product manuals
  • Christmas newsletters, either on behalf of an organization or a family
  • Special reports.

In fact, to really take off we need the equivalent to print publishing of what podcasting is to audiobook publishing: free, easily publishable and discoverable content that’s as easy to produce as it is to consume. As with audiobooks, there may be a lot of garbage there too, but eventually some quality brands will appear and the publishing world will never be the same.

Evolution of Readers

(photo by John Blyberg)

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Posted by sprague on March 19, 2011

Japanese media has a view the situation will be resolved. The foreign media is focusing on the other side—that this is getting out of control


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Stop causing panic in Japan

Posted by sprague on March 19, 2011

250K homeless people need real help NOW.  The nuclear risks are hypothetical, and you make the situation worse when you distract from much more urgent needs.

Here are a few videos, by some long-time foreigners in Japan, begging the international community to cool it:



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Freeman Dyson on Heresy, Climate Change, and Science

Posted by sprague on March 8, 2011

I wanna be a heretic too!

Freeman Dyson on Heresy, Climate Change, and Science

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Posted by sprague on March 5, 2011

Torture time at the orthodontist. (Taken with instagram)

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