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September 7, 2011

On the codex as the e-book of the classical world


Below, excerpts from Lev Grossman's superb essay in Sunday's New York Times Book Review.

Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It's shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We're witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. But if you go back further there's a more helpful precedent for what’s going on. Starting in the first century A.D., Western readers discarded the scroll in favor of the codex — the bound book as we know it today.

In the classical world, the scroll was the book format of choice and the state of the art in information technology. Essentially it was a long, rolled-up piece of paper or parchment. To read a scroll you gradually unrolled it, exposing a bit of the text at a time; when you were done you had to roll it back up the right way, not unlike that other obsolete medium, the VHS tape. English is still littered with words left over from the scroll age. The first page of a scroll, which listed information about where it was made, was called the "protocol." The reason books are sometimes called volumes is that the root of "volume" is volvere, to roll: to read a scroll, you revolved it.

The codex also came with a fringe benefit: It created a very different reading experience. With a codex, for the first time, you could jump to any point in a text instantly, nonlinearly. You could flip back and forth between two pages and even study them both at once. You could cross-check passages and compare them and bookmark them. You could skim if you were bored, and jump back to reread your favorite parts. It was the paper equivalent of random-access memory, and it must have been almost supernaturally empowering. With a scroll you could only trudge through texts the long way, linearly.

Over the next few centuries the codex rendered the scroll all but obsolete.

Over the first quarter of this year e-book sales were up 160 percent. Print sales — codex sales — were down 9 percent. Those are big numbers. But unlike last time it's not a clear-cut case of a superior technology displacing an inferior one. It's more complex than that. It's more about trade-offs.

The codex is built for nonlinear reading — not the way a Web surfer does it, aimlessly questing from document to document, but the way a deep reader does it, navigating the network of internal connections that exists within a single rich document like a novel. Indeed, the codex isn't just another format, it's the one for which the novel is optimized. The contemporary novel's dense, layered language took root and grew in the codex, and it demands the kind of navigation that only the codex provides. Imagine trying to negotiate the nested, echoing labyrinth of David Mitchell’s "Cloud Atlas" if it were transcribed onto a scroll. It couldn't be done.

God knows, there was great literature before there was the codex, and should it pass away, there will be great literature after it. But if we stop reading on paper, we should keep in mind what we're sacrificing: that nonlinear experience, which is unique to the codex. You don't get it from any other medium — not movies, or TV, or music or video games. The codex won out over the scroll because it did what good technologies are supposed to do: It gave readers a power they never had before, power over the flow of their own reading experience. And until I hear God personally say to me, "Boot up and read," I won't be giving it up.


September 7, 2011 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Strongman's Plasters


"30 assorted Strongman's Plasters in Strongman Tin.


[via Fancy]

September 7, 2011 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Experts' Expert: Thomas Keller's favorite olive oil


From The Guardian: One of the priciest olive oils in the world, the minimum order of a litre of Manni costs £190 ($303). Film director Armando Manni harvests olives from seven plantations at different altitudes on a Tuscan mountain and speed-couriers the oil in small, UV-resistant bottles. The flavours are extraordinary. Chef Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry and Per Se, has called it 'the best olive oil in the market.'"

Apply to: info@manni.biz


September 7, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"OMG Digital Rickroll" — Old School Cassette x MP3 Player

That's different.

Tell us more.

From the website:



MP3 Player built into a standard cassette casing, letting you use it either as a uniquely old school-shaped MP3 Player, or with any car cassette or cassette player to play MP3 music.


You will have no problems listening to hours of your favorite songs as this product also has a built-in SD card slot, saving you flash memory cost as well as letting you quickly change to different songs if you have different SD cards.


If you are into old fashioned looks, but with great new built-in technology, this is a MP3 player worth having and showing off.


[via my Crack Kraków Korrespondent Tomasz Dąbrowski]

September 7, 2011 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What is it?

Screen Shot 2011-09-06 at 2.16.10 PM

Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: It's real — not something from a movie.

Another: Not in North America.

One more: Nor in Asia.

September 7, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Hex Pasta Mold


From Salty Seattle: "It is extremely rare that I endorse products on this blog, much less single-use kitchen gadgets. Generally speaking, things like pizza scissors, corn de-silkers and kiwi fruit de-bruisers are meant more for candidates of the Darwin Awards than the James Beard Awards. So when I say that if you like to make filled pasta at all you MUST go to ebay right now and buy one of these strange little (really inexpensive — $10.50) contraptions


that will ship to you directly from Ukraine, you really ought to consider this a game of Salty Seattle Says.  And I say do it, so hop to it. Here are some reasons why:


1. You can make hexagonal filled pasta [top].


2. You can make loads of ravioli or pelmeni [really fast].


3. You will be the envy of all your friends.


Or at least the envy of those who have had lifelong aspirations to create hexagonal dumplings.


[via my Los Angeles correspondent, from his usual and customary position on the extruded edge of the culinary curve]

September 7, 2011 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

How many things are on your bucket list?

Screen Shot 2011-09-06 at 8.52.48 AM

"Nearly seven out of 10 adults* have an ultimate to-do list."

I don't recall ever having such a list.

I wish they'd reserved a piece of pie for people like me: I'd be curious to see how many other kindred spirits are out there.

*Though not specified, I would bet these statistics are for U.S. residents.

[via USA Today]

September 7, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Olfa Utility Knife


From the website:


Olfa has designed a better way to change blades when things get dull.

Instead of replacing the whole blade, just snap off the top of the blade to expose a new, sharp edge — quick, easy and done.

This stainless steel model is a good choice in damp environments where rust is a concern.


• Highest grade carbon tool steel snap-off blade for a new sharp edge with each snap

• Positive slide lock, built-in pocket clip/blade snapper
• Easy, tool-free blade change for convenience

• Heavy gauge stainless steel blade channel

• Slim design



September 7, 2011 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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