Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

Recent Entries
< PreviousBrowse the ArchivesNext >
Subscribe to the RSS Feed

"A room without books is like a body without a soul" (Cicero)

February 13, 2008
New York, N.Y.

I was paging through the Sunday Business section of the New York Times when I saw a drawing of what was claimed to be a home but which to me looked more like a well-equipped hotel room:

Where are the books? I wondered. Doesn't every home have lots of books? But of course that was the whole point: This is a home of the future as described in the accompanying article "Pushing Paper Out the Door". There are no books in this home because books are made of paper.

I gradually came to see the sense of it: If there's nothing to read, there's no reason to be forced to make a choice between classical incandescent bulbs and modern energy-saving flourescent bulbs. You don't need any lightbulbs at all, thus greatly reducing your carbon footprint.

Eventually I spotted the e-book reader on the table next to the sofa — the very same sofa pointed at the TV set. Presumably in case you get tired of watching American Gladiator, The Biggest Loser, and Supernanny, you could pick up the e-book reader and catch a few episodes (I mean chapters, of course) of a book.

And then it hit me — my billion-dollar idea.

I get one or two billion-dollar ideas a year but they never go anywhere because I don't have the entrepreneurial gene and can conceive of nothing more dismal than running my own company. So I get the billion-dollar ideas but then I throw them away.

This one I'm throwing away in public in case anybody wants to take it and run.

As you may know, one of the big marketing problems of e-book readers like the Kindle is that they don't really do that much. Unless you want to read a book, they're pretty much useless. So here's my idea, inspired by seeing the e-book reader on the table next to the sofa facing the TV: Combine the e-book reader with a universal remote, so it becomes a Universal Media Controller (UMC). With the UMC you only need one device to turn off the boring TV to read a book, and the same device to turn the TV back on after you've had enough reading of the boring book.

Is this brilliant or what?


To bring this home, you'll need WiFi and a built-in ability to bring up wikipedia.

Now that I think about this, being a fan of Colbert Report and his ability to mess with wikipedia (african elephants are still under watch I hear) I would find this device vastly amusing.

Michael C. Neel, Wed, 13 Feb 2008 17:09:51 -0500 (EST)

Yes, but when you lose your remote control (how often does that happen?) you'll also lose the whole library of e-books. Unless it has a voice-activated location reminder... "Hey Helter Skelter where art thou?"

— Lawrence Mak, Wed, 13 Feb 2008 23:08:06 -0500 (EST)

I remember, 15 years ago when I moved flats I had lots of crates containing half books, half clothing so they would not be too heavy to carry, and I usually ran out of clothing and had a lot of books left.

3 years ago I rummaged through my bookshelf and took inventory how many books I really read again. I realized that I'd rather buy a new book than read an old one again, and that I probably would buy the same book again since I would not even remember I already owned it.

So I started giving my books away. The good books I gave people to read and to give it on, the bad books went to ebay or to a local charity.

I don't need to own books. In the end not I own the books, but the books own me: they take more space in my flat than I, they have demands where they want to be stored, and they kind of demand to be read again. Giving them free after reading them, I'm back in control of my own life, and I'm free to read a book and give it back or give it forward.

The only books I retained are a few markers of personal history, which now are much happier since they not get lost between all the rather ordinary books anymore.

Sam, Thu, 14 Feb 2008 03:41:15 -0500 (EST)

It's a depressing alternative to a cozy fireplace, a soft leather easy chair and a warm reading lamp. My books are like my pets. I could no sooner throw them away than part with Fido. Books make us human. I'm willing to risk the carbon footprint for that.

Tyler, Thu, 14 Feb 2008 10:12:26 -0500 (EST)

Wouldn't it be easier to just combine e-book reader, laptop, and TV? Never did grasp why an e-book reader has to exist.

— Jeff, Thu, 14 Feb 2008 21:05:40 -0500 (EST)

I will never buy an e-book reader. I like turning pages too much.

— Jeff S., Tue, 19 Feb 2008 10:24:33 -0500 (EST)

"I was paging through the Sunday Business section of the New York Times"

Paging in or paging out? Umm, you were reading, so that was paging in. Obviously it wasn't a news *paper*.

Combining the movie theatre with the book reader wouldn't work when the number of humans exceeds 1.

— Paper view? Hotel room movie theatre, Mon, 25 Feb 2008 03:57:24 -0500 (EST)

Lets just add an ebook reader to iPhone (remember it already has PDFKit) and put the infrared remote in there too and get it over with :)

Write it for iPhone and Job's will promote, distribute, and collect the revenue for you for 30%. :)

Scott Willeke, Thu, 13 Mar 2008 19:15:37 -0400 (EDT)

hmm, i was looking at that kitchen, and it let me to a question --- wonder if they use cloth in the restroom too?

— harmony7, Wed, 26 Mar 2008 22:10:49 -0400 (EDT)

No, in the restroom you wash yourself instead of wiping your bum with the precious paper.

Reduction in paper use is inevitable, but it won't see much of an uptake until they make a handy device for reading newspaper in the restroom :)

Igor Levicki, Thu, 27 Mar 2008 02:12:16 -0400 (EDT)

Igor's comment provokes a billion-dollar idea in my brain: combination ebook reader and bathroom scale.

Mayson Lancaster, Sat, 26 Apr 2008 14:26:16 -0400 (EDT)

This room looks quite luxury for today. But in 20-50 years we will have no choice but to use this style because paper and all natural materials will be expensive... like gold.

dbReader, Wed, 22 Apr 2009 11:38:15 -0400 (EDT)

Recent Entries
< PreviousBrowse the ArchivesNext >
Subscribe to the RSS Feed

(c) Copyright Charles Petzold