Denim and Tweed, now with more Readablity

Update, 29 June 2012: After accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in subscription money that was never claimed by publishers, Readability is ending its publisher payment program. That’s a pity, because, as you can see below, I thought it was a pretty great idea.

For quite some time, I’ve been looking for a good solution to the problem of paying for online writing. I read articles from dozens of websites, by dozens upon dozens of top-notch writers from Ed Yong to Scicurious, from Dahlia Lithwick to Ta-Nehisi Coates. And I’d like all of these folks to make money from the writing and reporting they do, because it’s valuable to me, and to society more generally.

But the seamless flow of my reading list from the Awl to the New York Times to Steve Silberman’s blog to Slacktivist and the Stranger doesn’t accommodate stopping to pay for each article, or even a subscription for every website. Some sites take individual subscriptions—but then I pay for articles I’ll never read. Some take tips via PayPal or another micropayment service—but then I have to remember to tip everyone once a month. What I really want is a subscription for the entire Internet, which gets split among the writers whose work I’ve enjoyed over the last month.

Well, now there is such a service: Readability.

Readability is primarily billed as an online app for managing “long read” articles, and viewing them in a nice, clean, ad-free format. Plug a webpage address into Readability, and the article on that page (even multiple linked pages) is rendered in lovely uniform typography on a clean white background, with surreptitious links to manage a reading list of articles from all over the Web, and to share and comment via Twitter or Facebook. There are Readability mobile and tablet apps, which let you download your reading list and read them offline in the same clean format—I use the iPhone app on a daily basis, to read articles that look good, but are too long for a coffee break at my desk.

Here’s a video describing it.

But the best thing about Readability, in my opinion, is that it lets you pay for all the articles you put into it. Although you can use the online service for free, you can agree to make a recurring monthly payment to support it. And Readability splits 70% of that payment amongst the sites represented on your reading list. To claim the payments, a site owner just needs to verify her control of the website with Readability, which is a pretty simple process.

The process is so simple, in fact, that I’ve registered Denim and Tweed with Readability. I don’t write a lot of long pieces for D&T these days, but when I do, you can now use the Readability toolbar that will appear at the top of each post’s individual page (click the headline link on a post to see it as it appears in the image above), and which will let you view the post in Readability’s clean format, save it to your reading list, print it, e-mail it, or even export it to a Kindle e-reader. (For a sample, check out this post from the archive in Readability layout.)

You can do all that for free. But if you like the Readability service, and you want to chip in to recognize the work that writers put into the articles you read online—there is, as they say, an app for that.◼


Science online, perverse incentives edition

Photo by Arthur Chapman.


Okay, I’m ready to stop the march of progress now

As Douglas Adams famously and incisively put it,

“There’s a set of rules that anything that was in the world when you were born is normal and natural. Anything invented between when you were 15 and 35 is new and revolutionary and exciting, and you’ll probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

I think I’ve found my first post-35 technology about five years early, and it’s Google’s glasses.

Figure a few years for this to make it into general use, and we’re bang on my age of transition, I guess. I can think of nothing I’d like less than having my field of vision partially obscured by whatever G-mail thinks is most worthy of my attention—new messages, helpful advice, or the inevitable location-based text ads. It is just not that difficult for me to reach into a pocket and check my phone when I want to see my e-mail.

Also: notice that none of the people encountered by the Google glasses-wearing fellow in the video are wearing Google glasses? That’s because even people who do want G-mail alerts directly in their eyes don’t want to live among the kind of socially stunted cyborgs we’d all become if we wore these things, talking to the air and pointing at things that exist only in cyberspace.

In short, ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.◼


Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: You are coevolving in another dimension …

Photo by Thomas Hawk.

This week at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, Devin Drown walks us through a cool new theoretical model that shows how hosts and prey species can evade parasites and predators in an ongoing coevolutionary struggle—if they each coevolve in multiple dimensions.

Instead of treating a coevolutionary interaction between two species as the interaction of only two traits, the authors investigate the nature of an interaction among a suite of traits in each species. It’s not hard to think of a host having a fortress of defenses against attack from a parasite with an arsenal loaded with many weapons.

Full disclosure: Scott Nuismer, one of the coauthors on the new model, has collaborated with me and with Devin. For more detail, go read the whole thing. ◼


Carnival of Evolution, March 2012

Erodium cicutarium. Photo by jby.

I completely failed to submit anything to the most recent edition of the Carnival of Evolution, but fortunately I was the exception, not the rule—the monthly compendium of online writing about the complications and implications of evolutionary biology is online over at Synthetic Daisies. This edition features a nifty phylogenetic organizing framework, and a crossword puzzle. Go check it out. ◼


Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: Making sense of “stinkbird” gut microbes

A hoatzin. Photo by Carine06.

I was off the grid last week, so I missed Sarah Hird’s latest post at the group blog Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, discussing a cool new study of the microbes in the guts of hoatzins, a species of wonderfully weird birds.

The hoatzin has an enlarged crop for the purpose of fermentation (see figure below). A “crop” is an anatomical structure in throat of some animals (including most birds) that primarily stores food. In the hoatzin, however, it does much, much more. Foregut fermentation is a digestive strategy where microbes living in or before the stomach break down vegetation for their host. Microbes are required by foregut fermenters because only the microbes are capable of breaking down the cell wall of plants, a barrier that confines most of the nutrients found in plant cells. The hoatzin is the only bird to use foregut fermentation and is the smallest known foregut fermenter.

To learn what the new study reveals about the diversity of microbes in hoatzin foreguts, go read the whole thing, including the evolving plans for follow-up experiments in the comments. ◼