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Review: Interweave’s new eMag, SpinKnit

I’ve just spent the morning with Interweave’s new eMag SpinKnit, due to be released on Friday, 12/3/2010. I’m a weird combination of reader in that I both love and hate digital content. I worked for 15 years in information technology, primarily dealing with electronic publishing, and then I left that career to focus instead on writing about and teaching people how to engage in the millennia-old technology of spinning yarn by hand. Why? Because one of the major things I learned in my high-tech career was that the preservation and distribution of knowledge is hard, and technology has limits for achieving those goals. Despite many advances, for some things, nothing can rival in-person instruction, and for long-term archival, there’s still nothing that beats ink on paper, a technology that’s lasted thousands of years.

So, I regarded SpinKnit with a mix of skepticism and excitement. Here’s my overall take.

SpinKnit, like Interweave’s other eMags, is a platform-dependent product. It’s a standalone application that depends on the Adobe AIR environment, which means when you buy a copy, you must choose if you want it for Windows or Mac. It isn’t available for operating systems that don’t support Adobe AIR. This has pluses and minuses; instead of thinking of SpinKnit as being like an ebook or an online magazine, think of it as an app that includes all its content and the means to view it on your chosen platform.

One thing this means is that it’s large, and takes a while to download — it took me about 45 minutes on my full T1. That’s long enough to derail the sense of instant gratification one has with buying an ebook or subscribing to web-based content, putting this more in line with downloading TV episodes or movies. But unlike a video, once downloaded, SpinKnit can be read and navigated in a way that feels very much like reading a magazine; and unlike much video content streamed from the Internet, the resolution and playback are excellent, well-integrated with the text. Neither text nor video seems like an afterthought or a supplement — this is well-made multimedia content.

That’s where the product really gets exciting, both as a reader and as someone who teaches the subject at hand. When describing tactile, dynamic processes, like handspinning, in words, you have to use a lot of them to really get at what you’re describing, and it’s never a sure thing that your message gets across, even when you include lots of pictures. Well-integrated video content changes that profoundly. In this
product, a content producer can say “And then it’s like this, see? Watch the video, it’s right here,” and the viewer can say “Ohhhh, I get it, it goes like that!”

But the medium alone doesn’t make that happen; you need people who really know the subject, who really have a depth of experience in communicating it, to choose topics, put the content together, and deliver it in approachable and meaningful ways. In the fiber arts publishing world, absolutely nobody beats Interweave founder Linda Ligon when it comes to doing just that, and Interweave is full of people, like SpinKnit editor Anita Osterhaug, who are likewise brilliant at bringing their topics to life.

While Interweave’s print magazine, Spin-Off, has for decades been the cornerstone of the North American handspinning community, and I literally grew up waiting for each issue to arrive, I found myself lingering far longer on SpinKnit than I usually do on Spin-Off content. Why? Because where, in reading print, I would be thinking, “Man, I wish
I could see that happen,” with SpinKnit, I could do just that. Before I knew it, my entire morning was gone, and I was eager to call my colleagues and tell ’em, “You’ll want to check this out.”

Not all my skepticism has vanished, though. Digital content remains a challenging field, one where all the problems aren’t technical and where, for many of them, there aren’t clear solutions. From experience, I know that in a decade, the platforms for which SpinKnit was developed may no longer be available or supported, and that there are no
guarantees it’ll always be easy, or even possible, to access this content. However, the same can be said for buying music or movies — content with a similar price point to SpinKnit. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy any of them digitally, even if there is a chance I’ll someday have to buy the content again for another platform. It’s no different from
buying another copy of The White Album or replacing the HD DVDs I bought when it wasn’t clear BluRay would win out — just issues faced by content consumers everywhere in the digital age.

All in all, SpinKnit is an ambitious and daring product, and one I find very exciting and full of potential. The software developer and system administrator in me views it warily, like she views all software after decades of experience; but the handspinning teacher in me is purely gleeful and eager to see more. The latter wins — I’ll be recommending SpinKnit to anyone who’ll listen.

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Aguas Calientes

We´ve made it to Aguas Calientes, which nowadays they call Machu Picchu Pueblo, apparently. In some ways it´s come a long way since I was first here in 1977, when there was nothing here except a dive bar with a loft over it where backpackers could throw a sleeping bag. The bar had a generator to power the jukebox at night. In the morning, we got up and walked along the tracks through a tunnel and then across the bridge and up to the site far above. There was nobody there but the folks working on excavations, and the four of us. Now there are tons and tons of tourist moneysucking places and it´s a… it´s kind of the same, a wasteland, just different.

A few pictures…

Manchild in the airport on the way out.

Arriving at CTTC…

Ollantaytambo ruins…

Me and some old friends…

More later once I have real net.

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So I still haven’t gotten everything back working how it should be, but I give up for now; there’s stuff I have to blog about, and so all the hassles with spam filtering and comment handling and templates… whatever, for now. Whatever. I’ll get to it when I can.

When I was four years old, just before my fifth birthday, my family moved to Peru. We left from Miami, and flew all night, stopping in Panama where we didn’t change planes. We were sitting at the bulkhead, on the left hand side of the plane, and I remember when they opened the doors this mass of hot, wet air came flooding in and woke me up where we sat on a dark runway. I asked, but we weren’t there yet. After a while, with people getting on and off and all that, the doors closed and we flew on.

About the time the sun started to rise, we came down through a lot of clouds and there below us were only waves. Then there were container ships and fishing boats and some desert, and a sprawling metropolis. We laned in the foggy gray dawn, in another place that was hot and muggy, and this, my parents told me, was Peru. But only Lima, they explained; there was still another plane ride. My sister was a baby. She doesn’t remember any of that.

The next plane was smaller, and bouncier, and we flew up through the clouds and above them and looked down on the desert. Then there was a blanket of thicker clouds, thick thick thick, and finally it gave way to green lushness that rose up from the fluff of clouds. We flew on over that and it kept coming up, and up, and up, and it turned rocky and blue-gray and eventually snowy. I felt like I could have reached right out, if the windows opened, and touched those snow-capped peaks.

And then, in the middle of them, with no sign of anything coming up, we started to descend. Down through those peaks we went, down and down and down, till we were close to green valleys and planted fields and then — I didn’t see it — a runway. And we landed. And now, my parents told me, we were in Cusco.

They wheeled some stairs up to the plane, and opened the door. The hot wet air was gone. The airplane air rushed out. Nothing rushed in. I felt dizzy. We stood up, and walked down those stairs, onto the tarmac, and the sun was bright, brighter than sun is in real life, I remember thinking, except it is that bright and this is real life, so I guess I just didn’t know it could be like this. Spots swam in front of my eyes. It was chilly and sharp and the air smelled like dust and living things. There was a building across the tarmac, with pillars. I walked as steadily as I could towards one, and when I got there, I leaned on it and threw up.

After that I don’t remember much for a while. I had altitude sickness and it took a while to get better. But then it was better and I really lived in this place with the cold sharp bright sun that could burn me to a crisp beneath a perfect movie blue sky and filled with ancient castles and people who spoke other languages and did things I didn’t know how to do yet. It was home.

When I was six years old, back in the US, I used to have a bad recurring nightmare. We would come down through the clouds in a plane bound for Peru, and see the lapping waves… and the boats and ships… and no metropolis of Lima. We would fly around and fly around and finally find a runway, and upon disembarking, would say, “We’re trying to go to Peru,” and someone would tell us, “Ah, Peru. Well, it isn’t here any more. It’s gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?” my father would say, “Gone where?” And they would tell us it had gone to a place called Ghost. “Well then I guess we’d better get a move on,” we would all agree, and rent a motorboat, and make our way through the lapping waves, looking for a place called Ghost, where Peru was now that it was gone, and we would search and search, and even when we found Ghost, what was left of Peru there would only serve to let us know it really was gone.

I would wake up sobbing, inconsolable. And every time, EVERY TIME, when I’m getting ready to go to Peru, that dream goes through my mind. I am always afraid it will be gone; that I will arrive, and there is only Ghost.

It’s always been there; but each time, indeed, there are things which have gone to Ghost, and which can never be found again. Wandering around in the search, there will be people who remember, who sadly seek the same things, and people who only heard stories and never knew, and for them, it’s different. And still people live there, die there, are born there, and carry on; still it is Peru.

The cold sharpness of the Cusco air always brings me to my knees, though not literally since that first time. The smell of living dust says VIVA EL PERU like the side of the mountain does when we fly in. The car horns sound different and everybody has the right accent. It’s always still there. But yet I always wonder, what is it this time, and who, that’s gone to Ghost and can never be found again?

Every time I fear it, and tomorrow is no different. Except I won’t be going alone. I wonder how it will be.