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January 2010

Winter Update

Posted by Ciara Hand on 30 January 2010

The Peregrines have been very visible around the clock tower all winter. In fact apart from a short period in the autumn when they were probably moulting they have been around continuously since their nesting attempt failed last summer.

It's i-read, not e-read

Posted by Mari Gordon on 28 January 2010

As predicted, Apple have launched their new product, what we were expecting to be their version of an ereader, with suggestions for names like 'Tablet' and 'iSlate'. In fact, the iPad isn't even marketed as an ereader but as a tool for engaging with media all-round. Jobs describes it as a "third category", and the promotional video highlights three aspects to the iPad experience:

  • a web browser
  • email
  • and lastly an ereader, featuring, inevitably, iBook.

Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and S&S have signed on provide content through iBook. Apple has offered a more attractive deal than Amazon by agreeing to link the ebook price to the print price. They'll split the sale 30/70. Initially publishers will still earn less from the iPad, but the agreement gives longer-term control and helps still fears that Amazon are driving prices even lower over time - and gives publishers some leverage.

Of course there are other features, and the larger touchscreen makes this a much better tool for enjoying your images in iPhoto and the most feasible device yet for downloading and watching films.

Perhaps one reason why Apple avoided positioning the iPad directly into the ereader market is the size. Although the 25cm multitouch colour screen is clearly easier to read from, ereaders have so far been promoted for their convenience, which includes being highly portable - more so than a pile of books. The iPad is nearer the size of a netbook, although at 1.25cm much slimmer (and prettier!). Another reason will be the price: although initial guesses at the cost were around 1,000$, at 499$ for the basic model the iPad is still a wee bit pricier than other ereaders, and the 3G 64GB model will be 849$.

Industry comments so far have questioned whether consumers actually want a "third category" device, especially at those prices. Publishers, however, seem to breathing a sigh of relief: at last, an attractive device and a publishing model that protects our profits. And as Jobs says, the 75m people who've bought iPods and iPhones already know how to use an iPad. The questions are, can they afford to, and do they want to?

St Dwynwen

Posted by Sian Lile-Pastore on 25 January 2010

The art cart was busy on Saturday and we made some beautiful cards! Here are just a few.

To e or not to e?

Posted by Mari Gordon on 19 January 2010

A couple of years ago we were being told that everyone was talking about changes to the supply chain. Today the book industry "buzz" is undoubtedly ebooks. In fact, I'd bet that more words are being written about this issue than are being e-read – estimates on the size of the market are still 1%-2%, even in the USA. This first wave of users are the 'early adopters', people who habitually use new technology, whatever it's for.

First, there were the usual 'death of the book' noises, which have been emerging every now and then ever since the invention of newspapers (or probably since the invention of moveable type itself). Curiously, the fact that this premise has been discredited several times doesn't stop it re-emerging. In reality books align themsleves fairly quickly and eventually benefit from whatever was meant to sound the death-knell (remember how after VHS videos came out, cinema attendance rose?). The content crosses the platforms, whatever the medium or the technology. Newspapers publish books. Films and tv programmes have tie-ins. And publishers are exploring ways of spreading their content across online, broadcast and print. The online content adds value to the book experience, it's not yet replacing it.

Booksellers now have to find a way to maximize on these opportunities, as selling coffee and DVDs isn't the answer (just ask Borders UK – oh, you can't). Some publishers are already blurring the lines, or even eradicating the traditional route to market – booksellers – entirely. Amazon, playing cuckoo in the nest, is simply gobbling up other people's content and selling it packaged as an Amazon product. It buys rights to content and publishes ebooks that can only be read by the ebook reader Kindle – produced by Amazon. The same will be true of the forthcoming Kindle 2. And when you download your book you don't actually own it, you just sort of licence it – if it's deleted or withdrawn you lose access to the content. Imagine buying a new book from Blackwell's only for a bookshop assistant to turn up at your house some time later and take it back! (Actually that wouldn't happen if only because they don't get paid enough to make house calls. Booksellers are among the best qualified, best-informed and worst paid employees anywhere.)

The Kindle and other ebook readers are probably the reason ebook reading is still marginal to the market. The reading experience isn't great, as on the whole the screens are smallish and black and white. As pieces of kit they're expensive (average £250-£400) and limited in what they do (no video, for example). In fact most ebook users (53%) are using their laptop instead. Another common complaint is the lack of quality and range of books available. There are only 250,000 titles available for Kindle in the UK (350,000 in the USA, none in Canada); that might sound a lot but over 100,000 new titles are published every year in the UK.

For publishers, the pricing is the major issue. We can't for the life of us decide what ebooks should cost. Most existing and potential readers – over 80% - believe ebooks should be cheaper than print books. But, cheaper compared to what? Paperback? Hardback? Book club edition? And should it be available before or after the paperback release? Publishers have already seen supermarkets loss-leading on trade titles, should the value­ (not price) of their product, brand or author be even further undermined? And then there's the debate over author royalties, which the Society of Authors believe should be higher than the current 15%-20%, given the larger margins available to the publishers.

Soon, however (March, actually), a new ereader enters the market. We're going to get the long-awaited 'iPod moment'. Apple are making a press announcement on 27 January, which is expected to end much speculation and say that in March they launch their own ereader. An ereader is already available as one of the thousands of Apps for the iPhone, and it will probably be the kind of multifunctionality and style we expect from Apple that will change the ebook reader landscape, for the better, if more expensive – the Apple version is expected to retail at about admin:edit_field,000. By doing more and doing it better, Apple will bring the 'added value' to the experience that other ereaders haven't. Apple don't launch products until Steve Jobs believes they've got something special. Some years ago he said he wasn't interested in the ereader market – but, a long time ago, he said that about mobile phones… At least one very major publisher, HarperCollins, is already in talks about making ebooks available for the Apple hardware (iSlate?), possibly via iTunes.

Of course, there are still the whines of "you can't read an ebook in the bath" and so on; hey - only 6% of us say that the bath is our favourite place to read, so there goes that argument. Sustainability is a more valid concern: I wonder how much carbon we'll using as we charge up our ebook readers, what nasty materials they're made out of and what happens to them all when we thrown them away.

Once we get to know and, undoubtedly, love the iSlate, answers will emerge for some of these issues, and publishers can continue their experimenting with multiple, complimentary formats, while hopefully maintaining the true value of creative, high-quality content.

The big chill

Posted by Chris Owen on 18 January 2010
'Baby bulb' keeping warm beneath the soil
These bulbs should be on the shop shelves by now. Really Welsh Farm 11/01/10.
The Daffodils before the chill. Really Welsh Farm 15/12/09.
Daffodil flowering in Taiwan

How the weather has changed since my last blog. Just before Christmas, we were reporting on the warm wet weather and how the bulbs had started to grow early as a result.

Since then, temperatures have dropped and snow has fallen all over the country! Most schools have been closed and our young scientists have had the chance to play in the snow. For schools that have been open, it’s been difficult to record, with many reports of ‘frozen thermometers’ or bulbs deep below the snow.

So what does all this cold weather mean for our bulbs, farmers and global warming?

For the bulbs: If your bulb started to grow before Christmas, it will probably still be the same height today. In other words, it will have stopped growing – until it gets warmer again. Some plants may be damaged by the frost and as a result may not flower – but most should be ok.

Farmers from the Really Welsh farm reported: ‘We should have started picking the earliest variety of Daffodils already and they are normally out in the supermarkets by now. If you look at the picture taken on the farm – you will see that they are nowhere near ready for picking. 

The daffodils that were a week or two ahead at the end of November have not grown at all since before Christmas. This is because Daffodils need temperatures of above 6 degrees in order to grow. If this weather continues we will not have any daffodils for a few weeks.’

Is global warming still happening? You could be forgiven for questioning if our planet is warming when it’s so cold outside, but sadly the overall temperature of our planet is still set to rise as carbon dioxide levels continue to increase.  Global warming is about the overall temperature of the planet rising. There will always be some colder winters and hotter summers – that’s a natural variation. But when we look at the average temperature of the planet over the last century it is definitely rising and scientists are in no doubt it will continue to rise.

For Wales, global warming doesn’t mean more sunshine, but warmer and wetter summers and more erratic weather like flash floods and gales.

Daffodils from Taiwan. Here is a picture sent to us from Chao-mei an environmental teacher based in Taiwan. She says: Hello, Professor Plant, Do you know the daffodils have bloomed in Taiwan? It reminds me of the beautiful UK spring. I have shown children in Taiwan how to keep a nature diary by looking at your blog. It’s very helpful. I teach children at the Cheng-long Wetland Education Centre and this is our blog page, it’s only in Chinese sorry.

Feed the birds. Visit our woodland blog to see pictures of St.Fagans wildlife in the snow. Plus find out how to help your garden birds to survive this winter or take part in the Big Schools' Birdwatch.

Many Thanks

Professor Plant

 

From Wales to New Zealand

Posted by Dafydd James on 13 January 2010

As you may have seen reported in the press, I have decided to take up the post of Chief Executive at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa. It has been far from easy to reach this decision for a variety of personal and professional reasons; and, to say that it represents a big step would be something of an understatement.

It has been a privilege to serve as Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru. During this time, I have truly come to appreciate how integral culture is to Wales's national psyche and how we should never lose sight of its importance in underpinning Welsh society and shaping the nation’s future. Our recent work regarding the positive contribution our museums make to Wales highlighted this fact, and we are committed as an organisation to working with other cultural organisations in Wales to take this research forward. Wales has strong cultural assets, and there is a job to be done in turning these into a more distinct brand and marketing them more effectively, both within Wales and beyond. There is a real danger, particularly during recession, of thinking that it’s not worth worrying about culture but it is incredibly important to our country and our economy.

I am excited about the challenges and different perspectives that I will face in this new role, but undoubtedly my approach will be shaped by my experiences here in Wales and Northern Ireland. Museums can't shy away from telling national stories, no matter how intricate or controversial they may be, and Te Papa is world famous for its innovative approach to demonstrating how culture and community memory has moulded the history and identity of New Zealand's communities.

I won't be leaving immediately. Over the next six months, I will continue to update this blog and look forward to remaining involved with a variety of projects including St Fagans and the redevelopment of the West Wing.

St Fagans under snow: Tomorrow's guided tours of St Teilo's Church going ahead - if the snow holds back!

Posted by David Thorpe on 11 January 2010
From left: Saint Dewi, or David, and St Teilo
(l-r) Saint Dewi, and Saint Teilo. Dewi, sometimes known as David, is the patron Saint of Wales. You can identify Teilo by the bell he is carrying. According to his life story, he was given a golden bell by the Pope in Rome. Teilo is the patron Saint of apples and horses.
Scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, as depicted in the North Chapel of St Teilo's Church at St Fagans National History Museum.
Scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, as depicted in the North Chapel of St Teilo's Church at St Fagans National History Museum.

The St Fagans site isn’t usually this quiet: even on blustery November afternoons, determined (but soggy) visitors can be found walking the site, exploring the galleries and the historic buildings. This week, however, the only surge in visitors has been the amazing array of birds we’ve seen reclaiming the hedgerows and, out of necessity, brazenly venturing near the offices and mess rooms in search of food. Only last Friday I was kept company by a pair of Lapwings, who were enjoying the last of the afternoon sun outside the museum's main entrance.

The only human traffic on our pathways has been a small army of Museum Assistants, Craftspeople and Agriculturers, busy clearing snow and gritting. The textures, colours and smells of our Christmas Nights event* are now long-gone; tipp-exed out and muted. The site is eerily empty - though it is incredibly beautiful, it has not been safe enough to let visitors in on several occasions during the last week or so.

In the snow, St Teilo's Church does not look as dazzling as last year: as is the custom with traditional buildings, the bright limewash covering the outer wall has taken the brunt of the season's weather, and will be re-applied next spring when it is milder. The interior, as ever, is still as vibrant as it was when the reconstruction was officially opened in 2007, and, we hope, as it would have looked in 1500-1530.

The wall painting scheme is now finished, bar a few Latin inscriptions, which are proving harder to decipher than previously thought. The north chapel design, including figures of Saints Dewi and Teilo, as well as what is thought to be male and female portraits of local patrons, were composed by copying fragments plaster from the church in its original location. Where the plaster had deteriorated, or the pigment faded, we looked at better preserved mural sequences in Wales in order to come up with appropriate evidence for the missing parts.

While the north chapel is not directly accessible to the visiting public (partly because the east end of the church houses some of the oldest furniture in our collection), these murals are visible through the carved screens in the church. These, too, have had a new lease of life, through the work of Fleur Kelly, who has worked with our own in-house painters on several aspects of the church’s painted carvings.

If the snow holds back, the advertised guided tours of the Church will go ahead tomorrow and Friday (14-15 Jan); starting at 12:00, 13:00 and 14:00. Those interested in attending are encouraged to telephone us before starting their journey, to ensure that the museum is open and accessible, on (029) 2057 3500. The church is a ten-minute walk from the main entrance on a clear day, so please bear this in mind when choosing your footwear!
Wrap up warm, and hope to see you there!

*That's treacle; fairy lights; brass bands; bay leaves; woodsmoke and wet boots, in case you were wondering...

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