Faced with steep printing costs and the bulk of their readership downloading the online PDF of the magazine, the editors of Space Squid made the decision to return to clay tablets. Space Squid communications editor Matthew Bey says, “Given the choice between printing 2000 paper copies that won’t last ten years, or thirty copies that can last six thousand years, it’s an easy choice to make.”
The clay tablets are unfired as was common practice in Sumeria. Like their historical antecedents they are dried in the sun, giving them a startling durability. “Practically speaking, these tablets could last until the end of the world itself,” says Chang. “Unless someone drops them.”
The Space Squid clay tablet is the first major cultural application of clay tablets since the collapse of Egyptian colonialism in the first century A.D. The tablets are printed using a unique technology that allows multiple impressions of the same text, despite recording on a medium that pre-dates Gutenberg by thousands of years.
Says Bey, “If the Sumerians had been as clever as Space Squid and developed a similar clay-printing technology, they would have sparked the enlightenment era a thousand years before the birth of Christ.”
The clay tablet issue contains most of the content familiar to readers of the paper version of Space Squid. Side one has a seal-imprint with the image of a squid and the name “Space Squid” in phonetic cuneiform. The rest of the front-face features a short story by Kevin Brown titled “Hunting Bigfoot,” hand-lettered in the English alphabet using a wedged stylus in the same manner as the Sumerian scribes. The back side contains an off-color joke and advertisements for the Drabblecast podcast, the movie Bikini Bloodbath, illustrator David Johnston, Krakatoa Shirts, and a live performance of the graphic novel Intergalactic Nemesis.
In this modern world, I'm not really sure whether it's worth even having such a thing, but that's our oldest phone number -- I've seen it on flyers from 1986!
Until now, I had no idea how many people ever called that number or whether they listened to the message at all, because the phone company refuses to give us those statistics. Yes, that's ridiculous. No, we couldn't get it out of them after many, many phone calls. We also couldn't get them to give us a number that both A) let us leave a multi-minute outgoing message and B) had voicemail turned off so that people couldn't leave messages on it. Such service from those guys.
Anyway, I've just switched it to use Twilio, which is pretty cool. So now not only will we actually get logs, but we can get the recording up there automatically, instead of having to update it manually by either reading it out loud, or holding the phone up to a computer reading it. Twilio has a pretty neat system. Their end handles the phone network and speech synthesis, and they pull an XML URL off of my server where the behavior is defined -- e.g., they do a POST to my URL when you press a keypad key, and I return a new XML document.
It can also do SMS responses, but I haven't gotten that working yet. I'm not sure how useful that will be, but it might be nice to be able to SMS something to 626-1409 and get back a text saying what's going on here in the next few days.
There are lot of systems out there where you can sign up for SMS notifications. It would be pretty easy to build something like that, but since I can't personally imagine ever wanting that, I'm not sure what I'd do with it. They exist, though, so other people must use them?