Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vanity publishing

Digital publishing is changing the industry in more ways than you might realise at first. It's not just about the economics of publishing, it's about the whole nature of what publishing is.

The other day I was reading Roz Morris's blog, Nail Your Novel. (If you're a writer, or an aspiring writer, then you really should have this on your feed. It's full of good stuff.) She was talking about self-publishing, and made this comment:

Vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing. With vanity publishing you pay – usually a lot of money – for someone to print thousands of shoddy copies of your book and then you discover they’re not going to sell or distribute them for you. It’s usually verging on a scam. With self-publishing no money changes hands until a copy is sold (of course you may spend money on covers, editing etc, but that doesn’t usually have anything to do with the self-publishing company).

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) recently sold a novel to a Very Big Publisher (who shall also remain nameless). I was a little puzzled why he was so happy about it. I pointed out that he actually owns a digital publishing company, so he could have self-published. And, by his own admission, he'd probably make more money from self-publishing. That's not blind optimism, by the way. He's got several successful self-published books to his credit already, and can make a pretty fair assumption how much he'd sell if he did another.

His response was a little surprising. "It's vanity publishing, I suppose," he said. "I've got plenty of my own books on my shelf already, but it'll be nice to have one with that logo on the spine."

How's that for a total reversal? Self-publishing is where he makes money, and going to one of the biggest names in the book publishing industry is just a vanity project.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A request

Dear people of the world,

I have a small request to make of you all.

If we have an appointment, and you can't make it or you're going to be late, please let me know, preferably ahead of time. If this appointment involves me going somewhere to meet you, ideally, let me know early enough that I'm not going to make a journey for no reason.

On a similar note, if you've promised to do something for me by a certain time and you're not going to be able to do it, I'd appreciate it if you'd tell me, rather than just leave me wondering what's going on. It'd make my life so much easier.

Thanks,

Love, me.
xxx

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lovebooks

I've been musing for a while about the cost of digital books. Typically, they're about 25% cheaper than paper. Although it's nice to see a cheaper alternative, that's a pretty outrageous price when you analyse it. In some cases, the Kindle versions are actually more expensive (the Kindle version of Game of Thrones costs $8.99, but the paperback is only $7.59, or $5.03 if you want the mass market paperback) and there's no justification for that pricing at all.

As a general rule, 35% of the cost of the book is for printing and paper. Then there's 5% to cover distribution (to the retailer, not the customer). The retailer takes about 30%, which pays for his staff and shelf space. None of those costs apply for a digital book, apart from a minuscule amount for listing it on a web site. So you could cut the cost of a book by 70% and make the same profit.

I've seen it argued in several places that you could reduce the cost of a digital book to a flat fee of $1.99 and you'd still have a viable business. Probably, from the publisher's (and author's) point of view, a more viable business, as people would buy more books at that price. What's more, since you don't have to worry about print runs, overstocks and remainders, you can publish more niche books and expand your inventory. You can't do that right now, because of the fees Amazon and the like charge, but let's assume for the next few minutes that it could be done.

Then what I'd like to see is this.

I pay $20 a month, and can download as many books as I want. Absolutely unlimited. But here's the catch. If I stop paying my membership, those books are no longer available to me. It works just like Netflix or Lovefilm. I can get whatever I want, whenever I want it, as long as I'm a member.

Practically, I can only read a book a day, and that's pushing it. More realistically, I might get through 15-20 books a month. So even if I download hundreds or thousands of books in one month (equivalent to loading my Netflix queue with hundreds of movies), I won't be able to read them all for $20. It'll take me all year. So I'm not paying for the actual downloads, I'm paying to read.

Sure, this isn't the same as owning them. If I stop paying my monthly sub, I "lose" all those books I've "bought". That's true, but frankly, I don't want to re-read 99% of the books I read. So maybe the system could allow me to keep any book I like for an extra $1. It's just like using a library (which I do, much more than buying books anyway), except that I can take out as much as I like, I don't have to go there, there are no late fees or due dates, I don't have to worry about whether they've got the book in stock or how many copies they have, and I pay for it directly instead of through my taxes.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that one day, I'll be able to get a single media subscription covering books, movies, games and music. Pay a flat monthly fee, and read, watch, play or listen to anything I like, when I like, where I like. I'd sign up for that in an instant. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Infosnacks

Last week I tried an experiment. Instead of posting bits and pieces on Facebook as I encountered them, I compiled everything into a single daily blog post which appeared first on the Web, and then on Facebook as a note. It was a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of FB posts I make: I know I post a lot, but that’s because I keep stumbling over all sorts of interesting things. The journalist inside me wants to share them with you, but I’m wary of bombarding people with stuff they don’t want to read. I also wanted to try writing slightly longer pieces, but not as long as the short essays I usually put on my blog.

The blog experiment revealed several interesting things.

· The number of comments and likes dropped off almost to nothing. Most of my posts get some reaction. The blog posts, which typically contained 10-15 items, got almost no response. I suspect this is due to the following reasons:

  • Most people simply don’t read the longer posts. They’re not good to read on a phone, for example and they demand a lot more commitment than short 240-character posts. It’s also really easy to skim through your Facebook feed and see what looks interesting, whereas this is much harder with a blog. No readers = no reaction. Simple.
  • The layout Facebook gives to links is actually very effective: a short summary, an obvious thing to click on to see the item (and you can view videos right in the post without leaving the page, and an easy mechanism to make a comment or like a post, again, without leaving the page. In a blog, it's much less obvious whether you're going to like what you get, and you actually have to look for the link, so people don't click through as much.
  • It’s much easier to react to a single post than to a long post. It’s clear what you’re reacting to, rather than having to explain in your comments which bit you mean. If I post about three films I've seen, it's so easy to click "Like" on the one where you agree with my comment, rather than write a comment saying "Yeah, I didn't think much of BLAH movie either."

· Blogging is hard work. It would typically take me an hour at the end of the day to write up one of those posts with all the URLs I’d saved, add in all the links, find images, and so on. Clicking “share this” is so much easier. Click the button, add a quick comment, and get back to what I was doing. It takes less than a minute.

So, in other words, compared to Facebooking, blogging is more work for me, and is less effective at communicating this kind of information to you. Sure, blogs are great for longer pieces like this, where you need to hold someone’s attention for a few minutes, but that’s not what Facebook’s for.

What we seem to have created is a smorgasbord of what I've taken to calling "infosnacks": tiny morsels of assorted information that we can help ourselves to all day long every time we fancy a little nibble. There’s an endless supply of it out there, and we can survive on it quite happily.

You could argue that a non-stop diet of infosnacks is bad for us, and initially, that was how I felt. Surely spending time reading proper, well-written articles has to be somehow “better” than lots of stupid little postings.

On reflection, though, I’d have to disagree. Infosnacks are a fine metaphor, but it’s not the same as subsisting on a diet of chips and chocolate. There's no requirement that our daily information intake has to be limited, or contain certain vitamins. And infosnacks aren't all we consume anyway. We can, on occasion, easily find ourselves drawn to sampling more weighty, nutritious fare: someone posts a small taster, we follow it up, and next thing we know we’re reading an informative article about something quite in depth.

It all depends who your friends are. It’s more like a conversation, where people are quite happy to contribute a few sentences here and there, rather than a debating society where everyone takes turns to hold the floor for half an hour and make a speech. And because it’s so easy to post, you may find that your friends post some quite surprising and interesting things, which actually makes for a pretty damn good conversation.

So, it’s back to Facebook posts for the little things, and blogs for longer, more complex thoughts that won’t fit into 240 characters.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #7

No blog yesterday. Did you miss me?
  • OK, movies. Watched two documentaries, Food, Inc and Urban Explorers. Food, Inc didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but seeing it on screen really turned me off eating a lot of what's in the supermarkets. Urban Explorers was interesting, but could have done with being half an hour shorter. Still, well worth watching just for the pretty images of abandoned places. I just wanted to know who the hell simply walks away from a fully furnished castle and leaves it to rot?
  • Here's one I may or may not see when it reaches Netflix. Atlas Shrugged could be fascinating, or could have me throwing things at the screen. This review intrigues me: A Movie This Demented Should Be Against The Law. I have to admit, I've tried to read it and failed. And Ayn Rand's philosophy pisses me off. But I'm prepared to give the movie a shot.
  • Game footage is getting more and more like movies. Check out this latest Unreal demo. And remember, this is real-time in-game footage. This is not a cut-scene. This is not pre-rendered. This is gameplay.
    And while your jaw hits the floor, I'll just tell you that this is taking not one, not two, but three top of the range custom nVidia graphics cards to run it. So don't expect it to work on your laptop. Don't even expect it to work on your current generation super-duper video production PC. Figure on getting a whole new machine when this comes out in two years.


  • I spent much of yesterday browsing Wonderland, a hugely entertaining blog that talks about games of all sorts. What initially caught my eye was this glorious Lego steampunk TIE Fighter. Neat, huh?

  • Also from Wonderland, an excellent post on social mechanisms in games, based on a superb talk by Raph Koster, who I should follow more closely than I do. He "explained how societies work, how humans work, and how we interact as beings with each other, described as social mechanics and how they could be applied (and are sometimes applied) in social games. [Here's] his list of the 40 essential social mechanics that have ever existed, in order that game designers need never have to reinvent them again." Bloody brilliant stuff.
  • ExtinctIt's a damn shame I missed the Muppet Art Show last night. Woulda liked to see that, and it looked like people had a lot of fun.
  • Damn shame I missed the hillbilly burlesque last night too. Looking forward to the next Kitschy Kittens show.

I'm still wondering whether to continue with this long blog format. It doesn't generate anything like the responses I used to get with FB posts, and it doesn't feel like many people are actually reading these. I'm seriously considering whether to revert to just sharing things on FB or take a vow of social media silence and focus on writing proper stuff.

Last week I had to do some research into Twitter, and came up with some depressing facts.
  • The average person on Twitter gets 2700 messages a day. A year ago, it was 400, and I thought that was a lot. Math: if it takes 5 seconds to read a tweet, it would take 3 hrs 45 minutes a day to read your Twitter feed.
  • Most people log in once a day, and only read their direct messages, @messages, and whatever's been posted in the last 10-15 minutes. Math: most people only read 1% of their feed. In other words, if you post something on Twitter, there's a 99% chance that a given one of your followers won't see it.
  • Click-through rates on Twitter links have dropped from 38% a year ago to 14% now. So given that hardly anyone is going to read your tweet, the number of people who will actually click on a link is near enough non-existent (o.14%). Math: if you have 500 followers, then maybe ONE of them will actually click through.
  • Retweet rates have dropped from 25% in 2009 to 17% in 2010 and 11% now. Math: if you have 500 followers, maybe ONE will RT your post. And if he has 500 followers, maybe one will click through and/or RT it.
In other words, it's Babel out there. Everyone's talking, nobody's listening. It's not a conversation any more. It's no longer a viral way of spreading information as transmission rates are so poor. It's just noise, pretty much drowning out all the signal, and the only response people have is to turn up the noise. In December, I wondered what Twitter was for. Now, I'm none the wiser.

Well, that's not quite true. I am. In December, I had a hunch that Twitter was becoming useless. Now, I have the stats to prove my hunch.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #6

I'm writing this one while watching First Orbit - the movie. It's a real time recreation of Yuri Gagarin's pioneering first orbit, shot entirely in space from on board the International Space Station. The film combines this new footage with Gagarin's original mission audio and a new musical score by composer Philip Sheppard. It's over 90 minutes long, and it's as close as you'll ever get to seeing that incredible historic moment when mankind first left this planet. Sit back, fire it up full screen on the biggest device you've got, and enjoy the incredible feeling of an entire space mission. Just imagine what it must have been like for Gagarin, up there for the first time, seeing things no human being had ever seen before.

They've disabled embedding, so you'll have to just click through. Oh hang on, wait, read the rest of my blog first!

  • Today is a moment I've been waiting for for about six years. My friend Damien Valentine, announced that his new feature film, Chronicles of Humanity, will be released on April 26, and will have its theatrical debut at the Little Theatre Cinema in Bath. It's a sci-fi epic featuring several of my friends, and also Felicia Day, who you may recognise from The Guild, Dollhouse, Dr Horrible, and so on. That's pretty damn cool. What's even cooler is that he funded and made the whole film himself.
    And coolest of all, from my point of view, he did it with Moviestorm. When we started creating it, we said that one day, we wanted to see a Moviestorm movie in the cinema, and now it's finally happening. Damien - thanks, and congratulations!
    If you can't make it to the cinema, don't worry, you can watch Chronicles of Humanity online as a Web series.
  • One of the films I'm most looking forward to is Luc Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Described as Indiana Jones crossed with The Mummy and Amelie, this looks right up my street. I love the close of this review: "I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this film, I’m just not sure who to." Me, that's who! Looks like a perfect date movie for us.



  • I stumbled across this book today after seeing a tweet about it. Oh My God What Happened And What Should I Do? It's a neat book about digital marketing, well-written, concise, and informative - well worth picking up. What's really clever is that you can buy it for money from Amazon, or buy it for free if you tweet about it. Err, no-brainer. I'll have it for nothing, thanks. And because I'm lazy, I'll leave their default tweet "This Book helps you to move into the Digital era of awesomeness. Download it for free: http://bit.ly/4R9rth" instead of writing "I haven't actually read this book yet but it looks cool and it's free if I write this tweet." Cunning, huh? And they've shifted 150,000 copies that way. Made no money, true, but they've built an audience very, very fast.
  • Now this is something I like. Your Taxpayer Receipt, courtesy of the White House. Punch in some data on how much tax you paid, and it'll tell you where all the money is going; how much on defence, hospitals, schools, etc. More governments should do that.
  • Did you know Newfoundland has its own time zone? They're an hour and a half ahead of Florida.
  • Got writer's block? Deal with it.
I appear to have done something bad to my foot, which got slightly squished during the kitten-trapped-under-garage-door incident a few weeks ago. It feels much like it did when I fell off a motorcycle many years ago - not broken, but possibly a cracked bone, which hurts like hell and isn't going away. I've now got it bandaged up, and am trying to walk or stand on it as little as possible.

At least we have a mostly quiet weekend ahead of us: the main event is Ginger and Joe's Florida wedding reception on Saturday. They got married last weekend up north, and are having a second do down here this weekend.

We're also meeting with a bunch of people to kick around ideas for future art shows in Orlando. There's been a sudden resurgence of enthusiasm, mostly thanks to Ben Sawinski, and a whole load of new opportunities have started popping up.

Apart from that, I'm thinking I'll spend the weekend with my foot propped up, either catching up on movies, reading, or maybe even writing something at long last... Well, when I say writing, I mean other than my blog (6 articles this week), corporate stuff (28 articles) and emails (178 since Tuesday). I mean like maybe a story, or a script, or some lyrics.

Oh, and if you were wondering, we never made it to the Colombian restaurant. There's still a pile of paperwork on the office floor, so we haven't earned it yet. Damn.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #5

I've got quite a flood of links for you today, so I'll try to keep the commentary to a minimum.


Ummm, I'm not sure anything can really follow that. But I'll try.
  • How about this? 17 Images That Will Ruin Your Childhood. Yes, they will. I'll just say "Greedo in high heels," and leave it at that.
  • Or there's this: IF FOX NEWS EXISTED THROUGHOUT HISTORY. Terrorists strike Boston Harbour. (Dear Blogger, that is not a typo. There is a "u" in harbour.)
  • And try this from Vintage Sleaze: highly questionable gags from the 50s, which apparently come from vending machines installed in mens' rooms (before condom machines, I assume). This is about the cleanest of them. The rest are NSFW if you live in the 1950s.
  • Staying on the subject of gags, here's a piece about the Muzzles, annual awards by the Thomas Jefferson Center for those who restrict free speech. (Did you see what I did there?) I do appreciate living in a country where freedom of speech is taken so seriously, even if it does allow nutters to have a platform. (Insert Voltaire quote here for extra credit if you're a high school student.)
  • The headline on this BBC news piece amused me. FBI closes in on zombie PC gang. Oh come on, tell me you didn't have the same mental image as me...
  • I reckon we need some good news for a change. Two new Bond films! With the catchy titles of Bond 23 and Bond 24. Let's hope they're more Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace.
  • I like a lot of what Seth Godin has to say. Today's blog entry is a positive spin on self-criticism and how to deal with what went wrong. What did you learn from your experience? Nothing new, just well put.
  • Local filmmakers, check this out. 48 hour film project is coming to Orlando in November.
  • And finally (well, as regards links), check out this concept art from Gates, the new Webcomic from Heavy Metal. Just remember, this is the stuff that wasn't cool enough to make it into the final thing. So what does that say about the stuff that did make it in?


Miscellaneous musings:
  • Why isn't there a link from IMDB to Netflix to say "add this to my queue"?
  • Sheesh, there's a lot of wordage when you're reading stuff from educationalists. It's like someone took an academic and crossed them with a politician and corporate jargoneer. I have a theory:
    Those that can, do.
    Those that understand, teach.
    Those that can't, get big government grants to pontificate incomprehensibly to the others.
  • Best quote of last night. "The thing is, when I Google for "slave girls in cages" I can tell people it's work, and it's true!" NSFW really doesn't apply here, does it? I guess that's what you expect when our Ferox shows end up being described in the local newspaper as "semi-scandalous playful perversion". I'm still ridiculously proud of that.
  • So... how come Anna hadn't even heard of the Gor books until yesterday, let alone read one?
  • Emmanuelle is now on Netflix streaming, so we watched it. Well, Anna hadn't seen it. There are some quite surprising gaps in her education. It was even more terrible than I remember, full of pretentious pseudo-philosophical blathering. We fast forwarded through most of it. Gwendoline, also be Just Jaeckin, is much more fun.
  • Last night's tapas cooking worked well. I finally managed to cook an aubergine (eggplant) dish that I was satisfied with.
  • And lastly, really lastly now, we went to an art show at Sip tonight by some dude I've never heard of but who seems to be a bit of a local celebrity in some circles. Walls full of these things. Kinda cool, doncha think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #4

I'm going to kick today's S&N off with a real blast from my past. I thought this had disappeared from the Internet for ever, but I should know better. Nothing vanishes from the Internet. This is a movie I made 11 years ago with Robert Llewellyn (Kryten from Red Dwarf). Okay, so that's the hype. The reality is that it was a short promo movie for a mobile phone game I designed at nGame. It was written and created by Charlie Dancey and Pavel Douglas (whose main claim to fame, in my eyes at least, is that he was in a Bond movie), and I had a small bit part, doing an off-screen voice. Music was by Manny Elias from Tears for Fears.

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you... Alien Fish Exchange: The Movie.



I'm actually really proud of that game. People loved it, even though it was a silly little WAP game which eventually made it onto interactive TV in several countries. In fact, one person loved it so much that he recreated the entire game, and you can go right ahead and download it. (Disclaimer:I haven't played it, so I have no idea whether it's at all faithful to the original or whether it'll turn your computer into a pile of steaming slime.)


Right, that's enough of the shameless self-promotion. On with the random bits and pieces.

  • Film news: it looks like there's finally going to be a film version of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but mostly I'm thinking that's good, because I wanted to like the books, but found them totally unreadable. My dad loved them, and tried to get me to read them, but I just couldn't get through them.
    Mind you, he also had a complete collection of Gor books. I did read those. Several times. I preferred them to Anne McCaffrey.
    Errr, moving swiftly on...
  • Ah, Dita von Teese in a Wonderbra. Much better.
    Now click on through to watch the new Wonderbra TV advert for their strapless bras. It's a great advert. And, as one commenter said, if this really works on my DDs, then I want two in every colour they do. So, whether you're a lady or a gentleman, click on through and enjoy.
  • So you want to make a movie. How hard can it be? Check out this wonderful flowchart from Canal+. It's pretty much spot on, and very funny. And click around to find a bunch of similar ones from the same designer.
  • And more silly infographics (who the hell invented that word anyway?). How men and women perceive colour. Guilty as charged, m'lud.
  • Tonight's cooking has turned into something of an extravaganza. Singaporean fish curry for tonight, then I'm starting a tapas frenzy ready for lunch tomorrow. Chorizo & chickpea salad, red peppers with capers, chorizo in red wine, aubergine dip, mixed bean dip, and tuna, egg & potato salad. At least I won't have to cook for the next two days, apart from the bread. Well, that's the theory, anyway.
OK, that's it. Back to the kitchen. But let me leave you with a Gorean slave girl, in memory of my adolescence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #3

I don't really feel much like blogging today. Today can be pretty much summed up with the acronym wombat: waste of money, brains and time. But still, I'll share with you the goodness I've found around the Net today.

But first, some news. We confirmed yesterday that there will be no more Ferox shows at Taste for the foreseeable future. We're going ahead with the April 29 show as planned, but after that, we'll be looking for other venues. Taste gave us a great start last April, but it's time to find somewhere else. We'll let you know as soon as we have anything definite.

  • 50 years of space today. The Russians still regard it as a priority, unlike the West. And check out how they boasted about it back then. Meanwhile, our space program is more concerned with prog rock - Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson will be doing a live duet with an astronaut. That's cool, and all, but hardly earth-shattering.
  • So why aren't we doing anything in space? Because we're spending abso-bloody-lutely everything we've got on the military. Check out this little chart. Don't need schools, hospitals, roads, scientific research, or any of that Commie crap - we need MORE WEAPONS!
    The military accounts for 20% of the American budget, and it's going up year on year. That's about 1.4 trillion dollars. (I can't even say that out loud without doing a Dr Evil face, it's such an absurd number.) Coincidentally, the US budget deficit increased by 1.4 trillion dollars last year...
    To put that in perspective, the US accounts for over 40% of the entire world's military spending. That's six times more than China. Eleven times more than the UK. Twelve times more than Russia. Over one thousand times more than Libya.
    I honestly can't conceive of a situation where anyone would need that much military power, unless they seriously expected to take on the whole of the rest of the world in a slam-bang knock-down fight to the finish. And if that happened, it would go nuclear anyway, and it wouldn't matter who won.
    If you want to reduce government spending, then the tea partiers should start here. And here's The Economist agreeing with me.
    (P.S. Note to the UK. Why the hell do we need to be spending that much on our military? We are the third biggest spender. Do we really need to be outspending Russia, for crying out loud? Get rid of the war toys, and fix the damn country's real problems. We're not the Empire any more.)
  • Okay, enough of that. Let's get weird. You're probably aware of angler fish, possibly the ugliest creatures on the planet. But did you have any idea how totally weird the male angler fish is? He kisses the female, his lips turn to glue, his face melts, and... no, I'm not going to spoil the surprise with what happens next. You'll have to click through, but believe me, it is possibly the grossest thing in the entire animal kingdom.
  • Writers - you'll love this. The Periodic Table of Storytelling. All the cliches, beautifully categorised. Print it out, and put it by your desk.
  • Book time. Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe. If you click that, you can get it for free. Whee! Best bit of the book for me was this:
    "It's all about being an advocate for the user. I observe what users do, and how they do it, figure out what they're trying to to, and then boss the engineers around, trying to get them to remove the barriers they've erected because engineers are all high-functioning autistics who have no idea how normal people do stuff."
    That's what I used to do, before some bastard turned me into a sales and marketing guy. (That means you still observe the users, but the engineers tell you to fuck off, because it's only marketing, and nobody likes marketing.)
  • And how's about this for a book? If it's the way comics are going, I like it. Nemesis, the Motion Comic.
  • And lastly, wtf has happened to Facebook? You now can't like, share or comment anything which didn't originate from Facebook itself. Check out the screenshot - there's no way to interact with that post!
    So if you're posting from Twitter or su.pr or some other feed system, or using a "share on Facebook" link on a site, nobody can respond to what you write. I'm really hoping that's a glitch, because that seriously reduces the number of potential conversations, which seems to be totally against the spirit of social media.
I'll end with this little snippet from Freda. My tribe. I love you all.

However your life develops after you come together with your tribe, you can be assured that its members will stand at your side. On the surface, your tribe may seem to be nothing more than a loose-knit group of friends and acquaintances to whom you ally yourself. Yet when you look deeper, you will discover that your tribe grounds you and provides you with a sense of community that ultimately fulfills many of your most basic human needs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense #2

As Vaughn said earlier today, Facebook status detox is no joke. Well, I've resisted all day, and here's what I would have posted if I'd just kept clicking the SHARE button, plus some odds and ends thrown in. There's, uh, quite a lot of it.

  • Tomorrow (or maybe today by the time you read this) is the 50th anniversary of Gagarin going into space. Here's a few things you may not have known about Gagarin's flight.
    Returning to a theme from yesterday, it's actually quite depressing in some ways. Half a century in space, and we're still amazed by space shuttle launches. It was designed about 40 years ago. I think we've lost the plot somewhere. Weren't we supposed to have space stations, space hotels, space elevators, and be mining the asteroid belts on our way to our first colonies by now?
    And why isn't the day being marked with some huge fanfare? It's one of the biggest milestones in human achievement. Yes, I know he was a Russian. So what? This is bigger than politics. The man was a true hero of the world, not just of the Soviet Union.
  • Got a problem with wind power? Don't like those ugly windmills? Well, here's what the Union of Concerned Scientists has to say to you. And so do I. I would have loved for someone to put a windmill on the ridge behind my house when I lived in Somerset. And here, too, if they could make them hurricane-resistant.


  • Frankly, I think windmills look a lot prettier than power stations, they don't fill the air with smoke, and they don't explode or dump vast amounts of radiation into the environment when things go wrong. If I were running the show, I'd have windmills and solar panels in everyone's back yard. Seriously. On every roof and every hillside.
  • Some days, you realize life really is a joke. Here's a great selection from Cracked - one of my favorite sites these days - of absurd jokes that came true. Stupid things like, err, Ronald Reagan becoming President. Like that would ever happen!
  • Speaking of absurdity, check out these fashions from the NY fashion week. Really? People get paid to design, make and wear this crap? Click through and be aghast.
  • On a more serious note, this should give pro-democracy activists cause for concern. The Egyptians recently got rid of their corrupt dictator who wouldn't tolerate dissent, and replaced him with an interim ruling council made up of the Armed Forces. A 26-year old pacifist blogger dared to criticize them, and their immediate response was to jail him for three years. So, that's an improvement then, is it?
    And staying on the subject of Egypt's corrupt dictator, I was amused, in a not very amused way, to read that Mubarak has threatened to sue anyone who accuses him of corruption. He'd like it known that all his money - all $30 billion of it - was legitimately earned during his time in office, and he did not use his political office to aid him. You have to admire a man who can make $30bn in 30 years as a hobby, don't you?
  • Last night, I read an L. Ron Hubbard book. No, don't laugh. I'm not turning into a Scientologist. Fear is a horror novel from his early writing career, and it's actually quite good, in a sort of Ray Bradbury / Robert Bloch way. I'm tempted to find some more of his earlier works.
  • On the playlist today, Bob Dylan's Desire popped up. I've never liked Dylan, apart from that one album, but I haven't heard it since my school days. I was pleased to find that I still enjoyed it, and ended up singing - well, humming, since I couldn't remember the words - along to One More Cup of Coffee. I couldn't get into any of his other stuff, though. I then spent the rest of the morning listening to the Rolling Stones, who, believe it or not I barely know other than the classics.
  • I'm really pleased that finally my series of blog posts on using Moviestorm in schools has started. It was a lot of fun to write, and I enjoyed thinking up ways to use Moviestorm. I've got the first few in the queue, and there's about another 30 half-written. I'm now hoping to get round to the other series I'm working on, which is a series of exercises aimed at film students who want to practice their techniques. The first few of those are part written, just waiting for me to shoot the videos that accompany them.
  • Okay, here comes the food section. For dinner last night we ended up at Smokey Bones. They've redone the menu: a few new items, and a lot of things no longer available, but the food's still good. However, we discovered that in the same plaza there's a Colombian and a Peruvian restaurant. I know next to nothing about South American food, so I'm quite intrigued by both of these places. (And no, they don't have guinea pig on the menu. Damn.)
    We've allotted the whole of tomorrow to Draco Felis paperwork, and we've promised ourselves that as a reward for getting everything filed, we'll treat ourselves to dinner at the Colombian place, Los Portales. Just the two of us. We need it.
    Tonight, we ate at a Polish place, Polonia, on 17/92 up near us. Well recommended - tasty food, good portions, classic Polish dishes. The kiszka (blood pudding) was surprisingly good, and the wazanki (noodles, bacon, kielbasa & cabbage) was absolutely delicious. Good selection of Polish beer too.
  • And still on the subject of food, here's a great article about expiration dates. You know when it says Best Before or Use By? That does not mean the food is bad after that date. Food producers and retailers are making you throw away perfectly good food by making you think it's no longer edible. And different states and countries have different regulations, which confuses things still further. Obviously, don't eat food that has spoiled, but don't just go by the date on the packet.
And I'm going to end with a rant. Kids having mobile phones - it's a great idea. It's reassuring to know they can call you, or you can call them (assuming they remember to charge the bloody thing). But what's not a good idea is allowing kids to make arrangements with each other, instead of adults talking to each other. If Child wants to visit Friend, then telling Child to call Friend and sort it out is an absolute, guaranteed recipe for disaster. Here's what will happen:
  • Friend won't speak to Parent about this proposed visit. Child will arrive unexpectedly, and Parent will wonder what the hell is going on. The situation will be exacerbated when it transpires that Friend invited Child to stay for a meal, sleep over or join them on a family outing, without Parent's knowledge. Parent will freak out, and Self (or Spouse) will have to go and fetch Child, probably at most inconvenient time, leading to tears all round.
  • Child will not relay vital information back to Self. Either child will arrive without necessary item for family outing (cash for ticket, bathing suit, etc), or Self will fail to arrive at the agreed collection time, due to not knowing about it.
  • Child and Friend will agree a time and place to meet up that doesn't work for Self or Parent. One family will end up hanging around waiting for the other, get irritated, and day will be ruined. Alternatively, Child and Friend will make arrangements without consulting Self or Parent, and then get hugely disappointed when told it's not possible.
The answer's simple. Any arrangement made between Child and Friend is deemed to be meaningless. It only counts if it's agreed between Self (or Spouse) and Parent. So don't cop out by getting the kids to sort stuff out. Deal with it. It will save hassle in the long run.

OK, that's me done for the day. More stuff'n'nonsense tomorrow, probably involving food, spaceships, books, and everyday life.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stuff'n'nonsense

In an effort to cut down on the number of things I'm posting to Facebook, I'm going to try compiling a lot of my daily blatherings into a single blog post, which will make its way over to FB eventually. Of course, since I'm now not limited by FB's post length, these can be a little more wordy, rather than the typical semi-cryptic pronouncements.
  • Birthday weekend is mostly over. Teenage parties - well, we survived, and let's leave it at that. Most of the kids have gone home now, and we're looking forward to some peace later. But first, we have a family dinner somewhere, not sure where, either Smokey Bones or Colorado Steak House. Frankly, after Cheesecake Factory on Thursday, and pizza & wings yesterday, I have no desire to eat anything at all today except fruit.
  • Speaking of food (as I often do), I made a dozen deviled eggs yesterday. I did three lots: some fairly standard, some "Cajun" style with BBQ sauce, and some with feta and green onion. Yum.
  • I've just come back from taking Darien out driving for what seems like the first time in months. He's now old enough to take his test and start driving on his own, which is strange, and a little bit scary. (And, in a few months, Rhys will be old enough to do the same. It's things like that which make me feel old.) I decided it was time to get away from the residential backstreets, and so we headed off up 17/92, and onto some of the busier roads. He did just fine after a shaky start. Now we need to work driving practice into our regular routine, and then he can get himself out and about, and start thinking about getting a job.
  • We watched The Lightning Thief last night. I enjoyed it, but I have to agree with Darien that it was nowhere near as good as the book. I'd really recommend the first book, though I got bored with the later ones. The movie was okay, but suffered from all the usual problems of movie adaptations; it captured the essence of the story, looked great, but some bits were missed out, some things were changed, and it didn't really match what was in my imagination most of the time. Worth watching, but be prepared for disappointment if it doesn't match up to expectations.
  • This afternoon, I'm enjoying The Right Stuff. Amazingly, I've never seen it before, although I've read the book. (This, you may note, is a common theme with my film reviews.) It's really hitting home, after living near Canaveral, visiting Kennedy Space Center and watching the last few shuttle launches. As I'm watching it, I keep thinking, "I saw that craft, I saw those spacesuits, I saw that photograph they just posed for," and so on. I've sat in replicas of some of those capsules, and they're unbelievably tiny and claustrophobic.
    What's really poignant is Gus Grissom's constant comment, "You know what makes this bird fly? Funding. No bucks, no Buck Rogers." And now NASA's bucks are all gone. No more Buck Rogers.
    That was an era where America had real pride in being able to do something amazing. The rest of the world looked on in respect and awe, as America went faster, higher, further, and where no man had gone before. (Well, apart from that little hiccup with Gagarin, of course.) America's primacy wasn't just about being able to drop cruise missiles on anyone they disliked, and dominate the world by military power. It's a real shame those days are gone. Hamstringing NASA is taking away more from America than most people realize. I'm just glad I'm here to see the end of the glory days.
  • Have you ever noticed the increasing use of the ellipsis these days? (That's a ... for those of you who aren't punctuation fiends.) I reckon it's because we're constrained to 140 or 240 characters when posting to Twitter or Facebook. The ellipsis has come to stand for "Well, you get the idea, but I've run out of space to complete this thought, so you'll have to fill it in yourself..."
  • The MaMachinima International Festival, to be held in Amsterdam and Second Life in June, is now accepting submissions. There's a FB event for it. Any engine/tool/platform is acceptable.
  • I still love my Kindle, but I'm actually reading more books on paper than electronically. The Kindle's great for short books that would never get a printed version, and for obscure things that libraries don't have but I don't want to own. I just finished Rider Haggard's Heart of the World, which is about an Englishman who falls in love with an exotic foreign lady called Maya.
  • Also, I finally read Anna Mercury, Vol 1. Warren Ellis writes about a buxom, leather-clad redhead who saves the world. It was fun. Comics really don't work on Kindle.
  • We'll be away for Anna's birthday (and our wedding anniversary), but we're going to have a Jungle House birthday party for her some time around Labor Day weekend for anyone not going to DragonCon. It'll be a costume party, probably no specific theme, just come up with something cool. (Any of you who see a connection between these last two posts - no comment!) And yes, there will be a Jungle House July 4th party this year. We'll make FB events and send out invites at some point soonish.
And a few short snippets to round things off:
  • Here's wishing Niki a good trip south. Look forward to seeing you, buddy!
  • I really want to go shooting with Vaughn soon.
  • Currently trying to decide whether to switch to Virgin Mobile instead of AT&T. Anyone round here tried Virgin?
  • I think I'm finally bored of Civilization.
  • I miss my kids. Every day.
And that'll do. That's quite a lot for 24 hours. For those of you on FB, let me know what you think of having one long post instead of a barrage of little status updates. You may find it works better if you click through to the original post.