Category Archives: Web/Tech

Ice Cream, Writers Websites, & Making Your Calories Count

Tillamook ice cream is one of the true pleasures of our moving to Portland. Images

I know I risk outing myself as a closet ice-cream freak, but I don't care. The way they pack so much lactocine goodness into every delicious spoonful is enough to make me want to move here all over again, just to have the pleasure of realizing I now, once again, have access to the greatest ice cream in the universe.

I am not proud of this. But I refuse to be ashamed of my obsession any longer.

Yeah, okay, there's Haagen Dazs. But that's not really ice cream. It's frozen butter. Of course that's going to be good. Dip a cold stick of butter in vanilla and sugar and go to town. It's tasty. It's also going to deposit you in coronary junction.

You think I'm kidding. Go ahead. Have your Haagen Dazs. We'll see who dies first.

But to bring this just a little bit nearer to my actual point, as I was preparing to indulge in my shopping day rendevous with a blissed-out ice cream coma, I came across a new ad printed along the plastic safety collar. You're familiar with these, and the same lawyers' work from tamper-evident seals on vitamin jars and baby toys. These same demons clearly made these evil little wrappers indestructible because they derive pleasure not from ice cream, but from making you convulse in frustration while slicing your hands on their cleverly-designed razor bands.

I could get scissors, but now it's too much like letting them win, so I decide teeth would be best and I bring the carton to my face to gnaw the daylights out of some shrunk-wrapped landfill.

And that's when I saw it. Little white printing in a playful serif font: "More ice cream per container." Well, I'll be chocolate-swirled.

That's it, I thought. Though even then, I wasn't quite sure what "it" was.

But something grabbed me in that claim that sounded vaguely similar to what I'm pulling together in my little corner of the information superflyway. Sure, you can go for those other writers sites and publishing packages that promise "editing" and thorough quality controls. But you'll get more ice cream per container with this site. And you don't even have to chew your way through uncertain danger to get to it.

I'm not big on self-promotion, so it can be tough to feel competitive against so many big guys who pump their ice cream full of air and diglycerides, just to make sure you think what you're getting is the good stuff. I also know I've been less than gracious about the end product of such. But "frozen dairy dessert" is not what I want for all my sacrifices in the supermarket of inspired dreams. Writers work hard for their visions. And no flashy ads or deep discounts from the other guys can supply the fullest experience my mouth and stomach deserve.

So I'm continuing on writing and designing the new site, hoping someone will notice the fact that there's more actual of the real good stuff shoved in here and that's what they really want. It's not going to catch everyone, but at least those who appreciate such things will know their calories are doggone gonna count.

At holidays, ebooks sell more than print

In a move that had Asia’s trees all a-flutter, this season during the holidays it happened: ebooks sales of the top 6 bestsellers outsold print.

Thursday’s USA Today bestseller list (1/6/11) “will show digital’s new popularity: E-book versions of the top six books outsold the print versions last week. And of the top 50, 19 had higher e-book than print sales.” (Thanks to The Literary Saloon!)

Okay. Who got e-readers for Christmas? 

Though the question will remain what % of publisher revenue came directly from ebooks (not to mention author revenue), this factoid is proof positive that at least for those shopping for books last week, most were (1) online, and (2) strongly favoring the anti-product over the packaged, processed, shipped and stored product when it came to the paradoxical front-list (the most-valuable-and-simultaneously-disposable titles).

It’s also anyone’s guess how much publishers’ idea to print on toilet paper contributed to buyers’ decisions, but it seems most folks were already well-stocked there. (Also, don’t expect any traditional publishers to feel bad for you when you drop your iPad in the toilet. I found that one out the hard way!)

But woah. Not bad for a “derivative product” that didn’t even exist a few seasons ago…

Why the New Books Want to Be Free

Convergence.

Moving toward union or uniformity; especially coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed.

We might hold such truth to be self-evident, but convergence, the merging of distinct ideas, people, industries, and technologies into a unified whole balanced in equality, is the basis of our government, healthy relationships, of spiritual lives, and many things in between. It’s in the ying and yang of the ancients, predating our understanding of the perfect balance of love and justice found in God.

And this concept is just as operational in our world today. The synthesis of ideas, is happening at a faster rate today than it ever has before. So the ability to “hold to one without letting go of the other” is becoming increasingly difficult as well.

Maybe you feel this in your own life, this pull toward the “comfort” of extremes. Too often we’re attracted like magnets to the poles, wowed by the height the pendulum swings. These are the extremes. The world is full of them and they’re unbalancing factors and should be ignored. The unbalanced wants to be heard. But it also wants to be ignored as it argues for its own irrelevance (to pick on political talk show hosts: if they got what they “wanted” they’d go extinct).

This involves paradox and paradox is everywhere. If you’ve seen it and dealt with it honestly, you know that convergence is the answer.

Does God still speak today? And would he speak through prophets who are paid no heed? What if we’re missing his words because we don’t have ears to hear? Would God choose to have a prophet speak through publishing a book? My question to the traditional publishers, most now owned by conglomerates: Can you hear above the other master’s voice? And if you can, what special measures are you taking to ensure your readers reckon with it?

What needs to happen now? Chris Anderson reminds us in Free, “information wants to be free, it also wants to be expensive because it’s so valuable.” (Stewart Brand)

Paradox. Convergence.

I believe we’re entering a new age where the ideas of freedom that were relegated to the control of gatekeepers can no longer tolerate the restriction. Publishing is a game of “rights management,” a euphemism for ownership and control, but the information wants to be free. And despite their “purchase” price and devoted resources, the publishers do not own it. Not even the authors own the ideas, any more than they created their own brains and the life that sustains them. We can’t even control the influences that go into shaping the new ideas. And as for who “owns” wisdom and understanding, let alone the capacities for such things, we can all agree, it isn’t us.

Why shouldn’t everyone benefit from the current convergence of an idea surplus and the unlimited access to publishing it?

It’s time to hack in. To circumnavigate. To rethink and rebuild the new system.

Democratization of publishing is underway. I don’t believe my job is to help someone control the information. I’d rather make it easier to distribute. And that means convincing people to share their ideas for free. If enough innovative authors agree, publishers will be forced to change.

I think it’s relatively inevitable, but that doesn’t change the hard truth. Some will ask why this should happen. And it’s simple: the idea of controlling someone’s message, idea, or intellectual property, is profoundly connected to the control of those people themselves, and ultimately leads to a no-win for everyone involved. Author becomes indentured servant, publisher becomes greedier, and end consumer is charged increasingly more for a decreasing quality product.

It may not always bear out in every instance, but tending toward entropy is the natural cycle. New opportunities overthrow existing paradigms. Revolutions and tyrannies are cyclical. This is simply a current one. Or maybe, as Anderson says, it’s simply the most recent part of the continuing revolution that bits (computers) have made possible.

And something in me is encouraged to think it’s all outside my control.

 

Seeing Beauty, Part 2

The current state of publishing has me thinking about the future.

 

It’s hard not to these days. Everywhere you look there’s another announcement of the electronic squashing print. I imagine this big trash-can-head robot stomping books into the mud and I have to set down my quill and cry a little into my ink-stained tea mug.

 

But soon I regather my strength and then I start thinking of all the cool things to come. Futurists and other people who are paid to think about such things say that in 2020 you will be able to talk to anyone with auto-translator apps in your primary devices. But that’s just the start. Computers will be inside things and inside us and not on the desk. We’ll be able to enter full-immersion VR with images downloaded directly to our retinas, augmenting and even replacing reality in various ways. We’ll be interacting with virtual personalities and relying on them for several things—news and information, entertainment and companionship.

 

And according to one cyborg brainiac currently known as Ray Kurzweil, by 2029, the fastest computers ever heard of today will be affordable for virtually everyone on the planet. Many of us will be bio-engineered in several senses, both through implants and through computer-enhanced mental and physical capabilities in the computers embedded into our everyday objects. Cellular robots will be programable to repair anything at the molecular level, reversing aging, global problems, economic vulnerabilities, climate disruptions, and every manner of decline and decay. These robots will improve our brains and body functions and also make it possible to experience others’ emotional states and their attendant physical experiences. Organs will be created and recreated from tissue within and outside the body. Human life expectancy will increase and several common diseases will disappear. New ones, especially psychological disorders will continue to proliferate. (Much of this was mentioned by Ray here, toward the end of his talk:

And all of this makes me struggle to believe there will be much more beauty and sane people around to appreciate it in the coming decades. Sure, there will be advances and technologies never before seen and they will be widely appreciated and then mostly taken for granted as usual. But will much of the real beauty beneath, behind, and all around it be missed and inadvertently destroyed, as much or more than is happening today?

 

When I think about my kids growing up in this ever-more identity-variable landscape, I easily become overwhelmed. It’s bad enough thinking how Facebook and Twitter are making our boundaries more permeable and unreliable, but it’s a plink of acid rain to the sheer suffocating volume of inescapable existential asteroids hurtling toward us just beyond our perception.

 

(Imagine people wanting to move to the space station on Mars just to get away from the disturbing technological society we’ve created on Earth. It isn’t so far fetched to consider–the sci-fi writers are all wondering why I’d even bring it up.)

 

Normally all the unknown out there would be enough to make me want to move into a well-ventilated cave and take up the piccolo, but thanks to the current publishing environment, I’m about all out of freak-out these days.

 

Where will beauty be if we can’t even find it in our current world? More than ever, we need a different kind of futurist who sees where we’re heading and is holding us to the solid source of truth, love, and beauty. So often writers get frustrated that they aren’t getting the attention they think they deserve, but the hard truth is that they haven’t really found what deserves our attention. It’s easy to look around and excuse ourselves from responsibility—plenty of garbage gets published, why not this? We can dodge and remain stubbornly focused on what we want to say.

 

But what if there’s something higher, something more universal you haven’t considered? Even in your own small story the particulars point to a bigger, broader picture. And that picture has implications for all of us. What meaning are you making of your experience for others to glean? What fuller awareness are you making possible through sharing your discoveries?

 

And what transcendent beauty are you illuminating by the light of your simple words?

The Death of Better Writing

Inspired by Steven Levy’s recent article for Wired on “The Burden of Twitter,” I’m encouraged to agree with him. I often feel guilty too. I have a blog I haven't contributed to regularly for several months. I feel more than guilty—approaching inadequate–that all my pals on Facebook have so much time to post cool pictures and updates, while I’m still struggling to update from my Christmas pictures. And not only haven't I ever Dugg anything since, well, ever, I don’t really even know what Digging does.

I really do find social networking pretty cool—in some ways, I mean. Facebook has been incredible in linking me up with old people from my more embarrassing days. And posting short updates on there feels much more immediate and relevant than this old blog, not to mention the old novel sitting on my hard drive for nigh on 6 years now. And I love feeling like we’re at the start of something that could be really great for our writing community.

But there’s still that nagging sense that because I have limited time and/or desire to divulge every bit of info about myself to the world, I'm only skimming the surface of the formerly deep (or at least deeper) waters of our withering social construct. And even at that, I'm not making any really significant contribution. I feel like I’m more connected, and yet less really connecting, all the time.

And I have a feeling that not only have I felt that before–I'll feel it again and again.

So, as a result, I fight back. I work harder to provide something more meaningful than the rest of the emailers, bloggers, Facebookians, and tweeters, which in itself is a perpetual burden. How do you provide something more meaningful in a 140-character update?

This very question reveals more about me than I'm sure I'm comfortable revealing.

Which delivers us to the ultimate insult: as I strive to make more substantial deposits into the stretching info abyss, the more difficult and unnecessary it seems to preserve something good for the more substantial repositories—books, for instance. That’s right. Remember those? I wonder if one day we’ll look up and realize what fools we were to think we could keep heading so quickly into the future and still hold onto our quaint notion of continuing to invest in the antiquated analog of print publication. We get immediate response this way. And the words don't get nearly as polished. There's much less frustration. Why would anyone work at words the old, harder way anymore?

But I suppose just as the Internet is rewriting all our futures, it's revising this particular piece of common wisdom as well: best not to ask questions you don't want Google to answer.

Until then, I’ll keep working to calm myself by unplugging periodically and reassuring myself that there’s far more value in time spent writing for a book over a blog post.

And yes, I will now go mention this new post on Twitter and Facebook.