Monday, February 28, 2011

Kill the Boy

The older I get, the more sense Bill Cosby’s comedy routines make.

We basically lived this bit live this weekend, except that it was the eyebrows, not the hair on the top of the head, which were mysteriously chopped off.

I favored simply shaving the rest of the butchered eyebrows off so they’ll grow in evenly, but that was vetoed. I, too, just like Bill Cosby, also opted not to kill the boy.


I don’t know.

Outlining: No or No?

Here in about a week and a half I’ll meet with another local writer to compare notes.

All I know about what he’s writing is that it’s a fantasy novel. That’s about all he knows about what I’m writing as well. I sense, however, we’re taking different approaches.

He’s bringing an outline of a story he’s had in concept for a few years at least. I’m not sure how detailed the outline will be, but from what I hear, it’s got a fair amount of detail in it.

This compares to my approach to writing: I don’t outline. I may start off with a few vague notions for the overall direction of the book, and from time to time I may plan, in a very sketchy way, what’s going to happen in the next section of the book or at least the next writing session, but I tend more often than not to follow Wally’s Work Method, which is simply to point the coffee cup in any random direction and follow it.

I sense he’s got a more cohesive story put together.

But I’ve got 110,000 words of my story down on paper. It’s in rough form, but it’s on paper, rather than stuffed invisibly in the cracks of an outline.

I don’t say this to denigrate his method. As I mentioned, he’s probably got a more cohesive story in mind. Mine kind of wanders and meanders, and it’s likely that some of the 110,000 words I’ve got on paper are going to have to be deleted once the editing begins.

So as we talk and read, I’m going to take notes on the pros and cons of our story-building approaches. I’m sure the best methods will be found on the middle ground between the two.

I also wonder how I’d perform in a creative writing MFA program. My sister has a CR MFA, and is now going for a doctorate. I suspect they teach and preach a lot more outlining than I do.

Outlining may work for some. It doesn’t work for me. I prefer the Ur-writer’s approach. But I’m open to learning lessons.

One of the lessons I may learn is that my 110,000 words are an outline, just with a lot more meat on the bones. I see parts of the story that are sketchy and are going to need to be fleshed out through revisions and editing. I’m darn tootin’ well-pleased, however, to have the skeleton in place. And maybe that’s the most important thing, no matter the method used in skeleton–building.

 This is pretty much the extent of my outlining on the novel I'm working on right now.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Cokesbury Party Blog. Sigh.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Those of you paying attention and spending Sunday without anything more constructive to do have probably noticed I've redesigned the blog a bit. No real reason behind the redesign, expect that I noticed perhaps I wasn't using some of Blogger's tools to full effect.

I've also recently joined a writer's group (more on that later) and thought a general wash and brush-up of the blog would be a good thing to do.

That led me, of course, to rediscovering some of the stuff I've put on this blog and on my other blogs as well.

I've just spent a good half hour re-discovering the Cokesbury Party Blog. What a fun blog that was. I enjoyed that one a lot more than I'm enjoying its current replacement, The Treasury of Laughter. I put a lot more heart into the the CPB, obviously, I've discovered in re-reading a few of the entries tonight. I feel like Gonzo, except that I had a lot of things to remember, strolling down the memory lane that is the CPB.

Alas, shortly before I ran out of parties to report on, I found a similar book at the local thrift store. I didn't buy it, because it clocked in at nearly $4. I regret not spending that money now.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My Kids Refrigerator: I Don't Get It

NOTE: Here's a post I borrowed from one of my other blogs, just to let y'all know what you're missing.

So, what do you do when your son works dutifully on a comic for a very long time, sits at the table and stares at it for a while, then presents it to you, saying, "I don't get it?"

Well, here's what I did:

Son: [Handing over comic] "I don't get it."

Me: [Studying drawing] Uh, well, this is your drawing, right? He's, um -- wait. If this is your drawing and you don't get it, you're in trouble.

Son: I don't get it.

Me: Well, uh, he's got this phone, see, and . . .

Wife: Wait. That wouldn't work. How would the phone ring?

Me: Well, he's got a banana on the receiver, see, so it would work.

Wife: Oh yeah. Right.

Son: I still don't get it.

Not sure how I can help you further, kiddo.

What's Up With That, YouTube?

Because I'm generally a boring person, I decided to try to watch a few YouTube videos tonight. Instead, I'm getting this happy little message for the first time.

Why in the world do I have to verify who I am to watch a YouTube video?

And it seems I'm being asked this for ANY kind of video, not just something that someone somewhere might think is actionable since I'm watching, say, an episode of Frasier on YouTube. I didn't upload the thing, but now they want to know it's me watching it?

And that goes for anything, from Keyboard Cat to that crap video I posted OF MYSELF singing a traditional French carol while dressed in a bunny suit. I can't even watch one of my own videos without self-identifying? Why?

So I sign out.

Now I can watch videos again.

What's the deal, YouTube?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Remainder, Part III

This photo is used under a Creative Commons license.

Brave mouse. Theeg had decided that's what he was long before he took the position of guard. Almost brave mouse. That's how he felt. If curiosity killed the cat, however, it could most likely pulverize a mouse. That cylinder didn't seem to be too menacing, so Theeg crawled out of the tunnel and sat next to the hole, opposite this new stranger. "Curious markings," Theeg said to himself as he plunked his thimble-sized butt down on the snow, trailing his tail out behind him. "No legs, but I suppose it can roll around easily enough." He tried to make out the letters printed on its side. (Mice can read just about as well as humans can. Pinnicus, who was a dear friend to the Bard until the friendship was broken when Shakespeare stole a play that Pinnicus had penned and billed it as his own Taming of the Shrew. He changed enough details to cast only shadows of suspicion; replacing the weasels with knights and the frightful, thumb-sized shrew with a woman with big bosoms. Who, again could forget Louis Kaurol de la Dormousse, a Frenchmouse whose friendship with a jovial English mathematician led to a literary partnership so fruitful they decided to share names.)

Theeg, working out the "udweis" on the side of the cylinder, was no Ember Ellen Poot, that gloomy female mouse and author of horrid little stories, but in all he did feel that he had encountered a rather mysterious object worthy of a tale. On this bright but cold day, the cylinder was warm and smelled of wet rotten tumbleweeds.

Remainder, Part II

NOTE: Here's a bit more of the stuff I'm dredging out of my files.

The next day, his mother gone and his siblings sleeping yet again, Theeg poked his whiskers out of the hole and into the sunlight. This he did after carefully surveying the Rubble for any tell-tale tails or whiskers poking out from behind lumps of concrete or from behind the trunks of the taller and thicker weeds poking out of the junk. The smell of purple hung on the breeze like leaves hung on trees. Skunk weed, tiny purple flowers that shot forth a sickly sweet perfume half rose and half rotten mud; sent out in waves thick enough to choke the lungs of those who dared breathe the invisible staining stench. The Lot, as his mother called it, was much bigger than Theeg had expected. Their burrow was roughly at the center of it, next to an odd metal tower, painted red, that poked out of the ground to a height somewhat shorter than the weeds that grew around it. The Two Rivers were there, looking stagnant and muddy in the wide patch of dirt where no weeds seemed to grow. The rivers followed their nearly straight and nearly parallel courses out of sight, in the direction of the Blocks. Another much smaller and less barren path angled towards the southwest, climbing the hills that led towards the Field, where Theeg's father once lived.

The circle of blue grew larger and larger as Theeg edged his way up the tunnel. The Red Tower, the Two Rivers, the field; he knew these from the descriptions and stories he had begged out of mother, as he sat chewing absentmindedly on a nondescript seed and letting crumbs fall out of his open mouth as he listened, wide-eared. The tower and rivers were made by the Boys, she said. Some of the trails were theirs as well, but in recent years, their presence in the area had slowed to a crawl. Odd things about boys, mother said. "Maybe they die, maybe they go off to other places," his mother murmured tiredly one evening, bored at the continual questions her son posed, "they stop coming to this place, and so much the better for us. Disgusting creatures, anyway. They'll never reach the blue."

The blue. Now framed not in a circle, but in a ragged sawtooth of tall Amazonian weeds. The sun's intensity caused Theeg's shadow to cower for protection around his feet. He blinked his black eyes and twitched his whiskers, trying to adjust his senses to a world too large and bright and far-off and interesting to exist outside of his own imagination. He'd never seen the Blue's White before. Odd clingy bits of fluff, like the cottonwood seeds that strayed from the nest lining and stuck themselves to the plywood roof, but thicker. And further away.

A Writing Exercise: Remainder

NOTE: Yes, I am a fan of anthropomorphism. Love it. Next novel I'm writing, I'm doing one of these.

The sun shone cold, and the field was white ice. Stubborn stubs of leftover wheat poked like naively optimistic spring shoots out of the frozen earth and through the windblown crust. Where the wind had found enough snow, there were drifts; piled up against irrigation furrows, sweeping like sand dunes around abandoned bales of straw and built into icebergs in ditches and canals. Tracks of errant rabbits and hungry housecats crisscrossed the narrow corner of the field bunched into the armpit formed by the highway and the county road. Tiny sparrows sunned themselves on the rotting scaffolding holding up the faded billboard that faced optimistically to the southwest. Under the drifts, mingled with discarded beer cans and broken v-belts and dead roadside weeds, the mice carved their world.

After the spring thaw, their furrows and burrows and pathways and crossroads, carved out of the wood-hard drifts and lined with soft dead grass, their traces resembled the odd Indian writings under pine bark that turned out to be the freeways of burrowing insects and grubs that thrived between skin and flesh. Spring, the time of rebirth, renewal, regreening and preening, is also a time of cleaning up, of closing up the frivolous entries to the underground world that were opened in winter to facilitate surface travel. How the tiny mice longed to be able to carve their protective surface tunnels through the clear bright warm sun of summer, fearing not when the leaf or cigarette packet crackled underfoot; to be able to continue along the path with a normal pace and heart rate when the shadows of birds passed overhead. To enjoy year-round the muffling effect the deep snow had on the noise of traffic and little boys and cats and bb guns. Safety. Bliss. Yet mixed with uneasiness and discomfort. As painful as it can be, losing a relative or loved one to the occasional cat, owl or foot was nothing as compared to the relative misery of the long white darkness imposed on the tiny kingdom. Warm dark is pleasant; the press of the neighbor's fur, the smells of familiarity, the full stomachs and the long tails twitching sometimes in dreams. Cool dark, the white dark of snow-carved tunnels that link burrows and traces that fill with the stuffiness and dank and dust of winter; cool dark is a different matter altogether. Occasional floods that swept away the familiar smells, the poor offerings of a stingy Mother Earth, and the whiteblind anxiety that greeted any mouse who ventured to the surface in hopes of finding something a bit fresher to nibble on for dinner.

Theeg was that kind of mouse. Born the summer before in a feather-lined burrow under a discarded corner of plywood left in the vacant lot near the Red Tower, he longed for the warmth and plenty of summer. Vague memories, half-remembered dreams of that dark warm place; soft everywhere with the smell of pigeon and blistered wood glue and his brothers and sisters clawing over him to crowd their mother when her plump shadow blocked all the incoming light. That bright blue hole, where his mother went sometimes in the morning but most of the time in the late afternoon, fascinated Theeg. Mother said the world was indeed much bigger than the familiar, cozy burrow she had built, and that everything did not smell of pigeon. "What is the blue? What is the blue?" he had squeaked (and a baby mouse's squeak has got to be the most pathetic noise on the earth, except to a mother mouse).

"The blue is the blue, that's all I know," his mother said as he and his seven siblings quibbled and scratched each other for access to her nipples.

"Is it big? What does it look like?" Theeg had his full (he was an aggressive child, more willing to pose questions than anything else). He knew his mother knew everything: when the cat was gone, how to line a burrow, how to sneak and how to paw at seeds to see if they were ready to eat.

"Ouch!" mother peeped, and gave one of her tiny daughter a swat. "The blue is rather big; the biggest thing out there, I'd say. As for where it is, that's difficult to say. It's everywhere and nowhere. You can touch it with your whiskers but never reach it by walking. It's above, mostly. Above the Red Tower, above the Arch and above the Blocks, sort of like this wood is above us now, but then again."

"But mother, I can touch the wood," Theeg whined, stretching on his hind legs until his tiny fingers scraped at the burrow ceiling. "I can smell the wood. Does the blue smell?'

"I tell you, you'll never touch it. I'm not sure, but I don't think it likes mice. Wipe that milk off your chin, Ezmerelda." She stared until Ezzy complied. "Something smells up there, but I'm not too sure it's the blue the source. Do you remember the smell last week, Theeg?"

"Um, I think so. That heavy smell, the dry one that made our fur all tingly. Sort of like dust, but a bigger smell, a cooler smell. And it got darker. And louder. And wetter."

"That's the only smell I could honestly say comes from the blue," his mother said, pushing Ronssasance and Phred, their stomachs bloated, away from her feet. "Of course, the blue was different. Darker, like you said. That blue, I swear it was closer, though still too far away to reach. It curled and rolled as if it were alive, and great blobs of it formed and seemed to come closer, turning from white to black. But then the grass started moving and crying, so I never did get to see if that blue came any closer.

Theeg loved that circle of blue he could see out of the burrow entrance. "Don't you go near that door, Theeg!" his mother warned him every time she left the burrow. "You're much too small for exploring as of yet."

"You tell me that every time you leave, mother!" Theeg complained. "I'm getting bigger, you know! I'm no longer a child."

"Child you are and will be for a while," mother chastised. "I tell you that every time I leave, because every time I leave, five minutes later I see your little face edging up the tunnel, seeing everything but your old mother hiding not six scampers away in the Rubble. I've whiskers in your cheeks, and will have for a time to come, little Sneaker!" Her speech over, mother scampered up the tunnel, casting a final "Don't you go near the door, any of you!" over her tail as she went.

"Whiskers in my cheeks, indeed," thought Theeg as he combed his bristly face. Ezzy pulled limply on his tail, her eyes already half-closed for their evening nap.

"Come on, Teeg," she yawned. "Bellin's already 'sleep on Ronssas-Ronssa-Rons' belly, and yours makes th' better pillow. You're all squishly." His nose wrinkled in disgust at the cutsey manner of his little sister, but he followed her to the heap anyway. He lay on the far side, watching Ezzy's head bob in rhythm to his breathing. He stared out the door; stared at the blue.

Theeg had been born earlier than his mother's present litter. His had been a litter of five, but he was the only one to be named. He really didn't know what had happened to his brothers and sister, but he did remember the air suddenly getting cooler and louder and fuzzier. An odd weed, a bouncing, frenzied creature had levered the plywood off the ground and thrust its probing snout, horrid black nose, smelly breath and white teeth in the middle of the burrow. Mother had grabbed Theeg, the nearest child to her, and shot like a sparrow through the grass. She dropped him unceremoniously a thousand scampers off, next to a wilting cardboard box. She returned a few minutes later with his sister and left again. His sister was wailing, silently wailing through vocal cords not yet developed enough to make more than a hoarse rasping. Something was wrong with her; her pink skin was all red, but Theeg was too frightened and disoriented to do anything but silently wail himself. Their mother came back and hunched in a ball next to the only two of her litter she had managed to save from that enormous, ferocious weed that had turned their burrow topsy-turvy. They spent the night under the cardboard box, and left his sister there the following morning to slowly return to Mother Earth. The burrow was disheveled, but the plywood was back in place and some lucky bits of rubble had fallen on top of it from the nearby pile, thus rendering it more impervious to another attack. Father was there as well, fidgeting at the new entry hole he had dug. He and Mother had spent a frantic, tearful night reconstructing the rubble of the burrow and re-lining it with new, unstained feathers. They cowered most of the day, all three of them, in their strange new burrow that smelled more of bird than of mouse, and there his parents named him Theeg, the Remainder. Theeg had stopped his wailing, and soon after, stopped asking after his brothers and sister.

"Is that what Mother is so frightened of?" he wondered as his little brothers and sisters slept in bliss around him. "It wasn't the blue that killed my litter. It wasn't the blue that made Father never come back. There must be something else out there, something bigger, something meaner, something we can touch." He tried to reconstruct a picture of the beast that had destroyed his burrow, three months but so long ago, but all he could recall was the smell and the teeth and the frenzied noise it made. His spine shivered, and Ezzy murmured in her sleep:

"Teeg, quit farting. It makes your belly wigglish."

He thought non-spine shivering thoughts as his gaze returned to the circle of blue, slowly turning crimson, that he could see out the tunnel door.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I'm a Facebook Flopperoo

I've never been good with small talk and idle chit-chat and -- let's face it -- communicating in any way in social situations. Even now, as an adult leading a professional life, there are times I'll linger in the bathroom stall, hiding, waiting for that golden moment when the bathroom is completely empty before I emerge and quickly wash my hands so I don't have to engage in small talk at the sinks.

I have literal surges of fear jolt me if I open the door to leave the bathroom and find someone coming in. I do the dance of the eye contact and hope against hope that the other person coming down the hallway is as socially awkward as I am.

So you'd think that in a controlled environment like Facebook, I'd do better. I can read before I have to react. I can carefully plan things out. I can hit a home run every time.


Instead, I'm a Facebook flopperoo. Today, in fact, more evidence of the fact:

First arrow shows me blindly stumbling into a Facebook conversation. Second arrow shows the subsequent response.

I drive a Honda. It's not a van, but that's okay. So I respond:

Oops. He wasn't talking to me. And still isn't talking to me. That's okay. I'm the one intruding on the conversation here.

Now, of course Facebook doesn't have the physical cues one would see and hear and feel if we were in the same room having this conversation. But there's enough contextual information here that I should have guesses that the comment directly following mine wasn't addressed to me. This doesn't represent a big social faux pas, of course, but for people like me who already struggle in social situations, well, it's difficult.

Those of you who don't struggle socially probably are rolling your eyes at all of this, as I know the person whose Facebook thread this is would be if he were reading this now. Y'all are lucky in that your brains know how to handle this kind of stuff. Folks like me -- and I have to include my oldest son in this group -- have to come up with coping strategies to deal with the kind of stuff you guys handle almost on remote control.

So bear with us Facebook Flopperoos. We mean well, even if we're awkward.

Beware the Clowns

Lest ye think that the Blisshaven Academy crowd is overreacting to the scary airborne absence of the jack-in-the-box clown, be aware: The clown has struck before:

And if you think a zinging, disappearing jack-in-the-box clown is scary, wait until you see the slow kind:

Broken Yoke

The best thing that’s come so far from being doomed?

The yoke is broken.

A psychological yoke, of course, started in October of 2008 when I suddenly had a lot of posts on this blog for the month. Something in my little head snapped and said, “You know, I should write a lot more on this blog. Each month having more or at least an equal number of posts than the month before. Besides, it’s good writing practice. Get a lot of stuff out of the head so there’s more room for better stuff.”

Now that yoke is broken.

I am free.

Not that writing this blog has been all that bad -- it certainly has inspired me in many ways, and having a little bit of writing to show every day is encouraging, especially when some of it is even good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lunar Serendipity

This NASA image is in the public domain.

It's serendipity that NASA's Lunar Reconnassance Orbiter Camera team releasing the most detailed photo of the moon ever the same week the telescope we bought for our soon-to-be 11-year-old arrived via UPS.

When I got a telescope at his age -- and why I didn't hang on to it I'll never know -- the Moon, being the largest object in the nighttime sky, was my first target. I stared that that thing for hours and had NO IDEA what I was looking at, because back then we didn't have spectacular internet-based moon photos and only hand onions to hang on our belts.

So looking at LROC's Flash version of the image here, and contemplating downloading the half-gig image as well, puts me on tenterhooks to get the telescope out and do some looking. Maybe I'll finally be able to see the houses and buildings in Matthew K. Looney's Crater Plato.


I'm still chuckling over this comic strip, from Richard Thompson's wonderful Cul de Sac. If you've never indulged, please do. You're missing a lot.

What I admire about Thompson's work is that you can tell he spends a lot of time writing these things out before he draws them. That's probably stock in trade for comic strippers, but still, his stand out -- they have kind of a Sparky Schulz quality to them. But Thompson's ear for sound might perhaps be sharper than Sparky's. I had a jack-in-the-box that made this exact sound as a kid. Reading this comic brought back a flood of scary clown memories.

Treasury of Laughter Has Returned . . . Again

All right everyone out there in Blog Land, the Treasury of Laughter is back. Cue the appropriate scene:

Used here under the fair use doctrine for educational purposes. Advance film to about 4:06.

And yeah, if this blog had any audience at all, I’m sure they’d be giving me the same stunned-bunny looks those Lake-Men give Thorin when he pops out of that barrel. But no matter. I’m back, and that’s what counts.

Their Hearts Run Cold: 30,000 Words

You know what?

Altus still hasn't done his bad thing yet.

And I think that's because I'm rethinking things. I've got a little nugget of thought that's going to help me add a twist to this book that maybe readers won't expect. Altus may still do something bad, but, well, you'll see what happens.

The story is still coming more slowly than the first installment. Maybe that's good, and maybe that's bad. But I'm finding solace in this quote from "Dune" author Frank Herbert:
A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write." There's no difference on paper between the two.
I just need to know: Am I putting everything in to what I'm writing? And am I even cognizant enough of my own skills to answer that question honestly?

My answers: Most of the time, yes. That goes for both questions.

Want to read parts of my novel in progress? Send me an e-mail at misterfweem (at), and I'll add you to my reading group at the Targhee Writers Blog.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where Do People Find the Time?

I know I’ve been a little heavy on Clay Shirky these past few posts, but I keep stumbling across videos of these interesting talks he gives.

In this talk, Shirky discusses what he calls a cognitive surplus – a happy and unhappy byproduct of our era in which many more people than in the past are dealing with free time and how to fill it. He uses the post-World War II era as a trigger for the cognitive surplus and says that the situation comedy, or television in general, acted as the cognitive heat sink for most post-war Americans.

He claims we’re entering an era now where the cognitive surplus – brought on by increased industrialization and the advent of the knowledge worker (and these are assumptions here, because he really doesn’t outline from where this surplus is coming from) – is being recognized “as an asset rather than as a crisis.”

He sees some – and only some, more on that later – of the things occurring on the Internet as an outlet for that cognitive surplus, in that the Internet is providing an outlet for more people to produce and share intellectual assets, whether they be in blog posts, cartoons, videos to project like Wikipedia.

While discussing this concept with a television producer, he spoke about the hours and hours of volunteer effort many people put in to the Wikipedia entry on Pluto after it was declared a transneptunian object by the International Astronomical Union, and the producer tsked and asked, “Where do people find the time?” Shirky retorted that “anyone working in TV is not allowed to answer that question,” given that, by a back-of-the-envelope estimate he and an IBM engineer came up with, people in the United States spend 200 billion hours every year watching television.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing,” he said. He also added:
However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf [speaking of World of Warcraft players] I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure out if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter. . .
Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.

Gin, he said, was the grease that helped the world through the initial throes of the Industrial Revolution, getting society to the point that they regarded the gathering of more and more people in urban areas as an asset rather than a crisis. The sitcom, he said, was the grease that helped the world through the initial throes of the cognitive surplus brought on at the end of World War II.

He doesn’t really carry the idea further, but I have to wonder if social networking is the next bit of grease that’s going to get society through this next crisis – one of a cognitive surplus combined with a re-evaluation of the true worth of knowledge workers – until something is organized that takes this situation from crisis to asset.

Part of me has to wonder, though. People have an innate desire to produce and share. I wonder if Shirky’s being a little short-sighted – for very good reasons – in not seeing the amount of produced and shared material that’s gone undocumented before the Internet (he hints at it, saying that as a kid he didn’t spend time blogging, or working on Wikipedia or other such activities rather than watching TV because in his time those other options didn’t exist). I’m sure a lot of stuff – from sagas to songs to drawings to stories to what have you – has been produced, long before the cognitive surpluses and the labor surpluses he talks about. We just don’t know how much, because it’s not documented. The Internet allows such individual producing and sharing to be documented at little to no cost, except in the cognitive effort necessary to produce something to share.

Additionally, he concedes that the Internet isn’t a nirvana of people sharing and producing stuff, using their cognitive surplus to the best of their abilities. He and the IBM engineer predict the Internet-connected population of the world watches 1 trillion hours of TV a year – or the equivalent of 10,000 Wikipedias each year. That’s a lot of time going into what he calls the “cognitive heat sink” of television.

So I have to feel somewhat good that I’ve used some of my cognitive surplus time – and taken advantage of the Internet – to write a novel and start on a second, and participate in Uncharted, where we’re trying to get people like us to produce and share and to be a media that invites participation, rather than expecting our readers to consume what we produce without participating themselves.

But I also have to say that people who are willing to produce and share were producing and sharing before the Internet came along. The Internet has made it vastly less expensive to produce and share, but it’s not the reason people do things, or create things, or write things, or want to share them.

I’m also convinced that because it’s become easier to produce and share, it’s going to become easier to produce and share things that lack depth – as evidenced amply by many things I produce on my blog. Spending our cognitive surplus producing and sharing is great, but can be even greater if we couple that with spending some of our cognitive surplus learning, reading the classics, working to become more culturally literate than we are, so the things we produce and share have a greater depth and meaning.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Again With the Echo Chamber

This image -- George Seurat's L'Echo, is in the public domain.

Yeah, here's yet another one of those “information is coming at me too fast” stories that Clay Shirky warns us about. Funny thing is that it's from NPR, where the smart people hang out, so you'd figure they'd know better.

It tosses in a few different wrinkles. The author talks with a Princeton astrophysicist who reassures us that news won't “outrun the event” because Planck time forbids it. That tells me this physicist doesn't watch any of the 24-hour news channels, since these days the news always outruns the event, since all they do is talk about what's happening before the news happens until it happens and then they talk about how the news is crappy or really, really good, depending on their political leanings, so this quaint discussion of Planck time is really pretty meaningless in this context. He could have said “Things won't happen until they happen,” but it sounds a lot sexier to the journalist when all done up in a cute little button of erudition.

And then it trots out two familiar old friends: First, the misapprehension that the accelerated news cycle is turning us into tuned-out dummies who don't have the time to filter the information coming to us:
Still, with news — and reaction to news — moving more quickly than ever, says Louis Gray, a Silicon Valley blogger who chronicles the ever-increasing speed of computers and companies, "it is safe to assume the public does not know about many top stories or issues, and cannot be assumed to have enough data to ascertain truth versus spin, and right versus wrong."
That information is coming at us faster and faster is immaterial. The speed of the news arriving doesn't matter in our ability – or anability to parse it for right or wrong, truth versus fiction, or spin for spin. What matters is our cultural literacy, our level of education, and our willingness to invest the required time to learn what we need to understand the information we want to understand.

That, of course, leads us to the second familiar friend, the good ol' echo chamber.
As a result, Gray says, "people are intentionally filtering the information they consume through sources they agree with, or are turning instead to entertainment and idle-time activities, becoming less informed."
Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, working at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business successfully debunked the Internet-inspired echo chamber theory, in a study I blogged about nearly a year ago.

As I wrote back then:
The study does include one caveat: "[N]one of the evidence here speaks to the way people translate the content they encounter into beliefs. People with different ideologies see similar content, but . . . [various mechanisms] may lead people with divergent political views to interpret the same information differently." This is a significant caveat, since how information consumed is interpreted and incorporated -- or left out -- of our political ideologies is significantly more important than if we're exposed to different points of view on the same information.
I can attest in my own experience that the Internet – and the rus of information it provides – is actually helping, not hurting. I can offer two examples:

In the book I'm writing, I've got a character who likes old barbershop quartet songs. I know next to nothing about barbershop quartets, but because of the Internet, I've been able to do a lot of learning in just a short amount of time. Additionally, it's helped me find some songs that are in the public domain – a big bonus as I want to include some in my book.

Here's another example: My wife is an avid Cub Scouter, who is trying to find information on skits, cheers, songs and other elements to incorporate into her plans. Thanks to the Internet – and a lot of like-minded individuals, she's finding ample material, and then contributing her own original material as well, adding to the overall ball of Cub Scout-related knowledge.

I don't agree that the speed at which information comes at us increases our susceptibility to echo chambers or tuning out completely. I think quite the opposite, actually, as the Internet has helped me expand my horizons and to learn things I might not have learned before because the information was simply too hard to get. And because of the propentisty of the information out there, I'm finding my skills at parsing and interpreting information is getting better, not worse, as the amount of information I find at my fingertips increases.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keeping Your Fat Yap Shut

It seems I don't learn. Or at least I learn at a pace that is imperceptible to gods and man.

First, go back and read this. Then come back and I'll give you yet more examples of how I should just keep my fat yap shut.

First of all, what I'm about to tell you happened during scripture study, when we're struggling to get our kids to pay attention and, I'll be honest, sometimes to pay attention ourselves. We do our scriptures in the study, where a television, three computers and an entire library of scratch paper, pencils, and crayons beckon.

We were reading Third Nephi Chapter Three, in which Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton Robbers, sends a letter to Lachoneus, the Nephite governor, basically saying that the robbers are the tops, the Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, and such. I tried to sup up that part of the speech by saying, "well, this guy thought he and his army were all that and a bag of chips." Forgetting, of course, that there would be little ptichers listening that would have to be filled. So I had to explain what "all that and a bag of chips" meant which, of course, led into other interesting segues, the least of which was a week ago when I took our oldest to Webelos after Michelle and I had a sneaky lunch at Pickett's Bambinos he insisted he could smell French fries in the car and I convinced him it was his Scout shirt.

So five minutes later we're back to studying the scriptures, and then I get to the part where the Nephites decide to gather all together to defend themselves against the robbers and, in my not-keeping-my-fat-yap-shut way, I tried to explain it like this: How would it be if we had to leave Sugar City because El Guapo, the big, dangerous guy who wants to kill us, was coming to get us, so we had to go somewhere else to be with a big group of other people to be safe?

That, of course, led to this:

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

So another five minutes later, we were able to finish our scripture study, a good fifteen minutes behind schedule. All because I haven't yet learned to keep my fat yap shut.

Or maybe I just need to wait a few more years until our kids are fully thrust through the doorway that leads to cultural literacy among the Davidsons, which would be of enormous relief to me.

Welcome Back

Used under a Creative Commons license. Photo from dumbeast's Flikr stream.

Due to popular demand -- oh, who am I kidding -- due to a suffering ego, Mister Fweem's Blog is now back from being ensconced behind a privacy wall of immense magnitude.

I had to do some expurgation, of course. Lost 99 [101; sorry, my math stinks] posts for last year, and about thirty for this year. Why is that, you may ask? Well, this, for starters.

So, most everything relatd to the novels I'm writing is now either gone from this site (cached, of course, likely elsewhere, but at least there cannot be any further damage or exposure) or ensconced behind the privacy wall at the Targhee Writers blog which, of course, is popular with me but hardly with anyone else.

And that's fine.

I was chafing a bit behind the privacy wall. Not that I have much of value to say -- one of my most commented posts of the year had to do with the difference between loth/loath and loathe, and the comments were from people pointing out mistakes I made in my post -- but by darn I reserve the right to say it.

So if you'd like to read the novels I've been working on, trot on over to the Targhee Writers Blog and sign up. Otherwise, the babble store is now open again for business.

The Tweet Heard 'Round the World

Here's something else the internet is doing: It's making revolutions easier.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coming Soon: The First Uncharted Podcast

Oh, Meadow Lake and your nameless mountain. I love you so.

NOTE: Here's my bit for the first Uncharted podcast. Go here for more information, and to wait on tenterhooks to hear my nasally voice. Whee.

Hi folks. This is Brian Davidson, head word nerd at Uncharted.

Got a question for you: Where are you going this year?

I've got a few places in mind.

First of all, I want to climb to the top of the Big Southern Butte, two overlapping volcanoes in the desert outside of Arco, Idaho. Why? I love sagebrush, and I'm sure I'll find plenty of it up there.

The butte is a serious landmark in central Idaho, dominating the landscape for miles. I work in its shadow and, when I'm on break, I often go outside to stare up at the butte, watching the peak's lenticular clouds come and go, and counting the days down until most of the snow is gone from its slopes.

I've never climbed it. But the view's got to be impressive from up there. Maybe, with a good set of binoculars, I'll be able to spot the little double-wide trailer I call home for forty hours a week. And maybe I'll see a few kestrels, rabbits, lizards, and golden eagles, many of the critters that call this part of Idaho home.

I'm also going to go to Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve this summer if it kills me – and it might, especially if we meet the Boat Shoes Lady again.

We tried to go camping in the area a few years ago so we could go climb the weird rock formations that give the reserve its name, but we washed out. We happened to camp too near a lady who was indignant we had the temerity to camp in her vicinity. She came stomping over in her boat shoes to try to scare us off. When that didn't work, she went back to her campsite and turned up her Gordon Lightfoot music really, really loudly. We stayed long enough to eat our dinner, then packed up and went home. It was way too late to find somewhere else to camp. Camping's fun – and the rock climbing, too – but not if you've got the Boat Shoes Lady for a neighbor. By the way – I love Gordon Lightfoot. We were just scared of the boat shoes.

But we're going back. We'll climb to the top of Bath Rock and look into that odd little pool atop that pillar of rocks and wonder who was the first person to climb up there to find the water there in the first place.

Finally, we're going to Meadow Lake again. I've written a bit about this wonderful little Idaho alpine lake at Uncharted, and my wife has as well. Climbing over the quartz rocks that have tumbled down the mountainside and hiking the trails that weave through this little valley completes my summer.

So, where are you going this year? Let us know at I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Monitor Me

I was jealous a few weeks ago when Michelle got the mondo big monitor from her Dad. I could have lobbied for it, but she teased and figured I'd hog it. So I surprised her by hooking it up to her computer.

I had ulterior motives, of course. A few weeks after the new monitor came into the house, I ordered the little dongle I need to connect a second monitor to my computer. It arrived today and, contrary to popular belief, it was easy to set up. In fact, the only thing I had to do was tinker with the contrast on the second monitor to get it up to snuff. Now I sit in my secret lair. Bwuhahahahaha!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seven and A Half Cents . . .

Used here under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Add this to the number of reasons I’m neither in a hurry to get a tablet computer nor for Uncharted to get too deeply into the mobile app business:

Apple’s going evil.

Situation No. 1: Nobody in the publishing industry right now is paying anybody 30 percent of their subscription revenue to an outside party to distribute their goods. This is why newspapers, for example, handle their own bulk delivery and contract out individual delivery to children. So for Apple to tell publishers that they want 30 percent of “all sales” generated through mobile apps via Apple just to say hello is a bit of a shock.

Seven and a half cents may not mean a thing in this world, but 30 percent, now, that’s something worth woofing over.

And, per CNN, some folks are woofing:
Online music provider Rhapsody, which currently makes its streaming service available on Apple's iPhones and iPads, fired off a scathing statement to several tech blogs.

"Our philosophy is simple too -- an Apple-imposed arrangement that requires us to pay 30 percent of our revenue to Apple ... is economically untenable," the company said. "We will be collaborating with our market peers in determining an appropriate legal and business response to this latest development."
Apple’s also souring the e-book market, per CNN:
Earlier this month, the company spooked e-reader makers when it refused to greenlight Sony's Reader app. Sony's sin: It routed users who wished to buy books through a Web app, which cut Apple out of the revenue stream.
CNET writes that it’s as yet unclear how companies such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Netflix will react to Apple’s cash grab:
For iPad-centric publications like the recently launched The Daily, Apple's 30 percent is baked into the business plan. But this probably doesn't work for many content sellers that can't afford to have those percentages skimmed off sales. Whether there's a viable workaround for companies or whether this is a negotiating tactic by Apple is unclear. But eventually this may develop into a game of chicken, with companies threatening to pull their apps from the App Store and initiate legal action while Apple continues to flex its muscles and demand what it feels is its proper due for creating a huge market. According to law professors interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article, Apple's new subscription service could draw antitrust scrutiny.
So if, for example, Uncharted were to create a mobile app – which we’re working on – that included the option to buy books, photographs, swag and gear, then Apple gets a 30 percent cut of all the sales we make. And if we decide we’re better off simply using our app to provide links to our web site for purchases, Apple can shut our app down.

Folks, this would be like Microsoft getting a cut from all the companies we buy stuff from via the internet, simply because we’re using a Windows-based PC to do our shopping. Nobody would be happy with that, right?

Yes, Apple is doing a wonderful thing by creating an app-based market where companies can reach out to people and offer them things for sale. But Apple, not content with selling the hardware and making a healthy profit off of it, now wants to dip its fingers in other pots of money, simply because it has the muscle to do so. This smacks of the horizontal or vertical integration many industries indulged in more than a century ago, leading to the trust-busting of Teddy Roosevelt.

Apple, the publishers you’re trying to woo have figured it out.

Doomed, Part IV

Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo by Alan Light.

More and more, I turn to the wisdom of Ray Bradbury when I’m seeking inspiration on writing.

Today’s quotation is this:

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

Despite all my talk of being doomed with the first publication rights of my novels perhaps being used up since I published them on my blog, I’m seeing glimmers of hope. Not necessarily for these projects, but for others I’ve started, then abandoned, and for others which right now are only just a few jots and tittles on errant bits of paper – or blog posts – for now.

I know most of the stuff I’ve produced for “Considering How to Run,” and “Their Hearts Run Cold” isn’t stellar – but if these two projects have taught me anything, it’s that I can complete a novel, even if it’s mediocre. That gives me hope that some of the other things I’ve started or have cooking, which I think I can make better than these first two, have a chance of coming to fruition.

And since I’m not completely done with the first two books, there’s a chance still I can make them better through editing and re-writing.

It’s just getting to it. Right now, the act of creation is a vast and vile temptation. I know I could be working with other material, but the draw to create new cloth right now is very strong.

Quantity produces quality. I can see that in Bradbury’s own work, because there are some things he wrote that I read and say, Yeah, that’s not his best. But then there are the other things, of which I remain in awe, thirty years after having read them for the first time.

The man speaks – and writes – the truth.

A Blast from the Past

blast from the past

It's from my mother that I inherited my packrat tendencies, especially when it comes to paper. Thankfully, I'm much more of a digital packrat than a physical object packrat, so I don't have the storage problem she does. Of course, she's making up for the storage problem by finding stuff like this -- an old letter to Santa from yours truly and four or five journal entries from when I was eight years old -- and mailing it to me, thus making it my storage problem. So I turn to the magic of Scribd. Enjoy. Or not. I won't force you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

To Ze Lumberyaaaaard!

Used here under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

Maybe he got tired of being recognized as Inspector Kemp. Or Marshal Wooly Billy Hitchcock. Or Franz Liebkind.

But I doubt it.

Kenneth Mars. Just another example of the kind of character actors I like. Why? Because he becomes the character, as all great character actors do. Too many actors simply play themselves in whatever role they might find themselves in, without giving much thought as to how their character might act, or think, or behave. Seen one Meg Ryan or Tom Hanks movie and you’ve pretty much seen them all. The character actors around them, however, are the ones I remember the most.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, to my Wife

The challenge here will be to avoid this little note devolving into clich├ęs or, worse yet, movie lines.

But I do want to write a little something to tell you how much I love you. Robert Kirby, a humorist for the Salt Lake Tribune, says such notes need to include mention of how wretched the man would truly be if it were not for the woman in his life, and I have to agree that’s true. And it’s not because of all you do – and you do a lot for me, and for us, and even for the kids and even though we probably drive you nuts. I would be pretty wretched without you, even if you didn’t do anything – but that’s not license to slack off. If you’ve taught me anything it’s that husband and wife need to cooperate and work together in order to make life worth living.

And to honor your practice of providing bulleted lists of information as you do your grad school assignments, I’ll make a list of my own here, outlining how you make my life a lot less wretched than it would be otherwise (and I promise no Simpsons quotes):
  • You’re never idle. Maybe you don’t regard that as a plus, but I know you’re always working to make our house a wonderful place to be, for me and for the kids.
  • You’re smart. I love talking with you, getting teased by you and even (sometimes) being called on the carpet by you, because you’re right.
  • Whatever you take on, you do well. I see that in how you prepare for Christmas, how you tackle your classes and your church callings, and how you tackle just about everything life throws at you.
  • You put up with me and my shortcomings. And I really want to use a Simpsons quote here, but I promised I wouldn’t.
  • You do more than put up with my shortcomings. You help me improve. Daily.
  • You do more than put up with my shortcomings. You inspire me to challenge myself, and to become a better person.
That’s not all, of course, but I don’t want to prattle on.

I love you, my dear. That’s the long and short of it.

Doomed, Part III

Used under the Fair Use Doctrine for commentary purposes.

Doomed has quickly become a meme here at Mister Fweem’s Blog, and with good reason. Read here if you’ve fallen behind on the reasons that we here are doomed. Doomed!

So today we explore the question: You’ve posted creative writing on the web that now you’d like to erase completely from the Internet so as not to risk losing your rights of first publication. What to do, my friend, what to do?

First of all, maybe this:

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Then again, maybe not.

Many tend to shake in their boots at the inviolate permanence of the Internet. Once it’s there, they say, it can never be concealed. And, in a general sense, that may be true, because you never know who has read and downloaded or copied your material, though for the most part you’d have to wonder why they bothered, given that you can’t interest an agent in it to save your life.

But there are ways of ridding the Internet of your stuff if you so desire.

First line of attack: the Wayback Machine.

Used under the Fair Use Doctrine for commentary purposes.

No, not that one, Sherman. I mean this one: The Wayback Machine, part of, where the good folks there aim to preserve not only the Internet as we know it, but every single iteration of every single web page as we know them now and as we might have known then back in the early 1990s and such.

Every bit of writing I’ve read on posting unpublished novels and novel excerpts on the web cites the Wayback Machine as one of those inviolate net caches that will collect and store your first use in perpetuity and thus rob you of any benefits you might have reaped.

But it can be breached. Thanks to the folks at the Wayback Machine itself.

First off, they’ll tell you this:
The Internet Archive is not interested in offering access to Web sites or other Internet documents whose authors do not want their materials in the collection.
Since my blog is hosted by Google, they make this pretty easy. Restricting web crawlers in the “permissions” menu, and then ensuring that the proper robots.txt information appears in the HTML of your blog using your Google Webmaster Tools can cut off crawlers and searchers, such as the Wayback Machine. (I know I’m grossly oversimplifying things; for more in-depth information, go here.) Simply put, the robots.txt on my blog bars all crawlers and searchers.

That’s well and good, you say, but what about for those – like me – trying to close the barn door after the cows have escaped?

First of all, go the analytics route. See what are the popular terms being searched for, that bring people to your site. My analytics show people have come to my site much more frequently on terms such as “loughner beck” and “nose hair” (which should tell you something about the quality of writing topics on my blog) than anything to do with my novels.

Second of all – and this is where it gets tedious – you can request that Google remove cached copies of your individual pages. That means for each page, you send a request. And if the URL is off, no touchie.

So my publishing acquaintance’s advice holds true:
1) Posting novel excerpts on the web is a no-no, unless it’s behind a security wall.
2) Be up-front if you get a deal, lest your publisher discover on their own what horrible mistake you’ve made.
Do not be doomed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prayer to the Idaho Internet Gods

I got this e-mail from my friend Alan in Utah late last night:









He says this only half in jest, as there have been many times when our good ol' "Idaho Internet" has made Skype calls and photo transfers and even simple e-mails a rather difficult thing to accomplish. That has been so thusfar this weekend, with the Internet basically pooping out on us last night and the night this morning and even part of my knee.*

So last night I did the stupid, standard things I have to do to try to ensure the problem isn't on our end. That involves the industry standard of unplugging everything, waiting a few minutes, then plugging everything back in again. Didn't work. So then I ran virus scanners on both computers, found problems on both, cleaned them up, then tried again. No luck, except for now, obviously. I think, given that the service pooped out at night and at about the same time each night, that they're doing some kind of work on the network locally. Or all those schlubs at BYU-Idaho are streaming their Netflix and hogging all the bandwidth.

But now everything is working again. Not sure if they network fixing is done, if the students have stopped the streaming, or if the prayer to the Idaho Internet gods worked. I'm putting my money on the prayer, actually.

*"As the Stomach Turns," episode I'm not sure. You have to watch BOTH PARTS.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Story Genesis: Orderville Pants Rebellion

I don't confess to reading a lot of so-called Mormon lit. I do enjoy Jack Weyland's short story, "The Phone Call," but it's more for the goofy film than for the fact that Weyland wrote it.

But I've got the genesis for my own little Mormon lit novel. Here it is, or at least the opener:
If Pa tells me one more time about how hard it was living on the Big Muddy, I'm going to Moab.

If Pa tells me more time we've got to be like the people of Ammon, I'm going into the canyon and I'm never coming back.

And if Pa tells me I can't have a new pair of pants, I'm jumping the train at the depot and not getting off until Ogden. Or maybe even Pocatello. I can't take it any longer.
And here's the inspiration.

I just think this could be a fun story. Not that I like the idea of the United Order being toppled by one kid wanting a new pair of pants when the community decided they couldn't afford it. Okay, so I do like that angle. But of all the things to get wound up about -- a pair of pants.

Sunday Limericks

Oh the things parents will do to cajole their children.

I wrote the following three painful limericks last Sunday in an attempt to get Liam over a big case of the grumps. It did work:

Liam has a scowl on his face
To his mood he's taken a mace
Wants to do something fun,
But the calendar says "Sun."
That scowl is just frozen in place.

Liam's trying real hard not to smile
His hands on his lips he doth pile.
He sits there and giggles.
Gives the bench a good wiggle.
A good mood he seeks to revile.

Now Liam is happy again
On his face a watermelon grin.
His eyes all a-sparkle
Face bright, not so darkle
The mood battle his Daddy did win.

I know. Niles Crane would be appalled.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


So, what do you do as a writer if, as we discussed yesterday, you're already DOOMED?

Well, according to my publishing acquaintance, this:
The situation will be specific to the publisher and author negotiation. I would advise disclosing it since later discovery could be a contractual violation that would seriously impact not only that contract but future possibilities. (We are a pretty tight group and we do talk to each other about authors--especially problem authors.)

I would advise to not continue the habit. If he needs to put it up on a blog to develop the ideas, he should restrict the blog to only credible evaluators--a very small number--basically an online writing group. Then he would not have to disclose it being out in the public.
That right there, friends, is why this blog and the Targhee Writers Blog went private yesterday. I know, classic case of closing the barn door after the cows have already gotten out. But better to stop the potential damage now than let love lie bleeding.

As you can tell, I've done a lot of nervous reading of the Internets over the past few days, trying to sort this situation out. Te advice I'm getting from my publishing acquaintance is pretty much in line with the vast majority of what I'm reading, so the walls went up. If you're reading this, obviously, you're part of that "credible evaluators" group, so if anyone like, you know, the FBI and such, call you up to ask, that is exactly what you tell them.

The disclosure thing seems to make perfect sense. Better to hear it from the author than for the publisher to find out for themselves. That goes with a lot of things, from publishing to the workplace to marriage. So if Michelle is suddenly talking about some startling revelations on her Facebook page, you'll know what's up.


General Madagascar, we may be in serious trouble.

Yeah, it’s been kind of a panicky week here at Mister Fweem’s Blog Inc., what with two of my blogs going private and all out of fear of losing forever the first use rights to the novels I’m writing (and posting first drafts of here). So reading this story about a Las Vegas-based law firm (and you KNEW that sleazy city was going to come into the story quickly) snapping up copyrights to viral material and then going on to sue anyone and everyone who even thinks about posting their stuff online.

This kind of stuff is why I’ve been more circumspect, as of late, in trolling the Internet for images to use on my blogs. I’ve cut down a lot, and have included many, many links to the source material and noting when things are out of copyright or under creative commons licensing and such.

And I’m still nervous about it.

I’m not the only one.

There are many people out there on the net tracking what Righthaven is going, including this site.

There are many people out there offing false hope of legal remedies to protect oneself against the kinds of thing Righthave is doing, including this misleading advice from (Misleading because the safe harbor protection offered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 offers protection for web hosts, ISPs, and other such big boys against copyright infringement lawsuits, not the individuals that Wired insinuates can get protection by filing a $105 form with the federales.

So the reactions are to re-do the DMCA, learn about it (using such sites as this) read it in its entirety (and fall asleep, drooling on the keyboard, thanks to sites like this) or, in the case of Good ol’ General Madagascar:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doomed. DOOMED!

(This video clip used for commentary purposes under the fair use doctrine. And I’m also advertising FedEx.)

Yes, part of me thinks I’m doomed. I have – against all common sense and decency, it appears – used up my first rights of publication, never to be resurrected, by posting the bits and pieces that make up the first draft of my novels on this very blog.

This is what the landscape of the doomed looks like: Deleted pages. Soon-to-be-deleted posts. And what’s left? The shallow shell of a man doomed – doomed, I say – never to publish, or at least never to publish the drivel that has been published here.

At least at premium prices.


Here’s some advice from a fellow in the publishing business (emphasis his):
"This is a good place to mention the hazards of e-publishing. Publishing is a lot like buying a car. First-time rights are the most valuable rights you have--just as a new car drops significantly in value the moment it's driven off the lot by a new owner.
If you publish ANY part of your manuscript on the Internet--even a private blog--and the publisher finds out about it, you are considered to have used up your first rights and they can cut the value of your manuscript by a ton.
Obviously this is a contentious area but I've seen it over and over again. I strongly recommend that if you are planning to submit something for publication you do not publish it on the Internet even for review by your writing group. Send it as a Word attachment in e-mail. Do not even put up snippets on your blog or FB."
Help this author! For he is doomed.

Or maybe not.

Here’s another perspective:
Many posts have been written about whether or not to share samples of your unpublished work on your site. Here’s my take on it. I believe it’s okay to post something you’re revising if you’re looking for feedback as long as it’s clear that’s what you’re doing. You don’t want anyone to think that jumble of words represents a final product. This includes query letters and a chapter here and there. However, I wouldn’t post a synopsis or a large chunk of one manuscript on your site unless it’s a part of your promotional material from your published novel (and your publisher has given you permission to do so.)

[From a comment on said post] Unfortunately, I haven't read an actual explanation as to why publishers won't touch something that's been "published" on a blog. I have a few guess[es] though. Editors want writers to have an online presence because they believe your followers will buy your book. Now, if these same followers have already been exposed to parts of the book, maybe they wouldn't buy it because the "new book factor" isn't there. Of course, you can flip the coin and say maybe they would buy the book because they are excited to see how it ends or they enjoyed what they'd read so far.
So, what could it be then? Is it that publishers simply want to control what material their authors put out there because it not only affects the author's brand, but the publisher's as well? I'm really not sure.

So perhaps I’m only semi-doomed?

Part of me has to wonder if this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction on the part of publishers, feeling threatened by the Internet age, as are many traditional word outlets. Because surely this kind of situation can’t be unique to the Internet. True, the Internet does make it painfully easy to be published – and thus become doomed – than any other publishing method, but surely authors have passed around unpublished excerpts and manuscripts in the hopes of getting feedback without running into the loss of first use publication. And that’s the primary goal of me putting my stuff on this blog: I’d like input from others on how to make it better.

As I have mentioned, the manuscript to “Considering How to Run” has been severely edited, and none of that edited material has been “published” on this blog. Am I to lose out on first publication use of my novel because I put the first draft of it up, in installments, on this blog, in the hopes of finishing it first of all, second of all, getting outside help to make it better?

And I have to wonder: What’s all the fuss? I feel like Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP when stereo store owner Del asks out loud how the radio station can afford to do a remote at his store for such a cheap price. Johnny responds: “You’ll understand when you see the response you get.” It’s quite possible people have read the manuscripts and postings I’ve put here. But Google Analytics tells me only on random occasions are the visits to my blog prompted by my writerly postings, and most of the visits to the excerpt and manuscript posts and pages are bouncers anyway. Perhaps analytics can be the author’s friend (and foe) if a publisher demurs at publishing because the first rights have been used. The doomed one could show, through analytics, that the posts weren’t all that popular. And then the publisher can use that as more evidence to pass on the manuscript as well.

Doomed it is. Doomed!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Search Engine Boobization

I follow a fellow on Twitter who goes by the monicker “Seaslug of Doom.” One of Seaslug's Twitter schticks is to, once and a while, post a tweet featuring three words that are “unlikely to get auto-followers.” Some of his word lists have included:

angelet, annelid, and anthropogeny

andrology, anemotropism, and anenterous

For a while after I started following him, and after I started laughing at his tweets – because I've noticed that when I used some trigger tweet terms, I'd get followers that would quickly disappear when they realized I wasn't tweeting constantly on their pet subject – I pondered setting up a string of fake Twitter accounts to indeed follow him for his extended vocabulary. But I'm generally a lazy soul, and gave up on it.

But that brought to the fore the interesting world of search engine optimization. Learning to seach engine optimize is, of course, the wave of the future for the Internet. Search engine optimization, (SEO), when you get right down to it, helps optimize your Internet searches so when people search the Internet for topics that interest them, say, from search engine optimization to optimizing their website for search engines, they find you.

That paragraph is, of coure, my poor attempt at emulating the stilted language you find in articles that are search engine optimized. Farhad Manjoo over at does a much better job of it than I. (So good, in fact, his article shows up on Page 1 when I searched for "Search Engine Optimization" in Google. But more on that, and my penchant for articles, later.)

At Uncharted, we don't officially use SEO in our articles. I frown upon it, because of the stilted, silly way it makes articles sound. About the closest we get to such shenanigans is in the title or subhead to our articles, we try to include the name of the place we're writing about. I think that's fair and natural.

And, hopefully, so does Google. Because as Manjoo points out, there may be sites who know SEO, but if the writing isn't there to back up what the searchers are searching for, they won't stay at a site long. I can look at the Google Analytics for my own stable of blogs and see how many new visitors simply bounce out of my site when they realize that their search has led them to the infantile backwaters my blogs inhabit.

Anyway, on to Manjoo:
Search engines' algorithms are getting better at detecting keyword gaming, they're beginning to learn searchers' preferences, and they're using social-networking signals to figure out what you, personally, might consider a good or bad article. The other problem for the new AOL-HuffPo is the rise of social networks as a replacement for search engines. Did you go to Google to search for a story about the Huffington Post's purchase, or did you see the news on Facebook or Twitter? Those social networking links are becoming a bigger share of every news site's traffic; as one of my Slate colleagues pointed out, in the Twitter age, "optimizing for Google results is a little like going out and buying the best VCR on the market."
I'm not quite to the search engine stage in finding trigger material – I do tend to go to Twitter, Facebook, and the bigger news sites (and to aggregators) to find what interests me. I will do searches, however, to find similar information, or articles on a similar topic by a number of authors. And like the bouncers from my blog, I'll bail quickly on a site that isn't offering the information I want.
What's even more frustrating are the sites that use SEO in a way that's hidden. They want to show up in any search, so their SEO data is embedded somewhere the average Internet idiot like me can't see, so when I click on a page that's supposed to be helpful according to Google, the term I'm searching for doesn't even show up on the clicked page.

And I'm not a big fan of the content farms that are using SEO to clutter Google with poorly written information. If I want poorly written stuff, I read my own blog, thank you very much. But places like eHow and just drive me nuts. I'd rather use Wikipedia.

Good news is, according to Manjoo, search engines may quickly be able to learn what sites I prefer and thus not show me results from sites I don't frequent:
The answer is … it depends. All Google results are personalized—that is, links you see in response to a specific query may be different from the ones I see for the same query. They differ according to a number of variables—what sites I favor, where I'm located, what device I'm using, and other secret factors. At the moment, search engines' personalization algorithms aren't fine-grained enough to give everyone their ideal article in response to a query like "worst cell phone on earth," but there's no reason to believe they won't get there: In the future, Google will know whether you favor Slate over HuffPo, or whether you like original articles versus summaries, or whether you're a fan of slide shows more than text, and it will serve you the article that's most appropriate for you. And as this happens, Google will surely diminish the weight it now gives to the keywords HuffPo jams in its articles.
That's both good and bad. Good in providing me better information, per my point of view. Bad as in it proved me information per my point of view, perhaps limiting my perspective on the subject (especially in topics that tend to have a slant such as politics, climate change, et cetera). So maybe getting the raw results of a search is better than a personalized result. Which is why Seaslug of Doom's tweets just entertain me so: He probably piques the interest of at least one twit per word.

Monday, February 7, 2011


NOTE: Not quite sure what this is yet. Or where it fits.

We haven't lived through everything yet
As to the universe, we are young
Only empathy can substitute for time
Time is easier to master

A Pool Prediction

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction.

But first, a little discussion:

There seem to be “a lot” of people upset about the pool soon to be finished in Rexburg. I’m not exactly sure from where the upset stems. Some of what I’ve read is that people are mad that the city is building an outdoor pool complex during an economic downturn. Some are also mad the pool isn’t an all-season pool. Some are also mad that the pool is being built through a local improvement district or some such urban renewal finagling.

A blogger for the local paper has basically read the writing on the wall from all the people telling them the pool is bad, a bad, a baaaaaaad idea and condemned the city for pursuing the pool over the reasoned voices of the Pappy O’Dan’l constitchency. The blogger, Robert Patten, cites a lot of anecdotal information, from letters to the editor to “nonscientific” polls conducted on the paper’s website.

So the cranks who write the letters and the people who follow the old Internet adage of “vote early and vote often” are the reasoned masses behind this quasi-official rancor?

I find it funny that the pool naysayers insist they haven’t been listened to. Various groups within and without the city government have been proposing and exploring how to pay for a new pool since at least the early 1990s. The naysayers are simply not getting exactly what they want, so they claim they’ve not been listened to. That’s one of the oldest public-outcry tricks in the book, second only to making the outcry known to the local paper. Yeah, we got trouble, right here in River City.

And maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe the majority of folks living in Rexburg are as upset about the pool or its various orbiting mini-scandals as Patten says.

Nevertheless, here’s the prediction: When the pool opens, it’s going to be crowded. And remain crowded. And the summer after that. And the summer after that. Those who use the pool probably won’t remember what mayor or city council members pushed the project through – though, rest assured, there will be a self-congratulatory plaque put up somewhere – but they’ll be pleased the pool is there for them to use.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

The AOL No Way

This photo (of urban blight in Camden, New Jersey, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Okay, so the AOL Way really is all about the numbers.

It can’t be about hiring more writers and encouraging current employees to write more original content, because if it were, AOL wouldn’t be buying the Huffington Post for $315 million, as announced today.

The Post is, at best, a news aggregator. An aggregator which, in more simple terms, is Internet parlance for a site that copies the work of other sites on its own to generate hits, eyeballs, ad revenues and whatnot. The Post does create some original content, but the vast majority of it is simply rebroadcasted material.

The AOL Way, a leaked document which purported to show how AOL was going to put the fear in its own writers and editors to squeeze every last drop of revenue-generation out of each piece produced – and to produce between 5 to 10 pieces a day, concentrated a lot on numbers. AOL wants to see the average unique visitor number to each of its pieces of content climb to 7,000 a month – an astronomical number.

Huffington has this to say about the deal, per CNN Money:
Huffington said that among her goals for the deal is "to do so much more in the living space especially for women, (and) to do more and more original reporting telling the stories of our time and putting flesh and blood on the economic data."
AOL and the Post are obviously planning some synergistic explosion of buttery Internet goodness, per the New York Times:
One of The Huffington Post’s strengths has been creating an online community of readers with tens of millions of people. Their ability to leave comments on Huffington Post news articles and blog posts and to share them on Twitter and Facebook been a major reason the site attracts so many readers. It is routine for articles to draw thousands of comments each and be cross-linked across multiple social networks.

Mr. Armstrong and Ms. Huffington say that AOL’s local news initiative, Patch, and its citizen journalist venture, Seed, stand to thrive when paired with the reader engagement tools of The Huffington Post.
This shows, obviously, that AOL doesn’t want to take the time to generate such synergy on its own, but rather wants to buy an already-existing network of folks with whom they can buddy up with.

Problem is, the Internet is really, really cliquey. The Post, which sags heavily to the left, may not really like the idea of an AOL corporate partner barging into the room and ordering drinks. But it’s obvious AOL hopes the Post’s ability to generate commentary and a loyal following – not necessarily its original writing prowess – will spread into AOL’s products, from Patch to Seed to whatever else. Again, this says more about getting eyeballs and page hits than writing original quality content that people will want to read.

Says the New York Times:
While AOL has invested heavily in creating content through enterprises like Patch, the initiative meant to fill the void in areas where struggling local newspapers have cut back on reporting, much of their writing and news gathering is not up to the standards of what consumers get from their traditional news sources.

The Huffington Post, too, has faced criticism over its content, much of which is aggregated from other news sources. But it has started to invest more in original reporting and writing, hiring experienced journalists from The New York Times, Newsweek, and other traditional media outlets. By acquiring The Huffington Post’s reporting resources, AOL hopes to counter the perception that it is a farm for subpar content.
As readers of the subpar content of this blog know, having a lot of subpar content really doesn’t drive the eyeballs. Improved content is better, but AOL shrewdly knows that buying into an already existing and vibrant network is the way to get people coming. Of course, now they run the risk of people coming to their other properties and ventures and seeing a Detroit-style urban blight.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Event Horizon

Mama's leaking.

Leaking smiley face stickers and Forever stamps. Leaking envelopes with the post office bar codes and the address labels with wooden shoes on them. Leaking that precise 1950s penmanship, though the letters are wavy and shaky now, like Sparky's lines and text before he died. This week alone she's sent two photographs – one of me fat in a BYU t-shirt, standing next to Dad in his sunglasses, standing next to Albert who looks like that kid in “The Phone Call,” the one who played the bassoon; the other of me and my younger brother but really young, he's got a bottle in his mouth and I'm skinny and look like my six-year-old. And she sent a letter I sent to Santa, asking for something or other from the Sears catalog – I gave him page number and price – plus a tank for my fish.

I wondered why I didn't get the tank. Now I know. Santa never got the letter.

Stopped at her house today. She just got out of the hospital, where they drained fluid from her lungs and gave her heart a shock treatment so it would beat more regularly.

She gave us a box of stuff.

Inside the box: a composition book I had in college, filled with blank pages. I don't remember if I cut them out, or maybe if Dad did when he inherited the book somehow. Another book, all in Dutch, about the little city in Holland where some of Dad's cousins live. I don't read Dutch. And there are three unsharpened number two pencils. And a box of bobbins and such for the sewing machine she gave Sherri. “Michelle sews,” Mama says. “She can use them.” Copies of typewritten blessings given to her mother and father. Copies of certificates. “I thought you might like those,” she said. A book on country ways I remember pulling from the shelf as a kid. And being bored by it. I'll read it now.

Mama's leaking.

When Dad was alive, we teased him. We teased that his idea of increasing the value of his property was by increasing its weight. That explained the ton and a half of landscape rocks he sneaked out of the woods at Kilgore, the eighty-seven trees on the third of an acre, the buckets of rusty nails underneath the workbench.

Dad's been dead ten years now. He wanted to be buried on the property. To make it heavier still, we teased. But he's in the Lincoln cemetery, underneath a pine tree.

Ten years now.

And Mama's leaking.

At her house today I saw on her desk – I went into the office to get a photo album for her; she wanted to show my six-year-old something because he brought his own scrapbook to show her – a pile of envelopes with more smiley stickers and more Forever stamps and more wavy handwriting, ready to go to other members of the family.

She left the room to use the bathroom, and the six-year-old climbed into her chair. “That's Oma's chair,” I cautioned. “She'll want it back.”

Then the ten-year-old came in.
“Where'd Oma go?” he asked.

“She disappeared,” Michelle joked.

“Yup,” I said. “It's time to take stuff from her house. What do you want?”

He didn't answer.

I didn't push the issue. Because Mama's leaking. It'll all flow out eventually.

“Do you have wooden shoes at your house?” she asks.

Yes, we do. You gave us two the last time we were here.

“Did I give you two, or a pair?”


“Take a pair, then,” she said. There are five lined up on the fireplace hearth.

They're hers. I don't want to take them, because I don't want to acknowledge that Mama's leaking.

“I don't know where we'd put them,” I said.

Later: “Do you have a penny jar,” she asked.

Oh yes.

“There's this one,” she said, holding up a jar of Dutch coffee.

No one in the house drinks coffee.

“And I've got more up there,” she said, pointing to the shelf above the stove.

Later: “Do you have any Dutch pictures,” she asked. “I've got too many. I don't have room for them all.”

We've got pictures of our own we don't have wall space for.

“Do you have enough pineapple? Fruit cocktail?”

We're heading out the door: “This is a big house, Oma,” the six-year-old says. And there's only one person living in it.”

“I know,” Mama says. “But I have the cat.”

“Our old house used to be so full,” she said. “Ten people, one bathroom. But we did it.”

She starts to cry.

Mama's leaking. I hug her for a while. But we have to go.

We take the box. We drive home.

There's another letter from her in the mailbox.

A photo of me in a striped shirt, with my brother and sister. All three mugging for the camera.