Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ah, the sweet sounds that stir the soul...

Earlier today I was scrolling through my Google Reader, checking out the latest Dubai and UAE related items, when I came across a post by Geoff Pound on the Fujairah in Focus blog. Geoff is absolutely fabulous at dishing out details about what is going on in the distant Emirate, but his often dry tone can, at times, undercut the significance of what he is writing about.

Today, in particular, I came across a note about a new radio station opening up in Fujairah - 90.8FM. I scanned through the article, but it was only after a slow read that I was able to dig up one tiny mention of the format - rock.

His tone was so matter-of-fact that it was like he was announcing that there would be raspberry scones at the Piffle-and-Forth this coming Tuesday.

I'm betting most readers just scanned through the article, clicking through with either a shrug or a "That's nice." But for me, that one little word cut through all the verbiage, crystallizing in a singular reaction.

What!? Rock!?

I know what you're thinking - whoop-dee-doo. Another rock radio station. And isn't radio dead anyway? Killed by the internet?

If this were Toronto, or somewhere in the US, I might agree. But out here in the Gulf, your only choices for music in the English language are Hip-Hop or Euro-Pop. And if that doesn't suit your fancy, you better start loving the Bollywood stuff, because there really isn't anything else out there.

So this isn't just a rock station. It's the first ever rock radio station in the gulf!

Tonight, driving home, I tuned in. They haven't officially started yet, not until 11am.* But they did have a playlist on, and I tell you, just hearing bands like Def Leppard, Whitesnake, and Green Day...

I know this sounds a bit dramatic, but, man I felt like Jack Black in the School of Rock was my own personal guru, as a visceral sense of relief washed through me through successions of power chords and  pounding drums in 4/4 time. It's #$%*@&^ RAWK, man!

Back home I'd vary the dial between new rock, classic rock, alt rock (and a bit of classical, but let's keep it real here, okay?). Not here, however. In this land the deserts have been both sand and sonic.

But not any more.

*Which is kind of an unfortunate time to celebrate an opening, for us Westerners that is... since the start time is the exact moment everyone in the western world will be observing a moment of silence - 11am on November 11th. Otherwise known as "Remembrance Day".

Monday, October 31, 2011

Reverse Halloween

Seeing as I don't see our family leaving Dubai in the near future, I decided that it would be unfair to let another Halloween pass unheralded. Since we knew that nobody in our building was going to be standing by their door with a basket o' treats for passing little ones, we decided to reverse the process, and bring the treats to them.

 So we loaded up our tray with little pumpkins packed with treats, and the girls embarked on their very first Halloween outing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There is More Than One Way Show a Cat Video

There's a well known eLearning advocate I follow, named Scott McLeod (no relation to the comic book far as I know!) who writes a blog called Dangerously Irrelevant. Scott has spoken at Tedx conferences, and regularly presents on eLearning related topics, and one of his main pet peeves, that I have noticed, is the tendency of administrators to try to restrict and block access to technologies and services they see as disruptive, like Facebook, or You Tube.

Today he put up a post expressing his sense of frustration with this sort of of behaviour.

Yesterday it was Facebook. Today it's YouTube. Here's an email exchange between two district technology coordinators...

TC1: I have recently completely blocked youtube in our network. Does everyone block youtube? As soon as I blocked it, teachers started complaining. What other websites can they go to that will serve the same purpose as youtube?

TC2: It is blocked here as well!!! I know there is some good to it BUT it is my responsibility to monitor, block, etc. I do not have time to monitor students all day long every day of every week. We have a product called LanSchool and it is awesome. You can view every student that is logged on at any given time and can take over their computer and shut it down as well BUT I cannot do that every day all day long. The teachers have the same capable to monitor as well BUT they are hired to teach. I will not take the responsibility for what they CAN GET IN TO THAT THEY DO NOT NEED TO!!!
It is very disheartening to read this stuff. The federal government is not asking us to do these sorts of things. So we could trust our teaching staff (and - gasp! - our students) but instead we resort to draconian measures that penalize everyone for the potential actions of a few. As I said three years ago, we need to view school organizations like these as ones that are desperately and inappropriately blocking the future

While normally I agree with a lot of what McLeod says, I found my demurring today, and posted this comment in response (I couldn't embed links in my response on his blog, but I have adde them below).
The school system I work for in Dubai also has this restriction, primarily for socio-cultural reasons. Personally, however, I don't mind this restriction, because it doesn't affect my ability to bring streaming video into the classroom. Administrators and IT departments are going to want to restrict access to technologies and services that they feel pose a possible liability risk. It's just their nature. My view is, instead of railing against that, it is better to find another way to accomplish your objectives.  
Where I work, we created a linked system of blogs using Google's Blogger platform. And while Blogger is sure to be seen as a bit boring and old fashioned by some, I see it as being like the Ford F-150 of blogging services - a dependable tool that is surprisingly flexible, and comes with an amazing support network.  
First, when we want to use video in the classroom, we will embed video in a post that contains all the elements of the lesson - instruction, practice activities, and an assessment. That one post is then used by all the teachers in the same grade and subject for that specific lesson. (Shares the load, promotes equality of instruction).  
Since the nature of blogs is dynamic, and not all students or staff have the patience or the knowhow to poke into the blog archive, we also create static pages where videos are collected and embedded, and create links to those pages at the top of a blog.  
This system has proven really versatile and useful for all our stakeholders. There's a place for student podcasts which includes student made tech help videos, a place for eLearning resources for staff, and the system is simple enough that even the most tech averse teachers can grasp the basics of how to use it, and in a short time feel comfortable enough to use it in their everyday teaching practice.

Get Video Into the Classroom Without YouTube

A challenge that many teachers face today is how to bring video resources on the web, found in sites like YouTube, into the classroom at a time when administrators are clamping down on access to such sites.

The method I prefer is embedding videos or media enhanced presentations and resources on a blog via services like,, and even Google Docs.

The method I use for video in particular is a three step process that involves encoding a video, uploading it, and then embedding it.

Rather than just write out the steps, I have created videos that will demonstrate the process

Putting Video on the Blog - Part 1 (Encoding)

Putting Video on the Blog - Part 2 (Uploading)

Putting Video on the Blog - Part 3 (Embedding)

Monday, September 19, 2011

About Drive-Thru Coffee Culture

A commenter, katCL, posed a very interesting question in the comments to my last post, and I thought I'd put up both the question, and my response to it here.

katCL said...

I don't quite understand the "no drive-through coffee culture here yet" though. When some drivers stop in front of the neighbourhood grocers and blare their horns for assistance, is that not vey similar to the drive-thru concept? Not done in Dubai? It's very common in Abudhabi.
My response...
You are right that there is a sort of drive-in/thru culture in the UAE. But it's of a different sort. There's drive-thru when it comes to a McDonalds or Hardees or Burger King, or drive-in (and Honk! Honk! Honk!) when it comes to a road-side cafeteria. But those are places where you're grabbing a bite to eat. 
For fast food, drive thru works here. But when it comes to coffee, the situation is different.

Up until now, coffee in the UAE has been of a very European / Upper-crust American experience. People here are used to sitting down with a latte, or tall and expensive dessert type coffee drink, and spending time with friends. They chat, sip some very sweet caffeine, and while away an hour or two. It's a very social paradigm.

Drive-thru coffee, on the other hand, is a very utilitarian sort of experience. In Canada I would grab a cup on the way to work to help me get ready for the day. Or I'd make a run to Timmies for co-workers who were looking for their morning coffee fix. Generally speaking, however, Timmies was never a place to go to, it was a place to go by, on the way to somewhere else - a hockey game, work, etc. What makes it work in Canada is that we don't use coffee as the setting for socializing, but for the set-up to socializing. (There are some people you just do not talk to before their first cup in the morning.)

I do feel that the UAE is primed for the sort of drive-thru experience that Canadians know so well. And with Tim Hortons, there would be a viable alternative to the inescapable ubiquity of burgers and fries here. I think residents of the UAE would like to roll up in the morning on the way to work, and grab a bagel and cream cheese, or pass by at lunch for a freshly made sandwich. Unfortunately the Tim Hortons corporate people don't have that sense, and are setting up walk in locations only. I think the caution is understandable, from their perspective, after their experience in Ireland. But still, I do hold out hope.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tim Hortons Invades Dubai

I'm kind of proud of a sort of achievement of late. I was finally first at some thing.

Specifically, I was the "First Tim Hortons Customer in the UAE".

Yesterday evening the family and I went down to check out the new Timmies on Sheikh Zayed Road, only to learn that it was yet still closed. But, we saw from the sign on the door, it would be open on the morrow. 

At that moment, two staff members leaned out the door for a bit of fresh air, and I had a chat with them. "Will Timmies be open at 6am?" I asked. "Do you know what a double-double is?" Yes, it seems. They would, and they did. Well, I thought, we'll see about that in the morning.

I set my alarm for 5:30 am, so that I could be there when the door opened. At 6:15 am, when I actually woke up, 45 minutes after my alarm (Dang you Nokia!), I was on my way.

Would I see a crowd? Would I see a line? There had been absolutely zero advertising about this opening, so I wasn't sure what I would find. Thus it was, at 6:55 am, when I got out of my car, it happened.

As I walked to the store, there were two men outside. One in grey slacks and a white dress shirt , hair slicked back like a Latter Day Saint - obviously a representative from head office - and an older South-Asian gentleman, who appeared to be either a manager or franchise owner. The men saw me and fixed their eyes on me. They looked first at me, then at the Starbucks next door, as if to ask silently "Which way is he going?" But as I passed by the Starbucks door, and tilted my frame towards theirs, it was all smiles, and a loud happy shout from the South Asian fellow.

Inside the store I was greeted by cheering, the entire staff overjoyed to see their very first customer. I came just in time, because shortly after I arrived, the people started wandering in, in twos and threes.

I hope they'll do well. I bought a breakfast, and spent some time grilling the corporate fellow with all the questions I had. Why the cup sizes were different (American sizing), why there were no "Everything" bagels (Can't import poppyseeds), and why there were no drive throughs planned (no drive-through coffee culture here yet). He smiled and answered all my questions, but after the first dozen or so, I bet his internal monologue was slightly less Sunday School-esque.

Yet for all the differences I saw, it still felt like home. The coffee tasted the same, the Sour Cream donut just as soft, and the herb and garlic cream cheese on my bagel was just like I remembered it.

Finally! I can get coffee at a sane price. Instead of paying a ghastly 12 to 20 AED every time I want a cup of coffee, I now only need to pay 7. And for a much better brew.

I'm happy Timmies is here, because now I can get a nice soup, bagel, and coffee for lunch. I can grab a pack of Timbits for my kids, or a French Vanilla for my wife, just like how we used to have it back home.

But as much as I am happy, I also wonder... will this be yet one more thing that makes me so comfortable, so complacent, that I end up not going back at all?

UPDATE: I came back, a day later. The place was absolutely overflowing. They literally could not keep stock on the shelves, and one of the managers I had met from the day before was sitting outside, around the corner from the front door, looking like he was ready to just collapse on the pavement. He recognized me, and as we shook hands, he said "Since you came, it hasn't stopped."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Can I Car?

Can I Car Published via

I recently had the displeasure of being turned away the the Ford "Can a Car?" test drive event at the Dubai Autodrome. I was promised a personal test drive, so here's hoping!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Of Unicorns, Easter Bunnies and Independent Bookstores

The National Post was channeling The Onion the other day. I love reading interviews with people who make Truthers seem cogent and thoughtful.

When I was reading the interview, I swear that Santa, the Tooth Fairy and even Bunny McEaster stopped by to add their two cents to the wonderfully concocted fantasy reality constructed therein.

Why I even found myself interjecting from time to time!

I thought I might note down a re-cap of the event:

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I think that the shift and trend towards digital positions independent booksellers as more important than ever. After all, it’s one thing to find something to read, it’s quite another to find something good to read. More is not necessarily better. You can get to the world’s largest buffet but you might need help determining which of the dishes to sample, otherwise you fill your plate with a lot but enjoy little of it.

Moi: You're so right, Mark. The internet is just a bad dream, book bloggers are a figment of the imagination, and I always trust desperate sales staff to consider my wants and needs when buttering me up for a sale.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It makes sense that an online company that is all about the Internet and the virtual IS going to see huge successes in the digital/virtual realm.

Moi: I totally see why they made you the manager of a bookstore in Hamilton - You're a smart fella. A company with a market cap of $85 billion, with warehouses around the world, and 33,000 flesh and blood employees totally is all about the virtual.

Alana Wilcox: Most e-tailers offer only a Top 50 or theNew York Times bestsellers — useful if you already know what you’re looking for. But most of my best book finds have been accidental meetings on bookstore shelves, which is nearly [im]possible in the ebook world if you don’t have a search term.

Moi: You tell it! It absolutely is so much easier to discover new writers from disparate parts of the globe in a cramped little bookshop at the corner of Somewhere St. and Out-of-the-Way Dr. than through an e-tailer with worldwide publishing and distribution connections.

Alana Wilcox: We send books out to stores and never know whose bookshelves they end up on. But regular chats with our indie bookselling friends let us know who’s buying our books and why.

Moi: You make a solid point, Alana, Otherwise, how else in the world would a small, indie publishing house that specializes in experimental poetry and fiction know that their work generally appeals to a small group of well educated urbanites with an interest in the avant garde. Lacking this input, you probably would have spent countless hours loading copies of Eunoia on to the book racks at Shopper's Drug Mart.

Becky Toyne: I think indie bookstores will evolve...Daunt’s in London, England, has already started its own publishing imprint to capitalize on its brand. I don’t expect it to be the last to do so.

Moi: La la la! Can't hear you because my fingers are in my ears! Look, Becky, if you're just going to sit there and talk sense, we're not going to listen to you.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Even though the bookstore at McMaster has had the ability to print books on demand since 2008 with our Espresso Book Machine, I’ve never thought of Titles bookstore as a publisher – in my mind it has always been about selling books.

Moi: Don't beat yourself up about it, Mark. Absolutely anyone who spent every day for three years staring at the means through which they could profit greatly by cutting out the middle man, and controlling the production and distribution of a product they know intimately would be hard pressed to connect the dots.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I think there are huge opportunities for creative collaboration between publishers and booksellers in which both of them discover new wins and new successes.

Moi: And, to add to your point, when publishers soon start shipping books via unicorn, in baskets carefully packed by elves, publishers and booksellers will the see themselves as equals, holding hands, united in purpose, boldly walking forward into a future of harmony and co-prosperity.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Internet Can't Compare to the Grand Custodians of Literature

The ever media shy and elusive Margaret Atwood made an appearance in the Wall Street Journal, in a story about her appearance at Book Expo America. What with Book Expo Canada long dead and buried, it's one of the last venues where the books in all their forms and market tested glory are sprayed at an adoring audience.

The most memorable bit -

She described the “serendipitous experience” of walking into a store and picking up two or three unexpected books. She said that unlike the Internet, bookstores provide a filter for customers – they are a modern-day version of hand sellers (earlier, Atwood described how she sold her own first book by going from bookstore to bookstore). Bookstore employees read and make informed guesses as to what their customers would like.

She is so right. The internet is totally unfiltered, so it's just, like, totally impossible to get a personal book recommendation the way those grand old (*sniff*...sorry...nostalgia gets the better of me) librarians used to. Why, I will always remember that one time, in my entire life, when a librarian I knew recommended a book to me. It was such a good book. Yes it was. It was about incest, death, and the tragic loss of innocence of a 12 year old boy.

No, it's not like there are any book blogs, or reviewers out there who passionately engage with their readers about books that have caught their imaginations. I was so used to walking into a Chapters or Indigo and spending a good thirty minutes to an hour with a staff member, discussing my reading wants and needs, and standing there in awe as these noble $10 an hour curators of great literature went out of their way to find the books that were best suited to me.

Oh, wait. Check that. That's just my imagination getting too active. Come to think of it, outside of handwritten book recommendations on the shelves of the science fiction bookstore Bakka in Toronto, not in a single bookstore I have ever entered in my entire life (and I have indeed been known to haunt my share) has there been a friendly staff member who has come up to me to guide me deeper into the worlds of imagination. They'll happily guide my hand into my wallet, but that's where the interaction always begins and ends.

Like everyone else I know, I'd peek at the jacket, hear about a book from a friend, or maybe read about a book in the paper, or (later) online.

Atwood describes an idyllic fantasy that never was. I mean "bookstore employees read and make recommendations?" Since when?

Invariably, whenever I have gone to a clerk to ask something for a recommend, this is the conversation -

"Can you recommend any authors similar in style to (author x)?"
"What genre?"
"Fantasy, I think."
"Fantasy section is over there" Waves a hand vaguely toward the back of the store.
"Oh, uh, okay. How about authors comparable to (author y)?"
"Mystery section is over there" Waves a hand vaguely towards the back of the store.

Sigh. This bullspit just never ends.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Using Piracy to Turn Your Book into a $$$ Machine

There's some new thought turning up on the interwebs about the intersection of pirating and the book business, and while the mainstream line is that piracy is always bad, recent events may be adding a caveat on to that.

Sure, if you sell and e-book and someone pirates it, it's bad, because who wants to pay money for another e-copy? But if you are getting the digital copy of a book that can only be truly experienced in a more tactile form.... then pirating becomes marketing.

At least this was the case with the breakout best-selling kids title "Go the F--- to Sleep."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More Prizes Yay Happy Clapping

John Barber had an interesting piece in the G&B recently, about how the overabundance of literary awards has perverted the course of publishing by creating twisted incentives. Due to this, nobody really reads or reviews books regularly any more.

B.C. native George Bowering, Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, notes that he has published 40 books since the inauguration of the B.C. Book Prizes 28 years ago – and has yet to win. But the attention he most misses is different. Books he published as a young man would routinely garner dozens of reviews, according to Bowering. “Now that I am older and a better poet, my books will be lucky to get more than one or two reviews in the papers,” he laments. “How did I know that 1970 was the golden age for books in Canada?”

Absent reviews, publishers need to look to somewhere for validation, and awards are it, now.

Nor do prizes properly honour writers, according to Baird. “For a lot of writers, it’s total agony,” she says. “If your book doesn’t make the short list, you might as well fold up shop and forget about it.” The message is reinforced by publishers who rely heavily on past and hoped-for prizes to shape their lists, according to Baird, often including bonuses for nominations and wins in writers’ contracts and discounting future advances extended to “failures.”

So that's where it's at? If you don't get the blue ribbon, Mommy and Daddy don't love you no more?


Friday, June 10, 2011

Rick-rolling the professor

This was just awesome.

To see whether his prof actually read his essay, a US Computer Science student, user name Mayniac 182, decided to Rick-Roll his prof in acrostic form.

I love acrostics.

Here's what he did -

Who said poetry wasn't practical?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are video games the new novels?

I been sayin' that since I got my first NES back in '89. Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Zelda... they weren't games so much as stories. And the trend only continued on, moving out of the RPG realm, into RTS, FPS, and various Sim games.

Take a game like Halo... the latest derivation is actually a prequel, where you play the back story to the original three games. What's more, it's structured as a tragedy, as there is no way to win (the end is already known... the protagonists fail, Reach falls to the invasion), but the appeal is in the story, the details. It's no longer the "what" that is the concern, but the "why", the "how", the "who".

It's a lucrative, and viable option for writers... not only do these games require writing for the games themselves, but also for the novels, the cartoons, the movies, and the web series they spawn.

And as for lit-cred... not long ago the idea of a TV show being accorded the same respect as classic and contemporary literature was the stuff of mad men and fools. A complete nonsense idea.

Things change fast. And increasingly faster.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Head up #$% disease - a modern literary ailment

Saw something in the HuffPo...

Writers of the literary sort tend to be isolated, introverted, yah-dee-yah. They also tend to disdain modern socializing technologies.

The problem is, however, that their potential readers don't, and these technologies have quickly become enormous elements in the discourse of modern life.

As Joanne MacNeil sees it:
The average fictional character is either so thoroughly disinterested in email, social media, and text messages he never thinks of it, or else hastily mentions electronic communications in the past tense. Sure, characters in fiction may own smart phones, but few have the urge to compulsively play with the device while waiting to meet a friend or catch a flight. This ever-present anachronism has made it so that almost all literary fiction is science fiction, a thought experiment as to what life might be like if we weren't so absorbed in our iPhones but instead watched and listened to the world around us at a moment's rest.
Are literary writers anachronizing (not a word, I know, but it works!) their characters by imbuing them with their own authorial techno-uselessness or disdain?

Contemporary readers of contemporary fiction are now running into the same problem that post-Colonial readers had with the all-white, all-male Great Books pantheon. The works don't speak to them, because they do not resemble them.

Now, the other side of the coin is that by imbuing a work with period specific references, it hampers the ability of a work to later be considered "timeless."

I believe there is a certain arrogance in thinking that your work is somehow fit for the ages. Anyone dispensing that advice really is putting the cart before the horse (an anachronistic idiom that is yet somehow still relevant in our hyper-cyber-age!).

But even if you receive the approval of these fuddery gatekeepers of eternal lit, what they think and feel has no bearing on what time will bring.

A few years ago, I met with Ross King, who wrote "The Judgment of Paris" and he spoke about Ernest Meissonier, who, in the 18th Century was perhaps the most famous and celebrated artist in the empire. Of all the artists whose work and fame would survive through the ages, all were certain Meissonier would be foremost of them all.

Within decades of his death, his work had been derided, his name forgotten, and his art, which had once commanded sums only kings and emperors could afford, barely drummed up a pauper's two-pence and ha'penny.

All of which has led me to think that there's little point in writing for the ages. Write for today, if history decides that your work is worth remembering, count it a blessing, happenstance, or luck. No more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Career options for MFA graduates

If you are wondering what use you could put your newfound MFA skills to, Michael Savitz's article in Slate "Confessions of a Used-Book Salesman" seems like a great place to start!

If I ever get back into the interviewing biz, I am so going to list all the excess books I get on Amazon, to at least defray the cost of bus fare.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Re-writing the real world

This isn't really writing related, but I had to pass it on.

It is inspirational, for sure.

It's the story of Bharti Kumari, of Kusumbhara, Bihar.

Makes me feel kind of embarrassed that I'd think of myself as a teacher also.

Inspired me to inflict poetry on y'all.

(Using text from the article)

Bharti Kumari

Under a peepal tree,
her people.
Dalits , from four to ten.
For an hour or so, every day,
the air fills with
the steady rhythm of the alphabet.

Orphaned, found, adopted,
brought up as part of the family
until a loose wire, and fire
killed her new mother,
and brought her a new life.

She has had head lice for nine months
and this has provoked the fever,
but one of her teachers,
a smiling young woman, fondly
acknowledges that she is a middling student,
no more proficient at her studies than her peers.

Wearing her uniform, she eats her roti
in the small room that is a bedroom,
dining room, and living room, all in one.
Ill as she is, as soon as she recovers,
she will resume her role.

There is hope in the little school
under the peepal tree.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Should you still buy paper books?

I still buy paper books...indeed I find myself drawn to the enormous Kinokuniya Book World in the Dubai Mall every time I pass by, and the new cherry wood writing desk I got for myself when we moved to a new flat is already a bit overfull with paperbacks.

This summer I've been thumbing through Aarvind Adiga, Stephen King, Joe Abercrombie, Diana Gabaldon, and a few more, and while I still enjoy the tactile sensation provided by these books, the rolling from side to side on the bed, trying to get the light to hit the page just right, and all the other rituals associated with paper books, when I finish the last page, my mood changes. Why? Because when I am done, I have this book, this now useless lump of paper and glue, which no longer holds any wonder and surprise for me, and has become merely another object always getting in my way.

I could lend these books to colleagues or friends, but too few of them read, and only one (that I know of) will read fiction from time to time. So that's not an option. I also can't throw them away. I'm physically able to, but can't bring myself to, can't overcome a lifetime of conditioning where books were sacred objects, to be treated with respect. So that's out. I could sell then to the used book store, but in these economic times, I'm lucky to get 5 cents on the dollar on the deal, and end up losing money on the deal when I factor in the cost of gas. So forget that.

What to do?

I have donated books to the library from time to time, but when I learned that not one donation I'd given had ever been read or even checked out a single time, it felt really depressing. I'll still keep donating my books when I am done, because I just don't want them cluttering up my place for no good reason. But it is hardly the ideal.

With my e-books, I can delete them when I am done, with no compunction whatsoever. When I am done, and I've gotten my money's worth, I can trash the file and go on to the next file with no fuss, and no muss.

The only thing that really keeps my from going fully into e-books is that I can't get a lot of my favorite authors easily. I can't buy Kindle books from out here, so I am left with either MobiPocket books for my Nokia (or titles from Fictionwise or Gutenberg), or buying from Kobobooks or iBooks for my iPod Touch. They have a good sized list of authors, but it is nowhere near comprehensive, and backlists are really wanting.

Worse... the prices are still way too high for new release fiction. I understand that hardcovers cost a lot to produce, which factored into that original pricing, but I can go see a movie for $10, a movie that cost $100 Million to make, yet a novel that only really cost the publisher pocket change and the time it took for the writer to hide from the world and pound it out does not seem like it is worth $27 to $40 when the cost of distribution and publishing is essentially zero.

Perhaps we'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Goodbye cruel publishing world

Seth Godin has sworn off heroin...err...traditional publishing, mostly because he's tired of hauling ass across the country into little bookstores nobody goes to, to see people who would rather crack open a Bud and check Facebook.

Seth has a way with words, but it is a sentiment I have heard expressed more and more often lately.

A lot of the authors I really like now have blogs (Neil Gaiman, C.J. Cherryh, David Brin, etc...) or twitter feeds, and they really do encourage their readership to interact with them and invest themselves into their fictional universes.

Yet when you encounter those same authors through their Publisher's website, you often find stale, outdated material, a site that is difficult to navigate, and pretty much zero in the way of interaction.

It's kind of like they can't be bothered by the distractions of the world around them. They are like a bad parent focused on something to such an extent that they not only not notice their kid tapping their shoulder, crying, wanting something to eat, but they swing at them absently while wishing that the little buzzing thing would go away and leave them be.

Friday, June 3, 2011

No, they are not stealing your stuff

The list of the most pirated books came out a little while ago, and other than the Twilight books, no novels made the top ten.

Come to think of it, that means that no novels made the top ten.


So unless you are re-translating the Kama Sutra, or knee deep in a Secrets of Photoshop user guide, the internet is probably more your friend than enemy.

From Macleans:

According to BitTorrent’s tally of nefarious downloads, the literary pirates of the world are not interested in Dan Brown. The No. 1 illegal download of 2009 was the “Kama Sutra,” the ancient Indian manual for so many things sexual, which just managed to beat out number two: “Adobe Photoshop Secrets.” As commentators have noted, the two books may well have been downloaded by the same people for entirely related purposes. So too, perhaps was the number three finisher, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex,” possibly stolen by those who found No. 1 too hard to follow. There’s no explaining number four, “The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci,” but the fifth-place finisher, “Solar House–A Guide for the Solar Designer,” may reflect a surge in pregnancies. More sex began the second half of the list, “Before Pornography–Erotic Writing In Early Modern England,” which edged out the entire sublimated-sex “Twilight” vampire trilogy at number seven. “How To Get Anyone To Say YES–The Science Of Influence” (number eight) and ninth-place finisher “Nude Photography–The Art And The Craft,” possibly reflect a desire to move on from sublimation. Rounding out the list, and possibly the average pirate’s real daily life, is “Fix It–How To Do All Those Little Repair Jobs Around The Home.”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Walking a Moment in Another Person's Thoughts

It's like found art, or found poetry, but instead of coming away with an artifact, you come away with the barest hint of another person's consciousness.

Perhaps I overstate it a little, but try it out a bit, and you will see. It can be, at times, disheartening and disturbing, then by turns enlightening and surprising.

What is it? Why, it's Mystery Google. Where you type in a search query, but what it returns is not your query, but the query of the one who came before you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Decline of the English Department

A while ago, William M. Chace posted a piece up at The American called The Decline of the English Department.

Chace bemoans the sorry state of English departments across the land, as the number of undergraduates studying English has roughly halved over the past thirty years.

As a story addict, who would love nothing more than to wallow in books for the rest of my days, I feel for the guy.

But I have to say that the fellow has a real Pollyanna streak in him.
What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself.
I swear, I fell off my chair.

The decline is due to students not seeing the study of literature as a human good?

Charity is a human good, but that has never resulted in Humanitarian Aid programs becoming oversubscribed.

If anything, the root of the decline of English as a major is the failure of departments of English across the country to show undergraduates how the study of English can make them filthy, stinking rich.

Or at least very well off.

It's not like 1 in 5 students go into the study of business because they find Johnson & Johnson and GE case studies to be enthralling, life changing experiences. They take business because they hope that, some fine day, they can whiz by in an S Series Mercedes, splashing mud from the previous evening's rainstorm all over the hunched line of English majors sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling for enough change to buy themselves a bite to eat.

It's about not having to choose between Royale and No Name Brand toilet paper, preferring instead to use hand stitched rolls of $100 dollar bills.

As Ice Cube says, "It's all about the Benjamins."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Truth in Fairy Tales

There is an old Aesop fable "The Crow and the Pitcher," where a crow comes across a half empty pitcher, and begins to drop in pebbles until the water rises high enough for the crow to drink. The moral or lesson being that necessity is the mother of invention.

Well, that old child's tale may turn out to have been more fact than fiction.

The following was reported in the Independent on Sunday, about an experiment carried out by faculty from Cambridge and the University of London:
Scientists have found that rooks – a member of the crow family – were able to figure out how to raise the water level in a laboratory container by dropping stones inside to retrieve a tasty worm floating on the surface.
Four different rooks, called Cook, Fry, Connelly and Monroe, quickly discovered that they could raise the water level in a transparent container by adding stones, just like the mythical crow in the fable, which illustrates the virtue of ingenuity and how necessity is the mother of invention.
P.S. I thought this was a humorous side note - one of the experimenter's names is Jonathan Bird.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The History of History

It appears that historians and archaeologists are going to have to re-evaluate everything they know about pre-historical man. A 35,000 year old bone flute has been discovered. As Bruce Sterling comments:
I’d be betting good money that this Neanderthal-contemporary flute music not only existed: it had accompanying oral poetry, and it had *genres.*

The guy who buil[t] this flute was accompanying people singing, and they were singing something that, even to them, was very, very old.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The 100 Most Beautiful Words

alphaDiction claims to have identified the 100 most beautiful words in the English language.

I dunno. Seems like beauty is correlated with sibilance. Quite an ethnocentric view of beauty in my opinion.

"Mellifluous" I can see. But "Onomatopoeia?" Dunno about that one.

And what is is with all those sibilant sounds? If we truly do find them beautiful, then no bloody wonder the serpent got those two fools in the garden to eat that apple!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Book is a Book, No Matter the Form

That's the question that Ann Kirschner poses in her article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The gist of the question is whether reading is important, the story or the ideas, or the format in which those stories or ideas come. Ten years ago this question would have been patently ridiculous, but today it is entirely pertinent.

It struck Kirschner, when she reached up for her old Penguin paperback copy of Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, that there were other ways she could experience the story. Were those ways better, or worse? That, she didn't know, so in the true spirit of scientific inquiry, she decided to try an experiment.

As Kirschner states, she "decided to read Little Dorrit four ways: paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone."

With the paperback version, Kirschner felt that flood of returning memories, a la Ratatouille, when something tangible comes into contact with the senses and sparks a cascade of old memories, locked away for so long. It brought her back to her graduate days, where she first fell in love with, as she says, "the Victorian novel."

To each their own, I guess.

But something she hints at, but doesn't directly state, is that the nostalgia fueled state actually distracts from the story itself. Those memories, those tactile reminders make reading in that manner as much about the reader as the story.

So it was on to the audiobook. I felt much the same way as she, though one particular insight struck me -
Audiobooks also impose a certain discipline. I think of this as real-time reading: The author and narrator control your pace, and it is impractical to skim ahead or thumb back to another section. For Dickens, so naturally cinematic and plot-driven, that can have a breathtaking effect.
By golly, what she is describing is the experience of the story as human beings had known it from the dawn of time. Sure we mostly read now, but I bet you that somewhere deep inside ourselves, programmed into our DNA over countless millenia, is a predisposition for engaging stories in this manner.

Kirschner loved the audiobook format so much that it was all she could to do force herself to the last half of the experiment. And this is where it really gets interesting.
I abandoned the Kindle edition of Little Dorrit almost as soon as I read one chapter on my iPhone. Kindle, shmindle. It does almost nothing that an iPhone can't do better — and most important, the iPhone is always with me. Woody Allen had it right: Seventy percent of success in life is showing up. Yes, the Kindle's reasonable imitation of a book is an advantage, but not enough to outweigh the necessity to carry an extra object and its power plugs

The only time I relied on my Kindle was on vacation last year. All the grown-ups on beach chairs seemed to have one, as if we all had obeyed some secret command to buy Kindles and wear sunscreen. In fact, readers 50 or older are the largest group of Kindle buyers. Therein lies the clue to Kindle's short life. Middle-aged readers think that the dimension of the screen is critical. It's not: The members of the generation that grew up playing Game Boys and telling time on their cellphones will have absolutely no problem reading from a small screen.
In the end, Kirschner's key observation was that while she loved books, she loves reading even more. As she says, it is "the sustained and individual encounter with ideas and stories that is so bewitching. If new formats allow us to have more of those, let us welcome and learn from them."

I couldn't agree more.

You know, while I am an unabashed technophile, I am also a cash strapped technophile. I love the idea of the Kindle, but have no experience with one myself, especially since they don't sell them in this part of the world. I'd love to try reading on an iPhone, but they do cost a pretty penny, and I am afraid to buy one if only because I have a tendency to regularly and forcefully drop my phones on hard surfaces. So I've forgone the pleasure and status bump that owning an iPhone brings, (but I did the second best thing and get an iPod Touch.)

Lack of cool gadgets aside, there are still ways to try out Kirschner's experiment. My own version included the normal book, the audiobook, the e-book in the form of a laser printed sheaf of paper, and the e-book on the computer screen.

Overall, when executed right, I love the audiobook format more than anything. But more often than not the execution is not right, the reading voice or cadence is off, and it is simply impossible to get through a longish short story, let alone a full on novel.

The book itself is still great. Hardcover, paperback, or trade paper back, all have their advantages and disadvantages. When you read massive books like I do, the hardcovers can be hard to read in bed, and hard to carry around. The trade paperbacks don't fit in a pocket easily, and are quite conspicuous when read in public. The paperbacks are my preferred option, but again, when reading those massive epics I face problems. Instead of heft, I have to deal with print size, tilting the book to catch the light since the pages flow into a dark canyon in the center of the book, and doing anything about that only ends up snapping the spine or creating myriad creases that scream "abuse!" This makes the paperback version ultimately disposable, since there is little point in keeping a broken and damaged book laying around for everyone to look at.

Then there is the laser printed sheaf of papers. I got to buying e-books from Baen, or downloading them from, and not wanting to lug around my laptop, stuck to a power outlet since the battery only lasts two hours, I would print them out. At first I printed them out one-sided, but quickly found that to be a waste of paper. Even double sided wasn't much better. But when I got to printing them two to a side of paper, I had hit the sweet spot. The text was the same size as that in a paperback novel, but there was more page area, and no dark crevasse in the center. Best of all, a 600 page novel ended up as a 150 page stack of paper, which cost, after ink and paper are added together, only a few bucks, really. Far less than the average $12 to $15 plus tax I was used to spending years ago. And, best of all, you can recycle the paper, which you cannot do for paperbacks.

But that's not all. I found that, when reading a sheaf of papers in public, it looks more like I'm reading a lawyerly brief than a work of fiction. Even at work, I can seem to be "working" when actually I am just kicking back and enjoying myself. To all and sundry it seems like I am reading for work and not for fun, which is an important distinction.

Though I know many avid readers where I work, they all forgo the pleasure of reading as to the many avid non-readers there, opening up a novel smacks of goofing off, and being seen to do so, on the job, can lead to expressions of concern from management. So the avid readers keep their books at home, and spend their time looking busy, and reading, where else, on the computer.

Of the colleagues I have spoken with, I am about the only one who actually does read novels and short stories on the computer. Of course I have a daily diet of gads of web pages, as the constant stream from news sites and blogs lands in my Google Reader account every moment of the day. Due to this, most of the reading I do on the computer is of short, to medium length articles, with a few magazine pieces, though I tend to print out the magazine pieces at home, later, if they go beyond 15 or so pages. There is something about staring, in a concentrated manner, into a constant light source that unnerves me. And while I have read many, many novels on this beat up old Dell, I've never felt physically good afterward. I've always felt a little queasy, with a bit of a headache on the side. Reading a novel is not like reading a blog post. With fiction, if you fall into a state of deep reading, your eyes are basically fixed on the screen for up to hours at a time. It's the visual equivalent cranking the cranking the volume on your iPod every time you wear it. Slowly, but surely, it causes irreparable damage.

So reading novels on the computer really is not something I prefer. Hardcovers are far to expensive and wasteful, since I don;t like rereading books, and I long ago lost my compulsion to display chunks of dead tree to guests who are not in the least interested. Trade paperbacks are the best from a tactile standpoint, but too conspicuous, and paperbacks, long the main for of book I bought, are wasteful. They are eminently disposable, and the only way I have to alleviate the waste that attends after I finish a paperback is to donate the book to my school library. Considering how much less it costs just to print the book off at home, it's like writing a big fat cheque to the library, and my bank account does not currently condone this practice.

So what's the best method I've found to enjoy e-books?

A stack of papers it is. Held together by a butterfly clip, with pages quietly placed disappearing as the story progresses. Until, with a page left, and one page in the hand, it is as if the story itself, now played out, has faded away into the mists.

Or... reading off my new iPod Touch, which is turning out to be a sublime experience in itself.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Perversity of Copyright

Cory Doctorow has gone and made some more sense in The Guardian a while back with an article where the title really tells us the whole story - When love is harder to show than hate.
[O]ne of the most perverse elements of copyright law [is] the reality that loving something doesn't confer any right to make it a part of your creative life.
And there's the rub, eh. Like those little kids who loved all things Harry Potter, who probably bought every book, paid full admission for every theatre ticket, and even paid for official Harry Potter (TM) merchandise, who were then treated like base thieves for writing about what they love and trying to be more a part of that universe themselves.

How sick is that?

I myself have paid some $250 on the books, and close to that on theatre admission, and then I paid a further $200 for the DVDs. All told, Rowling Enterprises has pulled a good $600 out of my pocket. I can pay that for a Playstation 3 and go online and go hog wild writing about how great the system is, designing my perfect imaginary game, and no one would blink. I could buy $600 worth of Coca-Cola, give it to all and sundry, write Coca-Cola themed stories and blog about Coca-Cola themed recipes, and all that would happen is the company giving me a thumbs up for helping out brand awareness. Yet were I to wax rhapsodic on Harry and 'is chums, and maybe pen a little piece about the place they put that thing that time, and 'ol J.K's pitbulls would be feasting on my kneecaps in no time.

That's some seriously messed up stuff.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Better Book Titles

Have you ever thought that a book's title could be re-written to better evoke the story?

I'm sure a few of you have seen this already, but in case you haven't, check out Better Book Titles.

Here are a few of my favorites.

John Milton: Paradise Lost

Richard Ford: The Sportswriter

Herman Melville: Moby Dick

William Shakespeare: Hamlet

J.K Rowling: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

And, perhaps my favorite...Not from the Better Book Titles site, but was mentioned in reference to the site on Language Log

Strunk & White: The Elements of Style

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uncomfortable Plot Summaries

Postmodernbarney has written a longish list of re-evaluated plot summaries of iconic movies and television shows.

My favorite, thus far, are the ones for Titanic and Deadwood.

Has anyone done this for iconic novels?

Kazuo Ishiguro - Never Let You Go "Cloned children learn about life, love, and donating all their organs to their owners."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Found Poetry

I really like found poetry. Perhaps that is because I find myself more able as an editor than as a writer.

My old Prof, Richard Telecky, told me I'd make a great editor. As an aspiring writer, I took it as a backhanded compliment at the time (which it probably was, he was just that sort of guy...), but have come to see that in a different light.

When writing a found poem, you should cite the source first, to clearly establish where the material came from.

I'd also add one rule.... for poems that are put online, it would be prudent to add hyperlinks to the source material.

Anyhow... my found poem of the day, discovered while reading the paper on the pot after work this afternoon.

One caveat (my big mouth) the link I have is a link to the online article, which seems to have been changed and differs from the print article (which I could link to on the ePaper version... but first I'd have to sign up, and oh, it's too much bother now! ). This poem is based on the print version.

The article:

Cook turned burglar lands in police net
The Gulf News
December 1, 2010

The found poem I took from the article:

Cultural Niceties

An Asian cook
attacked housewives
with a knife
to rape them
before robbing their houses

He stalked his victims for days
to make sure they were alone
in the house when he struck

Once the victim opened the door
he would attack her
to rape her and
rob the house before leaving

Monday, May 23, 2011

How podcasting works

For the listener:

For listeners, podcasts are like radio shows recorded on a DVR. They don't have to listen to them when they happen, but download them to listen to them later, at their own convenience.

For the maker:

Everyday entertainment used to be entirely broadcast, but due to technology, broadcasting is being replaced by podcasting. The reason, simply put, is cost. It costs a ton to have a studio, to create content, and to broadcast it either through the air, or via cable. But podcasting doesn't have this capital heavy drawback.

It costs nothing for the software to make podcasts, there are many places where you can upload your files for free, and you can distribute them at no cost through iTunes, or various feed readers.

Making a podcast is super. You can do it in bits and pieces and stitch it together. For example, you might record your poems, and send the audio file to me. I might record an interview, and someone else sends me a recording of heir short story. I take these files, pop them into the show template in my audio program, then I write a little monologue to go with the bits, record that, and voila! A podcast is done.

Podcasts are actually perfect for people who are creative and engaged, but have busy, disparate schedules that would make ever meeting in the same time and place impossible.

My New Podcast

Recently I started up a podcast for my Masters program at UBC. I am working towards an MFA in Creative Writing (so eminently useful and practical, I know...), and there had been a discussion going on in the program for some time about starting a journal, or a magazine, and while there had been slight mention about podcasting, it wasn't until this year when a couple of students got going on the discussion boards, with some serious intent, about really starting a podcast.

Well, I had spent a few years in radio, and had been podcasting as far back as 2001, before the term podcasting had been coined, and before, in fact, the iPod had even been introduced!

I'd taken a hiatus for a couple of years from 2007 to 2009, but in 2010, at the request of my boss, I got back into podcasting in a serious way.

So when the call came for starting a podcast, I was ready to go. I contact the principals in that discussion, all full of vim and vigor, and immediately got back a response, which in essence was - "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but we need to form a committee, discuss what a podcast might be like, form an editorial board, gather a larger group of people to take part in the communal decision making..." and it went on.

Nothing, nothing like a podcast ever happens by committee. There always needs to be a driving force. A center. A focus. Other people are brought in, encouraged to contribute, but you always need someone with their foot on the gas.

So after few more e-mails where I tried to persuade them to just start the ball rolling, at least, I got nowhere. Why, these folks even felt the need to go on the boards and obliquely mock me ("We need to build something that will last...not just be some guy who will flame out").

You know, that's cool. That's fine. I let them know that I was sorry they felt this way, and that I'd be going ahead and getting a show going, and that I was looking forward to listening to their podcast when it got rolling. But, that said, I wanted to get a move on, and I did.

That same week, the podcast was up and running.

I made a website, a comments wall, an email address, set up the online storage, and produced the first episode. I've recently submitted the podcast to iTunes for consideration, and I am waiting to hear back from them. From what I read, I may have jumped the gun, because they like to see at least three episodes in the can before they consider it.

Episode 2 came out last week, and I am working on number three as we speak. So maybe I'll just have to resubmit it later!

It's a funny thing when you tell people you are going to do something, then you go do it. More often than not, those same people are "caught off guard" or "surprised." I got word from my program administrator that a few people were upset. Luckily, there were far, far more people who were eager and enthusiastic about taking part.

So now it's "On with the Show!"

Thoughts on Copyright

I you look at the origins of copyright, and go back to the Statute of Ann, the actual purpose of this first copyright law was in the title of the statute - An Act for the Encouragement of Learning.

The idea was to compensate content creators enough that they had reason to continued to add new work to the commons. The intent and purpose being the overall education and enrichment of culture and society. That is, it was about helping to preserve and extend a public good.

Today copyright has gone far beyond that. It has drifted away from it's roots as something which seeks to create a balance between interests in order to create a public good, and has become a way to entrench the economic interests of creators and distributors at the expense of consumers.

Take the provisions regarding photographers, at least in Canada... right now if you commission a photographer to take pictures of your wedding or bar mitzvah, those pictures are yours, as in, you have the copyright to them. You can take them, put them online, make copies, whatever you want. But under the proposed new act, those pictures no longer belong to you. If you put them up on your Facebook page, the photographer has the legal right to then sue you for copyright infringement, unless you pay him a fee for the right to share "your" photos with others.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Avoiding Trouble

Following up on yesterday's story about how a UAE Naval Officer ended up in the Uncle Slammer in Rhode Island, The National has an article out today about an awareness campaign aimed at helping Emiratis navigate the laws of other countries, to avoid getting in trouble.

I find this somewhat refreshing, as generally the articles I have read are about how foreigners should know and respect the laws of the UAE. Which they should. No argument there. But reciprocity is always a good thing.

The article, however, seems to be rife with subtext that is as humorous as it is enlightening. Why, for example, did Ambassador Issa Masoud, the director of Emirati affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs feel the need to say this? -
And when you treat people, you have to not be arrogant, especially at the borders and at government buildings," he said. "Don't forget you are not in your country."

Is this an issue that has come up in the past? Like with the Italians at the World Cup in Japan in 2003?

It's a prudent warning. Don't be an Ugly American, or British Yob. Be humble. Be respectful. I think this is a necessary caution not just for Emiratis, but for anybody, anywhere.

Like I said, it's good advice, but it's not what the article is about. The article wasn't written to address courtesy in general, but to address a more specific point. The core of the article is what comes next, and it directly relates to yesterday's story. The Ambassador goes on to say:

Families travelling with a housemaid should also exercise caution, he said.

The ministry advises employers to pay their maids salaries in line with the host country's minimum wage while abroad, particularly when travelling in Europe. This would "avoid trouble from them running away to human rights".

In light of the current climate, I will forgo any and all comment on this beyond that of a wry smile.

It is always best to avoid trouble.

E-book or Not to E-book

I got this from a professor in my program - Zsuzsi Gartner. It's sort of a survey writers.

1.) Let's say you have a finished manuscript (any genre) and a publisher makes you the following offer for an advance against royalties:
-$15,000 for hardcover (or top quality tradepaper with french flaps) original and e-book.
-$20,000 is only published as e-book.

Industry standard royalty rates apply after the advance has been paid off.

Which would you accept?

My response...

Let's do a rundown on the economics of publishing.


Physical Books

Take an average Trade Paperback and set the price at $20. The cost of printing accounts for 10% of the price ($2) leaving the remainder for the Distributor (10%... $2), the Retailer (40% - $8), the Publisher (45% - $9) and YOU (15% - $3).*


The average e-Book costs $10 a copy. There is no print cost or distribution cost. The costs are Retailer (30% - $3), Publisher (55% - $5.50) and YOU (15% - $1.50)**

The goal line I'll establish is a modest yearly salary - $30,000.***

For TP and eBook simultaneous release ($20 per copy - most publishers match these prices for the initial sales period)

TP/eB - 10,000 copies
HC - 5,000 copies

For e-Book only

eB - 20,000 copies

What to do? The easy, quick money is to do the e-Book. You need sales of 3300 copies (HC) or 6600 (TP) to earn the $20,000 the e-Book deal gets you. But will that many copies of your books fly off the shelves? Sales of 3300 hardcovers is a lot more than most Canadian authors usually achieve.

However, if you knock it out of the park, and your book starts going an extra print run or two, and you hit 10,000 copies sold, your earnings will hit $60,000. To do the same with an e-Book, sales would have to hit 40,000 copies.

10,000 is a lot easier to hit than 40,000.****

What would you do? Before you decide, here is a little background info...

In Canada, sales of 5,000 copies makes a book a "bestseller", but it can takes months or even years to reach that amount.

Also, the key issue for e-books is the date at which an author regains control of their back list. Control of titles allows for control of price point, which is where authors can really start to reap financial rewards. But publishers are very reluctant to give this to authors.

*Industry standard is between 8% - 15%, so you could be getting as little as $1.60 per book. Even less if the publisher has to slash prices at the request of the distributor or the merchant.

**If your publisher is a jerk, and gave you 8%, if you foolishly accepted the offer instead spitting in his face and self-publishing with a full 70% royalty, you'd get $0.80 a copy.

***15% of your earning go to your agent (Can't forget them!), so you would need to increase your sales figures by that amount to hit $30,000.

****This is the true crux of the issue. Do you take the lower advance in order to have a hardcover or two, and legit author creds before going it alone, or do you just go it alone form the get go. Earning $30,000 only requires sales of 4,285 copies at $10 each if you are getting the full 70% royalty. When you add in the agent fees to hardcover sales, to get $60,000, you would only need to sell 8,570 copies of e-Books, compared to the 11,764 hardcovers you would need to sell. It is a LOT easier to sell a $10 book than a $40 book.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's Not Really About the Money

In The National today, there is a story about a UAE Naval Officer in court in the US over a civil and criminal matter. The charge is that he held an unpaid Filipina worker in the United States.

At some point the maid escaped, reached the authorities, and brought a civil suit against her former employer. At the same time, US authorities have levied a criminal charge of lying to government authorities, and visa fraud.

What is interesting about this case is the perception of it on both sides of the cultural divide.

The maid in question had worked for the family for three years, and when they went to the US, her employer took her passport and forbid her from leaving the house without an escort.

In the Middle East they call that a sensible precaution to keep the maid from running away. In the US they call that imprisonment and (if the charges of not being paid are true) enslavement.

Here is the key part of the article:

Prosecutors said he brought a woman from the Philippines to the United States to work as a maid, then took her passport and did not pay her or allow her to leave the home without an escort.

Mr Corrente said Mr al Ali employed the woman as a babysitter in Abu Dhabi for more than three years before moving the family to the United States last July.

They had entered into an employment contract before the move and the woman was paid $19,000 (Dh69,700) in full for the year, he said. But, he said, the woman disappeared after three months and "now claims she never received any of the money".

Though the situation is not all that funny for those involved, for third parties like myself, the hilarious thing here is that the defendant and lawyer think this issue is only about the money, that resolving the money issue would make it all go away.

But the issue is not really the money at all. The issue is freedom. To the Americans, this officer basically imprisoned a free human being in his house, making them a slave, and denied them their human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. That's the way the Americans see it.

Not paying wages? That's a civil matter. Unlawful imprisonment? That's a much bigger deal.

According the US customs law, the officer can legally bring a domestic employee with him, and there is a special visa for that, but there are also special rules, namely that in the United States, the employer has to pay at least the prevailing minimum wage for the state they are visiting.

The officer in question stated that he paid $19,000 up front, before coming to the US. But the maid claims to have received none of that. Whatever the case may be, the prevailing minimum wage in Rhode Island is $7.40 an hour, and the custom for domestic labour in the Middle East is that they are on duty 24 hours a day, with a day off every two weeks (if they are lucky). Using this as a guide, then the officer would have to have paid his maid over $60,000 to comply with state and federal laws.

Thus the visa fraud charge.

But even though that is the actual criminal charge, what motivates it is in fact the breach of rights committed, and this is where the culture clash can cause difficulty.

In the Middle East, many families keep a tight rein on their domestic employees not because they are mean or evil, but because they are legally responsible for what their employee does. If that employee breaks laws, the employer's neck is on the line as well. In many countries in the Middle East, where sex outside of marriage is a criminal offense, there is indeed a powerful incentive for employers to ensure that their employees do not have the chance to get entangled in some sort of romantic dalliance.

In the US, however, the situation is different. There are no laws like those in the Middle East, and if an employee committed a crime, the employer is not liable.

The naval officer was really only acting as he felt was right and proper, and being in the land of opportunity where there is a much stronger chance that his maid would run off to find work elsewhere, I am sure he felt he was acting in a prudent, and responsible manner. They signed a contract, he needed her services, end of story on his part.

But Americans see it differently. They see a woman trapped, unpaid, and with the seizure of her passport, almost literally chained.

That's the real issue. Not the money.

Transforming Libraries

Recently I've been coming across stories about famous authors trying to save libraries, or just whingeing about how libraries are fading away.

But what is happening to libraries... perhaps it is inevitable in some respects.

What function do libraries really serve anymore? If Armageddon hit tomorrow, and all electronic communications were wiped out... libraries sure would come in handy. But outside of that?

Yes, libraries have served their purpose for centuries. Our modern civil society would not have been possible without libraries standing as the backbone, supporting education and the common good.

But the time has come to ask a simple question - why would people go to a library today?

To take out books? Okay, but books are quite cheap, and millions of titles are freely available online. What else? To use the internet? In some rural communities, libraries still serve as useful access points for the internet. But beyond that, what?

I think a revolution in thought about what constitutes a library is needed.

For an analogy, I'll use mobile phones. Today when you buy a mobile, it is not just a phone, it is also a camera, a voice recorder, and a basic to advanced computer. Phone manufacturers would never dream of trying to sell us on plain old "no bells and whistles, only makes calls" phones today, because they probably would not sell.

In his grumpy rant, Phillip Pullman unintentionally hints at a way libraries could be saved - by transforming.

The cost of a stand-alone library is huge. But what if the library was also a day-care? What if it was also a place where meeting rooms could be rented out for presentations or night classes? What if they had tutoring businesses attached to them?

The problem with libraries is not a problem of funding. It is a problem of imagination.

There is just something so odd in how our society takes this view that certain institutions, like libraries, or schools, have to be a certain way. The average classroom looks no different than classrooms of two hundred years ago. Students sitting at desks, in rows, looking at a teacher who will "fill them" with knowledge.

It's garbage.

It was fine for the time, but times have changed. The economic underpinnings of our society (developed, western) has completely changed several times over the past two hundred years. We went from agrarian to industrial to information to service and creativity.

Everything about our society has changed and evolved continuously, except for those institutions that are the bedrock of our common good. Police departments have changed and evolved. Fire departments have changed and evolved. But our schools and libraries are sinking rocks in a sea of change.

It's time for them to smarten up.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reflections in the Half-Sleep Before Waking

the beer and your hockey sweater, as you drank in anger
and let out rage
because the toys had been left in the hallway again
but I can never seem to remember what came after

the sound of a footstep at the door
inside the locked bathroom, I explored
and your chilling words
"what are you doing in there?"

laughing, looking left, right,
then down at your back tire my front one touched it
I never knew, never thought, blood
could flow so freely

the party, near midnight, the ball on TV
you, everyone, were drinking, laughing, arguing
and I sat on the couch, reading
because only the books would talk to me

the look of pure rage, hate
baseball bat in hand as you hollered and chased me
the egg still visible on your bay window through the bushes
as I got away

a beloved cousin, trusted, looked up to
inviting me up a hill pointing to the distance
then pissing on my leg as I turned to look
and seeing the multitude of fists seeking my company

becoming a super-hero one summer aboard ship
running to the wheelhouse, not seeing the hole in the deck
and becoming "Captain Gravity"
down-to-Earth kind of guy

a picture of my Australian great-grandfather
surrounded by his fourteen children, fifty-three great grandchildren
great great grandchildren, and their children as well
he was 95, successful in a way I can only dream of being

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Breaking the Pattern

The spine is mathematic.
A hand touched the cleft of her chin,
a glacial train moving across the face,
to escape along a sinuous path,
adrenalin courses
as fingertips slide
along an undulating funhouse,
advancing ever downward.

Escape is mathematic.
Trapped, in a funhouse frenzy,
face west, east, north, south, up, down,
adrenalin rises with every move,
every shift, but with a show of spine
the moment cleft,
a train of motion stops.

Her glacial gaze stares back with purpose.
She would be touched no more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Teachable Moment

I'm a teacher, an instructor,
but I can't instruct my wife.
God love her, I love her,
but as for teaching,
well, I'm her husband.

She's usually the one instructing me.

I told her, one night, and another, and another,
on course nights, please don't cook,
please just be with the children,
relax, watch TV, call a friend,
let me order a pizza for us all.

Above all, most importantly, don't cook.

You see, when Indians cook, they cook.
They cut, they grind, they fry, they stir, they mix,
and then the cooking starts.
This is not food you pop in a microwave oven,
or heat up in a pan on the stove.

This, you see, is real, good, wife cooked food.

Tonight, course night, the smell entices me,
mutton, frying onions, garam masala.
So lost in a poem, and thoughts of dinner later,
I failed to notice two sets of naked legs, and naked arms
walk up to my chair, ready for their bath.

I could hear the sound of the grinder in the kitchen.
I could smell the roasting meat, and stewing potatoes.
I could see the end of poetry, for now, at least.

My wife just spoke to me a moment ago.
Pizza, it seems, will be a good idea next week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Crowdsourced Villanelle

Vision blurs amidst the sounds and life of night
moods lift and bear us somewhere we can't foretell
take what comes, be alert, be ready, forthright

Rein down the moon. Bring sanity to the light
in the darkest hour, our eyes lift up from Hell
vision blurs amidst the sounds and life of night

we walk city blocks and hope to share our plight
with nameless strangers whose gazes repel
take what comes, be alert, be ready, forthright

when strangers press, foreswear the urge to flight
let inner focus, memory cast their spell
Vision blurs amidst the sounds and life of night

While those memories wrap and hold us tight,
we can feel our confidence pulse and swell.
take what comes, be alert, be ready, forthright

The ship keens in the wind, the waves froth white,
and long and loud, rings the deep throated bell
Vision blurs amidst the sounds and life of night
take what comes, be alert, be ready, forthright.

* This villanelle was constructed line by line, by different poets in a UBC Creative Writing workshop - thus the "crowdsourced" in the title.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Found Poem

This is prose, but it is so poetic...It hit me as a found poem.

Tony Woodlief remembers the birthday of a daughter who died 12 years ago, at the age of three

I suppose we all of us have shadowed places in our lives,
places where reside only the ill-formed shapes of what might have been,
never clear and untouchable and framed only by their absence of light.

But we have what has yielded those shadows as well,
or at least the memories of them. I can’t know
how her voice would sound today, but I can
recall her singing ABCs; I can’t know
what it’s like for her head to reach my shoulder, but I can
remember carrying her on my shoulders.

In every life there are the things we have
and the shadows that haunt us,
and which we call
could have been.

Maybe part of enduring is
looking where the light is,
rather than where it is


When I read this, and the story behind it. I sobbed for days.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eff the TO-Leafs - A Canadian Ghazal

It’s just a bunch of bullspit Cherry said last night, eh?
Keep Kaberle? Someone’s had a puck in the head, eh?

I frickin' can’t stand it down at the ACC these days
It’s not like the old Leaf Gardens up on Carlton, eh?

Only people who can afford to buy seats wear suits
I took the last tie I bought off after I got married, eh

Even down at the beer store, it’s like fifty bucks a case
Beer is starting to cost more than one of those lattes, eh

Then the HST bullspit? At least I can still go to Timmies
eh, somewhere my coffee won’t need an effin’ loan, eh

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Small Thing is Man

Teardrop in the lake, our insignificance to the divine.
As darkness falls, your intentions, Lord, I can’t divine.

I used to flee the world, my place, my life, my fate
My only faith, my hope, was in redemption divine

As her heartbeat fades, her life ripped from my arms
I raged, unbelieving, anymore, that YOU were divine

Then the fires came, ripping through my soul, my life
what was left, gone, destroyed, by vengeance divine

See, it’s the wrath of Lord thy God, old testament style
Jimmy - rage, hate, hope and love are equally divine

Friday, May 13, 2011

My Poetry Prof vs. The Sonnet Form

Her sonnet presentation was today
It’s a pleasant beginning to term 2
She used to think sonnets were just okay
But now, she knows, they’re really fun to do

The form is characterized by a turn
Or volta, a change of perspective, tone
But, as Professor says, with some concern
Good sonnets fall within a certain zone

What’s good about sonnets, says Stephen Fry
Is that they’re just right – the Goldilocks form
Size enough for a thought, flexible, spry
Sonnets can both entertain and inform

The difficulty in sonnets is not
in the writing, but in how they are wrought

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Of Cures, Fixes, and Multi-Billion Dollar Ideas

In Ottawa, they recently held the National Research Council's 2011 Biotalent Challenge Awards. In essence, it's an ordinary high school science competition, but the competitors in this particular competition were anything but ordinary.

Here's what the top 5 competitors did:

1st Place - Found a cure for cystic fibrosis. Did this on his off time after finishing homework, by logging in to the SCINET supercomputer to run simulations. Even tested the cure on real cell cultures. What do you know! It worked.

2nd Place - Developed a food additive that will be worth billions of dollars. They found a way to take gelatin out of sorbet, replacing it with a compound that is a) cheaper, and b) opens the up the market for sorbet to vegetarians around the world who avoid gelatin as it is derived from animals.

3rd Place - Discovered a bacteria that inhibits the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Basically, it boils down to a way of helping the prevent the death of millions when our antibiotics start failing to deal with super-bacteria that laughs at our paltry medicine.

4th Place - Discovered how pregnancy hormones can help prevent multiple sclerosis. It seems these hormones protect neurons from iron accumulation.

5th Place - Discovered a better way to treat cancers like leukemia. So... basically this high school student found a better cancer cure. I guess they needed something to do while waiting for the next Twilight movie to come out.

All of this, from high schoolers in Canada. High schoolers. You know, the twitter-headed computer addicts who are supposedly the leading edge in the dumbing down of the human race.

Workshopping Long Form Fiction

I think long form fiction can be workshopped successfully, but it depends on the nature of the workshop and the structure of the class. In an opt-res program, where people have jobs, this may not work so well. But in a normal residency program, why not? I used to have to read a novel a week for some of my lit classes, and when I sit down to read, 300 pages is the work of an afternoon at a coffee shop, really.

In a full workshop setting, it may be a bit much to go novel by novel, week after week. But if you broke a 20 person workshop into five groups of four, you could workshop five pieces simultaneously, and what's more, you could do task oriented editing sessions. Say one month is spent on overall structure, or plot. The next month on characterization. The next on dialogue. The next... etc...

By the time the year is over, each long form work has had five or six close reads, with all the editing and polishing that comes along with that.

You can keep the groups the same, or change them up. There are pluses and minuses to both. By keeping groups together, they become intimately familiar with each others work, and can better comment on each. By switching up the groups, you keep things fresh, and prevent small-group-think from setting in.

All that is required is that students have a long form work already prepared before the workshop begins, which can be ascertained at the time of registration. Call it a pre-requisite, if you will.