Whatever happened to Maria?

Today, as I was reading about the Greek elections, I came across a picture in the ‘related news’ section. It was a familiar face, that of Maria, the blonde little girl with the angelic face who had allegedly been kidnapped by the Roma, and then was inconveniently revealed to be a Roma girl suffering from albinism whose desperate poor parents had handed over to another family in something that can probably be described as an unofficial adoption (I blogged about that one, and you can find that one here). Of course, as soon as the bigoted narrative of the ‘child abducted by gypsies’ crumbled the story vanished from the headlines, and a little girl, whose only crime was to have suffer a genetic defect that made her resemble a different (and favored) ethnicity, found herself torn from everything that was familiar to her and tossed into an institution. So the question I am asking myself, a question I’ll probably never be able to answer because no one seems to have bothered to do any sort of follow up once her origins were revealed is what happened to Maria? Where is that little girl, and what became of her?

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A blessing in disguise

As you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I was having some pretty serious issues with my cover designer, who up until then had been one of my best friends. I freely admit that the whole ordeal left me feeling utterly miserable (and I still miss her, after all, a friendship of more than a decade is not built overnight, though it can certainly be torpedoed in an instant). The thing is that as I was wondering what to do, and how I could possibly re-imagine one of the covers she was supposed to do, I hit upon an idea. It was completely different from the one I had originally envisioned, but there was something about it that got to me… and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a brand new book. Will that story bloom? I don’t know, it’s too early to tell, but for the time being it seems to have taken root between my ears. Funny how these things tend to work out in the end

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On the recent events

Okay, I admit that I am still trying to wrap my mind about last week’s events. I am also wondering what can I do… the problem is that I can’t think of anything that doesn’t feel trite in light of the magnitude of what happened. So here go my thanks to cartoonists everywhere for making us laugh, and maybe look at the world from a different perspective. Yours shouldn’t have be deemed a high risk job.

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When a book is poisoned

Okay, as you may have noticed there have been a few delays when it comes to the third book of Citlalli. The truth is that the book itself is done and even formatted, but I’ve been having some issues with its cover. Without going into details, I got into a pretty big argument with my (former) cover artist a couple of days ago, and to make matters worse that cover artist was also one of my closest friends. The problem is that this situation hasn’t just left me in the lurch when to comes to this book’s cover (that’s not such a big deal), but also left me feeling like the whole series has been poisoned. Right now I can’t even think of this project without remembering the fight we had, and I think I need some time to regroup. So where does that leave me? Well, I’ll probably wait a few weeks and then I’ll try to find  a new cover artist. After that I will probably finish the first draft of a different book that is more that half-way done anyway, and then I’ll turn my attention to the fourth and final book. In other words, while there are going to be some additional delays, I am not abandoning the project. I have too much effort invested into it for that, but for the time being I do feel the need to take a step back.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know just where things stood.

No, I don’t like the idea of missing a deadline, not even if it is a self-imposed one, but unfortunately under the circumstance I honestly believe that this is the lesser evil.

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Greenpeace crosses the line

In a move that is emblematic of our self-centered culture we have one of the world’s best known environmentalist groups carelessly trampling over one of our world’s most fragile monuments to take a selfie, and post it on Facebook (along with an accompanying video that was dutifully uploaded to YouTube). I am referring, of course, to the idiotic ‘protest’ (their word) by Greenpeace in Peru on December 8, a ‘protest’ that caused serious, and probably irreparable damage to area surrounding the Hummingbird,  one of the best known figures among the Nazca lines.

The thing is that this whole incident has been interesting in a number of ways.

First of all we have the image of those claiming to be fighting for a better future trampling on the past for the sake of a selfie. That is bad enough, but then there are some other aspects this incident has exposed that I find equally disturbing… okay, so maybe not equally.

Among those one that is particularly telling is the kind of leeway the English speaking press is willing to give to  these clowns.

Most of the headlines I have seen fall in one of two categories. On the one hand we have things like “Greenpeace in hot water after Nazca Lines escapade” (The Week), “Greenpeace Offends Peru With Nazca Stunt” (that one comes from the Huffington Post) and “Peru Is Indignant After Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site” (that one is taken from the New York Times), on the other we have headlines that totally dismiss the damage and move straight to Greenpeace’s so-called apology. In this category we have gems such as “Greenpeace apologizes for Nazca lines stunt” (Herald Sun) and “Greenpeace Apologizes for Stunt at Peru’s Sacred Nazca Lines” (NPR).

To begin with, to dismiss what Greenpeace did as an escapade or a stunt, or to imply that Peru is overreacting, especially considering the way in which its archaeological past has been plundered throughout history, is in itself offensive. Let me be clear about it: what Greenpeace did was not a stunt or an escapade, it was a crime, a serious one that, while not on the same scale as the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, is definitely along the same lines (permanent damage to a World Heritage Site).

Next we have the shift of emphasis from Greenpeace’s crime to its apology… let’s talk about that ‘apology’. In it the organization apologizes to the people of Peru for any offense it may have caused by laying what it describes as ‘a message of hope’ at the site of the historic Nazca lines, but it says nothing of the damage done to the glyphs and the surrounding area. It also claims to be willing to cooperate with the authorities, and says they are willing to face ‘fair and reasonable consequences’. That sounds promising, except for the fact that the group has refused to identify those involved, who have since managed to flee the country. So much for cooperating with the authorities (as for the fair and reasonable consequences they claim to be willing to face, that bit sounds an awful lot like they are claiming for themselves the right to determine what those are going to be, rather than let the Peruvian legal system settle that one). Oh yes, and they also agree to stop any further use of the offending images, as if those images hadn’t been splashed across the front pages of the world.

That is one of the things that bother me the most, the fact that in defacing Nazca Greenpeace has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.

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No need to freak out, a bite of chocolate won’t kill your dog

Yes, I know, chocolate is bad for dogs, very bad, in fact it can be deadly, but that is in relatively large quantities, and while it is good for dog owners to be aware of that fact, the awareness of that toxicity has been driven to some pretty ridiculous extremes. Under those circumstances I think a little perspective is in order so, to begin with, let me say that I have fed my dogs chocolate… and I did it deliberately. For the most part I did this before the internet came along, and before I knew it could even be an issue. No, I never fed my girl a chocolate bar, or anything like that, but when I went for an ice cream I routinely let her finish it off… and more often than not that ice cream included chocolate in one way or another. At home we also allowed her to lick the carton clean, and she even got the occasional square (what can I say, those puppy eyes). For her chocolate was always a very special treat. This, I suspect, is also what most people envision when they think of feeding chocolate to their dogs. Anyway, in case you were wondering, that dog lived to be seventeen. I have another one, who is currently fourteen and still going strong, and up until a few years ago she used to get the exact same treatment.

Of course, that was then. Fast forward a number of years and now I have one of my friends frantically rushing her dog to the vet because -horror upon horror- a child had dropped a chocolate chip cookie and her dog had gotten to it before anyone could stop him. Rather than set her mind at ease by telling her that she had nothing to worry about, that there’s no way a single chocolate chip cookie is going to do serious damage to her dog (which is a large dog), her vet commended her for taking him in. That was what finally got me to write this post.

Yes, I realize that this woman’s reaction was a little extreme, and I can also understand why is it that vets are not exactly trying to talk you out of overreacting. As far as they are concerned getting humans to ‘err on the side of caution’ and ‘take their dogs in just to be on the safe side’ is free money, but the fact that vets don’t seem to be inclined to be the voice of reason doesn’t mean we should let the paranoia run rampant.

So how big a threat is chocolate? Well it depends on two things: the dog, and the chocolate.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that chocolate is packaged in human sized portions, but most dogs are not exactly human sized… in fact their size varies greatly, and so does the degree of caution you should exercise. If your dog is a six pound Chihuahua you have to be fairly vigilant because in that case an errant chocolate bar can pose a serious threat. If your dog is a fully grown mastiff or a St. Bernard, on the other hand, a normal chocolate bar, while not exactly healthy, is unlikely to be an issue.

The second aspect is that not all chocolate is created equal. The toxic agent here is theobromine (a close relative of caffeine), and the darker the chocolate, the higher the content of that particular stimulant. Baker’s chocolate can have up to ten times the theobromine content of milk chocolate, while white chocolate contains at most trace amounts of the blasted thing. In other words, baker’s chocolate can be dangerous even for an average sized dog, while white chocolate is no threat at all.

When it comes to milk chocolate a rule of thumb is that a lethal dose would be around one ounce per pound of body weight (for a St. Bernard that could translate into something 140-260 oz, or more than 15 pounds/6 kilograms, but keep in mind that that would be a lethal dose, toxicity would only take a fraction of that amount).

In other words, while I’m certainly not advocating feeding chocolate to dogs, and I usually try to avoid it, I think it’s important for dog owners to educate themselves beyond a simple chocolate=bad equation. Yes, considering how readily available chocolate happens to be, awareness of the fact that there is a potential problem is a good thing, and owners of mini-toy dogs should be extremely careful, but at the same time I suspect we have now reached a point in which the threat is seriously overblown, and unfortunately there are some vets that are not above exploiting, and even feeding, those fears.

And finally, keep in mind that the fact that something is chocolate flavored doesn’t mean it is chock-full of chocolate. A good example of this fact are Oreos. Those may be chock-full of chemicals that are far from healthy, but the amount of chocolate they actually contain is basically nil.

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On the POD comparison’s future

From day one the comparison of POD publishers has been one of this site’s most prominent features, and for years I updated it on a yearly basis. For the most part this got me a lot of abuse from publishers and quite a few thank you notes from would be authors (I saved each and every one of those), but the thing is that as time went by, and the publishing landscape changed, the comparison became less and less relevant. The way I see it, it has been reduced to a quaint relic of a bygone era, where small players could make a difference and e-publishing was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. It is also a relic of a time when personal websites were truly personal. For better or for worse, that web is gone. That is one of the reasons why I didn’t even bother to update it this year (the other one had to do with the fact that real life has been pretty crazy). That brings me to the question of the comparison’s future. I am not going to delete it, and if I can I will try to update it sometime next year, but at the same time I am enough of a realist to realize that, given the changes we have seen both in terms of the web and the publishing industry over the past twelve years, it will never regain its former relevance. It was a good project, one I am proud of. It is also one I’m not willing to let go of just yet, but for the time being, I am willing to tuck it in and kiss it good night.

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Borges said it best…

I just came across this quote from Borges:

Publicamos nuestros libros para librarnos de ellos, para no pasar el resto de nuestras vidas corrigiendo borradores

That translates roughly into:

We publish our books so that we can rid ourselves of them, so that we won’t have to spend the rest of our lives polishing drafts.

Considering how much time I’ve spent going over the same book lately, I can’t help but to agree.

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I’m (sort of) back

Hi guys, sorry about the vanishing act. Life has been pretty crazy lately, but I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth (yet). Anyway, I am working on a couple of projects, and I’m almost done with a new book. I’m really excited about it, though I don’t expect it to be all that successful (do I think it has potential? Yes, and lots of it, but seeing how I still haven’t figured out how to squeeze more that 24 hours into the day, and that I’d rather spend those hours focusing on writing than on marketing, I don’t know how much good that will do me).

I’ll keep you posted, and I’ll also try to do better in terms of updating this blog. Yes, I know it’s been seriously neglected these past few months, but as I said, life was getting in the way, and some minor issues -like that hacking attempt, plus the problems with my host- had left me feeling incredibly frustrated. Hopefully things will go a little better from now on.

 

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Site appears to have been hacked

There is a link near the top of the page. I have no idea where it came from, but I certainly didn’t add it. I’m looking into this situation, but haven’t figured out how to get rid of it just yet. For the time being I wanted to warn you NOT to click on the blasted thing.

UPDATE: Okay, changing the theme and getting rid of the slideshow seems to have gotten rid of that link. Now back to trying to identify its source… and to trying get the site to look a little more presentable.

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Hosting woes

Okay, as you may have noticed, things have been really quiet around here. That is due, among other things, to the fact that I’m still having some serious trouble with my host (that would be Green Geeks. BTW, if you are looking to build a website, I would seriously suggest that you look elsewhere because in my experience dealing with this company is a real nightmare). In fact it has gotten so bad that rather that looking to attract traffic I am dreading the possibility of having a moderate amount of success, as my site keeps being taken offline for taking up too many resources… funny thing, given that they claim to offer ‘unlimited bandwidth’ and 99.9% uptime (yeah, right).

Anyway, I am looking for alternatives, but unfortunately they have a pretty awful refund policy, and that’s making it hard for me to get away from them, so for the time being it looks like I’m stuck in a situation in which they are the host and I am the hostage.

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Empty spaces

Okay, so I finished a first draft and formatted it to get a general idea as to what the page count was likely to be. This is usually a fairly straight forward process, but this time around the results were kind of borderline. Font size is a known quantity, as is line spacing, but the margins are a different matter. I admit that with my longer books I try to keep them to a minimum in an attempt to keep the prices down (that extra space really adds up when you are talking about a book that’s more than three hundred pages), but at the same time I do realize that wider margins make for a far more pleasant reading experience. The thing is that while with shorter works that’s not usually much of an issue,  this one is kind of stuck in the middle, and that extra space will cause the retail price to go up a bit. The question I have to ask myself now is, is it worth it?

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Start, stop, delete, repeat

No, this blog isn’t dead, I’m just having a hard time actually getting things posted. To tell you the truth I’m not entirely sure why that is… maybe it’s just that none of the posts I’ve started and then deleted seems to fit.When I started this blog I meant to keep it professional, then it got a little more personal, but somehow it’s still stuck in limbo, and the fact that I’m a little fed up with the oversharing that I can see all around me in the form of constant -and rather pointless- updates is making matters worse.

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eReading and dyslexia

So about a month ago I finally took the plunge and bought myself a tablet. I had been reading on my phone for a while and I admit that, unlike most people, I didn’t have much trouble with the size of the screen. Still, I was looking forward to having a more reasonably-sized page.

One month later the takeaway lesson is that while the bigger screen is great for watching movies, reading comics and getting some work done, for reading I’ll stick with my phone, thank you very much. Simply put I hadn’t realized how much that little screen was helping me to focus, or what kind of a difference having shorter and fewer lines to contend with at a time  made. Yes, I can read on the tablet’s screen, and I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a struggle, but it is more of a chore and I also finding far more tiring.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but if you are dyslexic, and you enjoy reading, you may want to give that ‘annoyingly little’ screen a chance. You may be surprised by the result.

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