Category Archives: This & that

Something for nothing

A while ago I wrote a post about a POD company charging an outrageous fee and warning authors that they were better off paying that fee because ‘you get what you pay for’. Today we have the other side of the coin,with Instagram revising its terms of service and claiming the right to license its users’ work for free and in perpetuity… do I even have to say that these terms are outrageous?

Now, I am not saying that Instagram (or to be accurate Facebook) doesn’t have the right to try to make money out of its services, that’s what businesses are supposed to do, but there is a difference between showing your users some ads while on your site, or even compiling a profile you can then use to target those ads to a specific audience, and taking your users’ content and selling that instead. That is where I feel Instagram/Facebook have crossed the line here, but at the same time I am not particularly surprised that they would try something like this… in fact that is why I have stuck with hiring a host and maintaining a rather old-fashioned website rather than join the social network revolution, even if doing that has cost me in terms of my ability to get the word out there that my books exist: I am all too aware of the dangers lurking in too many of these companies TOS.

The question is where is the balance. Personally I think it is a matter of common sense that has to be determined on a case by case basis. Right off the bat I can tell you that going with the most expensive option because ‘you get what you paid for’ is probably a bad idea as it would probably lead you straight to the door of someone looking to fleece you. On the other hand it is also true that when someone offers you a free service you have to ask yourself how are you going to be made to pay, because not all payments take the form of dollars and cents.

There may be some services, such as CreateSpace that don’t charge you an outright fee but have a business model that does enable them to turn a profit (of course, that one isn’t a social media site at all, but rather a POD publisher, so that they can afford to operate based on a more traditional business model), but on our increasingly virtual world these are the exception rather than the rule, and that means that there is a race to monetize ‘free’ services these content-grabs are likely to become more and more common… unless the backlash to this one is such that they have no choice but to backtrack (and let’s remember that this is not the first time someone tries something like this. A few eons ago GeoCities tried something similar… it didn’t take then and hopefully it won’t take now).

UPDATE: It looks like Instagram is already backtracking and claiming that they never meant what they said. For the time being they have reverted to an earlier version of their TOS.

Speechless

Within hours of each other there were two brutal attacks against school children. In the first one the attacker, wielding a knife, left 23 wounded (22 of them children) in China, in the second one a gunman managed to kill 27 people in Connecticut (20 of them children), and that raises the question of who would do something like that? I don’t know… in fact I’ve been trying to make some sort of sense out of this for more than ten years (trying to make sense out of a spate of school-shootings was one of the things that prompted me to write Soulless in the first place), but in spite of that I am no closer to understanding any of this now than I was back then. I guess I should be grateful for that.

The one thing these two incidents that took place within hours of each others but half a world away make abundantly clear, however, is what kind of  a difference guns make.

Hard to believe it’s been a year

A year ago today I lost one of my best friends. No, he wasn’t human but that doesn’t mean that he was less than human. Six months ago, in one of my first posts I featured some photos of his final year, today I am sharing a few of his first one (you can see the other batch of photos here)… and yes, even though it’s been a year ‘already’ it doesn’t really feel like an already at all. In fact I still miss him like crazy!

So, without more ado, here is the little fellow back when he was really little:

The King of the Hill
The King of the Hill
A little mischief
A little mischief
PUT THAT CAMERA AWAY AND GET ME DOWN FROM HERE!!!
HUMAN, PUT THAT CAMERA AWAY AND GET ME DOWN FROM HERE!!!
The Mighty Would-be Hunter (not that he ever killed anything)
The Mighty Would-be Hunter (not that he ever managed to kill anything)

And now for a little family background:

The Little Fellow's Mother (yes, I'm still missing her too)
The little fellow’s mother (yes, I’m still missing her too)
Two of His Brothers
Two of his brothers (er, yes, if I hadn’t been there when he was born I too would have assumed that the little fellow was adopted)

Okay, That’s it for today. I apologize for the overdose of cute, but this little fellow was my almost constant companion for close to fourteen years and today hit me hard.

I don’t like it and I won’t follow

Earlier today I had a very minor problem, in fact it was too minor to be called a problem, so much so that I didn’t even record on which site it had happened, but it kind of stayed with me: as I was browsing I came across a splash screen that said something along the lines of ‘to access this site either like us on Facebook or follow us on twitter’. Now, I am used to some sites requesting my e-mail address (though I usually balk at those too), and I guess in a way it is not that different, but in another one it does feel that way… especially when it comes to a site I don’t particularly know (i.e. a site I don’t know if I ‘like’ or if I’m interested in ‘following’). I guess in a way my reaction may also have to do with the fact that I am not too keen on social media, and I have some serious issues with the amount of information these sites gather and are willing to disclose about their users.

Yes, I have a Twitter account, and I don’t find that one too annoying, though I am not a heavy user and I rarely sign in, but Facebook is a site that, while I know it is extremely popular and even useful, I don’t particularly trust. Simply put, I seriously doubt the average user knows how much information Facebook has gathered about him/her, and I don’t think that the fact that at times keeping track of their constant policy and settings changes at times can seem like a full time job is a coincidence. The fact that unrelated news sites are now making being a user of Facebook or Twitter mandatory is yet another step in a process that has caused the web to become ever more intrusive.

Oh, I know this is something that has been in the works for some time, something that is going to make us hold-outs have to choose between submitting or living with a deliberately downgraded online experience, but the attitude of ‘follow me, like me or else’ that was reflected on that simple splash screen rubbed me the wrong way. It was not an invitation, it was a command and my response to that is ‘No, I don’t like you and I definitely won’t follow you… hell, I don’t even know you!’

Perfectly reasonable

I was just reading an article about the lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center and I have to say that it really annoyed me. It was supposed to be this ‘feel good’ piece about how a tree that had survived Sandy had been transformed into a sort of beacon of hope or some such nonsense by being decked with thousands of lights… that this entailed chopping said tree down wasn’t even deemed worth mentioning. Yes, they did state that once the festivities are over it will be turned into lumber and be put to good use by Habitat for Humanity, but that’s in the fine print (it is literally in the last sentence of the article). I mean, is it me or someone has a twisted idea of what ‘survival’ means?

Oh well, I guess someone somewhere thought that killing it was a good way to celebrate the fact that it had survived. After all, that is what is commonly known as being ‘perfectly reasonable’.

Reinventing the poncho

As I have mentioned a couple of times I love sleeping in a hammock, but I’m not crazy about how cold they can get. After a lot of experimenting, and borrowing the basic principle from a sort of poncho my mom used to have, I came up with the following solution:

Hammock blanket
A very simple idea for a blanket that is meant to be used on a hammock but can just as easily be used to curl up on the couch.

Once you have made those cuts (and allowed the paint to dry)  all you have to do is slip your arms through the two openings and allow the top to fall back over your shoulders. This blanket moves with you, it leaves your arms free if you want to hold a book or a cup of coffee, it offers a double layer of protection where you need it the most (on your back and chest), it doesn’t wrap around your neck no matter what you do, and you can pile two (or more) of them and then wear them as one if you have to… not to mention that it gives you the ability of taking your bed’s/hammock’s warmth with you when you get up. Oh, and if you want to use it just to veg out on the couch you can always wear it upside down, so that it is a little shorter and doesn’t drag on the floor when you get up.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my chest, back to our regular programming.

Update: In case anyone is interested I have posted another hammock-related how-to, this one featuring the instructions to create a hammock for your laptop so that you can work in comfort (or watch a movie) without having to resort to some sort of superhuman balancing act. You can find that one here.

For a quick access to my tips on how to make your hammock-life easier click here.

One of my favorite links about hammocks

As I mentioned a while ago I’d take a hammock over a bed any day, though the cold weather can be a bit of an issue (that is being cold in a hammock means being a lot colder than you’d be in a bed as your back and sides act as incredibly effective heat sinks), but still as far as I am concerned the benefits far outweigh the problems… in fact I think I finally cracked the ideal bed clothes dilemma, but more on that in a couple of days (update: that information has now been posted, you can find it here).

What are those benefits? Well, for starters you will never hear anyone complain about having to make his/her hammock in the morning, I can tell you that. All you have to do is take it down if you want to. It also frees up a lot of room and it just looks cooler, not to mention that there are some studies that seem to suggest that it is also a whole lot healthier (of course, since no one is going to get rich by encouraging people to get rid of their expensive mattresses and to replace them with dirt cheap hammocks you are not likely to hear much about it).

Anyway, today I wanted to share a link to one of my favorite articles on the benefits of sleeping in a hammock. You can find it here: Seven Benefits of Sleeping in a Hammock. I hope you like it.

Making sense of the past… or at least trying

ARGH! Today I was doing some research on a battle between the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire –that would be the Battle of Ajnadayn, if you want to get technical– so I went to see what Wikipedia had to say about the whole thing. I got the basic outline of what happened (sort of) and I also got the coordinates to its exact location. Those place the battle in question what is today Israel… the problem is that one of the things I needed was the name of the ancient province, not that of the modern country. I mean, we are talking seventh century here and by then the old and familiar Syria Palestina had been subdivided into a number of ever-shifting  Syrias and Palestinas, but as a result of what I fear was a hyper-zealous attempt by some ‘editor’ to edit ‘Palestina’ right out of history somewhere along the line, the actual name of the ancient province was not included… do I even have to say that I found the whole thing incredibly frustrating? (okay, to be fair, it could also be that, in light of those ever-shifting Syrias and Palestinas someone just threw his/her hands up in the air and decided to play it safe by sticking with a good, old-fashioned set of coordinates).

Now, if that had been the extent of it, it wouldn’t have been that bad, but to make matters worse that particular article had a few other fun issues. For instance there are also some references to a general by the name of Theodore and others to one by the name of Theodorus, and it is not clear entirely clear whether or not these refer to the same guy (given that they seem to play the same role I am inclined to believe that they are one and the same, but the problem is that while the article claims that ‘Theodorus’ was killed in this battle, the entry on ‘Theodore’ has him dying a couple of years later… as for ‘Theodorus’ there is no entry on the guy at all). Let’s just say that trying to make sense out of that one turned out to be a fun way to spend an afternoon!

Oh well, Wikipedia is still a wonderful resource (let’s face it, most places don’t even mention the fact that there ever was such a thing as a Battle of Ajnadayn), and I am  most definitely still a fan, but this time around I have to admit that it left me scratching my head.

Control

I am currently working on several projects (in fact, seeing how between original works, revisions and translations I am currently juggling five/six projects, I think it’s safe to say that I am working on a few too many projects). The thing is that while I can usually handle multitasking just fine, I am afraid one of these projects is spinning out of control. That has me a little worried, seeing how it is one I am really excited about. What’s happening there is that what began as a wacky idea for a short book that I thought would be maybe 30,000 words long has sort of ballooned. In fact the first draft currently stands at 40,000 words and I think I’m a little more than half way through. That shouldn’t be much of an issue as I usually have no problem letting my books take me where they will, but I do feel it is getting bloated with too much detail… and that the spirit of the book I set out to write has been lost somehow. Still, I am not giving up. Sure, it may need a lot of editing in the next round, and it will probably take much longer to be done, but there is no hurry. I know I can tell my time, that is the beauty of being a totally unknown writer… though this is shaping out to be one of those projects that leave me wondering just who the hell happens to be in control of my writing!

Killing language

Earlier today I came across this article about a couple of lawsuits that have been filed by the Faulkner estate for copyright infringement. One of these targets Woody Allen for daring to use a nine/ten word quote in a movie (words that were openly credited in the film), the other targets a defense contractor for quoting the author in an ad. From my perspective the second one of these lawsuits does have some merit (even in a full page ad, an identifiable quote is likely to represent a measurable chunk of the content of that ad, not to mention that a quotation under those circumstances can be seen as a tacit endorsement, and I agree that authors and their heirs have a right to refuse such a thing), but it is the first one of these lawsuits that I find not just troubling but also extremely dangerous.

Yes, copyright is important (though I also have to say that the laws that were meant to protect it have been badly abused in recent years)  and plagiarism should not be tolerated, but there is no plagiarism here, and as far as I am concerned this particular lawsuit is not only taking things too far, but if successful it threatens to set a precedent that would be extremely dangerous. Let’s face it, authors have been quoting each other for centuries, and when it comes to very short snippets the truth is that that may not even be deliberate. In fact I have read hundreds of books in my life, some as a child (to say nothing of countless newspapers, magazines, blog posts and other sources of written material, plus films and TV shows), and I freely admit that there are any number of turns of phrase that have crept into my long-term storage without the appropriate bibliographical reference attached. That comes with living and being human, it is part and parcel of the way in which we absorb language from the world around us. The question then becomes where do we draw the line. That is not an easy one to answer, but I do believe that the freedom to quote other authors, within reason, has always been one of the cornerstones of writing and literature as a whole. No, I would not extend that freedom to advertisement, that is a completely different kettle of fish as far as I am concerned, but when it comes to film and literature I do believe that suing over less than ten words out of a whole script is taking things a bit too far.

Now, as I reread my words, I can only hope that I won’t get sued for saying that extending such a freedom to advertisement would be ‘a completely different kettle of fish’, after all that particular expression is precisely one of those that have crept into my long-term storage without the appropriate bibliographical reference attached. I know I didn’t come up with it but I don’t know who did, and you know what? I don’t particularly care. It is a part of language, one of those expressions that are understood by most even if it doesn’t really seem to make much sense, and I suspect that by now its origins have been all but lost. That is how language lives, how it grows and how it thrives… and it is precisely that ability to thrive that I fear is being threatened by the Faulkner’s estate decision to sue over nine or ten words.

A nightmare in the amazon, an update

And now for an even more outrageous turn of events: as a punishment for the fact that I had the nerve to complain about the situation, amazon has decided to dissociate my e-mail address from my author central account, effectively leaving me stranded with the worst of both worlds. There is apparently no recourse and no appeal, though in the end I did manage to restore things manually… still a valuable lesson when it comes to the fact that this authorcentral is no friend of the author!

A nightmare in the amazon (beware of amazon’s author central)

A few days ago I decided to sign up for amazon’s author central as I had heard some pretty good things about that program, it featured some interesting goodies and hey, it was free, so what did I have to lose, right? Well, it turns out that I had a lot to lose, thank you oh so very much, because almost immediately the response I got by clicking my name in one of my books was a nicer page… in which all of my recent work, the ones that were actually published by amazon’s own subsidiary CreateSpace, were missing. Still, I didn’t panic as there was a note saying that those books would be added in a couple of days, which they were. So far, so… well, I wouldn’t say that was ‘good’, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it was ‘bad’.  In fact it was only when those books were added that things took a turn for the worse.

What happened was that the listing for Soulless, a book I had spent almost a year rewriting, defaulted to the old, out of print edition, though even after all this time amazon won’t list it as ‘out of print’, just as ‘out of stock’ (which is laughable for a POD published book, but that’s another story). I contacted them, asking them what I could do to fix that particular situation, and the reply I got amounted basically to ‘that’s the way our pages work, tough luck’… okay, not quite they did add a button that said that there’s a newer edition available, one I would have assumed would have been added by default when a new edition became available, but apparently it hadn’t been.

Also, as if their defaulting to the old edition weren’t bad enough, amazon had decided to link the old edition to the ‘look inside’ content of the new one… the fact that the content of both books is not the same is apparently irrelevant as far as they are concerned (to be fair, I have to say I’m not sure if this is a new development or if the problem had been there all along and I’ve just become aware of it as a result of this little SNAFU).

Anyway, back to the contact form I went. This time I clicked on the ‘I want to delete my Author Page’ option, as this seemed to be my only way out under the circumstances. Before I had even typed a single character that one had already gotten me a ‘he he, you are screwed’ message (okay, technically it read ‘In order to help customers better browse their favorite authors and find new ones, Author Pages are not removed’, but it amounted to the same thing). I wrote to them once more to try to explain once again what the problem was, and I am currently waiting for a response, but the thing is that, in light of the glowing reviews I had seen of that particular program, and how dismal my experiences with it have been in the short time I’ve been affiliated with it, I figured I might as well post this little heads-up, especially if you are trying to bring out a new edition of an existing title… or if there is even the smallest chance that you will someday have to do so.

Now to the obvious question: is this a real problem that is worth considering before signing up for this service, which does have some good things going for it, or is this just a one off fluke that is unlikely to come back to haunt most authors? Continue reading A nightmare in the amazon (beware of amazon’s author central)

Hammocks in the fall

One of the greatest joys of the summer is being able to curl up in a hammock with a good book. On the other hand, as most of us who enjoy hammocks year round can attest, a hammock in a cold day can get very cold very fast. Now, my hammock is indoors, so extreme weather is not an issue, but still my choices are to crank up the thermostat –something I try to avoid due to the whole carbon footprint thing– or to figure out a way to make my hammock a little more winter-friendly… an important concern, seeing how said hammock also doubles as my bed.

Now, first of all, let’s rule out what doesn’t work: sleeping bags. Yes, at first glance these would seem like the most logical solution and they are wonderful for sleeping on the ground, but they work by trapping a layer of air between your body and the outside world, and then using your own body heat to warm it. If you are on a hammock, however, your own weight is effectively squeezing the air out of the bottom part of that protective cocoon, and your sides and backside become an incredibly effective heat sink… not a pleasant experience by any stretch of the imagination (and keep in mind that while this is particularly true of sleeping bags, it applies to a lesser degree to other kinds of clothing).

Continue reading Hammocks in the fall

You get what you pay for and other canards

Today, for the first time, I deliberately deleted an active publisher from the comparison. Seeing how the company in question is based in the UK, and that the comparison focuses mostly on US based ones, it is one that wouldn’t even have been included if they hadn’t asked to be featured in it in the first place… in fact they asked to be included repeatedly. The problem is that dealing with the man behind this particular outfit turned out to be more trouble than it was worth, as he insisted on trying to dictate what my personal opinion should be… and seeing how this company operated in a completely different market to begin with it, its being there didn’t really make much sense.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, the fact that this company was deleted is the reason why the three trashcans sit neglected on an empty row, looking rather dejected (yes, I realize that reassigning that rating would have been the natural thing to do, but to do it would also have required a fairly substantial update. I will probably fix that in six months or so).

As for the decision to delete this particular company, I have to admit that it I am rather conflicted about that one.

On the one hand I feel that, by deleting that review, I am giving in to a bully and I hate that. On the other I feel that I have better things to do with my life that to try to explain myself to someone who is determined not to listen, and that seeing how I had only included the company in question because this person had asked me to, I felt that keeping it there just to spite him was rather childish (not to mention that I don’t need the aggravation of actually having to deal with this particular character).

In the end I think letting it go was right choice, especially because it was one of those publishers whose fees are so outrageously expensive (north of £3,500.00, to be accurate) that they will only be considered by someone who has already swallowed the whole ‘you get what you pay for’ canard… and those people are unlikely to be swayed by the fact that there are more affordable (as in costing a lot less than 1% of what this guy is charging), and in my opinion far better, options out there. These are people who ‘want the best’ and are convinced that they have to pay through the nose to get it.

Now, I know that may sound a little dismissive, and will even go so far as to admit that there are instances in which the most expensive option is actually the best one,  but what too many people don’t seem to realize is that there is a limit as to how far you can take that attitude when dealing with POD.

Yes, our books are our babies and we want them to be handled carefully –believe me, as a writer I most definitely get that– but the truth is that when your break-even point is above the thousand copies mark you have come to what is likely to be a losing proposition… or at best a less than advantageous one. Simply put, publishing is a business, money matters, and considering the differences in terms of quality and cost per copy, if your break-even point is above one thousand copies you may want to start looking into the possibility of an offset print run instead as the use of POD itself ceases to be cost-effective.