Saturday, April 30, 2005

Suffering blogger burnout? Try these tips

All us bloggers know how it feels - that general malaise about our blog, that feeling sometimes that we're in a rut when it comes to our entries. Thankfully, the litblog "Paperback Writer" has posted ten handy tips to help combat blogger burnout. The entry is full of great thought-provoking ideas, like getting out and producing some original content, stocking up on spare entries during the times when you're in a particularly writerly mood, and asking your readers what they would like to see you writing about more. Definitely an interesting read for those who are feeling a little down right now about their own blogs. (Thanks to Margaret Able at the litblog "Bookish Marginalia" for pointing this out.)

Lots of stuff about self-publishing on the web this week

So first Sarah Glazer writes an article for the New York Times Review of Books, talking about how self-published books are finally starting to get a little respect from the mainstream world. Then Dan Green of the litblog "The Reading Experience" posts his own thoughts on the article, and points to yet another new article on the subject, by Johnny Temple of Akashic Books and the indie-rock band Girls Against Boys. And then Scott Esposito of the litblog "Conversational Reading" gets into the conversation as well, disagreeing with some of the points but agreeing with many of the others. And I'm a subscriber of Scott's blog, which is how all this news got to me in the first place.

There's nothing here that an existing self-publisher doesn't already know; for those of you who don't know a lot about self-publishing, though, the collected content above is a treasure trove of thought-provoking statements and well-reasoned arguments for why more authors should be publishing their own books, instead of handing their babies over to the mainstream publishing industry. Wary? Consider this tidbit from Mr. Green's entry - that the vast, vast majority of novels published anymore by mainstream publishing companies sell less than 5,000 copies nationwide (and most a lot less - a few hundred in most cases). Not to mention, mainstream publishing companies for the most part have stopped spending any promotional money on these novels - even after the book is out, it's the author's job to set up a tour on their own, book their own appearances, run their own advertisements, and pay for the entire thing themselves.

As someone who's been self-publishing myself for ten years now, I can absolutely guarantee that a self-publisher can meet or break these national averages for most new novels. And in the meanwhile, not only are you in complete control over how the book reads and looks, but you're also keeping all the money the book makes (as opposed to getting only ten to fifteen percent of the cover price, as it works with most mainstream publishers). Not to mention, there's no need to convince some bitter failed novelist who's now a publishing executive why they should publish your book in the first place. Self-publishing is a concept whose time has definitely come; I encourage all writers out there to spend more time seriously contemplating such a project themselves.

Henry seeks Anais - please be needy, moody and dysfunctional

One of the stranger things I've seen in awhile - personal ads at the London Review of Books. (Thanks to Fimoculous for pointing this out.)

Enough with the freaky Skittles commercials, already!

An unusually great and entertaining article from Slate: The Death of Postmodernism; or, Why I Never Want to See One of Those Stupid Freaky Skittles Commercials Ever Again (my title, not theirs).

Virgin Galactic: "Commercial space flights by 2008"

From USAToday: In a session with a Congressional committee this week, Virgin Galactic promised that commercial space flights will be available to the general public by 2008, with a first spaceport in southern New Mexico. $200,000 gets you a two-hour flight; I believe they're already taking reservations, so act fast!

Another week of delays - but this time, a different reason

Sorry for the second week in a row of only intermittent posts. Two weeks ago it was because of technical problems with, but this week it was a different reason - namely, there wasn't anything interesting in the news to write about! It took me an entire week, in fact, to gather up the 10 to 15 items I'll be posting this weekend. Hmm, maybe it's time to start subscribing to a bunch of new feeds...

And speaking of feeds, why aren't you using RSS yet? That way your computer tells you when a website has updated, instead of you having to go to the site every day and curse the author for no new posts. The one I use and recommend is Bloglines; it's free, works great, is web-based so you can access it on the go, and even has a killer mobile version. You can find my own subscription links at the top of this page, although the easiest one is the simple Atom feed that Blogspot automatically produces -

It's official: Bush lied about Iraqi WMD

Well, it's official, as reported by the Associated Press - after 18 months, 1,000 officials and multiple tours of the entire country, the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group is officially disbanding, after finding not one single piece of evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction under Saddam Hussein's leadership. Why was this not a screaming front-page headline in most newspapers this week? The mainstream media certainly gave the subject a lot of press a couple of years ago, when Bush was outright lying to the American public, and presenting doctored photos to the United Nations, in order to justify an Empire-style invasion that by some counts has now caused the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqis. Where are all of you now that the truth has actually come out? Where are the screaming front-page headlines now?

Attention, journalists: Incidents like this are why the general public despises you, and are turning away from your organizations by droves. Wake up, get a clue, or go bankrupt - it's just that simple.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Live from Gingerman: An interview with Gapers Block's Andrew Huff

this is an audio post - click to play

For those who don't know, is a sort of hipster guide to things going on around Chicago, kind of like Gawker but not nearly as bitter and self-important. Gapers Block also holds a monthly boozefest at different pubs around the city, giving the staff a chance to get drunk with readers and to get the kind of feedback you'd never get from a focus group. Tonight's get-together was at Gingerman, coincidentally enough in my neighborhood; the MP3 file above is a five-minute interview I conducted with Andrew Huff, editor-in-chief, concerning all kinds of subjects - how GB is doing, what he thinks of all the mainstream media attention the site's been getting, and what it was like to get drunk with Jason Kottke at SxSW, among other topics.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Audio report: Star Wars Celebration III (part 2)

this is an audio post - click to play

My friend Shappy Seasholtz, a slam poet and comedy writer in New York, is in town right now, to do a feature at the Mental Graffiti poetry slam at the Funky Buddha. Much more important than this, though, Shappy also just got done attending Star Wars Celebration III in Indiana. Here, part 2 of his audio commentary, including his run-in with character actor Warwick Davis, along with a conspiracy theory involving George Lucas, Queen Amedalia, and the attempt by the Star Wars crew to create sexy outfits for female convention attendees.

Live from Funky Buddha: Shappy Seasholtz, "The Soldiers Took My Babies!"

this is an audio post - click to play

I'm at the Funky Buddha tonight, a hipster bar near Grand and Milwaukee, attending the Mental Graffiti poetry slam. The feature tonight is my old friend Shappy Seasholtz, now a successful writer and comedy writer in New York. Here, by wonderful accident, a complete recording at the show of Shappy's classic poem, "The Soldiers Took My Babies!"

Audio report: Star Wars Celebration III

this is an audio post - click to play

My friend Shappy Seasholtz is in town, a slam poet and comedy writer based out of New York. Shappy, though, also happened to attend Star Wars Celebration III in Indiana this weekend as well; here is a five-minute audio report about it from him, including his thoughts on the 22 minutes of Episode III he got to preview at the convention.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

New ambient computing devices

Regular readers of my main journal will know that I'm a little obsessed with "ambient computing devices" - that is, physical devices which, while presenting the same data-heavy information we would get from computers, present this information in a way that's easier for us humans to metaphorically analyze than simply a screenful of numbers and figures. So you might have a water fountain in your back yard, for example, whose pressure is tied to the worth of your stock portfolio, and when it's up the water shoots higher, and when it's down it shoots lower. You're getting just enough information to know whether to start panicking or start celebrating on any given day; if the fountain's empty, of course, or shooting over the roof of your house, you can always then jump online and get the detailed figures. There's a growing amount of such devices on the market, in fact - glass sculptures that glow blue to red, depending on the temperature outside, or barometer-type dials you hang on the wall, showing how many new emails you have.

And now you can add another entrepreneur to the list - Giovanni Cannata, an Italian graduate student who took on as a thesis the challenge of delivering internet tools to people who simply don't like using computers (like, er, a lot of older Italians, according to him). His solution - a series of ultra-simple standalone devices, like appliances in a kitchen, each dedicated to one thing an older person might enjoy doing online (exchanging photos, exchanging email, receiving internet television, VoIP calls, etc), connectable in a limited way by actual physical gestures the person uses on the device. So caress the right side of a picture frame, and it brings up new photos of the grandkids your daughter just sent. Touch the image, and the picture of the family prompts the phone to dial the family's number, or to bring up a new email to that family.

Ingenious! I can't wait to see what commercial applications might come from this graduate thesis. (Thanks as always to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)

Mac Mini 'pirate ship' closer to reality

A couple of weeks ago here I was contemplating the theoretical rise of Mac Mini "pirate ships" on college campuses; that is, of a Mac Mini whose entire hard drive was dedicated to holding MP3s and a copy of iTunes, with a cheap PDA-sized monitor and wireless mouse, which could be physically carried from undergraduate party to undergraduate party, where partygoers would both upload music from their own iPod to the pirate ship (creating an always-expanding "jukebox" of music), and download songs they want from the jukebox to their own portable device, without ever coming to the attention of the RIAA Dream Police (er, Internet Police). Well, a company called MicroNet seems to be thinking along the same lines; they've recently released the miniMate, an external hard drive that's the same exact dimensions as the Mini (width and depth, that is, not height), and simply plugs right up to the bottom of it. The miniMate adds a whopping seven new ports to the Mini (three Firewire and four USB), meaning that some smart hacker out there could have up to half a dozen iPod owners interacting with the pirate ship at once; and for just $500, you can trick that baby out to a full 400 gigabytes of extra space (or an average of 80,000 extra songs that could be stored on the pirate ship, on top of whatever size your internal hard drive is). Ahoy, mateys - I feel another underground revolution coming. Well, okay, I feel another excuse for undergraduates to get together on Tuesday nights and drink 'til they're blind. AAARRGGHHHH! (Thanks to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)

Chicagoans, meet Guy Maddin for free

Chicagoans - want to meet Guy Maddin for free? You know, the celebrated experimental filmmakers whose last movie was the critically-acclaimed The Saddest Music in the World? The University of Chicago will be showing this movie for free this Wednesday, in fact, with a Q&A session with the director afterwards. The next evening, then, Mr. Maddin is delivering a free lecture at 5 pm as well, entitled "Goat Glands, Carpet Underlay, and Cinema Sat Backwards." All events are at the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall; needless to say, seating is limited, and I imagine there's going to be quite a fight just to get the few that actually exist at that little campus movie theatre. (Thanks to for pointing this out.)

A whole pile of new stuff for Palm Treo

Okay, so PalmAddicts puts out like 60 damn updates a day, and runs a large-memory photo with each one too, making sometimes for a very frustrating RSS experience (especially while reading on a mobile device, like I do). But man, just look at all the cool things one can discover on a random day: A Treo news and link site designed specifically for the "Blazer" mobile browser; a great weather website, also designed specifically for mobile browsers; a new free IM client (AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, etc) specifically for the Treo; a new eBook reader for Palm with changable skins; oh, the list just goes on and on! And meanwhile, had news this week about a new stand-alone application from Handango, that lets Treo owners connect with the site without the need of a browser, and download software straight from the site to their device without the need of a ZIP deflator. What a great week to be a Treo owner!

Michael Moore establishes 'rebel' scholarship

Go, Michael Moore! The eternal troublemaker announced this week the establishment of the "Michael Moore Freedom of Speech Scholarship" at California State University, San Marcos - a total of $5,000 will be given out each year to students "who have done the most to fight for issues of student rights by standing up to the administration." CSU-SM, for those who might not remember, was the school which abruptly revoked Moore's invitation to speak last year, because of pressure from school-related conservative groups. Moore ended up holding a rally off-campus, attended by over 10,000 people, and announced then the upcoming creation of a "hellraiser" scholarship; the news this week is simply Moore following through on the promise.

LBC gets yet more press

My friends at the Lit Blog Co-op have scored yet another article in the mainstream media, this time at The Book Standard. I'm still trying to figure out whether they've got some amazingly effective secret PR person in their midst, or if this is simply a case of Victor Hugo's quote coming true - that "nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

a (m)uch-nEEded/praise:of e[e] cummings

Slate has a well-deserved critical examination of poet e.e. cummings up this week, a writer I believe more relevant right now than ever before, given the experimental, online days in which we live. Poor e.e. cummings - once revered as a Modernist giant, his reputation recently has become one of "that dude high-school students like because his lines look all funny and shit." There's a lot, lot more to cummings' work than simply funny-looking lines, and I especially encourage bloggers, hyperfiction authors and other online writers to check out the ways the man manipulated language for the benefit of his readers, and blurred the lines between the artistic and the scientific that in some ways are still ahead of their time.

Order photos online, pick 'em up at Target

Pretty smart: Physical retailer Target has announced a partnership with Yahoo Photos. Basically, you can now have your local Target print any photo found in your Yahoo Photos account for 19 cents apiece (as well as specialized gifts as mugs, bags, calendars and mousepads), then simply stop by your local Target later that day to pick them up. The genius, of course, is that it requires no extra work on the part of any current Yahoo Photos user, stlil gives all the same online benefits it was before (sharing photos, slideshows, etc), but adds a whole new benefit as well (basically, letting any other visitor, like a grandmother or a sibling, order physical prints of the photos as well, and to pick it up at their own local Target). Click here to get started yourself. (Thanks to "Online Marketing Blog" for pointing this out.)

Stamp out slacktivism - sign this online petition!

The UK's Times coined an interesting phrase last week - 'slacktivism,' or (from the article), "the counter-intuitive idea that you can somehow change the world and topple its complacent political classes without even rising from your chair." Liberals, of course, are long familiar with slacktivism already; think of the dozen online petitions you receive from your well-meaning friends on a weekly basis, urging you to sign and to help release this third-world prisoner, and to protest that right-wing leader, and to support the erasing of debt of that other emerging nation.

Let's face the ugly facts - it was slacktivism that was directly responsible for Howard Dean losing the nomination during the 2004 presidential campaign, and slacktivism that directly led to Bush getting re-elected later that same year. Getting press and publicity are fine things, and definitely should be used during any activist campaign; but when an issue is ultimately decided by people pulling a lever in a polling booth, unfortunately you have to actually get people to the polling booth to make a difference. Many of us were shocked in early 2004, when Dean's supposedly insurmountable lead in the Democratic race suddenly dissolved like a paper kite in a rainstorm, when it came time for the first actual primary out in New Hampshire; once many of us learned the cause (that the thousands of young people out there screaming on the internet for Dean didn't bother to actually vote), it was the start of the long, depressing farce known as the 2004 Presidential Election. A little advice for all those would-be slacktivists out there, who actually are interested in making a difference - put down that online petition, shut your screaming mouth, get off your ass and actually do something. Republicans, censors and anti-choice nuts seem to understand this lesson just fine; why can't you? (Thanks to "The Artful Manager" for pointing this out.)

Publishers get blogs, publishers don't get blogs

The good news? The mainstream publishing industry seems to finally be noticing bloggers a little more, and are starting to publish a series of books by them. The problem? As Scott Esposito points out, most of the bloggers being picked suck, and the majority of the books being published are not much more than paper-based versions of old blog entries. And man, I can barely stand most blogs as they are, even when they're being delivered to me one tiny piece a day; why I would pay money to read a bunch of these blog entries at once in paper form is simply beyond me.

For what it's worth, I myself have been approached a total of four times over the years by various mainstream publishing companies, about doing a book version of my personal blog. Like I said, I can't see much of a point in publishing a paper version of something as naval-gazing and uninteresting as a personal journal, so have always suggested to these people that perhaps they might print one of my books that are meant to be read as books - one of my novels, perhaps, or one of my travel books. In all four cases, though, the truth quickly came out: none of these people actually considered me a good writer, or at least good enough to publish one of my books meant to be a book, but had simply heard that I have a big audience at my personal journal and wanted to find a way to quickly cash in on that notoriety. Writers who think a "blog book" will lead to more deals and opportunities in the publishing industry should be warned - it won't. At least in my experiences, editors at publishing houses are merely looking at bloggers right now as yet another disposable form of quick income, not as writers unto themselves worth publishing and reading.