Monday, April 30, 2007
"They're famous because of their accessability, readability, flow, and entertainment, not because of their talent as writers. The average person doesn't know jack about good writing, which is why there's little correlation between great writing and popularity."
I rather think that readability, flow, and entertainment are among the qualities of good writing, although they certainly aren't the only ones. How would you define good or great writing? What attracts you to someone's literary efforts?
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Rocky Stream of Consciousness
In a later post, he explains the lack of crossing out in his drafts. (Scroll toward the bottom of the post.) He writes using a stream-of-consciousness method that I've seen recommended for writing in order to get something down on the page quickly. Well, now, let me tell you, my stream-of-consciousness is full of rocks and my thoughts are continually getting hung up on them. Stop - start - go around - burble, burble, burble. My notebooks are pure disasters. It's why I won't use fancy journals for writing. They look so beautiful, all blank and perfect, and they tend to be spendy, so I don't want to mess them up. Instead, I write in cheap (10 cents on back-to-school sales) notebooks. I keep all of my writing notebooks and try to write an index on the front cover. Some of my ideas carry over from notebook to notebook if they're something I want to keep working on. I don't believe I'll ever get to a point where my stream-of-consciousness flows clearly enough for a nice journal, but I'm not going to sweat it. In this case, it's the story destination I'm after and not the smoothness of the path. My hat's off to Neil, though, for making it look so easy.
Btw, if you have the time, read the rest of that second post I've linked. It's quite endearing. Neil doesn't feel that he's in the same league as other writers appearing at a reading event that includes Steve Martin and Salman Rushdie, among other major authors. Hey, I'd want to attend specifically for Neil - and also Steve Martin, both of whom are among my list of favorite writers.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
In the Zone
After the recycling, I decided I'd take on some yard work. I'm not much for gardening, but the herb garden was filled with leaves and long, scraggly, dried-up herbs and the job didn't look that strenuous, so I got to work on cleaning it out. What you seen in the photo is the end result. Turns out that herbs grow beautifully in our sandy soil, while most other veggies and flowers do not. We created this herb garden a couple of years ago using bricks left over from remodeling. (We're hoping the herbs come back. If not, it's time to replant.) The bricks are a local variety from when we had brickyards in town between the 1890s and 1920s. They are quite soft and not at all appropriate for landscaping as they flake and break easily. The one saving grace about this is that the bricks came from the ground and they're going back to the ground - another form of recycling.
While I was working in the yard, I figured I could get some thinking time in. I'm trying to imagine a character's home and belongings for a short story and thought that gardening would free my mind for the task. Not so. The more I worked, the less I thought. I slipped into a zone of no-thought, which was quite meditative. The same thing happened later, when the hubby and I hopped on the motorcycle and went for a ride. It's my first of the season. The hubby's been out a number of times already. I don't have a motorcycle endorsement, or a cycle of my own, so I'm always a passenger. It's fun to sit and let someone else handle the driving. Without having the worry of watching the road, I immediately slip into the zone, which is enhanced by the buzz of the cycle and the rushing wind. The zone is so relaxing that after being on the bike for about an hour, I have a tendency to fall asleep. This is not a good thing, for obvious reasons. Maybe, if we had a massive touring bike with armrests, I could get away with this. I have to concentrate really really hard to keep from falling asleep. If I do start nodding off, my body slips a little and I jerk myself awake. My husband jokes that I need to have bungie cords strapped around me to hold me on. I just pray that being in the zone won't cause an accident one day.
About Yesterday's Post
Friday, April 27, 2007
That sums up my mean streak. It's not a big thing, but it comes out once in a while in weird ways. For example, I've taken a perverse pleasure in doing blog searches on Dave Matthews Band and reading the negative comments people make. One blog writer used to like DMB, but quit listening after coming to Christianity. The reason? DMB's music wasn't holy enough because it glorified partying. Someone else - well, a lot of someone elses - think DMB's music simply sucks. Of course, I disagree, but I still like reading this trash talk. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it's because I like to think of myself as a discerning individual and, if everyone under the sun likes the same thing I do, well, I'm no longer discerning, am I? I'm just one of the herd. And I don't like being part of the herd.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The First Law of Design
Good design enhances communication; poor design hinders it.
Wired Magazine Doesn't Look Good in a Speedo
The folks at Wired redesigned the magazine, unveiling their changes in the February 2007 issue (or issue 15.02, if you're into Wired-speak). They explained their changes in the Chat (formerly Rants & Raves) section and, along the way, mentioned that they'd tweaked their logo so that it now obeyed the Law of Optical Volumes. They asked for feedback on the redesign. I obliged with the following:
Wired, you've gone crazy with the Cheese Whiz and now my eyeballs are screaming, "Make the confusion stop!" John Hodgman may like the typography, but did you have to pick FOUR different types? My grandpa, an old-school sign painter who painted the names on ships during World War II, always said that it was easier to get a message across by using a single font. Now, I'm not suggesting you drop three out of the four, but take a good look at page 60 in the February 2007 issue and tell me it's not a complete mess. The one font that doesn't work for me is used in the body text of the article on Brian Eno on page 68. It's squished and difficult to read. I realized there was a problem with the new design when I discovered that I was skipping articles at the front of the magazine, something I didn't do before. When I did a comparison of this month's and last month's issues, I saw a cohesiveness in the previous magazine that has gone missing, especially in the front section.
Okay, that was the rant. Here's the rave: I love the new graphics for Chat, Start, Posts, Play and Found. The words arranged in colored squares the way you've done reminds me of Asian script, or illuminated manuscripts. The slider bar with the "lit" rectangle denoting the page reminds me of a graphic equalizer. Perfection! I also like the new look of Expired/Tired/Wired. The serif-style typography used for the body of the feature articles reads well.
You still have great articles. A little more tweaking to rid your pages of eyeball freak-attacks and you'll have it.
P.S. I don't know anything about the Law of Optical Volumes, but did notice that you reversed the serif and sans serif letters in your logo.
Wired published this letter on their website.
Then, in the April 2007 (15.04) issue, the folks at Wired got snippy about all of the reader feedback. Their little missive appeared at the top of page 27 as an introduction to Rants (formerly Chat). That got me steamed. If you're going to ask for feedback, you better darned well be prepared to take it, so I wrote another letter, thusly:
Thanks for the bitch-slap, Wired. You redesign your magazine, you ask us for feedback, and when you get it, you accuse us of being unable to embrace uncertainty. And this you do in your Radical Transparency "we're so open" issue. The irony is not lost.
It's not uncertainty that's the problem; it's your flirtation with poor design and your apparent inability to deal with criticism. Grow a pair of Thatchers, take your lumps, and thank your lucky iPods you have readers who are astute enough to use "$10 words" like "gauche, frenetic, and abrasive," which, for the literate, are worth no more that $2.50 apiece.
(Wired has asked permission to publish this too, so they're not completely without Thatchers. Thatchers is a Stephen Colbert word, in case you are unfamiliar with it.)
That leads us to the current issue of Wired, May 2007 (15.05), in which the creators reveal a little secret. Remember that term 'Law of Optical Volumes'? Here's what they have to say about it on page 21:
We said that our new logo obeys the Law of Optical Volumes, and our resourceful readers promptly searched the Internet for the existence of such a law. So we confess: Scott Dadich, our creative director, sort of invented it. We explain his thinking on the Underwire, one of the 60 gazillion blogs we now run (blog.wired.com).
The excessive selection of new typefaces, the snippiness about feedback, the sneakiness concerning an invented term, this is not the Wired magazine I came to love. There's a pall of . . . hmm, what's the word? . . . oh, yeah . . . arrogance . . . that seems to lace its pages now. Perhaps the magazine's staff is feeling the flush of being ultra-popular, or is recognizing the success of Editor in Chief Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail. I can't be sure, but it's almost as if Wired has become aware of the fact that it's a cool magazine and now thinks it looks good in a Speedo. They can do anything and get away with it. In the spirit of making up laws - The First Law of Coolification is that you can't try to be cool. If you try, you're no longer cool. Wired's cool used to come naturally; now it feels forced.
In all fairness to Wired, I have seen many other organizations attempting to be cool & hip, trying to lure a Gen X or Millennial audience. That's not going to work in the long run. There has been study after study of these groups and what marks them is a resistence to marketing and slick messages. You'd better be authentic and don't even try to be cool because we'll see it for the lame ploy that it is. We'd rather flock to the dude in the swim cap, Burmuda shorts and striped tube socks. Now that's cool.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Photos of Rain
For your viewing pleasure, photos courtesy of my illustrious daughter, of the rain storm we had this past Sunday. We got drenched, which should be obvious from the puddles forming on our sidewalk.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Q & A
Here's an interview with Vikas Swarup by Channel NewsAsia.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Our kids wondered about this song and the Major Tom story. For those who don't know, Major Tom was a character in at least two songs by David Bowie - "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes". Major Tom is an astronaut who leaves his space craft and floats into space. Listeners are left to wonder what happens to him and what has to be going through his mind as he realizes he's a goner. (I'm admittedly not an expert on Bowie's music, so if Major Tom showed up in any of his other songs, let me know.)
In my opinion, Peter Schilling's Major Tom song is more melodic than Bowie's songs, although Bowie's leave me feeling infinitely more unsettled, which I think was the point. If Schilling had written his song in today's copyright climate, Bowie's music industry representatives would have slapped him with a cease-and-desist order or sued him. Thankfully, Bowie didn't get his undies in a twist and one of his characters led to further creative exploration. Does anyone know whether Major Tom has shown up in anyone else's creative work?
The only other song I can think of with this strange astronaut imagery is Peter Mayer's "Astronaut Dreams." (Sorry, I can't find a recording of this for you to listen to online.)
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Minnesota's Basic Skills Tests
The writing test involves a prompt to which students have to write an essay. Our son's prompt was this: "Think of a time when a person you know did something you admired. Describe what this person did and explain why you admired it. Include details so your reader can understand the situation."
Scoring falls on a six-point scale, with six being the highest possible score. To get a six, the paper has to meet the following guidelines:
"Related to the assigned topic, consistently focused on a central idea, evenly & richly developed with ample supporting detail to clarify & expand central idea, containing a purposefully crafted beginning, middle & end with an overall sense of wholeness, demonstrating a consistent control of language enhancing overall qualtiy, demonstrating a command of the rules of sentence formation, word usage & mechanics."
Here's what I want to do. Let's get a bunch of accomplished writers - Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, etc. - and have them take the test. I'd love to see how they'd score. What might that tell us about the test?
Alec "Holy Crap" Baldwin
If Alec had had his head on straight, and had not taken out his rage at his ex on his daughter, he could have said something like this: "I'm disappointed in you, darling. I've taken time off to speak to you and you're not available. While this is your choice and it hurts, I'm not going to force you to talk to me. I'll be always available if you should want to call me, but the ball's in your court now." Which message would you have been more likely to respond to?
Friday, April 20, 2007
So, now, what inspires you to fits of creativity? Feel free to be more specific than I was. (Science, sheesh! That about covers everything, doesn't it?)
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Conversations with God, Book I - by Neale Donald Walsch - This book changed my worldview, especially the point God, speaking through Neale, makes about Hitler going to heaven.
Brand Hijack by Alex Wipperfurth - Consumers take over!
Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnick - Snappy little book about breaking writing rules.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser - Good, solid writing advice.
On Writing by Stephen King - Enjoyable, with excellent advice on how to deal with criticism.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - I so want to prove the tipping point in some way.
Baby & Childcare by Dr. Benjamin Spock - Saved us from a screaming infant.
Yoga for Wimps by Miriam Austin - Easy yoga with a low time commitment. Made me limber.
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson - Liked the premise of this book, but now the term is used so much that I'm starting to get sick of it.
Beyond the Writers Workshop by Carol Bly - Made me not put as much stock in other people's opinions of my writing.
Anything by Brenda Ueland - She was a Minnesota writer who was full of moxie. One of the first women in her community to wear pants in public. She coined the term "moodling."
Anything by Seth Godin - Energetic, good ideas, tries to get businesses to be remarkable, instead of half-assed.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch & James F. Balch - The Bible of healthcare options in our house.
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen - Along with being straight-out fascinating, this helped me see how history is told through the voice of the victors.
The Dictionary and the Thesaurus - any will do - they are indispensible.
Okay, your turn. What are your favorite nonfiction books?
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
We Can't Always Be Prepared
There are all sorts of questions about why students weren't notified and the school locked down after the first shootings. I think that it's natural for people to think about how the further shootings could have been prevented, but two hours (the amount of time between the first shootings and the first notification) is not a lot of time to figure out what happened, try to find the suspect, and compose a response that tells everyone what happened. There has also been talk of how other schools can prepare for similar situations. While this, too, is a natural response - we all want our children safe - we cannot possibly prepare for the various permutations of a mind that has gone awry. We cannot prepare for every possible disaster. What we can do is realize that whatever gets thrown our way, we will find the best way to cope while we are in it. We are remarkable in our adaptability and ingenuity.
My condolences to those touched by this incredible tragedy.
Getting the Message
Before going on and on wondering what the term "business model" meant, I should have done my homework. I found the term defined on Wikipedia. Turns out that, even though the term was coined in the 1950s, it didn't see widespread use until the 1990s, so I guess I shouldn't be too hard on myself for not knowing it. It refers to all the how-tos and where-fors and why-ofs and what-ifs of business, not the general notion of selling products and services for a profit. By dropping that post, which, despite its length, I wrote in about fifteen minutes, I did learn one thing: Economists don't read this blog!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
New Business Model
To figure something out, I like to break it down to its essence. In business, a company sells products or services. Products, at their core, are natural resources - physical stuff like food, minerals, wood, human-made things, etc. When you buy a service, on the other hand, you are buying something intangible, albeit no less real. You're buying time (like when a maid comes and cleans your house, so you don't have to), expertise (like the computer tech who fixes your hard drive after it decides not to work), entertainment (music, movies), knowledge, and attention (you buy attention when you engage the services of an advertiser).
Back when we were a nomadic society, and even in the earliest days of agrarian culture, we "bought" things through barter. "I'll give you ten chickens for that rug." This wasn't always a convenient way to conduct business. What if the rug maker wants a pig, but all you have is chickens? Then, the bright idea of currency dawned. Money became the stand-in for anything of value. (Realize that an entire society has to buy in to this idea for it to work. If someone decides that a currency isn't worth anything, he isn't going to give you a rug for a bunch of coins.) Today, after the New Age movement, many of us think of money as a symbol of energy - the energy it takes to produce something, or the time spent earning that money.
In my estimation, this is the ultimate definition of the term "business model," which is why I'm confused when people talk about a new business model being on the horizon. The fact that we have hierarchical organizations or sole proprietorships, whether we sell in a physical location or online, whether someone works in a factory, a cubicle, or from home, or all the permutations a business can take in selling products and services, these are merely frills to the underlying scheme. Sell your goods and services and make as much money out of the deal as you can. In order to get back more than you give (profit!), you have to convince the buyer that your goods and services are worth more, or you have to cut your costs in providing that good or service.
The sources that indicate there is to be a new business model point to the internet as the source of that model. They talk about the reduction in cost of holding inventory. If the goods we buy can be held in a warehouse, or better yet, held as bits and bytes of digital data, which costs virtually nothing, the seller can make more money. Yay for the seller! But this is still no different from the basic premise of doing business. We've just learned how to bring costs down to practically zero.
The other area in which I see talk of a new business model is in the music industry. Here, people are saying that the music itself will no longer be the product. Musicians will make money through peripherals, selling concert tickets and merchandise. Honestly, how long in the history of human beings on earth have musicians actually made money on the music itself? Before the advent of recorded music and copyright laws, musicians likely made their money on the performances, so we're coming full-circle.
Even stripping it all down, the idea of the "business model" still confuses me. Is it the basis of business, or does it include the frills of how that business is conducted? I wish some bright economist could explain this to me. Then maybe I could begin to see what people mean when they start jabbering about a NEW business model.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
While I didn't take any pictures at the pow-wow, I did capture a particularly nice photo of a sumac silhouetted against a lovely blue sky with white clouds. See for yourself:
I'm quite fond of interesting lighting effects in photos. Here's sunlight streaming through a glass on our kitchen counter:
Okay, so this last one was probably just an excuse to post another picture, but I really do like how the light shows the transparency of the glass.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Tag - You're It!
As an aside: Did you know that tagging developed from metatags? (I think I learned this on Pi's website.) Metatags are built into the hidden part of website code and they allow search engines to find your website by topic. Good metatags are critical for raising your ranking on search engines, which is why there are people and companies that'll play fast and loose with both metatags and tags.
Another aside: Neil Gaiman is known for his unusual tags. Check out his tag cloud. (Tag clouds are just the coolest thing ever!)
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
April 13, 2007 - Addendum: How could I forget to tag Freddy Mercury? What am I thinking? All fixed.
Milk Transfer Station - Pouf!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
P.S. If any of you can walk me through loading WordPress properly using cPanel and Fantastico, I'd appreciate it. I'm part way through the process, but don't know what to do next to get it to do what I want. Thanks.
Monday, April 09, 2007
Looking for White Space
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Saturday, April 07, 2007
More on Favorite Books
Michael Crichton - The guy really knows how to tell a story, always with a scientific bent, which I really like.
Edgar Allan Poe - The original master of horror. My absolute favorite of his is the poem "The Raven." Nothing beats reading this aloud.
J.K. Rowling - Imaginative, able to write about a gazillion characters and somehow readers manage to keep them all straight. I've only read books 1-4, so I have some catching up to do.
Amulya Malladi - I have loved both of the books I've read of hers - "The Mango Season" and "Serving Crazy with Curry." I think perhaps I've been reincarnated from India. I have always had an affinity for the country. Maybe it's just because I read and loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's books as a kid ("The Secret Garden" and "A Little Princess").
Stephen King - For as prolific as this guy is, I've only read two of his books - "On Writing" and "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Both are fabulous. I shy away from his horror because I'm not a horror fan, except for Poe, of course.
Margaret Atwood - She's an excellent writer, and she's here for that reason. The endings of her stories are dark and leave me very unsettled, which is why they didn't make my very best list.
Kate DiCamillo - "Because of Winn Dixie" and "The Tale of Despereaux" are simply wonderful children's stories. They hooked me.
Growing up, I was a huge mystery reader. Agatha Christie, the Nancy Drew series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Alfred Hitchcock's compilations of short stories were the thing. I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss, but more so as an adult than I was as a kid. My all-time favorite children's book was a Little Golden Book called "The Saggy Baggy Elephant." One-two-three, kick! One-two-three, kick! He danced through the forest, and then someone made fun of him and he hid in a cave. Eventually, he is told by other elephants that he is beautiful and he is happy again.
This list and my previous one barely scratch the surface of all the reading I've done in my life. There's nothing in here that's nonfiction, for one. My other problem is that I've read many marvelous books over the years, but they don't stick with me. In order to keep track (which helped me with today's post), I've been recording the books I read in a small notebook since 2003. It's annotated, which jogs my memory. It also shows me that I've spent a lot of time reading. Yeah!
Friday, April 06, 2007
Leaving Passwords to Heirs
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Shop Girl by Steve Martin
My Lord Bag of Rice by Carol Bly
Anne of Green Gables (the first in the series) by L. M. Montgomery
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Lamb by Christopher Moore
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Charley by Joan Robinson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
That's my top ten, and most of them will remain on my list for a long time because I read a bunch of them when I was a kid and they've stuck with me all this time. So, what books would you include in your top ten?
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
The eldest painted the youngest. The armor, made entirely of cardboard by the eldest, was a previous project. The whole arrangement works well in that the eldest likes to design costumes and the youngest likes to dress up in them.
P.S. In case you hadn't noticed, I finally figured out how to post pictures. I'm thrilled no end.