Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sojourns In Nature

From time to time, I talk about a photographer I found on the web. I confess I don't know much about photography in general or in particular, but I know what I like.

What I like, very much, is the photography of Robert Servranckx. Robert started out a few years ago, taking pictures of his two labs, Gryphon and Syrah, and found a passion for the medium. And the passion is paired with an incredible eye, especially for birds. Gustav Verderber, another awesome nature photographer, initially gave space to Robert on his website. It is a measure of the quality of Robert's photography that Verderber has now ensconsed Rob's photos with his own.

Well worth the visit.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rats, he's gone

I couldn't pass this one up, it's too delicious. New Zealand scientists tried to discover why rats are so difficult to eradicate by dumping a single rat on a deserted island then trying to catch it. Him, I should say, because the darn rat showed almost human intelligence. He evaded traps, baits, and other nasties for four months, then was finally found on another island 400 meters from the island he was dropped on. On top of it, the rat had a radio collar!
"After 10 weeks on the island the rodent decided it had had enough. It swam 400 meters, the longest distance recorded for a rat across open sea, to another rat-free island where it was eventually captured in a trap baited with penguin meat several weeks later."
Huh. Talk about survival of the fittest.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's in the BAG

I've been increasingly enjoying the BAGnewsNotes entries, which are political commentaries based daily media pictures. Michael Shaw is a clinical psychologist whose research "involves the psychology of character and the everyday presentation of self. His research has dealt primarily with symbolic expression, the process of visual narrative, and the psychological function of metaphor."

This bent is evident in his analyses. They are incisive, sometimes funny, often quirky. Well worth a visit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Cliché Finder

Cat got your tongue? Do you work day and night not to use clichés? The truth is out there, in the form of the Cliché Finder. Just pop in a word, click the search button and voilà! It's a sad sack who can't use it to do a clean sweep of these overdone expressions. This is the work of Morgan Friedman, who looks like a very busy man.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's so easy to write

Ink Slinger again, but this time his website. Paul Guyot has an interesting take on why people think it's easy to write:
"There are two reasons, actually. The first is what I call the Summer Vacation syndrome. Every person has, at one time, had to write something. In elementary school it was the "How I spent my summer vacation" essay. In high school it was the "Analysis of manuscript," formerly known as a book report. In college it was the "Thesis."
I hadn't thought about it in that particular way, but it struck me as quite true. Everyone in school had to write some kind of essay or story, and were graded on it. If you got an A, doesn't that mean that you're good? That it's easy to write?

To paraphrase Lawrence Block, many writers want to have been published. They want the hardcover with their names on it in Chapters, or Barnes and Noble, or on amazon. That is the accomplishment. Never mind having to spend time perfecting the craft. I'm not talking about spelling and grammar, although both are necessary basics. I'm talking about mastering character motivation, structure, description, style, tone, setting, conflict, action, suspense.

Plot? Sure, that's important, too, but these days there are too many good stories badly written. Case in point, The Da Vinci Code, which has been on the best seller lists (but we know about these, now, don't we?) for months and is a badly written book.

This seems to reinforce the idea that it's okay not to know how to write well, as long as the story is sensational enough. And of course, if you're a celebrity, then even the story itself doesn't count. They're selling their names, not the content of the book.

Doesn't matter. I'll continue to try to perfect my craft because, even though I'm not a literary writer and never will be, it's important to me to give my readers the best experience possible. I want them to say, at the end of the book, that words flowed so well they couldn't put it down.

Monday, October 24, 2005


An interesting informal survey at Ink Slinger on the importance of a striking book cover. People do judge books by their cover.

A revealing article at Independent Publisher on bestseller lists and book returns. Those lists are not what they seem. The article also mentions the Book Standard's "real" bestseller list, based on numbers of books sold rather than numbers of books ordered by bookstores.

In Wired News, an article on businesses blocking blog sites at work.

Why I love my Library

Last week I went to a book sale that benefited the Friends of my local library. They advertised 8 miles of books at up to 80% discount, and they delivered. I admit it, I went into a feeding frenzy and came out with $70 worth of books. Most of them unknown authors (to me anyway), except for a Salman Rushdie and a Nora Roberts I intend to give away.

Well, the authors were unknown (to me anyway) for a reason. The books are crap. The writing is crap. The stories are crap. Sigh. And I paid good money for them.

Then, last week again, I picked up Squeeze Play from R. J. Kaiser at my local library. It looked interesting. Wrong. The writing was crap. The story was crap. I stopped reading after 80 pages. The difference? Reading that book didn't cost me a penny.

Gotta love the library. Go get some books, people. Encourage your local library.

Friday, October 21, 2005

How many have you read?

And having seen the movie doesn't count. Chapters Indigo has come out with its Top 100 Readers' Choice. Here they are, from first to one-hundreth:
  • The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  • A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling
  • Angels and Demons, Dan Brown
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
  • Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, J. K. Rowling
  • Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • The Stand, Stephen King
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
  • Dune, Frank Herbert
  • The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
  • Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet
  • The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
  • I Know this Much is True, Wally Lamb
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
  • The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
  • Gift and award Bible NIV, Various
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • The Cound of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb
  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  • Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  • Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Stone Angel, Margaret Laurence
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling
  • The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
  • War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  • Interview with the Vampire, Ann Rice
  • Fifth Business, Robertson Davies
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Shogun, James Clavell
  • The English Patient, Michael Oondatje
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • The World According to Garp, John Irving
  • The Diviners, Margaret Laurence
  • Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
  • Mot wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findley
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  • Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  • Wizard's First Rule, Terry Goodkind
  • Emma, Jane Austen
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
  • Blindness, Jose Saramago
  • Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer
  • In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Oondatje
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
  • Th Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
  • White Oleander, Janet Fitch
  • A Woman of Substance, Barbara Taylor Bradford
  • The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield
  • Ulysses, James Joyce

In cases like this, thank God for libraries.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Currently Reading...

Under the Duvet: Shoes, Reviews, Having the Blues, Builders, Babies, Families and Other Calamities, by Marian Keyes.

In Under the Duvet, Keyes talks about her (somewhat dysfunctional) life in a series of essays, most of which were published in the Tatler. From her loathing of gardening to her dark days with alcohol abuse, she unveils her thoughts and feelings about the terrors and bliss of living, in a very Irish way. It's not only the language that's different (crisps instead of chips, boot instead of trunk, etc.), it's the mindset of being a woman in Ireland. Typically, the women in the essays are more fleshed out than the men, which makes the poor men always sound dense and unenlightened, while the women put up with it because that's just the way it is. Despite the cultural differences, it's easy to relate to many situations she's gone through: learning to drive, going through house renovations, spending Christmas with your family (when you'd rather be elsewhere, like in Groenland).

Okay, Under the Duvet is not literature. But it's fun, and a touch of levity in life has never hurt anyone.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Random Title Generator

"Silent Sparks." "The Bare Hunter." "Dreams in the Stones." "Storms of Silence."

Pretty good stuff, which was created by the Random Title Generator, which is part of Wordsmiths.net a derivative fiction --or fanfic-- site.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Currently Reading...

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.

I picked up the book because it has been on the best-seller list of many newspapers for a while and I was curious. It's a big book (over 600 pages); the story mixes several eras and spans a large chunk of Eastern Europe. It deals with a much beaten up subject: Dracula, as a man and as a vampire, mixing up real history with legend.

Kostova's historical research of Dracula as a legend and of the history of Eastern Europe, from the days of the Ottoman empire to the late 70s is as impressive as her writing skills are mundane. The ending is also a lose-lose situation: will Dracula live or die? Either way, the solution is implausible and cannot help but disappoint.

After finishing The Historian, I was left not with the satisfaction of a great story, or the awe for a great writer, but with a sense that I learned an incredible amount of the history of Eastern Europe. If only for that, it was worth the read.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Great Canadian Blog Survey

If you're Canadian and have a blog or read them, take 5 minutes to answer the Great Canadian Blog Survey. It's an independent survey led by Aaron Braaten, M.A. Candidate in Economics at the University of Alberta and aims at providing "a free, globally available report on the state of Canadian Blogging, as well as a more technical paper that will examine the differences between those who read blogs and those who choose to write them."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Reviewer's World

There's an eye-opening entry from Guest Blogger David Montgomery on M. J. Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype. David Montgomery is a freelance reviewer, and discusses how he selects books to review.

What staggered me is the number of books he receives to review, as opposed to how many he ends up reviewing:
"Deciding which book to review, or even which book to read next, is one of the hardest parts of a critic’s job. I receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 books every month. I try to read 12-15 and review 6 or 7."
That's over 2,400 books a year, and only in the crime fiction genre.

Wow. Now I understand why it's so hard to get someone to review your book, especially if he or she is a well-known, well-respected reviewer.

We authors all have a tendency to be self-centered. How else can we dare believe that the stories we have to tell are worth sharing with the world? Unfortunately, that quirk of personality (yes, let's euphemize) makes us think that our story is the only one that exists at this time, that the reviewer --or agent, or publisher, or bookstore-- is waiting with bated breath to receive it. I admit it, I wear these blinders. They prevent me from thinking that I don't have a hope in hell in succeeding at what I desperately want: to have people read my words. If I begin to think I'm only one in a horde of authors in stand-by mode, I'll turn off my computer and get a "real" job.

Mr. Montgomery also mentions something that I'm hearing over and over again: the only way to get noticed is to have people start talking about your book. Word of mouth, he says, "is crucial in this business".
"I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the mystery community over the past few years, including reviewers, writers, publicists, bloggers and fans, and I get recommendations from them. A lot of what I read is influenced by what they say. After all, there’s no better endorsement than the word of someone whose opinion you trust."
Easier said than done, but feasible, on a small scale at first --your favorite bookstore, your community-- then hoping it'll spread. Takes time, and a whole bunch of good friends. Or willing acquaintances.

It's not only unknown authors like me who have a problem getting known. On her very frank blog, Tess Gerritssen talks about how difficult it is to become known, and what she think the solution is:
"...to illustrate just how hard it is for an author to become known. Just a few days ago, I was signing books at a Kroger's store in Cincinnati, and quite a few customers frowned at my books, confessed that they'd never heard of me, and said they weren't really willing to buy a book by someone they didn't know.

I don't know how to get past that. No amount of advertising will change it. There's only one thing that can change it: Word of Mouth. It's the most powerful force on the planet. It takes time to generate it, and in the meantime, many an author's career has crashed and burned, many an author has found himself abandoned by his publisher. We can't force word of mouth. We can't even beg for it. We can only hope it happens, that our readers like our books enough to tell their friends, their colleagues, their room-mates."
There's that word-of-mouth thing again.

So I'd like to do what Tess did on her blog and thank everyone who's ever talked about my book, who's encouraged others to read it and/or buy it. You are the ones who'll end up making it happen for me, and you deserve my thanks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hard-to-find Books

Bookfinder.com Journal has released their fourth report "tracking the most sought-after out-of-print books in America." They claim the report is surprising and, indeed, it is.

Brave New Words

This is almost a year old, but my friend Ron Purvis sent it to me today and I got a chuckle out of it. I've inserted the entire article here, since I couldn't find the original link in the Washington Post:
The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are this year's winners:
  • Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

  • Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

  • Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

  • Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

  • Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

  • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

  • Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

  • Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

  • Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

  • Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

  • Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

  • Glibido: All talk and no action.

  • Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

  • Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

  • Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

  • Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

  • And the pick of the literature:

  • Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
Yeah. I know lots of those.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What's a lulu?

In this case, it's the idea of Bob Young, from Hamilton, Ontario (that's in Canada), a free, self-publishing, Print-on-Demand worldwide service that is revolutionizing the self-publishing industry. But the self-publishing is not only for book authors, it's also for musicians and photographers. A BBC News article explain what Lulu is about:
"Many works are rejected by regular publishers because they do not think many copies of a title will be sold, and the cost for them of going into production cannot be justified.

"Authors are rejected not because the book is terrible but because the publisher thinks the book will not sell enough," says Mr Young.

Furthermore, whereas normally the novelist or artist will get a 10% royalty of sales, with the Lulu model the creator gets 80% of sales takings and the website just 20%.

"Our income model is almost the complete opposite of regular publishers'. We provide the market and the only time you pay is when you sell a copy of your book. You don't pay anything unless you sell.
Authors build their books themselves (hence the free aspect of it) then set a price. Buyers go onto the Lulu website and buy the book there, which is printed and sent right away, in a similar fashion to Amazon or Booksurge.

Lulu seems to attract niche subjects (Titles such as Crowd Safety and Survival, or Raw Food for Busy People), although there's pretty much every subject available.

A caveat: Self-publishing means that, more often than not, the books have not been edited professionally, or that the awful gets published along with the good. Many books are rejected by publishers because they are bad, not only because they don't meet bestseller status.

And another caveat: Print-on-Demand (or POD) doesn't equate to self-publishing. POD is a printing method, not a publishing method. Lulu is straddling both, and may end up doing quite a bit of harm to the small independent publishing industry that uses POD to print its book. But then, Mr. Young would say, who cares? The publishing industry is a business, nothing more.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Buy a Friend a Book

The week of October 1, 2005 will be the last of this year (there are four in a year) for the Buy a Friend a Book week. Debra Hamel, from North Haven, CT, started this charming idea this year. She says that the rules are simple:
"Just get yourself to a real-life or virtual book store during Buy a Friend a Book Week (the first weeks of January, April, July, and October) and, well, buy a friend a book (or e-book)! But here's the fun part: you can't buy your friend a book because it's their birthday or they just graduated or got engaged or had a baby or anything else. You have to give them a book for no good reason. In fact, this present out of the blue from you should shock the pants off of whomever you decide to give it to. And it'll make them happy. And that's the point: promote reading, promote friendships. Just make sure to let them know about Buy a Friend a Book Week."
Great marketing idea, and a perfect way to please someone and get them to read.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Plot beware

Found a wonderful commentary in the Mumpsimus , based on a comment China Miéville made about his latest volume of short stories, which has a more "literary feel," according to critics. China says
"...one of the things you have the opportunity to do in a short story is to indulge a mood, an idea, a sensibility, rather than worrying too much about plot. So that makes it feel more 'literary', because you have the surreal/strange/dreamlike, but without the necessity of shots-ringing-out and the cavalry riding in. Then the next thing you know, people are comparing you to Borges. Cool."
Matthew Cheney then goes on to add:
"China then offers a quick equation for discussion, but it doesn't get much, and deserves a bit more: "Fantastic + plot = pulp. Fantastic - plot = literature".
All writers of genre fiction seem to suffer from this malady and rejection from so-called literary writers and readers. The Mumpsimus doesn't entirely agree:
"China's equation is, I think, more about perception than about reality -- it's an illusion that comforts both the lovers and haters of this thing we're calling "plot" (but which may, in fact, be something entirely else)."
What Cheney then explains is that plot for plot's sake is as much bad writing as plotless prose. What makes a piece of work interesting is a "love for language, metaphor, imagery, and small moments of psychological revelation," in addition to plot.

I love that: "small moments of psychological revelation." He continues to say that a story stands on its own when it is neither static (something that some readers and writers may take for literary style) nor so action-packed that the story becomes action for action's sake, without elegance.

As usual, Matthew Cheney has wowed me with his incisiveness, and his ability to express his thoughts so coherently. It is worth to go to his blog and read the entire commentary.

Weirder, indeed

From a picture of moving rocks in Death Valley, CA to that of a fetish model wannabe with a 14.5" waist, Odd Pics proves that life is weirder than fiction. Most of the pictures are commented and seemed to be "true" as far as trick photography can be detected these days.

There's also a fascinating page on Death Trivia, such as:
  • "Elvis and Charles Schultz were the #1 and #2 money earning dead people in 2002. Elvis made $31 million; Schultz made $9 million"
  • or
  • "Napoleon killed over a thousand people with a cough. In 1799 he was deciding whether to release 1,200 Turkish prisoners of war when he coughed and said, "Ma sacrée toux!" (my darned cough) which sounded to officers like "Massacrez tous!" (Kill them all!). So they did."

Now try to make up something as bizarre.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the eye of the beholder

A new study that will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal indicates that Americans and Asians pay attention to different things when they look at a scene. Americans tend to look more at objects in the foreground, while Asians will take in the background.

The researchers think it shows a difference in culture and thought processes:
"These results suggest previously reported cultural differences in thought processes may be related to variations in what people focus on as they view a scene, the researchers said. They speculated that these variations may reflect greater importance of context and social interrelationships in East Asian culture compared with Western culture."
Wow. Who would have thunk it? Talk about closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. We didn't know that Americans and Asians thought differently, right?

I really hate it when researchers make overreaching conclusions on basic data. To connect thought processes (which are extremely complex) to the way the eye travels on a couple of pictures is specious at best. Sure, the eye connects to the brain, but it's the interpretation of what it sees that makes a difference in thought processes. What the eye looks at is only a very small portion of it. It would have been more interesting to try to determine, based on specific cultural differences, what these subjects would look at in a picture. That would have been much more revealing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Excuses, excuses

"Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday."

This excuse is part of a collection of excuses at Strange Places garnered from the Office of Educational Assessment at the University of Washington. My favorite:
"Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part."
Obviously, some parents need to go back to English composition 101.

I also like 101 reasons why fingers are better (than what -- or who, you can guess).

Okay, I'm feeling silly today. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

US Politics are weirder than fiction

Yep. Not only is it possible to predict senatorial race results 70% of the time simply by quickly looking at the candidates' faces, now actors are entering the field in droves.

The latest in the actor-driven politics in the US is: Christopher Walken for president. Not only is he using the power of photography to appear suitably presidential (as far as I'm concerned, he looks more like a Capone look-alike than a president-- maybe he should read the article above) but he's also touting some backyard philosophy that attempts to sound profound, but sounds just plain stupid, like:
"If you want to learn how to build a house, build a house. Don't ask anybody, just build a house."
Ah, yes. The old trial-and-error bit. Let's not consult experts. Let's not take advice from more knowledgeable people than us. Let's make our own mistakes, which, by the way, were made by others before us, but we'll ignore that. We have the right to screw up all on our own.

Mr. Walken is also in favour of stem-cell research because he met Christopher Reeves (gee, another actor). How deep. I'm not diminishing Reeves courage. All I'm saying is that there is more to the issue than wanting someone to walk again.

And then there are the last words on his site's page about his own politics:
"We appreciate the great response you've sent us, interested in more information about Christopher Walken's policies and platform. Please have patience as he puts his ideas into words, and as soon as they're available, we'll put them here. Thank you for your support."

You mean to tell me he still doesn't know why he's running for president? What he wants to do for the country? Mr. Walken must be a method actor. He must have infused himself in the role of president, believed himself to be the president, dressed himself as president. Therefore, he could be the president. No need to think.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Declaration of Revocation by John Cleese

"To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today.

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories.

Except Utah, which she does not fancy."

In typical Cleese-esque humour (notice the "British" spelling), the Declaration of Revocation is a satire on the cultural differences between the US and UK, although most of it could apply to the rest of the English-speaking world.

Some of my favourite parts:

  • "You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium." Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.

    The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour'; skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters.

    You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' (pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise."

    You will learn that the suffix 'burgh' is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to re-spell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation.

    Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up “vocabulary." Using the same thirty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "uhh", "like", and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.

    Look up "interspersed."

    There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary, then you won't have to use bad language as often.

  • "The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling "beer" is not actually beer at all, it is lager . From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer," and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager." The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine." This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in the Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion."

Monday, August 01, 2005

2005 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Every year, the English Department of San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants must submit the beginning sentence of the worst possible novel. The contest originated from the following sentence, which Bulwer-Lytton himself wrote in 1830:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
This year's grand winner is Dan McKay of Fargo ND:
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
Kevin Hogg, of Cranbrook, BC, is the winner of the "Dark and Stormy Night" genre:
"It was a dark and stormy night, although technically it wasn't black or anything -- more of a gravy color like the spine of the 1969 Scribner's Sons edition of "A Farewell to Arms," and, truth be told, the storm didn't sound any more fierce than the opening to Leon Russell's 1975 classic, "Back to the Island."
My favorite in Glen Lawrie's entry for Romance:
Billy Bob gushed like a broken water main about his new love: "She's got long, beautiful, drain-clogging hair, more curves than an under-the-sink water trap, and she moves with the ease of a motorized toilet snake through a four-inch sewer line, but what she sees in me, a simple plumber, I'll never know."
(We won't either)

For more winners of the contest, go to the 2005 Results page.

Thanks to Ed Willet for pointing me to them.

Friday, July 29, 2005

About vandalism

I wanted to give this entry the title "Shocked and appalled", after the pervasive cliché, but then it would give this rant an element of levity I didn't want.

Nervertheless, I am shocked and appalled.

I am a tremendous user of my local library, not only for works of fiction and non-fiction, but also for reference books. This week, I picked up a book on 19th century art, an oversize, beautifully written book by H. W. Janson. Hundreds of b/w pictures accompany the text, and there are dozens of color plates of various pieces of art. (The paperback version on amazon.com is worth over $90US)

Here comes the shocking part: several color plates had been cut out with a razor blade. Millet, Delacroix, and others, gone. How can someone deface a book this way? What kind of person would have no thought for all the other users of this book? In some cases, the text was also gone, because the picture was at the reverse of it. That person deprived others, me included, from being able to learn from this book. The use of a razor blade, instead of tearing off the wanted pages, was even more shocking to me. It spoke of a premeditated, conscious act: excising what they needed, leaving the rest.

The appalling part of this is that it speaks of a lack of social respect, a scorn of the needs of others, a tremendous egotism. Not to mention a total lack of manners. This is worse than graffitti, which, as insensible as it may be, at least is a form of expression, a need to communicate. This is more than plain destruction of property, because it is sneaky and vile. How many other books did this person destroy or deface? Which other ways are they using to reach a goal?

Because this is what is the worst: for people like that, the end justifies the means. It speaks of a moral turpitude that leads, eventually, to the lack of social conscience we have today.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Where fiction meets reality...

...or maybe it's the reverse. At first, I thought they were incredible ping-pong players. Then I realized they had a "little" help.

The video is hilarious, the skit ingenuous. A smile for the beginning of the week.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Currently Reading...

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco.
"The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Eco's fifth novel, follows Giambattista “Yambo” Bodoni, a man who loses his memory after an accident. In an attempt to deal with his amnesia, he travels to his childhood home, where he reconstructs his life through a collection of old newspapers, comic books, school papers, record albums, and his grandfather’s diary. After a few days he is visited by another misfortune, and slips into a coma where he begins to have increasingly strange hallucinations. The work is heavily illustrated with accompanying images reflecting Yambo’s collection of memorabilia."
Not as strange as The Island of the Day Before, but as compelling, Queen Loana gives us an Italian perspective of the war era through pop culture of the time. I was particularly fascinated by the translated comics, like Flash Gordon or Mickey Mouse. Many of the pieces come from the author's collection, giving us an intimate peak at Eco's own history.

Yambo, the protagonist, is as hazy as the fog he is so fascinated with, and so are the other characters in the book, mere sketches as backdrop to time travel. This is especially evident during the coma section, where pop culture takes over as reality. Challenging, fascinating, bizarre. Pure Eco.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ansel Adams Landscapes

Some eye candy for the end of the week. This one is of an oak tree in Yosemite, taken in 1948. Well worth the visit.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

How to unburden yourself

Ever wanted to dump all those negative feelings you have about a family member or an ex-friend? In general, our normal societal hang-ups prevent us from doing so, but we all have this deep-down wish that we could let go and damn the torpedoes.

Well, there's help on the horizon from Dr. Chinese, who has devised the Dysfunctional Family Letter Generator. There's an intense satisfaction to choosing raving insults and a sheepish feeling of guilt. Here's my version:
Dear Cindy,

I just wanted to let you know that you have completely fucked up my life. If you had access to sharp objects you would be dangerous. I have had shock therapy to try to forget your existence because you have manipulated me one too many times. I have frequently looked the other way, which makes me a doormat.

This time you have painted yourself into a corner.

I have never shirked my responsibility to tell you that you are the missing link. You would be so much better off if you would just lay off of the welfare and get a job. You must be the product of inbreeding. If I have to hear you tell me that one more time, I will hurl. You are SICK. It is time for you to stop being a leech. Let this also serve as notice that all future visits have been cancelled as I would rather claw out my eyes than see you.

Drop dead you waste of space,


PS: Please do not reply back, this email address is dead. I need time to report your whereabouts to the repo man.
Of course, there is no Cindy, and I'll never send the letter but, man, like in the song, I feel good!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Writer's Pain

Found an interesting article by Quinn Dalton on MobyLives, talking about one of the most painful events a writer can live through: having a reading scheduled and no one shows up. In his Reading to Chairs, Dalton relates the indignities of having to sell your work when no one cares:
"It's worse than the worst humiliation you've ever brought on yourself at the office party, or during a break up, or during other life hiccups that most people recognize and can sympathize with. But then you find there are entire other universes of self–dismantling experiences available to you. And there you are, trying to pace yourself, so you don't hyperventilate and die on the spot.[...]

In any other business, products are designed to meet real demands. But anybody can live without books. If you design a sexy toaster, it will sell in millions of units at Target, and you will get that airy Manhattan loft, or seaside retreat, or whatever your material fantasy may be. If you write a sexy novel, you will be sent, like a vacuum salesman with a bag of dirt, to as many bookstores as you can survive. You will dump that bag of dirt on the ground and yell, hoarsely, "See? See how this will change your life?" You can count on multiple character building experiences."
Dalton's article made me realize why I've shied away from organizing readings. I'm a yellow-bellied coward. There. I admit it. I've use the excuses that I was a writer, not a marketer, or a business person, or my publisher, even. Why should I have to do their work?

But now I can't avoid admitting it: organizing a reading and having no one showing up for it, except a couple of friends who would have taken pity on me, terrifies the heebie-jeebies out of me.

Maybe, in a year or five, Dalton's courage will have an effect. Or maybe I'll brace myself and prepare a blitz for Meter Destiny, coming out this November.

Excuse me, while I go throw up.

Thanks to Liz Burton for pointing me to Dalton's article.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"Intolerable Beauty"

Striking photography from Chris Jordan, Intolerable Beauty -- Portraits of American Consumption makes us realize how our throw away-and-replace society is affecting our environment. Well worth the visit to the website, if you can't make it to one of his exhibits.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Two great blog discoveries

Ann Lamott, author of one of my favorite books about writing, bird by bird has taken to blogging at TPMCafe. In her usual sardonic style, she expounds her opinions about life (society, culture, media, etc.) and is not short of comments back.

The other great blog I discovered is called BAGnewsNotes and is an in-depth analysis of photographs presented in the media, photos that are used to underscore an article. It's controversial, sometimes (okay, most times) politically heretic, and absolutely fascinating. This blog lets us realize why a picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, the photos often convey a different message than the words. And Michael Shaw definitely meets two of his objectives, to "analyze "high profile" news, advertising and advocacy images for the way they reveal political or cultural stereotypes, and to encourage and help train my readers to become better consumers of visual news media, advertising and advocacy images, and political propaganda."

Definitely two blogs that go on my list of faves.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Musings on spam mail titles

For a while, now, spammers have tried to defy email filters by using every day words in their email titles. I wonder, however, who would be stupid enough not to figure out that what they're receiving is spam, just by the title. Here are some examples:
  • in give be muskrat cleaner+s
  • Is talk of billhook complex
  • Re: With read he meatball
  • Re: As live my dreadnought
  • And take of concur fatherhood
  • I mean, come on. Sure, the words are probably automatically generated, but, even if they get to my inbox (which they rarely do, they end up in my junkmail folder) what's the use? Not only am I not deceived, there's no way I'm curious enough to actually open one. If I open one by mistake, I'll definitely not be taken by the offers of cheap viagra, cialis, or any other deal too good to be true. Although P.T. Barnum did mention suckers, and he was right.

    According to Postini, right now, 10 out of 14 messages, or 68.7%, are spam, and one in two smtp connection is wasted because of that. Fifty percent of spam is generated outside the US, making it difficult to control. Spam acitivity has increased 65% since 2002.

    However, Andrew Lockhart, from Postini says: "More spam is being sent. Less is being received in inboxes." A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, taken early this year indicates the following:
  • 28% of users with a personal email account say they are getting more spam than a year ago, while 22% say they are getting less.
  • 21% of users with a work email account say they are getting more spam than a year ago, while 16% say they are getting less.
  • 53% of email users say spam has made them less trusting of email, compared to 62% a year ago.
  • 22% of email users say that spam has reduced their overall use of email, compared to 29% a year ago.
  • 67% of email users say spam has made being online unpleasant or annoying, compared to 77% a year ago.
  • Overall, more than half of all internet users (52%) complain that spam is a big problem.
  • And in a first-time measure of “phishing,” or unsolicited email requesting personal financial information, 35% of users say they have received such email, and 2% have responded by providing the information.
  • Phishing is not new, but it has expanded its operation from the African request letter to much more.

    What is phishing? Phishing is a form of on-line identity theft. Attackers send e-mails and use fake Web sites that spoof a legitimate business, such as a bank, credit card companies, ebay, or Paypal to lure unsuspecting customers into sharing personal and financial data. The sender will state that something's wrong with your account and they need to verify your personal info. After you give it to them, they use it to clean you out. Banks and cards issuers lost $1.2 billion in 2003 and the problem is growing. Techworld indicates that
    "Gartner conducted a phone poll of 5,000 people in the US in 2004 and came up with the figure $2 billion a year lost to banking scams, including online fraud and phishing. Since this includes a variety of bank and card scams, phishing will account for only a fraction that total. In the UK, Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) estimated 2004 banking fraud at £500 million ($950 million), £12 million ($22 million) of which was from online fraud, including, presumably, phishing. Banks don’t discuss the issue openly so it is hard to go much beyond these figures."
    Nevertheless, over 6.6 million email messages have been sent last month. This means over 4.48 million spam messages. Even if only one percent of recipients get taken by spam or phishing, it still means that in nearly 45,000 spams or phishes were successful. That's over 53 million a year, folks. No wonder spammers continue to send spam.

    Any internet user has the responsibility to become informed about these issues se that we can fight them, and render them ineffective. So please, don't join the ranks of the suckers and fight the waste with knowledge.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    Annual Neologism Contest

    "Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

    And the winners are:

    1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

    2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

    3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

    4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

    5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

    6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

    7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

    8. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavored mouthwash.

    9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

    10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

    11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

    12. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

    13. Frisbeetarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

    14. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

    15. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.

    16. Pokemon (n), A Jamaican proctologist."

    An interesting note: depending on which website present the WP's contest results, some entries have been either omitted or modified. I suspect it's to make them more politically correct. However, isn't that a form of censure? That could be an interesting debate.

    However, what is even more fun, is WP's Style Invitational, where people with way too much time on their hands play with words and phrases. Anagramed phrases such as:
    Bob Dylan, age sixty-two, appears in a Victoria's Secret commercial, singing while Adriana Lima slinks around in her undies.
    = Ridiculous ad attacks women, i.e., insists sex appeal is a rich, incoherent old man and a servile bra-baring girl. Oy, I'm yawning. (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)
    or again, play on words like these:
  • Silent Bid x Hole in the Head = Shh for Brains (Dan Seidman, Watertown, Mass.)

  • Snack x I Live for This = Raisin d'Etre (Ron Bottomly, Columbia)

  • Roman Ruler x Awesome Twist = Pontius Pilates (Jon Reiser, Hilton, N.Y.)

  • Texcess x Snack = Best Little Ho-Hos (Chris Doyle, Raleigh)

  • And the winner of the Inker: First Word x Wrapped = Mummy (Lori Price, Leesburg)
  • Great fun for word lovers everywhere. Thanks to my friend Ron for pointing me to the neologism contest.

    Monday, June 13, 2005

    Stereotypes and decisions

    A recent study shows that people use people's physical appearance to make decisions, even very important ones such as electing a president. Psychology Today has an interesting article on how to choose a president, comparing past (and current) presidents' promises to actual happenings, with the conclusion that, if people voted based on these promises, they definitely go short-changed.

    It's sad, but it's true. We do judge a book by its cover, and a person by his/her appearance. Isn't that kind of judgement the onset of prejudice? We look at someone, and almost instantly compare them to us, or our standard. There have been studies that indicate that, even with those of us who think we don't make those kinds of judgements, our subconscious does.

    I just found this wonderful site by the photographer Eric Myer. Apart from great photography, he has a page, Stereotypes that tests these snap judgements we all make. By mixing the top and bottom of a head and torso, you can see how drastically it changes the person, and the impression he/she makes on you. If you look at it honestly, you may find yourself very uncomfortable with your reactions to these faces. I know I did.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005

    Our trip to Scotland

    This is my entry for this month's Blogging for Books, from Jay Allen's The Zero Boss:

    In September 1992, we left for a three-week trip to Scotland. Unfortunately, so did Hurricane Charley, which meant rain, rain, and more rain. We had chosen September because everyone we had talked to had said that it was the most beautiful month of the year in Scotland.

    I remembered that as we stood under a tree in a park in Edinburgh, trying to find protection from another torrential downpour, so strong that it pierced through our GoreTex jackets. The rain bounced on the pavement and wet us through up to our knees.

    We had planned to travel through Scotland and, by God, we were going to, rain or no rain. Travel through we did, but we didn’t see much of it. Loch Ness was a mass of fog, so dense we couldn’t see the other side. At Eileen Donan castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland, the wind was so strong we had horizontal rain. We saw only the bottom of the Cuillins, their tops lost in fog and clouds. Oban was so cold, the first thing we did was buy wool hats and gloves.

    Two weeks into our trip, pretty much demoralized, we arrived on Skye island, and our B&B, which was cold and damp: the lady of the house didn’t start heating the parlour until five in the evening, and there was no heat at all in our bedroom. Too late to search for another place, we stayed.

    About 24% of Skye residents speak Gaelic, the ancient Celtic language, but it is a dying tradition. There are more Gaelic-speaking people in Nova Scotia, Canada, than in Scotland. We had a nice chat with the owner about that, after she’d asked about our trip so far. The amount of rain didn’t seem to faze her. Still, hopeful, we asked her if she’d heard the weather forecast for the next day. She barked a laugh and said: “Just look outside!” It poured rain.

    “You can’t let it get you down,” she said, in her thick accent. “There’s a Ceilidh, tonight, at the community center. Why don’t you go?”

    The Ceilidh, a Scottish gathering of dance, song and music, sounded perfect. We expected a local group, when she added, “The band is from Canada, so you should feel at home. The Rankin family. Do you know them?”

    We did, and found it ironic that we had come so far to hear a Canadian band. However, since it was a choice between the Ceilidh or a damp parlour, we decided to go.

    The community centre was a converted barn, with a stage at one end and wooden benches in front of it. The floor, bare wooden planks, resonated under the dozens of pairs of shoes. It seemed that at least three or four villages had converged into the centre: teens, old people, couples with children, farmers dressed in woollen sweater and Wellingtons, couples in suits and pearls, they all took their seats eagerly, calling to each other, joking, laughing.

    When the Rankins came onto the stage, everyone focused on the show. They were fantastic; the band sang and danced with so much energy, you could almost imagine they’d been bewitched. The Rankins have paved a Celtic highway around the world, preserving Gaelic folk songs and making them part of their repertoire. Maybe they felt the history of the island and it energized them, or maybe they felt that these people, in this converted barn, were the most appreciative audience, because they could understand the songs.

    About two-thirds through the concert, Cookie introduced one of the songs: “This is a song about what is lost to us. A song about losing the past because the language is lost. If you know this song, please join me in singing it.”

    She began to sing, a capella, in Gaelic. The melody was melancholy and poignant and even though we couldn’t understand the words, we could feel the emotion it conveyed. Then, one by one, all around us, people began to sing under their breath. Their faces were reverent and sad, and as the song continued, their voices rose like a prayer.

    Rain didn’t matter anymore. Neither did the fog, or the cold. We had been given a precious gift: to be part of a people, their history, their regrets, and their hopes. I carry it as my most vivid memory of Scotland.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    Body Images

    Everyone has an idea of who they are and how they want to project to the rest of the world. People who get tattoos are simply more vocal about who they are, want to be, or pretend to be. That's my theory, anyway.

    Some people, however, don't seem to be able to communicate quite well. Did they stutter at the tatto parlor? Did they respond to a dare? a date? Many times I'll think: What did they ever think of? At G-Shack.com there's proof that some people park their brain somewhere before they go under the needle.

    And I tend to agree. They are pretty stupid-looking tattoos. No regrets, unh?

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    Ja well no fine and trisackaphobia

    I found a fantastic site, the Double-Tongued Word Wrester Dictionary when I dropped in on The Quipping Queen. The dictionary
    "records undocumented or under-documented words from the fringes of English. It focuses upon slang, jargon, and other niche categories which include new, foreign, hybrid, archaic, obsolete, and rare words. Special attention is paid to the lending and borrowing of words between the various Englishes and other languages, even where a word is not a fully naturalized citizen in its new language."
    For any language lover, this is a dynamic, real-time reference, built by a respected lexicographer. Well-worth the visit.

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Challenge Darth Vader

    Okay, it's corny. Shtick. A commercial gimmick. But kinda fun. In 20 questions or less, Vader will tell you what you were thinking, and he's uncannily accurate. It shows how unimaginative the average person is, if an algorithm can determine the choice he/she makes.

    Shades of artificial intelligence? Naw. It's what's called a Viral Try, a program that lets you talk to the screen, and is used by Burger King as a publicity campaign. It hasn't convinced me to go out and buy a burger, but I had my 10 minutes of fun.

    If you want to have a real taste of the Dark Side, read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal. If you read it, you'll never eat fast food again.

    Saturday, May 28, 2005

    New Review for Metered Space

    Just by happenstance, I found a new review of Metered Space at BVSReviews. Not a bad one, with the conclusion that:
    "M.D. Benoit has written a book that keeps you going, wanting to get to the end so that you know how everything turns out."
    It may not be a rave one, but then Metered Space isn't a pretentious book. All I wanted to do with it was to entertain and, from that review, it looks like I've accomplished my goal.

    BVSReviews has been around since 1997 and reviews a variety of media.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    What to read to know Canadians

    James Munroe of Counterpoint answered Pete Bevin's entry Write Only Media: What is First Nations, Meti and Inuit?, and I thought it was so comprehensive that I decided to quote it here in its entirety:

    "If you really want to understand (recent) Canadian political history, the four Prime Ministers you should Wikipedia (IMHO) are: Pierre Elliott Trudeau, John Diefenbaker ("Dief"), Lester B. Pearson, and Brian Mulroney ("Muldoon"). It's important to know why their terms of office were particularly important.

    Other important political figures are Tommy Douglas ("the father of Medicare"), Réne Lévesque, David and Stephen Lewis, and Ed Broadbent.

    Culturally speaking (to scratch the surface): you don't get much more Canadian than Farley Mowat and Stephen Leacock, unless you're talking about the Group of Seven.

    Historically speaking, you'll already know the importance of learning about the Confederation of Canada, but you should also read up on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham between the English and French forces, led by Gen. James Wolfe andGeneral Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Gozon, Marquis of Montcalm,respectively; the First Nations and linked articles; Jacques Cartier; Samuel Champlain; and the War of 1812.
    The roles of Canada in the First and Second World Wars are alsoimportant (sorry, the links are too numerous - but it's worthresearching nonetheless). Read up also on the failed Meech Lake andCharlottetown accords (linked to from the Mulroney article) and the Canadian referenda, in particular the provincial ones.

    For a bit of the underbelly of Canadian history, read up on the internment of Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II, and the execution of Louis Riel (the "father of Manitoba").

    Watch CBC TV and listen to CBC radio! You'll discover that there aretwo types of Canadians - those who watch and listen to the CBC andthose who don't - and their views on the world are radically different."

    There is much, much more (how do you get to know everything about a country?) but this is a damn good start. Thanks, James.

    Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    Billions More in Book Sales

    There's encouraging news. I've been harping about the fact that most people today don't read. I've also said that it's bookstores that run the business, not publishers. In other blogs, there have been complaints that publishers don't do enough for authors, that they give them starvation wages, etc...

    M.J.Rose's blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype has been touting the need for alternate marketing solutions to selling books, arguing that publishers aren't doing such a hot job of it. Marketing to the readers, rather than the bookstores, seems to be one of her principles (something she's definitely been successful with).

    It seems that small publishers have been having the same idea, and are being successful at it. The Book Industry Study Group, a resource for publishing professionals , came out with an April 2005 report that states that "Smaller publishers also have impressive track records with marketing strategies and tactics that industry giants now see as the wave of the future."

    They go on to say that small publishers

    "have been using routes to readers beyond the bookstore world, and often selling more books outside trade channels than within them, while the largest booksellers have been claiming more of the traditional bookstore market. More specifically, the study findings indicate that small and midsize publishers do more than 50% of their business outside book-trade channels and inside sales channels designed mainly to serve other industries that the book industry has not monitored.

    They go on to say that government and industry will have to readjust their assessment of these small, but effective sellers. Finally, some encouraging news.

    To read the entire abstract, go here.

    Monday, May 23, 2005

    Freaked out

    We still see them in the news: conjoined twins at birth, that medical science is now able to separate, even if it's extremely risky. As rare as they are (1 in 200,000 births) there are other birth defects that are even rarer. Some can be detected in vitro, and the pregnancy terminated. (I'm not going to go into the pro-life, pro-choice debate, here)

    In the past couple of centuries, people born with terrible defects were labeled freaks and exhibited in circuses as world wonders. Ratt's Freak Show is a comprehensive and well-documented site about many of these people, with a scientific --but easily understood-- explanation for each of the difformities or conditions, as well as some biographical information about each.

    Amazing how human beings can cope even in the face of continuous reminders that they don't fit the mold. Yet some of them managed to have full, satisfying lives. It boggles the mind.

    Friday, May 20, 2005

    Practice makes perfect

    Yeah, right. I've been trying to draw for years and I still can't put a stick figure together. However, there are some who do like to doodle. My friend Robyn loved the Mr. Picasso-Head site so much, that I decided to include this do-it-yourself painting site, just for her.

    On the other hand, for those who love art but restrict themselves to simply looking at it, there's always Paris' WebMuseum. It not only has some very cool paintings, but they are also explained, with background from the artists. Or again, there's the Virtual Museum of Canada, which gives an overview of Canadian Art from various museums across Canada (warning: IE works better to view the works of art). For instance, they have over 200 samples of the Group of Seven, Art Deco examples, and some women artists. Very cool.

    I think I'll stick to admiring talent.

    The picture is "Juan Gris" by Pablo Picasso.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2005

    "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    "Who will watch the watchers?" This famous quote from Juvenal (c. 60-c. 130) applies to many things today, but most of all to censure: freedom of expression is one of the most precious and fragile of rights.

    The Quotable Quotes on my website is visited quite often, but I have not restricted myself to quotes about censure. The Forbidden Library: Banned and Challenged Books not only offers quotes about censure, but a comprehensive list of banned books throughout the years.

    Books such as 1984, by George Orwell, banned in 1981 in Jackson County, Florida, because the book was "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter." Or Alice Walker's The Color Purple, banned because its "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." Or again The Life and Times of Renoir, byt Janice Anderson. Restricted at the Pulaski, Pa. Elementary School Library in 1997 "because of nude paintings in the book." Huh?

    Even the famous Where's Waldo?, by Martin Handford, was removed from the public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan because "there is a tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top."

    Do I have a feeling that it all comes down to sex? Or maybe the censors hide behind the sex angle so they can restrict critical thinking. As Winston Churchill said, "Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage."

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

    Hallmarks of Felinity

    Brooke McEldowney, of 9 Chickweed Lane, proves that he understands cats intimately. The comic strips are each one of them a small slice of cat perspective. If you need a laugh, and you have a cat, Hallmarks of Felinity is a must visit.

    You can also buy the book.

    Monday, May 16, 2005

    How to profit from your dead grandmother

    According to Mike Adams of the Department of Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, a "student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year." This is an apparently well-known phenomenon (called the "Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome") that occurs around the world and which is due to the stress a parent suffers on expecting the students to do well on exams. The article was a tongue-in-cheek report written in 1999 for the Annals of Improbable Research.

    Now colleges in the UK have acknowldeged the Syndrome as real.

    "GCSE and A-level pupils in England are given 5% more if a parent dies close to exam day or 4% for a distant relative.

    They get 2% more if a pet dies or 1% if they get a headache [...] the system was an attempt to quantify the sorts of circumstances which would merit special consideration and ensure consistency across the various exam boards."

    I feel this doesn't go far enough in attempting to stem the flow. Davis' solutions are much more appropriate:

    • 1. Stop giving exams, or

    • 2. Allow only orphans to enroll at universities, or

    • 3. Have students lie to their families (This being the favored solution). "Students must never let any of their relatives know that they are at university."

    Thanks to Improbable Research -- What's New for their treatment of the problem.

    Saturday, May 14, 2005

    Revamped website

    I took a week off writing and revamped my website. Check out the new look at http://mdbenoit.com

    Thursday, May 12, 2005

    Currently Reading...

    Well, what a disappointment this book is. The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood brought me to tears several times; Little Altars charmed me. This one bored me. There's nothing there: no passion, no interesting tidbit, no heart. Maybe it's because the book is written as a series of short stories with very little connections between them. You don't get the desperation, the angst, or the sheer joie de vivre that threaded the other two books Rebecca Wells wrote. It feels more like a "let's fill you in on those people's background" report rather than a plunge into some pretty intense lives.

    And I'm not alone in that feeling. Reviewers at amazon.com barely give it two stars.

    Don't waste your money, or your time, on this sequel.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2005

    Best Seller or Survival: what's best?

    Back at Buzz, Balls & Hype, in her post "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley..." M. J. Rose has an interesting perspective on every author's dream: hitting the BIG times with a blockbuster bestseller.

    I think it's Lawrence Block who said that most writers want to have been published. Meaning that many don't want to expend the effort to get there. They just want to be rich and famous, with a slew of bestsellers to their names. The result is people who give up the craft, because it's too damn hard.

    M. J. echoes that by stating that it's not the BIG book that's important, but survival. Making enough so you can keep doing what we love, which is telling stories. I find I totally agree with her. Yeah, sure, I won't lie and say that I wouldn't want the big advance, the hype, the worship. Who doesn't? But what I want more than that is to write, and for people to read my stories. Authors don't really write in a vacuum, although most will say that they write only what they can write. The stories are compelling and authors only hope they'll have the same effect on the readers.

    And there drops the other shoe, one I totally agree with: people don't read anymore. They watch TV. As Raymond Chandler said:

    "Television's perfect. You turn a few knobs, a few of those mechanical adjustments at which the higher apes are so proficient, and lean back and drain your mind of all thought. And there you are watching the bubbles in the primeval ooze. You don't have to concentrate. You don't have to react. You don't have to remember. You don't miss your brain because you don't need it. Your heart and liver and lungs continue to function normally. Apart from that, all is peace and quiet. You are in the man's nirvana. And if some poor nasty minded person comes along and says you look like a fly on a can of garbage, pay him no mind. He probably hasn't got the price of a television set."

    The number of people who actually pick up more than one book a year --and usually, they'll pick up the hyped book, the BIG book-- is rapidly diminishing, and the industry has been passively watching this happening. Instead of trying to revitalize reading, they bemoan the problem. On the other hand, small, indie publishers, even though they might want to do something about it, don't have the clout, or the money to do much.

    So we authors must do what our publishers can't or won't do: market ourselves, so we can survive, so we can write. That's why we have websites, blogs, virtual book tours, 'net interviews, to reach as many people as possible. Out of those, maybe we'll find a few readers. Out of those few readers, maybe we'll find some who want to buy our books.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2005

    Clearing up POD issues

    My first published novel, Metered Space, is a POD book. Print-on-demand. You want the book, you order it, either from Amazon or from my publisher, Zumaya, or even from the printer itself which, in this case, is Booksurge. Two days later, it's in your hot little hands.

    Because you can't get it from a non-virtual bookstore, magazines such as Locus says my book's worthless, not listable, and basically should be ignored.

    They're missing the point. The reason my book isn't in bookstores is not that my publisher doesn't want to get it there (Duh!). It's because bookstores don't want to order them. See, bookstores have it swell. They order as many copies as they want of any book. Whatever isn't sold, they send back to the publisher at no cost to them. What kind of stupid organization would want that setup changed? See, with POD, they have to buy the books, and if they don't sell, they're stuck with them. Which means that they'd have to take risks. Too bad, so sad.

    What infuriates is that mags such as Locus use all kinds of erroneous assumptions about POD instead on zeroing on the real problem: bookstores are calling the shots. Not the author, not the publisher, not the distributor.

    Paula Guran has written a good article setting Locus straight on several of their misleading points about POD. What is ironic about the Locus article however, is that they admit it's hard to tell the POD books from the others. Their terror is that, in their ignorance, they'll list a self-published book that looks like a "real" book. How awful. As Paula says:

    "If you err on the side of a high quality but self-published book that deserves notice, we feel that is commendable rather than not [...]Books are books. It is hard to imagine that Locus truly thinks a book must be printed on paper to be a book, thus saying that e-books, audiobooks, and books on CDs do not exist. But, since Locus deals primarily with printed books we understand their prejudice. If they wish to define a book as "text printed on paper and bound between two covers", POD books, in both senses, exist because they are printed.

    It seems that Locus does not know which publishers are POD and which are not, especially since several of the publishers they do list use digital printing to some extent. But, more importantly, they are trying to define publishers by the methods they use to print books. We see no publishers referred to as "rotary letterpress" publishers or "sheet-fed offset lithographic" publishers, or "web-fed offset lithographic" publishers. Surely Locus realizes the absurdity of this.

    Thanks to Michael Allen, the Grumpy Old Bookman for pointing me to Paula Guran.

    Monday, May 09, 2005

    Street Art

    Continuing on the art kick, these street paintings are the perfect example of fiction taking over from reality.

    In the same manner, the Best pictures of 2003 are impressive, even though I can't help thinking that they're all hoaxes. (The pages are a little slow to load, but well worth waiting for).

    Manipulating photos is an art in itself. Worth1000 is one the sites that offers the chance for that kind of exercise. Some of the pictures are striking, some are grotesque. All are interesting, and give you very little faith in proof based on photography. Here's one of the contest, called Partial Symmetry

    Saturday, May 07, 2005

    Three Dee Art

    Seems like I'm into art these days. I've come across this incredible site, 3D Artists. Most of the art is so realistic that, even for the fantastic themes, you'd think it's photographs. The artists come from all over the world and give free reign to their imaginations. I'm in awe of people who can do that kind of thing, since I can't even draw a decent Picasso picture, even with some help from Mr. Picasso Head.

    The picture of the car is from Marek Denko, from Slovania.

    Friday, May 06, 2005

    The dangers of eating bread

    I'm not a fan of bread in general, much to the despair of my Belgian-born mate. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing much to recommend it, except as a vehicle for butter or mayo. Doesn't matter if it's white or whole wheat, multigrain or flat. It's still just a holder for my sandwich fixings. Give me a salad anytime.

    The following article states all the reasons why we shouldn't be eating bread. Clearly, a case where fiction replaces reality and where, if you torture your data enough, you can make them say anything. Too bad, I was looking for enlightenment.

    Culled from Stefani Banerian's website.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Incredible cat photography

    If you like kittens --and what's not to like?-- Kittens! is the place to go. Big eyes, button noses, tiny, pointy ears... and a temper. Unfortunately, there is no author to these pictures, so I can't praise her/him by name. (Here's an alternate URL, still with no author)

    Another interesting tidbit about the page is that the artist advertises Firefox as an alternative browser for MSIE, which pleased me no end. Firefox is awesome, and much easier to use. It's also sturdier and has all the IE features plus dozens of themes and extensions that make the surfer's life easier. Firefox is Mozilla-based, the "fathers" of the browsers, onto which IE was (badly) copied.

    Mozilla also has an incredible emailer called Thunderbird:

    "Thunderbird makes emailing safer, faster, and easier than ever before with the industry's best implementations of features such as intelligent spam filters, built-in RSS reader, quick search, and much more."

    I have never used Outlook. I've used Eudora, and Pegasus Mail; now I've graduated to Thunderbird and I'll never look back. Outlook is fragile, and easily punctured by viruses. Not so Thunderbird. And it's Junk Mail filter is one of the best on the market.

    Best of all: both Firefox and Thunderbird are 100% free.

    Wednesday, May 04, 2005


    A fantastic site with an incredible variety of book reviews: book-blog.com. Although I may not always agree with the reviews, they are well written, concise, and give the potential readers all they need to decide whether they want to try that book, or that author.

    Tuesday, May 03, 2005

    An unsatisfactory conversation

    Ever had one of those? There's something very satisfying about spoofing spoofable people. George and Condi are at the top of the list.

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    Why you shouldn't post your picture on the Internet

    It's a regular occurrence. Bloggers, authors, artists, and just plain folks... they like to see their faces on a web page. Some even go further and post pictures of their families, their weddings, their parties. As if the majority of 'net surfers would have even a smidgen of interest in other people's ordinary lives. Except maybe to have a good laugh. I can understand wanting to see what an artist looks like, but why would I want to check out a total stranger's wedding pictures? (The site was picked at random) This is what happened with one picture, changed 40 different ways.

    Now try not to be paranoid and think that someone is playing the same game with your own mug.

    Wednesday, April 06, 2005

    Pushing censure way out there

    There has been a lot of talk about banned Disney movies and banned books in the States because of the belief that they promoted homosexuality. I won't comment on that, but I came across an article that made me shake my head:

    "Defensive back Randall Gay wore a New England Patriots jersey as a member of this year's Super Bowl-winning team, but when one of his former college professors tried to order a personalized jersey in tribute to Gay in mid-February, she was turned down. The National Football League's official online merchandiser, NFLshop.com, refused to imprint "Gay" on the back of a Patriots jersey because it was a "naughty" word, one of 1,159 the shop has banned. (Two weeks later, after the Web site Outsports.com picked up the story, the word was removed from the list.)" [Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 3-3-05]

    Over eleven hundred "naughty" words? I can't even think of that many. Maybe I've led a sheltered life.

    From News of the Weird

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    The Accidental Cook

    I'm on a Thai and Vietnamese food kick these days. The flavors are incredible -- this mix of sweet, hot, and fresh -- tantalizes the taste buds. I was sure that I wouldn't be able to find the proper ingredients (Thai basil leaves, kafir lime leaves, harissa) but our Asian neighborhood has a Thai/Vietnamese store that has everything we needed. There are these mixes of flavors I never thought to eat: salmon and pineapple, potato and coconut milk. Yet, they work incredibly well.

    I have not always had an interest in cooking. In fact, I pretty much despised it. Now I discover that, if you're passionate about the food, you'll want to try to cook it.
    The recipes don't need to be long and complicated. Stylish Thai in Minutes has incredible recipes that takes around 30 minutes to make, and ordinary ingredients can be substituted if you don't have access to an Asian market. Of course, you have to like exotic flavors such as curries and hot peppers. Vietnamese cuisine is less spicy and more involved, but works with fresh ingredients and herbs that just explode on your tastebuds.

    If you're not ready for that kind of cuisine but are curious about cooking in general, I recommend The Science of Cooking a website that talks about the basics of cooking, gives recipes, games you can play with the kids, as well as quizzes and access to cooks for specific questions.

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Move over, dry cleaners

    My blog has moved! I'm now at http://mdbenoit.com/blog. Come visit for the latest stuff.

    "What do you get when you put together a physical chemist, two polymer scientists and a self-proclaimed "fiber guy" (that is, a textile chemist)?

    A self-cleaning suit, of course."

    This is part of the research a group of scientists at Clemson University are doing, using the properties of the lotus leaf and nanotechnology to develop a water and dirt repellant material.

    Due to the placement of nanobumps in the fabric, the water can't penetrate and takes dirt with it. All you have to do is take a shower with your suit, and voilà. You're ready for the next day. What the article doesn't say is how it would work with sweat and the acids from the skin or even the acids in the rain (shades of Blade Runner).

    Ah, well. Perfection, Earth is not thy province...

    Thursday, February 03, 2005

    Need a Story Idea?

    An infectious farmhand takes a shower with a Marine.
    A gas station attendant and two itinerant bartenders discover an ancient burial ground.
    A player player and six beautiful courtesy clerks kidnap a crab.

    Okay, maybe these are kind of goofy, but the Random Logline Generator is a good way to generate some writing ideas, or, at the very least, help you write a one-liner about your own story. You can define the parameters (nouns, adjectives, action verbs) and the kind of result you want.

    If nothing else, it's a cool way to waste some time.

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    The Surrealist Compliment Generator

    May your shit always sport dog on the bottom of your shoe. Just for a bit of fun, or a much needed chuckle on a Monday morning. You'll have a different compliment every time you reload the page in your browser.

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Where are the suckers?

    Every day, and I mean every single day, I get one or two spam messages offering me a partnership from some unknown in Africa: help us transfer $30 million to your country and we'll give you 20% of the take. Of course, all you have to do is give them all your personal info, including the number of your bank account. Needless to say, you don't see the color of their money, and your own all of a sudden disappears.

    I'd really like to know what kind of people believe that you get something from nothing, and why they believe that some strange person in Africa has heard of them. Yet the RCMP states that Canadians have lost over $30 million to these scams in the last ten years. The Nigerian scam, for instance, was the third largest industry in Nigeria. Worldwide it wracked up over $5 billion.

    Why are these scams still working? Are the people who get taken in the same who believe they'll win the lotto or get all the coins from the slot machine if they put in enough? Or is it simply the still naive belief that people are fundamentally good (yeah, right)?

    Regardless, I suspect I'll continue getting those spams. This time it's Zaire, not Nigeria, but you know what? It's the same damn difference.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    Kindness, Beauty, and Truth

    "I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible."

    These words were written by Albert Einstein, who ironically also said: "This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!"

    You can read a larger portion of his essay here. Also read a fascinating essay, entitled Einstein's Third Paradise, by Gerald Holton (Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of History of Science at Harvard University), a study of Einstein's journey as a scientist through the analysis of his spirituality. The essay is part of an exhibit on Einstein from the American Institute of Physics.