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 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.