Archive: Rants

Taking a Moment to Ask Myself “Why?”

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Last month Mur Lafferty shared her confusion over a certain type of feedback she’d received from folks explaining in detail why they aren’t reading or listening to one of her works. I meant to comment, but my thoughts on the subject seemed fairly divergent from that of the other commenters and I held off. I’m currently re-reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, and parts of it brought Mur’s question back to mind. The two things collided, and here is the result. So while I’m not directly responding to Mur, without her post I may never have thought this through, and realized I once was “one of those people.”

This issue is up there with the people who tell me when they didn’t like a podcast or a story or a book. They’re entitled to their opinion, I certainly don’t begrudge them that, but I don’t understand why I need to know about it. Do they want me to edit? Never write something like that again? I don’t get it.

I think my major disconnect is I find myself making the assumption that these folks are offering this feedback not in the hopes that Mur will rewrite for them, but that it will in some way inform her future works. I can’t imagine if they’d written her off completely as not worthy of their time and attention that they’d email her at all. If I’m wrong about that, I don’t know what they want either.

Confessions of an Accidental Troll

Back in the late 90s1 I once set an author an email asking them why they insisted on doing something just to piss people off (it was a shared universe novel line, and I was far from alone in my concern). Part of the uproar centered around the fact that he was the only author at the time with the license to use certain critical characters, so there was a feeling that he was abusing this power.

Filled with “fan entitlement” of George-Lucas-killed-my-childhood proportions I tore into him. That email was not my finest hour.

The author send me a well thought out reply, which made me feel like an ass for the tone of my first email. He wanted fans to be able to enjoy his book, but he also had to tell his story his way. After some more friendly back and forth he asked for input in the form of research, letting me know that while he’d read and consider it he made no promises as to if it would change his story.

I can’t say for certain how much impact I had on the book overall, but he did say he found it helpful and made use of it. He even thanked me in the books acknowledgments.2

I really don’t know what I expected when I sent that email, and I don’t know what the author thought I expected, but his response seriously humbled me. In the end he wrote the book he wanted to write, gained a great deal of respect from me, and got some free research out of the bargain.

Never again would I send that type of email to anyone. But when I look back, the reason for sending it was that really I wanted to be able to enjoy his book, and from what I knew of it I wasn’t going to be able to. I like to think he saw that I acted like an ass because I cared strongly about something he also cared strongly about, and he was able to turn it around into something constructive.

Also, I no longer feel entitled to anything just because I’m a fan.3

I not saying anyone needs to react like he did, or that what he did was the best choice even. Instead I offer this as an example of this type of exchange, and an exploration of where my own opinions on the matter stem from.

  1. Yeah, we had email back in the dark ages. I used elm, and I liked it. Now get off my lawn! []
  2. If you’ve seen my name (mis-spelled Jason Penny) in the acknowledgments of a late 90s media tie in book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. []
  3. I still reserve the right to get angry at bad remakes. []

Re: Cover to Cover #319B: Electronic Formats Revisisted

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Dragon Page: Cover to Cover has been discussing ebooks at length lately, especially since Mike Stackpole is selling his stuff in the iTunes App Store. In the latest episode they spend the opening section lampooning the idea of e-book standards. The conversation that ensued contained a good deal of misinformation1 .

So I’m posting this in response here, hoping to keep the conversation going (I could post it as a comment on the site, but it’s a bit long for that, and it’s way to long to leave as a voicemail without sounding like even more of a crank).

Stand Alone Readers in the iTunes Store

The discussion gives an impression about the stand alone readers (specifically Stanza and eReader) having access to a bunch of old public domain content nobody actually wants to read. No mention is made of putting content you purchased outside iTunes or creative commons works into these readers, which seems to be their primary purpose.

Stanza

The Stanza iPod Touch/iPhone app is an offshoot of the Stanza desktop reader (Mac Only). Any file you can read on the desktop reader2) can be transferred to the mobile Stanza app. This covers a lot of commercially available content.

Also the mobile Stanza app is pre-configured to pull ePub files from Feedbooks. Feedbooks has 2500+ titles available for free. While many works are those you avoided reading in high school, it also includes titles from authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Del Rey, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, H. P. Lovecraft, Andre Norton, H. Beam Piper, Robert Silverberg and E.E. “Doc” Smith. Those too old school for you? How about Steven Brust, Tobias Buckell, Cory Doctorow, James Patrick Kelly, and Charles Stross, to name a few.

eReader

Although it’s stated that the eReader can be used to download free content (I admit I don’t even know if can download free content), no mention is made that it is actually designed to download your purchases from eReader. Also, any multi-format purchase from Fictionwise is also supported.

Since I personally avoid books that come locked in one format, the vast majority of my Fictionwise purchases are instantly downloadable to my iPod touch. That’s a big win for me, because it means when I’m home I can read on my dedicated e-book reader, with it’s larger screen, but when I’m stuck in the waiting room I can keep reading the same book off my iPod Touch without buying it twice.

ePub and Tower of eBabel

There is a group of […] e-book enthusiasts who are deaf on anything that is not the one true ring, the one true way. They want everything to be available in one universal format, which doesn’t happen to exist yet. […] and they want it to then be cross-platform available because they’re very resentful if seven years ago they bought a book for their palm pilot and now they can’t play it on their iPod.

Yeah, those people. Me.

Mike and Mike then then proceed to talk down to “those people” as if we all just fell off the esparanto truck by giving the same arguments all the digital music players that didn’t play MP3s used to give and why music would always have DRM. Making a buck will always trump the demands of the consumer. Format wars will always go on forever and ever and there will be no standard delivery mechanism3 .

More importantly, the format does exist in the form of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)‘s ePub, and it does have vendor support. Adobe, Amazon4 , eBook Technologies, OSoft, VitalSource and LibreDigital (among others) all support ePub in their current products. Sony just added ePub support to it’s line of readers, and Bookeen is currently working on adding it to their Cybook readers. You can get any of Feedbooks 2500+ titles in .epub. Heck, even the last of the freebie releases from TOR was released in .epub rather than .mobi.

Maybe I’m Crazy

I like e-books. I prefer them to print. I like being able to increase the font to rest my eyes. I like being able to read them on multiple devices. I don’t want this to happen to my books. I feel that e-books have to be more convenient that print to really take off5 . So either I’m a nut-job, or I’m who the people trying to sell these things should be targeting. I’m the one going to go out and extolling the virtues of these things to the people I know who are hanging by the sidelines waiting to see if they want to jump in. Feel free to tell me which one you think I am in the comments6

  1. I honestly don’t believe this was intentional. []
  2. Stanza supports HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, RTF, Amazon Kindle, Mobipocket, Microsoft LIT, Palm doc, and EPUB (at least the DRM free variations of the above []
  3. Yeah, that’s why we don’t have a way to deliver audio programming in mp3 files over HTTP using RSS to any number of devices. []
  4. Amazon supports ePub in it’s Mobipocket products, but there’s no mention of the Kindle yet []
  5. It’s very likely publishers don’t what them to take off. Record companies still want you to buy CDs too. []
  6. If I don’t get any I’ll know I’m a crazy person talking to myself. []

Audiobooks Are Not Cheating

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

GalleyCat pointed out The New York Times article Your Cheatin’ Listenin’ Ways (also mentioned on TeleRead this morning). It’s not the first time an article about audiobooks in The New York Times has set me off. I continue to be dumbfounded by peoples reactions. I’m even more disturbed by the people in the article who listen to audiobooks an feel guilty about it. What’s wrong with people?

In general I don’t feel the need to defend myself on this, but it seems many audiobooks listeners feel some sort of shame, so I guess I will. Listening to an unabridged audiobook is not cheating. Listening to an unabridged audiobook is reading a book. The majority of books I consume are in audio form. When reading paper book I sometimes find that I don’t remember the last few pages and have to reread them. This happens much less often when listening to audiobooks (and when it does I do backtrack and listen again). I also don’t have the luxury of doing just one thing at a time. I have responsibilities to my family, my writing, and my job. I was only getting six hours of sleep before the new baby. When am I supposed to read? I do have a number of print books I want to read but they have a long waiting period before I can get to them. Even once I do it often takes months for me to get through them. I’ve had John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War in my queue for a while and I’m elated to find out yesterday that it will be available on audio soon.

Most importantly, I’m thirty and my eyes are not in good shape. They aren’t going to get any better. I already have separate reading/computer glasses and my eyes have basically shut down due to eye strain multiple times.

The reality is, there’s very little difference between listening and reading. According to The New York Times article:

“If the goal is to appreciate the aesthetic of the writing and understand the story,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, then there won’t be much difference between listening and reading. “The basic architecture of how we understand language is much more similar between reading and listening than it is different.”

I know this is true. When I’ve re-listened to audiobooks I’ve been amazed at how much of the story I remember word for word.

My wife and I have been listening to Harry Potter on audio since before book three. Listening together is tougher now then it was then, so it’ll probably take a year to get through the new one, but it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy books with my wife in this way. Currently I’m working to instill a love of audiobooks in my children. I’ve found some great stuff for them on Audible.com (which is where I get most of my stuff as well). I love reading to my kids, but I also enjoy experiencing a story with them, and just enjoying it. I feel no shame in any of this.

Ron McLarty wasn’t able to get The Memory of Running published in print until after the audiobook was available and people heard it. Numerous authors are releasing free serialized audiobooks, many for otherwise unavailable works. I assume they consider the medium valid. Feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree. I’d like to hear what others think.

Podiobooks and Free E-Books Harmful?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Flametoad seems to thinks so (found via TeleRead). He suggests that authors like Cory Doctorow, JC Hutchins and Scott Sigler are devaluing the audiobook and e-book formats, and buying the p-book is “paying for the paper because the content has no value”

I don’t see it. Perhaps these authors value readers. After all, what value does you work have if no one has read it? Cory Doctorow’s books keep showing up in the bookstore. In fact IDW recently bought the rights to do a series of comics based on his works even though the license for those works allows anyone to create such comics non-commercially. Scott Sigler recently managed to sell quite a few copies of his new print book recently. Heck, I bought two (one as a gift).

I have both an audible.com and a podiobooks.com account. Do I value one over the other? Not really. I don’t think most people equate free with no value. Not anymore, if they ever did.

Not Happy

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Things haven’t been going well lately. Not in any way. So far, today continues that trend.

I got up early to work on my type in. My current speed is about ten minutes per page to get it done. I’ve got over 500 pages left, so that’s well over 80 hours of work left if I don’t manage to speed up somehow. So I don’t need additional setbacks.

I mentioned before that I started doing revisions in WriteWay Pro. It’s pretty good in a lot of ways. After finishing two scenes this morning I thought I should do a global search and replace on a changed character name. Now I’m used to working in OpenOffice.org where this same type of activity on this same size document is fairly speedy. Also I have OpenOffice.org set up to auto-save a copy of the file every few minutes. I do this because when I get working I loose track of things like real life. I’m sure you can see where this is going. After watching the simple Search & Replace peg my CPU usage at 100% for about 20 minutes and error came up. When I clicked “OK” WriteWay Pro just went away. Not good.

I opened WriteWay back up, looked at where my edits left off and mourned the last hour of my life which was a complete and utter waste of time. Now I have to go to work, so here’s to yet another day with no writing progress.

Gaaaaaaaaaaah! Argh!!

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Stressed out lately. Nothing much else to say.

E-Mail Miscommunication: Blaming the Medium

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Warning: Potential grumpy old man rant ahead.

I saw this article today on slashdot all about how e-mail communication leads to misunderstanding. It’s an old argument I’ve heard before, and while I’ve seen it in action a number of times, I still don’t buy it.

One of the arguments most often touted is that e-mail has no “tone of voice”. This is true, but neither does any form of written word. None of the novels I’ve read have a tone of voice either (excluding audiobooks), but if the writing is clear, it’s a non-issue. The article discusses a lack of facial expressions in email. What? Even if that were true (which it is not, actually), I fail to see the relevance. Write clear, and you will not be misunderstood. On the other side of that coin, don’t read things into an e-mail that are not clearly there. If it seems ambiguous, whatever you think it means is probably wrong.

You really can’t blame the medium for the message. People today generally have poor written communication skills. Writing an email should be no different that writing a letter. The last actual letter I recived from a friend is still tacked up on my desk. It’s well written, clear, concise, and in a style quite similar the longer e-mails she sends. The quick, one liner e-mails are a different matter. We all send them. Sometimes they are unclear. When they are, the best thing to do is to ask for clarifacation, not go off and assume the sender is attacking you.

Sure, I had a few bad experiences at first with e-mail. I said some things that were widely misunderstood. I got involved in battles that didn’t need to exist. Everyone does this, but there is no reason for it to happen more than a few times. I learned to save a draft, move on to something else, and reread the e-mail later. If anything seemed ambiguous I would fix it before sending. I don’t still do this, but I did learn a lot of lessons about the types of mistakes I was likely to make. I’m more likely to avoid those now. I just assume everyone will misunderstand everything I say, and I rewrite to try to make that more difficult.

People need to take the time and reread what they wrote. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying clearly. It’s really not that hard. If rewriting for clarity is something that you do have an issue with, learn to love the emoticon, it might save a friendship or two. Remember, you have no idea how long the person on the other end will keep that e-mail for. That right there should be enough to make you think before you click send.

Perhaps the real problem is more to do with a misplaced sense of entitlement. Many people who have e-mail take it for granted. The fact that you can communicate with anyone in the world almost instantly holds no sense of wonder anymore. I saw it happen. I may have missed the start of Eternal September, but watched the downward spiral and knew where it was heading fairly early on. The medium is not the issue, it’s how it’s (ab)used.

Where Did It Go?

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

I used to write poetry. I wrote it all the time. I have a two foot stack of notebooks filled with it (and I’m pretty sure I don’t have all of it still). When I was in high school, study hall was for writing poetry. It’s what got me through the rest of the day. Any little thing that was on my mind, it ended up expressed in verse. It got me through a lot of tough times.

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Working in a Coal Mine

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, I’ve been working. In fact, that’s my excuse for everything. I haven’t done much of anything besides work. I wake up, eat breakfast, work, eat lunch, work, eat dinner, work, put the kids to bed, wind down, sleep, lather rinse, repeat. Sometimes I skip winding down and get some extra work in. I expect this to continue into March, and then return to some semblance of normal.

I’m not complaining too much. It’s good to be busy, and collect a paycheck, as long as this pace lessens before I burn out. Maybe I’ll take some of that vacation I’ve got saved up and finish the second draft.

Not in My House!

Friday, December 9th, 2005

From USA Today (12/6/2005):

Guess who’s coming for honey? As part of a barrel-full of Winnie the Pooh anniversary events, Disney is working on a new animated series that will replace Christopher Robin with a 6-year-old girl.

What is going on here? What happened to ‘if it ain’t broke’? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised after Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, which sold off a big chunk of the wonder of the 100 Acre Wood. Of course, the real Christopher Robin would probably be happy to know he is being removed, but I doubt that had much to do with the decision to dump him. I’m happy to say that Rachel heard the stories from the books very early on. Sure I read them to her when she could barely understand them (and I still do). She even recognized some of the stories when she sees them in animated form.

A. A. Milne’s Pooh was not just for children, it was for everyone. Disney’s Pooh seems to be just for money.