Archive for November, 2010

Capsule Tech: See Through Displays

Everytime a bit of tech pops up that looks like a step towards the future I’m building in Capsule, I like to post it.  Today, there are two:

Via Gizmodo: Full desk curved displays, though for now it’s just a “clunky” demo.

Via Engadget: Translucent displays.  It’s still a few steps away from Tony Stark’s awesome phone in the most recent Ironman movie, and it’s certainly several steps away from a portable tablet computer that can be entirely transparent, but there’s plenty of time to get that perfected.

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The economics of cons

I didn’t start writing to get rich.  Okay, that’s a bloody lie.  I started writing with the dream of being the next Stephen King and being able to get six-figure advances for every stray thought I have.  But I didn’t keep writing to get rich.  A few months ago I posted over on Unleaded the Forbes Magazine list of the top 10 earning authors of 2010.  All of them pulled in 8-figure incomes from their writing related activities last year, with $10m even being the starting point for the list.  However, these ten people are an obvious anomaly within the industry.

I occasionally think of what I’ll do when I finally get a novel published.  And the answer is pretty obvious.  I’ll keep my current job and do what I can in evenings and weekends to work on novel number two and to promote myself.  The same thing that I do now, really.  Maybe if I get a few novels in I might (might) be able to shift to a part time job if royalty checks can cover the income difference from downsizing.  Frankly, the odds are stacked against me, and I know that damn well.

Today that got driven home a little further.  I’ve been following Tee Morris’s Twitter feed and blog ever since Capclave (I figure I kinda have to, since it was his participation in the panel on authors marketing themselves online that got me to finally start Twitter and restart this blog).  His success in the industry is probably about the ceiling of what I can reasonably hope for.  He’s published a few fictions books, has been contracted for a few non-fictions, and is about to have his first mass-market paperback publication.  I can only dream of the day.  So instead of the view from the top with that Forbes list, how about a look at it from the trenches as a working class writer talks about the costs of attending cons to market oneself.  The end result is that he estimated it costs two people nearly $700 to attend a con within driving distance, and that’s with their registration fees comped by the cons.  See, this is the cost of attending if the con wants you to attend.  Attending for ones own purposes either prior to publication or at least prior to sufficient notoriety would add an additional $50 per person to that math.

It’s somewhat sobering of a notion that for some authors the payment for their craft can be in the 8 figures, and for some it might actually be negative.  And yet?  And yet I still want to be in this crazy business.  Because, damnit, one day I am going to get that convention fee comped, and I am going to be one of the people up on a panel rather than down in the audience.

And with that notion in my head, it really is time I get back to work on Capsule if I’m going to finish the first draft this year.

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Crowdsourcing Movies

Apparently this came about while I was on vacation, but Amazon has set up Amazon Studios in an attempt to not just distribute DVDs to consumers but with the hope of distributing actual movies to theaters.  Which, to that point, sounds like an understandable goal for the company.  I encourage people to watch the five-minute clip art laden introduction film on that link to get Amazon’s take on what exactly its goal is.

You didn’t watch it, did you?  Alright, the idea is to get people to upload either scripts (85+ pages) or movies (70+ minutes) that can then be edited by any registered user of the site.  They get judged, Amazon gives out prize money, and somewhere along the line they hope to put out a movie that makes $60m at the box office.  They call it a democratization of the film industry, but there’s already a term for such things: Crowdsourcing.  They want to rely on an unpaid massive online community to make first drafts, to edit, to provide film clips, edit music, basically anything that a studio would spend several millions of dollars on.  And, in the end, they want and your collaborators to split $10k for your best script of the month or $100k for the best movie.

In the end it looks like the cap on winnings for a script are $720,000 which is an extremely theoretical figured based on a script winning first script of the month ($20k) and then of the year ($100k), then getting picked up for a commercial release ($200k) which ends up pulling in over $60m in domestic gross ($400k), and having no collaborators step in along the way to end up splitting the money.  At no point and I going to claim that $720,000 is chicken feed.  Nor that the monthly $20,000 prize for best script isn’t a hell of a prize, especially for a contest that’s free to enter.  What makes me dubious is the crowd sourced nature of it, that anyone can come in and make a change to your script, get added to the list of writers, and get a hunk of the pie as determined by the judging committee.  The original author can never receive less than 50% of the prize money a script earns, but with no way of locking scripts it still means that anything being put out there is essentially becoming public property.

It’s the wikipedia method of script writing.

In the end will people get money?  Well, Amazon is already promising several millions of dollars in prizes in 2011, $140k each month and $1.1m at the end of the year.  They’re investing nearly $3m in this project if I’ve got my numbers right, and that’s before they decide to try for a theatrical release of any of these films.  Will people get discovered?  Perhaps.  Is there something about the whole thing that makes me anxious?  Absolutely.  Too much stuff ends up poorer for the input of multiple writers, and there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about involuntary collaboration (though you’re volunteering for involuntary collaboration as soon as you submit a script or revision).  And I have a block I can’t get around about taking a complete stranger’s script and deciding that I know the story he or she is trying to tell better than the original author does.

I may end up participating in the future, but color me an observer for the time being.

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Cruise Characters

I’m still trying to come up with a good plot for a cruise ship.  Something horror related without going with a haunted house or a sea monster pastiche.  For the time being, though, there were more than a few characters I discovered while on board.  What follows are first my observations then my own creative license taking over.

Washy Washy:  Located outside the main buffet on the ship there were always two hyper cheerful people whose goals were twofold: get people to smile and spray their hands with bubble gum smelling sanitizer before they walked in and started touching everything.  There was one in particular who took extra gusto in his job, smiling everywhere except his eyes.  This was the same greeter they chose to see us off the boat because people absolutely loved him.

The Assistant Assistant Cruise Directors:  There were at least two of these who I met.  One was a gangly American, the other was a stocky Canadian.  Both were in their early twenties and clearly on low rungs within the cruise staff organization.  These two directed people to the gangways going ashore, and helped the Assistant Cruise Director run the bingo game, nightly at port and twice a day at sea.  The ACD himself was only a few years older, and I just felt that for the first time in his professional career he has underlings after being the AACD himself for so long.  I can smell the makings of a petty dictator a mile away, and when the actual Cruise Director wasn’t there, I’m sure the ACD had no problem reminding people who was in charge.

The Shopping Consultant:  This was someone with a job to do.  That job, however, involves helping the stores at each port of call to separate travelers from as much of their money as possible.  For that reason, he’s hawking the Diamonds, talking up the rarity of Tanzanite, and generally is the closest thing to a used car salesman that existed on the ship.  What I’d be curious to find out, though, is whether he was a nice guy who was just doing a job he happens to be good at, or whether he’s someone who actually enjoys his job perhaps a little too much.

The Youth Counselors:  Being neither a child nor a parent, I had little interaction with the youth counselors.  The only reason I ran into them at all is that they had the reservation right after mine at the Teppanyaki table.  They were all uniformly early 20s, uniformly attractive, and uniformly American.  The latter was an abnormality on the ship, this was the largest group of any kind I encountered who all had United States on their name badges.  Also one of the only groups who only had first names on their badges (with the exception of the Latino member whose name tag read, and this is no joke, “Tex-Mex”).  Four guys, four girls, all young and attractive, working and living together.  Strikes me as the perfect combination for pairing off.  They were all sun dresses and khakis for their reservation, but don’t let that fool you that there aren’t some shenanigans going on with this group.  Side note: when I observed the youth counselors to my wife, she swore I said “grief counselors” and was shocked that, even with the older-skewing demographic on board, that eight grief counselors were necessary.

The youth counselors seem the easiest targets for a horror plot, but just because twenty-somethings-in-peril is such a well established sub-genre of horror.  There was even the one requisite ethnic member of the group.

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I will cruise again no more, forever

I want to start out by saying that I would not give up the fact that I went on a cruise for the world.  I did a cruise in what I feel was the best way I could.  It let me see two of my absolute dearest friends get married, let me hang out with a bunch of people I knew, and several whom I didn’t know but immediately liked.  That’s the fun thing about friends-of-friends, you end up having something in common from the get go, and you’re almost pre-screened in terms of getting along by being vetted by the same central people.

Day.  Renee.  Thank you so much for inviting us on the cruise, letting us be a part of your big day and week, and know that none of what I’m about to say about cruises should in any way be construed to say that I regret going on this particular cruise for an instant.

That said.

There’s something about the reality of cruising that I wasn’t entirely prepared for.  I was prepared for a certain amount of commercialization of the experience, sanitization of the cultures we were visiting, that sort of thing.  But I’m not sure I was prepared for quite the onslaught that we got by cruising.  It started almost from the moment that we got onto the ship as the first person we talked to was someone trying to get us to attend the art auction that evening.  It turned out this was an ongoing theme of the entire cruise, the idea that people out at sea could make wise investments (yes, both the word “wise” and “investment” were used) in art in setting that is designed to make people forget that money is actually money.  The only place on the entire ship where little green piece of paper change hands is in the casino, which are already designed to appeal to those who don’t mind seeing their money go flying away in the hopes of making a small return on their investment in the end.  On the rest of the ship, the ever powerful cruise card was god.  It bought you drinks.  It provided your cover charges.  Properly swiped it even got you a game of air hockey.  It’s a nice numbing sensation until you get your bill at the end of the week and you’re reminded that every swipe of that card actually was tied to a credit card account that you were required to provide on check-in.

The auctions were a daily event.  Sometimes multiple times daily.  I never attended one, though I did wander around the gallery of hotel art from unknowns and undated lithograph prints.  The descriptions just built on my normally healthy level of cynicism.  The most egregious was the speed auction, 40 pieces of “art” being auctioned off 30 seconds at a time.  Come watch your fellow passengers wisely build their art collections.  Yes, this was one of the times that “wisely” was used.

On our first day at sea there were also seminars offered on how to shop once one got to port.  I also didn’t attend one of these, but got a full report from two friends of ours who did.  And were, at that time, instructed that the single most important thing you could take on shore was not your passport (never needed anyway), was not your all powerful cruise card.  No no no, it was in fact your shopping guide that told you all the approved places to shop at the port of call.  Not that you ever needed it.  Each port of call was a little village ringed with walls and with controlled access in and out, any of them could have been completely traversed by foot in just 15 minutes.  And all of them had the same stores.  Diamonds International.  Tanzanite International.  Del Sol.  In fact, one of the main selling points in that shopping seminar was the fact that the controlled access to the areas meant that locals couldn’t get in.  Because, you know, you certainly don’t want to be rubbing elbows with brown people while you’re on vacation in the western Caribbean.  And the last bit of advice from the seminar?  Buy diamonds.  They’re the best possible souvenir from a cruise, you know.  Plus, remember that you’re going to be in each port only a few hours, so if you see something you like, there’s no time to think about it.  Buy it!  Buy it now!  You might not see the same setting at the next port, don’t you know!

Ah, the ports of call.  Each was a little enclave meant to provide people visiting from cruise ships the most American experience possible while in foreign countries.  Now, I won’t fault that they all accepted the American dollar exclusively, as we visited three countries in four days so currency conversion would have been a bitch.  But a lot of tourist towns like that will accept dollars anyway.  Even the little shopping that I did outside of the controlled little enclaves I had no problem paying with green pieces of paper and getting the same in return (in spite of warnings that the locals might try to give us change in local currency in order to game the exchange rate).  In the end there was nothing about the ports of call that made the bustling island of Cozumel different from ex-pat friendly Roatan different from sleepy Belize different from recovering-from-Hurricane-Dennis Quintana Roo.  Everything was bright colors, diamonds and tanzanite.

In the end we decided that we wanted to go back to Roatan, hopefully to the beautiful Anthony’s Key Resort where we had a dolphin encounter.  But then we want to be on our own to decide where we should go, what we should do, and what we should see.  We don’t want to be high pressured into making bad monetary decisions by people with titles like “shopping adviser” or being told we should go wisely buy some bad art.  In the end, we’re probably just not the people that the cruises were set up to entertain.  I know this because a lot of people were entertained.  At the close of the cruise we attended the tail end of a question and answer session about the hows and whys of running a cruise, and every other question was:

“I just think we should all give a big hand to the people who planned those wonderful shows!”  (half-hearted applause)  In the end we went to two-and-a-half shows.  The two were both Second City shows, known quantities and about the quality that I was expecting.  They’re also something that the cruise ship can just book rather than having to come up with on their won.  The half was a dance show that was poorly choreographed with bad sound quality and had a “grand finale” of the crew of the ship walking out, waving flags from their nations of origins, singing “We Are Family” then applauding the audience.

“I just want to say that all the food this trip has been just so wonderful!”  (half-hearted applause)  The food was better than I expected.  We had some pretty good all-you-can-eat sushi the night we pulled out of New Orleans (which turned out to be good timing, as everything was still fresh, people who went later reported everything tasted frozen) that included sashimi in the cover price and waitresses who insisted we eat more, more more.  The other was the teppanyaki table, the toughest reservation on the boat since there was just one 10-person table that did three sittings a night.  Those were the only two places we ate that I would actually go to and pay money for if they were on the mainland.  The main buffet made Old Country Buffet feel classy, both the casual and formal dining rooms were serving food that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Chili’s, and the French option was way oversalted and one entree had to be sent back for inedibility.

In the end the cruise let me hang out with some people who are very dear friends.  Which is good, because bitching with them is the one thing that kept me sane.  It let me see two people I care about greatly and who love each other as much as anyone I’ve met get married.  And it gave me enough of a taste of Roatan that I know I want to go back.  Otherwise, what it left me with was the idea that a lot of the problems I had might have been just my ship, but a lot of them felt like ingrained problems of the cruise industry, since all of the ships end up going to the same docks at the same time, and I can’t imagine that the people one ship over are having that different of an experience when they’re being herded ashore the same place I am.

It also provided me some interesting characters, which will be my next and rather more writing-related post.

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Shortlist!

I’ll be talking about the vacation starting tomorrow, but it’s kinda nice to start the blog back up with writing-related news.  And that news is that I had an email waiting when I got back saying that I’ve been shortlisted for an anthology I submitted to.  Woo!

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Books I’ll Never Write

I lied about going dark, one last post:

Occasionally I have ideas for books I know I could probably never write for one reason or another.  Largely because most of them would require weeks to months of traveling which is something I don’t have the time for in my current station in life.  And because they’re usually non-fiction ideas.  Here are two:

American Baseball.  It would be me experiencing baseball experiences in all 50 states, from a pickup game at the Field of Dreams to the Midnight Classic in Alaska to major league baseball in DC.

US 50.  It would be a combination travelogue of driving Route 50 from Ocean City to Sacramento, interspersed with a history of the roads predecessors and the creation of the east-west route itself.

Anyone want to write these for me?

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Going dark

This blog will be going dark for two weeks while I’m attending the wedding of the proprietors of Unleaded, and my dear friends, Day and Renee.  Don’t think I’ll get much writing done, not even planning to travel with a laptop.  But should be some good stories when I’m back.

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$2000 Grand Prize Short Story Contest!

Did that get your attention? i09, one of the blogs that are part of Gawker Media, is running a contest for stories about environmental disasters. Grand prize? $2000! Here’s a link. And here’s some info from that page:

Your story should deal meaningfully and plausibly with some aspect of environmental disaster. There are no limits on the kind of disaster you explore. It could be an exploding star, a plague, tachyon pollution, nanotech diseases, climate change, or something else. What’s important is that your story deal with causes and consequences. How did the disaster happen, who will benefit from it, how will people (or other creatures) respond to it? We don’t want morality tales or after school specials here – just good stories that deal realistically with the subject matter.

Deadline is December 11, and the target length is 3000-5000 words. I got this from the SWFA twitter feed, so it’s being well advertised, should be a nice competitive contest, especially at well above pro-rates for the winner.

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Steal This Post!

I’m sure anyone who’s read this has heard about the Cooks Source kerfuffle today.  To sum up for those who haven’t: the internet is not public domain.  For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the best summations I’ve heard come from Gizmodo and (oddly) woot.  For some entertainment related to this, there’s the @cookssource twitter account (note: not actually the Cooks Source twitter account).

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