Yay for complete streets.
I’ve been saying for a long time now that when retiring baby boomers realize that the auto-only streets oriented world they’d subsidized becomes hard for them to navigate, it will be millenials and retirees both advocating for multi-use streets.
The AARP, one of the largest lobbying organizations in the US, has now thrown it’s weight into people-oriented streets design. Those over-65 commie hippies!
“One of the largest non-profit organizations in the world is on the side of city and suburban bikers. Boasting 40,000,000 members, the AARP represents the interests of people over the age of 50.
With an initiative launched in 2009, AARP called on city planners and public officials to design something it calls ‘complete streets.’
These streets feature sidewalks, transit facilities, signalized crosswalks, and — the kicker— in-road bike lanes.
The concept is not news. But this month an executive at the organization updated AARP members on the idea.
‘For years, U.S. transportation policy has focused almost entirely on construction and maintenance of roads to accommodate more cars,’ wrote Nancy LeaMond, executive vice-president of the AARP. ‘And while cars are obviously critical to our transportation network, they are only part of the equation.’”
How to be fascinating.
I wanted to title this post “How to Be Fascinating,” but there isn’t enough space on the sidebar for a title that long.
I’ve been very lucky, as a writer and scholar, to be able to meet so many fascinating people. (And it really has been a function of being a writer and scholar: when I was a lawyer, I met people who made for interesting stories, but who were not fascinating in and of themselves. Like the Swedish media mogul Jan Stenbeck, who turns up in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. He makes for a good story — he once threw a pen at me. But he was not an interesting person to talk to.) I’ve been thinking about what makes them so fascinating.
By fascinating, I mean that these are the people you want to meet, and then talk to for hours, because they have so much to say, and what they have to say is so interesting, so engaging. Before you meet them, you think they’re going to be fascinating, and then you meet them and they are. (These are also the people whose interviews you want to read, because you care about their opinions, their interpretation of the world.) So, here’s what I’ve come up with: this is a primer on how to be fascinating.
1. Be fascinated. The fascinating people I know are always fascinated — by books, art, places. They are continually experiencing things. It’s as though their brains are sponges, continually soaking things up. They are constantly looking outward, experiencing the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean traveling a lot, although many of them do travel. They can get interested in the history of roses, or how to raise goats, or the differences between the folk and literary versions of “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s so easy to become comfortable or complacent, to do the same things in the same ways. To, at some point, stop learning. But the fascinating people I know never do.
2. Think deeply about what fascinates you. The people I know who are fascinating have also thought deeply about what they have encountered in life and the world. They have opinions, but those opinions are informed and considered. When I’m with them, I feel as though I’m learning, as though my own understanding is becoming deeper. And it may be an understanding of something as superficial as knitting patterns. But the fascinating people I know think deeply even about knitting patterns. And through that deep understanding, something happens: they change. They are not merely collections of information: it’s not fascinating to have someone tell you the history of roses, for example. To talk information at you. Fascinating people seem to be able to integrate that information: it becomes part of them, part of a larger narrative, a deeper comprehension.
3. Share your understanding with the world. The people I know who are fascinating share the insights they’ve gained, the understanding their experiences have given them. They communicate to an audience in some way. I should say here that I find people interesting in general: I like talking to people, finding out about their lives and thoughts. But what I’m talking about in this blog post are the truly fascinating people, the ones whose thoughts get passed around. The ones whose words or images or choreography or research change us. The ones who make me say, I wish I could meet her. I’d love to hear what he has to say. And I don’t mean people who are famous. It can be as simple as seeing a blog post that makes me go, “Wow, that’s fascinating. I wonder what the writer is like.”
I feel as though I’ve only touched on this topic imperfectly and in a preliminary way. But I’ve been lucky to know such people, and it’s interesting to think about what makes them who they are. I don’t think they ever set out to be fascinating. They get fascinated, and then they start trying to develop a deeper understanding, and then they feel impelled to communicate with the world. So I guess the message is, if you want to be fascinating? Don’t think about it too much. Just start thinking about what fascinates you . . .
The photographs in this blog post are from the gardens of Castle Drogo. They are all from the Rhododendron Garden, which was planted in the 1940s. (I was interested in the garden design because I think many of the plants are probably original, and for me the colors are rather garish. But I think that was the height of garden design in the
1940s? The history of plants and gardens is one of my personal fascinations . . .)
Just postin’ again to say look for me in the Online Media area at the Hiveworks booth on July 12th through the 14th. I’m not sure if I’ll have enough books to bring, so if you have the option, come on the first day. If my books run out, I’ll still be supplying commission sketches and like, awkward stares.
Also, I don’t know if I’ll have a way to process credit/debit/checks on the day, so you may want to have cash on hand if you want to buy something.
But if you already have books, don’t have the cash or anything at all, just come by anyway and say ‘Hi’! We’ll get our picture taken, it’ll be very romantic.
I ought to write about this for Wise Bread, but I don't know any more about it than what's in this post, which seems to cover it pretty well.
I’m at a conference on the underbanked this week, where it’s basically impossible to swing a cat without running into someone talking about mRDC, which stands for mobile remote deposit capture. Or, in English, the ability to cash a check using your smartphone.
A lot of bigger banks have had this ability for a while now: take a photo of a check using your phone, and you don’t need to bring it into a branch in order to deposit it. (And some of the bigger banks can make that process quite frustrating.) This is just a mobile way of depositing your check — it then enters into the standard banking system, and it will clear when it clears.
People with prepaid debit cards, however, who live on a much tighter cashflow model, can’t afford to just sit around waiting for their checks to clear. If the check in question is a paycheck, then they want — they need — that money now. Virtually all prepaid debit cards do everything they can to persuade people to convert their paper paycheck into an electronic direct deposit, which appears on the card immediately, but habits are hard to break, and there’s still a very strong consumer preference for being paid in some kind of physical form. And in any case, checks can come from many different sources, many of which would find it difficult or inconvenient to try to transfer the money electronically.
In the real world, check-cashing stores have sprung up in tens of thousands of locations to scratch this particular itch: take a check into the store, which is conveniently located and open late, and convert it directly into cash. Supermarkets are generally happy to offer the service too. Walmart, for instance, will do it for a flat fee of $3.
When you’re cashing a check in person, there’s a natural fraud-detection device — the human who’s handing over the greenbacks — which is hard to replicate in a mobile setting where everything is done through OCR algorithms. The overwhelming majority of check fraud is perpetrated by the depositor: if I try to deposit a bad check, or a check I’ve already deposited elsewhere, then I’m almost certainly doing so knowingly. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to attempt that in person — much more than it does to attempt it by trying to put money onto a prepaid debit card.
Still, as check-cashing services have grown, a company called FIS has built up a substantial business by offering a service which allows check-cashers to outsource all of their fraud detection, and taking all that risk onto its own balance sheet. Send a check off to FIS, and it will happily — for a modest fee — turn that check into ready cash, and it’s pretty much agnostic as to whether that check comes from a check-cashing storefront, or a supermarket, or a phone app. There might be slightly more fraud coming from phones than from storefronts, but FIS is big and experienced enough to be able to cope with that and weed that fraud out.
As a result, underbanked Americans who want to turn their checks into immediate spendable money can now do so more easily than ever, directly from their phones — something which is even easier than going to a storefront. Providers of prepaid debit cards can now contract with FIS to turn mobile-uploaded checks into cash, and then can put that cash irrevocably onto their customers’ cards. If the check ends up bouncing, or otherwise being bad, that’s FIS’s problem: neither the customer nor the card provider loses any money. Everything is done through the prepaid card’s mobile app, which simply makes calls on FIS’s API.
And what if your prepaid card provider hasn’t signed up with FIS? No worry: another company, called InGo, is here to help. If you have a prepaid Visa card, you can download the InGo app and use that to upload your check; you can then deposit cash immediately onto the prepaid card of your choice. If you’re willing to wait 7 days, the service is free, but most customers choose to receive immediate funds; the fees there are 1% for payroll and government checks, or 4% for all other checks. Those fees are highly competitive with check-cashers. Not only is InGo more convenient than a corner store, it’s also cheaper.
Most encouragingly, the use of mRDC, because it keeps people out of check-cashing stores, might well cut down on the amount of payday lending. Check cashing per se is not a massive drain of funds for the underbanked, although it can add up over time. But when you regularly go to a store to cash your paycheck, and you know that store is willing to advance you money against that paycheck when it’s coming to you in a week’s time, then it becomes very tempting to get your money not immediately, as soon as you receive it, but rather in advance. And that’s where check cashing can become usurious payday lending.
It’s a depressing yet undeniable fact that paper checks aren’t going anywhere, in the US. Even as they’ve become obsolescent everywhere else, they’re still ubiquitous here — and that fact has been a serious obstacle to helping banking go fully mobile. But now that FIS and InGo are cashing checks straight onto prepaid debit cards, what used to be an obstacle can now become a competitive advantage. Prepaid can go overnight from being the place where you can’t deposit a check into your account, to being the easiest place to deposit a check into your account.
I’m hopeful that as part of this trend, check cashing will stop being a significant expense for the underbanked, and will instead be a way for mobile banking operators and the prepaid industry to compete with each other in terms of convenience. Already, if you’re a Gobank customer, and you deposit a check into your account, the money will arrive immediately — and Gobank won’t charge you a penny, at the margin. (Although they will surely hope that you will pay for it in another way, through your voluntary monthly fee.)
Most of the unbanked have smartphones, now — which means that smartphones should be able to disrupt check-cashing stores long before checks themselves become obsolete. That’s going to help take financial services for the underbanked out of the control of the payday-loan industry, and into the control of nimbler and more competitive mobile-native companies who are more interested in scale than they are in extracting rents from the poor. Which should be good for everybody.
Shared for the Massachusetts Brewers.
How is it that Dora can write a post about recording dreams, getting enough sleep, tall windows, breakfast, writing ergonomics, coffee in Budapest, and why she writes—and instead of seeming rambling and disjointed it seems charming and insightful?
I’ve been writing down my dreams. Or trying to, because of course dreams start to slip away as soon as you wake up.
The reason I’ve been writing them down is that I’ve been reading books on myths and fairy tales, some from a psychoanalytic perspective, and they speak of dreams as emanating from the unconscious, of containing unconscious material that we can access and bring to light. And I’ve been wondering if this is true, if dreams contain important information rather than simply being random collections of images reprocessed from our conscious life. I’ve wanted to find out for myself.
The images in this blog post are from my mornings in Budapest. The first is of morning light coming in through the very tall windows of my grandmother’s apartment. The apartment building was built in the 1840s, I’ve been told. The ceilings are very high, about twenty feet, I think. So these windows are much taller than they look in the photograph. The trees I see through the window are in the park around the Nemzeti Múzeum.
For a long time, I avoided paying attention to my dreams, because what I remembered were the unpleasant ones. And I dream vividly, in intense detail, so the unpleasant ones were very unpleasant. I didn’t want to remember them.
But since I arrived in Budapest, I’ve kept a notebook next to my bed, and when I wake up, I jot down whatever I remember. Not in detail, since my dreams are too detailed to capture in their entirety. But jotting down enough information that I remember what the dream was about.
This is my breakfast: muesli, peach juice, and theorizing the literary fairy tale. The view is out the kitchen window into the courtyard, which I think used to be where the carriages drove in.
So far, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that without an alarm, I naturally sleep nine hours a night. So sleeping five hours, which is the most I got some night during the semester, is probably not a good idea, is it? I think I need sleep, need a significant amount of sleep, and when I don’t get what I need, I’m not healthy or even happy. So that’s a useful lesson in itself.
The other thing I’ve learned is that I dream many times a night, many dreams: each time I wake up, I remember a different one. (Since the daylight comes in, I wake up several times in the morning, and if I’m still tired, I go back to sleep. I love the daylight coming in. I hate drawn curtains, hate to wake in darkness. When that happens, I always feel groggy.)
I can usually only remember the last dream or two, but I know there have been many, that I’ve dreamed many dream lives in the course of a night.
This is me in the distorting hall mirror, ready to go out for the day. The weather here in Budapest has been wonderful: warm, sunny. It’s definitely summer skirt weather, whereas in London a week ago I was wearing a fleece jacket and boots.
And as I expected, my dreams are intense, detailed. While I’m in the dream, I don’t remember that I’m dreaming, that I have another life, a life I call “real.” For the time I’m in the dream, the dream is my life, my reality. This is disconcerting when I wake, because I have to adjust and remember that I’m now in my “real” life. I have to remember what day it is, where I am in the world.
This is where I want to make a connection with writing (after all, I called this blog post Dreaming and Writing). I don’t know if it’s like this for other writers, but when I write, it’s as though I’m having a waking dream. I’m observing the story I’m telling as though it were reality, as though I were in it (although not participating in it). It’s happening all around me. I’m immersed in the story.
This is my writing desk. It’s not exactly ergonomic! I have to put a pillow on the chair to raise me up enough so I can type comfortably. I don’t think that television has been on since the 1970s.
When I emerge from writing, it’s an experience as disconcerting as waking up, as emerging from a dream. I have to try and remember what day it is, where I am in the world. It’s as though I’ve spent several hours in a version of sleep.
So what does all this tell me? Well, I’m going to keep trying to write down my dreams. I want to see what else I can learn about them. But what it suggests to me is that there is something profoundly complicated about the creative process. When I’m being creative, I’m putting myself into a certain mental state, changing what my brain is doing and how it’s relating to the world in a profound way. That seems important.
It also suggests that writers are very strange people. I suspect that artists, dancers, musicians all go through a version of the same thing: that they change mental states while creating and performing. What does it mean to be that sort of person? What does it mean to live with that sort of person? It must be difficult . . . (Writers can be difficult people to live with. I know that I am never entirely there, wherever I am. Part of me is always somewhere else, particularly when I’m working on a project, as I am now.)
And here is my table in the internet cafe down the street. This is where I am now, typing this blog post. That is a small latte, and it is genuinely small: about half the size of a latte in London or Boston. But in London, I can drink several small lattes throughout the day. In Boston, I can drink two at most, because the coffee there is so much stronger. And here in Budapest? This is my limit! Even the caffeine in this small latte is almost too much for me. But it’s the best coffee I’ve ever had, anywhere, ever.
The truth is, and I don’t know whether this is a good truth or not, that I don’t write to produce stories. Or for any of the superficial reasons: fame, fortune (neither of which are guaranteed anyway). No, the reason I write is that it’s always been my way of getting there, to that particular mental place where I’m living in a dream. Where my brain is functioning in a particular way. My desire to go there is like an addiction, and I suspect if I didn’t write, I would start going all wrong, the way people go wrong if they don’t dream.
Ray Bradbury said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” I think that’s sort of what I’m talking about . . .
Shared mostly because it's in Holyoke.
I've put the book on hold at the library.
Here’s a home makeover you have to see to believe.
It starts with a standard backyard in an economically challenged New England town called Holyoke.
As you can see, it’s a classic industrial backyard on 1/10th of an acre of land.
To transform it, the owners decided to design and build a backyard scale ecosystem (using principles culled from permaculture).
This approach intentionally combines different plants so that they form a self-supporting ecosystem. One where each plant provides a vital benefit to the rest. Some plants provide shade and pull up nutrients from deep in the soil. Some add nitrogen to the soil to fertilize the other plants. Some attract bees and other beneficial insects. Some help the soil build and retain the structure it needs to capture, retain and manage water better.
The goal is to find the right combination of plants such that the entire system runs itself and the workload/expense required to run a high performance garden shrinks to something manageable.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single “best way” to accomplish this feat yet. It requires experimentation.
To do that, it’s best to use and open source approach that combines:
It took about five years, using this approach, before they finally found a formula for a bountiful ecosystem that fit into their small, New England backyard.
As the system began to kick into gear, it began to produce a large diversity of food in abundance without nearly the effort required for conventional gardening.
Here’s what it looks like today (they just put out a book to share their experience).
As you can see, it’s lush. What can’t be seen is the incredible amount of food this system produces.
It produces a lot: from the fresh staple foods to unusual, hard to get, gourmet items.
To extend the season, they’ve added a greenhouse to enable them to grow citrus fruits, and lots of berry bushes and fruit. They also have three chickens that help them maintain the ecosystem by consuming excess organic material while contributing eggs and fertilizer.
Since the ecosystem design they are using contains lots of unusual perennial plants — edible and/or with unique functions/attributes — they’ve been able to use the garden as a commercial nursery to make some income from it.
So, take a moment to reflect on this.
This type of “open source” approach to home transformation is a very smart way to achieve resilience.
However, as you can see from the above, it may take some time to get it right (perhaps even longer than these guys). The key lesson is to start the learning, experimentation, and sharing process earlier than later.
I’ll be here to help if you get stuck.
PS: For people that like history. Holyoke, MA started as a planned industrial community, replete with a rectilinear street grid, which is unusual in New England. The town was built to support the paper industry (a century ago, it was the world’s leading producer of paper). The population is 2/3rds of what it was at its peak in 1920. One of the things that makes Holyoke interesting its capacity to produce lots of hydroelectric power via a sixty foot drop on the Connecticut river. I suspect that this dam hasn’t been updated much in the last couple of decades.
Shared for the skylines.
This is pretty good, except for the fact that my instructor teaches under the auspices of OLLI, not the park district. (And the gratuitous crack about my headshot.)
For several years, my brother Phil has been studying Tai Chi with a teacher from the local Park district. This summer, when no-one had offered to teach a class, he volunteered to start teaching. While I was visiting, I came to a class meeting to watch him teach and to take some pictures.
I partly came just because I was looking for an excuse to take some pictures of him to replace the atrocious picture he's been using on his website. I've seen more flattering mugshots. But I also wanted to learn more about Tai Chi because it's obviously become an important part of his life.
Phil is an outstanding teacher. But I've always known that. When we were kids, Phil was always explaining things to me. He has a knack for being able to summarize complex ideas in simple language that anyone can understand. Regarding Tai Chi, he had a confident line of patter to break a complex move down into pieces, summarize the important aspects, and explain how it fit into the larger context of the full pattern.
The students obviously appreciated having someone to lead the practice. They are a diverse group in terms of age, gender, race, and fitness level. But Tai Chi is something that anyone can start doing.
I enjoyed taking the pictures. I arrived a few minutes early to scout sight-lines and consider the lighting. We asked the students if they minded being photographed and none objected. The sky was overcast, which offered gentle suffused lighting. There was a bench that ran along behind the participants and gave me an excellent vantage point to look slightly down, which helped frame the images and keep the sky out of view. I shot 133 photographs, of which I thought about 30 were worth keeping.
This takes on a whole new significance after the dinnertime conversation at the kid's table at the reunion.
Shared for the pictures of Dora color-coordinating with the ponies.
I haven’t posted for a long time.
In the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth famously writes,
“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment.”
I think that describes blog posts rather well, actually. When I write a blog post, it’s often because at some point in the past, usually the recent past, I felt something. And now I want to do something with that feeling: I remember it, and I write about it. It’s usually something I feel strongly about, or rather felt strongly about. If I’m still feeling it strongly, if the experience of it is too recent, I can’t write about it. I can’t turn it into coherent thought, cohesive narrative.
(The pictures I’m including in this blog post were taken by Terri Windling, on a day when she and her daughter Victoria and I walked along the hills behind her house, accompanied by her dog Tilly. As you can see, we met some Dartmoor ponies.)
The reason I haven’t been writing is that I’ve been living too much. There has been so much going on in my life, both internally and externally, that I haven’t wanted to sit down and write about it — I haven’t been able to achieve enough distance from it to turn it into a blog post, or a series of blog posts. So why am I writing tonight? Because I’m in London, all alone in a large Victorian house, late at night. I spent the entire day alone, the first time I’ve done so in I don’t know how long. And you know, it was heavenly. I’m enough of an introvert that I need regular breaks from people. Yesterday, I spent an entire train journey through the English countryside entirely silent, which was blissful. And today restored some of the tranquility I had lost on my travels.
What I wanted to write about tonight, just a bit, is the strange journey I’ve been on. I left Boston three weeks ago, flew directly to Budapest, and then three days later flew to London. I spent some time here, mostly with friends although I did walk around alone for a day and see Sir John Soane’s Museum. Then I visited Oxford and the surrounding area, spending some time in Kelmscott Manor. I headed down to Glastonbury, seeing famous sights along the way: the White Horse of Uffington, Avebury, and Stonehenge.
In Glastonbury, Liz Williams read tarot cards for me. The reading was all about transformation, about the strange liminal place I was in my life, my attempt to figure out what was to come. And it gave me a message: you have to let go of the old before you can accept the new. Then I went down to the village of Chagford, to visit Terri Windling. There, I had several conversations with some very wise women (including Terri, of course). And on my last day there, something strange happened: I met a spiritual teacher named Ocean WhiteHawk, who just happened to be staying in the same Bed and Breakfast. We ate breakfast together and started talking, and she offered to embed a sentence in my subconscious that would help me in the transition I’m going through. Which she did, just before I left. So the entire journey down to Chagford, my stay in that village, turned out to be a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. The whole thing, from start to finish, taught me.
Those are the best kind of journeys, I think. There’s no point to going somewhere if, when you get there, you’re just going to be you, there. You go on a physical journey to be transformed internally, spiritually. At least, I do. The great lessons of this journey, for me, were twofold: (1) trust the transformation, and (2) complete the old so that the new can begin properly. Those are the things I’m going to be working on. And I’ll try to post more: whether or not I do will depend on my tranquility, on whether I can find it again. I am, at least, going to try.
The Great Temple in Madurai
I haven't watched the video, but if it actually says those things, it's pretty funny.
Presented without comment, a few quotes from the WSJ’s “Death by Bicycle” video:
Wow. Looks to me like a face to launch ships headed the other way.
Anthony Fredrick Augustus Sandys
Helen of Troy
"Hmm. This slug came out a little funny.”
"Whoa, evolution, what the hell?"
"I don’t know. I think I may have mixed something up on the camouflage gene."
"I was distracted."
"Well, you can’t just put that in the undergrowth, it’ll get eaten in like two seconds."
"What should I do with it, then?"
Shared for headline and art.
Beer is good. Foamy.
Your Monday moment of zen.
Sloth, Orlando, FL. Photo © 2008, 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Toby knows a lot about publishing too.
I love this quote from the recent marketing guide that Smashwords published:
“we cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”
This just does not get emphasized nearly enough. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal since I published The Apocalypse Ocean. One, because so many rah rah eBook advocates have been indicating to me that if I’d only just publish digitally first I’d keep 70% of the profits and *obviously* make more than I would with ‘traditional publishing.’
Since 2001, I’d been involved in selling eBooks. I initially began with stories being sold through Fictionwise. I did this to test the waters, and begin understanding what I felt was going to be a new way of reading. I also have been reading eBooks since the same year. I’ve since switched to selling a portfolio of short story collections, individual short stories, novellas, and a novel via various eBook outlets.
I lay down my bonafides, because usually the first thing I get is a lot of ‘booksplainin,’ by which I mean people lecturing me about what to do as if it’s self evident, obvious, and usually based entirely on their own anecdotal experience.
In fact, the self assured expertise of anecdotes drives me nuts.
Here’s the data. Mark Coker, looking at sales of *all* the books self published at Smashwords, points this chart out in a recent slideshare of information and best practices (for all that he’s been an initial booster, I’m grateful to him for sharing some raw data, unlike the other venues which highlight, boost, and act as if the superstars’ stories are average):
The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales, is that everyone is paying and listening to people in the green area. They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success.
Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away. Thus creating an environment where people are creating massive amounts of confirmation bias by continually listening to the top sellers.
In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.
That survivorship bias is useful to understand, and I just read a very large article that I think should be required reading for authors.
If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.
You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.
Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle. Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning.
So here’s how survivorship bias affects people. Here’s a chart from Smashwords of how all the books do in their system:
Guess where on this tail-like chart above the books and authors with the most articles, blog posts, and largest followings sit?
Mark helpfully takes out the top 100 so we can get a better look at it. But remember, the people in the top 100 are the ones that everyone points to as if those results have some meaning for the rest of everyone else.
Does this mean I’m somehow against direct digital publishing? No, obviously I’m a hybrid player and have been for over a decade now. But my refusal to damn either version of publishing means I don’t get lauded by certain parties, ink isn’t spilled over me, I’m not some vanguard. I’m just a working stiff, a mid list writer with a decent but passionate audience. Both methods have benefits and drawbacks, and I’m fully aware of both and try to communicate that.
I am trying to say ‘please approach this with some rationality.’ I’m slowly building up a portfolio over time of work that I hope will offer me an additional income stream. There are some benefits to this form of publication that I like, but to be honest, in a direct apples to apples comparison, I’m making more off the much despised traditional publishing still. By a large margin. This piece of anecdotal data means that the formula for each writer is different, and the constant ‘us vs them’ battle going on is harming artists who are losing a chance to make more money, or get a larger audience, who are being led astray.
It is only by trying lots of different methods, and paying attention to real data, not cherry picked anecdata, that you will best succeed.
If you’ve been successful, good on ya. I’m thrilled when any artist breaks out to making a living. But genuinely understand that survivorship bias means there are plenty of people plugging the same formulas and not getting results that look even similar.
This is not bitterness on my part. I’m actually thrilled with where I am, which is far ahead of many. Over half my income comes from writing fiction (and if I weren’t in debt from having a medical crisis in 2008 I’d likely be able to make a living just on my fiction). I’ve been slowly building my career since 1999, since my first tiny sale. Each year my readership grows, my blog audience grows, the money I make off my fiction grows. I use eBooks, traditional publishing and crowdsourcing all as tools to survive. I’m playing the long game. And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty open to that, but I’m always happy to report on what’s going on. Each successful career I’ve seen, though, requires a ton of hard work, and many people I see trying any method with a focus on shiny and new and ‘beating’ some system often flame out and fall away. Lots of people who’re doing the right thing and working hard flame and fall away too.
Making a living off art is hard.
But that isn’t a sexy sell.
That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.
And pay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.
There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.
Pretty much the same as its always been…
PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it…
If I had to make a guess, I’d say that I’ve done over 200 signings since The Name of The Wind was first published back in 2007.
Maybe more. Maybe 250 or so.
I’ve done them in libraries and bookstores. At conventions and universities. I’ve done them in at least seven different countries.
I’ve done events where three people showed up (two of whom were friends) and I’ve done events where 900 people showed up.
And honestly? I’ve enjoyed them all. Big or small. Cosy or Chaotic. I really like getting together with my readers and hanging out. Because the vast, vast majority of my readers are genuinely cool people.
Every event has something that makes it unique. Some reader that was exceptionally kind, or a venue that was exceptionally cool, or a question that was particularly fun or insightful. Many times it’s all three of these.
And every time something like this happens, I think to myself, “I’m going to have to tell folks about this on my blog…”
But I rarely do. What usually happens is that after the signing, I’m exhausted. Then the next day, I’m either traveling, or segueing straight into a convention. Then after that I have to catch up on my e-mail and sleep and spend some time with my boy….
And by the time I’m caught up again, it’s usually been several days and I’m tangled up in another project, doing writing, or otherwise busy.
But last night I had another signing in Kansas at Mysteryscape, and some fun things happened, and I had a few spare hours today before ConQuesT kicks off, so I’ve decided to share a couple stories…
* * *
The first of these stories isn’t from last night though. It’s from earlier this month in Little Rock, when I did a reading at Heifer International’s headquarters.
After a couple hours of signing, a pair of young women came to the front of the line. They said, “We knew we couldn’t match wits with you, so we decided to match beards instead.”
Then they pulled out beards they had knitted, and put them on.
Here we all are, stroking our respective beards thoughtfully…
They were even kind enough to give me one of the beards as a gift, so I could take it home and give it to Oot.
I honestly don’t know what to make of his expression here. He looks a little dolorous, which is only appropriate for a dwarf, I guess. Sarah, who took the picture, assured me that he thought it was really cool.
I think we’re going to be wearing that a lot this upcoming winter….
The second story is a familiar theme with an unexpected twist….
One of the things I hear a lot from people is how they found my book, or how they’ve shared it with other people.
This always warms my bitter old heart, not just because I like selling more books, (though I do) but because reccomending a book to a friend is one of the most sincere forms of flattery there is. If you read someone I wrote and like it enough to tell a friend, that means I’ve done something right. That means more to me than any sort of professional review….
So last night, someone got to the front of the line and they didn’t just tell me how word of my book had been spread around their circle of friends, they *showed* me…..
Nobody’s ever done this before…. and it was really cool to see how one person liking a book and talking about it can start a sort of avalanche. And it’s also fun to notice things like the fact that everyone seems to have teamed up on Timothy over on the left side there….
Even cooler was the fact that these folks showed up en mass and we all got to do a picture together. Here’s the one where I said, “Let’s do Crazy Eyes.”
You should really click this to embiggen it, if for no other reason than to see the little girl sitting next to me. She’s *into* it.
Lastly, some lovely folks noticed a facebook post a while back where I commented on how I liked some photgraphy tricks people were doing.
So they came out and helped me do some of my own….
I lost a little power because my heel came up, but generally speaking, I think this is pretty good for my first Hadouken.
The force choke comes at little more naturally to me. I worry what that might signify….
That’s all for now, folks.
P.S. I haven’t had time to write up a properly detailed blog about our kickstarter yet. But I thought I’d put a link up here now, as the limited edition decks are selling out pretty fast….
Very interesting response by teens to the actual (as opposed to theoretical) problems that they face.
Interesting report from the From the Pew Internet and American Life Project:
Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006:
- 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006.
- 71% post their school name, up from 49%.
- 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%.
- 53% post their email address, up from 29%.
- 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%.
60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings.
danah boyd points out something interesting in the data:
My favorite finding of Pew's is that 58% of teens cloak their messages either through inside jokes or other obscure references, with more older teens (62%) engaging in this practice than younger teens (46%)....
While adults are often anxious about shared data that might be used by government agencies, advertisers, or evil older men, teens are much more attentive to those who hold immediate power over them -- parents, teachers, college admissions officers, army recruiters, etc. To adults, services like Facebook that may seem "private" because you can use privacy tools, but they don't feel that way to youth who feel like their privacy is invaded on a daily basis. (This, btw, is part of why teens feel like Twitter is more intimate than Facebook. And why you see data like Pew's that show that teens on Facebook have, on average 300 friends while, on Twitter, they have 79 friends.) Most teens aren't worried about strangers; they're worried about getting in trouble.
Over the last few years, I've watched as teens have given up on controlling access to content. It's too hard, too frustrating, and technology simply can't fix the power issues. Instead, what they've been doing is focusing on controlling access to meaning. A comment might look like it means one thing, when in fact it means something quite different. By cloaking their accessible content, teens reclaim power over those who they know who are surveilling them. This practice is still only really emerging en masse, so I was delighted that Pew could put numbers to it. I should note that, as Instagram grows, I'm seeing more and more of this. A picture of a donut may not be about a donut. While adults worry about how teens' demographic data might be used, teens are becoming much more savvy at finding ways to encode their content and achieve privacy in public.
I have no idea in what way this is a Fiber School, but I thought Jackie ought to see it.
limako posted a photo:
Toby is right. Interesting article on a possibly interesting website.
First they tried to make me feel bad about my quinoa, now it’s Greek Yogurt. What’s next, guilt tripping me about kale? I want to eat my crunchy hippy food without guilt, damn you.
“Greek yogurt is a booming $2 billion a year industry — and it’s producing millions of pounds of waste that industry insiders are scrambling to figure out what to do with.”
I never even heard of Modern Farmer before. Great website. Bookmarked. Check out Kickstarting the Modern Farm.
Leafy sea dragon!
One night evolution had a vision of a world where things were perfect. Life coexisted peacefully with other life; nobody fought or died or ate each other’s entrails. There were no monsters in the ocean, only leafy sea dragons, fluttering calmly back and forth to keep everyone safe. It was a world of serenity, a world of quiet splendor, where everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
My friend, the writer Bruce Sterling, suggests that the future boils down to this one simple statement:
Old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky.
It’s hard to argue with that assessment based on current trends:
It gets worse. It’s hard to see how this future avoids universal poverty, plutocratic totalitarianism, and frequent bouts of chaos.
It doesn’t sound attractive, does it?
Of course not. But we don’t have to participate in that negative future.
While we can’t do anything about growing old, we can opt for a better place and way to do it.
A better future. A resilient future.
We have the smarts, the work ethic, and the passion. We have a global network filled with the information and compatriots required. We have a host of new techniques/technologies to make resilience easier than ever before.
It’s time to get started. Let’s build a resilient system that puts the current system out of business, before it does the same to all of us.
PS: Today’s Resilient Strategies roundtable is a short course on how to crowdsource investment for local solar projects.
Since Barbara just got one of these...
Recently, I’ve had a recurring Wi-Fi issue:
Almost daily, the device stops being able to connect to the internet over Wi-Fi, but doesn’t report this as a connectivity problem — connections just sit there, spinning, waiting, until they eventually time out and fail. (Like AT&T in Manhattan.)
This happened most often on my iPhone 5 with the latest iOS version (6.1.4), but it also happened with the previous version (6.1.3) at the same frequency.
I complained on Twitter, and this sounds like a widespread issue with AirPort Extreme Base Stations and Time Capsules running the newest firmware, version 7.6.3. A number of people said downgrading to 7.6.1 completely fixed the issue for them, so I tried it.
I didn’t even know how to downgrade. Here’s how: in AirPort Utility, hold Option while hovering over the firmware version, and it becomes a drop-down menu. Pick whatever firmware you’d like and click Update. (warning: at your own risk, I don’t know, etc.)
I did this five days ago, and the problem hasn’t recurred once. A few additional people since then have reported similar results.
If you’re having this problem, downgrading to 7.6.1 may fix it.
The Internet has turned into a massive surveillance tool. We're constantly monitored on the Internet by hundreds of companies -- both familiar and unfamiliar. Everything we do there is recorded, collected, and collated -- sometimes by corporations wanting to sell us stuff and sometimes by governments wanting to keep an eye on us.
Ephemeral conversation is over. Wholesale surveillance is the norm. Maintaining privacy from these powerful entities is basically impossible, and any illusion of privacy we maintain is based either on ignorance or on our unwillingness to accept what's really going on.
It's about to get worse, though. Companies such as Google may know more about your personal interests than your spouse, but so far it's been limited by the fact that these companies only see computer data. And even though your computer habits are increasingly being linked to your offline behavior, it's still only behavior that involves computers.
The Internet of Things refers to a world where much more than our computers and cell phones is Internet-enabled. Soon there will be Internet-connected modules on our cars and home appliances. Internet-enabled medical devices will collect real-time health data about us. There'll be Internet-connected tags on our clothing. In its extreme, everything can be connected to the Internet. It's really just a matter of time, as these self-powered wireless-enabled computers become smaller and cheaper.
Lots has been written about the "Internet of Things" and how it will change society for the better. It's true that it will make a lot of wonderful things possible, but the "Internet of Things" will also allow for an even greater amount of surveillance than there is today. The Internet of Things gives the governments and corporations that follow our every move something they don't yet have: eyes and ears.
Soon everything we do, both online and offline, will be recorded and stored forever. The only question remaining is who will have access to all of this information, and under what rules.
We're seeing an initial glimmer of this from how location sensors on your mobile phone are being used to track you. Of course your cell provider needs to know where you are; it can't route your phone calls to your phone otherwise. But most of us broadcast our location information to many other companies whose apps we've installed on our phone. Google Maps certainly, but also a surprising number of app vendors who collect that information. It can be used to determine where you live, where you work, and who you spend time with.
Another early adopter was Nike, whose Nike+ shoes communicate with your iPod or iPhone and track your exercising. More generally, medical devices are starting to be Internet-enabled, collecting and reporting a variety of health data. Wiring appliances to the Internet is one of the pillars of the smart electric grid. Yes, there are huge potential savings associated with the smart grid, but it will also allow power companies - and anyone they decide to sell the data to -- to monitor how people move about their house and how they spend their time.
Drones are another "thing" moving onto the Internet. As their price continues to drop and their capabilities increase, they will become a very powerful surveillance tool. Their cameras are powerful enough to see faces clearly, and there are enough tagged photographs on the Internet to identify many of us. We're not yet up to a real-time Google Earth equivalent, but it's not more than a few years away. And drones are just a specific application of CCTV cameras, which have been monitoring us for years, and will increasingly be networked.
Google's Internet-enabled glasses -- Google Glass -- are another major step down this path of surveillance. Their ability to record both audio and video will bring ubiquitous surveillance to the next level. Once they're common, you might never know when you're being recorded in both audio and video. You might as well assume that everything you do and say will be recorded and saved forever.
In the near term, at least, the sheer volume of data will limit the sorts of conclusions that can be drawn. The invasiveness of these technologies depends on asking the right questions. For example, if a private investigator is watching you in the physical world, she or he might observe odd behavior and investigate further based on that. Such serendipitous observations are harder to achieve when you're filtering databases based on pre-programmed queries. In other words, it's easier to ask questions about what you purchased and where you were than to ask what you did with your purchases and why you went where you did. These analytical limitations also mean that companies like Google and Facebook will benefit more from the Internet of Things than individuals -- not only because they have access to more data, but also because they have more sophisticated query technology. And as technology continues to improve, the ability to automatically analyze this massive data stream will improve.
In the longer term, the Internet of Things means ubiquitous surveillance. If an object "knows" you have purchased it, and communicates via either Wi-Fi or the mobile network, then whoever or whatever it is communicating with will know where you are. Your car will know who is in it, who is driving, and what traffic laws that driver is following or ignoring. No need to show ID; your identity will already be known. Store clerks could know your name, address, and income level as soon as you walk through the door. Billboards will tailor ads to you, and record how you respond to them. Fast food restaurants will know what you usually order, and exactly how to entice you to order more. Lots of companies will know whom you spend your days -- and nights -- with. Facebook will know about any new relationship status before you bother to change it on your profile. And all of this information will all be saved, correlated, and studied. Even now, it feels a lot like science fiction.
Will you know any of this? Will your friends? It depends. Lots of these devices have, and will have, privacy settings. But these settings are remarkable not in how much privacy they afford, but in how much they deny. Access will likely be similar to your browsing habits, your files stored on Dropbox, your searches on Google, and your text messages from your phone. All of your data is saved by those companies -- and many others -- correlated, and then bought and sold without your knowledge or consent. You'd think that your privacy settings would keep random strangers from learning everything about you, but it only keeps random strangers who don't pay for the privilege -- or don't work for the government and have the ability to demand the data. Power is what matters here: you'll be able to keep the powerless from invading your privacy, but you'll have no ability to prevent the powerful from doing it again and again.
This essay originally appeared on the Guardian.