Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Does The Internet Make Reviews Obsolete?

October 28, 2008

I think so.

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for some time.

I could never read a music review. It was like encountering a foreign language that looked like English, but was some sort of bizarre code.

Today, is there any need for music reviewing? Anyone can pop over to their favorite online music store or even a band website and immediately listen to samples. Would a bad review matter if you listened on your own and liked the music?

Book reviews usually set my teeth on edge, as mentioned in an earlier post.

Is there any need for book reviews today? Anyone can pop over to a publisher’s site, or an eBookstore, or a writer’s website and immediately read a free excerpt or an entire free chapter. Would any review — good or bad — have an effect if you personally liked or didn’t like what you read?

What inspired this post today was this review: The Swap

But what works against the novel most is Moore’s maddeningly elliptical prose style. He seems to take forever to get a point across. As a result, all attempts at humor — be they bone-dry or over-the-top — are completely lost in verbiage. The same goes for most plot developments, including the relationship that results when the wife of one Harvey’s schoolmates leaves her husband during a post-reunion party and takes up with Harvey. Then there’s the murder investigation, which ought to add suspense, but instead reads like a distraction. And, as if all this weren’t disappointing enough, the novel doesn’t end so much as it simply … stops.

What exactly does any of that really mean? Especially when it begins with an expectation on part of the reviewer:

With its Roy Lichtenstein-inspired cover illustration and graphic title design, Antony Moore’s THE SWAP looks promising. And the back cover synopsis makes it sound like a Donald E. Westlake-like comedic romp of murder, misunderstandings and related mishaps in the world of comic book dealers and readers. Would that it were! Sadly, this debut novel is a clumsy, ill-conceived work that never really delivers on any such promises.

So how can I believe anything that proceeds from that premise?

I did some investigation and it seems the publisher of this book has spent a bit of money to give it a shiny website.

That tells me this book isn’t the disposable thing the reviewer considered it to be. It also hints loudly that he missed the entire point.

I went on to Random House’s site to read an excerpt.

I liked what I read. So what did that review actually accomplish?

The most that can be said for it is that it inspired this post.

The worst that can be said is so obvious, I won’t state it.

Reviews of music and books: obsolete.

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Interster: Rare Puppet Series Pics And Videos!

October 22, 2008

As promised last night, here’s the longer post about the very rare South African marionette series inspired by the works of Gerry Anderson: Interster.

This is what I was sent as text in email by a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous:

Long and fond memories of my youth include the two seasons of Interster which aired on TV1 (the main English/Afrikaans) TV channel of the SABC (SAUK) in the early 80s.

The show is so old it was aired in SA when TV broadcasts only started at 18:00 in the evening! And ads were just about non-existent.

Back to the show: two seasons exist in the archives of the SABC in Johannesburg, While other shows (like Liewe Heksie) have been recently released on DVD in SA, the Sci-Fi curse haunts this show as well.

According the the clips below the Copyright for Season 1 is 1981 and the Season 2 is 1983.

The show has only been aired three times so far: the original run in the 80’s (the SABC of the 80’s had no concept of reruns, and the show was aired literally only once on TV1).

The show was repeated on the new SABC channel, SABC2 on Saturday mornings in the early 90’s, also only aired once.

The third airing was on the subscription Afrikaans channel Kyknet (www.kyknet.co.za) during the daily children’s programming slot of 17:00-18:00.

The bad news: I am still kicking myself for not making full recordings of the show during this Kyknet run in the early 2000s. Hard drive space was however at a premium at the time…..

This is a long post, with nearly sixty screensnaps! See them after the break.

Click for more Interster

Excellent Article About Excellence

October 21, 2008

Why talent is overrated
The conventional wisdom about “natural” talent is a myth. The real path to great performance is a matter of choice.

Even in purely mental work, the best performers observe themselves closely. They are able to monitor what is happening in their own minds and ask how it’s going. Researchers call this metacognition – knowledge about your own knowledge, thinking about your own thinking. Top performers do this much more systematically than others do; it’s an established part of their routine.

Metacognition is important because situations change as they play out. Apart from its role in finding opportunities for practice, it plays a valuable part in helping top performers adapt to changing conditions. When a customer raises a completely unexpected problem in a deal negotiation, an excellent businessperson can pause mentally and observe his own mental processes as if from outside: Have I fully understood what’s really behind this objection? Am I angry? Am I being hijacked by my emotions? Do I need a different strategy here? What should it be?

Emphasis added by me.

And:

The final element of the post-work phase is affected by all the others and affects them in turn. You’ve been through some kind of work experience – a meeting with your team, a trading session, a quarterly budget review, a customer visit. You’ve evaluated how it went. Now, how do you respond?

Odds are strong that the experience wasn’t perfect; in fact, parts of it may have been unpleasant. In those cases, excellent performers respond by adapting the way they act, while average performers respond by avoiding those situations in the future. That stands to reason. Since excellent performers went through a sharply different process from the beginning, they can make good guesses about how to adapt. That is, their ideas for how to perform better next time are likely to work. So it’s hardly surprising that they are more likely than average performers to repeat the experience rather than avoid it.

But where does the cycle start? Why do certain people put themselves through the years of intensive daily work that eventually makes them world-class great? This is the deepest question about great performance, and the researchers do not offer us a complete answer. We’ve reached the point where we must proceed by looking in the only place we have left: within ourselves. The answers depend on your response to two basic questions: What do you really want? And what do you really believe?

Emphasis added by me.

In regard to those two questions, I’m compelled to provide this excerpt from Ayn Rand‘s Atlas Shrugged:

“Where do you come from?”

“Buffalo.”

“Got any family?”

She hesitated. “I guess so. In Buffalo.”

“What do you mean, you guess so?”

“I walked out on them.”

“Why?”

“I thought that if I ever was to amount to anything, I had to get away from them, clean away.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Nothing happened. And nothing was ever going to happen. That’s what I couldn’t stand.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they . . . well, I guess I ought to tell you the truth, Mr. Taggart. My old man’s never been any good, and Ma didn’t care whether he was or not, and I got sick of it always turning out that I was the only one of the seven of us that kept a job, and the rest of them always being out of luck, one way or another. I thought if I didn’t get out, it would get me-I’d rot all the way through, like the rest of them. So I bought a railroad ticket one day and left. Didn’t say good-bye. They didn’t even know I was going.” She gave a soft, startled little laugh at a sudden thought. “Mr. Taggart,” she said, “it was a Taggart train.”

“When did you come here?”

“Six months ago.”

“And you’re all alone?”

“Yes,” she said happily.

“What was it you wanted to do?”

“Well, you know-make something of myself, get somewhere.”

“Where?”

“Oh, I don’t know, but . . . but people do things in the world. I saw pictures of New York and I thought” — she pointed at the giant buildings beyond the streaks of rain on the cab window — “I thought, somebody built those buildings — he didn’t just sit and whine that the kitchen was filthy and the roof leaking and the plumbing clogged and it’s a goddamn world and . . . Mr. Taggart” — she jerked her head in a shudder and looked straight at him — “we were stinking poor and not giving a damn about it. That’s what I couldn’t take — that they didn’t really give a damn. Not enough to lift a finger. Not enough to empty the garbage pail. And the woman next door saying it was my duty to help them, saying it made no difference what became of me or of her or of any of us, because what could anybody do anyway!”

That’s one way to start.

10/19/08 Reading

October 19, 2008

Photo taken with the Philips crapcam.

Double-size enlargement:

I do this photo (if it can be called that!) because it’ll be rare for you to come across this long out-of-print paperback by Neville Smith.

It’s his novelization of the screenplay he did for the delightful movie, Gumshoe (which I raved about in the old blog).

First, I must be self-indulgent and run this passage for an old friend:

I got up and made it to the door. He stopped me.

‘Wait. We don’t see you for a year. You must want something.’

I turned to look at him, ‘I got given something tonight and I’m just checking to see if anybody I know gave it to me.’

‘A present, was it?’ he sneered.

‘You could call it that.’

‘The day I give you a present, pigs will fly.’ That’s his idea of a snappy repartee.

‘Thanks for the flying pig.’ Us Ginleys should stay out of the repartee business. I walked out.

When I first saw this movie in the 1970s, it struck me, hard. It was so delightful! Full of scenes that you wished would happen in real life — and there they were, dramatized in the movie, bringing them to fake, yet real, life.

For ages, I wanted to see if there was a book. About two years ago, I came across the above paperback in a used bookstore. Finally, I’ve read it.

It’s just as delightful as the movie. Usually, books based on movies lose something, but this one — written by the screenwriter himself — is damned faithful to the movie and also fills out bits in the light-touch narrative about the Edward Ginley character not apparent on-screen (for example, he being an ex-Teddy boy).

It’s a double crime that this book is out of print and that the movie has been released on DVD —

only in the UK.

It’s U.S. release was limited to VHS —

— which is very hard to find these days.

What I learned just now is that the stunning blonde who was brilliant in a scene with Finney —

— was Wendy Richard, who went on to star in the classic Britcom, Are You Being Served?

The music score, by the way, was by Andrew Lloyd Webber! Ah, for a soundtrack CD! (There probably isn’t enough to fill a CD, so just sell the few tracks on the Internet already!)

This is what the cover of the UK paperback looked like:

Don’t tell me movie piracy is rampant on the Internet. Gumshoe has never been on the Net. I’ve looked. (For research purposes, you understand. I’m lucky enough to have scored it on VHS off ebay a few years ago.)

This is the kind of movie Criterion should be preserving on DVD. It’s a shame it hasn’t happened.

Here’s a review of the UK DVD. No word about extras, though.

Avert your eyes at this point, print-addicts. At some point I’ll have to razor-blade this rare paperback and turn it into an eBook copy for myself.

eBooks: The Invisible Worm

October 19, 2008

Over at Dear Author is a post and discussion about the effectiveness of advertising eBooks.

Ouch.

This is an essay in itself, which I don’t intend to do today. But I want to touch on some things.

How have I discovered books?

Bookstores and the public library.

I’d go into a Barnes & Noble and browse the new books in fiction, non-fiction, and several genres. I’d note the titles and authors in my PDA. I’d then check to see if I could get them from the NYPL. (Shut up. I’ve already said why I can’t buy print.)

At the library, sort of ditto. I’d see New Releases in several sections. But I’d also browse the shelves. That’s how I came across the first Ken Bruen book I ever read.

The trouble with the Internet: No shelves!

How will I — how will everyone — find eBooks? Or even writers?

This is an interesting list from my Bookmarks. These are writers I did not encounter until I came across them on the Internet (list is in reverse alpha order by surname because that’s how I lazily copied & pasted them):

Zoe Winters — via a blog post mention somewhere, and she left a Comment on this blog

Anthony Neil Smith — via Victor Gischler (a writer recommended by Ken Bruen)

Jimmy Lee Shreeve — I don’t recall, probably a blog mention somewhere

L.J. Sellers — via a Blog Book Tour post somewhere

John Scalzi — his classic Being Poor post (via MetaFilter at that time)

Jason Pinter — via MySpace

Melanie Phillips — don’t recall, probably a blog post mention

Martin Millar — don’t recall, probably a blog post mention

J.A. Konrath — a blog post mention somewhere

Simon Haynes — via Twitter free eBook offer from a third-party (I think!)

Matthew Gallagher — don’t recall, which is odd, as his blog is very new

Joseph Devon — via a blog post mention somewhere

Cliff Burns — he left a Comment at this blog in its first month

Matthew St. Amand — via MySpace

Notice how only one of these came about because of the writer seeking attention! (Cliff Burns — and the attention wasn’t for himself, it was indirectly as part of a discussion here.)

Most were absolutely indirect. The Internet equivalent of Word Of Mouth.

This is why I mention writers all the time here. This is why I post what books I’ve read (Category: Reading). This is also why I’ve changed my Internet habits and have mostly dropped what I used to do daily: visit mostly tech sites. I can’t find books to read that way. (Plus, technology qua technology mostly bores the shit out of me these days.)

Do you have a blog? Do you mention what books you’ve read? Do you mention writers by name and link to their blog or site or a post that inspired you?

That’s the first step to helping writers get noticed.

The rest I’ll have to save for another time.

Writers: Just Effing SAY It!

October 18, 2008

Over at Dear Author is a post and discussion about the merits/demerits of writers voicing their opinions.

This bit really got under my skin:

Women have to work twice as hard to gain respect as men do. This is as true in the real world as it is on the internet.

And so, of course, I left a Comment.

Really, if there are readers out there who are going to drop your books because you’re a thinking human being who dares to have independent thought, well, those readers can just go fuck themselves.

I don’t give a damn whether a writer supports Bush, McCain, Obama, or Nader. Whether a writer is pro or anti abortion. Whether a writer favors government regulation or sees government as a stifling force that distorts free choices. It’s the art that matters. I can even appreciate bits of self-alienated drug-addicted psychotic Ayn Rand, for crying out loud, and there’s probably very little we would have agreed on as people.

If a writer worries about offending someone, then that cowardice is bound to show itself in the work too. “Oh my god, this would be so great for this scene — but wait, what will people think?!”

Fuck. That. Shit.

I think it was Ayn Rand herself who once stated (loosely paraphrased): “Afraid of what? Being disapproved of by people you despise to begin with?”

Readers come and go. They always will.

Writers fall into and out of fashion.

Readers sometimes outgrow writers or writers leave readers behind.

There never will be — can’t be — a perfect balance with either art or life.

I’ve ripped people apart left and right in this blog. I stood before one in person whose firing I called for in this blog.

I ripped another two and even told them not to Follow me on Twitter. They now Follow me on Twitter — and I them — and we get along just fine.

It’s about ideas, not individuals.

Any reader who can’t stand a writer being a different human being is a reader all writers can do without.

I’d rather have a small group of discerning, intelligent readers over a fat wad of the scared masses any day.

So should you.

Previously here:

Some People Ignore Hints
Today’s Advice For Writers
Charles Bukowski: Outsider, Writer, Poet
This Made Me Snort

Chronicles Of Depression 2.0: #310: Israel

October 5, 2008

Stocks plunge in hard day of trading

Just days after US President George Bush signed into law a far-reaching $700-billion bill to bail out the tottering US financial industry, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange remained shaky, registering sharp losses on Sunday.

By noon, the TA-25 Index had already dropped 6.33 percent and the TA-100 Index fell by 7.08%.

The Tel-Tech Index dropped by 11.5% and the Real Estate Index dropped by 11.04 percent.

Emphasis added by me.

This is the first trading market to open since Friday.

An augur of Asia in a few hours from now?

Welcome again to Day Zero.