Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Paying It Forward

My email to an author from whom I requested a review of my latest novel:

Michael... I actually wish my first request to you for a review had resulted in a non-response. Y'know? It's what I'm used to. I sent the same request to George Takei and didn't hear back from him. Receiving a glowing review [for my novel Secreta Corporis] from you was a wonderful experience, but since then I've sprouted question marks around my head. Anyone else receiving affirmation like that from someone credible like you would be able to move forward to the next step and then the next step and so on. Me? I receive a glowing review from an established writer and— [Insert long pause and shrug.] I'm just baffled by my life experiences. Anyone getting a "rich and detailed landscape" and a "highly recommend it" could look forward to interest in a subsequent novel. Or interest from a publisher like Cleis. Couldn't they? I don't know, it just seems logical. Is it the men in black warning people not to associate with me? They can be quite intimidating...

A similar instance: Back when I was learning to build 3D models, Geoff Campbell, the head of the modeling department at Industrial Light+Magic, came up to me after he saw my reel and just started chatting with me. At one point, he said something like "They could get you started in the architecture department," because of a cathedral model he saw on my reel. Anyone else hearing something like that would end up as an employee at ILM soon thereafter, wouldn't they? If that had been you, I know you would've ended up working there. It seemed like an open door. Me? [Insert long pause and shrug.] After contacting them several times to follow up, I finally gave up. I'm just baffled by my life experiences.

I'm sure that if you respond at all to this, your email will have an edge and will be on the order of "Life is tough. Don't expect things to be handed to you." Please don't send a response like that; your "Good luck" cut deeply enough, you don't need to cut any deeper. :-} I suspect that your glowing review was intended to help market The City of Palaces because you knew someone like me would display your author information on every webpage around the world to which he has access. I'm not convinced that's true, I just suspect. But that is how the real world works. It would explain why a friendship hasn't developed between us (a long-distance, lite friendship). It would explain why there was no mention of my book in your blog, even though you told me I'd written a good book. Alternately, I suspect that my atheo-agnosticism is something you want to distance yourself from because most of your readers are devout Catholics, or at least somewhat religious. In that case, it's possible that you actually did think it was a good book. Slim, but still a possibility.

One thing I feel is important to mention is how you would have reacted to me, everything about the book being exactly the same, if I looked like the models in the photo shoot. I'm not convinced that this is relevant, but examine your feelings. If it had turned out that I looked as edible as they look, would you have expressed more interest in the book, given everything about the book being identical? I can think of four people off the top of my head who refuse to be seen with me in public. Two will talk to me in private, but being seen with me in public would lower their social standing. If someone is as mentally deficient as that, their opinion really doesn't carry a lot of weight with me. But that kind of thinking does exist. If you actually would be more interested and helpful with me if I looked like one of the models, then that's a character flaw that needs your attention. You know what it's like to be considered inferior simply because of your Mexican heritage. Exhibiting that same kind of bigotry to someone else because of his looks and age isn't forgivable, especially as you're an established spokesman in the LGBT community. Do you associate only with cute young guys, or with homely older people only when they're already established writers? It's certainly possible. Be brutally honest with yourself. If it's true, then you're still at your own Little Rock H.S. prior to 1957 and you have work to do. If it's not true, which is quite possible, then this whole paragraph should be disregarded. Never mind.

If there was ever somebody to invest good karma into... You already know from my writing that my IQ is on par with the people in your social circle, and there are other talents I could mention like songwriting, painting, and writing computer code for websites. I don't know, I really don't think I'm all that dull. But my life experiences would suggest otherwise. If you were willing to be a sort of mentor for me, or at least to answer my infrequent emails, it would take very little of your time, but it would have a tremendous impact on me. You could at least give it some thought. Sometimes ugly ducklings... take a lot longer than usual!


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Must have been a newbie

A comment I left after viewing a Disney video on YouTube promoting Disneyland Shanghai:

I'm amazed that the person in charge of this video needs help with editing. S/he got so many little things wrong, like cutting or dissolving too late, panning too quickly, changing camera-movement direction without easing, making the text banner too large, things like that. The video is from Disney Parks, but it looks like a fanvid. I wonder if the Disney Parks office that produced this video is here in Burbank. If so, I could stop by and help with polishing the editing. Let me know.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Quantum physics for the rest of us

The question I submitted to Ethan Siegel at Starts With a Bang!:

Dear Ethan,

I have more than one question, and it seems logical to package them into one note rather than to separate them into separate notes. But if that's against the law, I apologize.

1) I'm pretty skeptical about things, but fortunately I'm more skeptical regarding, say, faith healing than I am regarding quantum physics. However, when I read about the spooky action at a distance, the single particle going through one slot and causing waves to appear in another slot as if the particle had gone through both slots regardless of the distance between them, I can't help thinking "Oh right, they know they're emitting one particle at a time." I imagine the way they verify that a single particle is emitted is with a chain of technologies, with the more sophisticated technologies built on the results of the simpler, unless physicists have really, really good eyesight. I know that the results of this type of experiment are repeatable and that there's been extensive research into this phenomenon to try to understand quantum entanglement, but still. A single particle? Also, if I remember right, the particle can go through either slot, and I don't understand how that's possible. Is the emitter aimed between the slots or at one slot? Also, if there are more than two slots, do all of the slots exhibit the same phenomenon, or just one? And finally, isn't it possible that the phenomenon is produced by the slot itself? Like soundwaves bouncing around within a niche in a wall and producing a different wave pattern than would otherwise be produced by the soundwaves reacting to a plain wall. A weak analogy, yes, but it's the best I can do.

2) From what I know about quantum physics, which isn't much, the various models of, say, string theory are represented by whiteboards filled with equations that the average person finds incomprehensible. Whenever I encounter that, I can't help thinking "Can they write that out in longhand?" I don't know, it seems that the natural-language version of a model is as important as the mathematical version. The way we understand the universe is through language; we generally name things rather than assigning them numbers. I know that translating all of the symbols in a model, all the way down to the arithmetic operators, into natural language would produce text that would probably be book-length. But still, every mark on the whiteboard has a corresponding meaning in natural language. If a physicist doesn't want to translate the mathematical model into text, that would seem to be no more than his wanting to maintain the archetypal boy's club with its secret decoder rings and "No girls allowed" sign. How much is exclusivity for the sake of exclusivity prevalent in the profession? And then there's the quote about being able to explain something so a barmaid can understand it or one doesn't understand it well enough himself. So, can they write it out in longhand; if so, do they; if not, will they? We would really appreciate it. Some of us don't have enough life left to start at physics 101 and work all the way up to quantum mechanics.

John Garvey

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Zazzle of a Headache

My email to the CTO of Zazzle.com:

Bobby Beaver,

It's time for you to hand off the management of the website to someone who will devote full time to it. The website exhibits some bugginess that has been there for years. Whenever I use the website, I roll my eyes in annoyance so often that I get a headache. Please don't be defensive about the website and your control over it. It's time for you to retire rich and proud of your accomplishments in building Zazzle into the huge company that it is. I'm sure your Dad has said that you can manage the website as long as you want, but you need to have the maturity to realize that it's time to let someone take over who has a better handle on giant websites. You're holding the company back, and it really is time for you to move on to your next phenomenal startup.

In the development cycle of every family-owned startup, there comes a point when the business becomes so successful and large that the family needs to relinquish control so that those who are better able to handle large businesses can continue running the company well. Families whose startups grow phenomenally, like Zazzle has, are good at growing startups; that's where their expertise lies. But after a startup reaches a certain level of success, those whose expertise is in running big companies should take over, and the family should allow that to happen and take pride in what they've accomplished. And do it again with another startup.

I don't know how many thousands of designers use Zazzle. But every one of those designers runs into the same bugs that I do. We would all be happy if those bugs were finally taken care of.


John Garvey

Dear Trump Supporters

One of my recent T-shirt designs.

In case the image isn't readable, the text on the shirt is: "The rest of us would like Trump supporters to go back to school, expand their vocabulary, have non-White friends, eat less fat and sodium, exercise every day, shower every day, stop spitting, not laugh so loud, read better books, go to museums, watch PBS, bike to work, question assumptions, argue less, listen more, and act like grownups."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Proofreading is fun-damental

(Following is a comment I wanted to leave for this article by Joseph Friedlander at nextbigfuture.com but wasn't permitted to because, as a new member, I didn't have enough points. That's actually a good policy.)

You're a messy genius, aren't you. Please develop the habit of proofreading. Habitually proofread. Learn to enjoy re-reading your writing; you'll find something to change every time you read through it. You actually typed its's. You know that when its is possessive, it doesn't need an apostrophe. You learned that long ago, you just forgot. When it's is a contraction, it needs an apostrophe before the s. You routinely type its' when you want to indicate the possessive form, but that doesn't exist in English. And its's just happens when you're thinking ahead of what you're typing and not paying attention. Also, you frequently begin paragraphs with a space. An indentation isn't only one space, and when paragraphs are separated by blank lines, they're never indented. Also, the lead sentence is probably the most important sentence in an article, and so it should be fussed over the most. The to do is the problem because thermonuclear power isn't something to do. It's something that is. The sentence should probably begin with "What if generating thermonuclear power..." Or it could be "What if thermonuclear power is so hard to generate in a controlled manner..." And maybe energy instead of power? But that's just quibbling. (BTW, sentence fragments can make for more interesting writing and are not typos in standard English, so don't nobody point out my "And maybe" sentence fragment.) It's good to be a messy genius because that type of thinking can be very innovative. But the messiness shouldn't extend to the writing; it diminishes the writer's credibility as an educated person. Desk yes, writing no.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Controlling Israel’s violent ‘hilltop youth’

This article is truly scary: an Israeli “ISIS” that bases its violence against non-Jews on ordinary Biblical and rabbinic writings has recently emerged. The article, “Violence in the Name of the Messiah,” is by Noah Feldman and appeared in BloombergView on 1 November 2015.
They perform what are called “price-tag” operations—violent acts meant to send the message that any attempt to remove Jewish settlers from their land will carry a “price.” They also think that they’re living in a messianic age and that the state of Israel has betrayed the true objective of exerting sovereignty over the biblical land of Israel. They aspire to create a Jewish monarchy, governed by religious law, which would relegate non-Jews to subordinate status. And they believe that a book called “The Law of the King” provides legal and religious justification for the killing of non-Jews, including children, in the pursuit of their revenge.
Because the illegal Israeli settlements in which many of the extremists live are mostly built on hilltops, the members of the small radical movement are generally referred to as “hilltop youth.” The movement is an outgrowth of a quasi-political movement called Derech Chaim, which is headed by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsberg. In the early 1980s, Ginsberg founded a school called Od Yosef Chai in which, over the years, he has developed “his distinctive combination of Chabad Hasidism and national-religious-settler theology.” Followers of Ginsberg, Shapira and Elitzur, wrote the book The Law of the King, which Od Yosef Chai published, and in it justify the killing of non-Jewish children along with adults “‘because of the future danger that will be caused if they grow up to be evil like their parents.’” The killing of non-Jews is considered a “redemptive messianic act” and “a means to making the king messiah live and hastening the coming of his kingdom.” “As far as the terrorists are concerned, their actions are not merely permitted by Jewish law, but required.”

It's difficult for non-extremist Jews/Israelis to condemn the actions of the hilltop youth because their radical tenets are deeply rooted in Torah and the traditional rabbinic writings. Even the terrorists themselves—because their motivation is not like that of Mafia hitmen and dons: fattening their wallets and achieving new levels of luxury—can only see themselves as good people doing the work of God and willing to be martyred. Attempts to control such radical movements only drive them underground and increase their members’ fervency and acceptance of eventual martyrdom. The article by Feldman does offer suggestions for what Israel can do to restrict the growth of the movement, but those suggestions involve making the difficult choices now confronting Israel.

My own view is that the real solution to the problem is the one that no one wants. But the logic of this solutions is inescapable because it involves going back to the very beginnings of the current conflict. Let's go over this again:

Biblical scholars have been theorizing for more than two centuries, from de Wette in 1805 to Finkelstein in 2001, that priests and scribes in the time of King Josiah created a new scroll, the one “found” during Temple renovations, in order to support national reforms but the scroll was presented to the people as if it were old and preserved Mosaic law written six centuries earlier. The priests themselves may have created the covenant between God and Moses regarding the land, detailed in the scroll, which assigned ownership of the land to Israel in perpetuity. If true, should that covenant be considered valid now? The land belongs to Israel in perpetuity because the priests said it did in 622 bce? The scroll “found” during Temple renovations was an early version of Deuteronomy, and textual criticism shows this book to be later “priestly” writings which were collected into a book first, which led to the other books of Torah taking shape around the time of the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century bce. A forgery initiated the collection of documents that evolved into the Torah and Bible we have today. If the foundation isn’t true, nothing built on that foundation can be entirely true. Twenty-six centuries of claiming something is true doesn't make it true, if it wasn't true to begin with.

The hilltop youth and Derech Chaim and other radical groups could be shown that the Biblical writings on which they base their actions originated with a forgery—a book of law intended to give the priests of that time so much power that even the king had to seek their approval, written by the priests themselves—and that no subsequent writings can be credible if the writers assumed that previous writings were genuine. If they were shown that the basis for their violent “redemptive messianic acts” was unfounded, they would see that there was no reason to commit those acts, no messiah to draw out, no monarchy to establish. But that would require that all Israelis come to realize that Torah isn’t credible, which would, of course, remove the foundation for the modern state of Israel itself and Israel’s historic claim to the land. And that would domino outward and remove the basis for the faith of Jews and Christians around the world. And we can’t have that. That’s a solution no one wants to pursue. There are things worse than children being killed so that they don’t grow up to be evil like their parents.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Yo, gamers!! A little originality won't kill you!

I've just watched the video Top 25 Upcoming Games of 2015 and I can say with conviction that you all are stuck in a rut. What is the appeal of post-apocalyptic dystopia? It's the new big beautiful tomorrow? The new black? It looks to me, from a distance, that game culture is as restrictive and conformist as Lutheran culture in the 1950s, only the conformity paradigm is grunge and anarchy rather than clean shirts and neat haircuts. But stray from conformity at your own risk, nonetheless. The main question to answer now when designing a game seems to be the point at which apocalypse occurs in the timeline. It reminds me of discussions long ago in my religious days of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-mil or mid-mil was the right scenario for when the Rapture will occur relative to the Great Tribulation that leads up to Armageddon and the Millenium which follows Armageddon. In the game world now the choices seem to be primarily pre-apocalypse, mid-apocalypse or post-apocalypse. Doesn't a list of the most popular games lean in that direction? If a studio wants a game to be taken seriously, the floors had better be strewn with rubble and body parts at some point during the game.

The reason I care at all about how games are designed and what the market buys and doesn't buy is because games now offer such gorgeous realism. I'm still amazed by what I see rendered in realtime in the videos of actual gameplay. It's startling. Think how the games now would've looked to us in 2005, in 1995, with actual gameplay now almost indistinguishable from video. At the same time, I'm amazed that all this gorgeous supertechnology is used to animate blood spurting and vehicles exploding. What a waste. All of these ghz and gb used to animate zombies fer cryin out loud. It would be nice if the game studios would acknowledge the existence of the small demographic I belong to, made up of people who would buy these super-realistic games if they didn't exclusively feature the gore and mayhem associated with shooters. If the game studios provided a simple option to experience the game in something similar to god-mode or developer-mode, and marketed this option to us, they would realize a modest increase in sales. I can spend hours just exploring an interesting open world and would spend the money on a game if I didn't have to search the web for an .ini file that may or may not work. I bought BioShock with the intention to god-mode through it but was disappointed that nothing I tried worked. I ended up killing my way through a lot of the game because I really did want to explore the Rapture environment. But my frequent death was a nuisance. Some game apps offer a zen mode, without scoring or a time clock, and it would be nice if open-world action games offered something similar, right in the game's options panel.

But regarding the dystopian blood-and-slime-filled rut the game world is currently stuck in, alternatives that come to mind are 1) making money and 2) sex. Both are as primal as killing. Theoretically, action games based on either could be created that would engage the player as viscerally as shooters do. I'm sure game-design wizards could come up with compelling scenarios that feature racking up actual dollars instead of digital kills, if they just gave it some thought—investing in the stock market designed to play like hazardous parkour across the tops of skyscrapers, something like that. Applying the sophistication of game technology to interactive porn, on the other hand, seems as dystopian as applying it to killing sprees. But I remember Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, suggesting that societies that weren't restrictive regarding sex were less warlike. He suggested that, in societies where sex is tightly controlled, that energy has nowhere else to go except into war and violent crime. I know it's counter-intuitive to suggest that making love not war in the game world would be beneficial to society as a whole. But one can't get an STD from an avatar. One can accidentally get an avatar pregnant only virtually. If someone becomes a sex addict from the gameplay, it's very likely that the same person would've become a sex addict from the forms of porn available now. One could argue that a husband could come to prefer virtual sex to conjugal sex and that virtual sex could always devolve into an affair and result in the break up of a marriage because of virtual infidelity. Alternate opinions could be expressed at length about the current state of marriage among heterosexual couples, but that debate wouldn't be very interesting. Talk amongst yourselves. Ultimately it comes down to the question of how making the killing of a human/zombie/mutant/predator/alien amazingly realistic is more noble than making a sexual avatar amazingly realistic. Aren't they at least equally tawdry? In any case, these are some ideas the game world could consider.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Yo, Bezos! You're losing money!


When a book shopper on Amazon sees a book with a rating of one or two stars, they move on. Isn't this statistically true? The rating system was developed to help shoppers sort through millions of books. As a result, shoppers ignore books with low ratings. It saves them time. Consider the case where a noteworthy reviewer, Booklist for example, gives a book a favorable review and a customer gives a rating of one star to the same book. Does the shopper see the number of stars Booklist gave the book? Of course not; that review is just a block of text under Literary Reviews. The shopper sees the one-star rating in the search results and never clicks on the book and never sees the favorable review. How can you account for the weight given a customer review over a literary review? The result of the shopper not seeing the favorable review is a lost sale. As the number of indie authors grows, this situation would be expected to multiply, with the paradigm shift in the publishing industry leading more strong authors to bypass agents and publishers. The number of lost sales will increase.

The five-star rating system is a one-size-fits-all solution to sifting through millions of items on Amazon. When an established company markets, say, a kitchen appliance that they cut corners on in development and manufacture, it's good that the rating system exists so that customers can let others know of their experience with the shoddy appliance. In cases involving big, rich manufacturers, the rating system works pretty well. The same rating system should be applied to self-published authors? Literature should be judged with the same scale as appliances? In the arts, an artist doesn't create a product with a specified function. The range of opinions on any created item—a book, a print, a piece of original music—can be incredibly wide. The opinion of a person who hates, say, Pollack and Warhol prints should be given extra weight because he's a customer? We've all decided that both artists are fairly important figures in the history of art. We've agreed that the opinion of a person who hates their work, although individually valid, is not characteristic of the consensus. In Amazon's rating system, there's no accommodation for the wide range of opinions regarding created items. Some people hate what other people love. With the weight given the number of stars in Amazon's search engine for self-published books and appliances alike, the haters will always trump the lovers because low ratings will push items far down enough in search results that the lovers won't even see the items they would otherwise purchase.

I don't think you've understood yet how wanting to "let truth loose" by giving customers a neg/pos rating system in actuality throttles the truth in some categories on Amazon. Generally, when a person trashes an indie book with a one-star review, that person is trying to steer potential customers away from that book. The person may resent the author for writing a book he disliked and doesn't want to see the author succeed with book sales. That legitimately could be called censorship. That person is trying to ban that book from the libraries of potential readers. He's attempting to toss that book onto a fire so others won't be able to read it. This lets truth loose? With mainstream novels, the individual negative review doesn't have much effect when the total number of reviews is in the thousands. With a self-published book from a new author, a negative review buries that book in the search results.

As an example, my own book, Secreta Corporis, received a very favorable, almost glowing, review from author Michael Nava, whom the New York Times called a "brilliant storyteller" and "one of our best." In his review of my book, he called it "marvelously erudite" and "a rich and detailed landscape" and wrote "I highly recommend it." The full review is on the book's product page. Contrast that review with the customer reviews, and one wonders if four of the five customers were reviewing the same book as Nava. Search results make no mention of Nava's review, but the average of two and a half stars from five customers is quite prominent. Would you be led to check out that book if you didn't know anything about Nava's review?

I've noticed that some websites don't display customer reviews until the item has received a certain number of them. There are other solutions, and I hope you will consider them. How many books has Nava sold? I think it's safe to say that a good number of his readers would also be readers of my book because of his recommendation and because the books share character situations and tone. But those purchases have never been made. And this is just one example. How many other books/CDs/apps are there in a similar situation? That's more than a few lost sales.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Better teeth for better living with EMD/TZP

Just a cursory search of what new options are available for dental implants has produced numerous online references to both EMD (enamel matrix derivative) and TZP (tetragonal zirconia polycrystal). Wikipedia defines EMD as “an extract of porcine fetal tooth material used to biomimetically stimulate the soft and hard tissues surrounding teeth to regrow (in a process known as regeneration) following tissue destruction.” TMZ is described in an article available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website of the National Library of Medicine as “tetragonal zirconia polycrystal (TZP) displays high biocompatibility with reduced bacterial adhesion and high flexural strength which renders it as an excellent material for implant supported prosthesis.” The referenced article describes the use of dental implants that had been milled from “presintered homogeneous blocks of TZP” using CAD/CAM technology in the case of a particular patient. Another article on the same website explains that EMD “has been successfully employed to restore functional periodontal ligament, cementum and alveolar bone in patients with severe attachment loss.”

My online search resulted from my learning that dental implants use fixtures that resemble wood screws to anchor the prosthetic teeth to the jaw and also learning that the cost for replacing a single tooth can approach $1000 and is not covered by insurance. The price point for the dental implant, an out-of-pocket expense, should be lower; the result would be more procedures being performed and both the doctors and the suppliers realizing an increase in revenue. I also wondered about the use of threaded screw-like anchors to hold the prosthetics in place when natural teeth are held in place just by the roots. Roots don’t have threads, and I wondered how natural teeth could be so firmly anchored to the jaw that dental tools and some effort are needed to extract them. I encountered the term “cementum,” which Wikipedia explains: “Cementum is a specialized calcified substance covering the root of a tooth. The cementum is the part of the periodontium that attaches the teeth to the alveolar bone by anchoring the periodontal ligament.” While wondering if exotic new polymers could mimic the adhesion of cementum and the periodontal ligament, which would of course be removed from the socket along with the tooth, I encountered EMD which apparently facilitates the regrowth of cementum and the periodontal ligament. So, I wondered, are threaded anchors necessary?

Provided that regrown tissue can attach to TZP in the same way it attaches to the roots of a tooth, why not make a prosthetic tooth with roots instead of driving a screw into the jaw? This procedure could be employed only in cosmetic dentistry, since a healthy tooth and root canals/sockets would be required. The roots of a diseased tooth and the eroded sockets in the bone may be too compromised for this procedure to work. But for those patients who, for example, would like to replace badly stained but otherwise healthy teeth, this procedure would seem viable. It would be simpler, resulting in lower cost for the patient, and less invasive, resulting in its being more easily tolerated by the patient.

In a nutshell, a healthy tooth would be extracted, a copy of it, with roots, would be milled or molded out of TZP, and the replacement tooth would be inserted with EMD to stimulate the attachment of the tooth to the surrounding periodontium.

In my online search, I haven’t found this solution discussed as a future possibility. So my proposal could provide someone with an opportunity for a new patent and the resultant substantial income stream. Just remember that you heard it here first.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lost in the JavaScript rainforest

Okay, so maybe it’s time to ask for help. Well actually all I need pointed out to me is a manageable path through the jungle, and I’ll be off trekking on my own again. I’ve been to forums like Stackoverflow.com but have been so put off by the smartaleckiness of some of the experts answering newbie questions that forums have become my last-resort sources of information. I thought I’d try the message-in-a-bottle-thrown-into-the-search-engine-ocean approach and see what results. If you’re an expert in JavaScript/jQuery with infinite patience, or know someone who is, I would greatly appreciate a bit of useful information. However, if you’ve grown tired of the same newbie questions over and over... umm, why do you answer those questions? Fame? Opportunities for bullying? It looks good on the resume? Please feel free to go do something else. All newbies deserve to be treated with respect, no matter how poorly formed their familiar question is, because it’s their first time asking the question.

The project I’m working on fits somewhere between “ebook” and “app.” It’s both, or it’s one looking like the other. When I started out it seemed like it wouldn’t be all that difficult to create a novel that presents the reader with simple games at certain plot points to unlock subsequent text. I’ve encountered a few novels in the app stores that attempt to add new ways of communicating the story to the reader, and it does seem to be how fiction will naturally evolve with the availability of the new media. The lines will naturally begin to blur between novel, graphic novel, game, movie and music video. So it does seem to me to be a worthwhile direction in which to head.

The project started out pleasantly with my writing several chapters of the book while simultaneously formatting the text with html/css in Sigil, and what I was producing was much cleaner than the hairy html one gets when going from Word through Calibre to Sigil. What a mess. As I coded I would view the results in the graphic window and then resume writing in the code window. Nice, efficient. However, when I tried to do more elaborate things I learned that Sigil wasn’t the program to use. This was before the epub3 enhancements, but even now Sigil understands only part of the new features, and it’s now no longer being updated. I migrated to Aptana Studio 3 and was able to add JavaScript and jQuery and create graphics like an iPhone-style “camera” which makes additional text appear after the reader has clicked the shutter a set number of times, things like that. One of the problems I’m having without the epub format is forming linked text boxes that allow the text to flow through pages rather than scrolling. Also I’d like to have background sound files play continuously through several pages.

I consulted forums and read about Ajax. Then I learned that Processing and Ionic are replacing antiquated jQuery. Then there was Node.js and NPM and SPA and the CLI. The underbrush was getting thicker so I thought I should get a book. I looked at Learning Single Page Web Application Development by Fernando Monteiro, and o-m-g. MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, Yeoman, Bower, Grunt, PureCSS, Hackathon, Passport, Json, Postman, Karma, Protractor, and Jasmine from the TOC and under “What you need for this book” is a list of modules that covers two pages. Forever, Glob, Helmet, Morgan, Swig? And the reason for this pile of modules is? The reason? To make JavaScript easier to work with! Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! It’s all to ease the pain of working with JavaScript! Lord, if JavaScript needs this many bandaids, it’s probably time to rewrite it. I did buy Monteiro’s book, and it’s well written. But I’m now much less interested in becoming a designer who builds cross-platform apps with html5 and Cordova on a full-time basis. If this is the state of the industry, it’s not interesting. It’s a mess, like Word/Calibre/Sigil html code. It’s not that it’s too confusing; it’s that it’s totally illogical. Having to make frequent use of the CLI now is like Scotty picking up the mouse and speaking into it “Computer.” All of the functionality provided by this shrubbery of modules surrounding JavaScript should be provided by JavaScript itself. The core should be fundamentally repaired, or it should be replaced with something that integrates everything efficiently and smoothly.

Anyway, thanks for letting me vent. Now, where was I? Because my project is primarily an ebook, I can’t take the PDF fixed-layout route. Long passages of text between the games need to flow to accommodate different device resolutions. If epub3 is robust enough to allow full-screen boxes, each containing a maze or hidden-object game with sound effects, to flow along with the text without being split by page breaks, it would be great, but I haven’t run into a program that would act as a next-gen Sigil. I recently bought QuarkXpress but haven’t found that its ebook editor or AppStudio are developed enough to let me accomplish what I want to do easily. Probably with enough jerryrigging… Because the project would function as an ebook, the whole thing needs to be downloaded so it’s available offline. I’ve started looking at Macaw, thinking that I could construct the book like a portrait-oriented website that is entirely cached and that flips single pages instead of scrolling, but I’m not hopeful. If someone could recommend a logical path through the jungle, I’d be grateful. Not a path that involves climbing a lot of trees and swinging on vines and then spelunking and then walking on stilts through quicksand, but just a path. I know someone could say that I’ve (yet another metaphor) bitten off more than I can chew and I should hold off on this kind of hybrid project until I’m more seasoned, but I’ve actually bitten off what I want to learn to chew, and I consider learning how to chew it is as important as completing the writing itself. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hurrah Hurrah, Yeah Whatever

I’m actually not in a celebratory mood today about the Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision. I can’t believe Roberts’ dissent:
Roberts wrote that the decision showed “disrespect” for the democratic process and that the American people should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to accept this huge social change. “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” Roberts wrote. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept"... “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits,” he wrote. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Can’t his reasoning be applied to integration, interracial marriage and women’s suffrage? If the people want to continue debating whether a certain population has the same rights as everyone else, shouldn’t they be allowed to continue the debate indefinitely? As the current conflict over the Confederate Flag shows, many people would still be debating whether African Americans should have equal citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws as whites have. Allowed to continue indefinitely, that debate would still be going on, without the resolution provided by the ratification of the 14th Amendment. It’s kind of clear that the striking down of Prop 8 falls under “No state shall make or enforce any law,” so why does Roberts say that “the Constitution had nothing to do with it”? I’m bothered by that wording. I would’ve expected Roberts to break Conservative ranks with this ruling as he did with the ruling on Obamacare. Even I can see the applicability of “No state shall make or enforce any law” to this issue. So if the ruling had gone the other way, wouldn’t it affect all of the equal-protection interpretations of the 14th Amendment retroactively? I’m really at a loss for Roberts’ reasoning. I hope there’s a public reaction to it. I hope he’s questioned intensely by the media about his reasoning. But the celebration of the decision will probably drown out his dissent and he’ll never be called to question for his reasoning on this issue.

Scalia, of course, could be counted on to trivialize the entire issue by saying that the opening sentence of the opinion sounded like a fortune cookie. With Scalia’s focus on the Signers’ intent in his interpretations of the Constitution, I think he must even be uncomfortable with the fact that women can vote and he would probably prefer that, in population tabulating, an African American be counted as three-fifths of a person. Yes this is a straw-man argument, but if one follows his logic, how is it inappropriate? The Founding Fathers were racist chauvinists from today’s point of view. Applying their intent now produces anachronisms. Even Kennedy’s oral argument in April regarding the marriage issue is difficult to understand. “‘The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia,’ he said then, referencing the amount of time societies had considered marriage to be only between a man and a woman.” Even I, with my relatively feeble grasp of the law, can refute that reasoning with the argument that, at the time of Abolition, slavery had been an acceptable institution for millenia. If longevity proves the worth of an institution, entrepreneurs should feel free to set up slave auctions again, both online and brick-and-mortar. Slaves4U.com. Why not? Follow the reasoning and that’s where it leads.

#Rachel #Maddow, if I shine a big searchlight up into the night sky that projects a silhouette of..umm... a big pair of glasses, would you come to our aid and explain Roberts’ dissent to us? We citizens would be very grateful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Yo, Bezos!!! Fix your website!


I know you like playing with futuristic toys and all, but don't forget about the source of your wealth. Being a billionaire, you naturally don't spend much time shopping on Amazon, and so you don't know about the issues that ordinary users encounter. You must rely on reports from your QA people, who apparently tell you what you want to hear, and as a result problems that need fixing can go unfixed for years. An example is editing the customer's browsing history. Did you know that only one item at a time can be deleted from the browsing history? Every other site on the planet offers check boxes and the option to delete all selected items. If I want to delete several items near the bottom of a page, I can delete only one at a time, and after each item is deleted I am returned to the top of that page and have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to delete the next item, and so on. You try doing that with a dozen items without rolling your eyes! And if I don't want to go through the hassle of cleaning up my browsing history, my front page is filled with promoted items that I'm not interested in. When was the last time you edited your browsing history without administrator status? When was the last time you shopped for something on #Amazon as an ordinary customer with a different name and an ordinary account, just to see what the experience is like for the ordinary user? My guess is that it's been a while.

Here's another issue, if you're interested. When I go to the Men's Shop and click on, say, Shirts/Polos, and then sort by Price: Low to High, why does the category sometimes include women's underwear and kids' T-shirts? In Men's Polo Shirts? It changes all the time, of course. Currently, the category Men/Shirts/Polos sorted Low-to-High includes among the polo shirts an earmuff, a glitter sports headband, a Team USA pin, a short-sleeve hoodie, a pinstripe waist apron, polo stickers, tank tops, muscle shirts, boys' polo shirts, baseball caps, sweat pants, a bucket hat, breath-mints, a juniors' pullover top, a bib apron, a 3-pack of briefs, a flannel shirt, a women's vest apron, crew socks, and cycling masks. There must not be much oversight of retailers to ensure that they categorize their merchandise appropriately. Your results may vary. Similarly, clicking on Men/Pants/Casual/Low-to-High includes velcro cycling trouser protectors, suspenders, a Top Gun patch, a defrost timer, baseball caps, socks, women's underwear, men's garden clogs, cycling masks, a knit cap with pom, a wrist restraint, a girls' sweatshirt, a bucket hat, and a necktie, along with numerous shorts and dress slacks, which have their own categories and shouldn't be included here. Dress Shirts goes a little farther afield with baby girls' leg warmers, bead necklaces, iron-on appliques, fishing hooks, yoga socks, a beanie visor, women's mini-dresses, a body-shaper tank top, hip-hop baseball caps, mesh shorts, and a leather travel pouch. It's humorous now to see the anachronisms, but when I'm shopping for something specific, it's annoying to have to scroll through unrelated items. I understand that there may be thousands of retailers and millions of products on #Amazon, but there could be more control over where items end up in the databases than is apparent now.

From my point of view, it seems that the software running the site is creaking with age. I don't remember seeing many changes to the basic product page layout over the last several years. It's great that you've developed, among other products, the #Amazon #Echo and are "just getting started" on developing more products. But in view of that and your involvement in the Washington Post, Blue Origin and the Bilderberg Group, perhaps it's time to sell Amazon to someone who will focus on the individual user's experience.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The right of free feedback

Following is feedback to Amazon regarding the profile page of reviewers. (The popup message box includes the question "How could we improve Profile for you?")

Customers should be able to contact reviewers, by email or through messages to their user accounts. If a reviewer has not checked the box to be notified of responses to their review, they receive no feedback if they never return to the page where they left the review. Allowing a reviewer to have a little fun trashing a book, for suspect reasons, and never having to account for it is not a freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. When a person employs his right to free speech, he should understand that freedom of speech guarantees the right of free speech to those who would challenge what he has said. A person is free to speak his mind, but that doesn't mean that he's free from having to take responsibility for what he says.

As an example, consider this reviewer's review of "The Talpiot Find" in light of the review by noted author Michael Nava for another of my books, "Secreta Corporis," which I have included on this book's page (near the top of the page). The two opinions of my ability to write are diametrically opposed. When one looks at the only two other reviews this reviewer, James Reynolds, has submitted to Amazon, the shallowness and brevity of which make one wonder if he's actually read those books, one could begin to suspect that they were submitted to obfuscate the ulterior motives of his review of this book. Is it possible that this reviewer disagrees with the premise of this book but is attempting to keep other readers from this book by giving the impression that the book is poorly written? Amazon policy should not allow a deceptive tactic of this type to go unchallenged. If a reviewer disagrees with a book's premise, his review should discuss the premise, not the book's writing style. I have responded in a comment regarding the review. Has the reviewer seen my comment? It can't be known whether my comment was forwarded to his email address.

If the profile page of a reviewer allowed for comments to be sent directly to the reviewer, it would call the reviewer to account, and would provide the reviewer an opportunity to defend his statements. The reviewer's email address doesn't need to be displayed publicly on his profile page; a comment could be submitted via a link allowing Amazon to pass the comment on to the reviewer at their discretion. I hope Amazon will seriously consider adding this feature to the reviewer profile page.