Thursday, September 15, 2016

Nobody Blogs Anymore (But Me)

"Nobody blogs anymore," I was told, by someone who is in a position to know about trends in techworld.  I wasn't surprised, even when I said instinctively, "I do."

I suspect there are far fewer people blogging, at least in the old sense of writing often for an autonomous site, with the goal of inducing as many readers as possible to follow each consecutive post.

And that's because of course there are far fewer readers who follow specific blogs.  While some bloggers have gone on by affiliating with media sites, most I suspect have transitioned to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Social media is The Thing, and it drive out everything else.

I sometimes try to make myself care.  I suppose it is possible to enhance reader access by using social media to alert readers to posts, or maybe I could get over my extreme distaste for the aesthetics of the Facebook page and post there.  Assuming I could get used to the ever-changing nature of the site, and it's chaotic and privacy-threatening features.

It seems like a lot of trouble that takes a lot of time, especially time away from writing the blog entries/essays.  Avoiding all that trouble was pretty much why I started in the first place.  I had spent far too much time and energy on trying to make publication possible.  Blogs were (and are) instant publication.

Somehow I've taken to writing in this format.  I've been working for years on book projects, and have recently found I can complete chapters for a projected Soul of Star Trek book by preparing them as posts for my blog, Soul of Star Trek.

So I'm basically not going to mess with that.  Maybe later I'll do something different in addition.  If there is a later.

But for now, I'm content to work within existing parameters.  As a writer you learn not to mess with what's working.

I have a small cadre of known regular readers for my Dreaming Up Daily blog, and at least until the election I'm content to sound off for them.  There are many more hits registered for Soul of Star Trek but I don't know about actual readers.  I suspect my recent posts aren't being read, but that's okay.  I'm doing them to do them, finally, and let them go.  (Although the goal is still a book, even if  I wind up publishing it through google or whatever, and once again cast something to the wind.)

But there aren't many hits registered for this blog, which I think I started first or maybe second of still-going blogs, all those blogging centuries ago.  But I've known for several years that this blog gets few hits, so my occasional posts here are in the nature of a kind of diary, plus a kind of file cabinet of ideas, for easy access.  As much as I counsel against becoming dependent on "the cloud" and cyberspace in general for storing things, I've done it through my blogs.  A lot of my writing exists on them, and nowhere else.  They could truly be gone with the wind.

So...here it is, here am I, September 2016.  I'm needing to fill the hummingbird feeders more frequently now, though I'm seeing only one hummer, a delicate slim small green one.  In past years there's been at least two, usually three, and sometimes four.  There are hummers around all year now (and may always have been) but they come to the feeders in late summer through mid February.  Other times I see them in the front yard more than in the back.  Plenty of flowers they like in both places.

Today is fog covered but it has again seemed to be sunnier more often this summer than say ten years ago, though that's been the trend for several summers now.  Knowing what it portends adds a strange dimension to the general perception that it is pretty damn nice--warm to hot sun, blue skies and warm to cool temps.  After some spikes early in the season, we got no real hot and humid days this summer.  The variation day to day seemed larger, but within a comfortable range.

Now it's getting cooler, especially at night.  This year we had a good crop of tomatoes--cherry tomato size though different varieties--and blueberries on several bushes back and front, and some but not many strawberries.

I can see Toby's pear trees next door are bearing a lot of fruit, so far unpicked. I don't think the people who live there now are relatives, but it seems the family still owns the place. Toby's trees have outlived him, and so his memory stays alive, at least here. We got some pears from our little tree, but the little apple tree, while it yields full sized apples, doesn't produce many edible ones.  Never has.

Pema the cat is hanging out next to me now as I write this.  We've spent a lot of time and attention on her health for several months now, but that's another post in itself.  At the moment she's good, sort of.

Okay, I'm going to throw in a few random photos I've taken this summer into this post.  With the rise of Instagram and the phone cameras, people are altering their photos with filters etc. until reality is unrecognizable.  I don't know what I think about that, except for two things: (1) once again I'm not taking the time, trouble and expense of doing such, and (2) I tend not to look at photos that appear to be excessively manipulated.  Because, what am I looking at? I've noticed this especially with photos taken during eclipses, Super Moons and meteor showers, etc.  They're often unbelievable. So what's the point?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Internet of Remembering

My unfiltered photo, Trinidad Head June 30, 2016, now past, but now your present, and here to stay.
In the New Yorker this week, Casey Johnston wrote about various social media platforms that wipe away photos and text after a brief period, like 24 hours. Now you see it, now you won't. This is much prized, Johnston writes, especially by younger posters whose identity is formed in the moment, and may be obsolete and even embarrassing before long. This "satisfies a craving for immediacy and ephemerality, one that has lately grown to encompass all of social media." Johnston calls this the Internet of Forgetting.

 Well, I am not young and that is not my Internet. Time and its contents helplessly obsess me. I crave scope, so I can maybe make some sense of it. The past has a different reality now that I have more of it myself. Rediscovering elements of the past and reflecting on them, connecting and reconciling, all add something necessary to my present. Besides, these discoveries as well as re-discoveries in both their original context and in mine now, also constitute much of my entertainment. 

So fortunately for me, there is also an Internet of Remembering. There are search functions to vast data, various Wikis and especially YouTube. On YouTube I can access (as I have recently) radio broadcasts from the 1940s, particular baseball or basketball games from--well, I haven't even explored how far back. Interviews from the 50s, movies from the 30s (ever heard of the Torchy Blane series? Neither had I. It's pretty good. Besides which, it may have been an inspiration for Lois Lane.)

Reading about past events in historical context, I can find documents and publications of the time online. I can even see the faces and hear the voices, from at least FDR on. There are surprising snippets of performances by legendary actors, though unfortunately not so many whole plays. Can't find in any library an obscure treatise on ethics and psychology by one of the greatest classic science fiction authors (and least known outside the s/f community), Olaf Stapledon? Search online, and ye shall find the entire text. And so on.

A recent instance of personal memory...I remember one Saturday morning when I was 8. I was watching "Space Patrol"--an episode in which Buzz Corey and crew used their "time drive" to travel to 1956. They mentioned that they were traveling from the 30th century, when "Space Patrol" takes place.

 My mother caught some of this. She asked me if I knew what century we were living in. I don't think I did, exactly. She said it was the 20th century, and the Space Patrol people were coming from the 30th. She mentioned that she used to listen to Buck Rogers on the radio, and he had traveled to the 25th century. I probably remember this because I learned something about time.

 I recall Saturday mornings when there was one outer space show after another--"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger," "Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers" and "Space Patrol." I researched these shows on the Internet in 2010 and discovered enough to figure out that they were probably all on during only one year: 1954.

 I was writing fiction based on my childhood, and for reasons having to do with other events in the chapter, I selected a certain October Saturday to revisit these shows, and how my friends and I used them in play. Then I found a "Space Patrol" episode guide that described the show scheduled on the Saturday I had selected. From the description it seemed very likely it was the very one I remember, when my mother and I had that conversation. (I blogged about all this right here at the time.)

 Well, it's 2016 and many "Space Patrol" episodes are now on YouTube, though not always under their original titles. Also YouTube can be difficult to search systematically. But the other night, I happened upon and saw this episode--the one I last saw with my mother in our living room in 1954.

 But the Internet of remembering has more functions than revisiting personal memories. Here's another YouTube show I watched recently. I've been reading Arthur Miller lately--this latest Miller jag started when I read a roundtable discussion of contemporary playwrights, and one of them quoted Miller. I then found on the Internet the interview with Miller that contained that quote, and more along that line. That started me reading some of his nonfiction and lesser known plays, and re-reading his autobiography. So on a whim I went back and searched YouTube for television interviews.

I immediately found an interview he did with Charlie Rose in 1992. When the conversation veered to that now historical moment--the 1992 election campaign and the rise of Ross Perot, a purported billionaire businessman outsider--I got chills, especially when Miller said: "When a leadership arises in a country that believes it can lead by using the darkness in men, it's probably unstoppable at a certain point." He'd grown up watching Hitler's rise in Germany. 

Does anybody--even those who lived through it, as I did-- remember what it felt like with Ross Perot in 1992? I didn't. From 2016, Perot now looks like an early and milder version of Trump, thanks to this interview. There's precedent, a continuum of sorts perhaps. And people were worried then. (Miller thought America was too diverse to fall completely for a dictator of darkness, which of course may be our salvation now.)

 And to add to all this co-incidence (which means things happening at the same time, like the past in the present), Miller once described the function of playwriting as "remembering."

About many things, it doesn't pay to forget. The Internet of Remembering is important to our survival, as well as the lives of "the olds" as Johnston says that tech folks call anybody over 30. So in my case I guess it's "the ancients."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fiesta

My parents were married in August 1945. Among their wedding presents was a set of Fiestaware: cups and saucers, plates of various sizes, salt and pepper shakers, a gravy boat, a pitcher, bowls, sugar bowl and creamer, a lazy susan and possibly other items. They were the mix of colors typical of what's officially called just Fiesta, made by a West Virginia outfit and originally introduced at a pottery fair in Pittsburgh in 1936. I believe they were a gift from my mother's younger sister.

 Many of these pieces were ubiquitous in my childhood and beyond. The dishes were perhaps the "good dishes" for awhile, but some pieces in enough use that some bit the dust (the bowls, the cups and saucers.) Some pieces (the salt and pepper shakers) were in common use forty years later. The sugar bowl just quietly disappeared. But at a certain point in the 60s or 70s, they were replaced by a new, more formal looking set, and the remaining Fiestaware consigned to the back of a kitchen cabinet.

So imagine my shock when I was walking through a huge exhibit called The Machine Age in the Carnegie Museum of Art in 1985 or so, when I came upon a collection of Fiestaware that might have been taken from that cabinet, but it was in a glass case and labeled.

 When my childhood home was sold, I got most of the surviving Fiestaware, and perhaps all of it. I brought it with me out here to California. There wasn't really much of it left, and though one of the rarer pieces is in excellent condition, some of the plates are chipped. But one piece survived with only minor abrasions, all the more surprising because it was one of the most used pieces.

 That, it will come as no surprise by now, was the yellow pitcher. As a representative piece it is quite striking for the Art Deco design is most evident of all the pieces. But it also carries the memories of a lot of Kool-Aid and ice cubes on hot summer days through the 1950s and beyond.

 This past October of 2015, my niece Sarah got married. Her wedding was almost exactly 70 years after my parents wedding. So it seemed especially fitting that this Fiestaware pitcher be passed down to her on this occasion. And that's what I did. 

Though it has value on the collectors market, she is honoring its family history by using it.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

On Book Publishing


A long New Yorker piece on Amazon and books from earlier this year is disquieting to say the least.  It seems that Amazon has become the Wal-Mart of book publishing, making demands that publishers can't afford not to accept.  It's not a pretty picture.

On the other hand, at least since the 1980s, New York publishers adopted self-defeating business practices, aping inappropriate business models, in which books became "product," etc.  It bred arrogance and (among real editors and authors) disillusion, so there weren't a lot of people left to feel sorry for them.

And the condition in this quote has been going on for quite some time:

Writing is being outsourced, because the only people who can afford to write books make money elsewhere—academics, rich people, celebrities,” Colin Robinson, a veteran publisher, said. “The real talent, the people who are writers because they happen to be really good at writing—they aren’t going to be able to afford to do it.”

This became obvious to me as an author more than a decade ago.

As for the book business, the article cites one example of a counter-approach, which essentially has publishing going smaller and selling direct to readers.  Whether or not this would work, I believe Andrew Wylie is largely right in his quoted statement: "The [publishing] industry thinks of itself as Procter & Gamble*. What gave publishers the idea that this was some big goddam business? It’s not—it’s a tiny little business, selling to a bunch of odd people who read.”

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Standards

I confess that among many other such thoughts, I worry that I'm slipping when I find typographical errors in my writing that I missed after reading the sentence a time or two.  Sometimes those errors find their way into my Internet posts, or in drafts meant for publication.  And sometimes I don't catch those errors in posts for a long time.

I suppose it should reassure me, or at least make me feel better, that I spot such errors in published books and especially online.  Just now I've read two articles on the New Yorker site.  I spotted two obvious errors in one, and one in the other. I recognize how they were made--a sentence is rewritten or a thought is redirected but an errant word remains, usually a small one: an "in" or an "a" or an "a the." These are byproducts of how word processing works--all this deleting and inserting.   Or a word is just misspelled--the kind of misspelling that eludes the spell-checker. Those sorts of things.

But for many year when it was a magazine and nothing else, the New Yorker was the standard for copy editing and perfectly proofread prose.  I personally never found a typo in any issue I read from the 1960s to the late 1980s, when they began appearing after the magazine changed ownership and editor.  They soon stopped, but the typos that I saw in at least a few issues seemed utterly unnatural in that distinctive New Yorker typeface.

But typos as well as bad grammar and other copy writing errors are depressingly frequent in heavily monetized online publications.  But the New Yorker?  The New Yorker!

So while I am a little reassured about myself, I am at the same time depressed by a different sign that perhaps this is no longer my time.  

II

It occurs to me there is a possible reason for these typos appearing on the New Yorker site and other sites that post writing by professional writers, besides just slipping standards or sloth, or even the usual excuse of the need to feed the beast with copy at a fast pace.

That possible reason is that the standard, or even the ethic, of online posts is that once posted, nothing in them is changed.  If changes are made, they must be indicated at the end, with a catalog of the revisions.

Apparently there is something unethical about correcting mistakes once the publish button is pushed.   I'm not sure why, except perhaps that this is just the Internet tradition.  Maybe it began with dated web logs, which also are apparently sacrosanct.

To which I say, sorry, but it seems like nonsense to me. Isn't the capability of changing what's published online a major advantage?  I'm pretty sure any of us who saw our mistakes permanently preserved in print would have appreciated the chance to correct them, then and there.  Changes in substance online (correcting facts, etc.) might merit an appended note, especially if in response to a comment or correction from outside.  But style matters?  I don't get it.  Maybe it's part of the aura?  Internet posts are supposed to be so spontaneous? And nothing provides the aura of spontaneity like sloppy writing. Maybe the lack of copy editing isn't just an economy, but an ethic.

In any case, I routinely change what I've written after I've posted it, to correct errors, to rewrite sentences and paragraphs in the effort to make things clearer or just better written.  I may do so several times until I am satisfied.  I've made revisions on this post, for example, at least six times so far.

The ethics of this seem clear to me.  If I have annoyed readers with typos and misspellings, or confused them with awkward writing, I don't see the point of continuing to annoy or confuse future readers if I can correct the errors or improve the writing.

In the end, I suppose both parts of this post refer to the same set of standards.  And that they are part of my identity as a writer, because I make corrections even when believing that it's unlikely many or any readers will know or care.  I'll know, and I care.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Super Moon Memory

It's hard to believe a lot of the Super Moon photos on the web are real.  The full moon at a time when the Earth is closest to it happened the last weekend of August. I didn't anticipate it really--it was so hazy (thin marine layer, depressing smoke from distant forest fires) during the Perseid meteor shower that I didn't dare.

Then it rained--wind, a distant rumble, then a misty rain, then real rain for some time, during the night.  This was Friday going into Saturday, I think.  Rare enough in a regular August, really strange (and welcome) in another droughtful summer.

Then in the wee hours, after the rain stopped, the clouds began to move, to break up in strange patterns.  The full Super Moon was not especially big, so high in the sky, but it was bright.  Very bright.  It illuminated large clouds of extravagant, unusual shapes and textures with feverish brightness, and bathed these scalloped, spread-tailed, slowly swimming clouds in an indescribable blue.

For awhile there were thin clouds passing over the moon, which was so bright that it appeared that the moon was passing in front of the clouds--I could see them through the surreal luminance, as if the moon were brightly transparent.

I have no camera capable of capturing this, and even if I did, I'm not sure even I would believe it.  I've never seen clouds like that, in sky like that.  I've seen the moon that bright, but the combination was unique.  Super, I guess.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Why I Don't Have a Smartphone

I don't have a smartphone.  I don't watch new television programs, seldom see new movies, though a few on DVD.  I don't know who the celebrities are that the supermarket tabloids and their internet counterparts get all exercised about.  I don't listen to new pop music.  And so on.

This fits the profile for my age, and a lot of it surely is about age. But it's not mindless.  Some of it is about exploring past music etc. I missed, or in more depth, and some about revisiting books, tv shows etc. for what they now say that's different from the first times around. Or reminding me who I was then, and maybe who I forgot I was since.

Of course, that I don't like a lot of new TV, music and movies does make it easier to ignore.

 Apart from the comfort level, there's the tendency to want to have a deeper experience and find more meaning in what flashed by in the past.  That seems like the natural work, play and purpose of being this age, and in sound enough mind to try feeling the breadth and depth of my whole life while I've got it.

 (And in fact I use some new technology in these activities.  But why should I give up the advantages of the desktop computer just because they aren't fashionable anymore? Or the stereo, the record player?  Or the physical book off the physical shelf ?)

Though I take a certain amount of elder abuse for skepticism of new technologies and so on (which, by the way, I also exhibited when younger), I have my additional reasons. There's expense v. utility, for example. As interesting or enhancing as they might be, smartphones and multimedia packages are too expensive for what I need.  Besides, nobody calls me on the home phone or the flip phone now, so why would that be different? And the screen is too small and the sound too poor for much of anything else.

 So it's partly aesthetics, too: one of the major reasons that so far I haven't been able to bring myself to do Facebook is that it is so ugly.

Bad design, inferior materials also turn me off.  Some new tech is so obviously designed for younger eyes and fingers that it's the height of effrontery to expect I'd shamefacedly accept it.

The other element that is related to age is that the smartphone and related technologies are largely about marketing and selling things, and I'm not interested in that, nor are the marketers and sellers likely to be much interested in me.  In my demographic, and especially my income level.

 But there is a larger sense in which this is a choice, and I know what I'm doing.  What I am doing is concentrating on the past and the future.  The present makes its demands anyway, I don't have to cater to it.  People in youth and middle age, people with children or even actively involved with grandchildren, have reasons to keep up with the fast-changing present.  I don't, not nearly as much.

If I don't need to, I don't want to waste the time.  I am engaged in experiencing the past in more depth, and learning from it.  I apply that to concerns about the future.  Big concerns, about the big picture future.

That's my choice, my concentration, and it's meant to be my contribution.  It may well be futile.  Still, chances are a little better on something good coming of this, than from the distractions of the smartphone.