Saturday, May 30, 2009

Art for Art's Sake

Last night at Karen Bjorneby's Writing Salon class, my fellow students gave me feedback on the opening pages of Chapter 6 of my new novel. I was excited by how much they picked up about the entire book from the ten pages they read. Carol went so far as to see the connections between religion and art, that for a large portion of recorded history, art served religion.

Whom does art serve? My mom went to art lectures at Stanford University, and the professor she liked the most was Albert Elsen. Elsen wrote a book called Purposes of Art which answers that question in its examination of art history. On page 190 of my mom's copy of the book, Elsen writes:

A contemporary of Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, for the first time in history centered a painting on a man eating (Fig.); a rugged anonymous peasant fills his mouth with beans while clutching a roll. The great polarity of Baroque painting is shown by Domenichino's depiction of St. Jerome receiving the Eucharistic wafer and Carracci's Bean Eater. The former eats to partake of Christ's body and so ensure his future in heaven, while the latter figure is concerned with satisfying his stomach and staying alive.

Elsen has the chops to know that this is the first time in history eating portrayed in a work of art does not serve religion, does not help the viewer gain insights to Christ, or God, or any other religious figure. This is a significant break in art history.

Around the Renaissance, art began to serve the aristocracy. In the same way that art had helped the church communicate Bible stories, art began to tell stories about marriages, battles, coronations, and other important historical events. Not a huge surprise considering who compensated the artists.

As a result of the division of labor needed to sell art to the growing middle classes, the art dealer business began in the seventeenth century and grew in the eighteenth century. Artists began to cater to the taste of the middle class.

Whom does contemporary art serve? One answer is that contemporary art is art for art's sake. You'll have to buy my book to find out the other answers.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mr. Email, Meet Mr. Google Wave

Email is one of the oldest Internet apps, and most popular. How could it be better?

Google has a great idea called Wave that you'll see on a desktop near you soon. The company has led the way showing how applications can be deployed through web browsers using AJAX technology. Think Google Maps.

In the video below, Google introduces Google Wave, a server-based communication tool that integrates email, chat, and other forms of personal communication. Think of it as managed conversation aggregation and distribution. Or, server-hosted communication objects with classes for email, chat, photo sharing, and so on.

More simply, Google Wave is an extensible Content Management System that will replace your email and chat and much more. And you'll do things you never thought about.

I've put together a Table of Contents with time stamps for each section of the video so you can find the topic you want.

Time StampSubject
0:06:00the demo really starts showing email and chat integration
0:20:00A blog application that integrates Wave (maybe you'll see that on my blog soon!)
0:23:30Wave inside of Orkut application
0:25:30Wave on Android mobile device
0:27:00Editing the Wave object updates all instances of the Wave
0:27:45Project manager using Wave to take meeting notes
0:30:00Communication accountability (who wrote what when)
0:31:00Collaborative editing and the Playback feature
0:33:10Document production and source control coordination
0:34:40Extensible content model
0:35:30Live character-by-character transmission and concurrnet editing ("hardest part to implement")
0:37:20Language support
0:38:00Google Web toolkit promotion
0:40:00Wave organization with tags and other Waves ("Wave links")
0:41:45Searching for content in Waves
0:43:25Extension to extend functionality of Wave (extending website instead of browser
0:44:30Bean Soup demo
0:45:40Link extension demo
0:46:00Extensions (continued)
0:47:00Search extension demo (amazing)
0:48:45Social gadgets in the Wave - invitation gadget example
0:51:30Game gadgets in the Wave - Soduku and Chess examples with Playback
0:52:30Maps gadget demo - Bora Bora example
0:54:00More on Link extension demo (continued amazement)
0:57:20Extension for existing communications - installation of the Twitter extension (amazing)
1:01:40Integrate Wave in existing work flow - bug tracking
1:05:15Open protocols in Wave - "Federation" concept
1:10:30Wave as an open system - draft protocol
1:12:30Instant translations by Rosie!
1:15:10Summary, sources, next steps

It's nice to see great innovation in the browser. I think this obsoletes the Office suite.

[June 3, 2009: see CNET review].

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Know Where You're Going

This is a great quiz, and I'm completely embarrassed by my score. What I like about this game, though, is that it's such a great way to learn geography. For Lufthansa, a nice branding opportunity, too. It gives a whole new meaning to "no child left behind".

Go ahead, try to beat me!

Next up: the Try to Balance the California State Budget game.

Catalyst for Research

Replacing oil with a renewable source of fuel is a good idea, regardless of your point of view on almost anything, as long as the renewable fuel process doesn't take more energy than the fuel it produces. Ethanol production from corn, though, never seemed like a great alternative to me. For one thing, it doesn't net a lot of energy. Now increased demand for corn to make fuel has increased prices for corn-based foods. That, in turn, has made it economically sensible to cut down forests and plant corn — essentially displacing corn production for food in a way that nets more CO2.

The idea of converting cellulose to fuel, though, that's another story. This conversion is difficult today, but it has the advantage of leaving the food supply chain intact and making fuel from plants that are easy to grow and have little value otherwise. In 2007, scientists from University of Wisconsin Madison reported research findings on simplifying fuel production from cellulose. They describe a catalytic process to convert cellulose to hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), then conversion of HMF into 2,5-dimethylfuran (DMF), a liquid transportation fuel with 40 percent greater energy density than ethanol. You can see a little slide show of James Dumesic's lab here.

In the past month, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported on a relatively low temperature (80–120 °C) single-step catalytic process to convert celluose to HMF.

I'm not opposed to hybrid, electric, and other energy technology per se, but cellulose-derived fuel has a significant advantage for transportation applications if it can leverage the existing fuel infrastructure. No new electrical grid (for electric cars) or liquid distribution (for hydrogen cars), no significant changes to current motor technology, no significant changes to consumer behavior.

This is exactly the kind of research that the government should invest in. If there were 100 research projects with this potential, chances are good that we would have renewable energy products in the market in the next decade.

Update: An insighful interview with Vinod Khosla on investing in alternative fuels.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Lunch with Nuruddin and Rabih

Lunch yesterday was round-the-world literary fare at a dim sum restaurant on 9th Street in Oakland. Rabih Alamedinne drove me from San Francisco to join Nuruddin Farah and Pheng Cheah. [Note to self: insist on driving next time]. As the only unpublished monoglot at the table, I had a unique perspective on the conversation that I'll share with you in English.

Just to set the table, Nuruddin was in town for a couple months to visit his family and to give some talks, including a commencement speech at U.C. Berkeley where Pheng teaches. Rabih is gracing San Francisco with his divine presence [clever image of tiara and soccer boots goes here] between international speaking engagements. Rabih and Nuruddin share a literary agent, which must be how they met.

Lots of banter about other authors, difficulty eating vegetarian in Chinese restaurants, air travel horrors these days, etc. Riff on sexual rituals and sacrifices in Papua New Guinea, etc.

A bit tipsy from the tea and steamed pork buns, I slip and mention that I'm writing my first novel. Pheng is polite enough to ask what it's about. I feel as if I just had an all night orgy with Roger Federer [maybe use player who doesn't date me so much here?], watched the sun come up, and heard Roger whisper over the pillow tops in that sweet voice of his, "would you like to volley?" All excited, I give Nuruddin, Rabih, and Pheng the short description — the so-called elevator pitch — I've been practicing for my new book. They continue eating and smiling as if they're waiting for me to hit the "L" button so they can get off the elevator. After this, I feel more like I got on the court with Roger and hit my best response to his slowest ball, only to hear him say, "Oh, I forgot I have that game with Rafael."

More banter about other authors, buying goat milk from goat that eats leather shoes, cholera quarantines, etc. Riff on best times, places, and modes of travel in Africa. [Note to self: find reliable travel companion because Naruddin says certain people may take advantage].

We get to that point where the dim sum carts stop less. When the table is covered with sweet rice and bean dishes, the staff knows they'd be wasting their time. There seems to be one subject that authors save for the end.

Nuruddin Farah: How's your writing?

Rabih Alameddine: I'm having so much trouble with my new story.

NF: How long have you been writing?

RA: Oh, ten days.

NF: Ten days! I've been working on my latest novel for two and a half years. What's it about?

RA: There's a woman, of course. I haven't got much further.

NF: Well, she needs a gun.

RA: Of course. She already has a AK-47.

NF: That's good. She needs a gun.

RA: She's sleeping with it.

NF: Then she gets out of bed to check on something, and goes to the other room. When she gets back, the gun is gone.

RA: And a man is standing next to her bed with the gun over his head. "Is this what you were looking for?" he asks.

: And she's a Thai maid or something. She's got an Arab boyfriend she goes to. She gives him good sex, then says, "You have to get my things back from that horrible man."

RA: (laughs)

I was hoping the man with the gun over his head would be naked. That would be really hot. I stay quiet like I'm watching some kind of tennis match and, after this part, I feel like Roger really meant what he said, and let me stick around to watch him play Rafael. No pillow talk, of course, about who is Roger, and who is Rafael. [Note to self: use Williams sisters, instead?] But now I'm wondering if I can pre-order Rabih's new book on Amazon like, say, three years in advance. Does it have to have a price and an ISBN first?

It was all so overwhelming. I paid my portion. Would my words ever tell a great story? Would they'd even make it from the whirring disk on my desk onto bound paper. It was very nice of Pheng to ask. At least with him at lunch, I wasn't the only one at the table whose name has never been associated with the name "Pulitzer" before. [Consider the word "yet" here].

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tree Roots

I learned how to downhill ski two years ago with my friend Norm in Crested Butte, Colorado. It was nice to know an old dog can learn new tricks.

steve on skiis above teocali

One big difference between downhill and cross country skiing is chairlift conversations. On one chairlift ride, I got to talking to Norm about the trees. The Painter Boy lift runs by a few dazzling stands of aspen trees. I remembered that aspens had root systems that allow the trees to communicate with each other. Norm confirmed that on the lift.

Later in the day, we took the Prospector chairlift. That side of the mountain is mostly pine trees. I remembered that pine trees have a tap root that bores down a few feet. Norm confirmed that on the lift.

"So," I said, "aspen trees are like Democrats, and pine trees are like Republicans."

"And they all live on the same mountain," Norm said.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Global Religion and Art

In the novel I'm writing, the main character chooses to leave the Episcopal Church and start an art gallery. He is unhappy with the anti-gay tone of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. In order to avoid a schism at that year's conference, the Anglican bishops voted against any relaxation of the church's teaching on homosexuality. Although the Episcopal church went on to ordain a gay bishop, the art world looks a lot friendlier to my gay main character.

The Anglican church's vote is an unexpected manifestation of globalization. Miranda Hassett has written a comprehensive study of this in Anglican Communion in Crisis, How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism. Hassett chronicles the global outreach of conservative American Episcopalians to African Anglicans in what might be termed a money-for-votes alliance. It is, of course, more complex, which is why you should read Hassett's book.

Hassett looks broadly at the impact of globalization on economies and culture, then pinpoints its impact on the church. Here is a description I like about globalization at a personal level:

In much of the preceding text, I have described Anglican globalization through the actions of leaders — priests, bishops, and primates. How do laypeople and their everyday parish life fit into this picture of important men and significant events? Alghough [sic] the conservative movement is led by a few activist church leaders, ordinary Anglican priests and congregations in both the United States and Africa are also touched, and changed, by these transnational connections and the ideas that accompany them. From a St. Timothy's member who described himself as an African missionary on the basis of the church's link to the Province of Rwanda to a Ugandan Anglican teenager who felt Africans should carry their faith to the rest of the world but wondered whether Americans would respond by wondering, "Where did God find you, when you were sleeping in a grass hut?," Anglicans around the world have been influenced by globalization with their church to reconsider their ideas about and their relationships with one another.

In the art world, it turns out, globalization has unexpected consequences as well. In Contemporary Art, A Very Short Introduction, Julian Stallabrass documents the rise of the biennale phenomenon around the world. Biennales have several benefits including transnational sharing of culture and economic enrichment for sponsor cities. However,

There are circumstances in which the uses of biennales come up against the ideals they were supposed to embody. The Johannesburg Biennale was established in 1995, not long after the first free elections were held in South Africa in 1994. The idea was to reconnect South Africa with the cultural world after years of boycott. For the first Bienalle a large and very diverse series of exhibitions was mounted in an attempt to portray Johannesburg as a fully formed global city. Local artists who would have presented a troubled view of the nation were generally excluded, and many thought that the Biennale presented a dubiously positive picture of South African society. While the Biennale included South African curators, it was much criticized by locals for being an alien incursion into an otherwise deprived an divided region that was in no way ready for it. Thomas McEvilley, among others, was astonished to see that the event had apparently been boycotted by much of the black community, repulsed by the sycophantic courting of the international art world.

In the following youtube video, Stallabrass talks about how he curated a photography exhibit about war (he starts talking at about 2:30). Regardless of how you view his political point of view, it is clear that curators – the people who edit what the art audience sees – need a global perspective to inform their editorial choices. This, in turn, makes the viewer consider his or her relationship to the art from a larger perspective. Not just how does this fit into my world, but how does my world fit into all the worlds out there.

While I write my novel, I realize the novel may have been one of the earliest transnational cultural forms, globalizing scandalous ideas for centuries. Lady Chatterly's Lover, anyone?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bathroom Reading

Koji Suzuki has published Drop, the latest in his Ring series of horror stories, on toilet paper. It's nice to know that if you don't like his new book, it's easy to recycle.

The roll, er, book goes for $2.20, which makes it cheap for a book, but expensive for toilet paper.

None of the publicity has mentioned whether it's single- or double-ply.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Print on Demand at Home

In the previous post, I wrote about the advantages of small 3D printers.

The Espresso Book Machine is a small print-on-demand book making machine. Not quite small enough or inexpensive enough for most homes, but small, nonetheless. Certainly small enough for small publishers to consider.

In the same way that small 3D printers enable spare parts to be kept virtually and produced when and where needed, the Espresso Book Machine enables books to be stored in a database and printed locally on demand. In fact, the Espresso Machine already has access to the Lightening Source library of titles. At a cost of about $0.01 per page, I wonder if we'll see a chain of on demand book stores opening soon. Imagine a world where no book is ever out of print.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Font Are You Using?

I recently got to see a three dimensional printer in action at the office of my dentist Jim Gregory. After Dr. Gregory drilled out the center of my tooth, he used a handheld video device that created a 3D computer model of what was left.

Dr. Gregory then used the tooth model to create a filling model. He uploaded the filling model to a Sirona Cerec 3, essentially a 3D printer for tooth fillings. He selected a tooth blank that matched the color of my teeth and put it in the machine.

This particular printer is a subtractive printer. It removes material from the tooth blank to create the tooth filling Dr. Gregory has on his finger. The filling is simple to fasten to my tooth with a smelly bonding material because it fits perfectly.

As usual for a new technology, high-end applications like tooth repair are the first to utilize small 3D printers.

Wouldn't be cool if you could design and print 3D objects or at work or home? Without the need for local anesthesia? Desktop Factory is developing a 3D printer for under $5,000. Their stated goal is to sell a 3D printer for under $1,000. Since they promised their first sub-$5,000 printer in 2008, and it hasn't shipped midway through 2009, don't hold your breath for the sub-$1,000 model. Here is a video of the Desktop Factory printer at work.

The current Desktop Factory printer appears to have low spatial resolution. Nevertheless, for product designers who want a quick test of a concept, the current device will speed up product prototyping and design feedback.

As spatial resolution improves, low-cost 3D printers will enable a host of new applications much more valuable than tooth repair and product development. For instance, spare parts could be stored virtually in a 3D printer database, and then printed both when and where needed. Maybe you could design the first product that never became obsolete.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Outer Tweets

It's a little late in the mission to mention it, but you can follow Astronaut Mike Massimino's twitter feed to find out the latest on the mission to fix Hubble.

The picture here was forwarded this morning from my friend Dennis Hancock who helped engineer the optics in the box the astronaut is holding. It's called COSTAR and it's on its way home. COSTAR was the program to give Hubble eyeglasses for the spherical aberration in its optics. That repair was made during the last visit to Hubble in 2002. This week's repairs removed
the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and replaced it with a new wide-field camera. I'm guessing someone checked the new optics carefully before launch.

Remember those fuzzy monochrome television signals from the Apollo missions to land on the moon? Now we're getting tweets, email, photos, and video from space in real time or near real time. It's like Hubble space travel, up close and personal. Soon enough we'll have better deep space images from Hubble, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fantasizing about the Future

This is a funny advertisement for a phone called the Pomegranate.

Fake ads are a nice way to fantasize about how things could be. This ad gets a little silly, but the idea that a mobile phone could have a projector or a translator is wonderful.

For artists, a great exercise is to write or make the ad for the book you're writing, or the music you're composing, or the video you're editing.

For the rest of us, well, go ahead, write the script for that product you really want. The razor that never nicks you. The washer/dryer that folds your clothes. Send me the link!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Whose Terms?

I love it when things go online, and my friend Brad found this whizzy term sheet generator from the good people at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. If you don't know WSG&R, they're the law firm to Silicon Valley. No excuses now for getting your next start-up funded!

It doesn't stop there. You can also write your own Will online. No excuses for dying intestate.

Or, a download a free car sales agreement. No excuses for buying a lemon.

Disclaimer: check with your lawyer before you use any of these services.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What's Your Fetish

I love the opening essay in the book Video Green in which Chris Kraus describes her father's books and book fetish.

Bound in calf and vellum, with spines strengthened by a set of horizontal struts fashioned from meshed twine and embedded underneath the leather, the books, of course, are very old. The pages have that pungent, mildewy smell of things left too long in a damp basement. They are whisper-thin and graying at the edges. Everything falls apart... Over four centuries of use and curiosity, the pages have come loose and have been collected, reassembled and then sewn back together. The earliest of these books are set in a heavy Saxon gothic typeface. Crude and deliberate. A type that wasn't going anywhere. A type that summons up a world of fear and faith and ignorance, of plagues and herbal cures, seasons, weather, straw mattresses and ox carts. A cosmogony in which one might actually seek out a book of common prayer, where "common" means not ordinary but "collective."

If you didn't have a book fetish before you read that, you might now.

Which gets me to my point. I was talking to Chris Perez yesterday about the main character in my novel, who also has a gallery. If you like fetish, you're gonna love the summer group show at Ratio 3.

Just consider the proximity of Ratio 3 and The Armory. I'll let you connect the (beware: there are graphic images involved!) kinky dots .

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Killing a Character

In the novel I'm writing, I have to dispose of a character. In the first draft, the character takes a few valium pills, drinks a little wine, and takes his surf board out to Mavericks. Great, except my one friend in the world who surfs said the whole thing was unbelievable. First off, the scene is in the summer. There are never high waves in summer at Mavericks. Second off, my character is not a big wave surfer. How was I supposed to know that big wave surfers use different surfboards and surf on different beaches?

Time for Plan B. My sister-in-law, Anne, is from Santa Cruz and seems to know every surfing expert in Northern California. She connected me with Alex Peabody, the Aquatic Specialist & Armory Manager for the California State Parks. Alex knows a lot about how people die in the water. The contract between a fiction writer and a fiction reader is not that the story is true, but that it is believable. With help from Alex, this part of my novel may go beyond believable to gruesome.

Once Alex and I figured out how to do in the character believably (I'm not giving away everything!), the next problem was to keep the body in the water for a while, like weeks or months. It turns out that, if someone knows you're missing in the water, chances are the authorities will recover your body, especially if you're wearing a wet suit. If you're wearing concrete shoes or an anchor necklace, you may not be found, but most avid water nuts in Northern California wear a wetsuit without weighty accessories.

Once Alex and I figured out how to keep the character's body in the water believably (I'm not giving away everything!), Alex followed up with a description of the corpse. You may want to stop reading right here. I will only excerpt the first paragraph of his emailed description:

Usually the face is not recognizable if there is an face at all (I don't usually look) and there may be a few tufts of hair. The skin is a weird, [sort] of translucent and white (if caucasian) and soft. The skin on the fingers (if it there) is swollen up from being in the water.

I don't think this will make it in the novel, but who knows? If you ever think an author's job is easy, wait until you kill your first character.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Welcome Shore

If you're in New York next week, try some song! The New York Festival of Song presents The Welcome Shore on May 19, 2009 and again on May 21, 2009 at Merkin Hall.

The fab pianist and song-meister royale Steven Blier programmed the concert. It's the start of summer and time for a musical trip to the shore!

If you've never been to a NYFOS concert, I want to give you a little taste. Here's Steve's paragraph about the John Musto song on the program:

John Musto’s “maggie and millie and molly and may” doesn’t literally have the last word tonight—that honor goes to Sir Noël and his hormonal heroine, Mrs. Wentworth Brewster. But Musto’s song contains the moral of our story. “Maggie” comes from Musto’s 1990 cycle Quiet Songs, which received its premiere with soprano Amy Burton at NYFOS. Four young women go to the beach; three of them find treasures, while one of them has a nasty encounter with a sea creature. (Musto quotes “The Ride of the Valkyries” to portray her distress; he’s not a big Wagner fan.) At the end of the song, the poet says that “whatever you lose/like a you or a me/it’s always yourself you find at the sea.” Musto leaves a brief pause for this thought to sink in before bringing back the nasty sea creature motif.

I would go just to hear Musto's work because I think he's one of the best composers on the planet.

The full text of the songs on the program is here - they'll have copies at the door, but you can appreciate the quality of NYFOS concerts by the care they take to inform the audience about song music and the text.

You can buy tickets here.

If you're in New York next week, I want to hear about it.

An American Gospel

I'm working on my first novel (more about that soon). The main character is an Episcopal priest who leaves the church and starts an art gallery in West Hollywood only to find he has to re-examine his beliefs to save his gallery.

Terry Gross happened to interview Erik Reece on Fresh Air recently and they spoke about Reece's new book An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God. Reece's story is very different from the story of my main character. What's similar, though, is the way Reece and my main character look to the arts to understand religion, in Reece's case by examining (mostly) American writers, in my main character's case by examining contemporary artists.

From Reece's book:

What follows is a parallel narrative - a personal history of how I slowly came to discover and understand this gospel, and a history of how that gospel arrived and evolved in this country. From the founding of Jamestown four hundred years ago, up through the founding of America's only homegrown philosophy, pragmatism, this other gospel has been reappearing, reinvented, again and again in the writings of certain American geniuses, thinkers like William Byrd, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, William James, John Dewey, and Lynn Margulis. Together, they offer an astonishingly comprehensive and relevant vision for where, and how, the United States must proceed in the twenty-first century. I believe these men and women can show us a way back to our country's best impulses, and thus a way forward to a future that is more respectable, more responsible, more sustainable, more interesting, more reverent.

My main character doesn't arrive at pragmatism in the sense the Reece writes about it, but he is looking for the elusive American understanding of belief.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Self Publishing

I'm interested in how artists make a living, so this past weekend I took Lisa Alpine's workshop called At The Crossroads: Turn Toward Self Publishing at The Writing Salon. I'll write about some other courses I've taken at The Writing Salon in another post. It's a great resource for writers who live the San Francisco bay area.

Lisa's workshop covered the basics of self-publishing:

  • Print-on-demand services versus offset printing
  • Fulfillment and distribution
  • ISBN and bar code basics
  • Book design and the important elements of a cover
  • Website and social media marketing
  • Product launch

The marketing concepts and web services Lisa discussed were familiar. The value of the workshop was the recipe to combine all these elements together with a large portion of practical information for first-time self-publishers. For instance, in volumes less than a thousand copies, print-on-demand (think Lulu or Book Surge) is a better option economically. In higher volumes, a self-publisher should consider offset printing, even though it requires someone (the self-publisher or a logistics company like Lightening Source) to manage the inventory. If you're writing a full-color book, you probably won't be satisfied with print-on-demand quality. Yet.

Like most media industries, the publishing industry is in transition as margins disappear and distribution goes online - the Kindle likely will do to books what the iPod did to CDs. As publishers and self-publishers grapple with business models for online distribution of books and stories, the stigma of self-publishing has diminished in the publishing world. Why?

First of all, in the unlikely event you as the aspiring author find a publisher, these days you will have to provide about as much marketing support for the new book as if it were self-published. Even if you have a publisher, you need to provide a website and other online and real world marketing to promote sales. Publishers don't do that any more unless they expect your book to sell tens of thousands of copies. In a world of self-publishing, publishers can select authors not only by the quality of their writing as they do now, but also by their ability to find the communities (think social networks) interested in their books.

Second, publishers add more value with higher volume sales. They are good at national marketing campaigns, inventory management, and physical distribution. Their infrastructure costs are better amortized over higher volume products. Until a book achieves high volume, it is lost in this infrastructure.

All artists face the problem of making a living. If there were ever days that the writer didn't have to think about business, those days are fleeting. The good news in a world of self-publishing is that costs are much, much lower. The bad news - well, the good news, really - is you still have to be a good writer and have an audience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prayers For Children Call for Submissions

I'm a big fan of art going online. My friend Jody Jock sent along this Call for Submissions:

Prayers For Children Call for Submissions

Prayers for Children is seeking submissions for its next issue, an online exhibition curated by Brother Bramm, Jody jock and P4Cs newest coconspirators Gregory Kaplowitz and Gina Abelkop.

Deadline Sunday June 7th.

A Little Golden Book about queer sex Magik.
Innocent youth transformed through fetish, occult, mythology and the inherent fears and emotions involved. Spiritual nostalgia. Psychic and psychedelic fiction told in dark beautiful language.

All media considered.

Enter up to 10 submissions.
Written submissions limited to short stories, fables, poetry and prayers. Jpegs saved Photoshop level 12 that is at least 800 pixels vertical. Intention is important and submissions should come from a place of love.

Submit To:

Metadata Everywhere

At the last TED conference, Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry from MIT Media Labs demonstrated a prototype for a wearable device that makes metadata available almost anywhere. Maes presents this device as a "sixth sense", a way of sensing more about objects around you than your five senses allow.

For me, this "sixth sense" device has more utility when it filters for my view of the world. For instance, in the demonstration, Maes shows how the device can provide you with information about a food product as you peruse the shelves of your local grocery store. I want something simpler, like a green light for products that fit my diet and a red light for products that don't.

I wonder how this will interact with our pheromones. Will it make us smarter about mating?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

William Kentridge at SFMOMA

Go see the William Kentridge exhibit at SFMOMA! It closes on May 31, 2009.

I loved the room full of videos near the entrance, especially Journey to the Moon (an homage to the 1902 film Le Voyage dans la lune by Georges Méliès, not the Apollo space program). The other videos in the room were humorous studies in time and composition.

For me, the mind boggling piece was a table with animations projected on its top to make it appear that the table was turning. A cylindrical tube in the center of the table plays another version of the same animation simultaneously, the effect being that the table is reflecting the animation playing on the tube. Stunning! I couldn't find the name of the piece, but here's a youtube video of it:

All due respect to the videographers out there trying to capture this piece on youtube and flickr, but you have to see it in person to know how beautiful and innovative it is. The technology is flawless and unnoticeable.

Kentridge is from South Africa, and apartheid is a common theme in his work. I kept on thinking of Kara Walker's silhouettes when I looked at Kentridge's drawings.

Kentridge often works with theater and opera companies. I enjoyed the room on his set design for the New York Metropolitan Opera's upcoming production of The Nose by Dmitri Shostakovich.

All I can say is: go!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Innovation Issue of The New Yorker

The May 11, 2009 issue of The New Yorker is the "The Innovators Issue". I liked the article by Malcolm Gladwell called How David Beats Goliath, Secrets of Highly Effective Underdogs. Gladwell looks at how outsiders who are relative Davids beat incumbent Goliaths by playing the game in ways Goliath doesn't expect. Odds for David shrink significantly if he plays the same game Goliath is good at.

Adam Gopnik has a funny piece on innovation and evolution.

For completely other reasons, I enjoyed Rebecca Mead's article The Art Doctor, Conserving Contemporary Art with the big picture of a Paul McCarthy sculpture.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Scouting Technology and The Arts

I like going somewhere I haven't been before. When I literally go somewhere I've never been, I explore how the local culture is different from the culture I'm used to. For instance, toilet paper. When I was traveling in Europe in college, I remember learning first hand about different paper technologies. Why would anyone make toilet paper that had the consistency of waxed paper, I wondered. That got me to thinking about the different ways people value their time in the commode, adaptations made as plumbing changed, and so on.

Even with the challenges of spicy food and ineffective toilet paper, it's fun going new places. I often have the sensation of going somewhere new when I'm exposed to new technology and to new art. I define technology as the application of science and knowledge, usually to create a tool or device to solve a problem. I define the arts as the manifestation of man's creativity in the forms of visual art, music, writing, architecture, and so on. Technology and art make a nice history of man's culture, show how the species has grappled with its existence in a particular time and place.

I'm blogging to make my own record of finding new places literally or not. You can think of this blog as a metaphorical travelog (or travelblog).