Category Archives: Articles

Point of GNOME Return

GNOME 3 - made of easy

I don’t know why people hate on GNOME Shell so much:

I am convinced that Gnome has no future. It will soon be pushed into obsolescence by its own suicidal design. For those who want traditional, there’s Cinnamon or KDE. For those who want, pseudo-touch, there’s Unity. For those who want touch, there’s Android. Which leaves Gnome 3 nowhere and with nothing. An idea that came to solve world hunger. On planet Mars.

Ouch. Just…ouch. I understand that GNOME 3 is still new and funny-looking and trying to make friends out on the playground and all, but to say that its design is suicidal, well, that’s just silly.

The real problem here isn’t with GNOME’s core design or usability. It’s designed well, and it’s quite usable as of version 3.6, even though there are an awkward number of works-in-progress to be finished. I use it for my day-to-day, thank you very much, Ubuntu GNOME Remix, and I’m convinced, personal preferences aside, the main obstacle facing GNOME 3 is the unnecessary nature of its inception (and not a total lack of usefulness). There was no good reason to throw out the GNOME 2 desktop paradigm. GNOME 3’s “overview” metaphor isn’t necessarily better or more efficient than the tried-and-true taskbar method. It’s merely…different. It works just fine (and I think GNOME Shell does it better than Ubuntu’s Unity, at the moment), but I suspect the drastic change was more for the sake of change than it was a response to droves of longtime GNOME users demanding desktop ascension.

Nevertheless, here we are. GNOME has undergone puberty, and its younger siblings, MATE and Cinnamon, aren’t being mature about it. They’re too busy laughing and pointing fingers at the zits, the newfound body hair to notice the inner beauty…or the sexy new Tay Zonday voice. Apples and oranges, haters and fanboys.

Why the haters are wrong:

  • Organization. GNOME Shell is well laid-out and, in my opinion, better organized than Unity. Unity’s developers took a good idea, lenses, and allowed it to proliferate to the point where clicking the Ubuntu button or hitting the Windows key now brings up a barrage of icons. Overkill.
  • Overview mode. Clean. Organized. Faster than Unity’s laggy dash.
  • Application menu. A work-in-progress, woefully useless in most current apps—but when this sucker’s short and curlies start to come in (in other words, once it’s more fully implemented across more apps), it’s going to rawk. I’ve never liked menu bars, as much as they’re needed; this is a way to free up screen real estate without cluttering up the top bar. Me likie.
  • The lock screen. It really is beautiful and useful. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s more of a pain to use than the previous GNOME lock screen because of having to swipe / click and drag with your mouse to get to the login box. Simply hit ESC or ENTER. Duh.
  • Click and drag into the overview. The ability to click and drag from, say, Files to an app open in the overview is pretty sweet. To be fair, Unity includes similar functionality with its launcher, though it can sometimes take a moment to scroll through the list if you have a lot of favorites and / or open apps.
  • Adwaita theme. A much-needed upgrade from the default, icky Clearlooks of yesteryear, and my new favorite GTK3 theme, hands down.

Why the GNOME fanboys are wrong:

  • Necessity wasn’t this invention’s mother. GNOME Shell didn’t need to happen. The previous desktop metaphor (think the GNOME 2.x series, Windows 95 – Windows 7, KDE, etc.) was and still is perfectly relevant, functional, and stylish. No user ever, ever posted to a message board asking, “Why the hell hasn’t anyone designed a UI that’s optimized for both desktop computers and tablets, simultaneously, all at once?”
  • Neurotic simplificosis. There’s a such thing as oversimplification. The removal of all but the close button from GNOME’s window manager, for example. Yes, you can maximize a window by dragging it up to the top bar, you can unmaximize by dragging back down off the top bar, but as of GNOME 3.6 there’s no handy way to minimize a window without using Tweak Tool to restore the window manager’s minimize button. As GNOME Shell doesn’t allow icons on the desktop, GNOME developers are no doubt wondering why anyone would want to minimize their windows in the first place. It’s simple: to unwind during snack breaks by appreciating that naked volleyball chick desktop background your ex-girlfriend used to hate. My question is, can you really call something a window manager if all it does is close windows?
  • Application menu. One of GNOME 3’s most promising new features also happens to be one of its pubertal blemishes. Nautilus / Files is one of the first few apps to take advantage of the app menu, though full functionality across all apps remains to be seen. And it’s not all peaches and cream. For example, when you have multiple maximized Files windows open, there’s no way to close the currently active window from the app menu without quitting Files entirely—because the window manager discards Files’ close button when it’s maximized. Yes, you can switch to overview mode and close the window that way, but it seems there should be a “close” as well as “quit” option in the app menu.

I’m not that big a fan of UI developers’ deciding to apply tablet interfaces to traditional desktops / laptops. Ideally, a desktop should have a desktop-specific UI, and a tablet should have a tablet-specific UI. But if this is how it’s going to be, if this is our point of GNOME return, then GNOME 3 seems to be a comfortable middle ground. And, in light of the massive train wreck that is Windows 8, I suspect there’s more love for GNOME 3 than the haters will let on, because even Cinnamon, designed to thumb its nose at GNOME’s sexy new body, has recently implemented its own “expo” and “scale” overview modes. ;)

The Ignorant Pipsqueak’s Ultimate Linux Fail Checklist

Linux T-shirt - Linux, sucking less for over 15 years.

This rant was originally instigated during the Fedora Core 5 days (as outlined in I will not use GNOME until…), and has been building steadily ever since, reaching a crisis point thanks to my recent purchasing of the Dell Inspiron 14z (2011). I’d been saving up my pennies and nickels over the last year with the intention of upgrading from my trusty but slightly-underpowered, way-too-small Asus UL20FT. I wanted something that would play nice with Ubuntu. The 14z was listed as being “Ubuntu certified,” so I figured what the hell. I wasn’t dating anyone at the moment; I didn’t need that dental work. I ordered the laptop at the Dell web site and uttered a quiet prayer that it wouldn’t arrive on my doorstep with a smoldering hole in the side of the box.

For the most part, using Ubuntu on the 14z has been a fuck-yeah experience. I’ve been using it for my daily work for about two weeks, and I can’t find any serious complaints. Video seems to work; audio works; the Internet works; the webcam works; the keyboard is uber-comfortable, with hardly any flex. Yesterday I had some free time to watch a movie…and that’s when the 14z’s dirty little secret was revealed to me: video playback (1080p or otherwise) “works” in Ubuntu—but it doesn’t exactly work right. Regardless of player software or file type, there’s a constant area of distortion / tearing at the top of any given video window. And here I thought the days of video tearing / vsync issues in Linux were long past. Not so. In an age when every single electronic device on Earth has the ability to play video (properly, most of the time), Linux is still the awkward kid who shows up to the talent show without having fully practiced his juggling routine the night before. There are balls rolling all over the gym floor. Worse, this video-tearing thing is happening on a piece of hardware that’s supposedly been certified to work flawlessly with Ubuntu. Or did I miss the fine print on the Ubuntu site? Is their certified hardware merely guaranteed to work, but not necessarily work optimally?

Yes, there’s a lengthy bug report over at launchpad.net regarding the issue, so I don’t doubt that in another year or two video will play properly on my 14z. But, damn it, I want it to work right now. Guess I’ll just have to pass the time by beating what’s left of the ol’ “Linux sucks!” dead horse. Don’t blame me; this wouldn’t have happened if Ubuntu would simply have let me watch Mr. and Mr. Smith without distorting the very top of the seme’s head.

Ultimate Linux Fail Checklist

Video tearing / vsync issues on certain computers with 2nd-gen Intel Core CPUs. 1080p video played flawlessly on my 1st-generation Core i3 laptop (UL20FT). On the 14z, well, I’ve already gone over that above. There’s a workaround for this—if you use Compiz. GNOME-Shell, my preferred desktop, doesn’t use Compiz. GNOME-Shell users such as myself are fucked for the time being. Unless we switch back to Windows 7, which plays video just fine on the 14z. Oh, the temptation.

ALT-TAB functionality is still in beta. That’s right, you heard me: one of the oldest and most taken-for-granted desktop conventions is still a work in progress for two of the most most prominent Linux desktops (GNOME-Shell and Unity). Random apps don’t show up in the ALT-TAB list. Instead, I have to constantly switch to overview mode. ALT-TAB always worked so well in Windows I’d long ago assumed that there’s no way anyone could fuck it up. Unity found a way. GNOME-Shell found another way.

Display brightness setting isn’t saved between GNOME-Shell / Unity sessions. My display always resets to full brightness after a re-start. Good for me with my glasses off, bad for my laptop battery. The fix: manually turn the brightness down after each re-start, or create a shell script to be launched automatically upon log-in.

Ubuntu’s overlay scrollbars. Interesting idea, clumsy implementation. Half the time the scrollbar handle appears when you mouse over the scrollbar area, the other half nothing happens until you re-focus the window. Adding insult to injury, the feature can only be disabled by editing certain config files, or by uninstalling the related packages. A toggle switch somewhere in System Settings would’ve been nice. Instead, three system packages have to be removed, either from the commandline or through the package manager.

There’s no convenient way to drag and drop between maximized windows. I almost exclusively work with maximized windows. Like, all the time. As far as dragging and dropping between maximized windows, Microsoft runs circles around Linux. In Windows 7, you simply drag down onto the taskbar and onto whichever app / Explorer window is appropriate at the moment. In GNOME you…um…where’s the taskbar?

(GNOME-Shell) How the fuck do you shut down your computer? Yes, I know you can simply hold ALT while the status menu is open to change “Suspend” to “Power Off…” but considering how flaky Linux can be with suspend, why is that GNOME’s knee-jerk shutdown option?

GNOME-Shell’s top-bar global application menu is merely a glorified close button. Seriously. All you can do with it is “Quit.” Supposedly, plans are in place for this to eventually become GNOME’s answer to Unity’s global menu. By that time everyone will have switched over to Xfce.

In GNOME-Shell, tall menu pop-ups are often hidden beneath GNOME’s top bar. For a desktop environment that prides itself on being neat and clean and keeping out of the way, this is pretty offensive. Almost as bad as when earlier versions of GNOME’s file chooser dialog opened at microscopic dimensions that had to be manually re-sized each time you tried to open or save a file.

No customizable compression settings in GNOME’s archive manager. This hasn’t changed in six years, and probably won’t change in another six. At least it supports 7-zip.

XUL-based apps (Firefox, Thunderbird, Celtx…) are slower than their Windows counterparts. I think I once read somewhere that the Linux versions of XUL apps aren’t optimized as well as their Windows versions. Why the hell not? Did recent polls show that Linux users prefer not to surf porn, check their e-mail, or write their next snuff film as efficiently as Windows users?

The lock screen isn’t as private as I’d like it to be. Moving the mouse or hitting a key during a locked GNOME session in order to bring up the password dialog causes your desktop background to pop up as well. Many users voiced their concerns over this “feature” before GNOME implemented it…and still there’s no preference setting to keep my supposedly locked laptop from revealing the naked Alicia Sacramone image I have set as my desktop background. All it takes is an accidental mashing of the keyboard by the bare butt of an uninvited guest, or the brushing of a tumescent wang against the touchpad and bam! Instant awkward.

(Disclaimer: The above is simply a reality check(list). I’m not hating on Linux in general, Ubuntu, Unity, or GNOME-Shell, even. In fact, GNOME-Shell and I are going steady. I just wish she wasn’t such a stubborn biatch sometimes. My fault for dating a Taurus.)

(Disclaimer #2: I’m not hating on Taurus people. In fact, two of my closest friends are Taurus, and I’d follow them to the ends of the Earth. I just wish they weren’t such stubborn assholes sometimes.)

(Disclaimer #3: I’m not hating on stubborn assholes. In fact, several of my immediate family members are stubborn assholes…)

Phil Collins is Evil

Phil Collins will give you nightmares unless you buy his music

Phil Collins has a habit of putting close-ups of his mug on all of his album covers. It always seemed kind of cheesy to me—but if this was the cover of his new album I’d so fuckin’ buy it just so that I’d have something to listen to while they wheeled me into the mental institution.

Those of you who know me know that I outgrew pop music almost twenty years ago, back when I discovered Rush and, conversely, The Moody Blues. But I never gave up on my old Genesis CDs, the ones where Phil played drums and Peter Gabriel sang vocals and danced around in grotesque costumes shaped like giant tumors and creepy old men. That always gave Phil some cred: He was able to keep the beat while a lactating Slipperman danced around in front of him. So, reading a Phil Collins interview (like the one in Mail Online, May, 2010) from time to time isn’t totally unjustified, because even though I personally haven’t listened to “Sussudio” since cassette tapes were the shit, it’s still interesting to see where the various roots from the Genesis tree have spread over the eons.

Phil Collins may not be cool, but he sure is evil…and in a way that’s cool. In a way.

E-books Outsell Your Mom

XKCD - Kindle

Word has it that e-books are now outselling p-books (er, paper books) over at Amazon.com:

Amazon released its quarterly report for the end of last year and says that for every 100 books sold on its site, it sells 115 Kindle ebooks.

And that’s despite neuroscience blogger Jonah Lehrer’s insistence that e-readers are “too easy” on the eyes. He may be partially right, though I think the culprit here is that Helvetica is simply boring as fuck. Consequently, anything displayed in Helvetica is going to be boring as fuck, and anything boring as fuck is probably not going to be prioritized by your brains. A crisp, clear, elegant, easy-to-read serifed font is where I’m putting my money. Having readers default to some sort of Garamond would be kick-ass, though at the moment the Kindle 3 renders most Garamonds pretty shittily unless you do some hacking.

Over the holidays I traded in the rest of my magic beans and got a Kindle 3. Initially, I was merely out to more accurately format the e-books I distribute through Smashwords, but in the month and a half since, I’ve read two novels and a handful of short stories on the thing. The non-LCD screen has thoroughly seduced me (and, now that I’ve studied the Laptop Kama Sutra, I’ve made adjustments and seduced it back). I totally see a growing market for people weary of Microsoft’s (Un)ClearType text rendering. Or Apple’s soft, fuzzy iPad approach. Reading a novel on a dedicated e-reader is not like reading a novel on a laptop, iPhone, or iPad, the latter of which are perfectly suited for news articles or blog entries that include photographs, or for porn site “Enter if you’re over 18” warnings, but not for long-form novels or text-based books. Ironically, all the screenshots provided in Bill Hill’s “The Future of Reading: iPad Magazines” are proof that reading for extended periods on an LCD-based device is just lame. At least using current LCD technologies. If someone started mass-producing ~200dpi LCD screens tomorrow I’d so be there. In the meantime, as Amazon’s Kindle or B&N’s Nook excel at displaying text, and Apple’s iPad excels at displaying graphics, we’re looking at two separate e-reader markets: one for readers of newspapers, magazines, and manga / comics, the other for readers more interested in long-form books and novels.

Either way, I get why e-books are finally outselling p-books. Hardcovers sport excellent typefaces and quality paper stock, but are cumbersome to handle. Paperback novels may have enjoyed their “warm and cozy” reputation for the last near-century, but reading those two novels I mentioned above on a Kindle has proved to be just as enjoyable. More so, even, when you consider the ability to change font size or line spacing based on your preferences. You don’t have to worry about margins being so close to the binding that you have to pry the book open just to read complete paragraphs. If you’re dirt-poor, like me (or if you’re a college student), you don’t have to sacrifice modest living space for the sake of storing your dusty volumes. Best of all, you don’t have to shift the book to suit odd or even pages if you’re reading while lying on your side in bed—which is totally something I love to do. It’s such a small thing, but makes such a big difference.

Now, come up with a reading device that’s hi-res, can do color, and has an adjustable back-light, and you’ll really start outselling your mom. And your dad.

Multiplayer Games You Can Only Play by Yourself

Snorlax, by jhallpokemon

It hit me that night my friends and I threw a dinner party with a box of day-old Little Caesar’s and a bottle of flat Pepsi: Present-day multiplayer gaming is lame. Why? Because the console kings hate people who have actual lives. David Wong pretty much sums it up over at Cracked.com:

…if you think “multiplayer” means inviting the gang over to play, get drunk, laugh and high-five each other until the break of dawn, too bad. You can’t do that. Want to play with friends, they must be kept at arm’s length, faceless at the other end of a broadband connection. Grand Theft Auto IV multiplayer is a world without hugs.

Likewise, on that night when my friends and I took an impulse drive down to the local video store with the intention of renting something the four of us could play while our bloated bellies processed vast quantities of empty calories, we were sorely disappointed to find that all of the PlayStation 3 games available at the time were online multiplayer. In a perfect Sony world, each of us would have smiled stupidly, gone out and bought his own PS3 and a copy of the game, gone home, hooked it up, and, eventually, jabbered about how awesome it was to be playing the same game at the same time without being in the same room. What really happened: We dug out my piece-of-shit Nintendo 64 and its four crusty controllers, and we knocked off a dozen rounds of GoldenEye. Fucking brilliant—not only because I was still able to kick ass at the game, but because, despite today’s cutting edge, gigabyte-wielding, coffee-making, cancer-curing gaming systems, it was fucking GoldenEye that provided the superior “party” multiplayer experience.

The console kings want us divided, split apart, separated into our individual, stuffy apartments playing our individual PS3s or Xboxes in our filthy underwear and believing, naively, that we’re networking, socializing, making friends. BS to that. I just fragged the dog shit out of some kid from Wisconsin—it means nothing if he can’t see me giving him the finger, if he can’t feel me raking my knuckles across his scalp, or if I can’t watch him flinch as I hurl the salsa bowl into his face during my victory dance. I can only feed the stereotype that gamers are stay-at-home losers whose only interaction with other human beings is through their TeamSpeak headsets. For this, Sony and Microsoft earn a big fat bag of flaming poo. (Not you, Nintendo; you’re golden, what with your darling Mario Kart Wii, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.)

Now, get the hell off my lawn.

Big Media’s Anti-Everything Wishlist

My crackpot take on Big Media’s latest anti-infringement wishlist: Two trade representatives are on a flight bound for the annual Conference of Copyright Conglomerates. On hearing the captain’s announcement that the plane will be landing soon, the first trade rep nudges the second, who’s dozed off in the next seat over.

“We’re about to land,” the rep says.

The second rep stretches, yawns. “Damn. I was having the most vivid dream.”

“Oh? What about?”

“You ever read George Orwell’s 1984?”

“Sure.”

“I was dreaming about that scene a quarter of the way into Part 1 where the Parsons boy accuses Winston of being a thought-criminal.”

The first rep smiles, nods understandably. “Sometimes I don’t want to wake up, either.”

The scary part is, the perpetual-surveillance attitude is becoming less whimsical with each passing year as Big Media continues to circulate its IP (intellectual property) wishlist. A quote from an EFF article that caught my eye:

…the entertainment industry thinks consumers should voluntarily install software that constantly scans our computers and identifies (and perhaps deletes) files found to be “infringing.”

Oh, that will go over well. Raise your hand if you’re a piece of software and you’ve never, ever had any bugs. Go ahead, don’t be shy. No one? No one at all? That’s what I thought. Automatic file-appropriateness scanners are a ludicrous idea—because you know they’ll follow a delete first, ask questions later policy. Heaven forbid you should save your daughter’s birthday video on your computer if it’s got a copyrighted song playing on a boombox in the background. Begin hypothetical: If it doesn’t get deleted, it’ll be held hostage until you pay the appropriate license fee. And you know there are those out there in IP Land who’d prefer you pay for each viewing rather than for a one-time only private usage license. Not your cup of tea? They’ve thought of that, too. A premium broadcaster’s license is also available. This gets you unlimited playback rights for a year. Pay for two years and you get 20% off. All because your daughter’s air-headed best friend thought it would be cool to play Justin Bieber during the barbecue. End hypothetical.

I’m not a big fan of automation. In February of this year, Scribd’s automatic IP-sniffing software accidentally classified two of my own books as infringing on my own copyright. The related Scribd pages were removed without prior warning. I understand the intent of such a system, and the desire of a company to negate the risk of a lawsuit due to perceived negligence. But when rolled out as, say, part of an all-inclusive security suite that gets installed on personal computers across the country…who’s accountable when false positives spring up? How does one get back their misidentified files? Can Norton Anti-IP 2010 Home Edition tell the difference between a DVD rip you made for your netbook and a file you downloaded off of a file-sharing site? How quickly do the anti-IP tech support departments think they can respond to all the e-mails that are sure to crop up?

It’s a can of worms, new solutions to old “problems”. Never mind that James Cameron’s Avatar has made close to a billion dollars in the midst of the Download Age. Big Media is insisting that Joe Average is killing their profits, and they’re counting on anti-IP legislation to bolster their pay-per-view models. In the meantime, experienced downloaders and pirates are unaffected—they’re in the business of steering clear of mainstream computing practices. It’s the average user who’ll leave Best Buy with an encumbered PC, a music CD that won’t play in more than one device at a time, or en e-reader that takes all of your e-books with it when you accidentally drop it down a flight of stairs.

Do not want.

Doing It Digi-Style

The POD People blog has posted a new article on not worrying too much about the printed word’s inevitable yielding to the booming Digital Age. Are dead-tree books becoming extinct? Yes—but the tradition of storytelling via text has never been stronger, for both authors and readers:

In actuality, over the past couple of months—since my Sony ereader purchase—I have bought more books, and with that I have taken a chance on more genres, more formats, and certainly more authors.

Perhaps because with e-books there’s less risk involved when, upon reading something dreadfully bad (like Time Chaser, for example), you’ve no longer got a physical piece of junk to have to store somewhere or unload on some random, unsuspecting friend.

That, and the young kids these days don’t seem to mind pixels over paper. This time last year I was worried about making sure my e-books were available on the “right” reader, the device that offered the most paper-like reading experience. But it turns out I’ve been hearing from more and more friends and family who have, say, iPhones or iPod Touches, and they’re pretty enthusiastic about carrying their books alongside their MP3 / video collection. Pleasant surprise. Of course, I won’t be completely happy until they start making Stanza for tricorders…but that’s just me.

Suggested by The New Podler: A Self-Publishing Symposium

The New Podler is gathering opinions from a variety of authors regarding the current state of self-publishing. My hopelessly optimistic answers follow below. What are your thoughts?

* * *

How does self-publishing differ from traditional publishing?

Self-publishing is either liberation or self-indulgence depending on how you go about it. There’s a dubious association with instant gratification. The core benefits: you retain all control over your material, you keep a bigger chunk of the profits, and, oftentimes, you’re able to forge a more personal relationship with your audience. The drawbacks (which, depending on your motivation, can also be benefits): you must be your own publisher, editing, formatting, creating effective packaging; you must be your own marketing team—you must be willing and able to spend a portion of your time as a door-to-door salesperson of sorts. It’s a lesson in patience and refinement, though not such an added burden considering that many traditional publishers these days require you to have a marketing plan anyway.

Regarding availability, the gap is narrowing between books sold off of a book shelf and those sold via a web site. Chain book stores are steadily closing, and while you still have Barnes & Noble, Borders, and the independents, these stores only have so much physical space. There are legions of capable, entertaining “mid-list” authors whose books are not often included between Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. Selling through the Internet is a way to defeat the problem of limited shelf space. It also happens to be the most accessible method available to self-publishers.

Do self-published book review blogs help to raise the reader awareness of self-published books?

Absolutely. Legitimate, critical self-publishing review blogs (like good traditional-publishing review blogs) point out the blemishes as well as the dimples. For serious self-publishers, this is what you want if you have a good, solid book that doesn’t carry the reputation of being self-published because it can’t stand on its own, because it can’t find traditional publication. It should never be assumed that getting reviewed at a self-publishing review blog is easier than getting reviewed elsewhere.

How do you respond to the following statement: “Self-publishing is not a serious way to get one’s work into print now and never will be.”

I daresay a more accurate version of the above statement is: “Self-indulgence is not a serious way to get one’s work into print now and never will be.” If you’re not ready, if you’re rushed, then it will come across to reviewers and readers alike. With self-publishing, there’s no editor or agent acting as a stop-gap. What I’m finding as I go along is that it’s not so much the self-publishing model itself that needs to clean up its image as it is the ability of self-publishing authors to effectively promote their work. It’s all in how you do it.

Has the golden age of self-publishing already passed or is it yet to come?

Bigger and better things are yet to come. I’m convinced the traditional publishing industry had to stumble before a real awareness was raised regarding alternative book markets. The technology had to improve to a point where anyone with a computer and Internet connection could feasibly create and publish. Book stores, whether they’re selling print or digital copies, will continue to be country clubs for the elites, which is perfectly fine. Many authors are bestsellers for a reason: they’re very good at what they do. But they’re not the only kids on the block. Self-published books—good ones—will continue to fill the gaps. Eventually, when (and I do think it’s a matter of when and not if) e-books become the norm, everyone will be selling via digital download. The old notion that you find professional authors’ books on store shelves, and amateurs’ online will hold much less water.

What about the challenges posed to the self-published writer by having to promote and edit his or her own book?

This is something many traditional publishers are requiring of their authors due to tighter budgets. In the past, you could, to some extent, get away with merely sending in your manuscript and letting the publishing team handle the rest. You only needed to be on hand for signings or interviews. Now you need a marketing plan to go along with your synopsis and sample chapters. You need to convince your would-be publisher that you’re a hustler. You need an agent. And even then, a contract with a traditional publisher comes with no guarantees. Yes, depending on your contract, you’ll have access to physical store shelves, but you still have to work your butt off promoting yourself. You’re selling more books, but getting a smaller percentage of each sale. Not a bad thing. On the DIY side, you’re selling fewer books, but keeping more of the profits; you’re having to manage all your book sales yourself, whether through your web site or via consignment agreements with local book shop owners. All stereotypes aside, both traditional and self-publishing endeavors involve a lot of work. The latter is more easily attainable, whether as your sole method of publishing or as a hook to attract a mainstream publisher.

Why is it that a self-published author has yet to emerge into national recognition as a self-published author? (As opposed to being given a mainstream publishing contract after a self-published book attracts attention.)

I think a lot of it is the social stigma of someone coming up to you and saying, “My latest novel is great! You should read it!” People don’t like it when other people toot their own horn—but they don’t mind as much when you toot someone else’s horn. With self-publishing, this is something of a challenge. You have to promote yourself without sounding like a greasy car salesman, you have to get other people to blurb you and promote you. It can be exceedingly difficult, because you’re not working with a paid staff, you’re working with friends, other self-published authors, family members. They all have their own lives to worry about.

Also, at this point in time, traditional publishers still carry a lot of clout. A contract with Random House can do wonders for your literary presence. I’ve seen numerous instances where an author will start a series of books with a mainstream publisher, and then finish the series at a smaller press, or under his / her own imprint. Whatever politics are going on behind the scenes, an audience has gathered, and they’ll follow if the books are good. Bands do it all the time.

Has the experience of self-publishing changed the way you write? (If you have self-published.)

I started self-publishing because the small presses I’d been with closed up shop, and I felt my work up until that point was still relevant enough to warrant some kind of distribution. With new material I’ve found that I’ve become more daring. After all, I’m no longer having to adhere to a publisher’s tastes or guidelines. I’ve been able to stretch out a little, blending genres and styles. I’ve already had to go it alone, and so I’m not worried about falling from grace, so to speak. At the same time, though, I’ve had to make sure I don’t get too lax. Proofreaders are still important (before the publishing process!), honest opinions still matter, and it’s still my main goal each time around to write the best book I can.

* * *

There you go. As I mentioned at the start, I’m optimistic when it comes to the DIY movement. What’s happening now in the publishing world is sort of like what was happening fifteen years ago during the rise of the commercial Internet. And MP3s a short while after. I mean, who texted back then? Who ditched their CD collection in favor of MP3s? Nowadays, everyone texts (and sexts), everyone listens to MP3s—and, I wager, in a few more years, (nearly) everyone will be reading e-books instead of paperbacks. We just need that iTunes-like revolution. Maybe it’s the Kindle or the nook or some other fancied contraption that makes it as easy to squeeze 10,000 books onto a hand-held reader as it is to fit your entire music collection onto a handy portable player. Maybe it’s the mass production of such devices that lowers prices and suddenly makes not having one a social embarrassment (like with the iPod). Maybe it’s the passing of new environmental laws that restrict paper production. Whatever. The day will come. Are you looking forward to it, or do you already have your “Physical, not digital!” protest sign ready?

The Couch Gymnast’s (Not So) Brief History of…

Aspiration means stepping on others to get to the top

There’s a reason I picked competitive gymnastics as Monica’s sport of choice in Heroes’ Day: the lies. I don’t necessarily mean that in a condemning way, nor is it just the gymnasts who are indoctrinated to smile over the pain more than athletes of other sports. All professional sportsmen / sportswomen are trained to make the strenuous, the tedious, the downright painful look easy. One of the exceptions of gymnastics is that, if you’re female, you have to look pretty while making it look easy—and you have to do it between school, family, friends, growing up, because female gymnasts are only interesting to the media when they’re in their early teens (male gymnasts get to come into their own in their early twenties). That’s just the petty stuff, dealing with wedgies, bra or underwear line deductions, weights and measurements. Just wait until you get into the arena of broken bones and hidden casts:

Melita Ruhn, Nadia Comaneci’s team mate on the Moscow 1980 team, tells the Gazeta Sporturilor of her experiences as a gymnast in Romania. One of her tales, she claims, includes the time when Bela Karolyi removed the cast from her broken leg, made her perform her vault (in which she scored a ten) and then replaced the cast.

We all saw Kerri Strug vault on a seriously injured ankle during the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Was it worth it for a gold medal? Prize money? An entry in the history books? Being a fan of exaggeration, I thought maybe sending Monica Sardinia to Olympus at the age of fourteen (in a hypothetical world where twelve is actually the average female gymnast’s age) was justifiable if she was competing for actual resources. Schoolbooks, hospital funds, paved streets, and the like. There’s some patriotism there, but what’s worth a twisted ankle, a stress fracture, a broken neck?

I digress. The Couch Gymnast’s recent blog post chronicles Romania’s soap opera tendencies, the hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades behind those tired smiles and haggard dreams.

Pretty Women Dumbify the Male Sex

What's my name?

What's my name?

This Telegraph article isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. The basic finding is that men use up so much of their brain juice trying to impress attractive chicas that they have little left to perform other mental tasks simultaneously. I can vouch for this. Pretty women make me dumb(er). Plus, they smell nice. How do they do it? Peggy Bundy once explained it: “You see, nature played a very cruel joke on [men]. It gave them a source of pleasure, but in order for it to work, the blood has to leave the brain…it leaves them confused, disoriented and eager to enter into negotiations. Because the brain wants that blood back…it needs it to go to work to pay for all those things it agreed to only moments before.”

One line in the article I don’t agree with, though:

Women, however, were not affected by chatting to a handsome man.

This is untrue. Women who talk to a handsome man are 50% more likely to tune me out mid-sentence, especially if the three of us are sitting together in a night club setting. Also, women dating / married to handsome men are more likely to suspect adultery than those involved with less handsome men (ie: computer geeks or basement trolls).

To simplify: Pretty women make men stupid, handsome men make women jealous.