BTRIPP's Journal
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in BTRIPP's LiveJournal:

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    Saturday, February 21st, 2015
    12:04 pm
    Oh, look ... more videos!
    So, having sort of "hit the wall" on getting out new volumes (until I do the archaeology noted in my previous post), I got back on the "content for the site" end of things. Now, I'm really hoping to get to a smooth-flowing "system" for these, because right now they're taking about an hour each, which, given the number of months involved (120+), that's a LOT of hours ... and it's a nine-task project (using 6-7 programs!) for each of these videos/pages.

    Also, I need to fit these in when things are quiet around here, as I don't exactly have a "recording studio", and if Daughter No.2 and her friends are around ... that noise will be on the recording.

    Frankly, the biggest "PitA" part of these is "step one", where I have to read through a month's worth of poems ... not that it's horrible to be going through my stuff, it just takes a long time ... and I'm having to read them in detail for how they'd "read" out loud. I have considered doing some sort of either random or numerical (the fourth poem from the fourth month, the ninth poem from the ninth month, etc.) approach for picking the poems, but I'm pretty sure that will end up with less appealing poems being featured ... and, of course, nobody else is reading this stuff, so I can't exactly throw it out to an audience for suggestions/requests.

    What I'm doing is picking one poem from each month on the main page on the site for each yearly collection, and having the entry for that poem in the title list link off to a "sample" page that will have that poem's text, and a video of my reading audio recording. I suppose I could just have the .wav audio files up there, but I think it makes them more interesting having a Windows Media Player "visualization" with them ... which is certainly more engaging than seeing my mug reading from the screen! When I get further on in the project, I'll probably upload all the .wav files to Blog Talk Radio ... a set of readings for each year as a "podcast" ... ain't that swanky?

    So, when you click on these thumbnails (and sorry about having the big time notations on those - I was having a problem getting a clean image grab from YouTube for those), you will be whisked off to the corresponding sample page on the Eschaton site:

    April 29, 1994

    May 07, 1994

    June 16, 1994

    Oh, and I also discovered a quirk in my code on those pages ... I don't know why, but I was putting in some "rules" and "frame" calls in there (which are generally ignored in FireFox, which is what I mainly use) which were making lines of the pages when seen in Chrome. I found if I reset the value of the latter (to "NONE"), it got rid of those ... hooray! Of course, this meant that I had to go back into the code on every page on the site and fix that ... but at least now it's looking right on all the browsers (that I've checked so far).

    Anyway ... go and listen to me read some poetry!

    Visit the BTRIPP home page!

    Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
    2:42 pm
    This may be the last of these for a while ...
    CS-98-01-coverSo, over the weekend I got out another 250-poem volume, POEMS : 1998-2001, which covers (unsurprisingly) those four years. After 11 years in a row of writing 250 poems a year (and in most of those averaging 21 poems a month), "the wheels came of the cart" and I only wrote 109 in 1998, 12 in 1999, 15 in 2000, and 114 in 2001 (needlessly to say, my OCD was focusing on getting exactly 114 done in 2001 to make it 250 poems for those four years!).

    This does, of course, make the 12th volume of 250 poems available now, meaning that I currently have THREE THOUSAND poems "virtually in print", as it were (ah, that liminal state that books exist in via the print-on-demand channel!). However, the last poem in the current volume is titled "FOUR THOUSAND WAYS", which notes that it was, indeed, the four thousandth poem by my accounting at that point (having been keeping track since 1976, so stuff I wrote in high school "didn't count" ... although ultimately, I'll probably want to find that stuff - when I was rhyming and playing with formal structures like sonnets, etc.).

    Unfortunately, my on-disk files (of my 3.5" floppies that I transferred over to flash drives) only went back to 1986, so when I went to go work on the next volume (which would have been 1985-1986), I was stymied by not having the 1985 poems "on hand". Now, I'm reasonably sure that I can find the 5.25" floppies that have my earlier stuff on them ... they used to be "right over here" on a bookcase shelf above my desk, but said shelf (being 30-year-old fiberboard) had a collapse a year or so back, and all the contents of that shelf went into a box and "went elsewhere", said location being somewhat hazy at the moment. Fortunately, I do still have a couple of working computers that have 5.25" floppy drives, so when I find the disks, I can read them ... probably needing to copy them to 3.5" floppies which I have a external reader for that works with my netbook (yes, these systems are old enough that their OS doesn't know what a USB is, so there's no flash drive option, and it might be amusing to try to get on-line with them ... via a phone line to AOL).

    IMG_0425rOf course, I'm really hoping that the disk-to-disk-to-HD option will play out, because if I can't find the disks, I'm faced with another "project". Now, "back in the day", I made annual collections of the poems, and I know I put these out for all those years (in various combinations of smaller-output years). However, these were hand-xeroxed/comb-bound editions of 12 copies of which I kept 2, send 2 in to the Library of Congress when they were still insisting of "deposit copies" to register the ISBNs, and distributed 8 copies (for xmas ... ho, ho, ho ... enjoy my decades of suicidal ideation - it's so festive!) to friends and family. I, unfortunately, have NO clear idea where those two file copies of each volume ended up, as most went through 2 moves. I had a vague idea, but when I searched through the closet in question, I found some poetry stuff, but it was a later "experiment" where I was making monthly chapbooks (on the lunatic idea the I could sell subscriptions to my angst), and not the yearly books. I suspect that these might be in another closet (see pic ===>) Which is behind a stack of boxes that are at the space between two bookshelves, which have two desks in front of them, my big "stack o'printers", and various file boxes. If I'm lucky the poetry stuff will be in a "file bin" (a rolling furniture thing for vertical files) that's under most of those boxes, and I'll just need to get into that, otherwise I'm going to have to move nearly EVERYTHING you see in that picture to get into the closet (which has, obviously, not been touched in well over a decade). And, there's no guarantee that they'll be in there, but I have a pretty solid memory that a leather shoulder bag that I used to keep my poems in IS in there, so it would be a "logical" place for those to have ended up.

    Needless to say, this is the main reason I've been referring to having to go looking for the old poems as an "archaeological" project.

    Of course, if I can't find the floppies, and do find the comb-bound editions, I'll be faced with a whole hell of a lot of scan/OCR work. If I can't find my file copies either, I'll be faced with the embarrassing task of having to go back to folks "from way back when" and asking if they, perhaps, did NOT throw out those poetry collections I'd sent them, and could I borrow them back if they still had them. I'm sincerely hoping to find the floppies without having to get into major digging!

    I had initially put out the poems from 1976-1986 in seven volumes, but I think I'll be further combining years to make it five volumes, with poem counts from 140 to 260, and one (1984) being 250. I don't know how closely I'm going to hold to the "10¢/poem" pricing (hence the books with 250 poems having a $25 cover price, despite page counts that have varied from 286-360 pages and corresponding printing costs), as I'm thinking "round numbers" might be better.

    There is also the matter of poems written after 2001 ... I have files for some of those (about 200 poems from 2002, 2003, and 2004), but if I have files for later poems, they're probably still on old system HDs ... which is a whole 'nuther project. I'm also thinking that a LOT of that stuff may still be on my "dead" 2tb external drive, which I had gotten all my old files organized on, so they weren't on my desktop HD (a precaution I was taking, having had a number of main system C: drives go bad on me over the years) ... I had not anticipated my STORAGE drive dying on me. I actually had been gifted some money to deal with that last year, and had gotten a NEW (3tb) external HD, and identified a place that would likely be able to recover the data for what I had budgeted for it ... but I've not been in an emotionally stable enough place to actually go deal with it (I don't want to be faced with a "nah, it's bricked, we can't get anything off of it" - unless they do something ridiculously expensive - response sending me spiraling off into further "suicidal ideations"). {sigh}

    Anyway ... there are now a dozen volumes ... containing 3,000 of my poems ... available. It would be lovely if some day somebody would actually buy one (none have sold at all at this point). I'm planning on buying full sets (when I get all the above stuff done) for various school libraries (2 grade/highschools, 2 colleges) and a set for the Poetry Foundation's library (whose swank new place is in the neighborhood), and perhaps the Newberry Library (likewise just a couple of blocks away), to at least have print copies out there somewhere. Then I can take that long walk into the sunset knowing that there was something I did while breathing this planet's air.

    Visit the BTRIPP home page!

    Monday, February 9th, 2015
    10:06 am
    Man ...
    As noted previously, I'm getting into the fringes of my main writing (poetry) period, when things seem a bit "spotty" in terms of what I have in the files or not. I'm currently pulling together a 12th volume of poems, the first multi-year collection, covering 1998-2001. Since I've been on LiveJournal since 2000, the back end of this appeared in these pages ... and I've been paging through several years worth of posts just to check to see if I missed any (I know I have some on here, as late as 2007, that I don't currently have on-disk versions of).

    You know the cliché emo teenager line: "I have never drawn a happy breath!"? Well, paging through my journal looks like evidence of the veracity of that in my case. I have been miserable for so f'n long! The specifics of what's been making me depressed may have changed over the years (although the "no job" factor is a recurring theme), but it's been a craptastic decade and a half. One of "my problems" is that I never get over any emotional wounds ... I'm a frick'n "picture of Dorian Grey" of never-fading emotional traumas ... and reading back over these posts makes those aches and agonies fresh and immediate. Not fun. {side note: this is why I "can't do sales", as every "NO!" is a dagger stab of rejection, belittlement, and exile, none of which ever heal over}

    I wonder if I had a chance of reading back over how shitty life has been over the past 15 years how I would have processed it. Every month that grinds by these days makes me think that dying in the 1993 car crash would have been a blessing, and that this life is something that I've been damned to.

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    Sunday, February 8th, 2015
    2:52 pm
    And MORE poetry ...

    This is the 11th of the current line of poetry collections ... as far as I can tell I only have ONE other year wherein I wrote 250 poems, but I think the next to come out is going to be a 4-year grouping where the total came out (not exactly coincidentally) at 250 poems.

    As I probably noted before ... once I get that, and 3 years preceding 1987, out, the material gets, uh ... "archaeological" ... as the poems prior to 1986 (or so) aren't in my main poem files, and stuff past 2001 isn't either (even though I have numbers of poems listed for the various years). So this is going to require digging through old systems' HDs, finding old 5.25" floppies, and, perhaps, even trying to find where my copies of the original yearly (comb-bound xeroxed) collections ended up (and spending weeks scanning those in).

    However, with the next book, I'll have three thousand poems up and at least potentially "in print", which is something! I'm pretty sure the rest will come to about 1,500 poems, if I can dig them all up.

    So ... rush on over to get your copy of POEMS:1987!

    An odd thing happened when I was checking if this one had worked its way yet onto the Amazon listings ... it turns out that some of the new/used vendors are listing some of my poetry volumes. The reason that's odd is that THERE HAVE SO FAR BEEN ZERO SALES of any of the 11 books, so the possibility of there being "used" copies (admittedly, listed as "Like New"), is also zero. I'm guessing that these are coming out from places that have wholesale deals with CreateSpace, so could order the books at a discount and then fill the "Like New" orders that came in ... but it's strangely irritating (not that I mind getting the added listing linkage), given the null set of sales thus far.

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    Monday, February 2nd, 2015
    12:55 pm
    Ebay ... you make me crazy ...
    So, yesterday I was trying to score some equipment for a project The Wife is doing (long story), and found items up on eBay in the price range I was interested in parting with for them.

    The first miss was all my fault ... I'd be watching and waiting, and just before the auction was going to end (a few minutes prior to the start of the Super Bowl), I got enmired in a "need to fix this NOW" thing on something I was working on, and when I popped back into the browser, the auction had ended (with a price that was well below my target ... dammit).

    I then shifted my attention to an auction that was closing some time after the Super Bowl ... and went off to watch the game.

    Now, I have a problem with eBay ... I hate, Hate, HATE the "bid bots" that so many people use ... it lets people with "unlimited resources" muscle those of us who want to "win" with research, guile, and OCD around time out of the game. I've had many people say "But, Brendan, why don't you use a bot?" (to even the playing field, I suppose), but I have been extremely broke for most of the past 15 years, and when I'm going on eBay to get something it's because I need/want to get it for a LOT cheaper than I can get it elsewhere. To use a bot, you need to be OK with spending the MAXIMUM you're willing to pay, which is frequently MORE than several "buy it now" offers for similar items. I want to bid to get the item for LESS than the "buy it now" deals, not MORE ... and it's a total crap shoot whether you'll be one of a half-dozen bots churning the end price up in a flurry of bids in the last few seconds.

    In this auction last night I got in with 45 seconds left. My first bid was not high bid, so I quickly shot in another, which was ... and then I waited as the seconds ticked down 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 and suddenly I was outbid. TWO bots (with bidders who had not even been on the board previously) came in during the last two seconds and pushed the item well above what I was interested in paying for it (as it was, my second bid was more than at least one "buy it now" that I was considering).

    Needless to say, 2 seconds out, I figured I'd succeeded, and was CRUSHED by the bots. I used to, in the pre-bot days, enjoy eBay, but any more it's psychologically damaging to the extent that I dread trying to get anything from there.

    Hell, it was like a replay of the last few seconds of the Super Bowl (from Seattle's perspective, at least).

    Bleh ... I'm watching 3 similar units that come up tonight ... hope I can land one.

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    Saturday, January 31st, 2015
    1:34 pm
    A remarkable history of modern science ...
    It's a vanishingly rare occurrence that I give a “star rating” over on, in fact I have rated exactly six books out of the 2,186 books I have cataloged over there, all of which got 5 stars “in the heat of the moment” of enthusiasm I had for a particular book. This is the sixth of those.

    Frankly, this is somewhat surprising as the book came into my hands as a Library Thing Early Reviewer program “win”, and, more often than not, LTER books tend towards the “meh” rather than the “wow”. However, Conquering the Electron: The Geniuses, Visionaries, Egomaniacs, and Scoundrels Who Built Our Electronic Age by Derek Cheung and Eric Brach is definitely on the “wow” side of the spectrum, being one of the best “history of science” books I've encountered.

    One of the notable things about this was that it was first published in Chinese in Taiwan in 2011, with the English translation coming out in late 2014. I don't know how many books make that transition, but I'm guessing it's only a few … although with growing globalization, that may not be the case for long. Given this reality, it is especially admirable how seamlessly the book in hand reads … it's not only informative, but is beautifully executed, a feat that I can only imagine being “Herculean” in moving the material between such divergent languages.

    The book is structured in three parts, with 20 chapters between them, and nearly 100 sections on specific subjects (from 3 to 11 sections in the various chapters). While I realize this is seen as something of “a crutch” for writing a review, I think it might be useful to give an over-view of the book by listing the parts and chapters here:
    Part I: Age of Electromagnetism
    1. The Knowledge Foundation

    2. The Telegraph

    3. The Telephone

    4. Wireless Telegraphy

    5. Lighting and Electrification

    Part II: Age of Vacuum Electronics
    1. Current Flow in a Vaccum

    2. Controlling the Flow of Electrons

    3. Radio

    4. Television

    5. Radar

    6. Computer

    Part III: Age of Solid-State Electronics
    1. The Semiconductor

    2. The Birth of the Transistor

    3. Launching the Electronics Industry

    4. The Dawn of Silicon Valley

    5. The Integrated Circuit and the Chip

    6. Chip Technology Blossoms

    7. Evolution of the Electronics Industry

    8. LEDs, Fiber Optics, and Liquid Crystal Displays

    9. The Information Age and Beyond
    As you might imagine, if there are only a handful of individuals profiled in each of those sections (and there are often quite a few), that is a vast number of stories … which means that I'm only going to touch on the broad strokes here.

    The book starts with a description of the modern smart phone, and pretty much frames the whole as an investigation of “how did we get here?”. The first discoveries go back thousands of years, to ancient Greeks finding that rubbing a cloth on a chunk of amber (“elektron”) produced what we know as static electricity, and how, some centuries later, another Greek (from Magnesia in Thessaly) discovered a stone which attracted other stones including iron, being thus known as a “magnet”. At the same time, similar discoveries were being made in China, producing working compasses. Despite the early awareness of these phenomena, the West had study in them smothered by the Church for over a thousand years, and it only began to flower in the Renaissance … a key figure establishing “the scientific method” was Queen Elizabeth I's Royal Physician, William Gilbert, who in 1600 published extensive research (such as it was at the time) on electricity and magnetism.

    Over the next 200 years discovery led to discovery, and advance to advance, with many “familiar names” from the measurement of electrical and magnetic scales and phenomena, including Coulomb, Galvani, Volta, and even Franklin (who didn't, as far as I know, end up lending his name to a gauge, but being on the hundred dollar bill has got to be some consolation). In 1800, Volta demonstrated what was to come to be known as the “Voltaic pile” battery. Volta was also one of the key individuals behind the expansion of the knowledge, as he made all his information public, retiring into a cushy position in Napoleon's government … at numerous points in the over-all arc of the story here there are similar “open source” diffusions that boosted the development of new technologies. In Volta's case, within two years of his releasing his research there were commercially available batteries based on his initial design.

    From that point on, a lot of names roll through the book, Humphry Davy, Hans Oersted, André-Marie Ampère, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz, bringing the basic science story up to the late 1800's. At this point the tale shifts to the telegraph, and the first of several “competing technology” stories, this one with Samuel F.B. Morse and Englishman William Cooke. These competitions were not strictly on the systems' technological merits, as the political sphere came in, along with issues of economics. Another notable science name comes into the mix with telegraphs, when the competition was laying cables across the Atlantic … Professor William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) was instrumental in the successful cable installation, which went live in 1865. At the same time, another familiar name (for the company that's still thriving) was developing telegraph systems in Germany, and eventually Russia … Werner von Siemens.

    There are stories of intellectual property fights, outright corruption in government, and massive egos going head-to-head here, with the likes of Edison popping up in the telegraph arc. However, things really got ugly when the telephone came around … Elisha Gray and Gardiner Green Hubbard are names not so well known, vs. that of Alexander Graham Bell, but it was Hubbard that pushed Bell to assemble a patent application, which he then bribed clerks at the patent office to register a few hours earlier than that of Gray's ... giving Bell precedence, despite his filing being only vague material on the concepts, while Gray's was a substantial work from the Western Union company. Hubbard additionally pushed Bell's patent through the system, getting it approved in a matter of weeks (as opposed to many months or even years), and arranging for Bell to have (totally illegal) access to Gray's filing … aspects of which were immediately incorporated into Bell's demonstration units. So, when you hear of “Bell System”, it probably should have been Western Union, with Gray being the poster boy for the telephone!

    Wireless telegraphy brings us to Marconi, but that's a prelude to the Radio story. The next big element here is electrical lighting, which, of course, brings in Thomas Edison, with General Electric, and Nikola Tesla, with George Westinghouse, and the great AC/DC battle. Which brings the story up to about 1900.

    At this point we hit a phase where the names and stories don't have the recognition factor that their “mythologized” predecessors have, so I'm going to gloss over a lot. However, the book has fascinating details of who did what with particular technologies, and how the advancements proceeded. Cathode ray tubes led to x-rays, which led to discoveries about how electrons behaved, leading to the vacuum diode, and the development of the triode, when then led to the basics of radio, TV, and radar … and eventually to the computer. “Computers” had been around in various forms for centuries (arguably an abacus or slide-rule is a mechanical computer), but starting with the ENIAC this moved to all-electronic systems (if based on highly unreliable tube technology – as many as 18,000 tubes that regularly needed to be replaced). The ENIAC project at Iowa State was, however, another one of those key points,
    Since {John} Atanasoff was the inventor of the computer but neither he nor Iowa State College had ever followed through in applying for a patent, the courts ruled that the patent rights would be assigned to the public domain. This ruling allowed any individuals or companies to develop computer products without having to worry about basic patent infringement, clearing the path for the rapid growth of the computer industry.
    This, along with the massive cold-war investment that the military was making in basic research, set up the eventual explosion of computer technology.

    A similar pattern played out in the early days of “Silicon Valley”. Again, there are many names involved, both individuals and companies, as chip technologies grew … but one, William Shockley, seems to be the reason that “Silicon Valley” happened where it did. He had been a major figure at Bell Labs, but had been frustrated by not getting significant paydays for the patents he produced for the company, and opted to eventually (after a brief stint as a professor at CalTech) to form his own company, which he did in his home town of Palo Alto. He tapped a pool of brilliant students in the area, and founded Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Unfortunately, although a top-notch engineer, Shockley was an abysmal businessman, and eventually a team of eight key engineers sought to leave the company en mass … finally entering into a deal with the New York based Fairchild Camera and Instrument company to found Fairchild Semiconductors. After some time, key players began to leave Fairchild to set up their own companies and “... Fairchild management chose not to litigate against any of these coporate offspring, and this turning of a blind eye served as tacit encouragement for people to go off on their own. … Maybe it was just that they appreciated the fact that {their previous employers} had never tried to sue them, and they collegially paid this genteel treatment forward.” … thereby setting the pattern for much of the growth in the industry.

    Anyway, Conquering the Electron continues through the development of ever more sophisticated chips and displays, walks through the rise of Asian manufacturing concerns and how they integrated with the growing computer field, and eventually ends up at the now fairly ubiquitous smart phone. All in all, it is a remarkable read.

    The (English version) of the book just came out last October, so it should still be around in the brick-and-mortar book vendors who have books on science, and the on-line big boys have it at around ¼ off of cover. This is one of my favorite reads of late, and would recommend it to anybody with an interest in Science, history, business, computing, or biography. It's a really impressive book!

    Visit the BTRIPP home page!

    Friday, January 30th, 2015
    11:36 pm
    Wish there was more ...
    In a recent blog post elsewhere, I was looking to accurately source a quote, so did a little legwork on Fran Lebowitz … a humorist whose bon mots I have been happy to regurgitate for many years … and found this book (which I promptly ordered from new/used vendors over on Amazon).

    As noted, I knew of Lebowitz for quite a long time, but really didn't know much in terms of the details of her career until looking into this book. She actually started out with Andy Warhol, doing pieces for Interview, and later moved on to being a columnist for Mademoiselle ... however, her actual written output appears to be limited, and most of which seems to be within the covers of The Fran Lebowitz Reader, which features both her earlier collections, 1974's Metropolitan Life, and 1981's Social Studies.

    Frankly, I found this quite disappointing, as I had envisioned some vast trove of witty material lurking out there, just off my radar, which I could delve into … but, no … this appears to be pretty much what there is. I (like others) had thought of Lebowitz as a latter-day Dorothy Parker, but, although she holds her own quip-for-quip with her great predecessor, the material she's generated has thus far been fairly thin (this 2-in-1 volume is 333 pages). Of course, this is not counting her unfinished work … she's been playing off her long-unfinished Exterior Signs of Wealth for decades (in a 1994 interview1 she was noted to have recently “broken through” a 10-year bout of writers block, and elsewhere was quoted as saying the book … still unfinished … would be out by the turn of the millennium), and supposedly has another book, Progress (which was first excepted from a decade ago), that supposedly has a release date for later this year.

    It seems that Ms. Lebowitz maintains her Manhattan lifestyle primarily on the public speaking circuit (although she has had a recurring role as a judge in the Law & Order TV shows, and has appeared in a couple of movies – recently in The Wolf of Wall Street), which, I assume, allows her to be witty and noticed without having to actually write. Which brings me to my first clip from the Metropolitan Life side of the book, in the initial chapter, My Day: An Introduction of Sorts, which is set up with times, activities, and commentaries, winding up with:
    2:05 A.M. – I enter my apartment and prepare to work. In deference to the slight chill I don two sweaters and an extra pair of socks. I pour myself a club soda and move the lamp next to the desk. ... I pick up my pen and stare at the paper. I light a cigarette. I stare at the paper. I write “My Day: An Introduction of Sorts.” Good. Lean yet cadenced. I consider my day. I become unaccountably depressed. I doodle in the margin. … I look longingly at my sofa, not unmindful of that fact that it converts cleverly into a bed. I light a cigarette. I stare at the paper.
    4:50 A.M. – The sofa wins. Another victory for furniture.
    I've deleted a couple of sentences there, which gave some specifics of how she was distracting herself, but felt, for illustration purposes here it stood better without them. The whole 2.5-page chapter is, by these last two entries, evidently the introduction that she was needing to write, which eventually loses to the sofa. I literally “LOL'd” when it hit that last line (made more poignant that her family's business for generations had been in the furniture trade).

    The two component books here have somewhat different tones, largely expressed in length, with the latter book having some substantially longer bits, but also in “social context”, 1974 and 1981 being variant ages of the New York scene (which reminds me of the note in the front matter of the book which says “Fran Lebowitz still lives in New York City, as she does not believe that she would be allowed to live anywhere else.”). Both books are divided into “thematic” sections, with Metropolitan Life featuring Manners, Science, Arts, and Letters; and Social Studies offering People, Things, Places, and Ideas. One thing to note here is that much of the activities described in the text are somewhat dated … the latter volume came out in the year that New York's notorious/celebrated Studio 54 closed, and the IBM PC first appeared … and the former came out in that post-hippy era (I think there needs to be a label for the early 70's, like how Punk was followed by New Wave in the popular imagining, there should be something to tag the “post-hippy” years – which were freaky enough on their own) of 1974 … neither of these time frames being particularly relevant to “millennials” and their generational neighbors.

    Speaking of dated … the following quote comes from a section condemning pocket calculators … and, kids, there was a time when these did not exist, only coming to market in the early '70s … so these would have been the equivalent of the iPads of the day:
    The rigors of learning how to do long division have been a traditional part of childhood, just like learning to smoke. In fact, as far as I am concerned, the two go hand-in-hand. Any child who cannot do long division by himself does not deserve to smoke. I am really quite a nice girl and very fond of children but I do have my standards. I have never taught a child to smoke before he has first taken a piece of paper and a pencil and demonstrated to my satisfaction that he can correctly divide 163 by 12.
    Oh, yes … among other anachronisms here, Ms. Lebowitz is a very enthusiastic smoker, which (even evidenced by the bits in this review) constantly surfaces in her (less enthusiastically pursued?) writing.

    In the chapter “No News Is Preferable”, she goes on quite a run about the news industry, from its ancient Greek antecedents (including killing the bearer of bad news – that would create quite a churn in front of the network cameras!) to the very early days of cable TV. She notes that many people like the news, and “consider it to be important, informative, and even entertaining”, and details each of these elements – of which the “informative” struck me as particularly wry:
        Strictly speaking, the news is informative insofar as it does indeed provide information. Therefore the questions one must ask here are:
    1. Do I want this information?

    2. Do I need this information?

    3. What do they expect me to do about it?
    Answer to Question Number One
        No. If a genetically handicapped Scientologist attempts to take the life of the vice-president of the 4H Clubs of Texas with a crossbow and somebody knows about it, I would prefer that he kept it to himself.

    Answer to Question Number Two
        No. If three unemployed psychopathic blacksmiths have stolen the daughter of the inventor of lead paint and are threatening to read to her aloud from Fear of Flying until everybody in Marin County is given a horse, I fail to see how knowing this will help me to find a large but inexpensive apartment in a better neighborhood.

    Answer to Question Number Three
        I can not possibly imagine.
    Needless to say, some things never change, with the banality of the News being one of them. This brings me back to bemoaning that there is not more by Fran Lebowitz out there … if anything, the world has gotten more twisted in the decades of her “writers block”, and I, for one, would welcome having had her impressions of that downward spiral accessible.

    The Fran Lebowitz Reader is still in print (with a different cover than pictured here – the used copy I got was from when they were pushing the Public Speaking documentary that Martin Scorsese did about her a few years back), and the on-line big boys have it currently at 27% off of cover price … however, “very good” copies can be had from the new/used vendors for as little as a penny (plus shipping). As discussed above, I was happy to have “gotten caught up” with Ms. Lebowitz with this combination volume, but am sorely disappointed that there's not more stuff from here out there.

    1 – a 1994 piece by Bob Morris in The New York Times, in which were such gems as “The words are in the cigarettes.” and She says the only thing she likes less than writing is exercising, which she does because her doctor says it's the only way she can keep smoking and not aggravate her bronchitis. “It's the only time I wish I was writing, because at least you can sit down.” plus this barb: “I don't like avocados. They're the mayonnaise of vegetables.”

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    Saturday, January 24th, 2015
    7:01 pm
    More Wizardry ...
    OK, so this is the third of three reviews covering the three books of the “Wizard of Ads” trilogy by Roy H. Williams, and you probably should consider reading the two previous ones before launching into this. Like its predecessors, Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion is designed to look like a leather-bound “ancient tome”, with similar interior styling, although this time featuring yellow (gold?) accents on the interior pages. As were the previous two volumes, this is comprised of 100 short chapters, this time collected into four sections: “Architecture of the Mind”, “Tools for Profitable Persuasion”, “Charting Your Destiny & Dreams”, and “Wizards at Large”.

    Once again, Williams has a lot of material for what these days would likely be called “brain hacking” … elements of perception and mental processing that can be channeled to particular persuasive ends. One early point he makes in this is “Lyrics are absorbed and processed almost exclusively in the 'nonverbal' right hemisphere.”, implying that putting messages into songs can “sneak them past the Inner Critic” (of the left hemisphere). A lot of this first section looks at right/left brain issues, and how different types of impressions are experienced and integrated in perception. It also is less targeted to actual marketing messaging, and much more “theoretical” than the material in the previous books (for instance particle/wave duality … hard to turn that into a product pitch!). There is a wealth of interesting stuff, however, such a the 4 kinds of thought, 3 kinds of people (verbal, analytical, abstract, and symbolic, and artists, businesspeople, and scientists) … which is immediately followed by a chapter analyzing some James Taylor lyrics.

    Williams again revisits the “sleep” model of his previous books, only now noting that sleep tends to clear electrical short-term “working” memory, which is contrasted with “procedural” memory – the sort of thing like having learned how to ride a bike or type, which he suggests is primarily stored chemically. He also comes back to “Broca's area”, which he here describes as a “tollbooth” … if what is coming in to the brain is “predictable”, it will be shunted off as being of “low importance”, leading to it not getting much attention. So, playing with language, and surprising those parts of the brain, are key to getting messages in.

    One thing presented here I found fascinating is the author's debunking of the visual/auditory/kinesthetic model so popular with network marketers and other salesmen whose approach requires building rapport with their targets … he quotes “This is a groundless theory based on zero medical research.” … so much for “cold reading” prospects for see/hear/feel verbs. Another very similar “myth” is also addressed here: the saw that “93 percent of all human communication is nonverbal”, which turns out to have been a generalization from a very specific study (of “the resolution of inconsistent messages”) which got picked up and spread by the self-help seminar crowd. On a less contentious footing, he closes out the “mind” section with a look at the Myers-Briggs type of personality sorting, which he seems to approve of, but (oddly) doesn't even make a stab at relating to marketing.

    Of course, “Tools for Profitable Persuasion” flips over to nearly all business. He talks of “business morphine” - approaches that work, but are addictive and progressively less effective over time … these are great in the short-term, but damage the business long-term. He counters this will a look at a study in customer loyalty, there being 3 types of customers: nonswitchable – those that will not be convinced to change, switchable – those who, with the right messaging, can change brands, and price-switchable – those who will constantly switch, looking for a cheaper option. The latter are the prime audience of “business morphine”.

    This section gets a bit complicated with theories … like his “gravity well” (much like a “sales funnel”) of increasing interaction with a brand, “share of voice”, “impact quotient”, “share of mind”, “personal experience factor”, “share of market”, “market potential”, and the “advertising performance equation” … all of which are inter-related: (SoV x IQ) = SoMi, (SoMi x PEF) = SoMa, (SoMa x MPo) = Sales Volume, or SoV x IQ x PEF x MPo = Sales Volume (yeah, I “glazed over” early on in this too). He spins out of this into a piece about statistics and how TV bundles up bad slots and tries to sell you less effective packages … which I guess would be useful to some.

    Fortunately, the rest of the “tools” section gets back to more generally applicable stuff, from how to facilitate brainstorming sessions that will involve both introverts and extroverts, the New Coke fiasco as a study in what we say vs. what we do, etc. He then moves into a series of chapters where he turns various figures into verbs – Robert Frost into “frosting”, Dr. Seuss into “seussing”, and “being Monet” - all in the interest of “sneaking past the security guard” by getting into the right brain with messages that will then slip into the left using tools like “humor”, “mental participation”, and “subliminal associations” where a slight change in otherwise synonymous words can create big changes in people's perception and behaviors. He discusses how “numbered lists” (“7 habits”, etc. ad nauseum) appeal to the brain, and eventually works his way around to “chaotic systems”.

    The third section, “Charting Your Destiny & Dreams”, involves quite a lot of “navel gazing”, about one's purpose, one's goals, one's dreams, and how you go about trying to define and/or reach these. He notes that the universe is “built on mutually exclusive truths”, such as the admirability of “reaching for the stars” and “being content the way you are”</i>, which Williams links thusly:
    Being content and reaching for the stars both require an absence of fear. The fear of being average robs you of contentment. The fear of failure robs you of the joy of your dreams.
    He also asks whether you'd prefer to spend a week with noted investor Warren Buffet, or Margaritaville's Jimmy Buffet.

    There is a lot of reminiscing into the author's past here, some random notes, and bits and pieces that one might find useful, aside from amusing. One of these is pointing out how both pessimists and optimists tend to make the reflections on events, positive or negative, Persona, Permanent, and Pervasive … as in “it's abut me”, “it's not going to change”, and “it's universal” … an interesting way to break down those sorts of thought patterns. Another piece here has a heading which is wise all by itself: “Experience must first be a verb.” … which he backs up with a quote from Oscar Wilde.

    The final section, “Wizards at Large”, primarily looks at historical figures that Wiliams holds up as examples of his “Wizardry”. Many of these are of the “punch line” variety I've mentioned previously (he doesn't tell you who he's talking about until the very end), but others are more general descriptions. These range from Geoffrey of Monmouth, to Baron Rothschild, Coco Chanel, Mark Twain, Andrew Jackson, Lewis Carrol, etc., plus Ben Franklin advising Thomas Jefferson on editing, and the origin of the Tuxedo. Not a whole lot of “actionable” stuff in here, but interesting tales in the category that Arsenio Hall calls “things that make you go hmmmmmm”.

    Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads is still available, at least through the on-line big boys, and you can land a used copy of the paperback edition for under a buck (plus shipping). This (like its predecessors) was and interesting read, but seemed to be a lot more oriented toward “folk wisdom” (or what its author had picked up over his career).

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    Sunday, January 18th, 2015
    10:35 am
    Much more under the hood ...
    OK, so I'm going to work on the assumption that you are reading this review in sequence, or at least in context of my previous and following reviews of the three books in Roy H. Williams' “Wizard of Ads” trilogy. If you've not read the review yet of the first book, you might want to go there first, as I'm leaving a good deal of my typical “how I got to this book” stuff un-repeated here. This volume, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads: Turning Paupers into Princes and Lead into Gold, from 1999, is both very similar to, and significantly different than its predecessor. Like that volume, this strives to give the impression of being an ancient tome (now with metallic accents on the cover), now with more “margin notes” “penciled in”, but it seems to me that Williams has rolled up his sleeves and opted to dig more into the work here than the story telling of the earlier book.

    This also comes in 100 short chapters, but this time broken out over six sections: “Philosophy of Advertising”, “Room with a View”, “Side Door into the Mind”, “Turning Lead into Gold” (with “pencil” and “advertising” written in where you'd expect them), “Doing the Hard Thing”, and “How, Then, Should We Live?”.

    When I was first contemplating what I'd do for these reviews, I thought I had a killer hook, as these three books from Mr. Williams reminded me quite a bit of the various books coming out from Seth Godin, and I figured, with these coming out in 1998, 1998, and 2001, that they would have certainly predated Godin. However, when I checked, I was surprised to see that Godin had two of his books out prior to these, and this particular volume shared a release year with Godin's landmark Permission Marketing. So, I lost that story angle, but suffice it to say that there are certain similarities between the two writers' approaches to “marketing wisdom”, just Williams said his piece in three books, while Godin's releases have gone on and on.

    As I mentioned … this book seems more “in the trenches” … an early stop discusses “branding”, but puts it in the context of Ivan Pavlov's work with dogs:
          There are three keys to implanting an associative memory into the mind of your customer. The first key is consistency. Pavlov never offered food without ringing the bell, and he never rang the bell without offering food. The second key is frequency, meaning that Pavlov did it day after day after day.
          The third key anchoring, is the tricky one. When an associative memory is being implanted, the new and unknown element (the bell) has to be associated with a memory that's already anchored to the dog's love for the taste of meat. If the dog did not love meat, the frequent and consistent ringing of the bell would have produced no response other than to irritate the dog.
    Obviously, one needs to know what moves your customers if you're wanting your business/product/service to get associated with that pre-existing positive attitude.

    The second section of the book, “Room with a View” is specifically looking at the brain … ranging from one-liners like “In your advertising, don't speak to the world outside your customers, speak to the world inside their minds.” to relatively detailed looks at specific brain functions. In one chapter Williams goes on a tour of the various areas of brain activity, with special focus on “Wernicke's area” and “Broca's area” … the former being “king of nouns”, bringing up what things are called, and the latter being “the center of action words”. The author states:
    The objective of advertising is to influence the prefrontal cortex – the seat of emotion, planning and judgement, located just across the motor association cortex, right behind your forehead. And the shortest leap to it is from Broca's area.
    He goes on to assert:
    Describe what you want the listener to see, and she will see it. Cause her to imagine taking the action you'd like her to take, and you've brought her much closer to taking the action. The secretof persuasion lies in our skillful use of action words. The magic of advertising is in the verbs.
    Another fascinating bit here, that I probably had encountered in some previous material, but really didn't “know” it, is the concept of “the magic square”, where in a 3x3 grid, a box drawn around the intersection of the upper and right lines within the whole image will be the place of greatest attention … this is constantly used from classic art to modern graphics … so it's a handy thing to have at least mentally filed!

    In the third section, “Side Door into the Mind”, Williams gets into some “Jedi mind tricks” that could be useful … for instance: “People tend to follow through with what they have heard themselves say they would do.”, so getting people to voice your intents for you (in a chant or rhyme, for instance), they're a lot more likely to move forward with the action. Also, if you can speak to a “deeply felt need”, you can pretty much claim anything, as the emotion attached to the need will over-ride any intellectual disbelief of the claim. In this section, he also gets into “The Six Tugs-of-War” (which are very similar to the “7 Laws” in the previous book, but not identical), with a chapter each on:

    • Intellect vs. Emotion

    • Time vs. Money

    • Opportunity vs. Security

    • Style vs. Substance

    • Pain vs. Gain

    • Sight vs. Sound

    These have some interesting research associated with them, as well as some applied tactics for making the best of each of those dualities. He also discusses different media and how effective they are on other levels, and then returns to the “sleep as eraser” idea requiring extensive repetitive exposure: “The goal of a long-term (branding) campaign is to expose the listener to the identical ad approximately three times within each seven night's sleep, fifty-two weeks a year. … You must have sufficient repetition (and patience) to overcome the cleansing effects of sleep.” Frankly, Williams' books are the only place I've encountered this sleep model, so I don't know if it's a research-based “common knowledge” that I've missed (having been on the PR side of things) or if this is just something spun out of his own experience.

    There is so much good stuff in here that I could go on and on … but I'm going to try to wrap this up. A few more choice bits: “The key attribute of print media is accuracy. The power of the spoken word is persuasion. … writing in the present tense helps to put readers “into the scene” … “While the journalist seeks to inform us and the creative writer entertains, it is the poet who changes how we see the world.” (in the context of “using unpredictable words in unusual combinations”).

    He does go on a bit with, perhaps, too much nitty-gritty when he delves deeply into calculating ad budgets, and especially the arcana of radio (and to some extent, TV) buys. Interesting, perhaps … TMI, possibly … although there is this question: Which is better – a schedule that reaches 100% of the city and persuades them 10% of the way, or a schedule that reaches 10% of the city and persuades them 100% of the way? (it's the same money, just one plan works and the other doesn't).

    The last two sections of the book sort of lost me … the “Hard Things” section is about specific “running a business” kinds of things that didn't much resonate with me, and the final section, while engaging was a bit unfocused (I'm still not sure why that piece on him wanting to do a movie about Oscar Wilde is in there), and there was a regrettable sense that he'd used up the “good stuff” in the previous ¾ of the book, and was looking for stuff to “fill” to get to 100 pieces. However, that could just be me.

    Other than this mild caveat, I found Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads a really remarkable book, and is one of those extremely rare books that I anticipate re-reading in anticipation of getting more quality info from it in a second go-around. This is also still available (even in hardcover), so should be obtainable through whatever sales channel you're inclined to use. Like its predecessor, it is also available from the online new/used guys for a mere penny … so, again, you have no excuse for not grabbing a copy!

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    Saturday, January 17th, 2015
    2:54 pm
    Advertising philosophy, amusingly packaged ...
    A couple of months back, I was attending an entrepreneurial conference down in Chicago's Loop, and on one of the panels, one of the speakers was effusive in recommending the “Wizard of Ads” books by Roy H. Williams. I'd never heard of the guy, but figured I'd check him out. Turns out that he'd dropped out of college following his second day there, and has been making his way through the world by asking “What makes people do the things they do?”, and building up what sounds like quite a substantial marketing practice based on the fruits of that analysis.

    It turns out that there's a trilogy of “Wizard of Ads” books, and I ended up getting all three and reading them in sequence. I was toying with “batching” them and doing one review covering all three, but I figured that wouldn't be fair to either the books or you readers, so a lot of the “over-all” stuff is going to be dispensed with here, and the following two reviews will simply assume you've read this one. The first thing you'll notice about these three books is that they're not your standard business books, being designed to “look and feel” like well-worn leather bound volumes, sporting deckled edges, cream paper, and design elements both drawn from medieval “hand-illuminated” texts and, well, frankly, scrapbooks.

    The first of these, 1998's The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words into Magic and Dreamers into Millionaires starts with a somewhat edgy assertion – the “9 Secret Words”: The risk of insult is the price of clarity.” which is pretty gutsy for most marketers … and he follows that with:
    If in your advertising you are willing to speak the simple, essential truth as plainly as you are able, and if you are willing to support what you say with illustration and example, meet me in the backyard … we'll take over the world.
    While the book is sub-divided into fairly “business book”-like sections: “Turning Words into Magic”, “Turning Strangers into Customers”, and “Turning Dreams into Realities”, things proceed in a rather unique manner. There are 100 “chapters” here, running just 1-3 pages, and most embellished by some graphic – from a charred twenty dollar bill, to vintage ads, to framed quotes … needless to say, this is not a “dense” reading experience, but a series of “business parables” which illustrate particular points. These aren't all just “stories”, as a number of them veer off into brain science, like:
    Planting a reticular activator in the mind of a customer is the Mount Everest of ad writers. The reticular activator is a mental trigger in your unconscious that directs your attention and causes you to notice and remember things you never intentionally committed to memory.
    An example he gives is an exercise where you do a series of math problems, all of which end up as 14, and then you're asked to name a vegetable … odds are you'll say “carrot” because the repeated impressions of the term “14-karat” for gold have anchored that combination in your brain (Williams also notes here that audio input is stronger than visual).

    One thing he does (across all three books) is start off stories like he's talking about some guy down the block who's doing this or that, like “his friend” Al who said “we do things, but we do not know why we do them” which Williams projects to people not being able to be “fully trusted” when they tell you what they want … the person looking for car wax doesn't really want the wax, they want a shiny car, the business owner who asks for advertising, really is looking for more customers, etc. Eventually he gets around to noting that his buddy “Al” is more famous for saying E=MC² … and you find out that he's talking about an observation by Albert Einstein (who he doesn't know). There are many bits like this where the story plays out and has the “punchline” of having the tale being about a familiarly famous person.

    There are lots and lots of little bits of what is no doubt hard-earned wisdom in here, like how certain locations can boost business far more than others (one that was 33% more expensive than a client's old space ended up bringing in as much business in 3 months as the old one saw in 12), and almost nagging on some points. One phrase that he highly recommends is “which means ...”, because all marketers are way too close to their products and tend to assume that there are “self evident” aspects that anybody would know about them … and typically they don't … so when you say something even vaguely technical about your product or industry, it's wise to follow up with a plain-talk re-framing about what that means. There are also “old saws” thrown in, like “ The man who sells to the classes / will live with the masses. / Sell to the masses / and you'll live with the classes.”, with the further note that “people who make a living by serving the rich are called butlers”!

    Aside from the “punch line” stories, there are some other straight-forward historical pieces here, like the one about how Sears got started with a mis-directed shipment of pocket watches … the addressee hadn't ordered them, but rather than send the case back, railway agent Sears bought them himself and started what was to become a huge retail empire. In the words of Johnny Carson: “I did not know that!” despite having lived in Sears' hometown for most of my life.

    I'm skipping over a lot of the specific “philosophy” here, not so much as to leave you itching to get to the details, as that a lot of this is presented in ways that don't conveniently translate to bullet lists … things like “The Seven Laws of the Advertising Universe”, which is brilliant, but not easily distilled to something scaled to this review. However, The Wizard of Ads is a very enjoyable and informative read, and I'd guess that nearly anybody would find something of interest in here, although it is, obviously, targeted to the marketer.

    Perhaps a testament to its on-going utility is that it's still in print (even in this fancy design), and at a very reasonable cost via the on-line big boys (I don't know if, after 17 years, this has a lot of penetration into the brick-and-mortar stores). Of course, I ended up getting my copy via the new/used vendors, and you can presently get a “very good” used copy of this for a penny (plus the $3.99 shipping), so you don't have much of an excuse of passing it by.

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    Sunday, January 11th, 2015
    11:14 pm
    Book editing ...
    It's been over a decade since Eschaton Books went out of business (the first time), and, frankly the projects that I'd taken on book-wise since then hadn't been particularly "edit heavy", as they were either largely graphic (the books for Simuality/Avatrait), or were poetry. The new book I've been working on, however, The Common Book is a compilation of bits and pieces from various sources, in various formats, with assorted typographic quirks requiring me to flog it into a reasonably consistent-looking whole. I had done one version of this, for the free .PDF ebook several weeks ago, but had just moved into re-formatting that for a 6x9" paperback edition that I'll be producing through Amazon's "CreateSpace" (same as the poetry volumes).

    One might think that this would be easy as tweaking a few settings, but no ... while the lay-out for the .PDF version was full-on centered on the page, to accommodate the paper mass of a 400+ page book, I had to shift everything to new margins. Since my header and footer material were set to the outer page margins on both the recto and verso, I fortunately didn't have to change the "master pages" in MSPublisher ... however, I ended up having to manually adjust the text box on each page, pulling the inner edge out of "the gutter" by more than a third of an inch. This, of course, then changed the lay-out on every page and the text was now flowing through a somewhat narrower space.

    Of course, when setting up the ebook edition, I'd poked and prodded and nudged line spacing to make stuff fit as well as possible (avoiding "widows & orphans", etc.), and all that coding was also in the new version, meaning that I had to pay particularly close attention on how paragraphs were lining up in relation to each other. To my credit, I got MOST of that OK on the first go-through, but it was amazing how much stuff turned up every time I did another read-through.

    First I did the edit and saved the .pub file off as a .PDF that I could upload to CreateSpace ... in my review of that I found five errors, some as simple as having ascii quotes in one piece (instead of "styled" quotes), and graphics that hadn't been centered in the new margins, etc. I figured I was good-to-go and uploaded that to the CreateSpace service. When they got back to me with the "review" function, I did another walk-through and was shocked to find another 13 things that needed fixing ... from the horrific - a glaring typo in the title of one of the pieces, to a missing quotation mark in a TOC entry, to a few places that needed a return or had one too many, to a couple of pages right at the end where the recto and verso master pages had gotten screwed up.

    It amazes me that I was able to miss (most of those, the spacing ones were new) these not once but twice (especially that chapter heading). When doing "check-through" edit reads I usually look for just one type of thing each time through the text, and go through it repeated times to make sure everything right without having to look "for everything" each time on a page. I'm usually quite sensitive to text errors (which is how those ascii quotemarks stood out enough to catch), and so I'm mortified that the error of that title got through (and I need to get back into the free ebook file and fix that, since over 30k copies have been downloaded with the error!) ... but what I'm really amazed at is that I didn't see the pages with the wrong lay-out until the file had been up on the CS system and I was looking at them side-by-side (and, in the online version, with shadowing in the gutter, which made it really stand out). I guess that's why they have those features.

    I'm sure that even now there are still errors lurking in there (aside from a couple of widows/orphans that I just couldn't mess with line spacing enough to get rid of, without making the surrounding text look funny), but it certainly makes me a bit more understanding when I run across "glaring errors" in other people's books (especially when I'm reading ARCs - advance review copies).

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    Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
    11:35 pm
    A funny thing happened on the way to the book fair ...
    Last month, when I was getting ready to go vend my poetry collections as part of the Independent Writers of Chicago table at the Chicago Book Expo, I did a "Google my name" thing to see what sort of spread I was getting, especially for the new books (not too much). However, one thing that I found amazing was running across an eBay item of a picture of me at 6 months old! They show both the picture, and notes on the back (click for bigger images):


    I'm surprised that I didn't mention this in here before now. This is SO rife with family history ... first of all, my dad was still alive then (he died when I was 2), and being identified as a "Chicago clergyman's son" is so weird to me. Also, my Mom must have still had some connection to Swift, as this is (I'm guessing) from the Swift test kitchens, and I'm being held up in front of a shelf full of "Swifti" cans, with a note on the back that I appeared to favor the Chicken a la King. Now, if my recall of "family history" is right, my Mom at that point was with the J.Walter Thompson ad agency, and no longer at Swift ... but maybe she was on that account.

    As a child I was used to being "a prop" in a lot of ads and stuff ... as well as "opinion panels" for kid-oriented products (I helped name a couple of brands before I was 9). When people ask how long I've been in Marketing Communications, I usually say "forever", as I grew up in a marketing household (attached to a major agency in New York in the 60's ... basically living in "Mad Men"), and this pic is proof that I learned to point at the product before I learned to walk!

    The back of the print was another trip down memory lane, as the pic was signed off by Gaynor Maddox, who was a close family friend when we lived in New York. He and his wife Dorothy were food writers for the Newspaper Enterprise Association wire service, and he was their main food editor (and a noted cookbook author at the time ... heck they even did records!). I guess the group selling the print on eBay had bought out the NEA photo archives and were now selling them off piecemeal.

    This made me wonder how many other bits of Ad/PR ephemera of me there might be out there, as I remember having done a lot of "play with product" activities when I was small ... too bad I don't have a clip book from back then.

    Anyway ... ran across the pics in my download folder and figured I'd pass them along in here ...

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    Sunday, January 4th, 2015
    10:12 am
    Being Authentic ...
    I've known Kim Garst through various social media channels for a while, starting, if my recall is correct, with my early days over on Empire Avenue. She's since been a familiar presence over on Facebook, and I'm signed up to get her frequent newsletter updates. She recently reached out to her audience to create a pre-sell surge on her new book … which is coming out from something of a “hybrid” publisher, Morgan James, who touts their model as being the “Entrepreneurial Publisher™” which appears to manifest as a mix of traditional gate-keeper, print-on-demand (they work with Ingram's “Lightning Source”) service, and vanity (or, in their terms “collaborative”) press. I point this out because a) I'm something of a publishing industry geek, and I'm fascinated by the evolution of these models, and b) I'm seeing Garst implementing things like “Thunderclap” (a crowd-sourced promo platform) to push the book … which is not something I've encountered with folks working with “traditional” publishers. Frankly, when I reached out to Morgan James to request a review copy, I wasn't particularly expecting a response … but I was very pleased to have heard right back asking for my mailing address … so there's enough of a “traditional publisher” backbone to their model to support classic promotional practices.

    Anyway, Kim Garst's Will the Real You Please Stand Up: Show Up, Be Authentic, and Prosper in Social Media comes out in a couple of weeks, is focused on that issue of “being authentic” in social media marketing, and is primarily addressed at the business community … although the messages here are applicable to anybody looking for exposure in social media. The book kicks off with a cautionary tale … of how Quaker Oats lost $1.4 billion between its purchase of, and eventual divesting of, the Snapple brand. In this case, it was a mega-corp taking over a small, quirky, company with a dedicated fan base, and turning it into just another shelf slotting data entry. Needless to say, in that process the brand lost its authenticity, ceased to appeal to its fans, and got no traction with the new MBA-fueled marketing campaign. She follows this by setting out some basic points about the issue:
          Consumers are tired of being overpromised and underdelivered, and in a marketplace rich with alternatives, they are increasingly able to find companies whose authenticity is refreshing and real.

          One of the key hallmarks of sincerity in a company is a commitment to integrity in all actions associated with the brand's story, marketing, and promotion, as well as every other decision made in the operations and support services performed in the name of the brand.

          Customers who have had the pleasant experience of receiving sincerity from a brand are more likely to be repeat customers as a result. Given the cost of developing new leads versus that of retaining existing customers, this can be a huge for a brand's profitability.
    Garst uses the image of the trust involved in the small town/neighborhood business of previous generations, where the people were known, and there was a relationship established that stood as the keystone for commerce … and while it's obviously a different time with different elements, she suggests using social media as a tool to reach out to one's audience in a way that can emulate that sort of interaction. One interesting approach she touches on is “history and heritage”, and cites the Oreo vs. Hydrox cookie brand battle where the perception never synched with the reality (Hydrox was the original, Oreo the later knock-off, both were products of large baking companies, etc.) and despite taste-test superiority, Hydrox was seen as the “off brand”, and eventually went out of production … in “failing to leverage that brand history and tell the authentic story of the brand” it missed its best opportunity. This is echoed in the New Coke fiasco … where to appeal to the biases of upper management, Coke nearly destroyed over a century of consumer good will.

    The idea of “passion” is the driving element in “authenticity”, but it can be a difficult thing to implement in a big company. The founder might have genuine passion for the organization, as key others may, but spreading that across the entire enterprise can be a challenge. Garst presents these steps to bring passion to bear:
    1. Express your passion.

    2. Participate in the passion of others.

    3. Leverage the passion of your social advocates.

    4. Inspire your employees with your passion.

    5. Tie your passion to business-related outcomes.

    In each chapter, there are a lot of “do this” sorts of lists like the above, plus a “conclusion” section which wraps up the concepts covered in it. Again, this is primarily addressed to marketing people who might not have a solid grasp on social media, so a significant amount of the message here is “old news” to those who have been involved in social for a while, but the pacing is set to bring along those who need to be tutored in the social approach. Here's a list of points, for example, Garst gives for “starting the conversation”:
    • Don't be a know-it-all.

    • Provide true value.

    • Ask questions.

    • Reach out to others.

    • Express your passion.

    She follows this with a concise, but reasonably comprehensive, look at what to do if things “go wrong”, and how to structure responsibility levels, so when things go bad you can react as quickly as possible (and “quickly” in the social media sphere tend to run to less than an hour rather than after 3 meetings of the Board with the Legal team).

    There are chapters on building and interacting with communities (with examples from Ford, Comic-Com, Harley-Davidson, and the Komen Foundation), and on the concept of “virality” … I was disappointed with one piece of this, however, especially for a book slated for a 2015 release (rather than a few years back), where she suggests that Facebook is likely to provide “viral” spread with people averaging 400 connections … her figures assume total reach to all one's connections (and to those connections' connections, etc.), when the reality (for nearly a year now) is that if you don't pay Facebook, you're unlikely to reach even 10% of those following you (and in many cases, as low as 3%), so rather than there being “64 million possible connections” (FREE!) three levels down, you really can only rely on (if not shoveling lucre to Zuckerberg & Co.) a couple of thousand impressions! Aside from this inexplicable reality gap, Garst outlines the upside, downside, benefits and risks of working towards “viral content”, and how difficult is it to hit just the right tone to “catch the wave” (to mix my metaphors) of public attention … she notes: “In fact, in some cases, the very act of trying to make something go viral can have just the opposite effect … there is always the potential for it to generate a significant amount of negative buzz for your brand.”

    Returning to the theme of “authenticity” she notes that there are cases when attempts to be authentic backfire: “... by openly expressing an opinion on something, you could face criticism from those who don't share your opinion. Also, since words can mean different things to different people, or can be misconstrued, it is possible to offend entire {groups} without intending to do so.” She counters this with a chapter on brands that are “dominating” social media, with Starbucks, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Disney providing in-depth examples of (admittedly large) companies that have found the right voice for their markets.

    Garst closes out the book with a look at “how to get yourself heard”, even if you don't have the resources of the big corporations. She suggests that “being authentic is an alignment of what you do with why and how you do it” (which is certainly a template applicable to any size organization), and spends the rest of the chapter summarizing the main points of the text.

    As I mentioned, Will the Real You Please Stand Up is due for release in a couple of weeks, and is presently available for pre-order from the on-line big boys at about a 25% discount. While there is little “new” in the book, it is certainly a useful look at social media marketing through the specific filter of authenticity, and it provides quite a lot of actionable material for those who have either not ventured into the social sphere as yet, or have not been successful in their previous attempts.

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    Saturday, January 3rd, 2015
    2:20 pm
    Wish I'd gotten more out of this ...
    A couple of months back I attended the UnCubed event here … this was my third or fourth UnCubed, and each has been different. They're typically 1/3 job fair, 1/3 conference, and 1/3 networking … with an optional (paid) track of workshops. Frankly, generally speaking, the target audience for these is much younger than me and a whole lot more technical … even though that brief writer gig I had out in the suburbs in 2013 came from a discussion with an exhibitor at a previous one – so my finding something at these is possible. This past one, not so much (although they did have a strange revolving – different categories getting in at different times - lounge for those with more than 5 years experience).

    However, one of the exhibitors was Brad's Deals, and they were handing out copies of founder Brad Wilson's Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less to those who seemed interested. I let on as how I did these reviews, and told them I'd throw it into my to-be-read pile.

    Now, I'd not been familiar with the Brad's Deals site (I actually hadn't even looked at it until starting this review), so I didn't have any particular expectation of what the book would be when starting into it … other than being 5½ years out of work and hoping that it was going to provide me with some actionable suggestions for “living the good life for less”. I am also “allergic” to all things financial (down to managing check books and credit cards – thank goodness The Wife is into all that sort of stuff!), and a LOT of this book is targeted to people who like nothing more than to set up spreadsheets comparing fractions of percents of difference between various sources of home loans, car loans, credit cards, etc., so what might have excited the right sort of reader in many cases simply horrified me. In fact, there were chunks of this, where Wilson is going through detailed minutia of international airline frequent flier programs, or comparing credit card offers, that I was literally mentally saying “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH” while flipping the pages until he got to stuff that I could connect with. I am a fairly diligent reader, and it stood out to me that I really couldn't recall another book that I so “disconnected” with in various parts!

    Again, this is likely do to my being phobic around several areas covered here, and not a particular fault of the book … although there was a sense that sections of this were coming from an “enthusiastic hobbyist” standpoint, and held the same “fascination” (or lack thereof) that somebody going on about the details of various Pokemon cards sets, or different gauge model railroad systems, or wine collectors' tasting notes, would have for somebody with scant interest in that niche.

    The book is also very close to being an autobiography … Wilson gets into a lot of detail on how these various “secrets” work, but it's generally in the context of how he worked a particular deal … frequently featuring vehicles that are no longer available. Additionally, from my perspective, it works a very fine line between “these are great ways to save money” and “these are effective ways to game the system” … and I kept wondering when he was “going to get caught” doing a lot of these.

    He starts off talking about how he was able to do these fantastic, 5-figure vacations with his new wife … some of the approaches are basic, but most require jumping through a lot of hoops, some requiring the short-term expenditure of fairly significant funds. One approach he used to build up free nights at a major international hotel chain was to book nights at their lowest-level motel brand (which still counted to “nights stayed” in the chain's program), swing by the hotel, use the automated kiosk to check in, and then simply drive back home. Because he was going to be using those nights (in a stay 2, get 1 deal) in a $1,000+/night hotel, his expenditure of under $50 for each night in the cheap hotel was an investment he was happy to make (although, coming to this in a “flat broke” state, that sounds like a LOT of money to put in play). He claims that his eventual “$54,000” trip (with these hotel credits and a bunch of airline miles) cost him $20 (for a dessert), at no point does he account for the expenditures made to get those hotel nights.

    Speaking of airline miles, he also details a “system” (I think it's closer to a “scam”) where he took advantage of one airline's counting all miles accrued as equivalent to flight miles – and giving miles for every dollar spent on their affiliated credit card – and a promotion that the U.S. Mint was running when it was trying to get people to use the Presidential Dollar coins (where you could order a 250-count box of the coins, for face value, with free shipping). The goal here was to get both him and his wife up to the top “lifetime” status in this airline's frequent flier program – which required 1 million miles racked up in a calendar year. To achieve this, he ordered more than three million $1 coins over the course of several months, running the charges through his (no doubt multiple) credit cards that generated the mileage credits, and turning around and depositing the coins as they came in at his bank to pay off those accounts. I don't know about you, but the idea of trying to charge that much through a credit card is a terrifying concept, even if at each point the money was just “out there” until the next coin delivery (he even got a UPS store box half a block from his bank to make schlepping the 60lb loads of coins easier to deposit).

    His “travel” schemes take up the first half of the book, with the rest being dedicated to “shopping” (where he describes getting kicked off of eBay for listing CDs and DVDs from Amazon Canada – at a time when the exchange rate was very skewed – and simply ordering the items with Canadian dollars for delivery to the customer, and making a chunk of money in the process), and “personal finance” (including how to game the car-buying and mortgage processes). In that section Wilson writes about signing up for numerous credit cards (he did as many as 17 in one day) for sign-up bonuses (no mention about paying the annual fees), and how to manipulate your credit score.

    Again, I'd rather have dental surgery than a friendly sit-down with an accountant, so most of the “tricky” stuff the author outlines here made me extremely nervous reading it … but if you're the type who switched accounts or services all the time to gain a percentage here or a percentage there, you might find all this a lot of fun. You probably need to have a fairly substantial bankroll, however, because a lot of what he talks you through here takes cash (or credit) outlays of various degrees of significance, and all I could think of is how screwed you could be if everything didn't work just perfectly (and having a sense that Wilson was lucky in a lot of his machinations).

    If you're looking for a way to save some money here and there, Do More, Spend Less is probably not the book for you (I guess would be a suggestion), but if you're looking to totally turn you life over to spreadsheets and reading the fine print in every mailing you get to eventually be able to take fifty-thousand dollar vacations “for nothing”, this is the book for you. As noted, there is massive detail as to “how to do it” in the various sections here … but it made my head swim and wonder at what point the gendarmes arrive to stick you in a cell until the Forensic Accountants have picked their way through your finances!

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    Friday, December 26th, 2014
    12:18 pm
    The rules of LiveJournal ...
    Yeah, like Fight Club, LiveJournal has rules too ... and I realize that one of them is "everybody gets to do with their journal whatever they want to do with their journal", so bitching about stuff in other people's journals is generally discouraged. So I'm being BAD here ...

    It drives me nuts when people post HUGE pictures ... because my main interface with LJ is the Friends Feed, and one 3,000+ width picture showing up in a post there makes EVERYTHING on that page scroll off the side. I'm guessing that this is due to people posting from their phones and just including a full-size multi-megapixel image with the post, as I can't imagine that anybody posting from the web would intentionally put in a pic that big.

    I wish there was a "mute image" or somesuch button for those cases because it means that I pretty much have to read everything else on the page in "comment" mode, which is a pain in the ass.

    Of course, the Millennials and "Gen Z" folks often JUST have phones and no real PCs, so they don't even consider the non-mobile viewing (I don't have a clue what a 3000px wide image in LJ looks like on a phone) rendering of what they're posting ... so it's no doubt going to get worse.

    Grrrr ... GET OFF MY LAWN!

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    Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
    1:19 pm
    Mixed feelings ...
    WSI-CBWW-cover-200x300OK, so ... another "secret project" secret no more ...

    Really, really, really, I did not re-start Eschaton to "get back in the publishing biz" ... I just wanted to "save" my old poems from disappearing into to a void of magnetic dust shedding off of 5.25" floppies. However, once I got back into the "hey, editing and lay-out is FUN" mode, stuff stated showing up ... including a project from the folks over at WitchSchool (who have been "old friends" of Eschaton, dating back to our very first non-poetry release from the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, and our first "multimedia" release of a set of disk-based clipart).

    As I've no doubt kvetched about before ... the reason that I've not been too keen to get back into the publishing biz is that it's a brutal game, with only 2% of published books ever selling as many as 5,000 copies ... and if you're going to try to make a living at this stuff you're going to need to sell LOTS more than that. At least with the poetry, my expectations are pretty much that I'm going to sell nothing (expectations that have, sadly, so far been met with all 10 volumes that are available), so there's no psychic pressure to make those go out the door. However, if I had "commercial" projects in the works, I'd be back to hoping that we'd sell 10k ... which is delusional.

    However, in the case of the initial release of "The Common Book", we're giving away a 400-page .PDF version, which has been, as the saying goes, "flying off the shelves" ... we did a "soft launch" on Sunday morning, and followed it up in the past couple of days with a push in social media and various WitchSchool lists. Just in the past 24 hours, thirteen thousand copies were downloaded ... plus, several WS-connected sites re-posted the file, and there's been much "passing along" of the (fairly large, at 5.62mb) .PDF document, so the numbers are no doubt bigger than that.

    This means that this book has "moved more copies" that ALL the books ever put out by Eschaton ... in just a couple of days.

    Of course, what I'm finding depressing about this is that I'm making nothing on those copies. I'd probably find that irritating even if I was doing this as a side-project to a nice six-figure MarCom job (how I wish!) ... but given the desperately strapped situation that we're in financially, it's really depressing (and The Wife is very, very angry with me about not getting one red cent so far for this).

    I'm still not done with this project, as we still need to produce both a hardcover and paperback edition (it was set up through an IndieGoGo crowd-funding deal, and folks are due books from that), but it's so hard for me to see this huge quantity going out for free, when the logical expectation is that the eventual PAID copies will be only generating a percent or two of that in actual sales.

    Anyway, click on the cover up there and you can have your own .PDF copy of it!

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    Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
    7:41 am
    There's nothing new under the sun ...
    NaziWrap2I was interested to see that kerfuffle which erupted over the past week or so regarding some Hanukkah gift wrap being distributed through Walgreens stores which, quite arguably, was covered in swastikas (see upper part of image). Quelle horreur, n'est ce pas?!

    Of course, accusations of vile conspiracies started flying all over the internet, with the general tone being that there was no way that these swastikas could have possibly gotten onto wrapping paper for the Jewish holiday without somebody intentionally being anti-Semitic or worse.

    However, I went through something VERY similar a quarter century ago back in my PR agency days.

    Now, in high school we learned of Greek "key patterns", which are similar to other geometric ornamentations from the Middle East and China, where they'll frequently appear in screens, etc. If you are working with short lines and right angles, it is, frankly, difficult to not end up making elements that we would today recognize as "swastikas" ... however, you really DO need to be looking for those swastikas (or at least "sensitized to" the pattern) to see them. Plug in "key pattern" into a browser and you don't have to look very far to start seeing swastikas, such as in the labyrinth fret shown as an example over on The Free Dictionary page.

    Anyway, back in the day, one of our clients was a division of one of those global megacorp food companies (whose brands you no doubt know and in many cases probably love) that we'd had a long and happy relationship with. They were launching a new line of Oriental-themed side dishes, and we were doing the PR for the U.S. introduction. Now, consumer-product PR, especially in the food niche, is "low man on the totem pole" for most decisions for stuff like product packaging, etc., so one day a bunch of cases of the new line show up in our office, all featuring an Oriental "key pattern" which was very close to what was on that Hanukkah wrapping paper. In high school I had been a "military history" buff and read dozens of books on the Second World War, so when we pulled out the new product, the first thing that *I* saw was the "row of swastikas" running across front of the box. Of course, once I pointed this out, everybody else on the team saw it too.

    However, for that particular pattern to make it to these printed boxes, that design had gone through layer after layer of approval on the client side, with dozens of sets of eyes involved in determining how that product was going to look, and, evidently, nobody had "seen the swastikas" before me. Needless to say, the client was mortified when we ever-so-gently suggested that having swastikas on the box might not be the best visual approach to marketing the product line ... and pulled the existing boxes, and had the pattern re-designed to that which you can see on that green promotional to-go container we did for a series of press events (and yes, you should be impressed that I was able to find that piece three decades later ... my office is a mess but I know where most of the stuff is within that mess!).

    In the pic, I've blurred out the product name, as it appears to have gotten traction in the European market after a so-so run over here, and I'd hate to be seen dragging the product line, division, or parent corporation "into the fray" about the wrapping paper.

    But, obviously, my point here is that it is QUITE possible that the Hanukkah paper was just seen as a "Middle Eastern design" by everybody who looked at it through the course of its development and approval. Needless to say, both sides of the hubbub over this have valid points (on one hand, everybody is so over-sensitive about possibly upsetting people, on the other hand, having six million or so murdered under a flag with that symbol "leaves a scar") ... and it's unfortunate that nobody "saw" that before the paper was produced and on the store shelves.

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    Sunday, December 7th, 2014
    11:13 am
    This actually helped ...
    As regular readers of this space (especially if you're reading it in my main blog) will recognize, depression is something that I've been dealing with for a long time, made more pointed as the years pile up with my not being able to find a full-time job (I'm up to five and a half years at this point). It's hard to get “up” when you're in free-fall down.

    I'm not sure how Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness got on my radar, but I only ordered it a few weeks back (after it having been parked on my Amazon wish list for quite a while). Needless to say, getting books about “being happy” is a huge pivot for me (as anybody who's been exposed to my poetry can no doubt attest), but things have been so bleak, I'll try nearly anything (although I haven't been able to bring myself to listening to “happy” music instead of my usual goth/metal mix). Needless to say, it was very encouraging to find that Dr. Weil has struggled with depression most of his life:
    Over the years I tried various forms of psychotherapy and counseling but got little benefit from them. Once, in my early forties, I filled a persciption for an antidepressant but gave it up after a few days because I could not tolerate its side effects. It numbed my body and dulled my mind. … Eventually I came to accept my depressive episodes as existential in nature – part of my being – to be endured and not inflicted on others. This way of thinking increased my tendency to be antisocial and isolated, traits not uncommon in writers.
    Like Weil, I tried a number of psychiatric drugs (in the wake of my publishing company failing in 2004), but could not tolerate any … and eventually figured being an anguished authentic me was better than being a dulled, zombified, shadow of myself … who just happened to not be feeling the pain of existence.

    Weil points to a lot of data about how depression, and “being unhappy” more generally, may simply be a side effect of the modern lifestyle. Cases of depression have multiplied ten times since the end of WW2, and are highest in first-world urban settings (oh, like the downtown Chicago highrise I've lived in for the past 33 years). He notes:
    Human beings evolved to thrive in natural environments and in bonded social groups. Few of us today can enjoy such a life and the emotional equilibrium it engenders, but out genetic predisposition for it has not changed.
    While there is quite a bit of his personal story in here, it's really not an autobiographical look at the author's struggles, but an attempt at a regimen for improving one's psychological state. The book features four chapters on “theory”, three chapters on “practice”, and a final chapter presenting “An 8-Week Program for Emotional Well-Being”.

    Of course, “Brendan doesn't play well with the other children.” (funny how notes home from kindergarten never seem to fade), so the odds of my throwing myself into a lifestyle-disrupting 8-week program are slim to none from the get-go … and much of the material in the book focuses forward to how it integrates into the “plan”, which had me mentally fighting a lot as I read it.

    There are parts here, however, that I was on board with predictably … such as “Integrating Eastern and Western Psychology”. It's no surprise that this is part of Weil's approach, as he's a major figure in the field of “Integrative Medicine” … and he pulls in Native American elements, as well as Buddhist thought, from Gautama’s teachings two and a half millennia ago, to projects pioneered by the Dalai Lama with psychological groups in our own era.

    In the “Practice” section, the three chapters deal with “Caring for the Body”, “Retraining and Caring for the Mind” and “Secular Spirituality and Emotional Well-Being”. Weil goes into a lot of “CBT” (cognitive-behavioral therapy) work in the middle one of these, while contrasting it with classical psychotherapy and related approaches. In the latter, he defines his approach with:
    I find it awkward for two reasons to discuss spirituality. First, many people confuse spirituality with religion. Although the two may overlap, religion usually demands dogmatic adherence to beliefs that are ultimately not provable, and differences in those beliefs are common causes of suspicion and conflict in our world. Second, spiritual reality concerns the nonphysical aspect of our being. Western science and medicine adhere to the philosophy of materialism, which dictates that only what can be directly perceived, touched, and measured is real; to materialists, the term nonphysical reality is an oxymoron.
    And, in this section, discusses “spiritual” approaches as divergent as interacting with pets, appreciating art, and practicing forgiveness.

    However, the most significant element in the book (for me) is in the “Caring for the Body” section, where he discusses many ways to improve mood by way of exercise, limiting caffeine, and avoidance of various convenience foods (you see where this was heading in my lifestyle?) but in amid all those “ain't gonna happen” things there was the dietary supplement part … and especially his suggestion of adding fish oil to one's diet:
    Many studies link specific nutrient deficiencies to suboptimal brain function and mental/emotional health. The most important by far is lack of omega-3 fatty acids. These special fats are critically important for both physical and and mental health. The body needs regular daily intake of adequate amounts of both EPA and DHA, two long-chain omega-3 fats that are abundant in oily fish from cold northern waters but otherwise are hard to come by. … A great deal of scientific data links low tissue levels of EPA and DHA to a host of mental/emotional disorders, … I recommend that everyone take 2 to 4 grams of a good fish oil product every day. … Not only does it offer real protection against depression, but I believe it can help move your emotional set point away from sadness and towards contentment. {emphasis mine}
    I finished reading this book less than two weeks ago, but started taking a fish oil supplement right away … and I have been amazed. It's no psychological panacea, but the effect was quite notable. My “depression elevator” used to go down to the 25th, 50th, etc., sub-basement deep into “life is miserable, what is the point?” territory, but since adding fish oil to my daily handful of pills, that has a new “floor” never getting much lower than maybe the 5th to 10th sub-basement. Still no “happy camper”, but far, far less dire and desperate! I would recommend Dr. Weils recommendations on this to anybody struggling with depression.

    As noted, the book culminates with “An 8-Week Program for Emotional Well-Being”, which pulls together all the bits and pieces laid out in the preceding sections into an action plan … that is way too involved for me, personally. Like the fish oil, I'm up for cherry-picking items that I can integrate into my day-to-day existence, but I'd probably need to check in to a retreat center (wouldn't it be nice if there were “happiness" rehab programs?) to be able to shift as many gears in my life to be able to attempt a regimen like he suggests here. I do realize, though, that there are folks out there who are happy to jump into this sort of thing, so that might be something that would appeal to you.

    The book has several useful things at the end, with an appendix outlining Weil's “Anti-Inflammatory Diet”, another with a listing of suggested books, web sites, and sources of supplies, and an oddly-formatted section of notes (which are related back to page numbers, but not the other way, so I guess one is supposed to keep an eye on that while reading through the text) which has some interesting contextual info.

    Anyway, I certainly found Spontaneous Happiness a very useful book, although not being the sort of thing that I could simply “jump into” … but I'm guessing that others (who are more attuned to the “self-help” genre) might find this quite engaging. I would certainly recommend it to anybody who is struggling with depression. I'm surprised, frankly, that this has only been out for a few years, but has already worked its way down to being available for a penny for “very good” copies of the hardcover (and at the moment one of the Amazon's new/used vendors has a “like new” copy for a whopping 4¢), so you don't have much of a barrier to picking this up!

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    Saturday, December 6th, 2014
    9:45 am
    Bleh ...
    So … the downside of getting books from the “Early Reviewers” program is that sometimes the book that the Almighty Algorithm matches to one's library is a clunker, and this has happened to me every now and again. Of course, being the OCD beastie that I am, I'm pretty much incapable of saying “man, this sucks and I'm not going to read another word”, since I've agreed (as part of the LTER program) to read the book and write a review thereof. So I read the book … and here I am to report on same.

    The good news is that Aingeal Rose O'Grady's The Nature of Reality: Akashic Guidance for Understanding Life and Its Purpose wasn't as uniformly horrid as it started out. This appears (from the cover, etc.) to be “Book 2” of the “Honest-to-God Series” that the author and her publishers are putting out. There is only passing mention of the previous book here, but I'm suspecting that a lot of the set-up for her “method” and world-view were covered there and that they're just assuming that readers of this are on-board with all that. Heck, they spend two pages in the front material “explaining” a chalk illustration on the back cover … you'd think they'd explain what's going on in the book before dropping the reader neck deep in the sewage.

    The format of the book is a series of questions that the author answers, based on “information” that she's getting from “The Source” (oh, what a more fun book this would be if that was “The Source” from the old Charmed TV show!). One wonders if the author had “been dropped on her head when she was very small” or the like, as she “communicates” with The Source via patterns of light … which she then translates into words … which certainly sounds like “auguries via synesthesia” - communicating the intents of the universe by interpreting the stuff she's seeing! Another irritating thing is that they never really explain who is asking the questions … at one point it sounds like they're being passed along to her via her life partner (who, exasperatingly, is referred to as a six-letter acronym), but it also seems like they're coming from an audience (of total doofuses) who are desperately clutching each to their own “newage” delusions, and are looking for O'Grady to bolster their beliefs (to her credit, she occasionally does shoot down particularly loony drivel).

    Here's the crux of what made the book nearly unreadable to me … so much “newage sewage” and so little supportable theory (I'm not even asking for defensible statements, just something that at least appears to hold together as a coherent model!). I would have much preferred it if the author would tell her SFB questioners to shut the hell up, and start laying out a system of “color pattern interpretation” that would say “when you get these, it means that this sort of thing is coming through, and if they're this shade it indicates X, Y, or Z” . I came close to giving up on the book in Chapter 2, because it is all about DNA … and, evidently various woo-woo newage scams that latch onto the concept of the molecule and offer DNA-based (I've never hit a clearer case for dragging out the classic line from Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.") “services” such as “22-strand activation through the use of crystals” and similar snake oil … to “The Source's” credit it says that's not possible – but one gets the vibe that O'Grady is in on that twaddle, or she would have simply bitch-slapped the loonies who asked: “How similar is the DNA of humans to Sasquatch and Mermaids?” (where does she find this level of delusional moron?) rather than spinning out an actual answer!

    The one saving grace here is that, on some subjects, she actually ventures into presenting something of a system. One was Angels … which had structure and a reasonable level of consistency (despite including asinine queries about the gender of audience members' favorites angels) … and the other was her discussion of Time. In both of these cases she was at least coherent in taking “visions of light” and interpreting them as communications from “god” (the whole “god” question here is pretty blurry, of course, but not as wide-open as one might assume for something this deep down the newage rabbit hole).

    Again, the whole book is Q&A … organized in general topic areas … but this means it swings in and out of what could be seen as “quality” and what is clearly idiotic blithering. For example, immediately preceding a question “Do dream catchers really keep negative spirits out?”, there is this very interesting bit:
    People who dream of disasters seem to like it when their dreams come true, which they view as proof that they are psychic, or that they can somehow predict events through their dreams. They don't realize that they may be helping to manifest those scenarios by giving them validity and energy. If you talk to people who continually dream of things that come true, you will find that most often they are dreaming of someone dying, or some disaster. These people may think that they are really psychic and able to tune into the future, but what is most likely really happening is that they are being used by dark forces to help manifest those probabilities. We need to remember how powerful our minds are. If we remember that every thought takes form on some level, we will be more conscious of what kinds of thoughts and visuals we are giving our energies and emotions to.
    These are not the words of a fluff-bunny unicorn-rainbow-farts type … so I'm really, really, hoping that there may be some core of reality in O'Grady's material – and that she's not simply Gurdjieffianly “shearing the sheep” with her descriptions of her internal light show!

    Although this was a recent offering in the “Early Reviewer” program, The Nature of Reality has been out over a year. I don't know what that means for its being available in the brick-and-mortar vendors of this sort of stuff, but it's oddly not dropped much in price over on the on-line sources, so if you (for some inexplicable reason) want to obtain a copy, you're going to have to shell out pretty close to the cover price. This is not a book that I would have “free range” picked up, or even finished reading … but I would be interested if Ms. O'Grady came out with a “serious” book analyzing her interface and communications with “The Source”, as there do seem to be a few kernels of usable information deeply buried in the muck of this.

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    Friday, December 5th, 2014
    11:15 pm
    Oh ... gonna be out in public tomorrow ...
    ChiBookExpo14Yeah, gonna be shilling the books tomorrow at the Chicago Book Expo down at Columbia College. It's a free event, and runs from 11am-5pm at 600 S. Michigan (at Harrison). I recently joined IWOC (Independent Writers of Chicago), and they had a FAB deal for being part of their table there.

    I'm going to be bringing down one actual volume of poetry and promo bookmarks pointing to the Eschaton Books site.

    I was really sort of hoping that this other book project that I've been immersed with (doing the lay-out and general editing) was going to be good-to-go by then, but it's not. Oh well. Needless to say, you'll be seeing more propaganda on that when it starts to get ready.

    Went out to Starbucks tonight to crank some book reviews, so you'll have those to look forward to over the weekend, even if you don't swing by the Book Expo to say "hi!". I'm hoping I won't be too wiped out from flogging the books, because Lon Milo DuQuette is in town for a show tomorrow night ... which is always a treat.

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