Monday, September 29, 2008

Creating Wealth Books

Hey--what happens to all the "creating wealth" books, now that the system on which they feed is crashing?

The authors will do okay; unlike the people who read their books, they at least have produced something tangible for a return. But most of the readers of most of these books (a majority of a majority, yes) aren't going to rake in shit, because they are trying to do as the books tell them to do: get paid without producing shit, without even thinking. (Hm ... they're not even thinking.) And people will continue buying them until the inertia of hope runs out.

Without apologies--I've heard too many self-styled "entrepreneurs" claiming they're going to make a fortune through smoke, mirrors, and bullshit. (Most of them tap trust funds.) They actually believed this gravy train would continue forever. They might as well try talking to the dead.

When the aforementioned inertia of hope is gone, I think we'll see an upsurge in self-help books as those who were coasting along on fantasies desperately seek a new magic trick.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shell-Shocked Ain't PTSD

I was considering just posting some quotes from reviews for On the Way to the Web today, but that's too easy. I'll do it later. For now, I'll just repeat that it's a book that had to be written.

Most of you are familiar with the late George Carlin's monolog about adding words and syllables to terms to make them more impressive. Or, in the case of something negative, to make it easier to take. Shell shock from WWI became battle fatigue in WWII. Two syllables to four syllables and it sounds like something not so bad. Rather than *SHOCKED!* by the screaming shells and explosions, bullets, and terror everywhere, the victim is just a little fatigued. (Not likely.)

In the 1960s, we all became more conscious (of lots of things) and near the end of the decade Vietnam vets no longer came home with battle fatigue, but post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Wow: seven syllables. A term that long must be helpful. Wrong, damnit--it was still shell shock, no matter what the name given it. And it is serious. I think the terminology often gets in the way of treatment.

The same gag was pulled on women who get beat up by their husbands. No longer were they battered wives; they were diagosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome, as if that would make the ongoing nightmare a bit easier to handle, somehow milder. And the politically correct crowd no longer had to deal with the shock of the harsh terminology of battered wives.

Some things need to be called what they are, so that they aren't glossed over and set aside because they don't sound bad. They need to be dragged out where everyone can see what's going on, instead of tagged with something hip like PTSD.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Crosley Now in Paperback

Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, written by Michael A. Banks is now available in paperback, for those of you who found the hardcover price a bit steep. You can get a copy by clicking here or on the title or image above. As I write this, the price is $10.85 (plus shipping) at

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What's in Blogging Heroes and On the Way to the Web?

Sales of my two most recent titles appeara to be on the upswing after dipping for several weeks. I think quite a few people are discovering Blogging Heroes on their own, separate from mention on blogs and in reviews--which is to say that I see no driving force behind sales at the moment. I believe it's doing well as a Kindle title, too.

Reviews of On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders have yet to appear, except at Amazon. The most recent review, by Joe Enos, tells me that I'm reaching those who are newer to the online world. Among other things, Joe says:

"My own personal experience with online services began in the mid 90's, so I missed out on quite a bit of the excitement. I used Prodigy, and had heard of America Online and CompuServe, but really didn't understand the events leading up to the information superhighway. My goal in reading this book was to understand some of the things I missed out on, and to get a better picture of how the web really got started."

Those who were online in the 1980s likewise find the book of interest, as this excerpt from a review by Thomas Duff ("Duffbert") shows:

"It's far too easy to forget exactly what led us up to the place we are today when it comes to instantaneous communication via the web. This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, and it brought back fond memories of my initial fascination with online activities."

The title of course doesn't tell you that the book includes histories of CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, GEnie and all the other consumer online services--plus info and email services like Dialog and Dialmail and Telemail. But it's impossible to pack all that info into a title or subtitle, so my hope is that people infer the fact that the book is a complete history of the online world from the title. It includes the consumer and commercial online services because they were, for all practical purposes, they were the Internet in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. If that doesn't make sense, read the book to see what I'm talking about.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Men and Women ... Different?

There are still people who argue that men and women are largely the same. Evidence suggests otherwise. Like, men have more upper body strength than women. Generally speaking, that is; I know women with big, square shoulders (like those!) who have lots of upper body strength.

But there are three things I've observed that prove women are different. I've never seen these vary:

1. Given the same distasteful job to do (with the same pay) women jump in and get the job done, while men complain, look for a reason the job doesn't need to be done, or try to figure out a way to get someone else to do it before going ahead and doing the job.

2. Put a man and a woman in a room or an automobile and without warning turn on a radio or CD player at far too high a volume. The man will always attempt to adjust the sound; the woman will turn the unit OFF right now.

3. Watch men and women approach the deli in a supermarket. Men will be eyeing the merchandise. Women will look at the "On Sale" signs.

I'm sure there are individual exceptions, but I've never seen any. Interesting to speculate on why these reactions are as they are ... and it doesn't mean they can't be equal.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Power Outage, Hot-Water Heat, and Dialogue

Hot-water heating systems have a nice advantage over electric baseboard heat: they can't overheat and start fires. They're at a disadvantage with forced-air systems because if you install a hot-water system you'll have to do a separate setup of ducts and so on for A/C--or use window units. There are cost differences, too, but those can change overnight. Still, considering the fact that hot-water systems store heat ...

I experienced a secondary advantage of the hot-water system storing heat when the six-day power outage hit: we had hot water for showers for five days. Wonderful!

And during the power outage (here's the transition to dialogue) I spent nearly all my time reading, mainly by candlelight. I read two Elizabeth George novels that I highly recommend: With No One as Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. The books over decent writing, good storytelling, and an interesting relationship. What Came Before He Shot Her is a sequel of sorts to With No One as Witness in that it tells the story behind the murder in With No One As Witness, from the viewpoint of the murderer.

In the preceding message I noted that I had a problem with George's dialogue technique. I also have some difficulty as a reader with her phonetic presentation of dialect. As in "I know what yer talkin' 'bout--dat's not de problem. (As with the preceding message examples, this is not direct from either of the books.) One approach to showing characters speaking in dialect is to use just a few lines of phonetic dialect the first time they show up. After that, the reader "hears" the dialect every time the character is on the stage.

Another approach goes like this. "I'm not the kind of person you're talking about," he said, dropping the g at the end of talking, and saying 'bout rather than about, as was the way of the neighborhood.

To use phonetic dialogue over and over and over and over is beating the reader over the head wid it (excuse me: with it). The technique really wowed Mark Twain's readers, but today having to plod through phonetic spelling really slows down the reader.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

6-Day Power Outage (and Dialogue)

Last week was really interesting: six days without electricity. I'm really thankful that it was not hot and muggy, as is usually the situation in southwestern Ohio at this time of year. The power was knocked out by the extremely power wind storm that hit the Midwest in the aftermath of hurricane Ike. (I've not experienced winds like this since I was in the middle of an F5 tornado in 1967.)

My Acer laptop was good for about 90 minutes, fully charged. So I spent the evenings (and most of the days) reading, mostly by candlight. Burning two 79-cent candles for four hours is just a bit cheaper than batteries, but I used both candles and battery-powered flashlights at different times. (Tip: When you're forced to use candles, set up a white backdrop behind them, to reflect light onto your reading material.)
During the reading marathon, I finished off two of Elizabeth George's longer books: With No One as Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. (The latter is in sequel to the former, written to show what led up to the main event in the former. Excellent idea.) Both good stories, but I was bothered by some of George's technique, perhaps because I was paying closer attention with nothing else going on while I was reading, and no real breaks. What bothered me was her dialogue technique: she uses 'way too much dialogue out of quotes and summary dialogue (as opposed to direct quotes, with quotation marks).
Examples (not quoted from the book):
"Do you have a candle?" Megan asked.
He pulled one out of his coat pocket and informed her that he had a few. Even though he gave her one, he noted that he didn't really want to give the taper to her.
She asked, do you have a candle?
A few, he replied. Producing one from his coat pocket, he added I don't really want to give you this, but I will.
Or, as one of her chracters might say, "Summat like that." She doesn't do this in her earlier work, which reads better because of it. It's nice to experiment, but guess I'm old-fashioned because as a reader and editor I'd rather see more conventional dialogue technique. But I do recommend both books.
Check back tomorrow for more adventures without electricity, and another commentary on writing technique.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Writing is Like Prostitution?

There's an old saying that makes the rounds from time to time. It goes like this: "Writing is like prostitution: First you do it for fun, then you do it for a few friends, and then you do it for money."

That's pretty much true--and both writing and prostitution can be creative.

But there is one way in which writing is definitely not like prostitution: Prostitutes don't do it for free!
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Legislate Oil Prices?

I can think of several thousand reasons why this idea is impractical in the real world, but ... any government that can dictate the actions of aircraft owned and operated by citizens and corporations of other sovereign nations (i.e., "You can't smoke on your airplane because we say so.") is certainly capable of dictating that no American-owned (in whole or in part) corporation, individual, or other entity pay more than $50 for a barrel of crude oil.

If (and that's a big "if") the United States government passed and enforced such a law, Americans would face immense shortages in the short term, but I do not believe that China and other nations can replace the market lost when oil producers are no longer selling to the United States. Hence, oil producers would eventually give in to the lower prices in the long run--and grant them to other markets. Better to take less per unit than sell no units at all.

And they would still be making fortunes daily.

Again, there are several thousand reasons this is impractical--individuals, corporations, and other entities who have an interest in oil prices remaining high. If, however, we could get China to do the same, it might actually succeed.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Writing for the Reader, Tip #1

In the past half-dozen years I've noticed a tendency among those who mistake lengthy words for wisdom to overuse "preventative" as an adjective and as a noun. Really, saying or writing "Caution is a preventative measure" doesn't make the speaker or writer seem any more intelligent than "Caution is a preventive measure." I always assume (no doubt wrongly in some instances) that people who use the long form are trying to sound intelligent.

You'll come off as more intelligent if you use shorter words; they help readers get at your concepts faster.
--Mike http://www.michaelabanks.com4

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Too Many Secret Histories?

Joshua Glenn wrote an interesting bit in the Braniac column in the Boston Globe a while back. It's titled "A brief history of secret histories," and in it he talks about several books with The Secrert History of ___ in their titles. The Secret History of Moscow, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and even On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders.

Glenn traces the origin of The Secret History in titles, and notes that secret histories are a dime a dozen. That's true

The only thing he missed is that naturally, once a Secret History is published, it's no longer a secret. Should the titles of subsequent editions be changed? The Secret History of Mosdow then becomes The History of Moscow ... but those four words standing alone just don't have the same ring. Descriptive, yes, but alluring, no. Still, "secret" has been used often enough to blunt its effect. So writers and editors will have to come up with another adjective soon. I think "Confidential" is starting to lose its attention-getting power (I had one titled PC Confidential back in 2000). Ditto "hidden," and definitely "... don't want you to know."

Especially "... don't want you to know." Like, "the selling secrets eBay doesn't want you to know?" (A line used by a spammer.) Right--eBay really doesn't want its sellers to sell more for higher prices. Not a chance!

Monday, September 01, 2008

John Dvorak and Orson Scott Card on the Way to the Web

I'm beginning to get some feedback for On the Way to the Web, and I'm pleased to be able to say that the readers get my intent in writing the book. They recognize that OTWTTW is not another Stealing Time or It's not focused on the power and majesty and internal rot at AOL and Time Warner. Nor is it another Where Wizards Stay Up Late, which is limited to the early story of computer networks, and has overmuch focus on the technical elements. That's all good, but it's not reading for those who want the overall story of how we got from lining mainframes to dialing up the world with our home computres. I recommend it, however.As for what On the Way to the Web is, John Dvorak described the book's intent well when he wrote, "As someone who has been involved in the telecom scene since 1978 I have always feared that much of the wild history during the Hayes-modem era would be lost. Michael Banks to the rescue. This fascinating book is a must have for any student of the techology scene."

Writing in the book's Foreword, Orson Scott Card summed it the storyline thus: "This is a thorough, entertaining, informative, useful history of how our world was transformed during my adult life"