Monday, December 14, 2009

New Ebook Line from Conventional Publisher

I note that Harlequin Enterprises, known for romance novels, will launch a new ebook line in April, 2010. This "imprint" will of course publish romance novels, and also science fiction, mystery, mainstream, fantasy, horror, thriller/suspense, and every other genre. I think this well-established publisher has the potential to create an effective presence for ebooks.

The publishing operation is called Carina Press. To submit manuscripts and for other info see

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your or You're? It's or Its?

Misuses in writing that involve apostrophes (or the lack thereof) scream for attention. "I really like you're poem," for example, or "Its really tough to know which word to use."

Lots of times, an error like using "you're" for "your" is committed in the heat of writing, in part because the two words are homonyms. When you, the writer, go back and edit you probably see "your" where you wrote "you're." (Or vice-versa.) You end up looking stupid when an editor reads your manuscript--or at least wincing when you catch the error later. One way to cut down on this sort of problem is to use fewer contractions. Statistically, you'll commit fewer errors involving contractions.

Misuse of 'its" or "it's" occurs because people forget which form they're supposed to use. There is an easy solution. Remember that a contraction always wins out over a possessive, like a flush over a straight. Then do a search in your manuscript for every occurrence of "its" and "it's" and make sure each fits the "winner" rule.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Jules Verne Read-Aloud Stories

The categories-and-keywords antics over at Amazon continue. Today, the No.1 bestselling children's book for Baby through age 3 is Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. No. 2 is Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

More examples of what you get from literal-minded computers turned loose on large numbers of objects with only keyword guidance. Either that, or droves of new parents determined to make sure their children get that head-start in life by reading advanced books aloud to them. Forget The Little Engine that Could--Verne and Stevenson will make sure the kids turn into the prodigies that the parents are certain they are. Or might it backfire and result in children speaking stilted English?

Maybe the Dewey Decimal System is a good idea!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Island of Doctor Moreau, America's No.1 Home Computing Book?

I think Amazon's computers have problem: they act like literal-minded machines. Which they are--sometimes to a fault.

Examples: According to Amazon, The Island of Doctor Moreau, by Herbert George Wells is the No.1 bestselling book. My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse is No. 17. I got these as a result of browsing Books> Computers & Internet >Home Computing at Amazon.

While H.G. Wells was amazingly predictive at times, I don't see that computer mavens are going to find an antiquated novel of such interest as to propel it to lofty heights on Amazon's computer list.

And I'm sure that Pelham Granville Wodehouse never gave home computing even a passing thought, back there in the 1920s. Nor did Jeeves. Radio was the leading-edge technology in their era.

No doubt a couple of Amazon keywords associated with computing accidentally occur in Verne's book. though I can't imagine which words they might be, offhand. "Jeeves" of course is connected with "computer" Amazon's in database, for its association with "Ask Jeeves."

Why is this sort of thing a problem? Because it gets in the way of finding the books one is really after. I enjoyed reading Verne years ago, and while I do enjoy Wodehouse and Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, I am not seeking any of these when I'm browsing computer books. The result of books such as the aforementioned and The Life of Abraham Lincoln appearing among the top 20 home computing books is that my search is interrupted by irrelevant results, and books that I might be interested in are knocked off the top 20 (or 50 or 100) list.

Yes, it's simply a literal-minded program pulling out anything that matches a category's list of keywords. But it's inefficient. One would think the program would be smart enough to do some exclusions. (And to think that one of the three largest corporations in America uses this system for its internal-- never mind.) Ah, well--at least it's entertaining a few people who get a laugh out of seeing Thus Spake Zarathustra presented as a computer book. (Hm ... that was the title of 2001: A Space Odyssey's theme music--and a computer was one of the film's stars ....)

A proper search will eliminate such problems. But how many people rely on browsing rather on searching? I am told by eBay that more of their buyers browse than search. Is the same true at Amazon?

Then again, maybe I'm being unreasonable in expecting the computers behind such an icon as Amazon to be more disciminating.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blogging Heroes Video Review in Korean

If you speak Korean, you may enjoy this video review of my book, Blogging Heroes, in Korean. The lady, Yunahana, is reviewing the translated version, which includes chapters not in the English edition.

The Korean ISBN is 9788960770478. AcornLoft is the publisher.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kindle for PC

I downloaded Amazon's Kindle for PC today. It's a fast transfer and setup. The screen offers sharp text, easy on the eye. The medium-dark gray side boundaries add to eye ease. The accompanying image doesn't do it justice.

Graphics within books are very good.

Text size and number of words per line are easily adjustable. The text is navigable, but the books I've downloaded are not searchable.

It's worth a try. A good number of free titles are offered, including classics such as Pride and Prejudice and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. You can find contemporary novels, too. Among those at the moment are Elizabeth Moon's Trading in Danger and The Black Sea Affair, by Don Brown. (Note that that last is Don Brown, and not Dan Brown. Given similar genres, I wonder if the byline is intentional.)

Kindle titles of course include some of my books. At the top of the list are On the Way to the Web and Blogging Heroes.

You can download a sample (the first few pages of a book) of any book free. Prices vary, and there are some real bargains in the Kindle Store--which is only a click away from the Kindle PC reader. I foresee lots of impulse buys

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One of Life's Minor Annoyances

If you spend much time listening to classical music on your car radio, you've probably had this experience. You're driving along, thinking your thoughts. The announcer murmurs softly, as hosts on classical radio do, and a symphony begins.

After a time you notice that the music has faded. In fact, the sound has stopped.

So you turn up the sound. Still nothing. You turn it up some more and--


"What the--!" You grab for the knob or stab at the button--anything to muffle that crashing crescendo of sound. Where in hell did that come from?

It was one of those lulling symphonic moments, some point where the composer decided that the bassoon should just exhale slightly, or the violins mutter a low note. But with the road noise, there's no way you'll hear it at normal volume. And probably not when you turn it up to the max. I've always wondered whether anyone else has encountered this ... and whether it's been used in a movie. I can imagine it as a gag that startles someone into driving off the road--say, Chevy Chase. But the setup would probably be so boring the scene would be cut.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Personalized Newspapers

Although hit hard by online news, printed newspapers don't seem to be exhibiting much creativity in restoring their advertiser and reader numbers. (I still believe that original material in the printed versions could help. If only there was a way to make it time-intensive.)

Next week, some German newspaper subscribers will start receiving custom newspapers every morning. Readers will go to a Web site operated by Niiu and select the kinds of news they want to received. Someone might select the politics or entertainment from the NY Times, the front page of a regional paper, and so forth, and combine it with material only available on the Web. Expanded features are also available.

The custom paper--printed in color--will be collated and delivered per subscriber specifications. Each copy is a one-shot newspaper, generated by a program designed to arrange all the subscribers' newspapers to be printed in one printing press run.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cultural Cycles and a Bestseller

Cory Panshin, who has some interesting things to say on a variety of subjects, offers a theory on recurrent patterns in cultural evolution. It is more than interesting, but rather than try to interpret what she says here, I refer you to Trogholm, Cory Panshin's Web site.

I will note that one concept I picked up from Cory's writing is the idea that the frequency of the cycles of recurring cultural patterns increases as we move forward in time. In fact, we may be at the edge of a culture-wide mood-shift right now, as Cory posits. Perhaps a shift as big as we saw take hold in the Sixties, even though it's been just three decades since that one damped out.

A sequence of events and reading today directed my attention to Robert H. Rimmer's The Harrad Experiment. You may recall that the novel (and the film) concerned itself with overturning conventional concepts of monogamy, partnership, and family ... and expanding them into common households, with poolings of financial, emotional, and intellectual resources. The experiment of the title focused on sexual freedom, sex "... without fear, jealousy, repression, or inhibition ...."

The idea of recurrent cultural patterns and The Harrad Experiment collided in my thoughts and generated this question: would The Harrad Experiment be a hit today, as a contemporary novel? In a society in which many people look beyond their own biological families in favor of choosing "family" from among friends? A society in which blended families and single parents are nearly as common as traditional families? Would people even want to explore that aspect of "revolution" again? Is the sexual revolution a bit of unfinished business from which most young people back then withdrew when put to the test? Is failing that test the reason why large-group families aren't common today? Will it all come up again in the midst of a new cultural shift?

I have a feeling that such a novel would sell. A novel that focuses on odd, titillating, intellectually stimulating concepts hinging on sex, and told through tightly focused viewpoints, would have a good shot at bestsellerdom. If we are on the edge of a cultural shift, sex is going to be involved (right along with the arts and every other element of society)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ratings and Reviews

The one-to-four-star rating system has been around for a long, long time. The stars may be replaced by other symbols, or there may be three or five, but the idea is the same: to provide an at-a-glance, comparative valuation.

All other things being equal, most of us are drawn to the top-rated items--as long as the ratings are not manipulated in some way.

Ratings assigned books are probably less reliable as an objective indication of quality than they might be with hotels, restaurants, films, and other products. This is because the appeal of books is so very subjective, even more than music.

I noticed that Amazon provides a tally of ratings for all books that meet a given search critereon. There's no indication whether the tally is individualized--that is, whether the total number of books for each ranking includes books ranked higher, and the total number of reviews of books that met my search criteron is 95,500. Or if these numbers are breakouts from a total of 354,706 reviews.

So, I wonder about the significance of the numbers. Here's the tally for a search I did today:

* 4 Stars & Up (76,319)
* 3 Stars & Up (89,630)
* 2 Stars & Up (93,337)
* 1 Star & Up (95,500)

The tally for all books:
* 4 Stars & Up (1,017,183)
* 3 Stars & Up (1,166,103)
* 2 Stars & Up (1,206,310)
* 1 Star & Up (1,237,167)

If the tally is individualized, does this mean that more dislikable books are being published than likable? Are there more reviewers with agendas to torpedo specific books than there are straightforward reviewers? Perhaps dislike for a book strongly motivates reviews, so those who didn't enjoy a book are more likely to write a review. (As in, "I spent my money for this?")

Or, perhaps readers in general are simply very discerning and hold books to high standards.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Real Writer's Block

How do your family and friends regard your writing?

I come from a family background where frequent reading was thought of as odd. Oh, the father and uncles seemed to delight in reading men's magazines (for the pictures) and the occasional issue of Time or Life. And most everyone read the newspaper. But there was nobody even in the extended family with whom I could discuss a good novel or non-fiction book.

Reading was, in fact, discouraged by many--my father in particular. His accusations of being somehow "lazy" because I was "sitting around and reading" (he more often said, "sitting on your ass and reading") just encouraged me to go outside and read, or read at the library. None of this reconciled with the usual parental demand for high-performance grades in high school, but never mind that.

It wasn't as if I wasn't getting any exercise, or that I let my chores lapse. So I was left to wonder how this was different than sitting and fishing, or sitting and watching television--my father's favorite activities. I eventually concluded that it wasn't the sitting that bothered him, but the reading. I suppose it had something to do with his drinking. Most of all--and I figured this out as a child--he resented the idea of reading for enjoyment or education ... something to do, probably, with the fact that he had dropped out of school in the eighth grade. I have some ideas that I won't go into here, but you get the idea.

The anti-literacy movement in my home was so strong that my books were thrown out, and my father would throw books in rages. He once attacked me with a book in some moment of insanity. It was nothing new; when I was fifteen, attacked me with the Beatles' Revolver album, the reason for the attack being that I had sideburns that he didn't like, and that the Beatles must have made me grow sideburns. (I should emphasize that this was a big vinyl album and jacket--a little more painful than an attack with a CD or tape.)

Now, imagine what it was like when I started writing. If I'd taken up writing as a teenager still living at home, he probably would have gotten around to busting up my typewriter. As it was, he did everything possible to discourage my writing. Although I was writing on the side while holding down a full-time job (and on occasion a part-time job), he railed at me for being "lazy" because I was writing. He refused to look at any of the magazine articles, short stories, or books I published. And so forth.

At the same time, he bragged about my books to the extended family, as if he was responsible for it all, and not raging over it. He bragged so much so that several family members got angry at him--and me--over it. He did his best to make me an outcast--for succeeding at writing. (And believe me, that is not an overstatement. But there's too much behind it to go into.)

Yeah, he was nuts. And drunk. But knowing that didn't make it any more fun. So, count yourself fortunate if people close to you are positive about your writing, or at least don't run it down or try to get you to stop. If they appreciate your writing, be glad. Writing is difficult enough without someone trying to stop you, and I hope you never have to experience that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If you speak Korean, you may enjoy this video review of my book, Blogging Heroes, in Korean. The lady, Yunahana, is reviewing the translated version.

The Korean ISBN is 9788960770478. AcornLoft is the publisher.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Secret of the Spiral Chimneys

One of the reasons I began writing is that I really enjoy sharing information. I don’t get much gossip (or not much that I can tell), so I research and write magazine articles and books. Research on a given subject doesn’t stop with publication. Long after the publication of books such as Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons: The Woman Who Created Talk TV and my non-technical history of the Internet and online world, On the Way to the Web, I continue to research their subjects. The benefits are several. My curiosity is satisfied (once sparked, it doesn't just stop). I can use the info in future editions. And the research leads to new articles and, sometimes, new subjects.

A good deal of post-publication research is unintentional: people who enjoyed a book often come to me with new information and corrections. I appreciate both. Sometimes I go in search of information, as happened recently with Crosley, the biography I originated and wrote to completion. Some material was cut or changed after I finished the manuscript, so I began the Crosley blog. This also serves as a repository for new information I discover, as well as details I researched but didn't include in the book. (Not to mention the fact that it demonstrates the depth and quantity of research and the writing effort I put into the book--just about everything in the volume.)

New research resulted in “The Secret of the Spiral Chimneys,” a post I recently made at the Crosley blog. Among the the unusual features of Powel Crosley’s Cincinnati mansion, Pinecroft, are the spiral chimneys that serve its working fireplaces. For the longest time I assumed the feature was strictly decorative. As it turns out, however, the spiraling has a purpose: creating decorative smoke trails and rings.

It's obvious once you know it, but the fact just wasn't obvious (as it would have been if a photo of Pinecroft with the chimneys operating full blast existed). Glad that one's solved! I wonder how many other performing chimneys wait to be found on famous buildings? There's probably an article in it ....

Google Books Fun

I noted a while back that the authorized biography of SF writer Robert A. Heinlein will be out early next year. This reminded me that I had once seen an article in an old issue of Popular Mechanics about the unique house Heinlein built in Colorado Springs in the 1950s. I went in search of the article at Google Books, and found it. I also turned up this filler about a Heinlein ancestor he once mentioned:

THE INVENTOR OF THE WATCH Peter Heinlein, the inventor of the pocket watch, was persecuted for witchcraft in the days when he withdrew from his companions—in particular his wife—to work on his invention. He was finally cast into prison, where the watch was perfected. Later he was tried for murder, but escaped by paying the family of his victim a large indemnity. He then retired to the convent of the Carmelites, where he continued manufacturing watches, giving the proceeds to the order. He died in 1540. At Nuremburg, the scene of his persecutions, a monument has been erected to him.

(From Popular Mechanics, December, 1905)

Sometimes Google Books is just a big toy.

Friday, November 06, 2009

When Hearing a Word Is Not the Same as Spelling It

When I was in my twenties I went to an informal writers’ workshop every couple of weeks. Some of us read excerpts from our latest projects—or entire works, if they were short enough.

One week, a guy named George agitated to read something he’d just had accepted by Fate magazine (a journal of the weird, occult, and related matters). Everyone frowned when he read the title, “Captain Smith’s Fear-ee Ride.”

Wouldn’t “scary” work better? I thought to myself. So did everyone else, as it turned out--but we had a rule about not interrupting a reader.

George droned on through the piece, which was about a 19th-Century ship’s captain sighting strange lights in the sky and on the sea. We let him continue, until he reached the description of what the captain saw: “Without warning, a fear-ee display lit up the sky, and—“

“Wait, wait!” several people burst out. “Did you say ‘fear-ee’?”

“Yes, why?” George asked in all innocence.

“Spell that word!” a woman named Ruth shouted.

“F-I-E-R-Y,” George came back. “Fear-ee. Is there something wrong with that?”

“It’s pronounced ‘fiery’ and not fear-ee.” Ruth told him.

“Well, I never heard anyone pronounce the word,” George returned.

That seemed unlikely, but we took his word for it. People mispronounce words all the time.

Today I noted a variation of that in a news story about an old man buying a Chevrolet Camaro. It involved a man carrying a cane, and mentioned that the subject was “touting a cane.” I had an image of the guy waving the cane, calling out, “Gotta have it, gotta have it—only twenty bucks! It’s the best cane in the world! Buy one now!” Which did not fit the story.

I read it a second time, then got it: he was toting a cane. I imagine the reporter had never heard the word “tout” or “touting” pronounced, but had heard “toting” used in relation to someone carrying something. Add to it the possibility that she had never seen the word “toting,” but had read the word “touting” and mispronounced it in her mind as "toting," and it’s easy to see where the error came in.

That’s one of the more difficult “not caught by spell-check” situations. The lesson: it pays to expand your vocabulary. Had this reporter known how “touting” is pronounced, or had read "toting" somwhere, she wouldn’t have made the mistake.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Has the Sixties Counterculture Suffered an Inversion?

It's interesting to see some of the same people who battled to legalize marijuana in the Sixties now working to make tobacco illegal.

In some places they are encouraging the narcs they once denigrated. In Ohio, for example, signs exhort individual citizens to become informers, in order to punish business owners for the uncontrollable actions of others. (Huge fines are specified for the owners of public establishments where smoking occurs.)

And where once you might have heard, "Man, have you tried that Yellow Sunshine? It's outta sight!" you now hear "Yes, Prozac really made a difference for me!"

No matter what your views on drugs, smoking, or even coffee, culture has certainly gone through some ironic twists.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Experiment: Where's the Book?

I received an interesting email yesterday from David Kennedy, a reader in San Diego. He enjoyed Blogging Heroes, and wants to share it with grad-student friends and co-bloggers at the Utah State University.

Only one problem: nobody has spare cash for shipping. So David is trying an experiment. He left the volume at a book dropoff, with a note attached asking people to help it along from the College Rolando branch of the San Diego library to a fourth-floor break room at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

See for the full story.
The note, which you can see attached to the book's cover here, reads:


My name is “Blogging Heroes”, and I’m a book about blogging. I’m trying to get from San Diego to the Break Room on the fourth floor of old main at Utah State University in Logan, UT.

I have some friends waiting for me, and was wondering if you could help me get there? Even a little would help. Thanks! Just pick me up and move me a little in That Direction.

Feel free to read me, or even take notes in me! I want to learn as much about my trip as possible.

When I finally get home, I’ll make sure that my trip is told on


Kennedy and friends run a blog titled 16Bit, stuff every programmer should learn.
The experiment is completely independent of me and Wiley, the publisher. Can Blogging Heroes make it on its own? Time will tell. If you're in the vicinity and see the book, give it a read and a ride!

Barnes & Noble eBook Rreader

Barnes & Noble have come out with their own eBook Rreader, in competition with Kindle. It's called "nook," and at the moment is offered for $259. For an analysis, see Joe Wikert's blog entry:

and B&N's own page for the nook:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shopping Centers without Roads, Billboards without Messages

I wonder when people will stop trying to represent just about everything on the Web as a simple counterpart of real-world events, situations, and so forth? Why can't the Web just be the Web? It's not like the pre-Web days, when we had to explain things like chat rooms and IMs in terms of CB radios and telephones. Today, there's no t need to entice people into the online world by downplaying their fears with metaphors.

Oh, well ... as long as we're still doing this, I am inspired by an earlier remark to say that publishing thousands of books about selling online by getting found and noticed, without publishing more books to show people how to search is akin to building a shopping mall with no roads to it.

Or might a better simile be "... like putting up billboards in Antarctica?"

Okay, okay--it's a reach! But I think that there's a huge imbalance of subject matter. And the books are largely derivative of one another, packed with such solid advice as, "Put quality content on your Web site to attract people." And a lot of telling the reader what to do, but not how to do it.

Vanished from twitter

Some of my twitter tweets (yeah, cutesy name, that) are flapping away. I read something that boiled down to, "If you lose your Internet connection, your tweets disappear." Makes no sense: you lose your Internet every time you turn off your computer (daily for me), and I've never had them disappear before. Hell--maybe I'm posting heretic stuff and don't know it.

Anyway, I'll park a few here:

Unlikely ad: "Wanna get laid? There's an app for that!"

Improbable book title: "Empathy for Narcissists"

Interesting to note that so many publishers are very interested in (and publishing) books on how to market your stuff with search engines and social marketing (a school of wishful thinking), but don't want to put out books that teach Internet users how to FIND stuff on the Web (which would include how to find the stuff their books are exhorting people to market). Uh ... how're you gonna sell anything if they can't find you?

The wisdom of the crowd is a myth: intelligence is not cumulative. The highest intelligence in a group is the smartest individual in that group.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Embarrassment of (Reviewer) Riches

I just had a flashback. When the weekly "hey, hey, hey!" from CNET popped up in my email, I opened it to a bunch of headlines about "Sidekick."

My mind immediately rebooted to the days of DOS! "How can you lose data with Sidekick? Sidekick can't hurt anything!" flashed through my mind for nearly a millisecond before I noted that they were talking about T-Mobile and not Borland.

This happens whenever I see "Sidekick." It's pure Reflex (if you'll pardon the pun. Those of you who weren't around before Windows won't remember Reflex, a pioneering flat-file database cum spreadsheet that had everyone going nuts. Great program.) When DOS was king, I was working hard to find all sorts of ways to get more out of the apps. Sidekick was one, a key-combo pop-up notepad, alarm, etc., etc., a TSR that didn't enrage other programs and make your system crash. Both Sidekick and Reflex were products of Borland.

I liked Borland. Without exception, they sent me a minimum of two copies of every program (and new version thereof) they brought out--and this was before I wrote a book with Jerry Pournelle (his only computer book, btw).

I suppose they thought I had two computers, which I did after a time because more than one PC clone maker sent me two machines with the paperwork to return only one. Just as Intel did when they came out with their first hand-scanners. (Greyscale, 4 inches wide, with clever software.) And you couldn't return the review hardware without the paperwork.

It was truly and embarrassment of riches--and fun! The only outfit that was really serious about getting all their equipment back was Apple. The agreement I signed with them must have been intimidating, because I made sure I got their Mac IIci back to them with time to spare before the deadline.

Writing Tip #273

When the story starts getting out of control, it's time to cut!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Official Robert A. Heinlein biography scheduled

The first volume of a two-part authorized biography of famed science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: Volume 1 (1907-1949): Learning Curve, by William H. Patterson, will be released on April 13, 2010.

The book will be a hardcover, and published by TOR Books.

According to Patterson, the original manuscript came in at 700,000 words. He cut it to 400,000. Get your order in now! Click here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Videotex: What the Web Almost Was

On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders is available in ebook form via Safari Books Online. A preview of the chapter that covers Videotex (the Internet that almost was) click here. And here are sample screens from the Viewtron Videotex service:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Google in Control?

Will Google have exclusive control of Public Domain and/or out of print books? I don't see how it is possible. Anyone who wishes can scan PD books and, with permission, scan and post out of print books still protected by copyright.

The copyright owners (publishers and authors) can themselves limit the kind of access made available—anything from those small "glimpses" (images of a portion of a page) to partial content, to complete books.

What remains uncertain is how Google intends to meter books. To really make money, they must limit user access in a particular way, then charge to remove the limit. Someone—an executive at Random House, I believe—suggested that Google levy a small charge for any look inside a book. I expect this will provoke protests from the public, the reaction being that anyone should be able to browse books online, just as in bookstores or libraries. And, really, reading a few pages can help one make an informed decision on a novel or a non-fiction book.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Library Books Don't Get No Respect

Over the past decade I've seen too many library books that haven't been taken care of by borrowers. The problem is not torn pages or writing on the books, though I see that, too. The biggest problem I see (and frequently) is what you might call "foreign matter" on book pages.

Sometimes it looks like food--grease and stains and blobs of unidentifiable substances. (At least, I hope it's food; the alternative is even more disgusting.) Occasionally there will be a dead insect, or maybe a lone wing or portion of a carapace--all that's left of a bug that landed on a page and was crunched by a reader.

And then there are the unpleasant odors drifting from opened books ... I have had to put a few out in the open air before I could read them.

Can you people take better care of the books you borrow? The occasional coffee or soda stain I can understand. But what I'm finding on pages nowadays is the result of sheer carelessness. Try not treating library books like they're your own. Treat them like they belong to someone else--someone you respect.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Magazines at Google Books

Interesting resources at Google Books lately:
Billboard (1945 on)
Publishers Weekly (back to the 1880s)
Library Journal

And lots more, including Ebony, Jet, Popular Science, and others that you might not expect. Take a stroll through

Wednesday, September 02, 2009 and the Internet's Birthday

The lead technology story at today is about the 40th Anniversary of the Internet. I'm quoted therein; hence, my special interest in this piece. The article begins, "Though it might try to hide its graying hairs, it was 40 years ago today that computer scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, established a network connection between two computers ...."

And, indeed, it is almost as if the origins of the Internet are hidden from contemporary view, though not by any intent. I expect that the facts of the existence of early computer networks (ARPANet, the Internet, consumer online services like CompuServe, and many other types of telecomputing nets) have been displaced in the public mind by the many glitzy developments on the Web in over the past decade and more.

Further, the story is so complicated that the majority of attempts to chronicle it end up focusing on one or two elements. For instance, you can read a half-dozen randomly selected books that purport to tell the history of the Internet and the Web, and come away thinking there was nothing until ARPAnet (online content existed years before that great experiment), the World Wide Web (a johnny-come-lately in 1992), and AOL (whose predecessors go back to 1978) are the full story. It's far from that; get a copy of On the Way to the Web at your local library (or from the publisher, or wherever) to see what I mean. In the meantime, read the story. In addition to providing the facts and milestones, the story (and those to which it links) offers a handy list of milestones along the way to the Web.

Happy Birthday(s) to the Internet!

Happy Birthday, Internet! September 2, 1969 was the date that the first two ARPAnet computers were connected at UCLA. Those were UCLA's Sigma-7 mainframe and the Internet Message Processor (IMP) that would connect with the network-to-be.

But some mark the beginning of the Internet as the day the first message was transmitted between network nodes: UCLA to Stanford. That was October 29, 1969. So, we have two birthdays. Some media are citing Sept. 2, while UCLA will hold the official 40th anniversary celebration on Oct. 29.

Significantly, Leonard Kleinrock, director of the project, says of the transmission on Oct. 29, "That was the first breath of life the Internet ever took."

But, he also notes, it was on Sept. 2, 1969, that data bits first moved between two machines—UCLA's Sigma and its IMP. For still more facts, see:

All the details are in my book, On the Way to the Web. Have a look and decide for yourself. (For more blasts from the online past, follow mikebanks on twitter.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Korean Daily Newspaper: Interview and Video about Blogging Heroes

Interest in Blogging Heroes continues. A couple weeks back Young Choi, a journalist from The Seoul Shinmum Daily (South Korea's oldest newspaper) came to interview me about the book and blogging.

The interview is here:

Scroll down for the video interview. It's in English (Korean is one of the languages I do not speak) and has Korean subtitles. If I look odder than usual, it's because I'm squinting into the afternoon sun. The interview and video were conducted at the United States Air Force Museum (highly recommended, by the way).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letter-Writing for Writers

Remember when you wrote real letters--hardcopy sent via street mail? I imagine there are some younger people who have always used E-mail, but at some point in their lives nearly everyone has written letters.

I became a prodigious letter-writer in the 1970s, staying in touch with fellow science fiction fans, model builders, and other friends across the U.S. and Europe. This continued through the 1980s and for part of the 1990s, until nearly everyone got on the E-mail bandwagon. (I think about 25 percent of my correspondents were using email by 1985.) By the turn of the century, I wrote only the occasional hardcopy letter to older friends and relatives.

Several years ago I went back to writing letters regularly to people who also use E-mail. It's a nice break, printing out and mailing missives the old-fashioned way. Sometimes I write them by hand.

Interestingly, I find myself using all of my writing skills and technique, even dialogue, in letters. The vocabulary is adjusted to the recipient and/or subject, but I get as much satisfaction from a well-crafted letter as I do from a good article or short story.

In addition, writing letters gives me something to fall back on when I'm temporarily stuck and can't get into one of my commercial projects. It gets my mind off being frustrated over the block, and keeps me in the writing groove. Try it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mr. Ken's Wild Ride

Ken Moore, a well-known Nashville SF fan and art expert, passed away last week. He was one of those people who is a real "character" without knowing it. When a thought hit him, he acted on it and (sometimes) thought about it later.

Here's a remembrance of Ken, just one of hundreds of tales that those who knew him can tell.
A family vacation in 1980 took us through Nashville, and we stopped over to visit Ken Moore, a science fiction fan friend who lived there. He wanted to take us to lunch at a restaurant in town owned by a friend of his, so we drove there from his house in my 1977 Chevrolet Nova. Once we were seated in a spacious booth, the owner made a point of coming out to greet Ken and meet the rest of us. The only other diners in the place were a couple over in a far corner.

As we were finishing the meal, Ken ordered a screwdriver (at least, a drink that looked like a screwdriver). The girl waiting on our table brought it out, then returned to the kitchen. The couple left at some point, and several minutes later my son, who was 5 at the time, tried to call our attention to two men running across the parking lot. “Look at those guys,” he urged. “They look like they’re on a wild goose chase!”

We adults were busy discussing important science fiction stuff, and just said, “Oh, yeah. They’re running, aren't they?”

About that time the restaurant owner and waitress burst out of the back room. “We’ve been robbed!” the owner said, voice trembling. “They had a pistol, a .38! Made us lay down on the floor. I thought they were going to shoot us ... but they just took the money ... came out here!”

“God damn!” Ken yelled. He jumped to his feet. “Gimmie your keys, Mike.” Caught up in the moment, I just handed them over, like a fool. Ken darted out door.

It took a couple of seconds for me to realize what I’d done—and what Ken was thinking of doing. I trotted out to the parking lot just as he was starting up the Nova’s engine.

“This is my car,” I thought, “with an over-excited Ken Moore at the wheel!” Like most guys, I was kinda partial to my car, and figured I ought to go along so I could at least witness its fate.

I yanked open the passenger door and hopped in as he put it into gear.

“They went that way,” Ken said, pointing with the half-full glass in his right hand. With his left, he steered us out of the lot and into the middle of the street. Then he took a drink and waved the glass in my direction. “Here—hold this!”

I took the drink. There followed what I’ll always remember as “Ken’s Nashville Thrill Ride.” Scarier than the fiercest roller coasters at Opryland!

In memory, it’s cinematic blur of squealing tires and hard leans to the left and right. Ken took as around corners and through U-turns without slowing. He stopped every half-minute or so to ask someone on the street whether they’d seen two black guys running in this or that direction. There was a lot of bumping over railroad tracks at high speed, and swaying in and out lanes to pass or narrowly miss hitting other cars.

Caught up in Ken’s determination to do whatever he thought he was going to do if he caught these guys (run over them, I guess), I literally clung to the dashboard and hoped he didn’t catch them. After all, we were chasing two guys with a gun—and all we had was a 6-cylinder Nova!

Ken gave up after ten minutes, and we limped back to his friend’s restaurant. To this day I don’t know whether they caught the crooks. But I left Nashville with a bona-fide souvenir of Ken’s wild ride: a broken shock. And I didn't spill a drop of Ken's drink.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Fiction Tip

Fiction Writing Tip #438: Don't take your characters anywhere your readers wouldn't go.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Visual Research Online: Article in The Writer

When researching biographies, I find information in strange places (like eBay listings). I've written about my research techniques in the past, in The Writer and Online magazine.

I'm back at it in the August issue of The Writer (page 36) with a piece about finding photos and videos from which you can extract information that you might not be able to find anywhere else. It's out there--but don't forget to have a second source for everything!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Signings in Dayton

I'll be signing Before Oprah at two Dayton-area libraries this coming Saturday, and again in August. Books will be available:

Saturday, June 27, 2:00 PM
Wilmington-Stroop Public Library
3980 Wilmington Pke, Kettering, OH 45429

Saturday, August 01, 2:00 PM
Huber Heights Library
6160 Chambersburg Rd, Dayton, OH 45424

Click here to see a calendar of my signings, updated as new events are scheduled.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Rich Repository of Computing History

Did you ever own an Atari computer--400, 800, ST? How about a TRS-80, or Apple? Or a less common sort of machine? If so, you'll find The Classic Computer Magazine Archives of more than passing interest. This site hosts content from these 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s computer magazines:

Compute II
Compute!'s Gazette
Creative Computing
Video Arcade
Whiz Kids (Tandy Whiz Kids comic books)

I wrote for ST-Log (as well as Analog Computing) and, at some point for Creative Computing. It's a real informative trip down memory lane to browse these magazines! You can look through indexes, or browse by subject, authors, and other criteria. (Whiz Kids has full-page color scans.)

Not every article from every issue is available yet, but the quantity of information is gratifying.
Have a look!

Book Launch Video

I promised earlier to write about the April 29 launch of Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV. There were two events that day, one at 11:00 AM, the other at 6:00 PM. You can see a portion of the morning event (which included WLWT announcer Bill Myers, singer Colleen Sharp, Ruth's former secretary Mickey Fisher, and producer Dick Murgatroyd) here:

There's a partial interview with me in that segment, too. Also, a longer video of the reenactment of "The 50-50 Club" that we did for the evening signing is here:

The actress who portrays Ruth Lyons is Shelley Bamberger Bailey. Her performance was outstanding!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

20 Percent of South Korean Population Blogging?

As I reported some time back, Blogging Heroes is out in a Korean edition, shown here. It's also available in Brazil, in Portuguese.

I can't tell how it's doing in Brazil, though there are many positive reviews. But in Korea the book has really taken off. Sales quotient numbers indicate that it's outselling the bestselling iPhone book in Korean. A reporter from Seoul's daily newspaper is traveling here to interview me next month.

The demand seemed odd at first. Then I learned that 95 percent of South Korea's 50 million citizens have access to broadband. Plus, South Korea is said to be the most-connected cellphone nation on the planet, too. SMS messaging has influenced the outcome of elections. Back to blogging, in 2005 there was an estimate of 11.7 million as the number of bloggers in the country. This is not difficult to believe, even though it means 20 percent of the population are bloggers.

(Update, 6/15: As holterbarbour astutely pointed out, the iPhone is not offered in South Korea. I stupidly did not stop to consider that. The iPhone book is offered there, however.)

ISPs have pushed blogs heavily, along with other kinds of social networking. One company,, was said to have included a massive TV campaign. Business blogs appear to be popular and on the rise.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I've Been Busy

Being the guy who wrote Blogging Heroes, I really should post more. frequently (check back on Saturday for some interesting news about that book). However, the outside world has kept me and my thoughts away from blogging for a time. I've done over two dozen signings since the launch of Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, on April 29. Plus, three television appearances, several radio shows, and a bunch of newspaper and magazine interviews.

John Keisewetter of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote two very nice pieces about Ruth Lyons, the book, and the reenactment of "The 50-50 Club" that Shelley Bamburger Bailey and I did at several of the signings. You can read those here and here.

(If you would like to see our version of "The 50-50 Club," click here. It's not Ruth, but Shelley--in period Ruth Lyons costume--did a great impression!)

Cincinnati Magazine ran an interview with me about Ruth Lyons in their May, 2009, issue. And that's an artist's rendering of Ruth above, decorating a tea towel. I found this in 2007, and knew nothing about it. I assumed it was a premium stuffed in boxes of Tide or Fels soap powder (ala the Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton in a laundry soap commercial--Rinso?) An elderly Ruth Lyons fan brought the same towel to a signing I did at Books & Company in Dayton, and told me that she sent off for it in 1954, but couldn't remember the product with which it was associated.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Japan's Bestselling Book

This reminds me a bit of Dan Quayle: The number-one bestselling book in Japan for the past six months has been a guide to reading Chinese characters correctly. The book's huge sales--one million copies since January, 2008--churned upward when Prime Minister Taro Aso made a number of mistakes in reading Chinese characters in public statements last fall.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ruth Lyons and the 50-50 Club Replay!

I still have to post a full report on the launch of Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, along with some comments on signings. However, I've been too busy doing signings, giving talks, appearing on television and radio, doing print interviews, and writing articles.

Fortunately, you can see part of the book launch! As you may have heard, publisher Orange Frazer engaged actress Shelley Bamberger Baily to do her impression of Ruth in a mini-reenactment of "The 50-50 Club" at the launch and a number of signings. Shelley scripted an excellent show, with songs, a commercial, a quiz, prizes, and an interview with me. Click here or on the image above to watch the show!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

As long as we're over-using "myriad ..."

It looks as if "myriad" is about to become as overused as "pair-uh-dig-em" (as always, why not say "pattern" or "template?") That being the case, do try to use the word appropriately. "Myriad" is an adjective. As in the title of Larry Niven's short story collection, All the Myriad Ways, and not as in "Would you like to buy a half-myriad of adjectives?"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The 50-50 Club's Ruth Lyons in Person, April 29!

Actress Shelley Bamberger will portray television pioneer Ruth Lyons in several upcoming signings for my book Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV. Shelley, who is also a presentation coach, will perform in character at five signings, beginning this Wednesday, April 29, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in eastern Cincinnati, at 7:00 PM. A complete list of her appearances is on this University of Cincinnati Web page.

Dressed in a period costume that includes Lyons' trademark white gloves and flower-bedecked microphone, Shelley will conduct a recreation of "The 50-50 Club," Lyons' long-running TV and radio program.

During the show, she will sing, interact with the audience, do an unscripted commercial for the host (a Lyons specialty), interview the author, and present prizes to the audience. This promotion is probably unique in book publishing.

Shelley's media career has been long and interesting. Among many other roles, she was the first Wendy for Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers. Shelley blogs here, and you can learn more about her at I-Cue (Intelligent Communications, Unsurpassed Exection).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ruth Lyons Tops Talk TV's Family Tree

John Kiesewetter penned an excellent article about Ruth Lyons for the Cincinnati Enquirer's Sunday, April 12, issue. Not incidentally, it talks about my biography of Miss Lyons, Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV (Orange Frazer Press, April 15, 2009).

The story (and the book) includes several previously unpublished photos.

The book is now available from Orange Frazer and Amazon.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons biography is now available!

Now Available!

You can now buy Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, direct from the publisher, Orange Frazer Press, or The 260-page hardcover is available at a discount from both (use the promo code RUTH at the publisher's Web site).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Foreign Rights Sales

My work has been published in several languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Greek and others. A few months back, Blogging Heroes sold to publisher AcornLoft in Korea, where it was published in Korean. An image of the Korean edition cover appears here.

What's does a foreign rights sale mean for the author? Normally, half the money--which is okay because it is normally the English-language publisher's foreign rights department that does all the work.

The amount of money and how it's paid varies. Sometimes you get a flat rate payment for the translation rights. In 1990, for example, a Spanish-language publisher paid $5,000 for the right to publish a book in Spanish. I got $2,500, and several copies of the book. In other deals, the foreign publisher paid a few thousand dollars as an advance against anticipated royalties that the book would earn.

An agent who works directly with foreign publishers or agents may get you a better split.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Online Transaction Safety -- NOT!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could pay for an online transaction without fear that someone would reach into your bank account or credit card and rip you off?

There is a way. However, greedy online "entrepreneurs" will not allow it to be used.

How can you pay online without risk? Use rechargeable Visa cards or Visa Gift Cards. If there's a $29.95 deal for membership at a Web site, buy a card with just a bit more money on it, and spend the balance at Wal-Mart or wherever. End of story. Unless you put more money on the card, there's no way anyone is going to use the card's number to rip you off.

Of course, it costs $3.95 or five bucks or whatever to buy such a card, but the fee's nothing when weighed against losing hundreds or thousands of dollars, and having to cancel and reopen cards and worry about identify theft.

But as implied, some greedy bastards are blocking this legitimate, legal, and safe means of doing online transactions, by refusing to accept Visa cards that aren't tied to your credit or your bank account. Why? Because they sign you up to open-ended agreements where they can "conveniently" renew your membership or whatever you bought online by taking money out of your account without asking.

Yes, it is a crime--it's an ethical crime. These companies know that a large number of people will forget about the commitment and the charges will go on for months, or years. And still others will sign up and not get it--missing the tiny print that says they are signing up until the heat death of the universe. (There is NO way that ANY online seller running this scam will EVER state in clear language that they're pulling this scam.)

It's more than a little ironic to think that we are prevented from utilizing a safe and secure means of conducting online transactions to enable these clowns to rip us off.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Speech Patterns

I recently had occasion to give close attention to exactly and literally what several participants in a conference were saying over several hours' time. It's fascinating how much verbiage is wasted in speech. For example, one of the participants prefaced nearly every statement with "No. Yes. I agree." Over and over and over. It finally came to me that this was his way of making sure he got into the conversation, by blurting out something--anything--to take the floor.

The same guy was heavily into making very lengthy sentences, ramming conjunctions into place with rapidfire enunciation before anyone else could get a word in or even think about saying something and often saying nothing of consequence or just repeating himself to hold the floor while he was thinking about what to say next and actually that was what he was doing when he opened sentences with "No. Yes. I agree," more or less talking without thinking which is something that you'll probably notice people doing now that you've read this but in the end he came off as very foolish and even uneducated despite the fact that he was trying to sound educated and urbane by using phrases like "from the perspective of."

Semi-stuttering was another floor-holding tactic. At one point, the guy slowly said, "Well, the da-da-da-da-da-data," before forming and launching into, "is indicative of a profound shift in para-dij-em from the perspective of the financial sphere..." blah, blah, blah. It all makes me glad that writing dialogue in literal imitation of reality isn't in vogue.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Upcoming Signings for the Ruth Lyons Biography

This URL tells where I'll be signing Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV:

There will be more. Note that at four of the signings an actress portraying Miss Lyons will be present, complete with authentic 1960s dress and pearls! The signings begin on April 29, and the book itself ships on April 18.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

English as a Foreign Language

Have you studied another language? (Spoken human language, that is: Vulcan, ASL, COBOL and the like don't count.) If so, you have a tool you can use to yourself ahead of the crowd as a writer.

I say this because studying a language forces you to examine how the words go together--once you get past the vocabulary. Until one has a good slice of vocabulary memorized, along with some conjugation, I think the mind treats another language like a code to crack.

When you begin to construct valid sentences in the other language, you're at the point where you should be applying the same sort of analysis you use to learn and apply the language to English. I observed this phenomenon with the first foreign language I studied, Spanish. And it came back in different ways when I studied Japanese and German. If you haven't noticed this in your own mental processes while you're writing in English, try to work in consciously. In addition to making you think about how words go together in sentences in different ways for different effects, it will also help you see how your readers perceive what you're writing.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Useless words ...

At some point in the near future, I'm going to write an article on transient words and phrases--my name for overused and casually used terms that flare up for two or three years, then fade away.

Why be concerned? You'll date your writing--especially fiction--if you use transient language. Use words and phrases that are really popular (those that writers pass around to show off or make people think they're with it), and people may think you're too derivative. Or, as in the third example below, you'll only be spreading words devoid of real meaning.

A few samples: "frisson," which enjoys extensive overuse in fiction, "leverage" (oh, go ahead and say what you mean; no one will think you're ignorant for using a one-syllable word: "use"), "more bang for the buck" (translation: "we can't think of a definite positive to describe the product"), and the five year-old, consciously-copied "absolutely!" (Regards "absolutely" ... just say "yes!")

You might stop and think when you use "basically," too. "Basically" is basically an empty prefix. It's been around more than a decade, and grows more hollow each and every time it is uttered or written. Listen to people around you, or on TV or radio, when they try to describe something: "Well, basically, I'm shopping for a car." What? Either you're shopping or not--there's no "basically" about it. "Basically, he was shot and killed." Ditto.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Personal Observations About Public Radio

Well, I haven't posted in several weeks. No topics that I can talk about here (yet) have come up, until today:

You really have to wonder when a university operates a radio station that is staffed by paid employees. I mean, why was the broadcast facility established, if not for use as an educational tool by university students and faculty?

This came to mind when I learned that Miami University of Ohio is sort of contracting out its operations to WVXU (formerly Xavier University’s station) and firing a half-million dollars’ worth of employees. WMUB (Miami) will mostly simulcast WVXU's programming. (Which, of course, comes primarily from paid or unpaid non-students.)

But—get this!—there’s a bright spot in that Miami just may use faculty and students to generate programming. Duh! You idiots wouldn’t be in this mess if you had put the station to that appropriate use from the beginning.

Why is it that public radio stations affiliated with universities are run mostly by people from the community and not from among faculty and students? Yes, a station needs a couple of real engineers. But not a paid staff sucking up a half-million a year when the university as been squealing like a pig stuck in a picket fence over exceeding their budget?
Did public radio become a scam to get broadcast licenses after the FRC/FCC stopped handing them out of anyone who could writing a convincing letter?