I’m writing a science fiction book. Actually, I’ve written the book already. Actually, I’ve shown the manuscript to an editor, and she likes it. She liked earlier versions of the script, made some suggestions, and now she likes it even more. She wants to see it in print, and so do I. So that’s good news.
The bad news is the sheer tedium of the process of turning a manuscript (idea) into a book (product). There are meetings: with the editor, with the editor’s boss, another with the editor, then with the editor’s other boss. There are conversations: with the editor, then between the editor and the agent, then between the editor, the editor’s other boss, and the other boss’s lawyer, then with the editor, the editor’s boss’s lawyer and the boss’s agent—then with the new agent—then with the new new agent—and you get the idea. It’s a process. A slow, ugly, infuriating process, that reminds one of why we rarely enjoy finding out how the sausages are made. But at the end is a book on a shelf in a book store with my name on it. That’s the plan. More news as it happens, but this is a long-term project.
In the mean time, I decided to take on a few other tasks. First, I'm planning on moving this blog from its current Typepad account to a self-hosted Wordpress.org one. I had a few reasons for that: first, I needed a reason to improve my coding skills. Having my own sandbox forces me to improve my HTML, CSS, and PHP. If all goes according to schedule, I'll have the new site up and running by the end of June. I'll keep you informed as new things happen.
If you want to take a look at what's already there, be my guest. Just be aware that it's a work in progress, and there's a lot more work to do. I haven't transferred the link lists over yet, or set up menu bars. I need a better looking banner. The end result will look different but have the same essential functionality. (Comments and suggestions are welcome.)
Beyond that, I'm supposed to send an article about stress management to a different editor within two weeks, so that's taking my time. Oh, and Lara and I have decided to try our hand at e-publishing. That will be a blast, especially considering that her brother's small press, Ig Publishing, just celebrated its tenth anniversary.
And in the immediate future, I'm going to do my best to keep to this new posting schedule: new posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays at a minimum. It keeps me focused. I need that.
My wife brought home the book Fifty Shades of Gray on her Kindle app and has been working her way through it over the past few days. It's making her crazy. But not in a good way. It's making her angry. The she gets bored. Then she gets angry again.
She's 150 pages into a 500 page book which is ostensibly a BDSM novel and there hasn't been a single beating yet, with only one vanilla sex scene. Had this thing been a physical volume she'd have thrown it against the wall by now. I'm just glad she thinks more highly of her iPad.
Usually, in a reader's advisory post I take the trouble to read the book, but sometimes you just have to let the links do it for you. To wit:
I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey on my Nook while using public transportation, in an attempt to experience that furtive feeling that has been described in so many major news articles.
If by some chance you can picture yourself in love again, by all means, express that in a story about a domineering, rich bastard who abuses young virgins.
If you've ever read the book, like I unfortunately have, you were probably as shocked as I was at how boring the whole (loooooong) thing is.
"All that? But...how is that possible? It all sounds crazy! And yet...when I look into your charcoal eyes under that irrepressible lock of ebony hair, as I run my searching, trembling fingers across the steel buttons on your sable silk shirt, all I can think of is...Jesus Christ, I am so horny I can die. I think. But I don't really know, because of the virgin thing!"
Friends don't let friends write boring porn.
On April 4th--that is, this Wednesday--I'll be at METRO talking about my chapter on library security for How to Thrive as a Solo Librarian, including a report on Todd the Library Vandal, who appears (briefly) in the chapter. There's still plenty of room so if this sounds interesting to you, RSVP to Tom Neilsen.
Hope to see you there!
Just a quick reminder that this Friday the 23rd of March will be the New York Technical Services (NYTSL) Spring Reception. The event will be at the Butler Library at Columbia University, Room 523 from 3pm to 5pm.
This is an opportunity for librarians, archivists, and information professionals from the metropolitan area to meet informally. It is also a chance for library school students to learn about the various professional organizations in the metropolitan area and to meet future colleagues and employers. Nobody ever lost a job by networking.
It's free and wine and cheese will be served. The only catch is that you must register beforehand. We have a few spots left, so if you'd like to register for the event, just drop me a line.
I hope to see you there.
Gene Marks, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, (herein known by the phrase Rich White Guy, or RWG) offered some advice to an archtypical Poor Black Kid (PBK) last week regarding how to educate himself out of the ghetto by means of modern technology. I'm not going to discuss his qualifications for giving advice of this type (none), nor the possibility that he has no idea what he's talking about (significant), nor the barely concealed privilege and racism of his remarks. That's been done very well elsewhere.
I want to talk about his advice to "get technical."
If I was a poor black kid I would get technical. I would learn software. I would learn how to write code. I would seek out courses in my high school that teaches these skills or figure out where to learn more online. I would study on my own. I would make sure my writing and communication skills stay polished.
So, Poor Black Kid (PBK) will need textbooks and a lot of time to sit down in a quiet place where he won't be interrupted to study. That such places in urban settings can be few and far between doesn't seem to have occurred to RWG. The same goes for PBK's polishing his written communication skills. Want to learn to write well? Read several hundred books, several thousand articles, and write a thousand words or more a day for a year. That's how it's done. Time, space, and solitude are what's needed. Public libraries would be good spaces to do this in if they weren't being de-funded left and right.
Part the second:
And I would use the technology available to me as a student. I know a few school teachers and they tell me that many inner city parents usually have or can afford cheap computers and internet service nowadays. That because (and sadly) it’s oftentimes a necessary thing to keep their kids safe at home than on the streets. And libraries and schools have computers available too. Computers can be purchased cheaply at outlets like TigerDirect and Dell’s Outlet. Professional organizations like accountants and architects often offer used computers from their members, sometimes at no cost at all.
At first glance this is not bad advice, but again, it misses the point. Three things stand out to me as a guy who sold computers and the components that went into them for years. First, schools and libraries (not to mention school libraries) in neighborhoods where Poor Black Kids go to school are likely to be poorly funded, staffed and maintained. The value of the equipment they have is directly proportional to the amount of money spent, which, as I said, is not likely to be high. So the equipment this kid is meant to educate himself on is likely to be old and semi-functional, or non-functional at least part of the time.
Second, what he calls "cheap" computers generally don't last more than a couple of years. That's why they are cheap. If you spent several thousand dollars at Dell to get the good stuff, then pay for a top-tier service contract on top of that, you get real customer service. If you didn't, you get sent to Dell Hell where you get to spend a fortune in phone charges listening to some guy with an ESL accent insist that you should turn your PC off and then on again. Third, yes, professional organizations often offer perks to their members but Poor Black Kid is obviously not a member of these fraternities yet, so this tidbit falls a bit flat.
If I was a poor black kid I’d use the free technology available to help me study. I’d become expert at Google Scholar. I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to help me understand books. I’d watch relevant teachings on Academic Earth, TED and the Khan Academy. (I say relevant because some of these lectures may not be related to my work or too advanced for my age. But there are plenty of videos on these sites that are suitable to my studies and would help me stand out.) I would also, when possible, get my books for free at Project Gutenberg and learn how to do research at the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia to help me with my studies.
Now we get serious. It's time for Tech Talk.
"Free" is a relative term. Air and water are free until you need someone (say, the government) to guarantee it's safe to breathe and drink, or unless you want to take it with you in a big tank. That takes money. Technology in all its myriad forms, applications, and performances, takes real money to make happen. What RWG doesn't seem to get is this: what he calls free technology is only available because thousands of people who produce it worked long hours with no pay then made a conscious choice to give it away it for free. Textbooks--the mainstay of higher education in the industrialized world--are never free, and they are what the education industry thrives on: text book sales. (Forbes, being a publisher of some note, surely understands this.)
So. Does PBK have to pay for the software? No. But will he have to scrape up $80 for a 6-inch Kindle or more for a Netbook or laptop to make use of this online material? You bet your booty.
Anyway, here's an experiment for you: send your application to harvard with the words "Self educated by means of free technology" scrawled on it instead of a high school transcript, and then call them a week later and see how you did. If you're accepted, I'll eat a bug.
I don't have a problem with Google Scholar per se (I'm unsure if it will ever live up to the hype but that's another post), but in my experience both as a teacher and student, services like Spark Notes and Cliff Notes do more to wreck kids' ability to read a book than anything else. You won't understand the book any better, you just get exposed to a slim cross-section of it. That's not reading. That's cramming for an exam. Not a habit PBK should be cultivating this early in his academic career. Sources like TED and KhanAcademy are worthwhile, or one could be really ambitious and take a look at MIT's Open Courseware website.
I love Project Gutenberg. How can you not like a source of 36,000 free ebooks for download to a PC or portable device? The books are high-quality items all produced by bona fide publishers, and are made available through the effort of thousands of volunteers. The trouble is that these books are not generally textbooks. Classics, yes, and lots of them (here's the top 100 titles by download), but Business, Science, and Math classes don't use the classics. They use textbooks. Those are expensive and not generally available on line except in the most expensive universities.
The CIA World Fact Book, also isn't a bad resource. It's not the most easily accessible almanac in the world but, yes, it is complete, as long as you remember that its data are limited to descriptions of countries. Wikipedia, on the other hand is not a primary resource. For anything. Ever. Why? It's written and edited by absolutely everyone regardless of background, education, or research. Some articles are clearly better (or worse) than others, but using Wikipedia as a primary source is a sure ticket to an F from any competent teacher.
That said, one thing Wikipedia can be extremely useful for is to show you where else to look for source material. Scan the article, then go to the reference links. Those will lead you to better sources.
I would use homework tools like Backpack, and Diigo to help me store and share my work with other classmates. I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school. I would take advantage of study websites like Evernote, Study Rails, Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and free online calculators.
I won't argue with any of this on a point-for-point basis, as they are good suggestions for people who make continual and substantive use of online files. But--and you knew there'd be a but--Diigo, Backpack, Evernote and all those other good suggestions require all participants to have a PC of his or her own. In poor families, you're more likely to see one device shared among several people, or none at all. Again, Poor Black Kid is more likely to be relying on crappy equipment and spotty online access than not. These well-meant ideas don't work so well under those conditions.
I don't know what exactly our Rich White Guy thought he was thinking when he wrote this. None of it this is bad advice as far as it goes. But it seems inappropriate to me. It assumes that Poor Black Kids go to schools that are equally well funded and equipped as Rich White Kids' schools. That is not the case. It hasn't been the case for decades. Up to date textbooks, equipment, competent and well-paid teachers, and the time and opportunity to study are what make mediocre students into good ones and good students into great ones.
So . . . yes. Medicore White Guy is technically correct even as he misses (or obfuscates) the larger point: Poor Black Kid can use technology to help educate himself out of the inner city. Possibly even into a job in Big White Sky Building. But the tech he probably has access to will break often, take a lot longer to work, and the experience will suck.
But hey, at least it's possible, right?