Friday, August 31, 2007

Copyright Wackyness

Very funny story of Viacom suing a person over using one of their videos, only to discover that they had in fact violated the very persons' right that they were suing . The best part?

The guy "doesn't want any money—just for the clip to be restored and have it established that other independent content creators have rights under Fair Use to "show how their works are being appreciated in the wider world."

That would be a great first step. We need more (any?) common sense in our intellectual property laws.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Can you wrap your brain around it?

Great article in Wired magazine this month. Clive Thompson talks about how Bill Gates is trying to rescue the earth. Say what you want about Gates, but his humanitarian efforts are outstanding.

Thompson argues the reason Gates is so good at philanthropy is because he gets big numbers. The articles gives some interesting insights into how our brains deal with numbers. From the article:

"In one recent experiment, Slovic presented subjects with a picture of "Rokia," a starving child in Mali, and asked them how much they'd be willing to give to help feed her. Then he showed a different group photos of two Malinese children — "Rokia and Moussa." The group presented with two kids gave 15 percent less than those shown just one child. In a related experiment, people were asked to donate money to help a dying child. When a second set of subjects was asked to donate to a group of eight children dying of the same cause, the average donation was 50 percent lower.

"Slovic suspects this stuff is hardwired. Psychologists have long observed that our ability to discriminate among quantities is finely tuned when dealing with small amounts but quickly degrades as the numbers get larger. We'll break the bank to save Baby Jessica, but when half of Africa is dying, we're buying iPhones.

"Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he's also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 — mega, giga, tera, peta — because their jobs demand it.

"So maybe that's why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad."

Great article about a guy who too often gets a bad rap.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

On writing, take 2

I did a book signing the other day, and after had the opportunity to have lunch with Rob Wells. That's right The Rob Wells. It was a very nice lunch, with the exception of all of the people stopping by the table, begging for Rob's autograph, asking for a picture, giving him their baby to kiss, etc.

But in between all this, we talked a bit about the writing process. Rob read the same book I did, many years ago. Or rather I read it many years ago, I'm not sure when Rob read it. Anyway, it is a book called On Writing, by Stephen King. In it, Stephen King tells how he goes about the writing process. I've also read Orson Scott Card's book on the same subject. I am also a member of a group of authors, and here and there I hear how other people write.

I think I've decided that everybody has their own style, and there isn't a 'right way'.

So, I thought I'd share how I write. Not that it's the best way, or even a good way, just the way I do it. At first I went into great detail, but when I went back and read it, and I was bored to tears. So, here is the bulleted version.

  • When I write a book, I start at the beginning, and write all the way through. I never write chapters ahead, or start with the end. Because by the time I get there, things might have changed. Rarely do I know whats going to happen 2-3 chapters ahead.
  • I don't write much. When I sit down to write, I'm usually done in under two hours. And I write maybe once a week.
  • When I sit down, I have the whole scene in my head. I've worked it out in the past weeks or months. I think about the characters in the shower, on my way to work, while sitting in church (Ha! just kidding. Or am I?). When I'm ready to write, I've thought about it so much that it just comes out.
  • I usually don't cut much. The benefit of working it out for a month is that it's usually in good shape when I put it down on paper. Most of what I write gets in the finished product (unless my publisher cuts it because it refers to butt cheeks, in which case it appears on my blog).
  • My first 're-edit' is the hardest. After I've written I go back in a week and polish things up. My wording, tone, verbage is usually so bad that I often decide I'm a no-talent hack. I've often quit for months because I get so depressed about my ability to write, or lack thereof.
  • After the second re-edit is usually the point where I show it to somebody else.
  • Unfortunately I'm extremely motivated by external forces. So if people don't like what I've written, I'll stop for months, maybe longer. If they like it, and I can tell they really mean it, I get right back to writing. I wish it was different, but it's not. :)
  • I never force myself to write. If I do, what I write is bunk. Although it could just be that I'm lazy. Usually the characters become so vivid in my tiny, little brain, when I do write it's because I feel compelled.
  • Or maybe it's just because I'm lazy.
So, there you have it. That is why I put out a book, every other year. And the books so far have been only about 200 pages long. I'm so sloooooooow.


I've recently joined FaceBook, and it's kind of nifty. Lot of good stuff there.

I've started a group where authors of LDS literature and readers of the same can get together, talk, discuss upcoming projects, etc. Anybody interested can join here...

You will need to be signed up and logged in for the link above to work, but registration is free, and only takes a few seconds. We've already got several authors online, so come and see who is there. Don't forget to invite your friends!

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Writing...

Excellent article on writing. This guy covers it all. The pay, the work, the cold hard truth. Very good read.

By the skin of my teeth.

Last night I sent my wife out shopping. She needed a break and I was happy to do it. However, toward the end of the evening things got rough. We've had sick kids, and last night they were all feeling pretty rough. I was trying to balance the needs of 5 boys when the baby got a stinky diaper. I went to change him and discovered that he had a very bad rash. The diaper was ugly, stuff coming out the sides and back, etc. All the while I'm messing with the baby, my broken legged boy is needing to be moved, the other kids are fighting, so things are pretty hectic. My wife picked this time to call.

My son brought me the phone. I was trying to keep the baby from rolling over and spreading 'stuff' all over the place, and fiddling with the wipes and dirty diaper.

"I can't talk right now," I told my son. He turned around and left, passing the message onto my wife. 5 seconds later he comes back in.

"Mom wants to know if you want the white sprinkler, or the beige sprinkler."

I was at the end of my rope. My first instinct was to grab the phone and yell, "I'm a guy, to me white and beige are the same color! In fact, I don't even know for sure what color beige is! Why are you bothering me with this!"

But in the 11 years of marriage, I don't think I've ever yelled at my wife, so I said, "Tell her I'm fine with either one." He passed on the message, and luckily didn't mention that I had said those words through gritted teeth, with my brow furrowed.

Well, when my wife came home, I found out that the messenger (my son) had messed things up. She was calling to find out if I wanted a spiked sprinkler, or a base sprinkler. We had a good chuckle. In the back of my mind I made a mental note that any time I feel like yelling, I should probably take a step back. It's never quite what you think. We'll remember last night because it's funny, not because feelings were hurt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mountain Biking

So I've been doing a bit of mountain biking this week. Every day, in fact. I'm a tired old man.

Monday we rode the river trail, and the deer fence trail. Tuesday was green canyon plus, Wednesday was identical to Monday, and today we did the deer fence trail and green canyon. We is a mixture of Justin, Joel, Tom, and Leslie, all folks I work with (I'm a tired, old man, but a very lucky one). I wouldn't be riding this much, or as fast as I ride, if it wasn't for these folks.

Today on the way up Green Canyon we were talking about 'extreme' athletes. Folks who push things to the edge, and then jump off that edge, screaming like a mad man. These folks do the really crazy stuff. They jump off cliffs, climb cliffs, ride bikes of cliffs. Really, anything with a cliff involved. It got me thinking about two different epitaphs;

  • He died doing what he loved.
  • He did what he loved for a long time, and then died.
I'm thinking the latter is the one I want on my tombstone. It's not as poetic, but hey, I am kind of partial to it. So I'm taking it a bit on the easy side.

I did feel bad that I skipped breakfast. I didn't do it intentionally, I just didn't think about it. The end result was about 3/4 the way up Green Canyon I hit a wall. I just couldn't keep up with Justin and Leslie. I really wanted to, because I had done a half way decent job up until that point, but my body was whining like a 3 year old who has just been told Santa was behind bars, and Christmas is canceled.

So today, this tired old man is going down to Sam's Club and buying a whole lot of granola bars.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Mac

So, I made the switch from a PC to a Mac about 3 months ago. I've read many a review online of people who love their new Mac. They like to caress it, they like to cuddle with it, and yes, they like to kiss it, too.

For me, it's more of a take it or leave it. Don't get me wrong, there are a LOT of things I like about my new mac. It's easier to find files, it's got a nice integrated camera, I haven't had any problems with viruses (although in all my years of using a PC, I have never had a problem with a virus on them either), and it keeps my lap very warm and toasty. But there are a lot of things I don't like about it. Just as many things as I didn't like about my PC. Different things, but just as many.

For example, the keyboard shortcuts are all whacked on a Mac. Home, ctrl left arrow, apple end, it's all a crap shoot depending on which program you're in. On a PC, I could get to any section of a document quicker by using home, end, page up, etc., than I could by moving my hand over, getting the mouse, and clicking. On the mac, that is no longer an option. I had to go in and rewrite some files, just to get the home and end buttons to do what they do on every other computer operating system in the world. And several times I've been writing an e-mail, or adding a comment to a web site, and hit the wrong key, only to have the browser back up, and I lose everything I've written. It doesn't even have a delete key (or rather it does, but it acts like a backspace, to get it to delete you have to press two buttons at the same time).

And what about this whole 'if you're doing multimedia, it's tons easier on the mac. Well, not really. Maybe a little, but there are still a whole boat load of problems. For example, I have a camera that shoots in widescreen. When I import this in iMovie, the mac tries to change the video to letterbox because...well, I'm not sure why. So since it's already shot in widescreen, and is trying to make it widescreen a second time, it skews the movie. So after 2 hours of importing a home movie, the end result was worthless. How do you fix this? Easy, says a macworld article, "Instead of switching to Edit mode, stay in Camera mode. Save the project, quit iMovie, and turn off the camera. When you reopen the project, the video will stay 16:9."

Ah yes, the Mac. It just works. But only after you do all sorts of things that are counter-intuitive.

It seems to me that the PC is a bit tricker to use. There are more options and settings. The Mac is more streamlined (you have to mess with the settings to make it so your laptop has a right click), and 'easy', but this means that, at least from what I've seen, you lose functionality. On the PC you can probably change some setting to turn the letterbox off, but not on the Mac, at least not what I can see.

Another example of this easier to use, less functionality is the iPod. On the iPod there is no separate volume. Instead, you use the scroll wheel that is also used to move through different menus. The problem is that if you're in the menu, and suddenly you have a song blaring in your ears, you can't turn it down. Messing with the scroll wheel only moves you through menus. You have to navigate back to the song, and only then will the wheel act as a volume. Usually by that time my ears are bleeding.

The other problem I have found with the Mac is that there just isn't the open source software you'll find for the PC. Just as hackers will write viruses for the PC, because they get more bang for their buck, so too do software writers. Why spend all this time writing for a platform that has a smaller user base? Don't get me wrong, it's not that there isn't any software, there is just not as much.

So, all in all I like my Mac. I'd put my Mac up against any PC, but I wouldn't expect it to win hands down, as others have said. It certainly has it's strengths, but it also has it's quirks. Plenty of quirks. Quirks that have driven me to the brink of madness over the past three months. The Mac has it's problems, and it has it's strengths.

Just like the PC.

Friday, August 10, 2007

My new, new commute...

We changed offices, so I changed bike routes, I used to follow this path, but now follow this one. I don't do it everyday, only when my friend Justin comes in this way. It's a lot of fun. A lot of pain, and I'm grossly out of shape, with no leg muscle, lung capacity, and the propensity to whine, but it only take about 15 minutes after the bike ride to think, "you know, that wasn't too bad."


This morning one of the leaders of my church, James Faust, passed away. He has given his life to teaching, helping, and serving others. Every six months, leaders in our church broadcast messages. We call it General Conference. Last conference, the talk that stood out to me most was President Faust's. It gave a message that I think anybody and everybody can learn from and appreciate it, not just members of our church.

If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ahoy Mateys...

Nice, finally a party I can join and feel good about.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Last Book Signing?

I have never liked book signings. I just feel out of place. I don't like to be the center of attention so they make me uncomfortable.

In addition to that, book signings make other people in the store uncomfortable. They don't want to come over and talk to me because they feel like if they do they're obligated to buy my book. If they walk away without buying it, isn't that kind of like kicking me in the pants, insulting my mother, and spitting on my head? So instead of coming to talk to me, folks pretend to see something interesting on the other side of the store and head that way. I don't blame them, I do the exact same thing when I'm the customer.

So I swore in my wrath (ok, it wasn't wrath, as more of a blah feeling, but 'swore while I was having a blah feeling' doesn't have the same ring to it as the wrath bit does), I swore in my wrath that I would never do another book signing. But then I got suckered into one. It's BYU's education week, and they are kind of fun. They are fun because any time I'm on BYU's campus it's kind of fun. I'm an Aggie, and I wear a beard, so I kind of feel like a rebel spy or something whenever I go down there. If I had enough time, I would have grown a mullet. Maybe shave a handlebar mustache or something.

But anyway, if you want to stop by, please do. I won't make you buy a book. I won't feel bad if you don't buy a book. Honestly. I might give you a hug because you made eye contact, but that is the worst that will happen.

I will be in the BYU bookstore (I think that is where they put us) on August 22, from 11:00 until 1:00. Maybe I'll have some door prize or something for everybody who stops by and called me a bearded heathen.