Monday, March 31, 2008

The Not-so Evil Giant?

Interesting article over at the National Post (note, the paper has a conservative bias) on how Wal-Mart might have saved hundreds of lives in the aftermath of the Katrina Hurricane.

From the article:

"No one who is familiar with economic thought since the Second World War will be surprised at this. Scholars such as F. A. von Hayek, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock have taught us that it is really nothing more than a terminological error to label governments "public" and corporations "private" when it is the latter that often have the strongest incentives to respond to social needs. A company that alienates a community will soon be forced to retreat from it, but the government is always there. Companies must, to survive, create economic value one way or another; government employees can increase their budgets and their personal power by destroying or wasting wealth, and most may do little else. Companies have price signals to guide their productive efforts; governments obfuscate those signals."

Governments job is to help us out. But if they don't do a good job, they don't get fired. In fact, often if they don't do a good job, they get more money (because clearly, that will fix the problem).

But a business's job is to also help us out, by providing goods and services. But if they don't do a good job, they lose. We'll go somewhere else. They do a good job because they have to.

Regardless, it is interesting to see how FEMA responded, and how Wal-Mart responded. Two entities who set out to do the same thing, but with different motivations, and the end result was a fairly drastic difference. From the article:


Aside from the public vs. private issue, Horwitz suggests, decentralized disaster relief is likely to be more timely and appropriate than the centralized kind, which explains why the U.S. Coast Guard performed so much better during the disaster than FEMA. The Coast Guard, like all marine forces, necessarily leaves a great deal of authority in the hands of individual commanders, and like Wal-Mart, it benefited during and after the hurricane from having plenty of personnel who were familiar with the Gulf Coast geography and economy.

There is no substitute for local knowledge -- an ancient lesson of which Katrina merely provided the latest reminder."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mob Organization

When you do things in a crowd with no organization, no plan, and no clear leaders, chaos is usually the end result. And then sometimes the opposite occurs.

A few weeks ago there was a post on digg about being rickrolled. If you are not familiar with what a rickroll is, you can read about this most interesting phenomenon here.

Ha, ha! No you can't. That was actually an example of being rickrolled. You can really read about it here.

Ok, I'll stop, I promise. The real article is here. Basically what happens when you get rickrolled is somebody posts a real response or comment to a discussion at hand, and then says something like, "you can find more information on this topic here." They post a link and when you go 'there' you discover this dancing boy from the 80s. Don't think that's hilarious? Then you're an old fogy.

Anyway, back to mob organization. A person posted about this phenomenon on digg. An unusual thing happened in the comments section. The first comment was somebody making a funny joke. The second comment was somebody who posted the first line of the song. The third person posted the next part of the song. What happens next is very interesting.

Everybody who posted the next line of the song got 'dugg up'. Meaning their comments were displayed. Everybody else who made a comment other than the next line of the song, got dug down. By hundreds of people! There comments were buried, and you were left with the lyrics of the song.

Nobody said, "hey, I've got an idea, let's try this...", it just happened. hundreds of people just started all doing the same thing, and order sprung from chaos.

So, there you have it. Your daily dose of chaos theory. And speaking of chaos theory, if you want to read a great primer on this very interesting and applicable theory, you definitely should check out this site.

Or better yet, this is a fascinating site in order springing from chaos. You can get to the good stuff by jumping right to this page.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Waxing or Waning?

There is a short video called The Private Universe which shows a bunch of Harvard Graduates on graduation day. They are being asked questions about what causes the phases of the moon, and why are there seasons. Very few of them get it right. Most guess that the phases of the moon are caused by the earth's shadow, and the seasons are caused by how close the earth is to the sun.

After watching that video years ago, I decided that my kids would have a basic understanding of the whole process. I thought it would be a relatively simple thing. Explain it once, we're good to go.

For those that don't know (at least for us in the northern hemisphere) to tell you simply look at the line between light and dark. The line always moves from right to left. So if there is light on the right side, the moon is waxing. If the light is on the left side, it's waning. Another easy way to tell is if the moon comes up before the sun goes down, it's waxing. If it comes up after the sun goes down, it's waning. And if it comes up at the exact time the sun goes down, it's full.

I believe I've explained it close to 50 times now. And my favorite question when we're driving at night is, "Boys! Look at the moon, is it waxing or waning?"

What follows is quite humorous. Because they are boys, or maybe because they are my boys, they are incredibly competitive. It doesn't matter so much whether or not they get it right or wrong, but whether or not somebody else gets it right or wrong.

So, somebody will guess waning, and then several others will go along. Then somebody changes to waxing, and they all change back. Usually my wife guesses, and they will change to her guess. Then they remember that she very often guesses wrong, so they will go back to the original guess.

In the end, I tell them the correct answer, and they either all cheer or groan, but inevitably it ends up in a fist fight.

"I guessed waxing first."
"Yeah, but you changed your answer."
"Yeah, I changed it five times, and 3 times I was guessing waxing, so I was right."
"You're a stink pot!"
"You're a cotton headed ninny muffin."

And that is where it comes to blows. But I put up with the blows, because I want them to understand how things work. To know whether or not the moon is waxing or waning, you really have to think. You have to be able to picture how the universe works. It's a good exercise.

Anyway, the point of this post is that the other day I asked the question, waxing or waning? My oldest son asked, "which way is north?"

At first I didnt' see the significance of the question, but then realized that if the moon is directly overhead, and you don't know which way north is, you might very well guess wrong. I always know which way is north, so in my mind it wasn't part of the process. It was 'existing knowledge'.

So it was an exciting moment, because I realized he's getting it. He got the answer right, but I'm not sure if it was because he guessed correctly, or if he worked it out. We'll see how it goes the next time.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Janette Rallison - Transitioning from the LDS Market, to the National Market

The most important thing is to have a great manuscript.

If the agent/publisher says they want to see 5 pages, you really don't have 5 pages. You have 2. If they are bored after 1-2, they won't get to the fifth page.

Marketing trends. Remember that when you send the manuscript, it's a good 4 years before it comes out. So if you decide to write something that is 'hot' now, it will be old news by the time it comes out.

It is possible to make as much in the LDS market as it is in the national market. You can make more in the national market, but it is very possibly to do well in the LDS market. However, you will probably make less in the LDS market.

One of the downsides to LDS market is if 2 publishers (really just one) turn you down, you don't have many other places to turn. In the national market, there are dozens of publishing houses.

Self publishing just does not work. There are too many new books coming from publishers every year to leave shelf space for vanity press books. The only reason you would ever self-publish is if you want a few copies to give to family and friends, or if you have a massive outlet to sell your book (example, motivational speaker to thousands, and can sell your book after speeches).

Critique Groups in Action

Heather Moore, Michele Paige Holmes, Jeff Savage, Annette Lyon.

They meet weekly. They bring a scene 6-8 pages with copies for everybody. They read it through once, with everybody making notes on their copy. Then they go around the table and each give their report. They have a timer, since they are all good friends, and can sometime get off track.

They all feel that the critiquing helps them develop their skills, and make their books better.

You improve not just by getting your work critiqued, but by listening to others being critiqued, or by critiquing yourself.

'Pick up' groups can be ineffective, if you end up with people on different levels, or writing different genres. It's better to get to know people, find who you would like to critique with, and then make invitations.

The group then actually goes through a few critiques so we can see how they do it. One thing that impresses me is how quickly they do it (they cut the time down a bit for the presentation, but still). They clip right along. I think a timer is very important this kind of critiquing, but think it could be very effective.

Tim Travaglini - Improve Your Writing

If I didn't mention yesterday, Tim is a senior editor from Putnam. Where have I seen this guy before? He looks very familiar.

The Basics of Good Writing

Most important
Narrative tension
Conflict and resolution

Almost as important
Sympathy for protagonist
Fresh and original take on the story
Compelling secondary characters
A beginning, a middle, and end
A narrative arc
Opening that hooks readers immediately
Internal logic
Point of view
Extraneous threads

Voice is the most difficult to fix. This is where 'natural talent' comes into play.

You need to know your character, intimately.

You character shouldn't be 'perfect', but at the same time, if the voice is right you can pull it off.

Conversely, the anit-hero can also be good. Think Clint Eastwood's cowboy's characters. Not somebody who you would bring home to mother, but you still root for the guy.

Author Panel

The authors are talking about agents. Questions will be asked, answers will be given, and I'll record the good bits.

Authors - Janette Rallison, Brandon Sanderson, Jeff Savage, James Dashner

Brandon says anybody can be an agent, or rather can say they are an agent, but you should watch out for somebody who has represented successful books. It's also nice to find an agent that fits your genre.

What does an agent do? Janette says that publishers want to give you a contract that is in their best interest, and agent is there to make sure that you get treated fairly.

Brandon is a big advocate of going to conferences, meeting agents and publishers, and being out there.

The question was asked about publishing houses only looking at manuscripts submitted by an agent. All of the authors say that while you can get published without an agent, an agent will often get a quicker response, or have a better idea of who to send things to. Brandon said he had his manuscript at Tor for 18 months, and when he submitted his YA idea, he had responses back in 3 weeks.

Somebody asked if you choose door number one, and Monty Hall shows you that nothing is behind door number three, are your odds better to switch to door number two, or stick with one? Nobody was sure. The answer is switch to two.

What are the formal steps to finding an agent? James says the old fashioned way is to send out query letters, send out chapters, send entire book.

Brandon mentioned a few places that let you 'check up' on whether or not your agent is a good one. I missed them, unfortunately. I think one was this site.

Janette says that big publishers don't market your book. You are pretty much responsible for your own marketing/promoting.

Day Two...

Looks like we're getting ready to start again, day two of the LDStorymakers. There are a few more faces than there were yesterday. On the docket for today, an author panel to start with, Workshops until lunch, a few more workshops, and then a final speaker. After that, we'll have the Whitney awards gala. Should be fun.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Publisher Panel

Panel members:

Christopher Bigelow - Zarahemla Books
Lisa Mangum - Deseret Books
Kammi Rencher - Cedar Fort Inc.
Kirk Shaw - Covenant Communications

A question was asked about why there are not agents in the LDS market, and if the publishers would work with them, should an author get them. Resoundingly the publishers said yes, they would work with them. However, since the LDS market is so small, there just aren't that many agents in the market.

A question was asked about what kind of historical fiction is DB looking for. Lisa Mangum says anything, with the exception of Book of Mormon historical fiction. Kirk says that Covenant likes to look at books with a 'unique look' on history. Things that haven't been done.

A question was asked about 'is there a particular content you don't allow in your books'? Zarahemla says, "we allow anything in our books." Then laughed. That is not true, but he does say that they tend to allow things that the other publishers do not allow. He says that Zarahemla allows things a little more 'earthy'. DB says that don't like swearing, graphic sex, etc. They want PG topics. Kammi says the same thing. She says there are things that we may need to discuss, but it needs to be done tactfully. Kirk says they had a great book sent to them about polygamy, but since they don't publish that topic, they couldn't accept it. Plus, no mountain dew.

A questions was asked, "does .99999999999 (repeating, of course) really equal 1?" The answer came back, "I'm not sure. The answer is yes.

Chris Bigelow says they are looking for quality books that were rejected by DB, Covenant, etc., because they were a bit too 'adventurous'.

When sending manuscripts to Christian publishers, do you have to hide your Utah address? Lisa says the sad truth is that sometimes you do. Utah has a reputation among Christian publishers and book sellers.

What is expected of an author in regards to doing their own marketing? Authors should do a lot, if not the majority. Here is my problem, I hate to market my stuff. Lisa says, "we want you to do as much as you can do." Covenant says, "we have found that book signing doesn't do much." They prefer their authors to come in and talk with their marketing team, find ways that they can push their book.

Kirk Shaw - Covenant Editor

Kirk is giving us some pointers on how to get your manuscript noticed.

Kirk had us do a little activity on writing openers. He's got a nice list of good openers. Some of my personal favorites"

Early this morning, 1 anuary 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last numan being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days. - P.D. James, The Children of Men

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. - J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit

It was a pleasure to burn. - Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Forty miles out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles an hour. - Michael Crichton, The Great Train Robbery

A few important things to consider:

Voice - It's important that each character has it's own voice. This is very tricky because it's a single author writing the book, but you have to keep track of each character's style.

Kirk mentions how important conflict is. He said how he sometimes has a book with good characters, good setting, but no conflict, and he has to dismiss the book.

Show, not tell. This is an oldie, but goodie. You don't say "Brad was angry". Rather you describe what Brad is doing, which makes it clear to the reader he is angry.

The biggest thing an editor looks for is Climax. If you don't have a good build and a strong resolution, then in Kirk's opinion, you don't have a good book. You can have multiple climaxes, but make sure the final one (and main one), is the best.

Josi Kilpack - Synopsis

Josi gave a great presentation on how to write a synopsis, however it was so good that it was standing room only, so I couldn't take notes. I did notice a few things, while standing in the corner.

I'll see if I can get a handout, and post some of the highlights.

Tim Travaglini: Keynote Speker

Tim Travaglini is an editor from putnum, and he looks surprisingly familiar. I don't know where I would have seen him before. He's wearing a bow tie, which is pretty dang cool. Tim's comments are in regular text, my 2 cents are in italics.

Tim is talking about getting out of the slush pile. He says there is no easy way to do this, or rather no guaranteed way. He mentioned a recent Newberry award winner who had 400 rejection letters. This kind of news always cheers everybody up in the room. If a newberry award winner has to go through 400 rejection letters, where does that leave the rest of us poor suckers?

Statistically speaking, none of you are going to be published by the end of today. Rats! I want my money back.

Three components to success.
  1. Natural Talent
  2. Training
  3. Persistence
See, something like that scares me. I don't know if I have the first one, I know I haven't got the second one, and as for the third one...I'm bored with this sentence, I'm stopping.

Tim says that if you have two of these, you're good to go. If you're really good, and have good training, you might be laxy and still succeed. Or if you have no talent, but you have a good trainer, and are persistent, you might still succeed.

If you want to write, you have to read. And read. And read and read. You can't skip out on this step. If you don't read, you won't be able to write.

Writing is a masochistic pursuit. Isn't that the truth!

LDStorymakers Conference

I'm a member of LDStorymakers. This weekend is their annual conference, and I'll be blogging about both the sessions I attend, and the Whitney awards. It's kind of like the Oscars, but without all the psychosis.

I'll blog about the sessions here at this blot, but I'll be blogging about the awards at this site. We'll be doing that live, so if you keep hitting refresh (tomorrow night, don't start now or you'll ruin your mouse), you'll know before mainstream America knows just who the big winners are.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Need some help with pi?

If you're like me, you're just not pleased with the number of digits to which you have memorized pi. I mean, come on, anybody can say 3.14159. How much cooler is it to be able to say 3.1415926535. And if you really want to be the life of the party, then you need to be able to strike a pose, take a deep breath, and rattle off, 3.14159265358979323846.

Now you're talking.

But if you're like me it can be difficult to memorize pi to this many places. I mean it's just numbers. There is no rhyme nor reason to them. It can really hamper your social life if you can only get to the 12th digit. I mean, come on!

Well, have I got a solution for you. Instead of having to memorize those pesky digits, there is now an easier way. You now only need to memorize this.

That's right, baby. That page contains pi. Do you see it? Count up the letters of each word. That is the next digit in the sequence. It's becomes a simple matter to recite the poem, count up the letters, and bang! you've just produced pi.

So, the next time you find yourself without a calculator, and with no access to the internet, or any math book, but you desperately need pi to 20 places...I've got you covered. Memorize the poem, and you're good to go.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Last of the Big Three

Looks like the last of the Big Three have passed away. Arthur C. Clarke has passed away.

I don't read as much SciFi as I did when I was younger (why that is could be a subject for another post), but I always liked Clarke's books. Which is interesting because nothing ever really happens in his books. When you think SciFi you think fantastic, exciting stories. Star Wars is a great grand opera with lasers, glowing sabers, and mystics.

Clarke's books will have none of that nonsense. Take Rendezvous with Rama. If I were to sum up that book in a sentence it would be "This big space ship comes close to earth, a team goes in to explore, and there isn't much there." Sound mind-numbingly boring? It's not. It's considered a classic, and well should be.

Or take the movie 2001, which Clarke wrote. There is no dialogue in the first 20 minutes. It's just a bunch of apes wandering around. The movie is good, the book, superb.

So, if you've never read one of Clarke's books, do yourself a favor. Pick up Rendezvous with Rama, and give it a try. Then read Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and finish it off with Asimov's Foundation.

Clarke's death marks the end of an era, but we're lucky to have hundreds of books from these great authors, and entire worlds that for many are still undiscovered. Happy exploring.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A very strange sensation...

This afternoon I had to walk to my son's birthday party at the local 'fun park'. I was waking across the parking lot when I had the strangest sensation. It was a feeling on my face. As I walked I could feel it begin to travel from my face, to the rest of my body. It took me a minute to realize what it was, because it's been months since I've felt it.

It was the sun! And the strange sensation I felt was warm (at least that is what we called it last fall, the last time it was around).

Anyway, I think I could get used to the feeling. I enjoy it quite a lot.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A very cool site...

I came across a site today that I have to share. The State of Florida just dropped their reading curriculum (the nation spends 8 billion dollar a year on curriculum) in favor of a program on the internet, for the low, low price of free.

That's right. Free.

But if it's free it can't be all that good right? I mean if we're spending 8 billion dollars on curriculum then...*snicker* then it has to be of very high...*sputter* quality, right? *guffaw*.

Sorry, I tried really hard to say that with a straight face.

Anyway, check out the site. It has sequential lessons that introduce, reintroduce, and reinforce. There are videos to demonstrate sample lessons and more. It's all quite comprehensive and well put together.

Oh, and did I mention it's free? And not just free, but it's licensed under the creative commons attribution - share alike license. So you can add to, copy, and redistribute, as long as you attribute the work. It's built on medi-wiki.

So, if you know of anybody trying to teach their kids to read, send them on over.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Georelevant Instruction

I've started another blog/site specifically related to this idea of GPS related information and content. Since google doesn't like you when you put information in two places, I'll post a notice here whenever I blog about that. It will also be nice because if you're thinking, "GPS what?", you can just skip following the link.

So anyway, some thoughts on georelevant instruction can be found here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I would be remiss if I didn't blog about this. The reason I have not mentioned it prior to this is because it's so freaking cool I can't quite wrap my brain about it. It should be 10 blog postings, not just one.

I've always loved geocaching. This is where you use a GPS to get a specific location, find a 'treasure box', and then log it on the site. It's a great way to get kids outside, get a little exercise for yourself, and be part of a really cool online group.

If there is any downside to geocaching, its the fact that you're pretty limited in what you can do. You go to one location, you find the object, and report. I'm not saying that's bad, just limiting.

Well, now the good folks over at groundspeak (the parent organization that brought you geocaching), has a new trick up their sleeve. It's called wherigo. And it's freaking mind blowing. The software is still in beta, and the builder in alpha, but for the past month I have been salivating (in my spare time) over the possibilities of this software.

Wherigo gives you the options of zones, virtual objects, tasks, characters, and more. It's easy to use, and I've already created a few simple examples such as a walking tour of Temple Square and the Washington D.C. monuments and memorials. But I've also created a little program that could be used playing paintball. It keeps track of how many virtual 'prisoners' you've rescued. There is much more you could do in that line of thinking. I'm also working on more of a puzzle/exploring type of experience for the American West Heritage Center.

Anyway, I've been thinking for years about the notion of tying content to location, and the groundspeak guys come along and create a platform that allows you to do just that. In 2-3 years, when this is the next big thing, remember that you heard it here first.