Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I shake my fists of rage in your direction, Sonny Bono


A few years ago at work our research group put together business cards. We went with a superhero theme, and the cards were really pretty cool.

We were told to pick, among other things, our superpower and our 'arch-nemesis', and this information was placed on our cards. The arch nemesis I chose was the 'Sony-Bono Copyright Term Extension Act'.

I got a lot of strange comments over this, but an article that hit Slashdot today brings sweet vindication. From the article:

"It's nearly the end of 2009. If the 1790 copyright maximum term of 28 years was still in effect, everything that had been published by 1981 would be now be in the public domain — so the original Ultima and God Emperor of Dune and would be available for remixing and mashing up. If the 1909 copyright maximum term of 56 years (if renewed) were still in force, everything published by 1953 would now be in the public domain, freeing The City and the Stars and Forbidden Planet. If the 1976 copyright act term of 75* years (* it's complicated) still applied, everything published by 1934 would now be in the public domain, including Murder on the Orient Express. But thanks to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, nothing in the US will go free until 2018, when 1923 works expire."

How cool would it be to see Steven King do a mashup of Murder on the Orient Express? Many people have enjoyed Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; what if we had a wider variety of books available from which authors could do this kind of mashup?

The Sony-Bono copyright terms extension act (I use the acronym CRAP, even though the letters don't line up, or even relate), the CRAP Act was really put into place because Mickey Mouse was headed for the public domain. Disney lobbied, Sonny Bono delivered, and Mickey stays safely 'protected', as do hundreds of thousands of other works that can't be touched now, thank you very much. All of that creative potential, locked away until 2017.

If an opt-in scheme makes sense anywhere, it’s here. You want to protect Mickey until 3009? Fine, pay a $20 fee every 10 years and renew your copyright/trademark. Don't care if your work makes it into the public domain? Don't do anything.

The CRAP Act protects all of these works until 2017. All of those books, articles, and art locked away from mashups, remixing, and reuse.


I think the founding fathers had it right. They limited copyright to 28 yearsIf you take the total amount of money my publishers and I have made off my books, I’ll bet 75% of it was made in the first three months of the books' release. But if you liked my book, and liked my characters, and thought it would be fun to write some fan fiction, you’d technically be violating the copyright laws (owned by my publisher). If you wanted to do it legally, you’d have to wait until 70 years after I died. Which is too bad; because if you wrote it, I’d like to read it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It is a fine line, but it is a line nonetheless

I was talking to a friend who mentioned that a company is paying her a certain amount of money each month to say good things about that company. This friend uses some social software as a medium to say these good things. It wasn’t much money, and this friend isn’t being dishonest in what they say, but thinking about this arrangement brought up several issues in my mind.

Things get sticky when it comes to endorsing products. There is a fine line between me giving you my opinion of something, and me being paid to sell you something. You, the reader, should always know the difference. Let’s say I go to a restaurant and I write a review on my blog. That is me giving you an opinion; nothing wrong with that.

Now let’s say the restaurant pays me to place an advertisement on my site. Nothing wrong with that, either.

What is wrong is if the restaurant pays me to say nice things about their food, and I don’t disclose the fact that I’m being paid. Even if my review is honest, it is vital that I disclose that I’m being paid to review the restaurant. Why is this so important? Well, it comes down to trust.

If I don’t disclose that I’m being paid for a review, and you the reader finds out, then there is a loss of trust. This loss is a huge deal. Trust is something that you don’t gain back. If I didn’t disclose advertising dollars, then my readers would forever more wonder if what I was saying was really my opinion, or just something for which I was being paid. My opinions would be worthless, and I would likely lose many, many readers. Why read a site when you don’t know if you’re getting an honest review, or a paid-for pitch?

Even worse are the problems for the restaurant. Every time you hear a review of that restaurant, you will wonder if what is being said is true, or just another sneaky pitch. The restaurant would lose all credibility. There is nothing wrong with advertising, but you can’t do it behind people’s back. They will never forgive you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What should I be when I grow up?

I need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I need to focus.

The way I see it, if you want to do something well, you need to devote a lot of time to it. I've spent the last 37 years messing around with all sorts of things. I like being a Jack-of-all trades; my interests tend to wander. But if I want to be good at something, I feel like I should focus. The good news is that after all these years, I've got it narrowed down to five professions.

Instructional Designer

I have a master’s degree, and hope to have a doctorate, in this field., so being an instructional designer is definitely a front runner. I love this kind of work. I wouldn't mind teaching in this area (hence the doctorate), but if I want to continue to excel in this field, I need to work at it. I haven't done any doctoral work for over 2 years. I don't read up on the field like I should. Of all the possible professions, this one has been neglected the most.

Author

I guess technically I am an author, since I've had two books published, but I can't support my family on it. If I want to be a serious author I need to spend more time on this profession as well. I haven't written for over a year. I have a novel complete and I'm shopping it around...ok, who am I kidding--I haven't sent out a query in over 6 months. And I've only sent it to 13 agents total. If I want to get this book published, I need to spend more time on it. And I need to spend WAY more time writing.

Entrepreneur

So if I haven't been spending time on the two professions above, what have I been spending time on? Well, I have a few business ideas. I think they're pretty good, and I've shared them with a few friends. The friends think they're pretty good ideas as well, so I've been spending a lot of time pursuing this profession. Although actually what I've been doing is spending time on contract work so that I can fund these ideas. What I really need is a business partner who can help out, since all my time is spent coming up with capital. But how does one go about finding a business partner. Any out-of-work MBA graduates out there?

Teacher

I love teaching. I mean really love it. I’m currently doing some work for the Open High School of Utah, and there is a chance I could teach for them. I would LOVE to be involved with this organization on the long term, but I don’t think I can make it work financially.

Once I get my doctorate, I could also end up at a university. But I’m not sure if that is what I’m cut out for. I don’t like the ‘publish or perish’ side of academia. I would enjoy the teaching side of things, but don’t know if I would enjoy all of the other things that professors have to deal with.

Technological Tinkerer

The rest of my free time has been taken up by my tinkering. Tinkering is important. If you don't want to be left behind, you have to play with the latest technology. To this end, I started a web site on a whim. I called it TwHistory, and the general idea is reenacting historical events via Twitter. The good news is that it has generated a lot of interest. The bad news is that it's generated a lot of interest. You see, there is no real revenue stream tied in with this, but it’s such a cool idea, I can’t seem to give it up. I’m working on a few grant proposals, hoping to make the site what it needs to be to really get off the ground. I’m glad that the idea seems to be resonating with people, but it is taking up a lot of my time.

And then of course there are all the little things in life that need to get done. Shovel the walk, fix dinner, clean up the house, play with the kids, hang out with my wife, etc. It’s no wonder that I’ve been averaging about 6 hours of sleep each night.

You know, in looking over this list, if I could come up with one more possible profession, then my troubles would be solved. I could number them, roll a die, and let chance dictate the rest of my life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's that time of year again...

It's that time of year again. This may end up being a tradition on my blog. Some may see this as blasphemous, and it's very possibly that this is nothing more than a joke. But part of me hopes that this version of the story behind the song is real. That there is some guy out there who 'sang like nobody was listening', threw caution to the wind, and created this Yuletide masterpiece. What it lacks in just about anything, it makes up for in guts and effort. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Funny Quote

Overheard at my parent's house last night.

[5-year-old] - Uncle Mike, I have the funniest knock knock joke in the world.
[Uncle Mike] - Oh yeah?
[5yo] - Yeah, you start.
[Uncle Mike] - Knock knock
[5yo] - Who's there?
[Uncle Mike] - Interrupting cow
[5y0] - Inter...wait, no, you're supposed to-
[Uncle Mike] MOOOOOOO!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How cool is this?

You can post pictures or documents and then talk about them. No, not as in write about them--as in talk about them. One person starts the discussion, and then others can join in.




If you want to see it in full screen, you can click on this link. http://voicethread.com/#q.b692014

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Twitter Project

Greetings, friends and readers.

I'm starting a project and I think it's going to be fun. I'm looking for volunteers and I expect the time commitment to be very small. I'm thinking 15-30 minutes a week, for maybe 15-20 weeks.

This summer I tweeted the Battle of Gettysburg. I found journals of fifteen Civil War Soldiers, and I followed them in 'real time', tweeting as I wen. I did this for about two and a half months. The end result for those that followed was the opportunity to experience history in 'real time', from original sources.

The Gettysburg project attracted attention from folks in the LBJ Presidential library, the National Archives, and historians from around the US. We ended up with almost a thousand followers.

I spoke with my brother the other day and he mentioned how the first pioneer group (those that came with Brigham Young) was by far the best documented. He said that the people who came over knew they were involved in an historic event,and so they kept good journals.

What I would like to do is recreate this pioneer trek in real time, on the right day. So by next July 24, Brigham Young will 'tweet', "This is the right place,drive on."

Anybody who volunteers will be given a journal of a person or family; they will be responsible for coming up with tweets for that person for each day of the trek. However, we will do this in advance in a Google spreadsheet. This way you can sit down, come up with tweets for a week or two, and then I will take care of it from there. You do NOT need to sign up for or know how to use twitter. As I mentioned, I suspect that it will only take 10-20 hours to do a complete journal, and you can spread it out over the next several months.

If anybody is interested, leave a comment here, and I'll be in touch.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Moving

When I came to Logan 4 years ago, a group of my co-workers came to help move me into my house. I didn't know any of them that well, but I was very grateful for the help.

During the course of the move, Justin Ball, one of my new coworkers, dropped a box of bottled tomatoes, breaking one of the jars.

I felt bad.

Not because of the lost tomatoes. Those are cheap; probably 10 cents for the bottle, and maybe 12 cents for the tomatoes.

No, the reason I felt bad was first, he dropped the box after he tripped down our cement stairs. He hurt his ankle pretty bad. The second reason I felt bad was because I hardly knew all of these people helping me move. They pitched in because it had become 'tradition' to help the new member of the team get adjusted into their home. I didn't want Justin to feel bad because he had dropped my tomatoes. I was going to work with these folks for who knows how long, and I wanted to get off on the right foot.

Last night, I went to a party. It was held at Justin's house. If he has any ill feelings toward me for making him carry my tomatoes, he's hidden it well these past four years. Justin, as well as every other member of COSL, including their spouses, have become very dear friends.

The members of COSL have played many a board game. We've ran many a raid. We've rocked out together, and shared lunches, dinners, and even an occasional breakfast. We've built things, and attended and presented at conferences. I can brag about what we've done, only because I feel I was a small part of it.

But as I've blogged before, my time at COSL has come to an end, and today my family moved. I hired movers because...well, because I'm getting old. And hiring movers isn't as expensive as I thought.

But just as the movers were finishing up, I walked into the garage. There on the floor was a lone box, with liquid pooling around it. I opened the lid, and couldn't believe my eyes.

It was a box of bottled tomatoes. And one of the jars had broken.

My time in Logan was christened with a bottle of tomatoes, and it appears my exit is heralded with the same.

My only hope is that second break does not mark the end of my Logan years, but only a pause.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Killer Bees!

Today my family and I went up Green Canyon. We've loved living so close to such a beautiful area, and we will miss it when we are gone.

We decided to take a pleasant stroll along the single trail. We enjoyed the leaves, saying hello to other hikers, and finding the extra special rock that must be taken home and placed in a treasure box.

My oldest son was leading the way when he gave out a cry of alarm.

"BEES! RUN!"

He came tearing down the trail, "It's a nest of bees!" he called over his shoulder as he ran past us and quickly disappeared up the trail.

I could hear some angry buzzing coming from up the trail. Now, I don't like bees as much as the next person, but I was curious. I walked cautiously down the trail. There was buzzing, yes, but I couldn't see bees. What I did see what a bunch of large flies.

And then I spied the 'nest'.

"No bees here!" I called out.

The rest of the family came up the trail. My oldest was at the rear. "What is it?" he asked.

What my son had thought was a nest was actually what we in the business call canine excrement. It was covered in flies, and when my oldest son walked past, the flies scattered; he assumed the worst and ran.

Needless to say the rest of the family got a kick out of the 'bees nest', and my oldest son still hasn't heard the end of it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Technological Generation Gap?

We may be witnessing a serious gap in technology. One that spans thegenerations. But I'm not talking about those wacky old people who don't know a bit from a byte. I'm talking about the youth. That's right, people are starting to wonder if these young kids are using technology like they're supposed to.

A recent report gives us some shocking information. Sixteen percent of people on Twitter are under the age of twenty. While twenty percent are older than 55.

What!

That's right, there are more people tweeting about their dentures than there are tweeting about acne medication. Today, kids use technology to goof off. In my day, we used technology to hack into government computers and start fake nuclear wars. Oh, and goof off.

I'm fine with this. I'm part of the 60+ percent of twitter users between the age of 25 and 55. I'm starting to think that my generation, the one labeled only with an X, is the greatest generation when it comes to technology.

But you see, this is a real problem. I write books for kids, and the internet gives me a never-before-seen opportunity to reach an very wide audience. I can write a blog post and it can be seen by millions of people. Ok, it's only seen by a few hundred, but that is not the point.

But all these new-fangled technological ways to reach my audience aren't coming to fruition because my audience is doing things like...reading actual books. Or playing outside. Or talking with other people. What are they thinking?

Think about it. I can post my book as an e-book, and it can be downloaded onto a kindle or iPhone. But I doubt many 10-year-olds have a kindle or iPhone. I can relase it as an audio book, but again, how many of them have mp3 players? Or for that matter, how many of them even have a commute on which to listen to it? I can let them listen or read it right in the browser; but as good as my book is, it's not going to be more interesting that something like...Keyboard Cat. Seriously, now; how am I supposed to compete with a cat in a blue leisure suit? I'm not, that's how.

So, I need a different medium. I need to find a way to get my stories in the hands of my target audience. A medium they are already familiar with. I could try to go the book route, but then I have agents, editors, publishers, and large bookstores standing between me and my audience.

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crowd Source Your Game Design

I find the idea of crowdsourcing interesting. Crouwdsourcing is the idea of getting a large group of people to help you out in a project. You pay them a bit of cash, or give them a promise of possible cash, and they do the work for you. Examples might include the X-Prize, or the Netflix Prize. If you want to get in on the money side of crowdsourcing, you can check out Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of boardgames, and Days of Wonder, a top notch publisher of some very good games, has either knowingly, or unknowingly, started crowdsourcing their game design. They held a contest to see who could come up with interesting characters in one of their games. One person had such an interesting idea they are making an expansion to the original game.

Maybe we need a few open-source games, just to see what the wisdom of the crowds can come up with.

Image Courtesy of masmad.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The New Group

I've had a lot of life changes in the past few months, and those changes have rippled to other aspects of my life. One change is that I've no longer been able to meet with my old critique group. Since I'm staying down in SLC, it's just too hard to go to the meetings.

Through pure chance, I happened to go out for frozen custard at this year's storymaker conference with a great group of folks. I got chatting with a few up and coming writers, and over the months I've exchanged e-mails and followed their blogs. Through the course of the discussion we came up with the idea of starting our own critique group.

Tonight was our first meeting. Or rather, the first time we got together to talk about a book. And that book was mine.

It was a great experience. They started off by telling my how much they loved my book. They went on and on until my neck muscles were straining, trying to keep my big head upright. "Tomorrow," I thought. "Tomorrow I'll have agents beating down my door, trying to get me to sign up with them".

And then they tore my book apart. Not the kind of tearing that makes you give up and feel discouraged, but the kind of straight-to-the-point, useful, hard-to-hear-but-exactly-what-you-need-to-hear kind of tearing. The feedback was incredible. They didn't pull punches, but those punches were precisely placed. Everything they said rang true.

I came away with two things last night. Five talented writers think my book is really good, and five talented writers told me how my book can be even better.

Time to get working.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Wife's Blog

My wife has started a blog. So for those of you who know both me and my lovely wife, feel free to check it out.

Just ignore the picture of me when I was 23. I looked like a dork. Not the stunning image of grace and strength you all know me as now.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Few and far between...

Wow, when you work two jobs, have a 190 mile commute, and don't have internet access in the evenings, there isn't much time to blog. But I did want to drop a line as I was mentioned and quoted in an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog. You can read the article here.

My favorite part of when the gentleman was interviewing me was when he asked about my blog. David Wiley had told him that this was my blog. But then it had this bizarre title. And the guy listed on the side was Matthew Buckley, not Marion Jensen. Was this really my blog?

After I explained the methods behind my madness, all was good.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Allow me to buy you a book.


I'm a nice guy. A really nice guy. You've seen other blogs that give away a book to one lucky reader? Those guys are pretty nice. But I'm even nicer. I'm going to give a book away to everybody reading this post.

That is right, not one book for one person, but multiple books for multiple people. The book is a good one. I've just started reading it, but I've followed the author, Chris Anderson, ever since his Long Tail days. He's a smart cookie.

I know what you're thinking. "Stop typing and get to that part about the free book." OK, the book is called Free: The Future of a Radical Price. It will be interesting to most of you, but should be particularly interesting to many of you, especially my fellow authors out there. Many industries have already struggled with the concepts Anderson covers in his book--the newspaper industry, for example, is currently in the throes of it--and book publishers are about to follow suit.

Seriously, if you are an author, you need to read this book.

Now, about your free copy...I'm not going to buy you the boring hard cover. You can only read that if you're not driving, exercising, deep-sea diving, making deviled eggs, or doing sign language. No, I'm going to buy you the audio version of this book, read by the author himself. That is right, you can listen to the book while doing just about anything except for cleaning your ears with cotton swabs.

So, go to iTunes, do a search for 'free future radical' and you will see the audio book. What I've done is track all of your IP addresses, and pre-paid for a copy of the book. That is why is appears as 'free' on your iTunes. That's right, I'm just that tech-savy, and I'm just that nice.

And if you like the audio version, consider buying a hard copy for your editor. They will need it sooner than they like to think.

Friday, July 24, 2009

iPods

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to wear iPods,
and a time to leave iPods at home.


Ecclesiastes 3:1

My wife dragged...er, I mean invited me to go camping with her and the kids last night. We had a fun time swatting mosquitoes, eating raw food, sleeping on gravel, and listening to teenagers drive up and down Green Canyon all night.

This morning, I reluctantly pulled myself away from this veritable carnival, and went for a bike ride. I made my way slowly up the canyon on the wonderful single trail.

Before I left, I thought about taking my iPod. I enjoy listening to podcasts, or music, but I hesitated taking my tunes along with me. If I had those buds stuck in my ears, I may not be able to hear other bikers, cars, or marauding bears. I finally decided to leave the tunes back, and head up with just my thoughts to keep me company.

I got bored really quick.

Anyway, I was about a half mile from the top; the path had a steep ravine on the left, and a steep wall of dirt on the right. The trail was narrow, and there wasn't a lot of room for one bike, let alone two.

My bud-free ears thought they heard something. I wasn't sure, but it almost sounded like...

Before I could decide what the noise was, a biker, going what looked like to be almost the speed of sound, shot around a bend about 10 yards in front of me came . He was tearing it up.

I didn't want to leap down the ravine, as gravity and I have never really had a good relationship. So I threw myself and my bike to the right, up against the wall of dirt. At the same time, I yelled, "Ho, ho!"

Why I choose that moment to quote Old St. Nick, I can't really say, but I'm glad I did. You see, the guy coming down the trail wasn't listening to an iPod either. He slammed on his brakes, and was just doing about 90 mph when he rode past me on the left. He hollered over his shoulder "Three more coming!"

I hugged and caressed the side of the mountain until I saw three more blurs zoom by, and then I continued my slow ascent to the top.

So, there you have it. Another post brought to you by Matthew Buckley where he does little more than recount a slightly interesting story, and then states the obvious.

Tune in next week when I discuss why you don't want to drive with your teeth.

Come now...

Have we really gotten this desparate for advertising dollars?

For those that run ads on their sites, you know you get money if somebody clicks on the ad, but you also get money if somebody just comes to the site (much less, but a little).

So the other day I am looking to see if there are any tutorials for the Sicilian Language (never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line). I find a link to About.com and this is what I see.

Can you find the content? There are five pages, each with about 2-3 sentences. The link I just gave you only had a single sentence of content. Everything else on the page is advertisements. You get a paragraph of material, and they make you wade through five pages to get it. And it doesn't even link to any real language tutorial, is just babbles on about random Sicilian history.

But then again, who am I to argue against progress? My next blog post will be spread out across 49 pages, and you'll get 2-3 words per page.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Believe...

Speaking of falls...

The family went to Bear Lake on Friday. We went with our good friends the Harpers. They took us out on their boat, and showed us how they can both 'surf' behind their boat. The boat makes a wave, and they can surf for a long time, without even hanging onto the rope.

They asked me if I wanted to try, and of course, I said...YES! Here are the results.



I gave it my best shot, several times, but just couldn't get up. I didn't feel too bad. I figured if I really kept trying, I'd get it eventually. But we had 10 kids, and 3 adults in the boat. They had better things to do than watch me nose dive into Bear Lake all afternoon.

Then my wife said she'd like to try. On her second try, this is what happened.



She tried several more times, and did great! I was amazed. She has as much experience as I do (i.e. none), and yet she was doing it!

I decided to give it one more shot. My wife made it look so easy; she had inspired me.

I got back into the water, grabbed the rope and...



It was absolutely exhilarating. I don't know what changed. It may have been the simple fact that I had seen somebody else do it, and I realized it was possible. Whatever it was, I'm glad I hopped in the water one last time, and tried again.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hey...it's usefull after all.

I've spend the last four years working on USU OCW. I have seen the incredible amount of traffic we get, but I think deep down I've always worried that maybe nobody really used the site. Maybe all that traffic was people just coming across information, realizing it wasn't that helpful, and then leaving. Maybe all my work, and the work of the professors, was for naught.

Then a few days ago, I was asked to create a Flash file. I opened Flash and quickly became lost. I thought to myself, "If only I could find a good set of tutorials on the web." Then I remembered...Andy Walker...Intro to Flash.

Thirty seconds later I was watching Professor Walker's video, and learning Flash. I realized it's not just an academic exercise, but something that helps real people in their real lives.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fireworks

Two years ago I posted on how cheap I was. I spent $.72 on fireworks, and I reported on how much fun we'd had.

This year we went all out. I mean ALL out. I spent $2.67. We bought 6 packs of sparklers, and the old standby--four flower zippy things. However, this year we lit all four of the flower things at once. That's right, all four; things were a hopping at our place.

Then the kids spent a good 20 minutes playing with the sparklers. I got a few good pictures of them.

Sparklers

My oldest son said, "Remember that time we stacked all the snaps and had a bonfire?" Why, yes I do. My plan is working. The kids get such a kick out of a few dollar worth of fireworks, that one day I'm going to go to Wyoming and buy $500 worth of exploding goodness, and knock the socks off them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

End of an Era

Four years ago I took a class from David Wiley. I liked what he was saying, and we started a conversation. The next thing I knew David offered me a job as Utah State's OpenCourseWare director. When I came to the project we had 8 courses online. There are now over 80. We average as many as 2,000 unique visitors to the site every day from all over the world. We have mirror sites up in Africa, China, and Indonesia (that we know of). Our site has been translated into several languages, and is the third most visited site on the usu.edu domain. Being the OCW director is something I've loved doing the last four years.

It is also coming to a close.

Budget cuts have resulted in the program coming to an end. We've spent the last six months scrambling to find a way to keep the lights on. We've sought after state money, private money, grant money, and my boss stopped me from going after embezzled money. We've found nothing, so as of June 29th, I will be starting a new job.

Emotions bubble to the surface when you go through change. On the one hand I am very sad to be leaving a job I love. I love the openness movement, and hope to be able to return to it someday. But starting a new job has its own excitements; new people, new challenges, new skills. I'm looking foward to working with Shelley again.

When I left my last job I mourned leaving the people I'd grown to care about. I thought there would be no way to find friends like the ones I left. And now I can't imagine finding friends like the ones I've grown fond of here in Logan. Game night, Rock Band, lunch at Great Harvest and Cafe Rio...

Change is rough. Change is exciting. And I feel like I'm about to get spades of it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Are you seeing this?

We are seeing history in the making, my friends.

Whether we really want to admit it or not, we often only get information that other people want us to see. Yes, we have many news outlets; the evening news, newspapers, magazines, etc. But much of what we read has been orchestrated by those sitting in power. I'm not talking deep conspiracies here, but the simple fact that there are a relatively small number of people who decide what gets put on the front page, and we often miss important stories because the people sitting in the big offices decide to run something else.

Case in point. Iran just held elections. There have been protests and violence in the streets of Iran; people fighting for their right to have a voice in their government. You have probably heard of it by now, but you almost missed it.

At first the news coverage of the event was all but absent. The lead article on CNN's homepage was a story about how the US just made the switch to digital broadcast signal. The FCC recieved 300,000 calls. Exciting, eh? Only a single sentence mentioned anything at all about the protests in Iran.

In another day and age, that would be the end of the story. A nation would struggle and the rest of the world would move on unaware. We wouldn't get the information because there are simply no channels. What are we supposed to do, hear it from those right on the streets?

Well, yes.

We have twitter. I'm watching thousands of posts scroll by, all with the keyword #iranelection. I'm hearing people posting what is going on right outside their homes. I'm reading US supporters setting up proxys by which Iranians can get their Tweets out. I'm seeing people changing their proiles to green, to show their support. And it's all in real time.

I also saw another significant hash tag--#cnnfail. Yes, twitterers protested the lack of coverage that CNN and other news sources were giving to the event. From The New York Times (free subscription requireD):

"Steve LaBate, an Atlanta resident, said on Twitter, “Why aren’t you covering this with everything you’ve got?” About the same time, CNN was showing a repeat of Larry King’s interview of the stars of the “American Chopper” show. For a time, new criticisms were being added on Twitter at least once a second."

That is right, the world hear of an event because people were twittering it. Then they demanded coverage, and got it. As I type this I'm now seeing images and coverage from the Iran elections as the lead story on CNN's page. People demanded to hear more about the event, and CNN gave it to them.

If that doesn't make you want to go sign up for a twitter account, I don't know what will. We're living in a new world folks, and it seems to me to be getting more and more exciting every day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hospital Stay

I’m writing this in the hospital, sitting next to my son John.

John is a trooper. About 10 days ago he got a cold that settled into his chest. John has suffered from asthma since he was a boy, and he always struggles when sickness gets into his lungs.

Early Thursday morning John woke up at 4:00 with a horrendous cough. Instead of crying for Mom to come take care of him, he quietly got up, got a cough drop, drank a little water, and coughed into his pillow, trying hard not to wake the rest of the house.

Twenty-four hours later he was in the emergency room, struggling to breathe.

Tonight, after driving for 20 hours back from Wisconsin, I came to see John. I brought my oldest son with me and read a little to both of the boys. After I finished I asked John if he wanted me to sleep here in the hospital room with him. He told me I didn’t need to stay, and that he would be fine.

I gathered my things up and got ready to go. As I went to say goodbye, John looked up at me with his big brown eyes and asked, “Would you have fun if you stayed here?”

I was exhausted. I just wanted to go home and crawl into bed. I knew that he would fall asleep within minutes if I left, so I said, “How about this. I’ll take Spencer home, unpack, shower, and then I’ll call the nurse. If you’re still awake, I’ll come back. If you’re asleep, I’ll come back early in the morning.”

He smiled and nodded. I took my things out to the nurse’s station and got their phone number.

I looked back into the room and little John had pulled the sheets up over his eyes. I went back into the room and heard him sobbing quietly in his bed. He wanted so much for me to stay, but he didn’t want to be a bother.

Sometimes when you’re a dad you don’t always know what to do. Other times there isn’t a question. When you're a dad, there are some things that you just do.

“I’ll take Spencer home and come right back, OK John?”

I am crammed into a hospital chair, and will likely only get a few hours of sleep tonight; but that is a small price to pay for the hug I got when I returned to the hospital. John is sleeping well, and on the mend, and that is what is important.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Good Times

I'm a lucky guy. I have written two novels, and have been paid for my work. But that is not why I'm lucky. I'm lucky because I get to hang out with some of the coolest folks on the planet.

I just got back from the teen writers conference. It was fantastic. We had Josi Kilpack, Julie Wright, Jessica Day George, Jeff Savage, James Dashner, Nancy Allen, Lisa Mangum, Annette Lyon, and many more, all under the same roof. These people are so nice, and I'm so glad that the fact that I wrote a book gives me a chance to see them 3-4 times a year. I feel like I have so much to learn from them all, both about writing and their willingness to be so free with their time and talents.

I leave conferences like this fired up and ready to write. Thanks all!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Conference, conference, confernce...

Three conferences in two weeks is too many. I've got the teen writers conference tomorrow, and then GLS next week. When I get back it will be time to start cranking out the query letters. Should be...fun. Or something like that.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Where will I be?

Where will I be on June 4th, from 10:00 in the morning until noon? I'm glad you asked.

I will be here.

UVU puts on a great conference about teaching and technology. Registration is free, and the sessions all look very interesting.

I will be talking about an interactive GPS game that we created that allows you to talk to characters, pick up items, and solve puzzles--all based on your location. You'll learn how to both play the game, and create your own.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interesting Results, Wrong Conclusion

I think I'm the only author in the known universe who doesn't follow Nathan Bransford, so I'm slow on the draw with this one.

Last month Nathan held a contest on his blog. He gave out 50 query letters to 300 regular citizens, and he asked them to pick the best ones. Hidden in that pile were 3 query letters that ended up getting their authors book deals. If each person got 5 guesses, could any of the 300 folks pick out the 3?

As it turned out, only 2 people picked all three. I find this interesting, but what I find even more interesting are Nathan's two conclusions. I think he misses one point, but nails the other one.

First Nathan seems to be saying, "See? This is why being an agent is so hard. You didn't pick the right ones, but we agents can. Being an agent is harder than it looks. We don't look to see if a query has met all The Rules (insert angels singing), we look deeper into the soul of the work." I find this interesting because Nathan's blog, every agent's blog, and every publisher's web site is FILLED with advice on how to follow The Rules (insert angels singing). And every last one of them will tell you that if you fail to jump through their hoops...er, I mean, follow The Rules (insert...oh, you get the point), then your manuscript is tossed into the fire.

I don't buy it.

Second, he goes on to say, "The other main element I'd take from this challenge is how subjective this business really is. What resonates with you might not resonate with someone else."

This is where he nails it. It may resonate with somebody else. In fact, it may resonate with a lot of somebody elses. And those people might just be paying customers. And they might really enjoy that book. But because it didn't resonate with the agent, they will never get that chance.

Does anybody else see what is wrong with this? Not the conclusion, but this simple fact? A few days ago I posted a link to an article that named 30 authors who were rejected multiple times before they finally got published. J. K. Rowling, Steven King, Ayn Rand, and Anne Frank were among those rejected. I think it's time we asked the obvious question. Should agents and publishers still be looked at as the gatekeepers to what we read? Sure there is a lot of garbage out there, and they do a lot of sifting. But how many really good books never get into our hands because somebody started their query letter with a rhetorical question? Or misspelled an agent's name? Or went really off the deep end and used...I don't know...Helvetica sans-serif!

New technology has allowed musicians, artists, photographers, and directors get their art straight to the public. Why not authors? Why don't we have a YouTube or a Flickr that gets us directly in touch with our fans? We know the model works. We've seen it work for other crafts.

When will we finally step up and say it's our turn?

Monday, May 25, 2009

The sure thing, or something new?

When I go into one of my favorite restaurants, I have a really hard time ordering something new. My conundrum is thus: I've been to the restaurant before, and I know what I like. In fact, the whole reason I've returned is because of that particular dish. So when the waitress asks for my order do I order Dish A, the one I know is good, or do I try Dish B?

On the one hand, Dish B might be better. If they can cook Dish A so well, why not assume Dish B is also tasty? On the other hand if I don't like it I've wasted all that time and money. I don't want to leave wishing I had stuck with the sure thing.

I have the same problem with I go into a video store (OK, I never go into a video store. I use Netflix). Do I get a movie I know I like, or try something new?

The reason I ask is that I just picked up a book. Lieutenant Hornblower by C. S. Forester. I've read the book before. In fact, I've read it twice. I love it. I love the character, I love the era, and I love the voice. Not many folks know that Gene Rodenberry based Captain James T. Kirk after H. Hornblower. It really is a good series of books.

But, shouldn't I be expanding my horizons? Shouldn't I be trying new things? In the back of my head, I think I should. But then again I usually order Dish A, and my queue is filled up with mostly movies or TV series I've seen before. I like the comfortable and familiar.

Maybe that is a sign I'm getting old.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

All you authors out there...

I was in a session yesterday at CONduit where they talked about active voice/passive voice. The difference can be seen in the following.

Passive

The chair moved by the robber.

Active

The robber moved the chair.

Active = good. Passive = bad.

You can find passive voice by searching for words such as was, is, were, be, been. But my question is do you get rid of all of these? What about this sentence? It comes from the first page of my book.

While the bench was ordinary, the piano itself was most certainly not.

How do you cut those instances of the word 'was' out? I could say 'ordinary bench', but the whole point of the sentence is to state that the bench is ordinary. Just saying ordinary bench is not a complete sentence.

And what about this one?

Rafter knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn’t help it.

I could change it to

Rafter grinned like an idiot, but he couldn't help it.

But that changes what I'm saying. Rafter is self-aware of the fact that he is grinning. So should it be:

Rafter knew he grinned like an idiot, but he couldn't help it.

But that doesn't seem quite right.

I don't know. I don't think I should be cutting out every 'was' in my book, but how do I tell which ones? I still have hundreds left, and I want my manuscript to be tight.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One step closer...


Every author, published or not, should be taking to the streets today. Cheer, celebrate, cause general havoc, but in a good way. Check out what Amazon is doing.

I gave a presentation at a recent conference where I talked about how up-and-coming authors can succeed in the new model of publishing, a model that we are now one step closer to with Amazon's announcement. One of the characteristics of this new model is that it is merit-based. If your work is good, you will be able to succeed. This wasn't always the case in the old (current) model. Bad or mediocre writing often gets published, while really good stuff is sometimes ignored. Amazon's service will allow customers to pick what gets pushed to the top. It is readers that will dictate what gets published and distributed.

Now, I can already hear some critics. "This will turn into a popularity contest. The only thing that will rise to the top is shallow, meaningless fluff. Books with true merit, those that tackle the hard topics, will be ignored. We need agents, editors, and publishers--true experts--to make sure the best books get to market".

To which I say this link should silence any such criticism.

I for one am very excited about Amazon's move, and look forward to the new model that is slowly being shaped. If you are a writer, put your chin up; good things are coming our way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Public Appearance

I don't do many public appearances. It's because I'm a recluse. And I covet my privacy. And I'm part hermit. And...well, I don't get invited to anything. That last one is probably the main reason, now that I think about it.

However, all of this is about to change, at least for one saturday afternoon. I will be making a public appearance on May 30th, from 12:00 until 3:00 PM at the Maceys in Providence, Utah. Actually, I make a public appearance there at least twice a week, meaning I go out in public, and I 'appear' at that store. But since I cleverly blend in buy buying groceries, nobody realizes the guy rifling through family-sized packs of back bacon is really a celebrity. And they leave me alone. All...alone.

But, as I was saying, all this changes on the 30th. People will know I'm a celebrity. I'll be sitting behind a table. And I'll have books on that table. And I will be striking poses that will convince anybody in the area that I'm an author who has sold dozens, if not several dozens, of books.

So, if you're shopping, come on by and talk to me. If you're not shopping, come on by and talk to me too. I'll be the guy at the table, looking like a hermit.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What we've been waiting for...

Over the past decade I went to all three midnight showings of the newer Star Wars movies. Each one was fun, but ultimately disappointing. George Lucas just didn't have him in it, anymore. Star Wars was something magical from my childhood, and the magic couldn't be re-created.

And so it was that I went into Star Trek hoping for at least a decent movie that didn't wreck all the wonderful memories that I had watching the TV series when I was little.


As I sat in the theater, the thought that kept going through my head was, "This is what Star Wars should have been."

It was like returning home after an extended stay. Sure, things have changed, and you can never go home again. But some things never change, and it was so good to be back.

The cast was fantastic. I found myself not liking just Kirk and Spock, but Bones, Scotty, Checkov, and even Sulu. They all did great work. There were laugh out loud moments, tense moments, and 'yee hah'! moments.

It wasn't a movie that changed the way I looked at life. It wasn't a deeply moving or philosophical movie. But hoo dang it was a lot of fun.

I did have one disappointment with the movie. As the end credits rolled, I realized these guys aren't going to be back next week with a new episode. I have to wait two years before I see them again, if even that. Two hours is far too short for my taste.

Please J. J., you know how to do a TV series. Is an hour of Star Trek a week really too much to ask?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why is Radio not dead?

On the rare occasions that I drive without my iPod, I always turn on the radio expecting to hear nothing but static. Surely radio is not still around. Surely it's gone the way of ice boxes and candles. But no, for some reason that I can't understand, there are still radio programs and radio stations on the internet. Why is this?

I was driving back to work from lunch, and I started scanning the stations. These are the nuggets I found. I'll let you decide if they are nuggets of gold, or the nuggets that come out the back side of a bunny rabbit:

AM
  • Annoying radio host who abuses and makes fun of guests who calls into her program
  • Political radio personality selling meat
  • Mexican music
  • Music from the 40s
  • Lots and lots of static

FM
  • bad country (I know, redundant use of the word bad)
  • more bad country
  • commercials
  • more commercials
  • really, really, shallow music
  • classical music (which is great, I'm sure, but beyond my low-brow tastes)
And there you have it. The entire 10 minute ride wasted. However, when I take my iPod, this is what I have at my fingertips. And remember, any of these programs I can pause, re-listen to, or fast forward.

Podcasts
There you have it. Hours of entertainment, downloaded to my iPod every week, all of it free. There are ads on a few of them, and that is fine by me.

So, if you pay for ads on the radio, that is fine. But you might want to find out who is listening to podcasts, and find a cheaper way to get your message out. Because Radio is going to die any day now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teen Writers Conference

I'm participating in a teen writers conference in June, and I wanted to post a little bit of information about it. There will be some great authors there, and if you are a teen, or know of a teen, who loves to write, this just may be the conference for you.

The following is an interview with Josi Kilpack, the chairperson of the conference.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

JOSI:
I’m a mother of four, ages 15-7, and an author of 9 novels, with a tenth coming out in August. I have been a member of multiple writing groups, large and small, and a committee member and former conference chair for numerous writer’s conferences. In addition, I’m a frequent presenter to schools and groups, a fabulous cook (if I do say so myself) and amateur chicken farmer.

You are the conference chairperson for an upcoming writers' conference for kids. Please tell us about the purpose of the conference.

JOSI:
Several of the committee members and myself have been involved with putting together writing conferences for several years. We started small and have grown until our most recent conference had well over 250 attendants. Over the years we have had some teenagers attend our conference, and while they have enjoyed the experience, it seems to also be a bit overwhelming to walk into a two day, morning to night information-fest. So, we began discussing the idea of having a conference where the format, classes, and overall environment is created specifically to give kids, ages 13-19, the best overall introduction to writing conferences as well as instruction that will be most helpful to where they are now on their journey of being a writer. From there we started throwing out ideas and it really just rolled all together until we have this; THE Teen Writer’s Conference.

What is your purpose for the conference? What do you hope the teens who come discover?

JOSI: Our hope is that the attendees will discover a lot of things, 1) That they are not the only kids that write 2) That whatever goals or ambitions they might have in regard to becoming a writer are within reach 3) That it takes knowledge and time and concerted effort to accomplish those goals. Those of us on the committee, all of us being writers ourselves, have spent years honing our craft and are excited to help set these kids on that same path—perhaps earlier than we ever started.

What kind of classes will you be offering?

JOSI: We will have classes that focus on actual elements of writing, as well as classes on book markets, the publishing process, and what they can do now to best prepare themselves for a future in writing. We have a variety of classes so as to appeal to both new and experiences writers.

What if a teen would like to come, but is really shy? Will there be anything that will put him or her at unease?

JOSI: Our entire focus and reason for putting this conference together is to create a comfortable place for young writers to come, learn, and flourish. We have been and will continue to put their comfort as our first priority because we know if they are intimidated and anxious, they will not benefit from this experience. However, we also expect them to be ready for this experience. Each youth, along with their parents, will need to determine if they are ready to be a part of this. Not all teen writers will be, and that’s okay. We hope to make this an annual event, so if this year won’t work, then perhaps by next year they will be ready.

What is your overall goal for every youth that attends the Teen Writers' Conference?

JOSI: That they leave encouraged and inspired to do their best, to hone their craft, and to truly reach for the stars in regard to their writing and their life. We also hope they will make friends with one another and feel a sense of community among other writers their own age.

How were you able to get such excellent editors and famous writers to attend?

JOSI: Well, in all humility I have to admit that they are my friends—my very good friends. We are like-minded people that saw a common goal and made it happen. I admire each and every person on this committee, and understand the sacrifice they each make to be a part of this. We are joined in this purpose as well as in our passion for great writing. I am blessed to rub shoulders with some of the best writer’s out there and the attendees get to benefit from that gift in my life.

When is it and how do teens register?

JOSI: Registration is open for another 4 weeks. To register, attendees need to go to the website www.teenwritersconference.com and print off the registration form. Those attendees under the age of 17 will need parental permission to attend; then they will mail the completed registration, along with payment, to the address printed on the page. They, and their parent, will receive a welcome e-mail upon receipt of their registration as well as updates as the conference gets closer. Updates will also be posted on the website.

Finally, this conference is for 13 to 19 year olds. Why that age group?

JOSI: We discussed this issue at length, and then simply decided since it was a TEEN conference, we would make it open to TEENS only. We feel that having them among their peers will help them relax and yet be willing to ask questions, meet other kids, and focus on the instruction we’re providing. For the older attendees, this will likely be a kind of introduction to adult-focused writer’s conferences, showing them what to expect and how the typical conference is organized. For the younger attendees, we hope they will come back year after year and continue learning about what they can do in the future.

Any other information you'd like to share?

JOSI: We’ve had some parents express concern in regard to leaving their children at the conference without them. Again, this conference isn’t right for all teens, or all parents, but we do ask that parents consider the value of letting their children experience the independent nature of this conference. As a committee, we are dedicated to their safety and comfort; they will come to no harm while attending. And while we ask that parents stay clear of the conference rooms, there are many places on campus that are great for reading or getting some other work done if they worry about going too far away. We will also allow attendees to keep cell-phones on silent throughout the conference so that parents are only a phone call. For those attendees without cell-phones, they are welcome to use a committee members phone at any time.

Where can people go to find more information, and especially to learn about the writing contest made available just for those who attend?

JOSI: http://www.teenwritersconference.com has all the details of the conference, contest, venue, etc. If something is not answered, there are e-mail links that will send you to us so we can give you the details you are looking for.

Monday, April 27, 2009

LDStorymakers

Once a year, the LDStorymakers hold a conference. I think it's hands down, the best writers conference in the state. The only bad thing about the conference is that once it's over, I get depressed. I know it's a lot of work to put on, but couldn't we hold this thing once a quarter? Or every other week?

A few things I learned this year:

Carole Thanye is great. I rode down to the conference with her, and there wasn't a single moment when we weren't talking about something interesting. I've always enjoyed talking with her, but there are rarely opportunities to do so. Riding for three hours with her to the conference was a great start to the weekend.

Los Hermanos does not follow the mantra; eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I got their burrito and there was about 8 pounds of beef, pork, and chicken. I didn't much care for it, but if you're into eating a big ol' pile of meat, this is the place for you.

Friday was boot camp, and I met some great folks who are very talented. They all had some great starts to stories they were working on. We heard a few really good presentations, and then I did my first presentation of the day. Nobody threw food, so I felt it went OK.

To kick off the conference, the incomparable Rob Wells gave us a history of the LDStorymakers conference. It is one of those events that can't be described; you just had to be there. But if you were there, you were likely grabbing your belly while tears of laughter rolled down your cheeks.

On Friday I also met with Stacy Whitman, a freelance editor. She gave me some good feedback on the first chapter of my book. I have conversed with Stacy many times online, but this was the first time we had met in person.

In the afternoon I gave my 130 slide presentation. Yes, that's right, 130 slides of information in 45 minutes. I think I only had 4 bullet points though; most of the slides were single words, or images to drive a point home. I got high marks on the feedback sheets, so I think it went well.

Friday evening we had a wonderful talk by Dean Lorey. I had not heard of Dean's YA series before the conference, but I'm a big fan of another little project he was involved with called Arrested Development (best television comedy of all time).

That night, we went out for Italian ice cream. It was a great time to talk with both published authors and the up and comers. I had a wonderful talk with Eric Swedin, Janette Rallison, Kristi Stevens, Melinda Morley, and more. These kind of impromptu meetups are what makes the whole conference worth it.

Boot camps continued the next day, and the final day of the conference began. I'm a firm believer in the saying that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, so I don't hang out with Jack. I also try to get in a bit of play, wherever I go. So Rob Wells, Dan Wells, and myself snuck into a corner room and played Small World. You know a game is good when you lose twice, and still want to run right out and purchase it. We also snuck in a game of Dominion, my current favorite game.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and the conference came to a close. But before we all went home, a few of us stayed after and attended the Whitney Awards. I got to blog the entire event with the amazing and talented Jaime Theler and Tristi Pinkston. We had a wild time, and you can relive the Whitneys over on the Whitney site. I was clearly the one with the most grammatical errors, but I vindicated myself by eating the most cheesecake.

Jaime and I also had the privilege of presenting James Dashner with his award. Jaime's presentation demeanor more than made up for my stammering, sputtering, and choking into the microphone.

And thus the conference came to a close. It was depressing to see it end so soon, but I think the entire conference can best be summed up by the phrase, 'and a good time was had by all'. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tweeting from the Nineteenth Century


CNN had a headline today called Tweeting from the 20th century. The story told is of a lost postcard delivered some 47 years later. Well, I've got news of even older tweets going on; Tweeting from the Civil War.

This project started like most of my projects do; with me goofing around. I was reading a book called World War Z. World War Z is unique in that it has no protagonist. There is not one hero or group of people you follow through the entire story. Instead, the book reads like a collection of reports from NPR's Morning Edition. Through about 40 stories, you begin to get a feel for the narrative. It's a very interesting way to tell a story.

Well, while sitting on my couch following a few # tags on Twitter, the idea hit me. If you can tell a story through 40 characters in a book, why not tell a story through 40 characters on Twitter? Or better yet, not just a story, but history itself.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I tracked down a few journals and diaries from the Civil War. I was able to collect about ten people who experienced, or were involved in some other way, the Battle of Gettysburg. I've started tweeting their journals day-by-day, as it happened 146 years ago. So if David Strother had beans for breakfast on April 21, 1863, then in 2009, David_Strother tweets, "Had beans for breakfast".

The result have been surprising. You see similar threads between the historical figures. Many of them comment on the same weather, or the same orders coming down the line. You really get a feel for what is happening, even though your reading short 140 character-long tweets.

Anyway, if you'd like to follow along, please join us over at TwHistory.com. If you've never tweeted before, no worries; we've got all the instructions on the site.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Things I learned over the weekend...

We had a bit of a rough week last week, that included two trips to the ER, one trip to the doctor's office, and a two-day stay in the hospital. A couple of things I learned.

ER Doctors and Nurses are Incredible.

You have people come into your workspace who are in a panic. Some of them may be in a life or death situation. Some of them might be contagious. But it's all in a day's work. The doctors and nurses were professional, attentive, and all around great folks. They not only did the big things that many of us would find hard (stick needles in a toddler, give enemas, take stool samples), but they did it with class. I won't soon forget the tattooed, pierced, lab technician with a 4 inch goatee who talked to my two-year-old like he was the most important person in the room.

The Rotavirus Sucks.

While we're not sure my son had the rotavirus, he had all the same symptoms. Vomiting, diareah, dehydration, and low blood-sugar. The rotavirus kills half a million kids a year, usually because of dehydration. It makes me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where I can get folks to stick a needle in my son and get his body the fluids he needs.

I Can Still Party Like the Old Days

I sat up with my son on Saturday night. I'm more a night person, while my wife get's up early. I thought I'd be able to catch a few Zs here and there, but I was up until 6:45 on Sunday morning. She took over and I came home and slept for 4 hours. In the old days, I stayed up and partied. Now I stay up and watch a kid to make sure none of his tubes are falling out.

If You Put Off a Decision Long Enough, It Takes Care Of Itself

My wife and I were trying to decide what to do with our tax refund. Now we don't have to make that decision. It's spent.

Kids Are Worth It

Any way you cut it, kids are worth it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Versus

An epic showdown!


In this corner, we have Academic Earth. "Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars." Looks sharp. Looks keen. And you know it's good stuff because they didn't mess with the regular scholars, only the top scholars on this site, baby.


And in this corner, we have YouTube.edu. They have thousands of videos as well, but they've let in the rabble. Although you can't sneeze at the sheer number of schools they can boast. Plus, they have video from IITM, for pete's sake!

Who will win? Who will emerge victorious in this epic struggle?

Why, that's already been determined. You and I, my friend--we are the winners.

Accreditors

I read a post by David Wiley over at his blog. I ended up making a comment, and then realize there was a blog post in all my ramblings.

In his post, Wiley talks about how acreditors want to come and see what a university is doing. If the university is doing all of the right things, they get accredited, and they can hand out diplomas (one of the few reasons universities have to exist, anymore). Wiley points out that by putting their courses online, it would be very easy for accreditors to see if the university is doing the 'right things'.

The question I posed was why do we need accreditors in the first place? When universities came to me in high school, they told me if I wanted a good job then I needed to go to college. But are the things I learn at Utah State really preparing me to succeed in the workplace? I had a professor tell me up front that very little of what he taught would prepare me for any kind of job. Who really knows what skills are needed to succeed in the workplace? Why, the workplace itself, that’s who.

When Western Governors University put together their assessments to test competency, they worked very closely with businesses, asking them what skills and knowledge they wanted to see in their employers. WGU based their assessments on that dialogue with businesses.

There are many who think that getting in bed with businesses is a cardinal sin. This notion is extremely unpopular in the world of higher education. But businesses want talented, well-rounded, skillful individuals probably as much if not more than any accreditors.

I wonder how long it will be until businesses look at all this open content out there and just decide to develop their own tests, saying ‘If you can pass this test, it’s good enough for us. No degree needed.’

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Exciting Concept

Competency-based certification. You heard it here first.

In the beginning we had a library; just a collection of books gathered by some rich king. Then the university came along and added a social component to the library. The university secured a monopoly on a thing called a degree. It's the currency we use to get jobs and show how smart we are.

The problem lies in the fact that the internet is now the largest repository of knowledge, and there are many social components to the internet. You can learn all sorts of useful skills and knowledge from folks all over the world. But how do you show you know the skill? Currently, and unfortunately, you do it the same way its been done for hundreds of years. You pay a boatload of money, you go to school, you take classes (whether or not you know the subject), and you demonstrate competency. Once you've done this, you get the coveted degree.

But the times they are a changing. Today we not only have information, but we have information organized in courses. We have hundreds of hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. Universities are just catching up to sites that have been around much longer.

So the real question becomes will universities be able to keep an iron grip on their monopoly of certification? There is a new model that is just emerging. It is the idea that if you already understand the content you shouldn't need to jump through the hoops. This idea should terrify universities, but not to innaction. Competency-based certificaiton is a great opportunity for cash-strapped schools. It has the potential to open up a new and incredibly large new market.

The idea of competency-based certification is already being practiced quite successfully over at Western Governors University. WGU develops no content. They have no professors. Instead, their students learn from some other source--any other source, and once they feel they know the content, they take a test. If they pass the test, they earn the credit. It may take four years to earn a degree, it may take four months, it all depends on what you know.

I'm willing to bet as we see more and more information online, we will hear a larger cry for an alternative to the traditional higher education. Good, smart folks in developing countries can't hope to save the money and come to the US to pay the high price of getting a degree. But they can log onto the internet and pay to take a test, especially if the degree or certificate they get by taking the test leads them to a better life.

The only question not answered is will universities lead the way, or be drug, kicking and screaming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Article of the week...

If you're in the publishing industry--author, publisher, bookseller, whatever--you need to read this. Sure, this article is about the newspaper industry, but you have to ask yourself, are we next?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Incredible...

You and me, we watch Youtube videos and think, 'ha ha, that is funny'.

This guy looks at them and thinks, 'I could make me a song out of that."

The results are incredible. I can't stop listening.

He's got a bunch, don't just listen to the one I linked to. If his site is running slow, here is the video for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Quote of the day...

John: Whoa! This scripture tells the Jews, "lo, lo". What does that mean?

Mom: That means to listen up.

John: Yeah like, "Hey you guys, loosen up!"

Friday, March 06, 2009

Getting closer...

A year or so ago I put forth the idea of linking wikipedia articles to a location. We're now officially one step closer to that reality. A French company has put the entire wikipedia on on a mobile device. All that's needed is to hook up all of the articles with coordinates (Mt. Rushmore, Pacific Ocean), and link them so they show up on the GPS map.

My money says somebody will do it by year's end. And then the whole lid will come off of this bubbling pot, and we'll see some real content-to-location love.

One Trillion

Can't quite wrap your head around the concept of a trillion? Don't feel bad, neither can I. It's hard to really understand the concept. We hear about it in the news, but let's face it, we all went to public school, and we're just not that good at math. We're much better at visuals.

So, without any further ado..I present to you, a trillion.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Poemtry


When my oldest son was little, I started reading him Shel Silverstein. He got mixed up when I told him that these were poems, and poetry, and he called it all poemtry. Although now he knows what it's really called, as each son has grown up, we've called it poemtry, just for fun.

Anyway, last night my number four wanted me to read him some poemtry. And while I could never pick out my favorite Shel Silverstein poem, this one certainly has to rank in the top ten.

Alice

She drank from a bottle called DRINK ME
And up she grew so tall,
She ate from a plate called TASTE ME
And down she shrank so small.
And so she changed, while other folks
Never tried nothin' at all.

Authors Take Note

Good article over at the Huffington Post by Hugh McGuire. This particular sentence jumped out at me.

"After a day on the web, it's often hard to get my brain to switch back to the slowness needed to read a novel or deeper text."

When I was in school, I read all of the time. I had a 50 minute bus ride to and from school. The bus driver played country music, so my only defense was to go to my 'happy place'. That happy place was Narnia, Middle Earth, Xanth, and Shannara, not to mention the endless depths of space. I had an entire hour to read, inturrupted only every once in a while by Tony Norr stopping by and giving me the obligatory knuckle noogie.

But lately I've found myself with less and less large blocks of time to read. I used to watch movies with my wife at night to relax. Then we found that even 2 hours was difficult to manage. We've switched to 50 or 24 minute television shows on Hulu more to our liking.

It's hard to pick up a book like Anathem (960 pages) and read it in 8 minute chunks from now until 2012.

And it's worse for our kids. They don't even like to watch a 30 minute TV show, instead watching 4 minute clips on YouTube.

I feel that McGuire makes two important points in his article.

"This is why I think that ebooks & mobile devices are so important to the publishing business: ebooks allow me to read at times & in areas when I wouldn't otherwise be reading."

and

"The worry I have with high prices/abusive DRM terms etc for ebooks is that the business will price itself out of a new market space while watching (in horror) as the traditional market shrinks in the face of the gazillions of other things people can do these days to pass their time."

The RIAA and the MPAA have both gone through these growing pains, and the publishing industry is just now starting to do the same. In my opinion the RIAA really fouled things up, while the MPAA only sort of fouled things up. It's my hope that publishers and authors can do a better job, but I'm not holding my breath. After seeing the authors guild sue Google and hinting at suing Amazon, I fear that we are going to make the same mistakes all over again. As McGuire says:

"The job of the publishing business is going to be to find more ways to make it easier for people like me to read. And it seems with ebook pricing & DRM, the publishing biz just want to make it harder for me to do so.

"And that can't be a winning strategy."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

Interesting Conversation...

Interesting article over on Reflections of a Newsosaur. This guy thinks that media outlets made a huge mistake by putting their content on the web for free. A few of the unintended consequences of this 'original sin':

:: "By giving away their content on the web, publishers made it unnecessary for consumers to subscribe to the publications that generated the high advertising revenues that subsidize the cost of producing content.

:: "Publishers devalued their once-powerful franchises by letting anyone link freely to their content on the web.

:: "The wide availability of free content on the web quickly convinced consumers, who didn’t need much persuading, that content should be free."

His solution to the problem is to put their content behind a paid subscription...which has proved completely ineffective in the past.

I thought one of the comments summed it up the best:

"What worries me is that I'm not sure that most newspapers have anything to charge for. Reviews? I can get those from my friends on Facebook. Columnists? Good Lord there's a whole blogosphere to choose from. Breaking news? Um, no." (Can you say Twitter?)

"So what then?

"There is plenty of free content on the web. Most of it crap, some of it mediocre and, yes, some small bit of it top notch. Newspapers will have to compete with all of it and this means their content will have to compete with top-notch.

"And I'm not sure it can."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Quote of the day...

Me: Our site is down. I'm not sure I know exactly how to get it up, can you help?

Tom: Yeah, I was just heading out to spray some disinfectant on a chicken's butt, and then I'd be happy to take a look at it.

Me: You are, as they say, the man.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A little bit of press...

As many of you know, I'm the director of Utah State University's OpenCourseWare project. We're pretty proud of what we've built, and it's always nice to get a bit of recognition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wading into politics...again

I try to avoid politics on this blog, but every once in a while I have to.

CNN wrote a piece about Attorney General Eric Holder who called America a 'Nation of Cowards'. Why are we cowards? From the article:

""Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," Holder declared.

"Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

"The attorney general said employees across the country "have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace," but he noted that "certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

"On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad," Holder said."

I agree with Holder 100 percent. I think there are topics that are 'off limits' and we hesitate to explore them. Why? Well, because if we try to explore them, we are often called racists. Consider a 'scandal' that is currently going on right now.

Sean Delonas draws comics for the New York Post. His most recent is being called not just offensive and violent, but yes...racist. You can see the comic here. Al Sharpton had this to say about it:

""The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that "Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.""

However, how many of us have seen images like this over the past eight years? Heck, there is even a web site devoted to the topic. Who is more racists, the artist comparing Obama to a monkey, or the person declaring that comparing Obama to a monkey is racism? Maybe Delonas was just doing what we've been happily doing in this country since 1776--making fun of our leaders.

Let me be very clear. I think it is very disrespectful to compare or call any sitting president (heck, any person for that matter) a monkey. I didn't find the pictures of Bush and monkeys funny, nor do I find the comic hinting at Obama funny. But if we are to move past being a 'nation of cowards', and be able to discuss "certain subjects are off limits" then we need Al Sharpton and other similar folks to stop crying racism anytime something like this occurs. How can we 'explore' these topics when everytime we try we risk "at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

I think the Attorney General is dead on. But until we can truly discuss these things without being called racist, nothing will change. We will all smile at each other, we will all be friendly at the office, but deep down we will constanlty worry about what we are saying. We won't be able to open up and really have the discussions that need to take place.