virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Halloween Memento Mori

Jeff Scher's "Memento Mickey"Jeff Scher’s Memento Mickey (video via NYTimes.com)

“Memento Mickey” is a Halloween memento mori. Latin for “remember you will die,” it is also a genre of art that uses death to remind the viewer that life is indeed fleeting. This is not necessarily morbid or macabre, but life-affirming in that it also reminds us that we’re not dead yet. There’s still time. So make it count. (NYTimes.com)

This mesmorizing video, painting and soundtrack deliver an invitation to reflect on our mortality about as subtle as getting hit by a commuter train. Repeatedly. In slow motion. And I love it! Go figure…

Jeff Scher is a painter and experimental filmmaker with a philosophical bent and a gift for blending media. Enjoy the video.

Movellas: Mobile Novels


Check out the Movellas backstory! (via youtube.com)

Have you heard about Movellas? New to me, a curiosity fished out of my Twitter stream… But intriguing. Attractive video. Simple, straightforward site. Unfortunately this Danish startup seems to attracting primarily (almost exclusively?) non-English language storytellers. So, I’m not able to vouch for the quality of the “mobile novel” ostensibly born of at Movellas. I searched for a language filter to sort out novels I could read. Doesn’t seem possible at this time. I’ll check back…

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New York Times Has More Twitter Followers Than Print Subscribers

new york times sulzbergerThe New York Times has a great online brand and business… [but the print newspaper business] is imploding and dragging down the rest of the company.

Sounds like a familiar problem these days, right? All too familiar. But here’s the interesting twist. The New York Times is a social media rockstar! This morning, for example, the New York Times Twitter acount (@nytimes) has almost 2.7 million followers! You read that right. That’s the big leagues. Idon’t play in the big leagues. The farm leagues, perhaps! In relative terms, @nytimes has approximately 831 times more followers than I do… And I’m one of those 2.7 million followers because I value the real-time information soundbites, article leads, etc.

To put this into perspective, that’s more than twice as large as the New York Times’ print circulation, which is slightly under a million copies for the daily copy of the paper.

And, let’s face it. The disparity between these two circulation figures will only grow as time goes on. So what’s the point? I tend to agree with [most of] the following:

we think those two numbers are such a symbol of the NYT’s current, bittersweet situation:

  • Print is dying;
  • The NYT is going to have to restructure and reorient its business in a major way;
  • But the NYT is actually hugely successful online and has all the assets it needs to build a huge, lasting online brand instead of letting itself be disrupted by nimbler outfits like the Huffington Post.

(Business Insider)

I’m not ready to foretell the death of print. Not totally. Not yet. Books, in particular, will keep print alive, but (as I’ve said before) print books will become an increasingly niche subset of publishing. However, newspapers alre already stepping away from print. The businees model simply isn’t sustainable. I read virtually all of my news on the web at this point. Living oversees made me an early adopter. Universal access. Instantaneous access. And nothing to throw away. Nothing to smudge all over my fingers. Easy to search. In my opinion, digital journalism has already discplaced print, and we’ll continue to see print newspapers shuttered in the days ahead. Twitter won’t replace nytimes.com but the website will replace the print paper. Etc.

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Self-Publish with Borders and Barnes & Noble


The publishing industry’s changing landscape (engadget.com)

Not to be outdone by Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble have entered the publishing racket.

Earlier this month Barnes & Noble launched a self-publishing platform called PubIt! that will compete directly with Amazon CreateSpace and indirectly with Apple’s iBookstore.

In an attempt to do for indie writers what InstantAction has done for indie game developers,… the world’s largest bookseller is hoping to expand its importance in the digital realm by giving wannabe authors the ability to upload and sell their material through B&N’s website and eBookstore… the real kicker here is this won’t be limited to the Nook; pretty much any e-reader, tablet or PC will be able to tap in and make purchases, so the potential audience is quite large. (engadget)

Of course, Kindle too ensured that their electronic books are universally accessible by developing apps that work across devices and platforms, but B&N’s open publishing model is smart. Sure, Nook has been a bit of a sleeper next to the Kindle, and B&N doesn’t want to limit the potential market (or perception) by being number two in the reader market. Or number three when the iPad is thrown into the mix? Whatever the logic guiding this policy, it’s welcome and overdue. Limiting media to Kindle or iPad, though lucrative in the short run, is a major turnoff for the consumer. It’s like saying, “Here, buy our glossy print book, but you can only read it at home. Not at work. Not on vacation. Not on the bus. At home!” Okay, so it’s not exactly like that, but it is perceived as unnecessarily restrictive. And if B&N can manage to open up the electronic publishing industry, I’m confident that consumers (and authors) will respond.

Okay, enough prattling and jab-jab-jabberwocky… What’s the bottom line?

[PubIt!] is essentially designed to give independent writers a venue for hawking their masterpieces, with PubIt! converting files to ePUB for use on a wide range of e-readers… Published titles will be available for sale within 24 to 72 hours after upload on the B&N eBookstore, and the company’s pretty proud of its “no hidden fees” policy… PubIt! ebooks will also be lendable for a fortnight… (engadget)

Inevitable, but no less exciting, Borders has announced that they want a piece of the indie action too. Their self-publishing platform, Borders Get Published, appears to be a joint venture with BookBrewer (the blog-to-ebook folks) and is scheduled to launch on Monday.

Using the service, authors can publish and sell eBooks through the Borders eBook store, as well as other partner eBook retailers… Authors can sell works of any length and chose [sic] the price within a price range set by the retailer. Authors can add content by typing in the platform, by copying and pasting it into an online form, or content can be fed from an existing website or blog. The content will be saved as an ePub file.

There are two tiers of pricing for those looking to get published –$89.99 and $199.99. Under the basic package, BookBrewer will assign the book an ISBN and make it available to major eBook stores at a price set by the writer. Royalties will be based on sales and will vary with each retailer. The higher priced package comes with a full version of the ePub file, that authors can share with friends, family and press and submit to other eBook stores. (mediabistro.com)

Exciting times. Unless you’re in the traditional publishing industry, I would think. It’s a little surreal that the new publishing map is being hashed up by retail/distribution power players while traditional publishers sit idly by worrying, griping, soap boxing and nay saying. I have to believe that earth shattering innovations are in the offing from the Big Six, right? I mean, these are smart, powerful companies. They won’t just sit back and watch as the new guys gobble up their lunch, dinner and cocktails! Or will they?

While print book sales continue to decline, e-book sales are up 192.9% this year to date, according to figures gathered from 14 publishers by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). E-books now make up 9% of all trade sales in the U.S.; last year, they made up a mere 3.3%. E-book sales have reined in $263 million thus far in 2010, and $39 million in August alone — a 172.4% increase over last year’s sales numbers. Meanwhile, sales of paperback and hardcover books continue to decline across the board… ( Mashable )

The publishing industry is shifting so rapidly that it’s still difficult to anticipate what tomorrow will look like. I suspect that a decade from now we’ll have an entirely new understanding of media creation, publication, distribution and curatorship. And I hope that it will be a more open, less top-down model. Just as there’s reason to worry that a shift will not necessarily amount to progress, there’s ample reason for optimism. I’m sticking with Pollyanna!

Related:

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The Art of Listening

Most people are not proficient at the art of listening. It requires practice and dedication.

"Will the rain stop? Soon? Ever?" Yes, I assure Griffin, but for now you pee in the rain. Sorry...

David Weedmark, author of The Tanglewood Murders recently opined on the global listening deficit. And like so much that germinates from his clever mind, his observation that the population at large isn’t very skilled at listening and his “5 Keys to the Art of Listening” are worth reading, re-reading and then passing along to the folks you’d like to listen.

It reminded me of something I used to tell my students. The first step in storytelling is listening. And the second and the third.

To tell stories, you must listen to the world around you. Not just the stories written, told, illustrated by others. There’s a deeper listening that precedes good storytelling, an intentional receptivity to the world around us.

That cracked manhole cover has a story. That twisted walnut tree has a story. That distant dog bark carried on the wind, and the smell of burning leaves, and the scar across you left pinky knuckle. All have stories.

Can you hear them? If you listen, really listen, you’ll begin to hear the stories underneath. And then you can begin to pick and choose the ones you like, the ones you understand, the ones your audience most desire and need.

Weedmark’s guidelines are helpful:

  1. Listen actively. Look in the person’s eyes, watch their mouth. Lean forward.
  2. Don’t think about talking. Think about what the other person is saying.
  3. Ask questions. When the other person has finished… [speaking] ask a question…
  4. Don’t fake it. [Your] time is just too valuable.
  5. Ask better questions. Take them deeper into their own thoughts and feelings by asking them why they did what they did and how they got to where they are.

(via David Weedmark)

Do you already practice the art of listening? I’ve learned that people appreciate good listeners. They open up, share more, pour more passion, more life into their communication. And you’re the winner. Better listeners receive better stories. Weedmark wraps up his post by reminding us that there’s always room to improve the art of listening: “Let people know you want to listen. Let them know you care.” And you’ll be the richer for it!

Stephen Fry Loves Language

Stephen Fry kinetic typography animation (youtube.com)

Although the visual effect is clever (and ultimately compelling) it tires the eyes and pushes the concept too far. That said, Stephen Fry’s reflection on the increasingly overlooked wonders of language (as well as the tendency for critics to harp on language fouls and blunders rather than celebrating the extraordinary richness of words) is delightful. A welcome tune for many wordsmiths, and a reminder that we should emphasize the power and beauty of language rather than beating up the language manglers. I remember my mother telling me as a boy, “You’ll get more flies with honey.” Right?

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Storytelling Is Just the Beginning

Talk about the future of journalism often takes on a victim-istic tenor. [But] there’s poetic sensibility in his [David Schlesinger’s] words:

Knowing the story is not enough. Telling the story is only the beginning. The conversation about the story is as important as the story itself.

[…] Along this line, he clearly sees Reuters embracing social media:

What is great about 2010 is that technology has created a completely new concept of community. And it has given that community new powers to inform and connect.

[…] Schlesinger goes on to say the Reuters model will combine the best of both worlds, “the professionalism of the journalist and the power of the community.” Underpinning the Reuters approach, storytelling remains a core tenant as Schlesinger shares:

If we have learned anything from these past two years, it has been that pure facts are not enough. Pure facts don’t tell enough of the story; pure facts won’t earn their way… We’ve been drowning in facts, and that deluge continues to threaten.

[…] What Schlesinger has written is more than an insider’s look at Reuters adjusting to a digital world that puts the consumer in charge.It’s a manifesto for news organizations around the world.(Ishmael’s Corner)

Lou Hoffman’s post about the merits of storytelling communities (ie. nexus of conversations provoked by a story) is a thoughtful and refreshing counterpoint to the woe-is-me grumbling we hear so much lately.

He is reacting to David Schlesinger’s post, “Changing Journalism; Changing Reuters”, and I’ve excerpted some of the most compelling thoughts from both of them above. (Note: I’ve condenced their paragraphs to simplify the layout.)

This notion that the future of journalism — and to a large degree, storytelling, in general — lies in sharing, interaction and community is thrilling. And it’s totally accurate. One-way information is dying. Journalism and storytelling will become more democratic in the process, allowing a much broader conversation to replace the top-down approach that has long prevailed. Citizen participation. Citizen journalism. Open source journalism! It’s exciting. And it poses all sorts of new challenges. Fact checking, for example. And curatorship. As more and more content is generated and aggregated from increasingly diverse sources, it will become more and more inportant to sort, organize and filter the flow if information. This challenge of curatorship will be one of the critical areas of innovation over the next decade.

And last but not least, Schlesinger’s comment about the limitations of facts, reminded me of that old story about two beautiful young maidens, Truth and Story… Let’s see if I can find it!

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Projeqt Your Story

 Introducing ProjeqtIt looks like the newest entry to the online storytelling bonanza, projeqt, is sexier than Intersect and Storify, but less useful. Minimalist can be good, especially from a design perspective. But as a storytelling tool, projeqt appears to be pretty limited. (Check out the video introduction here.) And waaayyy too linear. Web enabled digital storytelling should open up whole new realms of non-linear narrative. Time to leap-frog past hum-drum slideshows, even when they look pretty and allow video, etc. It’s worth noting that I haven’t been under projeqt‘s hood, so I judge prematurely. And since they’re still in beta, I probably won’t get a more ample perspective any time soon. (I did sign up to beta test. Maybe I’ll be able to share a surprising, exciting update soon?)

Despite my reservations, there’s tons of potential for this project. And their vision is spot on!

Your story is who you are and how your story gets told is just as important as the story itself. Great stories keep us riveted to the page. Or the screen (whatever shape or size it happens to come in.) Great stories get shared and are retold time after time after time. Great stories always leave us wanting more. Projeqt gives you the tools and technology to tell your story. It provides a robust architecture, with unprecedented flexibility and possibilities. Projeqt is about giving you the power to projeqt your story to the world.

My hopes are high. And my enthusiasm for the current proliferation of storytelling apps and websites is legendary!

Update:

The year is a-waning (scarcely a week left in 2010), but still no word fromprojeqt. Hmmm… Beta boy is offering to bust a move, but so far no beta invitation. So, I still can’t comment on the underbelly of the beast. Nor does much new content seem to be emerging. If you’re looking for a quirky tour of what can be generated with this platform, meander through the Brain Pickings projeqt.

Brain Pickings

 

I’m not sure that this example (or any of the other currently published examples) demonstrate projeqt’s gotta-have-it awesomeness, but it did introduce me to Brain Pickings, and now I’m hooked!

Brain Pickings is about curating interestingness — picking culture’s collective brain for tidbits of stuff that inspires, revolutionizes, or simply makes us think. It’s about innovation and authenticity and all those other things that have become fluff phrases but don’t have to be.

The site is slooowww, at least lately, but it’s well worth the wait. Fascinating and fun and packed full of provocative ideas, links, videos, etc. Check out Maria Popova’s How To Be Alone for a refresher in (introduction to?) solitary contentment. Here’s the I-bet-you-can’t-resist-watching-the-whole-thing video:

Top 10 Ways to Tick People off

First of all, it’s actually a top 32 list, but that wouldn’t have made for such a catchy title. Forgive me. And a grateful hat tip to Joe Crawford of ArtLung who lifted me high above the icy roads and gloomy gray last January when I stumbled onto his list, “How to Tick People Off“.

It made me laugh. Not the “Harrumph!” kind of laugh that most email forwards prompt before deciding not to pass them along. More like an I-hope-I-don’t-wake-up-my-wife-and-have-to-explain-why kind of laugh. That wouldn’t stop. And maybe, if you’re a little irreverent and you don’t take yourself too seriously you’ll understand why. In a few seconds. When you read the list.

But first, it’s worth noting that I’m posting this list over nine months after first reading it. Why? Because I didn’t really intend to share it. I try to avoid amplifying the noise. To many, these 32 opportunities to laughcertainly would be considered noise. And why waste time formatting the list, posting it, etc. If it doesn’t challenge my readers, inspire them, etc. it wasn’t worth doing. That was then. Since then I’ve revisited the list from time to time. Not often, but on those $#!% storm days when a lifeline (or a laugh line) is welcome. I had one of those days this week. The good news is that it was a short-lived doomsday. The better news is that it motivated me to pass along this goofy gray day antidote. If you don’t like it, stop reading it. If you’re offended, sorry. But if it adds a little levity when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, perfect. That’s the idea. To make you chuckle. To remind you that life’s not quite so serious as it sometimes seems. Laughter is good medicine… Okay, some of these are better than others. And a few are lame. Or just plain rude. But most are funny. Silly, yes, but funny. Enjoy!

    1. Leave the copy machine set to reduce 200%, extra dark, 17 inch paper, 99 copies.
    2. In the memo field of all your checks, write “for sexual favors.”
    3. Specify that your drive-through order is “TO-GO.”
    4. If you have a glass eye, tap on it occasionally with your pen while talking to others.
    5. Stomp on little plastic ketchup packets.
    6. Insist on keeping your car windshield wipers running in all weather conditions “to keep them tuned up.”
    7. Reply to everything someone says with “that’s what you think.”
    8. Practice making fax and modem noises.
    9. Highlight irrelevant information in scientific papers and “cc” them to your boss.
    10. Make beeping noises when a large person backs up.
    11. Finish all your sentences with the words “in accordance with prophesy.”
    12. Signal that a conversation is over by clamping your hands over your ears and grimacing.
    13. Disassemble your pen and “accidentally” flip the ink cartridge across the room.
    14. Holler random numbers while someone is counting.
    15. Adjust the tint on your TV so that all the people are green, and insist to others that you “like it that way.”
    16. Staple pages in the middle of the page.
    17. Publicly investigate just how slowly you can make a croaking noise.
    18. Honk and wave to strangers.
    19. Decline to be seated at a restaurant, and simply eat their complimentary mints at the cash register.
    20. TYPE IN UPPERCASE.
    21. type only in lowercase.
    22. dont use any punctuation either
    23. Buy a large quantity of orange traffic cones and reroute whole streets.
    24. Repeat the following conversation a dozen times. “DO YOU HEAR THAT?” “What?” “Never mind, it’s gone now.”
    25. As much as possible, skip rather than walk.
    26. Try playing the William Tell Overture by tapping on the bottom of your chin. When nearly done, announce “No, wait, I messed it up,” and repeat.
    27. Ask people what gender they are.
    28. While making presentations, occasionally bob your head like a parakeet.
    29. Sit in your front yard pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.
    30. Sing along at the opera.
    31. Go to a poetry recital and ask why each poem doesn’t rhyme.
    32. Ask your co-workers mysterious questions and then scribble their answers in a notebook. Mutter something about “psychological profiles.”

(courtesy of Joe Crawford, “How to Tick People Off“)

Did you laugh? I hope so. Number 29 resonates for me because cars, tractor trailers, dump trucks, etc. routinely exceed the 30mph speed limit in front of my house. 75mph isn’t unheard of! So if you see me sitting in a lawn chair pointing my wife’s hairdryer at you, you better slow down!

And by the way, I’d recommend you not actually do any of these things. But, if you’re clever, maybe you can come up with a few more… If you do, please send them along.

Update:

I’ve received a couple of worthy additions:

33. Ask women if they’re pregnant, and when they say, “No, why?” glance at their midsection and look away quickly. (Patricia Greathouse)
34. Park across someone’s driveway and then go to work for the day. (Kathryn Cramer)

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Writing Concisely

If somebody sets out in great detail what is before us, we very quickly become bored. That is not the way we see the world; we look for salience, we look for the feature that will engage our interest… The trouble with overwritten prose is that it takes away from the reader the opportunity to imagine a scene. We do not want to be told everything; we want a few brushstrokes, a few carefully chosen adjectives, and then we can do the rest ourselves. (Wall Street Journal)

Crisp, concise language sounds like a worthy goal. And indeed it is. But words are so delicious, so tempting, so distracting. It’s often quite difficult to cull the best and lose the rest. Especially because we writers like words, collect words, romance words, get totally distracted words… See where I’m going? It can be damned difficult to weed out all the superfluous language. Even when we know it’s the right way to write!

Alexander McCall Smith’s article, “Block that Adjective“, hits the nail on the head:

“For some people, being able to use all these words is rather like being faced with a chocolate box with multiple layers; the temptation to overindulge is just too great.”

Yup. I’m one of those chocolate lovers. Hello, I’m George Davis, and I’m a word glutton. Recognizing I have a problem is half the battle right? Nope. Not even close. It’s a fresh battle each time I sit down to edit what I’ve written. Clean out the clutter. Clean out the distractions. Clean out the overindulgence. What’s left? The essence. The story…

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