Archive for the ‘Press’ Category

SF: Literature, Beyond

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Today, just a few words about an often neglected fiction form.

Science fiction.

Most of the time this form is relegated to the back of bookstores, the bargain bins, or dusty boxes where these humble paperbacks languish. Rejected by mainstream literature, marginalized as “fantasy” or “role playing,” these story lines are nevertheless quite rigorous when done right.

Why is this so? Maybe it’s because of our national character, which emphasizes hard work, practicality and productivity. What could be less Protestant WASP-y than fantastic characters with strange habits on far away places that don’t even have gravity?

Yet, who can deny the power of science fiction? Star Trek has been with us for more than 40 years now. Let’s not forget 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Andromeda Strain and other movies of those days, even A Clockwork Orange.

Can any writer, anywhere, top The Martian Chronicles? I place it among mankind’s greatest fiction, ever.

So for the next few posts, FD will take a look at this humble form, pluck out a few titles and open the floor for suggestions.

A Tweet about Facebook

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today, big — very big — news in the ‘Net — it’s a showdown of sorts between so many camps it’s hard to tease apart the battles. Yet it seems somehow the future of the entire human race rests on the outcomes.

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First up: Twitter.

OK, I admit it. I investigated Twitter for a simple reason — I wanted to find out WHAT ALL THE FUSS WAS ABOUT.

Once signed on, I felt was much ado about nothing … then again, quite often technology appears insignificant, irrelevant and unneeded at first … then we get hooked … then WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT.

So I check my Twitter feed and even Tweet from time to time. I have a few friends I follow. I also read Stephen Fry’s frequent (and frequently funny) Tweets. He was among the first and healthiest Tweeters. Or is that Twits?

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Next up: New Facebook

What is it with software developers and IT people? Sometimes they are just so … ON. Other times, it seems they’re hosting a wee fascist streak. Software and the ‘Net thrive when they’re open, lawless and flexible. Organic. People powered.

The new Facebook design is more intrusive and noisy. It pours everyone’s activity and status updates into a single feed, meaning that the interesting bits are buried under junk.

The status update — that one-line show of genius and minimalist poetry — is now reduced to so much static among too many boring items about what quiz someone took, which 80s movie they are, which rock song defines them, etc.

Just give me status updates, please! If I want to know which color defines their personality, I’ll visit their wall, thank you.

Last: Battle of the social networks.

If you haven’t noticed, here’s how the teams line up. MySpace seems to work for music and bands. Facebook has exploded among, well, us grown-ups. Twitter seems to be fashionable among movie stars and journalists.

I have integrated Twitter onto my Facebook page. You may have noticed Twitter is also on my Web site. Facebook is a major form of communication between my husband and myself during work hours. I have given more Facebook gifts than real gifts this year.

It’s interesting to wonder who will end up on top of the heap when the dust settles.

In the meantime, I’m just out here looking for a meaningful status update. One that will justify my very existence. Or at least all those hours on Facebook.

SxSW=Music!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

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The Avett Brothers. Photo by Crackerfarm

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

Today marks the opening of the Austin music festival South by Southwest. Each year this festival churns up a bit of excitement, placing new music firmly in the spotlight, usually folks who don’t have the machinery of hype behind them.

Of course each year there are also old-but-goodies such as Beck. This year, not my favorite band Metallica is appearing, along with Big Boi, formerly of OutKast, who is promoting his solo recordings.

On a personal note, a favorite band of mine will be there, the Avett Brothers. Now if you don’t know these guys, they’re like pop-bluegrass-punk, just a lot of fun.

I happen to know about them not because I’m in the know, but by good fortune live next door to one of the band members. Who’s a great guy … and so is his wife. They’re animal loving tree huggers like yours truly. One of the band members graduated from East Carolina University, here in G-Vegas.

Today, the Avett Brothers are set to play at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in the NPR Showcase. (If you’re on Facebook, you got a surprise last week, when NPR sent a free SXSW sampler CD in your inbox to download from iTunes. Yeah!!!) They’re playing with the Decemberists and Heartless Bastards.

Tomorrow, the Avett Brothers will play at the Radio Room, at the Paste-Brooklyn Vegan party. With Daniel Johnson, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.

If you’re interested, here’s a full playlist from the NPR Showcase. I think anyone can download free from NPR, with an iTunes account. Enjoy!!

“Furr” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
“Knotty Pine” by David Byrne & The Dirty Projectors from Dark Was the Night
“Lakeside” by BLK JKS from Mystery EP
“Go On, Say It” by Blind Pilot from 3 Rounds and a Sound
“Bag of Hammers” by Thao Nguyen from We Brave Bee Stings and All
“The Rake’s Song” by The Decemberists from The Hazards of Love
“St. Joseph’s” by The Avett Brothers from The Second Gleam
“The Mountain” by The Heartless Bastards from The Mountain
“Dreamer” by K’Naan from Troubadour
“Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” by Mayer Hawthorne from Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out

Unfashionable Times

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A VAGUE REFLECTION ON THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Today, FD turns again to the economy. As usual, expect indispensable insight and potentially paradigm shifting information.

First of all, let’s look at our own cost-cutting measures here at Fiction Daily. Because of our own budget shortfalls, we have decided to temporarily reduce entries. This reduction results from the needed reduction in our workforce of 13.4 percent, for a cost savings of at least several pennies.

That benchmarking reduction means I will have to lose about 17 pounds … so, well, we’re doing all we can to reduce expenses, and will have to reduce our workforce by some degree, in any event, because I really should lose about 5 or 10 pounds … but don’t expect me … er, my staff … to post on Mondays for a while until we get out of the woods … er weeds … er dark tunnel … of these challenging economic times.

Next, a word about fashion. Yes, fashion.

Depression-recession fashion has come back with a bang. Or is that a whimper? Looking through my advertising circulars over the weekend, I noticed two things: one, there were fewer of them falling out of my Sunday paper and two, the fashions inside them were more horrible than ever.

Last week, in a moment of weakness and mental abjection, I purchased several so-called “women’s magazines” and the fashions I saw scared me to death. These people look like ghouls! Pale white faces, dark pouts and eyes, feathers, rags and downright unbalanced appearances were a fright.

The trend has spread to mainstream retail, mixed with a strange longing for polyester and unnatural colors, with the exploding patterns, mixed-up skirt lengths and fake-gold chain belts and necklaces from circa early 1970s. (KC and the Sunshine Band, anyone?)

Those were the days of the other “recession,” when we turned off lights and conserved energy as a nation, because of the oil embargo, inflation and other poorly understood economic shudders.

Now we see those days’ fashions showing up again, as if we’re looking for comfort in them … we made it through those days so if we dress in a similar way maybe we’ll make it to shore again this time.

Of course, never, ever look to a writer to understand fashion. Writers dress in pre-Victorian ragware as a rule, and would hardly leave our pajamas at all except society requires it.

So remember, in these uncertain economic times, if you notice fewer posts, remember the FD staff has to trim its budget, too, and we can all make it through these challenges by simply putting off our obligations as much as possible.

Mailable … or Not

Friday, March 6th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

There’s no doubt about it … if we followed rules issued by the U.S. Postal Service 100 years ago today, many of us would never open another letter. Maybe not even a bill …

The U.S. Postal Service declared that

Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character … is hereby declared to be nonmailable matter.

These days, that covers just about anything worth sending — or receiving. My Rolling Stone magazines violate just about every provision above, and I’m a pretty conservative gal. Who knows what other folks are reading.

Of course these mail standards at some time would have also included Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lolita and Grapes of Wrath.

Which brings me to the observation that in some ways prompted today’s entry — at the grocery store a couple of days ago, I ran into my former mail carrier, whose name is Bob. He has a remarkable memory … and is a genuinely nice guy.

He works in the university community here and has walked the same route for decades (he was also my postal carrier in the early 1990s).

As we were talking, he mentioned that though he’s in the same area, his routes and those of others he works with are experiencing considerable shifting and reworking because the mail volume is off so sharply. Advertisers aren’t sending us so much junk mail (a good thing for us) … but for the Postal Service, that junk mail decrease translates into lost business.

Folks just don’t send letters anymore, and we even pay our bills online.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl, growing up deep in the countryside of Edgecombe County … with corn fields in front of me … tobacco fields behind me … and mom’s daylilies farm everywhere else.

Each week in the summer, my days were unstructured and dreamy as I read novel after novel, discovered Edgar Poe and Jane Eyre; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; biographies and dinosaurs.

In those days we had only one or two TV channels and magazines and other junk culture were not pervasive, at least not in Edgecombe County.

The highlight of those summer days … the clearest joyful moment in those sun-washed hours … came when I made the trip across the street to the mailbox. For inside would possibly be a letter from a pen-pal; a rare ordered item; or, best of all, My Weekly Reader.

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That four-page newsprint reader brought me such happiness and opened so many doors of my imagination. It had simple stories about far-off places, games and puzzles and suggestions for activities. I was always a little sad when I had finished reading every word … and the hopeful waiting began for the next issue.

And it came in a mailbox.

BE SURE TO LISTEN today at noon to the Down East Journal on Public Radio East for a Figuratively Speaking commentary!

Thanks today to Jeffrey Kacirk for his calendar, Forgotten English, which gives FD such food for thought each day.

‘Sirius’ about the iPhone

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

So many updates this week … not sure where they will lead … but here they are … first Sirius XM has announced it will release a new, FREE app for iPhone that will allow subscribers to listen through their phones.

Now this news is not as simple as it seems: Only days earlier, Apple moved to block another satellite radio app being offered by another company, NiceMac. These guys are dedicated satellite radio fans (as I have become) and their app was in development for some time. It was expected that it would be costly, however … I’ve heard close to $20.

So here is our beloved Sirius XM staring bankruptcy in the face … with a trump card, the free app for iPhone. It could help in Sirius XM get out of its financial hole, though I’m not sure how (?) (Probably some kind of ad revenue, or the hope of new subscribers.) It would appear Apple would rather deal with the big guys at Sirius than the little guys at Nicemac.

Meanwhile, the guys at NiceMac are left in the cold.

Note — I apologize for all the links and frankly can’t make sense of it, but some folks out there in Fiction Dailyland may be able to untangle it. If so, please report!

Meanwhile, Sirius will start charging addition fees each month for Internet streaming. That’s in addition to the $17 or so each month for the radio service. Yep, that takes it to $20 a month.

Now some people would say, Hold your horses, circle the wagons … why would you pay for radio?

I say, just give Sirius-XM a listen and you’ll know why. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it’s not a hard choice. I’ll give up shoes before I give up music.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday asks the age-old question, When are words superfluous?

A Singular Future?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today, a few thoughts about a concept that’s new to most of us … the singularity. Now most of us think of the singularity as the very center of a black hole … a no-man’s land where the mass of the sun exists in an area the size of a pinhead. Theoretically, nothing … not even light … can escape the pull of this singularity.

Rolling Stone had an article last week about an altogether different singularity, proposed by Ray Kurzweil. The call him “Technoprophet,” as he’s been right on many unexpected advances. Not sure whether to curse him for this, but he created the synthesizer that creates computer sounds that sound like instruments. We can thank him for the piped-in music that’s so annoying on hold, in shops and some offices.

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He is know for pattern recognition innovations such as programs that enable computers to read text, the basis of scanning.

Nevertheless, Stevie Wonder is a good friend, and credits Mr. Kurzweil with changing his life because he created a computer program that translates text to speech.

The idea that is stirring up a lot of interest (some may say doom, fear and controversy) is known as the Singularity. But this Singularity is a lot closer than the nearest black hole. No, Kurzweil’s singularity will likely occur by 2045 — that’s when my niece will barely be 49 years old, the age I am now.

He believes by that time, machines and human beings will merge, that human life will never be the same again. That nanobots will clean out our blood streams of disease and illness, that we will plug ourselves in to back up our brains by computer.

He has been honored by three presidents, received the National Medal of Technology, so this guy is vastly respected. But not everyone buys his vision, or anti-vision, for the future. Jaron Lanier, who pioneered the realm of virtual reality, says in the RS article that the Singularity theory is comparable to a kooky religious fanaticism, predicting the end of times. That Kurzweil has gone off the deep end.

I have to say, however, I feel a chill when I realize how easily (and whole-heartedly) I embraced the iPod. I’ve often joked, I’d have it implanted if I could.

Now that’s a joke — I draw the line at my skin barrier — but who’s to say that if someone said a nanobot could clear cancer from our bodies, wouldn’t I at least try … especially if I were going to die … I think so.

In that sense, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible these nanobots could also clear pollution — and carbon — from our atmosphere.

A couple of thoughts about Kurzweil. He perdicted the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the spread (ubiquity) of wireless networks.

If you’re interested in reading more, his book is The Singularity is Near.

Taking Stock of Satellite

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

So these days so much focuses on finances and the stock market, that it’s not surprising our most recent update on Sirius-XM satellite radio focuses on the market’s response to last week’s deal with Liberty Media.

In today’s SiriusBuzz, our faithful blogger Brandon Matthews takes on mainstream media for its eagerness to write the obituary for satellite. In fact, he tells us, if investors and stock holders are willing to hold on, they may be surprised at the recovery of their stock’s value.

As he tells us, Sirius-XM may become cash-flow positive next year. Now I have no idea what that means, but I think it’s good news.

Since I’m writing about technology (and it’s not even Thursday), why not mention the new iPhone app that will allow loyal listeners to stream their satellite over the Internet. Now that should silence all the naysayers who declare satellite will fall to the ‘Net.

So not true!

Digital TV Delay?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Two big tech issues today … unless you also include my new foray onto Facebook, which is a chapter in itself for another day … and the Jeopardy online contestant quiz I took last night, and missed the final question about Radiohead … Radiohead! In Rainbows! I know that!

No, today just a brief update about our nation’s switch to digital TV … and the struggle in Washington over whether it should be delayed.

Being the worrier that I am, I ordered and received a U.S. Government coupon sometime last summer. It was a plastic magnetic-stripped card worth $40.

Now if you haven’t heard, the government is requiring all broadcasters to air their programs with digital signals, which uses a different area of the electromagnetic spectrum somehow and frees those waves for other vital technology, say iPhones.

So for lugs like us without cable (hey, we can view House on Fox! And Lost on ABC! And Seinfeld reruns! What more do we need?), there’s a need to use a converter box to translate the digital signal to your TV. (My TV … 20 years old … is still working, though the sound is going out, I believe.)

We use our $40 coupon to purchase a digital TV converter priced at $60. Don’t tell me there’s not some relationship there.

We get the converter box home …. and see it was manufactured entirely in China. The box has words to the effect of, This product fulfills the requirements of the U.S. Government coupon program, or something like that … just above the words, Made in China.

Now folks, how is it that a country which has embargoed Cuba for 45 years because it is a so-called evil Communist nation … can partner with this oppressive government to provide digital TV boxes, in one of the largest technology shifts ever? (let’s not forget beaten and jailed Buddhist monks, Tienanmen Square.)

I digress … what I meant to get at for today’s post was the sudden struggle between our new president and the U.S. House, which has blocked his effort to postpone the digital TV switch.

While I received my coupon in plenty of time, they ran out late last year … leaving millions of people without.

Mr. Obama believes it’s unfair to pull the plug on these folks without a box … many of them elderly, poor and possibly without the education they need to understand what’s going on. Without TV access, during these winter storms, they will lose their sole source of news, information and emergency contact.

So he has proposed a delay.

The broadcasters have mounted powerful opposition … and with good reason … many of them are already supporting analog and digital signals, which is terribly expensive. Enough, they say. Let’s be done with it, before it bankrupts us.

With the shroud of economic depression hanging over the broadcast industry, as everywhere, it’s certainly understandable that providing two signal formats is a burden.

Yet it’s also important to remember the millions of folks without cable, whose broadcast TV is their only source of contact with the outside world. We’ll see how this one plays out.

A note on the Jeopardy quiz: It was fast! Fifty questions in 10 minutes!! With 15 seconds for each question … it is a blur. I missed a few … some were ridiculously difficult … one I think I answered correctly asked, Which English monarch outlived her husband by 39 years … I answered Queen Victoria … I think I was right.

By the time the quiz asked which band offered its recording In Rainbows over the Internet, I blanked. Blanked!! I have this recording!! I was among the first wave to download it!! I just couldn’t come up with the name!

I have a feeling the Jeopardy producers would tell me, Honey don’t worry. But don’t call us … we’ll call you ….

Props to PETA

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Now I’m an animal lover and generally a vegetarian … not too much of a radical, armchair version for me, please.

But I have to respect the good folks at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Year after year, they continue antics both respectable and, well, not … to bring our attention to the true costs of wearing fur, eating meat and treating living, breathing creatures worse than lawn mowers. Now they’ve prepared a Super Bowl ad that uses attractive women and a bit of overt sexuality to promote eating vegetables.

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Whether you like their attitude or not, it’s important to give them props for keeping these issues, well, in our face. Would we listen otherwise? It would be far too easy to ignore them. Face it, people, we human beings must be uncomfortable or in pain before we will change. (Bad marriage? Bad spouse or partner? Bad roommate? We won’t change unless they threaten us with scissors, usually.)

We are far too comfortable, aren’t we? in our daily routines, we’d rather think our meat comes from the same bloodless factory as our Lance crackers and pretzels.

The ugly truth is that our meat comes at an inexcusable cost. To the planet, which requires tons more energy to give us meat than if we chose a more plant-based diet.

The Nature Conservancy has this startling observation

The international meat industry generates 18% of the overall global greenhouse-gas emissions (measured in CO2 equivalent) — even more than all trains, planes, automobiles and boats combined (13.5%).

Folks, that’s serious.

Not only does it trash the planet, but have you seen the faces of our cows as they’re led to slaughter? Think about how scared our dogs and cats become when we taken them on a car ride to the vet. They know when something’s happening.

So imagine the fear in the minds of our cows, pigs and chickens as they hear the screams of their pals and family, and know they’re headed the same way.

Now I must admit I eat meat once every few weeks or months … because I believe human beings actually need some flesh protein to be fully healthy … just my opinion.

Yet I try to eat meat from organic, humane sources … sure it’s more expensive, but can you put a price on humanity? Free-range chickens, humanely slaughtered cows. Not always possible, but it is, at least, a goal.

I certainly can’t join the ranks of the self-righteous ones (who are also probably very thin and attractive with perfect noses) who decry and criticize all meat eating.

But I can say, people, let’s remember our humanity here, and demand less money-grabbing from the meat industry … less injury to our furred and feathered partners in this journey.

And PETA, though I might disagree with your tactics, thank you for making us all a little bit more uncomfortable.

FOR TECH THURSDAY: The revolution will not be televised, after all