03.19.09

A Tweet about Facebook

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, On writing, Press at 8:35 am by Marion

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.

03.18.09

SxSW=Music!

Posted in Events, Music, Press at 8:36 am by Marion

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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

03.17.09

Unfashionable Times

Posted in Events, Life in general, Press, Writers at 9:21 am by Marion

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.

03.11.09

Baseball Zen

Posted in Events, Life in general, Writers at 7:29 am by Marion

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This weekend marks the true start of what’s called March Madness but what is, in fact, a marathon race of college basketball games, one on top of the other for the next few weeks … great games … great coaches … courage, loss and hope. Count me in the startling line up.

My friend Charlie, however, has nothing to do with basketball (I know, he’s from New York). He is generous, as those New Yorkers often are, and left tickets for an East Carolina University baseball game on my porch over the weekend.

Now yesterday was a crush of busy … deadlines and calls, emails and a doctor’s appointment squeezed in there too. The game was at 5 p.m. and I couldn’t have been more in the weeds.

Yet Greg and I agreed that sometimes you just have to make a decision to do something spontaneous and irrational. We packed up and walked out.

From the minute we arrived, we were surrounded by peaceful karma. The parking lot guy ushered us to a beautiful space that looked like it was usually reserved for faculty. The afternoon sun was perfect, the temperature moderate. As the sun set, the temperature went down, too, giving us a wonderful “spring ball” feeling.

Sitting there watching the game, everything slowed for me. Now if you know baseball, you know it’s a patience game … waiting, watching and taking chances on a dime.

I felt the crazy Zen of baseball settle over me and all those worries gradually diminished.

The game was tied until the bottom of the eighth, when two super runs came in and pushed the Pirates over the top. We walked out of the stadium happy, talking and feeling human again.

When I returned to work at 7:30 p.m., I was clear minded. Though I was tired. I managed to finish a feature article I’d been struggling with for several days. More easily than I’d have thought possible.

It showed me, once again, that the human mind and spirit is complex, and so is the human experience. When you have a chance to bathe in that complexity, do it.

03.10.09

Tibet: 50 Years of Exile

Posted in Buddhism, Events, HH Dalai Lama at 6:26 am by Marion

TIBET UPDATE

Today marks 50 years since the peaceful Tibetan uprising that resulted in the exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from his homeland.

Yet even today, China continues its brutality against the Tibetan people, and has launched more harsh crackdowns

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The Dalai Lama has spoken on behalf of his Tibetan brothers and sisters on his Web site.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against Communist China’s repression in Tibet. Since last March widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride. It will serve as a source of inspiration for those in the international community who take keen interest in the issue of Tibet. We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships, including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.

In Dharmsala, India, in the north of that country where the Dalai Lama has taken refuge for a half-century, the Associated Press reports great sadness on his part.

China has launched a “brutal crackdown” in Tibet since protests shook the Himalayan region last year, the Dalai Lama said Tuesday in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising that sent him into exile.

Tibetan culture and identity are “nearing extinction,” he said in this Indian hill town, where the Tibetan spiritual leader and the self-proclaimed government-in-exile have been based since shortly after fleeing their homeland. “The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death.”

“These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet,” he told about 2,000 people, including Buddhist monks, Tibetan schoolchildren and a handful of foreign supporters. The group gathered in a courtyard that separates the Dalai Lama’s home from the town’s main temple, and monks blowing enormous conch shells and long brass horns heralded his arrival.

Among the most unsettling news of all is a report that another Tibetan monk living in Tibet has set himself ablaze to protest the oppression.

Visit www.dalailama.com for more information.

Photo by Ng Han Guan / AP

03.05.09

‘Sirius’ about the iPhone

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Music, Press at 11:29 am by Marion

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?

03.04.09

‘The Pale King’

Posted in Book reviews, Events, Writers at 9:32 am by Marion

A moment to pay tribute to the late writer David Foster Wallace … a deeply perceptive writer … author of Infinite Jest, the 1000+ page opus from the 1990s. He died last September, at his own hand.

He was working on another large novel, The Pale King, which was about one third finished. His long-time publisher will issue this unfinished novel sometime in 2010, the New York Times reports. The novel explores the business of a group of IRS agents somewhere in the Midwest. It will be published by Little, Brown and Company.

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Meanwhile, the New Yorker has published an exhaustive portrait of Mr. Wallace in its March 9 issue. (I stopped reading the New Yorker after it published a slanderous article about His Holiness the Dalai Lama by someone interested in taking him down for the pettiest of reasons. The cover cartoon of Mr. Obama sealed the deal for me: No more New Yorker.)

What interests us about David Wallace is his incredible energy, turned inward — into the minutia of our lives and decisions. He has boundless interest in the hidden recesses of the human mind, tosses off the weight of convention and connotation, strips language and humankind to a cleaner, clearer layer.

His stories, essays and novels, therefore, are not for the faint of heart.

I struggled with Infinite Jest because it contains so many identifiable cultural references. My preference is to use vague settings without commercial intrusion. Yet as I understand it, Mr. Wallace wanted to document, in his novel, the effects of these commercial infusions into our lives.

My experience with his writing began in the 1990s with his benchmarking essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (“Shipping Out” in 1996 Harper’s Magazine). It deconstructed a cruise “vacation” and revealed it for the infantile experience it was.

Another memorable essay was “Consider the Lobster.”

Mr. Wallace manages to humanize this sea insect … and for me, the connection has always been there … he dissects our fascination with this freshest food, and even, in the pages of Gourmet magazine, asks if it is morally justifiable simply to satisfy our morose culinary whim? (He gives props to PETA, too, pretty darn remarkable in such an august, and decidedly not animal-rights-friendly, publication.)

So I will be anticipating the release of The Pale King, along with the rest of us devoted Wallace fans.

Photo of David Foster Wallace by Marion Ettlinger

03.03.09

How Free America?

Posted in Events, Life in general at 9:51 am by Marion

In the New York Times today, a chilling article revealing that the previous president and his administration sought — and got — the power they wanted to turn the nation’s military on its own people. The president and his team also obtained the power to conduct raids without search warrants.

The legal rulings have now been made public as part of the Obama administration’s steps toward removing secrecy and skulduggery from the highest office — and restore the nation’s rights as set out in our constitution and bill of rights. Moreover,

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

One official, Steven G. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel, said it was important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions,” and he used the memo to repudiate them formally, the Times says.

Even after the events of September 11, 2001, it was critical for us to retain our identity as the city on the hill, a beacon for humankind. Instead, we threw our dignity to the wind, ran for cover and cheerfully relinquished everything we care about out of fear.

Now that those dark days are behind us, we can evaluate where we were, what we became and how we managed to survive — and reclaim our values. These values are what separate us from the entire course of human history. They are our strength.

Freedom of speech, freedom from religion, freedom to choose our leaders openly, right of accountability for them — these are precious and even in times of danger and darkness, we cannot give them up to anyone. Especially not a president whose unstated goal even before Nine-Eleven was to expand the executive branch and create a new order in the Middle East.

02.25.09

Alcohol & health

Posted in Events, Life in general at 8:42 am by Marion

Here we are, mid-week already, and there’s no sign the work obligations are letting up. It’s been some time now since I’ve worked on the novel … been in the river with it so to speak … but when the current kicks up, you just have to swim.

Meanwhile, an interesting health note today. A new study shows a link between alcohol consumption and making truthful observations about alcohol.

While I don’t espouse making booze illegal, we can agree that it’s a toxin and worse, a highly addictive substance that ruins people. They lose jobs, then their personalities change, then their minds go and eventually their bodies.

Granted, there are some people who can enjoy a drink every now and again, and are fine. Still others enjoy wine tasting and characterization. Those pleasures are precious and very human.

Still when dealing with any kind of alcohol, it’s important to understand what we’re dealing with — a highly powerful substance that can do harm.

In a separate observation, someone is unleashing its bad ‘bots on this blog again. Bad, bad ‘bots!

02.24.09

Taking Stock of Satellite

Posted in Computers & Technology, Events, Press at 8:24 am by Marion

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!

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