Friday 28 August 2015

Author's Anxiety

The manuscript was finally sent off and 12 days later the boxes of books arrived. What a relief! Seeing the proof of your book online at the printer's website, after years of preparation, is not a comfort. They tell you, make sure it's right, because no matter how wrong it is, no matter how stupid it looks, we are not going to fix it. We are going to print it just the way it is and you are going to take responsibility for it and pay for it whether you like or not. OK?

Actually, they're not that bad. If you do get a margin wrong or you scale an image too big or too small, they will take a look at it and find it and let you know. That still doesn't make it any easier when it comes to pressing the modest little OK button that drops you off the edge of the earth into a burning black hole of a vortex lined with razor blades and molten lava.

Once you click on it your biological chemistry goes berserk. It's like you just drank a cup of high octane anxiety. That's when the sleepless nights of waiting begin. What if my page numbers are too close to the edge? What if my margins are too loose or too tight? What if 1.5 line leading is too much? What if my point size is too large or too small? Then you see the charges. How did it get there? Instead of each copy costing three or four dollars, it's more like $60 each.

Alright, I'm exaggerating, but when it climbs up above 10 or 12 or 14 you wonder if people will pay $20 or $30 because don't forget, you still have all those other expenses like shipping and travel and all the setup fees and extra materials you're going to drag around with you to help promote the book. They all have to get covered too somehow. Otherwise, it's costing you to write a book and sell it at a loss!

It's like the first time your daughter borrows the car on a Friday night and then she's late coming home. I don't actually have a daughter, but that's what it feels like. It dredges up apprehension, fright, terror, hysteria, dismay and distress. You stop thinking logically. You stop thinking. It just turns into raw emotion. Heaven help anyone who asks you for information or advice. You'll probably rip their heads off and scream, "What on Earth is wrong with you?! Can't you see I'm stressed?!"

It affects your work. It affects your every waking hour. You are constantly on edge. You are chained unheard and unadored, confined to an unhappy prospect most wide and various. Such prospects curse me and tell me I am doomed. This, I will never do again.

Then the books arrive. They're OK. They could be improved, but they don't suck. Maybe no one will notice they're not precisely what you had in mind. Maybe they'll think they're OK. Hey! They haven't even read them yet. Oh oh. What if they don't like the stories? We'll get to that.

See you at Fan Expo next week (Sept 3-6, 2015) @cxshakespeare

Monday 7 July 2014

Robotic Precision

When it comes to robotics, it is ALL about precision. In my illustrated childrens book The Perfect Round, Kele is a "black ops synth" (synthetic biped robot) who possesses incredibly precise instrumentation and capabilities. This enables him to play the truly perfect round of golf - 18 strokes for 18 holes - as only a robot can.

Due to his extremely delicate sensors, it's absolutely forbidden for Kele to make contact with any organic surface, any living person or any unknown external electronic device. His advanced technology must never to be exposed, corrupted, contaminated or revealed to anyone outside the lab. In terms of monetary value, Kele is truly priceless. Worth billions of dollars in research and unique micro-ware, he possesses an unparalleled array of custom integrated, electronic chips, circuits and processors.  Kele's suit is a combination of carbon fibre, diamond particles and titanium thread to form a single, seamless surface for detecting micro-measurements in air pressure, air temperature, wind velocity, water vapour and molecular suspension density. Around his head is an array of microdish antennae to scan and record data in 360 degrees. Combined with his suit and goggles, he represents the most accurate measuring technology ever created by human science. The goggles are capable of displaying thousands of data representations while also performing a visual point of view to give Kele a sense of sight. 

There is almost no limit to his processing power. His potential, however, is still unproven, virtually untested and mostly theoretical. That's because Kele is a character in a story. For an awe-inspiring,  actual look inside at how robotics works, here is an absolutely amazing video featuring extreme rapid packaging, material handling (including hazardous), precise assembly, heavy load capacity and my favourite - precise robotic welding. You can also visit if you are interested in talking to an engineer or investigating the world of robotic material handling.

It is so incredible to witness this vision of the future of manufacturing. Robots can do it ALL better and faster. Here is also a link to a story in Wired about the Tesla Robotic Factory. Watching the seats get placed inside the car is really impressive. The same robot can also turn around and switch tools and place the windshield into the car as well. Material-Robotics has a great catchphrase, "a lot changes when you take the 'man' out of manufacturing." They bring perfection to precision. 

. . . and that is precisely what Kele does on the golf course.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Organic Creativity

There are distinct and contrasting stages of development within the process of creating a story. Whether you have a lesson or an argument you want to illustrate, the initial plot should be summarized or described in a single sentence. You can call it an elevator pitch or a plotline, but it helps all the other details fall into place. It's kind of like the trunk of a tree. All the roots and branches and the bark and leaves are attached to one central core where the sap flows up and down and in and out.

Characters and events become ornaments you can add to your tree. You can attach them with a glue gun if they don't fit easily or weld them or bolt them to make sure they are permanent or you can just let them hang from a threat until they fall off. It's all up to you. Of course, sometimes it gets really difficult to prune your tree in order to keep it healthy. You have to be really ruthless and tough on your tree for it to survive. Otherwise, it might mutate into a distorted, unloved monster made up of parts that don't belong together and hunted by angry townsfolk carrying torches and pitchforks tracking it down and demanding it be destroyed.

As it's creator, you start off with a great idea you love, but as soon as it starts to get real, sometimes it goes off track or gets lost. Then that great feeling of accomplishment turns sour and you get depressed. The story cracks and splits and begins to look broken and can't be fixed. Suddenly, a rabbit jumps out of a hat and you chase it and it turns into a genie who grants your wishes and it all comes back together like magic. You start to think it's the best story you've ever come up with and you want to tell someone, but they're all watching football or listening to music. So you just keep re-writing until it reaches the point where it's going to be abandoned like your old living room furniture and ends up sitting on the back porch forlorn and forgotten. 

That's a great time to plant a new tree!

Monday 16 June 2014

Dishwasher Syndrome

There are several distinct schools of thought involved in the proper operation of dishwashers. In fact, there ought to be a degree program for the whole automatic dishwashing syndrome (ADS) and half the course would be dedicated to negotiating with those who share or have access to your particular device. People tend to take their dishwashers very personally.

Individual members of western culture can be divided into two categories - those who don't mind emptying (but don't like loading) and those who don't mind loading (but don't like emptying). Hopefully, there is at least one of each in your household. Otherwise, you'll have a lopsided burden of unwanted responsibility contributing to inevitable resentment and frustration.

That doesn't even begin to compare to the enormous and unresolved controversy of cutlery up or down. Do you put handles down first? If so, you will have to grab forks, knives and spoons by the "business" end of the cutlery - the part that delivers food into your assimilation port. Or do you put handles up? If so, it makes them easy and more hygenic to grab, but some people argue the cleaning process is hindered by the cutlery tray itself as well as the logjam of utensils making contact together. There is absolutely nothing worse than spoons on top of spoons. Who can contradict what contentious domestic disputes have not been initiated with accusations about cutlery placement? 

Then there are the "sweet spots" and favoured locations for specific vessels, plates and assorted items. Would anyone disagree orientation is one of the most extreme priorities? Angles must be correct in order to avoid unforgivable lingering residual moisture. Then, of course, any points of contact must be circumvented in order to escape permanent damage. Not only does it chip and crack your favourite dishes, broken pieces of crockery or tableware can contribute to a bottleneck in the kitchen drain.

Normally, I would include a survey form here for readers to reply or post comments, but the matter is not open to discussion.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Alien Anniversary

It is truly remarkable how much the industry of cinema has changed not only since the 1890s but even as recently as the past 10 to 15 years. Today, every movie has CGI in it somewhere and they even have to have credits for programming now. Not only that, but every aspect of the business side is radically different from what it used to be. For example, the international box office often exceeds the domestic these days. The latest Tom Cruise film (Edge of Tomorrow) picked up $82 million outside of the USA including $25 million in China and $16 million in South Korea. It only grossed $28 million at home, but worldwide it is sitting at almost $140 million for its opening weekend. The worldwide gross for Godzilla, so far, is double the domestic and Captain America: The Winter Soldier has almost tripled the domestic. Frozen did triple the domestic as well ($400 vs $1200 million).

What is also remarkable is that up until the 1990s, the studios did not allow us to actually purchase copies of their films. We could only rent them. Until then, there was no way they would let us possess personal copies of their product. They wanted us to pay just to look at their stuff. It was like going to the museum. You could look, but you were not allowed to purchase a copy of the Rosetta Stone or a dinosaur skeleton or a Sumerian vase. None of it was for sale . . . and neither was Terminator 2. You could rent it, but you couldn't own it.

The attitude did eventually change, but at first we could only get VHS video versions and we all know now how crappy that was. It was like selling us cheap imitation plastic replicas Ming Dynasty china or vinyl Chanel fashion accessories. It was OK at first, but it wasn't great. By the time we got to DVDs, however, the studios we're really in being torn apart. There was so much money available for digital product, but it meant throwing away all the bars and walls of their secure vaults. If they let us buy a disc, it was almost like owning the original. In fact, the idea of "original" kind of goes away once it gets remastered into digital form. It wasn't until June 1999 that Twentieth Century Fox finally opened it's doors and let us buy Alien on DVD. That was 15 years ago this month. Happy Anniversary!

It's so funny, because it seems like we've been able to own our favourite films forever. That's simply not true. Maybe it's because we used to watch old films on late night TV and then cable, but now we have Netflix and TiVo and Blu-ray discs. Although, when you think about it, the idea of "film" itself is actually going away. Film projectors may soon be extinct too. We still have the theatres, but they are all going digital and those enormous, grand old film cameras are being replaced by ultra high definition digital devices. The 3-film camera they used to shoot The Wizard of Oz was the size of a refrigerator and weighed as much. No one will miss that monster.

If you made a relative temporal transition timeline comparison of cinema to the evolution of species on the Gal├ípagos Islands and Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), what took amphibians and reptiles millions of years to adapt through natural selection, the current state of cinema went from silent black and white Charlie Chaplin shorts to computer genereated Disney animated 3D full length features . . .  in the blink of an eye. 

Monday 2 June 2014

Free Will and Food Courts

You have to love how discerning the public is when it comes to advertising.  Agencies spend millions on campaigns and air time to get the perfect message on TV, on the radio and in print. The audience takes half a second to decide if they will pay attention or not. You have to love the power of the low common denominator, because there is nothing low about it at all. The common denominator is a monster!

Look at everyone's favourite painting - Edvard Munch's The Scream. For some reason this is the work of art the most number of people find infatuating. You can buy the art represented on drapes, lamps, towels, lighters, stained glass windows, hand puppets, mugs, T-shirts, keychains, and even glue-on fingernails. Then there are the imitations featuring famous cartoon characters, game characters or famous people. Have you ever noticed the poster for Home Alone shows Macaulay Culkin doing the exact same pose as Munch's painting?

The list is infinite, but what it says is truly remarkable. The infatuation illustrates an incredible unanimous consensus among much of humanity. No one was told to like the painting. No one was taught how to interpret it or what it means or how they should react to it. Everyone seems to understand exactly what it is and identifies with it without being prompted.

So that means the public does indeed have a voice. They decide when a piece of music will be popular or a film (like Avatar or The Avengers) or when an electronic device like the iPhone or the iPad will dominate the market. Everyone selects clothing and cars and types of food and turns those choices into iconic emblems of mutual agreement. Am I wrong, or isn't that what elections are for? Advertising, marketing and publicity can present the choices, but the popular vote cannot be compromised. That's what I love about free will and food courts.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Adding Value to Your Home

A long, long time ago we all started with no possessions. As a powerless child in the realm of the Middle Class, each of us possessed no means of income and no political power over anyone. The austerity of lifestyle in those early days approached desolation. Obtaining food, clothing and shelter was simply a matter of patience. It all arrived without permission, consent or authorization. That is why today, it is a matter of perceived amusement when someone asks, "Who dressed you?" because this is a reference to those early days when influence was absent.

As we age and acquire possessions, we add value to our home and improve our lifestyle. Such items include rare and valuable collectibles such as Dinky Toys, comic books (Silver Surfer), antique radios (Sparton Nocturne), artwork by nieces, nephews and grandchildren and component stereos. In the kitchen we acquire vessels to hold favourite liquids and fluids in addition to equipment for processing edible materials. The sum of all these valuable assets and properties can be perceived as truly priceless, because they represent a compilation unique to each individual.

The fact that visitors or outsiders have no appreciation for your valuables only reinforces the exclusive nature of your possessions. They may have their own ridiculous collections of absurd objects including furniture, cars, swimming pools, high ceilings, golf clubs and jewellery, but they have obviously missed the point. 

How can you put a price on a favourite book? Why would you want to convince anyone that your favourite movie is better than someone else's? What is the point of arguing about a favourite beverage. Establishing a preference takes time and effort. It is no simple matter to arrive at a choice and then maintain it through loyalty, fidelity, conscientousness and faith. Such high principles are acquired through experience and maturity. Early explorers of the world understood this concept. When one of them found a "new world" it was like finding the most delicious new dish in a restaurant. I had this extraordinary experience recently and will never forget it (the restaruant - not the new world).