Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Sell" by Fredrik Eklund: But should I really be able to sell anything to anyone?


Author: Fredrik Eklund, with Bruce Littlefield, and foreword by Barbara Corcoran
  
Title: “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone
  
Publication: 2015: New York, Avery. ISBN 978-1-592-40931-0, 290 pages, hardcover, 3 Parts, 14 Chapters, Foreword, Introduction and Epilogue
  
Amazon link;  Author's own site
  
The subtitle of this book would suggest that it promotes hucksterism.  But, really, this is a book that tells you how to sell when you’re already in the right field, and doing what you want to do, and believe in what you want to sell.  That raises a question that I will return to. The book was written with a publisher’s advance, justified by the author’s well known reputation in NYC real estate and possibly LGBT circles.  


The author is a 38-year-old real estate broker in New York City, but raised in Sweden.  His interests and background are varied (see Wiki).  For example, he briefly starred in gay porn films under the stage name Tag Eriksson.  He also invests in IT companies (more or less following the example of Ashton Kutcher), appears on reality TV, and writes novels, although it’s not clear yet what his fiction content will be. He also married a partner in Florida and will have a child by surrogacy. All that said, sexual orientation really has nothing to do with his sales philosophy, other than that he believes everyone needs an adult relationship.  

Most of what he recommends makes perfect sense.  He gives some tips in negotiation (like creating “urgency”) which Donald Trump has mentioned before in “The Apprentice” and in Trump’s own book “How to Get Rich”. (Oh, remember, Trump noted in his book that Troy McClain took one for the team in allowing his legs to be waxes in an “Apprentice” segment dealing with “negotiation”.) He talks about good health habits. I think that concern over diet colas is stretching things, but in the distant past, anybody who said to stop smoking would have been called a “health nut”.  I start to disagree when he recommends spending a lot of money on clothes and jewelry and hair styling, even if you don’t make a lot.  I think you should save that 10% for your retirement (after paying student loan debt) and buy expensive clothes when you can afford them (especially to sell somebody else’s wares).  Really, there isn’t that much difference.  I don't think he recommended that bald men get wigs.  (Prince Charles looks good in blue jeans just as he is, as far as I am concerned.) 
      
He hints at the "Always Be Closing" idea (in the 2002 film "100 Mile Rule"). 
  
I do recall my own work life in the 1972-1973 period when I worked for Sperry Univac as a “site rep”, mostly at the Public Service site in downtown Newark.  I had inexpensive and lightweight but mostly conservative suits, in blue, gray, brown, and black, and one in light green.  Remember the EDS dress code.  (He doesn’t mention IBM’s insistence on stocking garters in the 1950s, which sound prudish, until you get on “The Apprentice.”)  Yet, a number of months into the job, management decided I didn’t have a “marketing profile”.  I transferred to another division, supporting benchmarks in Minnesota.  Eventually I wound up working for NBC as a programmer and “content creator”, which led to my long track career.  
  
Eklund’s career is probably not all about just making deals.  In most places, real estate brokers generally get into developing new properties, which is about “content”.  Watch the PBS special on the new Billionaire’s Tower.   Real estate business needs to be concerned about sustainability (he talks about recovering from the 2008 financial crisis) and resilience, especially to physical disaster (floods, earthquakes, hostility).  But there is a real lingering question about the ethics or desirability of manipulating people to prove you can sell anything to anyone.  I really don’t believe that.  My own father was a manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass (now Lenox) and made these claims.  But he sold only (wholesale) to department stores along the East Coast in pre-Internet days and made his reputation on great customer service.  Mother helped him run it and do his books.  So I learned honest capitalism from my parents.  
  
Of course, anyone has to “sell” himself.  A job interview is a “sales” experience. On the job, a programmer will need to sell his ideas internally to others (as when working in a company like Facebook or Google).   A blogger or book author will, in some way, however indirect (for example, by volunteering) need to consider how to “sell” to potential readers and become known in a favorable way.   
  
What concerns me is more the idea that selling “anything” can become a career.  Consider how Comcast advertises its sales positions, “Come show us what you’ve got.”  To sell somebody else’s work.  Eklund doesn’t really talk about cold calling or door-to-door, and it seems that these modes are becoming less acceptable to the public, given both the Internet and greater concerns about security.  But it is true that our culture is becoming more resistant to the idea of people approaching others cold to sell things.  Consider how telemarketing (let alone robocalling) is resisted. Indeed, “It’s hard out here for a pimp”, but also for a geek.  
  
He talks about how to use social media.  His favorite platform is Instagram, and least liked is Twitter.  Facebook seems too complicated.  But modern social media didn’t really become important until around 2007 (although MySpace had been around since 2003).  But social media has also made a  “double life” impossible (a major reason the military had to drop “don’t ask don’t tell”).  But it also makes it difficult or impossible to express political opinions in public spaces on a range of topics and sell for someone else, without creating a conflict of interest.  But that issue really goes back to Web 1.0 and the rise of search engines, very relevant in my own “second career”.  
  
Various times, after my own books came out (starting in 1997), particularly after “The Layoff” in the post-9/11 world at the end of 2001, I got lots of calls from companies wanting me to give up my writing and pimp for them.  My own public reputation, by the nature of arguments I had made to supporting lifting the ban on gays in the military, more or less made that impossible.  Some of the “opportunities” were more legitimate than others, but the people pushing them really had to believe in some ideas that seemed way overstated and not very objective.   
  
Can you sell and tell the truth?   





Sunday, May 24, 2015

Should self-published authors provide returnability to physical bookstores?


Recently, I have been contacted about the possibility of purchasing a returnability program for my books.  Self-publishing companies offer a variety of programs to authors that cost between $750 to $1400 a year.  Generally, after purchasing the service, Ingram will show the book as having up to 100 virtual copies available, and bricks and mortar stores will have more incentive to order, because they know that unsold books can be returned to Ingram for refund.  It is that refund that the author is indemnifying by purchasing the program, which is a kind of “insurance” against low sales.
  
It appears that the author normally needs to take the initiative to encourage the large bookseller chains (like Barnes and Noble) to purchase books in quantity for local stores.   In “Current Affairs”, which is where my three books would fit, typically a large chain retailer would show 3-5 copies of a new hardcover or larger softcover books.  But “Current Affairs”, other than books my major politicians and journalists, are relatively small as a part of books that consumers actually buy when visiting stores.  “Current affairs” tends to do better online, relative to physical stores, because it tends to be less “popular” and appeal to the sort of audience that looks for material online.  Or, consumers may be more likely to view such books on Kindle or Nook, which is usually cheaper.  Similar, the same consumers are more likely to purchase mp3 files online from iTunes or Amazon than buy CD’s of music.  It’s a similar issue.
  
Visiting local independent stores may help where I know the people, but generally it’s not as important in non-fiction current affairs of a “global nature”. 
  
There is also a question of how trademark works, if an author has a series.  Typically, only the most recent book gets stocked, unless the series is very popular and sold in packages or boxes (like Harry Potter).  I covered that May 19 on the Trademark blog. It appears that a series may already have an automatic trademark (as applies to a book or media series only), but if the author wants to apply to USPTO to reinforce the mark, he or she needs to be in the active business of retailing the books with a separate operation.  But I will check further into this.
  
I have been criticized for not spending more time on “sales” of an existing product, especially the physical, old-world (non digital) items.  Instead, I’m moving on to finish other media projects (fiction, screenplay, documentary, music) and networking with specific individuals and entities on these – “you know who you are” – like in social media and by phone discussions).  Also, I could be seen as “competing with myself” by allowing it the books to be viewed free online in HTML or PDF.  Recently, I uploaded the final story (“The Ocelot the Way He Is”) to my doaskdotell.com site. I could call this the “It’s Free” problem.  But how many people really would read an entire book on PDF’s on a smart phone?  If they were inclined to, they might buy Nook or Kindle.  But right, they probably won’t buy the book in a store.  But keeping something scarce and expensive is not a way to be known.

I remember this problem, in parallel, back in the 1990s, when putting out a newsletter for Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty.  Some people asked, why a physical paper when you can just have an email listserver and do everything digitally with no capital? 

There's also a good question, what can make a "me" popular enough to showcase in a bookstore.  I could say "It's hard out here for a pimp" or for a nerd.  By take on "gay rights" is not easily made into a commodity.  My "overcoming" my own "setback" early in life doesn't make me a hero in an easily understood sense.  My message is ambiguous, and for the intellectually curious, not so much for just the faithful.  I can not make "you" all right.  If you catch a problem early, youstill  need the social supports to deal with it. 
   
The four major general purpose book chains (besides Amazon, which swallowed Borders), for which  I have links,  seem to be Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Half Price, and Powells.  I wouldn’t have links in the smaller specialized chains like Christian book chains.

  

Friday, May 15, 2015

"The Great Divide" (William Gairdner): why liberals and conservative talk past one another (and this book is similar to my own DADT series)


Author: William D. Gairdner

Title: “The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives will Never, Ever Agree

Publication: Encounter, ISBN 978-1-59403-764-1, 264 pages, hardcover (also paper), 264 pages, indexed, 4 parts, 17 chapters.
  
Amazon link is here. The publisher is characterized as a “conservative book publisher” belonging to the non-profit Encounter for Culture and Education.  The author's own site is here
     
I bought this book in a physical store, at a Barnes and Noble, this week, when I visited to ponder placing my own third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in physical stores (rather than depend just online). The book is one of the closest I have ever come to articulating my own concerns with the way progressive causes are argued by the “liberal establishment” and the author’s material, while organized differently, comes quite close to my own territory (especially the non-fiction Epilogue in my own DADT-III book).  

  
The author, curiously, is Canadian and prospers in a “blue-state” society.  
  
Right off, the author depicts modern western liberal society as a mixture of private libertarianism and public socialism.  He never seems to take the “obvious course” of Cato, Richard Sincere, David Boaz and others – why not be “socially liberal” and “fiscally conservative” at the same time – the idea behind the Nolan Chart (Is that “Nolan” from “Revenge”?), or “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz”.  In fact, he refers us to another quiz, “YourMorals”, which the visitor can join and take the quiz, here
   
Gairdner also expresses the conviction that liberty and equality are essentially incompatible, or at least in tension with one another.  (There goes the French Revolution!)  To me, this sounds a bit like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics.  
   
At this point, I have to note that this is rather a book in epistemology.  I reminds me of a young man on the Metro a few months ago, a college undergraduate (GWU?) built like a MLB baseball pitcher reading “A History of Philosophy”, or perhaps of a friend in Minnesota almost two decades ago who help set up my talk on my own first book at Hamline University in St. Paul, himself a graduating philosophy major, with another friend there now a prominent writer at Vox Media.  I fact, I now recall Professor Schlagel at GW back around 1964 in my own Philosophy 101 course, his essay exams (I got a “B”), his constantly asking, “how do we really know what is right?”  
  
The book lays out, in many charts (one in each chapter) the differences between liberal (socially libertarian but bureaucratically authoritarian) and conservative (mainly socially conservative) positions on many issues.  Many times, the positions seem to talk at one another. This also reminds me of the “Opposing Viewpoints” series of books I have discussed here before.  What’s missing from the charts is the more Cato-like libertarian view.  I found myself on the conservative side maybe on two-thirds of his points. 
  
The two most notable ideas at issue is the way “liberals” over-depend on “reason”, and the nature of freedom itself.  And Gairdner, having already admitted early on, that he has tended to migrate toward conservatism, seems to spend his greatest attention to the conservative arguments.  Since English doesn’t conjugate verbs in a subjunctive mood the way French does, it’s a little hard to be sure if these are his own personal beliefs, or just assertions. (Taking foreign languages in high school is very good for critical thinking skills.) 
  
Gairdner goes through Jesus (perhaps Moses and Mohammed as well as “The Golden Rule”), then Bentham (utilitarianism), Mill (“do no harm”) and Hume, examining how we know what is good and right.  The discussions sounds like one in theoretical cosmology or physics.  Ultimately, he seems to side with the conservative and religious view that right or wrong is something inherent in nature and is created for us, and is beyond reason.  What?  “Morality without thinking?”  (p. 149). But it isn’t hard to see that reason alone can lead us to what seems “evil”.  For example, one can “rationalize” not letting the disabled live (like Nazi Germany), or something like Mao’s Cultural Revolution. So some things seem intrinsically wrong.  Of course, murder and robbery.  But these have victims.  Chattel slavery. That has victims (which radical Islam doesn’t seem to care about). Gairdner talks about consuming pornography, but let’s focus in child pornography for a moment.  You can’t consume that unless it was produced by abusing an underage person.  So reason will prove that wrong (without any deeper postulate). But then it gets harder.  How about homosexual acts, or even indulging in fantasy, or expressions?  Gairdner questions whether experience and reason, even together, can guide us on matter like this one. Social conservatives used to say this attacked a traditional underpinning of morality and decency (“universal principles and religious commands”, p. 155) without giving anything more specific (OK, procreation).  We’ll come back to this. 

I do agree that "reason" doesn't give us all our moral values.  We takes as a "postulate" (like the Axiom of Choice in mathematics) that human life is sacred -- which can sometimes call for sacrifices from people outside of choice.  Should everyone be expected to be able and open to sharing body resources (blood, organs for transplants) to save the lives of others?  That is more pertinent today (with medical advances) than maybe it once was, but reason alone won't answer it.  Do we all have a moral obligation to future generations, not just the unborn but the as yet unconceived?  (Can people who don't yet exist make moral claims on us?)  Should everyone stand ready with the skills to raise kids, even they don't have their own?  Again, that's a judgment of society. But it does accept the idea there can be obligations as well as rights.  Should "non-human" people (like dolphins and whales) have the same rights as us?  Would extraterrestrials?  Some day we could have to answer questions like that. 
    
Gairdner also talks about freedom or liberty, in the conservative world, as “social freedom”.  On p. 117, he defines it as “the freedom of civil society to carry out its social and moral functions of teaching, restraining and permitting certain behaviors” (in a chart).  He presents the view that society itself has rights (something my father used to say).  It’s probably more accurate to say that social subsets, acting as groups, have some rights.  That sounds like you want when you’re talking about “The Natural Family” of Carlson and Mero (Sept. 18, 2009).  But I can see how it can be “twisted”, pretzel-like, into, say, justifying reparations for African-Americans “as a group”.  On p. 59, Gairdner gives an effective discussion of “social bonding” as requiring sacrifice (or readiness for it), subordination, commitment, and (finally) privilege. The implication is that some benefits, or even compensation, in a properly free society should come through immediate social groups, which places an onus on the individual to “fit in”, somewhere.  Examples of this idea were the “family wage” of the past, and the debate over paid parental leave today.  It can mean that the childless and/or unmarried are sometimes called upon to make personal sacrifices to benefit those with more “responsibility” (from marital sexual intercourse) – but then eldercare comes into play.  "Social freedom" does encourage individuals to build more resilience, and make their social groups (and larger society) more capable of dealing with external challenges, from nature (like climate change) or from enemies. 

“Social freedom” might apply to stages of history.  The American Revolution was based on a variation of this concept (freedom of the colonists as a group from British rule) but then went through another stage with the Civil War and then Civil Rights.  

The idea of social bonding makes "logical" sense in that no individual's own personal accomplishments, even achieved alone, are meaningful until other people "consume" them.  And outcome inequality is inevitable (as it is in nature), so, yes, there has to be some kind of social order, and heeding of leadership.  
  
I am somewhat uncomfortable, however, with the concept. It pretty obvious that it can hide authoritarian abuse (consider Vladimir Putin’s behavior).  I think we can represent a “social right” as a more nuanced construct from individual rights (again, almost thinking like a physicist), and tie the definition of "social right" to the basic source of morality in terms of both postulates and then reason.. Go back to Mill’s “Do no harm”.  That becomes more useful if we fully consider “indirect” or “downstream” harm. (including the “setting of examples” when a partially appealing but evasive behavior is viewed publicly as OK).   For example, some “self-serving” behaviors, if allowed to be OK, send a message to the less fortunate that the rules of civilized behavior, even in an individualistic culture, cannot give them a fair shake.  So while some of the inevitable inequality that comes with individualism may help with innovation (and “trickle down”), it can also lead to instability, through indignation and resentment, which can result eventually in “revolutionary” violence or expropriation (as has happened in history).  Or it might mutate into malignant doctrines exploiting religious beliefs.
    
In the last section, Gairdner lays out in some detail the sides on homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia.  I can see the “indirect harm” idea if euthanasia is accepted, because gradually the vulnerable elderly could be pressured into it.  That confers some positive obligation on all of us to learn to care for others, regardless of our own private choices – and that does seem to be a part of “social freedom”.  As a gay man myself, I’ve never felt very affected by the abortion debate – I can feel smug, and that isn’t such a good thing.  As an only child, did I have a responsibility to procreate anyway?  
  
On the debate on homosexuality, I must say that for most of my life, the debate has been more about being “left alone”, not about wanting equal benefits that I am very unlikely to need or use.  (I can certainly have an important relationship that does not need to be called or have the benefits of “marriage” and I have never expected these benefits.)  Gairdner’s charts (“Where do you stand?”) tend to conflate the two parts of the debate (look at  “sexual privacy” and “harm” on pp 216, 217).  Gardner says that socially conservative arguments "are not aimed at particular individuals" but "are aimed at exposing the liberal case for homosexuality." Still, lack of equality can cause someone to come knocking.  Sometimes we have to take on responsibility we didn’t choose (eldercare, or raising a sibling’s child) and the lack of equality results in sacrifice anyway. There have been times in my life when I was definitely not “left alone”, like with my 1961 college expulsion from William and Mary for admitting “latent homosexuality” when pressured by the Dean of Men.  Some of the feedback that I got during those difficult years was the idea that straight men felt like I would “scope” them and make them feel uneasy about their own future ability to procreate.  Is this real, or a bit of a stretch?  Plausibly, it’s a kind of “indirect harm” which to some people seems very real, given their upbringing. Or, this is something that others have “gotten over” with more modern society.  I personally found the debate over gays in the military (which motivated my first book) more relevant than gay marriage. The author briefly mentions the public health concerns from the 1980s with STDS, particularly HIV. 
 
The author argues away most of the common defenses of gay equality, including immutability and altruism; he also feels it is fine for traditional heterosexual marriage to be privileged (which the unmarried pay for) even when sterile, because it sets the "right" example for youth. In my own DADT book, I had suggested a "compromise": give marriage privileges only when there are actual dependents (pregnancy can count).  That is, use results as qualification, not just symbols.  
  
I would like to see his comments on eugenics, contraception, bullying, and even the historical male-only military draft. 
  
What I think really matters is not so much “social freedom”, but more a question, how should the individual who is “a little different” really be expected to behave?  Because these ideas have real consequences in real individual lives.

Note: The book should not be confused with Joseph E. Stiglitz, "The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them" (2015), which looks interesting indeed.  I'll have to look into this soon.  






Monday, May 11, 2015

Luca Rossi: "The Branches of Time" (Volume I): what if time were like the other dimensions available to us from string theory?


Title: “The Branches of Time” (First Volume)
  
Author: Luca Rossi
  
Publication: Self (apparently, no company listed), ISBN 978-149743868-2, 151 pages, paper, 46 short chapters (Chapter 40 is the shortest book chapter of all time).
  
Amazon link:  Also available on Kindle.  Author site (Italian) is here
     
I typically don’t respond too well to authors or filmmakers “pushing” their work directly to me on social media, but I did take this author up this time and ordered the fantasy novel from Amazon.

  
The author, apparently born in Italy, seems to live and write in Los Angeles today, and be near Tinseltown. He has a collection of short stories called “Galactic Energies” set in another universe with different laws of physics.  And this novel appears to be the first of series. The author appears to be interested in developing fantasy or science fiction series for cable channels.
  
In my own mind, there are differences between fantasy and science fiction, and gradations within science fiction where the writer proposes a scenario that just could happen, if some day we have some new epiphany on the way cosmology really works.  A novel or movie, for example, could propose what it would be like if aliens really landed publicly and if life (including our political and religious cultures, and economic systems) really could keep going on as usual.  That would take some of the sensationalism out of a film like “Independence Day” (1996).  That’s why I like television series like NBC’s “The Event” or ABC’s “Flash Forward”.
  
J.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” (I do have a hardbound copy) is fantasy, but Clive Barker’s “Imajica” is science fiction by this characterization, as the latter imagines Earth’s suddenly (or more gradually) coming into direct contact with four other planets (one of which houses “Heaven”).
In fantasy, we live in a parallel world, with no contact with Earth, but with beings similar to us.  Maybe it’s another solar system, or maybe it’s in another universe – and I’ve talked about “multiverse” here before (March 7). 

In Mr. Rossi’s novel, we do seem to be in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics, at least slightly.  It’s possible to imagine a universe without the “weak force” (called “weakless”) with the consequence that there could be no heavy radioactive elements.  It might be peaceful.  But in Rossi’s universe, time behaves more like a spatial dimension (our of string theory); it is sometimes possible to go backwards and change things.
  
Mr. Rossi seems concerned about the moral consequences of such an idea. The novel starts with an apocalypse. Most of the people on an island state of Turios (on a planet that seems to have a mild, Mediterranean climate) have suddenly been killed and their corpses are disappearing. The three main survivors are a knight Bashinor, his wife Lil, and a priestess Miril.  The entire kingdom, Isk, is ruled by an evil King Beanor whose values sound more or less like those of ISIS today.  There are wizards and magicians who control some of the military capacities.
  
Bashinor feels his own manhood is threatened – and the book makes a lot of how important the possibility of permanent lineage is for many men for marital sex to work reliably.  In that sense, the book reflects, in a curious way, the culture war debate about marriage here on Earth.  (Do other planets have traditional marriage?) Priestesses don’t sleep with husbands, or even former spouses.  It’s possible to be born as a priest or priestess, or to go through some cleansing ritual to become one.  (I have to recall a friend in NYC back in the 1970s who called one of his cats “The High Priestess”, who really liked me.)
  
Later, though, the big picture emerges.  The magicians have the ability to rewind time, and remove people from past existence (which equates to a kind of permanent existence in Stephen Hawking’s concept of space-time).  This means that the people who loved you may never have existed, in this alternate universe.  Toward the end, Bashinor has to contemplate the relationship between Lil and Miril, which seems lesbian.  Yet, he can prove that his manhood survives, as will his progeny.
The ending of the book is curious, but probably only because there is a sequel.
      
The intimate scenes are explicit in spots (rather like that of an “R” movie), and the descriptive technique and metaphors reminding one of Clive Barker. 

A list of all the characters would help, as would a drawing of the island and the geography of the island and the entire kingdom.





Tuesday, May 05, 2015

National Geographic series on dolphins: non-human people with an alien civilization in our oceans, with an "economy" based on "free fish" and absolute communism


National Geographic has started a three-part series “Understanding Dolphins: Intelligence, Captivity, Culture”, by Joshua Foer, with photographs by Brian Skerry, on page 30 of the May 2015 issue, with a bold cover title “Thinking Like a Dolphin: Understanding one of the smartest creatures on Earth”.
    
Dolphins are cetaceans, an unusual mammalian order that includes whales, and that broke off from land mammals as long as 95 million years ago. Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest and likely the smartest of all.
  
The reason for the breakoff seems to be, as expressed in one of Reid Ewing’s short films, “Free Fish”.  Food supply (perhaps as a result of a climate cycle) was more plentiful in the ocean than on land.  Dolphins innovated by evolution of their bodies rather than by making tools with their hands and brains.  Their brains support a complex sonar, which amounts to forming a biological Internet.  They are enormously communal and social creatures, where socialization replaces the need for money currency as in human society – but that’s also partly because food and shelter are “free” – a deep “political” point of Mr. Ewing’s 2012 films (for those familiar with them).
  
Dolphin brains are larger than human brains (usually) and have about the same processing power for problem solving.  Human innovation ability (in tool making) passed dolphin capacity about 5-10 million years ago, according to a chart in the article.  Dolphins have the ability to put half their brain to sleep at a time, a process we could barely fathom (maybe like coming in and out of a dream, like in the movie “Inception”).

The article asks not, “how smart are dophins” but “how are dolphins smart”?


The very long period of separate evolution, in a totally different environment (an aquarium of infinite volume and living space – the world’s oceans) evolved what amounts to an “alien civilization” in our oceans – maybe as close as we will come to meeting “ET” for quite a long time.
    
Dolphins apparently use their sonar to assign individuals names – the only other animal besides man to name individuals.  But we’re not sure if they have a grammatical language like ours (where maybe sonar signatures work somewhat like pictographs in Chinese or other Asian languages). 
  
The social structures are so strong that they are said to have a “distributed sense of self” (source, based on "Blackfish" movie here, Movies, July 29, 2013) and sometimes have mass beachings because one member gets in trouble.

The evolution of the dolphin, parallel to that of primates in a different environment, raises the idea that evolution of intelligent species may indeed be common on other suitable planets.  Imagine a society of dolphin-like creatures in the sub-ice oceans on Europa, Ganymede, or even Titan. It also raises profound ethical and perhaps legal questions.  Think about how we used whale oil for lights in the 19th century!  Does a creature with our level of intelligence deserve full legal rights?  What if a “Clark Kent” really did come here from another planet somehow.  Would he have the same rights as any human?  I know, some people claim that Mark Zuckerberg is an alien, who has conquered our planet peacefully by writing computer code, with Facebook giving us the functionality or an orca’s sonar.

We could mention the 1969 novel "The Day of a Dolphin", by Robert Merle ("A Sentient Animal" or "Un animal doue de raison"), adapted loosely into a movie in 1973 with George C. Scott, about a dolphin who, after training, is kidnapped and used in an assassination plot. I read the translated boo when in the Army. 

See also my main blog,  Dec. 20, 2014.



Update: June 15, 2015

The June 2015 issue of National Geographic has a followup article on p. 58, "Born to Be Wild", by Tim Zimmermann, said to be the second of a three-part series "Understanding Dolphins", "Captivity", showing programs to release them back into the wold.  

Update: July 20 2016

The July  2015 issue has part 3 on p. 80, "Feeding Frenzy", by Virginia Morell, explaining how matriarchal pods of orcas hunt for "free fish", train the young, and engage in "carousel feeding", even forcing sea lions to beach.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Independent bookstores are making a comeback


The Washington Post is reporting on “Independent Bookstore Day”, and particularly on the comeback of independent bookstores, in an article by Ron Charles, in the Style Section, here. The demise of Borders is said to have eliminated a lot of their “competition”.

I’ve often written about how independent book stores have to deal with competition online, as well as the chains stores.  The LGBT bookstore, like Lambda Rising, has been one of the casualties.  Could it come back?  Right now, Kammerbooks on Dupont Circle is indeed one of my own favorite spots.

In an article on my main “BillBoushka” blog April 30, I did discuss why I don’t make more effort to market my own books to retail outlets.  This has become a sore point with some people, but a lot of it has to deal with just my own time, and the finite limit of 168 hours a week.  I find spending time on new projects and other media more productive now.  Selling books “for their own sake”, as items, by themselves, has become controversial as a business and personal priority matter. 
Update:  May 8

One of the companies called today and offered a book returnability program for $1300 a year, which would work through Ingram.  The sales pitch included the idea of "local authors".  I don't know if, in my circumstances and content, I would have the "popularity" for this to work, given the time it takes to visit and talk to stores.  Of course, that's what my own father used to to (with glass).  I think that working with more content in other media and with situation-specific networking is much more effective, given time constraints and lack of scale.  I might visit a specific store for some specific reason (knowing the people there, or who visit there), but not do this as a regular strategy enough to justify the investment.

It does disturb some people that I would publish a book and then not "pimp" it as a consumer item (or wholesale item), but "publishing" has come to mean something much broader than just selling instances of one kind of item.  "As the world turns."


Update: May 15

I visited a large Barnes and Noble Tuesday.  I was told that stocking should go through corporate, perhaps from the publisher.  But the wording of the returnability email seems to encourage working with smaller, independent stores.
 
I did notice that BN stores do keep a number of copies of more popular books on shelves (sometimes up to 20).  There was only one case of "current affairs" but each book had three or four copies.  So trying to stock them nationally could definitely make sense.  My book would look good on the current affairs display. Most all of the books in the Current Affairs area on display were less than two years old.  However, older books were present in "how to" sections as well as, of course, fiction (especially genre).
 
There's also a good question as to whether all three should be packaged together -- although I do not have the popularity of Harry Potter.  There would seem to be a question about trademarking my catch phrase. I see that USPTO has just added a lot of new advisory material to its website and will look at it soon.
Update: May 16

Barnes and Noble does have a link for how small publishers should get their books in its stores, here. There is also a link on bookfairs here. For an author with a series, there would be a question on trademarking the series name, which I discussed on my trademark blog today.
Update: May 27

I have signed on to an Indepedent Bookstore pitch campaign.  More details here.

  


Friday, May 01, 2015

Leonard Susskind: "The Black Hole War", making the universe safe for information retention (and maybe the afterlife)


Author: Leonard Susskind
  
Title: “The Black Hole War”

Subtitle: “My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics”
  
Publication: 2008: Hachette/Back Bay, ISBN 978-0-316-01641-4, 470 pages, paper, indexed
  
Amazon link
  
I picked up this book, in conjunction with one by Brian Greene (March 7), out of interest in the basic for spirituality, religion, and the afterlife, to the extent that cosmology can support it.  This book is a little older than the Greene book.


Stephen Hawking had somewhat startled the world of physics a couple decades ago when he said that information would be lost forever inside black holes.  He has since changed his mind somewhat, at least partially.  This book by Susskind is a lengthy and heavily illustrated exploration (along with the histories of various meetings and conferences) of the way the author followed up on the problem over many years.
  
The essential components of the cosmos that must interact seem to be energy and entropy, which itself is a logarithmic measure of the number of specific states or combinations of undetermined information can exist.  Entropy is the reason we have ideas like probability and statistics.  Entropy also explains why we cannot completely predict, for example, whether a tornado will form over a specific location (my house) during a severe weather outbreak.  Both concepts are related to heat.

Other ideas that he gets into would include black hole complementarity (almost with a twinge of Vatican morality), and D-branes.  He gets into string theory late in the game, and isn’t as interested as Greene in the multiverse idea. Susskind also rehearses the old depilatory theorems:  Black holes are hairless enough for Men’s Health (which may sound like an unfortunate pun).  But that may not be true after all.  They may be more like beards after neat grooming and trimming after all. 

The basic idea, in the end, is that quantum mechanics eventually leads us to black hole evaporation, of Hawking radiation, which could release the information back to the universe, however scrambled.  In terms of quantum physics, burning a book doesn’t destroy its information.
  
The subject is further explored in the April 2015 issue of “Scientific American”, titled “Burning Rings of Fire”, p. 36, by Joseph Polchinski, link here (paywall subscription required).  (I found this mag in a Harris Teeter, hidden by a "17" issue with a cover of Ansel Elgort!)  Princeton physicist Juan Maldacena has more calculations and theories, which come closer to resolving the controversy.  One confounding idea is that a black hole could be surrounded by a “firewall”, or “ring of fire”, which obliterates anything that hits it, and separates the interior from space-time completely.
In general, very large black holes could be inconspicuous.  Entering one out of self-indulgent curiosity could be a non-event.  You just can never leave – a kind of life-without-parole. Theories have suggested that the entire solar system could be inside a black hole and we would never know until we got too close to the singularity in the center and were suddenly obliterated like “Lot’s wife” in Genesis).   But the firewall idea (thanks to Webroot, maybe) trashes this hope.

Micro black holes might exist because of the way other unused dimensions (in string theory) allow gravity to work (and Susskind goes into a lot of discussion about why gravity is so “weak” compared to other forces).  They would be likely to evaporate quickly into Hawking radiation.  Could a firewall “protect” a micro black hole? 

All of this matters, because information storage (in Planck units of 10 to the -70 power square meters per bit) is always related to area, not to volume (p. 140 of the book).  The relation of area to volume of a sphere seems to be 3/r.  It would seem that tiny black holes could be efficient in storing the “information” of someone’s personal consciousness and provide a conduit to reincarnation or afterlife. 

Another idea is that the three dimensions that we experience in daily life really are a mathematical hologram projected onto two dimensions (maybe like a 3-D movie), since information is based on area.

Pictures: Does my train set (where UFO abductees are “trained”), whatever its three dimensions (with the chutes) look like a hologram?