Saturday, 7 March 2009

I've been contacted by a publisher

Red flash caladiumAnd he wants to use a picture from my gardening blog in a children's book on container gardening.

Seriously, if you'd ever told me I'd get into print as a photographer I would have said you were nuts.

I'll get credited and will receive a copy of the book. Very, very cool.

But the irony of it is killing me.

Hey publishers, I've got a manuscript for you! Yoohoo! Over here!

Reset button needs resetting

Reset buttonAm I the only one who doesn't think this is funny?
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greeted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday before sitting down to their working dinner, she presented him a small green box with a ribbon. Inside was a red button with the Russian word "peregruzka" printed on it.

"I would like to present you with a little gift that represents what President Obama and Vice President Biden and I have been saying and that is: 'We want to reset our relationship and so we will do it together.'"

Clinton, laughing, added, "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" she asked Lavrov.

"You got it wrong," Lavrov said." Both diplomats laughed. "It should be "perezagruzka" (the Russian word for reset,) Lavrov said. "This says 'peregruzka,' which means 'overcharged.'"

Nobody in the American State Department is proficient in Russian? They try very hard to get a single word right and can't do it? For a photo-op that most of the world will see?

May I politely suggest that the State Department get its head out of its nether regions and realize that it is their job to understand how the rest of the world thinks and that they can't possibly do that if they don't speak the language?

The American government is like an out-of-touch executive, thinking that the occasional walkabout is a substitute for really knowing somebody.

And for what it's worth, this is not a Democrat/Republican thing. It's a part of the mindset that says, "I'm so important, everybody else has to know who I am while I forget their names." It's been a characteristic of American foreign policy for decades and is a big part of the reason why they get it so terribly wrong so often.

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Friday, 6 March 2009

Get Glassy

Dichroic glassThis is not, in general, a girly blog. That's because I'm not a girly girl.

Having said that, I'm telling you today about a website selling hand-made glass jewelry and gifts. First, because I know the craftswoman. Second, because I think there's some really cool stuff here at reasonable prices. She's got pretty things, interesting things, and funny things.

Even if you're not a girly girl, or even a girl, this is a good place to pick up a gift for a girl in your life. Or ask her to make a keychain for your guy. Or just go look at pretty things.

High voltage

Hand-painted pendant from

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Sixth picture

OK Janna. You've sweet-talked me again. But I'm not tagging anybody. I just won't do that anymore. Anybody who likes this meme and wants to do, consider yourself tagged by me.

This is a picture meme. I'm supposed to find the sixth photo in the sixth folder on my computer, post and explain it. This is a little tough, as I'm on a relatively new computer and have uploaded very few pictures. Haven't even created folders yet.

But here is the sixth picture of what I've got.

Louise Guay - Rencontre au café

This album was put out last year by a friend of mine. It's a live show that was a trip down nostalgia lane. I'd seen all these songs performed live about 30 years ago, so it really is a nostalgia trip for me in particular. Louise is a gifted singer/songwriter with a very powerful stage presence. The recording quality isn't the greatest on this album due to the coffeeshop environment, but for me, it's a rush. And yes, I bought it. (Disclaimer: we're also friends.)

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What do you think of self-publishing?

As you may or may not know, the publishing industry is in convulsions. A business model forged in the fires of the Great Depression is now hopelessly out-of-date, but is so entrenched that it will take dynamite to move it.

And dynamite is what it's getting. The digital revolution combined with the economic situation is a pretty formidable double-whammy. While the music industry got blasted into the air a number of years ago (the dust is still falling from the skies and its new shape is starting to be visible), the book industry managed to duck most of the impact, primarily because very few people wanted to read book-length text on a computer screen. It's hard on the eyes and there are too many distractions. Amazon and mega-bookstores did change the rules a bit, but mainly for retailers and publishers.

But the recent successes of the Kindle and the Sony Reader are starting to shake things up for readers as well. And if they follow the well-worn path of electronic innovations and drop their prices significantly over the next few years, the impact will be seismic.

So what has this got to do with self-publishing?

Simple. The rules are changing. Self-publishing is looking ever more attractive. The traditional advantages of traditional publishers are eroding.

The first advantage was distribution. The publisher - not the author - did the hard work of trying to get the book into actual stores. This is still true. But the advent of new technologies makes it a less wonderful advantage. Print-on-demand technology and digital distribution are making a physical presence in a physical store less necessary than it has been in the past. And if present trends continue, this advantage will continue to shrink.

The second advantage was marketing. A publisher would - in theory - take on the publicity responsibilities and do everything in its power to make sure the book sold. (Is that the sound of cynical laughter I hear?) In actual fact, that is now rarely true. Blogs and social networks have become the most effective way of marketing books and authors are generally expected to work these angles on their own. They are often exhorted to plow their advances back into their own publicity: publishers are too busy with the spaghetti strategy: throw a whole bunch of books at the wall and see what sticks. More and more writers are wondering what the point of signing with a publishing house is if so much of the hard work is left to the writer anyway. If you're not one of your publisher's A-list authors, this advantage has pretty much ceased to exist. (Some of the agents I am querying want to know my marketing vision right in the query letter. What does that tell you?)

The third advantage is editing. This one really matters too. But so many editors have been laid off, the survivors are dizzy with fatigue, trying to handle the workload of two or three people. How much time and energy are they really able to put into a book nowadays? A self-published author can also hire a free-lance editor to do the work, although that obviously means a financial outlay.

The fourth advantage is credibility. This one is a doozy. What if every kid that auditioned for American Idol set up a page on iTunes and released their basement-recorded singles? That's pretty much what you're facing as a reader in the self-published world. How much dreck do you want to wade through to find the rare voice worth listening to? How many dreadful books do you want to read before you find a good one?

Yet even that is not an insurmountable problem. A savvy author who knows how to generate word-of-mouth publicity and who posts an excerpt or two online might be able to do an end-run around the credibility issue. And with a good-looking website selling digital downloads, it could be done without the financial risks of publishing hardcopy books.

I'm still thinking finding a publisher is preferable, but to be honest, I'm going to be looking very hard at what they're offering in terms of editing and publicity. Because if they don't offer much in that department, it's hard to see the advantage to me of signing up with them.

What do you think? If you're a writer, under what circumstances would you self-publish? If you're a reader, under what circumstances would you buy a self-published book? If you're an industry insider, is there something important I'm missing here?

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Sunday, 1 March 2009

An unwelcome ingredient in your Easter chocolate

Children harvesting cocoaSlavery.

Child slavery.

Sometimes the children are slaves to circumstance - the children of poverty-stricken farmers who have no choice but to send the whole family into the fields. The lack of education for the children ensures that the vicious cycle will continue.

But sometimes they are literally slaves.

Children who are involved in the worst labor abuses come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo -- nations that are even more destitute than the impoverished Ivory Coast. Parents in these countries sell their children to traffickers believing that they will find honest work once they arrive in Ivory Coast and then send their earnings home. But as soon as they are separated from their families, the young boys are made to work for little or nothing. The children work long and hard -- they head into the fields at 6:00 in the morning and often do not finish until 6:30 at night.

" Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods -- 400 of which are needed to make a pound of chocolate -- Diabate has never tasted the finished product. "I don't know what chocolate is," he told the press.

The largest chocolate producers are aware of the problems but wash their hands of responsibility.
For years, US chocolate manufacturers have said they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don't own them. But the $13 billion chocolate industry is heavily consolidated, with just two firms -- Hershey's and M&M/Mars -- controlling two-thirds of the US chocolate candy market. Surely, these global corporations have the power and the ability to reform problems in the supply chain. What they lack is the will.

After a string of media exposes and the threat of government action jeopardized their image, the chocolate industry finally agreed to take action in 2001. On November 30, 2001 the US chocolate industry released a Protocol and Joint Statement outlining their plans to work toward eliminating the worst forms of child labor (see ILO Convention 182) and forced labor (see ILO Convention 29) in cocoa production.

Unfortunately, the plan does not guarantee stable and sufficient prices for cocoa, or any guarantee that cocoa farmers will receive a fair income in the end. Without such a guarantee, there is now way to ensure that abusive child labor on cocoa farms will cease for good.

Fortunately there is something you can do about it. Insist on Fairtrade chocolate. Yes, you will pay more for your chocolate, but is getting a lower price on an unnecessary indulgence so important that we are willing to force children into slavery? Are you willing?

I'm not.

The Australian media reports on the abuse: click here.
The cocoa industry fails to deliver on its commitments: click here.

The Biblical take:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. ... Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

James 5:1,4

Kommentare auf Deutsch sind immer willkommen.

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