20 minutes to go.
Here's my wife's scenario for Earth Hour: the lights go out, then people do what they do best when the lights go out. Nine months later, there's a huge baby boom, and Mother Earth is doubly f*cked. ;-)
Earth Hour, my butt.
We used to celebrate Earth Day. But now we can spare only an hour. Next year, it'll be down to Earth Minute. I got some giggles from their FAQ, though:
Aren’t you using a heap of electricity and resources to promote this event?
Earth Hour is operating under our Principles of Operation, which we are happy to share with you. Earth Hour is a carbon neutral event.
What candles should I use for my Earth Hour event?
If you plan on burning candles during Earth Hour, make sure you use 100% beeswax candles ...
How will Earth Hour help?
Earth Hour shows that, together, our small actions can make a difference to global warming.
No. Holding our collective breath for one hour per year will make no statistical difference at all. We human beings have demonstrated, through our bad choices (gas-guzzling cars, smoke-spewing factories, smoke-spewing cigarette addicts, etc.) that we are the next eager candidates for extinction. We should accept our fates gracefully. Between 8 and 9 tonight, I think we should turn on every light in our houses, open our fridge doors and crank up our stereos to party like it's 1999. ;-)
Maybe Amazon's problem is obvious?
One of my author friends sent this eMail to Amazon:
I strongly object to Amazon's monopolistic business practices, as revealed by Angela Hoy:
I intend to switch to BarnesAndNoble.com for my media purchases, and will urge all my friends and business associates to do the same.
His message seemed pretty clear to me. But then he received this reply from Amazon:
Thank you for writing to us at Amazon.com.
I'm very sorry, but I was unable to determine the exact nature of your query from the content of your e-mail message.
Please click the link below to write back to us with little more information regarding your request. [...]
Sathya.V, Amazon.com Customer Service
Could it be that Amazon has outsourced its key business decisions, too?
Is Amazon pulling a fast one? From Angela Hoy at BookLocker:
Amazon.com Telling POD Publishers - Let BookSurge Print Your Books, or Else...
BREAKING DEVELOPMENT: We were notified by a PublishAmerica author that her book was available for purchase through Amazon on Tuesday but today the "buy" button for her book on Amazon is gone. We researched some other PublishAmerica books and it appears the "buy" button on Amazon has indeed been removed from the vast majority of their book pages.
Some Print on Demand (POD) publishers are privately screaming "Monopoly!" while others are seething with rage over startling phone conversations they're having with Amazon/BookSurge representatives. Why isn't anybody talking about it openly? Because they're afraid - very, very afraid.
Amazon.com purchased BookSurge, a small POD publisher/printer back in 2005. Amazon also lists and sells titles for the largest POD printer, Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram (the large book distributor). According to their website, Lightning Source serves more than 4,300 publisher clients and has more than 400,000 titles in their system.
You'd think Amazon's purchase of BookSurge might have made things a bit uncomfortable between the two companies. However, they continued to work together, getting books on demand to Amazon.com's loyal customers. Things appeared to be cruising along just fine, but perhaps not anymore.
Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the "buy" button on their Amazon.com book pages will be "turned off." [more]
Lights, Camera, "Action"!
Action (1999) is now available, uncut and unbleeped. The day Anikó and I visited the set, Buddy Hackett (1924-2003) flirted with my wife in fluent Magyar (it turned out that he had spent quite a bit of time in Hungary), and Illeana Douglas regaled us with a hilarious story about getting hammered on Barack Pálinka (an apricot distillate, Hungary's answer to tequila) one night in Budapest. We loved the series and were inconsolable when Fox TV canceled it after only 13 episodes. But everybody knew that such a sharp and funny look at the film industry could never last... in fact, the short run was probably a blessing, because their writing staff never had enough time to lose the ol' knuckleball:
[PETER DRAGON (Jay Mohr) parks his car in the Employee of the Month parking space.]
MANNY SANCHEZ (Hector Contreras): Hi, I'm Manny Sanchez from the commissary, and I'm the Employee of the Month.
PETER DRAGON: Well that's fantastic, Manny. What is that, some kind of award for not peeing in the cobb salads?
MANNY SANCHEZ: I never pee in the cobb salads.
PETER DRAGON: Really? That's too bad, because if I was you, I would have peed in the cobb salads. In fact, I would have peed in every fuckin' cobb salad every fuckin' day so every one of those cocksuckers in that commissary would have had a taste of Peter fuckin' Dragon. But you know what, Manny? That's just me. Move.
MANNY SANCHEZ: You're Peter Dragon?
PETER DRAGON: Yeah, I'm Peter Dragon. That's right. And while you've admirably restrained yourself over the years from peeing in the cobb salads, I've made ten motion pictures that have earned this studio a billion dollars. So I'm gonna continue to park wherever the fuck I want because, unfortunately for you, I am Employee of the fuckin' Century! Congratulations on your award, though. Your parents must be very proud.
WENDY WARD (Illeana Douglas, commenting on a film): I thought it just plain sucked!
STUART GLAZER (Jack Plotnick, who plays PETER's assistant): Excuse me, who are you?
PETER DRAGON: She's my prostitute.
STUART GLAZER: She's your whore?
PETER DRAGON: No, she's my prostitute. You're my whore.
PETER DRAGON: I'm really looking forward to us working together.
KEANU REEVES (himself): Peter, I have some concerns.
PETER DRAGON: Well, I'd like to hear about them.
KEANU REEVES: I'm a little concerned that your date has her hand down my pants.
WENDY WARD: I'm a big fan.
KEANU REEVES: Why, thank you. I'm getting to be a pretty big fan of yours, too.
Also: "Action" writers.
Trolling for thieves. What an interesting idea (see image, below).
But the concept takes on a whole new dimension--perhaps olfactory?--when a sign like this is posted in the sun-baked, broiling-hot parking lot of the local Fish Company Restaurant and Outdoor World/Bass Pro Shop...
Happy 10th Anniversary, Zoetrope!
In March 1998, Tom Edgar opened Francis Ford Coppola's peer-review workshop (at workshop.lather.com, which no longer exists), the first of several precursors to the current Zoetrope Virtual Studio.
Media coverage: 11/1998, 2/2000, 2/2001.
When I was seventeen, it was a very good year...
(Songwriter: Ervin Drake, Performer: Frank Sinatra)
My father, Chester Alton Baird ("Chet"), turned 17 in 1946:
The Last Lesson
Hacking Google: SEO's sneaky spam secret.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a service you can buy to boost your website's position on the search engine results page, when Internet surfers try to find certain keywords or phrases, like "Mesa Giant Red Nipple." If you plug that four-word phrase into any of the top web search engines, my site will come out pretty darn near the top. In cyberspace, I am considered to be *the* expert on Mesa Giant Red Nipples, and I've worked very hard to cultivate that reputation.
I've posted at least half a dozen articles on the subject. I've created a couple of blogs that mirror the phrase and link back to my website. I've done some social bookmarking on sites with memorable names like del.icio.us. Or is it deli.cio.us? I can never remember.
If I were really serious about maintaining my Number One ranking, I would hire a squad of Bulgarians and Pakistanis, at ten cents an hour, to find blog comment discussions or other online forums with some "relevancy." For a keyword phrase like "Mesa Giant Red Nipple," they would probably come up with sites showing the difference between a mesa and a butte, or raving about NY Giants football, or offering Simply Red concert photos, or selling breast augmentation and nipple piercing services.
Or they might be less relevant.
Then I would tell the Bulgarians and Pakistanis to write comments and drop links on those blogs or forums, cleverly disguised to blend into the existing conversational threads: "I make plenty big touchdown in my socker game less week. -Rogger, Mesa Giant Red Nipple [link]."
Or maybe I would hire Lithuanians and Vietnamese to do this part of the job. Everyone knows those darn Pakistanis can't blend in anywhere.
But perhaps you're pressed for time and have too much money to worry about small matters like SEO. That's when you go out and hire an SEO firm. They also list themselves under acronyms like SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SES (Search Engine Strategists). If you don't know anything about hiring an SEO company, here's a list of pointers:
(1) The SEO CEO (Chief Executive Officer) must be able to dazzle you with dialect and baffle you with bullpucky. If he doesn't use jargon like "keyword density" and "backlink boosting," he doesn't know his stuff. On the other hand, if he can rattle off five or six sentences in a slangy SEO-ese lingo, and those sentences make no sense to you at all, he's probably the guy you want.
(2) Most of his staff should be in their early twenties. The younger, the better. In fact, if the CEO is older than 29, he probably hasn't been immersed in cyberspace for more than half his life, so his genetic sequencing hasn't mutated enough to provide the kind of service you need.
(3) Your SEO CEO should assure you that he performs only "ethical" or "organic" or "white hat" SEO. He should also warn you that his competitors engage in "black hat" SEO, and their efforts often result in search engine penalties. He should tell you that if you use those other guys, your site might end up getting banned by Google. He should really scare you. If you're not terrified, he's no freakin' good.
(4) He should offer to research the precise keyword phrases that people customarily use to find your business. Then he should propose "optimizing" your website for those keywords. "Optimizing" is techspeak for "charging exorbitant fees to insert one of your keyword phrases into each paragraph on your site."
(5) By the way, you can discover the same keyword phrases by casually perusing the free server logs provided by your website's hosting company.
(6) At this point, your SEO CEO should offer to sell you custom-written keyword-rich articles that link back to your website. He will tell you he's placing those articles on websites in his inventory that have been carefully selected for their "relevancy." Think nipple piercing.
(7) He should never characterize his inventory websites as "link farms." Even though they are, in truth, link farms.
(8) For the coup de grâce, he will carefully gauge your GQ (Gullibility Quotient), and perhaps offer to sell you "backlink boosting." Make sure to ask whether he uses Pakistanis or Lithuanians.
The SEO industry came into being approximately ten seconds after Google announced its PageRank system. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, says that "PageRank is a link analysis algorithm that assigns a numerical weighting to each element of a hyperlinked set of documents, such as the World Wide Web, with the purpose of measuring its relative importance within the set."
How much do you wanna bet that some hotshot SEO CEO wrote that sentence?
PageRank (PR) tells me your website's relative importance. If you're PR 1 or 2, I can't even risk being seen with you. But if you're PR 8 or 9, I will anxiously wait by the phone, hoping to be invited to your next party.
SEOers rely on PageRank like the rest of us rely on air. In fact, your average SEOer keeps a wary eye on everything that Google does, because Google created--and can easily destroy--his business. When giant Google takes a crap, every SEOer minutely examines the steaming heap.
But some SEOers want to be ahead of the curve, so they don't wait until the golden turds hit the ground. They jump up, trying to get a view inside Google's butt. They want to know how the digestive system works. The express concern when Google experiences constipation. They offer suppositories for the occasional hemorrhoid. They break out their umbrellas when Google has diarrhea.
Every time Google pitches a puny pebble into the placid pond of SEO, the ensuing ripples can seem like tidal waves to an SEO CEO. If Google makes a tiny adjustment to the way it does business, a complacent SEOer might go bankrupt. To provide an extra security blanket, there's a whole additional layer of SEO practitioners, the SEO Consultants. An SEOcon makes his living by watching Google closely, while analyzing the speeches, blogs, and public pronouncements of Google insiders. The SEOcon then sells his analyses to other SEO geeks via pricey newsletters and books. Some of those books sell for many hundreds of dollars. Good bullpucky ain't cheap.
So the primary objective in SEO today is to figure out what Google is thinking and how it operates. Some companies try to discover how a competitor's widget works through reverse engineering. They take apart the widget and analyze its technological principles, attempting to duplicate its function without infringing any copyrights. Some companies turn computer hackers loose on a competitor's system, to discover vulnerabilities they can exploit.
And some companies try to hack Google.
Most reputable firms want to avoid, as much as possible, paying for ads on search engine results pages. They want their websites to appear near the top of those results pages in a natural way... "organically." But good "organic" search results are not as chock-full of healthy goodness as the word might imply. To get a high organic ranking, companies usually try to spam the search engines. They pay an SEOer to put their spammy "keyword-rich" pages on inventory websites. They pay the SEOer to hire spam-generating Pakistanis. They pay the SEOer for "backlink boosting."
By the way, doesn't "Backlink Boosting" sound like a great title for gay porn?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
I got a shoulder MRI this morning, to confirm the injured rotator cuff.
First, the doc injected the joint space in my shoulder with radioactive dye.
My shoulder didn't like this. It started to complain about the pain, by cramping.
Then the MRI tech strapped me down in a supremely uncomfortable position, for insertion into the MRI machine.
After the first 3.5 minute session, I asked if she could reposition my arm. She said: "Not without starting over."
So we negotiated a slightly less uncomfortable position for my elbow and wrist, which refused to fold into the optimum angle. My damaged rotator cuff was obviously asserting its dominance over the situation.
During the next 3.5 minute session, I was chanting mantras, doing breathing exercises (not too much, don't move, Alan) and desperately trying every mental trick I knew, to block out the excruciating pain.
Four sessions to go.
During the next session, I tried letting the pain flow through me. That worked for about 3 seconds.
The rest of the sessions were a blur. I remember whimpering softly, hoping the MRI tech wouldn't hear. I think I passed out for a while.
But not long enough. In my mind, those MRI sessions had stretched into eternity: past, present and future. The pain had always existed, and would continue to exist, now and forever after, world without end, amen.
I don't have any fear of the MRI tunnel (I've been in it a couple of times before), but for this examination, it turned into a real torture chamber.
My shoulder went into an involuntary muscle spasm during the final session, so she had to redo the session. Of course.
Afterwards, when she asked if I wanted a copy of the CD, I said: "F*ck, yes!"
I felt like I had earned it.
I got a speeding ticket yesterday. Crap. Thirty-seven bucks. Double-crap. But the AZ Highway Patrol guy was nice, and made it a Civil Traffic ticket, rather than Criminal. That means my license will receive no point penalties and our insurance will not be affected.
The officer was a funny guy. He wanted me to know that he was giving me a break, and he kept cracking jokes to get me to lighten up. But I didn't dare laugh, until he handed me the ticket.
When I saw that he had listed the violation as a "Waste Of Kinetic Resources," I had to chuckle. He was obviously waiting for that reaction, and he smiled enigmatically as he returned to his cruiser.
Nipple doctor mirrors.
The never-ending Mesa Giant Red Nipple series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) took a decidedly medical turn yesterday:
My buddy Lisa McMann wrote a very cool Young Adult novel entitled Wake ("Your dreams are not your own."). Last night, she kicked off her book tour here in Mesa, at Borders. Anikó and I had a great time, and the event was a rousing success. Good luck, Lisa!
Greetings from Locus Novus.
Locus Novus is an animated website devoted to exploring the frontiers of electronic literature and online art. This brainchild of Faruk Ulay (who authored Beneath the Shadow of Perpetual Defeat and Terra Infirma) is truly a "synthesis of text and image/motion/sound."
LN's tiny bouncing blocks of color, an homage to Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie, "create a vital and pulsing rhythm, an optical vibration that jumps from intersection to intersection..."
And when you view the LN collaborations, literary endeavors take on a whole new dimension.
"Astound me!" [said Serge Diaghilev, to Jean Cocteau]
The eMail below appeared in my Inbox this morning.
It's always a red-letter day when Faruk posts new collaborations.
Do yourself a favor - crank up your speakers, click the links, and prepare to be astounded...
--- Original Message ---
Greetings from Locus Novus,
Just a quick message to let you know that the site has been updated with two new works:
-- "Life Imagined As A Slither of Syllables" by John Olson
-- "A Serial Killer" by Kristina Born
A Synthesis of Text, Image, Motion and Sound
My ___ Is In A Sling.
Last weekend, my employer moved us all into a new building. The office looks nice, and I have a large quasi-executive privacy-free cubicle. The tree-lined parking lot looks nice, too, and many large birds like to hang out in the trees.
On Monday, I found out those huge birds generate huge quantities of sh*t. How did I learn this, you ask? Because my car was covered with huge white splotches at the end of the day. I had to wash the windshield, just to be able to see the road for my evening commute.
On Tuesday, when I walked outside for the morning break, I decided to pick up a small pine cone and teach one of those d*mn windshield-crapping birds a good lesson. As I threw the pine cone, my shoulder gave out with a loud SNAP, and the razor-sharp pain has kept me from sleeping ever since.
Boy, I really taught THAT bird a lesson he'll never forget.
Yesterday, the pain finally started interfering with my ability to do the writing that my job requires. So I broke down and visited an orthopaedic doctor, who said my rotator cuff has been severely damaged. Oh goody. Needles. MRIs. Hemostats. Scalpels. Arthroscopes. Stitches. Lots of physical therapy. Plus, thanks to some incredibly shoddy health insurance, a possible bankruptcy.
But the doc prescribed me some Vicodin, which lets me sleep like a baby. So if my luck runs true, I'll end up with a really nasty narcotic addiction, too. Yaay!