Monthly Archives: September 2011

Immediate gratification, FTW!

I just ordered the $79 Kindle Wi-Fi after reading this convincing argument against touchscreens on dedicated ebook readers.

Shorter version of the argument: When you’re reading books, you don’t need to tap and swipe all over the screen, getting the display all shmutzy. The main thing you need to do is keep turning pages, and for that a hardware button does the job nicely.

Not mentioned in the article: I’d have to wait nearly two months for the Kindle Touch, but the Kindle Wi-Fi will get here Saturday.

My two cents on the new Kindles

I expect the tablet will finally be the one to grab some serious market share from the iPad.

People talk about the “tablet market,” but there really is no “tablet market.” There are iPads, and then there are a million other tablets, none of which have sold any significant market share.

I expect the Kindle Fire will change that, because of the Amazon brand and the low price. I haven’t played with it myself, or read any credible reviews, so I can’t speak to the quality of the product — whether it’s a well-designed machine or shoddy merchandise like all the other iPad competitors. But Amazon did a great job on the Kindle, so we can be optimistic that the new tablet will be a good machine too.

We’d already decided Julie is getting a Kindle reader (she seems to be leaning that direction at the moment, rather than a tablet). She has trouble holding the iPad for long periods, because of its weight. Because mostly what she does on the iPad is read, a Kindle is a natural choice for her.

And I think I’ll get a Kindle reader too (not the tablet), for similar reasons. Unlike Julie, I am comfortable holding the iPad for long periods, but a lighter-weight and smaller device would be even more comfortable. Like Julie, I mostly use my iPad for reading. So a Kindle seems like a natural choice. I’d been holding out because of the price, and because the keyboard strikes me as a waste of real estate. Both of those problems seem to be fixed on the new Kindles. I’m not sure which model I’ll get, but I’m leaning toward holding out for the high end, which I think comes out in November (?).

All in all, an exciting announcement. And Apple’s new iPhone comes out next week! A great month for personal tech.

So far, of all the endless speculations about the iPhone announcement, this SplatF post seems to be the only one worth reading. It’s a short post, with three questions of things to watch out for. Two questions are interesting to me:

(1) Will Apple even mention iAd?

(2) Will there be an Apple TV announcement?

If there’s a new software update, I’ll be doing the happy dance. New software is always fun! If it’s new hardware, I’ll be a bit frustrated, since we just bought an Apple TV. But on the other hand, the Apple TV is cheap.

If Apple announces the rumored flatscreen Apple TV, well, I’ll just be weeping like a character in The Oatmeal, because we just shelled out large coin for a 52″ flatscreen TV and it’ll be at least seven years before we’re due to buy another one.

NYC etiquette

This Quora thread on NYC etiquette makes me a little homesick:


“Don’t say you’re “from New York” when you’re from New Jersey or Long Island.”

I say I’m “from New York” if I’m out of town, which I am most of the time because I’ve lived in California for more than a third of my life.

Julie and I disagree on whether I’m also “from California.” After this long living here, I say yes.

Or, rather, I say, “Yeah, dude.”

Don’t ask people where you can find good “New York Pizza.” In New York, it’s just called pizza – most New Yorkers don’t even know “New York Pizza” is a thing outside New York, or that there is a “New York-style” (see Where can you get New York-style Pizza in London? and its ilk). Just go to the local corner pizza shop and help yourself; I promise it’ll have “New York-style pizza” unless it says very explicitly otherwise.

Yeah, but it might not be any good. When I’m visiting my brother, I rely on his recommendation. When I’m in the city on business, I ask the hotel concierge. When I do that, I do specify that I want New York pizza, at a little hole-in-the-wall with formica tables and a counter in front. I don’t want no damn tourist pizza.

New York eats late – don’t propose dinner earlier than 7pm unless the other party has kids. People won’t hate you for violating this, but they may give you a strange look.

This is a big source of disagreement with me and Julie. She’s from the midwest [1. Also a source of disagreement with me and Julie. She says Ohio is not the midwest, it’s the Great Lakes Region.], where folks sit down to supper at 6 or so. I keep New York dinner hours. I think I wore her down on this one over the years, which I’m not proud of. On the other hand, I do enjoy finally getting to eat dinner at a normal hour.


  • Don’t steal someone else’s cab, along with guidelines on how to make sure you’re not doing that. I’ve broken that rule, I’m afraid, although I didn’t know I was doing it. I’ll know better now.

  • “When you refer to locations in Manhattan, don’t give the Avenue first – always start with the Street.” I never knew that was a rule, but I do it instinctively.

  • “Perhaps less of a faux pas, but a sure tipoff that you’re a tourist; if you’re in Manhattan, don’t refer to “North” and “South;” it’s “Uptown” and “Downtown,” respectively.

  • “New York is a walking city.”” One of my favorite things about it.

  • “Don’t touch a stranger’s kid.”

  • Do feel free to talk about where you live and how much you pay for it, even though that would be considered too personal elsewhere. “New Yorkers are obsessed with real estate.”

There’s lots more. Worth reading the whole thing.


About authenticity and writing ethnic characters

Fantasy and science fiction writer Kate Elliott has an interesting discussion of authentic portrayals of ethnic minorities in fiction. Worth reading.

The heroes of my current novel-in-progress are a Mexican-American woman and an Indian-American man. The storyline itself is very traditional; it could be lifted from a pulp magazine from the Truman administration. I gave the characters those ethnicities for a number of reasons, among them that I wanted to add a more contemporary flavor to the story.

I don’t have any close friends or family who are Mexican-American or Indian-American, so I’m relying on a lot of reading and Googling.

I’m writing a scene right now where the Mexican-American woman has a conversation with her mother, father and sister. The way I wrote it, the heroine and her sister are college-educated, the mother is strong, loud, opinionated, and not very well-educated (so she’s a good person for the main characters to explain things to, and in so doing explain them to the reader), and the father is largely silent. Like I said, I don’t know much about Mexican-Americans, but I do know families with that dynamic.

I also know a lot about immigrant families, having grown up in one and around others. Growing up, it seemed like everyone I knew had grandparents who were born in Europe.

My little experiment could prove to be a spectacular failure. But you know, I think a lot of Mexican-Americans and Indian-Americans would be willing to cut me some slack. Maybe they’ll even help out as first readers when the time comes, and tell me what I’m doing that no person of that culture would ever do.

Although first readers can be tricky. Cory Doctorow, a Canadian who’s lived in America and London, wrote a novel For the Win set largely in the slums of China and India. He described how he gave sections of the manuscript to people of both cultures to read, and one reader would come back to him and say,”This part here? Very authentic!” while another reader would say the same part was inauthentic. These would be people who grew up within a few miles of each other. Even within a single culture, customs vary.

Similarly, growing up in my family, we never celebrated Christmas in the house, but we certainly enjoyed the TV specials and the shopping seasons. Other Jewish-American families celebrated Christmas. Still others celebrated Hanukkah using Christmas rituals. And we all lived within a few miles of each other.

(These days we celebrate Christmas. It means a lot to Julie. And I like it so what the heck.)

I like “Prime Suspect,” starring Maria Bello, a lot

I almost bailed out after the first few minutes because it had too much cop stuff, and seemed too derivative of NYPD Blue.

As a general rule, I am tired of cop shows. One reason is the way that they routinely portray police brutality. Cops get confessions out of suspects through threats of beatings, and sometimes actual beatings. And in the world of cop shows, that’s OK. In the real world, it’s a terrible thing.

But my dislike of cop shows isn’t primarily a matter of principle. It’s just that they seem to be all the same.

There’s the discovery of the body, often by a couple of interesting characters we never hear from again. That’s in the prologue, before the credits.

After the credits, the main characters, who are detectives, arrive on the scene. They are briefed by uniformed officers, examine the murder scene, and discuss the B-story, which is unrelated to the main murder — somebody’s relationship or career problems or whatever.

After the first commercial, there’s the scene where the coroner shows the detectives (and the audience) the interesting wounds on the body (don’t watch this scene while eating dinner).

There’s the confrontation with the by-the-book lieutenant.

There are the interviews of the suspects and witnesses in the interrogation room.

There’s the scene where the cops, wearing bulletproof vests, run from room to room in an apartment with guns drawn, shouting “CLEAR!” “CLEAR!” “CLEAR!”

It’s like Taco Bell: Same four ingredients, mixed up in different ways and called different things.

I can get into a cop show anyway if there’s something else going on I enjoy. The Closer is one of my favorite shows, and I was a huge fan of NYPD Blue.

I also loved Homicide.

And Prime Suspect seems to have many of the same qualities as Homicide, being about flawed people doing the best they can. Prime Suspect also looks a lot like The Closer — at least the first couple of episodes of The Closer, when Brenda was still fighting for her place. But where Brenda candy-coats her toughness with Southern charm, Maria Bello’s detective covers her toughness with another layer of toughness, with New York “fuck me? no fuck you” attitude.

Also, Maria Bello. I’m a huge fan of hers. She was particularly fantastic in The Cooler, with William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin. [1. I was at a corporate cocktail-party for work around 2005 where I was chatting with the wife of a colleague, and learned that this woman had actually been a roommate of Maria Bello in New York, back when Bello was still a struggling actress. I had just seen The Cooler and loved it, and I said so, and my brain sent these words down to my mouth: “And she was really something in that scene where she dances for William H. Macy! Hubba hubba!” But fortunately at that point, my brain started to visualize a conversation with HR about workplace-appropriate discussions, not to mention a conversation with my colleague about appropriate discussions with his wife — he’s much bigger than me. Not to mention a discussion with my wife (which I’m probably going to have anyway after she reads this). So my brain sent down a signal, “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!” and instead my mouth just said, “I really liked The Cooler. She was good in that!” And thus disaster was averted.] She’s great in everything she does. I’m just going to pretend The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor didn’t happen.

So far, it’s my favorite program of the new season. Although I think I only watched one other new program, 2 Broke Girls. I didn’t care for that one, although I might give it a half-dozen episodes to find its legs and then come back and give it another try. Assuming it lasts that long.

About what Tony Bennet said

Tony Bennet’s military experience in World War II:

Drafted by the U.S. Army in November 1944, Bennett served as an infantryman in Europe, moving across France, and later into Germany.

“The Germans were frightened. We were frightened. Nobody wanted to kill anybody when we were on the line, but the weapons were so strong that it overcame us and everybody else.”

He “admitted that his two years of service gave him enough time to witness the horrors of war.”

“The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist,” he said.

He told [Howard] Stern that he was left forever shaken by the sight of death.

“It was a nightmare that’s permanent,” he said. “I just said, ‘This is not life. This is not life.’”

Wikipedia has more.

The man then named Anthony Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, near the end of World War II. He was assigned as an infantryman, and crossed France and Germany with his unit. As March 1945 began, he joined the front line and what he would later describe as a “front-row seat in hell.”

Benedetto was part of the forces that pushed the Germans back to their homeland. They fought bitterly in frigid winter cold, often hunkering down in foxholes under heavy German fire. Then they crossed the Rhine and fought house-to-house.

During his time in combat, Benedetto narrowly escaped death several times. The experience made him a pacifist; he would later write, “Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one.”

Then he helped liberate a Nazi concentration camp.

Later, he got easier duty. He worked for an informal Special Services band unit entertaining nearby American forces. But then he had a meal with a black friend from school at a time, against the rules of the segregated Army. So he got demoted and was reassigned to Graves Registration Service duties, the unit that retrieves, identifies, transports and buries fallen military.

I figure Bennet gets to say whatever he wants to say about war.

Getting ready for the zombie apocalypse in San Diego

We were in the dark for ten hours during the San Diego blackout earlier this month. That impressed on me that we’re pretty unprepared for emergencies.

What if power goes out again, this time for much longer? What if we have to evacuate, perhaps due to fire? We’ve nearly had to do twice in the last ten years.

Since the blackout, I’ve been taking stock and making plans, which I’ve done using two of my best skills: (1) Reading on the Internet and (2) Buying things.

There are four scenarios we need to be prepared for:

Short-term power outage. Something like the one we had recently. We did pretty well there. There are a couple of things I think we can do better, but those relate to the next scenario, so I’ll talk about them there.

Longer term power outage. One that stretches on for many days, perhaps combined with breakdown in other utilities.

In this scenario, we’re hunkered in the house without electricity, maybe also without gas and a supply of pure water.

We need to do a bit of work to get ready for this. We need food, pure water, illumination, and communications.

Water: FEMA NY and a couple of other places recommend a three-day supply of pure water. That’s one gallon, per person, per day, plus a quart per day for pets. Different sources give slightly different info on how to prepare the water, but it seems all you really need to do is pour it into food-safe containers, seal the top, put it in a cool place away from direct sunlight, and you’re good to go.

Food: We’re pretty well covered there. Thanks to Julie, we always have food in the house. About half of it is perishable, but half isn’t. We both like nutrition bars of various flavors, so we always have a lot of food.

Illumination: Julie stocked up on candles. They’re warm and cozy for a ten-hour blackout, but not really practical for longer than that. They don’t cast a lot of light, and they’re dangerous. Julie also bought a lot of flashlights, and a couple of them are very good.

I bought two of these rechargeable lanterns from We’ll keep them plugged in in the pantry room off the kitchen at all times, which is where I think we should keep our little collection of emergency supplies.

We need to think about solar lighting or hand-cranked rechargeable lights.

We need to make sure we always have a supply of D-Cells.

If we had a lot of money lying around (which we currently do not), I’d get one of these GoSolar! fold-up solar panels, to charge laptops, cell phones, give the car a jump-start, and more.

Communication: Julie has a hand-cranked portable radio, which we listened to quite a lot during the blackout. I think I will probably also get this one, which also includes the ability to recharge a cell phone over a USB connection.

The Internet is a major source of communication, of course. I kept plugged into Twitter during the emergency, but my iPhone ran down just before the blackout ended. Since then, I bought a Mophie Juice Pack, which doubles the lifespan of the battery. I’ve been thinking I want one anyway for business trips. I’ll make a point to keep it 100% charged at all times when it’s not actually in use.

During an emergency, the car isn’t just a source of transportation; it’s also a source of electrical generation. I already have a car charger for the iPhone. It’s actually an adapter that turns the cigarette lighter into a USB power source, so I should be able to use the car charger for the iPads too. And the car has an electrical outlet built in to run conventional household power, which we can use to charge the iPad and my MacBook Pro.

Evacuating by car: Take all the above, throw them in the car, and go.

Evacuating by foot: Store as much of the above as we can carry in knapsacks, take them with us and go.

Still needed: Print out copies of legal documents, store them with emergency supplies. Get copies of prescriptions, store them with the emergency supplies. Julie says we have a first aid kit — is it any good?

You’ll note the absence of a fifth scenario, which has started to appear frighteningly likely since the financial meltdown of 2008:

The collapse of civil order. Think: Russia, 1990. Government simply stops working, cops and courts disappear, money is valueless. How would we survive then?

I’ve done some reading on this on blogs like Ran Prieur and Global Guerrillas. The two things that are valuable in that situation are community ties and practical skills that matter in that new world. I don’t have much of either, I’m afraid. I don’t see my abilities as a blogger, content marketer, and journalist as having much value in a post-breakdown world. And as for community — for more than a decade, my community has been on the Internet rather than where we physically live.

You’ll also note the absence of weapons on this list. This is not because I am a pacifist; it’s just that survivalists who think they can fight their way out of societal collapse are deluded fools. You’re most likely going to lose a gunfight or a knife-fight or a bare-knuckle brawl unless you’re trained and practice every day. I do none of those things.

What I can do is talk. I’m more confident of my ability to talk my way out of a conflict than I am in my ability to fight my way out. I may get a gun at some point, but only partly for self-defense, and even then it’s a real risk that the gun would most likely be used against me, or, even worse, Julie.

My friend Jim Macdonald recommends never, ever going below a half-tank of gas. It’s a good rule, and one we never follow; we usually let the tank get well below a quarter-full before refilling. That’s the way it was at the time of the blackout. We really need to do a better job of keeping the tank full.

Internet resources:

Tips for an apocalypse, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Real emergency preparedness, by Teresa
Jump kits (Go bags), by Jim Macdonald.
FEMA NY – Water
FEMA NY – Food

Why I decided to take my main blog back from Tumblr

Flip Flop Pattern

About two and a half months ago, I started using Tumblr as my main blog. I did it against the advice of some smart people, such as my friend Gina Trapani, and WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenwag.

Turns out, it wasn’t a good idea for me to put all my eggs in the Tumblr basket. That’s why I’ve moved this blog back to my own self-hosted WordPress installation. You’re looking at that right now.

Here’s why I made Tumblr my main blog:

  • I like Tumblr. It’s got a great user interface, nice-looking theme, and great tools. Its blogs look like normal blogs to the outside world, but if you’re registered at Tumblr you can subscribe to other Tumblr blogs and read them with a Dashboard, which makes Tumblr a social media platform too.

    As a social media platform, Tumblr works like Twitter without the length limitations, and with its own media sharing tools. Nice!

  • I want to be read. The social media aspects of Tumblr plugged me in immediately to a community. I got a heck of a lot more interaction on my blog with Tumblr than I have done with any other blogging platform.

But over time, I grew more and more uncomfortable with Tumblr as a platform for my main blog.

  • Tumblr makes it insanely easy to share content created by other people. As a result, I started sharing a lot of content on Tumblr, just as I’ve always done on Twitter. That was great, but my friends told me they had a hard time figuring out what was mine and what had been created by other people.

  • The commenting system on Tumblr is weak. Tumblr’s built-in commenting system lets readers leave notes on blog posts, but the author of the post can’t reply. Crazy, huh? You can integrate Disqus comments (which is what I did), but then you end up with two commenting systems running in parallel. Crazy, huh?

    As a result, interaction was thin and unsatisfying. It was exciting at first when I began to accumulate Tumblr followers, reposts, and likes of my blog posts. Now it’s mostly just random high-fives from strangers.

  • The data doesn’t belong to me. If Tumblr goes out of business next year, the content I create there disappears. I have backup copies on my disk drive, but it’s not on the Web. If I switch blogging platforms and move the domain, my inbound links break. And I worry that my not owning the data could result in other, more dire, unforeseen consequences in the future.

    As I prepare to self-publish fiction on the Internet, not owning and controlling the data bothers me even more. At that point, this blog won’t just be a personal soapbox, it’ll be a business storefront.

The solution: Keep both blogs.

This blog, cleverly named “Mitch Wagner’s Blog,” will be used for original writing, photos, and video created by me.

And I’ll keep the Tumblr blog as my other blog, naming it even more cleverly “Mitch Wagner’s Other Blog.” The other blog will be used for links and quotes of material elsewhere on the Internet.

One benefit to this plan: I can go back to automatically mirroring Mitch Wagner’s Blog to LiveJournal, where I have friends. And both blogs will continue to be fed to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, which is where I get a lot of my readers.

Thanks to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land who wisely suggested that I point the domain to Tumblr while it was my main blog, so that people’s bookmarks didn’t break. That does mean external links to individual Tumblr blog posts are now broken (except for one or two that I’ve hand-coded manually). I’m working on fixing that.

All in all, I’m glad I used Tumblr as my main blog for a while. It was a great experiment. And now it’s done. But Tumblr isn’t rid of me yet — I still love posting links and stuff from elsewhere on the Web on that blog.

Related: Anil Dash wrote in December about the value of blogging in the age of Twitter. He contrasts the permanence of blogging with the fleetingness of Twitter. He doesn’t discuss Tumblr, but the same arguments apply there. Anil defends both Twitter and blogging, and I agree.

Anil links to this article by Clive Thompson on Wired, in which he is quoted, where the author says that Twitter is for discussion and blogging is for deep dives. Thompson says the availability of Twitter as an outlet for 140-character comments has also driven the popularity of longer, meatier posts. I say the same applies to Tumblr.

What about Google+? Is it for fleeting discussions and random links and comments, like Twitter and Tumblr? Or is it for more permanent, deeper dives, like blogging? It’s still too early to tell, but it’s showing signs of being useful for both.

Photo: Flip Flop Pattern by lincolnblues


Most of what I want to say is too bleak.

I am increasingly gloomy about the future of America, and Western civilization in general, and it seems 9/11 was a trigger event in the apparent decline. To say more would be inappropriate today.

I’m reading a little about 9/11, watching a little on TV, but mostly avoiding it.

God bless everyone working for peace and freedom around the world.

What I did on my summer vacation


I’m back from ten days off. Here’s what I did:

Took the cat to the emergency vet. She was stumbling and could barely stay on her feet for about 12 hours. The vet diagnosed a possible inflamed nerve, and gave her mecziline, used to treat nausea, vomiting, sickness, vertigo and motion sickness in both animals and humans. She seems improved, although not entirely well. We’re waiting for results of blood work.

Took a social media sabbath. I took a break from blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

It wasn’t a perfect sabbath. I checked in quickly two or three times. But it wasn’t about being perfect — it was about taking a break.

It proved a little anticlimactic. I was expecting something big, given how often and compulsive I usually am about social media. Usually, I check it a thousand times a day. So I expected I might go mad from withdrawal. Alternately, I thought I might achieve ultimate enlightenment.

Neither happened. I missed social media some, but not a lot. Still, it was nice to quiet down the noise a bit. And now it’s nice to be back.

Visited with friends.

Visited Lions Tigers and Bears. It’s an exotic-animal rescue shelter near Lakeside, Calif., about 25 miles and a world away from home. More on that later.

Puttered and read. Which is my favorite way to spend vacation. For nonfiction, I read Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, “America’s Most Scandalous Scandal Magazine” and started reading Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization. For fiction, I finished The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown. More on those books later.

Relaunched this blog. I now have two blogs. One is this blog, “Mitch Wagner’s Blog.” The other is my Tumblr blog, which I’ve been keeping since the spring, and which I’m calling “Mitch Wagner’s Other Blog.” I chose those names after much deliberation, because as a marketing professional I know the value of branding.

Wrote. Worked on my novels, worked on my short fiction — have I mentioned I’ve decided to self-publish my short fiction as e-books? That’s a big project. I’m excited about it.

And I drafted a couple of blog posts, including this one.

And now I’m looking forward to getting back to work, and getting back on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the rest.

How has your ten days been? Did you miss me?

It’s OK if you didn’t notice I was gone. Time has as peculiar quality on social media. Things that happened yesterday blur together with things that happened six months ago. It’s all just now.

On the other hand, if you think my social media activity has been the best it’s ever been for the last ten days, well, then, you and me have something to talk about, bub.

Photo: estherase