If you’re a “Love, Actually” fan, and you haven’t seen the deleted scenes, do. They’re a treat.

We watched the movie again over the weekend. It’s definitely in a class of movies I could see every few years pretty much forever, along with A Christmas Story, Die Hard, That Thing You Do, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Wonder Boys, My Favorite Year, and Almost Famous.

One of the many things I love about Love Actually, with its too-many-to-count story lines loosely weaved together, is that at least two of the storylines end unhappily. It makes the ending of the movie more bittersweet.

Something I noticed this time around: One turning point in the movie is when Alan Rickman’s character goes shopping for Christmas gifts, and buys an expensive necklace. Has he already decided to buy it for Mia? Or is he still thinking at that point he might buy it for his wife?

Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister character is less and less believable every time we watch the movie. And I still don’t care, because Hugh Grant’s character just gets better and better. Watch his face in the scene at the end when his bodyguard starts singing “Good King Wenceslas.”

The cut scenes are a treat. We didn’t watch them again this year, because we watched on Apple TV rather than a DVD, but I would have wanted to watch them if we had them.

I’m not usually a fan of uncut scenes and director’s voice-overs in DVDs. I’ve watched a few and enjoyed them, but I don’t anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Love, Actually is the exception. The uncut scenes are very good, because they are entire vignettes and story arcs, some of them featuring characters not in the released movie. Other DVD extras are just scenes or fragments of scenes, but these are whole stories.

Fans of the movie will remember Emma Thompson’s character complaining about their troublesome son Bernard. In the uncut scenes, we see a sequence where Bernard gets into hilarious trouble over a school assignment. In another sequence, we see the headmistress of the school caring for her terminally ill girlfriend. One nice touch in these two story lines: In the first one, the headmistress is a stiff, unlikeable authority figure, and then when she cares for her girlfriend, we see another side of her.

Another storyline deals with two women in an African village. The African storyline is loosely woven into the stories of the main British characters through a very clever device.

Yet another storyline deals with Liam Neeson’s character, whose computer has been taken over by a virus that displays porn pop-ups in his browser, just as his late wife’s parents are about to come over for dinner.

I understand why those stories and scenes were cut. One reason is that the movie is already very long. Another reason is that the Bernard and porn stories don’t fit the rest of the movie. They’re broad farce; the rest of Love, Actually is broad, but nowhere near as farcical as those stories. The climactic line of dialogue in the Bernard story, delivered by Emma Thompson, rings false. It’s too Hollywood.

But still: The deleted scenes of Love, Actually are well worth seeing, if you’re the kind of fan who sees the movie more than once.

And here they are on YouTube. Or, two of them at least:

Bernard’s story:

The headmistress’s story:

P.S. We also watched A Christmas Story again this weekend. My insight this time around: Ralphie is a horrible, horrible brat. The Higbee’s Santa should have kicked him even harder.

The Foundation as the villains of the Foundation Trilogy

Non-violence is one of the biggest themes of The Foundation Trilogy. Other space operas are filled with space battles and thrilling hand-to-hand combat. There’s very little violence onstage in The Foundation Trilogy. Mostly, the novels consist of people sitting around and talking.

The Foundation explicitly shuns violence. It’s founded on a planet without natural resources, by a colony of academics. They don’t fight their enemies because they can’t; they have to out-think their enemies instead.

One of the major characters of the trilogy is Salvor Hardin, a politician whose motto is, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

So the Foundation Trilogy is, on the surface at least, an extremely ethically advanced series. Forty years before the publication of the original stories during World War II, we had a president, Theodore Roosevelt, who loved war. TR embraced combat; he though war was essential to making nations great, and he said so publicly. In The Foundation Trilogy, we a philosophy of war as something to be avoided wherever possible, and avoidable by any competent person.

And yet the Foundation trades war for deceit, trickery, and cooperating in oppression.

The opening sequence of Foundation deals with Gaal Dornick, a young man from the provinces come to the capital to study mathematics under the great Hari Seldon. Once he arrives at the capital, Dornick learns that Hari Seldon has arranged to have him arrested. Any sensible person would have nothing to do with Seldon afterwards, but Dornick doesn’t seem to have much sense, because he becomes one of Seldon’s loyal acolytes.

Dornick and Seldon are on trial together, and they manage to escape imprisonment, but only by agreeing to leave the capital city, along with Seldon’s 100,000 followers, to the remote planet of Terminus. Seldon remarks that this was exactly what he wanted; his followers would never have gone willingly, so he had to force them to come with him.

Does this sound like the behavior of one of history’s good guys? Apparently so, because the Foundation reveres Seldon. They continue to revere him even after learning that the mission of the Foundation was another lie. Seldon had said he wanted the Foundation to prepare a great Encyclopedia of human knowledge to shorten the dark age following the fall of the Galactic Empire. Fifty years after the founding of the Foundation, Seldon comes back in a recorded message to reveal that, too, was a lie. He was only interested in getting all those academics isolated from the main body of the empire, unarmed and helpless, so they could use nonviolent means to start the climb to the second Galactic Empire.

The Foundation continues in the tradition of its lying founder. Faced with hostile neighbors with more military power but much less advanced technology, the Foundation gives its neighbors the secrets of atomic power. But the Foundation also starts a fake religion, with the premise that its technology isn’t the result of science and engineering but of miracles and magic. Thus, the Foundation perpetuates the ignorance and oppression of billions of its neighbors so that it can strengthen its own power.

So who, exactly, are the villains of this series?

Hat tips. I.e., tips for hat wearers

Hats should be removed indoors, unless the headgear is part of a costume. Ask yourself: Is it Halloween? Am I at a science fiction convention? If the answers to these questions are no, then the hat comes off indoors.

Unfortunately, this means most of the time you shouldn’t wear a hat, unless you know you’ll be outdoors nearly all the time. Because in public places, there’s nowhere to put the hat when you’re inside, except for leaving it on your head, which is barbaric. And that’s too bad, because hats are excellent.

In the Mad Men days and before, there were hatcheck girls and hat racks for gentlemen and ladies to leave their hats while indoors. But they aren’t around anymore.

Ideally, ball caps should also be removed indoors. But it’s OK to leave them on. It’s no big deal. They’re just caps.

Knit caps should only be worn outdoors, and only during the coldest weather, never for decorative purposes. They are not decorative, they’re functional, for warmth. Worn inside, they make you look like a hipster idiot.

My first ebook: Getting closer

Julie did a bang-up first pass at creating a cover for my ebook short story. It looks sharp and professional, playful and a little bit serious, capturing the tone of the story nicely. It uses a gorgeous cover photo too; it’s the one titled San Francisco Cityscape With Cookware on this page. I love the photo — I love all the photos on that page — but I don’t think they’re quite right for this particular story. And I don’t have permission to use them. So we’ll have to find another photo. That’s OK, there are plenty of public-domain cityscapes available on the Internet.

The story, by the way, is called “The Biggest Man in Lilliput.” It takes the premise that a colony of Lilliputians built a city on North America, and now it’s survived to the present day, with Internet access and political blogs and all the other accoutrements of modern life. I guess you could say it’s a fantasy-comedy-thriller. It’s short. I’ll be selling it for $0.99. Or maybe $1.09, because apparently $0.99 is a red flag that says crappy shovelware just dumped into an ebook file without even being proofread.

No, I think I’ll just go for $0.99. Pricing for electronic goods, where the cost of reproduction and distribution is near zero, is hard.

I want to have the story for sale by Christmas. E-reader sales are going to be huge for Christmas, and all the people with empty new e-readers will want something to read right away. So that’s an opportunity to make some sales.

I will be using ZappTek LegendMaker software to handle the conversion, which is supposed to be automatic and easy. But I vaguely remember little quirks of ebook formatting that don’t appear to be covered by the LegendMaker documentation. For example: Covers for epub-formatted ebooks, which is the format used by most ebook readers, need to have opaque backgrounds. But the Amazon Kindle requires a transparent background. Or maybe I’m misremembering. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I need to look into this.

I don’t just want the book available in one place, though. After the Kindle store, I’ll put it up on the Barnes & Noble Nook store. Then here, adding a storefront page to this Web site. This blog runs on WordPress, and I understand it’s not difficult to set up a cash register on a WordPress site. I’ll also want to put the book up on as many other ebook sites as I can find; I understand SmashWords is good for that.

Now here’s a fun idea: Con-Dor, a local science fiction convention, is March 2-4. I’d like to print up postcards with the book cover and promotional materials to give out at the conference. Better yet: Postcards to sell, with redemption codes for the ebook. Buy the postcard, come to the Web site later, enter the unique redemption code on the postcard, and claim your copy of the book, prepaid. As if that’s not nerdy enough, I’d like to get a Square credit card reader so I can take credit card payments when I’m just walking around. But only if the convention rules allow it; I don’t want to be a dick about it.

Also: Writing. The most important part. At this point, I have a lot of material in the pipeline — several short stories written and abandoned that need shaves and haircuts, two novel drafts requiring revising, and a third novel in progress. Lots to do.

2012 is going to be a fun year.

Day one of my productivity experiment was a success. I think.

For those of you who skipped yesterday’s post: I read an interesting story about how successful people don’t work longer hours than their counterparts; they’re just more focused. And they aren’t even focused the whole time they’re working; just a lot of the time. And the successful people devote a lot of time to just relaxing.

Put it that way, it sounds pretty simple. Just common sense. But it seemed insightful to me at the time.

So I tried it out Sunday and Monday. Most mornings, I get to work right away, but Monday I eased into it, spending a short time fooling around on Facebook and Twitter before diving in — that would be the “relaxing” part — and then doing my best to focus myself 100% on work for a long time. And I did feel more focused.

But the distractions accumulated as the day went on. Emails came in that needed my drop-everything attention. Several times a day, I need to stop what I’m doing and make a sweep of The CMO Site’s message boards, reading and responding to new messages. I need to devote a big block of time in the morning just to reading the business, marketing, and technology news just to identify trends and stories to pursue. I had two scheduled meetings, plus one impromptu phone call. And there was my lunch break in mid-day followed by my exercise break in the afternoon.

All of that conspires to prevent achieving mind-like-water flow.

I think I got more work done in less time than usual. But I still had a lot of writing to do after dinner. My goal is to be finished work by dinnertime most nights.

I’ll stick with it, and try to find a rhythm.

A chimpanzee’s lesson about living a successful life

I’ve been having a problem with time management lately. Actually, I’ve been having this problem my whole life. When I was a kid, my Mom and my teachers used to say I “dawdled.” They used that word: Dawdle. Probably if I was a kid today rather than then, I would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and jacked up with meds.

I’m glad that didn’t happen. I like being me, and part of that is being distractible. I’ve used my distractibility well in my career; my work has always required me to be able to manage interruptions and shift gears quickly.

And yet distraction has also hurt me. I seem to work a lot longer hours than most people. I get my work done. I’m actually very good at what I do. But I have not enjoyed success proportional to the hours I put in.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are particular sources of distraction. I’m active on eight social media platforms. Eight! Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, Instagram, SFF.net, LiveJournal, and FourSquare. A lot of this is my job, of course; it’s part of my responsibility to be on top of the latest in social media and be expert in their use, and I don’t know any other way to do that than to use them in my life. I enjoy them too. And yet there is some point where work ends and wasting time begins.[1. That point is probably reached when watching ferrets steal Christmas ornaments.]

Like most people, I beat myself up to work harder and stay focused. I do my best self-flagellation when I’m at my desk still working at 10 pm. But self-flagellation doesn’t really work.

This article really hit a chord: “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers.” It talks about a study done among violinists at the Universität der Künste inn West Berlin.

Psychologists asked professors to identify the best violin players, “the students who the professors believed would go onto careers as professional performers.” These were the elite players.

For a point of comparison, they also selected a group of students from the school’s education department. These were students who were on track to become music teachers. They were serious about violin, but as their professors explained, their ability was not in the same league as the first group.

Researchers looked at the work habits of the two groups, and found — no surprise — the elite players worked harder and were more focused. “The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.”

But, interestingly, the elite players were not working longer hours. They spent about the same amount of time as the average players at work, about 50 hours.

It’s just that the average players spread out their work throughout the day. They spent a lot of time just dicking around.[2. I haven’t read the original paper yet, but I expect the psychologists did not use the phrase “dicking around.”]

The elite players ended up having more leisure time. They relaxed more than the average players. The average players were more stressed out. The elite players slept more, and better, than the average players.

Says I to myself on reading this article: Whoah. That is so me. I work as hard as anybody else. Harder, even. But I dick around more too. And that’s why I’m so often at my desk at 10 at night.

I read the article Saturday afternoon, and spent some time that evening figuring out how to apply this insight to my own life. How should I restructure my day?

Sunday morning, I was still thinking about it.

Sunday was going to be a busy day anyway. We were hosting our writer’s group meeting at our house at 1 pm. I needed to be up early so I could do my morning walk before the meeting. That’s 90 minutes on Sunday. Plus, even though Julie was taking care of organizing the house[2. And she did a great job with it — thanks again, Julie!], there were a couple of other things I needed to do.

What I really should have done is taken care of those things as soon as I got out of bed. And yet I couldn’t do those things first — I needed to have breakfast and tea first, to get the old brain going.

I had my breakfast and tea, and watched a little Internet video and checked Facebook and Twitter and read a couple of articles on my iPad, like I usually do weekend mornings. I spent nearly two hours at that.

And then a voice in my head said to me: “Well, that’s it. Breakfast is over. It’s time to get to work.”

And that’s when I realized the problem and solution: It’s not just that I’m not focused at work. It’s also that I’m not focused relaxing. I always seem to be only 75% one or the other. When I’m relaxing — checking Facebook or Twitter or watching Internet video — I’m always thinking about how I should be working.

Which leads me to the resolution: Instead of beating myself up about getting distracted, I made a bargain with myself. I’m going to give myself permission to relax 100%. Just kick back and check Facebook, or whatever. Several times a day. Then, after I spend a little time at that, I’ll get back to work and focus 100% on that for a while.

As I write this, I’ve spent less than a day at this new regime — but so far it seems to be going well. When I got up from breakfast, I was intensely focused on getting ready for the meeting. I got out of the house and walked, showered and shaved right away, and went to the store to get milk and Diet Coke for the guests. We had the workshop meeting and when it was done — break time! Julie and I picked up a bit, we talked,[3. I hear you saying, “Wait, Mitch! You’re counting cleaning up after the meeting as relaxation time?” I respond: Spending time with Julie is relaxing and a responsibility. Don’t overthink this.] I read a little on the couch and checked Twitter and Facebook and so on.

Then I headed back into my office and focused hard for about 90 minutes. I quickly knocked out my blog post for The CMO Site on Monday (a duty I didn’t get to on Friday and had to catch up on this weekend). I did my daily quota of creative writing. I wrote a first draft of this blog post (that’s what I’m doing right now). I took a dinner break, and came back to wrap up a couple of things. Soon: Boardwalk Empire season finale! Not a thought about work during that time!

Starting Monday, I’ll give the new regime its first workday test.

When I was about 11 years old there was a poster my friends and I loved. It was a chimp sitting on a toilet.[3. Which is, I suspect, why us kids loved it. I mean chimp! Toilet!] The caption was, “When I works, I works hard. When I sits, I sits loose. When I thinks, I falls asleep.” I think that’s the key to a successful life.[4. Well, except for the part about falling asleep while thinking. And the monkey on a toilet is irrelevant. Don’t overthink this.]

Update 1:31 pm PST: I can’t believe I let this go out with the headline “An chimpanzee…. ” Good grief.

In which I take a new, and uncharacteristic interest in fashion

I’ve been taking an interest in clothes since I lost weight, which is amazing because that was never anything that interested me before. And you might not even know about this interest to look at me most of the time. Most of the time I wear T-shirts, comfortable pants, and comfortable shoes, like always. In cool weather, like now, I wear a fleece. I work from home, so that just makes sense.

And yet I have bought a couple of suits, and enjoy wearing them. I bought a couple of pairs of jeans, after fussing some with the fit. I like wearing sports jackets, especially one particular unstructured jacket. I get excited when I find good jackets for under $100 at the local secondhand clothes store; I have one brown-leather 70s-style jacket with wide lapels that I love, and that I wish it was cool enough to wear more often.

Also, I bought, and love, a pair of biker boots, although I also think they might be too badass for a person of my build and demeanor to carry off. On the other hand: I feel all Mad Max and shit when I wear them. Though I worry that the black boots clash with the leather jacket and most of the rest of my wardrobe, which gravitates to earthtones.

Then I bought a pair of boot-cut jeans because I don’t like how regular jeans look with the boots.

Despite my newfound interest in fashion, I decided a week or two ago I was done buying clothes. I have everything I need until something wears out.

And yet, more recently, I’ve been reading about how dressier clothes for men are coming back. I guess I’m not the only one who likes putting on a suit. In particular, cardigan sweaters are replacing fleece and hoodies.

And suddenly I’m thinking: Damn. Cardigan sweaters are nice. Hoodies and fleeces are fine if you’re working the corners on The Wire, but a cardigan is a cool-weather garment for grownups.

This is how the fashion industry gets you, isn’t it? It’s worse than the consumer electronics industry. At least this year’s consumer electronics devices are better. You can argue whether they’re necessary — I mean, Benjamin Franklin didn’t have an iPad and he did okay. But this year’s consumer electronics are faster, lighter and do more than last year’s.

On the other hand, this year’s clothes are no better than last year’s. Last year’s are just as good as new. This year’s clothes are just different.

It’s a ripoff.

And yet.

Cardigans.

Damn.

Dinosaurs in mirror are closer than they appear: Our vacation in the Anza-Borrego Desert

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We were looking for a getaway, and the desert was a good place for that. We went to the Anza-Borrego State Park, about a two-hour drive and a million miles away from San Diego. It’s so different from where we live that it’s hard to remember that the park, too, is part of San Diego County (also, Riverside and Imperial Counties). Its 585,930 acres — roughly twice as big as Los Angeles. And it’s a desert. If you’ve seen American deserts on TV or in the movies you’ve seen something like this one. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably seen this one; it’s a popular location for movies and TV.

We stayed in the town of Borrego Springs, in the middle of the park, which basically consists of a main drag and a light sprinkling of housing developments. As far as I could see, there are no Starbucks in Borrego Springs, no supermarket or big box stores, just some hotels and motels and a couple of restaurants and a few galleries. The town has about 2,900 people, growing to 10,000 during the tourist season, which is winter, when the snowbirds come in. The manager of an outdoor equipment store we shopped at in the afternoon seated us for dinner at a neighboring restaurant the next night.

We had a fine time being outdoorsy and different from our normal lives. One day, we drove around and hiked a bit searching out the 129 free-standing welded-steel sculptures of dinosaurs and horses and elephants and at least one gigantic serpent all over town. A sculptor named Ricardo Breceda built the artworks, some of which towered twice as tall as a man. The project was funded by Dennis Avery, who owns a lot of land in Borrego Springs and is heir to a label-making fortune.

We stayed at the Palms at Indian Head, which was not great. They seem to be trying awfully hard, but it’s being rebuilt, so there’s debris all over the place. It’s short-staffed. The restaurant is mediocre and the service is slow. Our room smelled of Febreze. On the plus side: It’s very picturesque. It was built in the late 40s as a Hollywood getaway resort, then rebuilt in 1957 after it burned down. The architecture and design is very Mad Men. The staff was friendly and gracious, and trying hard, but they’re stretched thin. We won’t be back.

Friday, we took the California Overland desert tour, guided by Joe Raffeto, the friendly and knowledgable proprietor, who is very qualified to do desert tours on account of being a former marine biologist and the desert was an ocean millions of years ago and oh hell I’m making this up. Joe was a marine biologist at one time, but he’s very knowledgable about the desert, and drove us around in an Army surplus truck converted to a sort of open-air bus with a capacity of 16 people. If I had any teeth that weren’t loose when we started, the truck tour through the desert took care of that.

Seriously: Loved the tour. Joe was great. He does special stargazing and other tours, I hope we can make it back up for those.

To get to Borrego Springs from San Diego proper, you go over the mountains, passing through Julian, which we’ve been to before. It’s a fun little town but overrated — basically a single main street in the style of a 19th Century gold rush town, with lots of shops and restaurants. It’s known for its apple pie. While apple pie is a great invention, I don’t think it’s particularly better or worse in Julian than, say, the Marie Callender’s restaurant a quarter-mile from our house. Apple pie is always great. Even McDonald’s apple pie is pretty good.

On the way back through the mountains, we stopped in a little crossroads called Santa Ysabel, which has a down-home restaurant called the Apple Country Restaurant (apple pie!), as well as a country grocery store and an outpost of Dudley’s Bakery. We stocked up, and hopped in the car. On the way home, we drove through the town of Ramona. “This is fantastic!” I said. “You said that last time we did this,” Julie said. But I didn’t remember. I love a good small-town downtown.

We got home Saturday, I relaxed a bit Sunday, and Monday came in and worked a 16-hour day. That always seems to happen first day back from vacation; I wish I could skip the first day back and go directly to the second day.

Losing weight and staying fit over the holidays

Knowing that I’ve lost 90 pounds[1. On purpose. Sometimes people ask me about that. They’re worried that I’m sick.], and kept it off for nearly 11 months, people often ask me how they can lose weight (or keep weight off) and stay fit during the holidays.[2. Actually, nobody ever asks me that.]

I have a two-word response: Don’t bother.

Improved nutrition is not like alcoholism or quitting smoking, where the goal is zero tolerance. “Never again!” is the goal for an alcoholic or a person who has quite smoking. That person wants to never have another drink, or another puff on a cigarette, ever again.

But the goal for improved nutrition and fitness should be moderation. It’s right to occasionally indulge in rich food, candy, dessert, and booze. It’s right to occasionally do a lot of that, and slack off on exercise for a little while, and gain a few pounds.

Then, when you’ve done that for a while, it’s right to resume a healthier lifestyle.

I was on vacation for the past 12 days, which included Thanksgiving. I drank a lot of wine, ate dessert at almost every meal, ate a lot of red meat and fried food, didn’t exercise many days, and had a great time .

I gained four pounds in the last 12 days. And that’s fine. And now it’s time to resume exercise and take the weight off again.

The goal for fitness is not zero tolerance. The goal for fitness is to lead a healthier, better, and more enjoyable life. And good food is a part of that kind of life, as is a schedule that sometimes does not permit exercise.

The only thing that bothers me about these 12 days is what I’ve learned about myself. For the past few months, I’ve been hoping that one day soon I might be able to give up on compulsively weighing and measuring my food, and logging everything I eat, and instead I could just eat whatever I want. What I learned in the past 12 days is that’s not going to happen. Or not soon at least. When I let myself off the leash, I go back to my old habits of physical sloth and compulsive eating. Oh, well.

Getting closer to publishing my first ebook

I had a fine weekend at LosCon, and when I returned had a pleasant discovery. Julie had finished proofreading and copy-editing “The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” which is going to be my first ebook.

She’s also doing the cover. Until she finishes that, I’m fooling around with software for converting documents to ebooks.

According to my research, 80% of ebook sales come from two sources: The Amazon Kindle store, and Barnes & Noble Nook. Everything else, including Apple’s iBooks, is small change. The Kindle uses a format called .mobi, and Nook (and many other ereaders) use epub.

What’s the difference between those two formats? I don’t know, and I don’t think I need to. I just need to be able to convert to those formats.

This multi-part series describes how to format ebooks manually. It doesn’t look hard. It looks like it’s just simple HTML, the kind of thing I’ve been doing for many years to create blog posts.

Alternately, you can use packaged software. The free Calibre, which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, creates ebooks and converts between formats. I use it to manage some of the ebooks I read. But it looks a little complicated for making ebooks.

Alternately, Michael Stackpole, a science fiction writer and self-publishing evangelist, recommends Legend Maker for the Mac, which he helped design. It’s $50 on the Web. The demo version looks a little scanty, allowing you to only make ebooks up to 100 lines in length. So I took a leap of faith and spent $40 to buy Legend Maker from the App Store.

I’m a little hazy on the next steps after I create the ebook. As far as I can see, I can upload it myself to the Amazon Kindle Store, as well as the Barnes & Noble store. I’ll probably hit iBooks too because, well, why not? At some point down the road, I’ll post it to Smashwords, an ebook publisher that distributes to a variety of online stores. Smashwords takes a 15% cut, on top of the cut taken by other online bookstores (Kindle, for example, takes a 30%) cut. I think I can use Smashwords to distribute the book to other bookstores but not the Kindle, Nook, and Apple store. I need to look into that.

Another very important step: Make the book available for sale from here, on this web site. I get to keep 100% of that money. Woo-hoo!

Pricing: Stackpole recommends $1 per 10,000 words, figuring that’s about the amount most people can read in an hour. So a 100,000 word novel, which is a typical length for science fiction and fantasy, would sell for $9.99. “The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is 5,700 words. The Kindle store sets a floor on prices of $0.99, so that’s what I’ll sell it for. Unfortunately, that leaves no room for future discounts, but so it goes.

Marketing is another important step in the process. I plan a series of blog posts describing what inspired me to write the story, a little bit about my research, and the story’s influences. As you possibly guessed just from the title, a certain book by Jonathan Swift was the main influence — the movie wasn’t out when I wrote the story and we didn’t even see it until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t bad.

I’m excited about this, and I hope you’ll by the book when it’s available.

Where to find me at LosCon

I’m here at LosCon, the Los Angeles science fiction convention, having a good time. I’m speaking on a few panels Sunday, so come by if you want to see me flap my jaws on various subjects. Where to find me:

Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History: What it got right, and what it got wrong. That should be a fun one; I always like to talk about Heinlein. Also on the panel: Robert James, Brad Lyau, and June Moffatt. The moderator is Bill Patterson, author of the biography Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve. Even if you’re not a crazy Heinlein fanatic like me, you should read that biography; it’s an entertaining and informative history of life as it was lived on that alien planet and time known as America in the first half of the 20th Century. And if you are a crazy Heinlein fanatic like me, you already read it — it’s great, amirite? I interviewed Patterson in one of the last episodes of my Copper Robot podcast.

Where: Marquis 2
When: 10 am Sunday.

Online Publishing/Publishing Methods: Also on the panel with me: Maya Kaathryn Bohnof, Yolanada Pascal. I’ve been doing a lot of research into online self-publishing lately, preparatory to getting my own work out. I’ll have something for sale in time for Christmas. I’m looking forward to learning on this one as much as I am to speaking. And that’s saying a lot, in-love-with-the-sound-of-my-own-voice-wise.

Where: Chicago
When: 11:30 am Sunday.

Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogging and other social media: Technology marketing Web site, what you need to know. The title of this panel is kinda confusing, ain’t it? Basically, I’ll be leading a group discussion about using the Internet and social media for marketing, drawing on my experience as editor in chief of The CMO Site and as a science fiction fan. To prepare for the discussion, I’ve talked with Michael Stackpole, Kate Elliot, Joe Haldeman, and Charles Stross, all of them writers who successfully use the Internet and social media for marketing. If you’re a writer, artist, or have a business you’re looking to market on social media and the Internet, come on down and share some ideas.

Where: Saddle Brook Room
When: 1 pm

That’s three opportunities to see me at LosCon. I’ll also be attending the con today, tonight and tomorrow, so if you see me there come by and say hey.

The Foundation Trilogy: “If you ask me, the Galaxy is going to pot!”

I listened to a big chunk of the audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation while walking over the past few days. Still enjoying the hell out of it.

The series originated as a series of eight stories published in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1950, then published as The Foundation Trilogy in 1951-53, according to Wikipedia. I’m pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that the very first story of the first volume of the series was actually written last, for the book publication. Let’s say that was 1950.

The publication history is important to know, because it places the series in time. When you read it today, you’re not just reading a ripping science fiction story. You’re getting a glimpse of what a leading intellectual of 65 years ago — literally another century — thought the future would look like.

And what does it look like?

As I’m listening, I’m finding it easy to imagine the Galactic Empire as an art deco science fiction world, like the 1936 HG Wells movie Things to Come.

ThingsToCome

More images from Things to Come.

The future is big. Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire, is a planet entirely covered by a single city, with 40 billion plus people.

It’s centralized. All of those 40 billion plus people are employed in governing the Galactic Empire. Here in the real world of 2011, we’re seeing a failure of big, centralized institutions. But back when Asimov was writing, the huge bureaucracies of the West had pulled the world out of a Great Depression, and kicked Nazi ass. So it was reasonable to assume that a huge, bureaucratic government would be the best way to govern the Galaxy.

It’s REALLY big. The viewpoint character of the first section is Gaal Dornick a young man from a small town in the Midwest come to New York for the first time– oh, wait, no, I mean a young man from a provincial planet on his first trip to Trantor. He is processed in a vast open office, filled with row on row of desks, a room so large that he cannot see the far wall, just desks vanishing off into the mist. A filmmaker around the time Asimov was writing used a similar image; in that film, the scene was soul-deadening wage-slavery. In Foundation, it’s a source of breathless wonder.

Everybody’s in a hurry, everything is crowded. People are helpful but in a brisk way that can be taken for rudeness. Several characters comment that nobody on Trantor goes outside, or sees the sky, ever, and they’re fine with that. One character has to consult instrumentation to find out what the weather is. People take taxis to get where they’re going.

In other words, it’s New York written large. Of course, New York isn’t like that in real life. Not exactly. But I remember a conversation with a shoestore clerk on Manhattan who said he hadn’t left that island in fifteen years. He seemed matter-of-fact about it, even proud. So it’s easy to imagine a future where the entire city is just converted into one big building. And indeed Asimov wrote that future too, in The Caves of Steel.

Some of the Galactic Empire’s technological wonders are things we take for granted today. Super-scientist Hari Seldon owns a pocket calculating machine, which is described as a featureless little slab that displays numbers in red. I remember Asimov bragging about 30 years later that he’d predicted pocket calculators, even getting the colors of the digits right (early pocket calculators displayed digits in red LEDs). It’s also a good description of an iPhone — except our iPhones today are way better than the Galactic Empire’s calculators of 10,000+ years in the future. Hari Seldon can’t play Angry Birds on his gadget.

Seldon is described as so brilliant and driven that he actually sleeps with his calculator under his pillow, in case he is struck by inspiration during the night. If he were that brilliant, he’d sleep with it on his nightstand, as most of the rest of us do today in the real world.

Other than the pocket calculator, information is presented on actual pieces of paper and microfilm. No iPads and notebook computers in this world.

So we’re more advanced than the Galactic Empire in that regard.

Indeed, our technology here in 2011 is in every respect more advanced than Asimov’s vision of the future world of 2011, except for two things: We don’t have a mathematical science for predicting the future, and we don’t have interstellar travel.

Plastic is cool. Saying something is made of plastic in Foundation is saying that it’s a luxury item, hi-tech, top-drawer. Asimov describes Galactic aristocrats wearing plastic helmets, and presenting guests with cigars in plastic boxes. This is unintentionally comical today, after decades of plastic being used for cheap consumer crap. But Asimov wrote before all that.

Speaking of that cigar box; Asimov describes it as appearing perfectly to resemble water. How would that work, precisely? I can’t visualize a box made of water.

The title of this blog post comes from a line of dialogue in Foundation where a character laments the decline of the Galactic Empire. I’ve seen it cited as an example of how clunky the book is to modern eyes. I say phooey to that. I say it’s charming, as is the characters’ use of “Space!” and “Galaxy!” in lieu of swear words.

“Boardwalk Empire:” Thanksgiving at the Darmody house has got to be all kinds of awkward

We love this show. Or, at least, I do. Julie watches it with me and does not appear to be having a bad time.

I can foresee how this season ends: Jimmy Darmody dead, killed by the Jewish butcher who gets tired of waiting for his liquor. Harrow escapes, to return in some future episode down the road. Nucky Thompson triumphantly returns, to punish the people who betrayed him and take up his position once again as the Treasurer of Atlantic City.

It’s hard to imagine the show without Jimmy Darmody and his family. They’ve been central. But it’s hard to imagine it ending up any other way.

Even by the standards of Boardwalk Empire, relationships are deranged between Jimmy Darmody, Momma Darmody, the Commodore, and Nucky. Momma Darmody “kissed his little winkie.” Nuff said. Jimmy hates Nucky because Nucky pimped Momma Darmody — which is true as far as it goes. But Jimmy and Momma ally with the Commodore, who is the person that Nucky whored Momma out to. And, while Nucky was kind to Momma (turning-out-as-whore aside) and like a father to Jimmy, the Commodore raped Momma — and Momma still hates him for it — and ignored Jimmy for Jimmy’s whole life. And yet Momma and Jimmy turn on Nucky and ally with the Commodore. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE BATSHIT CRAZY, that’s why.

Thanksgiving at the Darmody household has got to be all kinds of awkward.

I could totally watch a series about Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Arnold Rothstein as they’re portrayed in Boardwalk Empire.

I love a show like Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos where all the characters are evil, and you choose who the good guys and bad guys are based on their likability and personal courage. Nucky is the hero of Boardwalk Empire because he is the main character, and he is kind to Margaret and her children and basically anybody who doesn’t threaten him, although he is also ruthless, a liar, and a crook. Darmody and Eli are bad guys because they betray Nucky, but really he’s no better than they are.

Is there a name for this kind of genre? I remember reading that it was popular during the Renaissance; I seem to recall Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe (a supporting character in Shakespeare in Love) was a drama of this type.

Trying out The Hit List as a possible OmniFocus replacement

I’ve been getting dissatisfied with OmniFocus for months now. It’s just too complicated. And it’s too rigid in some ways.

OmniFocus is a high-maintenance app. I was spending too much time working on my to-do lists, and not enough time getting things done.

What I’m looking for is something much simpler.

I’ve looked at a few Mac and Web-based to-do apps recently and none of them seemed satisfactory. Then I saw this recommendation for Potion Factory’s The Hit List ($50). I spent a little while Saturday afternoon copying my tasks from OmniFocus to The Hit List, and now I’m trying it out. So far I like it.

The plus side:

  • The Hit List is much more flexible than OmniFocus about the order in which you display tasks. I can easily create a list of things I want to do today, put the list in the order I want to do them in, and then get to work. I haven’t found a good way to do that in OmniFocus.
  • The Hit List supports tagging, which OmniFocus does not. Tags are a good way of organizing tasks, although you have to watch out you don’t go crazy with them.
  • The Hit List has an iPhone app and over-the-air synching.
  • It has a nice-looking user interface. It reminds me a lot of Cultured Code’s Things. Actually. I can’t remember why I gave up Things.
  • The app makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts. I’m not usually a big fan of keyboard shortcuts; I have trouble remembering them. But The Hit List does a good job with them. And The Hit List has a hints bar at the bottom of the app window that displays the most common keyboard shortcuts. I love this. All apps should have it.
  • When you create a new task, it appears at the top of the list. In OmniFocus, new tasks appeared at the bottom, and I couldn’t figure out a way to change that. For me, more recently created tasks are likely to be more urgent, and therefore should be at the top of the task list.

The minus side:

  • No iPad app. I can live with that.
  • No Outlook integration. Outlook is my company standard mail and calendar client. I can work around the lack of Outlook integration.
  • Poking around the Web site, I see users complaining that development is extremely slow, and that the developer is unresponsive to support requests and bug fixes. In particular, there seems to be an ongoing bug with recurring tasks and the iPhone app. Over the air synching seems to be problematic.
  • The Hit List, like OmniFocus, has a quick entry window. You type a keyboard shortcut, and a little window pops up that you use to type in a task when it occurs to you, without breaking flow of whatever else you were doing. That’s great. But the quick entry window doesn’t let you link to email messages. You have to do that from within the application window itself. That’s inconvenient; I create to-dos to respond to email a lot. I found this script to add email messages as tasks with links to the original mail message in Mail.app (rather than Outlook). I tested it and it seems to work; we’ll see how well it serves in real life.

Fortunately, there’s a two-week free trial of The Hit List, and I plan to give it a good workout. If it works for me, I’ll buy it, and won’t expect any upgrades anytime soon.

If it doesn’t work, well, I guess it’s back to OF. Maybe I can make OF work for me. Or I’ll take another look at Things, although I’m not optimistic about that app’s future. I hear good things about Remember the Milk, too.

Re-Reading Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy”

I just started listening to the audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, which I last read when I was a teen-ager. I got a bug in my ear to re-read it after a review by Jo Walton.

First impressions, based on my memory of the books and my having listened to about five minutes:

The Foundation Trilogy retells Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as space opera, with a Galactic Empire replacing the Roman, and the entire Galaxy — millions of inhabited worlds — standing in for the Earth.

It really helps to know something about Asimov, the period in which the stories were written, and how they were written. The trilogy was written during and just after World War II. This was the period when America was at its greatest power, and we often compared ourselves to Rome.

Asimov was an American, an immigrant, and a New Yorker who didn’t travel or even go outside when he could help it.

As Walton notes, the planet-sized city of Trantor is New York in the 30s, where Asimov was a teen-ager, writ large. Back when Asimov was writing, technology meant that things were going to get bigger and faster — the Hoover Dam! Skyscrapers! Airplanes and cars! Today, technology means things get smaller — iPhones! Genetic engineering! So it was reasonable to assume, in Asimov’s day, that cities would one day grow large enough to encompass whole planets.

The Foundation Trilogy assumes that the Roman Empire was good. That’s a supportable position. But the people Rome conquered might disagree with it.

I love that thing Asimov does where he starts each section with a quote from a made-up history book, the Encyclopedia Galactica, supposedly written a thousand years after the action of the novels.

The first few minutes of the book spend a lot of time talking about how travel through hyperspace works in getting starships around the galaxy. That would all be completely unnecessary today, it’s just a given in science fiction.

The viewpoint character of the first section is a young man on his way to Trantor (New York, remember?) to participate in the Seldon Project. I’ve also been listening to Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann, a spoken-word memoir of the physicist Richard Feynmann, who was Asimov’s contemporary, and also a New Yorker. Feynmann traveled from New York to participate in something called the Manhattan Project. It’s hard to avoid seeing parallels.

That’s a lot to get out of five minutes of listening. I hope I enjoy the rest of the book as much.

Creative writing: What I’m working on

I started work on another novel this weekend. This means I’m currently working on:

  • Two novels and two short stories in various stages of revision.
  • One novel, newly under way.
  • One more story waiting to be revised.
  • Another story which I’m seriously considering trunking, while maybe cannibalizing the characters and situations for some future work.

Yes, I know this sounds like I have become the guy who’s always starting things and never finishing. But I was eager to get started n the new novel. And I have a plan: I want to always be working on something new, while also revising, publishing, or promoting something else. So really I’m only working on two things currently — the new novel and one story I’m actively revising — while the other work is waiting.

I’m really enthusiastic about self-publishing and e-publishing right now. I’ve talked to some professional novelists and book editors and they support it as well. That’s important, because as little as five years ago, these same people viewed self-publishing as a massive con job (with certain narrow exceptions).

What’s changed? E-book readers, of course, like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook and their iPad apps. Also, Amazon CreateSpace for self-publishing print books, along with the collapse of Borders making traditional publishing less attractive by removing a huge percentage of the nation’s retail shelf space at the stroke of a lawyer’s pen. I’ve been reading blogs by Mike Stackpole, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, as well as James Macdonald, all of whom have had successful careers at traditional publishing, all of whom are now exploring self-publishing. And I’m thinking: I can do this. Publishing on the Internet has been my sole source of income for eight years now. I know how this works.

I got to talk with Mike Stackpole a bit at World Fantasy Con a bit more than a week ago (actually, more like I was allowed to be a fly on the wall while he talked with another pro), and came away with the insight that the sweet spot for e-books is likely to be series of 50,000-word short novels with recurring characters and situations. And that’s the new novel. It’ll stand on its own as a short adventure novel, and also serve as the beginning of an open-ended series.

“What time is it?” “It’s teatime, you old bag!”

I started drinking tea years ago, influenced by a friend who is a tea connoisseur. My friend and his wife live far away and we hardly ever get to see them. I don’t think he’s ever prepared a cup of tea for me. But he wrote about tea so appealingly on his online journal that I had to try it out.

The first thing to know about tea is that American supermarket brands are crap. They’re made from the little particles that are not good enough for tea drinkers elsewhere in the world. You want to use loose tea to make your tea. You can buy it online; one good place is Adagio Teas, which is where I buy. I tried a couple of dozen different kinds of teas over the years, but never really felt like I developed any kind of palate for it, so I eventually just started buying Lipton Yellow Label loose tea. I was never able to find it in a standard supermarket, but I bought it regularly from a supermarket called Vineripe, which caters to the middle Eastern and Eastern Asian immigrant communities here in San Diego. The package I buy has a strange alphabet on it; I think it might be Farsi.

I tried different kinds of teapots, but they were hard to clean, so Julie got me a kind of teapot called YiXing, made from a special Chinese purple clay. It’s a nice-looking teapot. You don’t wash it; you just rinse it with hot water between uses. The tea steeps into the porous clay and supposedly adds to the flavor.

A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.

A different YiXing teapot than the one I have.

Eventually, I got tired of messing with the teapot. The spout clogs regularly, and has to be cleared with a very thin brush. So I switched to making tea one cup at a time using a mesh steel ball to contain the leaves.

I commented to a friend recently about how I drink Lipton Yellow Label, and he said he considers it barely one step above rubbish. He’s English, so he should know. He drinks Irish Breakfast tea. We didn’t have any of that around the house, but we did have English breakfast, and I liked that much better than the Yellow Label so I think I’ll be drinking that for a while. I found two or three containers we had lying around, and I ordered a small sampler of English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast from Adagio to see which I like better.

The English Breakfast we had around the house is in teabags. I know that all decent tea-drinking people hate teabags, but really this wasn’t bad. These were the oval pillow kind without strings, not the square ones with attached strings you get in the US. Manufacturers now make pyramid-shaped space-age teabags which are supposed to be just as good as loose tea. Maybe teabags have gotten better.

In the late afternoon and evening, when I need to avoid caffeine, if I want something hot to sip on I drink rooibos tea, which is an African herb tea. The plant doesn’t have any caffeine in it at all. The taste is similar to black tea, but different enough that it doesn’t seem like some kind of fake food that’s trying too hard (like some of those vegetarian fake meats you can buy). It’s a tougher brew than regular tea. Regular tea needs to be steeped for a precise amount of time or it’s underdone or overly bitter, but you can leave rooibos tea steeping as long as you want. Leave it in there for days if you want. The tea doesn’t care.

This handmade Doctor Who TARDIS teapot is available for sale on Etsy for $15. It holds more tea on the inside than it does on the outside.

Tardis teapot

Put away two things every day

In my effort to get my home office looking less like a disorganized storage unit, and more like an actual office — an effort that has gone on so long that if it was a person, it would be old enough to vote — I have a new rule: Every day, I clean up that day’s new clutter and mess. And then I remove two more things from the office. Preferably, I put those things away. But usually I can’t put them away, so instead I move them to a part of the house we don’t use. And when my office is in shape, I’ll start sorting through all the things in storage and keep some of them, and get rid of most of them.

Getting rid of things is a big project. We can’t just throw them away, as we could in the Mad Men era. We have to recycle them, or sell them, or give them away responsibly. What a pain.

Among the things I’ll be giving away: About 90 percent of my books. I have no idea how many books I have; if I had to guess, I’d say 10,000. Years ago, I began to wonder why I kept every book I ever read, because it’s not like I’m going to reread 99 percent of them. And yet I keep them all. Why? Well, because it’s what one does. It’s what I’ve always done. But now with the advent of e-books I’d much rather have the space, and re-acquire anything I want to re-read as an e-book.

Where can I get rid of old books? How about electronics? Office supplies?

Some notes and photos from my time with Occupy San Diego

Occupy San Diego is on the little plaza just outside the San Diego Civic Theater, which is where Julie and I saw _Wicked_ and other Broadway plays, and where we will be going to see another play next week. Appropriately enough, that play is Hair. The news and local blogs identify that little plaza as the San Diego Civic Center, but neither Julie nor I nor Google Maps have ever heard of such a place. There is, however, a Civic Center stop on the Trolley, our local light rail, so I just drove there late Sunday afternoon and then drove around until I saw a half dozen police cars and motorcycles, some cops walking around, and a big placard on the sidewalk that said “Occupy San Diego.” I parked a couple of blocks away, and walked back.

On arrival, I talked to a guy who looked to be in his early 20s, carrying this sign:

USA invade USA 3

He introduced me to his pregnant wife and young daughter. He said he does PR, marketing, and online community management for a game company. I asked him why he was demonstrating, and what changes should be made in the economic system. He said he favors capitalism, but believes that too much wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few people. He believes everybody should have an opportunity to start a business and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

I asked him what he thought about criticism that Occupy was incoherent, and should have an organized list of demands. He said, well, he’d like to see them have three talking points and focus on those points. Spoken like a true PR person, I said.

There seemed to be about a hundred people in the plaza, mostly young but a few older, mostly white but a few of other races. They were mostly a bohemian lot, as you might expect, but many of them looked like they’d fit right into any business office.

Will be heard 1

You have a voice 1

One of the leaders was a red-haired woman with a lot of tattoos, wearing a sundress.

Megaphone

I had a good conversation with a young blonde woman with a Mohawk. She told me the police were very helpful, looking out for them and clearing the way for their protest marches. (Although I have seen reports elsewhere of conflicts with San Diego police.)

I stopped at a card table set up as an information kiosk in the center of the plaza. They had some tattered mimeographed documents stating Occupy’s principles and demands, which they said were downloadable from the Occupy Wall Street Website. I asked them what they needed, they said nonperishable food, medical assistance and supplies. They’re set on bottled water. I saw a bushel of apples. I went to a commissary area in the back of the plaza, and they told me about more things they needed: Any snack foods. A couple of camp stoves. Instant coffee. I said I was about to make an EXTREMELY GENEROUS DONATION, and fished around in my gear back for three Kashi bars I thought I had in there. Turned out I only had two. The young man at the table thanked me anyway; he said everybody else was taking from the commissary, so every little bit given helped.

I walked past two young men seated on the ground. One of them asked me what time it was. I looked on my iPhone, and told them: “4:20.” As I walked away, the other man snickered. It took me a second to figure out what he was laughing at. Right. 4:20. I went back and talked to him (the guy who asked me the time had left), and we talked for a while. I’d seen him walking around before; he was wearing a dirty bathrobe and carrying a placard. I’d avoided him before because, to me, a guy walking around in public wearing a dirty bathrobe is not someone you want to seek out. But he explained that he is not a crazy person; he just wanted to attract attention to his sign, and a guy walking around wearing a bathrobe certainly attracts attention.

Bathrobe

A crowd marched off through downtown. I didn’t join them. They came back

I had been nervous about going down, hearing about riots in other cities and some problems in San Diego. I even thought about taking the Trolley in, in case I got arrested, but I finally decided, screw it, I’d just take the car. The Trolley takes forever. I thought about wearing clothes that could stand a sidewalk-scraping, and wondered if I’d be pepper-sprayed or beaten. I got so nervous — oh, why not call it what it was; I was afraid — that I thought about not going. But it was entirely a pleasant experience, and I’m glad I went. I’m going to try to get back in a few days, and bring groceries this time.

You want to know what the Occupy movement wants? I can tell you. Here are three talking points, to gladden a PR person:

– They want an honest day’s pay for a day’s honest work.

– They want to keep their pay themselves, not have their money get siphoned to the richest 1%.

– They want a shot at the American dream.

In other words, they want the cookies, not the crumbs left by the 1%.

Cookies

(The little red wagon at this woman’s feet had trays of cookies on it.)

Or, rather: We want those things. I sure do. Don’t you?

First impressions of iOS 5

I upgraded my iPhone 4 and first-generation iPad Wednesday morning as soon as iOS 5 became available. I like it a lot. Here are some random first impressions:

I like the tabbed Mobile Safari browser on the iPad. I hadn’t read anything about that feature on the previews. Tabs reduce the hassle of changing between open browser windows by many taps. I’ve switched back to Mobile Safari as my main browser; previously I’d been using the Atomic Web Browser, mainly because it has tabs.

Speaking of the browser, I like the new Reading List. I hadn’t thought I’d use it, because I’m a devoted Instapaper user. But I’m using the Reading List for a completely different purpose. When I visit a site like Techmeme, which has a lot of links, I queue up links in the Reading List, and then read each of them one by one. Because of the iPad’s limited memory, that’s better than just opening all the links in separate tabs, which is what I would do on the desktop.

I like the split keyboard on the iPad. It makes it much easier to thumb-type while holding the iPad in portrait mode between my palms, which is how I often enter text into the iPad. I wish the keys were a little bigger, though.

On the iPhone, I love that the Personal Hotspot feature is now surfaced in Settings. I wish they’d also surface Bluetooth, because I frequently have to fiddle with Bluetooth settings to keep my Bluetooth earpiece working. Bluetooth earpieces are a cruel joke by the electronics industry.

I like that I can now flag messages in mail. For years, I used Gmail as my primary email account. When I was mobile, I’d access Gmail with my mobile browser, mark everything as read, and star messages requiring attention at my desk. Now, my primary email is a corporate Exchange account, which I need to access using the iPhone and iPad’s Mail client. I didn’t realize how much I missed being able to flag messages.

I had a bit of trouble migrating to iCloud. When I entered my MobileMe credentials, I got an error message saying, “Move your MobileMe Account to iCloud: Go to me.com on your computer to move your information to iCloud.”

Turns out that’s not quite right — you need to go to iCloud.com first, log in with your MobileMe credentials, and then you’re directed to Me.com to complete the job. And I couldn’t access Me.com from Chrome; I had to use Safari to get in.

Steve Jobs is going to come back from the dead to kick some ass over this.

I can’t access iCloud from my Mac, because my Mac is still on Snow Leopard.

Altogether unsatisfactory — but I hope the problem will be quickly resolved.

I like the new Notification Center a lot. I gather it’s unpopular among the respected Mac blogs; I haven’t had a chance to read up to find out why.

On the other hand, Settings for Notification Center are a mess. To configure Notification Center for any individual app, you need to look in three places: The Notifications area of the Settings app, the app’s own area in the Settings app, and the settings area of the app itself. I know that sentence is confusing to read; it’s equally confusing to do. Apple needs to crack the whip on developers and enforce a consistent way to manage settings. I don’t care if settings are inside the app or in the Settings app, but they all need to be in one place.

I wish that apps like OmniFocus and Podcaster could sync in the background. Every day when it’s time to check my to-do list, I have to walk across the house to get my iPad and sync OmniFocus manually, then sync it on my iPhone, and sync on the Mac. It’s like living in primitive conditions.

Because I have an older iPhone, I don’t have Siri. I’m looking forward to getting it with my next upgrade, which I expect will be spring or summer when the next generation of iPads or iPhones come out. I had hoped that the iPhone 4 and iPad would support dictation at least, if not full-blown Siri support, but that’s not the case. Oh, well.

I like shortcuts. I can now type “mmw” to spell out my whole name, and “cmosig” for my work email signature. I’m sure I’ll come up with more.

Here’s an annoying bug: When I went out walking yesterday, far away from a Wi-Fi connection, I found I had to redownload all my podcasts. Same thing with Instapaper articles. Instapaper developer Marco Arment explains the problem.

All in all, a solid upgrade to the iOS line. Nothing I can think of that’s magic, but many improvements.

Advice to a friend who’s hit a plateau losing weight

I hit a plateau on my weight loss until I took two steps:

Increased my daily exercise from a half-hour to an hour. There was a medical study that said that people who exercised a half-hour a day had difficulty losing weight. But people who exercised an hour a day were much more successful.

The cut-off was around 54 or 56 minutes.

The study was done on women, but I have been given to understand that women and men are the same species.

On the other hand, women seem to find it much, much harder than men to lose weight; their metabolism fights them much harder to keep the pounds on. So a study of weight loss done solely on women is likely to be less applicable to men.

Still, it worked for me.

Adjusting calories. I lost weight by counting calories using the Lose It! iPhone app. After a long period of weight-loss plateaus, I evolved the following thumb rules:

– Any week where I kept to my eating program and maintained or gained weight, I would cut 25 calories from Lose It’s recommended daily allowance.

– Likewise, any week where I lost more than 2 pounds, I’d add 25 calories to the Lose It recommendation. Because losing weight at a moderate pace is one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.

I’m following a similar calorie-counting regime to maintain weight; if my weight is getting too low, I add 25 calories per day to my program, and if I gain more than a half-pound or so, I subtract 25 calories per day. My weight has been swinging between 171 and 174 since January, which seems pretty good to me.

Yes, all of this calorie counting and fiddling seems like an enormous hassle, but (1) I evolved this system over the nearly two years it took me to lose weight. It started simple: Download Lose It!, use it to keep a food journal of every bite you eat, measure everything, keep within the Lose It! recommended calorie limits. Over time, it got more complicated as I made adjustments, but it’s all been very manageable. (2) It beats being fat. I think of myself as a disabled person; I don’t have that barometer part of my brain that governs eating and exercise in normal people. As disabilities go, it’s not a bad one to have (although I don’t get a special parking space, dagnabbit).

For OmniFocus nerds only: A big feature request

OmniFocus is the control panel of my life. I write down everything I need or want to do in OmniFocus, and then when the time comes, I do it. This post is for my fellow OmniFocus nerds only; it won’t make sense to anyone else.

Here’s something that bugs me about OmniFocus, and that I’m hoping to see fixed in Version 2.0: The Folders/Projects/Groups structure is plain confusing. We should instead just have items which act as projects if they contain other items, and act as actions if they don’t contain anything else. Actions can exist at the top level, they don’t need to have containers.

Users should be able to nest these action/projects to an unlimited number of levels.

Eliminate parallel projects. They’re just confusing. I know what the theoretical difference is between parallel projects and the other kinds of projects. I just don’t see parallel projects as useful. To the contrary, I see their existence as harmful.

Single-action lists do essentially the same thing. The default for new projects should be configurable in preferences as either sequential or single-action lists.

I plan to write this up as a feature request and submit it to the appropriate email address at the Omni Group; I’d just like to show this to other people first, to see if I overlooked anything.

The day Steve Jobs hung up on me (Warning: This story is less interesting than you’d think)

It was 1992 or so. Jobs had been out of Apple for years. Apple was a struggling vendor with a couple of niche products. Jobs was now CEO of NeXT, which made a $10,000 workstation that looked a lot like the Mac would ten years later. But at that time it was an expensive white elephant. The NeXTstation ran an operating system based on software called Unix, and I was a senior editor at a publication called Unix Today.

I was scheduled to do a phone interview with Jobs about something NeXT-related. It was going pretty well. He then mentioned something about NeXT earnings, which was a slip on his part. He said, “That was off the record.” I said, automatically, “I’m sorry, but going off the record is an agreement, and I won’t agree to that.”

He said, “Then this interview is over.” And he hung up on me.

See? I told you this story is a lot less interesting than you’d think.

I was shaken up by the event, and I think the PR person on the call was too. We talked about it a while, and she said, “Don’t worry about it. Steve can be like that.”

And Steve and I never talked again. And I started following Apple closely 15 years later, and had trouble getting access to them. But I don’t think that had anything to do with my earlier encounter with Jobs. Apple is like that. Maybe that will change under new management, but I don’t expect it to.

I may have interviewed or met with Jobs at other times earlier in my career. I don’t recall. I started covering technology a couple of years after Jobs had already been kicked out of Apple. Jobs wasn’t STEVE JOBS!! back then. He was an impressive figure, but he was also kind of a has-been, a one-hit wonder. He was an important person, but I’ve interviewed a lot of important people, and very few of them intimidate me. The ones who intimidate me tend to be personal heroes, and often less famous and admired generally than some celebrities I’ve interviewed.

Later on, of course, Jobs became one of the greatest businessmen to have ever walked the Earth, and one of my personal heroes. But that was later. And one of the things that made him one of my personal heroes is that he came back from being a has-been. It gives hope to the rest of us underachievers.

I handled that interview badly. Later, when in the same situation, I just keep my mouth shut until I decide whether I even want to use the information. Because I never did use that earnings information; it wasn’t something our readers at the time were interested in.

The best possible tribute to Steve Jobs

I only read a couple of the tributes to Steve Jobs that appeared after his death.

I thought at first that I had an obligation to read more of them, as my own tribute to the man.

Then I thought that the best possible tribute would be for me to create something great.

Then I thought that I might not have it in me to make anything great. The overwhelming majority of people never do.

Then I thought, well, if I can’t make anything great, I’ll just do the best work I can do.

And that’s what I did.