How do you autograph an ebook?by Daedalus HowellDec 29, 2011 – 03:40 PM
Given Amazon’s pre-Christmas blitz and Apple’s prowess with any object they care to precede with a lowercase “i,” there’s a significant chance that you’re either reading this on a Kindle or an iPad. Dozens of e-reading devices have proliferated in the market. Even brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble proffer a book device some marketing type convinced them to call a “Nook,” which sounds more like a place one might have breakfast or a word you’d repeat three times to summon the ghost of Curly from the Three Stooges.
If you’re presently swiping and hyping the written word on your shiny new e-reader, let me personally welcome you to the 21st century. You’re evolution from pulp to pixel is not only saving the backs of hacks but some trees as well. But don’t worry, your media diet won’t suffer for lack of roughage. There will be much to chew on, from breathless editorials eulogizing the passing of print to the inclusion of paperboys on the endangered species list.
It’s notable that in 2011, Kindle ebook sales overtook those of traditional printed books at Amazon. In an unmarked grave somewhere in Mainz, Germany, a man named Gutenberg is beginning to turn. Though this might betoken a critical shift in how we read books, it also changes how we handle books – or, for that matter, mishandle books – now that they’ve gone from physical objects to merely data on an expensive device.
For example, how do you burn an ebook without having to visit the Apple Store afterward to replace your beloved iPad? There should be an app for that. In fact, there are several apps waiting to be born into this brave new world of reading without paper (it’s when we start reading without words that we should worry).
Here are my prospective “5 eBook Apps that Amazon and Apple Fear:”
1. As mentioned: The ebook-burning app. This app allows you (or the fascist regime you live under) to “burn” your ebooks by erasing their data with virtual fire without harming your device. As the author of a forthcoming ebook, I invite my critics to purchase and “burn” as many books as they wish. Seriously, go big – then watch your money burn a hole in my pocket.
2. An autograph app. There’s nothing sadder than watching a fanboy trying to wipe Neil Gaiman’s scrawl off an iPad 2. Yes, you can effectively tattoo your tablet with a Sharpie but it makes using it similar to wearing glasses that have been tagged with graffiti (attention, “cool hunters,” this could be a hot trend for 2012).
3. An overdue library book app. Many libraries now lend ebooks but unlike printed books they don’t need to be returned, the data just evaporates from your device – as does the library’s revenue stream in overdue fees. Using geo-location to virtually hide your borrowed ebook somewhere in your house, office, car, etc., the library can charge your credit card until you find it. If you find it.
4. Smarty Pants eBook Covers. Change lowbrow Stephen King into highbrow Albert Camus with a mere tap of this app, which will stock your virtual bookshelf with a pile of “trophy” books that make you look smarter than you are.
5. The Used College Textbook app. This app adds a yellow “used” sticker to the cover of your selected ebook, covers its text with erroneous notes and charges your parents and extra $50 for the privilege.
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Daedalus Howell’s “I Heart Sonoma: How to Live & Drink in Wine Country” is coming to an ereader near you in January. Learn more at FMRL.com.
Sure, 2011 saw a congressman inadvertently tweet his boner to the masses, Steve Jobs’ permanent departure from Apple, and Amazon’s overheated foray into the tablet market. The media and tech news of 2011 that will likely have the most enduring effect on our culture, however, is the rise of the e-book.
The Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group released a report earlier this year that indicated e-book sales in 2010 were 114 million. When sales data for 2011 rolls in, I expect it to have doubled.
Thank the iPad and the Kindle. Though e-books existed in various form long before tablet devices, the sales for Apple’s iPad (about 25 million sold by June of 2011) and Amazon’s Kindle Fire (reportedly selling 1 million a week) suggest cultural ubiquity.
Moreover, these guys are ruthless. Amazon recently raised the ire of indie booksellers and their patrons with its price-check shopping app, which enables consumers to scan a barcode and compare the prices of goods at brick and mortar stores with Amazon’s prices. This in itself wasn’t necessarily offensive; it was the 5 percent discount offered by Amazon for choosing to purchase from the online juggernaut instead of Main Street.
Predictably, an “Occupy Amazon” movement ensued among booksellers, which might seem like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. E-books now account for about 20 percent of all book sales, which is remarkable when one considers that movable-type press was created 561 years ago and the iPad only two years ago. At that rate of disruption, e-books will entirely supplant printed books within the decade. Real life, of course, doesn’t work this way. But still, the numbers are staggering.
Consider this: in 2011, a mere four years after the introduction of its first Kindles, Amazon reported that e-book sales have surpassed those of printed books. Even sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, who’s been publicly skeptical about digital media (e-books “smell like burned fuel,” he famously opined to the New York Times) has finally permitted Fahrenheit 451 to be released as an e-book.
Of course, the revolution has not been without its casualties—like, perhaps, fair trade. The European Commission recently opened formal antitrust proceedings to “investigate whether international publishers” including Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Penguin, have engaged in “anti-competitive practices affecting the sale of e-books in the European Economic Area, in breach of EU antitrust rules.” Moreover, they allege Apple may be helping them.
Be assured, the outcome of this investigation is coming soon to an e-book near you.
’Twas a Wine Country Christmasby Daedalus HowellDec 22, 2011 – 03:01 PMDaedalus Howell
For me, fending off the holiday blues is like besting Death at chess. Good for you, wood-pusher, you won but (spoiler alert) you’re still going to die. This is how it ended for Max Von Sydow in “The Seventh Seal” and it’s how all games with Death eventually end. Chess, or whatever, is merely a distraction. Just ask Bobby Fischer. Oh, wait, you can’t – he’s dead.
This isn’t one of those deals where the proviso, “let the wookie win,” helps make sense of it all. The wookie has already won. The game is rigged. Boo-hoo. Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to put our pieces on the board and do our best regardless.
Here are some strategies for the chess game of life: Play nice, play well but don’t play to win. Play to play as one might live to live, love to love and drink to drink. You can also rearrange these: Love to drink, live to love, love to live and live to drink another day. That way we might all win the game of life.
I, of course, know where the “instant win” spot is located. At least in terms of my annual holiday column – I’ve got 400 words of ready-made Christmas-themed copy I roll out every year and reassemble like an artificial tree. It owes a debt to Clement C. Moore as well as the fine wines of Sonoma Valley. Despite this pedigree, it is something of a literary fruitcake. So feel free to re-gift it. Have a holly jolly holiday!
* * *
’Twas a Wine Country Christmas and all through his cellar
Were stowed bottles of vino and this lucky feller;
His name was St. Nick and Sonoma his pride
As his schedule permitted he’d come here to hide
My host remarked, “Now, don’t judge a wine by its label”
Which made me afraid of ending up under the table
“All things in moderation,” he said with glee
As he began opening bottles – one, two and three!
“Now, Ledson! now, Landmark! now, Kamen and Castle!
On, Gundlach! on, Bundschu! on Haywood and Hanzell!
Let’s pop some corks and fill up our cups
We’ll drink upside down just to say “Bottom’s up!”
Champagne gushed like geysers, merlot poured like rain
Zins went straight to my head and the cabs to my brain
He said, “Every bottle’s a vacation, every sip a holiday!”
As he washed down pinot with a fine chardonnay
My teeth had turned purple, my cheeks had gone red
I’d say, “Just a taste” but a carafe came instead
Now the cellar was spinning and my view was a blur
An eloquent drunk, I made poetry of slurs
“Damn, you drunken elf, I’m going to bed,”
as visions of cirrhosis danced through my head
I crawled on my knees, for I’d forgotten my swagger
I’d decline a straight line but would be happy to stagger
As I lumbered and lurched toward the cellar door
he brandished a corkscrew and simply said “More.”
He throttled a bottle and commanded me, “Drink”
“‘Tis the season,” I reasoned, as I drank to the brink
His generosity proved as grand as his cellar was vast
But who will drive the sleigh after our vintner’s repast?
He tugged at his beard, his sparkling eye winked
“That’s why I’ve got elves, why what did you think?”
Embarrassed as I was at my implied accusation
He guffawed from his belly and poured another libation
Now, I’m not one to moralize, especially in carol
But the fact remains when one’s over the barrel
Designate a driver or a get a taxi on the line
And Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good wine!
There are many Christmas traditions that will get one in a holiday mood. Decorating a Christmas tree, candy canes, consumer credit debt and, of course, mistletoe.
1. Species of mistletoe grow on trees the world over. However, it’s not living in perfect harmony with the tree. In fact, it’s eating it. Mistletoe is a hanging parasitic plant – its root penetrates the host tree, drains it of its life blood, and eventually overtakes it. Just like in Alien.
2. Clearly, this is not feel good
2. Clearly, this is not feel goodsymbiosis of plants helping plants. Mistletoe is a parasite and it’s a killer. Etymologically, the word mistletoe comes from the German “mist” meaning “dung” and “tang” meaning “bough.” So, in essence, mistletoe means “branch of crap.” This is because mistletoe is spread by bird poop. The human equivalent would be having a florist shop grow out of one’s toilet.
3. Kissing under mistletoe remains a popular means by which one may inflict one’s lips on a co-worker at the office Christmas party. In this regard, some consider mistletoe to be a yuletide Spanish fly or a vegetal Viagra
Be assured, it’s far from an aphrodisiac. Mistletoe is a date rape drug. Its berries are chalk full of viscotoxins which lower your heart rate and can cause you to pass out, leaving you pray to the unwanted sexual advances of drunk guys in Santa hats.
4. Another misconception is that smoking mistletoe will get you high. This theory was developed by people who are already high. Do not smoke mistletoe. That feeling of euphoria you may experience after a mistletoke is your soul leaving your body.
5. It’s for the above reasons that mistletoe is best kept out of reach. This is why it is hung high under the doorways until the government sends dudes in hazmat suits to get rid of it. Or for that matter, get rid of the guy in the Santa hat when he hangs mistletoe from his belt buckle.
Hangovers, zombies and impulse controlby Daedalus HowellDec 15, 2011 – 02:48 PM
I must have misunderstand my high school guidance counselor’s admonishment that I have “poor impulse control.”
It seems I might have heard it as “pour impulse control,” because as soon as I discovered wine in my teens (courtesy of Carlo Rossi’s vin rose), I became really good at impulsively pouring glasses of the stuff. I’ve since tempered my rate of consumption, not for a lack of love but for a lack of my ability to remember anything that follows the second glass. For example, there was apparently this period in my life in the mid-’90s called “college.” I have no recollection of it but every month a student loan bill arrives. It’s like paying a never-ending bar tab.
This is why I’ve come to schedule my subsequent investigations into viticulture or vinification or vilification, whatever it’s now called – winoism – with at least two days of recovery time. As they say, “when it rains, it pours,” to which I’ll add, “when it brains, it sores.” This what the first phrase sounds like when wheezed into a paper bag between chunders.
As humorist Robert Benchley opined, “A real hangover is nothing to try out family remedies on. The only cure for a real hangover is death.” I’m inclined to agree with him, which either means I’ve never had a “real hangover,” or my name is Lazarus. I think it’s a bit of both. Being hungover is like being a member of the walking dead. As Sonomans, it’s something of a rite of passage to go from zinfandel to zombie and back again. If we were better organized we could stage a re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in the Plaza. Of course, this is the kind of idea that sounds brilliant about three glasses in. Then the next day, a single die-hard will find himself in front of City Hall with a red jacket and a mouthful of blood capsules who did not get the “we’re sleeping off our hangovers” memo. I can tell you, there is nothing sadder than watching a lone zombie practicing his steps in the cold, light of day.
If it is not yet obvious, I’m hungover as I write this. Which is why it’s taken twice as long to write half as much while sleeping past my deadline to the inevitable chagrin of my editors. Please know, I don’t fancy myself a Brendan Behan type – “a drinker with a writing problem” – as I’m merely competent in either pursuit, if sometimes inspired. Neither drinking nor writing is particularly heroic – both leave you broke and generally wistful. But if I had to choose, I’d choose the writing game. It’s less likely to lead to liver disease. The fact that I’m writing these observations in a bar called The Bookstore is an irony not lost on me. It’s the bar and grill of the hotel in which I’m staying while on assignment in Seattle. If I could get my forehead off my keyboard I might visit an actual bookstore (the Elliott Bay Book Company comes to mind). Or I might not.
Where did I go wrong? Is it in my genes? Can’t I blame this headache on some erstwhile ancestor for introducing a mutant strain of winoism into the family tree? Perhaps I could blame my grandmother. On a family road trip to Disneyland, she revealed she was traveling with a mayonnaise jar she had re-purposed to hold vodka. Even at 8, I was impressed with her resourcefulness, which apparently proved handy when we were broken down just outside Coalinga.
I’m too classy to travel with condiment containers of hootch. Besides, the TSA would just dump them anyway, not least because it might impact sales of those little plastic bottles of 2010 Sutter Home merlot on the plane. And with a wine list like that, who needs impulse control?
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This article appears in the News 2011 issue of Sonoma News
Pop-up stores function like gallery exhibits—they appear for a spell, often with a theme, make some dough, then vamoose. Some are seasonal, like Petaluma’s annual Christmas store put up by Marisa’s Fantasia. Others are a means for brands like Wired magazine to showcase its curatorial prowess, as with its temporary location in NYC’s Times Square.
Trendwatching.com, a self-described “independent and opinionated trend firm” based in London, claims to have coined the term “pop-up store” in 2004. Their cool hunters noticed that the now-defunct airline Song had opened a store in New York’s SOHO district with the lifespan of the average fruit fly. As planned, it closed a week later, after seven days of selling samples from the in-flight menu, travel gear and tickets.
Now a new mutation of the pop-up concept is appearing on the retail event horizon—the store-within-a-store.
Consider the recently announced launch of micro–Martha Stewart stores inside JCPenney locations. I had no idea JCPenney still existed or that Martha Stewart was still relevant, but my demographic is likely irrelevant to the department store’s new CEO Ron Johnson, who’s shepherding the midrange brand’s revitalization. (He’s also acquiring an almost $40 million stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.)
On its face, it might not seem like a very exciting premise—the doyenne of domesticality branding some shelf space in a retail chain. What’s germane is that Johnson was the brain behind Apple Stores. If Johnson can bring any of the mojo from Steve Jobs’ in-house shopping experience, he may be able to create a successful retail Frankenstein out of JCPenney and Martha Stewart. At which point, the editors of Trendwatching.com will explode from smug self-satisfaction as the store-within-a-store trend will have crossed into a hard, cold economic reality.
For some, “it’s a good thing.” But for those holding the note on vacant retail space, this nesting-doll approach to commerce is trouble. Due to the economic downturn, there’s no dearth of available storefronts in which one might temporarily set up shop. Pop-up stores in these spaces could represent a minor reprieve, and would surely be welcomed with open arms like the Spirit Halloween stores that are ubiquitous through September and October. Founded in 1983, the come-and-go costume seller has perfected the large-scale pop-up store model. This year, it filled 900 temporary locations in 48 states and Canada, all in “high visibility, high-traffic strip centers” that would otherwise be empty.
But then, as JCPenney’s Johnson probably realized, a standalone Martha Stewart store might also end up empty.
Daedalus Howell is at FMRL.com.
Many have written about the changing news business, how the economics of inefficiency that characterized newspapers ad sales, which still are the lion’s share of revenues, don’t apply in a world of plenty; how anyone with a smartphone and camera can act as a reporter and draw eyeballs away from so-called mainstream sites; how publishers are hoping the iPad and the teeming apps ecosystem will somehow toss them a lifeline. Fewer, however, have addressed how the actual content is changing.
But we are in the midst of a transformative shift in the craft of journalism. Text-only stories, the kind your parents found in their morning newspapers and characterized by the classic inverted pyramid (most important stuff at the top, least important stuff at the bottom) could eventually go the way of 45-rpm records. The MP3 of journalism may be the “live blog,” which relies on the merging of platforms and weaving of text with video, audio, external links to other articles (including those of rival news organizations), blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and whatever other useful information is available. It doesn’t matter if information originates from a New York Times article, a tweet from an eyewitness on the scene, or someone offering astute commentary and curating links, a video shot by a protester or produced by a team at CNN. Because in the live-blog format disparate platforms become irrelevant, and the walls between these separate silos of content simply dissolve…
Now, consider live-blogging for fiction. Could be something akin to Nanowrimo.org (National Novel Writing Month) but published in real time. Add the notion of collaboration and an exquisite corpse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse) might emerge like a digital Frankenfiction.