Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Children of Men – First Sentence

Every editor will tell you the first sentence in a novel is crucial. Most first sentences that are perceived as “good” are really first paragraphs comprised of short, punchy, humorous or incongruous sentences: “The earth ended yesterday. That wasn’t the weirdest thing to happen to me. But there’s no hiding it: I grew wings overnight.” Something like that.

I generally don’t prefer that kind since they are too common now. I don’t know what it is about the first sentence of The Children of Men, but it scratches my itch in the best way I can think of.

Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.

Bravo, P.D. James.

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How to Sell Print Books

A bookstore chain in Great Britain figured out how to please customers, and the big step was letting the individual operators use their space as they saw fit. Waterstones stores stopped selling shelf space to big publishers (emphasis mine):

Next came the staff. [managing director James] Daunt shrunk Waterstones’ central office and fired half of the store managers. He gave those booksellers who remained almost complete autonomy over how to arrange their stores—from the windows to the signage to the display tables—but controlled the stock with a dictatorial zeal. Out went books you wouldn’t want to browse: reference, technical guides, legal textbooks. That—along with the real estate freed up by eliminating publisher-sponsored placements—allowed Daunt to grow the total number of titles in stores by about a quarter. With more books to browse, sales increased. The number of unsold books that were returned to publishers fell from about 20 percent before Daunt took over to just 4 percent today.

A leaner staff and more autonomy resulted in everyone working harder, but Daunt says the staff is curiously happier as a result. “You love being in a shop where people are busy,” he says. “It’s much better than being out the back, filling up boxes of returns and thinking your life is a drudgery of doing pointless administrative tasks for some nameless bureaucracy of a head office who you despise because they just dump innumerable amounts of crap books on you.” As is probably clear, Daunt still has an indie bookseller’s contempt for the big chains, even though he now runs one of them. Of Barnes & Noble, which appears more and more like a cross between an airport gift shop and a toy store, he said, “My faculties just shut down when I go in there.”

Imagine that: letting individual sellers letting customers browse through things they may want, by eliminating what you know they don’t want. Like in politics, all commerce is local. Ditch the nuclear bomb approach to selling, and opt for a sniper, and people will throw their money at you.

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Stale Scumbags

Another politcal/current events post. Bear with me.

While doing my cool down run on the gym treadmill, I saw a CNN headline, roughly paraphrased: “Clinton wants us to take a fresh look at her.” Granted, this was during a panel of five interchangeable talking head-types—three grim, serious guys in suits and two leggy, brightly-colored women—so I don’t know if this is CNN or Clinton’s team saying this. I can’t find the clip anywhere online. However, asking to take a “fresh look” at Clinton is openly admitting, by implication, that everyone thinks she is stale or unappealing to begin with. I know this because that’s what I immediately thought when I saw the headline. Did Hillary Clinton stop beating her wife? It would better if Clinton had addressed the issue through covert re-imaging rather than admitting it (or at least threatened CNN to remedy it).

Vaguely related: a running mate named “Kaine”? Worst idea. People in Christianized America automatically associate it with the “Cain” of Genesis, one of the earliest scumbags on record. Visually, “Clinton/Kaine” logos and banners will drill the association home even further. Men my age might associate it with the equally-scummy Cain from Robocop 2, or another fictional namesake villain. I know this because that’s what I did immediately when I saw his name the other day. The .001% of voters who are rational about voting probably won’t notice it, voters already in Clinton’s camp will do quick rationalizations against it, the Trumpites are already against her. The “Kaine/Cain” association sticks with the undecided and they will stay far away from it.

EDIT: Also remember Herman Cain, from the 2012 elections? I barely did. He probably suffered the same thing Kaine will experience, though Cain may have been a weak candidate overall, and an obvious “look, Republicans aren’t racist” marketing ploy by Romney.

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The Amazon Wish List Chronicles

Don’t read any further if you dislike techy talk or mild complaining.

I have a large Amazon wish list of 550+ books, and it gets pretty darn difficult when I’m in a real-world book (print rules!) store and need to check if the store has a book on the list. There’s no option to “see all” entries, so I have to schlep through the pagination—it’s up to around 26 pages now—to see if something is on the list. There’s no option to export it and download and too compound the roadblocks, Amazon had disabled their public API for their wish lists some time ago, so I couldn’t even write a script to grab any data. What to do?

I used doitlikejustin’s Amazon Wish Lister to scrape the data. I grabbed the XML and exported it to an Excel document using an online converter, but for some reason each entry on the list had their own sheet on the document, instead of just listing them in rows on the same sheet. I was looking into how to compile them all into one sheet when I realized only half of the entries exported.

Back to square one. I searched around some more and found Andy Langton’s Amazon Wishlist Exporter. It worked well and I could sort it by title, and it had options to export, but I really just wanted the HTML. There was no option to view all except in the print view, so I was able to grab the HTML from that, but with a lot of unnecessary tag attributes and styling, not to mention it was minified. I used zubrag.com’s HTML stripper to clean it up, then Dirty Markup to de-minify for readability.

Another issue, but one easily remedied: I just needed the title and author, and the print page included a lot of extraneous info columns. jQuery to the rescue—just had to hide some of the table cells in each row, and that was that. I have it uploaded to my server space as a plain text HTML

The only issue I really have now is that the HTML file crashes the native editor on my server space, I think because of its size…though it’s not unusually large—remember that I stripped all of the style declarations and attributes. So for now I have to download the file from my server, edit it locally, and re-upload it.

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Album: Believer’s Dimensions

Azure Ides-Grey posted an old Underoath video on his blog, and it made nostalgic something similar, but even futher back for me. I jammed this album for an entire year straight my senior year of high school, and most recently, during a workout. I credit the album for getting me interested in philosophy as a general field of study.

The best part of the album is the Trilogy of Knowledge (actually four tracks) songs that close it out, which is one of the first symphonic/operatic thrash pieces I’ve come across—and maybe the only one on a major-ish label (not to be confused with symphonic metal, which is an actual, specific genre). I embedded the video at the start of it, for convenience.

Modern metal bands are at ease with atonality, but Believer seemed to have made it an art form by contrasting it with extremely traditional harmonies. There was an interview with Believer in an old HM Magazine where Kurt Bachman (vocals/guitar) they described how they rolled dice to come up with the lead in the middle of “Dimentia” at 14:50, until all twelve notes were used. Contrast that to the ending of the song.

Also contrast the beautiful ending of Movement II at 43:50 to the randomized melodies at the beginning of Movement III at 46:26.

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Politics Is Not Rational

I don’t vote and I have little interest in politics, but Scott Adams’ latest post about the RNC convention held my interest:

Persuasion-wise, Trump’s family was the big story of the convention. People seem to love them in the same way the public loved the Kennedys. And notice how Donald Jr. and Eric both have the speaking cadence of Jack and Bobby Kennedy. Notice also how Melania reminds you of Jackie Kennedy – quiet, smart, and classy. These are coincidences, but your irrational brain doesn’t care. It sees a new batch of Kennedys and wants to see more of them. That’s powerful election magic for a nation that only pretends to care about policies.

A week ago you compared ugly Donald Trump with ugly Hillary Clinton and declared them a visual tie. That matters because our visual “brain” generally wins against whatever part of the brain is pretending to be logical that day. But once we got a look at the entire Trump family, acting as a group, our visual brains started seeing them as a package deal. And when you compare the entire Trump family’s visual appeal to the entire Clinton family’s visual imagery it’s a massacre.

Would you prefer seeing Bill and Hillary Clinton decompose in front of your eyes for eight years, or watch the Trump family develop their dynasty? Entertainment-wise, that’s no contest. And people usually vote for entertainment over policy. They just don’t realize it. That’s the biggest news from the convention, and you won’t see it in any headline.

No one cares about policies since policy discussions are boring. We get excited when we identify with someone, and we feel safe, which serves one of our lizard brain’s prime directives. Politicians, the smart ones, know how to identify with people, even people who might hate their policies. For all of Trump’s offensiveness early on in the election cycle, he still got ahead because he, as a person, is rather likeable. At the very least he can convince you not to hate him. Throw in his attractive, successful, safe, “normal” family, through the medium of television, and you’ve got a shoe-in candidate.

Again: no one cares about policies because no one votes rationally. We’re wired to connect to others when we share a minimum level of identification with them, and we can identify strongly by what we see on the television. Which candidate, literally, looks better to you?

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Pale Blue Scratch Ebook is Now Only 99 Cents

Refer, dear reader, to the post title. The book is still free for Kindle Unlimited users. The link to buy is here. The ebook was $4.99 originally, though I’m not sure why I didn’t make it 99 cents right off the bat. If I wanted to be dishonest I could probably come up with an explanation, but it’s too late in the evening for irrelevant deceptions.

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Video: The Philosophy of Daredevil

Interesting analysis. I’m not a big TV guy, so I haven’t seen any of the episodes, but I’d have to watch one of the hundreds of hour-long edgy drama-type of series, this would be at the top of the list.

A few things though, that the video mentions: justice can’t be objective because people aren’t objective. We can’t be. That there’s an ephemeral form of a perfection called “justice” existing somewhere, waiting for us to conform to its nature, is perhaps a nice, inspiring thought, but that’s as far as it goes. Sorry, Plato. There can’t be one rule, or set of rules, to govern the whole of humanity because we don’t know all of humanity. In short, justice is best administered by someone intimately connected with us. This is at total odds with most westernized systems, so I wouldn’t expect too many people reading this to consider this a workable option.

The other thing: sometimes it’s irrelevant whether someone is “morally culpable” for their actions. Serious threats to social cohesion, in some contexts, don’t need to be “understood” for physical force, in the form of defense, to be available as a moral option. Social cohesion by itself, as an innate need of the human condition, demands it.

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Steal These Two Ideas For Blogs

I’m not greedy; I don’t pretend to own anything that’s not ownable in the first place. That includes non-scarce things like ideas. This is one way of saying someone should take these ideas and run with them. Unlike some of you reading this, I don’t have a time machine, so I don’t have the resources to pursue them.

1. “If They Had Cell Phones”
A blog that examines “what if they had cell phone” scenarios, in old(er) stories where, obviously, there was cell phone technology but its presence would have a severe effect on the plot. This idea would play well with both films and books, and the format might be better as recorded video vs. written blog, since kids like the whizz-bang of quick edits and fast information.

2. Schnoggleractor
Not the real name, obviously—just a placeholder, but a more serious topic: a view of paranormal phenomenon from a Christian perspective. The only sites I’ve come across that deal with this idea distill everything down to “unexplained = from the devil.” Could there be supernatural phenomenon that doesn’t have to do with the spiritual domain by itself? Other universes or dimensions? What’s would a framework for discernment of these sorts of things look like?

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Put Your Dang Email Address On Your Blog

If I wanted to contact someone I don’t know personally, there’s a few things I’d rather do than hunt around someone’s blog for their email address. The next thing would be dragging my tongue across lines of broken glass shards, by the meter. I figure I’d get to maybe the third row before I pass out.

Having a contact form is okay, but not the greatest experience. It’s impersonal, as far as Internet communication experiences go, and I have no idea where the message is going when I submit it. Is it to the blogger’s email? A hidden forum where these bloggers go to mock and trade insults concerning dufuses like me? Into space? I’m not into shooting potatoes into the air and not knowing where it lands.

If you must, register for a throwaway email address if you’re afraid of spam, although I don’t think that is a problem nowadays. There’s dozens of ways you can get on a spamming list. Having your email on a site is only one. Obfuscating it—like “jay [at] jaydinitto DOT com” or the like—isn’t likely to deter harvesters. Given an afternoon of free time, I could easily write a regex tester from scratch to glean out real address from that.

Conclusion: put your email where I can find it. My tongue is starting to hurt too much.

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