When I worked in an office, my colleagues kept me up to speed on tech, jargon, and TV shows. Since I became a freelancer, I’ve had to rely on magazines in doctors’ offices. Thus I’m a year late discovering the Battop Folding Keyboard. This inspired pocket-size device folds up as small as your phone, and when opened, not only lets you type in semi-comfort with your phone as a screen, but provides a stand for it. I saw it in a “gifts for under $30” spread and fell in love instantly.

There are plenty of others on the market now, naturally, but none that I’ve read about is quite this ingenious.

From the copyright front comes excellent news this week from UK solicitor Jonathan Westwood. Have you ever worried about winding up broke and/or in jail if your novel quotes more than three words from a popular song? Westwood researched this issue for his own work in progress. He concludes: “I don’t believe the use of one line of a lyric will ordinarily be considered any more unfair than extracting 300 words from a book.” Here’s why. And here’s the frosting on the cake:

“…Music publisher Warner/Chappell coerced people into giving it £1million each year to use “Happy Birthday To You” on the basis of a non-existent copyright it claimed to own. Warners had the deepest pockets with which to instruct the nastiest lawyers to bully lesser mortals for 25 years – until documentarian Jen Nelson challenged Warners’ demand that she must pay $1,500 to use the song in a film she was making. After a long legal battle Warners conceded, accepted the song is in the public domain and was forced to pay $14 million to people it had extorted.”

This week’s bad news comes from Amazon. In an e-mail which ironically declares its aim to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” Amazon informs me that, no, it can’t change the order of books shown on my Author Page. Why are three out-of-print 1990s textbooks from second-hand dealers (one with a phony cover) displayed on “my” landing page, but not my latest in-print mystery novel or memoir? Don’t blame Jeff Bezos or CS rep “Daniel B” — blame algorithms:

“…The order of the titles that appear on your bibliography is determined automatically and based on many factors, such as past sales history, current availability, and length of time the items have been listed on our site. It’s not something we are able to manually alter.”

What that says about Amazon’s definition of “customer-centric” — and Amazon’s definitions loom very large for those of us writing and publishing books — I find troubling. I’m hoping to make more headway in Round 2 — at the very least, badger them into showing the real cover for that out-of-print secondhand textbook.

 

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zapped-frontc-contrast-line300If inventor Pam Nash is right about Zappa, she could revolutionize law enforcement. If she’s wrong, they’ll kill her daughter.

Now you can read ZAPPED: AN EDGAR ROWDEY CAPE COD MYSTERY on your phone, tablet, or computer for just $3.99. Click to see it at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.

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Leonard Cohen is dead; Gwen Ifill has vanished; San Francisco’s DPW has brazenly flouted its own rules, local protests, and city law to OK a Verizon antenna right outside my and my neighbors’ windows. Last and worst, an unabashed bigot, liar, and crook is poised to assume the presidency of the United States.

waiting-for-godot11The Internet’s abuzz with recriminations (mostly pointless) and questions (infinite). Given that, like Beckett’s characters, we have no choice but to go on, here are the best answers I can offer to two of the most immediate questions about the travesty-in-chief:

Q: What can I tell my children/students?

A: See “Teaching Trump” by Daniel J. Kevles, an insightful, realistic, constructive response by an experienced historian and teacher.

Q: What practical information have we learned from this national upheaval?

A: Lots and lots. As yet, much of it is still amorphous, ambiguous, and/or contentious. Here’s one point that strikes me as significant, which I posted on Facebook the morning after the election:

twee-of-knowledgeOne key revelation from Trump’s victory is that we live in a post-literate era. What does it mean that American schools literally don’t teach writing anymore? The high-school student working at my local polling station yesterday couldn’t find most people’s names in the roster unless they showed her an ID; yet she’s college-bound, & spent her breaks thumb-typing on her phone. People who rely chiefly on audio & video info, who rarely read or write anything longer than a social-media post, don’t expect or seek or value the kinds of logically constructed arguments, or even sequences of cause & effect, that we book-&-newspaper types rely on. How can Trump’s fans not care if he promises all things to all people and fails to back up any of his promises with plans? The answer lies (in both senses) in the very structure of what we might call disposable vs. durable thought.

This is an observation, not a value judgment, except in the sense that I value an awareness of cause-and-effect sequences and an appreciation of logic, along with critical thinking, as essential tools for living which should not be shunted aside as passe in the Internet age. Quite the contrary: they underpin the Net and all the other technology that saturates 21st-century existence.

I hope my country can find more and more ways to encourage more and more young people to take pride in utilizing their individual talents, intelligence, and skills as part of the socioeconomic web. We ARE stronger together! I fear the encroachment of neo-feudalism, in which work is a stick, bread-and-circuses a carrot, and status lies in attachment to celebrity = authority = security. Reopening coal mines and assembly lines is not only unrealistic in the present economy, but patronizing. The U.S. doesn’t need more jobs for human robots; we need more paths to success for makers and shakers.

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