Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Check Is In The Email

Which books? Ohh, THE Facebooks!

If you aren't paying for a product, then YOU are the product.  That is the business model that Facebook has been built around, and that has never been a secret.  Facebook's corporate bottom line is no different from any other business—profits generally supersede most other considerations (although those considerations are still . . . well, considered).  In this case, pursing that bottom line goal, Facebook was able to be deceived.  They did not deliberately deceive their users.  They were themselves deceived, and their model allowed that deception to take place. 

This is not to say that Facebook isn't at fault.  They are.  Or maybe it's better to say that they're responsible.  They learned about the deception and then did nothing, because . . . profits. It was a simple matter to deceive them, and their corporate culture balanced that deception against their profits, and profits won out, which is why it took an insider leak to the media to bring out the story.

But their entire model is based off personal data that we willingly give to them, and the sale of that data to analytics companies who can then sell us stuff.  Anyone who thinks differently should ask themselves how Facebook pays for all this?

Before I was picked up by my first publisher, I was pulling back from Facebook.  Those people who wanted to connect with me had other avenues to do so, and in those earlier days it was much, much easier to offend and lose friends—which I have.  But as an author, I take advantage of the vast reach and depth that Facebook offers me to connect not just with friends and family, but with other writers, potential readers, and experts in various fields who can assist me with my end goal—telling good stories.  I've met some wonderful people and engaged with some great readers.  I wouldn't have been able to do that without this platform.  I'm certainly no more or less tech-savvy than the next average Facebook user.  I am, however, always a bit skeptical when it comes to the information that various apps are asking me for so that I can play their games or, in this case, take their personality test.  I could stand to be more skeptical, and less apt to give away all my various secrets.

So, understanding all the aspects of this particular set of events, and weighing the benefits I gain against the potential for manipulation, I will for the time being remain a member and active user of Facebook.  What I have gained and continue to gain using Facebook as a primary social platform remains worth the trade-off of information that I provide on a daily basis.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Great Mills High School in Maryland

No words on this one. Sorry.

This is not my argument. It was made by a friend of mine.  It so accurately sums up the issues that I’ve stolen it and provided it here:

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. So we're told gun control isn't the answer. You can't sue the gun makers or make it difficult for people get guns, even if there are signs that they'd be dangerous.

People don't kill themselves, the opioids are killing them. So we're told we need to take the opioids away. We should go after the drug makers and doctors, and make it very difficult for people in pain to get relief.

So... we have to take something that can be useful away from you, because you might use it to harm yourself.

But we have to make sure you can get all the guns you want, even though they're useless unless you're hurting someone.

This isn't logic, it's twisted moralizing.

In the overall scheme of firearm death/violence, “mass shootings” are not, in themselves, that big of a problem—they only account for a small percentage of the overall death.  They do, however, quickly underline in blood and tears and loss the exact nature of the problem.  Humans are now and may always be too emotional, too irrational, too prone to violence to be responsible enough as a species to be trusted with firearms.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Queen Mary's Daughter by Emily-Jane Hills Orford


Emily-Jane Hills Orford’s “Queen Mary’s Daughter” is a historical fiction that poses and answers the question, “What if Mary, Queen of Scots’s daughter had survived childbirth and become a time-traveler?”  Initially, readers might be worried that they don’t have enough historical background on Mary Stuart or the events surrounding this time period in Scotland and England.  Orford reduces the intricacies of this period of history to make it understandable for almost any audience.

Orford’s story is the adventure/romantic tale of Mary Elizabeth Stuart, a young, attractive American woman of Scottish heritage, and James “Jamie” Stuart, an equally young, attractive Scottish native.  Traveling to Kinross, Scotland, at her grandmother’s request, Mary Elizabeth finds herself suddenly some 450 years in the past, taking part in events with very little understanding of their impact.  She learns that her grandmother was actually a time-traveler, and she also has this same ability.  The possibilities of changing the course of Scotland “for the better” becomes the crux on which the plot revolves.

Orford creates interesting central characters that are fun and engaging.  She has a good sense of the historical events which surrounded this time period. The exploration of what might have occurred, should Mary, Queen of Scot’s had produced a living heir is interesting.  Orford condenses or ignores some of the historical intricacies, but she does so to the benefit of the plot.  In a few places, the time travel was a bit too convenient, but it was always used in an attempt to move the story and characters forward.  Any clich├ęs built around Mary Elizabeth, Jamie and their adventures can be forgiven for Orford’s conceit of revealing the outcomes of her central conceit.

In “Queen Mary’s Daughter,” Orford is able to craft a romantic adventure around a nice bit of historical fiction that is a fun exploration for genre-readers and fans of “Outlander” and “Reign”.  The life and times of these time-travelers is an exciting distraction, in an interesting story of “what if”.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

It's, Like, The Very First One

If only we knew what they meant!?

Posted without commentary:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Thank you for your kind attention.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Once More, From the Top

Arrgh, these kids and their fancy "trophies"!

For the past ten years or so, I’ve been a volunteer coach at John W. North High School.  Speech and debate are my thing, although I’m better at speeching than I am debating. 

No, it’s true.  Look it up.

I was not the best competitor (high school and college), but I enjoyed the process.

Anyhow, this weekend was the State Qualifying Tournament.  I’ve been focused on a single tournament this year, one that pays out cash for first, second, and third place, so these quals tournaments weren’t even on my radar.  One of my students insisted on going, so I worked with her, got her speech in shape, and sent her on her way.

She broke to finals.

This is her first year on my program (she’s a sophomore) and her second tournament ever.

Once again, it looks like I don’t get to resign anytime soon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wanna Play Piano?

He knows ALL the notes!

Have you wanted to learn piano?  I have a buddy who is looking to teach you:

To whom it may concern:

My name is Humberto Olivieri. I am a pianist, composer and educator living in New York. I have taught music in Florida, Venezuela and New York, both privately and in schools. I have taught all levels and a fairly wide range of ages, from 6 to 50 years old. I would like to offer my services as a music educator and lecturer. Back in my hometown of Venezuela, I worked both as a Piano Educator and a Lecturer, to introduce the concept of Jazz Music and Jazz Harmony to the Venezuelan people. These Lectures served as workshops, where the students could ask questions, and also, they were invited to play some music as well.

Teaching has always been important to me, because my own piano teacher, Bruna Monestiroli (a student of Alfredo Casella) was a major inspiration both from the performance and the teaching point of view. Sharing the passion of music with other people, and giving them tools to express themselves musically has been as inspiring to me, as being able to perform and compose music.

My personal philosophy about teaching music to children, is first and foremost to show them that music is fun, and welcomes exploration, humor and individual expression. And since young children have a strong difficulty remaining focused for long periods of time, it is especially important to make the lessons as interactive, entertaining and stimulating as possible. I believe music, when taught properly, can help children develop their brains and acquire better cognitive and social skills that will shape their personalities for the future.

You can watch a sample of me teaching a lesson. This is a lesson for advanced students, but nonetheless, it gives you a better idea of my teaching approach:

Let me know if you have any questions

Humberto O.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Five Important Things Every New Writer Should Know!

So . . . where do you get your ideas?

Welcome Newling!

First things first, the fact that you're writing is a good thing.  Don't doubt that you have some level of skill and ability.  You were drawn to writing, you’ve written, someone has given you a compliment on your skills, and you enjoy some part of the process

You, Newling, are a writer!

Improving that skill is certainly important, so here are five things you can do to start the ball rolling:

1. Find a beta team—Tet two or three people who are willing to work with you, read your early drafts and offer you honest, critical feedback.  Make it very clear what you want from them, the kind of commitment you need, and don't be upset if you get turned down.  A LOT.  I've built mine up over the years, and now I have two main betas with four others who come in and out depending on the point of view I want/need. 

2. Join a critique group—This can be alternately or in addition to a beta team.  Too much criticism isn't a good thing.  You can't please everyone all the time.  But a good crit group can really help.  I always recommend  You have to put in effort with them, and they're brutally honest, but your writing will be better for it.

3. Join writing groups—Facebook has become the author’s harbor.  There are groups for every kind of genre, sub-genre, and genre-trope.  Find a relatively small group with active participation and limited-to-no tolerance for ads and join.  Ask questions, ANY questions.  The only dumb questions are those that you don't get answered.  They may have been asked and answered before, but not by you, so go ahead!  The only way you can learn is to get that information.

4. 10,000 Hours—It's a bit of cliche, but the more you do a thing, the better you get at it.  You may not be the BEST at it, but you will certainly be better than competent.  It does take time and effort, and certainly practicing the right kinds of things.  Hence the above and below advice.  Write, write, and keep on writing. Stretch yourself, try writing in new genres, submit to contests—ESPECIALLY those that offer feedback—attend conferences, take up writing challenges and writing prompts.  Above all write, write, and keep on writing.

5. Reading as Research—You probably already do this, but if you're not reading in your genre, and in related genres, START.  Read the classics, read the most popular stuff, read the most influential stuff, read the very obscure and highly recommended stuff.  It's all a manual on how to write what you want to write.  If you find authors your truly admire, follow them, subscribe to their newsletters, pick up their guides, read their essays, watch their panel discussions on YouTube.

Most writers who have been at the game for some time know that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.  There are always going to be a few curmudgeonly or better-than-thou souls who find new writers and their questions annoying and frustrating.  Avoid them, don’t engage, and move on.  In the future, you may find yourself sitting next to them at an awards banquet or a convention panel!