ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: technology

Weeknote 12

Weeknotes are back. Which means, sadly, that my vacation is over and normal life has resumed.

Work

I spent the week catching up. Emails, phone meetings, memo writing, and other sundry administrative tasks. Don’t you love forms that must be signed the old fashioned way? That means receiving the form, printing it, signing it, scanning it, and then emailing it onward. An electronic signature would take a fraction of the time to sign and send back. And no, this isn’t a legal document or a HIPAA/FERPA form. Sigh.

Reading/Watching/Listening

I am behind on my 20 Books of Summer list. I am reading, but not as much, and I’ve been reading non-list books like Iain M. Bank’s Culture novel, Matter. It’s very good, although frequently quite discursive in that patented Banks way. But I’m enjoying it. I did manage to read Sarah Morgan’s most recent release, which I wrote about in a previous post, and I liked it a lot.

I’m still thinking about the Women’s Fiction/Genre Romance debate. A lot of my romland friends are bummed by the switch to WF by longtime romance authors, but the market for contemporary and historical romance is just not very profitable for publishers anymore. If you don’t want to self-publish then you pretty much have to move into a romance-adjacent genre, or at least that’s how it seems to me. It isn’t new for romance authors to shift to more high-profile genres with hardback options; category authors started doing it in the 1980s and 1990s. It might just be that social media amplifies the voices who dislike these moves, or it may be that social media and the internet more generally allow more people to see publishing shifts happen in real time than was the case in the past. Anyway, I’m still going on a author-by-author, book-by-book basis.

I fell way behind on my podcasts but have been catching bits and pieces of the Women’s World Cup. England v. USA on Tuesday should be something. England demolished Norway and the USA did not look its best while beating France, so who knows.

We watched another episode of Good Omens (still fun) and the first episode of the most recent season of Endeavour, which has finally premiered on PBS. We were gone for the first one and missed the second one, but PBS gives us a few weeks to catch up for free if we give them our email. It was good! Although Endeavour’s moustache is not. It’s very true to 1970s style, I admit, but I keep wanting to reach into the TV and brush it off his face.

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Our #onebag travel experience

We did something slightly unusual on our Wales holiday: we each packed everything into one not-huge backpack and carried those packs ourselves for the entire trip. I say this is unusual because we didn’t meet anyone else doing this who wasn’t either camping or staying in hostels. The people we met in the inns and B&Bs we stayed in were having their luggage transported daily from one night’s destination to the next and using day packs on the walk itself. It’s not expensive to use a porter service (about £5/day), and our relatives who walked Hadrian’s Wall did it this way. So why didn’t we?

One answer is that we’re independent and like control: we didn’t want to have to think about where our stuff was and we had intended to make decisions on the fly. As it turned out we had every night’s lodging booked in advance, which meant we did have to get from one place to a designated next place and that didn’t factor in. A second answer was that we wanted to see if we could do a nearly two-week trip across a variety of conditions carrying everything ourselves, kind of like when we were young. We’ve downsized on a lot of our ten-day to two-week trips to a carry-on rollerboard, but those are still a bit awkward, especially on uneven pavements and cobblestones (not to mention having them drag behind in a crowded city).

I went down the #onebag hole on the internet and found subreddits devoted to the practice (r/onebag and r/heronebag). I watched YouTube videos and read blog posts. You will not be surprised to know that there is an entire community of people who are dedicated to traveling light, and thanks to the magic of the internet they’ve found each other.

Basically, if you’re willing to wash out your clothes and wear the same things repeatedly, you can #onebag it pretty easily, even in cooler weather. The main trick is to take clothes in materials that dry quickly and don’t wrinkle (or I guess you can take linen, which is wrinkly as a feature). In our case we also needed water-resistant and waterproof stuff, since we’d be outdoors every day.

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ReaderWriterLinks

I found this article in Wired really interesting, not least because I’ve been working on “unquantifying” my life (the quantified life is one in which you track your behavior, health, etc. to try and improve outcomes). I hadn’t heard of the “nocebo effect” before but it makes sense:

“The body’s response can be triggered by negative expectations,” says Luana Colloca, a University of Maryland neuroscientist and physician who studies placebo and nocebo effects. “It’s a mechanism of self-defense. From an evolutionary point of view, we’ve developed mechanisms to prevent dangerous situations.”

For Golden, a 38-year-old patient advocate who began with an Excel spreadsheet and later used specialized apps, tracking initially helped her provide better information to her doctor. But she became focused on every possible factor that could make her headache worse. “I’ve seen people become very obsessed with it. I was at one point,” she says. “What did I do at lunch? What did I do at dinner? It can be all-consuming.”

The symptom tracker doesn’t just reveal your highs and lows. It produces a state of anxiety—and possibly more pain.

As always, I’d like to see more studies and the underlying data, but it’s an interesting finding.


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ReaderWriterLinks

Here’s an interesting article which focuses on the rise of marketing to niche audiences in music, but is applicable to books and other cultural products. Since Game of Thrones just ended we all have to invoke it in our writing, so here’s mine: GoT stands out as a widely appealing product in a time of niche hits, and I’ve seen a number of articles pointing out that its Sunday audience exceeded Big Bang Theory’s finale numbers. But if you compare live audiences, then BBT beat GoT handily, 13.5 million to 18 million. Live broadcast TV is not quite dead. And where do they compare to series finales of the past? Neither would break the Top 10, which would require an audience of at least 35 million viewers.

But back to the point about niche markets:

Fandom is fragmenting. Streaming personalization and falling radio audiences are combining to rewrite the music marketing rulebook, ushering in a whole new marketing paradigm. Hits used to be cultural moments; artist brands built by traditional mass media. However, this fire-hydrant approach to marketing lacked both accountability and effective targeting. Now, hyper targeting, both in marketing campaigns and streaming recommendations, is creating a new type of hit and a new type of artist. Global fanbases are being built via the accumulation of local niches, while a few big hits for everyone are being replaced by many, smaller hits for individuals. Niche is the new mainstream.

We can see this in commercial fiction. Romance Twitter, as is frequently observed, doesn’t reflect the overall reading trends of the universe of romance readers (compare the waitlists for Mary Balogh at US libraries with the amount of discussion of her works on Romance Twitter, for example). But that doesn’t mean that Romance Twitter darlings don’t sell, and sell well. They just sell across different markets. They may not be Balogh level sales, but they’re healthy and can sustain careers while they’re popular.

The upside is that a lot more authors can break through. The downside is that the cultural space is fragmented and so is the discourse. Being a romance reader doesn’t mean you have the same books and authors in common anymore, at least not with as many people.


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Weeknote 5

Sorry for the delayed Weeknote and the radio silence over the last few days. I’m still recovering from the flu and we drove cross-country so I was mostly offline.

Work

I managed to do some this past week! I got out my unkillable zombie manuscript and started mapping out revisions, chapter by chapter. And they actually work. Maybe letting my brain wander around through the various options was a good idea. All that not-writing has turned into writing. Go me. I still need to finish the chapter outlines, but I will be able to keep quite a bit of what I have, which I wasn’t expecting. And the new parts are mostly things I’ve already been working on, so I don’t have as much to figure out from scratch as I originally thought.

I’m also back in meetings and admin. I am really going to pay for this semester off, I can tell already. One task is going to start this summer. Blergh. I thought I would be able to ease into old-person-colleague status and let the newly tenured, newly promoted, eager younger colleagues take over and I would just teach and do research. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Reading/Watching

I’m still reading North and South, which I’m enjoying a great deal. It’s more dramatic than I remember Cranford being, but now that I’m halfway through the romance is definitely picking up and we’ve got the impending deaths out of the way. My hold on Ali Smith’s Spring came in, so I will take a break from Gaskell and read that over the next week. It’s received some very good reviews and I’m curious to see where she goes in this seasonal installment.

In addition, spurred by an intriguing Goodreads review, I read Jarett Kobek’s latest work, Only Americans Burn in Hell. He’s the author of I Hate the Internet, which I haven’t read but now want to. OABiH is like being hit over the head with a mallet for 200+ pages, but it says a lot of things (over and over again) that I think need to be said. Kobek links consumption, surveillance, and capitalism in ways that I wish more people would pay attention to. We’re getting better with our realization that online life makes us give up a lot of privacy and control, quite apart from the cognitive effects it has on our modes of thought and interaction. But we’re still not really willing to acknowledge that the system itself is broken. We talk about the great friends we’ve made online (which is true) and the way it offers a window into the world for people who are isolated (which is also true), but we’re not really willing to confront the full individual and social costs.

I can’t decide whether to review the book on Goodreads, because (irony alert) that’s giving Amazon free content, which is part of his argument against GR and other platforms. And I’m not sure I can fully recommend it, given the mallet-to-head aspect. But I’m glad I read it.

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