On The Endless Lowering of Expectations

Owing to my business travel to Hamburg during an auspicious time, I was able to get a free night in a swanky Hyatt hotel of my choice. As usual, I procrastinated. And then:

 


I see from your email that I earned 1 free night in the Hyatt Gold Passport® Endless Possibilities promotion, But I only have until July 31, 2014 to stay.

It’s not very “endless,” now, is it?

Is there any way to extend this?

Thanks,

Daniel McSweeney


Dear Mr. McSweeney,

I apologize for the issue faced by you.

Hyatt Gold Passport Global promotion, Endless Possibilities, which allows members to choose to earn either free nights or bonus points was already completed on 30 April 2014. However I have reviewed your account and see that you have earned a Complimentary night which can be redeemed before 31 July 2014 for any upcoming future dates for a category hotel between 1-4.

I may request you to kindly advise us the stay dates so that we can process your reservation.

Looking forward towards your reply.

Best Regards,

Suraj Varma
Hyatt Gold Passport Representative
Global Contact Centre

 


Thank you,

If the offer still stands, I would like to spend a night at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa Santa Rosa, either the 11th or 18th of October, 2014.

Please let me know if there is availability.

Thank you,

Dan McSweeney

 


Dear Mr. McSweeney,

Thank you for contacting Hyatt Gold Passport; I appreciate the opportunity to assist you.

I would like to assure you that the Endless Possibilities award has expired and I am unable to extend the award.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any other assistance with your Hyatt Gold Passport account.

Best Regards,

Nagendra Rao (Mr.)
Hyatt Gold Passport Representative
Global Contact Centre

 


I contacted you on the 30th by email, is it possible to honor this?

Dan McSweeney

Res ipsa loquitur

 


Dear Daniel McSweeney,

Thank you for contacting Hyatt Gold Passport; I appreciate the opportunity to assist you.

I regret to inform you that the Endless Possibilities award has expired and I am unable to extend the award.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any other assistance with your Hyatt Gold Passport account.

Best Regards,

Wendy Mascarenhas
Hyatt Gold Passport Representative

Global Contact Centre

 


She looked up at him with moistening eyes and set down her wine, “what about us? What about The Endless Possibilities.”

“They ended,” he said.

 


Dear Mr. McSweeney,

Thank you for contacting Hyatt Gold Passport; I appreciate the opportunity to

I would like to assure you that the Endless Possibilities award has expired and I am unable to extend the award.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any other assistance with your Hyatt Gold Passport account.

Best Regards,

Nagendra Rao (Mr.)
Hyatt Gold Passport Representative
Global Contact Centre

 

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My Diva, My Daughter

I’m including some audio in my Adobe Digital Publishing Suite – DPS – book. It’s not secret anymore. I’m making an interactive Spanish Language ABC book – look for it for any talet device – FREE – Todas las letras. It’s a complicated project. And part of it is to record my daughter speaking the letters.

Image of Sophia in the studio

In the voiceover studio of the Amsterdam Room

My daughter, Sophia, 5, is independent. And despite my preparations and coaching, I was happy to get 3 takes out of her, incomplete as they were. I will be spending lots of time in Adobe Audition piecing this thing together.

The recording engineer, my brother-in-law, has an Emmy in the studio because, well, he won an Emmy. I’m not so sure if he was cool about us getting fingerprints all over it.

Is it cool to pick this thing up?

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Jonathan’s First Triathlon

First event, a 100 M swim — Jonathan did each length with measured, even strokes.

Event Two -- Jonathan speeds handily through a 2 mile ride.

 

Third and final event -- .5 mile run.

Jonathan’s chip time was 23:54, midpack for his age division 7-8 year olds — a solid showing for his first triathlon.

 

 

 

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Alternate Horizontal and Vertical Layouts – are they really necessary?

Alternate Layouts graphic.

That’s a headline intended to create controversy. I’m working with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite CS6 to publish a fiction monthly. The thing was really under control until I learned about alternate layout, or liquid layout. It’s a way of making a vertical page re-design itself, somewhat automatically, into a horizontal layout. And a true digital publication – which is not an epub, but actually an application – that you download to your tablet device should really have two layouts. But those of us who have actually done design for multiple devices, and multiple layouts for each of those devices know that it is really a pretty big project (pain point). So I ask, if you are reading an ink and paper magazine, and enjoying its glossy papery goodness, but then you switch to your Kindle Fire and read the digital version, do you really expect or even feel entitled to a horizontal version? For example; The New Yorker, I think, is one of the best designed digital magazines out there. It’s made with Adobe’s DPS, and the experience is excellent without calling attention to itself. And it has no horizontal version (at present, anyway). It makes use of scrolling pages, audio links, a way to view all the cartoons at once – which is something we all do anyway – it is a lot more than the print version, not simply a .pdf of the magazine made available digitally (Runner’s World, I’m looking at you) So while I’m going to soldier on through this design in both layouts, are there any strong opinions out there? (full disclosure; I work at Adobe, so while I talk up DPS, it’s not only because it is a truly awesome product for publishing, I also say it because I’ve got mouths to feed.)

Take the survey, a link to the responses is available at the final page.

https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=qUK4nGVg4-x78oFjr1G%2ArQ

 

2 comments

  1. denise says:

    As a publisher, I would like to think that vertical is sufficient. As a designer, I love the opportunities for creativity that alternate orientation offers. As a user, I am annoyed by anything that forces me to consume in portrait, because I have yet to find a comfortable stand for reading that way and much prefer the horizontal. So conflicted!

  2. Laura Bonaguro says:

    In my opinion double orientation should be a way to show the content doubles. I mean, horizontal is better for video, while in vertical text is read more easily. The hard part is connecting the story you’re telling with a design that harmoniously combines what is said. I like the ability to create a dialogue between the two sides. I believe this can give much respect to a single layout, especially in cases where the proposed material is plentiful and varied. In cases where the communication project works well in one, choose according to the discriminating video horizontally seems generally more suitable. However, I think the matter is to be evaluated case by case and managed to the best of his possibilities. :-)

I published from Adobe InDesign to Kindle

A few people who read my short story on Kindle asked about my workflow for including images. It wasn’t rocket science. Plus, the next time I publish it will be via the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite – which is. Rocket science.

I submitted to Kindle Singles. I wanted to publish the thing just to get it out there. Take my shot, hell, just to hear the sound the gun makes when it goes off.

I was a little surprised — though maybe not — at how easy it was. Kind of. There was some confusion. (Maybe just skip to the next paragraph.) I was expecting a traditional submission experience, and the response wasn’t totally gratifying. There was no acceptance. “Thank you for your submission, we’re pleased to tell you that it meets our criteria…”

Here’s the rub: Don’t be distracted by the E-Mail you receive a day or two later which gives you instructions on how to publish on Kindle. You might think that you’ve made it. That was easy. Too easy. As much as it sounds and feels like victory, it’s not. Read carefully. It’s an invitation to self-publish on Amazon for Kindle. Two weeks later you might probably get an email that goes something like this:

Our editors have carefully reviewed your recent submission, and it has not been selected for inclusion in the Kindle Singles store. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to consider it.

And that’s the familiar part. Are you with me? I don’t think that there was an English major interning at Amazon over the summer who read the first four pages of my short story. No, there’s a virtual Linux server (Amazon sells these, too) running a language algorithm that checks if you used the Oxford comma, or words like recalcitrant and desultory, or the active voice – these things have gotten sophisticated, people. And the Master Control Program rubber stamps a rejection. End of line. (Maybe this is not how it happens, I don’t really know.)

But I did pull the trigger when that E-Mail arrived (paragraph three, remember?). I…self-published <hangs head>. So I could say to people over lunch or, more likely for me, cocktails, that I published a story on Kindle. One way to be a writer is tell people that you’re a writer, right? Own it. Don’t dream it, be it. (Rocky Horror Picture Show)

And so here is my workflow for how I got my story formatted and uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing – which is not Kindle Singles – according to the requirements. Disclosure: I work at Adobe. I know my way around layout and image editing programs. But, if you’re handy at all, publishing for Kindle is not hard.

My workflow is Buzzword -> InDesign -> Kindle. But there are instructions for publishing from other editors like Word.

Buzzword is how I write. And maybe you should, too. You can write a piece and either publish it ( anyone with the link can get to it) or share it with individual people (people who you choose log in and can read your piece – you can assign them a role such as reviewer which allows them to leave in-line comments but not change anything, or co-author, which allows them to make changes.) Your work exists in this cloud thingy that everyone is talking about and is available to you via login on any computer.

And InDesign has an import from Buzzword menu. Too easy. You should use InDesign, I’ve got mouths to feed.

In my story, the hero, Charlie, meets two black widow spiders. The first one spooks him, while the second one…well, read the story. I wanted to include an icon-like picture of a spider to break up the text. I used some Photoshop filters to make it look like a pencil sketch. And I also searched around and found a few other iconic images to include.The image was was much bigger than I thought it would be. And I generally feel that way about spiders, too. Plus, the Kindle converter takes an image and expands it to the width of the page – stretching an image is always bad in my opinion, but this was huge, and the resolution was bad. So I gamed the system by creating the image with a bunch of white space on either side – in the picture below I’ve included a black box around the picture so you can see what the actual file is. The real one, though is just a white box.

 

And the Kindle viewer made it thusly

Bang. I win.

 

 

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Holiday Card 2011 – Photoshop Style

Click for larger image. You know, to check the clipping paths

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Blue Meanies

Blue Meanies!

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Digital Publishing 2: The Self-Publishing Stigma?

I want to clarify what this, this, book thing is, and also elucidate the tiny amount of knowledge I have about electronic book publishing. And I purposely wrote out the word, “electronic” so that it wouldn’t read as ebook or epub. Those terms have specific meanings. An ebook is a document made up of text, sometimes with pictures, intended to be read on a handheld device like a Kindle or Nook, or a computer reading application. What I hope to achieve with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite is an application itself. It is a dynamic document, part web page, part movie, part game, wrapped up in a custom viewer and posted to the Apple Appstore or Amazon Market.

That having been said, the rest of today’s post deals with how I got to the decision to try and publish this new project in this format.

Self-publishing has a stigma. That you couldn’t sell your manuscript.

When I was sixteen I sent a short story to The New Yorker for consideration. It was called, “The Emblem,” and had no action, really, just a conversation between a young married couple while sitting in a broken down Mercedes. I had been reading Salinger and Updike and Vonnegut, and figured that I would start collecting rejection letters; The New Yorker obliged me. It was strangely validating, even for a moody sixteen year old. Flash forward almost thirty years and I have a few more, somewhat more sophisticated, short stories. One of them, Their Constant Breathing, is about two college friends who come from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the late nineties to join the dot com gold rush. At some point recently, because I have no editor, I declared it “finished,” And tried to get it accepted for publication. I was naiively haphazard about this. I tried the thing at 52 Stories, Cal Morgan’s extension of Random House, because some friends had published short stories there, and because the site beckons:

“What would you pay for the perfect short story? To read it? To write it? Don’t post your answer. Instead write the story.”

I was Cal Morgan’s 1,000th twitter follower. And I brought to his attention, which got me enough notice that he said he’d read my story. But I didn’t hear from him again. I tried McSweeney’s because I’ve been a subscriber since the beginning, and because, at least originally, McSweeney’s published only writers who weren’t published elsewhere. And I’ve always thought they were cool. I’ve run into Dave Eggers a few times, which illogically made it feel possible that I’d have a chance. I actually mailed them a paper manuscript with a SASE. But I haven’t heard back from them.  then my college lit magazine, The Santa Clara Review, but the piece was too long for them – which is also a form of rejection.

Three writers, one dreamer.

Dan Chaon, Dan McSweeney, Dave Eggers, Tom Barbash, three authors, one dreamer.

the length of the thing was kind of a problem. At close to 10,000 words it was pushing the limits of a short story. My friend, the author Dan Chaon, told me it was a novel, “It has to be,” he told me over the phone from Ohio, “look at all the things you have going on.” That was both an exciting and daunting proclamation. That I could write a novel, and that I wasn’t finished with my story.

And then Amazon hit me with a clever one-two punch. The jab was Kindle Singles, and the roundhouse was Kindle Direct Publishing. When I read about Kindle Singles on twitter, I was excited.

Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length. 
Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format.

Amen, Brother! I was home. I decided to pull the trigger, if for no other reason than to hear the sound of the gun. I sent a short query letter and the first thousand words of my story for consideration in Kindle Singles. The website promised a response in ten days. On or about day three I got an E-Mail from Kindle giving me instructions on how to prepare a story for the Kindle reader. Great, well, this is certainly just a formality, I thought. They’re desperate for content and they want me to have this thing ready to go for when they accept it. But on closer inspection, the message was from Kindle Direct Publishing. Translation: Self publish on Kindle. And a few days later I got a rejection from Kindle Singles. But I still wanted to hear the sound of the gun going off, and so, defeated, I (self) published on Kindle Direct Publishing.

When you publish for Kindle, you are publishing an a text document and converting it to their proprietary format. (the discussion of Kindle so far is pre-Kindle Fire) You can break it into chapters, and pictures and diagrams of limited resolution and size. Nothing too fancy, like drop caps. But it’s simple. In fact there is a plug-in for Adobe InDesign that spits out your finished product. And there is a preview application so you can see what it will look like. You can make it available for free, or charge from ninety-nine cents up to whatever you want. I went for ninety-nine cents: I wanted to feel like an author, but still make it cheap – it was, after all my first manuscript.

I’m not an economist, but let me speculate on what looks to me like free money here for Amazon. The revenue share between you, the author, and Amazon, the publisher, is some percentage based on whether it is in the public domain or you own the copyright. In my case 35%. So far, ten people have bought my story ( I think I know them all, thank you – my sales rank is #356,616.) So my take three-fifty. But Amazon doesn’t send checks less than ten dollars. See? Free money. How many dreamers out there, like me, are earning Amazon <ten dollars each?

But I’m not complaining. I got the full treatment. I have an author’s page on Amazon. Just type in Dan McSweeney at Amazon and see it. And hey, buy my story for ninety-nice cents – if you don’t like it, I’ll send you a dollar, you’ll make a 1% profit.

My Author's Page at Amazon

 

 

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Digital Publishing: Dan writes a book. See Dan Write. Write, Dan, write.

I was reading the liner notes to an LP of the Byrds Greatest Hits. And like the lyrics of most of the songs, things made little sense. But I associated the opening line of the review to what’s changing in the publishing world right now. Plus, I dig the music.

 

The Byrds Greatest Hits

"Crimson flames tied through my years ... etc"

 

 

Things are happening so incredibly fast.

Which is so very true – about The Byrds in the 60’s and about digital publishing now. Dave Swaney, presumably a copywriter for Columbia Records, wrote:

Whatever, their thing was beautiful and heavy and will be as it is. Lasting. 

“Heavy” shouldn’t be taken too literally, digital books don’t weigh anything (don’t get technical about that, please. My dad is a nuclear chemist, he could probably weigh a digital book.) But they are beautiful. Many are richly designed with interactive features. On Martha Stewart Living, a rose blooms in time-lapse on your tablet device while you read. You can scroll a panorama of the Stewart ranch, horses, lavender, good things. It’s amazing stuff, and I want in.

The “lasting” part above makes many of us pen and ink people nervous. We like books, and we like independant bookstores. Conveniently, the Bryds liner notes also cover this handily:

But it is good to be nostalgic, and necessary to find one’s rung and so much good was the start of so many better things happening and about to happen. So why not?

“Things happening, and about to happen.” Which is a really groovy way for me to introduce my new publishing project. I’m going to write, design, and publish a single edition for Android and iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite, or DPS. And as a sideline, I’m going to write about the experience here on my blog complete with caveats, lessons learned, frustrations, and variorum (Thanks, Michael Chabon, for that word). It’s my first time. And while I have published for Kindle and for Nook, this is a completely different and far more intricate endeavor. It’ll get messy.

This project is going to go on for awhile. Like any good song or book, it’s a hero’s journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It will be fraught. Additionally, I have a family which includes two young children, and a full-time job in Information Technology, so be patient. And speaking of that job in IT – it’s at Adobe Systems in San Jose, the makers of InDesign and the Digital Publishing Suite. I mention that both as an attempt at full disclosure, but also to indicate that I intend to call the phones and knock on the doors when I can’t figure things out. I will bribe my colleagues to help me succeed. Nobody put me up to this, by the way. It’s all me.

While I gather my moxie, do some background reading on what the DPS is by following this link.

http://help.adobe.com/en_US/digitalpubsuite/using/WS67cb9e293e2f1f6032817afa1337a03d59b-7fff.html

Leave a comment or ask questions if you like. And check back every few days.

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Toward a Spider Free Existence

Now I’m nevous. What I’m doing can’t be completely legal. I’m walking around the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and I’m carrying what might be an invasive species in my backpack. It’s a spider, and in addition to being a non-native species, it might be deadly. And the spider is alive.

Last night my wife, Sandra, encountered a big brown spider – about a two inch legspan – in our son’s bedroom. In many ways, Sandra is braver than I am. And while I normally dispatch bugs that find their way into the house, I wasn’t home. She was a mother hen protecting her children. She scooped up a spider the size of a Buick and secured it in a plastic container.

Zoropsis Spinimana aka: Big Hairy Spider

On my arrival home Sandra told me about the big spider she had captured. I immediately went to my creepy place. I don’t like spiders at all. (I published a short story in which a spider causes some small disaster to an internet company, titled Their Constant Breathing for Kindle, and for Nook ) And of course I assumed that it was dangerous. Brown recluse spiders are not supposed to live this far West, but I’m sure it could happen. I held the container and looked at the invader. It was brown, hairy, long-legged – all traits of spiders that I disliked – it had angular markings on its thorax and abdomen, and had two large-ish pincer-looking structures hanging near its mouth.

I started looking at spider taxonomies online. There are a lot of spider pictures on the web. (ha-ha, I wasn’t even trying) I ruled out Brown Recluse – the legs weren’t translucent and there was no violin shape on its back. That was a relief. After some more searcing, I had the thing narrowed down to Grass Spider or Hobo Spider. And I couldn’t really tell the difference from there. And my relief was shot, Grass Spider: harmless, Hobo Spider: just about as dangerous as a Brown Recluse.

And then I found an authoritative site from UC Berkeley which was billed as Frequently Encountered Spiders in California. The pictures were big and clear, and toward the bottom I found a portrait of, possibly, our monster bearing the caption: “A recently arrived mediterranean invasive, now found in the Bay Area. If you see this spider, please contact Darrell Ubick at the California Academy of Science.” Ominous. Nothing more was said about the spider itself – like maybe if it was dangerous. Amazingly, we were headed there the next day to chaperone a field trip for our son’s second grade class from River Glen School. The coincidence was awesome. Seriously, what are the odds? (well, the odds are 1:1, because it happened.) I decided that I would bring this monster along on Thursday and deliver it in person. It spent Wednesday night in a vented plastic container in our garage.

Of course, I had a nightmare about it. In my dream, Darrell Ubick was wrestling the struggling creature down to a board with pins so that he could subject it to his scanning electron microscope. Dreams are like postcards from your subconscious, but this scenario was probably pretty close to what was

Spidey riding in the back seat.

actually going to happen. By the morning, though, I had somehow made my peace with the spider. It was creepy, may have been deadly, but still, it rode in the backseat of my car up to the city, and then in my backpack all morning. Sandra asked me where it was. I pointed to my back, her eyes grew big.

So I found my way to the Naturalist Center on the third floor. And there my theories were validated, my fears were assuaged, my feathers smoothed. There I met Alison Young.

Alison Young has bright eyes and a disarming smile. And her squeamish rating, unike mine,

Alison Young from the Academy of Sciences - not afraid of spiders.

appears to be very nearly zero. When I asked if she’d like to look at the spider she perked up and nodded. It took her less than ten seconds to identify it: “Yes, that’s definitely zoropsis.” She said. I could not wait to tell Sandra this news.

Alison showed me a Google Earth map with a pin for every location that one of these spiders had been found – most in the South Bay. The year-by-year number of sightings grew, and to date there are over a hundred. Not severely invasive, not pushing any other species out yet, but still something that the Academy is tracking.

Zoropsis Spinimana sightings in California

It’s a good time to mention this; the spider is harmless to us humans. Alison showed a video of the spider crawling on the soft palm of someone’s hand. I had to look away. I am creeped out by spiders, I said that before. here’s a list of five things I really never want in my hand. In increasing order:

A snail
Cat food
Flaming wood
One of my own organs
This spider

Other facts: This one that Sandra had caught is a male, the females are bigger. (Bigger!) Good news, though, since it meant we wouldn’t find any egg sacks…hopefully. It’s realted to the Wolf spider – both are hunters. They do not spin webs. The first known specimen was found in Sunnyvale. Alison told me

Naturalist Center at The California Academy of Sciences

that they mostly received dead spiders (squashed, no doubt) or photos of them. A live one was a rarity. I filled out a form that included the exact location where Sandra had found it. I later learned that Darrell Ubick had picked up the specimen on his way to a meeting. I pictured him in a meeting with a live spider languishing in a container next to him. This probably happens all the time in his field. I didn’t have the chance to meet him, but read his background on the Academy website, with something like a hundred publications – he is a man who knows his bugs. Alison told us that he would catalog Sandra’s spider into the Academy’s archives.

I was not sentimental about leaving the arachnid behind. And Sandra, you’re some kind of field research fellow for the California Academy of Sciences, now. So I might ask you to do more insect duty at home.

Some other pictures from the second grade trip to the California Academy of Sciences. Thanks to the parents and teachers who made it happen.

3 comments

  1. Jeffrey Warnock says:

    Great write up, Dan… So, ya know… I had a pet Tarantula for 19 years. I bought her in college to use as a model for a sculpture. She lived with me in Stockton, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Santa Barbara, Modesto, and San Francisco, I even brought her to Lake Tahoe with me when i went up there for a couple weeks. Her name was Rosie.

  2. Saurabh says:

    Very nicely put Dan..

    i’m sure parents and relatives of this spider wud like to thank you for the spider became the inspiration of this writeup..
    jokes apart, it is a good read.

  3. So you’ve met Zoro, the dashing newcomer! Kudos to you for your kindness toward a creature that gave you the willies; I wish there were more open-minded arachnophobes like you, Dan. You’ve also given an example of how good information can drive out bad, as long as someone’s willing to take the step of seeking out the good information.

    I enjoy running into Zoropsis in my WG home and always relocate it to the garage, where the climate is still mild and there are plenty of other bugs and spiders to eat.

    Viva Zoro!