December 31, 2005

The incredible changing human …

I talked about careware and people caring less about money and more about people, yesterday. But I find myself wondering, would I behave the same way if I was making money? I know of people who once they start making money, can’t do anything but think of making more money. It seems to be a sort of a disease, or an obsession. Once you start making money, nothing seems to be enough. Is this human nature or just the way some people are? I don’t know enough not having ever made so much money that I never knew what to do with it – but I find myself wondering.

Till the present day, I’ve never wanted money badly. Sure, there are times I’d wish that I had more money so that I could buy a new gadget or a bunch of books or things like that. But I’ve never been driven to try to make money at all costs so that I could have more money. In fact, some of the people close to me disparage my total lack of interest in money. But I find myself wondering if this is who I am or if I am not interested in money because I don’t have any :p If I started making money, would I be like all those other people? Would I stop enjoying life, stop caring about other people and their problems and simply concentrate on making more money? Would I even want such a life? I don’t know …

But what I do know is what I think, feel and believe right now. And what I think is that life isn’t about material stuff. Sure the material possessions and money makes life easier and a lot more comfortable. But the trick is in knowing when you have enough. As human beings, we appear to never be satisfied with what we have. We always want something more, something new. But if we can learn to balance this yearning against appreciation for all that we currently have and to think about those unfortunates who don’t even have what we have, I think our lives will be much fuller and far less unhappy. But can we really do all this as human beings? That is a question that each and every one of us will have to answer for ourselves ….

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Posted by Fahim at 7:35 am  |  No Comments

December 30, 2005

Show me the care

I’ve been releasing my software as Careware for years now. It’s not freeware – there is a price to pay. The price is that you care about the people around you and lend them a helping hand whenever you can or make somebody’s day just a tiny bit brighter by doing something as simple as smiling. However, I don’t know how many people are actually aware of this and how many actually read the text in the Help dialog in my applications which always talks about Careware. I’ve only heard from a handful of people over the years about the careware concept. They all think it’s a good idea but is anybody actually following through? This is what I wonder at certain times.

I’ve been thinking about that and other stuff recently when I started the search for a cover artist. I spoke to quite a few very talented artists but most of them wanted money, lots of it and up front, before they would do any work. Now considering how talented these people are, I don’t blame them at all for wanting to be paid. But what I question is, do they only care about the money? Or is it that everybody is being hit by scammers left right and center that trust is fast disappearing? People have often told me, even urged me, to sell my software. I don’t want to. As a matter of principle, I don’t feel right about doing that. I enjoyed writing the software, I like using it and I want other people to have the same joy too. So I give it away.

Of course, just because I do that, I can’t expect everybody to give their work away now can, I? I wasn’t though. I was offering to pay as much as I could – just not up front since I don’t have that kind of cash. However, I did offer each artist I contacted, the option to be paid in a share of the profits and I was totally serious. I don’t want to make oodles of money, I just want to be able to make enough to be able to give up working for a living and concentrate on writing full time. So I don’t mind sharing whatever profits I make at all. But then again, when you’re unproven quality, you really can’t blame the other person, can you?

Of course, it’s not all gloomy 🙂 I’ve found a few people who didn’t care about the money as much as the satisfaction of doing the work or who were just all around nice people. They’ve offered to do the work and let me pay them whatever I could. I just wish there were more such people around – not because it benefits me personally but because the world would be a much nicer place if everybody cared just a little bit more about the things that mattered ….

Posted by Fahim at 7:34 am  |  1 Comment

December 29, 2005

In the soup …

We had seen Prachya Pinkaew’s "Ong-bak" a while back and really liked it. It had really bad sub-titles but then again it was a Thai movie and they may have language issues getting the translations done. The sub-titles still manage to convey the basic meaning and there was a good story, very good action and a really funny trishaw chase scene that Laurie still talks about 🙂 It was a very natural kind of movie and as the tagline for the movie states, "No stunt doubles, no computer images, no strings attached". Plus, Prachya Pinkaew seems to have a bit of Steven Spielberg hang-up and I like that too 🙂

So, when we saw Prachya Pinkaew’s second movie "Tom yum goong", we picked it up immediately. We watched it yesterday and this was a far cry from "Ong-bak" 🙁 This movie had hardly any story and seemed to be simply an adrenalin-pumping action flick which just kept pouring more and more of the action on. This one had very poor sub-titles as well but then again, you don’t really need sub-titles to translate the sound of breaking bones :p That’s what most of the movie consisted of – not much talk but lot of breaking arms, legs, ribs, heads and any other bone out of the 206 in the human body. The language was also mostly really bad English and probably Chinese and so they had Thai sub-titles which totally covered the English sub-titles :p

The action was over the top, and as I mentioned before, non-stop. There is one scene where Tony Jaa beats up black-suited guys who keep coming at him non-stop. When he’s done, the whole room is littered with bodies. Very reminiscent of a similar scene in "Kill Bill" where the Bride leaves a room littered with ninja warriors or something. Then there was the final fight that Tony Jaa’s character has with what I like to call "Blondie and the Steroid Triplets". It’s funny in a way. You have these four huge, muscle bound wrestler types going against this tiny Thai guy. They even throw a baby elephant through a glass-window, I kid you not. And then Tony Jaa straps on a pair of elephant bones to his arms and (literally) hamstrings them :p

Yeah, that’s not the whole story. But if you expect a story, there isn’t much. But if you just want to enjoy some really good martial arts moves and aren’t turned off by the sight of bones being broken and arms pulled out of their sockets as if the bad guys were so many dolls that Tony Jaa’s playing with, by all means go ahead and watch the movie 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:34 am  |  1 Comment

December 28, 2005

Not on the right track …

I’ve been working on WriteTrack whenever I have a spare moment. In case you’re wondering, WriteTrack is this submission tracking program that I’ve been working on. When I first started submitting my novel to agents, I didn’t keep track of submissions at all. Then, when I started seeing the same agent listed on another website and couldn’t remember if I’d queried them or not, I began keeping track in an Excel spreadsheet. I wanted to write WriteTrack at that point but I was too busy with other stuff to actually get around to it.

Now that I’m becalmed again, waiting for an agent to get back to me, I thought I might as well get started on the project. Especially since this agent is really taking their time and it probably will end up in me looking for another agent after I finally hear back from them :p I’d looked at a few other submission tracking applications out there and while I liked some of them, none of them had all the features I wanted. I didn’t simply want a tool to track submissions I’d already made, I wanted a tool which would actually do the submissions for me as well. Doing the first part, tracking submissions that I’d already made, turned out to be rather easy and so I got that done and put the first beta of WriteTrack up for download – go on over to the Bits & Bytes page and get your copy if you’re interested 🙂

The next part, the one I really wanted, proved to be a bit tougher. Not only did I need a mail merge facility so that I can have a template which could be filled in with random bits of data such a agent details, book title, synopsis etc., I also needed a way for the user to select multiple contacts/agents from a list and then either mail them or e-mail them enmass. I haven’t even gotten around to the e-mail part though I’m hoping to use the default mailing app on the user computer and simply send all the information over to the mailing app via MAPI or something. What I’m stuck on at the moment is setting up a user-friendly mechanism to select multiple contacts :p Sure, you can do the whole CTRL+click or SHIFT+click thing but that is not intuitive. It would be much easier if the user had a list of contacts and they could check a box to indicate that they wanted to mail such and such a contact – but that’s proving to be harder than I thought with the approach I’m taking. Oh well, sooner or later I’ll crack it I guess …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:45 am  |  No Comments

December 27, 2005

Lost …

We watched "The Wild Guys" yesterday and going in, I expected it to be pretty bad. Most of the reviews of the movie said stuff like "this is the worst example of Canadian movie-making", "this sets the bar so low that even a midget would have to do the limbo" (I made that one up :p) etc. I expected it to be utterly bad and the first hour or so appeared to prove them right. The movie was slow moving, lots of talking but nothing much else going on. But then, towards the latter half, magic happened. You could actually sympathize with the characters and come to understand what made them who they are. You could laugh with them, instead of at them, and you could actually empathize with the plights that some of them found themselves in.

It’s not a movie with a lot of action. No siree Bob (and he wasn’t even watching the movie :p). It’s in fact a talking heads movie. But the talk is interesting and meaningful. Well, perhaps not at first but the talk the guys have by the campfire was extremely insightful and made up for the whole of the rest of the movie. I forget the specifics (I’ll have to watch the movie again :p) but it was basically about how all of us are lost in our own ways and are just trying to find our way in this confusing world. It made a lot of sense. So if you have nothing better to do and are feeling in the mood for some soul-searching, get the movie :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:51 am  |  No Comments

December 26, 2005

For want of an artist … (the book was lost?)

I’ve been considering Publish on Demand very seriously lately. I’m tired of waiting for agents to respond, the long delays, the lack of communication and the exclusivity that they all seem to require from you. Once an agent accepts your book to read, you can’t submit it to anybody else. Or, they phrase it as, "we’d prefer that you didn’t" or "we give more consideration to exclusive works". I’m sure there are plenty of people who go ahead and submit to multiple agents at the same time and even have a few agents/publishers reading their manuscript at the same time as well but it feels somewhat dishonest to say that somebody is exclusive and then do something else.

However, as I mentioned before, I’ve gotten tired of all the waiting. I’m a naturally impatient person and waiting without any updates makes me even more impatient. If somebody told me, "OK, we will be done by such and such a date and we’ll update you then", that works for me. But if somebody tells me that they’ll update me and then don’t, that makes me even more impatient. Yeah, it’s all my fault :p

The thing is, I’ve got six other books (at least) that I want to write. But I don’t want to proceed with them till I’ve figured out where the first one has gone or is going to go. The direction of the first book will to an extent decide how the others evolve. So, I’ve been impatiently waiting for something to develop with the first book and I’m tired of waiting any longer. Once I’d done the research on Lulu a couple of days ago, I was leaning more and more towards going with them and so putting the waiting to an end once and for all. Unfortunately, there is one thing stopping me – a good cover 🙂

I don’t want to slap any cover on my book and start publishing it – I want the right cover. I had looked around for artists and I had finally found somebody a few months back. He seemed perfect and I really liked his work. It turned out to be a bit of a struggle to find contact information for him but I was able to finally contact him and then it turned out that book covers weren’t cheap 🙁 This guy was a nice guy though and when I told him that I couldn’t pay him much since I didn’t have a book deal and might even have to self-publish, he said that he’d read the book and if he liked it, he’d do the cover and will wait for payment until such time as I could pay him or get a publisher. I sent him the manuscript but haven’t heard from him since then.

I tried to contact him a couple of times but nothing. However, after I sent him off the second e-mail yesterday, I did something I should have done in the first place, I went to his site and took a look :p It appears that he has been pretty busy – gotten married, gone for big conference and so on. So that’s a lot of stuff to take up two months and might explain why I haven’t heard from him. However, since I haven’t heard a word from him at all, I have to conclude that perhaps he’s too busy (or too annoyed by my queries :p) to do anything about my cover. So I’m on the look out for another artist now … Anybody out there? Anybody at all?? :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:20 am  |  No Comments

December 25, 2005

Pressing Matters

WordPress 2.0 is right around the corner. They released RC3 (Release Candidate 3) a few days ago and I downloaded it but have been too busy (or too lazy :p) to do much with it. I read up on what was new in WP 2.0 a few days ago after I downloaded the RC and none of it was actually appealing from an end-user point of view :p Most of the major changes are under the hood or in the admin panel. The under the hood changes promise new plugins and new functionality further down the road and the admin panel changes gives you pretty coloured feedback on when you delete a line or activate a theme. From an end-user perspective, big deal!

Of course, I’m not belittling all of the hardwork put in by the WordPress developers. But then again, given that when I came into WordPress a couple of years ago and they were working on WP 1.3 (I think?) there was all this talk about multiple blogs from the same WordPress installation. Every new release would be accompanied by the (perhaps implied) promise that multiple blogs were right around the corner and would be there soon. Now WordPress 2.0 has come around and it appears that the developers have dropped multiple blogs altogether since there are other projects around working on this. I feel cheated :p

When I switched from Movable Type to WordPress, I wanted a blogging system that would handle multiple blogs. There were other reasons for the move but at that point, one of the deciding factors in me picking WordPress was the fact that multiple blogs were supposed to be "just around the corner". Of course, it’s beside the fact that I don’t really need the multiple blogs functionality anymore – I still feel cheated :p Yes, I’ll stop whining about the multiple blog support now … though I might try to get at least one more whine in before this entry is complete 🙂

Overall, I’m happy with WP as it is. It does the job and some of the plugins actually make it totally worthwhile. For instance, Bad Behaviour and Spam Karma have almost eliminated all spam comments from my blog – now that’s a great thing. However, I don’t get a feel for where WordPress overall as a blogging tool is heading at the moment and that makes me wonder if I should start looking at alternatives again … and yes, I’d want an alternative which also has multiple blog functionality :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:39 am  |  1 Comment

December 24, 2005

To Publish and be Damned?

Nige mentioned Print on Demand (PoD) services a couple of days ago when we were discussing books and different publishing/distribution methods. I had briefly looked into PoD myself at several points but most of the operations I had come across had been mere scams and not really legitimate publishers. Nige had however, mentioned Xlibris and I went over there yesterday to see what the deal was.

I was impressed at first since they were billed as a strategic partner of Random House Ventures – that had to be legit, right? I then took a look at their prices and some of my enthusiasm ebbed. $500 for the lowest cost package and then prices going from $900 to $1600 to set up? That seemed a bit steep. So I went into the details for each package and checked to see what you’d get for such high prices. What stood out from the list of features for each package was not really a feature – at least, not as far as I was concerned. Royalties of 10% – 25%? Were they insane? I was supposed to pay $500 (at least) to setup a publishing deal with them, print my book through them and still only get 10% of the profit? (The 25% was if you did any direct sales and how many books do you think I was going to sell going door to door? :p) I said bugger that decided to look for other options at this point.

I spoke to Laurie about this and she mentioned Lulu. So today in the morning, I moseyed on over to their website and was much more impressed. They had no setup fees, they took 20% off your profits (or rather tacked on a bit to your profit to give them 20%) and they seemed to have a better community and support system set up to deal with all of this. Oh yeah, they even let you sell the electronic version of your book through their site for free whereas Xlibris wanted a slice of that action as well (or at least, that’s what it seemed like to me when I read their site). Actually, I have to revise that after having gone through Lulu’s FAQ’s again – they do want 20% off of all e-books sold on their site but still, that’s better than giving 90% to Xlibris :p

The catch? Well, I’m still trying to work out how book prices are set at Lulu. They say that it is cost of publishing + royalty + Lulu commission but they say the cost of publishing varies on the number of copies printed. Since this is print on demand, this would appear to mean that the cost of the book varies all the time! If somebody bought 1 copy of my book, they would end up paying around $13.50 if the book was about 350 pages and I added a mark up of about $1.50 as my profit. However, if somebody bought 100 copies and so placed a print order for 100 books, it would cost them only around $11.50 – it sounds a bit complicated and confusing. Maybe I’m getting things mixed up … I’ll have to do a little more research and also look at a few more PoD outfits 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:56 am  |  No Comments

December 23, 2005

Requiescat in Pace, Artorius

We watched "King Arthur" yesterday. I mean the one released in 2004 with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley since there have been quite a few re-tellings of the Arthurian legend over the years. I was half afraid that this would be another re-hash of the tired old story but those fears were put to rest when the movie began with the following words: "Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero who lived a thousand years earlier in a period often called the Dark Ages. Recently discovered archeological evidence sheds light on his true identity." In fact, I spent most of my time after that worrying about the historical accuracy of the movie to worry about the story :p So this is going to be about the history in the movie and not about the movie itself – it’s fairly entertaining and if you like the Arthurian legends, you’ll definitely enjoy it.

I initially thought that the movie was a bunch of bull and that most of their "historical" facts were inaccurate or misplaced. Upon later investigation though, I found that most of it was either historically accurate and that in fact, they had obtained the services of a historian, who himself believed that the story of Arthur had historical basis, as consultant for the movie. Anyway, for anybody who is as nitpicky as me, here are the points that struck me and a brief discussion about them :p

The movie opens with a story about Sarmatians and I was immediately up in arms. My reaction was, "here’s another movie inventing a fictitious people for story purposes". Turns out that the Sarmatians did indeed exist. They would be Iranians in today’s terminology. Apparently, they were pretty similar to the Scythians (whom I did know about :p) There is an interesting similarity between the Sarmatians and the Picts (who also appear in the movie) – they both had their women participate in warfare. I didn’t find anything about the Sarmatian pact to send their children to serve in the Roman army but there is evidence that Sarmatians served in some of the Roman garrisons in Britain.

Then comes the whole "knight" thing and while it’s a nitpick, it’s a sore point with me :p The term "knight" did not actually come into origin till about 1100AD and this particular story is set around 5th century AD. Since the Arthurian legends are usually set in the medieval period, the term knight is used when referring to Arthur and his men. However, there were no "knights" in the Roman army. The closest term from the Roman period was Equestrian – a member of the upper social classes. While this term (and what it implied) is pretty near that of a knight, I don’t believe that the Sarmatian’s, who were more or less conscripted into the Roman army, were in a position to be part of the upper social class. So the only "knight" in the merry band would have been Arthur. But I nitpick :p

The story progresses and we have the Woads enter the scene. Now what they call Woads in the movie are actually Picts – a group of tribes from what today is called Scotland. The term woad comes from the plant they were supposed to have used to obtain the dye for the intricate tattoos that covered the bodies of the Picts. One comment suggests that the term Woads was used to convey the sense that it was a derogatory military term, like many others used since like Pandy in India by the British or Gook in most of Asia by the US or hundreds of other epithets used by soldiers throughout history to identify the "enemy".

I had other doubts about Christianity in Britain at this time period, about a pope being there in Rome and a few other things. I thought that historically the events were either too early or too late. But turns out I was wrong :p Most of these things did take place (or were at least possible) by around 5th century AD. So overall, it does appear as if the movie is indeed as historically accurate as the movie makers claim. Now I don’t know about the little tiny details – there probably are plenty of anachronisms and slip-ups (there usually are :p) but at least the base facts seem to be straight 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:31 am  |  1 Comment

December 22, 2005

The Games People Play ….

I was offered a job a few days ago by a good friend. I had used to work for the same company but in a different department and I’d quit due to certain differences that I had with one of the people in my department. She (my friend) asked me if I’d like a job in her department and I said "yes" since I liked the company and I was getting a bit stressed out at my current job. She, being the nice person she is, didn’t think it was going to be any issue with my former boss but I wasn’t so sure. Turns out that my fears were well grounded :p

My friend had asked the head of her department (who we’ll call C) to ask the head of my former department (who we’ll call L) whether L had any objection’s to C’s department hiring me. My friend didn’t think this would be a problem since I had not been fired and I’d quit. But the thing was, I knew I would have been fired if I’d stayed there much longer :p Not because I was incompetent mind you – in fact, I was certain I was about to be fired one week when I was saved by the Director of Operations of the company handing me a case where I resolved the issue and turned the customer around. They liked how I helped them so much that they went to WebHostingTalk forums and raved about me and how I’d helped them. I believe the Director of Operations pointed this particular forum thread to L and she was all praises and smiles for a while. Of course, I knew it was too good to last and so looked around for another job, found it and quit. Yeah, call me paranoid but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you :p

So what has all of this to do with this current job offer? Well, the fact is that the reason that L didn’t like me was because her department was being run like a Nazi concentration camp :p You were supposed to do what you were told, no questions asked. I don’t believe any organization should be run that way. Sure, I’m always loyal to the company I work for but I should also have the opportunity to question something if I feel it is wrong. If they tell me, hey, these are the reasons that we do things this way, I’d be happy. After all, at least they gave me the option to voice my doubts. I had tried that with L and had been shot down and told curtly that the forum I used (internal department e-mail) wasn’t the place for such discussion. After a couple of questions like that, I knew my days were numbered and that’s why I left in the first place.

Now, when C asked L about hiring me, L had said that I had told a customer that I didn’t agree with company policy and so I wasn’t a good choice. Now, I complain a lot internally if I don’t think something is right, but I don’t go tell customers that. As far as I can recall, what L said is a blatant lie. What gets me is that she is able to make an accusation like that with impunity knowing that I can never refute her – what are they going to do? Hold a court inquiry to prove my innocence :p I don’t think I personally could do that – tell such an obvious lie about somebody without any compunction. I’d be like, "Hey, they’d know I was lying … what if they questioned me?" But in L’s case, thinking back about it, I guess it’s sheer brilliance – who is going to question her word over that of somebody who no longer worked in the company and who would have no way to defend themselves?

I was slightly irritated when I started this post but now I’m simply amused :p It was a nice stroke of corporate gamesmanship and while I can be magnanimous and try to believe that L honestly made a mistake and confused my internal complaints with something else, I am more than 80% certain that this wasn’t the case. Ah well, rest assured that this will make it’s way into a book someday :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:36 am  |  No Comments

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