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What I watched while I was sick

What I thought was just bad allergies on Friday turned into a full-blown head-cold throughout the weekend and even into Monday. Yay, 3-day weekend spent barely being able to move off the couch. Woohoo!

Seriously, there needs to be a sarcasm font.

I’m a comfort food kind of a guy when it comes to sick TV. For me that’s episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Buffy (with some Angel and an odd 30 Rock and Excel Saga thrown in for flavor).

You can tell I was sick by the fact that my TNG watching mainly focused on Season 1 and 2 episodes, which my wife mistook for TOS episodes from the other room. No blame there. Also, there’s really no justified time to be watching Excel Saga even in small doses.

I don’t tend to consume new things when sick, but I did pick one off the back-burner to try, and it was by the far the best way to distract myself from being miserable: BBC’s Luther staring Idris Elba.

luther-season-3-poster

Pros:

  • Morally ambiguous main character. “Does dirty things but isn’t a dirty cop.”
  • Opening theme by Massive Attack, title sequence kind of reminds me of Jessica Jones.
  • Female foil equal parts antagonist and ally.
  • Crime procedural focused more on psychological elements rather than CSI’ing everything. We’re not trying to figure out who did the crime (we’re usually shown this pretty early). We’re waiting for our characters to find the baddie and figure out how they’ll ultimately take them down.
  • Wonderfully shot from the first scene. Mixes old and modern London.
  • Series long arcs particularly in the first series with great payoff and confrontations.
  • Characters experience some growth and change between series, particularly DS Ripley.

Cons:

  • Seriously! Only 16 episodes for 4 series! We’ve watched 12 of the 14 on Netflix and will probably buy the remaining two from Amazon. Pay Idris whatever he wants and make more!
  • Not really a con, but I do think I liked the six separate case structure of the first series as opposed to the two 2-part episodes in Series 2 and 3. Might feel different if there were 6 episodes (three stories) in series 2-3 (more in the Inspector Lewis model).

One other thing we noticed is that the show doesn’t always have the positive outcomes that American shows always do. In America, if we see both the abduction and later scenes with the character still alive in captivity, we know the detective is going to get to them in time. Don’t assume the same thing for Luther. The show doesn’t operate in a fantasy world, even though some fantastical things happen.

I know this has been out there for a while, but if you have a Netflix account and have never seen it, you really should try it out. We were hooked by the first few episodes.

Here’s to getting through the day then collapsing back on the couch.

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What writers want from readers

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Writers shouldn’t work for free.

There’s been a bit of an internet brouhaha over a request made by one particular reader:*

“[To author] I wanted to tell you that your books are above par and you should be proud. I was able to read them all, but sadly I returned them all because they range from $0.99 to $2.99 and that is just too much for me to spend on a ebook. Can you please make all your books in the future free so I do not have to return it?”

This post is not intended to add to the shaming of this person, which as I understand it has been quite substantial.

As a self-published author, you have to wear both the customer and the business hat. So let’s break this down from both sides.

As a reader I like to read a lot of interesting books and I like to get a return on my media investment. I will often seek out the minimum possible price I can pay for a book, or I might even borrow it from the library. I joined NetGalley in part to get access to some stuff that I might not have checked out otherwise, which has led me to some of my favorite authors. I always shop used bookstores, and the idea that $9.99 is somehow cheap for a book is ludicrous to me.

And even $0.99 can be a barrier to entry. A lot of people focus on the money part of the original post. $0.99  – $2.99 is not that much money, so what’s the matter with this person? But $0.99 might be a lot to some individuals, and I certainly can’t buy every $0.99 book I see.

And you know what I do when $0.99 seems like too much to buy a book? I don’t buy it. I don’t return it after buying it and reading the whole thing. I don’t buy it at all. That’s how this works as a reader. The writer charges whatever they want, and then I as the reader figure out if I think it’s worth it. Since Amazon let’s me sample the first 5% of the book for free, I usually have all the information I need to make that decision. That’s what this reader did wrong. They bought the book, enjoyed the book, and felt they should be able to keep it without spending any money. And they expected the writer to continue to provide free entertainment.

As a writer my #1 priority is getting you to read my book. I work just as hard to get my book into libraries as I do to get them in bookstores. Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach can be borrowed from Kindle Unlimited (for which I do get slightly compensated), and it can be borrowed from my local library in digital form. I recently put Surreality in a digital lending system called SelfE designed to get it front of library patrons who use an app called BiblioBoard. I try to make sure all my books are released DRM free so you truly own them when you buy them, and I try to price them so you can buy them, while still making a decent percentage of each sale. I probably could have sold Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach for $9.99 or $7.99, but I wanted to release a $5 fractal book so people could get one for less.

My point is this. I want you to read my books. You can borrow them for free, or buy them and truly own them. But if you like them and want to keep them, then I should get paid for the investment I made to create the book. Fiction doesn’t just pop out of a writer’s head, there’s research, hours, and money that are spent to edit the book, create the cover, market the book, feed the author, etc. eBooks can be distributed for next to nothing**, but eBooks cost money to make, and therefore they should be sold for some compensation.

I got a request after the Kindle Scout campaign asking if I would still give Surreality away for free to the people who voted even though it did not get picked up. This was a rude question that I chose to ignore, though obviously it still bugs me a little. I still have all the costs of making that book to consider, and I didn’t have the benefit of a $1500 advance to cover them. This isn’t me saying that I’ll never do giveaways, or give the book to people who want to read it if they’ll write a review. But this was right after I hadn’t made the contract, after a month of campaigning which was tough for me. I was tired, and a little disappointed, and apparently I should just give all that hard work away because you clicked a button. It might have been different if this person had said something about really liking the book, or being excited for it to come out. But this was just another person wanting something for free.

I’m not a fan of shaming people. I feel there’s a way to have this conversation without calling out an individual for public disdain and scrutiny. But I also understand the frustrations of authors who deal with this problem. We’re not giant faceless corporate entities. We’re passionate people, who love writing stories as much as you love reading them. And hey, if $2.99 is a lot for you to buy a book, then don’t buy it. It’s not that hard. We all have things we want, but cannot afford. That’s okay. Just don’t steal. We’re not going to thank you for being a pirate even if it increases our “exposure.”

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*The text of the original messages was posted on Writers United which I am excerpting here.

**One of the reasons the $119 fee for Goodreads eBook giveaways kinda bugs me but that’s a topic for another time.

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Pledge Drive

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It’s the NPR spring pledge drive this week. When I tuned in last Friday during my commute (at the start of the drive) I actually made a Homer-like groan. Not that I don’t love supporting my local NPR station, but the pledge drive is kind of annoying.

NPR has taken a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the drive over the years, from the Alec Baldwin pieces, to Ira Glass calling up individual listeners and asking them why they don’t give. A variation I heard this morning was from Jacob Goldstein calling up listeners and asking if one of them would be willing to cough up the $46 million to make pledge drives unnecessary for all NPR stations in the country for a full year.

Turns out they should have just called Homer. In the 11th season episode “Missionary: Impossible,” Homer anonymously pledges $10,000 to attempt to get back to regularly scheduled programming. Unfortunately the Pledge Enforcement team, headed by Betty White, tracks him down, forcing him to leave the country and teach gambling to natives. It gets a little fuzzy from there.

Another bit of evidence toward my theory that The Simpsons is relevant in every discussion. Have a happy Monday!

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Ben Trube is the author of the noir/technological mystery Surreality and a lot of books on fractals, including this one.

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Flowsnake

Not much time for a post today, so thought I’d share something I was working on last night:

GosperPlusPeanoGosper_blue

Kind of an old fractal classic, known colloquially as “Flowsnake” when it was written about by Martin Gardner, and also as the Peano-Gosper curve. The gosper curve at the border bounds the inner fractal so we can get the nice blue dye effect. I did this with a single L-System so I can generate all different sizes of the two curves, while still keeping them inside each other. Enjoy!

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Author Enters Rehab For Fractal Addiction

Ben Trube, author and one-time CMT background audience member, has admitted himself into the Helge von Koch Fractal Addiction treatment center earlier this week, following an incident that nearly resulted in the destruction of his home.

“I’m doing this for my family,” Trube said in a short statement.

According to reports, Trube had been working on a new technique for visualizing the Mandelbrot set when his laptop caught fire, destroying many treasured chotskies including a Pikachu made of Legos and a Snoopy stuffed animal.

“I’ve learned a lot about loss since that fire,” Trube added.

Trube’s addiction reportedly began sometime in late elementary school, with occasional math outbursts in his mid-teens.

“We’d walk down the hallway and suddenly there would be dozens of Sierpinski Triangles plastered all over the walls,” reported a former WKHS administrator. “Sometimes it took hours to pull those staples out of the corkboard.”

“I thought he’d left it all behind in college,” Trube’s wife stated when reached for comment. “But then he got the idea to write a book, and that brought it all flooding back.”

Soon the Trube home was buried in books by Saupe, Wolfram, and Devaney. In the months that followed, Trube reportedly sank dozens of dollars into any penny book he could find on Amazon.

“He’d light up when he found one with a floppy [disk] in the back,” Trube’s wife reported.

Sales of the new fractal book allegedly only served to deepen the author’s obsessive behavior.

“It became all he’d talk about at night. I’d be trying to go to bed, and all he’d want to talk about is L-Systems or some new Indian Kolam he’d discovered,” Mrs. Trube lamented.

An unnamed source within the Koch center reported that treatment has not been going well.

“He got a hold of a pencil and started drawing a dragon curve on his wall. When we tried to restrain [Trube] he started shouting ‘Z-two is Z-one squared plus c‘!”

Promotional Poster drawn by Trube for non-existent fractal MMA match.

Promotional Poster for non-existent fractal MMA match.

Nationwide, fractal addiction is the leading cause of death among mathematicians aged 80-100.

“Dr. Mandelbrot has a non-zero amount of blood on his hands.”

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Fractal Videos from the Coloring Book

I produced some new animations for the Adult Coloring Book showing how three of the images are drawn line-by-line. Several of these are variations on classic fractals, while “Cog in the Machine” is my own original creation. Enjoy!

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Waste of Time

I spent a good chunk of my weekend purging books, CD’s, computer games, console games, board games, and DVD’s from my life. The stated purpose of this latest purge was to raise some funds for a new fractal book I wanted to buy, and also the more general goal of weeding out the things in my life (and house) that are taking up space.

This is a task I meet with equal parts enthusiasm and grouchiness. I like clearing out new spaces in my office, getting clutter off desks, making it so less of my books have to be stacked on top of each other in my shelves, etc. I even get a certain good feeling from giving myself permission not to read something I thought I should back in the day.

But the task takes up a lot of time. I have media on all three floors of the house, and particularly in my office, shoved into just about every nook and cranny. To save space in my operational life, I keep the empty cardboard boxes for PC games (yes, we used to have those before there was such a thing as Steam) back in my storage area. At the moment the storage area cannot be walked into without moving a bunch of objects, and balancing awkwardly on one foot, but if I’m selling a game I want to get rid of its accompanying box.

And there are decisions to be made. I’ve gotten rid of things in the past that I’ve later regretted and re-bought. That is a waste of both time and money. Usually the two year rule works well for me. If I haven’t touched this in two years, it’s a potential for the chopping block, though there are lots of things that meet those conditions that still get a free pass.

Long story short I spent most of Friday, and a good portion of Saturday morning on this task, and earned $44 (about half of which was for the console games which took all of about five minutes to go through).

And then I determined that I didn’t want to buy the book that had kicked off this whole process in the first place.

OK, in the long run it wasn’t so bad. I got double fuel points for the Amazon gift card. After a couple of hours more weeding down my Fractal Book wish list, I did get a new book on L-systems that’s on its way, with budget left over for more. And I didn’t waste $36.80 on a book that wouldn’t have helped me much. Plus I gained a lot of space, though you’d hardly know it by looking.

I get frustrated at such expenditures of time because I would rather be spending my time creating new things. And it forces me to grapple with the fact that at varying times in my life I just let a lot of junk pile up, and now I’m trying to sift through it to determine if it has any meager value for the future. And these projects are always the sort of thing that start as a small project, and spin out into something that takes half the weekend.

I know that tasks like this are good in the long run. There’s a difference between busy work, procrastination, and actually organizing one’s life. And I got money from stuff that was sitting around gathering dust. Plus gathering research materials is a part of working on a book, even though it doesn’t feel like much. This is why authors should never figure out their hourly rate for creating a book. It would depress you to no end.

My wife says I should not let these things bother me, that the clearing away of junk is valuable in its own right, and of course she’s right. I spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t working on my book, and it isn’t all wasted time. In fact most of it are the parts of life that bring me the most joy. I wouldn’t have much to write about if all I did was work and sleep.

Now I just have to figure out how not to be such a grouch about it.

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