And Thus, Self Publishing Eats Itself

An update… After I posted this article, my FB feed continued to be spammed by ads from Ty Cohen for the same system, each ad pitched in a different way. I blocked the ads, and did some research. Seems a few people on the interwebs have been complaining that the course is a bit of a rip-off and offers content that can be easily found in a variety of YouTube videos and blogs. Some swear by it, but there seems to be more complaints than praise. I don’t know if this changes the situation much, except to say that whenever someone senses there is free money to be made by convincing someone else to pay large sums of money to find out how to get rich, things get weird. Wolf of Wall Street, anyone?

(P. S. I Feel Sorry for Romance Readers)

The advertisement below popped up in my Facebook newsfeed today. The romance genre is now openly viewed as a cash cow.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, not when Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Amazon are geared towards rewarding content. Tweeting every day? Nice. A video every day? Good. Pictures twice a day? Influencer. A new post to an FB page every day? Informative. A new product for Amazon to sell? Terrific.

The problem, of course, is that content and quality are not the same thing.

Advice from various self-publishing gurus includes encouraging writers to publish a book a month, and carefully checking Amazon for possible book categories that have yet to be exploited. Writing two books a year is too slow. And taking an entire year to write a book? F*ck off, you’re not a writer, you’re a dilettante who isn’t serious about being rich.

A combination of the Amazon algorithm and a self-publishing ethos of ‘publish and be damned as fast as humanly possible, preferably by hiring ghost writers out of India’ has created a swimming pool infested with turds, algae, and that one guy who keeps cannon balling into the water.

It seems that, in hindsight, this was inevitable.

Reading the ad, I felt extremely sorry for romance readers. They deserve better than to be viewed as gullible rubes, easily parted from their hard-earned money.

If you happen to be a romance fan and you’re reading this post, please know that I think this is terrible. I can understand wanting fresh content, but the desire for new books and stories seems to have come at the cost of writers (and I use this word loosely) who don’t care about you, or your genre. I personally don’t write romance, but every reader deserves to be treated with respect by the writer. The writer should care enough about you, as a reader, to at least put together a book or story with a logical plot, compelling characters, well-structured sentences, and no (or minimal) grammar errors. Or at least try their hardest to make this happen.

I hope you’re able to claim your genre back, but at this stage it’s probably going to get far worse before it gets better.

Covid-19 and the Demise of the Open Plan Office

Think about the office you typically work in. How close are you to other people? If you’re in an open plan office, the seating arrangement will be two to three desks (or more) in one row, and then another row of desks facing you. The only thing that separates you from your co-workers is either nothing, or a small, low barrier that serves no particular purpose.

Typically, you’re within three feet / one meter of each other.

In the age of COVID-19 and social distancing, the open plan office begins to feel like a scary place to occupy.

Even before COVID-19, there had never been any real evidence that an open plan office provided an advantage to those who were forced to work in them. If you asked HR or managers why they needed an open plan office, the answer was that it encouraged communication and collaboration. This reason was reinforced in offices that went to Agile, because having teams sitting next to each other would result in better software projects.

This long touted benefit was quoted by most companies despite many studies showing that open plan offices did none of those things. In fact, recent studies had shown that open plan offices reduce communications, simply because people found ways of shutting themselves off from their co-workers whenever they could. Harvard Business Review published a study last year that said open offices produced less meaningful interactions. (https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-truth-about-open-offices)

Many common assumptions about office architecture and collaboration are outdated or wrong. Although the open-office design is intended to encourage us to interact face-to-face, it gives us permission not to. The “accidental collisions” facilitated by open offices and free spaces can be counterproductive. In many instances, “copresence” via an open office or a digital channel does not result in productive collaboration.

The article was also frank in calling out the real purpose of the open plan office.

If keeping real estate costs in check is the priority, leaders should be honest about that with themselves and their employees. Most office redesigns aren’t undertaken to promote collaboration.

The open plan office had always been accompanied by the perils of enhancing the spread of flu and colds during the winter months. Vice quoted this study in their article published in 2016.(https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/z43nby/is-your-open-office-making-you-sick)

One study of more than 1,800 Swedish workers found that people in open plan offices were nearly twice as likely to take short term sick leave (of one week or less) than those who worked in private offices.

For years, organizations have seen the spread of cold and flu through an office as an acceptable risk. Although attempts have been made by some to mitigate the costs by encouraging employees to be vaccinated, presumably this was because the cost was less than redesigning an office layout, not because they truly valued anyone’s health.

However, this time around we’re not talking about the spread of the seasonal flu or a cold. In the age of a global pandemic, it becomes very obvious that an open plan office does nothing to protect the people who work there, either physically or psychologically. After the pandemic resolves itself (however that happens), a traumatized work force will have seen the havoc the right type of virus can really inflict, and they will be less keen to tolerate current office layouts just so a company can save money.

Either way, the prospects of having to go back to working in an open plan office will fill most people with fear. No one will relish the idea of being shoved into close quarters with a co-worker who has questionable hygiene standards.

I imagine that organizations everywhere will try to work around the stark reality of having to reconsider the usefulness of their much beloved office architecture. Many will probably dole out hand sanitizer (if they can get any), hire people to regularly wipe down the desks, chair, phones and computers. People will be encouraged to wear face masks.

This will quickly become untenable for most people, who faced with the prospect of catching any type of virus, or doing something else, will probably choose their own health over an organisation’s desire to save on their real estate costs.

But what replaces the open plan office, and hot desking, and collaboration and communication and all of the other buzz words foisted upon the modern workplace with no real regards for the actual science or studies? What would make workers feel safe again?

For a start, cubicles will make a comeback because much like the sneeze guard at salad bars, they help prevent viruses and germs from landing on other people. Will they cut down the rate of a virus transmitting itself entirely? Probably not. But at least when Gary from Accounting coughs, his disgusting virus infected mucus will be landing on a cubicle wall, not the person sitting opposite him, or beside him.

Hot desking will die a much deserved death. Is anyone really going to want to sit at a desk and use a computer that’s been used by many other people? With studies showing that SARS-COV-2 (the name of the virus that causes Covid-19) can survive on plastic and metal surfaces for up to 72-hours, no one is going to want to risk using a keyboard that has been touched by dozens of people throughout the week. A general elevation of people’s concern about catching a virus from someone else will mean people want to move back to assigned desks.

Agile may seem slightly suspect after all of this. Why would anyone want to attend a daily stand-up, or a five hour retrospective so they can all share what they’re doing (and possibly share their germs)? Agile may become a method used for remote workers, but regarded as unhygienic and unsafe for people in offices.

On a brighter note, your previous co-workers who spent their time leaving their dirty coffee cups on their desk for weeks, openly sneezed and coughed without covering their nose or mouth, and bitched if you used hand sanitizer because they didn’t like the smell will become the social pariahs of the office. Social distancing? Try public shaming.

Finally, introverts may find that they become the prized office workers of the future. Extroverts who spent their time slowly losing their minds while remote working, and who maybe weren’t as productive as they used to be, may find their lofty position in the workplace has been taken over by introverts. Who were kind of made for this new way of working. Employers may start to see introverts as a benefit, rather than a liability. Who else would be happy working quietly in a cubicle, forgoing all of that communication and collaboration stuff unless really necessary?

There’s Nothing Like The Feeling of Publishing a Doomsday Pandemic Book Before There is an Actual Pandemic

Not that I like to toot my own writing horn, but back in 2018 I wrote and published a novel about the results of a pandemic. The title is Eden and it’s all about how a smallpox variant is used to cure over population, and then gets used to keep the population in check. Must like the Thanos Snap, lots of people disappear but so do all of those pesky things like global warming and poverty. Which is kind of either intensely sad or very comforting, depending on which side you’re on.

Anyway, if you feel like checking it out the e-book it’s around the same price of a one of those flashy Starbuck’s coffee you can buy in whatever country you live in.

Your ‘Infinite Jest’ Survival Guide

On July 8th I finished reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Now that my will is broken and I can’t face the written word any more, let me share some survival tips with you so that your attempt is less arduous.

First off, I took a loongggg time to finish the book. I started on 11 November 2018, and didn’t finish until 8 July 2019.  That’s eight months. However, to use some project management speak, that was the task duration. The actual effort was less. I didn’t read Infinite Jest during the weekends or holidays. I tended to read it during my work day commute. Factoring in an average of 20 working days per month, it was around 160 days reading time. Take off approximately 14 days for holidays and that’s 146 days. This means I got through 7.14(ish) pages per day (when I was actually reading). This is a pathetic pace, but would be okay if I was dealing with a novel of a more average length. Even a 400 page novel would take just over 56 days (or in my case, 2.5 months).

The problem with my glacial pace is that I kind of forgot what happened in the first couple of chapters. By the time I got to the end, I was completely distracted by the character Don Gately (who is not the character the book starts with), and this left me with a strong sense of outrage and total confusion at the end. I think I read the last chapter, and muttered under my breath, “Fuck you, David Foster Wallace.”

After I got over my feelings of rage and bitter disappointment, I googled the term, “Infinite Jest what happened” and I discovered I wasn’t the only one entering that search phrase. Thankfully some blogs had attempted to answer this question, and it was helpful reading their interpretation because that relieved me from the terrifying burden of having to go and re-read chapters 1 and 2 to try and figure out how the beginning of the book and the ending possibly tied together.

So, summarized below are some lessons that may help your attempt suck less.

Lesson 1. This is not a book you can read at your leisure, picking it up and putting it down. The plot is meandering and over time you will forget plot details and which character is supposed to be doing what. You’re going to have to commit. It’s not going to be pretty.

Lesson 2. Spoilers might be a good thing. If you read a blog or two beforehand about what’s happening in the book, the slog may be less of a slog. At least you’ll know what’s going on and can be on the lookout for plot and character sign posts.

Here’s some links on what may, or may not be, the plot of the book (because the plot is kind of up for debate).

http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/ijend

http://iancanread.blogspot.com/2012/12/infinite-jest-what-happened.html

https://www.thehowlingfantods.com/thesisb.htm

https://infinitejest.wallacewiki.com/david-foster-wallace/index.php?title=Main_Page

Lesson 3. Do not attempt to read this book as an actual traditional book. It’s non-transportable. It doesn’t neatly tuck into your backpack to read on the train, and it could actually fall on you and kill you if you attempt to read it in bed.  It turns out that the e-book format is an ideal one for Infinite Jest. Additionally, Infinite Jest contains an eye-watering amount of footnotes. Your e-book version will make it easy to read the footnotes and keep going.

Lesson 4. If you hate tennis then a large number of chapters in this book will bore you to tears. One of the major settings in the book is a tennis academy where a bunch of teenage boys do various things. Honestly, if you aren’t a fan of reading about tennis and teenage boys, you’re going to struggle. As does everyone with this book. Because precisely zero people think a book featuring a tennis academy and teenage boys would be an exciting read.

Lesson 5. If you hate acronyms because you work in IT and you can’t face more acronyms in your life then welcome to a novel that’s full of them. Be warned.

Lesson 6. After you finish, you’ll probably decide not to read a book again for at least a month. Get a trial with Audible. That’s what I did. I’ve just finished listening to Theft and Finding by David Sedaris and it only took four days, which cheered me up no end.  Infinite Jest is also a book offered on Audible. You can listen to someone else read it for 56 hours and 12 minutes. That would also save you some time and pain. (No, this is not a plug for Audible.)

Lesson 7. After you finish, you may feel an urge to read it again to try and make sense of it. Resist this for at least a year.

Lesson 8. Despite all of the downsides there are great moments in the book that will enthrall you. But it’s a little like climbing Mount Everest. If you make it to the summit, you’ll have bragging rights, and you’ll be one of the chosen few. But you’ll also need to be super fit and prepared for an extreme challenge. Also, you could get frostbite and lose a toe or several toes and some fingers.

Here’s a video that I thought did an excellent job of covering the main highlights.

And remember kids, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

 

 

I break another keyboard

I was just young enough back in the old days to find myself forced into having to attend typing class in high school. We were taught on solid metal typewriters designed for the office. They were so heavy it took two people to move a typewriter to another desk.

You also had to hit the keys hard. This was mainly to compensate for the use of carbon paper sandwiched between several sheets of paper. The only way to transfer the carbon was to hammer the keys with fingers that became freakishly strong over time.

At the time I hated it. The teacher was a stickler for posture and the ability to touch type without looking at the keyboard.  As part of our training to be future office workers in a secretarial typing pool, the typewriters had plastic covers that sort of looked like shower caps. It went over the keyboard, and you put your hands underneath to type. No peeking allowed. I failed this course and was told I had zero chance of a future in a secretarial typing pool.

Oh, no, color me upset.

By the time I left high school, offices had started to move to electric typewriters and shortly thereafter, computer keyboards.

Rather conveniently the class I hated the most (apart from math) saved me. Moving to computer keyboards after a manual typewriter was a doddle, and more importantly I was a faster typist than the other computer operators. Bonus number two was that I never experienced repetitive strain injury (RSI). Remember that? Everyone was trying to type on keyboards with shitty typing skills. I was fine no matter which keyboard I encountered because the correct wrist and finger positions had been drilled into me by the drill sergeant of a teacher.

However, over time I realized that my heavy handed pounding of the keyboard means that I break them. Regularly. I think I’ve broken a keyboard every year since I started using a computer.  Mechanical keyboards seem to last a little longer but not by much. The ‘n’ key stopped working on my last one yesterday, and six months ago the cursor keys started flying off and pinging around the room.

Anyway, I bought a new keyboard today and I look forward to this one surrendering sooner rather than later. I think my only practical solution is to buy a reconditioned IBM keyboard or something similar. I used them back in the day and they were impervious to everything, including a data entry operating pool that consisted of heavy smokers dropping ash onto the keys.

Other things I am grateful for: I never had to use Pitman shorthand in real life.