The Hearts and Minds

If you think the problem with publishing today is the rise of ebooks, you are sadly mistaken. Ebooks and paper books are not even the real issue. The real problem facing people today, especially kids, is whether or not to even read a book.

Kids today face a bewildering array of eye candy that is far easier for them to play with than sitting down with a good book. Given the option of playing a video game or reading a good book, which one do you think will win most of the time? Hint, it’s not the book.

Parents are the ones responsible for regulating TV and game time. If the parents don’t mandate book reading time, the kids will always go for the visual sugar before the visual vegetables. I’m a parent of pre-teen boys and I can tell you it’s not easy. Mandating 20 minutes of reading a night, is not doing any good when they sit for hours in front of a game or a movie.

Look around your home and determine if you own more books or movies and games. There’s always the outlier homes that don’t own video games and are filled with books but they are not normal. Most families have an even balance or lean heavily to the movies and games.

What does this mean for writers? It means that we face a far greater problem than how a book gets read, but rather if a book gets read. If today’s hyper active kid or young adult would rather read on an ereader than a paper book, then by God I will do everything I can to enable that to happen. Because at least he’s reading and not twitching in front of a game or staring blankly at a the TV screen.

Reading engages the mind far better than a video game. But bad writing will turn anyone off reading. The challenge for genre writers is to make their books better than the games and movies out there. Make readers want to come back for more by making your product the best it can be.

It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of kids and adults and it will ultimately determine whether people read for entertainment or just sit and stare for entertainment. As a writer, I think you  know where I stand.

Around the Domicile

We entered the 21st Century this Friday by purchasing our first flat screen HDTV. Our old boob tube was a 32 inch RCA that was losing color and randomly winking off and then on again. It was pathetic.

The new TV

So I ventured out with my mom on Black Friday morning and we found a decent deal on a Samsung 40″ LCD with 1080 p and 120 hz. We also picked up the internet enabled Blue-Ray player by the same manufacturer.  I watched several college football games and worked my way through a HDTV headache to watch my Broncos lose that night. But is was good to finally see them play on our TV, you know?

This next bonus picture is our lab, Endora. It’s real hard to take pictures of a black dog, so I caught her in a ray of sunlight. All in all, a decent holiday weekend. You?

Endora in the sun

Birthday Thoughts

Another year and another birthday. This one brings me to the age of 45. I don’t really get worked up about my own birthdays much these days.  I do tend to reflect on my parents, as without them, I would not be here. This morning on the drive in to work my thoughts were on my late father. Lung cancer took him at the age of 69 and when I think about that sometimes I get angry. I wish he were here so we could talk about the things my family have done since his passing. But then I look back on his life and realize that even though it was not as long as it could have been, it was a very full and rich life, and I can only hope that my own life will be as worthy.

I don’t really have any mid-life crises trauma at the moment. I love my wife and my kids and I even like my job. I suppose if I felt the need to leave my mark on society or the future it would be through my writing. I still pursue that passion.

In these hectic times it is often important to slow down and take notice of the world around you. Marvel at the flock of geese flying low on the horizon, level with the sun swept foothills or sit on your fresh cut lawn in the late afternoon and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood. I try not to take my life for granted and get so caught up in the details of day-to-day living that I miss the little things happening all around me. Like the pride in my son’s eyes as he tells me about something he did at school that he was proud of and that nobody else noticed. Or watching my dog and cat egg each other on as they “play” fight around the house.

Last year I took note of my expanding waistline when my kids both told me I needed to start exercising.  Since then I have gotten back into lap swimming, lost a few pounds and have never felt better. We’re more active as a family and we are doing more things together than ever before. Sure, we’d like to go camping more and maybe do a few road trips, but there is always room for improvement.

Since my wife’s place of employment was dismantled by petty and immature government officials, I’ve become more involved in my community by volunteering my technical assistance in seeing that the people responsible are brought to justice.  This more civic minded move on my part is perhaps a byproduct of age and the urge to make my community a better place.

I have also taken on more active roles in the writer communities that I participate in. Accepting positions of leadership in two local writing groups. I continue to lead my son’s Cub Scout den and coach both son’s baseball teams.

In retrospect, the past year has made me realize how important community and family are in my life. I guess that’s what happens when we reach middle age. So in that case, I’m right on track.

Family Safely Home Again

After a week spent visiting their grandparents in Tennessee, my wife and kids are back home again in Idaho. There were many sighs of relief and, “It’s good to be home again” was said more than a few times. They had a wonderful time and got to do some really cool stuff, including swimming in a river and lots of boating. Not to mention the great cooking they enjoyed.

The dog was happy to have two play buddies back and the cat was glad to have someone to occupy the dog.

Losing Weight

Back in January I started going to the pool at my local Y and lap swimming. I weighed 190 pounds, all of it on my waist line. I bought some decent goggles, some ear plugs and even a couple pair of long Speedos. Yeah, that was kinda embarrassing, but I didn’t care. I swam three times a week and gradually built up to swimming for 30 minutes a session. After a few months, I could swim the full 30 minutes without stopping for long periods to catch my breath.

Four months into my program I started noticing that I was losing weight. As of last month, I had lost 15 pounds. That’s effectively two waist sizes. Suddenly none of my current clothes fit me. Even my poor belt didn’t have enough holes in it to keep my pants up. Now to be sure, I did more than just swim. I started to eat less. And I cut out nearly all snacking before bed. The occasional peanuts or cheese was allowed but usually, nothing. I also stopped drinking soda. Man, that alone accounted for at least five pounds!

Along with losing the weight, I also gained muscle tone. My physique is actually more toned now than I was at half my age. I would still like to lose a little more, but lately, I slipped back on a few pounds. So I’m back to my regular routine. Losing weight has done wonders for my health and energy levels. It’s lowered my stress levels and been good for my self esteem.

This summer I’ve been swimming at my local outdoor pool and that has been fun. I like seeing the spray of water back lit by the sun on the pool bottom as I swim freestyle. It’s also starting to even out my Baseball tan lines. Getting back into shape has had one extremely important side benefit for me. It has given me more energy to play with my kids and also to write. We go on family bike rides and walks now, and I find that I have more energy to sit at the laptop and write longer. All improvements to my quality of life and health and happiness.

Camping Weekend

This weekend we will be up in the mountains north of Idaho City on a family camp out with some Scouts. Should be excellent weather and a great time. I’ll be back online later that Sunday. We packed up the car last night and it looks like everything still fits. The last time we went camping was two years ago. Last year’s surgery in Seattle made for no camping/fishing last summer. So we will be making up for lost time this year.

We’re going to have to invest in a car top carrier before we can take the dog camping with us. No pets allowed this time, so we got off easy on the packing. Going to try out my new Colman stove to heat up beans for dinner and coffee in the morning. Reminds me of the old Colman stove my dad had when I was growing up. Good times.

Endora will be visiting friends for the weekend and hanging out with two other former guide dogs. I’m sure she won’t miss us too much. Because it’s been a while since I posted a dog picture – here’s our Endora. Photo by Spencer.

Endora by Spencer

Meet Endora

Our family has just adopted a new pet named Endora.  She’s a former Seeing Eye Dog and comes to us via that program after things didn’t work out for her in that career. She’s a black Lab with a big heart and we can’t wait until Saturday when she arrives, “for good” as my kids say.

Endora was named after the mother witch played by Agnes Moorehead in the Bewitched TV show of the sixties.  She’s going to have a great time trying to keep up with the boys.  We are hoping that the pet cat, Yuki-shima, will eventually get over himself and get to like her too. But you know how cats are.  Endora loves cats, not as a delicacy but as play mates.  So I think they will eventually become best buds.  The picture of Endora below was taken by my oldest, Jack.

Endora in the house!

Buying a Droid

I was very late to the smart phone party.  Partly because I didn’t think I really needed a computer phone and partly because I just couldn’t afford the data plan.  After all, I barely even used the phone I had.  For years, my cell phone was nothing more than an insurance policy for my long commutes.  When you live in a desert, a phone could save your life if your car stranded you in the middle of summer.

Several things happened in the last few months that lead to me upgrading from a simple cell phone to a Droid. First, my simple phone simply died.  The microphone gave out and so I had to use a wire mic to talk on it.  With Baseball season getting under way and both my sons on teams and me helping to coach one of them, I needed a phone that worked.  Also, my contract with Verizon was up for renewal so there was added incentive to upgrade.

The second thing that happened was that my SF novel started bringing in some decent cash on a monthly basis. Free money from Amazon, meant that I could easily afford the extra thirty dollars a month for a data plan.

The third thing that lead to my deciding to get the Droid and not to switch over to AT&T and go with an iPhone, was the maturing of Google’s Open Source phone Operating System – Android.  I had been following the development of Android and knew that philosophically, I could never buy any computer that was not open again.

Those who know me personally, know that I’m a huge Linux fan.  I have been for years now.  I tossed out Windows at my house a long time ago.  I now own two Linux computers and one Macbook.  When the finances allow for it, the Macbook will become the family computer and I will get an Ubuntu notebook.  Eventually, when the Macbook becomes unusable, it will get replaced by a Linux notebook or whatever is in vogue at the time. My current Linux desktop is already to that point when even Linux distros barely run on it. I may have to put Puppy Linux on it or something to keep it alive any longer.

I went with the Droid, because at the time I was buying, it was the best Android phone on Verizon. I really wanted the Google Nexus One, but we all know that is still not available as of this posting.

Next post I will talk about living with the Droid phone for the past couple of weeks.

A Wonderful Saturday

I woke up early this morning and worked on the anthology due this summer.  Then I had coffee with Louis Millicam at the Flying M Coffee House.  We talked about SF novels and Mysteries and he’s agreed to read my mystery novel, Null_Pointer.  Louis is from France, he is in Boise with his wife who is a visiting professor at Boise State.  It was a wonderful hour talk and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

The rest of my morning was spent putting the finishing touches on my son’s Pine Wood Derby cars.  Later in the afternoon, we had them weighed in the for the big race next Thursday.  After lunch it was off to the baseball diamond for a little pitching and batting practice.  Car errands included getting a copy of the Fiesta Bowl 2010 DVD and a cup for my oldest son.  We splurged with a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

It was a beautiful 60 degrees in Boise today with the sun shinning on high all day.  Hopefully tomorrow lets me sleep in and stay close to home.

P.S.  My first novel, Starstrikers is enjoying a wonderful run this month on the Kindle.  As I write this in the early evening, it has sold 109 copies this month.  My friend Nate bought me a Coke in celebration of making it to 100 and I split it with my family yesterday evening before supper.  Thanks Nate!  And thanks to all those who have purchased and continue to purchase the book!