Counting down


Having worn contact lenses for over thirty years, I’ve finally put together the time and money for laser eye surgery. Ever since I heard of the first primitive Russian treatments for short sightedness in Omni magazine back in the seventies, I’ve wanted to dispense with glasses and contact lenses for good. The reviews look good, and I’ve satisfied myself that the practice selected is both reputable and competent, so next Monday 16th February I’m booked in to have both eyes corrected.

Laser eye surgery isn’t cheap at four thousand dollars for both eyes, but as far as I’m concerned it will be money well spent. I’m told recovery time is twenty four hours with the selected treatment, and provided I don’t get hit in the eye for the next week or so afterwards, my eyes should heal up nicely.

The journey towards clear sight started last Thursday with a thorough set of eye tests which include having my cornea thicknesses checked with ultrasound. Which is a mildly disturbing sensation, rather like looking upwards at ripples in a pond. The other tests were more like the usual opticians checks where the retina and outside of the eye are checked for general health and dimension. Bright lights and reading charts. Each of the major eye checks done in a different room by a technician followed by a chat with the eye doctor himself. Then the money conversation, finding out that the advertised $400 per eye price is the most basic PRK treatment, not the LASIK the practice specialises in. Still, when you’ve set your heart on something, cheapest is very rarely best. I’ve elected to go down the high end route with a decent after care package just to be on the safe side. Not the latest cutting edge treatment, but the tried and trusted.

Being short sighted hasn’t been much fun. Not being so good at contact sports like Rugby because first, you can’t really see properly for distance kicks and passes without vision correction and secondly, wearing glasses while playing isn’t really practical. Contact lenses are better, but they do have the habit of popping out or even worse, folding or flipping over under exertion. Sweat stings more if it gets in your eyes while running too. Of course I’ve been able to swim wearing soft lenses, but with my favourite trick of swimming underwater, the lenses can get lost, even wearing swim goggles. There was also the usual tiresome business of getting bullied at school for being different. In Junior and senior school (6th to twelfth grade) my glasses were always getting broken until I got a reinforced set. Getting my first set of contact lenses in my early 20’s was a boon beyond measure. Now I’m looking forward to doing without any external vision correction at all.

As an interesting aside, I’ve noticed how certain people make up stories about the unfamiliar to compensate for their own anxieties. For example, I was working as a warehouse manager back in the early 80’s and mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was interested in the treatment. We were amiably discussing the matter, when another member of staff butted in with an involved and rather lurid tale about the treatment making one of her ‘friends’ go ‘totally blind’. Being of a sceptical bent, I later asked one of her closer work friends if this was the case. The answer came back “No.” Apparently her information had come from a second hand discussion about a TV consumer show where people had been complaining about low quality results from bargain basement treatment, or those who had not followed the post operative recommendations closely enough. Further asking around over the next month or so revealed that the “Friend” in question had not actually undergone the treatment, but rather backed out when they’d seen the full price tag. Which is why I didn’t go for corrective eye surgery at the time. Cost. I simply wasn’t earning enough at the time to afford the treatment. Although if I totted up how much I’ve spent over the last quarter century plus on contact lenses and fluids, maybe it would have made economic sense.

However, that was then and we can all be wise in hindsight. Today I find myself nervously counting the days until next Monday. Hopefully to enjoy 20/20 vision, but if the treatment gets close enough to let me work and drive without vision correction, I’ll be moderately content.

There’s also the thought, that back in the 1970’s when the first radial keratotomy eye treatments became available it seemed like science fiction. Now it seems the updated treatment is being offered in every single town in the Western world.

Advertisements

The implications of printed food


New year, new story detail. I was hunting around for a novel type of ‘crime’ for my sci-fi detective character to get embroiled with yesterday afternoon and found myself wondering about the implications of food replicator technology or 3D printed food like Pizza or Gnocci. What are the base materials? Would they be able to work off a basic amino acid powder mix, or something a little more familiar? How much adulteration would one of the units be able to take in the form of cheaper bulking agents before it broke down, as manufacturers try to minimise outlay? Adulteration might become a problem because, notoriously like white bread in Late Victorian times, ingredients like Chalk and Alum were used to bulk out and bleach wheat flour. At the time, the practice of adding these bulking agents were credited with leading to widespread malnutrition until the abuses were (mostly) stamped out. However, A more detailed analysis, shows that the situation was a good deal more complex than it might appear. So while all is not doom and gloom, instances of adulteration might occur as organised gangs infiltrate the 3D food replication chain. Maybe even instances of illegal drugs accidentally making it into the food supply.

Household replicators as an extension of 3D printing technology will initially be a status symbol, producing everything from a new pair of shoes to Sunday dinner or special order Pizza. Eventually reducing the need for agriculture as more people turn away from food productions less palatable practices, like slaughtering for meat, or simply even the messier end of cooking. Why bother with all that tedious slicing, mixing and dicing when a single machine can produce perfect hot meals every time? 3D food printing technology may be closer than we think. As for broader applications, a German company (Bizoon) is actually working on easy to chew versions of 3D printed food for Senior Citizens and high energy ‘Sports’ foods.

The possible social implications are enormous. A shift in the employment market away from manual fast food production, and there’s plenty of scope in there to experiment with crime related storylines. Ergo, I’m currently playing around with a bunch of short story type works (4-10,000 words) using the technology as a sub-theme. Maybe they’ll turn into something, maybe not. At the moment I’m purely in the note taking stage of research.

As for bribery and corruption; while technology advances so rapidly it’s often hard to keep track, it is my sad observation that human nature evolves at the speed of a heavily sedated slug.

Commerce and the world wide web


I’m old enough (Don’t remind me) to actually remember the ‘world wide web’ being ‘born’ in 1994. At the time I was trying to be a Business Development Executive, writing PR pieces for an IT consultancy amongst other things. Wrote a few trade piece articles, did a couple of local radio interviews. I do so hope they no longer exist. Cringe. I might be lucky as these low points of my career predated even the Wayback Machine. Everyone was trying to work out how to use the Internet to sell stuff and apply old business models to new technologies. Which still happens.

Back in the mid 90’s I recall penning a piece called “The Cybermarket, the future of retailing?” about how virtual 3D shops might work on line if sufficient bandwidth was available. Forget where I managed to place it. Didn’t foresee the rise of Amazon, Craigslist or eBay of course, but you can only get so much into five hundred words. With today’s big plasma screens and cable connections, creating virtual stores like in Second Life would be relatively easy. Think of an HD shopping channel connected to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts so you could gossip with friends while doing the weekly shop. Cruise along behind your virtual shopping cart and not block the aisles for those with more pressing needs on their mind. No unruly children or other people’s personal issues. No waiting in line at the checkouts. Virtual shop assistants.

There is both an upside and downside of course. You couldn’t choose exactly what Oranges or Avocados to buy or do a first hand check for freshness. Unless there’s a real time arrangement where a robot arm and camera can physically pick and test the exact fruit / vegetable selected. Which is now possible. Delivered directly to your door by Drone. Fewer jobs in the retail sector as the need for physical supermarket premises shrink. More employment in non-public contact jobs like in legal departments thrashing out customer disputes. At first only available to the rich or avid early adopters, then as costs reduce over time available to the rest of the population. Should they want it. Rather like Amazon, eBay or Craigslist.

Why does the world have to be doomed?


In many Science Fiction movies there’s one plot device that, like a broken down show pony forced to perform despite old age, is dragged out time and again to strut its stuff. That of the Earth being ‘Doomed’ somehow by mankind through overpopulation or environmental disaster. Something that only a ‘hero’ can ‘save’ a sacred few from. It was a tired idea by the 18th Century CE (Seriously) and it’s worn to a nub of nothingness now. This premise is what’s put me off going to see the movie ‘Interstellar’.

In looking at possible (or impossible) futures I’ve always found it a good idea to examine what has sparked human migration since our species first learned to walk upright. From observation, the biggest motivator is that the grass will grow greener over the next hill. Fresh ground to occupy, new resources to develop, new ideas to explore. It’s part of the human condition. Only in the very early days of bipedal endeavour has environmental disaster played a significant role in mass migration. In the more modern era, migrations tend to be generated more by politics, war and economics than simple resources. To illustrate by analogy; when the fattest of cats have locked the dairy, the kittens will go elsewhere for their cream. And they will cross continents, even galaxies if the means are available.

It’s also worth noting that most of us simply want to get away from our parents and make our independent way in the world. Visit other places, learn other languages, meet other peoples. It’s been part of the human condition ever since we evolved to spread out a little. Mate, carve out a patch for the next generation and expand. If anyone were to ask me the meaning of life, that’s how I’d describe it. The Earth may well be our mother, but frankly wouldn’t it be embarrassing to tell other intelligent life forms that we still live in her basement?

Next….


Now I’m a fully sworn in Canadian and don’t have to worry about renewing residency, I can get back to overcoming the distribution issues I’ve been nagging at for the last few years. I’ve also been talking to my brother in law over the weekend who is one of the prime movers of the ‘Inanimate Alice’ educational project, about the benefits of games and interactivity. While Ian and I don’t agree about everything, our discussions sparked off a few thoughts.

I’m coming to the conclusion that a well made interactive computer game is an excellent aid to teaching. Particularly in terms of conflict resolution. And yes, this is one of those “There’s a story thread in this…” moments, where children (and grown ups) use interactive games as a means of working out real world frustrations, and at the same time hone their decision making processes using an Artificial Intelligence type game engine. Navigate everyday moral conundrums. Demonstrate causality and methods of obtaining positive outcomes from potentially negative circumstances without getting all preachy. Tricky, but do-able with the right resource. Computer games as a stepping stone to world peace? There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in this for someone.

Now, how might it all go completely pear shaped? There’s the rub.

Profiles and marketing


Over a lunchtime coffee yesterday I was explaining to my long suffering wife about what it means to be an independent author. All the hoops that have to be jumped without assistance and the sense of never actually having caught up with yourself. It’s not just the writing, it’s the marketing and self promotion. How even with a mainstream publisher you’re still going to have to do a lot of this. Especially if you’re like me, a modest man with much to be modest about. The whole practice of self aggrandisement goes against nature. Sometimes I can feel my body cringing at the very thought. Friends, family and employers may congratulate you on your turn of phase and ability to communicate in prose, but from the depths of childhood there’s always this awful insidious doubt. Like fluffing your lines at five years old and having the whole class laugh at you. It’s a little like dying.

Nonetheless, accepted wisdom is if you want to sell, you are your own brand and this can get in the way of actually producing anything for a possible reading public. I hear this a lot on the forums I lurk around and get automated emails from. There’s just so much to do, if like me you’re an Independent with limited resources to pay for visibility. With another million (and then some) voices out there, clamouring for attention the task of getting noticed can seem impossible. Even if you do manage to get your work listed in all the right marketplaces. Then you’re faced with the last hurdle that most bookstores won’t stock independently published work. Everywhere there are mountains to climb with a great deal of sometimes contradictory sounding advice on how to scale those vertiginous heights.

So here’s my ten cents worth; there are ways of attacking this issue. Send it out to get reviewed, if the reviewers aren’t swamped or simply aren’t interested in your genre. Wait for a third party to check it out and see if they like your work enough to pen a couple of lines about it. Quite frankly I find the whole business of reviews a little scary. I try not to read them anyway, as I’m more likely than not to disagree with the reviewers. To quote the Latin; De gustibus non est disputandum. For example, in the past I’ve tried to read past Man Booker prize winners and found myself going to sleep after the first three pages. Same for many ‘critically acclaimed’ works. I’ve heard friends say exactly the same. It seems to me that critics and the public rarely concur.

Bearing this in mind, what I’m going to do over the next week is to work down the list of online distribution outlets and marketplaces checking my listings. Post a couple of short stories on genre web sites. This is time consuming but critical. Check my author profile is correct, confirm as much of the work as the distributor has listed, ensure they’re the right editions. Check the ISBN’s, iBookstore ID’s, Amazon references and other reference numbers. Confirm on at least three of the Amazon sites; .com, .co.uk, .ca and more because they’re all separate entities. Apple Author ID (Which I knew nothing about until today) Then there are all the promotion links; all forty six of them. Even logging on using my standard Facebook profile is a lot of duplication of effort and that’s only the beginning. Did I mention iAuthor? Then there’s the site admin updates by the providers coming up with the next big thing. You almost need another person full time to keep track of it all, never mind doing any writing.

My solution to keeping track of everything is to create a spreadsheet and make a list of tasks or I’ll never keep up with all the necessary site updates. It’s like eating an Elephant. You have to do it one sandwich at a time. Not to mention that after a while you can get heartily sick of Elephant Sandwiches.

Still, it’ll keep me gainfully occupied on the run up to next Monday and our Canadian Citizenship swearing in ceremony.

Google and Facebook


Is there a better alternative to Google and Facebook? I ask because I travel periodically, and every time I do, I have to reverify my Facebook and Google accounts, which not only shifts my immediate focus away from the task in hand, but is one of those nagging ‘man from Porlock’ irritations. I’m using the same machine through various secure and insecure Wi-Fi network points, the same fairly strong passwords and access protocols, yet still having my email and access to Facebook arbitrarily cut off is less than funny. I know they’re ‘free at point of use’ services, but they do make their advertising revenue from clickthrough traffic and various other means. Yet my Facebook account and two of my Gmail accounts are now ‘locked’. They may remain that way as I can’t be bothered with the fuss of reopening them. Those who need to know will be notified of changes.

We’re currently in a bereavement crisis on the UK front, scooting between relatives and care homes, and these pernickety and unnecessary interventions to both work and essential on the fly problem solving are less than welcome. My LinkedIn account is globally accessible, as is WordPress and several others, no problem, so why not Google or Facebook? We have an alternative paid for domain with available mail aliases and server, and I’m inclined to build a web site there and activate the email accounts. It means the small expense of changing business stationery, but we can handle that.

Over dinner last night, my eldest stepdaughter was talking about building a service similar to LinkedIn for younger professionals. I’m inclined to buy a new domain name and some extra web space for her to play with. Give her the wheel and see what she can do. It’s just a question of time and effort. Facebook and Gmail are all very well, but I’m thinking that they’ve had their day.