Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Steve Jobs finds strange bedfellows

With the smoke from the G20 clearing and all the various calls for public inquiries, ranging from police violence to human rights violations, it's probably about time we got back down to business here in Sex, Bombs and Burgers land. That means no more neglecting of war, porn and fast food news.

There's been quite a bit in the past week, particularly in the adult entertainment world. There was, of course, the important ruling by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), or the group that regulates things like internet addresses, last week on the whole issue of "dot-xxx."

ICANN has given conditional approval to the new domain name, which will be applied to adult sites in the same way that .com or .org is used. But, in the first of two "strange-bedfellows" stories today, the ruling is highly controversial. In Australia, the porn industry and Christian lobbyists are both against the decision. Porn companies don't want to be governed by a third party that knows nothing about their industry, while the Christians are worried that giving adult companies their own domain suffix further legitimizes them. The respective positions in Australia generally represent the developed world at large. Clearly, the dot-xxx issue is still a long way from being resolved, but it's pretty funny that these two disparate sides are united against ICANN.

The more interesting "strange-bedfellow" story, at least for me, is the revelation that Apple CEO and anti-porn crusader Steve Jobs has found an unlikely ally in his war against Adobe Flash: the porn industry! As Apple followers know, Jobs has been waging a two-front battle in recent months: on the one hand, he has declared that his products are "free from porn" (even though they're not), and on the other he has derided Adobe's Flash - which is used by many, many websites to display video and other multimedia features - as faulty software who's days are numbered. Jobs is instead favouring HTML 5, a new-ish web standard that is apparently much more efficient in handling video and multimedia.

While the lack of Flash on Apple's mobile products, including the iPhone and iPad, are a cause of consternation for many (count me among them), Jobs has just received some surprising support. In an interview with ConceivablyTech, Ali Joone - owner and founder of Digital Playground, one of the bigger U.S. porn companies - says he agrees with Jobs. "HTML 5 is the future," says Joone. "Mobile browsers run HTML 5 very well. Flash brings everything to a crawl and has an impact on battery life. With HTML 5, there is no reason to show our content in Flash."

Joone says his company is simply waiting for web browsers to catch up with their HTML 5 capability, and as soon as it happens, he's ditching Flash. It's "just a matter of time ... it's the next passing of the torch."

It should be noted that Digital Playground is not alone in this position. YouPorn, perhaps the king of the free adult YouTube clones, recently announced that it was converting to HTML 5 in order to be compatible with Apple products. These tube sites, detested by traditional companies such as Digital Playground for basically sucking their revenue dry, wield an enormous amount of clout in such matters because of their massive traffic.

The ramifications of all this are obvious, and what's going on here is amazing to technology watchers. Firstly, Apple is looking to change the technology used to display giant portions of web to one of its liking, while at the same time trying to disinclude porn from the equation. But while the mainstream debates the merits of Flash versus HTML 5, porn producers are getting right to the point: they are following Apple and the millions of eyeballs glued to the company's products. It's a safe bet that once again, the adult companies will end up deciding this particular format war. So, Apple and the porn companies are essentially redefining the web together. Is Steve Jobs happy for the support, or livid about where it's coming from? Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the Jobs' household (would that make one an iFly?).

As ConceivablyTech puts it, this situation is not unlike the often-cited VCR format war. While the mainstream quibbled over that technology, the adult companies dove right in and decided the winner, VHS, for them. However, I think that website is mistaken in saying that porn ended up deciding the recent Blu-ray versus HD-DVD format war. According to ConceivablyTech, porn was instrumental because Sony's Blu-ray-equipped PlayStation 3 indirectly promoted sales of adult videos.

It was quite the opposite actually - Sony was reluctant to license the Blu-ray technology for use by adult companies, so they were naturally starting to gravitate toward HD-DVD. If nature had been allowed to take its course, HD-DVD may have in fact won out because of the support from porn. Blu-ray ended winning and no one's really sure why - my theory is that Sony forked out enough payola to movie studios to get them to switch.

If HTML 5 does end up winning out over Flash, historians may look back on this and find that once again, porn companies provided the early support for a particular technology. It's a truism, especially to me, that seems to spell doom for Flash.

(The obvious fun with Photoshop above, of Smooth Stevie J and Digital Playground star Jesse Jane, courtesy of yours truly)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cost of preserving democracy: $6 million

I like to keep things light in these here parts, but that's tough to do today given what's been going on in Toronto. The events of this weekend have me in a rather dour mood, so it might be tough over the next few days to write my normally glib posts about the often-amusing worlds of porn and food.

What I hope doesn't get lost in all of the G20 analysis and commentary is the fact that none of the weekend's ridiculousness was necessary. Our government invited the G20 in knowing full well the mayhem that always ensues. All our leaders had to do was watch footage from any previous G20 summit, because it's the same thing every time. No amount of security spending is going to change or prevent it.

What would change or prevent it would be following one mind-numbingly simple suggestion: video conferencing. There's little that couldn't be accomplished by simply connecting the world's leaders on Skype. It even does video now, golly gosh. And hey, if they really wanted to go high end, they could splurge on Cisco Telepresence. One estimate pegs the price at $300,000 (U.S.) per side of the conference, which means you could wire all of the G20 leaders for $6 million.

That would save some of that billion dollars we spent on security - never mind the costs of getting the leaders here and housing them, or the clean-up and repair costs afterward - for more important things like, oh I don't know, solving some of the problems the G20 leaders are supposed to solve during their meetings. Like, ironically, poverty.

But politicians being politicians, it's a safe bet that the most logical (and cheapest) suggestion will never be taken. Instead, citizens in the cities of upcoming G20 summits will have little recourse other than to gird for the inevitable idiocy, destruction and violation of civil rights. Either that, or they could simply vote out any government that wants to continue holding these regular Moron-a-paloozas. But regular citizens being regular citizens, with watching the latest episode of True Blood or catching up on the latest Justin Bieber gossip being more important than civic duty, that's not likely to happen either.

So, given our inevitable descent into authoritarianism, here's a glimpse of what lays in store for us. China all 2.3 million members of its armed forces from blogging or creating websites. According to AFP, Chinese officials say "soldiers cannot open blogs on the internet no matter (whether) he or she does it in the capacity of a soldier or not... The internet is complicated and we should guard against online traps."

That's in stark contrast to the U.S. military's "open door" policy on personnel using social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. As I mentioned back in March, the Pentagon actually wants soldiers to interact with people online - within limits - to put a human face on the U.S. military and its efforts.

I tell ya, to my newly jaded Canadian eyes, the U.S. is looking more and more like the bastion of freedom and democracy it has always touted itself as. Many of us Canadians used to mock the U.S. for its weirdo two-party political system that, for ages, only gave its citizens a choice of Coke or Pepsi for president. But, after eight years of tyranny, Americans gave George W. and everything he stood for a thorough drubbing with record voter turnout and a solid landslide for Obama.

Meanwhile, in just about every other English-speaking democracy (e.g. Canada, the UK and New Zealand, where we have multiple parties), we have either minority governments or record-low voter turnouts, or both. Here in Canada at least, there's little reason to believe that's going to improve any time soon. Nicely done, English-speaking democracies.

Americans may only have two choices, but it sure looks like that system is working better than ours. Perhaps we can also get some leadership from them in ending the wasteful, shameful and demoralizing event that is the G20.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The chickens have come home to roost

Burning cars, trashed store fronts, a billion dollars in security costs, beaten journalists, laws passed in secret, hundreds of arrests, billions in lost revenue and repair costs, police brutality, human rights violations, unlawful arrests and detentions. Does this sound like Canada? Does this even remotely sound like Canada?

When asked what he thought about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X famously said that the chickens were coming home to roost. Those words could not be more applicable to what happened in Toronto this past weekend. A number of commentators have pointed out that all of the above does not take place in a democracy. Indeed, it should not, but the fact is, democracy has been failing here in Canada for some time. We deserve everything that happened because we let it happen.

About 59 per cent of eligible voters participated in Canada's last election, or just over 10 million people. The current Conservative government - the one that decided to hold the G20 here in Toronto, and that invited all this mayhem in - has a mandate to govern from just about 15 per cent of the population. The Prime Minister, therefore, doesn't have to answer to the public. We didn't elect him, after all.

If you vote regularly, or if you take part in the democratic process in other ways, good on you. But if you're one of the overwhelming majority that sits back and just lets things happen, you have no right to be surprised, shocked or upset by anything that took place this weekend. Don't blame the government or the police or even the Black Bloc, blame yourself. You are the problem.

"Those who expect to receive the blessings of liberty must undergo the fatigues of supporting it." - Thomas Paine

Friday, June 25, 2010

UK, UAVs and iPhones

It's a grab bag today with a couple pieces of outstanding business to talk about. First of all, I'm pleased to announce that I have a U.K. release date for Sex, Bombs and Burgers. It will be out in bookstores there on Nov. 1, which means it will make the perfect Christmas present for all you folks in the U.K. I can't see why I wouldn't go over to do some promotion around the release time, other than perhaps a certain Icelandic volcano getting uppity again. The publisher tells me there's already some good media interest, so let's hope it goes as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Secondly, in my lament the other day about working in an armed camp, I talked about how it was possible that aerial drones were being used for G20 surveillance. I promised to try and find out more, and I did - it turns out I was wrong, that UAVs aren't being used because federal aviation authorities won't allow them over populated areas. The Ontario Provincial Police are using them in Northern Ontario, but it doesn't look like they'll be in cities any time soon. I still wonder if they really are being used secretly, but it sure doesn't look like it in any official capacity. You can check out my full story on CBC.

Lastly, because I like to wind down the week on a humourous note, I thought I'd share a funny press release I got yesterday. It came from my favourite adult entertainment company, Pink Visual, and it was in relation to the newly launched iPhone 4 (they're my favourite not because of the content they produce, but because the people who run it are obviously tech nerds with great senses of humour).

If you follow Apple, you've probably heard about the problems they're having with the new iPhone. The iPhone 4's antenna is actually built into the frame of the device itself, and the company has acknowledged that you can actually interrupt its signal if you hold a certain way.

Never ones to let an easy opportunity pass them by, the Pink Visual folks jumped all over it. According to the press release, the faulty antenna is actually part of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' plot to eradicate porn from the iPhone:

"Apple did their homework on this one," said Dave Long, a disgruntled 37 year-old mobile porn user. "Over 85% of the world is right handed and watches mobile porn with their phone in their left hand. Now when my mom is out at the grocery store and I get a hankering to check out a little wireless erotica, I have to set the phone on a surface or switch hands and go all ‘stranger’ on myself. I think maybe Steve Jobs is serious about wanting the iPhone to be ‘porn-free,’ after all."

The company's brand manager went on to say that Pink Visual is working on a left-hand optimized mobile website to compensate for the problem.

Ha! You can read the full press release (warning: the link is a little bit naughty) by going here. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adult industry watching YouTube closely

Copyright, copyright, copyright. That's all we ever seem to hear about these days. Here in Canada, we of course have the ongoing debate/battle over reforming our outdated legislation. It's a situation that turned ugly this week with our Heritage Minister taking it to critics by calling them "radical extremists." Of equal if not more importance, however, is yesterday's ruling in the Google-versus-Viacom fight.

A U.S. judge handed Google a against Viacom, which was suing the internet company for more than $1 billion over alleged copyright violations by YouTube. Viacom was upset that its video content, mainly music videos and chunks of TV shows, was being uploaded to YouTube by users. In its lawsuit, the company said Google wasn't doing enough to keep such content off the site, so it was therefore guilty of copyright infringement.

The judge didn't see it that way and sided with Google. He said Google qualified under the "safe harbour" provisions of U.S. law, which shields companies from infringement as long as they move quickly to take down copyrighted material once notified. Viacom has already said it's going to appeal and the case will likely find its way to the Supreme Court. Some observers believe Congress will eventually get involved.

Lots and lots of people are paying attention to the case, as it could have far-reaching effects. Not surprisingly, the porn industry is lustily watching and awaiting the ultimate outcome (puns intended). Adult companies have their own personal YouTube - well, actually dozens of YouTubes - to contend with in the form of YouPorn, RedTube et al, which are sucking money from them like... well, let's just end that analogy right there.

You may remember that a little while back, the industry put out their own public service video asking people to please, please pay for their porn and not watch it on the YouTube clones. That plea, not surprisingly, fell on deaf ears, so the industry is hoping Hollywood can do some of the heavy lifting.

“In light of this decision the Hollywood movie industry will be pounding on a lot of doors to get something done. They didn’t listen to [the adult industry] but the big movie studios they will and perhaps adult can benefit as fellow content creators,” adult industry attorney Clyde DeWitt
told AVN (link is not safe for work).

Gill Sperlein, lawyer for adult company Titan Media, told Xbiz that the court got some things wrong in its ruling. “Specifically, the court ruled that an [internet service provider] must have direct knowledge of infringing activity in order to be able to control it. This is a departure from a long line of cases addressing vicarious copyright infringement."

(Image courtesy of BNET)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Postcards from Toronto's war zone

Look up... look waaaay up...

Those words were part of every episode of one of my favourite CBC shows as a kid, . "Friendly," the eponymous giant of the show, used it to guide the viewer up from their ground eye view to his lofty level. Ironically, while at work at the CBC this week, I've found myself looking up... waaaay up, not to see Friendly, but to see just how we're being watched throughout this whole G20 circus.

On Monday, I spent my lunch break in a park near the CBC building in an effort to take in the sunshine while reading a book. Easier said than done - like every nook and cranny of the "green zone" armed camp that's been erected in downtown Toronto for this summit, the park was crawling with cops. And virtually every one of them, when passing by the bench I was sitting on, gave me the up and down. Obviously, I must look like an anarchist protester and/or terrorist.

If that wasn't enough to screw up one's concentration, the constant din of choppers circling overhead sure was. And these weren't the relatively unnoticeable civilian helicopters, they were the really big and loud military kind.

Walking back from the park, into the fenced-in camp and past the dozens of police, horse-mounted and in riot gear, I briefly understood what it might be like to live in places where civil order is not a given. Far be it from me to even suggest that I can understand what it's like to live in a Gaza or a Baghdad, but I did get a brief glimpse into the long-term effects such a restrictive set-up can have on a person's psyche. If anything, all the security has the exact opposite effect of what it's supposed to do: it's made me feel very unsafe. I've lived in Toronto almost all of my life and I've never felt that way before.

I usually like the big events that happen in Toronto, because the benefits are obvious even if the disruptions they cause are annoying. Aside from attracting tourists from all over, cultural events such as Gay Pride and Caribana also serve to highlight just how diverse and tolerant Toronto is - those are actually our best qualities. Even last weekend's MuchMusic Video Awards, which caused major disruptions downtown (in combination with G20 preparations), had a net positive effect because it showed that we can throw a big entertainment party with the best of 'em.

But the G20? I don't see the point. A group of political and business leaders are flown in, we spend a billion dollars of taxpayer money to safeguard them and mess up the city for a month during a relatively rare period of good weather, and for what? Does Toronto somehow seem more "world class" to these leaders? Please - if they don't already know that Toronto is Canada's business capital and they don't already have their Canadian operations here, we probably don't want them. If the government really wants to encourage foreign business in Canada, maybe it should remove some of the ridiculous protectionist barriers we have up preventing them from doing so. See telecommunications or the book business as examples (fortunately, the Conservatives do seem to be taking action on telecom, at least). And if the G20 leaders really need to meet so they can sort out world problems, why not set them up on a military base, where the high security won't screw up our otherwise great and peaceful city?

Getting back to Friendly... it's not just cops and helicopters that are watching us. I've been looking up to see if I could spot any robotic drones hovering around, taking pictures. What's that? Robots? Oh yes. Security officials are tight on the details, but you can bet that police and anti-terrorism forces are using military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in their surveillance of the G20 summit.

The Ontario Provincial Police have been using UAVs since 2003, according to CTV News, although they apparently have not been cleared for use in places where there are large crowds of people. But, according to an OPP officer: "This could be used at any special event for officer safety. It takes a clear picture of places where robots can't reach without ever having to have an officer be there."

In the UK, police have the same idea. According to a story earlier this year from The Guardian, police are "planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the 'routine' monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance."

I'm hoping to get further details of how security officials are using UAVs here in Toronto. Hopefully some answers will be forthcoming. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In defense of traditional book publishing

Whoosh! You hear that? That's the sound of e-reader prices plummeting. Indeed, both Barnes & Noble and Amazon significantly cut the prices of their respective devices, the Nook and the Kindle, yesterday. The moves shone a particularly bright light on something Michael Serbinis, the CEO of Kobo - the e-book effort of Canada's Indigo/Chapters - said earlier this year: that e-readers will sell for less than $100 by the end of this year. At this rate, with Kobo and Nook both costing $150, we may get there sooner than even he expected (it's only June!).

Now here's what you don't hear: the sound of everyone wanting one of these devices, and the sound of writers pounding out the content to supply them.

I don't think there's ever been a better time to be an author, published or not. If you've got a book lying around, now is the time to get it out there as an e-book because sales are about to take a big jump. As some studies have shown, people who own e-book readers actually buy more books - and right now, there still aren't all that many e-books available, relatively speaking. In other words, there is an ideal window of opportunity to be taken advantage of.

That window won't be open forever, though. Over the weekend, I sat in on a panel discussion called "Fiction in the Age of E-books," which was part of the Luminato arts festival here in Toronto. On the panel were Indigo president Joel Silver, House of Anansi Press president Sarah MacLachlan (no, not the singer), and authors Paul Theroux and Katherine Govier. One of the topics discussed was, of course, the changing world of self-publishing, which I've blogged about quite a few times. With Amazon, Apple et al changing the game and making it easy - and potentially lucrative - for authors to cut out the middle man (i.e. the publisher), the whole industry is having to assess how it does business.

One of the common refrains from the panel was that self-published e-books will soon lead to there being more authors than readers. I'm not sure that's true, as I do believe the upcoming ubiquity of e-readers will result in more people reading books, but I can appreciate the point: there will soon be a flood of would-be authors filling the current void of e-books. So again, if you've got something ready to go, do it now when there's relatively little competition. It's probably going to be a lot harder to get your e-book noticed a year or two now, once the flood sets in.

I had a chance to sit down with MacLachlan and discuss this whole self-publishing trend. Anansi, if you don't know, is one of Canada's more successful independent publishers and boasts big names such as Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje on its roster. You can read a transcript of that interview over on CBC, or watch the video:

In essence, MacLachlan says that despite all the changes coming to the book industry, the appeal for authors to go with a traditional publisher versus the self-publishing route on Amazon etc., is unchanged. Traditional publishers still handle marketing, publicity, distribution, payment and all those non-artsy things that artsy writers generally loathe. Those are headaches that self-publishers inevitably have to take on. The other reason to go with a publisher, she says, is one I've touched on before: ego. Most authors simply like to have their work recognized by a publisher as something worthy of print.

Interestingly, this is a view that took some criticism at the Q&A. One person in the audience said the panel members, including the authors (more on them in a minute), were "gatekeepers." MacLachlan didn't disagree when I asked her, although she preferred the term "cultural aggregators." I don't think she caught the hint of contempt in the audience question, though, which infers that the old system is out of touch with the internet and therefore elitist. The new system, where anyone can publish a book that is then judged by the public as to whether it's good or not, is far more democratic, or so the thinking goes.

From my perspective, that view is also somewhat flawed. As MacLachlan herself says, a big publisher tends to release a book without much effort, then hopes that it does well. If it does, then they'll jump in and help promote it. It's a kind of backward logic, like tossing a child into the deep end in an effort to teach him/her how to swim, then giving them a life preserver after they've figured it out.

Big publishers are also very focused on the bottom line, so if a book doesn't perform well, they cut their losses and abandon it, she says. I've heard this enough to believe it to be true, which means that the typical reasons for going with a big publisher rather than self-publishing just don't seem to be there. If a publisher is going to release your book and not promote it, what's the advantage over publishing on Amazon?

(Anansi, being an indie publisher, is different, MacLachlan says. I obviously don't have any experience with them, but I did like this quote: "When a book is working, then [big publishers] pick up and work on it, but I don't believe they actually try to make it.")

Overall, I thought her answers were similar to what I've heard and read elsewhere. The traditional publishing industry is perhaps a little defensive when it comes to the threat from Amazon and company, which may not be the right way to approach things. The smarter move might be to try and work with self-publishing and find a way to incorporate it into what they traditionally do. Otherwise, the publishers run the risk of being overwhelmed by democratizing technologies, the same way Napster overwhelmed the record labels or YouTube overwhelmed Hollywood. Heck, even the porn industry has been overwhelmed by YouPorn and the rest.

One possible solution is that big publishing houses set up their own self-publishing divisions, which can help prospective authors get their work out through Amazon yet also give them some sort of quasi-association with the big name company. The publisher could perhaps sign a deal with the author to actually print their book if the e-book does well. I'm sure someone is trying something like this somewhere, but I haven't really heard about it yet.

One final note in regards to the panel - it really suffered for not having a technologist on board. For a discussion about the future of books, the author's perspective was limited to the surprisingly Luddite views of Theroux and Govier. Theroux, whose travel books I have read and loved, showed how amazingly old-fashioned he was by telling us how he didn't become any faster a writer when he switched from the pen to the computer, and how Google was indeed . While it may have taken him the same amount of time to write his manuscripts by pen as they did with a computer, Theroux obviously has never considered how much time he's saved his publisher by going electronic. As for Google, it seems he's also never considered the internet as a research tool that has immensely opened up the world's information.

One audience member drew some laughs by likening him to a Dark Ages monk who objected about writing moving from scrolls to books. It's no surprise that along with the retailer and the publisher on the panel, Theroux - with his outdated and overly romanticized views of what writing is - was counted as a "gatekeeper."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Redefining the burger combo

Thanks to everyone who chipped in over the weekend on this blog, Facebook and Twitter on the "Sex" versus "Boobs" debate. Alas, all the comments and suggestions over what to call the upcoming e-book haven't helped me settle the issue, since they seemed to be split right down the middle too. About half the comments were for keeping "Sex, Bombs and Burgers" because it's an established "brand," while the other half were for "Bombs, Boobs and Burgers" because it's the original and it sounds better. It's going to be a tough call in the end, so keep the suggestions coming...

In the meantime, I have to point to a news item I came across over the weekend because, regardless of whether the book has "Sex" or "Boobs" in the title, this one is just too perfect. It turns out that a couple of blokes who ran a burger truck over in the U.K. decided to make their own special kind of Happy Meals, except rather than giving out toys with the food order, they handed out porn DVDs.

Indeed - if customers spent more than £5 on burgers and beer, they got some adult entertainment with their meal. What's stranger than this actually happening is that the guys who ran it somehow didn't expect to get caught and got away with it for about two weeks, according to police in the East Yorkshire town of .

The intrepid Driffield bobbies got complaints about the truck and went undercover to see if it was true. Not only did they get porn with their burgers, they also discovered that the guys running the truck weren't actually licensed to be serving food and beer. The cops are now trying to figure out how the perpetrators should be charged, but they seemed just as bewildered that it all happened as anyone. "We won't tolerate this because youngsters could have been given the DVDs," an officer said.

Say what you want about these guys, but they sure did come up with an innovative promotional strategy. I'm hoping to head over to the UK in the fall to do some promotion for the launch of my book there - if they're not in jail, maybe I'll call them up for some advice.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The return of Boobs?

Long-time followers of this blog know that it, and the book, started life under a slightly different title. If you take a look at my very first post from March, 2009, you'll see that the book/blog project originally went by the more alliterative Bombs, Boobs and Burgers.

The story of the title change is an interesting one. Both of the first two publishers to sign on, Penguin Canada and Allen & Unwin in Australia, liked the book, but the title made them a little nervous. At first, they weren't really sure why and couldn't put it into words, but they eventually formulated their thoughts. My editor at Allen & Unwin pinpointed the problem as being the word "boobs" - it was too low-brow and "Benny Hill" for an Australian audience, she said. I liked it, on the other hand, because it is a somewhat silly word, and I try to approach everything in life - including my otherwise serious book - with a sense of humour. If you've read it, you know what I mean.

We argued about it for a while, mainly because I was at a loss for an alternative title, until she suggested Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Although I still liked the triple-B, the new proposal wasn't that different, so we agreed on the compromise. Penguin liked it too and decided, for the sake of consistency, to go with it as well.

(These sorts of title issues aren't unusual, by the way. The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
was changed to ...Sorcerer's Stone for the United States, evidently because the publisher thought American children were too stupid to appreciate philosophy.)

Anyhow, I've been talking a lot lately about releasing Sex, Bombs and Burgers myself as an e-book in territories where it has no publisher, and I'm getting closer to doing so every day. But one thing I hadn't considered until yesterday was the possibility of returning to the original title.

The idea springs from a comment made by a former colleague on my Facebook page, about how he still prefers the original title. It got me wondering: since the e-book is going to be an experiment anyway, wouldn't it be interesting to see how it would perform as Bombs, Boobs and Burgers? I certainly am within my rights to call the book whatever I want, so why not?

Truth be told, I'm torn. There is a considerable upside to maintaining a consistent title, mainly in selling the book as a brand, and it would also avoid confusing people. Heck, if the Bombs, Boobs and Burgers e-book were to outsell the physical Sex, Bombs and Burgers, I'd have to go through the trouble of changing this blog's title again!

I'd really love to hear some outside opinions on this, to help me make up my mind. Please leave your (mature and intelligent) comments below, or on my or , or message me on . Your input could result in "Boobs" living again. It could also win you a copy of the e-book when it comes out, whatever it's called.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The ultimate Father's Day gift

Still looking for a good Father's Day gift? Did you know that Sex, Bombs and Burgers is the perfect present for pops this weekend? It's true - don't just take my word for it, I can prove it!

Statistics show that at least nine out of 10 fathers are men, and that men love war, porn and fast food. Let's start with the porn. According to Internet Filter Reviews, an overwhelming percentage of online porn is viewed by men - 72% of it, in fact. That should hardly come as a surprise. The largest consumers of internet porn, meanwhile, are the 35 to 49 age group. Put those two numbers together and there's obviously a whole lot of dads out there watching naughty videos.

Moving over to fast food, a 2007 study of found that men aged 19 to 30 were the most likely to get food on the go (39% of respondents said they had done so on the day of the survey). Those aren't exactly prime fatherhood years, but the study did state that men in general love their meat - about 25% exceeded the recommended 300 grams on a daily basis. Virtually no women did that.

Male interest in war is harder to scientifically gauge, so for that we turn to that repository of all things manly: In the website's purely subjective ranking of the top 10 Oscar-winning
"guy" movies, fully one half were about war or war-related: Braveheart (#9), Gladiator (#7), Platoon (#5), The Bridge on the River Kwai (#3) and Patton (#1). There you have it: AskMen has spoken.

So don't just sit there. Get off your butt, head down to the bookstore (or Chapters and Amazon) and get a copy of the ultimate Father's Day book now!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

India looks to Canada for food tech

One of the interesting themes I hit upon while working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers is just how much technological development over the past century - particularly in the three areas the book focuses on - has come from the United States. Some folks who have interviewed me on the topic, particularly Down Under, picked up on this and asked if I was being too rah-rah for the U.S. Far from it, I said, especially being a Canadian. We generally don't like to give Americans more credit than they deserve - they're usually pretty good at claiming it all anyway!

A key point I made toward the end of the book, and that I stressed to interviewers, is that while the past technological century may have largely belonged to the U.S., that is rapidly changing. The "unholy trinity" of war, porn and fast food is universal and the rest of the world is catching up. My money is on places such as China and India leapfrogging us in the technological offshoots these industries develop.

Interestingly, just last week the Indian Institute of Crop Processing Technology signed a deal with the University of Saskatchewan for "collaborative research and training in the field of food processing and exchange of faculty and students," as one report puts it. An Indian official said:

This agreement will help in the development of post-harvest management and food processing (in India) and a lot of exchanges of scientists, teachers and students will take place... The agricultural sector is huge in Canada and the country is known for its expertise in food technology and post-harvest processing.

According to some of the food experts I spoke to in India while working on the book, the country is now experiencing the sort of boom in food processing that North America saw in the '50s and '60s. With incomes rising and more and more people working, families are finding there's less and less time to do things like prepare meals. Hence, the rise of food processing, and the explanation for why India is one of the fastest-growing markets for fast food chains such as McDonald's and KFC.

I wonder if, a hundred years from now, somebody will write an updated, all-Asian version of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Or perhaps, if various cloning technologies keep developing, I'll be around to do it myself?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aussie gamers join forces with Sex Party

They say war often results in strange bedfellows, and in the case of Australian politics, they are certainly right. Gamers4Croydon, a quasi-political party/advocacy group in South Australia, is encouraging its members to back the Australian Sex Party - another political group - in the upcoming federal elections.

The gamers' main goal is to win an 18+ rating for video games, yet they have encountered hurdles in registering as a proper party for the election, according to a report in The Australian. The group's organizers are thus encouraging supporters to back the Sex Party because its a progressive party whose policies are "very well aligned" with the gamers'.

I'm somewhat familiar with the Sex Party, having blogged about them before, but I'd never heard of Gamers4Croydon. After reading up on them, I have to admit to finding their position somewhat puzzling. As it stands, the most restrictive rating a video game can get in Australia is Mature Audiences 15+. The gamer group wants that raised to 18, so that it's consistent with most other peer countries. As their site says:

Not only does the current classification system fail to allow adults the right to choose – its first guiding principle under law – but it also falls short on the second: protecting minors from potentially harmful or disturbing content.

What I don't get is that most activist groups often argue for less rules and less censorship, yet these gamers seem to want more of it. I can see a morality group arguing for stronger restrictions on video games, but this same group is very opposed to Australia's proposal for harsh internet filters, which is mainly aimed at stamping out porn online - something the Sex Party is also against.

Can anyone Down Under explain this seemingly contradictory position?

And while we're on the topic of Australia... regular readers may remember my rather venomous rant against the country's national airline, Qantas, back in April. Thanks to a litany of mechanical and scheduling problems, my already lengthy flight to Sydney took an extra 27 hours, which I'm sure is responsible for some of my newly discovered grey hairs.

That rant happened to be my single most-viewed post ever, so quite a few people have obviously had similar experiences. I also wrote Qantas a rather angry e-mail, fully expecting to hear nothing back. Well surprise, surprise! The other day I received a response from the airline with an offer of a $400 travel voucher, good on Qantas or its various partners.

The voucher apparently won't be good online, but I will be able to use it for booking over the phone. I'm not sure how that's going to work or what kind of value it'll provide, but in the end it's far more than I was expecting. It just goes to show that complaining sometimes pays off. Now the only question is: do I ever want to chance flying Qantas again?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pirating Sex, Bombs and Burgers

This weekend, the inevitable happened: my book was pirated.

I've got a Google alert set up for "Sex, Bombs and Burgers," so I periodically get emails popping into my inbox to tell me that the book has been mentioned somewhere online. I got a number of messages this weekend that directed me to various Torrent sites. Sure enough, when I clicked on the Torrent file, a PDF began to download and, when complete, there was my book in all its electronic-version glory. Whoever pirated it did a pretty nice job - it's a pretty crisp scan, complete with a chapter index. The cover is the Australian version but the blurb accompanying the Torrent file is a mish-mash: it has the Canadian publishing info, but the text from the Australian book. That makes it a little tough to figure out where it originated.

My initial reaction was shock - how dare someone rip off something that I put so much work into? For a moment, I completely understood Lars Ulrich, the Metallica drummer who years ago became the poster boy for the anti-file-sharing establishment when he and his bandmates sued Napster.

Fear not, though - my anger was short-lived, and not just because I'd like to avoid becoming a self-important douche like Lars at all costs. I'm certainly not the first author to get pirated, and I won't be the last. It's an inevitable reality that everyone today must face. And no, I don't think any number of Draconian copyright laws are going to change this. Technology has let the cat out of the bag, permanently.

As someone who has partaken of the occasional Torrent, it would be hard (and thoroughly hypocritical) for me to be angry. I'm also not of the mind that file-sharing necessarily hurts the artist or creator. In my experience, most people who download something for free weren't going to buy it anyway, or they already have and just want a digital copy, so it's not exactly a lost sale. Moreover, if they like the product they've downloaded, they may recommend it to someone else, who in turn may actually choose to buy it. In a way, the so-called "pirate" can become a good sales advocate.

There is also the argument that file-sharing is good for building and expanding a creator's profile - see the post about Brazilian author Paolo Coelho that I put up the other day. (Coelho pirates his own e-books and swears it has dramatically increased sales of physical books.)

I'd actually be hard-pressed to think of how sharing a book or other artistic work over BitTorrent directly harms any author or creator. In the case of big-wigs like Metallica, it's not like they're hurting for money. Similarly, the pirating of Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer books isn't exactly making them poor. In the case of little guys like myself, the income from our work is hardly contingent on sales. An author's main income usually comes from the advance received at the beginning of the process, and additional royalties only start to pile up once a book sells a lot of copies and that advance gets paid back. From what I understand, the large majority of books never earn back their advance, so authors generally don't get a nickel more than what they got from their advance. So pirated books don't exactly take food off their creators' tables.

Who file-sharing may hurt are the publishers, since they're the ones who make most of the money from a book sale. It's easy to follow the chain of logic, of course, in that if the publishers make less, they'll have to pay less out to authors, which means either lower advances or fewer advances. From what I hear, that's happening anyway as publishers are banking more and more on established names, like the Browns and the Meyers, and less and less on the unknowns. So does piracy really matter in the grand scheme of things? I'm not so sure.

What file-sharing - whether it's with books, movies or music - has always illustrated is that there is an appetite for quick and easy access to digital content. If you ask me, if piracy is happening with any level of seriousness in a particular industry, it probably means that industry has not moved quick enough to meet that demand in a reasonable manner. If file-sharing of Sex, Bombs and Burgers hits dramatic levels, I would say that's pretty clearly a result of there not being an easy-to-get and affordable e-book out there for people to buy.

Luckily, I'm working on that, as I have been asked about an e-book many times. I've requested a concrete on-sale date of an e-book from my existing publishers, and if they can't provide one, I've asked for them to return the electronic publishing rights to me so I can make one available. Wherever I do have rights, an e-book will be available soon - I actually spent part of my weekend formatting one. More on that real soon...

In the meantime, if you do download my book through a file-sharing site, I'd ask that you log in to its page on Amazon and tell the world how much you loved it!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Porn the tip of the trouble iceberg for Apple

It would appear that I'm not the only one by Apple's hypocritical stance toward pornography. A mysterious group known as "Freedom From Porn" orchestrated a bit of a protest this week in San Francisco, where Apple CEO Steve Jobs was giving one of his regular sermons, and made the point loud and clear by messing with the company's advertisements.

The group, about which almost nothing is known, started up in response to Deacon Jobs' recent email to a journalist in which he proclaimed that Apple was the world's saviour from all that is wrong and carnal. In response to the journalist, who had written to question why Apple was referring to the iPad as "revolutionary," Jobs wrote that his mobile products provided:

...freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a-changin', and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is.

The group took Jobs to task on their relatively
scanty website and posted a brief, if somewhat funny message to him:

Dear Steve, You don't want people looking at vaginas on the tablet you named after a feminine hygiene product? Something smells fishy. Sincerely, Dudes who like porn

That wasn't all they did. Timed with Jobs' speech on Monday, wherein he unveiled the iPhone 4 and the sure-to-fail video calling feature for it, the Freedom From Porn guys took to the streets and modified Apple's bus-shelter ads. They stuck overlays onto the ads that depicted the iPad displaying various porn sites, and even went so far as to show Jobs' Facebook page, complete with messages from his assistant that his subscriptions to Penthouse and Hustler had been renewed.

Here's the video of the hooded figures doing their deeds late at night:

Freedom From Porn from Freedom From Porn on Vimeo.

If nothing else, I suspect this got the famously micro-managing Jobs' attention. I wonder if he was angry or amused?

But seriously, it's becoming clearer - at least to me - that Apple is steamrolling towards some serious trouble. Of perhaps greater concern than the company's stance towards porn is its general inability to place nice with others. The other day, Google - through its AdMob subsidiary - took a serious swipe at Apple for its new iPhone advertising service, iAd. Apple has decided to go to war with Google, which makes just about all of its money through web advertising, and is effectively looking at booting Google ads off the iPhone.

AdMob complained about this blatantly anti-competitive move and it didn't take long for U.S. authorities to come calling. The Federal Trade Commission is already getting ready to investigate. And now that Apple is the biggest technology company in the U.S., you can bet the bank this is only the start. A whole lot of what Apple does is potentially anti-competitive, from the way it runs iTunes and its app store to how it locks down its devices (i.e. the iPhone) and keeps competing software off it (i.e. Flash) to how it forces accessory makers to play by its rules. Apple is the new Microsoft, and we all know what happened to that company - saying it's on a death spiral might be a bit much, but probably not too far from the truth.

A number of commenters have already pointed out that Apple has been to this barbecue before. The company was kicking butt in its early days with some really nice personal computers, but it got greedy and didn't want to partner and share. Before Jobs knew it, his company was dying and he was thrown out on his keester for his arrogance. Some pundits are predicting that history could repeat itself.

That wouldn't surprise me because Apple - and Jobs - are cut from the same old school technology cloth as IBM and Microsoft. Those two companies ruled their respective tech epochs, hardware and software, with proprietary, monopolistic business practices that eventually landed both in hot water with anti-trust authorities. Once they had their asses handed to them by investigators, they were never the same again.

Apple seems to be trying to play the same kind of game, but this time the rules are significantly different - and they have been for the past 20 years or so. The internet and web were both founded on openness principles that required partnerships and working together. The TCP/IP principles that govern the internet's connectivity were designed and freely distributed to anyone who wanted them because the internet's creators knew that the only way it could take seed and grow was if it was indeed free and open. The same went for Mosaic, the first web browser, which was made available for free.

Openness and freedom are thus the fundamental principles of the interweb era, which began to really supplant the software era about a decade ago, and they're the fundamentals behind this era's most important company, Google. Google certainly makes its share of mistakes, but it also doesn't behave in the same anti-competitive ways that its predecessors did. Apple, meanwhile, is a company that is trying to wrest control of this era from Google, but it very clearly doesn't seem to understand the new rules and in fact seems intent on playing by the old ones.

What does it all mean? Well, If I was a betting man, I'd pick now as a good time to sell my Apple stock. If the company's got anti-trust investigators breathing down its neck, it doesn't matter what kind of new awesome products it can come up with or how many iPhones and iPads it can sell.

(By the way, do you like the blog's new look? Blogger just introduced some new templates, which I'll be experimenting with over the next little while.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Military working on super underwear

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego are developing a pair of super-underwear. No, it's not gitch that will give you superpowers, but it will monitor your health and possibly even automatically give you drugs. And, not surprisingly, the research is being paid for by the military.

In a nutshell, the underwear contains a series of sensors stitched into the waistband. The "intelligent textile" ink contains carbon electrodes that allow for the remote monitoring of things like blood pressure and heart rate. As the Reuters report notes, the underwear can detect injuries, which is why the U.S. military is not only funding its development, but is likely to be the first customer of the finished product.

According to scientists working on the project, the super gitch may also be able to self-administer medications if an injury is detected. The commercial applications, they add, are many: the underwear could be helpful in monitoring people with health conditions, such as diabetes or people at risk of stroke. It could also monitor athletes and even blood-alcohol level.

Here's the Reuters video report:

(Thanks to Natalie for the heads up!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adult content fueling 3D TV in Japan

With two major electronics manufacturers, Sony and Panasonic, launching their 3D televisions here in Canada this week, a familiar story is starting to percolate: that porn is fueling the new technology.

According to a Bloomberg story, adult content is quickly filling the void (ahem) that 3D TV makers are facing. "Adult videos will likely be an incentive for consumers to buy a 3D TV," a Barclays Capital analyst in Tokyo told the wire service. "It's worth paying attention to the move because it's lack of content that's hindering expansion."

We haven't seen any hard (ahem) numbers yet, and because this is porn we're dealing with, we are unlikely to ever see them, so we only have logic and past experiences to go on. The VCR is a well-cited example of what's likely going on now. In the early 1980s, when Hollywood studios were busy suing the likes of Sony because they were worried that the new technology would spread piracy, there was a dearth of content for people interested in the VCR. The studios released movies in dribs and drabs so there wasn't much for the videophile to choose from. Porn companies were only to happen to provide, so films such as Debbie Does Dallas and Behind the Green Door found themselves atop (ahem) rentals lists for months, if not years, at a time.

With 3D, it's not a case of the studios worrying about the technology - it's just that they're not producing quality content at a quick enough pace. Sure, if you like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Monsters Versus Aliens or a host of other animated movies, 3D TV is for you. But for fans of real films, there's virtually zip out there.

I had a conversation the other day with my colleague Eli Glasner, who does film reviews for the CBC, and we agreed that so far, 3D films are nothing but a gimmick. Avatar was perhaps the only movie that really used 3D effectively and made it part of the story and experience, largely because it was incorporated into every step of the production. But pretty much every other live-action film has tacked on 3D in post production as a simple gimmick in an effort to sell more tickets (or get people to pay more for their ticket). Eli said as much when Clash of the Titans came out, while I came to the same realization while watching the latest Shrek movie the other week. At several points during the movie, I took off my glasses and thought, "Hmmm, nothing's different, so what's the point?"

Getting back to the Bloomberg story, Japanese porn companies see the lack of content as an opportunity and are gearing up for it. Producer S1 No.1 Style (love the name!) has two 3D movies ready to go, helmed by its two biggest stars, Mika Kayama and Yuma Asami. The company said it took three months to make the movies, or about triple the time it normally takes. That would make Sakon, the producer, the James Cameron of porn.

Adult entertainment aficionados are getting giddy with anticipation: "I need something dramatic to justify replacing my TV. This could be the motivation," said one potential buyer.

Sony, Panasonic and the others must be quietly happy this is happening. It's too early for any sales numbers yet, but judging from what I've heard from readers and potential buyers, 3D really isn't a selling point for anyone but the hard-core (ahem) gadget nerds who simply must have the newest stuff. Porn may just provide enough content to keep TV sales alive while Hollywood studios get up to speed with producing Avatar-calibre 3D films, if they ever do.

My suspicion, ever since 3D TVs made their big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas back in January, is that 3D won't be a major selling point for televisions for very long. I imagine that in a year two, regardless of the porn industry's influence or not, 3D will be a standard feature of all TVs and manufacturers will be back to battling each other on things like screen size and thinness.

And my apologies for all the innuendos above. Sometimes it's difficult to resist.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The revolution in books is here

The other night I was out for drinks with some friends, including my old comrade Mathew Ingram. Mathew, who I consider to be the best tech journalist in Canada, and I got to chatting about books and the future of the industry as it moves, finally and inexorably, into the digital age.

Our conversation centered on two topics. The first was a Wall Street Journal article last week on self-publishing, which seemed to take the exact position that I've posted a couple of times before - that publishing your own books, or "vanity" publishing as it is derogatorily known, is not going to be such a vain act for much longer. As the article puts it:

Once derided as 'vanity' titles by the publishing establishment, self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.

The internet, and new gadgets, are dramatically changing how the book business works - and they're doing so very quickly. By the end of this year, e-readers will be down to around $100, which means that not only will everyone be able to afford one, everyone will also want one because at that price they introduce a great value proposition. If you've ever gone on a trip and couldn't decide which book to take, or if you've ever wanted or needed to take several books with you, an e-reader takes care of the problem. An e-reader also does a lot to privatize the books you read so you can whip out your trashiest novels - or even books with the word "porn" in the title - in public with no fear of scorn. At $100, it won't be long before e-book readers are as ubiquitous as iPods.

In this brave new digital world, the e-book stores that provide the content for these devices (fortunately) don't work under the same rules that the traditional book industry has developed and enshrined over time, which is why self-publishers are being greeted with open arms. Content is content, so if you have a product that can make money for yourself and for these e-book stores, whether it's Amazon or Apple, they're happy to accommodate you (although in the case of Apple, you may want to keep your content PG rated). Whether you're a huge multinational book publisher or some dude holed up in his parents' basement, if you can make money for Amazon or Apple, it's all the same to them.

The rates the e-publishers are offering are very attractive - both let authors keep 70% of whatever they want to charge for their book, which is far superior to any per-copy royalty rate out there (typically between six and 15 per cent). A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed for an article on e-books in the National Post and was quoted saying: "I did the math on [Amazon's] new deal... If I were to sell my book [on Amazon] for five bucks, I would make more per book than selling the book to a conventional publisher." Indeed, $3.50 per copy is better than the royalty rate most authors get. Popular authors can make even more because they can charge more - if you sell your book for $10, you get to pocket $7. That's almost criminally high! One anecdotal author quoted in the WSJ story says she sold 36,000 copies of her e-book in a year. Do the math and you might start to wonder why an author would even think about trying to publish their book the traditional way.

The flip side, as publishers are quick to point out, is that there are costs associated with producing a book. Editing, design, distribution, marketing - all these things cost money. Also, if the author has any expenses in producing the book, as is often the case with non-fiction, they're going to need that advance, which is paid out at the beginning of the process. In self-publishing, the author doesn't see a dime until he or she starts selling, and there's no guarantee that'll happen in any event. But as a guy who runs a new publishing company says in the article, online self-publishing is:

... a threat to publishers' control over authors... It shows best-selling authors that there are alternatives—they can hire their own publicist, their own online marketing specialist, a freelance editor, and a distribution service.

In essence, the balance of power is shifting. Authors can now go it alone and reap most of the reward for their hard-earned work, rather than see it all go to the publisher. At the same time, the balance of risk is also shifting - if an author wants to self-publish, they're going to have to swallow the costs of their book up front and hope they recoup them in sales.

There are some authors who poo-poo the idea of self-publishing. I won't name them, but suffice it to say that I've heard from a few who generally need the ego boost of having a publisher buy into their book - they need the establishment's approval that what they've produced is of value. These sorts of authors are greatly threatened by the new age of self-publishing, the same way that many photographers dreaded the advent of digital cameras, because it puts what they do within reach of the masses. If anyone can do what they do, suddenly they aren't so special anymore. But let's face it: if Dan Brown can sell zillions of books, anyone can. Getting a book published is not necessarily an indication of skill or talent - it's mostly a combination of lucky factors, like whether you caught an editor on a good day, or the publisher just happens to need a book on your topic to round out their catalog, or they happen to know your cousin's cousin.

When I started working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers in earnest back in 2008, I had a feeling it might be part of a last generation of books to come out under the old system. Indeed, it looks like books released this year are actually straddling the two worlds. I've got my toes in both camps - I've always wanted to write a book and was as pleased as any father could be upon finally holding my newborn in my hands. At the same time, as someone who would like to make a living from writing books full time, the new system has lots of appeal. I'm anxious to get into e-books and try some self-publishing experiments. Hopefully, I'll be able to make some announcements soon in this regard, at least for countries where I still retain rights to my book.

That brings us to the second topic Mathew and I discussed. He told me about something Paolo Coelho was doing in regards to pirating his own books. Coelho, a Brazilian writer who's most famous for his novel , has not only embraced the idea of e-books, he's taken it a step further. As a story and video on TorrentFreak documents, the author found that by giving his e-books away for free, he actually boosted sales of the physical copies.

The Alchemist had only sold about 1,000 copies in Russia, so the author began to give it away for free as an e-book on his own Pirate Coelho website. From there, after the market was "seeded," physical sales grew to 10,000 a year, then 100,000. He admits on his website that this "may be considered illegal," but certainly no one involved in the traditional business complained about the added sales.

That's a fantastic story that only serves as further encouragement to authors. I'd always been somewhat afraid of self-releasing an e-book in a country where I still have rights (Russia, for example) because I thought that doing so would guarantee it would never be picked up there by a publisher. Coelho's story, as well as the WSJ article, show that the inverse is possible - that a book can be picked up because the e-book (pirated or not) has actually seeded a market for it.

So what happens if more and more authors start to go it alone more and more? Well, another author pointed out the downside for me. He said he likes Dan Brown because his shitty books, by selling zillions, allow his publisher to continue funding lesser-known books that only sell a handful of copies. If Dan Brown takes his business solo, that's zillions of dollars the publisher won't have to spend on smaller books by smaller authors. The danger here is that publishers will become even more dependent on their superstar authors, which some people I've spoken to have said is already well underway. Then, of course, there is no next generation of authors, or no superstars of tomorrow, which ultimately leads to publishers' downfall.

Is all of this good or bad? How will it turn out? It's probably too early to tell, although as I said, it's happening quickly and we'll likely know in the next few years. I'm guessing that five years from now, the book business will be completely unrecognizable from what it is today. It's certainly an exciting time to be an author - published or budding.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sex, Bombs and Burgers on The Agenda

The folks at TV Ontario have put up the video of my appearance on The Agenda last week. Unlike the CBC, TVO has a plethora of options for sharing its videos, so naturally I've got it embedded here. If you missed it on TV, check it out. It's a very different interview from the one on The Hour:

Friday, June 4, 2010

10 ways journalists and porn stars are alike

Whew, it was a busy week in Sex, Bombs and Burgers land. In a total fluke of programming, Tuesday saw me on both The Hour on CBC and The Agenda on TVO. If you didn't see The Hour interview, the show's website has me and horror director George Romero airing as a rerun tonight. I've found those listings to be less than reliable, so you're better off checking it out online. The Agenda hasn't yet posted their interview online yet, but I'll link to it when they do.

It was about a month ago that I taped both interviews, so I was a little worried before watching them - especially on the same night - that I might have overlapped and said the same stuff. Luckily, that wasn't the case, which is a credit to the interviewers. Steve Paikin on The Agenda was pretty straight up and, as one of my friends says, has a good interview style in that he sets his subjects up to chat away. George Stroumboulopoulos, meanwhile, is good at getting his guests to relax and feel at ease. The difference in styles made for two very different interviews, which I was pleased with. I definitely enjoyed them both.

I was also on Connect with Steve Kelly on CBC on Wednesday, chipping in my two cents on war porn. Check it out, it was an interesting piece. Also check out the hilarious bit they had on the Philadelphia Flyers' super fan. It'll make you embarrassed to be Canadian.

In other news, a colleague forwarded along an interesting column from the media watch folks at Poynter Online about how the newspaper and porn industries are very alike. Indeed, both are seeing their bottom lines dwindle thanks to the internet, where free content rules. Both industries have to revise their traditional distribution businesses and figure out how to make money on the web.

The best line from the piece comes from a writer for adult news site "The bottled water guys sell you water all day long even though you have a tap in the house. They find a way." Check it out, it's a great read.

In that vein, I thought I'd put together a list of how journalists and porn stars are alike. As you can see, we have more similarities than you might think!

Ten Similarities Between Journalists and Porn Stars - By Peter Nowak

10. We'll both gladly work in exchange for free alcohol.
9. There's a whole lot of fakeness going on (especially in TV).
8. Short attention spa... uh, what were we talking about?
7. The more exposure we can get for our work, the better.
6. We typically need various forms of pharmaceuticals to keep going.
5. Online, our work usually gets more attention when it's short and punchy rather than long and drawn out.
4. We are flexible about what is done to us (or what we produce).
3. We both deal in inches.
2. We both have no idea how to socialize with people outside our professions.
1. We both screw people for a living. In both professions' cases, the people getting screwed usually asked for it.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Can gamers control their dreams?

A headline about how playing video games can affect your ability to control dreams recently caught my eye, but I didn't initially read the story because it sounded like some sort of junk science stirred up just to get attention. Well, I finally did give the article, in Live Science - a "trusted and provocative source for highly accessible science, health and technology news" - a read, and it sounds somewhat plausible.

Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, has been doing research into the similarities between the virtual worlds created in video games, and those that we inhabit in our dreams. There are some similarities, she says: "If you're spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice... Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams."

Gackenbach has published a couple of studies on the subject that found, as Live Science puts it:

People who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams, observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies, and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds – qualities suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character.

Dream control, of course, brings up two things in my mind: and this one-hit wonder from prog rock band Queensryche:

Gackenbach's research is also interesting because of the fact that gamer/dreamers reported flipping between first and third person in their dreams, yet they never felt a sense of detachment from themselves when doing so. If you've ever played any Call of Duty game, you probably know exactly what they're talking about.

There is, of course, also a military link. In her studies, Gackenbach found gamers were also able to tone down their nightmares, which are a major part of post-traumatic stress disorder. She is therefore currently looking for military personnel and veterans to take part in some new studies on how games can be used to help treat PTSD.

Again, I'm not sure how much hard science is involved here and whether any of Gackenbach's research has been held up to peer review, but compared to some of the things DARPA is working on, this stuff is positively normal.

(Thanks Jeremy for the pointer!)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Global military spending hits new record

The world may have seen a relatively serious recession last year, but nobody seems to have told the military. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military spending rose 5.9 per cent last year to hit a record $1.5 trillion (U.S.), despite global gross domestic product contracting 0.9 per cent.

Leading the way, as always, was the United States with $661 billion, or more than 40 per cent of the world total. The U.S. has hardly turned into a bunch of peaceniks under President Obama, with its spending increasing 7.7 per cent from 2008.

Coming in second place for the second year in a row was China, which shockingly spent about six times less than the U.S. As , though, China has kicked the crap out of everyone over the past decade with a total increase of 217 per cent over that time, compared to 76 per cent for the United States and 49 per cent worldwide.

Rounding out the top five were France, Britain and Russia.

So why the continued military spending, even in the face of a recession? Well, according to SIPRI, it's not necessarily the result of preparing for war:

"Many countries were increasing public spending generally in 2009, as a way of boosting demand to combat the recession. Although military spending wasn't usually a major part of the economic stimulus packages, it wasn't cut either," a SIPRI official told Reuters.

"The figures also demonstrate that for major or intermediate powers such as the USA, China, Russia, India and Brazil, military spending represents a long-term strategic choice which they are willing to make even in hard economic times."

In other words, military spending is a time-honoured way of getting economies moving again. The Second World War did wonders for ending the Great Depression, so it's little surprise that spending continued to ramp last year.

That means we should hopefully start to see some dividends from all that spending creep into the consumer world in the near future. Fingers still crossed for a toilet-cleaning robot...
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