The World is Full of Mysteries
Ever notice how much mystery plays a part in our lives?
“Peek-a-boo! I see you!”
That innocent game we play with a baby is probably the child’s first conscious introduction to mysteries. When the blanket is up, where did mommy go? When it’s down, oh, there she is!
From that moment on, we are constantly engaged in solving mysteries.
Going to school allows us to find the answers to the mystery of:
- whether or not Susie likes Calvin
Mysteries are what fuels scientist’s curiosity:
- Are birds descendants of dinosaurs?
- Who built the giant statues of Easter Island?
- What can we do to save this species from extinction?
Many of us face personal issues to which we seek answers, such as those offered by unscrupulous marketers:
- “Learn the 10 Secrets the Pros Don’t Want You to Know!”
- “Lose 30lbs in 30 Days!”
- “Get Rich Using these 5 Easy Steps!”
We seek out and are entertained by mysteries in stories such as:
- Sherlock Holmes
- Indiana Jones
- Harry Potter
Why are Mysteries Important?
If you don’t think mysteries are important, let me ask you the following:
- Have you ever seen a movie where you start realizing what’s going to happen before it happens? Ruins the fun, right? That’s like telling people Darth Vader is Luke’s father before they saw Empire Strikes Back in 1980.
- Or how about seeing a magician do a trick that you’ve already seen before? The effect is not as…magical.
- Or why a woman wearing revealing clothing that much sexier than if she was simply nude?
- When you go see an Opera, Ballet, Musical, or Play at the theater, what if they didn’t have a drawn curtain?
We Love the Tease
Ever hear advice about writing a cover letter for your resume? Or how about a book proposal, or any proposal. What about the opening minutes of a TV show? The inside cover of a book jacket? Magazine cover? Promotional mailer?
They all feature something short, quick and easy to remember — to tease you into looking for more.
The best ones present a compelling mystery, one which you are eager to solve.
The Quest for Knowledge
- If fiction, we have the “MacGuffin”, what director Alfred Hitchcock referred to as an object or person — SOMETHING! — that is being chased after, sought after, and fought over. That continued searching is what the viewer of his films get hooked on.
- In Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon – detective Sam Spade is after the “black bird”, a supposedly jewel-encrusted statuette worth millions. His partner is murdered, and various parties are all after the falcon. What’s going to happen?
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – how is Frodo and his band going to destroy the One Ring, in the face of overwhelming odds?
In real life, we have the quest for knowledge.
- Buddha, in the process of becoming the Buddha, sought to answer to why humans suffered
- Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, and other dreamers sought out the answers to flight.
- We each all have our goals, and often wonder how we are to achieve them.
Mysteries engage our minds, our imagination, and our creativity.
The Mystery of Blogging
It even applies to our blogging.
Why do we ultimately subscribe to someone’s RSS feed?
To find out what’s going to be written next.
Have a great weekend!
I leave you with the following inspirational video clip:
TEDTalks: J.J. Abrams: The Mystery Box
Jame’s post on PLR articles yesterday got me thinking. What’s wrong with the PLR articles?
Too Much Run-of-the-Mill Content
PLR articles or Private Label Rights articles, if you don’t already know (I didn’t), are pre-written content that a subscriber can use for his or her own blog. Ideally, the blogger using the article will dress up the content, add his or her own twist to it to avoid having the exact same content as someone else who might have signed up (read: paid) for the same batch of PLR articles.
According to James, though, the proliferation of these cheap, repackaged material that is sold to thousands, if not tens of thousands of bloggers looking for content (with “low” prices, so volume must be high to gain profits) to fill their blogs will overwhelm the internet as we know it, burying us in a flood of recycled content that is old, stale and regurgitated.
The Microstock Business Model
What James is describing sounds similar to what professional photographers are experiencing in recent years as well, specifically with stock photography.
With free photo sites like Flickr (which is great!) and multitudes of “penny” stock — or microstock — image companies, the past work of photographers sitting in the vaults of the giant stock image companies become less valuable. Certain new work undoubtedly is worth less as well due to increased competition. (Wikipedia entry on microstock photography)
Professional photographer John Harrington, in his Photo Business Blog, describes it best: who needs to license a picture of the White House when you can find (a free) one on Flickr that is just as good?
Just as James sees PLR articles as a bad business practice, Harrington also finds the microstock model lacking as well. The once almighty Getty Images bought one of the larger microstock companies, iStockPhoto, and consequently shot themselves in the foot, according to Harrington. Why pay $200 when you can pay $1 for the “same” image? (Getty was recently sold to a private company, so we will see if doing so will mean a shift in focus back to doing what’s beneficial to their content providers — the photographers instead of what shareholders want — the bottom line.)
What’s Wrong with the Microstock Business Model?
I bet in the beginning, the early adopter photographers who put up their images on sites like Shutterstock, which currently pays 25 cents per download, made off pretty well. On this particular stock site, it pays 25 cents to the photographer for each of his/her image that is downloaded, so it states if your image gets downloaded 2000 times, you get $500. Sounds good, right?
Well, it is if you, the image-creator, were on a roster of only several hundred photographers, and you had at least a few dozen top-selling images: $500 x 20 images per month = pretty good money!
However, the site mentions these stats as of today:
- 3,141,584 royalty-free stock photos
- 36,756 new stock photos added this week
- 91,940 photographers
Over 90 thousand photographers. And over 3 million images. Seems like a lot of great choices for the end users: tons of high-quality, royalty-free photos at low, low prices. But how is it for the content creator — the photographer? Of 3 million images, how many are “top-selling”? One must realize that if the supply far, far outweighs demand, the likelihood of anyone having a top-selling images becomes marginally better than winning the lottery.
How many images does the photographer need to have that sell? Would they get enough payment to make a decent living? If not, they’ll have to do something else instead of creative great images, wouldn’t they?
Who actually makes the money here? Hint: the middle-man (remember it’s a numbers game.)
PLR Articles is the Microstock of Professional Writing
I believe Jame’s sentiments about PLR articles is the same as what I’ve described about the microstock business model. The people that truly profit from PLR articlers are the ones selling them — the middle men/women who promise writers hefty pay-out for their well-researched, well-written content. Those content-providing writers who got into the game first are sure to do well, just like those early-entry stock photographers, but as more and more dive in, the result will most likely mirror what’s happened with stock photography — writers would have to write more and more content to generate the same income, most likely resulting in poorer work, and devaluing the overall web experience.
What Will Happen?
While James may be going for the dramatic flare when he says the influx of run-of-the-mill, repeated content will CRASH the internet, I have to think that while the internet will most likely survive, the writing landscape will undoubtedly change.
According to Technorati’s State of the Live Web report (April 2007),
- approximately 120,000 new blogs are create each day, or 1.4 per second
- bloggers write 1.5 million posts per day, or 17 posts per second
Mind-boggling, er…rather, mind-bloggling when you think about it.
What will happen in the end, I think, will be up to us, the bloggers who care about what we want to say, and ultimately who care about our readers.
Already, I see some hints of things to come, but I’ll save that for a future post. Thanks for reading!
I found the recent Yahoo! Finance article 7 Extreme Ways to Save Money pretty interesting. It basically discussed various (extreme) ways to cut costs. For me, the last one mentioned is the simplest:
Ditch the TV
The Yahoo! article says by trashing the TV, people would be saving money because they’d no longer be bombarded by ads, which makes sense, right? However, I think the idea of either no longer watching (or watching much less) television is worthy of an entire post.
Disclaimer – I DO Watch TV
First of all, I will admit that growing up, I was a TV junkie. My summers were often spent watching reruns of everything from Leave It to Beaver to Gilligan’s Island to Star Trek and Monkees. So, yes, I’ve watched my share of TV, and a lot of who I am did come from the influence of TV shows (see my post on Star Trek).
Today, my weak spot is Heroes.
But really, with our society so bathed in media 24/7, sometimes it’s a good idea to simply…disconnect.
Benefits of Foregoing TV
Being self employed and with a family as well, I find I have very little time for TV anyway. If it’s on these days, it’s really only for the kids.
For me, here’s what not watching the ol’ tube has allowed:
- I’ve Regained the Opportunity Costs – for me, this is the most important. This means that instead of spending time watching TV, that time is now used for something else that’s more productive, such as spending time with the family, doing chores (brownie points from the spouse), working (good for clients), or sleeping (good for me )
- I’m more Proactive – TV is a passive medium. You sit there and simply get spoken to. When it’s on, I get into the mindless and time-wasting habit of channel surfing, trying to find something worth watching. Now, I either read, do some exercise, or go out for a walk.
- I Free my Mind – When I’m not watching TV, I no longer have to get enthralled in some reality show, listen to a get-rich-quick-scheme, hear about the latest diet fad, or be cajoled into calling right now while operators are standing by to get the extra free knife set (still have the pay shipping)! When I think about it, those shows serve no real good purpose except to eat up my time. I’m not going to be on Jeopardy! or do anything where useless TV knowledge will come in handy, and I certainly don’t need to buy more stuff. Because it’s easy to access, cheap (or free), and there’s a lot of it, TV is like junk food for the mind. Free yourself from its grasp, and now you’re able to think.
- I Have a Quieter Household – In the old days, I used to turn on the TV, and it would be on for hours, even if I was doing something else. But now, with it usually off, it’s much more peaceful — and I can even listen to music.
- I Can Appreciate the Good Shows more – Now, on the rare occasion I do watch a show, it’s more of a well-deserved break from my busy day. I’m sure the experience will never be like in the Golden Age of Television where families tuned into live shows, but at least I am more in control of my own life. And I pick and choose more carefully the one or two shows to watch for simple entertainment.
Try Less TV
Television is a powerful medium, with great influence on people who watch. I am not saying we should completely ban TV, either. I have simply just found that now that I really don’t watch TV that much, I have more time to simply be myself, and to think for myself and do the things I want to do in this life.
If you watch more than an hour a day, try taking a break for a week with the mindset you’ll do some of the things you’ve always wanted to work on (read that book, work on that painting, go workout, etc.)
You might like it.
I recall there was talk about the paperless society when the internet started becoming popular, and predictions were made about the demise of the brick-and-mortar bookstore.
New Reader Technologies
Indeed, with recent technologies such as the Apple iPhone and Amazon Kindle, we may soon be at the point where we will have something like the PADD from Star Trek The Next Generation — multitouch screen technology, innovative, energy efficient, highly-readable displays, ubiquitous information access, etc. We would get tremendous amount of data storage, search features and convenience — who wouldn’t want one, right?
I think people would want one, as much as many want the iPhone. And there is no doubt that the ultimate electronic reader will soon come into existence. Perhaps there will be a rental fee for it, with the ability to borrow an online book for as long as we want to read it, a la the Netflix model. It’s coming, I can feel it.
But Books Will Never Die
At least for the foreseeable future. I’m sure there will be a Tipping Point when books start to decline, but just as film and photography has not seen the disappearance of painting and drawing, these new technologies will most likely play alongside Gutenberg’s legacy format for some time.
Reasons Books Still Remain Popular
The way I see it, there are (at least) 5 reasons why people still love books:
- Books Appeal to the Human Senses – There’s nothing quite like lifting and feeling the heft of a well-made book: the leather binding of an old classic, with its roughly-cut edges, and its lightly-textured pages, or the smooth pages of a coffee table picture book, with its colorful images, or even simply the worn-out, dog-eared pages of a favorite paperback novel. A book appeals to our sense of sight, touch, and even smell.
- Books Offer Convenience – While the new technology offers unparalleled ease-of-use, the book already meets a certain minimum standards of convenience that makes the media popular. A book is always “on”, ready to be read at a moment’s notice — no recharging or wireless network is ever needed to read a book.
- Books are Visual Reminders – To completely read a typical book usually requires more than one sitting, and the book physical form allows it to simply be placed anywhere, sure, but usually in a spot where it serves as a visual reminder to “read me”: desk, beside table, even the toilet tank top .
- Books Create Social Impressions – What happens when I visit a friend or even go to a party is that I am often drawn to their bookshelves (if they have one) for a couple of reasons. One is to see if they had a book I would think is interesting — and this can become a point of conversation — and the other reason is I get a better picture of what kind of person they are: how well-read (if they have more classics), or how well-rounded (if they have a variety), or how well-versed (if they have a large number of say…cookbooks). I wouldn’t be able to be so “nosy” if all they had was a handheld reader (that’s probably password protected, or contain a metrics access function like thumbprint verification).
- Books have the Ah! Factor – Dog-eared pages, notes scribbled on the side, flipping through pages randomly or going straight to the index if it has one, a book sets up the stage for satisfaction of my need to continue learning, whether it’s through a nonfiction reference book or a trilogy of fiction novels. There’s a great feeling to finally reach the end of a book, when all of the weighty tome has shifted its mass from right to left. And, if it’s a great book or a great story, the feeling is even more powerful.
Books are a concrete way of sending information into the future, and for those of us on the receiving end, I would say reading a book is one of life’s simple pleasures.
If you like this post, you might like my post on
One of the best recent books I’ve read that perfectly illustrates critical thinking skills is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
In it, Mr. Diamond espouses on a number of theories that help explain how early human societies throughout the world developed, evolved and eventually wound up with today’s nation-states.
It’s amazing how he is able to illustrate in detail a broad picture of the development of human societies — in many ways, the “story” almost resembles one of those world conquering video-games like Age of Empires, or Civilization and their ilk. For instance, mankind in the beginning had to contend with simply finding (gathering) enough food to eat. But with the introduction of new “technology” like hunting, more food became available to support a larger community beyond a family. Thus, began tribes, villages, and eventually cities, kingdoms, etc. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those game creators had read the book for research).
It really is a fascinating look at the reasons why and how various societies developed, who was able to succeed, why others failed, and especially why current national powers exist where they are. Factors such as geography, natural wildlife, plant species, and luck are all examined in detail. And of course, later on in the book, we find out more about the influence of “guns, germs and steel”.
It’s an eye-opening book.
I’ve been slowly exploring the excellent blog, Zen Habits — one of the inspirations for this blog — and author Leo Bautista has a wonderful post entitled Best All-Time Children’s Books. It’s an extensive list, and I agree with his choices, at least for the ones I happened to have read.
I thought I’d write my own little post on books that I recall first borrowing from the library:
- Henry Huggins – by Beverly Cleary. I distinctly remember reading this book in 4th grade, when I first got my very own library card. It was great fun to imagine the seemingly ordinary life of young Henry Huggins, where nothing happens until the day he comes home with a stray dog. The various situations he gets in are fun, yet filled with the kind of lessons every child should learn. I believe these were the first books where I became fully immersed in the world of the characters, feeling what they were feeling, and experiencing their challenges and how they overcame them. I read many of the other books in the series (such as the Mouse and the Motorcyle, and really became aware of how to find books by author. Zen Habits recommends the Ramona series, which I have not read, but it seems anything by Cleary is good. I noticed that many of Cleary’s books have been recently reprinted with new illustrations. I’m partial to the original, but still, I would highly recommend any of her books.
- The Mad Scientists’ Club – by Bertrand R. Brinley. I was enthralled with books that really emphasized independence from adults. It was a chance to escape into a different world, into a kid’s world, and to see things from their perspective. Since I WAS a kid at the time, it was easy, and appealing. And in this book and others in the series, I got to do that. It really helps that the title was really enticing: mad scientists as in bwah-ha-ha-ha, and a exclusive club — how much more of an invitation does a kid need? In this series, a band of kids often uses science as a way to pass the time but sometimes achieving something more. Whether it’s pranks or something heroic like rescuing, the series is truly entertaining. If you’re really interested in learning more, there are a couple of websites worth checking out:
- www.MadScientistsClub.com – looks like the official website by the author’s son, Sheridan Brinley
- www.PurpleHousePress.com – a site dedicated to bringing back great children’s books from years past
- Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint – by Jay Williams and
Anyway, I feel these books really helped shaped and developed my appreciation for fun, involving stories, and set the stage for my my burgeoning childhoold curiosity of science.
If you have some favorite childhood books, I’d love to hear about them.
I hope to continue writing about them as periodic topics in the future.
I admit it. I grew up on TV.
When I look back on my childhood, which didn’t seem like such a long time ago, there were plenty of times when I found myself in front of the o’ tube.
Star Trek: TOS – The Original Series
Of the many shows I watched, one was Star Trek (although they were reruns). It was that show that introduced me to science fiction, and it was appealing because it DID feature science, cool gadgets, theories and technology all in a package that was entertaining and fun. It wasn’t until years later did I realize it was also hokey and um…geared toward the male audience.
Despite it all, I can point back to that show (and later the The Next Generation) as what really helped to form and develop some of my basic core philosophies:
- Open-mindedness – In Star Trek mythos, it’s called IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations – I would say it was one of the show’s basic premises, even though IDIC is more prominently mentioned in novels (yes, I read some of those, too!) But the show really hit home the idea that there are lots of things out there in the world, and as humans, and even as an individual, we should be open to new possibilities.
- Balance of Logic with Practicality and Intuition – The entertaining interplay between Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock and Dr. McCoy helped to really point out how a balance of logic, intuition and practicality usually helps to make smart and wise decisions.
- Consequences of Our Actions – Episodes like The City on the Edge of Forever and Mirror, Mirror help set the stage for all alternate timeline storylines, which really drilled home the fact of how events can play out from certain key events, and if those key events had occurred differently, then mostly likely the subsequent events would forever be altered. This really helped me realize that we should always consider the bigger picture when we decide on a course of action.
- We Should Seek Knowledge – I really loved the idea that if, somehow, we have all our energy needs met, then we’d be left with nothing else to do but to explore. But you know what? We don’t need to wait — we can explore each and everyday, and teach that to our kids as well. By exploring and learning, we may well one day find a way to say, fully harness the “limitless” power of our sun. Yeah, stuff of science fiction, but stranger things have happened.
- Let Others Learn – Many episodes dealt with the Prime Directive, which to me means just because you feel you’re superior either in stature or knowledge, doesn’t mean you should dictate what everyone should do. I’ve taken that philosophy in Parenting where I often try to teach the older brother not to blurt out the answer he obviously knows, when it’s his younger brother who’s thinking things through by himself.
Well, I guess that’s about it for now. I know there’s a new Star Trek movie being made — keeping fingers crossed that it’ll be good. In the meantime, though, it’s cool to reminisce and realize how much of a positive impact that show had.
On myself, AND on a part of society.
Over the holidays, I had the pleasure of putting on a puppet show with the kids.
It was my honey’s idea was to engage the kids in something different than their everyday Bionicles or videogames. They were first resistant to the idea, and during rehearsals everyone got frustrated, but in the end everyone agreed it worked out well.
The Steps to Putting on a Home Puppet Show
First of all, it’s hard work. We had to:
- Build a puppet stage – my honey did most of it, constructing a serviceable puppet stage out of cardboard that she had saved.
- Write a script - again, here my lovely partner came up with the script. She said it was actually the hardest part, to come up with something that was easy for the kids to say or read, and that also had a good lesson for them to take away.
- Rehearse -Rehearsing got a bit frustrating at times, but the idea was to instill in the kids that everything worthwhile takes effort and practice. The more you practice, the better you get.
- Let me take over – The original idea was for the kids to do the whole show: read the script and act with the hand puppet. However, it turned out that was a lot harder for them to read and emote with their spoken voices AND try to remember they’re supposed to manipulate the puppet as well. The younger brother actually kept turning his hand toward himself, meaning that Winnie-the-Pooh always had his head turned away from the audience. In the end, I stepped in to do the puppetry. Luckily, I was raised on the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Mr. Rogers and so things worked out. It was a lot of fun, actually.
The Effects of a Puppet Show
Afterwards, when I reflect on what we did, it’s clear that kids can learn a lot from puppet shows because (and why Sesame Street has been around so long):
- It’s entertaining – so it’s easy to broach different ideas and not seem like you’re trying to preach. It’s no wonder shows like Sesame Street and such are popular.
- It’s memorable – in this case, because the kids were directly involved in the production, I think it will be a fondly remembered experience in years to come. We shall see. At least they love watching the video of the show.
- It teaches them timing – Well, at least they were introduced to the idea — they can still use a lot of practice, but now they have at least one beginning lesson on how to emote and act.
- It provides a sense of accomplishment – Again, because they were involved, it was obvious the experience provided a big boost to their self-esteems. They were beaming during the applause.
It was hard work, but a lot of fun, and I’m glad for the experience, both for myself and for the kids.
We’ll have to see if we’ll do more in the future.