Monday, June 28, 2010

Me and Some Girl on TV

Driving home last night from parts further south, I was stopped on a minor highway between two small Ontario towns. Cars and vans and miscellaneous vehicles lined both sides of the road, and a huge blinding spotlight was illuminating spooky fog swirls up ahead. I expected a R.I.D.E check but that wasn't it.

We weren't moving at all. Cars in front of me turned around and went back. After debating whether or not to do the same, to trust the road sign at the intersection I'd just crossed and detour on a road I'd never driven on before, I too turned around. Oh, sure, now some guy puts up a road closed sign. But I also saw a couple other guys on the side of the road dressed similarly in odd whitish/grey outfits. I decided to ask them what was going on as I drove by.

The answer? Filming for some TV show, I was told. Then the guy said, "Hey, you look like Being Erica's Erica.
I laughed, said thanks, and went on my way. I was thinking either the guy needs glasses or it was the fact that

  1. it was dark out
  2. and drizzling rain
  3. and I asked the question through the passenger side window while sitting in the driver's seat so he couldn't see clearly 

Still, it's okay to be mistaken for the star of a TV show who happens to be only 32. Hah!

(I confess to recognizing "Being Erica" as the title of a CBC TV show but it's not one I've ever watched. I had to look it up today. The premise sounds cool. I might just have to check it out now.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Frog Find

I dashed out to cut some chives for my dinner the other day when I was surprised by this green guy:

Maybe it's an all-you-can-eat slug buffet at the third clump of chives from the tarragon. Bring some friends!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Between the natural world throwing us an earthquake yesterday, last night's tornado off to the southwest of me, severe thunderstorm warnings here this morning (which amounted to only heavy rain, thankfully), and all the security and shenanigans associated with the G8, things here have been rather interesting lately.

Yesterday my kids came home excited to tell me about the military helicopter that landed across from the school and how everyone in a couple classroom portables abandoned their desks and ran outside for a better look. I guess some guy told them to get back and it took off again. The kids got a talking to from their teacher too.

And yesterday three very loud helicopters flew over the house a couple times. Those things are loud! The wildlife in my backyard was not too impressed. The low flying copters scared at least one heron and a turtle. I initially put the quake shake down to another flyover. Oops!

I know these things are necessary with an event such as the G8 and the important people attending it, but it's a very odd juxtaposition to have such a technological military/security presence in such a rural region known for being a get-away-from-it-all vacation destination. Makes me appreciate the time when the peepers were my biggest noise complaint:

And I am fortunate that things will return to normal in just a matter of days.

2 appreciate
1's normal state

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Views, Two Views

I’ve been contemplating some info I learned through one of my volunteer activities. Although said activity has nothing to do with writing, the info itself can be useful to writers, I think. 
I was in Toronto (Hi, CN Tower!) at the Skate Canada annual convention a few weeks ago and attended a workshop titled “New Web Strategies.” You can’t beat sports when it comes to expertise in fans and technology, right? 

The workshop was given by Kevin Albrecht of iSport Media and Management. He went over the current landscape in consumption of sport product and internet usage, and how to make use of this to promote and build a eventually make money of course. 

The community being referred to was the community of skaters or skating clubs and organizations and fans, but presumably the community could be any group of individuals with similar interests. Maybe like, say, followers of certain books or authors.

First, it’s kind of obvious, but we were told the goal of any business is to produce content, distribute the content, and somehow make money from that. Whereas in the past the distribution channels for sport were limited to a couple options (TV mostly and only a couple channels at that) now there are hundreds of options for distributing content. Hey, sound familiar my publishing pals? 

Into this new world of distribution options comes these facts:
  •  Canadians spend more time online and view more content online than any other country in the world 
  •  Canadians spend more time online than in front of the TV 
  •  Internet penetration in Canada is 72%; in the USA it’s 62%
Pretty obvious digital content is becoming very important. Add to this a study that found how people view websites. He said a study of 1.36 million internet users found the eye tracks a website this way: across the top, down the left and across the middle/bottom. You have 2.4 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention.

What does that mean?
    • This dictates where your important information and/or big advertising spots on your website should go 
    • You need new content regularly to give people a reason to come back to your site (so quit taking blog holidays already, sheesh!)
      Some interesting predictions were: 
      • live streaming from just about anywhere will become a reality as people live stream events from their own phones and send that to a website of their choosing
      • apps to a closed community will be worth the most money (so eg. a skating club app with schedule, news, competition results, live streaming of competitions or events, etc) 
      So will we soon see author apps?

      I bet it'll start out with the big guys, those who are big enough to warrant interest in appearances, opinions, news of forthcoming books, etc. Maybe later on it will filter down or come down in price for those of us with a more modest presence.
      Food for thought, no? 

      Sure made me think. It was fun to step outside my regular writing mindset. I was glad I went on a number of levels. Besides, this easily-fascinated-by-forms-of-transportation gal got to enjoy this view from my hotel room. Airplanes took off from the runway, and there are sailboats, ferry boats, and a water taxi. Yes, this view was pretty easy to take.

      But at the banquet I kinda wish I'd never had this view. Who wants a big ole castor canadensis looming over an otherwise stellar dinner? 

      (Yeah, it's standing on the floor and that's the ballroom CEILING and part of one of those gargantuan projection screens on the right.) Apparently they'll make a big inflatable anything these days.

      Wednesday, June 2, 2010

      Special Skype School Visit

      How cool to be asked if I could talk to the kids at  Monticello Elementary in Wisconsin about Life in a Farming Community, which focuses on Monticello, WI.

      How disappointing for both the teacher and I to realize I couldn't get there on either the school's or my own budget. But then we settled on the possibility of a Skype visit. Jody Indergand was able to get the technology to do it. I had the capability. We agreed to do it! Was I nervous? You bet: I was going to be talking to the kids in the very community I'd written about.

      To prepare, I read a lot about what other authors had done with their virtual visits to get a sense of what to do on my end and what the experience would be like. Google "skype author visit" or something like that. There's lots of good info out there. So here's how it went for me.

      First I tested my Skype out with a friend to get a feel for it. Then teacher, Jody Indergand, and I set a date and time a few days before the scheduled talk to test how our systems worked together. By turning her camera she showed me where the kids were going to be sitting. We made sure she could see and hear me and that I'd show up on their large screen. We double checked our time zone differences so we knew exactly what time we'd scheduled in local terms.

      After that, I needed to tidy my desk, which regularly looks like a disaster. More importantly I needed to tidy what the kids would see behind me (which incidentally also usually looks like a disaster). I used my webcam to see what the kids would see. Saaaay, they can't see the floor! I hid a lot of stuff there. This is what they would see. I lined up a few of my books face out behind me so there'd be an interesting background. I had this weirdly vague feeling that I should clean the rest of my house, like I was having company or something, but quickly canned that idea. That didn't stop me from having to remind myself that they couldn't, afterall, see the crumbs from my lunch left on my kitchen counter.

      This is what my desk looked like before the event. I've got water perched precariously close to the keyboard in case I needed a drink during my talk. Next time I think I'll use a container with a lid, like a travel coffee mug or a reusable water bottle. I perched my laptop on my handy dandy Muskoka phone books because what I'd realized from testing the view from my webcam was that I needed to bring the level of my web cam up higher. My notes and props are within reach on the right. Everything was ready and then it was just a matter of waiting for Skype to ring.

      Jody and I had decided who would phone whom on the day plus we'd exchanged real phone numbers in case of difficulties. There was the ring! We only had to fix the small glitch that they could see me but I couldn't see them, and then we were all set. It turned out they even had some special guests in the audience so that the people who fact checked and provided photos for the book were there too. I waved to Richard Grahn and Sally Braem. This is the terrific audience of kids I was talking to.

      I did a brief presentation on how I wrote the book. The kids found it fascinating to learn how a British book packager contacted a Canadian writer to write about a small village in the US and put together a book that is published in the US, Canada, and Australia. After I talked, some of the kids came up to their computer and web cam individually and asked me some great questions. They wanted to know things like what was my favorite thing I learned about Monticello, if I'd ever written about farming before, and whether writing was a job or a hobby for me. Like I said: great questions!

      My overall experience was very positive and I'd definitely do it again. Challenges for me included:
      • not being able to read the audience as well. I could see and hear them obviously, but couldn't make eye contact with individual audience members. 
      • my presentation felt more static to me. Because I wasn't physically there I couldn't walk around and change positions. Maybe that wasn't helped by the fact that I had to stay fairly still in my chair because my chair is annoyingly squeaky and creaky when I move. Next time I'll hunt down the WD-40 first.
      • hanging up was a downer. When it was all done and we'd said goodbye and thank you, you just hang up and presto you're back to your regular life. After a physical school visit you get to do some handshaking or whatever and drive away. There's a more gradual transition or something. 
      • forcing myself to look at my web cam was difficult. Other authors have commented on this too. You have to make yourself look at a small black dot when your brain wants to look at the kids on your computer screen. But if you don't look at the dot, to your audience it will look as if you're looking down whereas if you look at the dot it looks to them as if you're looking at them.
      But we were able to exchange some valuable information (like I learned how locals pronounce Monticello) and interact when we otherwise wouldn't have been able to. I think until an author can project a hologram of themselves elsewhere (you know, like in Star Wars!) doing visits this way works very well for short presentations.

      Finally, this is a screen shot of my entire computer screen. This is Skype on my desktop background during our call. When I wanted to hold something up for my audience to see, that little window of me showed me what they could see so I could hold things up properly for them.

      So a big thank you to Monticello Elementary for inviting me to visit! It was a pleasure, and I hope that one day I will indeed get to visit your beautiful corner of the world--in person!

      Tuesday, June 1, 2010

      Mythic Moth

      Check out this moth that was just outside my door this morning. It's a polyphemus moth. Beautiful to have such a surprise, no? I don't know why the moth it got its name, and I'm too lazy at the moment to research it further, but Polyphemus is a cyclops from Greek mythology. You know, a one-eyed monster. This moth does have eye spots, but it's got more than one obviously.

      The moth is quite large, which is also what makes it so beautiful. Here it is beside my hand. I know I don't have big hands, but still....

      I've let it rest here for the day
      and hope it flies away,
      finds its way,
      carries on with its moth business tonight.