concept to publication

Author: xensen (Page 1 of 8)

Cornell color

I’ve been on the road in PA and NY. Will return tomorrow. We’ll file this post under “photography.” It’s an image of a lake on the Cornell campus in Ithaca. The composition uses the principal of thirds, and the exposure is balanced for the trees.

The fall color seemed weird since the temperature was over 80. To local connoisseurs of fall color this is hardly a spectacular season, but coming from the San Francisco Bay Area I find it pretty extraordinary just the same.

Controlled chaos and blog journalism

El Blogador at Inner Diablog (whose interesting posts I often consult in the context of my Buried Mirror research) cites Samuel Pepys and Jean Baudrillard as models for bloggish prose. These writers, he says, “pointed towards to a new style of writing that consciously moves out towards the edge of discussion (or the long tail if you must) often adopting “controlled chaos” as the chosen idiom.” An excerpt:

In terms of both style and content, mainstream journalists and academics tend to be repelled by ‘edgy’ writing like this because they have been trained to move towards and assume control of the centre of the topic they are addressing.

Similarly, many people in the PR industry are perhaps more naturally inclined to the mass market side of communications rather than the long tail. They’d rather be a hub than a node, which is why as a group they tend to waste so much time on Facebook and why, in spite of an apparent knack for the construction of narratives, they have thus far met with mixed success in the new medium.

It’s a highly competitive workplace and the bestseller mentality, wanting to be one, and to work with others in that same category, may be preventing PRs from fully grasping the transformations in their industry.

Blogador’s follow-up post is here.

hobbit house

hobbit houseThis handsome structure was built by architect Peter Archer for a client who collects Tolkien.

According to, “‘I came back my client and said, “I’m not going to make this look like Hollywood,”‘ Archer recalled, choosing to focus instead on a finely-crafted structure embodying a sense of history and tradition.”

More photos and story here.

Scene of the crime

poor carol

Victim and perp: broken ankle and the dirty mango what done it.

When Carol told the person at the hospital that she broke her ankle slipping on a mango on the sidewalk outside the Asian Art Museum the hospital person said “Well, that’s random.”

nasty mango

How many book reviews do we need?

Marginal Revolution has an interesting discussion of the role of newspaper book reviews. Several people say they just want “the bottom line — buy it, read it, skip it, or burn it.”

Why would you want that? Why would you want to abdicate your own judgment to someone else’s? (“Oh, the book reviewer said I should read this one, guess I’d better buy it. But that one I’m supposed to skip, even though it sounds interesting.”)

All I care about is getting some idea what the book is like. I’ve known a lot of reviewers, and there are very few whose opinions I have a compelling need to know.

Kathleen Parker: America’s Death March to Illiteracy
New York Times:
Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?

Evolving web style

I don’t know if I’m getting better at making websites, but certainly my philosophy has evolved. For buried mirror I’ve gone with a very spare look. I’m no longer putting in social bookmark and rss links like most of the seos use, for example. The only social bookmarking sites that seem to get used much (for my pages) are delicious and stumbleupon, and I figure most people know how to tag a page to those sites without being prompted.

I’m using an image map for navigation. Is that a good idea? I’m trying to keep the navigation to eight items (counting “home” and “contact”), and the nav words are too general to be of any use for search engines anyway. Since the image repeats on all (most? I made a sidebar style page in case the nav image is incompatible with body images) pages, it doesn’t slow the pages down once it’s cached (it’s about 35K, which doesn’t seem too bad).

On my computer the buried mirror pages are loading really fast, and I’m pleased with how this is progressing. Still some page moving to do (some pages are still referring to right reading), and I will need to strengthen the content …

“The Hand of Time” seems a good way to start.

Maybe what I’ll do is every fortnight or so make a link roundup of the main new additions to the satellite sites. That is, if I have the energy to keep juggling these sites without dropping a ball.

I can’t wait to get to the end of this post!

snappy walkerIt won’t come as a huge surprise to many people to learn that people are walking 10 percent faster than they were a decade ago. Where have things especially speeded up? Well, in Singapore people are walking 20-30 percent faster than they used to, and Singaporeans count as the world’s fastest walkers, according to a newly released study by Richard Wiseman. (Second-fastest, surprisingly, was Copenhagen. See all the results here.)

A previous study found that “as people move faster they become less likely to help others, and also tend to have higher rates of coronary heart disease.”

(The image is from Merida, and it’s cheating — they don’t walk fast there.)


burried mirror

I’ve spun off the Maya portion of this site to a new domain, The name alludes to the ancient Mesoamerican practice of including mirrors in burial sites. There’s still a lot of moving of files to do, but eventually this will enable me to collect all my Mesoamerican material on one dedicated site.

Previously I had splintered off my San Francisciana to my site That site does not receive as much traffic as this one (but I haven’t really worked at getting links yet). But I like the way it is accumulating a comparatively coherent body of material.

It raises the question of dedicated sites versus those where anything goes (like this one). When I ran my publishing company, Mercury House, I tried to be a traditional generalist house. Of course, while no book publishing is easy, niche publishing is easier than generalist publishing because it’s easier to establish an identity and it’s easier to define and reach a specific market segment.

Some bloggers invoke the 80/20 rule (for example, Google Blogoscoped, whose tagline is “80% Google”). The idea is that if 80 percent of your posts are on one topic the other 20 percent can be on whatever. There’s probably something to it. But — although this site tends to feature book- and print-related topics such as writing, translation, publishing, printing, art and photography, graphic design, and typography — I intend to keep it free-wheeling, not worrying about sticking to a particular topic.

Frisco Vista

Buried Mirror

presidential candidates tag clouds


Interesting. Republicans here, Democrats here. Via Vark.

Sorry posting has been slow. I’m about to break out another site, announcement soon.

I Want to Take You Higher

sfmoma rotunda

That’s what Sly Stone sang back in the day. Well — boom shaka laka laka boom shaka laka laka — it turns out he wasn’t just on something, he was also onto something. At least, that’s what researchers at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management maintain.

Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing (hmmm) there, says that recent studies have shown that “when a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly. They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics.”

I don’t know. I can see it for the SFMOMA rotunda, shown above. But what about the Oracle Arena, where I watched the Warriors defeat the Mavs, shown below? It’s got a pretty high ceiling. I suppose in a sense you could say the Dubs fans were thinking abstractly, but doesn’t that sense become itself so abstract as to be useless?

oracle arena

Gill Sans

examples of gill sans

examples of Gill Sans, an English institution, from Designer magazine

Ben Archer has an interesting article in Singapore’s Designer magazine Typotheque which he compares Eric Gill’s Gill Sans to its predecessor, the typeface designed for the London Underground by Eric Johnston. “To pick an argument with something that is akin to a typographic national monument might appear unwise; it is so very much ‘ours.'” he writes. “But it is a flawed masterpiece. How flawed? Well, monumentally flawed, in fact.”

Seen on eBay

It must be the desk that ups the price.

writhing desk

This “writhing desk” recalls Harry Potter, or maybe Lewis Carroll:”The regular course was Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with; and then the different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

Tutorial: Restoring a Dark Image in Photoshop

west group, kabah

I’ve written about restoring dark images before, but the other day I was working on a less radical image than the ones I was writing about then, and I thought a more detailed step-by step tutorial might be in order. In the image above — a picture of the western group of ruins at the Maya site of Kabah in the Yucatan — the original is on the left and the corrected version on the right. Follow me through the process here.

The Observatory at Chichen Itza

el caracol, the observatory at chichen itza

I’m having some trouble getting my Maya materials online because there are so many of them, and there’s just so little time. So, we’ll do this one building at a time. This is “El Caracol” (“the snail,” so called in Spanish for its winding internal staircase), which is called “The Observatory” in English.

It’s not hard to see how it gets that name, because it looks a lot like a modern observatory. It’s quite unusual for a Maya building, with its round dome placed on a square base. Slits in the dome allowed viewing the sky at the cardinal and subcardinal directions. Certainly the movements of celestial objects were important to the Maya, and their astronomical reckoning was quite advanced (witness their highly accurate calendar). But I’m not sure that we can say definitively how this building was used in its particulars. As with all Maya sites, a great deal of fancy has come to surround the ruins, making it difficult to separate fancy from fact.

The earliest parts of the Observatory were probably constructed in the ninth century. The building underwent several modifications over the succeeding centuries.

Click the small image in the post to see several more images of the Observatory.

Colbert Rapport

“People who regularly watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report could correctly answer more political trivia questions than those who watch CNN or Fox News or especially the teevee network news — those people were only barely cognizant of their own arms.”

Via Wonkette.

Are you a yankee or a rebel?

dixie or yankee

Take the quiz.

More Left Face – Right Face

sarah jessica parker, left - right

I’ve added a few more examples to my exercise in comparing the left and right sides of people’s faces. The new examples are:

  • Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Tim Gunn
  • Andre Breton
  • Johnny Depp
  • Miles Davis
  • Jane Fonda
  • Ron Artest
  • Moby
  • Pedro Almodovar


rejection letter

Nobody likes to be rejected, but that’s life in sales — submitting a manuscript for publication amounts to making an offer to sell a product. No salesperson closes every deal every time (especially when making cold calls). Persistence increases the odds.

From the publisher’s side, the onslaught of submissions is an endless plague. Yet finding the right manuscript is still the foundation of much of publishing (despite an increasing tendency to commission work rather than respond to it). So the publisher approaches manuscript submissions with a mixture of annoyance and desperate hope.

The result of all this is a minor art form known as the rejection letter. Regrettably, form-letter communication has drained the genre of much of its creativity. But beauty may still be found in some examples.

In the Peanuts comic strip Snoopy received many rejections, including these masterpieces:

Dear Contributor
Thank you for submitting your story. We regret that it does not suit our present needs. If it ever does, we’re in trouble.

Dear Contributor
Thank you for submitting your story to our magazine. To save time we are enclosing two rejection slips: one for this story and one for the next one you send us.

When I was an editor at North Point Press, I once had occasion to reject a manuscript submitted by Steve Allen. But I don’t think I did so with nearly the flair Allen showed in one of his own rejections, when he wrote to an author:

I thought you’d like to see what some fool is sending out under your name.

Samuel Johnson is supposed to have sent (or received, accounts vary) this wonderful rejection:

Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.

Then there is the often-cited Chinese rejection letter that appears in Louis Zukofsky’s A. It is delightful despite overtones of cultural stereotyping:

Most honorable Sir,
We perused your MS.
with boundless delight. And
we hurry to swear by our ancestors
we have never read any other
that equals its mastery.
Were we to publish your work,
we could never presume again on
our public and name
to print books of a standard
not up to yours.
For we cannot imagine
that the next ten thousand years
will offer its ectype.
We must therefore refuse
your work that shines as it were in the sky
and beg you a thousand times
to pardon our fault
which impairs but our own offices.


A manuscript’s subsequent history can put a new spin on a rejection letter. Ursula LeGuin’s agent received the following from an editor:

21 June, 1968
Ursula K. Le Guin writes extremely well, but I’m sorry to have to say that on the basis of that one highly distinguishing quality alone I cannot make you an offer for the novel. The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to be to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.

Does anyone have any noteworthy examples to add?

Image from Living the Scientific Life

Brownback Remembers!

Apparently the following is a real post from Senator Brownback’s real website. This man wants to be your president!

Why is memory not taught at every level of our educational system

April 11, 2007

The greeks believed in such a discipline and the best became Roman slaves, who taugh the Romans. All around the med this was true. Then Atilla must have given all the slaves their freedom, put them on his payroll, send them to Austria to discover Mozart, and guess what, Rome with out Nomenclators (you look it up) Yep Rome fell.

Consider the alternative, teach memory to everyone … this country has always been built by the poor and those in power do not want to continue to lose their advantage.


Publishing Wiki

publishing wiki

To help answer people’s questions about the publishing process, and I hope to provide a forum for collaborative thinking, I’ve started a publishing wiki. Follow the link on the welcome page that leads to the overview of contents to get a sense of the probable content. (Please bear in mind that this is just in the beginning stages at this point.) Some items are already links, others are just placeholders. They are listed more or less in the order in which they would occur in producing a book.

This is not a public wiki like wikipedia — unregistered users can’t edit content. But I’d like to collaborate with some people on this, so if you have experience in the publishing industry and you’d like to help out, send me an e-mail.

Those who don’t want to register and participate can still follow the link from the welcome page to this post and leave a comment here.

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