Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “information highway”

The Growing Power of the Ebook

My teenage son asked me to download the latest book from his favorite author. He was excited having seen an email that Amazon.com were kind enough to send him announcing the new book. My son is a voracious reader and I am extremely happy about that. He has a kindle and he is not afraid to use it.

I glanced and said no. “Why?

My first objection was that the ebook was $10, a price that I consider ridiculous for an ebook. “I’ll pay half,” he responded. That always gets me that he is willing to invest his paltry wealth into a book. He also knows that gets me.

I change track and suggest he orders it from the public library. His eyes roll as I begin a favorite lecture which can be summed up by: I pay for that library (a brilliant institution, by the way) with my taxes, so we should use it. He reminds me that last time I told him to do that, he was wait-listed for three months before I gave in and downloaded the book for him. “Oh,” he adds. “How long did you wait for that new John Grisham you are listening to?

I wince. I have complained for half a year as I waited for The Racketeer.

Finally, as I desperately stare at the Amazon.com advert, I realize this is a pre-launch announcement and the book isn’t due out for a few months. I sigh with relief. I have not won the battle, only deferred it. 

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The argument rages on: Ebooks .v.Tree Books. I have a kindle as does my eldest, and my youngest can use my phone. Mrs. Blog has snapped a picture of the three of us taking a break from ‘screen time’ to read, and are each absorbed in whatever is on our kindle or phone.

In the past, I have talked about the environmental advantages of the ebook, but my children’s generation will add two factors to the argument that were probably not considerations when ebook technology was being designed:

1) It is instant, as are most things for these young people.

2) It is connected to the bigger information highway that is an integral part of their lives.

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I have been reading and enjoying a how-to book – The Kindle Publishing Bible by an Internet entrepreneur, Tom Corson-Knowles. Tom (May I call you Tom? I feel I know you so well after reading this book) provides very clear instructions and methodology. He enhances this by providing links to examples and further information. Most impressive, he can update something that changes on a webpage and I can receive the most up-to-date data and developments.

I found this added aspect really exciting, but then I am only a year shy of fifty. My sons will take this service for granted…they probably already do.

But there is still that magic of holding a book, gazing at the cover, smelling the musty scent, and hearing the crackle of pages. While recently on vacation, I bought a few hardcovers from a used bookstore. I have read them all and my son was puzzled why I would buy them. They are great books and I want them to adorn my bookshelf and I want to be able to lend them to friends.

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The advantages of ebooks are obvious, their market penetration destined. This is good for the planet, for the increasingly smaller spaces we live in and the need to be on the move and not be laden with heavy tomes, and probably good for the author. My epic fantasy series has been consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.  Moreover, it just fits so seamlessly into the lifestyle that will be prevalent for my children.

I can just imagine them one day, holding their own children’s little hands and staring at my bookcase. “Yes, Grandpa actually read those tree book things, even though he loved the trees. You know he used to make me read them, and often wait months to receive them, even when I could have simply downloaded a book with a click!

The other advantage for the reader is the far more affordable price of a book, often tempting us to try a new author for less than the price of a cappuccino. This might be a good time to share that to celebrate the release of my next Wycaan Master book, Ashbar, my publisher has decided to lower the ebook price of At The Walls Of Galbrieth to $0.99 (see my very different attitude here as the author!) for the month of August.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

Interview with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC

The following interview is with The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC, the fictional judge of The Accidental Activist. On Sunday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s on which the story is loosely based.

Where it all transpired - in the novel and real life

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Interview: The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC – sitting judge of the Oilspill Libel trial.

Henry Wilkins QC: Let me make it clear before we even begin this interview. I will not answer any question specific to the ruling of the Oilspill Libel case, as it is now known. I am a judge, a Queen’s Councilor, and proud to serve at Her Majesty’s Royal Courts of Justice. I am somewhat suspicious of blogs, of what one can or cannot write, and I am anxious to read this book by Alon Shalev – The Accidental Activist – and see how he positions the role of the law and, I have to admit, my role as the sitting judge.

Interviewer: Let us begin with this aspect of the court case. Did you ever imagine when the two sides stood before you on that first day in court that the case would last for so many years and become the longest trial in British history? Or that it would attract such a high profile?

HW: Certainly not. The mere notion that two amateurs could take on a legal heavyweight like Jeffery Sithers and fathom their way through the complex framework of British libel laws is baffling. Of course, no one imagined that the website, Oilspill.com, would have such a profound effect or such worldwide appeal.

Int.: Did you ever feel that you wanted to help or advise the defendants because of this blatant inequality?

HW: Hmm, a tough question. With regard to the actual issues, I never felt a desire to support either side. I am most comfortable with the gown and wig that I wear and understand my role of objectivity, of ensuring that the law is respected.

But then I sat there for two years seeing two exhausted and frustrated young people, clearly committed to what they perceive as a better business and world model, but always outflanked, out-resourced and, certainly out-briefed – not that such a word exists.

Then at the other table sat Jeffery Sithers, the most famous libel lawyer in Britain, with seven legal aides, all dressed up in their pin-striped suits, and always prepared for what was unfolding. Did you know that the company actually provided Jeffery with a young caddie, whose sole responsibility was wheeling all their documents in and out of the courtroom every day? It made me appreciate the lad at my golf club.

Int.: What was groundbreaking about this case?

HW: Hmmm, I think there are two significant aspects. Clearly, it exposed the need to update the British libel laws, which, I believe, have been left untouched for 500-600 years. Secondly, the whole aspect of the growing role of the Internet: that such a global informational conduit could be leveraged in such a fashion, well let me tell you, it was fascinating. And, between you and me, I have continued to learn and stay abreast of these technological advances.

It was the website that enabled Steel and Morris to compete in the real court case

Int.: How did you feel when you saw Professor McGoughen enter the fray?

HW: Ha! That old cad! I think that the only time I allowed my emotions to show was the first time I saw the old fox sitting up in the galley grinning. I never thought he could be lured out of his Oxford University sanctuary. He might seem eccentric to some, but let me tell you, he was a legal titan in his day. He pursued the multinationals and big businesses with a vengeance. I clashed with him many times during our careers and I hold him in the highest esteem. Still, I can’t say I was too happy with him when he pulled that stunt on me at the end of the trial. But I won’t specify until I check if it is in Shalev’s book.

Int.: Without getting into the court case itself: what lessons can we all learn from what transpired in your courthouse?

HW: Hmm. Firstly, that the law makes everyone accountable, no matter how powerful or wealthy they might be. It must fulfill this role. Secondly, that the Internet has an important role of keeping things in the open, so that we all make informed choices and have the information at our fingertips.

And one effect I would like to share that this case had on me, personally. We only have one world and we are all responsible for what happens to it. It is a fragile world and getting frailer everyday.

Int.: Do I detect a value judgment of the court case?

HW: Good Heavens! No! Strike that from the record!

His Honor, Mr. Justice Rodger Bell, the real judge at the McLibel trial

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Matt Fielding – His own words

The following post has been written by Matt Fielding, the fictional protagonist of The Accidental Activist. Yesterday, I gave a brief explanation of my desire to revisit the characters of this story, a tale that continues to be as relevant today as the real McLibel trial in the 1990’s upon which the story is loosely based.

I would like to be able to offer the following disclaimer as I do with all guest posts that what follows is the words of the writer himself and his alone. Given that he is a product of my imagination, I’ll skip it this time. Over to you, Matt.

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Thanks, Alon. I am truly humbled. I knew Alon Shalev was writing this novel, The Accidental Activist, and I knew he had aspirations to one day see it published, but I kind of had my doubts about the whole project.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision by Global Energy Development Corporation to sue my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, was pretty stunning. That the British judicial system didn’t see fit to provide them with legal aid is still hard to believe; and, of course, the astonishing fact that this court case went on to become the longest trial in British history, is all worthy of being recorded.

What I find humbling is the fact that Shalev saw fit to make me his protagonist. Certainly my role as the web designer was significant. The fact that the Oilspill.com website was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, that it became a conduit for the free flow of information on a global level, and that it enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training, is all amazing, especially to geeks such as myself.

The real website - McSpotlight.org

But Shalev goes a step further. He is not content with the mechanics of the Information Highway and the work our Dream Team undertook. He seems fascinated with me personally and the process I went through.

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals or the Green Party.

I’ll be perfectly clear (I have been asked this many times in interviews): I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, or at what point it went beyond personal.

This reckless multinational corporation, like so many today, hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model that cannot conceive of the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit margin.

Today I remain involved: being with Suzie, how could I not? My consulting agency is selective about which clients we take on and we have an internship program where we not only mentor students, but also have them work, pro bono, on projects that advance social justice and sustainability.

Not bad for a self-absorbed yuppie who was only out to get laid, huh? But it was when I read The Accidental Activist that I understood the personal transformation that I underwent. I guess for this I should thank Shalev for writing the novel and giving me the chance to become who I am today.

And if my story can in any way help someone else make the personal changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours become a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of The Accidental Activist.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill.com Webmaster.

The real heroes - Helen Steel and Dave Morris

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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