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 “iPad”

Only in Berkeley – Three Stone Hearth

It’s quite a stretch to compare Berkeley to Silicon Valley. At first glance they seem the opposite of each other, but these two areas share one important attribute: they are hubs of innovation. While Silicon Valley is defined (or defining) the hi-tech world, Berkeley is seeking new sustainable, environmental, community models.

There is no need to decide which is better or even which to join. You can run your CSA (Community Assisted Agriculture) business virtually from your iPad (1 or 2). And many companies in Silicon Valley are anxiously seeking ways to keep their staff fit and healthy by offering gym facilities and nourishing menus in their canteens.

Three Stone Hearth is a community kitchen on University Avenue in Berkeley. While it has been around since 2006, the move to this central artery of Berkeley (it is the main street to the university and town center, and in the other direction to the freeway).

It embodies the Community Supported Agriculture model – you pre-order whatever is on the menus – but it also offers a chance to work as part of a cooperative and is a teaching facility so that you can learn how to cook healthy food yourself.

Three Stone Hearth mainly uses natural ingredients such as:

– organically (and local) farmed produce, grains, and nuts

– pasture raised meats, eggs, and dairy products

– unrefined sweeteners

– traditional fats

Worker/Owners (l-r) Jessica Prentice, Porsche Combash, Misa Koketsu, and Catherine Spanger

Three Stone Hearth are sensitive to reducing their carbon footprint. Their food is packed in re-usable glass containers, and they compost their waste. They also make a conscious effort to buy their ingredients from local farms.

I was surprised when I looked at their menu by the variety and richness of their recipes. This is no bland ‘rice and beans or else’ menu. Neither is it a vegetarian haven – there are many meat dishes available. On the particular day that I saw the menu it included soups, desserts, and a variety of drinks and cheeses.

What I feel is great about this enterprise is the community kitchen model, whereby everyone can learn and participate. But it also serves an important role for those who cannot cook or don’t have the time. Being a member of this co-op allows you to easily serve nutritious meals a few times a week or more. And if it is expensive, you have the option of working some of the cost off.

Now excuse me, I must rush and throw some mac ‘n cheese into the micro for the kids.

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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).

iReligion 3.12

What I’ve suspected for years is now official – Apple is now…

a religion.

A group of neuroscientists has scanned the brains of Apple maniacs and found that their brains react to the sight of an ipod or an ipad the same way the brains of devout Christians react to images of Jesus on the cross. I call it “iReligion 3.12” because it’s been around for quite a while, though until now undiscovered by science.

This has been pretty obvious for a long time. Ever try to tell an Apple person that an Apple product is not so easy to use or is flawed in any tiny way, whatsoever? Better bring your boxing gloves.

I think that you can extend this definition of a religion much more broadly that just to Apple-maniacs. I think the same reasoning (or lack thereof) excretes a species I will call “brand-o-philes” into the world. Brand-o-philes are people who worship a brand name, like Nike or Adidas, or even a team, like the Cowboys or the Lakers. As I have said in a previous post, these are the elements of fake individuality.

People love to put stickers on their cars – actually PAYING to advertise some corporation’s wares. How many times have I seen a giant Nike “swoosh” sticker in the back window of a pickup truck? How many times have I seen a plain-old t-shirt made to look “cool” by the word, “Abercrombie” or “Hollister?”

But many people go way beyond trying to look cool. They believe so thoroughly in this fake individuality that they convince themselves that this is a form of expression, when it’s not expressing anything but the almost random choice of who or what to follow like a sheep.

But they will defend their brands furiously – sometimes even willing to get into fist-fights over which team is “better”, even if neither team has won a game in the past month.

People feel like winners when their team wins. It’s a sort of vindication for “sticking with the team” through bad seasons in previous years. They feel like winners when they wear the latest styles, attracting the admiring gazes of other fashion-victims. They feel like winners when they drive a new, shiny car down the street. They feel like winners when they outwardly imitate or show allegiance to winners.

And of course I am not innocent in all this. I have proudly worn my Boston Bruins, pro-weight hockey jersey to many a hockey game, emblazoned with the name of one of my all-time favorite players, Ray Bourque, #77. But I draw the line at advertising. I’ve even gone as far as to blacken out logos on clothes or hats because I refuse to advertise for free. Hell, some companies I wouldn’t advertise if they paid me!

Here is a list of our country’s top religions:

1. materialism

2. winner-worship

3. brand-worship

4. celebrity-worship

5. worship of shiny things

What it all adds up to is that we worship coolness and we worship image. We want to look and seem cool, but we also want to FEEL cool. We want to become the “Third Person Singular” as Don DeLillo coined in his novel, Americana. What Delillo meant was not the pronoun we were taught in English class (he, she, it) but the “sublime other” – whose image we long to inhabit. “To consume in America is not to buy; it is to dream.”

And there we are – lost sheep, dreaming and pretending that we are or will be the eagles soaring overhead.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Empty Shelves

Whenever I enter the house of someone who I have just met, I look for defining features. What books are on their shelves? What CD’s do they listen to? What art is on their walls?

I recently visited two long-time friends. They are book-people and bookcases adorn every room. Books spill out onto the floor, a pile sits in the bathroom, and their garage, where I have crashed at various times of my life, has precarious towers of crumple covered books. Their walls are also covered in pictures. They are ‘stuff’ people.

Both these people are tech savvy. Their music has long been stored on iPods and there are hardly any audio footprints around the house except for iPod docking stations. But on this visit I was confronted by two paper bags full of books and piles of others sorted on their dinning room table.

“We are in the middle of a project,” one offers apologetically.

“We have almost everything digital now,” the iPad partner offered with the confidence unmoved by the appearance of the iPad 2 within a couple of months since he first brandished his new toy in my house.


A few days later I picked up my youngest son from a play date with a friend whose parents I had not met. Their house was the opposite to my friends: quite empty in comparison. There was a solitary bookcase, stored asthetically with art books sorted by size, and a few modern eye-catching pictures adorned the walls of cafes and jazz musicians.

What did I think of these people? What was my first impression and what were my frames of reference? I had few books to scan, no CD’s and little in the way of art.


It was tough. I had no choice. I had to resort to conversation. In a world of texting and tweeting, of Facebook profiles and LinkedIn status, will the empty shelves provide the last frontier of face-to-face communication?

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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).

Find Me An Author Making A Living From E-books!

So there I was at a party to celebrate the season of goodwill and I get cornered by Scrooge (it’s okay –  he doesn’t have time for blogs). He is a businessman in the City and when I told him about my books, promptly asked what my marketing strategy was. Without waiting for an answer, he launched into a rather unflattering (and unfortunately rather accurate) analysis of the book industry and its bleak future.

When he stopped to inhale, I waxed lyrically (a combination of enthusiasm for my blogs and a very good glass of Merlot) about the e-book revolution and my publisher’s strategy of focusing on blogging and selling mainly e-books.

Thoroughly bored with me after about three sentences, he waved his hand and challenged me. “Get back to me when you find a fiction writer who is not already a best selling author and is making a living from selling e-books.”

Then he walked away, and I was left counting the hours before I could leave the party, get the kids to bed and fire up my laptop.

Blessed be the Goddess Google. I found someone. Thank you to Galley Cat, four writers who claim to have the “first word on the publishing industry.” Whether true or not, I am in your debt for this interview with J. A. Konath.  Since I am only going to summarize the interview and gloat, click here for the full interview.

J.A. Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels series, his main protagonist is a Chicago cop who “chases seriel killers and other loonies.”His books are fast paced, with plenty of action, dialogue, and humor.

And yes, he has successfully built a career, which means a living wage selling his e-books, including outselling such successful competition as James Patterson.

“Unfortunately, the print world is flawed. The business model–where books can be returned, and where a 50% sell-though is considered acceptable–is archaic and wasteful. Writers get small royalties, little say in how their books are marketed and sold, and simple things like cover and title approval are unheard of unless you’re a huge bestseller.”

He also doesn’t want to put the time needed into self-publishing as what he really enjoys is actually writing. I hear you, sir!

Now down to business:

Mr. Konrath is averaging about 180 sales a day through Kindle. He also brings in royalties via the Nook, iPad and through Smashwords (a ‘meat grinder’ that prepares e-books in most major publishing formats).

With the royalty rates at 70% from Amazon and Konrath’s e-books selling for $2.99, that means he makes $2.04 per sale. This adds up to $134,000 a year. I tip my hat to you sir!

When the royalty rate for Amazon switches to 70%, I’ll be earning $2.04 on a $2.99 e-book. That’s $134,000 a year. I also plan on uploading three more e-books this month, which I expect will sell well because fans are anticipating them.

Konrath suggests that offering books for the price of a cup of coffee makes them impulse purchases and therefore so attractive. As a Kindle owner on a tight budget, I can testify that I am willing to buy a book by an author I don’t know for $3-5.

The challenge is how to make your books stand out from the masses. Konrath has tried the conventional route of reading in bookstores and conferences and no longer believes this is the right way to develop a visible writers platform and fan base. He is also focusing on his blog and website, as well as staying active on social networks.

Thank you, Mr. Konrath I am now armed and ready for the next skeptic I meet at a party!
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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 www.alonshalev.com


The Morning After…

Did you wake up this morning the proud, or maybe confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly while your loved ones looked on with baited breath as you pulled open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age?

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of brandy and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will claim to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features dispite hardly using the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of brandy. Oh, I forgot it’s the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or via our loved ones desire to pull us along with them. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the e-book reader. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just use their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned annoying individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. I am also a confirmed Star Trek fan.

However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in the house I share with my family.

Some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath and slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. Remember how hard it was to drive a car when we were learning?

Finally: Have another brandy. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere, the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!).

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

My First iPad Sighting!

What I love (and often loathe) about the Internet Age is the ability to share in real time. A number of readers commented about my blog entry when I sat in a coffee shop in San Francisco and admired the various hand held devices on show. Alas, I lamented not seeing an iPad.

In solace, I went on a pilgrimage with my sons to the Apple store in Emeryville, where we all fondled the iPads on display. But even that isn’t quite the same.

I’m sitting in a new coffee shop in Berkeley: Local One Twenty Three, happily preparing my offering for tonight’s Berkeley Writers Circle and I saw it. Three tables down is a woman on her iPad. She just walked past me, possibly to the bathroom, holding her precious baby, and a thrill coursed through me.

My first iPad sighting! I’ll never be the same again.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

"For The Times They Are A-changing" (Bob Dylan)

Firstly, thank you to those of you who connected to my blog (see last entry) and helped to get the blog recognized by Facebook. Not sure yet how this will affect my blog, but any exposure helps.

And thank you to those of you who offered words of support and encouragement when we heard that Unwanted Heroes didn’t make the Amazon Breakthrough Novel semifinal.

Oilspill dotcom has been selling despite my relative inactivity. There is a possibility of the novel being picked up by an independent publisher. Exciting! If this goes through the book will be released with a new cover and title. It is also undergoing a round of editing.

Part of these changes will include a change of direction for this blog and that I hope to outline in the next posting. But the overall concept is to reach out to people interested in the book world, rather than just in me.

And the book world is certainly changing. I am sitting in a Starbucks on the corner of Sansome and Greenwich, under the shadow of Coit Tower. I have a meeting in another hour for Hillel. Looking around, this is a young business crowd. Though clothes are relatively formal (this is California), people are groomed and sharp.

It is, however, early. Another hour before they must enter their offices and cubicles. Time to unwind, read a book or newspaper. But as I look around, I feel a thrill. An elderly gentleman with graying curly hair has the large kindle. I remember reading how older people are buying the bigger model, the 9.7″ version (don’t be impressed, I looked it up). They are not techno-geeks, but enjoy the option for bigger font.

Near this man, someone has another white tablet, but I can see it is different. Perhaps it is the Barnes and Noble nook. A woman with a bright read umbrella has a matching device, which I can’t help laughing at. Did she really color coordinate her accessories? Was this the Sony Reader? Alas, I never saw an iPad, which would have rounded off the experience. Still last Thursday, after a meeting at the Boudin café in the Stonestown Mall, I had slipped into the Apple shop and fondled one of their new, shiny devices. Quite a thrill.

The world is changing. And I am excited about the change, excited for the environmental impact, for no longer having to schlep books in your bag, the ability to lower prices and therefore make more books more accessible. I am also upset that the book I have been carrying around for the last week, brought brand new, is now creased and bent.

But I haven’t bought a device. It is partly financial, partly that I am sure the models in a year’s time will have ironed out the kinks, but also that I love holding a book and browsing a bookstore. And I love the bookshelves in my house (and other peoples). It is hard to explain. Financially, while I do buy books, I also lean heavily on the public library to satisfy my literary thirst.

Still the times are changing and I am feeling the pressure to change with them. So here is my question:

Do you have a kindle, nook, sony reader or iPad (or another model that I am not aware of)? Please let me know if you do, when you use it, how happy you are with it and whether it has really replaced the physical page.

Also, do you take it with you into the bath?

Good Writing,

Alon

Update 07/01/2010: Oilspill dotcom is currently selling on Amazon’s Kindle for $3.19.

iWhatever

It’s out. I drove past the Mascone Center in the heart of San Francisco the morning that Apple held their launch. During my lunch break, I surfed for a video about it. I have been waiting as have many.

Barnes & Noble brought out their Nook earlier than planned to get a head start. Amazon, home of the Kindle, announced that they are sweetening the pot for authors who publish with Kindle. Those authors, myself included, who have their ebooks published in multi-formats have been licking our lips in anticipation – well, drooling to be absolutely honest.

It’s no secret that the book-reading world is divided between those who see the Star Trek future, saving trees and waste, and those who still enjoy the feel, touch and smell of the printed page. Or as one woman in my LinkedIn group said: if I can’t take it into the bath, I’m not interested. Truth is, I’ve dropped a couple of books into my bathwater in my time and they don’t fare too well. Still they don’t cost $200-400 to replace either.

As previously mentioned, I’m on the fence. I love the new technology, but enjoy the sensual experience of the book. I also love my bookcases and feel they are a reflection of me and a statement to my children.

Still, I certainly desired a handheld instrument when it took me 28 hours to fly from New Orleans to San Francisco last weekend having just finished reading two great books.

Back to Apple. You just knew that they would raise the bar. The Nooks, Kindles and about a dozen other ebook pads are all very similar. The iPad, however, is more of a tablet computer, offering movie, photos and music options. Its touch screen is also a plus and there is an ergonomic touch keyboard. One negative comment that I have heard, thus far, is that the screen has a high resolution, necessary for movies, but possibly not so comfortable for book reading.

One last comment. J.D. Salinger passed away this week at age 91. I have to confess, I’ve never read ‘A Catcher in the Rye’ (it was never big in the UK where I grew up) but have read various articles about the author and the book. Over the last few days I have been asking friends if this was a coming-of-age novel for them. While the answers are varied, the fact is that people clearly remember reading the book, its story and where they were when they read it. I can think of no greater compliment for an author.

I’ve read that Salinger, though initially hungry for success as an author, had great difficulty dealing with the success and publicity that ensued. So many of us writers dream about achieving the level of fame that he reached. I doubt that many have given much thought to how we would cope with it.

If I had an iPad, Kindle or Nook, I could just download Catcher in the Rye and read it. As it is, I have ordered it from the library…electronically!

Good Writing,
Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

Exciting New Direction

My novel, Oilspill dotcom, has just been published as an e-book by Smashwords. It’s available for an introductory price of $3.99 and can be downloaded to Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone or any computer. https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/5684. Feeling very 21st Century!
Advert aside – this is exciting!

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords has “meat grinder” technology (his term). You provide him with the manuscript and he puts it through his grinder, producing an e-book that can work on any e-book format currently available. He is committed to enable Smashwords books to be compatible with the new Barnes & Noble electronic reader due out this month and the new Apple reader due in January.

Being an author himself and committed to the e-book revolution, Coker offers authors up to an unprecedented 85% royalty, thereby encouraging his authors to price their book at a lower level, representing the savings in materials, distribution, storage and marketing.

I am excited to be part of the revolution. The reality is that most of us buy our books used, borrow from the library, or pass along to friends. None of these methods provide royalties to the author.

$15-$30 for a book is not sustainable and we are no longer surprised to see many ‘bestsellers’ now deeply discounted in bins at the front of B&N, Borders, or the supermarket.

So, I’m feeling very 21st Century. Over the next few weeks I hope to offer a few insights into the e-book revolution (as I research it myself).

One request: Please go into the Smashwords website, check it out, and let me know what you think. Comment here on the blog or shoot me an email to alshalev at Bigfoot dot com.

Good Writing & Reading,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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