I usually prefer a book version to its movie version, but not always.  Such is the case with the newly released movie, The Martian.  I read the book over a year ago.  Even though I am not in the least a technical person, I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it.  What made the book even better was that it was written by a first time author, Andy Weir, who had been turned down by several publishers.  So, he self-published.  And the book quickly soared up to a best seller.  Of course, then the publishers wanted it.  And then came the movie deal — and now the movie. I love success stories of self-published authors making it BIG.

Since the reviews of the new movie are quite good, I went to see it.   Although two hours seems to be my tolerance limit for watching movies, the 2 hours and 22 minutes were put to good use.  Even the author said that the visual impact of the movie is greater than can be described in just words.  Matt Damon catches the humor of his unenviable situation of fending for himself on Mars for over 500 days.  His calm pursuit of staying alive while coming up with ingenious techniques of survival keep the audience’s attention while NASA officials scramble to help him stay alive and bring him back to mother earth.

While this movie was not filmed on Mars, and does have some inconsistencies with reality (the radiation on Mars does not allow long walks even in a spacesuit, and the wind on Mars is very weak because of its atmosphere), it comes off as remarkably plausible.   Mars, mostly filmed in Jordan, is hauntingly beautiful, and the artistry of how he gets rescued at high speed in space is a true tribute to the writer’s imagination, the movie maker, and what we already know about space travel.

Prior to going to Mars, I went into a store near the theater.   It was called “Gaming” and I had no idea what that meant other than Las Vegas gambling.  I saw three rows of young men and boys sitting in front of computers with earphones on.  Occasionally, one of the older boys would yell out something, often including swearing, to encourage the other players.  Everyone’s screen had the same video on it.  It looked like what we see on our evening news covering Iraq, Afghanistan, ISIS, or any other war.

I thought of the early Pac-Man computer games where a simple round blob with a mouth tried to gobble up whatever it could as fast as it could.  Now the blob shapes have become images of people, but the purpose is still to kill as many as quickly as possible.

There were also very large screens with sofas in front where two people comfortably sat while hitting buttons that killed other types of images.  I’m sure there is some skill involved, but I prefer the excitement of the old pinball machine I played over and over in my grandfather’s rundown old hotel many years ago.

I quietly watched the players, and then spoke to the person in charge to try to understand the attraction of the strange new world I had wandered into.  I can’t claim I really understand either gaming or Mars.  However, of the two worlds I visited last night, I prefer Mars.


June 8, 2013

Ah, the ironies of life.  I studied advertising copywriting when I was an undergraduate.  I liked playing with words and found it innocent, creative, and fun.  However, when it came time to decide on a job, I questioned myself, “Do I want to spend my time trying to convince people to buy things they don’t need?”  The answer was clearly “no,” but little did I suspect at that time that advertising would become the totally pervasive, absolutely intrusive thing it has become today.

When I was doing a Master’s in Social Work, I did a research paper on the eventual role of  technology in being able to keep track of what was happening in mental wards, down to being able to anticipate problems in the ward.  It  predicted various technologies that would eventually replace face-to-face therapists.

The computer Hal made us very uncomfortable when he tried to wrest control from humans.  But that was only a movie, right?

When I lived in China in 1988, I was invited to the homes of my students.  There were no televisions in the village homes at that time, but there was a radio station broadcast into each home.  You could neither change the station, nor turn it off.

My very first foray into the computer was something called “WebTV.”  The television was the screen, and there were ways you could connect the TV and the web, such as being conveniently told when programs or actors would be aired.

With my blog, I learned the word “monetize.”  AdSense would put ads around my blog.  My writing was only the carrot to draw people to click on ads that would be the moneymakers — mostly for the advertisers, of course.

Self-publishing became a huge industry, making it possible for just about anyone to publish a book.  That made money for the self-publishing companies, but the marketing and social networking done by the author was what either sold the book or let it languish in digital no man’s land.

There were many clues along the way.  But now it’s more than 1984.  It’s more than Big Brother.  It’s more than the push-button world of the Jetsons.   Whether it’s heads of state speaking at summits, watching tv programs interspersed among the ads, or trying to find the blog sandwiched among the ads, it’s all about monetization — and beyond.

Jaron Lanier, a researcher at Microsoft, offers his perspective in the book, “Who Owns the Future?”  He invents the words, “Siren Servers” and applies them to Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and automated trading algorithms that lure us in.  “An amazing number of people offer an amazing amount of value over networks.  But the lion’s share of wealth now flows to those who aggregate and route those offerings, rather than those who produce the ‘raw materials.'”   He would like to find ways to right that wrong.

Change is good.  Change is bad.  Change is confusing.  Where are we going?  Whom do you trust?





This is the story of the birth of my second book, “Out of Step:  A Diary To My Dead Son.”  Since my first book, “Memoirs of a Middle-aged Hummingbird” was published in 2006, the publishing world has changed at an amazing pace.  It helped that I was more naive about publishing back in 2006, and that the computer technology wasn’t as demanding.  In fact, I uploaded one very long file on my computer to my first publisher, iUniverse, through the old-fashioned dial-up method.  A half hour later, it arrived to a welcome whoop from the iUniverse person on the other end of the phone who had, more or less, been holding her breath.  Well, enough about publishing my first book, because, while I still love the book, the publishing world has been moving quickly along the digital path.

In 2011, it was 8 years since my almost-35 year old son had died of AIDS.  A need to make him come more alive to me inspired starting a diary to him.  I had no plan.  I had no plot.  I didn’t know if I would continue it, finish it, or publish it.  Over one year, a book evolved.  I was ready to publish it.  But how?  Where?

Unless one has a name that is known for long-time or short-term fame, the chances of finding a traditional publisher who pays for the book and does nice things to market the book, are very slim to none.  The term “vanity press” was the old name for paying to have your book published.  Because of the expense of printing, it was cheaper to print in bulk and store however many boxes of books you had ordered in your garage.  Marketing was on you and your resources.

In 2006, I chose a newer version of self-publishing called “print on demand.”  That meant that quantities of books did not have to be printed at one time.  Books could be sold one by one, and pretty much forever.   There were a variety of details depending upon the specific publisher, but mine set the price of my book.  I was given a discount on books I bought to sell, and a small royalty for books ordered by anyone world-wide through the publisher, or Amazon.com, or several other on-line sources.  There was an e-book version at that time.  It meant that the publisher would, at a considerably cheaper price, send the book digitally to ONE e-mail address for each one ordered.  It could only be downloaded once into one computer, and no copies could be made.

As the years turned, so did the technology.  There were e-readers — Kindle, Nook, Sony.  My first book was re-formatted (simply said, but not so simply done), and e-books were becoming the “in” thing, the “modern” way to read.  Even libraries started offering e-books.  Having seen the difficulties of peddling expensive paperback books, e-publishing looked like a more appealing way to publish my new book.  And, not having to buy paperback copies would be cheaper in the long run.

What??? No paperback book to hold in your hand?  We are the transitional generation, caught between books that you can touch and smell, and a funny gadget that does it cheaper, easier, much lighter and more efficiently.  The younger generation won’t have this conflict to deal with, but I am publishing my book now.

So, I started looking at my options for my new book.


Comments?? E-mail Suellen at ZimaTravels.com

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