Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts…

Published July 1, 2015 by JoAnna Senger

Dear IT geniuses:

Much as I love you, I must point out that developing golly-gee-whiz-way-cool technology is not the same as developing a system that works as advertised.  Here are three software systems that fail to live up to advance billing:

  1. Online Banking About six months ago, I made a mistake and forgot to press the “Finalize” button to send my online payments on their merry way.  Those payments never arrived, needless to say, and I had to call my bank to straighten things out.  During the conversation, the bank representative told me that the bank receives my online payments, prints hardcopy checks and then puts them in the US mail!!!  What?  So that’s why my “online banking” takes longer than just writing a check and mailing it myself.

As far as I know, the advance billing never mentioned that this online system relies on the good old US mail.

The first step in rolling out a new feature should be selecting an accurate name.  “Online banking” is a misnomer. The feature is actually ONLINE CHECK PREPARATION.  The user sacrifices payment speed to enter checks on the computer and save money on stamps.

In fairness, the ability to transfer funds online from one account to another at the same bank is nearly instantaneous.  That is online banking.

As an aside, I bank in two different states, checking and savings accounts in each.  One is a private sector bank, the other a federal credit union.  Online bill payment has been and continues to be faster through the federal credit union than through the private sector bank.  Make of that what you will.

  1. Gmail.   I recently saw job-hunting advice for older job-seekers suggesting that the job-seeker demonstrate current skills by having a gmail account rather than AOL or Yahoo.  A cartoon showed a white-haired woman saying “I’ve had the same AOL account since 1998.”  Imagine my distress: I’ve had the same AOL account since 1995!  I also have a gmail account.

Gmail is one of the most primitive email systems I have seen.  You can’t even move the window!  I can’t remember when AOL’s email was so limited.  My job-seeking advice is this: Tell the recruiter that you have a gmail account, of  course, but you have to use such a primitive system.

  1. Netflix streaming. If there is a golly-gee-whiz-way-cool technology, streaming is it.  Watching entertainment through the Internet is convenience itself.  People have waxed eloquent about Netflix streaming: “You’re wasting your money on DVDs.  Everything is going to be streamed.  DVD players will be obsolete.  You have a complete library at your fingertips.”

Would that it were true!  The technology is there, but where are the movies?  I am a movie buff and want to see movies that win awards or are prominent in some way.  I actually keep lists of movies that meet critic standards or my own.  I checked Netflix streaming repeatedly for the movies I wanted to watch, finally gave up and signed up for Netflix DVDs.  Lo and behold, Netflix had movies by the score!  Out of 60 movies I requested, Netflix streaming had two.

Some library…

All I can say is

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts!!!

INTERVIEW WITH TOM JOHNSON

Published January 20, 2015 by JoAnna Senger

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to my bloggers.  Here are some questions, and feel free to add any other information you like.

  1. How many novels have you written over the years?

Counting non-fiction, fiction, short story collection and anthologies, I have over 80 books in print.

 2.  I know you best as a writer of pulp fiction, but you do write in other genres.  What other genres have you written?

Pulp fiction contains many genres, some consider “pulp fiction” a genre, but to be honest it is more a way of writing. At one time it was a media – magazines printed on pulpwood paper. Today, it seems to have evolved into a genre. I write science fiction, westerns, mysteries, costumed heroes, and action and adventure, even a little swashbuckling now and then.

3.  Would you write a historical romance, a fantasy, a children’s book?

I would enjoy writing most genres, especially children’s books, and even some fantasy. However, my wife tells me I shouldn’t write romance, contemporary or historical. I think she’s trying to tell me something (lol). She also hints that I’m not good with comedy (g).

    4.  Are there any genres you wouldn’t write? Any you couldn’t?

I wouldn’t write erotica, and I couldn’t write horror.

5.  If a visitor from another planet showed up on your doorstep, which three of your books would you want him to read?

First would be WORLDS OF TOMORROW, which is Flash Gordon type adventure. Second would be THESE ALIEN SKIES, as it does feature aliens, and third would have to be PANGAEA: EDEN’S PLANET, which gives an alien a better account of Earth’s past.

6.  Do you consider modern comic books to be direct descendants of the comics you read as a boy, or a genre of their own?

Today’s comic books have evolved into “picture books for adults” while the comic books I grew up with were aimed at children. I quit reading comic books in the early 1980s, as the content was taking them too deep into adult material. In the 1940s & ‘50s, we needed heroes, and comic books gave them to us. By the 1960s, we were introduced to the anti-heroes, and heroes with problems of their own.

 7.  Are there any direct descendants of the comic books you loved but not in comic book form, such as TV, movies, or video games?

The comic book super hero came out of the pulp magazines. Batman was influenced by The Shadow, while Superman was influenced by Doc Savage. That’s the simple version. But the pulps were a big influence of comic books, movies, serials, radio, and today’s television series, as well as the paperback novels that came after the pulps ceased. We still feel their influence today. You’re correct comic books also have become an influence in modern media today. But it all goes back to the pulp magazines.

 8.  Wax eloquent as a philosopher for a moment. Sometimes critics say that young people don’t read any more.  The screen play has taken the place of the novel, drawing away the writer of the novel to the screen.  Grocery stores don’t offer a rack or two of comic books any more.  Children don’t learn to read for pleasure.  The printed word is dead!  On the other hand, an enormous number of novels are published every year.  Somebody is reading them.  The golden world of the imagination still lives on the printed page. 

What do you think?

I wonder about the answer to your question myself. I live in a small town, and owned a used bookstore for many years. Sales were awful. I had over 2000 comic books in the shop when I closed due to poor business. I seldom saw a person under twenty in the store. The majority of my customers were older men and women, and they only wanted westerns and romance. I wasn’t making enough to pay utilities. There is one used bookstore in a hundred miles of me, and they specialize in romance novels. None carry comic books, except a lone comic shop fifty miles from me. Comic books just don’t sell in this area. But this is a small area, and children seem more interested in electronic games than reading comic books.

Western and romance novels are big in this area. I can’t comment about other areas. Comic books seem to be mostly for collectors and adults today. This almost killed the comic books several years ago. Today, I imagine many comic books are sold online, or through comic shops. There is also the new media of online electronic comic books that seem to be taking sales away from the print copies.

Books are also sold through online markets like Amazon, Abebooks, Alybris, and other outlets, and they seem to be doing okay. So people are still buying and reading our books. How good is the market? You would have to check with those establishments. But personally, I think our population is growing faster than readers. We may see a lot of books sold, but I don’t think it matches the rise in population. Maybe I’m wrong.

Touching on another area is the ease of self-publishing with today’s technology. Okay, it gives writers more of a chance of seeing their work in print, but it also opens the door for a lot of junk. That means readers have to be more vigilant in what they buy. Let’s face it there was a lot of junk in paperbacks and pulp magazines for the last hundred years, so this is not new. We will always have the junk; it’s just easier now.

I probably got carried away with my answer. My philosophy is, as long as we have imagination, we will always have writers; and as long as books are published, regardless of format, someone will want to read. If I may quote S,I, Hayakawa at this point: “It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.”

From JoAnna Senger:  Tom Johnson blogs at 

DO SCHOOLS STILL TEACH GEOGRAPHY?

Published November 16, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

After years of consulting, teaching, and writing, I remain intrigued by the geographic ignorance I encounter, especially in people who are otherwise educated.  This ignorance is often compounded by aggressive cultural bias.

When I was working for the University of California—Office of the President, one of my colleagues asked me where I was from.  I replied, “Kansas City.”  She laughed, placed her hand on my shoulder, and said, “I guess somebody has to be from places like that.  How many were in your high school graduating class?”  I said, “560.”  She hesitated, then asked, “Does Kansas City have more than one high school?”

I guess she heard the word “Kansas” and thought “small town.”  As it happens, the Kansas City Metropolitan Area is among the largest in the Midwest.

One of my friends from the Midwest expressed great surprise that I would need a coat in Southern California.  Without Midwestern winters, it must always be summer. Every day.

A CPA in Northern California told me that she had always thought that it was over 100 degrees every day in Phoenix.  Actually, that’s understandable since Phoenix weather only makes the national news when the temperature hits 115 or better. In fact, most of the year is so beautiful that the natives call it “The Paradise Weather.”

My favorite geographic/cultural comment is “I’m bi-coastal.”  What does this mean?  For some people, the meaning is obvious.  I worked with a manager who routinely spent two weeks in New York and two weeks in Los Angeles.  Two apartments, two home phones, and all the rest of the confusion.  Now that’s bi-coastal! I also know people who were raised on the East Coast and then moved to the West Coast, visiting friends and family back home frequently.

Some people seem to use his term used as a synonym for liberal, urban, sophisticated, well educated, and hip.  In my opinion, these people are confusing bi-coastal with urban/rural differences.  Now my relatives in Arkansas are going to inform me without delay that rural people are often better educated than urban dwellers.  They’re right.

When visiting relatives in Virginia, I couldn’t find Rhode Island on the map, mistaking Delaware for Rhode Island.  Embarrassing!!  Of course, I made much of the fact that California has counties larger than Rhode Island.  Pretty weak excuse.

Perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead.

As a writer, I have the choice of setting my novels where I choose.  If my choice is a well-known city such as Los Angeles AND I choose to describe the city in a way the public expects, such as dwelling on the beaches or the mean streets, I don’t need to worry that my readers won’t know enough geography to visualize the setting.  If, however, I choose to set my story on the Central California Coast, I will run into questions like one from an East Coast colleague who asked if it snowed in that region.

I call the Central California Coast, a region several hundred miles long, the least known area of the best known state.  I can assume that readers outside California (and some inside!) will not be able to visualize its distance and low population density unless I make it clear.  One of my reviewers said that after reading my recent novel Reservation Ravaged, she could have drawn a map.

Perhaps our country is so vast that the average reader cannot be expected to have a keen sense of American geography beyond his or her local area and the nation’s largest cities.  I’m going to assume that I need to make everything clear…and be willing to upgrade my own knowledge.

Now where is that pesky little Rhode Island?

The Publishing Industry: Chaos in Action???

Published October 9, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

For months now, I have been hearing contradictory information about publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, CreateSpace, and other terms.  As a writer, I thought that I understood the various terms.  Nope!  

For example, I thought I knew what the term “self-published” meant. The author must write the work, arrange and pay to create the cover, produce the work, publicize and market the work, and then take money or arrange for the billing/payment side of the transaction.  By that definition, I am not self-published because I have a publisher and am not involved in the production/sales side.

When bookstores kept asking me if I was self-published and I kept saying “no,” they would not take “no” for an answer.  Bookstore staff asked me if I paid my publisher to publish my work, if my publisher was a vanity press, and other similar questions.  One exceptionally kind bookstore manager took me aside and spent an hour with me and the bookstore buyer to explain the bookstore point of view.

Here are two sides of the publishing coin that have come my way.  I would be most grateful to hear opinions from people, especially writers,on these two points of view.

Publishing according to bookstores:

The Big Six publishing houses (or is it now the Big Five?) serve as a validation stamp for any book.  We bookstores don’t have time to read the thousands of books that come out every year.  We rely on the Big Five-or-Six to vet the authors, put up some front money to produce the book, and most importantly, go through Baker & Taylor or Ingram to deliver the books to us.  We want to stock books and then, after a reasonable period of time, return them if they don’t sell.  Consignment selling is too much trouble.   If your book is print-on-demand, you are self-published as far as we’re concerned.

It’s Big Five-or-Six or nothing.  If the author is good, one of those publishers will publish his/her work.

 

Publishing according to Self-Published Authors:

The publishing industry is collapsing and everyone knows it but them.  They are slow to respond and even if one of them publishes your work, they only actively market 20% of the books they publish.  Odds are, your book won’t be in that hallowed 20%.  Further, they take more money from you than you’ll ever be able to track.  Unless you are already a big name, you’ll have to spend at least $3000 including travel to market your book and you’ll be lucky to break even.

Writers can spend that same effort on Amazon which can do everything the publisher does and faster.  Your percentage will be much greater.  True, bookstores won’t stock your book or invite you to signings, but who goes to bookstores any more, anyway?

Amazon vs. Established Publishers

There is a war going on between Amazon and the established publishers.  I recently contacted a mid-range publisher with whom I shared a contact about a book of mine.  The first question he asked was, “Is it out on Amazon?  That could be a problem.”

The following link will direct those interested to articles on the feud between Amazon and the French publisher Hachette:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/25/amazon-hachette-publishing-future-ebooks

RESERVATION RAVAGED — Prologue

Published July 27, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

Prologue

If you solve a multiple murder case while you’re still a waitress, people expect miracles from you as a private investigator. At least, for a while.
I thought I would like the congratulations and a bit of hometown applause, but thumbs-up signs and “way to go, Hermione” wore on me. I never could think of much to say in response.
Fortunately, it wore on the hometown as well. San Tobino is too practical to let local-girl-makes-good last too long. Like an elaborate sand castle on the beach, my local fame yielded to the tide of life in San Tobino: farmer’s market on Thursday, football weekends at the local polytech university and church on Sunday. Even if you don’t participate in any of these local events, your life in San Tobino will be marked by their rhythm.
The lasting part of my success was my business card:

DENNING AND DAGGERT

Private Investigations

 Hermione Daggert, Partner

WWW.DDPI.COM                                805.IGOTHIM

Sometimes I pull my business card out of my purse or pocket, half afraid that my name has washed away like my local fame. But, no. Every time I look, the letters are as crisp as ever.
When I got my first job, waitressing at Milady’s Manor, I was thrilled. First time on my own, a job at a famous hotel, and I was in love with life. But I never had a business card.
Private investigation is about people: finding them, finding things for them, spying on them, and sometimes consoling them. A few years’ experience gave me confidence and I thought I knew human behavior.

 

Then I encountered a man I can only describe as an outlier, an anomaly. His considerable accomplishments drew no applause, his wit no appreciation. Perhaps there are many like him, but I hope not. It’s just too hard to go through life as he did, successful and alone.

What are you supposed to do when, no matter your accomplishments, behavior, or communication skills, people just don’t like you?

RESERVATION RAVAGED

Published July 7, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

July 1, 2014 launch date for

RESERVATION RAVAGED

A dark mystery set on the central California Coast. This least known region of the best known state is mile after mile of sparsely populated coastline, all but empty in comparison to the major cities to the north and to the south, drive-through country with maybe a stop for lunch.

But look a little closer. People live here in small cities with lots of miles in between, middle class people, educators, native peoples, travelers, and now and then, somebody you wouldn’t want living next to you. Hermione Daggert, a newly certified California Private Investigator, accepts an easy assignment and then struggles to keep her balance when the very ground shifts under her feet.

Available on Amazon.com, B&N, and at http://www.bloodredshadow.com.

Cover Final JAS scan (2)

A MAJOR CHANGE IN MY HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS

Published February 9, 2014 by JoAnna Senger

This fall, my former employer (University of California) notified me that, for the first time in my memory, out-of-state retirees would no longer be covered by UC group health insurance. Instead, UC will give a Health Reimbursement Account, a sum of money to use for insurance premiums and other health expenses. UC hired an outside firm to decide our insurance needs to connect us to the best insurance plan in our area.

I will pay less out-of-pocket under the new plan than I now do, thanks to the level of funds in my HRA. I also have more options in terms of insurance plans. (I selected AARP medical and prescription plans.)

The catch? My former employer had a long-standing practice: if you ever relinquish your health insurance benefits, you will no longer be eligible to receive them in retirement. The new policy is that moving out-of-state means that you have relinquished your participation in group insurance, although we were never told that at the time. In fact, I don’t remember seeing that new policy in any of the 2013 enrollment documents. I found out because I asked.

Apparently, my Arizona primary residence now acts as if I have renounced my group health insurance. SO…even if I move back to California, I will no longer be eligible for UC group insurance. I assume that the HRA funds will still apply.

    My take on all this

: I don’t know if my former employer is saving money by this new practice, but it is certainly possible. Employers who sponsor health insurance have more expenses than just the premiums. They must also pay for a benefits staff to administer the programs. The more employees and retirees, the larger the staff. The more insurance programs offered, the larger the staff. Employers may also pay for outside contractors to process claims. Smaller employers also pay insurance brokers in addition to internal staff and/or outside contractors.

My best guess on the future of health care: Medicare for everybody. The insurance companies can sell their supplementary plans, as they do now.

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