Friday, August 29, 2014


I got tired of Facebook deciding what will appear in my newsfeed. (What was I missing that friends were posting, but that the FB algorithms decided not to show me?) So I simply created a list that amounts to an unexpurgated newsfeed (showing all postings from all friends).

If you'd like to try this too, just create a Facebook "list" that includes all of your friends. I only know how to do this via the web browser interface to Facebook (although I suppose it can also be done via one of the mobile FB apps, as well).

The following instructions worked as of August 29, 2014. Facebook often changes their interfaces, so these instructions may no longer apply at any time after (or even before) I finish writing this.

To create any list, bring up Facebook in a browser, and hover over the "FRIENDS" section over on the left. This causes a link titled "More" to appear to the right of the "FRIENDS" label.

Click on "More" and up will pop a "Friends" box in the middle of the frame that has a button labeled "+ Create List".

Click it to create a new list, and call it whatever you like (e.g., "All Friends" or "Unexpurgated Newsfeed" or whatever). Do NOT enter any friends in this window. Just click the blue "Create" button after you've given the list a name.

This takes you to a big, mostly blank window with a big "Add Friends to List" button. CLICK IT!!

This takes you to a window with pictures of ALL of your friends, listed in alphabetical order by their first names. Click on each picture to select it (which will make a little blue box with a white check appear in the bottom right corner of each picture). Scroll down through all the pictures and click each one. (Sorry, there is apparently no "select all" button available!)

After you click finish on this last window, it will take you back to the big blank window that says "No posts to show" and the "Add Friends to List" button, which might fool you into thinking that the whole thing didn't work! But if you refresh (reload) this page in your browser, you'll see your new Unexpurgated Feed list appear before your eyes, with every one of all of your friends' most recent postings at the top.

After you complete this process, the name of your new list should begin appearing over on the left of your main Facebook page, as one of the options that may be clicked on in the "Friends" section. However, I noticed that it took a few minutes for my new list to start appearing there right after I created it.

For ease of access, I also placed the link to my "Unexpurgated Feed" list in my browser's bookmark bar.

Give it a try if you want to see which of your friends' postings the FB algorithms are stripping out of your newsfeed!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I usually refrain from making blog postings that are anywhere near the realm of things political, but here are a couple of points about the state of things in the U.S. (and anywhere else where the following apply):

(1) When your government is fully owned (lock stock and two smoking barrels) by a small group of extremely wealthy people, you are not "moving toward oligarchy", you are living in an oligarchy.

(2) When local police forces are armed with military gear as they are now, you are not "moving toward a police state", you are living in a police state.

(3) The combination of conditions (1) and (2) above cannot be a healthy thing.

That is all.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

It's what we're all going for, what we're all seeking. Even as we 21st-century artists strive to jump through vaguely-defined, socially-engineered hoops to sell our wares in the cacophonous and severely overstocked marketplaces of this digital age, we're still looking for the same thing that artists of any age have always sought: success. And I think we're just as ill-equipped to define what "success" really means. How crazy is that: to be striving desperately for something, and yet having no clear idea of what that something is?

But I suppose that most of us do actually have some notion of what "success" is, at least on a very personal level. It appears on our horizon in brief flashes, when some stranger posts a positive comment about one of our works, or when we see an inexplicable spike in views or downloads or purchases (or whatever other abacus beads we use to keep accounts on our self-worth). But what is that flash on the horizon, really? Just a mirage?

Well, it certainly seems to indicate that we've connected with at least one human being who clicked and consumed (and apparently appreciated) our work. But how many clicks = success? At some point, we just have to stop counting, stop looking at the graphs and charts, and set our work free to simply find its way (or not). In my case, my most-clicked works have risen to "fame" without the least bit of overt promotion on my part. I have absolutely no idea what made them "popular".

Here is my most-viewed short story recording, among all those that I've married to gently-moving images and posted to my YouTube channel. It's THE GIFT OF THE MAGI, by O. Henry. If you click on the play button and enjoy it -- hey, SUCCESS!


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

For those who might be interested in seeing how an audiobook narrator’s prosodic abilities can evolve (hopefully improve) over time, you need look (or listen) no further than my most recent epic-length offering on LibriVox. I've mentioned in previous posts the substantial challenges in bringing to life a modern verse (mostly iambic pentameter) version of the classic work, ON THE NATURE OF THINGS, written originally in Latin verse by Lucretius as an extended discourse on Epicurean philosophy for the aesthetes of the Roman Empire.

I was inspired to produce the audiobook (and put it into the public domain via LibriVox) after reading the New York Times bestseller, THE SWERVE, by Stephen Greenblatt, which (in its less-controversial passages) makes the case that Lucretius's work is one of the foundational works of our "modern" world, via the substantial influence it had on most of the superstars of the Enlightenment era (including Newton, Voltaire, Jefferson, and many others).

Here's the thing, though: I started work on my recording of ON THE NATURE OF THINGS before I had gone very far in developing my skills as an audiobook narrator, about half a year before I ever attempted my first professional audiobook work. As such, I am fairly horrified at the sound of the opening sections of the work -- the over-enunciation of consonants, the half-assed dramatization of simple phrases, and a host of other sins of commission and omission.

But at moments when I can forgive myself for my early-on display of ineptitude, I can start to appreciate my full recording of ON THE NATURE OF THINGS as a longitudinal record of my development as an audiobook narrator.

To get a quick idea of what I’m talking about, listen (if you can bear it) to a few lines of one of the first sections that I recorded in Book 1; then listen to one in the middle (perhaps one of the sections of Book 3), and finally to one of the very last sections, in Book 6. I think you'll agree that the differences are striking!



Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

I’ll keep my offering brief this week, as I spend most of my time these days reconstituting old software design and development skills that have lain dormant for quite some time. But I am still keeping up my audiobook narration and production skills by mining public domain classics available on the Internet, not only to add to future CLASSIC TALES collections, but also to contribute to LibriVox projects currently underway.

In the latter category, I stumbled across this snippet of a novel, penned by an author you may well have never heard of, but who was held in high enough esteem by her peers in the late nineteenth century to have had this excerpt included in one of the volumes of LIBRARY OF THE WORLD'S BEST LITERATURE - ANCIENT & MODERN! Her name is Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and this is an excerpt from her curiously-titled novel, MOHAWKS. (Fans of DOWNTON ABBEY might be particularly entertained by this sample of Braddon’s work!):


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

I continue to be thankful for the existence of, a place where volunteers cooperatively interact to create audiobooks drawn from the multitude of written works available in the public domain. I think of it as my own personal prosodic playground, where I can experiment and push myself in ways not feasible in the commercial audiobook domain.

But just because a playground is a playground, doesn't mean that one won’t encounter ethical quandaries there, and the LibriVox playground is no exception. In my recent meanderings through the LibriVox forums I stumbled across a fascinating project to create an audiobook version of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT by Jefferson Davis. Overcome with curiosity, I immediately volunteered to produce one of the most vitriolic and incendiary chapters in the book, and submitted the completed recording a few days later.

Here’s the thing: we live in a world in which a great many people willingly submit themselves, mind and soul, to ideological subjugation based mostly upon the STYLE with which an argument is presented to them, with little (if any) regard to its SUBSTANCE. In such a world, what might be done (for good or for ill) with a passionately-rendered recording of the words of a major historical figure, words which in part serve to frame absolutely reprehensible ideas and ideals (as when Davis obliquely refers to slavery as a "wise and useful institution")?

When I record Davis’s words, should I give them a perfunctory reading with little or no inflection, simply to enter his work into "the public record" with little chance of anyone thinking that I (the narrator) might agree with him? It not being in my nature to give "perfunctory readings" of anything, I chose what I thought was a middle road: to assume his point of view, to try to get inside his head to a certain extent, and then read the words from some approximation of his apparent point of view, without going "over the top" and becoming a bloviated Thomas Nast caricature of Davis.

What do you think? Is it okay to produce earnestly and passionately voiced recordings of historical works which contain vile and abhorrent arguments? Was it okay for me to do it with this work of Jefferson Davis? Would it be okay for me to give a similar treatment to Adolf Hitler's MEIN KAMPF? Where do you draw the line, if any is to be drawn?

Here, for your consideration, is my recording of Chapter 42 of Volume 2 of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT, by Jefferson Davis (the erstwhile President of those same Confederate States):

Sunday, August 3, 2014

HERE'S WHAT'S NEW: August 2014!

On a recent edition of one of my favorite techie-oriented podcasts, one of the participants in a round-table discussion offered the off-the-cuff guesstimate that the U.S. has evolved into a society in which 50% of the population is unable to perform any useful function, since they lack the requisite skills and knowledge-base to do so. While one could easily (and justifiably) quibble with the "50%" figure, the overall gist of the comment rings true to me: that our public (and even potentially most private) schools -- with their assembly-line classroom structures and their pathologically obsessive focus on preparing students to excel in completing one-size-fits-all fill-in-the-bubble tests -- turn out graduates who are, by and large, unprepared to fulfill a meaningful role in modern society.

Accepting this as an essentially true assessment of the state of things, I come to a juncture in my life when the paths that I and my wife have followed (which rather substantially deviate from what most Americans would consider "normal") require of me a career change. Given that I have always been (and remain) one of those starry-eyed types, idealistically bent on maximizing my usefulness in the world, yet pragmatically allowing that I also need to continue to "make a decent living", I am embarking on my first serious job hunt within the IT realm since the mid-90s (almost twenty years ago!).

Starting in early 2008, I began a deviation from my previous twenty-year career in software engineering, and delved into elementary school teaching in international schools in the Far East. These last few years devoted largely to educational endeavors have left me not-a-fan of classroom-based teaching of any kind. Forcing people to learn, en masse, in a "learning factory" (i.e., a traditional classroom) is a good way to all but guarantee that anything ostensibly learned will be quickly forgotten.

I am convinced that by far the most effective learning is self-directed learning, whether it be that of a six month old baby beginning to teach herself to talk, or of a 78 year old man beginning to teach himself how to use an iPhone so that he can have video chats with his grandchildren.

With all that said, I come back to the topic of my "job hunt". In the ideal world (and, being an idealist, I'm always on the hunt for the ideal world), I could bring all of my past experiences together --
  1. my software engineering experience (1989-2008), 
  2. my teaching experience (2008-2013), and even 
  3. my brief foray into the world of audiobook narration and production (2013-2014)
-- to fill a role in what might broadly be call "the educational arm" of the IT industry.

As part of my search, I'll be looking for small companies (either well established or new start-ups) that are taking on the challenge of providing tools or environments that assist people in self-directed learning endeavors.

However, I'd also like to broaden the search, to include companies of different sizes in a potentially broad array of industries, who see a need to provide learning opportunities for any of their stakeholders (employees, customers, managers, etc.), and who might benefit from my help in doing it.

What am I doing right now, at this very moment?

I'm currently engaged in very focused self-education, reacquiring my skills in Java software design and development that have lain dormant for the better part of a decade. In the next few months I plan to turn out one or two web-based services and to make some contributions to the code-bases of at least one open-sourced Java-based project. Then, confident that my head is once again screwed on right with respect to the essentials of software engineering, I will seriously begin to look for professional engagements with organizations operating at the nexus of technology and learning.