Monday, December 30, 2013

Dewey and the Role of Google+ in Fostering the Great Community (and a happy Google+ New Year to all!)

Dewey and the Role of Google+ in Fostering the Great Community
Google+ Community Collage

I studied education for many years (I thought I could change the world but the joke was on me...), and in my work as translator/editor I still get to read a fair share of essays in this field. So it happened that the other day I was translating part of an article concerning Dewey's view of democracy, when I realized that he was actually talking about Google+.  Did John Dewey envision the creation of the internet and Google+ a century ago? No, he did not. But he did envision the perfect role for them: fostering the Great Community. A few quotes will make my point.

Dewey's commitment to democracy is an extension of his view of human nature. For him, democracy did not simply allow for social stability so that each individual could pursue his or her own happiness, but was rather a core value which expressed a basic faith in human potential for growth in a community. Democracy would lead to the building of what Dewey called "the great community"...
Dewey ultimately believed that human happiness could only be found in the context of society; that true growth could only take place as the individual recognized his own growth with that of others...the pursuit of growth is dependent upon one's ability to step out of his/her narrow perspective and to be exposed to other perspectives which would force an individual to expand his/her own view and be more inclusive. One learns from experience, from the confrontation with something outside oneself...
Only when a level playing field is created and when there is mutual respect and equality for all citizens, can the real work of democracy begin: the democratic conversation which aims at building a society together. This democratic process of building a society together through give and take among individuals searching to create a collective which fulfills each of them, is in and of itself a process of growth. One could say that the process of building the "great community" is more of what the "great community is about than the actual creation of such a community. Since growth is always possible, there is no destination, but only a conversation to be maintained, which constantly facilitates growth."
To summarize, Dewy believed in a democracy that fosters growth by way of human beings who connect with each other as equals in order to facilitate their own and each other's growth, in the process creating a community. To me that sounds an awful lot like what I'm experiencing and seeing on Google+.

On the web, we are all equals and there is no coercion. On Google+, we connect with other people seeking growth - personal and professional - and community. This does not meant that we are creating a new society at the moment, but I can definitely see the possibility. I know that in the short time I've been here I've already experienced so much growth, I can barely handle it, and I have had the pleasure of joining and contributing to different communities and encountering different points of view expressed by people all over the world. I think Dewey would be happy, and that's a good thing. What do you think? Have you grown or helped others grow on Google+ in the past year? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Here's to another great year of growth and community!

About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Neat Book Review #8: The Complete Parker Pyne, Private Eye, by Agatha Christie

Parker Pyne

Plot summary
Parker Pyne is a retired British civil servant who advertises in newspapers : "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne, 17 Richmond Street." Through his work in governmental statistics, he has presumably unlocked the secrets of human happiness, and in the first four stories he dispenses this wisdom to four unhappy men and woman in quite amusing ways. The rest of the book includes short detective stories in which Parker Pyne comes to the aid of several desperate people.

My opinion
I'm a big Agatha Christie fan, and I love reading and re-reading most of her books, but this is clearly not her best effort. The first four stories are very uncharacteristic of her writing and in my opinion they are the best part of the book. I enjoyed the imaginative yet quite simple solutions that Pyne offers for some of life's most common problems, such as an unhappy marriage. The rest of the book, which is the major part, is far less interesting and I found the detective stories quite simple and relatively plain, compared to Christie's other books.

Pros: Agatha Christie. Need I say more?         
Cons: Below her usual standard of excellence

Who should read it: Agatha Christie fans cannot afford to miss this, but everyone else can skip it.

Bottom line: As a writer, I take comfort in seeing that even the grand master of detective crime had her bad days.                                                                                                                         


About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

Follow me on:
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Pinterest
Goodreads
Facebook


Monday, December 23, 2013

Pinterest for Authors: My Initial Impression

Pinterest logo
To Pinterest or not to Pinterest, that is the question!


After striking out on Facebook and really loving Google+, I decided to try out Pinterest. I had been aware of the possibility after Indie Goddess, Joanna Penn, recommended it, and since I already attach an image to each blog post (which supposedly increases engagement, traffic, etc...), uploading them to Pinterest did not seem like much extra work. The following describes my first impression of Pinterest.

1 - Business or personal account? I learned this the hard when signing up for Facebook, so now I always check if there are different types of accounts and what the differences are. This is what the Pinterest help page titled "What's a business account?" has to say about the differences:

Business vs. personal accounts
Right now, business accounts and personal accounts have access to the same features. If you create a business account, you'll receive updates on future products and services that will provide more powerful ways of reaching and understanding your audience on Pinterest.
We also have two sets of terms – one for people and one for businesses. The Business Terms of Service enable us to separate the provisions meant for businesses from those meant for regular people and are intended to help guide businesses on how to use Pinterest.
I am happy to inform you that I did not examine the differences between the legal terms of the two types of accounts, since Legalese is not one of the languages I comprehend. In fact, every time some company tries to make me read this type of document, it reminds me how I felt when my parents suddenly switched to some foreign language when the children were around (in my case it was German). Anyway, as you can see, the Pinterest help page is not very helpful. A web search taught me that business accounts have access to Google analytics for their Pinterest boards, and they can add more "rich text" to each "pin"(image) they upload. The social media examiner adds that businesses can name their account after their business. That same post also guides you through the signing up process, which is straightforward enough, although not in my case - see the next item. Also, after signing up as a business, I began to receive helpful emails from Pinterest with advice how to use the site to promote my brand. Bottom line, if you are an author looking to use Pinterest as a marketing tool, it makes sense to sign up as a business.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Neat Book Review #7: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Suasan Cain

Plot summary
The book discusses various aspects of introversion including its origins with Jung's theory of personality, the cult of extroversion and leadership (Cain calls Harvard "the spiritual capital of extroversion"), whether and to what extent introversion and extroversion are genetic, the historical, cultural shift from introversion to extroversion, the differences between East and West in this respect (“Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know”), how to integrate introverts into decision making processes in order to benefit from their talents, how introverts can behave in a more extroverted manner (when necessary), and how to live with an introverted partner and raise and educate introverted children. The entire book is accompanied by the personal experiences and insights of the author and ample scientific, historical, and cultural references to back up her well-researched ideas.

My opinion
I am a long-suffering introvert, living in an extremely extroverted society. As such, this book felt like a glass of water for a person dying from thirst. "At last", I thought, "someone gets it!" And Susan Cain not only gets it, she also explains it. Although I knew I was an introvert, I didn’t really know a lot about it. This book will grant you an in-depth understanding of introversion and its benefits and disadvantages in the context of the extroverted Western society. Amazingly, Cain also has some useful suggestions how to behave in a more extroverted manner, which can be necessary sometimes (for instance, if you are an introverted author trying to sell your work…). The book is very well written and a pleasure to read.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Being Nice On Social Media

Ever since I've embarked on my mission to become a writer (details here), I have made a point of posting a book review once a week. As you can see for yourself, these reviews are always positive, and the other day, when I got to thinking about why, I thought that the reason for this is that I just don't want to write negative things about a book, certainly not in a public forum, saved on a global server, probably for all eternity or until Google becomes self-conscious and decides to enslave or free all humanity (hopefully, we'll notice the difference)...I also see no reason to increase the sorrow and anger in this world; surely we have enough. Perhaps I don't like the book, but other readers loved it? And what about the the author? If he or she is still alive, I really would not like to say negative things about a colleague in public. I know how much effort goes into writing a book, even a bad one (You can tell that I am great book reviewer, or the worst ever, depending on your point of view...).

Anyway, when I was thinking about this, I suddenly recalled that when I was kid, I had a cute, small, parchment-like poster hung up on the wall of my room (which I shared with a brother). I recreated it in the attached image, for the benefit of all denizens of the internet. Despite the years that have gone by since then, people haven't changed all that much, and this still is very good advice.

good advice How to behave on social media



So, happy, friendly posting to all!

The parchment texture is courtesy of grungetextures.com., along with a vignette effect created in Paint.net, which is a very good, user-friendly, and free graphic tool.





About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

Follow me on:
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Neat Book Review #6: The Best of Damon Runyon & Runyon à la Carte by Damon Runyon

cover The Best of Damon Runyon & Runyon à la Carte by Damon Runyon

Plot summary

These two books are compilations of Runyon's finer short stories. Each story is different but all of them feature some type of criminal activity, figures of the underworld, and other "citizens" of Broadway. The stories are unique in several ways. First, Runyon describes his wrong-doing characters in a very compassionate manner, portraying both their cruelty and violence but also their humanity, sensitivity, and even tenderness. Also, somewhat similar to O'Henry, each story ends with a twist that surprises and reveals an unknown fact or point of view, which shows the entire story in a different light.  Finally, the language that Runyon uses is simply extraordinary. This is an American slang that is probably unfamiliar to the modern ear, consisting of gambling and criminal terms from the 1920s and 1930s. Thus a "doll" is a girl, a "shiv" is a knife, and the odds are six to five that you will need a dictionary to understand every colloquialism, although the odds of you enjoying and savoring every sentence are better: I put them at three to one.

My opinion
These are the kind of books I like to read when I'm tired and I need something completely different, entertaining, and refreshing. Runyon's world is engrossing, amusing, and always delightful. The language is a treat, and if you know English I think you will be able to overcome the slang terms, which tend to repeat themselves and are pretty clear just by understanding the context, in most cases. I also love that Runyon manages to portray his underworld figures in a positive light, through their own eyes and in their own terms, yet also doesn't lose sight of the fact that they are criminals engaging in unlawful behavior. It's a balancing act that Runyon pulls off very well.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bach, Queen, and Polyphony in Music and in Writing

Bach and Queen side by side


Sometimes a tune gets stuck in your head and refuses to leave. This is happening to me with a short scene from a nice Brazilian movie I saw about six months ago called Se Eu Fosse Você (If I were you). The movie is about a husband and wife that wake up in each other's body, similar to what happened to the mother and daughter in Freaky Friday. The wife is head of a choir in an all-girl Catholic school and in this scene, near the end, she/he arrives just in time to get on stage and lead the choir in an important school ceremony. The twist is that the husband has completely changed the orderly, classical segment planned by his wife, into something bouncy, energetic, and full of movement, both physical and musical. Usually when a tune doesn't let go of me it's because it is polyphonic, but after consulting with my wife (a composer and teacher of music theory and composition) this turned out not be the case, which got me to thinking about polyphony as an instrument in music as well as in writing. Anyway, for starters, I invite you to listen to this short scene, see how it resonates with you, and if you can tell how the impression of polyphony is created.

video

You probably noticed that there is a lot of movement in this short piece: The singers are moving their bodies, waving and clapping their hands, and stomping their feet. At the same time there are some very interesting things going on in the rhythm section, mainly due to the many rhythmic instruments and the fact that they often tend to hit the offbeat, or in musical theory parlance, they create syncopation, which is defined as "a general term for a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm: a placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur." But although the texture is rich and interesting, it is not polyphony, which is something a little different.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Neat Book Review #5: Freaky Friday


Freaky Friday old cover

Plot summary: Annabel is a 13-year old adolescent who wakes up in her mother's body, following another fierce argument between the two. Annabel takes her surprising situation in stride and endeavors to have as much fun as a grown-up possibly can.  Things get a little complicated as Annabel gets to see and experience the world – and herself in particular – from a completely different point of view. Her adventures throughout the day are hilarious, scary, romantic, and endearing, until the conclusion, which does not disappoint.

My opinion: I know this is just a middle-grade book but I think it is perfect. The prose is fantastic and the plot moves along seamlessly. Everything occurs at the right time in the right way. It seems to me that almost every part of the book, every sentence, every word are just where they need to be, with nothing left out and nothing overdone. It's just right, and writing doesn’t get much better than that, I believe, no matter the genre.

Monday, December 2, 2013

How Veganism can Benefit Writers (and other busy people)

Writers are a busy lot. Statistically speaking, most of us still hold a day job, especially if we are just starting out. In addition, some writers have partners and some may also have children, not to mention a circle of friends. So if you're holding down a day job and still maintaining a semblance of a social life, where does your writing fit in? And if you do manage to write, what about publishing and marketing - when do you do that? Since I recently decided that I want to make a living as a writer, finding time to write and to facilitate the switch from my day job to my dream job has been the biggest challenge. Therefore, I figure that any edge writers can get is worth talking about and hence, veganism.
This post is definitely not meant to convert anyone to veganism. Rather, I will argue that understanding a few basic principles of veganism and implementing them even sporadically throughout the day will save you time, improve your health, and increase your energy - all good things for busy writers and anyone else who suffers from a lack of time and energy.  Really, you have nothing to lose  - except maybe some weight - and considering we are in the midst of the holiday season, that's probably not a bad thing anyway...

veganism: Beautiful fruit