Tuesday, October 27, 2009

'Japan From The Inside': my first book

Promo video for 'Japan From The Inside'

Spending close to five years living and working in Japan (as regular readers of this blog will know), I travelled extensively around the country and amassed a large collection of photographs from my forays. As I was documenting the place in this way, I also ran off several articles and other pieces of writing inspired by my experiences. Expatriation can be a wonderful source of inspiration for the creative mind, and it often offers up opportunities or insights that locals miss out on or let slip. So it was with me and Japan.

Amongst the many projects I got involved with there and after countless years of deliberation over the idea, I also finally got around to starting my first novel - even managing to get as far as writing something like 70,000 words of it. However, as the idea of being a novelist took greater hold in my imagination, I realised that the book I was writing was actually more of a third or fourth novel rather than the first out of the stable. A bit too complex to be my initial offering, and I'm keen that my introductory tome should be a little more palatable to new readers. Nevertheless, I still had a burning desire to get my first book out before I hit 40, now just a couple of years off.

Returning to the UK in 2008 and as a part of processing what I'd been through, I hit upon the idea of putting my archives to use to introduce Japan to those who'd never been there and hopefully provide a little deeper insight for more seasoned Japanophiles. Using print-on-demand service blurb.com, I assembled my first full book release and issued it last year.

Life being what it sometimes is, there was no real opportunity to let anyone know about it at the time. There were also a few kinks to iron out in it, the result of some rather hurried proofreading. Now I'm back in Brighton and things have settled down enough to the point that I'm able to at least finish off some of the projects that had been shelved, I've created and issued a second edition of the book.

Views of 'Japan From The Inside'

Out now, 'Japan From The Inside' is a window into a land of superlatives. Including 238 pages, over 500 photos and my collected writings on Japan from 2003 to 2008, it unmasks the world’s biggest city, explores the heights of the frozen North and the pleasures of the subtropical South. Readers can also investigate the ancient capital of Kyoto, witness Hiroshima’s recovery from the atomic bomb, and wander amongst the great beauty of the Japan Alps.

Showing sides to the country that visitors rarely get to see and which the Japanese are often too busy to take time over, the book covers the old, the new, and unique. It looks at some of the customs, food and heritage in Japanese culture, examines a Japanese approach to gardens and nature, and captures some of the 127 million people that call it their home.

It is currently entered in the Best Blurb Books Contest, which runs until Nov 9th, 2009. Books that receive the most votes in three separate categories (Family, Travel, Pets) go through to a second round of judging by an expert panel, with each category winner receiving a Grand Prize.

To vote for the book, visitors create a profile at blurb.com (with username and password) and click on the 'Vote For This Book' button on my book's page. Every vote is very highly appreciated! I'm also keen to get some comments on it too, as the more comments the book gets, the easier it is for other people to find it.

I'm usually a bit shy about marketing my own products (it sounds a bit like blowing your own trumpet, which can be a little crass if not done tastefully), but am biting the bullet and giving this one the big push. So if you really like the book or are stuck for what to buy someone for Christmas this year, feel free to buy a copy! The softcover is priced at £30.95 while the hardcover is going for £39.95.

Thanks in advance for any extra votes that come via this blog!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

'The Future Of Collaboration', and Cory Doctorow in Brighton

A final post to end what has been rather a long day. After a morning and afternoon spent at BELTE (the inaugural Brighton English Language Training Event), where I picked up all sorts of tips, tricks and connections that should be able to help with my teaching, I ambled down from the train station to the seafront, only to be confronted by the glorious vision of the sunset over the West Pier pictured above

Renowned net evangelist and author Cory Doctorow (who is exactly one month older than me, according to his Wikipedia entry) was in town for a panel discussion at The Brighton Salon, with Nico MacDonald and Michael Bull. The event was eagerly awaited by certain sections of the Brighton geekerati and I'd been looking forward to it for a while.

Macdonald, Bull, Robert Clowes (Salon chairman) and Doctorow at the Thistle Hotel

Doctorow spoke first to kick off the panel, describing how the internet was not just the world's greatest copy machine, but also its best collaboration machine, and the importance of keeping the copyright industries from 'wiretapping us'. He delivers at quite a pace - fast enough that some in the audience less up on the terminology of our networked times struggled with and which I wasn't able to take notes fast enough either - but the assembled crowd lapped it up.

Bull went on to talk about the challenges of communicating with people that aren't sitting next to you and the contradictions of increasing connectivity leading to greater isolation. Macdonald wrapped up with waxing lyrical about 'the profundity of open source' and how we create and deliver the work that we do better than ever (summed up as 'I share, therefore I am'), but opined that open source culture doesn't tend to create new forms and a concern that the 'hive mind' could reduce innovation. Panel discussions and questions from the audience followed.

Doctorow checks the event's tweet stream

Naturally, things got heated at some points, with firm rebuttals of a few of the issues raised. Doctorow denied that open source culture has reduced innovation, stating also that we are living 'in a period of permanent revolution'. Macdonald claimed that we are not living in as revolutionary times as the move from the land to the cities, rebutted by Doctorow with 'Change today is radically faster than agrarian to industrial change.' A rather intriguing feature of the discussion was that both speakers were monitoring the tweet streams of the event (hashtag: #bssharing) and responding to tweets from the audience in addition to their panel contributions. Some serious multitasking.

There were a few other choice quotes from the night that I tweeted from the audience, including
'We can combine the talents of humanity for the first time' and 'The future's going to be weirder than we can now predict.'

All in all, plenty of thought-provoking material (even if there were no ideas that were particularly new to me) and a most engaging evening. One thing's pretty much for sure - whatever the future's going to look like, we can be pretty damned certain that it's going to look very very different from how we might imagine or predict it now, and weirdness as the order of the day would be most likely!

(update: for a well-written and more extensive report on the evening, visit tomhume.org)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A future of Chinese innovation (WN0024)

PhotoSketch: Internet Image Montage from Tao Chen on Vimeo.

As sometimes happens with Twitter, sometimes you stumble across something that's undeniably very cool and have to tell other people about it. Retweeting is the customary way, but having come across this gem, I had to tell my blog readers about it too.

Described by Mashable as 'just mind-boggling', this ingenious piece of software comes out of China - an interesting sign of the place becoming a future source of great innovation. Although it doesn't seem to be publicly available yet, the video above demonstrates quite clearly what it can do.

Mashable defines it like this:

Step 1. Draw the outlines of the figures you want in your picture – anything from seagulls to a Mercedes, whatever tickles your fancy,

Step 2. Add labels for each of the items, as well as for the background.

Step 3. PhotoSketch will then find real-life images to match your doodles and put them together in a Photoshopped image that will make your jaw drop.

The Telegraph describes it more simply as a piece of software 'which transforms basic stick-figure drawings in to a photograph', not quite doing it justice but an effective summary all the same.

The site for PhotoSketch is here, but such was the initial interest in it on the web that it crashed their servers. Goes to show perhaps, if you have a really good idea and can present it well enough, there's no better platform than the Web for getting the word out and building huge demand.

It looks to me like it has the potential to be a powerful disruptive technology that could go massive. Rather than me speculate about how it could end up being used by people and the social implications, I'm inviting comments below to see what readers think.