The Essence of Haiku

I am not a poetry person. I don’t read poetry [mostly], and I certainly don’t write it, but ever since my university days, I’ve loved the sound of haiku… in Japanese.

In particular, I love the Bashō haiku about the Old Pond:

Furu ike ya
Kawazu tobikomu
Mizu no oto

There are countless translations of this haiku, but the one I like the best is the one that sticks the most closely to the actual Japanese words:

Old pond
Frog jumps in
Sound of water

Water can have all sorts of sounds, so the onomatopoeic word ‘plop’ used in some translations kind of makes sense, but while that idea is obviously understood by Japanese readers, the actual words are so much more…subtle?

Mizu means water.
Oto means sound.
No is a possessive.

Thus ‘mizu no oto’ literally means ‘water’s sound’. It is left to our imaginations to decide which one of the many mizu no oto is made by a frog when it jumps into a pond.

It’s been fifty years since I last tried to mangle the Japanese language, so I went looking for a proper native speaker to recite this haiku. What I found was a video that gave the best explanation of haiku I’ve ever heard. Syllables vs mora vs on. Content words vs rhythm. And a whole lot more.

I promise. The video below is well worth the listen:

Oh, and you’ll find the recitation I was talking about at 2:37. You’re welcome. 😀

Meeks


And now this…update to ‘I Hate December’

First cup of coffee. Look out the kitchen window and….

That’s a rather large branch from a Red Box eucalypt. It came to rest right in the middle of my quince tree. 😦

All the rain we’ve had has ruined a lot of the fruit this year, and now it seems we’ll have even less than anticipated.

I’m particularly annoyed by the fact that the branch also half squashed my little fig tree…the very first year it has fruit. Grrrrr…. And to add an extra twist to my frustration, I’m now going to have to pay someone to come in and remove the branch because I don’t do chain saws.

-sigh- I really do hate this time of year.

Meeks


I hate December!

I was going to say “I hate Christmas!” but that’s not completely true. It’s not so much that I hate Christmas, it’s that I hate the lead up to Christmas, especially this year. December in Australia is the first month of summer, and summer means bushfires and snakes [we’ve seen two already].

In normal years I would have spent most of spring mowing a little bit every day. We’re on 1.6 hectares, and that equates to a lot of grass. The alpacas do their best, but in spring they can’t eat the new grass fast enough, and once the grass sets seed they won’t touch it.

So that’s in a normal year – a little bit of mowing spread out over a couple of months. This year has been different though. Australia is experiencing its third La Nina event in a row which has meant rain, rain and more rain. All that rain has triggered unprecedented floods all along the eastern seaboard with lives lost, crops lost and whole towns inundated.

We don’t have to worry about floods here in Warrandyte as we’re on a ridge, but all that rain means the grass grows an inch over night. And it’s too wet to mow during the day, especially with a small, cordless lawnmower.

In desperation, I paid for a guy to come in and whipper snipper1 the worst of it, but that’s left sheaths of grass drying on the ground. Exhibit A:

What’s worse, the new grass is already growing through. It has to be mowed. 😦

And now we get to the other reason I hate December so much: things break down. This year, my faithful Ozito cordless lawnmover has struggled even with the lower grass, hardly surprising given that I bought it in 2016 and have used it in ways it was never designed to be used. So I had to go out and buy a new cordless mower.

I tried the new model Ozito, but it died after just one mowing session. Note to Ozito: I am so disappointed.

Thank gods Bunnings let me swap the new Ozito for a Ryobi cordless. The Ryobi is a great little mower but it’s battery takes ages to re-charge and the catcher is a stupid design so the outlet from the blade constantly clogs up. But at least it does cut like a champion. Exhibit B, a pic taken looking back up at the house:

But December hasn’t finished with me yet.

We had a couple of days of ‘hot’ weather recently so we filled up the firefighting pumps with petrol and tested them. One started without a hitch. The other tried to start but just wouldn’t catch. Grrrrr….

I do have a fabulous mechanic who fixed the last problem with the pumps, but he’s flat out until….you guessed it, Christmas.

I’m not too worried as I don’t think we’ll have any major fires until maybe mid-January, and one of the pumps does work, but still…I did not need this, not the worry and certainly not the hit to my budget. If the Reserve Bank is reading this post <<hysterical laughter>> I didn’t intend to contribute to inflation this year!

Anyway, it looks as if it might rain again soon so I’d better get out there. Who needs a gym when you’ve got grass? -grump-

Meeks

Whipper snipper1 : I think it’s called a ‘brush cutter’ elsewhere in the world.


Books that authors love, including me

Many years ago, I started a blog to showcase book recommendations by other authors. It was a nice idea that never got off the ground. And then along came Shepherd, a nice idea that did get off the ground. I’m thrilled to be a part of this new way of reaching readers.

But what is Shepherd?

I see Shepherd as a cross between Goodreads, that blog I mentioned, and word of mouth. Plus the website itself is beautifully laid out and provides readers with lists of books recommended by authors themselves. Each recommendation comes with a kind of personalised mini-review, and the whole website just works.

This is a pic of my list. I called it ‘The best books that explore what it means to be human’:

Each author gets to recommend five books so click on the link:

https://shepherd.com/best-books/explore-what-it-means-to-be-human

…to see all five of mine.

At the bottom of my list are links to other lists in a similar vein. I had a look at some of them – how could I not? – and discovered that I’m not alone in loving Dune and Left Hand of Darkness! And that makes me think I might give the authors who recommended them a try. After all, if they like what I like, maybe they’ll write stuff I’ll like too!

If you’re a voracious reader like me and always on the look out for new favourite authors, Shepherd could well become the discovery tool of the future.

cheers,
Meeks


Dog Bone Soup – on sale for 99c

No, I haven’t suddenly taken up butchering! Dog Bone Soup, by Bette A. Stevens, is one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. I gave it 5/5 stars when I first reviewed it, and I still give it 5/5. Here’s a short excerpt from Bette’s blog:

“BOYS, GET IN HERE. Hurry up!”

We set the groceries on the table and ran in to see what Mum was so worked up about.

“President Kennedy’s body’s back in Washington. Look, they’re switching from the Washington to that Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. The world’s at a standstill and no wonder. I can’t believe that someone’s gone and killed the President…Sit down. Watch.”

“What’s for dinner?” I asked when I handed her the change.

“Good. We have more than a dollar left for the week.”

“What about dinner, Mum?”

“I’ll fix us some supper, later. We had plenty of hotcakes to tide us over this morning,” Mum sat there, captivated by the news.

Coverage went on all day and long into the night. Willie and I went out to cut and split fire wood for the week. Then we grabbed our fishing poles and ran down to the brook. I figured if we caught something, we could have a nice fry for supper, even if I had to fix it myself.

Willie peeled and cut potatoes while I figured out how to mix flour and cornmeal and get the fish going. I set the fish on the stove to keep warm while I fried up the potatoes.

We never did get Mum away from the darned TV.

https://4writersandreaders.com/2022/11/22/dog-bone-soup-99%c2%a2-thru-november-27th-holiday-sale-remembering-thanksgiving-1963-excerpt/comment-page-1/#comment-66766

If you prefer a trailer, here’s a short, two minute video to watch:

Or go to Bette’s blog and check out the entire post here.

Whatever you do, I strongly suggest grabbing a copy of the book while it’s on sale. 😉

You’re welcome,
Meeks


Making videos and other bits and pieces

It’s been an odd week, with lots of rain and too little sleep, but I have been fairly productive. First up is my latest how-to video: ‘ESO – how to build a pointy wall’. It’s quite a long video so I don’t expect anyone to watch it all the way through!

The reason I’m showcasing this video is because of the new skills I’ve learned using VideoStudio Pro 2021, my video editing software.

The first thing I learned was how to create short, animated visual directions. The video below is only a few seconds long and demonstrates what I mean about a ‘visual direction’:

The animation is created from within VideoStudio Pro 2021 using the Painting Tool. I can see this tool getting a lot of use once I start making how-to videos for self-publishing.

The second thing I learned was how to manually fade the background music in and out. VideoStudio Pro 2021 has a feature called ‘Audio Ducking’ which is supposed to make the music go quiet when there’s narration on the video. The feature is okay, but I wasn’t too impressed with when it decided to raise and lower the volume of the music. So I went looking for a manual solution and found one. 😀

The blue track is the music track, and the purple one is for narration. When I’m talking, I want the music to be very soft, but when there’s a gap in the narration, I want the music to swell. The section of the tracks I’ve circled in red is one of those gaps. As you can see, the white line showing the volume of the music goes up – i.e. becomes louder – while I’m not talking.

To make VideoStudio Pro display the audio controls, press the icon circled in red below:

Controlling the volume of the music manually is a bit time-consuming and ‘clunky’, but I think the end result is much better.

In case anyone is interested, the music was created by Peritune, a Japanese composer who writes lovely, non-jarring music that compliments my videos beautifully.

And last but not least, I’ve just made my new Youtube ‘handle’ :

I’m not quite sure how the handle is actually supposed to work, but apparently in time, it will be used to personalise the URL of my Youtube channel. A small thing, but Indies have to grab their branding where they find it!

It’s Sunday here in Melbourne, and for a wonder the rain has stopped so I’m going to do a garden promenade with the animals.

Have a great weekend,
Meeks


Some of the novels I have loved in October 2022

I believe in writing reviews, but like most people, unless I write one the moment I finish reading, I tend to forget. As a result, I do catch-up reviews. These are some of the ones I’ve reviewed on amazon.com recently.

The Corfu Trilogy, by Gerald Durrell. Fell in love with the TV series, loved the books.

‘This must be one of the few times when a visual representation of a work actually complements that work of prose. Both endearing and beautiful.’

Amazon link

p.s. There are over 4,000 reviews of this trilogy on amazon.com so mine was more of an ‘I loved it too!’ than an actual review.

For those who’ve never heard of the Durrells of Corfu TV series, or the books on which they’re based, the author, Gerald Durrell was the brother of Lawrence Durrell of the Alexandria Quartet fame.

All four of the Durrell siblings lived on the island of Corfu in the years leading up to WWII. The Corfu trilogy was written by the youngest Durrell, Gerald, and details the glorious, golden years he spent growing up there. The books are funny and snarky and make you want to go back in time and share that life with them.

If you get the chance, read the books and watch the TV series. You won’t be disappointed. Promise.

Val Hall: the even years, by Alma Alexander. Shorts with Heart

‘I’m not usually a fan of short stories because they end just as I’m getting into them but… Val Hall is like snippets of the same, glorious song. Each story showcases a different resident with a different 3rd class superpower, but the gentle caring of Eddie the orderly weaves all the disparate stories into one narrative. And I literally fell in love with each superhero. On to book two. :)’

p.s. As with the Corfu trilogy, my review is kind of superfluous, but I thought I’d explain that the premise of the stories is that there are three tiers of superpowers.

The top tier is godlike, the second is like Superman,

while the third is made up of almost ordinary humans who have one special power that they can use in special circumstances. That’s why they’re only third class. Each story talks about one of these third class powers and the person who wields it.

Amazon link

Cage of Souls, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Papillion at the end of the world.

‘The time is some unimaginable point in the future when our sun is starting to die. The place is the Island, a prison for those that Shadrapar, the last city on Earth, rejects. The story is told in the first person by Stefan Advani, an intellectual sentenced to the Island for…helping to write a book that the powers did not like.
I’m not a fan of first person POV because what we learn of the character is generally unappealing. It’s like seeing someone naked with all their warts and saggy flesh exposed. That said, however, I can’t stop thinking about the story and the world it portrays.
It’s memorable.

I’m a voracious reader but much of what I read disappears soon after I finished reading. It’s not memorable. The Cage of Souls is different. It’s tunneled into my imagination and won’t let go.
To me, that is the defining characteristic of a great story.’

Amazon link

I have a stack more reviews to publish so I’ll try to do a post a week. In the meantime, have a great weekend. 🙂

cheers,
Meeks


What is a ‘solar garden’ and why we should want one

I put solar panels on my roof soon after I built this house because I was trying to plan for my retirement. That makes me one of the lucky ones, but what about those who are renting? Or simply can’t afford to put solar panels on their roofs?

Given the soaring cost of energy, this article by Citizen Mum, an Aussie blogger, really hit the nail on the head:

‘The concept of a solar garden is new in Australia, and is being developed by Pingala, a citizen led co-operative focused on developing people-centred and socially just energy solutions. At its core the concept is very simple and based along the lines of a community garden, in that cooperative members have the opportunity to purchase plots (panels) in the solar garden and have the energy that is generated from the plot credited to their power bill. It is ideal for people in rental accommodation, apartments or homes that are not suitable for rooftop solar.’

https://citizen-mum.com/2022/11/01/mid-scale-solar-can-ease-pressure-on-the-nem/

To give a little context to that quote, Citizen Mum is talking about ‘mid-scale solar arrays’. These are like the solar panels we’re used to seeing when we see photos of solar farms – fields and fields of solar panels almost as far as the eye can see:

Yeah, like those but smaller, much, much smaller. Mid scale solar arrays are big enough to provide a decent amount of solar energy, but small enough to be ‘owned’ by a small town. Or as the quote suggests, owned by the individuals of that town.

If you’re interested in mitigating climate change, and perhaps saving yourselves some money long term, I strongly suggest you read the whole article on Citizen Mum’s blog.

cheers,
Meeks


A bit of YouTube news

Just a few days ago I reached my first major milestone on Youtube – 100 subscribers! Thank you to everyone who visited my channel and subscribed. You made me feel that I wasn’t wasting my time. On such a new venture, that kind of support is gold, pure gold.

In further news, two of my videos have reached milestones of their own: 1000 views, and a couple more are getting there very quickly so I’m thrilled. This is one of the new ones that’s getting a lot of views:

If you click on ‘Watch on YouTube’ you’ll be able to see a larger version of the video.

I would like to say that my how-to and reading videos are doing as well, but they’re not, at least not yet. I hope that in time I’ll be able to use YouTube for other aspects of my work. Till then, I’m still learning, still improving and, most importantly, still enjoying the process. D

cheers,
Meeks


Why is Amazon HIDING books from readers?

I’ve been buying books from Amazon since the days when the company didn’t make a profit, and the pundits thought that Jeff Bezos was mad. That’s a long time and an awful lot of books. Yet suddenly I can’t be trusted to choose books for myself????

For those who do not yet know, Amazon has a new ‘feature’ whereby an algorithm decides which books you should see when you go to an author’s ‘Author Page’. The ‘feature’ is called Top Picks and:

‘…allows Amazon customers to see personalized recommendations from your catalog of books. Customers will see this on your Author Page and it will suggest books based on these traits:

• New releases and pre-order books matching their interest.
• Unread books from a series they started.
• The customer’s reading and purchase history.

The goal is to help them find more books they want to read from you. Each customer will have a different recommendation, including you, if you’re logged into your Amazon account.’

That quote comes direct from a reply I received from Amazon support just this morning.

Sounds reasonable, kind of, until you realise that these Top Picks aren’t simply the first books you see when you go to an author’s page, they’re the ONLY books you see.

My Author Page is now more ‘normal’ than it was a few days ago when I took this screenshot – amazing what an angry email will do – but I’ve just looked at Robbie Cheadle’s Author Page to see her latest release, ‘Haunted Halloween Holiday, and this is what I see when I go to Robbie’s author page:

No Haunted Halloween. I have to scroll to the right on the carousel to finally see the book I’m looking for:

But what if I scroll down? That should bring it up shouldn’t it? Nope:

There are only three ‘Sir Chocolate’ books shown in the list, and NONE of them is her new one. Oh, but it’ll be on page 2, right?

Wrong. There is no ‘page 1 of 2’ at the bottom of the list the way it used to be.

Why? Because the list is automatically set to display by Kindle and popularity. When you try to change the ‘Sort by’ you get this:

Oh, ok, so a new book would be the one most recently published, right? If I sort by ‘Publication date’ I should see it straight away…

WTF? Why am I still not see it?

The reason is that Robbie’s new ‘Haunted Halloween Holiday’ is a paperback. So no matter what I sort by, it won’t show because the category is automatically set for Kindle…and only Kindle.

To see all of Robbie’s books I had to click ‘All Formats’ as shown above.

But what if I didn’t realise that the book was paperback only? Which I didn’t. Or what if I didn’t try the ‘All Formats’ option just to see what would happen?

Amazon? How is this feature supposed to make finding and buying a book easier?

First, I had to click twice just to get to Robbie’s author page…

CORRECTION: on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk you no longer have to click twice. BUT… you no longer get the little popup box that says “Find all the books….” either:

The screenshot above was taken from the amazon.com.au website which is still displaying the old, pre ‘new feature’ interface. I guess someone at Amazon finally realised that promising to show all books AND THEN NOT SHOWING THEM would be….misleading.

I repeat, how is this new feature making it easier to find a book on Amazon? Why do I have to work this hard to find a book when I already know the author and the name of the book?

Before this effing stupid new feature was dumped on us, an author’s page automatically showed all of an author’s work – including all of the available formats. These formats used to include paperbacks and foreign language editions. Now, I have to know how to work around the ‘feature’ in order to find what I want.

But what if a reader doesn’t already know that an author has a heap of other books? Why would such a reader go to so much trouble to find what’s been hidden?

The answer is that they wouldn’t.

Instead of making things more convenient for readers, Amazon’s new feature has made it harder.

And just for the record, how in heck is a new book supposed to ‘compete’ with an author’s older books for visibility? How can a new book be ‘more popular’ on launch? More importantly, how does it become more popular when it can’t be seen, even on the author’s own page?

Lack of visibility is hard enough for Indie authors at the best of times, but when our own author pages hide our books? Really Amazon?

The worst part of this new ‘feature’ however is what it does to reader choice. Quite frankly, I’ve always found Amazon recommendations to be laughable. They NEVER get it right, not for me, so from now on, this useless algorithm is not only going to recommend books that I don’t want to read, it’s going to hide the books it thinks I won’t want to see?

What kind of insanity is this? Amazon used to be about consumers, and consumer choice. Well, I’m a consumer and I hate being bullied by an algorithm. Worse, I’m now wondering who came up with the idea of restricting consumer’s choices. And why.

Is this step 1 in a downward spiral that will result in us only seeing books and products that have massive advertising budgets? Advertising budgets that fill Amazon’s coffers to overflowing?

Tin hat theory? Maybe, but this new feature has shaken my trust in Amazon, badly. I read a lot, and finding new books on Amazon that aren’t just the same old same old is already hard. How will I keep my reading addiction going if half the books I might like are hidden from me?

How can I make good choices when I don’t know what I don’t know? And where does Amazon get off bullying me like this?

Please, if you’re a Reader, contact Amazon support and tell them that you don’t want or need their ‘help’ in choosing a book. Or at least, not this kind of ‘help’. And if you’re a writer, for heaven’s sake, check your Amazon listing. 😦

Meeks


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