Tag Archives: art

Where I Screwed Up

IMG_6419 - CopyI realized today just how and when I screwed up my foray into photography.  The fundamental malfunction came about at exactly the second that I began to care what anyone else thought about what I was doing.

As I look back on many of the posts in this blog I realize, and sometimes even specifically state, that they are written for the benefit of future-Rob only and that anyone else that happens to read them can take them or leave them and I care not a single whit one way or another.  Rereading some of those posts now, current-Rob is extremely impressed and entertained at the moment in time that was crystallized in a few words.  Current-Rob is occasionally horrified at an uncorrected grammatical error as well but one takes the good with the bad.

201 - CopyFor many years, photography went along in much the same groove.  I wandered about, captured what I saw, posted it somewhere in the endless oblivion that is the internet and left it to sit for a decade.  When I look back at those photos now I’m similarly impressed by the feelings they summon up for me.  Does anyone else get the same vibe from them?  I could not possibly care less.  They do so for me and to be frank there is no person I would rather give pleasure to than me.

This all went bananas about 9 months ago.  I started taking photos at live events, founded Indy Live Photography, and began to have a following.  People started to … somewhat … pay attention to me.  Sometimes positively and sometimes negatively but most of the time completely failed to care.  A big chunk of my psyche started to wind itself up trying to figure out what people liked and what might “sell” and would appeal the masses.  I spent thousands of hours taking photos and processing them but somewhere in all that forgot the person I was supposed to be pleasing.  Not dissimilarly to the hundreds of idiotic book reviews you’ll find in this blog, I pumped out quantity and forgot about quality and worst of all neglected my only true audience.  

071 - CopySo from this day forward I declare simply, and concisely, that you are welcome to look at my work and do what you will with it but I sincerely and completely don’t give a damn what you think because it’s not really for you anyway.  You’re not going to look back on it in ten years and think about the nuance of expression in a particular photo or ponder the larger context of the instant in time that was captured… but I am.  This is my life in these photos and in these words and you are more than welcome to share them with me but I can’t let you influence them lest they be untrue to me.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Request for an Interview from an Academic Researcher

Rank48Recently I was approached by a university researcher who wanted to do an interview with me on the topic of writing in social media. He approached me as an Amazon reviewer so I agreed to answer his questions. Below find my responses to his first volley of inquiry.

Can you tell me a little about what got you started writing Amazon reviews?
I’ve always been of a mind to bore people with my online drivel so in 2011 I first stumbled across the GoodReads site. There you can sign up for book giveaways in exchange for an honest review of the book. I reviewed several dozen books and cross-posted these on Amazon and within a year I had offers for other items to review that were much less literary. I started, as I suspect everyone does, with small electronics: chargers, cords, electronic gizmos. It has been my observation that anyone in the top 10,000 reviewers or so that posts an email will be graced with at least one offer for a free product. As time goes on like begets like and whatever sorts of products you’ve reviewed before will find their way to your mailbox.

How would you characterize your writing style when you write Amazon reviews?
Terse. It has been my impression that customers don’t have time for a lot of protracted blathering on so I try to make things as short and sweet as possible, condensing my points to a few bullets that sum up things as succinctly and completely as possible. For those who want a bit more detail, I have tended as of late towards video-based reviews that demonstrate the product in some way or illuminate its shortfalls.

What are your goals when writing Amazon reviews?
This is a tricky and multi-headed question. The prime mover of all things in Amazon land is, of course, the helpful vote. Customers give us direct feedback by voting helpful or unhelpful on reviews as they read or watch them. So the ultimate goal in this game (and, let’s be honest, it is a game) is to garner as many helpful votes as possible. The more helpful votes, the higher your ranking and the higher your ranking the more free crap rolls in the door. At a very fundamental level, this is the most basic and visceral goal of the whole thing.

Attached to this is the idea that you’re helping others to make a buying decision. When I receive a product that’s just downright terrible my number one goal is to do everything I can to make sure nobody actually pays money for it. If I can find some redeeming quality in a product I’ll point it out but above all the goal is to make sure nobody gets taken for a proverbial ride and that when customers actually do buy something that they get what they expected based on the reviews. The vote system drives one to to write reviews but the injustice of the system is what really keeps a reviewer up at night.

Can you ever remember a time when you didn’t achieve your goals when writing Amazon reviews? Why or why not?
As I’ve said previously, the goal that keeps me up at night most is trying to make sure customers get what they expect. When a product arrives at my door it’s my duty to make sure it’s at least a serviceable product. I cannot even hope to tell consumers everything about a product but I can at least point out obvious fatal flaws and do everything in my power to ensure customers get a reasonable quality product. The problem with that, however, comes in two forms. Firstly, many, many reviewers hate to say anything negative about a product. They received it free so they feel they should say something nice or say nothing at all. So even if a product isn’t worthwhile, the ‘yes man’ crowd can drown out even the most circumspect naysayer. Additionally, the power of the vote works in both directions. Often manufacturers will hire services to suppress unflattering reviews with down votes and vote up the positive reviews that cast their product in the best light. As might be imagined, this battle is extremely difficult to win.

How do you decide what to review and why?
This answer varies wildly depending on my mood at the time I’m looking at an offer. In general, rather selfishly, I tend to offer to review products that I want to have or that I imagine others around me would want. Secondarily I will sometimes choose products that seem like they’d merely be diverting or interesting to try out. In summary, this is almost completely selfish. I review things that I have a use for.

Do you model your method of reviewing on anything? Do you read other professional or Amazon reviews before hand?
Typically, no. I don’t read other reviews for the same product because that tends to have a bias impact on the results. I don’t tend to read professional reviewers because, frankly, I think the more plebeian viewpoint is probably more helpful in some cases.

How do you decide which reviews to update and why?
I update any review on which I receive new information. Sometimes the manufacturer will contact me with updates or sometimes a friend to whom I’ve given an item will provide additional feedback on it. In general, however, I don’t go back to proactively update reviews without reason. Just slogging through new reviews is enough of a chore.

Do you have a particular process for writing reviews? Any steps you take before or while writing?
This varies wildly depending on the product. If the product makes claims that it’s “durable” or “shatterproof” then I put those claims specifically to the test. I’ve taken electronic equipment out into the parking lot and hurled into the air based on certain claims by the manufacturer. Admittedly at least part of the reason for that is because it’s entertaining but again, I want to make sure that manufacturers at least live up to their packaging.

How would you say your style of writing reviews has changed over the course of time (if they have)?
If anything it’s become even more terse than it was in the beginning. As time goes on you begin to get a very firm sense of what the identifying points are for any one sort of product so the whole process becomes rather formulaic. You test the 45th selfie stick in must the same way as the 44th selfie stick so it’s much less like writing than it is simply checking off a list of things to check.

Do you ever respond to comments about your reviews? How do you adjust your reviews in response to those comments?
I do, but not all the time. If the commenter requests information and I can actually provide it, I will do what I can to help out but often I don’t have the product any longer. If I kept every miscellaneous gewgaw that came across my desk I’d have little room for anything else. I have, at times, found myself apologizing to a commenter for missing some nuance of the product that I completely failed to pick up on. Those are exceptionally helpful for the next review but don’t make me feel any less guilty if someone bought a product that didn’t work for them because I gave it high marks. Luckily this doesn’t happen particularly often.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Detroit Unleaded – Wonderful slice of Arab culture in romance form (5/5)

I picked this movie because it’s newly out on Amazon Instant Watch and it looked lonely and in need of a review. I’m glad I did.

The story starts rather tragically with the violent death of the patriarch of a Lebanese-American family. Now, the son is forced to put all his own plans on hold and stay behind to run the family business instead. Anything more than that would constitute a spoiler so there I stop with plot-summary.

To the positive side, the story is a great allegory for being who you are, and pursuing your dreams despite the expectations put on you by others. Further, I’m a cultural xenophile so I was extremely entertained by the details of Arab-American culture and the interplay between that and the larger urban culture of Detroit. It’s also amusing to see the complex role of the neighborhood gas station in an area. In short, this was a great slice of urban ethnic anthropology. If nothing else you can love it for that along with the strong visual symbolism.

To the negative… this isn’t really a complaint I had but I could imagine that some might be concerned that there’s not really a lot of movement either in plot or in character in this movie. The entire action could have taken place in a day and the characters don’t evolve so much as suddenly come to their senses.

In summary, a great little film to watch with someone special. It has enough tidbits to keep the viewer entertained, a few small laughs along the way and a hopeful and uplifting outcome. Great film.


Visit our review on Amazon.com to let us know what you think and don’t forget to vote our review helpful if you find it so. If you don’t then that’s fine too but please let us know what we missed!

Leave a comment

Filed under arab

The Monuments Men – Over-dramatized victim of Hollywood (3/5)

We went to this movie with high hopes because, well, what movie wouldn’t be awesome that has John Goodman and Bill Murray in it. I mean really. Unfortunately, Laura and I came away from this one rather disappointed.

The premise of this one can be summed up pretty simply. World War II is winding down; the Germans know they’re losing so they set out to destroy as much of the world’s great art as they can before they go. Only one thing stands in their way: motley bunch of aging artists. Dramatics ensue from there.

On the positive side, the film does a great job of portraying the importance of the period of history we’re talking about. A thousand years of human art and culture really is on the line. Other reviewers complain about the protagonist’s pontifications but this is the whole point of the film. The Nazi’s weren’t just out to destroy the Jews or rule the world. If they were going down they wanted to take as much of the world with them as they could no matter the price. This story is the ultimate example of “play by my rules or I’ll take my ball and go home.” So all those prolonged speeches aren’t in the way of the real action of this war movie, they are in fact its only reason for being.

To the negative, as a connected narrative this movie was just hacked to bits. It could have made a meticulous and moving 6-hour mini-series but cut down to movie size the whole thing is a disconnected mess. There are, at various points, three distinct story lines but the relationships between them are unclear then suddenly they’re all slammed together in a barely sensical manner. Further, the movie suffers from Hollywood over-drama just for the sake of drama. It’s almost as if they tried to make an action flick out of a story that wasn’t one.

In summary, sadly disappointed. Those looking for a movie about a war… won’t really get one. Those looking for a moving portrayal of an important historical event won’t get what they want either. The whole thing is at times sentimental but never really manages that either. It’s almost as if the movie tried to be 10 things at once and never really accomplished any of them with any deftness. Quite a shame, really.


Visit our review on Amazon.com to let us know what you think and don’t forget to vote our review helpful if you find it so. If you don’t then that’s fine too but please let us know what we missed!

Leave a comment

Filed under historical, movies

Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground – A handsome and artistic volume (5/5)

As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time it was from NetGalley. Despite that kindness I give my scrupulously candid thoughts below.

In general I’m not a fan of coffee-table books because I hate nothing more than dusting coffee-table books. This one caught my eye, however, because it has a delightful artistic feel to it and I was, for the most part, not disappointed. This book contains about 200 “alternative” movie posters from classic movies ranging from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Hitchcock classics.

On the positive side, the art is wonderfully varied and in most cases I wanted to see some of these movies based solely on the poster they inspired. These designs are clever, artful, well-executed and encapsulate the themes of their topic movies wonderfully. They’ve also included a good blend of genres in the movies represented from outright horror to comedy.

The only negative I would point out is that there is some amount of repetition. Several movies had 2-3 posters included so this pads the numbers a bit.

In summary, a wonderful and handsome coffee-table volume for the movie buff. Many of these I’d have a hard time resisting the temptation to cut them out and frame them to hang on the wall. I’d proudly display it on my coffee table despite the sad truth that I would have to dust it once in a while.


Visit our review on Amazon.com to let us know what you think and don’t forget to vote our review helpful if you find it so. If you don’t then that’s fine too but please let us know what we missed!

Leave a comment

Filed under art, books

Six Months and 86 Books Later… Part 1

I realized yesterday that it was a bit over six months ago that I opened a GoodReads account and started requesting review copies of books. It’s funny because it feels to me like ages. During that time I’ve learned quite a few lessons, encountered some unexpectedly good (and bad) books and gotten what I hope is a bit of insight into publishing today.

The old adage goes that you can’t judge a book by its cover. While this is mostly true, it’s not a terrible place to start. An author who can’t find at least ONE decent picture to represent his or her book is probably not taking it very seriously in the first place.  I give you as examples two of the very few books that I couldn’t stand for more than about three pages. (Note: Click the book’s cover to visit it on GoodReads)

 

The Bull Mongoni (review here) is a book that resulted in a lot of controversy and sword-waving but it sure was fun to review.  It’s billed as an “adrenaline-pumping adventure novel” but it was totally beyond my ability to tolerate and the cover was the first hint at that.  That is actually a photo of the author holding a sword but it’s so pixelated that it looks quite fake.  As for Votary Nerves… yeah, I have no clue what that’s supposed to be.  I can only guess that it’s a child’s rendering of what it would look like if your heart lept out of your chest and tried to strangle your VCR.

As the weeks have dragged on, I find that I grow increasingly soft in my opinions.  For the first few months I went to great efforts to immolate authors on a pyre made from the pages of their own worthless books.  Even now I’m not afraid to poke a writer in the eye if it’s called for but ultimately it seems to just annoy people if you say anything negative.  Instead I try to lean toward the constructive with phrases like, “unreadable but showing great narrative potential” and “complex and enthralling without actually bothering to say anything.”  There’s much more entertainment to be had in twisting the negative to sound positive than simply being overtly negative.  Sadly, some of these books are already in print so it’s far too late to help them so one need not even bother.

One thing that I didn’t expect was the prevalence and diversity in the “YA” or Young Adult genre.  I found myself primarily judging YA books based on whether or not I’d dare to give it to my own child.  Or, to put it another way asking myself the question of “would I be bothered if my kid started behaving like the kid in the book.”  As expected, these were all over the map but looking back I think that in GENERAL the role models were positive. Whether you like hunting or not, I was pleased by Shawn Buckner. Here you have a story about a kid who had a goal, made a plan to achieve it and then worked his ass off to get it. There’s far too little of that in today’s kids. Evelyn Serrano taught us about the Harlem Riots of the 60s and Frenchie Garcia deals with her grief in a positive way while quoting some great poetry. All good stuff.

As always, there’s a flip side. Escape Theory annoyed me to no end with its depictions of high school freshman having sex and dealing drugs while away at prep school. Do these things happen? Of course. But this book makes that seem acceptable and expected. It’s downright irresponsible. On the other end of the spectrum, Eutopia was just too light and fluffy. My six-year-old even found it too sweet to tolerate. And the Saesshells has become the family’s term for a book that’s just horrible from the start. My thirteen-year-old tried to read it but eventually the whole thing devolved into kids sitting in the back of the car laughing out loud at the absurd illustrations. Point is, there’s plenty of terrible to go around.

In Part 2 I’ll look at some new sci-fi and historical fiction.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Random Thoughts for 1/22/2012

Of the three blogs I maintain I find this one the hardest to post in.  The advertising blog is easy.  I’ve got piles of these damn things all over so it’s literally as simple as sifting through a pile of magazines or papers and finding one that seems amusing.  Easy enough.  The photography blog is easy too for similar reasons.  They’re easy because they’re specific and well-defined.  This blog is just random “whatever” and I’ve been resisting posts that don’t really have a theme which means that there’s an inherent contradiction between this blogs intent and what I’m trying to post in it.  So in the spirit of following my gut and posting what comes naturally, I bring you random thoughts for the 22nd of January in 2012.  (BTW, I’m pretty damn proud of myself that I managed to put 2012 in the subject line rather than putting 2011 as I have for so long.  Please hold your applause.)

To begin the random rot for today, I moved this blog from Blogspot a few months ago and one thing I’ve noticed is that the blogs on WordPress are head and shoulders above their blogger counterparts.  While they are busily and vacuously talking about their day-to-day lives, you guys are creating real and substantial art.  I spend a lot of time surfing around WordPress so it seems only fitting that with each post on The Tattered Thread that I highlight one of the other great blogs I’ve seen during the day.

Today’s featured “Blog that’s a Hell of a Lot Better than Mine” is Rebecca Latson Photography.  Not only does she take astonishingly good photos, but she also has published a couple of books and writes fairly substantially on the topic of photography to help novices improve their work.  Check out her three posts on the unofficial and totally optional rules of photography here, here and here.  She’s on my subscription list and she should be on yours too.

Slipping into the random, I’m in a bit of a quandary.  Starting in 2003 I started writing in a totally different blog.  In the months since I switched to WordPress, I’ve been slowly cannibalizing this other blog but there are a LOT of posts that just don’t… well, just don’t fit.  On one hand, I want to meticulously reedit and refine every post on the old site and reuse it here.  On the other, I want to just mindlessly import it and nuke the previous site.  If I do that though, I feel as if it’s a huge waste since absolutely NOBODY goes back in any blog more than a half dozen posts.  So it’s like I’d be moving boxes from an old house and putting them immediately into the cellar of a new house, never to be seen again.  To me, this writing is incredibly important.  It’s a decade of my innermost thoughts for the love of god!  As I look back, I can see posts that I wrote where I can’t help but think that I was just a small-minded jerk.  If I look at the tag ‘religion’ I can see with great clarity the point at which one of my co-workers said about 200 words that completely changed my view of Christianity.  I remember the post I wrote when a co-worker gave me a Bible (NASB) to read.  All that history and that’s JUST the part related to religion.  Perhaps I need to stop complaining and instead look at this as a HUGE asset waiting to be tapped.

Continuing with the random, I set myself the goal of 5,000 photos in 2012 and 100 books finished.  As of this writing, I’m 173 photos behind the pace and 2 books behind.  The photos I can certainly catch up on since… well, it is winter in the Midwest, so that’s not particularly inspiring for a nature photographer.  I’ve finished four books (which will get their own blog post at the end of the month) but I have pondered at some point whether this purely numerical goal will backfire in some way.  The first four books of the year have been fairly high quality.  I ploughed through the monstrous “1952 Omnibus of Science Fiction”, zipped through “Nickel and Dimed”, yawned my way through “A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad” and was massively entertained by “Half-Broke Horses”.  This is all fairly good stuff but would I be better served to finally just suck it up and finish “Islam: The Straight Path” that I started SO long ago and have summarized with such assiduity.  So the question of the day seems to be: is it better to spend a month reading a stack of random books on 10 different topics or spend an entire month reading one book in intimate and painstaking depth?

15 Comments

Filed under blogging, personal