Commander Chris Hadfield Sings Space Oddity

As “a last glimpse of the World,” Commander Chris Hadfield recorded a revised version of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Watching it put something in my eye. That’s all I have to say about that.

After spending five months on board the ISS, and becoming the first Canadian Commander of the ISS in March,  Commander Hadfield is due to return tomorrow after a very successful mission.

Geeky Music-y Parody EP on Indiegogo

Debs and Errol Geeky Music-y Parody
Image copyright: Errol Elumir and Deborah Linden. Used with permission.

One of my favorite geek music duos, Debs and Errol, want to make a geeky music parody EP. To do this, they need your help! Enter their Indiegogo campaign.

When completed, this yet-to-be-titled EP will contain six songs. Currently, Debs and Errol can tell you that the album will contain the following five parodies:

Continue reading Geeky Music-y Parody EP on Indiegogo

Ex-Patriots: A Novel Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway

Ex-Patriots Cover
Broadway Paperbacks

Released on April 23, 2013, and published by Broadway Paperbacks, Ex-Patriots: A Novel is Peter Clines’ follow-up novel to Ex-Heroes: A Novel. GeekMom has an exclusive excerpt. Plus, we are giving away signed copies of Ex-Heroes: A Novel, and Ex-Patriots: A Novel, courtesy of Broadway Paperbacks, to one lucky GeekMom reader.

The synopsis of Ex-Patriots: A Novel reads:

Continue reading Ex-Patriots: A Novel Exclusive Excerpt and Giveaway

New Star Trek: Into Darkness Trailer: What Is That Ship?!

Today, Paramount Pictures released the newest official Star Trek: Into Darkness movie trailer. Your brain may start to explode once you reach the 1:17 mark.

What is that ship? To me, it looks like an Abrams-fied version of the Enterprise-D. It could even be an Abrams-fied version of Ambassador class — Enterprise-C — or the Sovereign class — Enterprise-E.

Continue reading New Star Trek: Into Darkness Trailer: What Is That Ship?!

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding Reintroduction

Jules and Andrew Save the Date-01
Imaged commissioned from Matt Schubbe

With just over three months until the big day, and with GeekMom moving to a new home, I thought now would be an excellent time to reintroduce my geeky-queer wedding planning series to existing GeekMom readers, while giving new readers an opportunity to easily catch-up with the series.

What happens when two previously married people — one a trans man from Canada with two teenage children, the other a pansexual from the United States with no children, both geeks — decide to get married?

For your convenience, I’ve turned each of the previous six posts in this series into downloadable files — PDF, ePUB, and MOBI, all DRM-free.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: Introduction is the first post in this series. In the introduction, you’ll get a little taste of the many things my partner and I have been learning as we began this next chapter in our lives.

Download the PDF, ePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: Introduction.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Proposal and the Rings is the second post in this series. Because of the nature of our relationship, people often wonder, “So, who did the proposing and how?” The answer is no-one. In fact, had he proposed, automatically my answer would have been, “No.” You now may be wondering, “Wait, so how are you engaged?” You may also be curious as to why I would have said no, had he asked. The answer to these questions, and more, is very long and complicated, and is found in this post.

Download the PDF, ePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Proposal and the Rings.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Outfits and Wedding Attire is the third post in this series. The most difficult decision Andrew and I faced when planning our wedding was answering the question, “What are we going to wear?” In the end, we decided to have a United Federation of Planets wedding. What that means and entails is found in this post.

Download the PDF, ePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Outfits and Wedding Attire.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Wedding Party, Family, and Guests is the fourth post in this series. When you are planning a wedding, tradition and etiquette will tell you there are many things you must do. You must select a wedding party. Traditionally, there are also rules about whom you should choose. Traditionally, the parents of the individuals getting married must assume certain responsibilities. The guests are also seen to have specific roles within the whole affair. But, what if both parties have already been once married and divorced? What if one of those individuals is a trans man? What if the people getting married have different cultural backgrounds? What if a geeky element is being added? These questions are only a small fraction of things Andrew and I had to sort out as we began to plan our geeky-queer wedding. Our solutions — including the possibility of the kal-if-fee — are found in this post.

Download the PDFePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Wedding Party, Family, and Guests.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Ceremony is the fifth post in this series.In this latest geeky-queer wedding post, I explore the ceremony, including vows and legalities; the type of ceremony we will be having; and the process of going through a legal name change, and the reasons behind that need.

Download the PDFePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Ceremony.

Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Reception is the sixth post in this series. When planning our geeky-queer wedding, Andrew and I had to make up a lot of things along the way, while balancing some of the traditional aspects that we find appealing. Sometimes, creating a new guide for our circumstances has been a little difficult. Other times, it was as easy as figuring out what aspects we really do not like in traditional weddings, and simply eliminating them; sometimes replacing them with our own special touches. The reception is another one of those situations where the end result is due to a process of elimination and supplementation, balanced with a couple traditional elements.

Download the PDFePUB, or MOBI version of Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: The Reception.

If you’d prefer to download these posts as one file, you can download Planning My Geeky-Queer Wedding: Parts One – Six as a PDF, ePUB, or MOBI.

Still to come in this series over the next three months:

  • Last names and culture
  • The location
  • Gifts
  • Things we’ve learned, and other miscellaneous things we did or are doing.

If you would like to see a post about something not already mentioned, I want to know. Tell me, what has you curious? About what would you like to see me write? If you let me know, I will try my best to include it in a post.

Finally, did you do anything unique or out of the ordinary for your wedding and/or reception?

ChatWithTheBand – A Ustream/ Google+ Hangouts-esque Facebook App For Musicians and Artists

If you are a musician, or artist, and have been lamenting over the lack of interactive chat features on Facebook similar to Google+ Hangouts, finally, there is something similar available to those who make use of Facebook fan pages. The app is called ChatWithTheBand. ChatWithTheBand lets you video chat with fans and listen to tracks as a social group right from your band/artist Facebook page. Some may liken it to having your own dedicated turntable.fm room hosted on your Facebook page, but with extra features including video chat, virtual gifts and SoundClound integration (coming soon).

If you’ve made use of Google+ Hangouts to interact with others, you are already familiar with the benefits of having a video chat. The interface for the ChatWithTheBand is a little bit different. Fans are not automatically added to the video chat portion, even if they are part of the chat conversation. They have to be invited by whomever is hosting, similarly to how you’d invite someone to share your stream on Ustream. One benefit to this Facebook app is that your friends can sign-up for notifications when broadcasts begin. That feature is something that is missing on Google+. Another benefit is that it does not appear to have the limited seating that Google+ Hangouts has.

ChatWithTheBand is currently in beta. They are looking for people to join. I personally have not been able to test this app as I am not on Facebook. Therefor, I cannot give a proper review of it. However, I think the premise behind it and what I’ve seen in the demo videos are very useful. I know a good number of independent musicians and artists who’ve had a lot of success using Facebook to interact with their supporters, and I think they could benefit from this app. I also know a good many musicians and artists who’ve lamented about some of the drawbacks to using both Ustream or Google+ Hangouts to host listening parties, live concerts, Q&As. This may just be the answer.

Find out more, see which artists are already using ChatWithTheBand & watch demo videos at ChatWithTheBand.com or click here to join the beta.

If you do decide to use this app, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts, especially if you’ve used other services such as Ustream and Google+ Hangouts.

Forum Discussion of the Week: I Can’t Get Behind the New Star Trek Ongoing Comic

Image: IDW Publishing

Today, IDW Publishing has released a new Star Trek comic called Star Trek Ongoing. As much as I’d like to, I can’t get behind that. As I shared the other week, Star Trek played a huge role in my life and shaped much of who I am today. It is all I can do to contain my nerd rage in order to explain why this comic has me so angry. But I am going to try my best to channel my inner Spock and explain why this latest move by the Abramsverse has me so enraged.

If you have yet to read this news, let me share the description of this new comic:

The adventures of the Starship Enterprise continue in this new ongoing series that picks up where the blockbuster 2009 film left off! Featuring the new cast of the film, these missions re-imagine the stories from the original series in the alternate timeline created by the film, along with new threats and characters never seen before! With creative collaboration from STAR TREK writer/producer Roberto Orci, this new series begins the countdown to the much-anticipated movie sequel premiering in 2012. Join Kirk, Spock and the crew as they boldly go into a new future! Up first, a drastic new envisioning of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

If you are a hardcore fan such as myself, then you know Where No Man Has Gone Before was the second pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series.

My brain is currently stuck in the following thoughts, “So… once upon a time, there was this man. His name was JJ Abrams. He had this idea to reboot Star Trek and give it new life. He had this idea to create a brand new universe and timeline, one that would attract new fans, whilst keeping Roddenberry’s original vision intact and untouched. THEN WHY IS HE BEHIND REWRITING THE SECOND PILOT AND STICKING IT IN A COMIC!? What on earth happened to the new universe not touching the original?!”

I will admit, I have a lot of issues with the reboot. So many, if I were to write them out, it would be a novel in itself. However, despite my issues with the new Star Trek, I was able to accept it as valid as it used an existing device from within cannon: Alternate timeline. Using this device, Prime was still there and untouched. The Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, etc., that I grew up with were still there, waiting for someone to carry on their story. Because of this, I could accept, even if only, this new Star Trek, one that lacked the substance and the human story that I grew-up with.

I think that if the Abramsverse wants to create a new comic, based off of the rebooted characters and set within this alternate timeline, then they can fill their boots. My issue is that this isn’t new. He had said that he wanted to respect Roddenberry’s original creation. If that is true, then why is the original series being butchered rewritten? Why are they not taking full advantage of this new timeline? They have this great opportunity to do something that makes Star Trek what it is: To explore strange new worlds… to seek out new life and civilisations… to boldly go where no-one has gone before! Instead, they are going where they’ve gone before and no new words, life or civilisations are being sought out.

With Star Trek, Abrams has a lot of opportunities for brand new stories. Like, what if the Klingons and the Federation never went to war? What if the Orions went to war with the Federation and tried to enslave them? There is so much to explore in a fun, new way, whilst still telling the human stories that make Trek what it is. If this new franchise is already out of new ideas, it is in serious trouble.

I watch Star Trek because it challenges my perceptions of the world and forces me to think, whilst entertaining me. I can sit down with my children and watch pretty much any episode, from any series, and have a real discussion with them about humanity, our place in the world, social woes and so much more.

In the last GeekMom podcast, they had an interesting discussion about the things added to Star Wars and how a new generation will grow up thinking that Han did not shoot first and they may never learn to know the difference. I had one person on Twitter ask me, when I was raging about this new comic, “Does George Lucas have his hands on Star Trek now too?” I see that as a serious problem. Not because of the changes in of itself, but because the original universe was suppose to remain intact. My children will know the difference and I’m not sure they’ll be able to accept them either; not if the re-imagined Trek is using a good portion of the original Trek.

If Abrams wants to introduce new mythology and create new cannon, great. I only wish he didn’t do it at the expense of the original series. Roddenberry tackled a lot of very tough and sensitive issues. Those messages and issues need to be preserved. Many of them are still issues to be talked about it; some of which were tackled in Where No Man Has Gone Before. I do not see this branch of the reboot as being an honour to Gene’s memory but, instead, a real dishonour.

To restate: If you are going to make Star Trek new, then please make sure that it is, in fact, new. Why create a whole new universe if you are not going to explore it?

You can see a preview of the new comic below.

How do you feel about this? Come join the forum discussion!

Happy 45th Anniversary, Star Trek

Once upon a time, there lived a man. This man was a dreamer. This man had hopes and visions of a better future, a future built upon true equality and mutual respect. This man’s name was Gene Roddenberry.

Gene had an idea. He wanted to share his dream and his ideals. The way he did this was through a television series called Star Trek. However, many people at the time did not want Gene to share his dream. He was told that it was too cerebral, too liberal, too unbelievable.  It took a lot of work for him to find someone willing to embark on this dream with Gene. But Gene did not give up. After five years of a lot of hard work and dedication, on September 8, 1966, Star Trek aired for the first time.

What aired for the first time was not Gene’s original vision. The original pilot, titled The Cage, which Gene started to create in 1964 and was completed in 1965, was rejected for a variety of reasons. Among the reasons was that, even among feminists of the time, the idea of a female first officer was simply unbelievable and insulting. Gene was also told to get rid of the character of Mr. Spock, among other things. However, the network was still impressed enough to order a second pilot. After a lot of negotiations and recasting, including negotiations to keep the character of Mr. Spock, the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, is what audiences saw for the first time.

Today is an important date to me—aside from the fact that today my oldest is 16. The reasons why today is important to me are extremely difficult to articulate.

Out of every thing that has influenced the geeky nerd I’ve grown-up to be, Star Trek played the biggest and most important role. This role was so important, that it received its own short story in my book.

As this day started to approach, I tried my best to figure out how I would relay all the ways in which Gene’s vision shaped me, all the ways that Gene’s vision helped to save my life. Originally, I thought I would share the story from my book. But without the context of the rest of my book and the fact the story was written two years ago, I feel it doesn’t have the impact that I think is deserving of such a day.

Growing up, I did not have the best life. In fact, it was as far from ideal as one could get. Growing up, I was told, “Don’t be silly, you can’t do that”, instead of, “Give it shot”. Star Trek taught me that I was capable of anything as long as I held on to my dreams. Star Trek taught me that I have unlimited potential and possibility laying before me, that there is no obstacle or barrier to stop me except for myself, that my imagination is something to be cultivated and nurtured, not subdued. Star Trek helped shape the nerd I am today, giving me a love for both science and art.

These messages were further ingrained within me when Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired in 1987. The character of Wesley Crusher was a life-saver. It is because I was and continue to be Wesley Crusher. Even though I was never teased by my peers for being a geek and a nerd, I had a hard time growing up because of my above-average intelligence. I received straight As without ever studying. I have an almost eidetic memory. Socially, I was very awkward. I found it extremely difficult—and still do to this day—to relate to people my own age. I had a habit of correcting adults, all the time, because they were wrong. I skipped grade 7. I felt alone. Star Trek and specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation and the character of Wesley Crusher allowed me to feel as if I belonged to something. I was not alone. And I am certain others relate to this.

Star Trek has a place for every one, regardless of sex, gender, colour, sexual orientation, disability, religion, age and background. Star Trek challenged social norms of the time and forced viewers to think. Star Trek allows people to dream of the possibilities. Star Trek allows us to believe that, as a species, we can overcome great obstacles and become united as one. Star Trek inspires many to pursue jobs in science and space. Star Trek gives us hope. Star Trek has given me more gifts than I could ever articulate.

From the day I was born, I watched Star Trek. From the day my boys were born, they watched Star Trek. One thing that makes me quite sad is that my boys do not have a Star Trek, one filled with Gene’s vision of the future, that speaks to their generation. When the original Star Trek first aired, my dad was 12. When The Next Generation first aired, I was 11. My boys are now 12 and 16. There is talk of a new series, one that is supposedly going to be true to Roddenberry’s original concept. I hope this becomes a reality.

I tried to find a 45th Anniversary tribute video that really spoke to me. However, I’ve yet to find one that even comes close to doing the series justice like the following 40th Anniversary tribute video does. Watching it never fails to put something in my eyes.

On October 24, 1991, Gene Roddenberry passed away, leaving behind a legacy not soon forgotten. May his dreams and hopes for a better future live long and prosper.

What gifts has Star Trek given you?

Music Week: Getting Your Music Heard: Making Use Of New Marketing Models

Some rights reserved by tim geers

If you are a musician, or any type of creative for that matter, you want to have your product consumed. In the digital age, an age where people can consume media for free and, as a result, an age with drastically shifting ways to produce and publish your content, sometimes finding the tools and strategies that will work for you can be difficult.

Some people want to publish their content with strict copyrights and old marketing models. However, in this day and age, unless you have a big record label or publisher behind you, getting that ‘big break’ can be difficult if you are unwilling to let go, take a risk and take advantage of some of the wonderful tools at your disposal that will allow you to have control and a lot of freedom over how you distribute and market your content. In my opinion, getting your music heard is the most important thing. It will be easier to make money from it if you make it easier for people to listen to and share your music.

I work with a lot of independent musicians. Most of them use some combination of new marketing tools to publish and distribute their music, plus to reach out to their supporters. Some have yet to find the perfect formula that works for them. Others have been quite successful. All of them do not regret the choices they have made because at least their music is getting heard and those who are listening are not afraid to pass it on.

Yesterday, I wrote about one of these tools: Entering songwriting competitions. As I was preparing for Music Week, I asked a handful of the independent musicians that I work with to tell me what new marketing tools they prefer. A lot of the tools that I use to distribute some of my own materials, such as Bandcamp and making use of Creative Commons, I learned from the musicians and other creatives I’ve worked with over the years.

Here is what they had to say.

John Anealio—whom I wrote about earlier this week—said:

The two tools that I have found to be the most useful are bandcamp.com and fanbridge.com.

When I release a new single on Bandcamp, I make it available for free. People only have to sign my mailing list to download the track.

FanBridge is a mailing list server. It does a great job of organizing your mail list into geographic locations, new fans, etc. That way you can send targeted e-mails to certain groups, without annoying your whole list with irrelevant information.

When I put out a new song, I let the people on my mailing list know that they can get it for free, but please let other folks know about it on Twitter, Facebook and their blog. Bandcamp has great tools for spreading that info. This has really helped to grow my mailing list. My mailing list has grown from 300 people to 1000 people in the past six months by doing this.

Fanbridge’s free service gives you 400 messages per month. So if you have less than 400 people on your list, you can send them 1 e-mail a month for free. I had to switch to the first tier of their paid service ($10 a month) once my mailing list went over 400 people, but was happy to pay it.

I like that you can search your list by area. For instance, I’m playing a house concert in Maryland in a few weeks. I can search my mailing list to give me the people that are within an x mile radius of the house zip code. I can then send an e-mail to only those people and not bother anyone else on the list.

Once a month, I make a group of the new people that joined the list. That way I can send them a welcome e-mail and ask them to check out my catalogue of music and to friend me up on the various social networks.

Glen Raphael said:

ReverbNation.com makes getting your act together online feel a little like collecting achievements in a video game. There’s so much stuff that needs to be done when you first start out – posting pictures, writing a bio, getting some reviews, posting songs/videos, accumulating a fanbase, linking up the things you need to link to, announcing shows…that it can be a little overwhelming. So they give you a progress bar and tell you what you should do next, and as you do it your “Progress” numbers improve and you “climb the charts” relative to other performers so there’s a competitive aspect too.

For instance, as I look at my profile right now—http://reverbnation.com/glenraphael—right now it tells me:

“Your Profile is 78% complete. After you Add/Link to Blog you will be 84% complete.”
“Your Promotions are 13% complete. After you Promote on Facebook you will be 26% complete.”

I’m also told that my rank is #174 in “New York Folk” and that I still need to “mobilize my street team.”

Noah McLaughlin said:

I very much like bandcamp.com, but my use of online music distribution is quite limited compared to many other musicians I know. I just need a place to post my music where I can point interested parties—friends, family, Song Fighters and folks from SpinTunes. The integration with Facebook is very nice from Bandcamp: Post the link to the song and it automatically creates a miniplayer in Facebook; I wish G+ had that feature. I like that Bandcamp’s interface is simple but flexible, though the “upload music first and then create an album” process was counter-intuitive for me at first.

Another service I’ve begun to explore is Jamendo.com, which has many more tools and facilitates a wide cross-section of listeners with its built-in “radio” feature.

Also, rockin’ it kind of old-school, I know quite a few Song Fighters who use Spud’s Amazing Website machine: http://www.cybertoys.org/

Tom Giarrosso of the Boffo Yux Dudes said:

While we have hundreds of songs and bits up on our Bandcamp, there’s not much up on ReverbNation, MySpace, or the streaming sites because I’m notoriously lazy.

We have a Facebook page that links to our Twitter, YouTube and Bandcamp feeds, as well as the main blog BYD365 project. That blog is a little stalled at the moment, but I think I’ve still averaged a bit a day over the year.

One thing I’m a big fan of is the ‘Touch it once, send it everywhere’ philosophy. The more you can cross link to other platforms, the better your overall reach will be.

So any Twitter posts show up on the Facebook page, and the blogs, and MySpace and other pages. You’d go mad trying to keep up otherwise.

As an aside before I continue, I think you need to be careful how much you cross-post the same content to various platforms, especially if you have the same core group of followers at each place. Otherwise you risk having your posts looking like spam. Even though the people who have ‘Liked’ my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and have circled me on Google Plus are mostly distinct groups of people, I seldom cross-post. Not only does this prevent the people who do follow me on each platform from becoming weary of my content, it encourages people to follow me on all places so that they don’t miss out on stuff.

Along that same vein, it is also very important to take some time doing the social part of social media and social networking. Take time to talk with those who are following you. Pay attention to the things they are posting. Build some form of relationship with them. If you take the time to care about them, they will care about you and be more willing to consume your products.

Mick Bordet said:

I’m another one using Bandcamp and finding it hard to beat at this level. Over on the Lunacy Board website, we’re trying out MusoPress, a WordPress theme that is custom-designed for music sites and integrates with Bandcamp, YouTube and other services. It is still early days, but it is fairly simple and works well for what we’re doing at the moment.

I haven’t investigated FanBridge beyond a cursory glance, but I know a couple of people who do use it and it produces good results.

We did have an album up on Jamendo for a while, but I took it down for two reasons: 1) Because of the quantity of MySpace-like ‘friend’ requests only looking to plug their own albums; and 2) Because we had a review on there that was pretty nasty and contrary to all the other reviews that affected the album’s overall ‘score’. It was particularly annoying because the person who left the review was supposedly not even interested in our genre of music, prompting the question “why review an album that you have no other reason to listen to?”

I’d recommend taking a look at Steve Lawson’s website too. He’s a solo bass player who has embraced the ‘Pay as much as you like” and house concert model, as well as being heavily involved in the ‘New Music Strategies’ group. He has written a lot about engaging with music fans and making a modest career in music.

Errol Elumir of Debs and Errol said:

I don’t know if I can add to the conversation much because I just started our new band a month ago and our first album isn’t even out yet, although the recording is done! HUZZAH!

As someone starting out, however, marketing presses on my mind a lot. And there is so much just to set up!

Getting a website going, finding a theme that fits your site, finding the right plugins to put on your site, finding a good mailing list, setting up a Facebook page, setting up pages on the myriad of music sites, finding all the music sites.

And with the musical landscape cluttered with social media sites like neon lights in Vegas, how does one get others to listen? I get tired talking about myself this much to my friends.

And so I’m trying desperately to think creatively to get new people just to listen. Of course, there is nothing to listen to yet, but hey. We’re almost there, stay on target.

At least I know the demographic that I may appeal to, so I’m trying this and seeing if it works:

  • A daily webcomic – I think it will be hard to mesh a site to be both a comic and a music site, but hey, may as well try.
  • A text game – Yes. I want to make video games for our band.
  • Google Hangout Concerts – Because they’re fun.
  • YouTube cover requests.

Deborah Isaac of Debs and Errol said:

Our “model” of marketing really comes down to a few points:

1) We collaborate with fans and try to keep our fans as involved as we can with our projects.
Actually, I’d much rather call them “friends” than “fans” because “fans” sounds unbalanced and impersonal and creates an “us vs. them” space which doesn’t really fit us. We would rather have a two-way street than throw things at them.

Here are a few ways we have done this with the CD we’re releasing in a few months:

  • We held a contest asking fans to suggest song titles and then had everyone vote on their favourite, which we then fleshed out into a song that will appear on the CD.
  • We put out an open call for fans to record clips that we will edit into one of the songs.
  • We’re fan-funding.

A few other ways:

  • We’ll take their input and turn it into comics (sometimes bringing them on as guest characters).
  • We’ll take their song suggestions and add to our repertoire.

2) We keep it transparent (aka real!).
People genuinely want to know the ins and outs. When something great happens, we talk about it. When something not so great happens—like, if I’m having a really tough time recording and go a little crazy and Errol comes over and washes my dishes—we’ll talk about that too. It’s human, way more realistic and infinitely more interesting than presenting a one-dimensional cardboard point of view. The comics are a great tool for this, so are blogs, vblogs, tweets, etc.

3) We don’t force it.
Well, we try not to, but like everyone else we’re learning. We have never sat down together and thought “how can we get more people to listen to our music?” We didn’t decide to create a comic because it was a great marketing tool; Errol just thought it would be fun. It just also happens to be a great marketing tool.

Often, marketing just happens alongside what we’re doing anyway. For example, including clips of fans on our CD will make them far more likely to say to their friends, “Look, I’m on this CD, you should check it out!” As part of our fan-funding package, we will do YouTube covers or write songs for fans who donate a certain amount. That means our fans feel special and we add another song into the mix. That also means more videos which will potentially reach more people.

In other words, most of our marketing isn’t done for the sole purpose of marketing. We try our best to market in ways that don’t feel like marketing at all, so it won’t turn people off.

Of course, we’re still a fairly new band. We’ll see if this ends up working, but so far so good!

Paul Potts said:

I am pretty much a complete part-time amateur and although I’ve been playing guitar on and off, mostly off, for quite a few years, it’s only in the last few three or four years that I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually sing a song while accompanying myself. I’ve written five or six original songs to date. It’s a very, very part-time endeavor for me, and I’m mostly someone who spends that limited time with headphones in my home studio recording or mixing rather than performing live. It’s a goal of mine to do more of the latter and especially to find some local folks to collaborate with.

I’ve done approximately zero promotion with the exception of a few tweets and Facebook posts and some podcast chats. I know almost nothing about it. One thing I have learned is that videos seem to be very important. It seems so far to be the case that ten times more people will circulate and share a video than they will an audio track. You can make a video really easily. My cover of Today’s the Day by Inverse T. Clown took me very little time, just an hour or so.

By comparison the Bandcamp page of the song shows about zero plays.

Something else I want to continue with is collaborating with more of you—recording parts for your songs or vice-versa. I haven’t done this yet but the plan is actually to upload all my source tracks for every complete original song. What’s the worst that could happen? No one will do anything with them. So I wasted a little bandwidth and disk space. Those things are becoming vanishingly cheap.

My license of choice is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, but people might have different opinions about that.

Heather Miller said:

If you are keeping track of the things that come up over and over as good things, then yes, I’m a big fan of Bandcamp and Twitter and also Reverbnation and Steve Lawson’s philosophies. Also Derek Sivers has a great blog and ebooks. So does Bob Baker and Ariel Hyatt.

One thing that seems fairly obvious and yet sometimes still surprisingly underused/poorly used is YouTube. It’s so easy to make, post and share videos these days that I am rather shocked when I come across a musician who doesn’t have even one video! There are definitely the people who really finesse YouTube and have high quality stuff and a great regular “show” and following, but I really believe that if you want to play out and about, you’ve got to have at least one video that you can share with promoters/fans! And include your website address in the video! You never know when or where it’s going to be posted and therefore not shown with any and all of the information you may have put in the description box on YouTube. But please, also fill in the description box with something! And use the tags!! I’ve had more than one musician complain to me that people can’t find their videos on YouTube, or that YouTube is “broken” when people try to search, and when I ask them if the video has their name in the title and/or tags, they don’t. Argh!

http://soundcloud.com/ is a site I haven’t used all that much yet, but it’s rather like Bandcamp, I think, and I know a lot of the musicians I play on my show have used it to send me tracks. It has a feature where listeners can leave comments on specific parts of a song, and their comments pop up as the song is played, at least on the Soundcloud site, because you can also embed a player. Not 100% sure what the difference/advantage it is to Bandcamp, but another good resource.

http://noisetrade.com/ is an interesting one where you can give your music away for free in exchange for an email address, and it encourages people to tell their friends about you and leave tips. There have been times where you were required to suggest an album to 5 friends in order to get the free album; I don’t know if they are still using that model.

http://www.thesixtyone.com/ turns music listening into a game. You get points for listening to songs and giving the songs “hearts”, and they come up with different “quests”, like listening to the newest uploaded songs, or listening between the hours of 1am-3am, etc. The interface is kinda pretty but sometimes a little confusing to me.

If I was touring, I’m sure I would use http://www.artistdata.com/us/ more. It allows you to enter your tour dates in one place and to update on something like 30 sites at once. You can also schedule for it to send out messages/reminders, like “I’m playing a show at this venue tonight. 8pm.”

Speaking of scheduling, I often use http://hootsuite.com/ to schedule tweets for my radio show, so I don’t have to be distracted with tweeting while I’m on the air, and it can also send updates to Facebook at the same time.

http://www.stageit.com/ is an “online concert venue” that intrigues me, though I haven’t tried it out yet, from either a viewer or performers side of things. I guess it’s a lot like Ustream, but people have to actually buy tickets so you have a lot more control over who shows up, way, way less potential for trolls and I am pretty sure, but not entirely sure, that there are no ads.

That’s the top of my head stuff. There is so much out there!

Jeff MacDougall said:

Although I’m optimistic about Google+ use for musicians in the near future, nothing comes close to Twitter as a useful social networking tool. There are different strategies that can work that can use another social network, i.e., Facebook, YouYube, or social music platform, i.e., ReverbNation, but I feel they all need Twitter as the glue to make any of it work. Bottom line: In order for any social networking idea to work, it requires authentic posts, or tweets, to be successful. The best tool for that is still Twitter.

One thing that is missing, just a little bit, from the above conversation is live performances. A lot of people are still trying to be heard in a noisy bar or other ‘traditional’ locations. I suggest making use of house concerts. One musician who is very successful with that is Marian Call. I understand that not every one does music full-time like Marian, however, there is still the opportunity for you to do house concerts in your area. A few months ago, I interviewed Marian and we discussed her new marketing tools, including her crazy house concert schedule. If you are interested in this interview, you can listen to it and download it here.

Something that John Anealio left out was that he has done a couple remix contests. This not only gets your music heard by other musicians, but the musicians who remix your song will be bringing in new listeners. Alternatively, you can invite your supporters to remix any of your songs at any time.

Publishing your content under a Creative Commons license makes this possible, without having to worry about copyright infringement. You still own the copyrights, but depending on which license you attach to your content, your content is free to share and be used for other projects, thus increasing your listening audience. A few years ago, Jonathan Coulton and I had a good discussion about why he chooses to release his music under Creative Commons and what it means to do so. If you are interested in listening to and downloading this interview, you can do so here.

There are still loads more tools for you to use, but I think the above novel is a good starting point. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new things. If the first thing doesn’t work, ask your supporters why it isn’t working for them and what you can be doing differently. Get them involved.

If you use any new marketing tools, what are they?

 

Music Week: Practice Makes Perfect: Entering Songwriting Competitions

Some rights reserved by Adrian F

Over the years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with many wonderful independent musicians and song writers. In the last couple of years, most of my independent music library and the independent music I’ve decided to play during my radio shows has been acquired via the entries of various songwriting competitions.

I believe that entering a songwriting competition is an invaluable tool for any song writer/musician who’s either just beginning, looking to hone their craft, needs inspiration and direction with their music, and/or who wants to have their music heard, wants their music easily distributed and wants free promotion. Unless you are super famous and are already making loads of money, which is not the majority of music makers, this is probably you.

There is a smorgasbord of songwriting competitions out there for you to either participate in or, if you are not a musician but a lover of music, for you to follow and, by following them, support the careers of the people who need it the most: the independent musician.

Song Fight
Song Fight is MC Frontalot’s old stomping grounds. The rules are pretty simple. Once a week, a new challenge, aka fight, goes up. The musician has to write a song using the title of the challenge. As an example, the title of the last fight is You Are the Heartbeat of This Office For Sure. That means, if 20 people enter that challenge, there will be 20 songs with that as their title and they will be each based on that title. Every thing else is basically up to the musician. It is that simple. There is no need to sign-up. You just record the song and submit it whenever you feel like jumping into the competition. After the deadline, songs are made available for the public to listen to and vote on. You can find out more information about Song Fight here.

Nur Ein
Nur Ein is an off-shoot of Song Fight. Held in the Spring of each year, it consists of eight rounds. Like Song Fight, each song must be named something specific. Also like Song Fight, to enter the competition, you simply submit a song to Round Zero, once the competition is announced. Unlike Song Fight, you are given an additional mandatory challenge. The timeline is also more rigorous, the submission process is a little bit different, the way the songs are scored and judged are different, there are eliminations, and more. You can find out more information about Nur Ein here.

50/90 Challenge
On the surface, this challenge seems simple: Write 50 songs in 90 days. Held between July 4 – October 1, song writers try to write and record one song, every two days, for nearly three months. Weekly challenges are also given, but they are not compulsory. They are there to help you with ideas if you hit creative wall. You can find out more information about the 50/90 Challenge here.

The RPM Challenge
On the surface, this challenge also looks simple: Write and record an album in 28 days. To be more specific, you need to write 10 songs or 35 minutes worth of music during the month of February. Once you’ve recording your album and have placed it on a CD, you mail it or hand-deliver it by to the RMP HQ. After they receive it, participants will get their own page on the RPM website. You can find out more information about the RPM Challenge here.

Frankensong
As the title of this competition suggests, you are piecing together a song. What… what? After you sign-up for the competition, you are assigned to a team. The team is given a seed track. Whoever goes first, builds on the seed track and then passes it on to the next team member. The second team member builds on the seed track, plus what the first member did and then passes it on to the next member. This is repeated until each team member has finished building upon what’s been created up to the point they receive the track. So far, this competition has only taken place once. Hopefully soon, Frankensong 2 will take place. You can find out more information about Frankensong here.

SpinTunes
Out of all the songwriting competitions, this one is my favourite, and not because I was a judge in SpinTunes 1. The reason why this is my favourite competition is because of the wonderful community that surrounds it.

Rising out of the ashes of The Masters of Song Fu, SpinTunes is a mix of Song Fu and Nur Ein. Once the contest is open, any one can register. To consider yourself officially entered, you must submit a song to Round 1. There are four rounds in total. Each round is judged and reviewed by a panel of at least five judges. Those with the lowest scores, or those who fail to submit a song, are eliminated. The number of people eliminated each round depends on how many people successfully complete the first challenge. These challenges can be topical, technical, genre-based, point of view challenges, and more. Last week, I interviewed some of the SpinTunes musicians, past and present. If you want to have a good idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into by entering this, or any, competition, you can listen to and download the interview here. You can find out more information about SpinTunes here.

 

There is one more songwriting challenge I want to bring your attention to: The Songwriting Cycle. The reason why I haven’t mentioned it above is because it does not have an official website. However, to get an idea of what it is all about, I invite you to read about the results for Songwriting Cycle #1 and Songwriting Cycle #2. If you follow me on Twitter or SpinTunes on Twitter, you’ll find out when the next Songwriting Cycle will begin.

I am sure there are a lot more songwriting competitions for you to sink your creativity into. But I think this is a good place to start, especially if you are needing an extra kick in the pants to create or need a sense of direction.

Also, don’t forget that entering these competitions is free publicity and a way for you to get your music heard, plus gain valuable feedback from other songwriters, gain possible collaborators and/or have your music critiqued by a panel of judges. Entering a songwriting competition is just one of the many new marketing tools at your disposable. Later this week, I’ll give you more tools.

 

The Universe Is Your Sandbox With Universe Sandbox

Image source: Universe Sandbox

I’ve seen some pretty wonderful interactive programs that allow you and your family to explore the vast regions of the universe, but nothing nearly as enthralling as Universe Sandbox. In a nutshell, it is an interactive program that allows you to explore our solar system, galaxies and the universe. It also allows you to manipulate certain variables and witness how those changes would effect the universe.

A longer explanation reads:

Universe Sandbox is an interactive space simulator for Windows based PCs.

Unlike most astronomy software that just shows you what the sky looks like or where the planets are, Universe Sandbox is a powerful gravity simulator. You can add another star to our solar system and watch it rip the planets from their orbits.

The free forever version allows you to explore and discover any simulation. Optionally you can upgrade to to the premium version for unlimited control.

There is a limited free version, or for even more educational fun, you can purchase the full version, either for $19.99 on the Universe Sandbox website or for $9.99 through Steam.

The only critique I have of this program is that I wish there was music playing, such as in the video, when you are working through it. Some of the simulations would probably grab my attention for longer periods of time, not causing me to speed them up, if there was music. However, it was still fun watching moons collide, Saturn getting bombarded and so much more.

Now go have fun exploring the universe!

Space Shuttle Countdown: A Tribute To Roberta Lynn Bondar And Julie Payette: Canada’s Female Astronauts

Image: Canadian Space Agency

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom or an astronaut when I grew-up. I think we can blame Star Trek for the astronaut bit.

As a small child, I would look up at the stars and dream about what it would be like to explore the vast regions of space and I would marvel at the science involved that allowed people to be hurled into space, attached to a rocket.

I was always very fortunate that every one in my life nurtured my love and aptitude for math and science. They may not have nurtured my geeky tendencies, but the nerd in me was always strongly encouraged. I was never told that I shouldn’t like math or science because I was a girl. However, when I first started to have my dreams of being strapped to a rocket, reaching escape velocity and leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, Canada did not have a space agency or a space program.

Roberta Lynn Bondar. Image source: Canadian Space Agency

Then in 1983, the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada put a help wanted ad in newspapers across the country. The NRC was looking for six Canadians to begin a wonderful journey; a journey where no Canadian had gone before—a journey into space. It wasn’t until March 1989 that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) would be created through an Act of Parliament, proclaimed in December 1990.

In 1983, over 4,300 Canadians applied, from all walks of life, in the hopes that they would be chosen as one of six people who would eventually leave Earth at speeds reaching 17,500 mph (7.8 km/s). In December 1983, one of those initial six chosen to be Canada’s first astronauts was Roberta Lynn Bondar. Her acceptance into this new Canadian endeavour helped to reinforce in my young mind that this was something I could aspire to be.

Image source: NASA

On, January 22, 1992, Roberta would be one of the crew on space shuttle Discovery STS-42, making her Canada’s first female astronaut in space. Roberta was Payload Specialist 1, for the first International Microgravity Laboratory Mission (IML-1). The object of IML-1 was to study the effects of weightlessness and microgravity on living organisms and materials processing. As Payload Specialist, she performed experiments in the Spacelab and on the middeck.

A little bit of fun trivia: Roberta was used as a the ‘human coin toss’ for Super Bowl XXVI. She curled up into a ball, then was slowly spun and tossed towards the ceiling. Whatever end of her body touched the ceiling first would be ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. The result: ‘tails’.

In September 1992, Roberta left the Canadian Space Agency in order to pursue her research.

You can read more about Roberta and her contributions to science, research, the CSA and NASA here.

Julie Payette. Image Source: Canadian Space Agency

In 1992, another call went out looking for new people to become astronauts in the CSA. This time, only four would be selected. Over 5,330 people applied and Julie Payette would be one of the four selected, making her Canada’s second female astronaut, renewing my aspirations to boldly go into space. Her inclusion into the CSA was one of the reasons I would join the Canadian Armed Forces in 1993.

She has been lucky enough to be on two shuttle missions.

The first was on space shuttle Discovery STS-96, which launched on May 27, 1999. It was during this mission that a shuttle would dock for the first time to the International Space Station (ISS), making her both the first Canadian aboard the ISS and first Canadian to participate in the assembly of the ISS.

Image source: NASA

During that mission, she served as one of four Mission Specialists. It was her job to supervise the space walk, she operated the Canadarm and she was responsible for the station systems. Her duties did not end there. You can read more about her contributions to this mission here.

On July 15, 2009, Julie would return to the ISS on space shuttle Endeavour STS-127. During this mission, she served as the flight engineer—Mission Specialist 2. Her responsibilities included operating three different robotic arms–Canadarm, Canadarm 3 and the Japanese arm–as well as ensuring that the space shuttle was safe for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere by inspecting the shuttle’s wings, leading edges and nose cap.

From the beginning, this mission was plagued by problems. It wasn’t until the sixth launch attempt that Endeavour would be a go for launch. After Endeavour‘s launch, the world held its breath as news came that she lost some foam during the launch, the same event which caused the destruction of Columbia six years earlier. Thankfully, it was determined the the scuffs were minor and would not pose a threat upon reentry.

As with STS-96, her duties did not end there. You can read more about them here.

Image source: NASA

It was during this mission that another Canadian first happened: The first time that two Canadian astronauts would be both in space at the same and aboard the ISS at the same time. Also, after Endeavour docked with the ISS, it set a record for the most humans in space at the same time in the same vehicle.

Aside from the final Hubble repair mission, out of all the missions in the last two years, this mission is one that I remember the most vividly. Not only was it fraught with problems, but it was filled with a lot of very proud moments in both Canadian history and NASA history.

Also of note, Julie was was Lead CAPCOM (Spacecraft Communicator) for space shuttle Discovery STS-121 (2006): NASA’s return to space after the Columbia disaster.

You can read more about Julie’s contributions here.

Thank you Roberta and Julie for your contributions to both NASA and the CSA. Thank you for inspiring me as a young child, a teenager and continuing to inspire me into adulthood. I hope your legacy will continue to inspire many young Canadian girls to pursue careers in science, research, engineering and allow them to dream of a day when they will be strapped to a rocket and hurled into space.

Is The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Covering-Up An Autism-Vaccine Link?

immuzation-image-475x356For years—at least a decade, as it was a question among the psychology community when I studied abnormal psychology about one decade ago—there have been questions regarding why autism rates are rising. One of the many theories is that rates are not rising. Instead, the medical community has gotten better at recognizing and diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), coupled with a much expanded definition of ASD.

The last two weeks were really cool for me. Two exciting studies were released regarding autism. One study out of the UK indicates that autism rates in adults are the same as those in children. Many of the subjects of this study had no idea they fell under the spectrum, nor had they ever been diagnosed with autism. Another study out of South Korea, indicates higher rates of ASD in South Korean students—2.6% compared to 0.9% in the US—simply as a result of expanding testing to include students who are not considered to be in high-risk groups. Both of these studies are excellent starting points to answering the question, “Have ASD incidence rates increased or are we just more aware and therefore doing a better job diagnosing it?”

This good beginning was overshadowed by other autism news.

Last week, a number of press releases went out stating that a new study, published in the student-run Pace Environment Law Journal, proves a vaccine-autism link. Quoted from one press release:

“As this study shows, vaccines can and do cause brain damage and subsequent autism in certain children,” said Fournier.

Another press release stated:

The question is no longer, “Can vaccines cause autism?” The answer is clear.  Now, we have to ask, “How many cases of autism have vaccines caused and how do we prevent new injuries from occurring?”

Before I speak to this study, I want to make it clear that there are known risks to vaccines, including seizures and encephalopathy. These risks have never been denied and vary depending on the vaccine.

I want to make it clear that immunization is not 100% effective. Depending on the vaccine, these rates vary. Also, not all vaccines provide lifetime immunity and booster shots are required. However, if you want to weigh the risks of severe complications from the disease—1 in 1,000 die from measles—compared to the rate of severe complications from the vaccine—Encephalitis or severe allergic reaction: 1 in 1,000,000. Seizure: 333 in 1,000,000 from MMR—the odds are in favor of the vaccine.

This study did not show vaccines can and do cause brain damage. It was an already known fact that has never been denied or disputed. In fact, with every single case sited in this study, the reasons for compensation were due to seizures and/or encephalopathy. None were awarded compensation because the child became autistic as a result of immunization and this study states as much.

In the introduction, the authors state (page 4):

This assessment of compensated cases showing an association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science. In no way does it explain scientific causation or even necessarily undermine the reasoning of the decision in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding based on the scientific theories and medical evidence before the VICP.

What the conclusion actually states is (page 53):

While there are likely many routes to “autism,” including prenatal neurological insults and toxic post-natal exposures, this preliminary analysis of VICP-compensated cases suggests that autism is often associated with vaccine-induced brain damage. It raises the questions if the VICP’s decisions have been fair to reject all claims of vaccine injury that use the term “autism.” This preliminary assessment also suggests the possibility that other contemporary childhood neurological disorders, including attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities, might be less severe after-effects, on the same spectrum of vaccine-induce brain injury.

Based on this preliminary assessment, there may be no meaningful distinction between the cases of encephalopathy and residual seizure disorder that the VICP compensated over the last twenty years and the cases of “autism” that the VICP has denied. If true, this would be a profound injustice to those denied recovery and to all who have invested trust in this system that Congress created. This preliminary study calls for Congress to investigate the VICP and for scientists to investigate all compensated cases of vaccine injury to gain a fuller understanding of the totality of consequences of vaccine injury.

Also stated by the authors (page 14):

Because autistic disorder is defined only by an aggregation of symptoms, there is no meaningful distinction between the terms “autism” and “autism-like symptoms.” This article makes the distinction only to accurately reflect the terms that the Court of Federal Claims, caregivers, and others use. It is not a distinction to which the authors attach significance.

The problem with the above statement is that there is a significance, especially as there are a number of disorders that can appear like autism, having many things in common with autism, but are not autism. This is a very dangerous way of thinking. Imagine if the medical community had this type of thinking when it came to treating any disease or disorder that shares traits with, or has a tendency to mimic, other diseases and disorders.

All the authors did was search a database for specific terms and compiled the search results together, then try to report a causality link, while acknowledging that the legal standard of causation is not the same as the scientific standard. Using their method, I could pick any word I wanted, one that I know is in the database, then create a paper designed to show causation.

Another thing that is very important to know about this study is that two of the authors represent clients who have claims on behalf of family members in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. This is not an independent study. The authors are biased. The authors have a vested interest in the outcome. Also, all authors are on the board of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy, which is an autism advocacy group.

The authors also state that they had help from Pace University Law School. One press release—the original has subsequently disappeared from the internet—stated:

Investigators from Pace Law School in New York will be joined by parents and children with autism to announce a groundbreaking study that strongly suggests a link between vaccines and autism.

I spoke with the media relations department at Pace University Law School,via telephone and e-mail, and was told that was not the case. To quote:

Pace Law School had no participation in the paper. Pace Law students assisted with legal research of the vaccine court decisions and creating an objective database of the case holdings and facts, but neither Pace Law School nor any of our students had anything to do with the article or its findings or conclusions nor do we express any opinion on the article or its findings.

Furthermore, as published on About.com and confirmed by myself, via telephone and e-mail:

The article, titled, “Unanswered Questions From the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury,” is authored by four board members of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy. It will be published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Pace Environmental Law Review, Volume 28.2. It will be available May 10 on the Pace Environmental Law Review’s website.

The article’s authors are Mary Holland, Research Scholar and Director of the Graduate Legal Skills Program at NYU School of Law; Louis Conte, an independent investigator; and Robert Krakow and Lisa Colin, attorneys in private practice who represent clients who have claims on behalf of family members in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. They are all on the board of the Brooklyn-based Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy, which provides training, resources and a forum within which to advance legal and advocacy strategies to improve the lives of those with autism.

Established in 1982, the Pace Environmental Law Review (PELR) was one of the first scholarly journals in the then-new field of environmental law. It is run and edited by Pace Law School JD candidates. Since August 1, 2009, the law review has used an anonymous peer review process to select articles for publication. Submissions are reviewed internally, and then forwarded to a selected group of peer reviewers: academics, practitioners, and experts in the field, including members of Pace Law School’s world-renowned environmental law faculty.

The way in which SafeMinds.org has presented this study is very misleading. Not a single thing about this paper, or the involvement of Pace Law School, has been represented accurately. How many parents are going to take the time to read the 66-page paper or are they just going to listen to the press and believe the presentation? How many of the parents who do take the time to read the study are going to be able to understand it? Not every one has a background or education in research. Without such a background or education, reading these types of papers and interpreting them correctly can be quite difficult.

The result: More fear and panic surrounding vaccines and autism. Instead of funding other possible causes such as: genetics; environmental; and whether or not there is an actual increase in autism spectrum disorder or is it because of a broader definition and are we just better at identifying it, more funds are at risk for being diverted to researching questions that have already been answered.

As a parent, I know we want nothing more than for our children to be safe. On a daily basis, we do things to protect them. Many of the things we do carry a higher risk than the possible severe adverse reactions of immunization, plus they are not nearly as effective as immunizations. Using a seat belt is one of many examples. Seat belts are shown to be only 45% effective in reducing the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passengers. Child safety seats are 71% effective for children younger than one year old and 54% for children 1-4 years old. Seat belt use is also shown to increase the risk of abdominal injury. Immunization effectiveness ranges from about 80% to near 100%.

I can also understand why so many parents are wanting more transparency. When I was preparing to write this article, I asked a group of moms whether or not they felt they received full disclosure when vaccinating their children, if they understood the risk and if they didn’t feel they received full disclosure, would they have made a different choice upon receiving it. The responses were pretty much split down the middle between those who felt they understood the risks and those who did not. I know this is not a scientific survey in any form.

I asked because I wanted to know what it is like for a parent in the US to navigate this issue. I needed to understand this as I’ve always been aware of the risks and I am often baffled by why there is so much confusion surrounding this issue. Living in Canada, our system is quite different. Every thing, from how and where vaccines are administered, to how reactions are reported, to how data about vaccination rates are collected, is different. My boys were born in 1995 and 1999. Before there was an autism-vaccine scare, I received more than enough information during their immunization appointments to make an informed and educated decision.

I also decided to search the internet for US-based, parent-friendly equivalents to the resources residents of British Columbia receive for free. I asked Leart Shaka, the editor-in-chief of The Vaccine Times, to send me links to sites containing the information I was looking for, as it appeared my Google-fu was weak that day. I discovered that my Google-fu was not weak. The reality was there is nothing US-based that presented the information I was looking for in, what I would consider, a parent-friendly way. They were all a hassle to navigate, difficult to find the wanted information and contained things that turn me off, such a celebrity endorsements or things being sold on the front page. To say it was frustrating is an understatement.

I invite you all to visit the ImmunizeBC website. The site is easy to navigate. The answers are short and sweet, in easy to understand language, with links to more information. On the front page, you’ll find the answers to the two most common questions asked today: “Is there any link between the MMR vaccine and autism?” and “Will multiple injections overwhelm my baby’s immune system?”

I am not a doctor. I cannot give you any medical advice. I can say the science has shown, time and time again, that there is no link between vaccines and autism. It is also important to understand that when you vaccinate your children, you are not only protecting them but those around them. There are some people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. They rely on those around them for herd-immunity.

Our generation has been lucky to grow up in a time where we did not see the effects, first-hand, of the diseases that vaccines protect us against. Our parents’ generation was not so lucky. I had a teacher who was crippled because of polio. It would be terrible if we had to see these effects, once again, in order to get the necessary incentive to protect our children from these diseases. Already, the cases of measles and whooping cough have increased in the United States, with nearly 50% of those who contracted measles in the last few months ending up in hospital and a number of babies hospitalized and dying from whooping cough.

Many argue that we should have a choice in this area. My personal opinion on that issue, and it just that, an opinion, is that when it concerns public health and safety, we do not have a choice unless there is a medical reason why one cannot be vaccinated. We don’t allow people to drive while under the influence. We don’t allow people to drive without a seat belt. There are many things we do not allow because, to quote Gene Roddenberry via Spock and Kirk, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one.”

I will not tell you to vaccinate. I will ask that you please speak to your doctor or local health nurse. Through immunization, you are not only protecting the life of your children, but also the lives of those around you.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am the layout and design editor of The Vaccine Times, a quarterly print-publication, by parents who are trying to find out as much information as they can about vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases. I volunteer my time and resources, and receive no compensation for doing so.

Review:The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

A few weeks ago, I received an advanced review copy of The Meowmorphosis, courtesy of Quirk Classics (@quirkbooks).

meow-cover-large-197x300The Meowmorphosis is the latest edition of literary mash-ups published by Quirk Classics. Mashed by Coleridge Cook, a pseudonym, at the base of The Meowmorphosis is Frank Kafka’s Metamorphosis, with additional parts added from the rest of Kafka’s literary works. However, instead of waking up as a bug, the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up as a kitten. One would think this would change an otherwise depressing and pathetic story into one with more humor. Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view.

I do not envy anyone who takes on the task of grabbing a piece of what is considered to be influential literature and adding in new elements. It cannot be an easy task. Large portions of The Meowmorphosis were taken directly from The Metamorphosis. The sections which refer to Samsa as a bug were rewritten to ‘kitten’ Samsa. Coleridge managed to do this quite flawlessly.

Normally, I do not like to compare and contrast books for review purposes. That is the type of thing I feel should be reserved for high school and university English Literature courses. However, I cannot help but to do it for this type of book. When I was reading the Austen/Graham-Smith mash-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I couldn’t help but think to myself, the entire time I was reading it, “Well, this is quite an interesting literary exercise.” I found myself thinking the exact same thing while reading The Meowmorphosis. It was impossible for me to disengage my academic brain, allowing my leisure brain to be entertained.

Even though I did not enjoy Austen’s original work—I have yet to read one of her books beyond the first chapter or stay awake for more than 20 minutes through one of the movies—I did find the insertion of zombies into the story to be rather drôle. How can one not laugh at the image of the Bennet sisters fighting off hordes of zombies one moment then going back to societal caterwauling the next? I did not find the same humor in The Meowmorphosis. In fact, I found the main character to be even more wretched and pitiful, causing me to sympathize with him to a greater extent. I do not think it helps that I have a huge dislike for cats. I would rather have a pet insect than a cat. To be even more clear about how much I do not like cats, having a cat would be my very last choice for a pet. The exception being worms, but only because I have a true phobia of worms.

A lot of the reasons I do not like cats, Coleridge describes in this book. I think the easiest way to sum it up: Cats are selfish animals, caring only for themselves. They are fickle, flighty, react before thinking, and are the type to rub their rear-end in your face, whilst thinking, “Who’s a pretty hairball?” This puts Samsa’s feline nature at huge odds with Samsa’s human nature; one where he has given up his own wants in order to do right by his family. Throughout both the original and the mash-up, there is a large internal struggle going on within Samsa. He is very much at odds between what are his wants and what is his station in life. I found these struggles to be heightened in the mash-up. For me, it was easier to sympathize with a character trapped in what many consider to be a cute and cuddly animal than one that many consider grotesque.

For me, this was not a fun read. Kafka’s writing style is not one that I enjoy. Because of the style, my English Literature brain would not disengage. Because of my background in Psychology, I couldn’t help but to dissect the character, profiling both him and the original author in the process. I almost felt as if I were back in university. One thing that this book accomplished: It made me want to read the original, which I did at http://www.kafka-online.info/. Also, it made me want to find out more about Kafka, as he is not an author we were required to study in school.

Is the book well-written? Yes. Did Coleridge Cook do a good job interweaving his story with Kafka’s original? Yes and quite wonderfully. For me, any failing this book has is only due to personal preferences. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves English Literature. I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious to read another mash-up. Would I recommend this book to someone who is wanting a fun, humorous and light read? That would depend on what your definitions of fun and humor are. As for a light read, there is nothing light about this story, despite the book being 208 pages. The story’s underlying human themes are still dark and morose.

I may not enjoy Kafka’s writing style, however I did enjoy the journey of personal torture taken on by the story.

Pulling A U-Turn Mid Career

Have you ever thought about a job change? I think most people would answer this question with, “Yes”. I know many people who shop for other jobs while employed. The reasons for this could be because they are under-employed, wanting a similar job with better pay, wanting a job that is higher up the ladder, or they could just be plain old bored with their current position and need a change.

Have you ever thought about a major career change? By major career change, I mean either doing a U-Turn or completely starting over, reinventing yourself in the process. Or changing degree choice when you are one semester away from graduation, having to start over, while putting yourself in further debt in the process.

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, doing so was not that big of a risk. The markets were good. Finding a job, even if part-time for minimum wage, was not a difficult task. Keeping you and your family afloat, whilst trying to figure out your next move, wasn’t as large of a source of stress. Now, the situation is vastly different. If you have a job, one is more likely to hang onto it, no matter how much they hate it. Some parts of the world, it is easier to find a new job. There are other parts of the world where one feels stuck, perhaps even shackled against their own will, in their current job. The choices are extremely limited. Deciding to change the game could spell disaster.

But what if you were feeling so stuck that you could no longer breathe, having anxiety attacks any time a work related e-mail entered your inbox or your boss wanted to speak with you? What if you were waking up in the middle of the night because you are having nightmares about your current situation and you have no escape from work related thoughts? What if the situation was beginning to seriously affect your health, physically and mentally?

A friend of mine just quit her job in Hollywood and packed up her life to move to New York. She has no job to go to. She has no idea what she is going to do. Luckily, she is young and she has no-one to support except for herself. Luckily, she has a friend who has offered to house her until she can figure out what she wants to do, giving her time to find a job where she doesn’t feel like she is dying every time she goes to work. She took a major leap. Some may say that in this economy, especially one where people would give their limbs to be gainfully employed, she should have counted her blessings and stayed put. Or alternatively, stayed put until she had found another job to go to. I think that she is brave. I also think that she is lucky to have a friend who is so very supportive of her. Her friend threw her a life-preserver and helped pull her out of a situation that was threatening to consume her with long-term depression. We could all hope to have at least one friend like that in our lives.

More close to home, I just made a very similar decision. I resigned from my position as assistant general manager and programming director of the radio station I helped to create and decided to build a radio station of my very own. I’ve either made the smartest career choice I’ll ever make or I’ve made the worst decision, to date, of my life.

On the one hand, it is the smartest choice I’ve ever made because the job was beginning to affect my health in ways that were becoming very scary. To date, I’ve helped build two radio stations. Each time, I got burned in the process. I promised myself going into this station that at the first sign of trouble, I would leave and do my own thing. It was a difficult promise to make to myself because I feel as if I’d be disappointing people and letting them down should I make the choice to leave. However, I need to think of my family’s needs and my well-being first and foremost. I’m not of any good to anyone if I am in hospital, as I was a couple weeks ago.

On the other hand, this could be disastrous on two fronts. First, I could appear to be flighty and non-committal. The entertainment industry can be extremely fickle. It is very easy to say or do the wrong thing, destroying any reputation you may have in a nanosecond. However, I do think that my reputation is strong enough, at least with those who it matters, where I should be safe. But new potential supporters may see it as being unreliable and not give my new venture a chance. Second, I need the help of those who, to this point, have supported my career by cheering me on, to help out financially. I need to convince at least 300 of those who consume my various media offerings to donate at least $10 each or I will no longer have a radio show. I’ve created a ChipIn page and elaborated more about my intention and goals, both short-term and long-term, on Geeky Pleasures. Now, I have to hope that I have not committed career suicide.

There are some who think I’m being silly by worrying so much about this. I am being told to have faith and that it will all work out. I am being told that I’ve had to reinvented myself more times than any one they know and I always come flying through, with grace and ease. In return, I thank them for their support and tell them to keep being optimistic, while I remain pragmatic and realistic. In the back of my head, I hear, “That is easy for you to say. You’re not the one who very well could have flushed their career down the toilet.” Then I hear the other back of my brain say, “Shush! You can be so mean! They are just trying to be supportive and let you know they have faith in you.” There is so much conflict when one decides to make a life-changing decision. Now, I wake up in a cold sweat while I wait to find out the consequence of this choice.

I have dreams. I have aspirations. I have things I want to accomplish. I also want to help others accomplish similar dreams and aspirations by offering them a place to do their own shows, providing them with all the necessary software and training. I have a wonderful lady, with an autistic child, who wants to do a talk show about Autism Spectrum Disorder, by parents for parents. A show that tells the reality based side of the story, in an attempt to undo some of the damage caused by Jenny McCarthy and the antivaxxers. I have people who want to do music shows. I am also in discussions about another talk show that is both mom related and geek related. I wonder if you can guess what that is? I have my own shows, both music and the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. I want to build a place where people can hear the shows they want to hear, whilst talking with those who are providing the entertainment and talking with fellow listeners. I want to give back opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have. None of this will be possible without support.

So did I make a stupid choice? Or did I make a necessary choice to preserve my well-being, even if it carries a lot of risk? Am I brave for doing so? Or am I a git? Should I have waited? There are so many questions to ask and answer when one faces a game and career changing decision.

So again I ask you, have you ever had to make a similar choice? What did you end up deciding to do? What played a factor in reaching that final decision? Would you do it the same way again or would you have made a different choice?

Juggling And Balancing On The Tightrope

 

We all know them. The moms who seem to be always doing. Whether they are balancing a chequebook in one hand whilst nursing a babe in the same arm, simultaneously talking on the telephone with the other hand to schedule a playdate for the other sibling, all the while going through the grocery list in their mind. Or the mom who is busy jumping from soccer practice to dance classes to Parent Advisory Committee meetings whilst preparing the agenda for tomorrow’s big meeting. We look at them and think, “Dear FSM, woman! How do you find the time for it all!?” I have a confession to make. I am one of those women. I’ll admit, I often find that I’m asking myself the exact same question.

I’m new here. I suppose that is pretty obvious. Let me give you a very brief snapshot into all that I do. First, I’m a mom of two wonderful boys. My oldest will be sixteen in September. My youngest will be twelve on April 16. I would describe my oldest as a nerd and I would describe my youngest as a geek/gamer. Our home consists of a 24 hour nerdfest.

My educational background is in Psychology. I had planned to eventually get my PhD, specializing in abnormal psychology of children and adolescence, but then life threw me a huge curve-ball which goes by the name of Lupus, causing me to have a hysterectomy at 29 and a full-blown left-sided stroke at 30. I had to build my career doing things that I could do from home.

Roughly three years ago, a job opportunity crossed my eyes. I saw an advert for internet radio personalities. The job was remote with no previous experience necessary. Having acted and danced on stage for many years and with a passion for entertaining, I knew I would be perfect for the job. Despite the fear that my application would never see another person’s eyes, I applied. Within five hours of sending my application, I received an interview request. The rest is, as they say, history. But what is this history?

Shortly after being hired as an on-air personality, I was promoted to programming director. Eventually, I would also hold the title of assistant general manager. Among my various radio shows, I began a radio show known as the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. After she launched, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Wil Wheaton, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait PhD, Shane Nickerson (MTV executive producer), Jonathan Coulton, Runic Games and musician Mike Lombardo. I had a personal blog on Blogspot, however my radio show became so popular that I had to launch my Geeky Pleasures website and a separate personal blog. Eventually, I had to step away from my position at that radio station. However, my Geeky Pleasures website and personal blog continued on.

I had it in my mind that running a website that requires updating at least three times a day, Monday – Friday, plus a personal blog, plus raising two children on my own, was not enough to keep me busy. So I launched the Lupus Awareness Virtual Art Gallery. Because of my work to raise lupus awareness, I was asked to interview Patrizia Hernandez, the lead actress in Love Simple, and John Casey, producer of Love Simple. I was later asked if I would write for The Lupus Magazine and I accepted.

But still in my mind, I was not busy enough. I would later be asked to contribute to Star Wars vs Star Trek and NerdsInBabeland. Still not enough to do, I volunteered my time as the layout and design editor of The Vaccine Times. One would think that would be enough, right? Wrong. Late last year, I was asked to help build another internet radio station and I agreed. That radio station would become The Force 925, where all my old radio shows, including the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show and frequent co-host of a political talk-show, would find a new home.

Since launching at the beginning of his year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview: musician Jeff MacDougall; Paul and Storm; GeekDad and musician John Anealio; Len Peralta of GeekAWeek fame; Lauren Crace and Sylvester McCoy; and New York Times best selling author Steve Hockensmith. Scheduled to appear in the coming weeks are 101010 Productions and Richard Hatch of The Apollo Awards, plus Maurissa Tancharoen-Whedon. You’d think that would be enough, but here I am at GeekMom.

In my spare time, I do a lot of crafting and creating in more ways than I think I can currently list. I also found time to write two books whilst doing all of the above.

It is no wonder that many, including myself, ask me how do I manage it all, whilst raising two boys on my own and dealing with a disease that likes to attempt to royally kick my behind. I think the easy and lazy answer is to say: It is just like having children. The more that you have, they tend to keep each other busy and occupied. It is nothing for me to be updating one website while I have the dashboard of another open, editing and updating them simultaneously. Plus with Twitter, it is easy to find material as most of my content inspiration comes from there. However, a great deal of it comes down to planning, organizational skills and scheduling. The first four hours of my day are busy spent receiving press releases, deciding what I’ll post, making a list of updates which need to be made to other sites and taking a break whenever my body demands it. I also remember to take a lot of time to breathe. Many of us forget to do that.

If I did not have the luxury to work from home, none of this would be possible. Once my posts are scheduled on any given day, then I am free to fart around for the rest of it, surfing the internet for inspiration, chatting with my tweeps, interviewing new personalities for the station and training them, doing my radio shows, thinking about the articles I will write for projects that I am not personally responsible to maintain, nerding out with my children whilst they are busy playing WoW, watching Doctor Who, or asking me some question about astrophysics and what would happen if they jimmied open the microwave in such a fashion that it is fooled into thinking it is closed and turning it on. It also helps that the Geeky Pleasures website and the radio station are the only things that must be done daily. The Vaccine Times is a quarterly print publication, NiB and SWvsST is when I have time, The Lupus Magazine is once a month, health and life willing. Writing here is also casual for the time being.

In the end it is a careful juggling act whilst balancing and walking a tightrope. The smallest misstep and I drop my balls. Thankfully, they are picked up easily enough and the world will not end if I have to stop for a day or two or ten. However, being an extreme overachiever, it is difficult to stop.

If you think I’m busy, I know many other moms who do far more than I. Maybe we are all a wee bit insane in some way. Perhaps this comes with the territory when one is a geek, especially if one is creative.

So let me ask you, how do you mange to juggle family and career? What are some of your tips?