Hello!

Hello and welcome. My name is Stephen Black and I work with media, words and art. Media: VR, computer-generated environments,video and photography. Words: articles and books, including Bali Wave Ghost,  I Ate Tiong Bahru (a national bestseller in Singapore), Tiong Bahru Mouth, Obama Search Words and a few others. This post gives you some idea of my current projects. Thank you for stopping by. Stephen Black physical laborers
black and white image of man dropping vase

Ai Wewei, Yesim Agaoglu, Stephen Black, Eugene Soh collaboration in gallery.sg

Jeff Koons Balloon Dog in SPOKEN

Nhung: Floating

low tech in hi tech

Works created with ink

two men smiling

If one person can be said to symbolize the Tiong Bahru Market, it might be this guy in the hat...

SB & 3D (Why I’m excited to be in Eugene Soh’s virtual gallery project)

THIS post was written before SPOKEN started. SPOKEN is a project I am doing with Eugene Soh, an experiment in which art, text, virtual reality and social media intersect. Learn about SPOKEN here.

To enter gallery.sg and experience SPOKEN, click here.

Here is the extremely short version: from 2002 until 2008 I was involved with a visionary virtual reality project that combined educational practices with gamemaking and multimedia. However, the spiritual captain of the project was part Disney, part Microsoft and part Sex Pistols. An unexpected death, treachery, incompetence, inexperience, bureaucratic boondoggles and more made my life "interesting"... I have pages of notes about the events and the spirit of the times. We were doing things like Youtube and Second Life before they started. The project was so close... and yet so far away. (Actually, now that mobile technology has settled down, I hope that the lessons and products of that experience can be revitalized. But that's yet another story.)

In 2006, as a way of showcasing our technology,  I entered a gamemaking hackathon. A theme was given on a Thursday morning and the next day at five the results were judged.The theme was something about healthy eating, I think. Working with my programmer in Hong Kong, we made a game in which the viewer learned about the calorie count of certain foods. The player competed with an AI character.  It was fun to do. However, what I remember most was a team that made an incredible flash game. I don't remember if they won or not, but I do remember two guys on that team very well. George Parel and Eugene Soh were full of energy, knowledge and bursting with creative ideas. They still are.

I've been lucky to work with George and Eugene on a few projects since then. In 2008 I finally had to put the educational gamemaking project on hold while I waited for a programmer and the mobile device situation to stabilize.I put more time into writing and art projects. George and Eugene (that dude from Singapore) however, have kept on doing remarkably creative things with IT, art, design and more.

Virtual reality may seem to be an artificial place, but the gallery Eugene has created fills me with memories and hope. I am honored and very thankful for I Ate Tiong Bahru to be on display in gallery.sg

IATB in virtual gallery Cheers, Eugene! Cheers, George!

Ebooks: Born to Click (1 of 3)

Preface

This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It's part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books. Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books.

το πνεύμα του Ιανού

After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I'll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it.

This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era.

This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author's Guild.

Although I've done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations:

1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy. Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. Stephen King

Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About... And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers... The title of Guy Kawasaki's excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.)

Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading.

2. A great writer or a great marketer...

....or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells.

Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below)

Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages...

3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers. Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church!

Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you're not truly independent.

OK, A bit of an attention grabber there...but the author's need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These "automatic partners" will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author.

Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood.

Consider: -the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010)

-the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets - the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles - writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking's first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010.

E.L. James' book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans?

These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW! However, the writing is..."not terrible" or worse

I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed. http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/amazon-makes-life-easier-for-authors-of-historical-literary-fiction/

There are "indie success stories" about authors who "rode into town" on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these "indies" were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers. As the 'first mover'possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition... Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: "...was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

There certainly are "ebook only" indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don't know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others! them! Somewhat related to this, are there any "ebook only" awards?

Here, authors talk about their sales experiences.

4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this. Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways.

It is an exciting time.

Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3 visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks

 

Self-published. No marketing. What happens?

Today, for the first time in about two years, I looked at the sales reports for my eight books. Fully expected to see no sales. Zero. No sales would be an expected consequence of doing no marketing and being self-published. Over ten years ago, I made it clear that I would do no marketing until I had written eight books.

So, today was a pleasant surprise.

self-publishing statistics

Stephen Black does no marketing...

My biggest "audience" is in Japan, then the US, then India. Interesting. I have not lived in Japan for quite awhile. Have never been to India. Kindle's programs that allow people to sample the book seem to be helping.

Amazon and self-publishing

The number of Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) read determines the royalties you earn from KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library). This graph is updated as pages are read by customers who borrow your book from KU and KOLL.

I am now working on two books. One is a novel ( Antigone.Cloud: Ghost of a Robot), the themes of which are AR, sentient software, Southeast Asia and children. The other, Alphabet Spikes, is a journal; of my entrepreneurial, food-related and art adventures in Southeast Asia. I would be thrilled to find a publisher and or an agent, but if not, that is that.

Some may laugh at the above sales figure, but to me it is encouraging. What will happen when I finally start to do marketing?

Marketing is not easy, but thanks to Amazon, services like Adwords, and social media, things can be very efficient. Within the next three months, I will give away free ebooks, hoping this will lead to spikes in sales. I will start marketing in October.

About my books, here is a post that includes videos.

FWIW, the stats on this blog:

An experiment with Amazon

As for my bestseller, I sold it in bookstores and in certain areas of Singapore. The first edition is almost completely sold out; 2000 copies, which in Singapore qualifies it to be a national bestseller.The print version of i ate tiong bahru is a bestseller in Singapore There is an audiobook version as well.

Cupping Steve’s Wild Coffee (part 2)

part 1 is here..

Boss: "Fruit. Westerners eat different fruit than Thai people. So when a coffee description in English mentions the name of a fruit, it doesn't always immediately register."

This is the second statement Boss said after he took his first sip of medium roasted SWC. "Apricot" was the first.

female barista

Neung, from Once Cafe in Chiang Rai, cupping Steve's Wild Coffee.

Then, with Neung, we began a discussion on the many variables related to describing the taste of coffee. The individual's sensitivity, cultural background and coffee-tasting experience for example. How do different machines affect the taste? The water? The weather? The soil, weather and growing conditions are constantly changing; how does a plant respond? It was only after Boss mentioned the word "apricot' that I became aware of the trace of tangy sweetness that he was referring to. And, after some thought, I think a young chiku fruit, not yet sweet, would be a solid comparison.
Coffee beans on a plate

Beans on a plate on a blue and white patterned cloth.

The bottom line for the SWC Medium roasted, for this cupping, is that the texture is smooth and there is a slightly tannin taste as well as a hint of apricot. It is a flavorful drink by itself. Adding milk would likely mask this coffee's subtleties. We discovered peaberry beans among the flatbeans and this was a nice surprise! Peaberry, especially from northern Thailand is recognized as a quality bean.

The SWC dark roast was very similar to the medium roast, but with an additional taste resulting from a longer roasting time. The taste sensation, like so many, is difficult to describe."Burnt" strikes me as being too strong of a word. The flavor is not really "smoky", either. Well-roasted is a phrase that could be used, but it does not contain any specific description of taste. The beans look like smooth glossy stones, and this is because the roasting process brought some of the oil to the surface. An excellent post about roasting is here, on The National Coffee Association USA website.

The last version of SWC we cupped was a mix of 80% dark with 20 percent of an extended roast. The beans were dark and oily, as more oil was brought out because of the longer roasting time.

It tasted energetic to me, a little bit "burnt", a little bit fruity, a smooth but "buzzy taste"; energetic. This latte was made from the 80/20 blend and it was pretty gosh darn good.

Latte Art

Created by Neung, at Once Cafe, Chiang Rai

I will need sometime to think about the short description for SWC. Having no experience, I can't really judge things like Dry Fragrance, Wet Aroma,Flavor, Finish, Acidity, and Body.Let alone the procedures scoring methods found here. SWC is wild, and I am still researching exactly what that means. Overgrown estate? Birds or animals ate the coffee cherries from the government-affiliated plantations and then deposited the seeds throughout the hillsides? The "wild" part of this experience is what interests me. I briefly worked on a permaculture farm, and it seemed that the intent was to simulate an "uncivilized" growing environment, ie the wild". The main reasons for growing in the permaculture style are taste and environmental respect. Now, I do not have the time to see for myself what wild means in terms of SWC, meaning I cannot go to the growing areas.

I will just have to make another cup and sit and write a description.

A photograph of a photograph

A photograph of a Pa O woman in the Coffee Traveler magazine displayed on the counter

Cupping Steve’s Wild Coffee (part 1)

Later, I will talk about my experiences using coffee in my visual art projects and writing. For example, one of my books contains a chapter about coffee. For now, I will simply say that creating my own brand of coffee would combine several longtime interests, including, ultimately, AR.

This post is about my first cupping experience, which occurred on May 12, 2018, at Once Cafe in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I had discovered Once the day before the testing, by accident.Lucky! The barista was Neung (Matorose Plengsai).

Coffee cupping preparation

Neung (Matorose Plengsai).from Once Cafe in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

She is deeply connected with coffee. Her husband is involved with the production of organic foods, including coffee: at one point he made his own roaster. Neung supervised the creation of Once Coffee, the signature of her cafe. In the course of discussing Once Coffee, it was agreed that I could bring some to Hong Kong, for a tasting event I am planning.

Here is my description of Once Coffee:

Made from Peaberry beans, Once is light-hearted and slightly fruity, yet powerful-- an excellent choice for lattes and cappuccinos. Organically grown, processed and roasted on a single estate in northern Thailand, Once is a blend of roasts: medium and dark. The blend is constantly monitored and adjusted to maintain Once’s signature flavor.

Once treats the people it is involved with fairly.

Let the cupping begin!

Once was cupped in the afternoon. The cupping for Steve’s Wild Coffee (the name for now, anyway) started at 8:30 AM. Besides Neung, we were fortunate to have Boss (Pattapong Valuvanarak), who manages a restaurant called Kafe Journal.

thoughtful coffee drinker

Boss!

We had three types of Steve’s Wild Coffee (SWC). The beans are Arabica: a medium roast, a dark roast and a mix of 80% medium and 20% dark.

Like most coffees, the dark roast and the 80/20 mixture will work well with lattes and cappuccinos. No surprises there. The medium roast was judged to be very suitable for simple, hot coffees. Again, no surprises.

What follows are notes on what I learned, observed and thought about. I am a fresh arrival into this part of the coffee world. Also, the wild coffee is almost completely undocumented. So, we were in the rare position of being able to respond to what we were tasting with very few preconceived ideas.

I should state that wild coffee is a new venture by a company with over forty years experience producing high grade organic teas. It is not a secret who they are, and I will later identify them, especially on all packaging. They are now applying for a USDA organic certificate.

Cofffe packaging

Once Cafe, in Chiang Rai, Thailand. The first cupping of Steve's Wild Coffee.

So... the cupping!

Neung opened the medium roast, and Boss spread some beans out on a plate. He picked something up, showed it to Neung and they laughed. “Elephant ears”, he said. Elephant ears are shells of beans that are empty. I looked, and yes, the shell of an empty coffee bean looks just like the ears of an elephant. Boss showed me another bean that had a tiny hole in it. “An insect ate some.” I made a mental note to find out why this was bad. Psychologically, perhaps it is not good, but in terms of the coffee making process, why is it bad? There was no insect, of course. I wonder if, by eating the coffee bean, the insect allowed air into the heart of the fruit. This would mean oxygen being added into the fruit’s “manufacturing process”. Perhaps this is the reason for the rejection. The coffee is roasted, which kills bacteria and other micro-organisms. Simply, I must learn more about insects eating coffee beans. Is it a cosmetic issue, or something more?

No fungus was detected and the other beans which were rejected were chipped, a common fault. But again I wonder if this is cosmetic or something more serious. Could it be that the chipping results in the bean drying out in that area and losing flavor?

(PART 2 is here)

An Instagram post of the cupping.

AR as Blockchain: an eye-opener

My limited understanding of blockchain is that it is decentralized. My experiences with AR have given me the impression that AR is also a decentralized technology, though mobile phone makers can be said to be an international cartel of sorts. As I write this, I am in Chiang Rai, Thailand, close to the borders of Myanmar and Laos, and a few hours bus ride north of the more famous city of Chiang Mai.

I have just spent a few hours with Suphakorn Traisrisin, a 14 year old boy. He is teaching himself how to work with Hewlett-Packard's AR system, Reveal. Suphakorn wants to be a computer engineer, and undoubtedly, when the time comes, he will have a number of geographical options in which to pursue his career. Unlike the businesses of the Industrial Age, the internet has created a decentralized and seemingly level playing field where talent and ideas can take root anywhere and blossom internationally.

I realize this concept/possibility has existed for a while, but it was really brought home watching a 14 year old, very distant from Silicon Valley, teaching himself a cutting edge technology.

two generations and a laptop

in Chiang Rai Thailand, with Suphakorn Traisrisin

Handphone  + laptop display

HP + AR + tea!

Bubiko Fodtour AR tearial

Experimentation with the Reveal AR software by Hewlett-Packard

Bubiko  Foodtour in Chiang rai

https://www.instagram.com/bubikofoodtour/?hl=en

Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle Palace: Art, Content, Portraiture

Regarding the retireinchiangrai performance.

What began at the Abby Hotel in Ipoh, Malaysia as a kind of durational art piece has become a form of portraiture for hotels. With the Abby Hotel piece, the goal was to create content for 72 continuous hours, mainly with Facebook Live. Next was a sixty hour project at Symphony Suites, also in Ipoh. Christmas, Penang, 24 hour documentation of food.Then in Bangkok, there was a near continuous three day marathon at La Rivetta.

My latest mix of photography, historical research and interviews/oral history is partially documented at this website: https://retireinchiangrai.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/chiang-rai-transportation/

The intention is to use photography for personal expression, rather than commercial documentation, as well as to create a vocabulary of procedures that allow for spontaneous internet experiences. Plus, the experiences will become a chapter in An Alphabet of Spikes, one of the two books I am currently writing.

In short, we did a lot of stuff and put it online to see what happens in both the art world and the world of people who want to retire in Thailand.

Wild Coffee!

Type: Arabica

Harvested by hand in northern Thailand.

As the beans are harvested in the wild, there cannot be a "single estate" labeling. However, the beans are all harvested at nearly the same time in the same area. They are all roasted within the same time period.

The supervising producer has over 40 years experience with organic teas. Though this is a new venture, they have invested three years in research, education, training and the finest equipment, including a laboratory and a Giesen roaster. Education and training are the foundations of this enterprise.

The beans are harvested, then stored(aged) 8-12 months before roasting.

The supervising producer has extensive experience with international shipping, customs and regulations.

If you love coffee, sell coffee, are a coffee roaster and/or distributor and want to know more, please get in touch. For a long time I have thought of producing my own line of teas and coffees, and this may be it! hand picking coffee in the wild

All the Way to Memphis and Toledo

So.

I bought the album for some reason. Mott the Hoople Live. Probably, before I'd boughten it, I'd only heard one song from it on FM radio. Undoubtedly the front and back covers made an impression. Anyway, the first song on the first side was called All the Way to Memphis. It's great, with a tinkly, funky, sad, happy and powerful little piano riff on the front. The piano was played by Morgan Fisher. The song is about going to Memphis, obviously. That song was my favorite.

So, about 25 years later, I was in Tokyo and thrilled to be asked to photograph the American South, for a Japanese magazine. The same day I learned of my flight confirmation to Memphis... Morgan Fisher called! He lives in Tokyo and we had plans to meet, but it was still one of those synchronistic little events that make one wonder.

Anyhoo... I just saw this poster in Bangkok.

vintage rock posters

discovered in Bangkok, 2018

And, for what it's worth, the lead singer of Mott the Hoople once put on one of the best live shows I've ever seen. Ian Hunter. The opening act was John Cougar Mellencamp who performed with his head wrapped in bandages; the result of a mishap the night before. Toledo Sports Arena, 1977?

I am writing this in Chiang Mai Thailand at dawn, April 17, 2018.

SE Asia Bookstore Energy!

Thailand is full of surprises, but one of the best was the discovery of so many healthy bookstores. Besides the work on my startup, I am now writing two books, both with connections to Thailand. Discovering bookstores has been an inspirational part of the Bubiko Orwell Tour.

Additionally... I recently had a pleasant conversation with Trasvin Jittidecharak, the publisher of Silkworm Press. We took no photos, though! We did discuss, however, this very interesting book.

And, before I entered Thailand, just after Christmas, I was lucky to have 30 minutes of quality time with Gareth Richards, in his office above the legendary Gerakbudya Bookshop in Penang, Malaysia. The team headquartered here recently won an award for their outstanding work on the Georgetown Literary Festival.

About a year ago, in Kuala Lumpur, I had a very brief exchange with Raman Krishnan, the proprietor of Silverfish Books, an English language, Malaysian-themed independent bookstore.

And... in Singapore: Kenny Leck and Books Actually. Plus:Booktique, run by Anthony Koh Waugh! But for now... Thailand.

papersmith bookshop

Dao, a woman who is soon opening a bookshop. Her deep respect and passion for books made a strong impression upon me. Thailand and Southeast Asia and the world of books. OnwARd!

Because of Facebook and the Mekong Review, I just discovered Bangkok's Open House Bookshop.

Oh yeah... you're here because you are enigmatic, intelligent and interested in w o r d s... I dare ya... ONE DOS San !

Songkran 2

The original Songkran post is here.The photographs were taken with an iPhone 6s.

Songkran 1

The original Songkran post is here.

The following were taken with an iPhone during the 2018 Songkran Festival.Water Festival Thailand The conclusion to this series is here.