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)


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


Writing and the Digital Avante-garde

The slides are explained here.

Lida Cloud 1

A gao yord tattoo just below one boxer’s Adam's apple, a tiger on the back of the other. Their bones and muscles glisten beneath the stadium lights like warm, metallic oil. They study each other. They move. Flicker. The fighter in red pirouettes, then launches a punch made of rock. Impact! The crowd roars. Bravely, the one in blue stumbles. He finally gains focus again; his gloves shoot up like a shield. He moves forward. Jabs: left, left, left. An elbow to the right. His eyebrow becomes a dripping red line...

The girl looks bored.


The above, or a version of it, is likely the opening of Lida Cloud, the book I am in the midst of writing. Lida is an arbot in the form of a ten-year old girl.


The story of Lida is a topic for another day. For now, the image of the boxing ring is symbol for both Life and AR.

I would like to thank Thaifight for allowing me behind the scenes for their recent tournament. I am still compiling my notes on those two days into a documentary type article. Thanks also to Graham Meyer for responding so professionally. The opportunity to write about the tournament happened very quickly, and all I had was an iPhone. Graham magically appeared, thanks to Christian Hogue. Graham's other images of the tournament are are excellent, so much that they would overpower this bit of writing!

Notes on Lida Cloud… a novel featuring an AR character (Augmented Reality)

Lida Cloud is a ten year old girl with a body like a ghost and a mind like a computer. She is an archild, an augmented reality companion. Lida lives in Singapore, but wants to live on a mountaintop. Lida and her two friends, a dolphin named Sinus and a giraffe named Mugi, journey across Southeast Asia looking for the perfect mountain.

I will be talking about Lida Cloud at the Singapore Young Writers Festival. The book is a personal writing challenge and a way to increase my understanding of how markerless AR might work. Though the book is fictional, the AR used in the book is based on a unified light field delivery system which does not yet exist. Unified light field system AR seems to be the basis of Magic Leap's research.

After some thought, I decided that Lida would exist within a 3 meter square space. She can be seen from anywhere, any distance away, but all of her motions must take place within that 3 meter cube.

Lida is projected from a Source. A Source is a fictitious device/app that is like a Kinect, but in reverse. A Kinect is all about recording sound and motion within a 3D space; a Source is about projecting light and sound into a space.

A Source would require huge amounts of battery power. To maintain realism, I am treating battery life almost as though it were part of Lida’s personality. However, Lida is not based on hard science.

Lida is an archild, or an arkid. The words combine AR (augmented reality) with “child” and “kid”. The word “arbot” also appears in the book. After I had been using the word "arbot " for a while, I researched to see if the word is actually being used. I could only find this. Presently, there are, of course, robotic companions. Books have been populated by robots since the playwright Karel Capek created the word “robots” almost one hundred years ago. Physicality may be the biggest difference between robots and arbots. Arbots, though they appear to be three-dimensional, are made of light. This means that they cannot perform actions like picking things up.

“Beings made of light” could be a description of an arbot. The phrase itself is loaded with religious and new age associations. Not a bad thing, perhaps, but Lida will be as "normal" and "human" as she can be, even in fantastic and unrealistic situations.

Lida Cloud and Publishizer are now in discussions about crowdfunding. Please get in touch if you can support, especially if you know of any book clubs or libraries. Lida Cloud will be likely presented as a novel for young adults, but it is also full of information on Southeast Asia. Food too!

The base of the header image is by Tarotski, who is extremely talented.

Year of the Duck

Happy Year of the Duck!

The Bubiko Foodtour rolled into Udon Thani, Thailand!

Thank you to Chumnannit Srisuporn, the Director of Public Health and Environment, and to the Deputy Mayor, Suraphon Jamnootibeecha, for a very pleasant exchange of ideas. We shared information about the Jeff Koons/AR project, and learned the background of the Udon Thani rubber ducks. The ducks were inspired by a sculpture by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. They attract people from around the world and have posed for countless selfies.

We truly enjoyed the tour of the Udon Thani museum! Highlights: Richard Nixon, the history of Udon Thani and how the Thai royalty kept Thailand out of the hands of the French.

Thank you to our informative tour guide and to Nattapicha Rachakhang, who gave us a tour of the city.

If you are in Bangkok on Wednesday...


The Bubiko Orwell Tour/Startup/Pitchdeck/Presentation

Risk is what differentiates business from entrepreneurship, separates art from craft. It is said that the greater the risk, the greater the rewards. I hope this to be true: last year, my partner and I took the biggest risk we possibly could.

A visa complication presented us with a choice: we could return to our homelands or we could do a research and networking tour of Southeast Asia, focusing on food, AR and VR.

We decided to tour. We had only the clothes we were wearing, no computer, no significant savings. No firm plan, only ideas. That was a year ago.


- I have completed the first draft of Eating Where Orwell Ate, a collection of stories and essays about Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

- We have a database of food, restaurants and culinary experiences. A sample. Bubiko Foodtour has been launched on her journey to AR superstardom.

- We have established a physical and digital network of individuals, associations, companies and educational that are genuinely interested in AR.

- We have characters! Bubiko Foodtour, Secret Donut World and The Dobots(with David Severn) and The Dundercats(with permission from the IP owners).

- We’re finalizing the world’s first AR photo exhibition!

In short, the past year has been extremely productive.

I will be giving a presentation at the February session of the Sundowner networking event at the Sasin School of Management. Sasi is an AACSB and EQUIS accredited business school founded in 1982 through a collaboration among Chulalongkorn University and the Kellogg School of Management and the Wharton Business School.

Here is the info:

AR: An Introduction for Entrepreneurs, Adventurers and Artists

There will soon be over a billion AR-friendly phones and devices. This presentation explains what AR (Augmented Reality) is, and discusses noteworthy projects, ideas, business models and artworks. The AR-related investments of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Epson and Facebook have created a frontier full of possibilities. Are you ready?

About Stephen Black

An American who has spent most of his life in Asia, Black has worked for Fuji TV, France 2, Fox, CNN and Cartoon Network, as well as with exceptional musicians, artists and writers. He is experienced with the creation of 3D games, and has taught gamemaking classes. He is also an established visual artist with a BFA in Photographic Illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

With Eugene Soh, Stephen curated SPOKEN, a virtual art exhibition. With hiverlab, he wrote, produced and starred in Beach Road, a 360 VR film which was featured at festivals in Brisbane, Las Vegas and Singapore.

Stephen has written eight books, including i ate tiong bahru, a bestseller in Singapore. His next book will be Eating Where Orwell Ate, inspired by his 2017 Southeast Asian AR research tour. Its cover will feature AR.

Stephen enjoys helping Bubiko Foodtour research mango sticky rice. His website is www.blacksteps.tv

Penang Christmas 24 hour food documentation part 3

Part 1 is here.

Penang Christmas 24 hour Food Documentation part 2

Part 1 is here.

Penang Christmas 24 hour Food Documentation

Artist/writer/AR startup founder Stephen Black's photo notes for a story to be featured in Eating Where Orwell Ate. The documentation began about 10PM on December 24, 2017 and lasted for about 24 hours.

Eating Where Orwell Ate is a companion piece to his bestselling book i ate tiong bahru.

Nickolas “Nicco” Mallcott’ s world of watercolors

I' m posting this on the morning of December 15, 2017. Detailed information and photos to be posted soon. A cloudburst and a spectacular sunset added to the atmosphere of the shoot.

19 Crimes AR: the artwork of the millennium (Viva la ARPOP!)

19 Crimes has created the most relevant artwork of the millenium. With it, ARPOP is born. Ponder its relationship with:

- Rembrandt, Dodd, Warhol, and Anderson

- the legacy of black and white photography

- the world becoming MOMA

- the innovations of VR artists

- the act of viewing. AR can become a form of performance art on a private, intimate level

- cinema!

- a companion piece: Duchamp's urinal.

- the "lighthouses"(galleries, theatres and museums) that are no longer the dominant guides for social and cultural navigation. AR, GPS and social media, viewed on glowing phones and tablets, are replacing ivory towers. Decentralization is the future. 19 Crimes exemplifies the future of art.

-ARPOP is born.

I will be discussing ARPOP at ECHA this weekend:

Check Stephen Black on Facebook for details on live broadcasts.