Vacation

2002-03-25

What I'm doing on "spring break"...

Officially I'm on vacation right now. It seems that I haven't been taking enough vacation days, so I was told that my cup runneth over -- if I didn't use some days by the end of the quarter, I would stop accumulating time off. I've never had a forced vacation before! :-)

Rather than travel somewhere, I decided to spend a quiet week at home, working on various house and personal projects. There are many of the former to address, since I've been so busy in my work. As for the latter, I always have more long-term goals that I want to achieve. For instance, as a step toward publishing (more particularly, self-publishing) some of my writings in the future, I've spent the last two days learning the XSL Formatting Objects (XSL-FO) technology. XSL-FO is a fairly complicated and verbose language for creating print-ready documents from XML source files. In this way it's something of the print counterpart to HTML. The way I have experimented with XSL-FO has been to (1) create an XML source file consisting of a collection of my poems and translations, (2) write an XSLT stylesheet that transforms the XML file into a formatting objects file describing the print markup, and then (3) invoke the FOP processor (from Apache) to convert the .fo file into PDF. I've got it working pretty well: 35+ poems and translations spread over 59 A5-size pages, plus front matter including a nifty table of contents. Inevitably, I still have a few bugs to work out -- mostly related to setting up an alternating sequence of pages (left-hand pages, right-hand pages, chapter-heading pages, and appropriate blank pages) within the main text of the book. I haven't figured out how to do that yet, so perhaps I need to join the fop-users mailing list for a spell. (As if I need more mail!)

BTW, the irony is not lost on me that I, who buy perhaps two books a year, am thinking about printing words on paper with the intent that people will pay for the privilege of reading them. (Not just my own words, mind you -- my current research into publishing technologies was inspired by an email message I received from Stephen Marvin, whose novella The Assumption of Nalantei I published online in the Monadnock Review.) Yet I think there is a market, albeit likely a small one, for printed works of the kind I have published in my webzine: poems, translations, stories, and essays that are marked by passion, insight, and intelligence. Works such as Stephen Marvin's novella, poems by John Enright, translations by Leonard Cottrell, and essays and poems by yours truly.

Speaking of essays, while in Minneapolis last week I continued my project of re-reading the works of Nietzsche. I've long had in the back of my mind the idea of writing an essay comparing Nietzsche and Rand (I even have a title: The Alternating Current, which accurately describes my own feelings of attraction and repulsion for both thinkers). Yet given how thoroughly I've marked up my copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Twilight of the Idols, I'm thinking that this essay may turn out to be of book length. (Or, to be precise, the length of the books I'm thinking about publishing under the auspices of the Monadnock Press, which would be on the order of 150 pages at most.)

There is further irony, even tension, in the fact that I'm thinking about attempting to sell printed works, especially my own works. Ever since I fell under the spell of the World Wide Web, I have had a commitment to giving back to the Internet community by making works like my philosophical dictionary, essays, and poems available free of charge. Yet of late I've begun to have a change of heart, and to think that perhaps I don't want to give everything away. Sometimes I feel as if, to quote Ayn Rand, I am casting pearls and not getting even a pork chop in return. I can count on two hands the truly insightful emails I've received about the works I've published online. Unfortunately, consumers of the wonderful code and content available on the Internet have come to expect that it's all available free of charge. Not only that, but they expect it to be perfect, and never tire of asking for more. Yet they seem blithely unaware that content and code do not appear out of thin air -- they take time, intelligence, and dedication the part of those who produce this embarrassment of riches. More and more, I'm coming to think that tipjars and PayPal donations will never fairly compensate more than a minuscule minority of those who produce what's of value on the Internet. In other words, there will come a time (and perhaps that time is here already) when the producers will go on strike.


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