Archive for September, 2004

September 16th, 2004

Where is Patagonia?

I’ve just done something reckless and irresponsible: I’ve purchased two tickets to Buenos Aires. (Yes, round-trip tickets. I’m not that reckless.) Despite the fact that I was able to apply some frequent-flyer points to reduce the cost of the fare, this is going to be one monstrously expensive trip, and it’s going to put us significantly in debt. After all, we still have to pay for the tour we’re taking (meals, hotels, guide, ground transportation and so on), plus still more airfare to get us to and from our final destination: Patagonia.

On Christmas Day this year, Morgen will turn 30, and she wanted to do something special. By “special,” she meant going someplace so exotic that it was completely outside her comfort zone and her (already considerable) experience. I said, “You pick the place, and I’ll be there.” For a while it looked like we’d be going to Spain. Then Rome. Then Australia. But these places were ultimately not exotic enough. Finally she said, with irrevocable determination, “Patagonia.” So Patagonia it is. And my only question was, “By the way…where is Patagonia?”

Everyone who has seen The Princess Bride (that is, I believe, 99.3% of all English-speaking people) has heard of Patagonia—that’s where the original Dread Pirate Roberts had retired and was living like a king. (It’s all coming back to you now, isn’t it?) Patagonia is the name given to the southernmost part of South America, the west part of which is in Chile, and the east part of which is in Argentina. The exact northern boundary is somewhat indeterminate, but it seems to be around the Rio Colorado, giving Patagonia an area of about 350,000 square miles—about a third larger than Texas. It’s a really big place. And yet, it’s one of the most sparsely populated areas on Earth. You’ve got your sheep (producing the famous Patagonia wool), stunning mountains, massive glaciers, vast empty plains, and some of the fiercest winds anywhere. People—not so many. You don’t go to see amusement parks and resorts, you go to experience the breathtaking landscape, the wildlife, and the utter remoteness of it all. You go to think about pirates, explorers, ranchers, outlaws, and prospectors—the people who made Patagonia legendary.

I go for all these reasons, but mainly to help make my wife’s 30th birthday as special and meaningful as it can be. If everything goes according to plan, on her birthday we’ll be in Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego—the southernmost city in the world.

In all, we’ll be gone about two weeks. A lot of that is travel time. (Did I mention it’s very, very, very far away?) I’m expecting that this adventure will provide me with enough Interesting Things to last the winter. And I also expect that we’ll return home exhausted, (more) broke, and very happy.

By the way…in a couple of years, when I turn 40, I get to turn the tables and select the crazy destination. The wheels are already spinning.

September 15th, 2004

Take Control of Panther, Volume 1

Yesterday I got my first sample copy of Take Control of Panther, Volume 1, a compilation of the first four Take Control ebooks. These should be appearing on the shelves of your favorite bookstore any day now. It’s nice once again to have my name on the cover of a (more or less) current printed book.

I wrote my portion of this book back in October of 2003, and though I’ve revised it several times since then, it seems kind of strange that it was nearly a full year before it appeared in printed form. Stranger still: I won’t see any money from this edition until January at the earliest, and possibly much later. That’s because of the odd way print publishers still work, even in the 21st century: royalties are computed quarterly (or, in some cases, biannually), but then the publisher generally has another full 90 days to actually send out a check. So in this case, since we’re just at the end of the third quarter, the publisher has until the end of December (i.e., 90 days from the end of Q3) to send out a check for whatever books were sold this month—less a certain percentage as a reserve against returns. The check will actually go to TidBITS, which will in turn send each of the contributors their cut. I don’t think very many copies will be sold in the next two weeks, so if I get a check in January it’s likely to be quite small. Maybe in April I’ll get a bigger check—just in time for the book to become obsolete as Apple releases Tiger!

September 11th, 2004

Nisus Writer Express 2.0

Here’s a bit of irony for you. I’m using the newest and flashiest word processor (Microsoft Word 2004) running on the world’s most advanced operating system (Mac OS X), and still I have to contend with writing tools that are more awkward and less powerful than the ones I was using 10 years ago. I miss the days of Nisus Writer 4 and 5 in the early 1990s, because that tool, quirky though it was, made the job of writing (whether an academic paper or a 600-page book) as easy as I could imagine it to be. Those were the days.

The old Nisus Writer still runs in Mac OS X’s Classic environment, but with some limitations. And for a variety of reasons, I prefer never to use Classic if I can possibly avoid it. Meanwhile, as a professional writer, I am required to view and edit Word files, including comments and revision marks, which for all practical purposes restricts me to using Word as my word processor. Unfortunately, even the newest version of Word is a poor writing tool; for all its bells and whistles, it makes the basic writing and editing tasks I need to do most frequently unnecessarily difficult.

Over the past few years, Nisus Software, my erstwhile employer, has been recreating Nisus Writer from scratch as a native Mac OS X application. The first couple of versions of what they’re now calling Nisus Writer Express were too limited to be of any real use to me, but they recently released version 2.0, and I was eager to give it a try and see if it held any promise.

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September 10th, 2004

Book Contracts

More than a year ago, I started working on a book about AppleScript Studio, having signed a contract with a certain publisher—let’s call them Publisher A—stipulating the amount of advance, royalties, schedules, and so on. After I turned in the first batch (maybe one-fifth of the book), the publisher said they’d had a change in their strategic direction and were no longer interested in publishing Mac programming books. So they dropped the project and my manuscript was orphaned.

My ever-diligent agent decided to shop around for a new publisher, and several—let’s call them Publishers B, C, and D—expressed interest. Publisher B made me an offer, but had a condition in the contract I couldn’t live with (more on this in a moment). Publisher C offered high royalties but a low advance (more on that, too, shortly). And then Publisher D offered a reasonable amount of money and a great contract, except for one tiny little phrase that I absolutely refused to agree to and they absolutely refused to change. Thus, after having gone through four publishers, the project is once again orphaned (for now, at least).

The problematic phrase in Publisher D’s contract (which was also one of the sticking points with Publisher B) basically indemnified the publisher against claims of breaches of my warranty that the material is original and free from copyright violations. In other words, it means that if someone were to sue them claiming that I violated a copyright, then even if the claim were completely unsubstantiated, even if I proved in court that I did nothing wrong, and even if the claim were in fact completely frivolous, I would still be responsible to pay the publisher’s legal fees for defending the suit. This cost would almost certainly be far more than I’d ever received for writing the book in the first place.

Although it’s extraordinarily unlikely that such a lawsuit would ever occur, clearly something of that sort must have happened at some point, or the publisher wouldn’t have been so adamant about leaving that language in. I know several other authors who reluctantly agreed to this language because refusing to do so would amount to a career-limiting move. But I said no, because I don’t think it’s ethical to hold an author financially responsible for actions over which he or she had no control whatsoever. Nor is it ethical for me to put my financial security at risk to protect a big company against unscrupulous litigants. I can warrant that my work is original, but I can’t agree to pay legal fees to fight off someone who has a random grudge against the publisher.

The real pity is that I truly like and respect the publishers and editors involved, it’s just that their lawyers are being intransigent and corporate policy dictates that no contract can be signed that the lawyers don’t OK.

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