Keeping it short and sweet

A friend tweeted about her company’s requirement of mobile content creators. Now the term is understandable if rather pretentious (like using sales executive rather than the obvious salesman). But what I want to talk about here is what these content creators are actually doing and getting paid oodles of money for. What does a person who writes for mobile phones actually write? So I search and found it out: The mobile content creators write SMSes, one-liners for blogs or websites. Basically single liners which intrigue the reader, catch her attention and make her click and read. It means someone who can provide catchy one-liners which fit into the browser space of a small mobile screen and incite the user to click on it. For most of us, with our Tweet-long attention span, we give only a nano second to an SMS or tweet. In than time, we want someone to goad us with interesting headlines or single line sum ups of stories.

With more people getting hooked to this mobiles for content, I think this is here to stay. Easy money you think? Try writing one SMS with a 140 character limit and you will know. It does takes sheer creativity and ingenious to write that one liner; to sum up a whole story in a single line. It’s the same as writing a novel, which btw I think is fast becoming a dinosaur. I hear less and less people talking about reading novels. Especially the younger ‘uns.

Wonder if I should try my hand at a tweet-novel. Bet someone out there is doing it. Lemme find out.

Be smart about your smartphone

Did you know rice can save your phone? Here are some simple ways of keeping your smartphone up and running, without repeated visits to the service centre

Date: 14/09/2010, Mint, Business of Life section

Shweta Taneja

A harried customer came to TVS E-Service Tech because the touch screen of her HTC Touch was not working properly. N.A.N. Natesh, a service engineer at TVS E-Service, a service provider for HTC smartphones in Bangalore, looked at the screen and said, “It was the case of months of abuse of the touch screen.” The customer had used her fingers, be they wet or dirty, to operate the touch screen, which was the cause of the problem.

“Smartphones are like children,” says Satchit Gayakwad, spokesperson, Research in Motion (RIM), the makers of BlackBerry. “You need to provide yours with lots of tender love and care.”

If you don’t understand how the device works, chances are you will not be able to make the most of it without making midnight calls to smirking service centre executives. Here are three ways to keep your phone in good condition and off the service centre table.

Battery bootcamp

“The most common complaint in a smartphone is battery draining and that the software OS (operating system) hangs,” says Natesh. In a month, Natesh and his team test 200-300 handsets. “Forty per cent out of these are in warranty and on our table for mishandling,” he says.

“Many people leave Bluetooth running even though they aren’t using it. Ditto with GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G,” says Atul Chitnis, a consulting technologist who is an expert in hand-held computing. These are power-hungry features and can eat up a significant amount of battery power over the course of the day. You should keep them disabled and use them only when you need to, like when you are transferring files or using the Net. “Also, don’t cover the antenna with your fingers. This causes the phone to work harder trying to maintain a signal, which causes faster battery drain,” he adds.

Backup plan: Maximize battery capacity.

Overcharging is another mistake. A smartphone charges in 1-3 hours. You need to take it out of the socket after that. “Never charge the phone overnight because that’s a sureshot way to kill your battery over the longer run,” says Natesh. Another battery killer is charging the phone before the battery is completely drained, he says.

When you browse the Internet on a smartphone, websites rich with multimedia such as flash animation and pictures consume more battery and make the download slower. You should simply set your browser option for text-only. Another common reason for battery leaks is constant updates of your email andsocial networking applications. “You need to know immediately you’ve got mail,” says Gayakwad, “but other than that, your social service networks don’t need to constantly search for updates.”

Third-party applications for social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MSN, Gmail and Gtalk constantly retrieve data from the Internet. These can be set to have refresh timelines of 20 minutes to an hour. This way, there’s no constant search for data by your phone on these sites and that can help save a lot of battery. Then there are applications such as weather updates which run in the background even when you’re not using them and can use up your battery life. Uninstall these apps. You can always reinstall them if you decide you need them at a later date. Applications such as complex games, flash-based applications which use up a lot of memory and CPU to play, also drain battery.

Safeguard sensibly

You need to use a cover and a screen protector for your phone. “If you use unclean or wet hands to use the touch panel of your phone, it will start giving problems, like not responding to your touch,” says Natesh. He advises the use of stylus on a touch screen. Regularly clean the exterior with a soft microfibre cloth to get the fingerprints off the screen and body. “Oh, and never vacuum the phone,” Gayakwad adds.

In case your mobile is exposed to water or falls into water, remove the battery immediately. “Never try to turn it on as that will short-circuit all its innards,” explains Gayakwad. Use tissue or cloth and delicately wipe off the moisture. “The easiest way of drying a phone is by putting it into a bowlful of uncooked rice. Rice absorbs moisture and makes the phone dry,” he adds. After it has dried, take it to the service centre. Service centres have special devices to dry your phone and make it functional again.

Smartphones are embedded with tiny, complicated electronic materials which are heat sensitive, so do not expose them to extreme heat, such as the dashboard of a car. “Heated phone also causes greater battery drain,” says Chitnis. So avoid extreme climates for your phone. In case it heats up, you need to give the phone battery some rest by switching it off for a while.

Click here to read the complete story on Live Mint website.

Death of books on dead trees?

Yes, I know it’s too poetic and dramatic. That’s the reason for that question mark there. What do you expect from a writer who is just chartering into an industry which by the looks of it is on its death throes?

Let me start from the beginning. I used to be a journalist. Then one day, I decided I would rather create my own stories and so quit my job and since then have been trying to live the dream of every journalist – that of becoming an author.

It’s not an easy job and I am not talking about the writing only. If I gotten into this industry 15 years ago, I would have had one aim: Get a couple of books out there on the book shelf. And one dream: I pass through a bookstore and see a child picking up one of my books and flicking through it with increasing interest. So much so that she might eventually buy it. Simple.

In olden days (think 10-15 years from now) a writer’s problem was mostly sustaining herself–both economically and emotionally –till she came out with that one winner. That one winner would be published by a publisher of repute or not, marketed decently, covered or thrashed by critics and if you were lucky, you won an award and a celebrity named your book in her favourites.

A couple of books and you could sustain yourself to write more. Basically get yourself an agent/publisher and work as a freelancer with them.

WRITER PUBLISHER TRADITIONAL MEDIA / BOOKSTORES READERS

Now my dear reader, it’s a web that a writer has. I talk literally—the World Wide Web or the Net or Internet. The internet has changed the way we writers functioned. It has especially started to show the door to traditional style of publishing.

Content, dear friend, has become free and easy to get. We are buying lesser books today than we did some years back. The reason can be youtube.com or Facebook. The reason can also be Wikipedia or Dictionary.com. If you have a ready, searchable encyclopedia online, why would you buy a printed edition which comes which is old as soon as you buy it? Content in today’s world is free. Now logic says that if something is free (like air), you don’t buy it. To sum it up, the print industry is dying as all the content can be read for free online and no one’s buying things written on dead trees anymore. Or so will be the case in another 10-15 years.

The confused lot that are writers, are clinging to different ideas of selling. Publishers are trying out the e-books way. Producing e-books brings their paper, distribution and stock costs to nil. But if it’s all about making e-books, why does a writer need a publisher? Why can’t a reader simply convert her book into an e-book and put it up online? My publisher friend Shobit, is asking the same question in a great blog on e-books and the publisher.

So how does a writer, whose sustenance comes from writing or content creation, survive in this new world?

More and more writers are trying out ‘self-publishing’. It means the writer pays a website some money to publish her work as per demand. So the more people buy, the more you earn. You are marketing mostly. Some savvy websites have also added e-books and services like editing, book layout, marketing and designing as part of the package. The people who I have seen take this route are a mix—some are those who tried and got rejected by traditional publishers. This is their way to pay and get their book published. Then there are those who are tired of the measly royalty that traditional publishing gives—20-30 percent and want more. Then there is a third kind who wants to experiment with this medium, has already published some works the traditional way. I don’t know if this is the new publisher and the new model of sharing the revenues and if it will be successful.

One thing is clear though: In the mess that is the Internet, content (I mean your or my book) needs to be actively advertised to the right people to be read. Else, it will be simply lost. I am sure there must be a sea of e-books lying in archives of internet killed by mismanagement. The writer has to take responsibility of her content. No more is it about convince a publisher and leaving the rest to them. If you want to sell content, you have to be there online, interacting with your readers, convincing them to buy. How do you do it? Maybe the route is one of the above. Maybe those are desperate ways of traditional modes who don’t understand this new dark world.

Maybe the answer is completely different: The story that is interactive, or uses different mediums to be told—a comic book, a video, an e-book, a web application, a mobile app, a game – all seamlessly stitched together. Or maybe it creates a web – as complex as the Web itself—built upon by various people (author and reader) who own and nurture it. Maybe this becomes the new medium, the new novel. The one every traditionalist will call ‘scrape’ or ‘trashy’ before it becomes the norm.

I still haven’t figured out how the author will earn money out of this new world. But one thing remains certain and gives me constant assurance. Everyone still loves to hear a story. I just need to figure out where my readers are sitting, waiting for a story to come by.

More, when I understand this better.

My sunlit study

If I take a picture of my office early Monday morning since I was very enthused in going back to work after a three-day chutti. I must be doing something right! Oh and it’s not an office, it’s a study J

Stream of light and flashes of yellow. Don’t miss my pink cup on the table. The colours bring out my happiness and help me build up creative stories! Thanks to my husband for making it happen!

Writing horror

Trying to write a horror story but the characters keep bringing in more drama in than a horror requires. Controlling the people is becoming a problem. An extract I will most probably delete from the story:

‘Oh my Gawd! Are you smiling Mr Mishra!’

Mohan looked up with a start. He had been so deeply sunk into his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Mrs Gowda walk into the teacher’s room with her gang of lady teachers. It was almost lunch time, he noticed, looking up at the huge black clock on the broken wall at the far end.

‘What’s the special occasion, Mr Mishra. You seem to be smiling to yourself.’

Mrs Gowda looked excited at the prospect of needling Mr Mishra. Her breasts jutted out like beaks of twin crows from her black sari blouse. That and her huge body, draped in a tight chiffon sari, blocked the remnants of sunlight streaming from the window behind. Mohan looked up towards her sneering face.

‘Yes, yes, tell us Mr Mishra, we want to know too’ echoed the other me-toos who hung around Mrs Gowrah, looking up to her. His stretched lips sunk back into a frown.

‘No, Mrs Gowda. It was nothing.’

He hated this room. He hated these Pink Lizards. He wanted to throttle them all

‘Hmm. I seem to have made a mistake. Mr Mishra could never smile. He has no sense of humour.’ She said, laughing. The other girls followed their crow leader into a cacophony of laughter.

Most days, he would have been depressed by this. But he didn’t mind. Not today. Today, he had found the perfect solution. Murder. The path that will set him free. He stared on his computer screen and pretending to type.

M_U_R_D….

He quickly pressed the Delete key looking around hurriedly to ensure that no one had noticed. It was definitely on his mind. Murder. He rolled the word in his tongue and smiled and puckered his lips. It was a delicious thought.

My wedding poem

Just discovered the poem I had written for my wedding! Had completely forgotten about the emotions I felt then. This was made into a card and sent to all our friends. Hope you enjoy it!

My Pile of Things

A dog-eared book
With a scribbled smiley
Accidently splashed with water
Now a confused clown.

That dirty, stuffed pink rabbit
Clipped on the glass
Of a closed god’s shelf.

A dried browned petal of a rose
Pressed carefully between yellowed pages
Leaving behind silhouette imprints
Of forgotten, hazy memories.

A silver ring with multiple loops
A play thing.
A sign of impatience in coffee houses.

Old, discarded cellphone
With the plastic screen scratched.

A broken brown coffee cup
Used as a fancy pen stand.

Trophy for five years’ service
Standing proudly on an untouched mantelshelf.

Honeymoon wine bottles
Painted with sky blue and sun yellow
Fading in a corner
With spidery soft web spun around them.

© Shweta Taneja, August 2010

An obituary to my ghosts

It’s painful to sacrifice ghosts. I don’t mean it allegorically in a past baggage sort of a way but rather literally. Let me begin in the beginning. I have been working on a kids’ story for the past eight months trying to get it approved with a publisher. The story, which I was very excited about started out as a ghost story and now has converted into a kids’ detective story. This is a result of about eight back and forths between me and the editor. Now, the editor has quit and I am working with a new one. This results in another series of back and forth. But this post is not about the shaping. It’s about my ghosts.

My pretty, enthusiastic ghosts who were the ones who coloured the story with their pale sights. They were funny, sarcastic and made the story their own. I loved writing about them. They owned the story from Day 1. On Day 154th, they are being chopped out of the story. First it was just rendering them in the second half of the book, then they appeared only in the climax, now they are being completely chucked out. It’s a simple case of the camel taking over the tent and pushing the poor owner out in a cold desert night. Sigh.

I, their creator and the one who loves them the most, is kicking them out of the ‘real world’ created in my fiction story. Making them story-less. Killing them off in cold blood. In other words, I am selling my ghosts to the suggestions by a series of editors who claim to know more about their ‘audience’, ie, the children.

So this is a post to give them a hug and bid them goodbye. Today is the day they die and are forgotten. But only by the story, not by me. I will bide time and create another story – this time exclusively for them. A story where they are the heroines. Till then, I know they have enough space in my imagination. At least they have no choice.

This post is my exploration of the pain of killing characters you have grown to love and associate with a story. It hurts. It’s as bad as taking out a thorn from your hand. Or cutting your own limb, without anesthetic. I am emotional over this today.

My poor ghosts are quiet. They don’t blame me. They just stand there in a corner, waiting. Biding their time. Another time. Another world. Another story. I owe it to them.

Now back to my story for the final kill.

Rant of a writer’s block

Blank. Blank. Blank! How will I ever finish my novel and get it to be published if I just can’t write? I should quit. Should for sure, quit and take up a cushiony job of an editor somewhere and criticize other people’s writings. Maybe the writer in me is dead and the only way to get her is to meet Yamraj and BEG!

But I know I wouldn’t quit. What’s life without a little bit of fun like writing anyways?

All the strings need to tie together. Only then will a complete picture be formed. Holistic. Is it okay if I write bad than not write at all? What stops me from writing? I had decided to keep on typing to try to record what thoughts are coming to tell you how it feels to be stuck without any words in a head which is supposed to be a writer’s.

My mind thinks of many things but my hands aren’t fast enough to write and my vocab not varied enough to express. Write, write write. Language binds my thoughts.

But still I try to write because I have decided to do something and try to stick to it. Is it that bad? Shouldn’t I stick to something? I want to. I seem to float in empty air, meaninglessly drifting with the flow of life. Aren’t I supposed to do something I believe will bring me pleasure? But is this pleasure? Is it even right to run after the fleeting pleasures I get from writing? Or do I want to experiment with highs and lows which come from new experiences? Is writing like extreme adventure sports for me? I don’t know. Again as I told you, my dear long dead document, I have only questions, no answers.

These answers seem to be quite tricky to find. Even if you manage to grab hold of one, it smokes up and manages to silkily slip through your fingers. Also, as soon as you have this creature called an answer, your eyes become blurry and myopic, almost blind and though you can see your answer, it becomes a misty, mystical creature. Soon, it starts turning invisible. That’s how it works with answers. The more you look at them, the more they start to vanish. Then suddenly, the slippery bugger vanishes completely leaving you with more questions. Sigh. Can someone live their life with only questions around them? Why do we need these slippery buggers called answers anyway?

Only 413 words. That’s the tragedy. You think you have said a lot. You think your thoughts are quite fresh, new, unusual, never heard, dah, dah, dah. You think you have millions of words at your service, working like minions standing and saluting you where you want them to. You think you control them and then suddenly, the seat of power changes. They start playing with your mind. Thoughts which were cohesive and coherent in the garbled walls of your mind turn into gibberish when converted into words in an e-document. How does expression work? How do you put your thoughts onto a document in a cohesive order?

The control is slipping away. But isn’t that the magic of writing? Why do I need the control anyway? You wanted abyss, abyss is what you get.

Men are crazy. Women are crazier. No, it’s not relative; it’s just the way it’s meant to be. You are but a puppet in the hands of language.

(Again, not edited.)

The day I visited a police station

Touchdown to Mumbai after three years and the first thing I had was a watermelon juice. As usual, smiling and remembering old times. While I tried to paid the over enthusiastic waiter, I saw that my wallet was missing. A frantic search began at 11.30pm as me and my friends realized that yes, it was gone.

The result of all the mayhem, cancelling the cards and reminiscing how I could have done this or done that and various other if and buts later, we decided to go to the police station the next day.

Now I know that many of you might have been to a station for various reasons – things lost, people lost, people found on the road sleeping, complaint about bleary music playing in the apartment next to you. For you, it is as common and frequent as going to the grocery shop. For me, count me lucky/unlucky depending on which side of law you are standing on, it was the first time. What can I say! I could have been lawful or just plain stayed away from law or even living in a city like Delhi, was superbly protected. I am lucky that way!

So it was with awe that I entered a quaint little police station on Colaba Causeway. My heart scuttled away and nervously overdid the job of pumping and for a split second I remembered all the horrendous things I had heard about the Indian police force. A friend had once told me how she had been harassed for filing a simple stupid complaint. And then there were always these newspaper headlines about rapes, robbery, extortion and corruption all done by cops in our beautiful country. Make believe headlines splashed across my head, making me cringe inwardly. Of course I didn’t show this to my husband who would never be affected by something as mundane as a visit to the station.

With secret, hidden trepidation I entered. The cop outside, barely visible behind a stack of loose cement bags and a gun (don’t know which), asked us our purpose.

By this time, my purpose of life was flashing before my eyes. But that’s a secret and if you tell it to someone I will have to kill you. Outwardly, using aggressive body language, we delhi-wallas are taught before we learn to walk, I mumbled that I wanted to report a lost wallet. We were pointed inside where vague people mingled with each other or alone in utter confusion. I announced my entry with the word ‘purse’. An official standing on the other side of a table beckoned us and started hearing my story. First there were questions. Who are you? When did you enter Mumbai, where did you lose the wallet? I told him the story (lying about where my wallet was lost since otherwise we would have to go back to the airport and you know Mumbai traffic, don’t you?) He stared at me, knowing fully well that I was lying through my pretty teeth. But I kept the fake bravado on. Then came my main purpose of talk. Wallet lost, fine. Money lost, fine. Cards gone with the wind, fine can be handled. How do I handle my license being lost?

Now don’t get me wrong, fine I was lying about somethings but my wallet did get lost as did my driving license. The policeman said that he cannot file an FIR till I get an affidavit from a notary on a Rs 100 stamp paper that my license was lost. I mean, I am a complete loco? My logic cannot go beyond A + A = 2A, so I probably didn’t understand. How can I, who is a victim, has just lost a wallet, and is a tourist, go find a notary, get a piece of paper signed that I did lost my license for a simple complaint of lost wallet? I am standing there and claiming it to be lost, how does a piece of paper change this??

I was baffled and like I do when faced with something I don’t understand, I argued. I asked him why he couldn’t believe moi over a person who knew how to sign papers. He shrugged and mumbled about it being a government document so only a government person could say I had lost my license and not me. Oh, btw even that government official will just stamp it when I give him a Rs 100 note. I could be lying there as well.

But the policeman, who wanted to be helpful, was adamant. Process has to be followed and only then an FIR can be lodged. I saw him as stuck as I was in rules, regulations and processes which had been set and could not be un-set. How are we free, btw? Him and me?

On another note, a pickpocket, who looked like a lower middle class guy, wearing specs and carrying a broken tote, tried to pick my husband’s pocket for his wallet while we travelled in a bus. My husband had been prewarned by savvy Indians (me and his dad) to keep his wallet in the front pocket. The man managed to take out a piece of a paper. My man caught him doing it but let it go. He has a world to survive in as much as we. With the food prices rising, I don’t blame him. Maybe he should try some politician or cop’s pocket. But that will make him a mining lord.

My learnings. The policeman standing next to you is not a villain but a babu – cursing his superiors and stuck in processed. Oh, and keep the wallet in the front pocket in public transport.

More later, ciao!

PS: This post is barely edited as I wanted unadulterated, raw bafflement to come through, splattered in a rush.