I’m a couple of days behind in putting this up, mainly because I was hoping to get some charts put together from my Zeo. The charts provided through its software are nice, but they’re not really showing what I want, so I have a little bit of work to do still.

Remember, I’m doing an Everyman sleep schedule, which involves a major sleep event at night and multiple naps during the day. So far, on any given day I’m down to a total of 5:30 hours of sleep. I’m doing this in part to make more time for writing, and so far the writing’s going well.

Anyhow, here’s my progress in terms of the goals from last week:

  • My average major sleep for last week was 4:30. I had a two mornings where I went back to sleep for about an hour, but on those days I skipped my three 20-minute naps. Still haven’t figured out why I went back to sleep. Both mornings I remember being awake and alert, but decided it was okay to stay in bed. I’ll worry about that later.

  • My mattress (sleep number) was at 100 all week. Not quite sleeping on the floor, but still very solid surface. No problems there.

  • I showered first thing on waking up but I still drank caffeine. I think this is more habit than necessity. I tried drinking water but it just doesn’t taste the same. Maybe I’ll try tea.

  • I have yet to actually fall asleep during naps. This may have something to do with me going back to sleep those two mornings.

That’s about all for now. I’m pretty happy with this so far, aside from going back to bed. I actually only intended to cut 20 minutes out of my major sleep, so 30 minutes is pretty good. I’ll try cut another 20 off this week.

One more thing. I’ve mentioned before I use a few things when I sleep. I have a Zeo to track my sleeping pattern (REM, Deep, Light, Awake), I wear SleepPhones so my alarm doesn’t wake up my wife, and I wear a sleep mask to help block out light. I think I can give up the sleep mask since napping has helped build my tolerance to sleeping in light environments. Anyhow, my wife thought it would be funny to snap a picture, so I thought I’d share it with you. She snapped this only minutes after I went to bed and I was already asleep.

And yes, the ATHF t-shirt is also standard sleep gear.

Cyborg Dave sleeping like a baby.

Sleeping Cyborg Dave

About five weeks ago I posted about the sleep experiment I was undertaking. I haven’t been as diligent as I would like in recording results via blog, so I’m going to do some catching up here and make the effort more frequently.

Yesterday I caught up on the progress of Handy Andy Pandy—this dude’s an inspiration for me. I also reread my first post and realized it didn’t actually share details on what I’m doing very well. I’m betting I was still pretty foggy from my new sleep schedule.

Let’s start with some basics. What is Polyphasic Sleep? Basically it’s when you take lots of little naps instead of sleeping for a solid 8-hour chunk. It’s not normal. It’s also relatively unstudied from a scientific perspective.

Why am I doing this? My main reason is to have more productive hours in my day, specifically for writing. I sold my first novel (it comes out in February) and I’m working hard on my next. The first took two years to write, and while that’s pretty good for my first earnest attempt, I want to produce at least one novel a year. But more hours in the day isn’t the only thing. Other reported side effects of PS include  more consistent energy, better clarity/focus, and weird dreams. All those appeal to me as a horror/dark fantasy writer. Bring on the crazy shit!

The most common form of PS is called the Uberman schedule, but there are a few others. Uberman requires you to take six 20-minute naps a day (or, as Andy’s doing, as many 20-minute naps as you like with some rules). I’d love to get there, but being a husband, a father, a full-time corporate employee, and a writer makes it difficult to just call a halt to my day for a nap.

So I’m doing The Everyman sleep schedule, which roughly consists of sleeping two to five hours a night with two to five 20-minute naps throughout the day. I can fit two naps in my day, and for the past five weeks I’ve been pretty successful at it. I sleep about five hours a night and nap at the two major transition points in my day—just before and just after the day job.

I’m concerned (okay, maybe obsessive) about whether I’m getting the right kind of sleep. So when I started this experiment in July I picked up a Zeo. The Zeo is a little thing you strap on your forehead at night. Using an iPhone app, it monitors brainwaves during the night and records whether you’re awake, in light sleep, in REM sleep, or in deep sleep. Over the past five weeks I’ve seen a considerable reduction in light sleep, but my REM and deep sleep are both consistent with the other Zeo users in my age group. Yeah - so I get some bragging rights there. I sleep less than six hours a day.

I use another iPhone app called Pzizz Energizer for naps. This sweet little app lets you set a duration (20 minutes for me) then plays random sequences of relaxing sounds with an optional voice-guided meditation. I don’t actually fall asleep during my naps, but I do get into a very serene meditative state. In the past week, my naps have taken on a very strange quality, and when I caught up on Andy’s posts yesterday, I was thrilled to see he experiences something similar (see Andy’s Day 4 and Day 6). I find myself dreaming, but fully aware of the world around me. There’s no control, and my dreams aren’t as vivid as Andy’s seem to be, but what I’m experiencing is still pretty cool. I lie down and after about five minutes I slip into a waking dream. Time becomes fuzzy and images emerge from the darkness, like watching a movie through smoked glass.

That’s pretty much where I’m at right now. Sleep five hours a night, nap for 20 minutes twice a day, and enjoying more hours for my life. BTW - last night I drank two beers and a bottle of wine over about six hours (not typical by any means), and I slept from 12:32 AM to 5:15 AM according to my Zeo.

  • Total sleep - 4:41
  • REM - 1:13
  • Deep Sleep - 1:38
  • Light Sleep - 1:50
  • No disruptions
  • I feel like a champ this morning!

What’s next? Well, I was talking to my wife the other day, kicking around ideas for my blog, and she said I should post more on my little sleep experiment. She thinks people would be really interested to know how I only sleep four hours a night without going crazy. I politely corrected her—I sleep five hours a night and I was already crazy. But her little slip-up made me think: why not four hours? So…

Goals for September / October:

  • Shorten major sleep to four hours and take three 20-minute naps a day, bringing total sleep in one day to five hours.
  • Sleep with my sleep-number mattress pumped to 100. Occasionally sleep on the floor like Andy to test effectiveness. I want to be able to sleep anywhere.
  • Shower immediately on waking from core sleep and skip the coffee. This should have been an obvious thing early on as I need to cut the caffeine down as much as possible.
  • Actually fall asleep during naps.

So now I think I might actually be able to do the Uberman schedule. Every blog I’ve read by someone shooting for the Uberman schedule jumps right to it. Probably the best way of getting there, but I don’t think it’s the only way. I think I can do it using the boiling frog approach. It’ll take me a lot longer, but in the context of my life I think gradually changing my sleep schedule will be both easier to implement and easier to stick to when I get there.

I don’t see any reason to post daily like most Polyphasic sleepers since I’m doing this gradually. Instead, I’ll post progress every Sunday morning. Till next week!

Disclaimer: This post comes from me as a technologist and a reader, not as a writer. As a writer, I keep my opinions on reviews and reviewers to myself.

All the recent exposure on GettingBookReviews.com and John Locke’s lack of disclosure on using the service prompted me to finally put up a post on something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Paying someone to review your book is like asking your mom what she thought of the card you made her for Mother’s Day in the third grade. Wait. No. It’s more like going to The Moonlight Bunny Ranch, getting the all-you-can-@#$% special, and asking each of your escorts if you’re well endowed.

Don’t expect any honesty.

It’s clear we the readers have a problem. You see, people are also doing this without money changing hands. With the overwhelming number of people getting into self publishing, each trying to clamour for attention and sales, we’re also seeing a rise in highly-biased reviews from a variety of sources. The bottom line is you just can’t trust reviews the way originally intended. Now I’m not saying all self-published authors engage in this behavior, or that this behavior is isolated to only self-publishing, but the review landscape is tainted such that it’s often difficult to distinguish honesty from marketing.

Even Amazon’s own recommendations are questionable. Check out what this 2010 post from The Boston Review had to say (emphasis mine):

Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and of Small Press Distribution, suggests that the difference between Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores is most evident in how they market books: “I think even people at Amazon would say that it’s essentially a widget seller that happens to have begun by focusing on books. Many people, like me, will say you can’t sell a book the same way you sell a can of soup.”

At the heart of the soup-can analogy are the algorithms that Amazon uses to “recommend” books to customers. Most customers aren’t aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data. This is frustrating for publishers who want their books to be judged on their merits. “I think their twisted algorithms that point you toward bestsellers instead of books that you might actually like [are] a shame,” Gavin Grant, cofounder of Small Beer Press, laments.

As a reader, reviews don’t do shit for helping me find a book to read. Personally, I tend to ignore consumer book reviews (and some professional reviews as well) when looking for something to read. I have a few trusted sources, but I also rely heavily on scanning the first few pages—or sometimes a random spot in the middle—to get a sense of whether the book is right for me at the time.

Even that takes a lot of time, and I sometimes make bad picks. What I want is a more reliable way of knowing a book’s quality relative to other books I’ve read and enjoyed.

If only there were a way to measure a text’s relevance and quality. Some sort of classifier, let’s say, that weeds out undesirable text and narrows my choices down for me. After all, making a decision in the face of too many choices is overwhelming. And in today’s book market we have a lot of choices.

We’re at a unique point in history. More text today is being published in electronic format than ever before. We shouldn’t have to rely solely on other people’s opinions (although we shouldn’t ignore them wholesale either) when it comes to finding a good book.

Right now, there’s a little magic at work for you helping you decide which emails are worth reading and which are probably junk. It’s a spam filter, and nearly every hosted email service and every email client has on.

With so many books in electronic format, why on earth aren’t we using a similar approach for classifying? I won’t get into technical details (cause this ain’t a technical post), but trust me when I say this is not only possible, but is also now practical. With so many modern works available as e-books, implementing a preference filter is well within reach. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google Books was headed this way. After all, what’s Google doing with all those scanned books? Textual analysis.

There’s a post up at the Wall Street Journal that speaks to the use of algorithms to sort and classify creative works. It briefly touches on applying algorithms to text but focuses more on using those algorithms to generate writing and only mentions using algorithms to grade text. I think it misses a huge potential for Natural Language Processing (NLP).

Using algorithms such as Naive Bayes (typical SPAM filter), we can let a consumer categorize books they’ve read and use NLP to classify unread books based on those categories. For instance, say I enjoy reading Science Fiction, Horror, and Romance. I could create a list for each genre, and my bookseller (say, Amazon) could then let me search their collection for books that fit into my personalized categories.

The WSJ article also mentions the use of NLP for grading papers, and claims the current systems can grade as well as any human. So we also have tools at hand to help us find not only books that fit into our categories, but books that are written well. This ranges from simple grammar and spell checking (which self-publishers may either fail to do or do poorly) to Readability formulas.

Here’s where you say, “What? Books are an art form! There’s no way a computer could understand art well enough to distinguish the good from the bad.”

Yeah, okay. True, a computer may never fully understand the nuances of an art form, but all art is based on fundamental rules. Music, movies, books, painting—all have basic elements the artist uses in composition, and those basic elements can be quantified.

And you know what? We already use algorithms to help pick music (Pandora, Ping) and movies (Netflix, Clicker). And as mentioned above, Amazon uses algorithms (although allegedly inappropriately) to recommend books.

I could drag on for hours about this, in part because it blends two things I’m passionate about (books and technology).

I’m thinking about using Kickstarter to fund a book recommendation service based on a combination of NLP algorithms, with initial focus on genre fiction. The service wouldn’t take the place of human reviews, but could provide a sort of litmus test by which reviews could be tempered. Setting this up would take a lot of work, and there’s no way I could do this on my own. So before I go any farther, I’d like to ask a few questions to help me gauge if this is worth my time:

  1. As a reader, would you use a service for book recommendations (likely for free) knowing the service used only algorithms?

  2. As a gatekeeper (agent / editor / publisher), would you be interested in a service to classify your slush pile, comparing submissions to works you’ve previously published (or works you select) and scoring them for grammar, spelling, and readability? Would you be willing to pay a small fee?

  3. As a writer, would you be interested in an automated service to help you locate potential markets for your work? Would you be willing to pay a small fee?

Have at it. Don’t feel the need to answer the questions. General comments are more than welcome, too.

A couple of days ago, Jeff VanderMeer posted an articulate and insightful piece on the future of publishing. It’s not typical among the current flood of posts and opinions about where we’re going or what the next hot thing is. Rather, Jeff gets to the heart of what he believes to be a real problem today with the advice and predictions being touted in the writing community.

Go read his post if you haven’t already.

What I’d like to add to the conversation is a bit of my own experience in attempting to discover success, both as a writer and in my day job.

What I do for work isn’t especially important, suffice it to say I work for a large corporation with a typical corporate structure. For the past two years or so, I’ve sought out advice on how I can “move to the next level”, which for me means a transition from an individual contributor (where I’m only responsible for only my work) to a manager (where I’ll be responsible for work others do). It may not sound like a big thing, but having worked in a corporate setting for more years than I care to admit, I’ve seen more than enough folks stall out at that transition point to know it’s no simple change.

Part of what inspires me about writing (and probably most writers share this) is my simple love of story. Stories reach us and teach us in ways not possible by any other means, namely by creating deep connections with imaginative and unique characters and situations. So when I said above that I sought out advice on “moving to the next level”, what I mean is that I found what I considered to be successful people at levels above me and asked them for their story. Pretty simple.

What I found was pretty interesting. First, everyone I spoke with was very open and honest, and I’m deeply appreciative of their time. Second, everyone I spoke with had a path that boiled down to roughly the same set of ideas. Their success primarily depended upon two things:

  1. Knowing the right people.
  2. Being in the right place at the right time.

Success is all about opportunity, and as much as we hear about making our own opportunities, the truth seems closer to having a broad enough network so that when opportunities arise, someone who has influence over that opportunity thinks of you.

When I set out seeking advice on moving up in my job, I thought I could take these stories and find common elements from which to make a specific plan. You know, things like take this class, get this certification, work on these types of projects. But the more I spoke with people the more I realized that while most of them had a goal on where they wanted to be, few had a specific plan of tasks to get there. The common element among these folks was that they either naturally had or worked to develop and instinct on where to be and who to know.

I’ve taken the same approach with developing my writing career, which may one day replace my day job if all goes well. And I’ve seen all the rehashed advice Jeff addresses in his post: denouncement of agents, heavy-handed pushes for self-publishing (it’s easy money!), impossibly specific predictions, over-emphasizing the use social media.

Like so many self-help manuals, these are all very formulaic and, in my opinion, useless tasks. The one piece of advice on being a success that rings true is that success is about finding your own path. But no one ever gets there alone. No one. We all need to have, and be, good supporting colleagues, and we all need to be available when opportunity arises.

So, as risky as I think it is to offer formulaic advice, here’s what I think are the few key things to be a successful writer (or a successful anything):

  1. Be good at what you do. Not necessarily great, but good.
  2. Be a good friend to your colleagues. Or at least be a good colleague.
  3. Be present (online or in person) where opportunities arise. Put your hand up when they do.
  4. Be persistent.

A few years ago I would have read that and thought, “Okay, so that’s useless, because there’s no task list from which to build a plan.” But now what I see is that there is no specific task list. Success isn’t about doing a series of specific tasks because there is no specific, reproducible plan for success. If there were, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

Yesterday marked the release of Hazard Yet Forward, a charity anthology composed of stories by seventy-six writers connected to the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program. The anthology was compiled in support of Donna Munro, an 2004 graduate of the program. Find out more details at the HYF website, and check out the Amazon page. There was a lot of buzz on Facebook and Twitter (still going even this morning, I believe), and the anthology quickly rose among Amazon’s Hot New Releases to crest at #1 in Short Story Anthologies yesterday afternoon.

I haven’t seen too many blog posts yet from contributing writers, but I suggest taking a look at Bizarrowriter’s Blog. He has some very positive things to say about the Donna, the program, and the associated In Your Write Mind workshop.

For me, this is a tremendous display of community at work. With all the turmoil in the publishing industry and the subsequent in-fighting among writers, it’s refreshing to see a significant and diverse group of writers set all of that aside and band their voices together in aid.

This isn’t by any means the first or most successful anthology of its kind. I’ve bought several charity anthologies in the past. It is, however, the first opportunity I’ve had to observe the process behind putting such a beast together. It happened quickly, spearheaded by three hard-working and committed individuals. And the number and caliber of folks who contributed works to the anthology simply amazes me.

Every now and then we need to remind ourselves that it’s not all about sales or money or Twitter or Facebook or the next big thing in publishing. A significant part of life is about committing to what’s most important and banding together with like-minded people. Art reflects life, and writing is an art, so being a writer should including being supportive and generous.

Pick up a copy of the anthology. Have a look at what a solid community can do.