For the Week of July 5, 2004
This is being written before the cruise (mentioned in our last issue) during which I will mull my career choices.
But you have been a part of my career for 8 years now. I think it's fair that you participate, or at least that you be aware of the real choices I'm facing.
So in this special issue of a-clue.com, I'm going to describe each choice I might make, in ascending order of change. I'm also going to describe, honestly, the resources I need to make each path a success, and if you can point me to some of those resources, well then, you've paid for your free lifetime subscription right there.
Let's start with continuing my life as a freelance.
Choice I: Continued Independence
I'd prefer this. At my peak around the turn of the century I was making a six-figure income from freelancing. I could do so again, if the market turned.
But the market isn't going to turn. There is a complete disconnect between content and money. Few people have figured out, yet, how to make a profit delivering content to this medium, and the costs of sending content out online is so low that everything else is dying. The computer press is gone, the magazine industry itself is dying, and newspapers are circling the bowl. My hairline won't permit a career in broadcasting. I refuse to wear a rug.
The situation with big content (which used to be called books) is even worse. Only best-sellers are worthwhile and celebrity, not the quality of writing, is what moves the merchandise. The mid-market is dead, and the last of the publications serving it are dying. I have two great ideas for books, one non-fiction, one fiction, but they are, at best, mid-market titles. And there's no market for them. I learned that with "The Blankenhorn Effect" (which should have been named Moore's Lore) - it's either a hit or a miss, and it's usually a miss.
I proved in the last year that I can do a job for big corporations as a business analyst. I saved some big outfits billions of dollars with my work. But I consider the man I worked for a thief. He declared Chapter Seven bankruptcy after stalling me on a year's pay. You can't take that kind of hit without it affecting your lifestyle. I'm hurting. Right now I'm hurting emotionally. The financial pain has yet to come (thanks to my wife, and our savings), but it will come.
So here's what I need to stay on this path:
Yes, I write about marketing. Yes, I know a lot about marketing. But doing it takes time away from doing other things, and that's not really where my heart is.
I need someone who cares about me nearly as much as I do, who is devoted to my continued career, and who will spend their time finding me the opportunities I need to feed my family.
I've tried agents in the past. They have been worthless to me. Most turn away when I walk into the room. I don't know what it is, and frankly don't care. But I do know that with a good agent I could still be a star, as a writer, and without one I will just putter along, without real direction, and make no progress.
So let's turn to some other options.
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
Choice II - Wireless Evangelism
Since the collapse of Internet Commerce as a subject (the lessons now are pretty obvious, and once it becomes about execution the pioneers need to move on) I've been focused on wireless technologies.
I considered doing an 802.11 site, focused on Wireless ISPs (WISPs). I have written a lot about the enabling technologies, in both the licensed and unlicensed space. And I had a close friend who, a few months ago, was mostly focused on starting a business selling ringtones.
Then he sent me to the CTIA show here in Atlanta, and I had an epiphany. His best chance to profit, I told him, was what I had first seen from him, back in the boom, namely a loyalty program for buyers of cellular data.
The cellular industry is about to be transformed. That phone in your pocket is obsolete. New chips, and new networks, are going to put cellular into the computing mainsteam by next year. That means phones capable of handling full-motion sound-and-video will be available for $150 (free with a two-year service agreement) in just 12 months. Add 3G networks, a little competition among carriers, the fear of 802.11 and Wi-Max, et voila!
The problem is the industry is not ready for this, not ready at all. Carriers care only about service contracts, and 99% of the money comes from voice. Verizon is paying no price in the market for running a proprietary data network - you probably didn't know they did. Re-sellers have incentives only to go after service contracts, not ancillary revenue. Customers don't even know how to use their own phones, except to hit send. Kids teach themselves, and thus the cellular data market is all about teenagers - a great market until dad gets the bill.
So here's the deal. We'll build a site that teaches people how to use their cell phones. And we'll build-in incentives that let them buy any type of data that works well with their phone, with credits toward buying a better phone.
I'd be the evangelist. That means going to trade shows, talking about the site, and combing the frontier for new features, new things to sell, and new ways to sell. Recent items here about XHTML MP are part of that effort.
It would be a sweet life, with the potential of making a lot of money, or at least having a good, fulfilling job. I'd still be writing, but the work would be focused. I'd have a very specific beat, rather than flitting around among technology, politics, and business as I do now.
How's that sound?
Choice III - Aging Planet
Martin Bayne is the most amazing man I know.
He has had Parkinsonism since he was my son's age, which is 13. Yet he graduated from MIT, he built a real career, and he focused the world on the problems of long-term care in the 1990s.
But the disease is progressive, and it has progressed to the point where Martin now lives in an assisted living facility (you would call it a nursing home) in upstate New York.
What he has found there is the biggest story of his career. If you're fortunate enough not to be shot, or hit by a car, or die of a heart attack or a quick-acting cancer, if you have the life we all want in other words, chances are you're heading where Martin lives right now. And it's hell. It's not just that the workers make bupkis, you have no dignity, and no one visits. It's that your humanity is stripped away.
This technology can give it back. It must adapt, of course. And I'm not talking about millions of geezers writing blogs - virtual 24-hour bingo would be a great improvement for many.
TV remotes can be the interface for this. Install 802.11 throughout the facility and you've got connectivity for pennies per day per patient. Now you can find services, build services, empower people who have not just the frailties of age but the wisdom, and who so badly want to connect while they still can.
How about "Grandma Cam," a Web page for each patient tied to a camera in the room, so the kids and grandkids can visit whenever they want, or just check up if they're worried, 24-7. (Don't forget to add VOIP, so they can talk for pennies no matter where they are.) How about voice interfaces so we can collect folks memories, while they still have them, and build a record that can act as a living legacy after they are gone? Connecting patients with their families is just the start.
Then, how about connecting patients with each other, when they're in different facilities? How about getting patient input into improvements in their own care? How about connecting patients with friends whose condition currently lets them live at-home, but whose condition is progressive? How's that for lowering the cost of marketing, and bringing assisted-living companies like Sunrise in touch with new, growing markets?
The cost of hooking up all a company's facilities is substantial, but the pay-back time seems minimal. Every idea implemented now can be cloned later, and added to. Progressive doesn't just have to define the course of a disease. You can make things better progressively as well.
We're talking about building a community out of tens of millions of people who today have no voice, using technology that's cheap and proven. We're talking about improving lives, and getting ready for the hordes to come as baby boomers (like myself) retire.
This is a bigger opportunity than AARP, and I can get in on the ground floor. How does that sound?
Choice IV - Roland Heath
It's very possible I'm just kidding myself.
A lot of people have talent. A lot of people have blogs.
But if you haven't made it as a writer when you're near 50, the chances that you will make it become slim and none.
So perhaps I should just stop fooling myself. Get a job. Any job. Would you like fries with that?
Many great writers have had real jobs. In his novel "Rule Brittania," Harry Turtledove paints an eloquent portrait of William Shakespeare, stealing a few hours after-dinner to write, having spent all day at his "job," directing and playing in an acting company. Charles Ives was in insurance, and Kafka was an accountant. Most artists never make a living, during their lifetimes, from their art, and this includes some really great artists.
Yet they keep at it, in their spare time, despite the need to provide for themselves and their families in some way. They weren't worn-out by a day of work, as I am by a day of writing. They worked, then they wrote - or drew, or sculpted, or composed, or whatever.
Writing is what I am. That's not going to go away, no matter how the money comes in.
There just may be less time for it.
I've had a good run. I've called myself a journalist for 30 years, but I really only made a living at it for about half that time. First I was a student, then after losing several jobs I was a struggling freelance, and now I'm struggling again. Maybe that's all there is.
Still I've been very, very lucky. I've mentioned this before, about the wife and the kids and the house worth more than I paid for it. I've really had a wonderful life, and if my "retirement" (which I think has really gone on since I was a kid, because writing isn't work to me) must end for a time, in the name of getting the kids through college, what am I complaining about?
One of my best friends here in Atlanta is an artist named Roland Heath. Roland made his living from art for some years. Then he had a kid, and the wife left him, and the kid needed to eat. So Roland went to work. Roland painted my house, among other things. When his son moved out Roland had more time for art, but he still needs to eat, and he lacks a living connection to the market. So he spends his days behind the desk at an auto repair yard. And I think nothing less of him as an artist for that. See his stuff. Is it really any worse than mine? So why does my ego say I have a right to write full-time?
Or maybe I'm just in one of those moods...
Clued-in is Mike Melvill, who made history at 62 as pilot of SpaceShipOne, the first privately-funded craft into space.
Clueless is Orrin Hatch, leader of the Luddite caucus in the U.S. Senate.
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