More of Everything

I first spotted this shop while waiting to meet a real estate agent across the street. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, assuming it was a tiny shop selling shitty antiques.

When I was younger I loved going through antique stores. I’d look for old coins, books, or jewelry. As a young adult, I looked for art and furniture. However, after buying a dining table, bed frame, and a few chairs, I decided, , “Mollo Tutto!” (Enough! No more!) The furniture was rickety and the art work fell apart. It felt awful living with such precarious furnishings.

Later, reading an article in the Economist, I learned why that furniture made me feel so lousy: Wobbly furniture makes one feel uncertain and insecure.  Since then, I’ve bought nothing but new furniture. Even chairs from IKEA are stable at least.

So I mostly ignored the shop, Ditutto Dipiu. The name means “More of Everything.” After looking it up in google translate, I thought, “More like, more of everything I don’t want.”

But, then we (at-freaking-last) found an apartment we liked, and we decided to write a proposal. The apartment was not only unfurnished, but we’d have to install our own kitchen. I estimated the costs of buying everything, and suddenly, recycled furniture  seemed like it deserved another look.

Jole was the one who suggested I give Ditutto Dipiu a try. I was helping her come up with a lesson plan for her class, (why she asked me for help with such a task, I’ve no idea), and I asked if she knew of any good used furniture stores – brick n mortar, or online. She showed me subito.it, and then recommended I head over to Ditutto Dipiu. She said they had loads of stuff – and she assured me that much of it was of high quality.

So I stopped in on my way home. Holy cripes, she wasn’t lying. What looked like a tiny store front, gave way to a huge warehouse of everything you could imagine … that’s right … everything, and more.

A solid piece of furniture
A solid piece of furniture

The furniture wasn’t all rinky-dink and wobbly. Many pieces were solid and of top quality Italian craftsmanship.

 

I noted the furniture, snapping a few pictures as I went. This dresser/desk is 120 euros.

On that visit, I bought a salad spinner and radiator humidifier. Not for us – but to replace those that had broken at our temporary airBnB apartment.

8 euros to replace stuff we broke at the airBnB
8 euros to replace stuff we broke at the airBnB

Rather than asking for 8 euros, the clerk asked for my address and documents. Apparently, they didn’t allow purchases without registering. I wondered if that was a government policy.  I gave him our temporary apartment address and my  California drivers license.

He printed out a sticker, slapped it on the back of this card, scanned it, and handed it to me.

So now I’m all registered, legal, and set up to bargain hunt, ala Frugal Wood’s Style, here in Verona Italy.

Here are some items I spotted on a recent visit to Ditutto Dipiu.

Turns out, another family beat us to signing a proposal for the river apartment. We’ve since found a place across the river. It’s partially furnished, and comes with a fully installed kitchen. So finding furniture on the cheap is no longer urgent. Even so, I’m sure we’ll need to buy some stuff. When I do, I’ll be sure to start at More of Everything.

 

Verona Episode 2

verona_month_2

After nearly 2 months in Verona, we still haven’t found a home. Before moving here, I’d signed a contract to rent a beautiful top floor condo in Borgo Trento. But the owners sold it, and our contract was negated. We found out after arriving. We’ve gone from one airBnB to the next, all while apartment hunting. It seems every time we find a place, something goes wrong. On top of it all, we have to register with the questura (local police), arrange for all our boxes to be delivered, and get our son off to school every day.

In case you missed it, here’s Verona, Episode 1.

Note: As we began recording Verona Episode 2, I started a five minute countdown on my phone. After passing the four minute mark, Max became unresponsive as he focused on the timer. He seemed to think that we had to end exactly at 5 minutes, and he wanted to alert me when time was up. If he hadn’t diverted his attention so completely to the time, I think he would have answered our questions about Italian language and history classes. We’ll see how we do next time.

The apartment hunt continues; that’s no reason this kid can’t stop for some vino.

Christmas present spoiler alert for Michelle, my sister: Turn back now if you want to be surprised!

We’ve been utter failures at finding a place to live here in Verona. I’ll detail the experience in a later post. Suffice to say it’s been a few months, we’re living in a temporary hovel, and I’m coming both unhinged and unglued. Two days ago, we toured an apartment that’s kind of meh but good enough. Capitulating, we asked to sign a contract.  I received it in email last night.

However ….

Yesterday, after my penultimate Italian class at Inclasse of Verona, Dirk and I met with the owner of our temporary/bridge-to-home/hovel airBnb to sign a contract for this month. He was surprised to learn that his friend, Paola, hadn’t called us yet to arrange to see her apartment, which she intended to rent. He explained that this apartment was just about his favorite place in the city, and we really must see it. Top floor, terraces, the works. FFS.

But we got to talking tax and maritime law, and you know how that goes. That’s right, it was difficult to move on from such intoxicating subjects.

As he assembled his belongings, I asked him to call Paola on our behalf. Come to find out they’ve been renovating and her mother in law didn’t want to show the apartment until it was perfect. Paola explained, “You know how mother in laws can be.” Sarcastically, I said, “nooooo. I wouldn’t know at all.”* She didn’t pick up on my tone, however, and continued to explain how mother in laws could be.

*To be completely honest – my knowledge of bad in-laws comes second-hand. My mother in law is wonderful. I won the in-law lottery. And I’m not writing this to cover my ass. It’s absolutely true. Helen is a sweetheart.

Reminder: Italian humor != British humor.

She asked to meet to talk, and proposed 4pm at school. Her 11 yr old son also attends, and she picks him up at the same time we pick up DS. At that time we could arrange the viewing.

Ruh roh. But … but …. I had my class field trip to a Valpolicella winery at 2:30. What to do? It took all of 2 seconds to resolve the matter. Send husband as family ambassador to meet Paola.

Dirk accompanied me to my meeting spot with the class. As we discussed his meeting, I said, “act normal!” (as in Little Miss Sunshine). No one got the reference, but the Aussies thought it was funny. The Italians? Not so much.

Meeting my classmates at Ponte Vittoria
Meeting my classmates at Ponte Vittoria

Valpolicella is gorgeous. It’s a small valley to the northwest of Verona. We toured the grape processing, wine fermenting, and bottling facilities of Terre di Leone.

Obligatory Grape Shot:

Loading grapes into the stem separator ( later I learned that guy up there is the winery owner ):

My adorbs* teacher, Giacomo, complete with wild-n-crazy hair, snapping a photo:

Here’s our tour guide explaining the effect oak barrels have on the wine. I understood nothing (except for where the barrel maker’s label is located (Answer: at the very top of the lid)).

Here’s our tour guide explaining the complex process that went into each of the six bottles we were about to test. I understood nothing.

When a call came in from a realtor, suddenly, my brain snapped to attention. Over the phone, I held a full convo. We agreed to meet at 2pm Friday. When I returned to the wine tasting room, it was back to hearing the Peanuts teacher – wah wah wah wah wah.

One day it will be effortless (it has to be, right?), this comprehending of a foreign tongue. But that day ain’t today. Nor do I suspect it will be tomorrow. But one day. I have to tackle that Elena Ferrante novel, after all. Laudable goals here. Nothing but laudable goals.

I discovered that I possess the refined tastes of the proletariat.

We tried small pours from 6 bottles. From left to right:

1. Table wine. Valpolicella Classico. Aged in casks 4 months.
2. Ripasso. Where the cheap table wine went through 2 stages of fermentation.
3. Classico Superiore. similar to #1 but aged 10 months.
4. Calssico Superiore Ripasso. #3 taken through fermentation 2x.
5. Amarone #1 aged for years
6. Amarone #2 aged > 4 years.

My fave? 1 & 3. Nearly everyone else raved about the Ripasso – #2. That was my least favorite.

#3 reminded me of a wine that my sister loved. I don’t remember the name of it, but that right there was the taste.

We stood around in the cold, and Maria – a substitute teacher who I hadn’t met until the tour* – asked me questions. Like so many other Italians, her eyes widened, just so slightly, upon the mention of my son’s school. I interrogated. Her opinion: parents pay for grades. She knew a teacher who was pressured to inflate grades. I made a mental note to let DS’s teacher know that we did not want inflated grades. If DS earns a C, we’ll teach him how to handle a C. Better to learn how to deal with reality. The world ain’t made up of gentle and inflated As and Bs.

I thanked her for being candid, then explained my understanding of the school. (I forget if I’ve written about it). Briefly: there are two tracks – regular Italian certificate, and IB. For kids on the IB track, there’s no getting around the tests. Grades really don’t matter. We intend for DS to be in the IB track, so we should be okay. She added that as far as she knew, they hired really good teachers. It was mostly the administration that had a bad rep. This aligns with what Jole had told me.

Giacomo announced it was time to go? But wait, we hadn’t been shuttled into a retail room to buy wine. “Oh you want to buy wine?” he asked. He called out for our host.

OMG how refreshing!  Not being herded like cattle into the retail funnel.

I bought 2 bottles of #3 for Christmas gifts (one for my sister), and one bottle of #1 for me to enjoy, prolly this weekend.

When I returned home, I asked DH about meeting Paola. He said the apartment is 4 bedroom, 2 floors, 2 terraces, a bit up the hill in Valdegona. She’s going to pick us up at 9am Friday (4 hrs from now as I write), to come have a look. We’ll see.

For your viewing pleasure, one more obligatory grape shot:

*Why do  I still use the word, “adorbs?” Because, in addition to being adorbs itself, I get to imagine the 20 something kids of the family recoiling and cringing upon reading it. It’s a win win.

Genesis of Black=Criminal

Slavery by Another Name  has left me dumb-founded. It is striking, the legacy that the convict lease system has left on our collective psyche. The convict lease system (active in various forms from 1870 to the 1940s) was where a black man could be arrested for loitering in the morning, then rented out to private industry as prison labor by evening. It was the genesis of this notion that black=criminal.

With such easy profitability, the practice flourished. Within a few decades, the public came to realize that a disproportionate % of prisoners were black, and concluded, wrongly, that black people were inherently criminal. Out of that was born insane racial attitudes.

Had the federal government not ceded to states rights after reconstruction, had the13th amendment been worded more succinctly, how would our country be different now? The 13th amendment had banned slavery outright, however, it allowed for servitude as punishment for a crime. This language is what allowed the southern states to capitalize off of slave labor, imprisoning people for non-crimes such as loitering, then renting them out by the month.

The 13th amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The fact that racism lingers to this day is disheartening. Especially so, since I would guess most of us don’t truly understand its origins. Incredible how one small sentence in an amendment could allow for so much injustice to go on for so so long.

Watch the 90-minute film about slavery after the Civil War. SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME is based on the book by Douglas Blackmon.

From Afar Is No Longer Far Away

Yesterday, I acted against my better judgement and posted a political comment on Facebook. Yes, to my entire ‘friends minus acquaintances’ list. I couldn’t stop myself. I’d just read another example of the toxic effects our two party system has on our government and on us.

In digging up evidence and quotes for my FB post, however, I encountered two other revelations. One was about the media. The other, revealed just how easilty we give the media the power to influence our beliefs.

Here’s my original post + comments:

When I read articles about Congress, I come away realizing their ineptness comes down to the two party system. They spend more energy ‘us-vs-theming’ than they do understanding the laws they themselves craft and then pass. I’m so disheartened. Both parties are toxic. Friends, family, countrymen: quit buying into the hate speech of the parties. Registered republicans aren’t evil, neither are registered democrats. The parties use divide-and-conquer as a tactic to get their guys elected, and the media plays along, giving us stories that are half truths, and that reinforce our outrage. In the end, we are the ones who suffer. We feel hatred toward each other, and then elect ass hats. Do you notice your Facebook feed? I don’t know about you, but most of my friends and family don’t post anything political. They won’t even discuss politics with me on the phone. And that’s exactly what divide-and-conquer tactics are intended to achieve: People not talking about all this bullshit. Can we please stop? Can we start talking again and find common ground? Or am I just dreaming?

I was so fired up, I couldn’t stop there, so I added a few more comments:

Step 1: Become an unaffiliated voter. Don’t feed the parties. No donations, no registrations.

Step 2: Call for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. See if you like what the wolf-pac movement is doing. If you do, contact your state legislature and get involved.

Step 3: When digesting news, be aware of hearsay. Are you hearing an original source quote (in full), or are you hearing the opinion of a talking head (hearsay)? If you are inclined to believe the talking head, then go seek out the story from a few different news sources. Consider looking at an ideologically opposed news sources. You’ll triangulate in on the truth eventually. Yes it’s work. But if you’re going to give the media the power to influence you, you shouldn’t give it up for free.

Step 4: Focus on neutral news sources such as reuters or the associated press. They employ actual journalists who aspire to professional integrity, and they understand the difference between hearsay and facts. When you feel they may be spinning, then do what you did in step three. Seek out other news sources. Pay attention to integrity. Example: If you read an article on RT, be aware that it comes with a heavy dose of pro-Putin spin.

It was the Congressional pettiness that popped out as the theme of this story: The us-vs-theming, petulant blaming, and reckless brinksmanship. The mechanics were JASTA passage / veto / veto-override, but then followed by a mea-blame-a-you-a-culpa moment realizing, “oh shit what have we done?” My initial reaction was just what the modern day news outfits aim to achieve in their readers: Outrage. Good job Real Clear Politics.

Mitch McConnell seemed to be the one throwing the most blame around. From the RCP article:

McConnell agreed that it could be “worth further discussing” changes to the legislation, but he laid the blame on Obama and the White House for not engaging lawmakers sooner on the long-term ramifications: “I told the president the other day that this was an example of an issue we should have talked about much earlier.”

Well, that’s fine and all, but I wanted to see McConnell’s actual words, not take the RCP author’s interpretation of them as fact. To google!

My first search result was Huffington Post, “Senators Blame Obama For Not Helping Them Understand Their Own Bill.”  Yes – it’s a click bait title and I clicked. But it corroborated RCP, given the article. It appeared the GOP pushed through a bill that would compromise US sovereign immunity. That’s a big deal. Here’s what a boring Law journal reported back in April about the Obama administration’s position on JASTA. (Note: this quote is from April 2016. Huff Po cites it as coming from July 2016. Their case would have been stronger using the correct date. Remember, McConnell blamed Obama for not pointing out the flaws of their own bill early enough. I’d say 5 months ago seems a reasonable time to point out the flaws … which they did. As for Huff Po – was that just sloppy journalism? Could be – it’s pretty darned easy to get facts mixed up, I can attest to that. My memory tells me that my first whiff of this story came from Huff Po, but my search history tells me it was RCP. It’s easy to switch times around. This is why journalists need to be cool-headed and composed, detailed and serious. There’s a dearth of such journalist today. But I digress).

Two articles in, and I still didn’t have a full quote from McConnell. I continued my search.

Reuters. “”I do think it is worth further discussing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be “potential consequences” of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.”

LA Times Opinion Page. “But then McConnell shifted the blame, saying that he had told Obama that “this was an example of an issue that we should have talked about much earlier.”

POLITICO.  Bam. Got it (FINALLY!): Mitch McConnell quotes:

McConnell … call(ed) the battle over JASTA a “good example” of “failure to communicate early about the potential consequences” of a popular bill.

“I told the president the other day that this is an example of an issue that we should have talked about much earlier,” McConnell said Thursday. “It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications of that and I do think it’s worth further discussing. But it was certainly not something that was going to be fixed this week.”

“Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were but no one had really focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I think it was just a ball dropped,” McConnell said. “I hate to blame everything on him and I don’t, [but] it would have been helpful if we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.”

Cripes! This election season is crazy! Before this cycle, click-bait titles tended to reveal articles that proved the title to be disingenuous or mis-leading. The truth was usually less dramatic. But now, especially with the Trump stories, I’m finding the content of the article reveals something worse than what the title implied.

Why did the other news pieces omit this: McConnell said, “I hate to blame everything on (the president) and I don’t, it would have been helpful if we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.”

On the surface, perhaps, the editors judged this statement as weakening his blame-thrower. In fact, it’s the opposite.

What’s going on here? I think I get it. They’re writing stories where there’s NO nuance, NO reading between the lines, NO inferences to be made. No ‘reading the air‘ as they do in Japan. Our media writes stories for us to digest whole, with little to no mastication of thoughts.  If I’m reading this right, the editors believe that to Americans, McConnell’s weasel words would have muddled the message. In fact, his weasel words come across to me as an admission that he’s unfairly blaming Obama here. He full well knows, unlike Huff Po, that Obama has been discussing this problematic bill for the past 5 months.

My head is spinning.

So our elected officials are so pre-occupied with blaming the other side of the aisle, they can’t be bothered to understand the very laws they draft and pass.

And our media is so pre-occupied with page clicks, they dumb the message down for instant consumption. Oh there’s still bias, but they’re willing to sacrifice some measure of spin for a direct interpretation-free mainline message injection straight into your brain. No wonder we soak this stuff up.

I’m done for the day. This election cycle is disgusting. And I’ve only mentioned Trump in passing. Pfft.

 

How I Negotiated My Book Contract (Part I)

After FIREing from my marketing job at a semiconductor company in 2014, I had loads of free time. So, I dedicated a few hours every day to writing a book. It was a collection of simple tips I’d learned during the part of my career I loved most: Planning products and working with customers in order to understand their roadmaps.

My intention was to post these tips as an ebook on Amazon, and sell it for a few bucks a pop. As I finished the book, I was contacted by an acquisitions agent from an actual, bona fide, New York publishing house. Hm, this was interesting. I put my copy of ‘how to publish an e-book kindle’ aside, and skyped with her. A few weeks later, she sent an official offer.

In this series of articles, I’m going to share my experience getting from the offer to a signed contract: What I learned about book contracts, how I negotiated for what I wanted, the compromises I made, as well as the advice that various people gave me.

Let’s start with the offer.

My initial reaction seeing the email in my inbox was glee. I immediately forwarded it to my mom to share my excitement.

After reading the offer, however, my excitement gave way to disappointment. The terms seemed paltry.

Royalties: Print: 10% on net price up to 10,000 copies sold; 12.5% up to 20,000 copies sold; 15% thereafter;
Ebook: 15% on net
Audio: 15% on net
Advance: $1k contract sign, $1k manuscript delivery, $1k publication.

I understood the logic behind a low royalty on print editions, as the cost of printing is non-zero. But 15% on ebooks? That seemed absurd. And I had no idea on audio books or the advance.

It was time to do some research.

First, I logged onto kboards. It was the path of least resistance. I had an account already, and had received decent advice in the forums in the past. Advice ranged from desperate (any interest from a real publisher was a gift and should be capitalized on immediately), to supremely confident (“My contract is 50/50 profits on all ebooks and I would never accept less.”).

I moved on to google. For understanding paperback royalties,  I found the article,  “Negotiating Book Terms and Royalties,” on www.foner.com to be useful. Here, I learned helpful insights. In a negotiation, the author wrote that it’s, “easier to move the (volume) break points, even eliminating the lowest category, than to increase the final royalty.” In the offer above, the volume break points were 10,000 units, then 20,000. I could recommend we cut those in half.

Then I wondered if those volumes were realistic. I quickly found out no. For a business self help book, I’d be wildly successful if I sold 8,000 copies. That means I would never advance to the second tier, and I’d be stuck with 10% on net for all sales.

Here’s an idea of what ‘10% on net’ means. Say the list price of the book is $15. Depending on how the publisher calculates ‘net’, my ‘10% on net’ pay off per book would be between 90¢ and $1.05.  However, 10% on list price, would be $1.50. Thats between 43 to  67% higher. Even 8% on list, would be 15-33% ahead of 10% on net.

List-based royalties come with simplicity and clarity.  There’s no need to worry about how ‘net’ profits are calculated, or if the book is selling at a massive discount. No matter what, if a book sells, I would get a % of the list price. Period.

As for ebooks, 15% of net seemed crazy low. I’d imagined 50% would make sense, as there’s such minimal overhead. Split the profits, right? I quickly discovered that the Writer’s Guild felt the same way. I also came to learn that the industry standard rate was 25%. So, I was right – the offer was indeed, low.

I wasn’t sure why an audio book royalty rate was even listed, as the plan was only for paperback and ebook, so I put off looking into that. Even so, 15% of net seemed quite low.

I’m not a master negotiator.  I’m not an idiot, but I do acknowledge that I haven’t exactly studied the topic. I understand concepts like anchoring, and that the first person to put out terms has the advantage, but my experience in negotiating a contract is scant. So, I reached out to four people whom I respect for their negotiating skills: two women and two men.

The women encouraged me to do my homework, research contracts, decide on what I want, then counter with those terms. The men advised me to shop the manuscript to other publishers in order to brew up a bidding war.

In the end, I researched the topic in each paragraph, and asked for what the writer’s guild and various writers recommended. The publisher agreed to all but one of my approx 2 dozen changes. Yeah.