Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Spec The Halls - What We've Raised So Far ... and it's not too late to get your copy!

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While the last day for entering the Spec The Halls contest is today (it's midnight-ish tonight, even though judging is already underway), it's not too late to get the charity eBook!

Much like the contest rules state, the idea of "Winter Themed" is:
Roughly speaking, we're talking about the last week in November through the last week of January.
And that's how long the eBook will be available.1 You can get your copy at directly from us (use this for reading in iBooks or for the PDF version, and import the ePub format), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. All the proceeds will be going to Heifer International.

And if you've already donated directly to them, send me a copy of the receipt, and I'll get you the eBook!

So far, this charity has raised $228, which is pretty nice indeed. Help me reach $250 - or even $300 - in the next month as a great way to ring in the New Year.2

Buy a copy of Spec The Halls using the links above or at the website today!

1 Besides, we're still in the Twelve Days of Christmas!
2 Because if there is an apocalypse this year, you won't need that cash anyway, right?

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Read this in Google Currents - and help get me featured there!

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I'm actually quite a fan of Google Currents - it's a neat little application for reading content on your tablet, phone, or what-have-you.  It fills a niche for me between short little tidbits (like, say, One Thing Well) and really long stuff I want to save - which I use Read It Later for.  Currently, among the existing library offerings, I'm reading Scalzi, Buckell, Hines, and Stross there, as well as boingboing and some others.

I'm liking it enough that I created an edition just now using the Producer application.  If you've got one of these fancy smartphone/tablet/whathaveyous, try reading this blog (and also my instagram photos!) in Google Currents.  Heck, with enough readers I might even get some exposure.

In the meantime, I'll tell y'all about the experience - what was good, what was annoying, and so on.

So again, click on this link in your phone, tablet, etc - and get me in Google Currents!

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Repetition Is Not Your Friend

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As a general rule, if you post multiple times a day simply hawking the same point of view on the same topic each time, you will end up perceived as a commercial.

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Have you ever pirated a book (or movie, or music)? I want to hear from you.

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soc_econ.pngOkay, folks, as some of you might have seen, I've decided to do a bit of research (more qualitative rather than quantitative) about piracy.  There's a decent amount of quantitative research out there - but I'm more interested in what people are thinking for this.  Many, many people - myself included - have projected our own experience, thoughts, and ideals onto piracy... and the only solution to that is to ask ourselves.

So, from that comes the below quick survey.  Depending on your answers, the length of time needed to complete this survey/interview is going to vary.

If you have pirated any book - especially if you've uploaded files yourself, but even if you've just downloaded them - I would like to hear from you.  If you've pirated video or music, that works too;  alter some of the questions below as necessary to fit the format.  Please pass this around to others who might qualify or be interested.

If you'd rather do a voice interview, e-mail me (AT THE BELOW ADDRESS, with the subject line of "SURVEY") and we'll arrange things.
Hi!  I'm Steven Saus, and I'm an author and publisher.  I am also a sociologist.  I am asking about some of your thoughts, feelings, and actions about eBooks.  If you choose to post your replies publicly, I cannot guarantee your confidentiality;  likewise, if you send them via PM.  If you contact me through e-mail or phone, I will not divulge your identity, though I would like your permission to use direct quotes.  I will change identifying details whenever possible in order to protect your confidentiality.

The most secure way to send me your answers is through a service such as

Send your replies (plaintext is great) to with a subject line of SURVEY (that way it shouldn't get eaten by spam traps.)

These are largely open-ended questions.  The more descriptive and specific you can be with your answers, the better.

If you know others who would be interested in talking to me, please feel free to refer them to me.

1.  Can you give me some specific examples of how you've personally promoted books through uploading?

2.  Do you participate in other promotional activities (review sites such as LibraryThing or GoodReads)?

3.  Do you review the books you read on Amazon, B&N, your own blog, or elsewhere?

The following questions apply to an "average" month.  If you can't think of an average, use last month instead.

1.  How many books (digital or paper) do you buy a month?
2.  How many books (digital or paper) do you upload a month?
3.  How many books (digital or paper) do you read a month?
4.  About what percent of the books you upload do you read?
5.  Are there any authors or publishers you will NOT upload?  Why not, and can you give me examples?

Some file services pay uploaders for the number of downloads (such as $25 per 1K downloads). 

1.  Do you use any of those services?  If so, about how much have you earned from them on an average month?

2.  Do you have advertisements on your own site/blog/etc?  If so, about how much have you earned from them on an average month?

1.  How much do you think the average best-selling author makes from writing fiction per year?

2.  How much do you think the average author makes per year from writing fiction?

3.  Have you ever written a book?

4.  How much time do you think goes into writing the average novel?

5.  About how much time do you think goes into writing a non-fiction book?

6.  Do you use the library system where you live? 

6a.  Can you tell me about what it has available?

7.  If an author or publisher asks you to take down a work, what do you
normally do?  

7a.  Can you tell me about a specific time that happened?

8 .  Have you ever met any authors in person?

Are there any other things you would like to tell me about the ways you interact with eBooks?

Thanks for your time!

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Screw the pirates... let's all keelhaul the bandits.

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publishing.pngDespite my opposition to SOPA (which hasn't changed) and my thoughts on piracy (here, here, here) which haven't changed... I've recently stumbled across something that does bother the crap out of me.

I want to distinguish these folks by calling them bandits.  These aren't copyfighters, they aren't fair-use champions, they aren't people "sampling" or even those freeloading.

They are bandits because they're actively making money from ripping content creators off.  I was tipped off to one in particular (I'm not linking to them because I have no desire to increase their pagerank) that seems innocuous on the face of it, but when you pay $10 to join the "VIP Club" (paid through PayPal, and then administered through a Yahoo! gropu) you get access to some things that I'm pretty damn sure aren't legit.

Examples?  Why, yes.  Here's two egregious ones:

The entire run of "The Walking Dead"

Living Vegan for Dummies - with a cover that says "Uploaded by Bookshare"

And in addition, some other titles I saw were The Zombie Survival Guide, A Game of Thrones, The Help, and 11/22/63 (Stephen King).  That's only a tiny fraction.  And yes, these are directly ripped from torrents, even if the cover to "Living Vegan for Dummies" didn't clue you in.  I checked several of the "collections".

I'm not the copyright holder for any of these works.  I can't report them.  But that's not the point of this post.

You see, bandits change the game.  Some of the reasons I've argued that piracy isn't that big of a deal is that folks who want to/are able to/are going to pay will pay in order to support the things and authors they love.  (Sci-Fi fans, please see: Caprica, SG:U.)  The folks who torrent a collection of over 200 eBooks aren't going to buy your eBook.  It's just keeping some kind of weird hoarder-style "score".  They were never your customers to begin with. 

Bandits take away customers/readers/viewers who are willing to pay, and may not even realize that content creators never see a penny.

Again, this doesn't really change a damn thing about SOPA, or piracy.  SOPA wouldn't really stop these jerks (and would do a lot of harm to the rest of us at the same time).  My old arguments about piracy still stand...and keep in mind that the media companies also define giving your significant other a copy of a purchased MP3 or eBook piracy - that's not even shoplifting.  Hell, they go after people for music playing on the radio in the background in a documentary...not soundtrack, but just on the radio. 

So let's define things properly.

People - have rights.  They might share something with their family, maybe friends.  (Ever lend a DVD to someone?  Make a mix tape?  Okay, then.)  They might remix and/or transform the work - for example, G6 Kids fundamentally changes both songs and makes them into something new. 

Pirates are someone who is essentially shoplifting.  Not great, but slap-on-the-wrist kinds of offenses.   (Yes, I know people who work retail and know how insane shoplifters can get.)  Going after pirates as "bad guys" is also problematic in a global world (see Jim Hines' post here and Tobias Buckell here for some very reasoned thought about global perspectives and pirates from other professional authors.)

And then there are the bandits.

Bandits are people who shoplift, then sell what they shoplifted.  This crosses a line for me.  It's no longer about access, or anything even vaguely excusable - it's simply being a parasite and doing so in a way that can steal legitimate customers.

So maybe rather than worrying about piracy which is, to borrow Tobias' phrase, "like squeezing water", we should be focusing on these bandits. 

Not just content creators, either.   Not just the RIAA.  Not just the MPAA.

All of us.  Every pirate.  Every torrenter.  Every remixer.  Every member of the EFF.  Google.  Every cyber-libertarian.  Everyone who loves the internet being free.

Because it's those asshats that weaken every argument that we have.  It's the short-term greed of those jerks that gives ammunition to those who want to over-regulate and cripple the internet.

It would be such a shame if their parasitical business somehow imploded, undermining the arguments that the 'net needs regulation, wouldn't it?

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Fill up your eReader with our first-ever SALE

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Yup, that's right folks, I said sale. Alliteration Ink is - from now until 23:59 MST on New Year's Eve - offering a 25% discount for all items purchased directly from us. This is a great value for you - not only do you get more formats (ePub, PDF, and Kindle), but you get them at a discount!

"But wait," says Concerned Hypothetical Person, "I thought part of your thing was to make sure that authors got paid. Aren't you cutting into their profits?"

Actually, no. What I'm discounting is roughly1 the same as the percentage from other online retailers. The authors still get paid, you pay less and get great stuff to read - everyone wins.

Dark fantasy or horror your thing? Check out the The Crimson Pact Volume One and The Crimson Pact Volume Two.

The moment of the demons’ defeat became their greatest victory.

In the carnage after the last great battle against the demons, a doomed general discovers their hidden victory. Instead of being annihilated, unspeakable evil escaped into many unsuspecting worlds. To fight them, the men and women of the Crimson Pact must sacrifice everything—including their own lives.

Each of these volumes is over 500 pages in print - and the eBooks are only $4.99 ($5.49 for the special edition) before the discount!

Would you rather go for a spy thriller? Donald J. Bingle's Net Impact is a grown-up spy thriller, with real people facing real problems... and then there's the bad guys, too. (Did you see the thing about Denver International Airport on The Colbert Report? Yeah, there's really weird things at DIA... but they're not phalluses! Read Net Impact to find out! Only $4.99 before the discount!)

Like my flash fictions? Maybe is for you then - a collection of over sixty of them, ranging from zombies to romance for $1.99 (before the discount). Or you can pick up (for only $0.99 each - before the discount!) Memories of Light and Sound, my time-travel story about love and family, or The Burning Servant, recently purchased by Pseudopod for adaptation into a podcast!

Nonfiction your thing? We have my own So You Want to Make an eBook? on sale, as long as Wendy-O Matik's Redefining Our Relationships.

Swing by the Alliteration Ink store and see what tickles your fancy. Because you can't just let an opportunity like this pass you by!

The coupon code - again, only good at our store and until 23:59 on New Year's Day (Mountain Standard Time) is BRANDNEWDAY !  Take advantage of this offer now!

1 I still get hit by PayPal fees, hence why it doesn't match up to AMZ or B&N's take.

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The Heroism of the Carpenter: Behind The Story

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essay.pngFor once, I wanted to give a little "behind the story" on my holiday flash fiction, especially given the theological nature of the text.1

One of the more interesting theological aspects of Catholicism (and some other versions of Christianity - I believe Orthodox, but I'm not certain) is that Jesus Christ was also Yeshua ben Yosef - that the guy was (or is) both fully human and fully divine.

For me, that aspect of theology is the single most compelling thing about His story2. It makes Gethsemane more than just an annoyance - this fully human being, armed only with faith but not certainty, is confronted directly with His avoidable death... and does it anyway. It's that aspect that makes The Last Temptation of Christ so powerful - when offered with a "sure, safe thing" He chooses the hard road of faith and self-respect instead.

But there's a flip side to that coin that I didn't give as much consideration to.

He knew what was coming the whole time.

He knew that it would end in His death. That it would - at least throughout his life - all go to (metaphorical) hell. That His family and friends would turn against Him not just at the end, but throughout His life ("Is this not the carpenter's son?").

And he chose to do it anyway.

Bad things will happen to you. You will be hurt, scarred, and saddened. It will happen.

And when we you choose to go about our lives anyway, we have some small measure of the heroism of a carpenter's son from Galilee.

1 Listen again - and listen for the musical sting from Jesus Christ Superstar.
2 For the purposes of this essay and the story I wrote, we can treat Jesus' story as "not necessarily factual, but true" and get on with it, okay?

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Happy Holidays - Two Christmas Flash Fictions

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storytime.pngChris the Nuclear Kid and I wrote flash stories for Lawrence Simon's podcast Christmas Spectacular. If you like some of the background music you've been hearing, check out Kris Knight's "A Scary Little Christmas". Great stuff.

Take a read (and a listen) to ours and the rest of the stories either below or at If the player bits don't work, you can directly download them: Audio for Chris' story / Audio for Steve's Story / Alternate Music for Steve's story

Timmy stamped his foot in the snow.  “It was a big tree, with lots of decorations. When I got home from kindergarten, it was gone!”

The policeman raised his eyebrow.  “You think there's a Christmas tree thief?”

“Yes!"  Timmy clenched his jaw.  "It was the Grinch!”

The police officer chuckled.  “The Grinch is imaginary.”

Timmy's face grew hotter.  “No he's not!”

A green man jumped from the roof.  “The kid's right.”   He took a sack off his shoulder, shoved the policeman into it, then looked at Timmy.

"Who needs roast beast?" he said, and shoved Timmy into the sack too.

"They don't tell you that part," the man says. He is a shabby olive-skinned man outside the store Christmas display, smelling slightly of wine.

I shiver in the cold, wanting to get on to the coffee shop in the office lobby, but I never quite got the hang of brushing past people. "What part?"

"In the stories. They don't tell you about the dark side."

I start to walk past as I talk. "Sure they do. Luke, I am your -"

He shifts in front of me. "The dark side of love. The part where you give yourself completely, you know?" He looks me over, hard. "No, you don't."

"Look, I gotta..."

"You can love them, and no matter how much you do, they might not love you back."

I look around for a cop, someone, anyone, but they're all used to the big city and ignore us.

"Sometimes it's worse, and they they love you for a while - but then one day it's all different and weird. And you try to go on, but it's hard."

I try bullying past, but he grabs my arm, eyes flashing, the twin wounds in his hands dripping onto my jacket.

"But you can't let that stop you from trying to love again." He stares at the little porcelain infant in the Nativity. "You can't let that stop you from trying to love again."

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Call me "writer"

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There is some debate about what to call people who write fiction.

Well, yes, insane, but I mean as a professional description.

When is someone a "writer", or an "author", or a "professional" at either of those?

For example, do my short story sales count? What about poetry? Nonfiction? I still have a day job - am I a "professional" writer?

I'd suggest that we keep it simple. If you write and get paid for it, you're a professional writer. Everything else - whether you get pro rates, write novels or poems or short stories, etc - becomes - merely an adjective to "writer".

The idea of further subdividing writers - by how much they work, what rates they're getting, what form they work in - creates unneeded division.

So we are writers. Go write.

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Tell everyone about the flaws they're painfully aware of this holiday season!

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soc_econ.pngAt least, that's damn near what the UK's National Obesity Forum and International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk is telling people, as per this article:  "Tell loved ones they are overweight this Christmas".

Given this advice, I think I'm going to tell teenagers about every spot of acne on their face.

Because guess what?   Us fat people?  We know we're fat.  Every goddamn moment of the day, we know we're fat already.  You pointing it out?  Not helpful.

Suggesting that someone "make simple lifestyle changes such as becoming more active, making small alterations to their eating habits and replacing sugary drinks for water" during the holidays - when everyone's setting out a spread of food is just downright cruel.

"Wow, Timmy, that's a gigantic zit on your face!  Is that makeup you have on to try to hide it, because it's certainly not working!  That's probably why your last girlfriend dumped you.  Maybe you should eat less chocolate.  Oh, look, your gran made a cake!"

The funny thing is, most people know this.

"The survey of more than 2,000 people found 42% of 18 to 24-year-olds would not tell a loved one they should lose weight because of a fear they would hurt the other person's feelings."

That's because those people actually have some empathy.  Unlike the officials and doctors.

Perhaps we need to have one more difficult conversation.

"Hey doc.  Did you know you have a really piss-poor bedside manner?  That crap only works for House because he's not real.  It just makes you an asshole."

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Customizable Tools and Strategies to Keep Your Kids From The Bad Crap Out There

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technology.pngBack in the day, kids would snatch a dirty magazine (or maybe a
lingerie catalog) and secret it away. That ain't today, folks.

While I'm not a hugely prudish person - at least, when it comes to my
kids - I do have a problem with how easy it is to come across inappropriate material on the interwebs... no matter what your definition of inappropriate might be. Experienced and veteran users are able to avoid the nasty stuff, but kids - especially curious ones - can wander into some pretty nasty territory really quickly.

Again, it's worth noting that I'm not a fan of complete isolation and prudishness. My concern is that there's often no "shallows" - you can go straight from saccharine sweetness and light to necrophiliac beastiality with only an ill-phrased search term. So these tools are specifically chosen because they're free and customizable (and relatively easy to use).

1. Turn on the search level that you want (all OSes). Google has search preferences (including "adult" levels) at this link. Yahoo! has its preference page here. Bing has its preference page here.

2. Install K9 Web Protection (Win/Mac/iOS). This is a highly customizable filter that lives on your computer. Some of its features include:

  •  Set as many (or few) categories as you want to filter
  •  Explicitly create black and white lists of sites
  •  Give time-enabled permission to "blocked" categories on a by-category basis (For example, "Social Networking" for 30 minutes.)
  •  Have it turn off internet activity by time period
  •  Turn off web activity after a configureable number of attempts to access blocked sites
  •  Log web activity

This is the program I use. The customizability (though it's out of the box defaults are pretty good) let me adjust it to both my sensibility and where my kid is at. One note - if you decide to have it block the internet after too many restricted attempts, do NOT select "Ads" as one of your categories. One page (that might be an "okay" page) can call five or six advertisements and make it look like your kid did something wrong.

3. (Windows only): Hide the icon for Internet Explorer; install Firefox and/or Chrome. IE is still much more of a security risk than FF or Chrome.

The next three should be (IMHO) separate programs, and you should be able to find a free one that works for you. Everybody's needs and preferences are a little different with these two areas...

4. Have a good free software firewall that blocks inbound and outbound connection attempts. ZoneAlarm is one such, though it's not the only one by any stretch of the imagination. You
should choose the free option, without any of the other bells and whistles. It just needs to block connection attempts. While Windows Firewall is actually pretty okay at blocking inbound attempts, I think it's important to block outbound from a machine that a child has access to.

The reason is simple: As an adult, you're (hopefully) not going to download anything that tries to "call home" without your permission. Your kids? Not so smart. This helps minimize the damage.

5. Have a good free antivirus program. I used Avast's Home Edition when I ran a Windows PC, but anything with real-time scanning will do. Again, you should be able to find a free program that works
well. I think real-time scanning is important for a machine that kids have access to for the same reason as the firewall.

6. (Optional) Have a good free spyware program. Spybot Search & Destroy is a good one for Windows. The TeaTimer service that comes with it is also helpful.

These tools are not a substitute for parenting. They can all be circumvented. But they do serve a purpose - they help provide more of a "shallows" so that your children have a chance to learn from mistakes without the consequences being catastrophic.

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Trees: A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

You can hear my reading of the story below using the player, but if it's not working (usually in RSS feeds), you can download it directly here. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

angry hand tree shadow knight thingieThey came on the quiet night, the still night, the silent night.

After the fat man in red clothes had flown away, they marched down the streets, the alleys, across the yards, to the houses.

Flashing colored lights lit their bodies, their twisted gnarled limbs as they creaked and moved. Their footfalls shook milk in glasses left beside earnest notes. Their fingers screeked across windowpane glass.

Children rose from their beds at the noise, hoping to catch the giver of gifts.

And so they, the little ones, bore first witness to the day the forests came to avenge their kin.

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Looking For A Printer

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I am looking for a printer (as in commercial printer) who can print short runs (1-20 units) of boxes and/or the wrappers that sometimes go around boxes.  No particular layout needs, just the printing (and perhaps assembling) of these boxes.

If you know any printers who do this kind of work (or might be interested) please e-mail me or tell me in the comments!

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Save Yourself Five Hours of Frustration When Doing a Five Minute Mobile Makeover

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technology.png"How to make your site mobile? Why, turn on mobile views in Blogger, of course."

Well, duh.  But that doesn't help at all if you've got static websites as well - like I do.  In particular, the Alliteration Ink website (and particularly the store page) while not actively unfriendly, don't do so hot on an iPhone.  (For some more reasons why you want a mobile-friendly page, take a look at the tutorial I used...)

But I decided to start on my main professional page -

Luckily for me, the template I started with is nicely marked up in CSS, and I've learned enough from doing eBook conversions that CSS and markup aren't just trial and error anymore.

However, I didn't want to use relatively heavy code to make it happen.  I'm usually working on machines at least a generation or two back, and the side-effect of being cutting-edge is that you leave people in the cold.  So it had to be a lightweight solution that would render properly even with text browsers like elinks and lynx.

So the first thing I did was clean up the code from the original (you can see an archive at the Wayback Machine to compare.)  I got rid of the sidebar, and moved everything to a single-column format.  One of my biggest problems has always been equalizing the height of the sidebar and the main content on static pages, so that's actually a relief to get rid of.  (Besides, who needs to have "upcoming appearances" on every page?  I don't get out enough in real life to warrant it.)

Then I followed a lot of the directions on Perishable Press' "The 5-Minute CSS Mobile Makeover".  There's just a few things that no longer work - particularly with iPhones, and they're all part of the same problem.

The media type recognition among mobile phones - and bog help us, Internet Explorer - is non-standard at best.  (They even note that at the top of the article with Windows Mobile browsers.)  So here's what you do:

First, skip the @media CSS tag inside the stylesheets (they recommend it under "Apply Styles to the iPhone").  Have a stylesheet for "standard" - in my mind, 800px wide or better - and for "handheld".

Second, follow all the recommendations about styling for your "handheld" stylesheet.  It's possible to preview on the Opera Mini site (click once on the text, then it looks just about like it does in Safari on the iPhone), or you can look at this specific page I made that just links to the handheld CSS sheet - though the images look HUGE because the images are based off your screen width, not your current browser width.

And I followed Perishable Press' recommendation of how to make it deliver the right stylesheet by media type... and it didn't work.  At all.

Turns out that the iPhone doesn't think it's a lowly handheld browser.  So then you have to test for screen width.  And then Internet Explorer - way to go borking standards - doesn't recognize the standards at all either.

So here's the best solution that I have:

Use this in the <head> portion of your HTML:

<!-- gets everything bigger than 800 pixels on a monitor -->
<link rel="stylesheet" href="default.css" type="text/css" media="only Screen and (min-device-width: 800px)" />
<!-- It's less than 800 pixels across? Must be handheld and in denial -->
<link rel="stylesheet" href="handheld.css" type="text/css" media="only Screen and (max-device-width: 799px)" />
<!-- Holy crap! It's following standards! It's handheld! -->
<link rel="stylesheet" href="handheld.css" type="text/css" media="handheld" />
<!-- And this is for IE. Dunno if Windows Mobile browsers fall here or handheld, though. Everything in the IF portion is only executed if it's IE, so maybe some more code there. -->
<!--[if IE]>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="default.css" type="text/css" media="Screen" />

And it should deliver the right stylesheet to most devices.

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Where Facebook Does Something Right

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soc_econ.pngIt's rare that we talk about Facebook - as an entity - doing something right.

Often it's in the context of crappy privacy and security, of secret (and not-so-secret) plans to take over the Internet, or in time-sucking games (and how requests to play them make the "Wall" unusable).

But there is one thing that Facebook does well: Birthdays.

Birthdays matter. Even if you don't make a big deal about them, even if you don't want a big celebration (I fall into both those categories), having them ignored or forgotten hurts. I've witnessed it - my eldest had a birthday party once where nobody came1. I've experienced it - one year, every co-worker's birthday at work got a carry-in and cake... except mine.2

Birthdays are important because that's one day that you're supposed to matter a little bit more. That you're just a little more important and relevant. It doesn't take much to wish someone a happy birthday.

And that doesn't matter.

I really appreciate every birthday wish I got - whether through e-mail, snail mail, or on Facebook. Every last one.3

Thank you for taking a moment out of your day to think of me.

Have a great day!

1 It turned out mostly okay, though.
2 Scrounging up a cake and pizza and bringing it was one of the nicest things A ever did for me. Of course, in a later year she forgot entirely about it, so karmic balance was restored...
3 I tried to reply to them all as well; I am SO sorry if I somehow missed you!

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How Rick Perry Single Handedly Confirmed Obama's Wisdom

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rant.pngI'm sure you've seen Rick Perry's "Strong" commercial. If not, go watch it really quick.

Rick Perry is actually not saying anything surprising. Seriously. It's what the hard-core right-wing of this country has been thinking for a while.1

Yes, I am blatantly saying that the hard-core GOP is made up of homophobic Christian Supremacists.2

Now take a look at the revulsion - not hate, not disagreement, but disgust - that has landed on Rick Perry because of this ad.

Not policy, mind you. It's just an advertisement.

And that's from the disorganized American political left.

Imagine, for half a second, that the roles were actually reversed. That Obama was actually the leftist that FOX claims he is3. Now imagine the GOP machine manufacturing that same kind of disgust, with a little bit of fear thrown in.

Yeah. And you thought the flat-earther - I mean, birthers - were bad.

So yeah, I don't agree with all the things Obama's done. But I've got an appreciation of what he has done - and exactly how thin of a line he has to walk. Because while he's not done everything I would want - or hope - for him to do, it's bloody hard to do any of it when you're not elected.

1 At least, the "social conservative" part of it. Libertarians, look over here.
2 And if you're a Republican who disagrees with that characterization, I suggest you go have some strong words with your political party, because they've gotten away from your values. Yes, Mom, I'm talking to you.
3 He's not. He's a centrist. Hell, by the standards of anywhere else in the world, I'm a moderate instead of a left-winger, and he's to the right of me.

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Soylent Cookies - A Guest 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

You can hear my son's reading of the story below using the player, but if it's not working (usually in RSS feeds), you can download it directly here. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

What did we do to deserve such cruelty? They burn us till we cannot move. Being forced to wait for our doom. And they put us in round upside-down domes where we sit there, unmoving, waiting for their return, dreading what is to come. It happens all the time, and now, it is my turn.

I sit in the dome thing and wait. There is a tall green triangle in the corner with smaller square objects under it. Then, to my horror, I see the gigantic red and white demon. A ravenous monster, a legend among my kind.

“Santa Claus!”

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Cookies For Santa - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

You can hear my reading of the story below using the player, but if it's not working (usually in RSS feeds), you can download it directly here. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

"You're ten," Mom says. "Old enough to make the cookies for Santa."

I look up and stop cleaning my hamster's cage. "Am I old enough to get an XStationCube4?"

Mom winces. "I'm sorry, honey. I think Santa ran out."

My dad yells from the living room. "Dammit, Brenda, get me another beer."

Mom winces again, and gets him another can. Our recycling bin is almost full.

She leaves me with the ingredients.

Later, I leave the cookies for Santa.

Mom smiles. "What kind did you make?"

"Chocolate chip," I say, and head to bed with my hamster's very clean cage.

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Writer's Self-Affirmation

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rant.pngThis occurred to me after being turned down for a job I wanted. Yeah, it stung for a moment. It did. And I spontaneously started saying this to myself in the car.

Because as writers, we have this skill down to a frakking science. And it's ours, no matter what our day job title is.

I am a writer.

I am used to being turned down.

I am used to be being turned away.

I enjoy it. I want it, because that means I haven't given up.

Reject me. I will try again.

I will get better.

I will try harder.

I will try somewhere else.

I will try someone with better taste. 1

And I will succeed.

1 Optional line here: And when you realize what an idiot you were for rejecting me, I will be gracious, and smile, and negotiate my wages 50% over what you meant to pay.

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Fix digital images' EXIF date with a few simple commands - crossplatform solution!

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technology.pngI just started using a photo manager (yeah, I know), and I realized my EXIF data was all jacked up. The file dates are (usually) right, but a lot of the extra data had been stripped out.

I have thousands of old digital photos; no way in hell am I manually organizing those into dates/events.

Luckily, there's a cross-platform tool that does a great job with it. It's called EXIFTool. The website has instructions for installation with Windows/OSX/Linux - and there's standalone binaries for Win/OSX.

This guy's solution is what I essentially ended up going with. It's important to have at least the first and last lines:

exiftool -v "-FileModifyDate>DateTimeOriginal" *


exiftool -v "-FileModifyDate<DateTimeOriginal" *

The first changes the EXIF metadata to reflect the "last modified" date. The second changes the file date to the EXIF "Taken On" date. Wonderful!

Also - at least on linux - it recursively searches directories, so no need for getting funky. Just run and go. Backups are made in the directories of each file.

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Simpe BASH wrapper script to test if you're online or not

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technology.pngThis falls squarely in the "small annoyances" category. More and more wifi hotspots will let you connect - but not access anything until you log in. Sometimes, I don't bother to - I'm not doing anything online.

That doesn't stop cron jobs from trying to connect to the internet.

So I wrote a small wrapper script to test and see if you can find the WAN IP address. It connects to (using wget), and uses SED to parse out the IP address. If you're not connected, you'll get garbage back - which won't fit the length parameters of an IP address.1

Just call this script with all the parameters and whatnot that you would your other program (yes, all of them, it passes them all in one fell swoop), and if you're not connected - it doesn't run. Saves you error messages in the logfile, and lets you get on with your day.

You can find the script at Pastebin, here.

1Yes, it doesn't error check. I said it was simple.

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Hunger - A Guest 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

This story was written by my son, Chris The Nuclear Kid.

You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I walk quickly, carefully, cautiously, fearfully. My hunger nagging me as I find a store with food. I stop suddenly and listen. I here groans and gunshots. Just as I turn to leave I here a high pitch scream catches my attention and I go inside.

“Timmy, Sara?!” I exclaimed surprised to find my old friends. I ran to their side, zombies were everywhere.

Timmy's pouch of bullets fell forwards and he dove after them, right into a zombie that attacked him. The smell of blood attracting the other zombies. Moments later we saw Timmy's body... and we run.

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Office Party - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

No audio from me this week, but take a listen to the Spec The Halls trailer - because you don't want to end up like Roger.

You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Roger left his office building, gingerly holding the box of leftovers. His co-workers had left him passed out after the office party, Post-It labels of "Scrooge" and "Humbug" on his forehead.

That didn't matter. The ghosts had come. All three, just like Dickens, though they'd talked about CDOs, short-selling and unemployment. It wasn't just numbers anymore - he'd seen the effect of his trading.

The protesters were still there, despite the cold and snow.

"If you're hungry, I've got food," he said to the demonstrator laying on a bench, clutching a crutch.

But he lay unmoving in the December cold.

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Get some online backup this holiday weekend!

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technology.pngI actually use a couple of different services for online backup and access - and many of them have saved my bacon in one way or another. Whether through traditional backups, or having a file handy that I *really* needed, they've all come in useful. And most of them have basic accounts for free!

So during this long weekend, why not set up one (or more) of them? (Note: Most of these links are referral links - which usually get me, and often you as well - extra space on the service.) While each has their strengths, keep in mind that you can use them all!

Box.Net (now just Box) has 5 gigs of online space, which you can mount as WebDAV. (You might know this as "web folders".) This makes it pretty easy to move stuff back and forth as if Box was just part of your computer's hard drive. It has a pretty straightforward mobile app as well, but its strength is with your main PC - though this guy uses it with his iPad and Pages. If you've ever used a network drive, this is the experience I tend to have with Box.

Dropbox has 2 gigs of online space for free, and pay accounts for more. The mobile app is spiffy, and there's lots of integration with other mobile applications. If you're looking for a mobile-access site, this is the one you want. Seriously. You can increase your space by referrals; be sure to associate an .edu e-mail address with it for a student bonus with each referral! When you sign up through a referral link, you should get extra drive space as well. is the new kid on the block. It starts with 10 gig free space to start out with. They focus on a clean, clear interface - it's the only one of the bunch where I actually like the web interface. is strong when you want to share things (either publicly or with selected people). Their suggested uses include: Create an online portfolio of your work, share photos and videos, publish your work whether it's an ebook, music, photos and more, share lecture notes with your class, share anywhere via the browser, desktop and mobile. Like Dropbox, referrals get both people extra space on the service.

SpiderOak, however, is the cross-platform secure backup solution for me. The service isn't speedy, but that's not what it is meant to be. It is all about keeping your data safe and secure. While there are sharing solutions, its strength is backup. On top of actually saving your files, it has some robust versioning - that means that you can go back to an earlier saved copy. It also has the largest referral bonus (for both parties) - one gig per referral. Starting at 2 gigs free, that's not bad at all. SpiderOak has personally saved my bacon more times than the others combined.

If you've used another service that you'd recommend, post about 'em in the comments!

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The biggest shopping day of the year is the day after we give thanks for what we already have.

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thanksgiving guestsI don't "get" major holidays.

Maybe I'm able to have this perspective because I haven't often gotten major holidays, at least, not from work. Whether from working in a hospital, being in the military, or a combination of the two, I've often worked or been on call. At best - like this Thanksgiving - I only had the day itself off, so there really wasn't a lot of time to prepare, get in the mood, or anything else.

So it puzzles me.

Let's take Thanksgiving as a perfect example. The bare bones of the holiday come down to this: A number of people - usually, but not always, family - gather. They eat a meal, visit, perhaps do an activity or three together, and then go home.

My parents and grandparents have always lived a decent number of hours away from me - enough that casual visiting is simply not possible. (Case in point: I spent twice as long in a car yesterday as I spent at my grandmother's.) What I just described is pretty much every time I go to visit my grandmother. In fact, because my parents live on the other side, they often make a point of trying to visit at the same time so that we can all see each other.

The only difference is that we were making an effort to be thankful.

The ritual - gathering on Thanksgiving - carries with it the obligatory attempt to be thankful for things we take for granted every day. It's good that we remember that day, that the ritual helps us to remember.1 But the ritual can become so important that it replaces the actual intent. The problem with rituals, with tying a specific "good" thing - like remembering to be thankful - to specific events is that it makes it easy to forget the good thing outside of the ritual. Don't believe me?

The biggest shopping day of the year is the day after we remember how thankful we are for what we already have.

I was really glad to see the thanksgiving advent calendars popping up. That's great! I've been using Instagram to try to take a picture of something every day - to pause and see something more clearly, to reflect on it, to remember it.

Maybe the best way to take the stress, anxiety, and (often) anger out of the holidays is to quit focusing all that meaning2 into a single day or weekend. Take a moment - right now - to be thankful for what you already have.

And do it again tomorrow. Or later today. Or in an hour.

Feel free to eat turkey (or tofurkey) while you're at it.

And if you haven't yet, help someone else in the world be thankful. Stop by Spec The Halls, donate some money to Heifer International, and get a kick-ass eBook all at the same time!

1I think this is the value of scheduled religious services as well, by the way.
2Regardless of which holiday

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Use iPad versions of websites to get an elegant "communication window"

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technology.pngA little (mostly) cross-platform goodness for you today - making a kick-ass separate communications window.

I use multiple desktops (built in on most linux installs, VirtuaWin provides it for Windows), and I like having a bunch of communication stuff open on the last of them. That keeps it open... but also able to be shunted to the side in case I need to concentrate. This is my current layout (it's a laptop monitor):

From the right:
Pidgin, a cross-platform and multiple-network IM client.
Turpial, a thin Twitter client - it runs off of Python, and should run on Windows... but is unsupported.

And finally, a Chrome window that auto-loads Google Voice, Mail, Calendar and Plus - along with Facebook. In the mobile (and/or iPad) versions of each. This is the one that takes a tiny bit of kludging.

First, make a new Chrome profile using the directions for your OS here. Make sure you edit the shortcut like it tells you to. Then open up the tabs you want. Go into Preferences (the wrench icon) and under "On Startup" click "Use Current Pages". Save the configuration, resize the window to what you want, and exit.

Then create a shortcut for your new profile. Here's the special sauce: Edit that shortcut so that at the end (after the user-data-dir bit) you have this parameter:

-user-agent="Mozilla/5.0(iPad; U; CPU iPhone OS 3_2 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/531.21.10 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0.4 Mobile/7B314 Safari/531.21.10"

Now you'll suddenly have the iPad version of everything (except Voice). GCal and Gmail are both quite elegant in the iPad version - even on your "boring" computer screen.

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Spend some of your Black Friday/Cyber Monday cash on a charity... and get a kick-ass eBook too!

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As people everywhere get ready to "get in the spirit of the season"1 by going and trying to pay hardworking folks less for extra material items they don't need and won't use, take a second to do something different than the herd.

Yes, different. Because you're not like everyone else out there. Sure, you shop, and you buy gifts for people - but you know that you've got it pretty well off. And you want to help other people who need it. Really help them.

But at the same time, you don't want to just sign a check and then get metric craptons of junk mail. Or the phone calls. Or e-mails. I hate that stuff too.

And you'd like to see some sign of appreciation for your donation. Of course you would. That's only human. But you don't want that sign of appreciation to be paid for by your donation.

And that's where Spec The Halls comes in.

All proceeds of the charity eBook go to Heifer International2. (That means anything that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or PayPal don't force me to pay them.) All the work with the eBook - the stories, the eBook conversion, the distribution - even the cover - are all donated.

This is the perfect solution. Sixteen speculative fiction stories centered around the winter holidays, including award winning authors Laura Resnick and Donald J. Bingle, as well as NYT bestsellers Alethea Kontis and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and many more. And the money goes to charity.

And if you want to donate to Heifer International directly - go right ahead. Then send me the receipt3 and I will give you a copy of the eBook. Just like that.

Stop by the Spec The Halls website and buy it there to get it in Kindle, ePub (nook, Kobo, Sony, iOS), and PDF formats. Or pick it up in Kindle (only) format at Amazon and ePub (only) at Barnes & Noble.

And gosh darnit, here's an audio promo featuring me and Chris the Nuclear Kid. Direct link here - it's on a CC-license so you can use it (without alteration) in your own podcast, broadcast, or other audio media.
Creative Commons License
Spec The Halls Promotion by Steven Saus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

1No, really, I've heard people express this very opinion.
2Yup, the same one that Pat Rothfuss supports with WorldBuilders.
2See the Spec The Halls website for information.

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Excessive Gravitas for Amusing Results

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random.pngBecause once I said it, you knew I would have to do it:

Pantera's Mouth of War... with gravitas. Use the player below, or click here for a direct link.

After listening to this, dealing with relatives should be easy... Take that, Richard Cheese!

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Raising head, looking around

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I finally finished grading papers for my sociology class last night, and got the grades turned in today. I (mostly) got caught up on - or marked read - about a month worth of articles in my RSS reader.

So now I can take a chance to stop and relax.

Oh crap. There's a story I'm supposed to turn in tonight. And two conversion projects due Saturday.

Right - back to work!

- I'm mobile blogging, please ignore formatting snafus

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Waiting to interview

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I'm about fifteen minutes away from my first job interview in years, and I'm only vaguely nervous. Partially because I don't know that I can afford to take the job.

First world problem, I know. Then again, so are the student loans, credit card debt, and mortgage that would make the difference.

I've been thinking a lot about this one - it would cut my salary by a third, but would give me a LOT more time to write, publish, teach, an do research. You know, the stuff I want to do.

My current job keeps me afloat... But does horrible things to my stress levels. When you can feel your blood pressure rise as you head to work, it's not a good sign.

So take this as a lesson from the old guy- avoid the debt. Do what you want now. Avoid the jobs that kill your soul - and escape as soon as you can.

I had a lot of anxiety leaving the military because I suddenly wouldn't have a rock-solid same paycheck every month. That stability is addictive and seductive. It will keep you places you hate, just because it is certain.

I don't know if I'll take this job - or even of they'll offer it to me. But trust me, you don't want to be in the situation where you have to choose between a job you hate and a job you can't afford.

(and if anyone reading this is looking for a writer/sociologist/ teacher/ computer geek to hire... I'm looking for you. )

- I'm mobile blogging, please ignore formatting snafus

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We Don't Have to Make Sense All The Time; Neither Do Other People

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soc_econ.pngI talked some yesterday about the practical living-your-life problems with assuming other people are always acting intentionally with their own self-interest in mind. But there's a scientific reason for thinking that such systems (and I'm looking at you, evolutionary psychology and behavioral economics) have a fundamental flaw.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about evolution is the idea that "evolved" means "best" or "most efficient". It's largely the fault of the phrase "survival of the fittest".

Folks interpret that small clause as an absolute maxim. It's why people think they're "better" or "more" evolved than other species. But really, that pithy little phrase should be written like this:

"Survival of the best-adapted organism to a particular environment, among the possible competitors at that time."

That's a very, very different phrase. Is a cheetah "more" evolved than a penguin? Depends on whether that animal is on the African savanna or Antarctic ice fields.1

But even in the right environment, an organism doesn't have to be perfect or "the best". It just has to be better than the other organisms competing with it. As long as you're not falling behind the competition, you can have all sorts of problems, design flaws, and other issues.

And that's what evolutionary psychology, objectivism, and behavioral economics all miss about our psyche.

We don't have to make sense all of the time. We just have to make enough sense that we don't completely pooch ourselves.

And that's the only measure that counts. As long as we are rational enough to get by, the rest can be all kinds of crazy cruft. Superstitions. Horoscopes. Religions. Belief in the goodness of mankind. Belief in the evil of mankind. The specific kind of crazy believe or maladapted thought processes doesn't matter (remember Hanlon's - or Heinlein's - Law) - it all falls in the same category. It's just noise to something like game theory - but it's a very important and human part of our experience, and something we cannot afford to ignore.

1Homo sapiens cheats. We use tools to essentially perform "on the fly" adaptation to an environment.

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Game theory needs to add "stupidity theory" to its playbook

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soc_econ.pngI have big problems with objectivism, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral economics. At least, with the popular notions of them.

I'm talking about the ideas that people's behavior can always (or even mostly) be explained in selfish motivations. It's the idea that altruism can be explained as mate selection or get-laid schemes. It's the idea that everything people do must have some kind of personal "payoff" or benefit.1

It has nothing to do with whether I find the models distasteful. There's a practical real-world problem with using these ideas as explanatory models.

We can't know anyone else's motivation. Not really, anyway. We can know something about what areas of the brain are activated2, but that's not the same thing as knowing motivation.

But we all know something about paranoia. We've experienced it. And that's where these explanatory models go to hell really, really fast.

People do some really screwed-up things. If you believe that people are always (or even usually) acting in their own self-interest... then all of those screwed-up things must be done intentionally.

Quite simply, people aren't that smart. Hanlon's Razor (or Heinlein's Razor) sums it up pretty damn well:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

But if you think that people are usually acting intentionally, and for their own gain, then sooner or later it all ends up looking like conspiracy. Specifically, a conspiracy against you. Any time someone's an idiot, overlooks something, or is generally clueless, it gets interpreted as an intentional attack instead.

And given how often people do stupid things, that sounds like a pretty miserable way to live.

1I'm aware that I'm paraphrasing popular understanding of science, not the science itself. Short science-y answer to anyone about to pull citations on me: They explain one variable well, but they've not made the case that they are talking about sufficient cause in all cases.
2In laboratory cases, which has its own problems.

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The First Thing I Saw - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Grading dog is gradingI can tell it is still dark outside, even though my eyes are closed. I lay still, keep my breathing regular, so they won't know I'm awake.

They're near. I hear them breathing, smell their unwashed bodies. I don't know how I will escape them, but I must try.

Slowly, I work my hands free from the restraining cloth. I tense, ready to move and -

- they notice.

I open my eyes with the blast of rancid breath, and can only see my dog's rough tongues descending to lick my face clean.

What a way to start the day.

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HTML entities broken in PubIt! nook previewer! : So You Want To Make An eBook?

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ebook_cover_200Title really says it all, doesn't it folks?

I found out the hard way this morning (after fixing a typo in Spec The Halls - go check that charity fundraiser out!) that HTML entities are currently breaking the PubIt! previewer.

I'd switched out the HTML entities for smart quotation - specifically:

’ to &rsquo;
“ to &ldquo;
” to &rdquo;
… to &hellip;

The previewer stopped rendering after any of those. I switched 'em back - but I'm concerned about this behavior, especially with older readers not always being able to render unicode characters properly. This is also opposite to my advice in my guide, as well as a change from what some other retailers would like to see.

Of course, there's one simple, easy way to make sure something as simple as punctuation doesn't bork your eBook.

Let's all say it together...

"...we don't need so-called smart punctuation in order to read our books."

Because, y'know, that last sentence was so hard for you to read.

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Spec The Halls - Call For Submissions

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There is a contest portion of Spec The Halls as well - with the intent of getting more great holiday-themed speculative fiction out there for folks to read!  We have cash prizes (which do not take away from the donations!), and entrants may be asked to participate in next year's charity anthology.

Check out the guidelines and FAQ about the contest and submissions!

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Mutually Exclusive Business Values

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soc_econ.pngWhen your values conflict, you have to decide between them. It's pretty damn simple in principle, but gets hard in practice. It's hard with yourself, and even harder when it's within a corporate top-down hierarchy.

Think about it: Which do you want? The more fun job that pays less, or the craptastic job that pays more? Which do you choose?1 There is no "right" answer - what works for me may not work for you. But there is a "right for me" answer, and a "right for you" answer.

The same thing applies in all areas of your life. I like my alone time. Maybe you never want to be by yourself. I like music while working, where it might distract you. And the list goes on.

And then we get to corporations. Theoretically, this shouldn't be a problem. Decide what you want to do, then do it. Example: "We want to help people file as many tax returns as possible." Not a problem. Automate as much as possible, be hyper-efficient, and shunt people with weird returns off to a separate queue so that they don't gum up the works. Or another example: "We want to help you file your return, and know that we took care of every detail." Also not a problem. You get lots of staff, make sure there's lots of time blocked off so that weird things can be handled on the spot, etc.

But those two values are mutually exclusive. You can't have high throughput while taking "special individual care" of any kind. It's assembly line vs. handcrafting, and they work in fundamentally different ways. That's not a big deal when you're working for yourself - you choose whichever option appeals more to you.
When you're in a corporation, however… that's when it goes wrong. If someone above you - whether immediately above you or the CEO of the company, it doesn't matter - decides that the company should produce handcrafted items at assembly-line speeds…

…well, you do get both of something. Both of the disadvantages and none of the advantages of either method. It seems pretty straightforward, which is what puzzles the crap out of me. If this is so damn obvious (and it is), then why is this such a system-wide problem in corporate life?

1 If you said "neither, I'll make a bloody high-paying job that I love", then that's yet another value choice, isn't it?

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The MarcoPoloization of Culture

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soc_econ.pngThe McDonaldization of everything faded a little bit from the forefront of American consciousness over the last five years, but the process is still there. Perhaps we have simply become used to it - that not only can you go to most any American city and experience the same stores, the same chains, the same food, but that you can travel throughout the world and have the same experiences as well.

Or maybe it's because the rest of the world is fighting back.

Really, we should call it MarcoPoloization, if we have to call it anything. McDonalds may have been the most prominent characteristic, but "McDonaldization" is not a new process. The process began the first time Neandertals met Cro-Magnons and traded. It'scultural transfer, just like the kind that occurred when Marco Polo accompanied monks and brought back spices.

What is new is the speed with which this cultural transfer now occurs. It hit me when I was listening to dubstep over New Year's. Dubstep is a rather new musical subgenre - the first instances were somewhere around 2000 - but it largely stayed in London until 2005 or 2006.

Now I can hear (and like) dubstep only five years later. I can probably find a club that plays dubstep in my region, half a world away. I can marvel at the iterations of dubstep as it has morphed over the last decade - and see a prominent dubstep forum recognize a user who lives in an area where it's impossible to associate with other fans of the genre.

The speed of adoption for successful trends and fads has increased sharply because it is so easy and fast to transmit cultural ideas across long distances. Those popular trends and fads - the mega-hits - are what we point at when we talk about McDonaldization. The mega-hits have something good about them - otherwise they wouldn't spread so successfully - but they crowded out local variations. Think about the desolation of Wal*Marts - and the number of small businesses destroyed by that behemoth - across the American landscape and you get the idea.

But we cannot forget the inseperable good things that come from fast cultural transmission. First, our ideals travel as fast as our icons and franchises. It's never a perfect transmission (kimchee on your Pizza Hut pizza, anyone?), but it's far faster and easier than what the monks who traveled with Marco Polo faced. When innovation happens, there are few physical barriers to the innovation spreading quickly away from "spiky" centers of change. 1 As someone who grew up away from those spiky centers - but could still look at them - this is a good thing.

The other good thing is evidenced by my earlier example. There is an active dubstep fan who is so far away from the physical center of the genre that they can't hear it live. (I believe they were in central Asia somewhere...) But they can still participate in a meaningful way. And that's how things are fighting back. Small centers and locuses of innovation, difference, change, and even deviance are able to survive and even thrive. They are able to expand their numbers due to the same process that brought generic conformity to their door.

I recently saw a picture of Colonel Sanders wearing a kimono, and smiled. Our culture is spreading to the corners of the world - but the corners are spreading into the center as well. Despite the best attempts of corporatization, we are not creating a bland uniform cultural broth, but a chunky thick stew of goodness.

You may never have heard of any of the musical artists I like, and vice versa. And we don't have to have heard of them in order for them to make a living doing what they love.
And that's not just okay, put pretty damn cool.

1 Cultural resistance, of course, is a different story.

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Linux: Using Google Without Using Google

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technology.pngI really do like Google Reader and Gmail - most of the time.  Mostly.

But sometimes I want something local.  Or offline.  Or speedy.  Luckily (and with a wee bit of elbow grease) I now have that - while keeping my web access intact.

Here's the steps (I'm running Ubuntu 10.04 with Openbox):

Desktop Google Reader: Download and install RSSOwl from the website (I don't have the dependencies for Liferea 1.7+).  RSSOwl synced up my Google Reader account right out of the box.

Desktop/Offline Gmail:

1.  Configure Postfix (if you're running Ubuntu, it's probably already running) following this guide.  Read the comments.
2.  Get OfflineIMAP.  Install it.  Use this guide for configuring .offlineimaprc
2a.  If you're fine with a CLI interface, install mutt.  See above guide for configuring mutt.  You're done.
3.  Install Dovecot.  I installed 1.1.2 from the Ubuntu repositories.  Note that Dovecot will not work at all with an encrypted directory.  It just fails and doesn't tell you why.  Believe me.
4.  Point Thunderbird (or anything that works with IMAP) at localhost.  No password, no encryption.  Make sure that it shows unsubscribed folders as well.

This takes some tweaking - and probably a bit of frustration here and there - but once it's done, you'll be surprised at how much time and frustration you were losing waiting for messages to load or deal with the latest web interface overhaul.

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Getting rid of the annoyances with internet radio on Windows and Linux

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technology.pngI've loved streaming music for over a decade now (le sigh), but I've had four major annoyances:

  1. Bulky player interfaces (I'm looking at you, Pandora - linux users, see Pithos for a great desktop interface to Pandora's service, Mac users, see PianoPub.).
  2. Too many stations when I just want to start a damn stream (I'm looking at Shoutcast and Icecast here)
  3. Lack of support for the playlists, so when a server moves, my desktop client's bookmark simply times out, and we're back to #2... (This is my major gripe about playing streams in Clementine, which is otherwise my music player of choice - and cross-platform, too!)
  4. Only supports a few incoming formats.  WMP is the worst about this, obviously.  Last time I tried a few years ago, it couldn't play streaming MP3 out of the box.  Really?  Really?
When I'm on Windows boxes, I like Screamer Radio.  It has a pretty extensive library of stations already built in, but you can also configure your favorites.  Support is currently from XP up, but an older version can handle your remaining Win98 boxes.

For Linux, I like RadioTray.  Yes, you have to manually add stations - but I think that's a good thing.  I usually only listen to a few stations (see #2 above), so I don't need a whole directory.  It's very lightweight, and now that I have AAC decoders installed, I can use the super-lightweight 32k AAC streams from Digitally Imported.   (Handy tip:  right click the "click to play", and "copy link location".  That link - which ends in .pls - can be used as the station, so issue #3 isn't a problem.)  Because RadioTray uses gstreamer, so any codecs you have installed there (howto) will play, so #4 is a non-issue.

What to listen to?  Aside from the Shoutcast and Icecast directories, Screamer has a great searchable directory of internet radio streams for anybody to peruse.

Overall, these two applications fill my Windows and Linux streaming radio needs.  I just recently found about FStream for the Mac, which has very similar characteristics (lightweight, plays streams, leaves you alone, and free).

What do you like listening to?

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