ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Where political correctness succeeded - and where it has failed

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A lot of my discussions with people this month have centered around changing things - or people - for the better. Hell, see that last blog post, where the US military changed its whole zeitgeist and culture.

There's a big civilian example as well - and it was nearly as successful. Perhaps even moreso.

It's political correctness.

Stamp Out Racism, August 2010For all the mocking - and we'll get to that - political correctness was a largely successful attempt to administratively create a new social moré to overlay and replace the old one. In particular, it aimed to replace language that was discriminatory towards women, ethnic and racial groups, and to some degree religious and sexual orientations.1 Or to put it another way, political correctness means that bigotry isn't okay. 2

Most critics of political correctness are white males. The rest are usually complaining about how group they belong to cannot say bad things about another group they do not belong to. And that's the core of every criticism of political correctness - "I don't get to be mean to someone else, and I don't like that."

Even for those of us who have lived through the entirety of political correctness have a hard time realizing exactly how much change there's been. Go watch some movies - especially comedies - from the seventies and eighties. Wince at the stereotypes... and sometimes the language. The kind of casual Archie Bunker bigotry simply is not okay in public anymore - and when it does come up, there's quite a bit of backlash.3

But political correctness alone is no longer up to the task.

Between the "codes" - like Newt Gingrinch talking about "poor inner-city schoolchildren" when he means "non-white" schoolchildren (seriously - watch this or read the transcript)- and the huge but often invisible effects of structural inequality - like racial profiling - the bigotry has (often) become too subtle for a blunt tool like political correctness to combat.  And even when it is overt, it gets dismissed as being "okay" for one reason or another.

We must point out the subtle things for what they are. We must expose the structural inequity as something more than "isolated" incidents. We do not live in a post-racial world.

Bigots have stepped up their own version of "political correctness" - but thiers is intended to silence any dissenting viewpoint, to reduce equality, and to seat themselves back as the "real Americans".

And so it's time to call it for what it is - bullshit.  And perhaps it's time for us to abandon political correctness - and to call these people out as the bigots they are.



1 Oooh, I like this - what's your "religious orientation". Very nice phrasing.
2 It's just phrased nicely. Sort of like teaching a child to say "I went number two" instead of "I took a shit."
3 Obviously, this is an overgeneralization. There's plenty of overtly racist stuff out there, but it's become the exception instead of the rule.

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Unknown Reasons - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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!


CubiclesHe struggled. Twisted layers of twine cut into soft wrist-skin. He did not squeal when I drew a finger across his cheek.

"They're upstairs," I whispered. "The work day just began, and they're wondering about you."

Then he whimpered. The piss smell of fear filled the room.

"Nobody will come down here for at least a week. Even with the smell."

"Why-" his words forced through the gag - "why do this? What did I do?"

The knife sliced clean through his throat; he choked on croaked "whys".

Then I told him, but he never heard.

And neither will you.

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Cinncinati Archdiocese to Employees: You must all be Catholic, and We Don't Trust You.

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rant.pngThe Roman Catholic Church is willing to let employees at Catholic hospitals, schools, and other institutions go without health care because it might be used for something they disagree with.

No, I'm not kidding. Not at all.

The bishops object because providing comprehensive health care includes providing coverage for abortion, sterilization, and birth control. Not just the supposedly "controversial" stuff - regular birth control pills.

I have no problem with the Church disallowing these things - though I think it's despicable that the papal decrees against condoms have probably done more to spread HIV/AIDS than any other single factor. This archdiocesan posturing and bickering isn't about churches - it's about institutions affiliated with churches. That is not my problem here.

The Archdiocese is saying three big things here:

1. All employees at Catholic institutions, schools, and hospitals can ONLY be practicing Roman Catholics.
 
2. The Archdiocese would willingly sacrifice the health of their employees1 rather than allow the ability for them to get birth control.

3. They don't trust their own employees to follow their faith.

The argument that coverage is equivalent to using those services - or supporting them - is bankrupt. From there, it's a short step to saying that wages could be supporting those services, so maybe that's a bad idea too. After all, the Archbishop is the one saying that providing access to birth control coverage is the same thing as taking away rights - but removing access is all about freedom.

What more do you expect from an Archdiocese whose "Letters to the Editor" page on the website looks like this:


1 Golly - and save some money, too! Guess paying off those settlements is expensive... (Seriously, yes, it is expensive, and while it's not something talked about publicly much, the RCC in this area has been hurting for funds for years.)

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Honesty was valued over telling people what they wanted to hear. Doing the job right was valued over kissing ass.

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Way back when I had a "sham shield" 1 and was stationed at Fort Eustis, my Sergeant Major had junior enlisted give a "book report" each month in front of the entire company. I dreaded this. Most of the books you could choose were dry2 military histories or biographies of famous generals. Totally not what I wanted to read.

I got lucky.3

When my turn came, one of the book choices was Prodigal Soldiers. That title caught my interest, and the subtitle - "How the Generation of Officers Born of Vietnam Revolutionized the American Style of War" - seemed equally interesting.

I was wrong. It wasn't interesting. It was fascinating.

I'd been inundated with the 80's flood of Vietnam wish-fulfillment movies and TV shows. I'd seen the completely different style of Gulf War One. I had no idea what had happened inbetween.

It's a fascinating read of how a huge organization transformed itself over the course of twenty years. It also tells you exactly what the secret ingredients were in that change.

Honesty was valued over telling people what they wanted to hear. Doing the job right was valued over getting praise for yourself.4

Sure, there were consequences. If your unit wasn't up to snuff, there better be a reason why - and a plan to make it happen. But it would be far, far worse to claim your unit was ready when it wasn't.

Despite being an outside observer by the time Gulf War Two came around, it's apparent that sensibility of truth-telling was lost.5 And our military suffered for it. Units were put into roles they'd never trained for, with disasterous results. Soldiers were ill-equipped - something absolutely criminal given our defense expenditures. And we've spent longer fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than we did World War Two.

I think there's an important lesson here that can be generalized to any organization - business, civic, political, religious, or military. When that organization loses sight of these two rules:
  • Value honesty over ass-kissing
  • Value performance over careerism
that, my friends, is when it is time to start looking for a new place to be.


1 SPC or E-4, in the Army, y'all.
2 To me, at least
3 Again. So much of my military "career" is based on me getting lucky that it's not funny.
4 Yes, I realize that there's some degree of self-promotion or careerism necessary, and that "truth telling" is not the same as being rude. Stick with me here.
5 Though I caught glimmers of it being eroded before I left myself.

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Museum - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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!

Dying Star Shrouded by a Blanket of Hailstones Forms the Bug NebulaThe star's fusion reaction sputtered. "Any moment," Jon said.

Sandra untwined her hand from Jon's and looked at the image of the dying star, at the horrible, empty black that lay in all directions. "It looks... sad."

Jon glanced toward Sandra. "Status?"

"Wormhole generator steady, particle wave containment field ready."

Jon smiled. "The last star of this universe, its final rays preserved forever."

"It deserves better," Sandra said. She watched the slow dwindling death of the star. Of the universe their ancestors came from.

The Light Museum's collection ship ripped through the universe's wall, leaving it cold, dark, and silent.

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Learn To Let Go of What You Cannot Control About Online Marketing From A Flash Game

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I really like Boomshine. It's a simple, but fun, free casual game (I paid for the iOS version). Don't try it out yet, though - wait a moment.

Trust me.

It's a simple game (and free, on your PC; there's also an iOS app): The playing field has several balls bouncing back and forth (anywhere from 5 - 60, depending on your level). You get to click. Once. Where you click, a large-ish circle appears, sticks around for a while, and disappears. Any of the balls that touch the circle become their own circle. Your goal is to convert a certain percentage of the balls these circular booms.

At early levels, it's pretty easy - but it becomes almost exponentially harder for the last few levels. When you play, something interesting happens. It's easy to "figure out" the ways the balls and booms 1 will interact on the first several levels. And then you'll hit a level where that stops working. Instead of any coherent plan, you end up largely guessing where to click. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

This is an accurate model of trying to get something to go "viral".

There is a pattern and purpose behind Boomshine - but it quickly gets too complicated to consciously figure out. Social networking is the same way - except that it's even more complicated. Quality - both of what you want to
go viral and quality of the relationships - varies. Rights restrictions. Time of day. How busy everyone is. Add your own real-world complications to make it all the more realistic.

Now that game would be impossible to win.

So rather than make yourself frustrated by something you cannot control (or worse, compromise yourself in pursuit of a goal you cannot reach), back off a little bit and let go. Relax. Because the one meaningful difference between Boomshine and real life is that you're not limited to one "click". You can create tons of material (clicks) and see what happens.

So quite worrying quite so much about perfecting your marketing skill, market what you can control, and make great stuff.


1Balls and booms. huh huh huh huh huh.--

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Apple's iBook Author EULA and Smashword's Meatgrinder ToS are Birds of A Feather

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publishing.pngThe license agreement for Apple's iBook Author program can accurately be summed up by this headline: "Apple's mind-bogglingly greedy and evil license agreement". And I agree completely with this, though I'm a little surprised that folks seem upset and think this is something new.

Now, this isn't for selling on the iBookstore, but for their eBook authoring program. The very, very short form:
If you create an eBook using iBooks Author, and intend to ever charge money for it, you may only sell the output through Apple. And that's only if they accept it.

Before folks get all over me (or Apple) for them claiming copyright to your precious words, they are not. You can still output your words in plain text. Apple are claiming that they get to control the output of their program. As Ed Bott put it in the article I link to above:

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.

It is evil - but it's been done before. By one of Apple's distribution partners. Smashword's mandatory requirement you use their conversion software (and restrictive license agreement1) is equally mind-bogglingly greedy and evil.

With the advent of iBook Author, Apple is looking to maintain the same degree of control over content while cutting out the middleman - in this case, Smashwords.

I can't say I blame them - they want in on the indie/selfpub/vip/wev authors, but they want to keep avoiding the issues that others (wave at Amazon) have had with relatively unfettered access.

Regardless, I think this move to control the output of a program - any program - is inherently evil. It was bad when Smashwords did it as a requirement to use their distribution method, and it's just as bad when Apple does it.

No matter how much I like my iPhone.


1I just noticed that you can now ask for written permission to use the output elsewhere. Still, my point kind of remains as long as there are independent tools that can do the same thing and the requirement of using Meatgrinder remains.

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21 Flavors - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)! And this is his story!

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!


I walked down the road. The sun beamed bright and warm. I saw my destination - my mission was almost complete. I walked into the ice cream shop and waited in line. I knew what I wanted. It seemed like years - even decades - before my turn in line. I walked up to the cashier and placed my order.

"Hello, how might I help you today?" said the cashier.

"Hi! I would like the brains-flavored ice cream, please," I say.

"Very well, that will be one-nineteen, and is that all?"

"Yes, thank you. Have a good day!"

"Yourself as well."

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Pick Two - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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!


cain & abelUp. Down.

Heavier each time.

The sheep scattered. They could have said something, could have told him to turn around (all things spoke in those days). But they had seen their fate on the stone, and searched for the serpent instead.

Up. Down.

Hot splatters bounce once on too-dry soil, then sinks.

Up. Down. Until his brother's chest no longer moves those directions. The murderer digs his brother underground. The flesh will give a good harvest.

He will lie tonight with Mother to help fill the Earth.

And when the harvest comes that fall, Father will finally love him best.

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Big Media (and Big Government) Want Us To Just Be Consumers

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soc_econ.pngThe thing about seizures like the FBI seizure of MegaUpload on Thursday is this:

Big Media (and Big Government) Want Us To Just Be Consumers

Think about it. Megaupload's site said: "The fact is that the vast majority of mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue."

The government (and Big Media) claim that all providers should be able to verify every link and uploaded bit of content. This is *insane* (and, by the way, kills Dropbox, Min.us, Instagram, and every other cloud-based service you use), but worse, inherently turns us all into nothing but consumers.

And I don't mean this as some high and mighty "ideals" bullcrap. This is a matter of pure practicality. Moderating comments on popular blogs can be a full-time gig. So how the hell are smaller operators and creators supposed to co-exist?

Answer: We can't.

The only "safe" operators on the internet will be Big Media again. Remember the days when AOL and CompuServe were the only games in town? When Yahoo was a "portal"?

Yeah, neither does the 20-year-old who I just asked. Why don't you see Big Media as a portal anymore?

Because a free Internet is better than any corporate walled-garden corporate experience.

This isn't about piracy, folks. This is Big Media trying to use Big Government trying to shove us back to 1995. Back when Big Media was the only game in town.

Big Media's walled garden lost in the free market over a decade ago. And they want those profits back. And these big corporations are using Big Government to subvert the free market.

Tea Partier, Socialist, Libertarian, Libertine - no matter your political persuasion, there's something here for all of us to hate. And with damn good reason.

Stay with this folks. It looks like the supposed "hyperbole" you heard before was actually an understatement.

The welcome screen from my old BBS
I've been a content creator for a long time.  Recently, far more of us have been creating content - whether at Wikipedia, or commenting on blogs and forming communities (like at Whatever), or in Second Life, or forums online.

It doesn't matter where your digital home is - you're not just a consumer anymore.  You haven't been for years, and Big Media still hasn't figured out how to deal with that.

Other than to try to force you back into last century.

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Advertisers Trying To Buy Reputation (and Put Their Content in With Yours)

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essay.pngI took advertising off of this blog - and most of my other sites1 - quite some time ago. I prefer the idea of public support. Additionally, I started seeing ads I had problems with. When you rant about how a particular company is a scam, and see ads by that post for the same company... it's time to drop advertising.

But I still get, on occasion, an e-mail asking me if I want to put advertisements on my website. Sometimes I reply, if it seems interesting enough.

This pitch promised it wouldn't be obvious. That it wouldn't rotate. And generally be unobtrusive... and I'd get around a hundred bucks a year. That intrigued me enough that I asked for more information.2

They wanted to turn content into advertisement.

They would add only a few sentences to my existing content. In the middle of it, they'd add a link to a sponsor. No click-throughs. No referrer link (hence the flat fee). Just an additional link. (For example, let's say that... oh, hypothetically... there were one of those advertisements on this page.)

I turned them down flat.

1. They wanted to add their sentences and have them be represented as my sentences. That compromises my reputation.

2. I have my own referral links, usually to Amazon. If you click them, I'll get a tiny cut. But I only do that with things I actually recommend or use myself.

3. It attempts to game search engines and make the target page show up higher in Google rankings. It also shortcuts adblockers.

It's disturbing on so many levels for me.

Know that if I have ads, it will be obvious what is ad and what is content. And if I use a referral link, it's to something I would actually recommend and/or use myself.

That's my pledge to you.

1 I have a few that still have some ads, but you get the point.
2 Two quick notes: My e-mails have the no-EULA agreement link, and I'm paraphrasing here.

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Gone Dark For A Day

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rant.pngMy websites - with the exception of this blog - are going black on Wednesday to show my opposition to SOPA (though shelved for this year) and PIPA. (Learn more about these bills here and here.)

The kinds of chilling effects possible from these bills must be taken into consideration. I had a public post removed from a forum simply because another poster claimed I misrepresented them in one line of a multi-paragraph post1. Imagine the damage that could be done if spurious takedown notices - notices that would require a takedown before any official determination of piracy.

Think I'm wrong? Do you remember the RIAA's sue-a-palooza that kept accusing innocent people of being thieves?

I believe the evidence shows that the MPAA and RIAA (among other big corporate interests) back these bills to protect thier own profit margins. They are not about protecting artists or content creators. They are about corporate profits.2

And in order to protect their profits, they are ready to criminalize anyone and anything that stands in their way.

I am not for piracy. But more than I am against piracy, I am for freedom.

Yes, it is difficult to stop digital piracy. Ask a policeman, or a prosecuting attorney: It's difficult to successfully prosecute criminals. And that design is deliberate.

Innocent until proven guilty.

To quote Terry Pratchett in his latest novel Snuff:
Commander Vimes didn't like the phrase "The innocent have nothing to fear", believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like "The innocent have nothing to fear."


Fnord.

1 The real situation is a bit more complex, e-mail me if you really must know.
2 Considering that many of the anti-pirating folks, including SOPA's Congressional author and the anti-pirate "PSA" that showed in theaters for years contain unlicensed content from small-scale content creators, I think the hypocrisy is clear.

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You are Wikus. You are the Colonel: District 9's lessons and perspective on the Milgram Experiment

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soc_econ.pngI just watched District 9 for the second time;  this time with my son.  (I've been aggressively saturating him with good sf/f movies...)  And two things stuck out for me on this viewing.

People who aren't nice to the waiter aren't nice people.

I mean, really.  It doesn't matter how stupid the person showing up with the starship is... there's still someone out there who can build the damn thing.  Pissing them off is probably a Bad Idea.

Understandable villains are a hell of a lot scarier.

I've heard some backlash (and contributed, at times) against the understandable (or sympathetic) villain. When their motivations are understandable, they don't seem quite so... villainous.  The Emperor is supposed to just be... well, bad.

Watching District 9 again reminded me of how ugly Wikus originally is.  He's a racist just like the rest of MNU... and he's the moderate guy.  He casually throws around racial epithets and slurs just like the rest, and isn't particularly bothered by the questionable ethics of what he's up to.

This fits with the very spooky interpretation of Milgram's "obedience" experiment that Radiolab did a little while back on "The Bad Show".  The most common interpretation is the one you've probably heard (and can read on Wikipedia).  They highlight two different things on Radiolab, though:

1.  Everyone ordered to continue (given the last prod of "You have no other choice, you must go on.")  did not give the full series of shocks.
2.  The participants all felt that they were participating in something that served the greater good.

So the real creepy lesson here is not "obedience" in the "let's order people around" sense - though there's plenty of that - but that people will do and endure horrible things if they think it serves the greater good.  The Nazis (remember, that's what started Milgram down this path) knew they were doing horrible things.  They thought it served the greater good.



Wikus does not change because he is suddenly sympathetic to the aliens.  (He is immediately concerned for his own safety, but that's a different matter.)  Wikus only changes because what he sees at MNU violates his personal sense of the greater good.  The only difference between Wikus and the folks ready to experiment on him is that Wikus had not yet become acclimatized to the vivisection and torture - all for the greater good - four levels below the surface.

Every villain except for the cookie cutter ones could be you.

They would be you.

And maybe they are you.

And you just tell yourself that you're doing the right thing.

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The normal state of businesspeople is fearing the loss of something you don't have yet.

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soc_econ.pngThink about that for a second.

The normal state of businesspeople is fearing the loss of something you don't have yet.

And this causes problems.  A huge amount of the problems we have with business - especially when we involve politics - centers around the fear of losing things we don't have.  In one sense, it's absolutely necessary.  Without planning ahead - both for profits and losses - it's entirely too easy to find yourself bankrupt instead of in business.

I think that treating anticipated profits as equivalent to actual profits is just as bad for business as not paying any of your bills. It may take a little longer for the rot to creep in and things to collapse, but it's there all the same.

Here's an extreme example: I remember a roleplaying game where a couple of players got mad enough to quit the game forever because they didn't think their characters got enough of a reward compared to the other characters.

A pen-and-paper roleplaying game. Because their characters didn't get as much totally fake reward as another character.

Without moneyThis is no different than a businessperson saying they deserve more profits. I don't care if that businessperson is a union leader complaining about cheap overseas labor, anyone (from individual authors to the MPAA and RIAA) getting upset over the income lost from piracy, or some other example I haven't thought of yet. It doesn't make sense, and is fundamentally based in a lack of sustainability.

Consider these two scenarios:

1. I take $100 from your bank account, right now, without your permission.
2. I promise you $100 and don't give it to you.

Profits are not guaranteed. Remember that.

Because those who treat profits as guarantee won't take risks for fear of losing what they don't have. And those people will never, ever innovate.

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Relating to Asperger's Through Situational Comedy 101

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essay.pngThere are many reasons I love Community.

The cultural references are great.  The sarcasm and wit is biting as hell.  It's everything that I love in Big Bang Theory - but with more gender equity and tighter plots.

But what really, really wins me over with Community is that the characters have a real, powerful emotional core.  And just about every episode, out of left field while you're laughing your ass off, you suddenly find yourself caring about these people.  Caring a lot.

All of the cast - all - do an awesome job.  But for very specific reasons, there's one character and actor I want to draw attention to:  Abed Nadir, played by Danny Pudi.

Abed has - almost certainly - Asperger's Syndrome. High-functioning, yes, but Abed relates to the world through story (usually TV and movies). Real life can be... difficult for Abed:



And this is the power of story.

Because this clip - this character - suddenly helped me understand someone with Asperger's a bit more than any textbook, any case history, or explanation could have alone.

Thanks to the cast, crew, and writers of Community. Thank you for a show that is both hilarious and touching.

If you haven't watched Community before, you can watch the whole series on Hulu Plus. Or you can watch the last couple of episodes on NBC's site.

And when it comes back this spring, let's all watch the hell out of this series so they keep making it.

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Silly name, serious trance.

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I am a big fan of trance and euro-styled dance - especially when I'm trying to concentrate, and so the turn of the century was a magical time for me.  But as the years crept up, the genres kept... diverging.  So rather than liking most of a genre, now I'll like only select bits, because some artists simply go nuts with one element and try to make that the entirety of their music.

Dubstep is horrible about this - I love me a filthy bass drop, but you can't have bass drops alone, folks.  So it's a magical day when I find myself someone who makes some seriously good old-style trance.

Even if they go by a silly name like "The TranceMaster"... because in his case, he deserves the title.

Domenico Pandolfo - who yes, does go by "The TranceMaster" - creates some serious trance to delight your ears.  Go take a listen on Jamendo and try his tunes out for free.  He hovers right around 130bpm for most everything, which is great for concentrating and exercising.

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Mine - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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!


Brisbane Zombie Walk 2009The shovel scrapes. "Hit something!" I call up to Bob.

He looks from the top of the grave, the light on my miner's helmet showing his gray face. "Is it..."

"I think so. It wasn't marked."

Bob moves away from the top. "I hope so. Maybe you'll shut up about her."

I toss some dirt up at him, and get back to work.

Uncovering the grave is easy, though she's hungry when I get it open. Bob tosses the shrieking food into the grave with us.

"Mine," I whisper, watching my love rip the brains from the food's skull. "Mine."

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When one goes hunting for pirates, dig two (virtual) graves

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A while ago, I joined EPIC - Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition - because, well, I'm in electronic publishing. I was expecting to see a lot of discussion about distribution, price points, formats, that sort of thing. Maybe some bits about the scammers trying to rip people off, and maybe the occasional discussion of DRM.

Hoooo, boy. I had no freaking idea. None at all.

If you need a refresher on my particular stance, well, you'll see below. I was surprised at the degree of out and out love for SOPA, and the venom towards pirates (and I mean pirates, not bandits here) the vocal members of the group possess. They'll regularly vent about the ineffectual DMCA notices, about how they'll shut down one forum (or fail to shut down another). They'll talk about "sharing" in sarcastic tones, and SOPA as not going far enough.  (If you don't know about SOPA, check out this article on Lifehacker.)

When I said that I didn't support SOPA because the harm outweighed the good, a member compared online piracy to the Holocaust. Another suggested that perhaps I'm against murder laws, since those aren't 100% effective as well. Those posts were... disturbing, but that's not why I'm writing this.

I was shaken when one person said she gave up writing - after several novels - because it got in the way of hunting down pirates. That struck me as just sad


Another poster seemed to be well on her way to emulating the pirate-hunter, and trotted out the same arguments. And the thing is this: If you believe these assumptions, her bitterness and sheer hatred of pirates makes sense. And that's the problem - these assumptions aren't necessarily true.

That means that an essentially good person could, through a bad impression, sink into a swamp of bitterness, hatred, fear, and despair.  (Seriously, folks, if someone says they're concerned for you and your first response is an ad hominem attack... well...)

Well, that damn scene in The Neverending Story made me cry.  So if you pride yourself on stopping pirates, or find yourself upset, despairing, or just plain angry about piracy more than once a day...  take a look at these arguments.  See if you hold them... and see what you think about my rebuttals.


Argument One: Pirates tend to think that if they aren't making money from piracy, then it's okay.

This is partially based in the fact that if they are making money off of piracy, then it is a worse crime.

That said, this impression is partially our fault. The hardliners have been blurring the line between, say, copying a CD you bought for your spouse to listen to in the car and copying it for a classroom full of folks. It's even worse with eBooks. You're supposed to buy another copy for your family member's devices (because, yes, these folks hate lending as well), though you'd never do the same with the dead tree book.

IMHO, by insisting that ALL copying is evil - including stuff that's fair use or clearly NOT evil - we made the truly bad stuff seem "okay". "Think I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb."

Argument two: The cost of books could go up if piracy continues. Theft drives up the price of a product.

This only makes sense with physical products. Digital products don't really have this problem - that's why file-sharing is such an issue. Regardless, we have to keep in mind that any pirated eBook does not cost us something - at worst, it's lost profits. The general public is well aware of this distinction. "I didn't make as much money as I could have" is not the same as "I had to spend extra money", and pretending the two are the same just makes us look greedy.

By the way, piracy may not be the same thing as lost profits...

Argument three: I had thousands of copies of one book pirated in one month from one site. If I have ten or twenty books out, you can figure out how much money is lost then...

There's two big problems with this assumption.

First, you can't generalize from one book's sales (or rate of piracy) to another's. The books that I distribute are doing hugely different amounts of sales, and I've not yet found a single variable that explains the difference.

Second, this presumes that those thousands downloads are the same as 11K *readers*. Then it presumes that those thousands of *readers* are the same as thousands of *sales*. When you put candy out on a table at a con, people will stop and grab a piece - or a handful. Even if they don't want or even LIKE that candy. Offer it for sale... and suddenly it's a different story. The pirate site is essentially giving it away for free, so you've got folks who have no particular interest downloading it and not reading it. You have another, not overlapping percentage which are reading it, but wouldn't have bought it regardless of price.

Or to put it more simply: The number of downloads has absolutely NO relationship with how much money you would have made if it were never pirated.


Further, the industry associations do some funny calculations to determine how much money is lost to piracy.  And the latest fun argument - "prove I didn't lose that much money in profits" - is simply illogical.  You can't prove a negative;  that kind of argument is often used when you're up against someone's beliefs, not facts.

Argument four: If you're against piracy, you're for SOPA. (and variants thereof)

SOPA is a shitty bit of legislature. Anytime your proponents have to show its "success" by comparing it to tinpot dictatorships and by outright lying... Anyway, it's an ineffective bit of legislation, and will do more to thwomp regular user's rights than stop pirates, just like DRM. And yes, I seriously think that's part of the RIAA and MPAA's plan with SOPA, just like Disney being behind extending copyright protection is all about keeping all rights to the Mouse well after the creator's death. The MPAA and RIAA have a long history of "accuse and sue first", and this legislation would give them HUGE weapons.

Not to mention the potential for mischief. All it'll take is an accusation to get you shut down. I hope you've never annoyed anyone...

Simply putting a technological stop - whether SOPA, DRM, or the like - will NEVER be enough.

So what can we do?

Sure, when you become aware of pirates and especially bandits, thwomp them. Talk about piracy at conventions and online. But don't become The Operative from Serenity. Don't give up writing to deal with pirates.

He meant well.

Instead, I'd seriously recommend focusing on your *sales*, not the pirates or bandits. Are you selling enough to support yourself? If so, I know about fifty people who would trade places with you *right now*.

If not, then the question is how to convert those pirates into readers and buyers. Is it price? Accessibility? Awareness like you mentioned before? Need to know there's a real person there? I'm not sure what answer will work best for you.

But dammit, try one. Be inventive. Be bold.

Like the devs behind "No Time To Explain". They used piracy (again, not bandits) to their advantage.

Just don't be scared. Don't treat your readers like criminals.

If you do, no matter how well you quash piracy, then you've already lost.

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Works able to be nominated for awards for the 2011 season

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With Nebula and Hugo award nomination season upon us, I'd like to make you aware of the various projects and publications I've done over the last year.

First, the projects I've been involved with as a publisher (if you are a voting-eligible member of SFWA/HWA, contact me directly and we'll arrange review copies) :

The Crimson Pact Volume One and The Crimson Pact Volume Two.  These anthologies are huge - over 500 pages in print each - and are well worth checking out.  There are many good, and several truly excellent stories in each anthology to nominate separately, as well as the anthologies as a whole.  There is literally too much for me to talk about all of the stories, and so many of them are good that it's hard for me to pick out any to single out.  If forced to, I'd probably start with these four (two from each volume):
* Inside Monastic Walls by Chante McCoy (Vol 1)
* Of the Breaking of Stars by Chris Pierson (Vol 1)
* Last Rites in the Big Green Empty by Lon Prater (Vol 2)
* Three Transformations by Nayad Monroe (Vol 2)

Net Impact - not only an excellent spy thriller in its own right, but also features some striking cover art by Kathleen Tennant.  While I loved the spy thrillers I read in childhood, I eventually came to realize that those guys were the jerks who made fun of me and picked on me.  Dick Thornsby isn't that guy.  He's a regular guy... except he's also a secret agent.  Net Impact is a spy thriller for those who loved spy thrillers... but have also grown up.
Spec The Halls - While it's still available for sale for... um, 24 days, this charity eBook first saw light in 2011.  It has a mess of fine stories in it, and has done nothing but raise money for charity.  Good times.


Now, I'll present a full list of my works that appeared this last year, but I would ask you to nominate Broken in the short fiction/short story category.  There's a lot of reasons, but the simplest one is that I still choke up when I read it out loud, and Norm Sherman absolutely nailed it on the Drabblecast.


Short Fiction:
Broken, published Spring 2011 in OnSpec #84 and in audio 12/5/11 by The Drabblecast  - Listen to Norm's reading on the Drabblecast, folks.  If you have a child who has issues, have tissues handy.
Hard Lesson, published in the September 2011 issue of Three Lobed Burning Eye .  This is an ambitious story.  There's a lot of things I do well - especially in keeping "weird west" from being a simple retread.
Woman, Monster, Mother, published in the January 2011 issue of The Edge of Propiniquity. - Grendel, a bit of hardboiled detective story, and with a cameo by Taylor, my old black lab who passed away last year.
Freedom of Movement, published 10/1/11 Resident Aliens. - Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.  Perhaps one of the more controversial stories I've ever written, it was roundly rejected (along with an insulting rejection letter) by an "inclusive" magazine, only to be snapped up by Resident Aliens.
Hero, Everyday, published 3/22/11 Daikaijuzine. You will read something into this story.  What you read into it says a lot.

Related Works:

Digital Publishing Overview - SFWA Bulletin Issue #195, Fall 2011.  Where I take a serious stab at an overview of the state of digital publishing.  
So You Want to Make an eBook? - Wherein I try to get you the information you need to roll your own eBooks at a reasonable price.  :)
Ideatrash - Yes, the blog itself.  I try to be the (mostly) reasonable guy, especially about eBooks and digital publishing and then spread that reasonableness through the blog.  We've gone over eBooks, contracts, real-life experiences and numbers, and all sorts of good stuff for writers.  Usually after I've managed to screw it up for myself.
  



Do you have anything that's eligible for nomination?  If so, put it in the comments!

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Bad delivery is worse than not having the service at all

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rant.pngOn a recent day off, I took a moment to stop by at the workplace of an acquaintance. He's one of the IT guys at a local business that has customers there for a long period of time at a stretch1. He knew I was interested in both customer service and IT stuff, so he started telling me about how they "improved" the free wifi there.

"We used Websense2 originally to start blocking content that might be offensive - like racist sites, or porn." But, he said, it didn't stop there. "My boss was really concerned with bandwidth and speed, and making sure that customers were able to get what they wanted."

As more devices started using wifi - and people started using it more - his boss started using Websense to block a lot more, all in the service of keeping bandwidth and connectivity open for customers. First he blocked YouTube. Then Vimeo. Then Pandora, DI.fm, and even I[heart]Radio.

"Look," he told me, "try to open your website on your phone." Blocked - because it was 'unclassified'.

"Well," I told him, "they can't review every site. They're trying to-"

"Try to take a turn in Hanging With Friends." No luck. "It worked up until last week," he said. "I found out it was blocked when a customer complained."

"But still, it's a game, and maybe the bandwidth is prohibitive."

His eyebrows lowered. "Check in on Foursquare."

I couldn't. Even though my phone was connected - I could reach Google, it wasn't blocked - I couldn't check into Foursquare. At least, not until I disconnected from their wifi.

As soon as I was getting information from the phone network, I was easily able to check in at Foursquare.

The comments? "Wifi here sucks." "Don't bother with the censored wifi." "They want me to wait but won't let me connect to anything. FAIL."

My friend's boss had "solved the problem", all right.

It's important to remember that if we are going to offer a service - like wifi, or media support in SL, or eBooks - that we can't do it part of the way and think we're done.

I does not matter what we - as creators and business owners - think we are achieving. All our customers are going to see is that they can't get to YouTube, can't rez their prims, or can't get your eBook to load on their reader.

And they will simply blame you.


1 Usually 1-3 hours at a time. Details of the business obfuscated to protect the acquaintance.
2 I did not take the opportunity to educated him on how supporting those companies indirectly supports oppressive governments.

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Tweaking OfflineImap and Gmail

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technology.pngThere's lots of instructions on how to set up offlineimap and gmail online... but none of them quite got it all for me.  Nested folders didn't work right out of the box.  Name and folder transforms didn't work.

So I thought I'd share my .offlineimaprc file with you all.  It's pretty simple, to the point, and gets the job done.  This is what I'm currently (successfully) using with Dovecot and offlineimap, as I mentioned back here.

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Returning - 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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

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!


Ocean Beach Pier. San Diego, CaliforniaI knew it was time when I couldn't pretend my hair was just... thinning. When she looked at me.., differently. When she left me after Christmas, saying I'd... changed.

I left the Lexus by the side of the road. The white noise of the waves washed over my ears. The moon hung gibbous in the clear winter sky. My bulging eyes could adapt.

I peeled off my poly-blend suit, kicked the leather loafers over the edge.

I cried out in a croaking voice over the ocean.

From the waves came a thousand voices in an answering cry welcoming me home.

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King of Ice and Snow - A Guest 100 Word... poem?

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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! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)! This is his ... poetry entry?! Wow!

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!

Christmas decorationsKing of ice,
king of snow.
King of Christmas and mistletoe.

Every year I hope to see,
you crouched before my Christmas tree.
I hope to see you stacking gifts,
just beneath my Christmas tree.

Every Christmas eve I cheer,
for I know you will be stopping here.
I want to see you so I wait

Every year I wait and wait,
but I guess it is not my fate.

Despite my efforts,
I missed my chance,
to see your reindeer prance and prance

I missed this year so now I yearn,
for the next Christmas when you return.

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