Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

This is not a drill: there is a fire in your (digital) house.

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Photo by Andrew Gaines on Unsplash
This is not a drill.

This is a fire alarm.

This is the real thing.

Your digital house is on fire, and everyone needs to chip in right now to stop it from burning to the ground.

I get it. Seems like you've been hearing about net neutrality for a long time.

And you have been.

Because the people who want to make money by removing net neutrality have been trying to do so for a long time. 

What they're counting on is your fatigue. They are counting on you having heard the fire alarm so many times that you'll ignore it now.

They are counting on you retreating to places on the internet where you won't have to hear about it.

They are counting on you unfollowing your political friends.

They are counting on you only reading posts in forums and groups where politics and current events are not allowed.

And they are counting on you forgetting that the very existence of those places where you are retreating to will be directly impacted by net neutrality.

This no more a political issue that the fire alarm in your physical house.

It will effect you. It will affect every place that you go online. Every activity, every app, every service.

Corporations exist to make money. And the more popular and useful something is, the more they think they can charge for it. And the more they will try to control it and get rid of competitors.

Net neutrality is the antitrust law of the internet.

And the corporations that will profit want to repeal it.

This is not a drill.

This is a fire alarm.

And there really is a fire.

Act right now to help put it out.

Seven things you can do right now to save the internet:

Battle For the Net:

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It's not being "Awkward", and the difference between Excuses and Explanations

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With missing stairs being called out in more and more industries, I'm seeing some of the same arguments that we've had in fandom be pulled out again for a wider audience. I want to talk about one of these in particular - the "awkward" excuse.

Awkward or Asshole

Back when harassing missing stairs first started getting called out in the SF/F/H convention community, there were some folks who claimed it was or could be "social awkwardness" (or Asperger's) instead of "actual" harassment.

This is, of course, bullshit.

I'm reminded of a panel I was on with three women, myself, and one guy who kept talking over all the women - to the point that the women on the panel were getting visibly upset.  I intervened as best I could, and afterwards went up to the guy.

After a bit of introduction, I asked if he had Asperger's.  He was surprised, and said "How can you tell?"

When I explained what had just happened in direct language, he was horrified, and said that he'd try to pay more attention, and from what I later heard, he did work to change his behavior.

In my interactions with neuroatypical (substitute your term of choice here) and socially awkward people, this is what happens when their interactions with others aren't how they perceive them.  People who are socially awkward or are in the Asperger's range of the spectrum have empathy, they just aren't always able to read social interactions or perceive the social cues that others think they're giving off clearly. When they're made aware of what's going on, their behavior changes.

Contrast this with the doubling down ("It wasn't harassment") or non-apology apologies (see the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator) that we get from assholes. What they say has everything about deflecting blame. It's all about how it wasn't their fault somehow. Their behavior doesn't change unless someone forces them to.  Louis CK's non-apology after years of denying and dismissing the charges he later admitted to is a good example of this.

I call it the "awkward or asshole" test.  If they admit responsibility for what they've done, and work to not do it again, it was probably awkwardness. If not, they're probably an asshole.

Explanations and Excuses

It's a fine distinction between providing an explanation for a behavior and offering an excuse for a behavior. "I didn't realize how it made you feel" could be either; it's when one adds "that was a horrible thing for me to do" before and/or afterward that it stops being an excuse.  It's the taking responsibility that's the important part.

It can get tricky sometimes to tell the difference.

Despite my "artistic license" policy, and that any post you read here might be written anywhere from a minute to over a month before it goes up, I occasionally have someone accuse me of writing specifically about them.

One person in particular insisted that I'd been writing about them for about a month, and confronted me about it.  I hadn't, so I apologized for the effect my writing had on them, and assured them that I'd not been writing those posts about them. I even revealed who or what situations had been the source or inspiration for those posts.  And this person insisted that wasn't enough, and demanded that I apologize specifically for writing those posts about them.

This was a really hard position for me to be in. I took responsibility for the effect my actions had - even though I'd not intended it that way.  However, I was being asked to admit that I'd meant for that effect to happen... and that simply wasn't the case.

I've rarely spoken to that person since, because we reached an impasse. That was enough of a resolution for me. But had that been a public incident, I don't know how it would come across.  Would that be seen as an excuse? As an explanation?  I'm not sure.

But - and this is important - I'm not worrying about it too much.

Because when we are still dealing with a world and society where non-apologies are accepted, or where people choose which predatory actions are "acceptable" or "believeable" based on political parties or social convenience, trying to wring one's hands about tricky edge cases is a way of distracting and delegitimizing the far worse and clear cut cases.

So it's an interesting thought experiment, but it is most definitely a "future us" problem.

In the meantime, we have work to do and more missing stairs to replace.

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Please bugger off with your advertising disguised as a "guest post"

I think the title really says it all, doesn't it?  Of course, that doesn't stop the repeated - and I mean repeated - requests all following the same template:  "I saw this post (mention of keyword, no matter how inappropriate or out of context or how old that post might be) and thought you might be interested in a guest post/linking to our thing."

And y'know, I'm aware of bitrot and the like, but damn.

Sure, one e-mail is fine. No big.  Maybe it will pique my interest.  (Probably not, but maybe.)  But for FSM's sake, don't keep following it up with more and more aggressive e-mails.

So here's my form letter I'm going to start sending out to folks who keep bugging me about their oh-so-sponsored "guest post" to their product or service:

Hi! You may know me as the friendly publisher of a blog, and you've tried to get me to post something of yours on my blog.


I got your request. And I noticed that it wanted me to link to your product or service.

And quite frankly, that isn't what I do.

Maybe that isn't the smartest way to run a blog. Maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot here by not monetizing things more.

But really?  I'm just not interested. I blog because I feel like it, about things that I think are interesting or need talked about.

If your request had caught my attention, I would have replied.  Instead, you're wasting my time and yours.

So again, I repeat to you:



Review: Valerian's huge problems sink a very pretty film

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I just watched Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, and it reminded me of an issue of the magazine Heavy Metal, circa 1989, in the best and worst possible ways.

First, the best ways:  The movie is visually imaginative, riotiously so. The opening sequence, for example, is a great bit of visual moviemaking.

Sadly, this visual element is nowhere near enough to redeem the large flaws the rest of the film has. In no particular order:

1. Dane DeHaan (as Valerian) sounds like he's trying to do a Matrix-era Keanu Reeves impersonation throughout.

2. Valerian is an insufferable asshat throughout the movie. He's just a jerk, and often only succeeds due to others saving his ass. Cara Delevingne's Laureline is a competent character but largely one-dimensional and flat.

3. The entire "romantic" subplot is quite literally a case of sexual harassment, as Laureline, his partner, is a "sergeant". That means she's enlisted, and quite definitely junior to Valerian's commissioned rank of "major". And yes, she starts off rejecting him, but stomach-churningly comes around to care about this churl that she has to keep saving.

4. The "humor" seems crammed in at the last second, isn't funny, and is pretty uniformly sexist.

5. Rhianna's cameo (as "Bubbles") is largely a several minute long pole-dancing performance, literally embodying the concept of the male gaze, since Valerian is sitting there watching her the whole time. The tacked on "immigration" bit doesn't help.

6. We're not given enough time (or reason) to empathize with any of the characters who sacrifice themselves - except for the race we see immediately after the credits, which we then see our nominal protagonists try to fight for a good portion of the movie. Since we see the aliens first, our expectation is that we're going to empathize with them and quite a bit of time ... too much time ... is spent lingering over their soon-to-be-obliterated island paradise. So to then see these unlikable "protagonists" fighting them is really problematic.

7. The visuals take second-place to worldbuilding or coherence.  At one point we see Valerian (literally) shoulder his way through the walls of multiple habitats in a space station.  Habitats which are not compatible with each other (water, gas, terrestrial) before finally shouldering his way into space.  It's treated as a "whoops, the woman got the directions wrong" joke (told you about the sexist bit), and completely ignores that Valerian just killed a bunch of civilians because, um, he just compromised a bunch of habitats required to sustain different times of life!  Nobody ever even notices or pays attention to the deaths he surely caused, but that kind of callousness and stupidity is, sadly, endemic here.

And that's just what I bothered to remember.

So if, like me, you were waiting to see Valerian at home after the initial ho-hum reviews, I'd highly recommend against it unless you have no other source of shiny pretty graphics available.

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What song popular during your life are just wrong now that you look back on them?

Today at work, I'm not in control of the music... which means that we're listening to a lot of pop songs from the 70's, 80's, and 90's.

And daaaaaaaamn.

Because it's occurring to me exactly how many pop songs are just... creepy and inappropriate.

For example, "I Can't Stand Losing You" by the Police.

Yes, that is the real single cover. No, I didn't know that until five minutes ago.
Not only is it creepy for being a song about suicide, but it's also manipulative as hell, using suicide (or the threat thereof) as emotional blackmail.

So folks, what song(s) that have been popular during your life are just wrong now that you look back on them?


Free Software Activity: MPDQ, an Autoqueue client for MPD with little configuration and no reliance on external services

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There are a lot of ways to autoqueue or create "smart" playlists; there's problems with all of them. I've completed a program that solves quite a few of them.

I've written it with MPD (the Music Player Daemon) in mind; it works well with several of the other programs that I've put together (like volume normalization and bpm setting and getting cover art on your phone), but if you use RhythmBoxAudacious (or any players that allows input from the commandline) it's easily hackable.

Which brings us to why I put it together.  I used to work with GJay, but GJay highlights several of the problems I've run into:

* Opaque code (in a language I don't know well)
* HUGE amounts of user input needed to judge the "color" of each song to get it to work well
* Data stored in XML, which tends to require special tools to parse
* Does not handle UTF-8 or UTF-16 filenames (for, say, a Japanese band) well.

MPD_sima is another tool I tried, which highlights the other problems I kept running into:

* Relies on external services (which don't always give good suggestions)
* Is completely reliant on black-box algorithms (Pandora, Google Music, Spotify)
* Falls back on completely random selection from your music library

And so that's where mpdq comes in.

* It's written in bash, and aside from MPD, only requires MPC, Zenity, AWK, and ffmpeg (and if you're on linux you probably have all of those in your repositories).
* It stores its configuration files in plaintext in $HOME/.config/mpdq

There's two setup stages for it after you configure the setup file.

The first is associating genres with each other (and that's where it uses Zenity).  It goes through all the genres you have, asking you to match it with other ones.  Perhaps New Age goes with Acoustic and Downtempo for you, or it only goes with New Age.  Doesn't matter.  If you skip this step, mpdq will use the genre of the currently playing song.

The second setup stage you can't really skip - you have to let it scan all your music files for BPM data and song genre.  (MPD does not store BPM data in its database, so we have to store that separately). That can take a while, but can be updated easily.

Both of those take a bit of time, but not nearly as much as trying to tag each and every file in your music library with an arbitrary "color".

When mpdq is running, it first looks at the currently playing song. If there are matching genres already configured, it picks one of those genres randomly. From that set, it narrows it to songs within the defined BPM range. And then it checks to make sure it's not been played within the user defined length of time.

If the first match doesn't work, it tries again with a slightly wider range of BPM values. It repeats this up to ten times, and if it still cannot find a match, it will try to find a song within the original BPM range in any genre.

It's as good as your music tagging and "matching" of genres is; if you cross-pollinate a little too much you can end up with some "drift", but even then it's a pretty natural and easy slide and not as jarring as going from "Nights in White Satin" to "Bodies".

If you use MPD, I hope you give mpdq a shot.  You can find mpdq on GitHub at

And if you use another music player and use this program as the framework to create an autoqueue for it, please let me know!

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Stranger Falls

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Don't judge. You know you'd watch it.

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We've got a tweak to our flash fiction rules this week due to NaNoWriMo!

Several of us have started our own, self-hosted, flash fiction challenge over at a website we're calling Obsidian Flash.  It's on a forum behind a password, so that anything you write and submit is considered unpublished.  Registration is quick, free, and pretty painless.

Seriously, this thing is the perfect thing for you to do if you think writing is hard (or finding time for writing is hard), and especially if you haven't been writing for a while.  It's also great if you have problems with getting past ideas that "you suck" (every first draft sucks, face it) or self-doubt. And if you're writing for NaNoWriMo, we've put in a tweak to the rules so you can still participate without having to stop writing on your story.

The prompt IS UP RIGHT NOW...and here it is!

Go sign up now at and we'll see you writing this weekend!

Here are the rules:

Welcome to the Flash Challenge!  Our Flash Master is... me!

Here are the rules, slightly changed for NaNoWriMo:

1. All stories should be complete, written and posted within 24 hours of the prompt being posted, and can be anywhere from one sentence to 1,000 words in length.  Typically the prompt is posted by 8pm EST on Friday, and stories are posted by 8pm EST on Saturday. (It'll be a little early this week because of my schedule.)

1a. Because it's NaNoWriMo, you may wish to post a scene, chapter, or character study from your NaNo work that isn't standalone that you write during this time.  (For example, how would your main character react to the prompt?  How can you work it into your existing story? Great way to keep the creative juices flowing!) It won't be eligible for voting, but we value participation, and will give you feedback on it! Please label it NANOWRIMO WORK at the beginning so we know!

2. You may choose to write your story in any genre.

3. Your story must be built around the restrictions—words, themes, photo prompts, word limits, etc.—provided by the Flashmaster at the beginning of the challenge.

4. Once the participants’ work is posted, the voting and comment session begins and continues until all votes are in. Time limit for voting will be determined on the spot, depending on how many people finish the challenge.  Typically this is within 24 hours of the end of the writing portion, or 8pm EST on Sunday.

5. The winner becomes Flashmaster and chooses the prompt(s) for the next contest.  Also, you get all the Internet Bragging Points you think you can get away with.
Don't wait - get going and register at right now and join us!

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Free software activities: SSH and TMUX, combined

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I use SSH to manage a number of machines around my place, and sometimes having too many terminal windows open confuses this silly bear.

I poked around at some GUI SSH managers, but they either seemed overkill or too complicated or too mouse dependent for what I needed.

So, using the power of tmux sessions, I crafted a script that will create a new specialized session for SSH connections (if it's not already existing) and open a new, named window with that connection in it. And for bonus points, if there's already a terminal window open and attached to that tmux session, it won't attach - it'll just point you to the one already open.

I call it SSH Master (because ego, duh) and you can find it on github at

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It must be fraud week for me or something... my experience with a text job scam

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It's my week for scammers! Yesterday I got texts from a guy claiming to represent a company (which he didn't) trying to hire me for a position that I hadn't applied for. If you read this thread on Indeed: you'll note that the wording is almost identical (just different company names), and it's a phishing scam.

I've yet to get a call or text out of the blue offering to hire me that wasn't a scam of some kind. (If you've not read it, take the time to read my account of when I went to an "interview" that turned into a MLM sales pitch.)  I've posted the screencap below, along with the text (my replies are in italics) if you can't see the image (click the thumbnail to embiggen it).

Click to embiggen
Good Day, I am Mr. James Love, The Admin H.O.D. Professional Diversity Network, Inc. I am Contacting you in regards to your resume reviewed and Selected on Activehire, I believe this is STEVEN M. SAUS?

Can I help you?

Your Resume Have been Approved by Professional Diversity Network, Inc. You are Qualified to function in one of these open Positions in the company: Accounting Manager, Payroll Clerk, Administrative Assistant, Clerical Admin, Customer Service Rep, Data Entry Clerk, Sales Rep, Sales/Marketing Manager, and Project Manager. Which of the above Can you handle perfectly?

I am woefully overqualified for all of those positions, mate. Also "has" been approved.

Do you have a Gmail account to proceed with the job and to know more about the company, pay scale and duties?

I thought you said you had my resume?
Also, Professional Diversity Network is based out of Chicago. Is there a reason you're texting me from a California area code?

Of course Steven, I need you to send to make sure it tallies with what i have here and also for record keeping. The company has a branch here in California.
This is strictly online and works from home job and you can as well work from anywhere of your choice or anytime that does suit you. Working Hours are flexible.

Then why didn't you e-mail me? I mean, it's not keeping with the script scammers have used (as shown on this Indeed posting) and what you're saying doesn't make sense for PDN.
But that's okay; I'm going to go ahead and send this screen cap on to them so they can decide whether or not this crosses the line of criminal impersonation for a phishing attempt.
And if I'm wrong, well, you weren't going to meet my current salary anyway.
Which you would have known if you actually looked at my real resume.

He didn't reply after that.  :)

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Social Engineering - It can happen to you!

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Someone just tried to phish security information via social engineering at work.

The caller said: "I'm from the Upper Valley Installation Center and we're trying to install Allscripts down there to C:\windows\something[I don't remember] and we are having some trouble getting it to work and I was wondering if you could help me out?"

Which doesn't make sense, since 

1) We don't use Allscripts (though that's a real program), 
2) Nobody from that location would be installing software here, let alone remotely, and 
3) Our IT people would be handling it.

I tried to transfer them to security, but we couldn't get it to transfer. 

So I ended up saying "I think the problem is that you want to install a Windows program on our Linux machines". The female caller hung up quickly.

I don't know what they were trying to obtain, but there's enough examples of identity theft and security breaches for me to take it seriously.

Most information security breaches actually happen through this kind of social engineering.  Read up and make sure you're aware of the possibility:

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Free Software Activities: CGI-based remote for MPD (the music player daemon)

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I use the Music Player Daemon (or MPD) for most of my regular music playing needs, including streaming my music library elsewhere. 

There's a lot - a lot - of different web UIs for MPD. However, they often rely on PHP, databases, don't have a feature I really want (such as cover art), or have features I didn't need (a separate webserver). So I decided to make this for a fast, basic, but featureful (as far as I'm concerned) remote control/status implementation. 

It does a few things, well.  It shows the currently playing cover art, allows you to play/pause, go back and forward in the playlist, toggle shuffle and repeat, and to switch outputs.

And it does it all fast, and in a mobile-friendly web page.

It could also be installed on a remote webserver.

Credentials are stored in plaintext, but are protected by a .htaccess file, so you should be good to go there.

You can check it out at

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Free software activites: Kodi command line interface and album collage from

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Over the last week I contributed to a (small) free software project and finished one of my own. They're primarily useful for people running linux (although Mac users might be able to use them if they're using bash for their shell), but I think they're pretty neat.

I contributed to kodi-cli, a script that makes it easy and trivial to send JSON commands to an instance of Kodi (nee XMBC) that's running on your LAN.  Before I came along, it already had some pretty spiffy features, like an "interactive mode" from the commandline and interactive volume controls.  I added the ability to use a config file with the script, library maintenance, and an advanced example where (with the use of zenity, jq, and youtube-dl), you can "cast" a playlist interactively to your Kodi.

As I write this, the last hasn't been merged to the master branch at, though they're pretty good about merges. If it hasn't been merged yet, my branch is at

Playing around with jq also gave me the solution to a problem I'd been having with another project. I liked the collage generator at - enough so that I'd donated a bit of money to them - but I wanted something self-hosted, and that displayed the images the way I wanted them to.  Something where the images looked a little like this:
And so now I have! It's pretty self-explanatory once you look at the script, and hopefully inspires others to tinker with it and make it appropriately fit their needs as well.  You can find that script at

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