Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tactical Highlighter #17

I have good reasons for being later than I’d like with this, but I’ll skip that part. In the end, they’re really just excuses, right? Just imagine they were really cute excuses and needed lots of smooching.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the death of Natalie Morris and asked you to donate to her husband and daughter. I don’t know how many of you did, but the podcast community in total donated over $20,000 USD. The podcast fiction community is truly the greatest community on the web. If you’re one of the people who contributed, thank you so very much.

You and all the generous souls who help out during tragedies like Katrina and the Tsunami help make the world a better place. And you make this cynical so-and-so tear up. Not a terribly difficult feat, but still a worthy one. Keep on being awesome.

  • Dead Robots’ Society - Worlds Apart by Michelle Ristuccia. Michelle is my awesomesauce beta reader, and she won the DRS contest recently for best short story. The prize was an audio production of the winning story! Terry Mixon and Kimi Alexandre voiced it, and you should definitely give it a listen.
  • Drabblecast - Varmints by Steve Lowe. I love this story so much. It’s almost like an episode of Big O! in some respects. Noirish, while not taking itself too seriously. Seriously a great episode.
  • Drabblecast again - Teddy Bears and Tea Parties by S. Boyd Taylor, Homeostasis by Phenopath. I generally don’t bother mentioning the Drabbles on a Drabblecast, but Phenopath’s story here is worth linking to completely on its own merits. The main story, by Mr. Taylor, is horror. It’s not horror in the Saw 26 or Hostel 3583085 sense, but it is decidedly not for the kiddies. But please please please listen to this story. It’s the greatest.
  • Drabblecast some more - In Search of the Mongolian Death Worm by Norm Sherman. The DC Forumites loved the Mongolian Death Worm series so much that they spliced it out of the episodes it originally appeared in and made it a standalone episode. Yep, I linked three Drabblecast episodes in a single week. Sorry, they’re great episodes and I’m a bit behind thanks to all the travel. I swear to never link three separate things from anyone in any given week until I feel a strong desire to do so again. But this is really great stuff.
  • Moon. I generally don’t review movies here unless they’re really obscure or under-appreciated. I got a chance to see this one thanks to the Infernal Red Company With Horrid Pop-Unders. I’m not sure it qualifies as obscure, but I had a hard time catching it in the theater. The first third of this movie was exactly what I was expecting. Then things got … simpler. But then I thought it was going to end a particular way, and it totally didn’t go there. Sam did a great job of playing multiple Sams in a way that made you feel like they were simultaneously different people and the same person. I was constantly expecting Kevin Spacey’s GERTY to go HAL on Sam. Moon does go a little slow for some people’s taste, but it’s not as slow as Space Odyssey so I don’t want to hear about it being too slow, you rabble rousers.
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amazon vs. Macmillan

Amazon Pulls Macmillan Books Over E-Book Price Disagreement

Cory Doctorow’s thoughts

John Scalzi’s thoughts

Brief Summary: Macmillan wanted to raise the price of their ebooks on Amazon to $15 dollars. The impetus for this appears to be the release of the iPad and Apple’s decision to allow more publisher control over pricing than Amazon allows. Amazon de-listed all of Macmillan’s books.

My Thoughts

I’m not at all uniquely positioned to comment on this kerfluffle. I’m someone who aspires to writing success (three rejections so far this year!), and someone who reads a lot of books and short stories. I also read a lot of those books in ebook format, and that’s the one category where I’m probably an oddity compared to the rest of the population.

I agree that Amazon should let Macmillan charge whatever they want. I know that Amazon wants to continue to succeed in the ebook industry and that it’s afraid the iPad is going to put a serious dent in their business if cheap books aren’t a selling point anymore.

What Amazon did is very very bad business. Amazon is the biggest, yeah, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to start spitting in the face of publishers.

Now, that’s really all I have to say on Amazon’s actions.

The rest of what I have to say is for the publishers.

You are out of your ever flippin’ minds if you think I’m going to pay more for an ebook than for a paperback. Even if the DRM you love so much was gone from the picture, I wouldn’t pay paperback prices for something that has no paper and has a marginal cost-to-produce of zero. If marginal cost confuses you and you are a publisher or other content producer, plunk down some change and read Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price. It’s literally the most important book published last year for people trying to make money in the era of the digital economy.

I saw a 1.5K word literature essay for sale recently that cost 52.95 USD to buy. Can you imagine paying that much? It doesn’t matter how much you charge if the price is so high no one is buying. Macmillan and other publishers have a duty to their authors and artists to price their offerings in such a way that people will actually purchase them.

Update: Matt Wallace has some really good points. As usual with Matt, there is a LOT of swearing involved. If you're opposed to swearing, you'll want to skip. But please don't skip if you are a writer who aspires in any serious way to be published.

Update 2: Charles Stross has weighed in on the subject with a lot of new info. Charles is an excellent SF writer, but also a phenomenal thinker and you should be reading his blog already.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Laugh Track

I didn't know what you meant when you said you'd never leave me.

How was I supposed to know you'd imprinted yourself on my mind and soul so that even after you died, you would be in me? The laugh track gets a little old. So does your disdain for every girlfriend.

#21 - This one was written about a year and a half ago. Before I even thought about Bedtime Stories for the ADD.

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Grammar Warriors: The Meaning of Words

None of us speak the same language. Since you’re reading this, you probably call the language you speak English. I call the language I speak English too.

Chances are that we had a similar introduction to English if you’re a native speaker. Our parents and the people around us taught us the bulk of what we know without even realizing it.

On a relative scale, this works pretty well. We have the semblance of understanding what other people are saying in our language.

Unfortunately, spend any time around humans and you’ll quickly realize that we generally have huge issues with communication. The communication failure that isn’t related to lying, deceit, and fear can partly be attributed to the differences between our individual language.

The phrase “it is what it is” contains just three different words and the grammar is simple enough. It’s a meaningless statement akin to “those things which exist are in existence.”

However, if you were to say it to a certain group of my friends, you’d be saying something very profoundly insulting. “I have the power to fix this ridiculously bad situation I’ve put you in, but I’m not going to do anything at all.” That’s the gist for my friends.

Not only do words have different meaning for different people, words also change meaning. If you look at text from a hundred years ago, awesome, cool, terrible, awful, great, molest, and a number of other words have changed meaning substantially. If you go to Florida and see the “Don’t molest the alligator” signs and interpret that in a modern sense, you’ll get the wrong message.

Fortunately, the passage of time has the tendency to remove most of the annoying fads of phrase, excising the words or the meanings which are no longer needed in our culture, while preserving the ones that are more useful. “Oh snap!” will hopefully gasp its last breath very soon.

This flexibility in language is absolutely critical to its usefulness. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who would rather be right than permit the language to change. You’ve all heard that you shouldn’t begin a sentence with But or And. Hopefully you’ve also heard that isn’t true anymore.

There are a lot of antiquated rules like this. These rules further stand in the way of our understanding of each other when using the written language. “I’m doing good” may not be officially proper English, but it’s the common usage and needs to be respected.

“I’m doing well” may convey the message in a grammatically correct sense, but it also conveys a lot of other messages and some of those are counterproductive. I’ll call this concept “meaning baggage” since I haven’t invented any phrases lately.

My friends’ issue with “it is what it is” qualifies as meaning baggage. The fact that you giggle anytime someone asks you if you want a pickle is probably also meaning baggage.

When we say that “ain’t” isn’t a word, we’re counteracting one of the mechanisms whereby language repairs itself. And, let’s be honest, English needs a lot of repair. My favorite examples are spellings from loanwords that weren’t naturalized. Try pronouncing bureau phonetically.

The artificially imposed rigidity applies in writing particularly. You’ll occasionally hear parents and grandparents correcting their children’s spoken grammar, but that sort of thing is generally rare outside of those guardian relationships.

In written word, the vanguards of the eternal preservation of proper English “as I interpret it in the only correct way” are much more active.

Words aren’t considered real words until they’ve been in at least one edition of Webster’s or Oxford. The hilarious thing about this is words only make it in after they’ve seen extensive use. Clearly, a word is a word a long time before Webster acknowledges it.

Let’s be sensible. A word is real when both you and I know what we’re talking about when one of us says it.

That does mean that in some cases a word won’t be a word for everyone, but I think it’s a sensible standard. And it has the upside of meaning we won’t have to continue accepting a fad word’s meaning until Webster’s gets around to removing it.

Chillax! Just kidding on that one, folks.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tactical Highlighter #16 (Christmas Hilarity Recap)

This should be the last pre-scheduled Tactical Highlighter for awhile. We’ll see how things work out with crazy business trips, etc.

If you’re like me, you can stand about two days worth of Christmas before you turn into a bigger Scrooge than Dickens’ (blessings of the universe on his righteous abridgers) famous character could have ever been.

That said, there was some really awesome Christmas audio produced in 2009 and I’ve saved it for a bit. That way, you get the chance to recover enough to enjoy the hilarity.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: DDR-DOS

Concepts that Didn't Make It: DDR-DOS

DDR-DOS was a command line OS you controlled with a DDR foot pad. Eight random letters were displayed at a time. If one you wanted came up, you hit the appropriate foot pad. Music played in blazing early-80s era PC-Speaker glory.

The cocky kid at the local arcade mastered it and formatted your hard drive in 13.3 seconds. You loved that hard drive. It had your novel and your favorite family recipes and now it was gone in a puff of caffeine-fueled glory. Oh well.

You could always try MacAroni, the early Apple clone you ate when it became obsolete.


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Baggage Fees

Check-in baggage fees are ruining air travel in the U.S.

I travel for business 2-4 times a year, always by plane.

This is despite promising not to fly after September 11, 2001 (not because of terrorism, but because of tyranny). The tyranny isn’t so bad with the right spices and a bit of butter.

I’ve only been patted down once and puffed once in the 10-12 trips I’ve taken in the past 2.5 years. The TSA folks are excessively cranky and don’t know what they’re talking about*, but that’s generally not so bad.

I’ve had the dubious advantage of flying Southwest more often than not, so I didn’t realize the dynamic that baggage fees were causing.

I don’t mind paying the fees. Really, I don’t. In fact, as many complaints as I have with Delta after the last two weeks (eight flights total), I appreciate their relatively low price of $20 for the first piece of luggage.

Even though they don't charge much, it has still turned flying into the most miserable thing still allowable under the Geneva Convention.

Many people are trying to fit all of their travel needs into very large carry-ons.

It’s taking literally 30-45 minutes longer to load a six-seat wide plane. I saw several people on each flight that had carry-ons that were larger than my check-in and loaded to twice-capacity.

Even with a normal-sized check-in, I’m now frequently obligated to gate-check my carry-on because there isn’t enough room on the plane for the luggage that should have been checked.

Though Southwest makes me miserable, I’m probably going to be flying them for the foreseeable future. Flying is a substantial hassle even without the luggage fees.

*Two weeks ago, a group of people at RDU were told that all electronics had to be removed from their carry-ons for x-ray magic. I’ve never heard that before, and none of the three trips I took since then made the same requirement.

Some TSA demand I take off my OCD-coping ticket pouch, and others don’t. Someone is wrong. Which ones, who can say.

Also, if any TSA folks can explain to me which of the following makes my check-in a target for your special harassment, I’d appreciate it: St. John’s Wort, two network cables, a multi-tool (like a leatherman, but not), wireless mouse and receiver, disposable pens, or my bright green (and currently missing) TSA-friendly lock.

And, while I have you, how can security possibly be helped in even the smallest way by demanding to see my ID when I leave the airport?

Update 3/14/2010: I’ll be giving JetBlue and other airlines that don’t charge for luggage my business for the foreseeable future. I’ve debated whether or not to make this edit for about a month now and have finally decided that, yes, I will comment on it. SouthWest personnel insinuated that director Kevin Smith was too fat to fly and on his next flight humiliate a young lady in order to make it look like they hadn’t singled Kevin out for special treatment.

I’m not a Kevin Smith fanboy (though I do adore his work with Green Arrow). My disinterest in supporting SouthWest isn’t about being a fan. It’s about the general mistreatment of overweight folks in the U.S. It’s about the assumption that overweight folks are overweight because of laziness … even if those overweight people exercise hard two and a half hours a day and eat a diet that rabbits would starve on for months without seeing any change in their weight.

This attitude in U.S. culture prevents many overweight people from getting adequate health care and makes an already difficult life that much more difficult.

If you’re unaware of the problems overweight folks face in the U.S., please read First, Do No Harm and listen to the two podcasts I linked. They’re not comprehensive, but they’re a great place to start.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tactical Highlighter #15

After next week’s episode, Tactical Highlighter will get back to its normal, minty-fresh self. Or should. We’ll see how work cooperates.

  • Clarkesworld Issue 40, The Things by Peter Watts. A view of humanity and a common SF movie trope from a completely different perspective. This is a really great story.
  • Dunesteef’s To Be Alone Again by Tom Crosshill. Cyberpunk story about the consequences of war with quite a few hints at a bunch of social issues, cast in a very interesting light. Though most of the stuff I link to is not appropriate for youngins, this one is more subtly unsuitable. Listen all the way through first before making a decision about showing it to any kids in your life.
  • Drabblecast’s The Golden Age of Fire Escapes part 1 and 2 by John Aegard. This one is a brilliant example of old time radio production. In a sense, this is what The Spirit (the recent movie) should have been. Not quite my cup of Earl Grey Hot, but really good. And it includes the end of Norm Sherman’s Mongolian Death Worm saga.
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Friday, January 15, 2010

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Earth: The Experience

Waking up from Earth was a bit of a shock. It turned out to be a pretty pathetic vacation from life in Dimension 2409, but if you chose to spend your 75 year vacation working your butt off, could you really blame the travel company?


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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tactical Highlighter #14

In lieu of an actual introduction this week, I have some sad news.

The podcast fiction community had a real blow this week. Natalie Morris died unexpectedly. Natalie was the wife of Tee Morris, the first podcast novelist, and all around awesome person. Philippa Ballantine, another awesome podcaster, organized a ChipIn movement that has raised nearly $14,000 USD to help Tee with funeral costs and help provide a future for Tee and Natalie’s daughter. Please chip in whatever you can.

  • StarShipSofa Aural Delights recording of The Reflection of Memory by C.L. Holland. The story starts at about 27 minutes and 30 seconds in. This is an incredible fantasy story. There are no overt dwarves, elves, and rangers in it. There are lots of really interesting concepts and well-thought-out consequences for the various powers that some people have. And it’s a great story.
  • Escape Pod’s recording of His Master’s Voice by Hannu Rajaniemi. This story about a cat and a dog’s dedication to their master is nothing at all like a sappy family movie. It’s science fiction with a furry edge, and it’s very poignant. It left me with a few questions, which is the way I like it. The questions weren’t consistency-related, so it was a good thing.
  • Metamor City Podcast special Whispers in the Wood 1 2 3 4. Metamor City is a Science Fantasy series written by Chris Lester. It’s really phenomenal. Whispers In The Wood is a four part story that helps to introduce the book that will comprise the bulk of season two. You don’t need to be dreadfully familiar with Metamor City to enjoy this story. However, you should be an adult and not easily offended. There are fairly serious adult situations, some violence, and Chris’s fantasy elements are not remotely Tolkeinesque. If gritty fantasy bothers you, you may want to skip this.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Glitches

Everyone loved the game. They'd line the rows up, and set the little machines down, control the timing of the water and the mixture of the nutrients, and try compensating for different weather patterns. It was truly satisfying to out-score your friends.

It was fun even for people who didn't like games. There was a sense of real accomplishment when you did well. You were ending hunger!

There were problems. There always would be. But if you were the one who caused a world-wide shortage of tomatoes? Everyone knew about it and you heard about it endlessly. Even the technical glitches were embarrassing. Who wants to water an office complex with 500,000 gallons of water?

Of course, everyone thought it was great when the organic fertilizer was spread at the court house staff-and-lawyers parking lot. Maybe glitches weren't so bad after all.


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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amazing Amazon: Surprise Me

Amazon is hilarious. In a bad way in this case.

I found this puzzle book that looked like it might make a good present for a geeky friend, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t filled with “Train Alpha leaves Station Zed heading East at 35 miles an hour, Train Beta leaves Station Yankee heading 16 million miles a year. At what time do things become silly?” style puzzles.

I did the “preview this book” thing to make sure. It starts you out at the cover page and (so far as I know) you only get to see so many pages before they won’t show you any more.

I hit the “Surprise Me” button and thought, “Wouldn’t it be surprising if it sent me to the index in the back?”

And that’s exactly what it did. I thought, “Well, there’s 704 pages in this book. Statistically speaking the next one surely won’t be an index page.” I hit “Surprise Me” again.

Index page.

Now, at this point I thought, “It would be nearly the most surprising thing ever if they took me to an index page a third time!”

And lo, I was surprised. But not stupid. Nosiree.

No. this time, I hit the “First Page” button. I was only slightly surprised when it took me to the first page of content instead of the first page of the index.

The preceding was based on a true story. There were no innocents to protect.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Bedtime Stories for the ADD: Ninjapocalypse

Our Lady of Ninjas, hear us in our hour of fighting though our prayers are silent and stealthy since we are ninjas

In 2218 early on the morning of June 3rd, in accordance with the prophecy, every man, woman, and child was instantly transformed into a ninja. Several house pets were likewise transformed.

Every ninja fought the nearest ninja to the death until there was just one ninja remaining. The victorious ninja slept and dreamed that all the people were back. When he awoke, it was true.

Computer scientists call this the ‘ninja sort,’ and insist that it was the fastest way of sorting 12 billion sentient things. Thus, the question of whether the universe was a cruel place was once and for all settled. It was cruel, but it was also totally awesome.


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