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February 2009

Poems about Internet Pseudonymity

I will not try to keep pace with those whose poems I'm blogging, partly because I did something stupid with my car this weekend and am mildly injured and taking not enough Advil. Rhymed couplets are a bit beyond me just now. 

I find these quite charming. They are excerpted below.

Lines on Pseudonymity by Henry Gee

But I digress. Consider: were you to choose
A handle, you might just as easily lose
It. I contend the pain of your exposure
Is worse than had you sworn instant disclosure.


On Anonymity by the Cuttlefish

The right to be a cuttlefish
And hide behind my ink
May not appeal to everyone
Despite what I may think.

Johanna Sinisalo on the Nebula Ballot!

Can I just say how pleased I am that Johanna Sinisalo's "Baby Doll" is on the Nebula ballot for best novelette? There's a reason we put this story first in our Year's Best SF 13, and that reason was that we thought it was a really strong story.

Congratulations Johanna, and congratulations to Jim & Kathy Morrow who published the translation from the Finnish in The SFWA European Hall of Fame.

Thanks to Michael Swanwick for telling us about her a few years ago.

Bruce Sterling, international treasure

Why I love Bruce Sterling.

(Via Making Light.)

March 1st update: After a gentle nudge, Chairman Bruce has posted the original text of his speech: What Bruce Sterling Actually Said About Web 2.0 at Webstock 09: THE BRIEF BUT GLORIOUS LIFE OF WEB 2.0, AND WHAT COMES AFTER

That's the key Web 2.0 insight: "the web as a platform." Okay, "webs" are not "platforms." I know you're used to that idea after five years, but consider taking the word "web" out, and using the newer sexy term, "cloud." "The cloud as platform." That is insanely great. Right? You can't build a "platform" on a "cloud!" That is a wildly mixed metaphor! A cloud is insubstantial, while a platform is a solid foundation! The platform falls through the cloud and is smashed to earth like a plummeting stock price!

Imagine that this was financial thinking -- instead of web design thinking. We take a bunch of loans, we mash them together and turn them into a security. Now securities are secure, right? They are triple-A solid! So now we can build more loans on top of those securities. Ingenious! This means the price of credit trends to zero, so the user base expands radically, so everybody can have credit!

Nobody could have tried that before, because that sounds like a magic Ponzi scheme. But luckily, we have computers in banking now. That means Moore's law is gonna save us! Instead of it being really obvious who owes what to whom, we can have a fluid, formless ownership structure that's always in permanent beta. As long as we keep moving forward, adding attractive new features, the situation is booming!

. . . and . . .

I really think it's the original sin of geekdom, a kind of geek thought-crime, to think that just because you yourself can think algorithmically, and impose some of that on a machine, that this is "intelligence." That is not intelligence. That is rules-based machine behavior. It's code being executed. It's a powerful thing, it's a beautiful thing, but to call that "intelligence" is dehumanizing. You should stop that. It does not make you look high-tech, advanced, and cool. It makes you look delusionary. . . . This stuff we call "collective intelligence" has tremendous potential, but it's not our friend -- any more than the invisible hand of the narcotics market is our friend.

. . . and . . .

We've got a web built on top of a collapsed economy. THAT's the black hole at the center of the solar system now. There's gonna be a Transition Web. Your economic system collapses: Eastern Europe, Russia, the Transition Economy, that bracing experience is for everybody now. Except it's not Communism transitioning toward capitalism. It's the whole world into transition toward something we don't even have proper words for.

The reason I love Bruce Sterling is that he seems to be able to talk sense at times when almost no one else can.

New Comments Policy: I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments.

Graham Sleight & Kathryn Cramer

After some thought, I have decided to change my comments policy. When I first began this blog, I ran an open comment section where comments posted immediately. I really hated to have to permanently turn on comment moderation. I liked the spontaneity of an open comments section, but it had been heavily abused both by spammers and by malicious people. So with some regret I began requiring that comments be held for approval.

Today, I go one step further and have the courage of my convictions. I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments. Yes, some of my best friends are pseudonymous, and all kinds of people say they have all kinds of good reasons for not using their real names. And I've had lovely, insightful, valuable comments from people who don't use their real names online. But I've had a lot more abuse and harassment from the pseudonymous, and on occasion my trust and willingness to believe that someone had a good reason for concealing their identity has been horribly abused. Enough is enough.

On average, people behave worse when given the opportunity to conceal their identities. You yourself may well always be on your best behavior when undercover, but you give cover to others' dreadful behavior and to loathsome creeps. I will no longer be offering up web space to pseudonymity, though I will not be purging the site of past comments left under the previous policy.

I am getting incredibly sick of having to use special tools to sort out who is speaking. I don't care if your hundred best friends know you by the name of a Tolkien character or some such, if I don't know who you are and you aren't willing to share that information, I am no longer willing to publish your comments. If you need the witness protection program, you are in the wrong place.

While I do not dispute your right to use an alias on the Internet, cyberspace is large, and if you need to do that, you can do it elsewhere.

Continue reading "New Comments Policy: I will no longer publish pseudonymous comments." »

Out sick from Boskone on Valentine's Day

I had dithered a bit about whether to go to Boskone. (David had always planned to attend and is there now.) The logistics were complicated. About a week ago, I made the decision to go, planning to driving up Saturday morning.

Didn't happen. I've been sick in bed and have been running a low fever, so, no, I didn't get the kids in the car and drive to Boston. David, who drove up Friday morning and is on the program and has a dealer's table, says it's smaller than usual, but a really pleasant time. Hi Boskonians! (KC waves at you through the screen.)

I may be sick, but I'm not having a bad day. Elizabeth brought me breakfast in bed. I pulled myself together to take the kids out for a child-appreciation Valentine's Day lunch, and then we went to the chocolate shop and stocked up on bonbons. 

So I may be sick in bed, but I am well-supplied with great kids and cats and chocolate. Things are all right.

Tools of Change Conference, Day 2: It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine

I'm so far behind on writing up the specifics of the conference that I'll put that off for later and instead give a sense of the milieu of the conference. I have a press pass and so I get to use the press meeting room, and as the conference progresses we exchange news about disasters in the publishing industry happening off-stage: the Anderson distribution system goes down (is that, like, 25% of mass market distribution, just gone?); restructuring at HarperCollins, etc. (My editor, Diana Gill at Eos, still has a job; her assistant editor, Emily Krump, apparently does not.) Huge changes in the industry happening hour by hour as we meet. 

If these huge changes in distribution mean what they appear to, in a year there may be no mass market books published anymore except "leads."

I was first involved in electronic publishing in the early-mid 1990s when I wrote and worked for Eastgate Systems, purveyor of fine hypertexts. For the first time, I think I'm beginning to see something that I think can really make the eBook model begin to work, and I'm coming away from this with a huge number of ideas, and a few things to just go home and do that I know will work.  

I see for the first time a possible large-scale economic model which can work with the innovations of the hypertext fiction movement of the early 1990. I see other great things that can be done. For better or worse, the large columns of the publishing edifices falling around our ears are clearing the way for the electronic book.

Tools of Change Conference, Day 1

I arrived at the Tools of Change conference about 10:30AM, just after the morning break. The progam had already been going on for about 2 hours. I hadn't decided what sessions to attend today, so this morning, I ducked into Eric Severson's Intro to XML, and then caught the end of Chris Brogan's blogging and social media.

Severson's audience seemed very interested and engaged and to be following what he said quite closely.

I had also wanted to hear at least a bit of Brogan's talk. Brogan was in a large room and the talk was quite well attended. He is a relaxed, entertaining speaker, though I am already pretty familiar with most of what he covered. He told an anecdote about using his blog to get people to donate money to be used to buy toys to be donated to Toys for Tots. I was swept with a wave of nostalgia for that not-very-long-ago era when people had more money. 

I had a good lunch, though by myself, since the various people I know who are coming to this conference are either not here yet or sick today. In a moment I'm headed for a tutorial on eBook formats.

There was some discussion of a figure given by the rep from Amazon in the Kindle 2 launch press conference in the morning. I missed the press conference, but the quote that I heard repeated was that Kindle e-books accounted for 10% of Amazon's book sale. Another variant I heard repeated was that they accounted for 10% of Amazon's sales. GalleyCat sought clarification. The truth looks a good bit more molehill-like:

As Amazon unveiled the Kindle 2 this morning, there was confusion among readers and reporters about what percentage of Amazon's book sales were Kindle books.

PaidContent quoted Bezos: "Today, more than 10 percent of the units we sell are Kindle books." Both GalleyCat and Engadget also used that initial figure. CNN reported: "Its texts account for 10 percent of Amazon's book sales despite the fact that 200,000 titles -- a tiny fraction of the books offered on the site -- are available in digital form."

Following the advice of readers, GalleyCat asked an Amazon spokesperson for clarification. They reduced that early number: "Kindle sales make up more than 10 percent of sales of books that are available in both traditional and e-book form."

Say it with Math: Mathematica 7 Home Edition released!


Just in time for Valentines Day, Wolfram Research releases Mathematica Home Edition for $295 (chocolates not included), a small fraction of the full professional edition price: Get it now your own and make your valentines with Mathematica! Find the true mathematical expressions of your love! (Or test out that new sexual geometry without injuring yourself -- just kidding.)

Read all about it at MacWorld, MacNN, and Business Week.

My son Peter is really thrilled that decorating Easter eggs with Mathematica, something that he thought up, is used on the announcement page as an example. 


(See also my post Who Among You are Geek Enough to Decorate Your Easter Eggs in Mathematica?)