26 November 2014

LA Traffic Is the Link Sausage

Yet another epic-driving whirlwind trip to and from LA: 0100 on Monday to just a few minutes ago. Naturally, the traffic was horrid, including quite a bit of stop-and-go traffic in LA on 405. At 10pm. Not to mention the road deconstruction. In any event, there will be Turkey Awards tomorrow; in the meantime, here are a couple of cocktail weenie appetizers:

  • I'm shocked — shocked, I say — that a white-dominated grand jury in one of the most-corrupt and least-effective white-dominated-county-governments-despite-its-demographics outside the Confederacy (I say that having spent four years there as an undergraduate... with little apparent change since) refused to indict a white cop for even a lesser-included offense when he shot and killed an unarmed black teenaged boy. The real question is this one: If nobody had known the races or job titles of either participant, would the result have been the same? I sort of doubt it (and a walk anywhere near Florissant Valley after dark will convince you of this). This is one of the most-compelling pieces of current evidence for entirely removing the entire justice apparatus from voter control: I think it may still have happened — but both the refusal to indict and the incident itself would have been substantially less likely — if the top law enforcement officials for the city, the county, and the state were appointed professionals and not self-interested politicians running scared simultaneously of seeming "soft on crime" and of police unions with far more bark than nibble. Professionals are not infallible; they are inherently less fallible than politicians, especially partisan politicians.
  • The passionate and eloquent acceptance speech by Ulyssesrsula Kingfisher. Le Guin during long-overdue recognition of her contributions to literature is a cry for the future as much as it is a cry for the present. American publishing is now acting very much like the American automobile industry in the 1970s: Waves of consolidation, fashionable management memes, and a need for sales-and-marketing cred to get promoted above a certain level are resulting in an incredibly fragile industry just waiting for foreign invaders. In this instance, the invaders are those durned furriners from west of the Hudson... and I mean the audience as much as I mean the authors. Censorship of the marketplace is real, and as dangerous as censorship by the government in environments like ours in which the government increasingly proclaims the market is the best regulator... and market success is simultaneously such an important precursor to electoral office.

19 November 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Sausages for the Dressing

I used to be a hard-core stuff-the-turkey guy, but that's back when (a) I had a family with hungry boys to feed on Thanksgiving and (b) I had a worthwhile kitchen (one of the reasons that San Francisco has earned a reputation as a good restaurant town is that below-the-top-10% housing tends to have a kitchen useful primarily for reheating leftover takeaway and preparing salads and the occasional stove-top breakfast). I've now transitioned to cook-the-dressing-in-a-separate-dish... because I can do the dressing in a slow-cooker on high at the same time as the bird without overcrowding the pathetic oven.

  • A provocative piece on collaborative creativity ignores the fundamental problem with collaboration: That it's about doing something that cannot be done alone. Fiction is an excellent counterexample: Although there are a few — very few — examples of jointly written works that are substantially superior to the possibilities of any individual contribution by those authors at that time, they are extraordinarily rare (even more than just plain good fiction). There still needs to be someone truly in charge; the corporatist method of filmmaking that has taken over H'wood is a good example of why this is so, even when no one person actually has the skills to make a film alone.
  • A self-aggrandizing, self-justifying bit of bullshit from a UK publishing executive asserting that publishers don't take "too much" of the revenue from books seriously undermines itself at the very top. Really? Wearing a not-inexpensive business suit, pearls, etc. for what is fairly clearly a non-posed picture doesn't imply all by itself that there's a revenue-split problem? Buried farther down there's implicit reliance on "some books lose money, so we have to screw all of the authors" accounting.

    If publishers were really paying attention, they'd look at the model of spectator sport, and football (all varieties) in particular. Suppressing wages and preventing free agency didn't actually advance either football itself or the economic interests of the various clubs. Although there has certainly been excess at the top since the advent of free agency — Over Here, in the NFL, long before Over There, via the Bosman ruling — the overall quality of the competition and its presentation, of the individual players, and the financial returns to nonrapacious investors (which is to say those who don't overleverage and/or treat the cash flow like a personal piggy bank/lifestyle enhancer) is substantially more robust now than it was in the days of Jim Brown (here) and Stanley Matthews (there). That's a hint about how publishing should be thinking about itself... but because it's a hint that does not come with enough numbers (of dubious reliability) attached, it's not going to be given much consideration. If any.

  • Damned arrogant monolingual disciples of Miss Grundy and their unjustified horror of split infinitives be damned! In some prominent European languages, splitting infinitives is required... and the less said about that sort of structural imperative in non-European languages the better!

    That's just one example; Romanes eunt domus! Then, the flip side of that is that one needs to be perhaps more careful about grammar in languages other than one's native tongue.

  • And then there's the real downside of tenure: resistance to generational change. It's perhaps worse in law than virtually anywhere else in the modern university system... because one doesn't entirely lock senior research law faculty away from the students. There's substantial deadwood on every law faculty (except, perhaps, UC Irvine... but it's not even a decade old). Deadwood leads to deadfalls, which can take healthy trees down in collateral damage.
  • The nice English intellectual property kitty notes that although unanimity in European copyright is lacking (even more than it is across the circuits over here), that doesn't justify a nation ignoring directives from higher authority because it doesn't like them. There's a rather subtle purity-of-civil-code meme hiding in this particular dispute, but that's theoretical stuff for another time, another venue, and another few hundred footnotes; the short version is that Spain is objecting that its own civil code preferences cannot, and should not, be modified by durned furriners even when Spain has agreed in principle to allowing the durned furriners to have that influence as part of the bargain for getting access to the money from the durned furriners. This is parallel to, but by a different path from, the state's-rights/federal power argument over here. <SARCASM> Gee, you think the Old World might learn something from the way the New World has dealt with this sort of thing? I didn't think so, either. </SARCASM>

13 November 2014

I Wanted a Mission

Berlin. Ich bin immer noch nur Berlin.

Life has won the past week or more, between fall allergies, laryngitis, and 25th anniversaries that should be a joyous occasion but are tarnished by other things. In any event, several recent events seem to require comment. For some value of "require" that includes me inflicting my opinions on internet passersby.

The "hottest" news is that Hachette and Amazon have "settled" their "differences" on e-books pricing. Leaving aside what Judge Cote might think about this — judges don't tend to like it when litigants who are under their supervision go ahead and do almost the same damned thing anyway, alleging (with straight faces) that this time they did it legally — the key thing to note is that the utterly misnamed "agency model" appears to have won out... at least for e-books. As I've remarked before, it's not an agency model, but a consignment agreement that is slightly different from the existing consignment systems used for trade books. We'll also leave aside any comparison of Mr Pietsch's e-mail to authors and agents (which I saw in the wee dark hours this morning) to either epistomological truth or, given that obvious futility, actual compliance with legacy contracts, many or most of which make reference to and set author compensation based upon "list price." Entire phalanxes of accountants and financial consultants are being imported from H'wood (or, if paying moving expenses seems too much, from derivatives desks on Wall Street) to supervise the impending chicanery over royalty statements... the first of which won't be issued until September 2015 at earliest.

This is closely linked to the latest "greedy artist" controversy: Taylor Swift's decision to pull her music from Sp0tify. The money quote from Sp0tify's leader is this:

Our interests are totally aligned with yours. Even if you don't believe that's our goal, look at our business. Our whole business is to maximize the value of your music.

It's literally the "money quote." Mr Ek might be lying to the rest of us, and to artists in particular, by asking us to trust him that he really means the missing words at the end of the statement ("that we pay to you"). He might also be lying to every investor and shareholder of his company by blatantly refusing to conform to the shareholder-wealth-maximization norm inherent in for-profit corporate law. Or both.

Ultimately, Marx was completely misguided in his analysis of capitalism; control of the means of production is virtually meaningless, and particularly so for anything that requires significant individual skill or creativity to produce. That ranges from bespoke tailoring to complex machines like automobiles to virtually every aspect of the arts. It is actually substantially less expensive to build and staff a factory than it is to build and staff a fulfillment operation for that factory's products — or, indeed, for any factory's products; or for any kind of products of any kind at all. The potential problems are with control of the means of distribution, for the simple reason that "manufacturers" will pop up to meet product needs without much regard for the path from the manufacturer to the customer. In short, just like the last couple thousand years of military history teach, it's logistics that ultimately matters — and the more protracted a campaign, the more the logistics matter. For all of the whingeing from automobile manufacturers, the automobile dealers have been doing just fine (as an increasingly concentrated group, with disturbing structural similarity to booksellers...).

04 November 2014

One Week Early

It's time for my annual lament that we're voting one week early, or celebrating Veteran's-Day-That-Used-To-Be-Armistice-Day one week late. Given that all of the (recorded) US veterans of the first round of the Second Thirty Years' War are now dead, there would be little reason to not move it forward to Election Day... except "tradition," which is usually sufficient to block anything that otherwise makes sense.

In any event, if you're eligible and haven't voted yet, get your butt to your designated polling place (or turn in your pre-done ballot, if that's how it's done where you live). Not only is that how you actually express appreciation for veterans' service — a whole week in advance! — but that's also the best way to simultaneously limit and illuminate outsider corruption of local elections. The more voters who have to be "bought" to win an election, the more likely a wide-ranging "conspiracy" must be put in place to do so... and those are rather difficult to keep quiet, at least in the long run.

Here in Kaliforniya, most of the action concerns ballot initiatives, not political offices. The state adopted a "top-two" ballot system not long ago — the top two vote-getters in the primary are on the final ballot, without regard to party affiliation — so we have dubious amusement like the race for Congress in the 17th (part of Silicon Valley) between a Democrat and a Democrat who appear to despise each other just as much as a Democrat and a Republican would despise each other while never coming even close to presenting a coherent policy position. But extreme outside influence is sure as hell there on the ballot initiatives. General rule of thumb: If you have a conscience of any kind at all, and you see that a major sponsor of one position on a ballot initiative is an insurance company/exchange/trade association... vote the other way. If it turns out that insurance companies are on both sides and campaigning vigorously, get ready to file a lawsuit either way, because there will be corrupt and inappropriate influence.

There's one kind of ballot initiative out there, though, that makes me want to strangle some ignorant bastard. Many cities/counties have "let's tax sugary soft drinks!" under consideration; both San Francisco and the People's Republic of Berkeley have such initiatives this year. I resent being poisoned. No matter what the potential diabetes-and-related illnesses associated with (not caused by) sugary soft drinks, the alternative is worse for some of us. Aspartame, for example, is taught in basic biochemistry as a prototypical example of the silent impact of a genetic disorder (phenylketonuria, better known as PKU), and in more-advanced courses as a precursor to migraine/cluster headaches and other not-as-rare-as-the-industry-would-have-you-believe neurocirculatory disorders. The more "modern" artificial sweeteners aren't any better, whether synthetic or "natural." (We'll leave aside for the moment that most of the dental problems result from the acidity, not the sugars.) Indeed, my own preference is for unsweetened or whisper-of-sugar-with-no-corn-syrup iced tea, or perhaps water with a twist of lemon or lime (no orange, though)... but I can't get that at any chain restaurant or any restaurant that uses soda-distributor-provided multidispensers. Indeed, most of them run the "plain water" through the same spout as the most-highly-sweetened-with-aspartame "lemonade"-like abomination, meaning that I run a substantial risk of a migraine whenever I don't order a highly-sugared soft drink at McZorgle's. The real solution here is to stop oversweetening drinks, not to stop putting sugar in them.

29 October 2014

Another Memo From Alternate History

Because I'm tired of it — year after year after year after year of having to choose between the lesser of "Who cares?" Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low I can hardly look at it.

They say a good man can't get elected President. I don't believe that; do you?

Leo McGarry, "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen (Part I)," The West Wing (episode 2x01, first broadcast 04 Oct 2001).

I'm afraid that I do believe that, Leo. And it extends far below the Presidency, and well outside the executive branch of governments at every level in the United States (not to mention elsewhere).

And to women as well as men, as epitomized by Allison Grimes in Kentucky. When Democratic Senatorial candidate Grimes was asked whether she had voted for Barack Obama for President, she evaded. She didn't have the brains or guts to turn the question back and shame the motives of those who ask invidious questions like that. I've been asked this by a snooty local reporter myself, so I'm going to quote my own answer:

What part of "secret ballot" do you not understand? Or do you care so much about being thirty seconds faster than your competitors to announce an unofficial estimate — one that doesn't consider the absentee ballots cast by military members from this area — that you'd rather ignore two centuries of America's commitment to individual conscience in the voting booth?

Needless to say, they didn't show that answer on the news in 2008. They sure as hell wouldn't today... although it's the answer Allison Grimes should have given, regardless of how much she agrees with President Obama. Or disagrees. Or is afraid of losing votes because she, herself, voted in the first place.

The less said about the panicky nonscientist morons imposing unwarranted imprisonment on asymptomatic healthcare workers, the better. Those doctors and nurses are perfectly capable of self-monitoring for the clear, obvious symptoms of a disease whose mortality rate seems, at least at first glance, significantly related to preexposure public health issues and nutrition and clean drinking water and the effect of all of those on an infected individual's immune system. I guess it looks like the governors of those states are doing something, so that must be good, right?

23 October 2014

Alleged Yeast Infection Makes the South Rise Again

#gam3rgate. Looks like the Klan. Probably is the Klan based on apparent "racial" composition (no, this is not more orc-bashing; I mean the actual gam3rs, not their characters)... and apparent orientation toward Grand Dragons and Imperial Wizards...

What, you think I'm being too harsh on the bigots throwing temper tantrums over girl cooties being sprinkled in their suddenly-visible-to-the-public-at-large clubhouses by comparing them to murderous self-appointed aristocrats and defenders of the faith who lynched thousands of Americans based on ancestry, instead of just limiting themselves to being playground bullies? I guess you didn't read about the successful effort to suppress a target's speech in an academic forum with threats of mass murder. Neither have you read their various screeds, which should probably be renamed from #gam3rgate to The Protocols of the Elders of Mulgore based on their interesting ability to blame everything that is unsatisfactory in their lives on the Jews girls. Go read Felicia Day's and Chris Kluwe's reactions instead, and ask yourself whether #gam3rgate bears a disturbing resemblance to Birmingham under Bull Connor. You just might learn something about both, if you don't already know.

I was a gam3r back in the days when Greyhawk was literally the newest thing on the market, when Empire of the Petal Throne was a commercially viable and frequently played campaign (at least among the cognoscenti), before Traveller, before one could buy twenty-sided dice at chain bookstores, when one had to manually add up armor class and figure to-hit probabilities on paper. Using an actual pencil. Perhaps I don't understand the "modern" electronic gam3rs (they don't even need a table, or graph paper for mapping! no DM screen!), but I've got a bit more than an inkling of what a subculture that has hidden itself for a while and suddenly discovers that it's gone mainstream can become.

There used to be a meme that "On the 'net, nobody knows that you're a dog." These days, knowing whether someone is a dog is probably irrelevant; I've known pit bulls with greater tolerance and better personalities than some of the trolls masquerading as gam3ers on the 'net. And, for that matter, better grooming and less slobber.

21 October 2014

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Life and other responsibilities intervened for the last couple of weeks, so I'm afraid you've had to go elsewhere for snark on publishing. But what follows here isn't snark: It's a serious attempt to deal with creeping idiocy, set off by — as is far from unusual — vast overgeneralizations appearing at Salon. To put things very bluntly, both "sides" in the debate are overgeneralizing by treating publishing as a single industry with a single set of characteristics.

The first hint that this is a problem should be the "debaters" in that article itself. Mr Spillman edits Tin House, a self-described literary magazine based in Portland (the real one... if "real" is the right word for anything in that city). Mr Konrath is is a longtime author who made his name in book-length commercial category fiction and left when (not solely because) he was squeezed by conglomerate-publishing practices during the first decade of this century. Those descriptions should do more than hint that they're not talking about the same industry: They are, instead, talking about different industries that happen to use similar distribution channels... and have been improperly conglomerated at a pre-purchaser stage in the distribution process.

Perhaps an example from another, unrelated industry will help illustrate this. Consider, for the moment, the structures of the American fresh fruit and winemaking industries. We tend to lump them together as "agriculture" or "food" or some such, but they are entirely non-comparable in their approaches, their markets, and even the perceived valuation of their products. One emphasizes the shortest possible time from hanging-on-the-plant to table as a good thing; the other, not so much. As a corollary, one of them emphasizes a constant turnover of fresh product and spoilage as competing aspects of managing product availability and price; the other, again, not so much. Conversely, one of them virtually never brands or reveals the distinct origin of its merchandise, submitting entirely to the branding (if any) applied at the consumer-distribution point, while the other revels in branding and origin designation that is far more intrusive than anything even imaginable to the lowly peach. I could go on, but I won't; the point is that these disparate industries are lumped together into "agriculture."

Very few even marginally educated commentators on agriculture, however, would dream of applying the same company- or product-valuation rubrics to these two parts of the agriculture industry, while doing so with publishing isn't just endemic — it's the default. All of those attacks on (and defenses of) Simon & Schuster (which appears to have reached an undisclosed resolution with Amazon that just might breach its author contracts, but because it's being treated as semiconfidential we can't determine that yet) and its "competitors" like Hachette ignore that the majority of S&S's output — and certainly its most profitable product lines — is virtually never sold through general brick-and-mortar stores in the first place... or even Amazon. That's not to say that the deal with Amazon won't influence those other product lines; it's to say that it won't determine them, or change the internal way those product lines are put together.

There are thirteen distinct publishing industries, and the principle error is in treating them together when they aren't. Admittedly, this is also an error that the publishing conglomerates themselves make... as evidenced by the way that Penguin USA was divided up, with Pearson retaining the lower-volume-lower-risk-higher-unit-profit segments that fit best with its dominance there outside the US and Bertelsmann acquiring the higher-volume-higher-risk-lower-unit-profit segments that fit best with its dominance there outside the US. Indeed, that's part of my point: That Amazon is a disruptive influence that has both good and bad aspects... and that overemphasizing one while neglecting the other, or making mistaken claims that the balance among good, bad, and irrelevant or indeterminate is the same in commercial category fiction as in serious nonacademic nonfiction, let alone in textbooks and nonprofessional references, is little more than imposing Baron Rothschild's process on Dole bananas, or vice versa.

In short, you didn't advance the debate, guys. Get over it and at least talk about the same thing. Just because the inventory system can be massaged to treat a case of Chateau Lafitte the same way as a box of peaches (or, more to the point, a case of Boone's Farm Strawberry Wine the same way as a box of strawberries) doesn't mean that one can draw accurate conclusions about damned near anything relating to production of that inventory from the inventory system. Unfortunately, commentators on "publishing" (and managers at various stages in "publishing") forget this all too readily.

06 October 2014

Mob Rule Is Unsafe

... for the next few months. It's the first monday in October, so the US Supreme Court is back in session, rudely interrupting my post-migraine recovery.

  • And one of the first things that it did was turn away appeals from states in a mob-rule-based controversy. By refusing to hear the appeals at all from several states that want to ban gay marriage but were rudely smacked down by courts below, the Court allows the lower-court rulings to stand without ruling itself. On one hand, this means that the restrictive laws in those states are immediately ineffective, because the Court's ruling allows the particular rulings below — all of which rejected restrictions on gay marriage — to stand. No need to wait up to nine months for briefing and argument and a decision! On the other hand, it's not a uniform, nationwide ruling, either; there are other pending disputes on similar laws, and a refusal to hear a case has no formal precedential value.
  • Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize Committee has begun announcing the 2014 honorees, starting with a three-way sharing of the prize in Medicine and Biology.
  • The so-called "Public Editor" at the NYT has pontificated with a mansplanation about the NYT's coverage of the latest Amazon-versus-publishers "dispute." She asserts:

    It’s important to remember that this is a tale of digital disruption, not good and evil. The establishment figures The Times has quoted on this issue, respected and renowned though they are, should have their statements subjected to critical analysis, just as Amazon’s actions should be. The Times has given a lot of ink to one side and — in story choice, tone and display — helped to portray the retailer as a literature-killing bully instead of a hard-nosed business.

    "Publishing Battle Should Be Covered, Not Joined" (04 Oct 2014).

    This is fundamentally wrong, and reflects a blindered, self-interested misunderstanding of a century of copyright law. Three developments before Europe went up in flames — the player-piano cases, the 1909 Copyright Act, and the Townsend Amendment — turned US copyright law from a law of creator's rights into a law of transferee's exploitation. Just look at who the actual litigants have been in most of the major copyright decisions since the rise of the recorded-music industry and the film industry put some real money at issue — President Ford didn't assert his rights, the publisher did; Dashiel Hammett didn't litigate over "ownership" of Sam Spade, the studios (and publisher) did; neither Professor Tolkein nor Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has asserted a damned thing about their respective creations since their deaths, but estates composed of the purported economic interests of their heirs did; it wasn't Roy Orbison, nor even his heirs, but his "publisher" (actually the equivalent of a vulture-capital takeover firm), who sued 2Live Crew; and so on. It has actually been quite rare to see a "human-creator versus alleged-infringer-and-not-distributor" battle actually reach a decision, let alone set precedent.

    That's what is actually happening between Amazon and the publishers: A struggle between transferees over how much of the pie each transferee gets to claim, with increasing disdain for those who bake the damned pie in the first place. This time, some of the bakers spoke up, which counts as "news" in a rather disturbing way. The Streitfeld piece was itself woefully incomplete... by failing to point out that the authors in question had all, long before this dispute arose, transferred their rights to third parties in a largely forced transaction involving multiple layers of oligopoly and other unfair trade practices, and so were dependent upon not being crushed by the rocks thrown by giants at each other while running around at the feet of those giants. None of the coverage in the NYT has come even close to acknowledging that there's either a transference of or imbalance in power at issue here, nor even that the interests of the publishers are not fully aligned with the interests of the authors. Neither has there been any acknowledgement that this kind of "disruption" has occurred at least half a dozen times in the last century, but that this time everyone has access to uncontrolled "news outlets" and so-called "modern" publicity mechanisms in a way that they haven't previously. Consider, for example, the 1990s consolidation of distributors that simultaneously laid the groundwork for the Crown and Borders bankruptcies and the demise of the true generalist bookstore; had the predecessor of Ms Sullivan (or anyone else at the NYT) been paying attention to the actual creator communities at the time, they would have seen quite a bit of distress... on CompuServe and GEnie semiclosed bulletin boards. Now, though, it's "all over the 'net," and so it constitutes "news" that is somehow worthy of notice.

    For the moment, we'll leave aside the irony that this is all coming from a representative of the company that screwed up electronic rights forever, leading to the Tasini matter and bullying of writers later by imposing "if you ever want to work for us again, you have to sign away the electronic rights to all of your past works" contracts on freelancers after it lost; that is, the playground bully still persisted in stealing lunch money after a trip to the principal's office. We'll also leave aside the irony that without its century-long misuse of the work-for-hire doctrine, the NYT would not — and probably could not — exist in its present form. Failing to acknowledge these critical pieces of context rather thoroughly undermines any opinion coming from the NYT... even before we get to the "civilization ends at the Hudson" problem underlying all of the NYT's coverage of "publishing" and "literature" issues, which only begins with its supercilious treatment of even elements like the University of Iowa's renowned MFA program like they're short breaks from the necessary life in NYC. For all that I value the attempts by many NYT writers (both employees and freelancers) to cover problems of national scope, that perspective all too often results in egregious misunderstanding resulting in a positive-feedback loop of diminishing credibility outside the NYC echobox.

    Then, too, there's a critical unstated normative assumption: That "the end of the world as we know it" would not "feel fine" — the next line in that old REM song that Ms Sullivan cites at the beginning of her mansplanation. This normative assumption parallels the NYT's failure to acknowledge context, either in general or its own. To put not too fine a point on it, this is the perspective of the buggywhip industry — interestingly enough, from just about a century ago, too. The arts would definitely be better off without [names of the guilty withheld for the nonce] acting as economically empowered gatekeepers (with really bad taste and little or no critical acumen or distance) and controlling literature not just for that island and its surrounding burroughs, but the nation — and perhaps the English-speaking world — as a whole. Not that other competing potential power centers, such as Nashville and Los Angeles and London, would be all that much better...

    Try again. And this time, begin by admitting that the NYT itself has a distinct stake in whatever results from this dispute; better yet, take that into account in your statement, Ms Sullivan, because that's what your job title implies you're supposed to do. But I suspect that you won't: To self-appointed arbiters of what is "news," their own self-interest never matters (and that's not just the NYT).

30 September 2014

The Silent Type

How many syllables does the word "design" (v., də'zīn) have? Well, according to most of the people responsible for designing web interfaces — and, for that matter, operating systems/environments — it has four; there appear to be two syllables before the word "design," sort of an inverse of "silent e at the end": 'grafik. And that's a serious problem for those of us who wear bifocals... or who actually passed typing in eighth grade.

It's more than just annoying when a major communications provider (a) has so many advertiser cookies and tracking cookies embedded in its site that it freezes in Firefox, requiring me to use Internet Exploder (2004 tech there, guys — that really says "We're down with this interwebs security thingy") to pay my bloody bill and (b) throws an autorunning popup video at me to get my attention for a new product that I don't want and have previously rejected when I'm attempting to give it money. And it's not just marketing dorks this time: It's the very design (without those two preceding syllables) of the site.

I would have just griped quietly into my coffee about this, but there's the same bloody problem with student loan providers. And my bloody bank. Don't make it pretty, then secure, then operable, if you actually want my business instead of my disdain. Make sure that the data does what it's supposed to, and that people with unusual-for-Americans names (such as two middle initials) aren't locked out, and that everything remains secure when dealing with personal data, before you ever let a 'grafikdə'zīnər near it (or at least one who hasn't thoroughly digested Tufte's introduction and thoroughly considered its implications). At least, that's what you should do if you want people to actually use it with words and numbers, such as names and credit card numbers.

And a little less hostility to touch typists would be nice, too. But that's probably asking far too much.

26 September 2014

[Insert Witty Title Here]

This week has been spent largely behind the scenes, so these link sausages are a bit distorted. More than usual, that is.

  • As it's Banned Books Week, I suppose I have to link to at least one item on the idiocy of censorship. On one hand, as a (relatively recent) parent myself, I understand the concept of "just wanting to keep my own children from being exposed to damaging, inimical things they're not emotionally or intellectually ready to process." On the other, consider the actual messages — and selfish, self-aggrandizing subtexts — of the We5tboro Bapti5t Church, or 4ch4n (irony of the extra measure of leetspeak fully intended), or the still-clogging-the-courts "birther" controversy with its unacknowledged-but-archly-omnipresent focus on race (PDF). And so, in that spirit, I refer to a surreal list of banned books from this century.
  • Scott Timburg stops his inquiry into "What Broke Hollywood?" a few steps short of reaching a defensible position. Leaving aside that there isn't a single answer, the largest factor probably has little or nothing to do with intent. I can make a good argument that the actual cause is a combination of the shareholder wealth-maximization meme (which, one might recall, is not found in any US corporate statute, but is instead a judicially created and imposed parallel to fiduciary duty imposed to prevent perceived abuse of minority shareholders) and the quarterly reporting requirements descended from the Depression-era Securities Act and Securities Exchange Act, which in turn were ideological responses to certain kinds of manipulation that were wrongly blamed as the cause of the stock-market crashes at the end of the 1920s (which is not a defense of that manipulation, just a dethronement). On the other hand, it might be as simple as asking "who makes creative judgments in H'wood?" and remembering just how creative people from those backgrounds — more to the point, how sensitive to narrative quality and values — tend to be (whether by training, education, experience, or inclination)... or not.

    Applying the preceding thought process to the current problems in publishing is left as an exercise for the student. Which, I suppose, gives away a substantial part of my training, education, experience, and inclination.

  • So, the meme that New York City used to have a lot of crime and has less now, thereby justifying its insane prices (he says living near San Francisco with tongue firmly planted in cheek and full awareness of irony), isn't really true? I'm shocked. I'm so shocked that I'll pretend that the increasing prevalence of nonviolent, white-collar crime in New York City-based commerce — ranging from the obvious, like securities fraud, to the less-obvious, like Ford-Pintoesque calculations of profit, loss, and the cost-of-maimingdoing-business in the garment/fashion industry — hasn't merely moved the crime off the stoops and into the highrises, where the cops have neither expertise nor awareness. Nor, for that matter, jurisdiction.

Back to the salt mines, looking for tasty salt varieties for the next batch of link sausages...