Like anybody else, I have bills to pay.
I have a mortgage and a kid in college and the cat needs to eat.
As Stonekettle Station has increased in popularity, it takes up more and more of my time to do proper research and analysis, write the content you come here for, and manage the site, commenting, and the associated social media feeds.
And when I’m doing that, I’m not writing novels or short stories or paying copy.
That said, as a number of folks have noted, I’ve been a little light on posting here lately. This is for several reasons mostly having to do with travel and real world issues. I’ve got a number of things going on my life at present which require a significant amount of my time. It’s nothing horrible, don’t panic and please don’t write to ask. I appreciate your concern, but not everything I do is public domain. It’s simply that a number of things happened all at once which require my attention in priority over writing this blog, the mundane details of which don’t need to be shared publicly – though they will likely become fodder for future articles and projects. That’s the best part about being a writer, everything is grist for the mill (too bad it’s not likewise tax deductible). The situation should be resolved shortly and I’ll be back to publishing at least one in-depth essay each week along with some shorter pieces.
Now, based on my business model, every once in a while I need to run a donation drive.
I don’t like this.
I don’t like asking for money.
Ideally, I write an article and if you like it enough, you’ll kick in. And thankfully, you do so often enough that I can survive doing this. I’ll never get rich doing it, but it beats writing advertising jingles or flipping burgers. That is going to become even more important to me as my business model evolves. More on that later.
But as I said, every once in a while I have to run a donation campaign. I refuse to do it more than once a year. And it makes me very uncomfortable to say, hey, give me money and, you know, maybe I’ll write something you like later. Don’t get me wrong, you toss the coins and I’ll dance like a monkey in a shiny silver vest, sure, but I’ve been thinking about this and I’d like you to get more. So here’s what I’ve come up with:
As many of you know, I’m also an artist.
I turn trees into things, sometimes firewood but usually stuff more like this:
This is a beautiful piece of California redwood. When I acquired it, there were a number of naturally occurring cracks on one side caused by drying. Now, normally a turner (someone who works on a lathe) would cut the piece down to solid wood and throw the flawed part away. But redwood in this size is expensive and increasingly difficult to acquire and I really didn’t want to throw any of it away.
So the flaws became features.
The cracks were filled with resin and stabilized to hold the wood together while it was being worked on the lathe. Then after turning the bowl was hand carved with a variety of tools to highlight the natural features and give the piece character. It’s 12” in diameter and finished with walnut oil and soft wood wax which gives it a deep luster and complex finish. It’s food safe, suitable for nuts or hard candies, but it is probably better suited as an art piece for display.
It is signed via laser-etch on the bottom:
Typically my artwork sells so fast I can’t keep up with it (how terrible right? Every artist should have such problems). This piece is different. I’ve had this piece available for sale for a while now on my Etsy store, but it hasn’t sold because it’s simply too expensive.
So here’s what I’m going to do:
- Donations of $50 or more:
Anybody who donates $50 or more during the month of September 2015 will be put in the running to win this piece.
- Donations of less than $50:
Anybody who donates between $1 and $49 during the month of September will be eligible to win a handmade customized laser-engraved pen in the same style I recently made for a number of famous writers at the World Science Fiction Convention (Sasquan) in Spokane, Washington. I will randomly select TWO winners in this category. Winners will be able to specify what they want engraved on the pen within certain limitations (you can only fit so much on a pen barrel folks).
Additionally, the three winners will each (if they so desire) suggest a topic for an in-depth essay on current events and I will write it for publication here on Stonekettle Station.
Winners will be selected October 1st.
To donate, click on the “Donation” button on the upper right side of this screen and follow the directions.
Note: Those of you who already donate via an automatic monthly payment, you’ll be entered automatically in the drawing.
|fanart||2 fics in a fandom where each is from a different Yuletide subcollection||a fic in a fandom you’ve previously offered||a fic you've bookmarked||a fic in a fandom you don't normally read|
|a fic in a fandom you mean to request this Yuletide||a fic in a Yuletide Madness collection (any)||every fic in a series||the first fic you read in a fandom||a work that has two of your favourite tags|
|a fic with 5 or more "additional" tags||10+ comments in a week||THINK ABOUT COMMENTING||a fic in a fandom you mean to offer this Yuletide||a fic tagged gen|
|2+ responses to the same prompt||a fic with multiple chapters||a work by someone who's given you a kudos or a comment||a fic from Yuletide 2014||a fic tagged with Misses Clause challenge|
|comment in a fandom where there are fewer than 10 fics||a fic you've already commented on||a WIP||a fic tagged f/f||comment in an exchange that isn't Yuletide|
Le voici, le kit du mois de septembre. Pour prolonger l'été, on vous a fait le kit parfait pour scraper vos photos de plage :
Ah... oui... Un diaporama pour se faire une meilleure idée :
Biologists took to Twitter in a fight for the ages, the #cuteoff. Adorable animals, some you may have never seen before, flooded the hashtag. A few truths emerged from the aftermath; that you don't have to be fluffy to be cute and that almost anything as a baby is adorable. Take a look at some of the highlights of this social media battle.
In a bit of turnabout, this time the Muppets star in an Agents of SHIELD promo with Clark Gregg.
I am reminded by comments that I never said what actually happened with “E Pluribus Hugo.” Somehow that part just escaped me.
It passed round one. Strongly. I had expected “4 of 6″ to have an easy time, and it barely cleared the majority hurdle. I had expected “E Pluribus Hugo” to be a real fight, and instead, we had a strong supermajority.
Now, it takes two WSFS Business Meetings to ratify anything. So our debate and vote was only round one. “E Pluribus Hugo” has now been sent to MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention and site of the 2016 WSFS Business Meeting, for final ratification. It may be debated, modified only in small ways that do not change the overall structure, and rejected or ratified.
If it’s ratified, it takes effect immediately; the 2017 Hugo Awards nominations would be under this system. If rejected, well, it’s rejected, and dead. We’d have to start over.
So if you’re going to MidAmeriCon II in 2016, you’ll want to go to the business meetings. We’ll likely all be needed to get this through.
What I read
Heather Rose Jones, The Mystic Marriage (2015), which I thought rather stronger than its predecessor.
EF Benson, David Blaize (1916), which I read quite a long while ago and had on the e-reader. Really, really, BROMANTIC, with that trope of the idealised boy/young man fulfilling the same role as the Love of a Good Woman in reforming the bloke or turning him away from his potentially evil path. Query: within this particular trope, does the Ideal Figure of Chaste Manly Love have all the three-dimensionality of Irene Forsyte (i.e. NOT), and is it all about their part in someone else's redemptive journey? (or at least, that is the more interesting story.)
On the go
Susan Stinson, Spider in A Tree (2013), which I have been wanting to get to for a while, but had the whole Sekkrit Projekt reading thing going on. It's very good, and in some ways is reminding me of The Corner That Held Them, though I have a feeling that it speaks to a period of US history (and its cultural resonances) with which I am really, really unfamiliar.
E F Benson, David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918), about which, meh, and probably will not finish. O EFB, you are no Lewis Carroll, or even Mrs Molesworth. Also, how is it that David's father, who is a bumbling clergyman in the other two books about him, here appears to have a laboratory and be a scientist?
E F Benson, David At King's (1924) (very lately e-available). More bromance, no plot that I can discern, much hijinx with eccentric dons, etc etc.
Well, Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown is not out in the UK until 10th, chiz, chiz, so I'm not sure what will be next.
In news appertaining to my own books, I think The Textbook must be being set on various upcoming uni courses, by the Amazon sales rankings of recent weeks: though it's a pity that some people are still buying the first edition...
It's the third part of the "Those Who Can't Teach, Teach Gym" arc.
So last time, we were talking about the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting, and all the proposals and such that were brought forth. The main event, of course, was E Pluribus Hugo – an amendment to modify the Hugo voting system to reduce the disproportionate impact of slate voters.
As a reminder, let’s go over what happened: about 13%-15% of voters participated in a mass slate vote – with pretty good but not perfect discipline – to support a slate which was specifically political in intent. As a result, they captured all the nominations in several important categories.
All those categories ended up going to NO AWARD as fandom decided to punish the slate activists for violating several decades of “we won’t do this” consensus. It wasn’t that the exploit was unknown; it was merely that using it had been considered socially unacceptable. Thou shalt not campaign, thou shalt not form parties, and so on. And the reason is simple: one party vs. unorganised parties always wins, so competing parties always arise in response, and the value of such an award – an award which has become purely a political football – is exactly zero.
E Pluribus Hugo changes the system in such a way that it reduces slates to their strongest candidates relative to their percentage of the total popular vote. It does not eliminate slates entirely, though it does reduce their presence on the final ballot to match the percentage of people voting for them; it does not single them out for special treatment; most of all, it does not need to be told, “this is a slate, discount it.” That judgement call never happens. It’s purely the fallout of the math.
The way it works is simple. Each category is treated separately, just like now. Each WSFS member gets to nominate up to five works in category, just like now – in fact, nothing the WSFS nominator does changes.
Each of these ballots gets assigned one point, which is split across all works nominated. In a full ballot of five nominees, each work would have 0.2 points, as well as one vote each, from a member.
The point total and vote total of all the nominated works from all ballots are added up. Then, the two works with the fewest points are pitted against each other, and the one with fewer votes – the one for whom fewer people voted – is eliminated.
This is important, because the point total never eliminates an nominee. Getting fewer votes eliminates a nominee. Total votes received remains the final call.
Once a work is eliminated, it is stricken from all ballots, and we start over again. If you nominated five works originally, and one was eliminated, your ballot now has four nominees, and each of those have a higher point value than before – a quarter point (0.25) instead of a fifth of a point (0.20). And the same steps are run through again, exactly as before.
Wash, rinse, repeat, removing the weakest each time, until five nominees remain; that is your final slate.
What this does in practice is start pitting slate entries against each other roughly midway through the tallying process. Assuming they have even reasonable support, the strongest – the one with the most people voting for it, which implies out-of-slate support – will emerge. If the slate is sufficiently weak, none of them will emerge, but for practical purposes, the number of survivors will be roughly proportional to the percentage of popular vote actually received.
“But Solarbird,” I hear you cry, “This lets some nominations from slates get on the ballot!” True! But only in proportion to their actual popular support. And in the event of political slates, it means we do not have to go to the NO AWARD option to block them.
Let’s say the events of this year were repeated under this system; with statistical approximations of real data, we’re pretty sure one of the Puppy candidates probably would’ve made it onto the ballot in most of their categories. It would’ve been the strongest; the one with the most outside support.
And that’s okay. If it’s crap, it’ll finish last, maybe behind NO AWARD, maybe not. But there will be four other nominees, because they’ll have the percentage of the ballot that aligns with their actual bulk support.
The rest of the ballot will provide a diversity of choices. We won’t have another year of five NO AWARD votes.
(And if it’s actually good – great! That’s kind of the point. Vote for it.)
This makes opposition slates completely unnecessary. Opposition slates arise when they are the only way to get non-slate works onto a ballot. Under the current system, that outcome is inevitable. Under E Pluribus Hugo, even if you do get an opposition slate, well, okay, maybe they get one nominee on the ballot too. That leaves three for traditional candidates.
Slates are a lot of work. Politically-minded slates are just as much work, even when the mighty power of spite drives the engines. So if you can’t stick it to the Whoevers without literally becoming the entire show, if you can’t lock them all out, then even all the ressentiment in the world probably won’t drive you to continue. There’s too much work and too little reward. There’s simply no point to it.
The system isn’t even political. It’ll reduce, say, an accidental Doctor Who episode slate down to its proportion of the vote just as effectively. Let’s say 60% of WSFS fandom puts down basically the same five episodes of Doctor Who for Dramatic Presentation – Short Form. Right now, they own the entire ballot. Under E Pluribus Hugo, they own 60% of the ballot, and other works can be considered too.
Because that’s the brilliance of it. I said this before, but it’s really important, so I’m going to say it again:
E Pluribus Hugo doesn’t know about intentional slates. It doesn’t need to be told, “this is a slate.” Nobody has to make that call, because it doesn’t matter. It’s kind of like a normalisation function applied to nominations. There are no arguments over whether a pattern or voting is intentional or a plot or intent or political – a lot of identical ballots will be normalised to a first-order approximation of their actual popular support, regardless.
That’s why it’s so elegant, and that’s why it’s so genius. It doesn’t lock anybody out; it just stops campaigns from locking everyone else out, dramatically reducing their value vs. their labour and monetary cost, and eliminating the incentive for opposition parties.
For me, that is fair. For me, that is enough.
I hope that, for the honest flank of the Sad Puppies, it will also be enough. One self-identified Sad came up and voiced active support for E Pluribus Hugo during the business meeting. Those who actually believe in the mythical SJW VOTER CABAL – which was emphatically demonstrated not to exist by the events of this year, but stick with me – will know that E Pluribus Hugo would normalise this supposed SJW CABAL slate just as effectively.
Is it sad that we’ve reached a point where this sort of engineering is necessary? Eh, maybe. Probably, even. But it has driven fandom to create what even some opponents at the business meeting called a more perfect nominating system.
Yes, it’s tedious as all hell to do by hand, but it can be done. Yes, it’s more complicated – but not much. It’s only a little different than what we do for final voting and for site selection already.
Yes, it’s more work for the Hugo administrators. That’s the downside. But from what I was hearing at the business meeting, there are a good number of inefficiencies in the current tallying system. Fix those, and the extra complexity of this system sounds to me like a wash. Develop the right tools – which there is now incentive to do – and you’re maybe looking at an improvement.
Do this right, and everybody wins. Everybody wins.
We have a chance here not just to “plug this one hole,” as the E Pluribus Hugo authors like to say their amendment does. We have a chance to make this whole system just a little bit better along the way.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
This part of a series of posts on the Sad/Rabid Puppy candidate slate-based capture of the Hugo Awards, and resulting fallout.
Bear with me while I fog y’all up with nerdiness. But trust me. It comes back around to giving you a concept that might make your life a little easier.
(Assuming you don’t have this concept down already, in which case, hey, it’s like putting on that “Greatest Hits” album of old favorites.)
Anyway. Computers store data. If you give a business your name, they’re going to want your address. If you give a business your address, they’re going to want a phone number to call. If you give them a phone number to call, they’re going to want an email address to spam you…
And so on.
When computers store that data, they can store the number you gave them: 555-555-5555. That gets plunked down into the “phone number” field in their storage.
Or, if you lie and say you don’t have a phone, you’re a homeless man who will never contact them again, they will dutifully enter a blank space in that field. That means, definitively, “This customer does not have a phone number.”
Yet if you’re a comp-sci major, you’ll remember the third value that can go in that field:
NULL means “We don’t know.”
Putting a NULL in the phone number means, “This customer might have a phone number, they might not, but we have no current way of knowing what it is.” A customer service rep might enter that if you didn’t answer all their questions, but they wanted to keep your address.
A “don’t know” is different than a “Doesn’t.” A customer rating a movie as “Haven’t seen” is actually different than a customer not having told us whether they’ve seen this movie or not. And if you’re doing queries of data, you often want to be able to look at what you don’t know.
And NULL “don’t-know” values get treated weirdly, particularly in math. What’s 2 + NULL? Well, if you turn that into 2 + “We don’t know”, the answer is obviously “We still don’t know” – which means that any equation that involves a NULL in it emerges as the mathematical equivalent of a shrug. We don’t know!
And the way this nerdery applies to ordinary life is that I said this on Twitter the other day:
“It’s always weird when total strangers tell me they’re disappointed in me. I only get worried when people I respect tell me I’ve fucked up.”
To which someone replied:
“Just because you don’t know someone doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid point.”
And I thought, “That’s potential NULL behavior.”
Admittedly, I phrased it wrong – I should have said “I only get worried when people I respect say they’re disappointed,” as the feedback of strangers can be of deep concern when they present valid reasons – but the mathematical point is that most people seem to think there’s only two ways to go:
1) The disappointment of these people I’ve never interacted with is something to be concerned about, or:
2) The disappointment of these people I’ve never interacted with *is not* something to be concerned about.
Me? I get by with a healthy dosage of NULL.
I don’t know these people. I cannot say whether their judgment is sound enough for me to be concerned about one way or the other by the withdrawal of their approval – at least not without research I’m not willing to do right now. I don’t have to cling to a binary judgment that this is good or bad – I can simply say UNKNOWN VALUE, and treat it as such.
NULLs are really handy in all sorts of places.
And I think once you internalize a bit of NULL-ness, you relax as you realize that you don’t need to have a snap judgment on everything.
Fitting every unknown into a “yes” or “no” gets exhausting, anyway. You start to get attached to that answer. Once you’ve decided on your answer with your limited data, your mind starts to defend it, and then suddenly that unknown person who’s disappointed in you slots firmly into one category or another. If it turns out that someone who you’ve categorized as “not worth your time” starts following up with other good points, you fight the data (“This person’s saying things I respect!”) because you’ve come to a conclusion (“They’re not worth listening to!”) and everyone hates to be proven wrong.
Whereas with a NULL, I’m literally not saying whether the disappointment of someone I’ve never met is worthwhile or not. It could be either way. But I talk to a lot of strangers, and if I followed up on every unknown in my life, I’d never get anything done.
Leaving it unknown is fine. With the NULL, I can wait for further data to present itself, if it does, and then form other decisions from there.
Learn to love the NULL. You do not have to possess an answer for everything. And your life gets a lot easier when you realize, “Hey, I don’t know, and I may not necessarily have to know, and this ambiguous state is okay.” You can free up a lot of cycles withholding judgment, enabling you more energy to go investigate the things that do matter deeply to you.
And you can do things without having to have a foregone conclusion. As I write this, is this a really obvious thing to say? Or is it something that might be of use to enough people that it’s worth publishing?
As I hit the submit button, my answer is NULL. And that, too, is okay.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.