Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SnoutCast #209: Yuan Niu

This month, we talk to Yuan Niu, who's been running DASH in the Bay Area for several years and Puzzled Pint there since July!

[ Download mp3 ]

Show length: 39:52
File size: 36.4MB

Follow @hungrynerd on Twitter for more!

What Else?

Team lowkey's spoiler-filled Shinteki Decathlon 9 (SD9) recap video. LOOK AT IT!


Tell us we're wrong on the Internet! E-mail podcast@snout.org or post a comment at www.snout.org/podcast.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link / Stitcher link ]

Curtis DeeAnn Yuan

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Don't Worry Too Much about Piracy and Here's Why

TL;DR: oh, just go read Cecilia Tan's blog post instead.

This summer, my friend Katrina Archer self-published her YA fantasy novel Untalented (previously a 2009 ABNA quarterfinalist):

This week, she discovered that the eBook version had been pirated:

And that started a long Facebook discussion (not shown here) of how much authors should worry about online piracy. I threw in my two cents, but we haven't had computers and the Internet long enough to see how all this shakes out long-term, so everybody's arguing from ideology more than evidence.

With that in mind, here's my "mix tape" argument for not spending your time worrying about how to prevent or fight piracy. I'm focusing my own efforts on making cool stuff, finding an audience, and being nice to paying customers.

By the way, have I mentioned that my own book,
THURSDAY'S CHILDREN: Flash Fiction from 512 Words or Fewer,
is available as a free download (PDF or TXT)?

(And now back to our program.)

NOTA BENE: the excerpts below are totally cherry-picked, heavily edited, and completely biased. YMMV.

I'll begin with Tim O'Reilly's seminal "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution" (11 Dec 2002), from which I often quote:
Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
Cory Doctorow elaborates on this in "Liability vs. leverage: How writers lose when 'piracy' gets harder" (14 Jan 2013):
[A]lthough it’s hard to turn fame into money in the arts, it’s impossible to turn obscurity into money in the arts. It doesn’t matter how you plan on making your money — selling books or downloads, selling ads, getting sponsorship, getting crowdfunded, getting commissions, licensing to someone else who’s figured out how to make money — you won’t get the chance unless people have heard of your stuff.
But let's talk about books specifically. Since books are made of text, and plain text is pretty much the easiest form of data to copy and share over the Internet (by design), online piracy is an obvious concern for professional writers. However, John Scalzi makes a very logical argument in "The Stupidity of Worrying About Piracy" (13 May 2005):
Let's ask: Who are pirates? They are people who won't pay for things (i.e., dickheads), or they're people who can't pay for things (i.e., cash-strapped college students and others). The dickheads have ever been with us; they wouldn't pay even if they had the money. I don't worry about them, I just hope they fall down an abandoned well...

I don't know anyone who can pay for a book or a CD or a DVD or whatever who doesn't... I don't see the people who can't pay as pirates. I see them as people who will pay, once they can. Until then, I think of it as I'm floating them a loan. Nor is it an entirely selfless act. I'm cultivating a reader -- someone who thinks of books as a legitimate form of entertainment -- and since I want to be a writer until I croak, that's a good investment for me...

Yes, there's an investment risk... [but] I believe that fundamentally, most people aren't thieving dickheads; they're people who if they like your writing will want to support your career... Treat readers like they can't be trusted and there's no reason for them not to live down to your expectations. Make it clear to them that they're integral to your continued success, and they will help you succeed. Treat them like human beings, for God's sake.
This is not a new sentiment. In fact, Eric Flint said pretty much the same thing in "Introducing the Baen Free Library" (11 Oct 2000):
[Publisher] Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

He's absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences...

[T]he truth is that most people are no more tempted to steal a few dollars than they are to spend their lunch hour panhandling for money on the streets. Partly because they don't need to, but mostly because it's beneath their dignity and self-respect.

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the "gap" between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.
Of course, none of this philosophizing assuages the gut feeling of "OMG they're stealing my stuff!" Cecilia Tan breaks it down for us in "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ebook Piracy" (23 May 2011):
[A]uthors who see 100,000 downloads of their book as equivalent to 100,000 lost sales are deluding themselves. Please trust me when I say that 100,000 downloads is not the equivalent of 100,000 copies shoplifted. It’s actually the equivalent of 100,000 people thumbing through the book while standing in the bookstore or library, deciding whether to invest the time in reading it...

Of those 100,000 who downloaded your book, most of them aren’t reading it anyway. 90,000 probably never open the file. Of the 10,000 who do, you just got the equivalent of them opening a copy of the book on the shelf at a bookstore to see if they like it. Most traditional authors would have KILLED to have such great placement in the bookstores as to attract 10,000 browsers to pick up the book and look in it. Out of those 10K, say 3 out of 4 decide the book is not their cup of tea. So now we’re down to 2500 who are genuinely interested. In the brick and mortar world, retail rule of thumb says 500 of them would have a good chance of buying it...

Giving stuff away helps. Having it for easy sale also helps. In fact, despite all our “new media” chatter about publicity in the digital age, about blog tours and Twitter contests and Facebook pages, these two things seem to be the only two things that actually make a measurable impact on sales. Give stuff away to increase your customer base, and then have it for easy sale to sift money out of those who are eager to pay. That’s it.
There's more great stuff in Tan's post, including a link to Jeff Vogel's highly entertaining "might as well have just made a big pile of money and set it on fire" cautionary tales. If any of these issues interest you, I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading through her full article.

Back to Untalented. Since the pirate site in question appears to be behind a paywall, and Kat's already filed a successful DMCA takedown notice against them, I'm not too concerned for her—why would any reasonable person pay to access a shady download site instead of just buying the eBook from Amazon?

Last but not least, until September 30th, US readers have the chance to win a paperback copy of Untalented through this GoodReads giveaway! You have literally nothing to lose. Of course, if you can't wait—or don't want to take your chances—you can also buy the eBook right now. (Full disclosure: yes, that is an affiliate link.)


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

I am busy

and don't have time for a proper blog post today so instead please enjoy this animated GIF of Alison Brie winking at you.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I May Have Gotten a Bit Drunk along the Way

DeeAnn and I went on an epic quest last weekend to collect McMenamins Passport stamps. She was our designated driver, and I did my best to chronicle our journey on Twitter and Instagram:


In all, we visited 25 different McMenamins locations, and I collected 39 stamps, including bonuses and experiences. (I've had my passport since early this year, but DeeAnn only got hers this weekend, so I'm ahead of her by approximately 16 stamps.) I am now 54.3% of the way to Cosmic Tripster status!

A word on our methodology: We always stopped and had at least two drinks (one for each of us) at each location. It wasn't humanly possible to eat at every single place, especially when we were doing seven or eight stops in less than twelve hours, but we wanted to actually spend some time in each new place.

As the late Joe Cotter's epigram on the back of the passport says: "If you ever get to it, and don't do it, you may never get to it to do it again!"

We did observe other people doing drop-ins, where they just asked for a passport stamp and left immediately. Several of the servers we spoke to said that behavior is not uncommon, and the staff don't really care one way or the other. But many years of running The Game and Puzzled Pint have made us sensitive to the quid pro quo of asking locations to host players.

Anyway. Most of the remaining McMenaminses are around Portland, but we'll have to do another road trip out west to catch the two bars which weren't open when we visited last weekend, plus a separate jaunt down to Bend. We also plan to hit some Washington state locations when we drive up to Seattle for our friends' housewarming party next month. THERE WILL BE TWEETING.

Meanwhile, for other questing perspectives with much more detailed travelogues, check out Portlander Gretchin Lair's "McMenamin's[sic] Passport Project" blog, which she began this month; and Seattleite Todd Springer's "My McMenamins Passport Odyssey," which he started in January (the latest update was in mid-April).


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Support Movie Reboots with All-Female Casts

And I have been thinking about it probably too much, thanks to this sidebar from the August 15th issue of Entertainment Weekly (click for larger version):

Yeah, I know, that's pretty tongue-in-cheek. The online article "Would all-girls 'Ghostbusters' be a stealth 'Bridesmaids' sequel?" goes into a little more actual detail (though come on, EW, it's "women," not "girls") on the Ghostbusters thing, which is all very preliminary.

But here's the one that really got me going:

YES. FUCK YEAH. SRSLY. It's been thirty years since David Mamet won a Pulitzer for the stage play, and there have already been two different Broadway revivals of Glengarry, both featuring all-male casts (as written). Isn't it time someone tried doing something more daring with the material?

Approach it like Shakespeare. See what happens when you change the gender behind the same exact words. Mamet's hyper-masculine dialogue is so stylized that it already verges on satire. What does it look like when it's women spouting those profanities, swaggering around the stage with those attitudes, fighting tooth and nail for that modicum of status? That, I would argue, is more interesting and relevant than putting another group of angry men in the center ring.

And apart from a few gender-specific pronouns, you wouldn't have to change a single line of dialogue. Not even the character names. Ricky Roma, Shelly Levene, George Aaronow? Those could all be women's names. "John" Williamson and "Dave" Moss are more of a stretch, but those could be ironic nicknames. How's that for adding subtext?

Really, though, I just want to see Tina Fey let loose and fucking own the "coffee's for closers" bit:

(Before you nitpick: yes, I know that scene was written for the movie and doesn't appear in the stage play. But it's spawned such a strong pop culture catchphrase, I would argue you couldn't leave it out of any filmed version now.)

So who's in your dream cast for an all-female Glengarry? Leave a comment below!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SnoutCast #208: Annie Percik

This month, we talk to Annie Percik, who ran a pirate-themed puzzle hunt at Manorcon in July!

[ Download mp3 ]

Show length: 32:04
File size: 30.8MB

Stuff and things:

What Else?

Tell us we're wrong on the Internet! E-mail podcast@snout.org or post a comment at www.snout.org/podcast.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "Shop Vac" by Jonathan Coulton

[ Subscribe to SnoutCast / iTunes link / Stitcher link ]

Curtis DeeAnn Annie

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Was Sick This Past Weekend

...and for a couple of days following, so I missed a friend's birthday party and this month's Puzzled Pint event. Both of those made me sad, but hey, at least I didn't get sick while I was at Clarion West. That would have really sucked.

Every now and then something like this (an irregular recurring condition, but that's another story) will remind me of just how little control we humans actually have over our bodies. There's something like 37 trillion cells in the human body, and we have absolutely no say in most of things those cells do. Digesting food? Out of your hands. Regulating heart rhythm? Not your bailiwick. Dealing with a viral infection? Fuhgeddaboudit.

I have pontificated on this topic before—in fact, it's where the label name "The I in Meat" comes from. I still feel it's entirely possible that sentience is a random, emergent side effect of complex multicellular life forms, and that kind of freaks me out. It wouldn't be so frightening if we knew there were others like us in the universe, but at the moment, it feels pretty damn lonely.

Maybe that's why I'm such a sucker for science fiction which features intelligent alien life. As Larry Niven says, "The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently."

We got enough bodies; we could some more minds around here.