Category Archives: Rants

Humans, not machines

I Just listened to a Youtuber whom I admire greatly, go off on a seven minute rant on the subject of how much he’d want to set the dogs of reason and unreason upon some unnamed fuckwit who had deeply insulted him at a time when that kind of thing really is not welcome. He decided not to reveal in the end what it was about, because to do so would only make matters worse.

I’m purposely not saying who it is. Who any of the following people are. Figure it out if you must. What I want to say is that people will never have anything to fear from me for being human. Everybody fucks up, bar none.

I follow a fairly accomplished scientist online. He introduced me to the kind of weird crap that young earth creationists use to justify the unjustifiable. To explain away the bleeding obvious. He also showed, without a word out of place, where the arguments used by the current clutch of feminists go wrong. You can’t do that kind of thing without getting a significant number of people very angry at you, and the counter-strategy of both these groups of people are the same: Flinging huge amounts of bullshit at the thorn in their side. People have subjected him to the full repertoire in the Right Thinking People’s arsenal, up to and including making death threats to him and his family, trying to get him fired from his job, celebratory messages on the death of his father, and more. Is anyone really really surprised that he responds in kind now and then? I still follow him.

I follow a famous biologist on-line. Yes, easy to guess from the following. He’s well known for his forceful attacks on religion as such, and he has a lot of bile to spill. He also has a dedicated set of people who are determined to take any of his utterances, twist it into the most unsympathetic meaning possible, then use that travesty against him. If they can’t, they make shit up. Now and then, he formulates his thoughts in ways that may seem callous, tactless. I can usually guess what he meant, but there have been cases where he sould have re-read his words a few times before posting. I still follow him.

I follow a young woman on line. She is a science communicator, and runs a free podcast where she has hour-long conversations with an impressive range of very interesting people. Recently, she became a hero when at a moment’s notice, she helped crowdfund a Muslim apostate’s ticket out of a country where the government would have killed him for renouncing Islam. She also went on television for a company that claims to suck carbon out of thin air and turn it into plastic. To do so, they would have had to suck through a tiny tube a volume of air the size of a skyscraper. I still don’t know why she would get involved with scam artists, but everybody fucks up now and then. I still follow and admire her.

I follow another woman on-line. She makes Atheist-themed videos, women’s rights type videos, and plain funny videos. They are usually a pleasure to watch, and not just because of her looks. She has a wonderful way of getting to the core of a problem and present it in a funny, relatable, and clear way. Recently, she was caught lifting material from other people and presenting it as her own, which she really should not have done. She still makes videos that are every bit as interesting as any of them. I still follow her.

There are a few things that I will immediately dump someone for. But I will always remember that these people are not machines. They do not exist simply for my entertainment, but have lives of their own to lead. I can’t count the number of times where my mouse has hovered over the “send” button of a true bomb of bile, then to decide not to bother. I get offended as much as the next guy, but those who are in the public eye like these people are, have to deal with a true mountain of shit all day.

I will remember they are human. I will remember they are still what I admire them for. And I will still follow them.

Own your suck

flexorThis is a little rant I’ve been saving for an occasion…

I’ve never worried about the quality of my work, and not because I know it is perfection and upon reading it, all other writers will throw away their implements, weeping, knowing they will never achieve what I have achieved. No, it’s because I know my writing sucks. I’m not singling myself out here, because everybody’s writing sucks. Yours, mine, that of people who have gotten knighthoods for their writing, people who are entrusting their first few words to a cruel and uncaring Internet, the people who are mentioned first when you ask “Name me a writer”. Everyone’s writing sucks.

The thing is, if you heed the right feedback, both positive and negative, you will learn the things you are doing right (and do more of it), and the things you are doing wrong (so you can avoid them like an overused cliche). One’s writing will never stop sucking, but with careful feeding and watering and sunlight, it will suck at higher and higher levels. The stupid things you no longer do will be more and more advanced.

And the weirdest thing is, you can have something that sucks really, really badly, such as “The Eye Of Argon” (In Tale the Second I poke a little fun at it), or “The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay”, and people will really enjoy it. How many authors can claim that their work even now is being read aloud? And being remembered for a very long time…

 

And you’re telling me this, because?

I may just have mildly annoyed Neil Gaiman on Twitter. He was announcing a new iPhone app based on his Sandman comics. I’m sure it’ll be a great success, but much as I admire Mr. Gaiman’s work, I’m not going to buy the app. First, I don’t have an iPad or an iPhone, and I never will. Second, because these things come with strings attached. Chains, actually.

One of my beliefs is that one of the great forces for evil these days is corporate greed. I’m not talking about companies’ wishes to be compensated for their work or goods – not at all. Everybody has mouths to feed, and to get one’s just deserts for an honest day’s work is one of the pre-requisites for freedom. What I’m talking about is the predatory, never-sated kind of greed that drives companies to send letters tac-nuke style to as many people as possible, threatening to sue them into oblivion unless they pay up, for goods that they cannot prove they haven’t downloaded. It’s the kind of greed that drives companies to send theirĀ customers into shops to check out the prices of goods, then to undercut those shops. The kind of greed that organises police-style illegal raids on people’s private homes. The kind of greed that openly warns politicians that they have been bought, and that they had better deliver. The kind of greed that snoops on your private business, just in case something in there might belong to them. The kind of greed that sends people into folk clubs, just in case someone there sings a song owned by one of their Rights Holders, who is normally not the person who wrote the song. The kind of greed that’s quite happy to carpet-bomb great big swathes of the Internet just because the address is shared by one of the servers of the Pirate Bay. The kind of greed that keeps life-saving medicine to itself because it thinks it can make more money that way.

In the scheme of things, merely lying to your customers is just a small offence compared to some of the other things companies do.

Digital Restrictions, oh sorry, Rights Management is one of those lies. It’s being sold to the creative people as a solution to piracy. That’s a lie with layers. The first layer of lie is that DRM actually prevents people from copying their works. I’d be surprised if anyone actually still believes that. The second layer of lie is that piracy is actually a problem. Find out which movies have been pirated most, and you’ll find that those movies have earned their makers billions. The other thing that deeply disturbs me about DRM is how intrusive it is. Forget about the minutes-long unskippable guilt trips. If I have to prove who I am and whether I’ve paid enough money every time I turn on my PC, every time I play a game, watch a movie, and if I were fool enough to buy into it, every time I open a book, then that bothers me. Especially since the mechanisms used are far from perfect. I’ve personally wasted about half a day trying to convince Windows that I wasn’t a filthy pirate, on the Internet, and on the phone trying to get the magic number that would bring my wife’s computer back to life. I’m using an OS for games that Microsoft no longer wants me to use. In the back of my head is always the notion that at some point, if the box breaks, I may not be able to get it going again, because Microsoft will no longer allow me to prove I have a right to run it. Unless I pony up for Windows 7, I won’t be able to play the characters anymore that have so far been the inspiration for thousands of words of my fanfic.

I also really do not like the idea that if I buy stuff from someone once, I will be forced to buy all my subsequent stuff from them. If my Kindle were to die, I could only replace it with another Kindle, unless I want to lose my whole book collection. Yes, I know there are PC Kindle readers. But if I were to take a fancy to a Nook instead of a Kindle, then I would still be screwed. Not because a Nook couldn’t display a .mobi file if it wanted to, but because it’s not allowed to. I hate so-called loyalty cards, but I can simply avoid having them, and they don’t make it more difficult for me to walk into Sainsbury’s rather than Tesco’s. This is different. If I have a big book collection at Amazon, then it’ll be bloody difficult to add a book from another source. It says something about how effective this strategy is that I couldn’t actually mention another source off the top of my head.

I have paper books written by my family. Old memories. People long gone. Books can outlive you. Whether I pick up that book again now or in twenty years’ time is none of anyone’s business, least of all the middle man who once sold it to someone who gave it to me. I have texts on my computers that I’ll probably want to look at again in future years. What if I had to ask permission from companies long since gone bankrupt? It’s bad enough that the software you were going to view it with probably won’t run anymore ten years in the future. DRM makes this problem even worse by deliberately making my book not work at its whim.

 

I’m not much of a writer. I produce derivative works, on an obscure website, with dubitable skill, mainly as a diversion from the realities I live in. And one of those realities is that we are being coerced, forced, to consume more and more from bigger and bigger companies, whose power has long since passed that of even national governments. Like flies by a flesh-eating plant, we’re drawn in by a sweet smell, then trapped and digested. The books are the smell, DRM is the acid.