Monthly Archives: September 2006

Another Fiddly Widget

Okay, this one plays music:

Yeah, it’s music I put together (except for “I Feel Loved” which is a remix of a Depeche Mode Song).

Let me know if the player presents issues. This is all for figuring out what stuff is useful/interesting on the site, of course.

“Big Posts” — How They Work

(Warning: Blog geekery in the extreme follows)

From time to time I’m asked how I’ve grown my readership here on the Whatever, and whether anyone else can do those same things to grow the readership of their own blogs. In the main it comes down to four separate factors, three of which I or anyone can control, and one I or anyone else cannot. The three factors that you can control are these:

1. Update frequency: Updating daily matters in terms of readership.
2. Enabling comments: People who comment feel attached to the site; people who don’t comment get updated content when they click through.
3. Quality of content: Putting in interesting stuff so people have a reason to click into the site daily.

I’m not going to talk about any of these in length right now. What I’m going to talk about is the factor you can’t control: Big Posts.

A big post, very simply, is a post that more than the usual number of people link to, thus bringing in an entirely different audience of readers. Most of these readers will be one-time readers — they click through to the link, see it, and click out, never to return — but some small proportion will root around, enjoy what they see (due to you working on the factors you can control), and put you on their daily reading list. Bang, you’ve got new readers.

Big posts can happen when one or more of the following conditions exist:

1. You write or create something unusually well-written about a current news event or other hot topic.
2. You do something unusually stupid and/or funny on your site.
3. You are linked to by one or more high-traffic sites (Fark, Slashdot, Digg, Boing Boing, Instapundit, Daily Kos, etc).

The first two of these will often have the effect of making your already-existing readers link to that particular entry, bringing in their native readers, some of whom may then also link and comment on their sites. This will result in a lot of links, with (probably) a relatively small number of people coming in through each link, but making up a large number of new readers in aggregate. I call this the “LiveJournal Effect,” because LiveJournal, thanks to its “friends lists” and community structure, is particularly good at creating cascades of many links among friends — you can get several generations of links from this sort of thing. LiveJournal is of course not the only place from which this can happen: MySpace can create a similar effect, as can informal online communities not affiliated with any particular blogging software — for example, my own community of science fiction writers and readers with blogs.

The third condition, of course, moves large numbers of people primarily from one or two sites. This phenomenon is well known — people talk of Web sites collapsing under the load after being “Farked” or “Slashdotted” or having an “Instalanche.” Very often, getting linked to a high-traffic site will also start an LJ Effect, so not only do you get the original flood of people from a high traffic site, you’ll also get a second wave of visitors from personal sites linking into the entry.

If we know the conditions that cause Big Posts, then why can’t we control them? Primarily because it’s not up to the original poster to decide what’s a “Big Post”: that comes from others. In the case of the LJ effect, a whole bunch of people have to decide the entry is worth linking to; in the case of the high-traffic sites, whoever is reponsible for putting posts on the front page of the site — usually a single person or a small group — gets to decide.

You can lobby some of these sites to pick up on a post you think it interesting (most of the high-traffic sites welcome link submissions, formally or informally), but there’s no assurance that the people running the site will agree. For example, I recently submitted a link to Boing Boing about my “Schadenfreude Pie,” because I figured it was a Boing Boing-y sort of thing. It’s not linked to on Boing Boing, however. I’ve queried Instapundit for links before and come up short as well. That’s the way it goes. However, Boing Boing and Instapundit have also linked to my site when when I didn’t solicit them for links. Which goes to my point: You never can tell.

(And of course, even if a high-traffic site links to you, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get a rush of traffic, because there’s another group of decision-makers involved: The site’s readers, who have to decide whether the link seems interesting to them. This is necessarily also the case with an LJ Effect as well. In many respects a “Big Post” is the ultimate in the “Long Tail” phenomenon — it relies on many people making the decision to link, many people deciding to click, and then on another group deciding to link as well.)

I do think it’s possible to game the “Big Post” system somewhat, and generate a large amount of traffic, but I don’t think gaming the system will result in the desired effect of growing a site’s overall readership. As a hypothetical, I guarantee you that if I posted a picture of my wife naked (that’s the vulgar “naked,” as opposed to the arty “nude”), that this site would get (ahem) a fairly substantial traffic spike, both for the initial picture and then for the aftereffect of various people discussing what a scumbag I was for posting a picture of my naked wife purely to get a traffic spike for my site. But aside from my wife deservedly beating the crap out of me for posting that picture, I suspect that in the long run there would be no lasting effect, and that the site wouldn’t gain any new readers; the sort of people who are going to click through for a picture of my naked wife are not the sort who are likely to stick around for the usual bill of fare around here, and the people who are discussing what a scumbag I am are not likely to stick aound either. Indeed, in the long run I would suspect I would suffer a loss of readers, as some of the current regulars, disgusted by my actions, take off for parts unknown, never to be seen again. So gaming the system is not a good thing. Also, there will be no naked pictures of my wife. Sorry.

So that’s the theory behind a “Big Post.” How does it work in the real world? As it happens, I have two good examples of how a Big Post works, and how it affects your overall readership. Let’s start with one from September of 2005: My “Being Poor” post.

As of August of 2005, the Whatever was getting between 8,000 and 10,000 unique visits per day on weekdays (somewhat lower on weekends). 10,000 was the upper bound. The “Being Poor” piece was posted in September 3. For this piece, I didn’t request any links from high traffic sites; I just put it up and people began to link to it (NB: there was some initially higher traffic on 9/2 for a piece I’d written the day before). What you’re seeing here is the readership curve of a “LiveJournal Effect” — which is to say that while there’s a day where the readership spikes (September 7), there are a few days before and after where the readership of the site is significantly higher — the curve encompasses six days, from 9/3 through 9/9. This is the effect of new links being added as the piece filters through the blogosphere. After 9/10, readership returns to a lower readership plateau — but that plateau is higher than the previous readership level. Whereas in August of 2005, the readership was between 8k-10k, after the “Being Poor” piece the readership is between 10k and 15k, and never drops below 10k. What was previously the upper bound of the readership became the new lower bound.

That’s a “LJ Effect” curve. Now let’s look at how getting “Farked” can create a spike, as it did this month:

For August and the first nine days of September of 2006, the Whatever was averaging between 15,000 and 20,000 unique visits per weekday (and again, a bit lower on weekends). On September 10 through 12, the site experienced an “LJ Effect” when people started linking in regarding the entry in which I discussed my wife backing up a grabby drunk — and indeed 9/11 was the highest trafficked day the site had had up to then, with 26.6K unique visits (NB: Instapundit linked into all this, but his site didn’t drive most of the traffic — evidence that even a high-traffic site won’t always push lots of folks).

The wife incident would have been interesting in itself as a traffic mover, but then I taped bacon to my cat, and things got crazy. The event was linked to by Fark, and on 9/13, the site had in excess of 67,000 visitors, most of whom who wanted to see the miracle of the bacon-taped cat. Of those 67,000 visitors, 20K were “mine” — that is to say, my regular attendance — and 30K were from Fark. That leaves 17K coming from elsewhere: another “LJ Effect” that was swamped by the Fark spike. The next day had 56K visitors, of which only 6k were from Fark; subtracting my “own” 20k, that’s another 30k readers. Some of these were from other high-traffic sites, notably Metafilter, but the majority were from smaller sites and personal blogs; Fark readers and others pushing people through.

The spike is significant, but it’s also clear that the vast majority of “spiky” readers didn’t stick around; by 9/16 the BaconCat spike was over. But once again there’s a new readership plateau — whereas before the readership bounds were 15k-20k, since the BaconCat spike the new readership bound is 20k-25k, excluding weekends (but even those are up commensurately). Some of that new readership can probably be attributed to the LJ Effect just prior to the BaconCat spike, however.

This suggests two things to me: First, that for growing a readership on your site, it’s better to have an “LJ Effect” type of event than a “Farked” or “Slashdot” event; second, that a substantive post that is widely linked — in this case, “Being Poor” — is better for growing a readership than a silly/stupid post — in this case, BaconCat. I’ll also speculate, based on other “Big Posts” I’ve had here over the years, that there’s a correlation between substantive posts receiving an “LJ Effect” and silly/stupid posts getting the “Farked” effect. In the case of Fark in particular, of course, this is nearly axiomatic, since that site specializes in linking to goofy/idiotic/asinine things. But other high-traffic sites also seem to best drive traffic when they’re linking to some sort of “stunt” post.

Bear in mind, of course, that all this speculation is based only on my own experience here on this site; I leave it to others, possibly those gunning for advanced degrees, to do a more thorough examination of LJ Effects, Fark Spikes, and their overall effect on the growth of readership on personal blogs. However, I do suspect that my experience with these phenomena is not notably unusual.

Discussion?

Tales of Horror From Years Gone By

In a column in Asimov’s magazine, science fiction writer Robert Silverberg regales us with stories of the bad old days of writing, when there were no computers, you made copies of what you wrote with carbon paper, retyping your manuscript to get it clean enough to send to your publisher took a month, and Silverberg protected his retyped manuscript by storing it in an old refridgerator, where he assumed it would be able to survive a fire.

Madness.

Contrast this, if you will, with my experience of writing The Last Colony, in which I finished the book on a Tuesday and by Wednesday afternoon had to my editor via e-mail. No “first draft,” no retyping, no storing the original in a disused kitchen appliance to protect it from the flames. As soon as it was done, click, off it went. The experience of writing a book is mechanically so incredibly different than it was twenty five years ago that I actually hesitate to call it the same process at all. I constantly marvel that anyone ever wrote anything before computers.

I marvel about enough that I genuinely wonder if I would have been a writer if I had been born in the 1930s rather than in 1969, which allowed my desire to become a writer to coincide with the advent of the personal computer, and therefore, with the sort of ease of creation I have now. I suspect that I would have indeed become a writer, because I like to tell stories and because lacking a time machine, I wouldn’t know that in the future the practice of writing would become almost absurdly simpler. But looking back, I’m appalled and terrified in precisely the same way I am about the practice of bleeding a sick person the relieve the phlegmatic humors vexing their bodies rather than, you know, giving them antibiotics. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, people.

Tales of Horror From Years Gone By

In a column in Asimov’s magazine, science fiction writer Robert Silverberg regales us with stories of the bad old days of writing, when there were no computers, you made copies of what you wrote with carbon paper, retyping your manuscript to get it clean enough to send to your publisher took a month, and Silverberg protected his retyped manuscript by storing it in an old refridgerator, where he assumed it would be able to survive a fire.

Madness.

Contrast this, if you will, with my experience of writing The Last Colony, in which I finished the book on a Tuesday and by Wednesday afternoon had to my editor via e-mail. No “first draft,” no retyping, no storing the original in a disused kitchen appliance to protect it from the flames. As soon as it was done, click, off it went. The experience of writing a book is mechanically so incredibly different than it was twenty five years ago that I actually hesitate to call it the same process at all. I constantly marvel that anyone ever wrote anything before computers.

I marvel about enough that I genuinely wonder if I would have been a writer if I had been born in the 1930s rather than in 1969, which allowed my desire to become a writer to coincide with the advent of the personal computer, and therefore, with the sort of ease of creation I have now. I suspect that I would have indeed become a writer, because I like to tell stories and because lacking a time machine, I wouldn’t know that in the future the practice of writing would become almost absurdly simpler. But looking back, I’m appalled and terrified in precisely the same way I am about the practice of bleeding a sick person the relieve the phlegmatic humors vexing their bodies rather than, you know, giving them antibiotics. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, people.

On Moral Cowardice

Re: The appalling new detainee trial bill that will undoubtedly be signed into law:

President Bush is a moral coward, and has always been a moral coward, since at no point has he shown anything other than incomprehension of and contempt for the United States Constitution, particularly when it comes to his pet projects of torturing people and sham trials. I simply can’t conceive of a worse president than this one; and I can’t imagine a scenario in which, if placed in front of him, I didn’t express to him in no uncertain terms the depth of my contempt of him, his policies, and the low moral position he’s placed my country. I find it appalling that the only good thing I can say about the man is that I can’t imagine he won’t be the worst president of the 21st Century, so in that respect the worst part of the my political life will be over in two years and change.

Senators McCain, Warner and Graham are moral cowards for making a big show of having problems with Bush’s awful trial plan, and yet “compromising” with a deal that has no discernable practical difference from the president’s original trial plan. These men postured as bulwark for the Constitution, and I for one gave them my faith, which is not something I’ll be in a mad rush to do again. McCain in particular I hold out for special criticism, because he does have the moral standing to stop something like this in its tracks. Instead he traded that moral standing for a bit of political theater.

The Senate Democrats are moral cowards for not filibustering this bill as they ought to have, fearing Republican retribution at the polls and figuring that it’ll be tossed out by the courts anyway. I simply cannot understand the sort of rank and pervasive incompetence Democrats have to have in order to allow themselves to be politically flummoxed time and again by the least popular and least competent president in modern political history. The Democrats ought to have stepped on this bill’s head and killed it, not only because they could have, but because they should have. Someone should have stood up for the Constitution and for the moral standing of the United States and its practices. Someone should be up there calling Bush what he is: A tiny man so frightened of the terrorist boogyman that he’s willing to shred our moral standing to keep him away, and so dead-eyed hateful of what it means to be American that he can’t find a way to protect this country without urinating on what it is that makes us great. Merely pounding on a podium for C-SPAN is not sufficient to do this. This bill should have been stopped. It wasn’t.

I’m proud to be an American, but I’m tired of being ashamed of my government. I’m tired of having to count the seconds until this bilious waste of a president is shoved out the door in January of 2009. I’m tired of hoping that some members of the president’s political party might actually put principle over political expedience, particularly when it concerns the Constitution. And I’m tired of waiting for the opposing party to actually grow a goddamned spine and become an opposing party. I’m tired of wondering why the people we elect to lead us don’t seem to actually understand what it means to be American, and to be moral, and to do what it right for us. And I’m tired of having to look so hard for genuine leadership as opposed to the sham idiot version we have now. I feel like Diogenes, and I’m coming up short.

I’m tired of being led by moral cowards. I want better for myself, and for my country.

You Little Witch

athenawitch0928.jpg

Athena’s been pestering me for a number of days to make a picture of her as the Wicked Witch of the West, so here we are. I do have a version where she has green skin, incidentally, but for some reason this works better for me. I’m oddly amused she wants a picture of herself as the witch but not as, say, Dorothy; this says something about my little girl.

Speaking of the Technorati Top 100…

You ever notice how few of Technorati’s Top 100 blogs are actually personal blogs? By which I mean, a blog written by a single person, not for an employer or contractor, and about more than a single topic (i.e., not just tech/politics/marketing). There are damn few. Let me take the Top 25 to prove my point:

# 1. Engadget — Pro blog, single topic

# 2. Boing Boing — Group blog

# 3. 老徐 徐静蕾 新浪BLOG — I have no idea what this blog is, I don’t read Chinese

# 4. Gizmodo, The Gadget Guide — Pro blog, single topic

# 5. The Huffington Post — Group blog, single topic

# 6. Daily Kos: State of the Nation — Group blog, single topic

# 7. Techcrunch — Pro blog, group blog, single topic

# 8. PostSecret — Single topic

# 9. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide — Pro blog, group blog, single topic

# 10. Crooks and Liars — Single topic

# 11. 燕西的互联网生活 燕西 博客屋 记录我们的生活 — Another one I can’t figure out since I can’t read Chinese

# 12. Think Progress — Single topic, group blog

# 13. Michelle Malkin — Single topic

# 14. Gawker, Manhattan Media News and Gossip — Pro blog, single topic

# 15. Autoblog — Pro blog, single topic

# 16. Instapundit.com — Single topic (mostly, occasionally forays into tech and books)

# 17. Official Google Blog — Single topic, pro blog

# 18. with no name — Another Chinese blog.

# 19. Blog di Beppe Grillo — Italian blog, looks single topic

# 20. Scobleizer Tech Geek Blogger — Single topic

# 21. A List Apart — Single topic

# 22. Topix.net Weblog — Single topic, pro blog

# 23. Seth’s Blog — Single topic

# 24. Explosm.net Flash Animations, Daily Comics, and more! — Single topic

# 25. dooce — personal blog

So, out of the top 25 blogs out there on the Tubes (and excluding the ones written in languages I can’t even pretend to read) only one of them is written by a single person, not for a paycheck, and on whatever topic it is she wants to talk about (Update: In comments, Mitch Wagner points out that Heather Armstrong does get paid for Dooce.com. However, she’s in business for herself, which is different than getting that paycheck from someone else. And she still writes about whatever she wants). In the rest of the top 100, there’s only another three or four personal blogs, depending on whether you figure a photo blog is sufficiently varied not to be a single topic blog.

This suggests a number of things. One is that the blog world is already pretty damn corporatized and politicized, as 8 of the top 10 blogs are either paid blogs or political blogs, and one of the other two is also pretty politically active. This should not be news. Another is that if you want to crack the top 100 without writing on a single topic, especially politics or tech, it helps if you are a pretty girl, or someone whose online nickname has become a verb. Short of that, you’re pretty much on your own. Yet another is that all your personal bloggers probably need to rethink the idea of making a whole lot of cash off your AdSense deal.

I don’t think this dearth of personal blogging in the Technorati Top 100 is either good or bad; I know I read Engadget every day like a junkie so I can get my new tech fix, so even if I thought it were a problem (and I don’t), I’m part of the problem. I do think it indicates that on the high end at least, the blog world is wildly different than its popular perception — and that it doesn’t look all that different from the “old media” it currently augments and may one day replace.

I also think that personal bloggers probably shouldn’t try to crack the Top 100. Personal blogs may have inherently fewer links and possibly fewer readers (which is not the same, incidentally, as I know for a fact that I more readers than some blogs on the Technorati Top 100), but this doesn’t make those blogs any less interesting. Speaking as a reader, I prefer reading blogs where a person goes all over the board on subjects, because as it turns out I read for the voice of blogger, not the topic.

I would be very sad to see the diversity of personal blogs thin out because people thought they weren’t popular enough. The world really does have enough purely political blogs and tech blogs; there are never enough blogs that see the world from a personal point of view.

Little Thought-Like Emanations

A bunch of little unrelated things:

* I’ve been getting hit hard recently by comment spam, and as a result ended up having to put a lot of keywords on my spam blacklist. This should not be a problem for you most of the time, unless you have a fetish for casually dropping the names of erection-producing pharmaceuticals into your everyday comment discourse. However, I’ve also blacklisted the word “casino” since it’s appearing quite a bit recently, and that’s a word that’s not entirely outside the realm of regular usage. So if you use “casino” in a comment and it doesn’t appear automatically, don’t panic. When I made one of my moderation rounds, I’ll likely release it into the wilds. However, if you write something like “there I was, in the Viagra Casino….” I may just leave it off. You damn pranksters.

* I was reading this article in the New York Times about people whose phone company won’t provide DSL service because it’s too expensive, and thus are stagnating in low-bandwidth hell, and I have to say I’m notably less than sympathetic. Hey, guys: satellite internet. Unless all that second-growth forest in Vermont is entirely blocking out the night sky, you can get high-speed internet that way.

I know whereof I speak: When I first moved to lil’ ol’ Bradford in 2001, the fastest local connection I could find was 9600 baud. The terror was complete and unimaginable. But did I bitch and moan to my local telephone company? Well, yes, I did. However, I also looked into my options, and satellite internet was one of them. It had its problems — a small time lag when initiating a connection and having service blocked by storms among them — but it was a damn sight better than 9600 baud. And remember, this was back in 2001, so it’s not like this is untested, freaky technology. It suited me until DSL finally showed up here.

If anyone in Vermont is reading this, do let these folks know of the miracle of satellite internet. And show them your iPod, too. That’ll really mess with their heads.

* Some nice news for me: I’ve sold The Ghost Brigades in the French language, where one assumes it will be known as Les Brigades De Fantôme or some such. Also, for all you Francophones out there, the release date for the French-language version of OMW will be January 2007, from Editions L’ Atalante (who also bought TGB). Starting saving your euro-pennies!

* NPR is looking for a blogger. If I didn’t already have my own pro blog gig, this might be attractive to me, except for the part about “being willing to relocate.” Isn’t part of the magic of blogs that you don’t have to relocate? I mean, hell. I live among the Amish, people. I think that pretty much proves that you can blog from anywhere.

Also, this line in the job application seems a bit presumptuous: “a passionate desire to join the blogger ‘A’ list.” Leaving aside the fact that being an “A”-list blogger is like being one world’s elite kitten-jugglers — a curious but strangely limited sort of fame — who is on the “A”-list in the blog world is decided not from above but from below, primarily by who links to you and how often. So while I think it’s groovy NPR has ambitions for its blogger, if I were applying for the job I wouldn’t exactly exactly assume that if I got it I would suddenly be elevated to the oh-so-lofty heights of A-list bloggerdom. You’ve got to earn it, baby, through all the links and such and so on and blah blah blah. Then, and only then, will you take your place in the grubby, back-biting pantheon of bloggers.

* Speaking of pointlessly obsessive blog status mongering, here’s something interesting: Technorati, which is the official repository of who is on the blogger “A”-list thanks to its dork-anxiety-inducing “100 Top Blogs” list, is massively underreporting my “A”-listyness, because it splits my links between a scalzi.com listing and a whatever listing. The Scalzi.com listing lists 1,192 blogs linking to me, while the Whatever listing features 1,140, which puts both listings in the 1000 range for most popular blog evar. But, since (follow the pathetic logic!) it doesn’t make sense that people would link to both, just one or the other, in fact I have 2,332 blogs linking to me, which definitely puts me in the top 300, since Wil Wheaton’s at 292, and he’s only got a mere 2043 blogs linking to him! Ha, Wil! HA!!! Clearly I need to sue Technorati for underreporting my true blog awesomeosity, which is keeping me from making those six-figure book deals other bloggers are making, and getting the fabulous blog-groupie sex that I’m sure Kos and Ana Marie Cox are having on a regular basis (no, not with each other. With the groupies. Pay attention). Also, I will sue Wil Wheaton. Just to make the point.

Also, I think Technorati is not doing nearly enough to raise the anxiety of bloggers everywhere regarding their A-list status (or lack thereof), so I propose that rather than posting a mere Top 100 list, Technorati post a top 1,000 list — or even better, a top 10,000 list. Because you know the people scratching it out for positions 9,999 and 10,000 will stop at nothing to kill all those who threaten their exalted position. Yes, yes. If Technorati does but implement my suggestion, soon the Blogosphere will have all the drama it deserves.

Wednesday Author Interview: Jo Walton

Having finished The Last Colony and sufficiently depressurized therein, I’m back on the stick with my Wednesday Author Interviews over at By The Way. This week I’ve got Jo Walton talking about her superultramegafabulous new novel Farthing, which you need to read, like, right now, and also other topics of interest as well. Here’s the link to the interview. Go!

Goodbye to the Free Phone

Sprint giveth and Sprint taketh away: I got an e-mail from the telephone provider letting me know that they are switching off my free service to their network next Tuesday. After that, if I want to use the superbitchin’ cell phone they provided me, I’ll have to pay just like every other common troll. I get to keep the phone, though, so the question becomes whether I’ll go ahead and get a Sprint plan of some description.

The idea behind giving me a free phone was that I, as one of those “influencers” you hear so much about from those marketers you know, might talk about the various virtues of Sprint, and specifically its Power Vision service, which in addition to offering phone connection also offers things like streaming music and video, Web access and the ability to download all sorts of crap onto your phone. And, indeed, if you are the sort of person who wants his or her cell phone to be more than something you call people on, I feel comfortable recommending the Power Vision service to you; it worked as advertised, and it has all the bells and whistles people who love bells and whistles love. And personally speaking, I found the ability to use the phone as a modem to be pretty damn useful; it saved me a bunch of ridiculous hotel Internet charges over the last few months. So, yes: a good service that I think will make sense for a good number of people.

However, I’m not entirely sure that it’s the service for me. As it turns out, I’m not one of the people who uses the cell phone for the bells and whistles. I don’t use my cell phone for playing music, because my little music player does a rather better job of that. I have a nice portable camera for taking pictures. I don’t use it to stream video because it’s not like there’s not always a TV blaring somewhere. I don’t use it to play games because frankly I’d rather read a book. I don’t text message because, duh, I can just call. I’m not a teenager; I don’t have to pass notes in class. The two things this service does that are useful for me is make calls and connect to the Internet, and of the two, the only one that’s actually essential for me is making calls.

And that’s the other problem. I find the cell phone useful when I’m out and about, but the fact is I’m not out and about all that much — not enough to justify spending, say, $55 a month on a service plan, which is the minimum I would need to pay Sprint for a service that offers both voice and data access. It’s not even enough to justify $30/month just for the voice access. Frankly, my needs from a cell phone would be more than adequately covered by something like this — a $20 cell phone with a pay-as-you-go plan. And I suspect that’s the direction I’ll be going in terms of my next cell phone. It’s not a price issue, it’s a utility issue. This is a shame because now I have this cool cell phone I can’t use, unless Sprint offers some sort of pay-as-you-go plan, and it really doesn’t, as far as I can see. That’s a shame.

Here’s what I want: Rather than a phone that also happens to have Web capability and the ability to play media files, I want a media player/wireless Web browser that also happens to have phone capability, and preferably a capability that allows me to pay as I go, rather than trying to suck $30 a month out of my pocket for no particularly good reason. That’s the gadget and service that I could really use.

How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie

My word, what is this dark and vaguely sinister-looking pie you see before you? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the world’s first Schadenfreude Pie, the pie to enjoy while you are reveling in the horrible misfortunes of others. Why is there a Schadenfreude Pie? Because after I wrote the headline for this entry, I wondered to myself, “what would Schadenfreude Pie taste like?”

My guess: Dark. Rich. And oh so bittersweet.

And you know what? That’s exactly what it tastes like. Also — and this is really just a perfect but unintentional extension of the whole schadenfreude metaphor — you really only want a small slice; too much of this pie and it’ll sit in the pit of your stomach like a rock of judgment, pulling you down. Small slice? Excellent. Big slice? You’ll regret it. Just like schadenfreude itself.

Want a slice? Sure you do. Here’s how you make it.

Let’s face it, schadenfreude is a dark emotion. It deserves a dark pie. Here are your ingredients.

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
3 large eggs (I used brown eggs in keeping with the spirit of things, but white eggs are fine)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 splash Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 graham cracker pie crust (9 or 10 inches). Choose regular or chocolate graham cracker crust according to taste.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). Melt butter in largish mixing bowl; add in corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix well. Melt chocolate; fold into existing mixture. Add eggs and Kahlua; mix vigorously until mix has an even consistency. Pour into pie crust (depending on size of crust you may have a little filling mix left over).

Shove into oven, center of middle rack, and bake for about 45 minutes. At 45 minutes, poke pie with butter knife. If butter knife comes out clean, your pie is done; otherwise give it about another five minutes.

Once you take the pie out of the oven, let it set at least 20 minutes before you dig in. It’s really good when still warm, however.

Serving recommendations: small slices (this is an awesomely rich pie) and an ice cold glass of milk to go with it.

Got it? Groovy. And now, pictures of the production of the very first Schadenfreude Pie ever:

Athena mixes the pie filling ingredients while plotting the downfall of all those who oppose her.

Appearing as if the baleful eye of retribution, the pie awaits its cookination!

The darkest of all dark pies, fully cooked.

“From Hell’s heart I stab at thee, Schadenfredue Pie!”

The unspeakable malevolence of the pie, in single-serving size.

Sure, it’s a pie freighted down by the petty weaknesses of men, but how does it taste?

Excellent! And now, let us have a maniacal laugh of victory, if you please:

Joy at the misfortune of others — and pie! Truly, the best of all possible worlds.

The Winner of the “Why I Deserve an ‘Android’s Dream’ ARC” Contest

It’s “That Neil Guy,” because he went and procreated during the actual contest, and it’s hard to top that (although, to be fair, more credit for the actual birth work goes to the mom, now, doesn’t it). I sense he’ll have more than a few late nights in the reasonably near future, tending to new kid and all. Perhaps the book will help him get through the nights, and if not, then his fatigue will lend the book an extra hallucinatory quality. That can’t be a bad thing.

Congratulations, Neil, and e-mail me your address so I can send it off in the mail to you.

For everyone else: Thanks — I was deeply amused by the comment thread. I had enough fun with this that I might do it again in the future. ARCs of The Last Colony should be out in, oh, March or so.

Re: That Contest Thing

I’m running a little behind, on account I had to take my dog to the vet this morning (she’s fine), and I have a couple other unexpected things to deal with. I’ll have the winner up by, oh, five o’clock eastern or so.

The first one who complains is disqualified.

Ha!

TAD Review at SFReviews.net

I noted the Publishers Weekly review first, but it’s not out yet, so this is the first review of The Android’s Dream that is publicly readable in full. And it says nice things about the book:

The Android’s Dream reads something like an SFnal James Bond spoof by way of South Park. Scalzi isn’t exploring anything particularly deep thematically here; the name of the game is satire, and he does some of the most spot-on political wit this side of the old British sitcom Yes, Minister… [it’s] just the right gene-splicing of fast action and furious comedy SF has been needing for ages.

Excellent.

I’d also commend you to read it as an example of how to write a longish review without giving away too much of the plot; there are a couple of points in the book I want to keep as a surprise for the reader, and it’s not necessarily a sure thing reviewers are going to keep those plot points under their hat. So it’s always nice — both as an author and as someone who reviews things — to see people making an effort to let surprises stay surprises while at the same time giving enough information for a useful review. It’s a skill, it is.

The Old Media Toilers Help Themselves to a Heaping Slice of Schadenfreude Pie

You can just about sense the delight dripping off the words of this article from the Boston Herald: “Publishers say few hits on blog books”. Apparently all those bloggers out there have been striking out when it comes to turning their blog celebrity into book celebrity, or at best hitting singles when they should have hit home runs. Case in point, for the story anyway, is Stephanie Klein, who was reportedly paid half a million for two books, but whose first book, Straight Up and Dirty, isn’t justifying that sort of moolah in the sales department.

Yes, well. Let’s have a moment of bracing honesty here and ask: How many books and authors could? If one is going to evenly distribute this advance across two books, Ms. Klein would need to sell 100,000 copies of both books in hardcover to get back that kind of advance money, or some other even larger number of the books in paperback (the publisher needs to sell rather fewer to make back its money, but isn’t that how it always is). I don’t think you can blame Ms. Klein for taking that sort of money if it was offered to her (I’d find it hard to pass up myself), but whoever offered her half a mil was having a true moment of fiscal brainfreeze. Likewise the person who ended up paying Ana Marie Cox $275,000 for Dog Days. In both cases, the issue is not the quality of the writing or even the sales, but that someone on the publishing end started shoveling money before engaging his or her brain.

This is something I’ve mentioned before, of course: Outside of genre, publishers get idiotic with their money. It makes perfectly good sense for an author to hold out for a lot of money, since then they can eat for a nice long time, and then the publishing company is obliged to spend a nice amount of money promoting the work in a desperate attempt to get back all the cash it’s just thrown out a window. But honestly, I’m still mystified at the publisher who looks at the proposal from a first-time writer who is not already appallingly famous and thinks to himself, well, I just happen to have five hundred large burning a hole in my pocket, might as well spend it here. I try to model this sort of thinking in my head and it simply doesn’t compute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for publishers giving their writers a decent amount; eating is fun. But at a certain point things get silly, and giving an untried writer half a million for two books is way beyond that certain point.

Of course, a publisher could have this excuse: We thought being blog famous was the same as actually being famous. This is understandable, I suppose. If bloggers are good at anything, it’s self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, and giving the impression that we’re fighting above our weight class. But, look. Being a blogger is a bit like being that lady in the supermarket who hands out free samples. You see her, you stop and have the tiny piece of sausage she’s got speared on a toothpick, you might chat for a second, and then you move on. You like the sample lady — she’s giving you free sausage! — and you may even seek her out (“I could use some free tiny sausage right about now”). But no matter how much you or anyone else likes the sample lady and are glad to see her and her tiny sausage chunks, the number of people who actually reach behind the sample lady to buy the product she’s offering you a taste of is a pretty low percentage.

Now, a really successful blog pulls in a couple thousand visitors a day. How many sales can you genuinely expect from that? You can expect some, to be sure — I happily stand as testimony of that (thanks, guys!) — and certainly having a popular blog is a plus in the long run. But expecting every visitor to a site, or even a significant proportion, to pick up a blogger’s book seems to be wishful thinking to me.

Indeed, if you want to sell books online, converting your own audience into book buyers is a secondary tactic — you want to have other bloggers recommend you to their readers. The person who moved the most copies of Old Man’s War online was not me — it was Glenn Reynolds, who the Instapundit readers saw as a trusted recommender, giving a thumbs up to something he really liked. A secondary cascade of recommendations came from other bloggers who picked up the book from his thumbs-up. My own readers were in the mix as well, of course, but I don’t kid myself as to who sold more of my book, me or Glenn.

Going back to the article I’m linking to, one of the things I find interesting is that in all the gleeful whacking on bloggers’ books going stiff, there’s no mention at all about the fact that there are indeed bloggers whose books are doing pretty damn well — and those bloggers are science fiction and fantasy writers. To roll out the (to us) usual names here, you’ve got Scott Lynch, whose Lies of Locke Lamora has been optioned for a movie and has been translated into scads of languages, Cherie Priest, whose fabulous new book Wings to the Kingdom is only a couple of weeks away now, and, uh, me. I’d also personally lump Jo Walton in here, because she came to the attention of editors through her online writing. Chris Roberson just sold a book he’d put up online. I know there are at least a few more now as well.

These authors and these books are doing perfectly well, thanks, but I suppose they’re not on the radar because a) they’re working in genre and b) their publishers didn’t offer them incredibly stupid amounts of money for their books. And why let the skiffy geeks get in the way of a good story?

What we can say is this: Offer any first-time author a ridiculous amount of money for a novel or two, don’t be surprised when you take a bath, regardless of what their writing experience was beforehand. Don’t blame it on blogs; blame it on the bad business sense of the publishers.

John M. Ford

Oh, dear. Science fiction writer Mike Ford has died. Making Light has more details.

I’d met Mike Ford on a number of occasions and had a panel with him at the most recent Boskone; we were friendly and he was a good friend to a number of my good friends in SF. I admire his writing and his whimsical spirit.

I have two of his books on my shelves. I think I’ll read one today. That’s the best tribute I can give to a writer, I think.

Addendum: Elise Matthesen, Mike Ford’s companion, shares a remembrance.

Publishers Weekly on The Android’s Dream

The first review of The Android’s Dream comes from industry bible Publishers Weekly, and it’s good. They call it a “swashbuckling satire of interstellar diplomacy” and say “With plenty of alien gore to satisfy fans of military SF and inventive jabs at pretend patriotism and self-serving civil service, Scalzi delivers an effervescent but intelligent romp.”

Mmmm… I romp. Effervescently! I mean, I always knew that, but it’s good to see that others recognize it too. People often say as I walk by, “there goes one effervescent romper.” It’s what I always dreamed of being, as a little boy. But then, what little boy doesn’t?

Remember that if you’re in the mood for a bit of effervescent romping yourself, that I’m giving away a copy of The Android’s Dream this weekend. It’s not too late to make your claim on it.