Monthly Archives: May 2007

Technical Notes and Solicitations

For all of you wondering how I might possibly have blown up the site yesterday, here’s what’s going on.

This blog, like most blogs, has a SQL database, in which all the data pertaining to the blog resides. The permitted size of that database is 100 MB, and currently the database is well above that size. The technical folks at 1&1, my host provider, say that it’s not like I’m going to get in trouble for this, but that the database itself has an increasingly large chance of becoming corrupted as time goes by. I’m not geek enough to know anything about MySQL, so I can’t judge the accuracy of this statement; be that as it may I’d rather not have the Whatever go kerplooey.

At the same time the Movable Type infrastructure of Whatever is becoming increasingly unstable, partly due to age and partly due to the fact I am apparently not competent enough to update the software, and every time I try I break something with the way it works and I am not savvy enough to fix it when I do. Basically the place is coming down around me, albeit in slow motion, so none of you on the outside would notice.

This presents both problems and opportunities. The opportunity lies in that this would probably be a fine time to do a significant revamp of the Whatever and either do a complete, clean installation of MT, or look at some other option that is robust enough technically to handle 25,000 visitors a day. The problem lies in dealing with previous entries (and attendant media and their URL paths and etc). The last time I did a major revamp of the site, back in 2003, my solution to this issue was simply to leave out everything I had written prior to the switchover. I don’t think that’s an optimal solution now.

Underpinning all of this is the database issue; I think it would be lovely to leave the present database as is, as an archive, and plug in some sort of blogging software to access the entries/comments therein while the “new” Whatever runs off a new database. The problem with this is that I don’t know how to do it. I tried doing it with a WordPress install I did on my scalzi.info domain (very easy to do, incidentally — so much easier than MT), but was confronted with two problems: Just making the WP install write to the current database does not make it display the information therein, and using the “import” function is not useful, in no small part because I can’t get my MT install to export a significant percentage of the blog posts using its export function. I’ve either screwed up the software in some fundamental way or it’s simply that the Whatever is too damn big (the third option is that I’m incompetent in using the software, which is, as noted earlier, a very big consideration).

So, in sum: This is what I’m thinking about going forward –

1. Looking at blogging/community software to maintain and build out Whatever/Scalzi.com and possibly some of the other domains I own (which is to say, possibly adding the option for a place for folks to post their own entries, etc) — something that can point to more than one database for additional iterations of the software would be optimal;

2. Creating a static archive of Whatever posts to this point (i.e., no additional comments or entries into that database) that is easily accessible — and if at all possible still maintaining the previous URLs, so everything isn’t broken;

3. Finding someone who is more technologically competent than me to help me build this out and install it for me. No, I wouldn’t expect this work to be done for free.

I’m taking suggestions on how to accomplish all three, so if you have ideas for software, how to build out an archive (or even if it’s necessary), or if you feel you’re just the sort of geek who can help me with this sort of project, go ahead and comment in the thread or drop me an e-mail.

(CAVEAT: Please don’t comment in this thread just to comment, or to offer “advice” that’s not actually on point, i.e., don’t be “helpy” when I actually need helpful here, because that’s just going to irritate me. There will be other comment threads to be silly or tangential. Please make this comment thread on point. Thank you.)

Warning: Me Possibly Acting Stupidly About to Commence

I’m about to try something that might blow up my site. Don’t worry, I’ve already backed up my database. You can worry about everything else, though.

I’ll let you know when my possible stupidity (at least involving this particular thing) is at an end.

Head’s Up About Comments & IP Addressing

I entered a new spam address checker into Movable Type’s database and discovered that I was being blocked from commenting on my own site because the IP address Embarq (my Internet provider) has temporarily provided me is on the spam list. Way to go, Embarq!

Anyway, I’ve fixed this glitch, but you might want to check to see if you can leave a comment by dropping one here. Just a plain comment — don’t confuse the comment filters by adding a URL. If your comment gets swallowed by the ether, drop me an e-mail. If I get too many dropped comments, I’ll decide what to do from there.

Update, 2:35pm: It’s blocking too many people. I’ve dropped it for now.

Head’s Up About Comments & IP Addressing

I entered a new spam address checker into Movable Type’s database and discovered that I was being blocked from commenting on my own site because the IP address Embarq (my Internet provider) has temporarily provided me is on the spam list. Way to go, Embarq!

Anyway, I’ve fixed this glitch, but you might want to check to see if you can leave a comment by dropping one here. Just a plain comment — don’t confuse the comment filters by adding a URL. If your comment gets swallowed by the ether, drop me an e-mail. If I get too many dropped comments, I’ll decide what to do from there.

Update, 2:35pm: It’s blocking too many people. I’ve dropped it for now.

Dayton Appearance

Just a reminder for folks in the Dayton area: I’ll be making an appearance at Books & Co at The Greene (that’s in Beavercreek) tonight at 7pm. I’ll be doing a reading, Q&A and then signing books. Please do come: If I get a tiny turnout in what is my hometown appearance, I will be, well, sad beyond words. Also, the Books & Co at The Greene is a lovely store, with a really nice author appearance area, one of the nicest I’ve seen. If you haven’t been there yet, you’re in for a treat.

FanLib to Fanficcers: All Your Writing Are Belong To us

Blogger Lis Riba did some looking around on Teh Intarweebs for more information on FanLib, the “legal” fan fiction site sponsored by a number of media companies, and found this .pdf brochure in which the company pitches the FanLib fanfic experience to content creators, and in doing so reveals that they don’t actually understand how fan fiction works in the slightest, they’re under the mistaken impression that they’re going to be able to control how stories get written, and that most fanfic writers will be pleased to have their work subsequently hijacked by others.

For example, on page 3 of the .pdf file, in the “Managed and Moderated to the Max” heading, FanLib touts to media folks “a customized environment YOU control,” in which “players must ‘stay within the lines'” with “restrictive terms-of-service,” a “profanity filter” and “full monitoring & management of submissions.” And here’s the kicker: “Completed work is just 1st draft to be polished by the pros.”

Now, I don’t pretend to be incredibly intimate with the thought processes of fan writers, but honestly. Telling a fervent fanficcer he or she can only write a certain approved way? Yeah, that’s going to work. Also, personally speaking, there’s only one way I’d allow anyone to consider any story I wrote as a “1st draft to be polished by pros,” and that would be if there were payment involved of at least the WGA minimum (which, for an hour-long drama, would be $12,299, thank you very much). Otherwise they could kiss my ass, fanfic or not. It’s important to note that nowhere in the FanLib brochure is the idea that fan writers might get financially compensated for their work.

So here’s the thing: Fanfic writers appear to have two choices here: Accept that what they’re doing is fundamentally a violation of copyright and do it on the down low, and in doing so, have the freedom to play with the characters they love any way they want — or play the FanLib game, in which they’re controlled and exploited as cheap labor by the copyright holders. Again, I’m not someone who writes fanfic, but if I were, I know which of these I’d be doing, and it’s not the one that has a brochure attached.

(See Lis Riba’s take on all this here)

Back on the Market: House for Rent

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Hey, look at that: Our house in Sterling is back on the rental market. If you or someone you know is looking for a place in the general Washington DC area, you could be living here. And, you know, loving it.

Here are the details of the house:

* 3 levels (house + full basement); house levels approx. 2300 sq. ft.
* 3 bedrooms (HUGE master bedroom is 22×12)
* 2.5 baths
* Living room is 14 X 14
* Dining room is 10 X 11
* Family room is 19 X 12
* Kitchen is 16 X 12
* Very recently refinished and carpeted basement level includes three additional rooms plus full bath plus very large workshop
* Washer/Dryer, Microwave, Dishwasher and of course standard oven and fridge
* Air conditioning/heater plus vent fan
* Carpeted floors with hardwood hallway (kitchen is tiled)
* Working fireplace
* Located on family-friendly cul-de-sac (with good neighbors)
* Close to Rt. 7, Toll Road and tons of shopping and restaurants
* Pets okay with additional deposit
* House comes with gorgeous full-sized single slate pool table

The lot is small (.11 acre) but the back opens up on a .33 acre “common area” that effectively belongs to the house (you can’t get to it except by going onto the property), so the back yard is pretty nicely-sized.

$1,850 per month (plus one month deposit); year-to-year lease. No subletting. Renter pays utilities; we pay homeowner association fee.

The house is available now (we can prorate rents).

If you’re interested, drop me an e-mail. Also feel free to share this with people you know looking for housing in the DC area.

Sagan, Monette and Scalzi on SF Master Godfrey Winton

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Subterranean Online has released the first chunk of content from its Summer 2007 edition — the special Elizabeth Bear issue, don’t you know — and in addition to the Bear audio highlighted yesterday, a Bear column and a Joe Lansdale story, the issue also features a transcription of a panel at this year’s Penguicon convention on underappreciated Golden Age science fiction master Godfrey Winton, featuring me, Sarah Monette and Nick Sagan discussing the life and times of this obscure genius.

For those of you who aren’t aware of Winton’s life and work, this will be a treat for you: Nick, Sarah and I hit all the highlights of his career, including his novels and his film work in Italy, the controversies surrounding his many genre awards, his feuds with such science fiction luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Alfred Bester and Philip K. Dick, and a glimpse into his unconventional romantic life — unconventional even for science fiction. Very few people know the details of Winton’s career and life better than Nick, Sarah and I, so this is the next best thing to talking to Winton himself. If you’re a fan of SF history and authors, you don’t want to miss this transcript. Here’s the link again. Enjoy.

And Now, Poetry Corner With Athena

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Imagination
By Athena Scalzi

In the night sky I see a bright light
It is right in my eyesight
It’s right in my mind.
The gods are so kind to let me see this sight.

I wish I could buy it but I know that I can’t
I can try to fly to get a closer look at it
But the thing is
I’m only flying away in my imagination.

On Responding to E-mail

Someone in my e-mail queue has just– I suspect unintentionally — pissed me off, so let me make a general statement here so I can refer people to it later:

I am not your e-mail monkey. I receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of non-spam e-mails each day. I try to get to most of them. However, I don’t generally respond to non-critical e-mail immediately, because:

a) I’m not always on the computer.
b) When I am on the computer I am usually doing something else.
c) When I am on the computer not doing something else, sometimes I don’t want to bother answering e-mail.

I usually try to respond to non-critical e-mail within a couple of days. If I’m really busy (like when I was on tour, for example), it might be longer than that. Additionally, if you send me something for which I do not feel a response is necessary and/or expected, I may not respond at all. Finally, given the volume of e-mail I get, if I do respond I may be brief. Also, of course, I am the one who determines whether an e-mail is critical to respond to immediately, not anyone else.

I expect that most of you, as humans who are also busy with life and work, understand this. For those of you who don’t, I will make this simple:

Pestering me about not immediately answering your e-mail will piss me off. It will make me less likely to respond, and if I do respond, you probably won’t like it.

This is not the same as following up an e-mail after several days time. That’s entirely legitimate and indeed I encourage that, since sometimes mail slips through the cracks. Please feel free to follow up after a few days (briefly if possible); you’ll likely get a response and an apologetic tone.

But, say, sending the same e-mail more than once in a few hours and sending another less than a day later demanding a response is just going to irritate the living crap out of me. Yes, this has happened recently. Indeed, it has happened more than once recently (no, it wasn’t from any of the usual gang who frequents here. Relax). People who don’t get the concept that I am not slavering to pounce on their e-mail the second it arrives in my queue — and perhaps are even offended that I am not — really need to be struck about the head several times with a clue stick.

There, I’m done venting.

Monetizing FanFic

Via Making Light, I learn about FanLib, a site for fanfic sponsored and/or tolerated by a number of media companies. Is this a good idea? I don’t know about that. I discuss why in some detail over at the Ficlets Blog. Click through, won’t you?

Writing Bits

Some about me, some about other people:

* Look! Proof I know cool bestselling authors!

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That’s me with New York Times bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (and Cassie’s friend Lori), after Holly and Cassie’s stop here in Dayton for their book tour. The two of them had quite a turnout; they both write YA and it’s always heartening to see so many teens and tweens in one place, books in hand. Also, Holly and Cassie (and Lori) were tons of fun to hang out with. I’ll be interviewing both Holly and Cassie at some point in the future for Ficlets, as soon as I pull my head out and actually start sending out interview questions again. I really have no excuse now; I’m just procrastinating.

* Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam is shipping this week, and you’re in for a treat when it hits — but why wait for a taste? Subterranean Magazine online has a ginchy audio version of “Wax,” a story in the NA collection, read by Mary Robinette Kowal, who you all know to be one of my favorite audio people (she’s cool in other respects too). Enjoy and remember that the sooner you buy new Amsterdam, the sooner you can read it, and the sooner you read it, the better you’ll feel about, well. The entire universe, actually.

* Moving on to me: As most of you know, Subterranean Press is slated to release Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: Selection Writings 1998 – 2007, comprised of selections from the Whatever over the years. We were originally going to release this book early this year, but decided to put Coffee Shop, my writing book, in that slot instead. This turned out to be a good idea (Coffee Shop did well) but as we prepped Hate Mail for later this year, I couldn’t help notice that 2008 — and my 10th year of writing the Whatever — was right around the corner. And, you know. Ten years is a nice round number.

So: Hate Mail is being pulled back into 2008, and being revamped to be a ten year retrospective of the site, which should be both interesting and fun to do. I think this will give us a lot more flexibility with the presentation of the book, which needless to say is better for you, the potential book-buying public, whom I adore and want to give quality work to. So, for those of you who have been looking forward to Hate Mail, patience. We’ll make it worth the wait.

Also, of course: Ten years. Damn. I’ve been doing this for a long time.

Tomorrow’s Columbus Appearance

Since folks have asked:

Tomorrow’s appearance in Columbus will be a 7pm at the Barnes & Noble store in the Lennox Towne Shopping Center (corner of Olentangy River Road and Kinnear, just off Route 315). I am likely to do a reading/Q&A followed by a signing.

This is as close as I’m going to get to the entire eastern half of Ohio (sorry), so if you’re in the eastern half of Ohio, this is the best time to see me. Folks in and around Dayton, of course, can wait two days to see me at Books & Co., and a week after that I’ll be at Jospeh-Beth in Cincinnati.

Mark Helprin: Great Writer. Copyright Thinker? Not So Much

The Internets are having a spasm about writer Mark Helprin’s suggestion in the New York Times that copyright ought to be permanently invested in the author/creator, i.e., intellectual property ought never go into the public domain. Helprin uses a rather naive comparison of intellectual property to physical property to make his argument, which is surprising since I know Helprin is smarter than that. But this is a problem with being overridingly ideological in one’s political life, as Helprin is; it requires one to say and do silly things. I admire Helprin immensely as a writer, and rather somewhat less as a political thinker (although his arguments are always nicely written). I like to read his opinion pieces; I just don’t agree with them very much at all.

In this particular case, there are a lot of folks merrily swinging away at why Helprin has got this one completely wrong, so I’ll not go into detail about all of this. I will say, however, that one of the great flaws in Helprin’s argument is that it’s not at all provable that eternal private control of a copyright is to the benefit of the works in question, in terms of their ability to be part of the public life of the nation.

Let me give an example here. As many of you know, I’ve gotten offers for the movie rights to some of my books. Does this mean that the producers who are interested in the movie rights to my book want to make a movie from my book? Not necessarily. In some cases the producer in question may be trying to produce a movie similar in story/theme to my book, so in buying the rights to my book, he’s getting rid of the competition (since then no one else can make a movie from my book). Yes, it’s not cheap to do this (although you might be surprised), but it’s a lot cheaper than having to compete with a similarly-themed movie.

Another scenario: A movie company buys the rights to the book as a favor to a big star it wants to have act in other films; making a movie from the book isn’t the intent, making a bankable star happy is. It’s a bauble to give to the actor. I can name all sorts of other reasons why movie rights get sold that have absolutely nothing to do with making movies, but you get the point.

In Helprin’s formulation, the value of a copyright resides in monetizing the content the copyright represents. In the real world, however, there’s also value for the copyright holder in manipulating copyrights in ways that have nothing to do with the content itself. And not just for monetary gain but for ideological gain — honestly, now, if there were some way for certain fundamentalist groups to get hold of the copyright to Darwin’s Origin of the Species, don’t you think it would be worth it for them to do it to control access to the information within? (Of course, Origin of the Species is already in the public domain. But then again, if we’re talking about revamping the entire of copyright law to provide for eternal copyrights, why not auction off the copyright benefit for material previously in the public domain? There’s money to be made there, not unlike the money the government makes auctioning off the electromagnetic spectrum, ostensibly held in public trust by the government, to private interests). Now, perhaps Helprin is under the impression that an author’s heirs would be loathe to give up copyright for anything other than the purest of motives, but you know. Wave enough money in front of people and you’ll get what you want.

What would happen, almost inevitably, is that copyrights of any value (positively, negatively or ideologically) would be secured by a few large private repositories, who would jealously police any new content they believed infringed on their copyright portfolio. One suspects that most of these repositories would also be publishers themselves, who would publish on terms advantageous to them (i.e., works for hire and/or assignation of copyright to the publisher after the death of the author). If you don’t think it would happen, look at the actions of media companies today and the content protection groups they fund.

Yeah, I’d just as soon avoid all that. I don’t mind making my heirs work for a living, I don’t like the idea that one day the rights to my work might be owned by people who have no interest in the works themselves, and I like the idea that after I’m dead and don’t need the money, that my work goes out to the public in a diffuse, decentralized way. So, naturally, I vote for keeping the public domain aspect of copyright right where it is.

Baker, Doctorow, Scalzi and Turtledove Live and in Concert

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books, called “Science Fiction: The Road From Here to There.” The panel had me, Cory Doctorow and Kage Baker, with Harry Turtledove moderating, and as you might surmise, when you get all four of us on a panel together, it’s fun. Well, it was fun for us anyway, and the crowd seems to have had fun too.

Cory’s posted an MP3 of the panel for you to download and enjoy. Here’s the direct link the file.

Old & New

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Here’s an interesting contrast of things that came in the mail today: First, the Japanese version of Old Man’s War, and underneath that, a photocopy of a story collection of mine from 1984 — which, for those of you too lazy to do the math, was when I was but a callow sophomore in high school. I personally had no copies of these stories, but my friend Natasha, who did, sent me copies as a birthday present, because she rocks.

How are the stories, you ask? Well, pretty much exactly how you would expect stories from a 15-year-old boy who thought he was pretty damn clever would be (there’s a reason that in my advice to teen writers I make the notation that at their age, their writing pretty much sucks). Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to these stories. Be that as it may, it’s nice to have copies for my own archival purposes. Incidentally, this picture also confirms my story that that werd-ass signature of mine was something I worked on since I was a teenager; you can see a proto-version on the cover sheet there.

As for the Japanese copies of OMW, I note that it’s interesting that in the cover art the female soldiers’ nipples are protruding despite the fact she’s apparently wearing full body armor; those are some nipples, I’d have to say. It’s exciting to have these copies nevertheless. Now I have copies of OMW in every language in which is it published, except Chinese, Bulgarian, and Polish. Which reminds me, in case I forgot to mention it: I sold OMW and TGB in Polish. Go OMW.

One other publishing bit of note, regarding “The Sagan Diary”: The trade edition of TSD sold out its entire 2,000-copy first printing, which is pretty nice considering it’s a novelette, and there’s enough of a continuing demand that Subterranean has run a 1,500-copy second printing. If you kick in the 400-copy print run of TSD’s limited edition (a few of which are still available, incidentally), that means that there are now more copies of “The Sagan Diary” (3,900) than there are of the first printing of Old Man’s War (3,800). I think that’s pretty cool.