Monthly Archives: December 2010

An Interview With the Christmas Bunny

Your name, please.

Aloysius McFuzz.

And your profession?

I am the Christmas Bunny.

The Christmas Bunny.

That is correct.

Not the Easter Bunny.

No, but close. But the Christmas Bunny is a franchise.

Franchise?

Yes. You know what a franchise is?

In the sense of McDonald’s or Burger King franchising a store.

Yes.

Sure.

Same thing. Just with rabbits. And holidays.

I’m afraid I’m still not entirely clear on the concept here.

Fine. You said you know about the Easter Bunny.

I do.

The Easter Bunny is a very successful icon of his season and does a huge amount of business through licensing. Every Easter Bunny stuffed animal, toy, decoration, chocolate treat, what have you, he gets a cut. And through that initial influx of licensing deal cash, he moved into other sectors of Easter menagerie licensing. In 1985, for example, he bought out the entire Easter-related poultry segment. So everything Easter-related that features a bird or a bird product, he gets a cut of that too.

Including Easter eggs.

Oh, yeah. A gold mine, those. Even those chocolate creme eggs, you know which ones I’m talking about?

The ones that have the commercials where the rabbit clucks like a chicken.

That’s how he got them! First, he sued them for trademark infringement on the rabbit. Then he got them on trademark infringement on the eggs. By the time the dust settled he had a substantial minority interest in the entire company.

Sounds ruthless.

He’s no dumb bunny. But he does it all for the kids.

I still don’t see how this has anything to do with Christmas, however.

Well, clearly, as the Easter Bunny shows, rabbits and holidays are a potent commercial mix, and in the course of time it became obvious that brand expansion needed to happen. But the Easter Bunny didn’t want to do it himself — he didn’t want to spread himself too thin — so he franchised it out and took bids on bunnies for the various holidays. I and my investors put in the strongest bid for Christmas.

I imagine there was a fair amount of competition for that particular holiday.

It was a challenging bidding environment, yes. It came down to us and Disney.

Disney.

Yes. They had re-acquired Oswald the Rabbit — that was Walt Disney’s first famous animated character, and Universal had owned him until recently — and wanted to relaunch him.

I’m surprised they didn’t get their way. Because, you know. It’s Disney.

The Easter Bunny felt that since Christmas already has so many legacy characters, and the Christmas Bunny should be new and fresh. I mean, Oswald’s heyday was in the 20s. It’s him and Felix the Cat, drinking prune juice in the retirement home.

How much were the franchise fees?

That’s confidential.

Come on. You can tell me.

Let’s just say it was more cheddar than the mouse wanted to shell out.

And there are other holiday bunnies, too.

Yes. At the franchise bidding, he sold the Thanksgiving Bunny, the July Fourth Bunny and the Labor Day Bunny. There was interest in a Hanukkah Bunny and Kwanzaa Bunny too, but those are part of our franchise, so we’ll eventually sub-franchise those.

No Valentine’s Day Bunny.

No, he kept a two month exclusivity window on either side of Easter. The National Arbor Day Foundation begged for an Arbor Day Bunny, and he totally shut them down. Had a tirade. The words “April is MINE” were said. It was an uncomfortable moment for everyone. But he had a point. You don’t undercut your core brand. Especially not for Arbor Day.

Let’s get back to Christmas again.

Yes, let’s.

You noted that there are already several prominent… what did you call them?

“Legacy characters.”

Several prominent legacy characters involved in the Christmas holiday. It seems like it may already be a saturated market in that respect.

This is true. But most of them are fairly minor and can either be eclipsed in popularity or simply bought out. To that end we are in serious negotiations with the Geisel estate. You probably know him as Dr. Seuss.

You’re buying out the Grinch? That’s oddly appropriate.

We’re also pursuing a long-term license to Rudolph. We’re already planning the stop-motion holiday special with me and him, saving the Island of Misfit Toys from Evil Drunken Santa.

Evil Drunken Santa.

Yes, that’s right.

Isn’t that defamation?

He’s a public figure. We’re on safe legal ground, First Amendment-wise.

You’ve settled on a plan of driving down Santa’s popularity, then.

Well, yes, but that’s actually only a minor component there. I was mentioning how we’re dealing with the minor legacy characters. Well, there are two major ones.

Okay.

One’s Jesus, and, well. He can’t be touched.

Because he will smite you?

No, he’s not the smiting type. But the Easter Bunny is. He says that he’s got a good thing going with Easter, which is another Jesus-focused holiday, as you may be aware.

I’d heard.

Right. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I did anything against Jesus, the repercussions would be significant. The word “fricassee” was used, and not metaphorically.

I’m not sure I like what I’m learning about the Easter Bunny.

He is tough but fair.

So one is Jesus. I’m guessing the other is Santa Claus.

Yes. And him, I can totally go after. In fact, I was specifically told by the Easter Bunny to gun for him. Apparently there’s bad blood there. I don’t know the details. I don’t want to know the details.

So what is your strategy for Santa?

We’ve developed a two-pronged approach. First, we’re going to outcompete on service.

How so?

Think about it. Santa delivers on only one night, on an inflexible schedule, only to particular children, and in a manner that utterly compromises your home security — and he expects you to be happy about the arrangement.

I never thought about it that way.

No one does. Because it’s the way it’s always been done. But I ask you. Any other night, how would you react to a home invasion? At 4am? From a guy who judges your children? Which is of course an inherent criticism of you as a parent.

When you put it that way, Santa seems like a jerk.

And for all that, he expects cookies!

And milk!

The Christmas Bunny offers a better way. A two-week delivery window, on your schedule. We knock before we enter. And hey, we know that kids today have their ups and downs. We don’t judge, either them or you. It’s a no-pressure way to enjoy the holiday.

That’s one prong. What’s the other?

Litigation.

Litigation.

Yes.

As in, suing Santa Claus.

Absolutely.

For home invasion?

No, we don’t have standing for that. But for restraint of trade, yes.

How does he restrain trade?

Are you kidding? The man’s got the entire holiday locked up. We’re trying to make deals with manufacturers and merchandisers here and abroad, and we’re getting shown the door. They’re not even allowing us to buy their stuff retail. We have to sneak into Target and CostCo and try to buy things before they find us and kick us out.

I imagine your fluffy cotton tails give you away.

It’s definitely not legal, what he’s doing. So, yes, we’ll be seeing Santa in court.

In US court? If anyone has jurisdiction over the North Pole, I would think it would be Canada or Russia.

Hey, the North Shore of Alaska is up there. We’ve got a claim. But the point is moot. HoHoHo Enterprises is incorporated in Delaware. Third Circuit, baby.

But aren’t you going after Santa for the same sort of thing the Easter Bunny does?

How do you mean?

I mean the Easter Bunny’s got that holiday locked up as tightly as Santa’s got Christmas. If you go after Santa, you leave the Easter Bunny vulnerable to same restraint of trade argument. And then the next thing you know, you’ll have an Easter Claus.

I think such speculation is wild and baseless and I can say with authority that the Easter Bunny welcomes any legitimate competition and would never in any way engage in the sort of illegal trade practice you allege. I’m shocked you would even suggest it. I can’t believe I’m sitting with you now. If I had known your intent was to slander the Easter Bunny, I would have never let you through the door.

The Easter Bunny is listening to us now, isn’t he.

This conversation is over.

Stats Geekery Addendum

In October, I posted an entry about the readership stats for Whatever and noted at the time that it’s often difficult to get a true bead on how many people are reading what I’m writing here, in part because of the variance in reporting between stats programs, and then also because the stats programs may or may not report syndicated views (i.e., people reading and sharing via RSS), but even when they do those reports don’t show up as part of the “official” site statistics.

To bring home the latter point, the picture above shows you the WordPress stat suite tracking for the “Interview with the Nativity Innkeeper” piece, tracking the readers of the piece from yesterday through about 10:30 am today — more specifically, people who visited the entry page itself (rather than reading it off the front page of Whatever, as regular visitors were likely to have done), and those looking at it via RSS feed. The light blue bits are the people who are looking at it directly on the site page for it; the dark blue bits are the people reading it via RSS.

What do we see? In this case, the RSS readership is swamping the direct-to-page visitors; since the piece went up yesterday (and not counting those who read it directly off the front page) the stats suite has reported about 51,000 readers, nearly 84% of whom are reading it away from the site. This percentage is higher than usual for my posts, but in a general sense there’s always a substantial number of RSS/offsite readers, none of whom are part of the “official” site numbers.

I bring this up partly because I nerd out about how people get hold of my stuff, but partly to make the point that online readership numbers are highly fungible. If I were trying to sell advertising on the site, I could say that this entry has had 8,000 readers or so; the RSS readers would be, in a sense, dark matter, or the equivalent of people who watch shows on DVRs — watching but not useful to advertisers. Unless, of course, I put ads on my RSS feed, which is a thing I’ve seen people do. I think this stuff is fascinating.

Bear in mind that I have no plans for adding advertising to the site (save for another possible sponsored piece of fiction, a la “An Election“), so for me this is largely noodling over numbers. However you’re reading the writing on Whatever, I’m glad you do so.

I Write About Some Science Fiction Films, and Try To Be Brave

Specifically, I’m talking about the SF films of 2010, in an “end-of-the-year wrapup” fashion, in my column for FilmCritic.com. Please go visit, because now that the SG:U gig is gone, this is the only regular paycheck I have left, and if you don’t go and read it right now, I’ll be fired, we’ll be thrown out into the snow with only thin summer clothes to cover our shivering bodies and then we’ll die.

(breaks down, sobbing, in pure financial desperation)

[Editorial note: This is has been a dramatic simulation of a moment of desperation, not an actual moment of desperation. The Scalzi family is on perfectly stable financial ground, and has many winter-appropriate bits of apparel. Nor are any of the pets in danger, as may be  suggested in upcoming lines. We now return you to the faked breakdown already in process.]

(wipes eyes) Sorry, I didn’t mean to break down like that. I’m fine. We’re all fine. Except possibly Zeus. Chubby, delectable Zeus. Who will be fine at five minutes a pound at 325 degrees.

Anyway, won’t you read the column this week? Please?!!!??!!??!!?!?!ONE!??

An Interview With the Nativity Innkeeper

Your name, please.

Ben Cohen.

Occupation?

Retired. I was an innkeeper.

In Bethlehem.

Right.

And in fact it was your inn where Jesus was born.

That’s right. Well, not in the inn itself. Out back.

In the animal shed.

Yeah. I still get a lot of flak for that.

How do you mean?

I mean that people still criticize me for not having room at the inn. They say to me, you couldn’t give a pregnant woman a room? You couldn’t give a room to the woman pregnant with the divine child? Couldn’t even spare a broom closet for the Baby Jesus?

How do you respond to that?

I say, well, look. First off, it wasn’t just me. If you go back you’ll see that every inn was full.

Because of the census.

Census, schmensus. It was the foot races. Bethlehem versus Cana. Also there was a touring theater troupe from Greece. Only appearance in Judea. The city was packed. We had reservations for months.

But Mary was pregnant.

I had three pregnant ladies at the inn that night. One was giving birth when Joe and Mary showed up. She was down the hall, screaming at the top of her lungs, cursing like you wouldn’t believe. Her husband tried to encourage her to push and she kicked him in the groin. Think about that. She’s crowning a baby, and she takes the time to put her foot into her husband’s testicles. So maybe you’ll understand why even if I had a room, I wouldn’t be in a rush to give it up to those two.

But you ended up letting them go out to the animal shed.

That was an accident.

How so?

Joe comes in and asks for a room, and I tell him we’re all out of rooms and have been for months. Foot races. Theater groupies. And such. And he says, come on, please. I’ve got a pregnant lady with me. And I say, you hear that down the hall? I’m full up with pregnant ladies. And he says, this baby is important. And I say, hey, buddy, I don’t care if he’s the Son of God, I don’t have any rooms.

So there’s some irony there.

I guess so. And then he says, look, we’ll take anything. And so I say, as a joke, all right, you can go and sleep with animals if you like. And he says fine and slaps some money on the counter.

He called your bluff.

Yeah. And I say, I was kidding about that. And he says, and my wife’s water just broke in your lobby. What could I do? I pointed him in the direction of the animals.

It’s better than having the baby in the street.

I suppose so, but you know, if the reason they were in Bethlehem was because of the census, then he had family in the area, right? It’s his ancestral home and all that. He can’t say to a cousin, hey, give us a couch? There are some family dynamics going on there that have been conveniently left unexamined, if you ask me.

Joseph had a lot on his mind.

Must have.

So the baby is born, and they place him in the manger.

Which, by the way, I told them not to do.

Why?

Because how unsanitary is that? Do you know what a manger is?

As far as I know, it’s the place you put infant messiahs.

It’s a food trough for animals.

Oh. Interesting.

“Oh, interesting” is right. Let me ask you. So your baby is born, and the first thing you do is put him in an open container filled with grain and covered in oxen drool? Does this seem reasonable to you?

You did have them out with the animals. Their options were limited.

I rented cribs. I asked Joseph, do you want a crib. And he said, no, we’re fine, and then sets the kid in the food box. And I say to him, you’re new at this, aren’t you.

In his defense, he was.

And then someone says, look, the animals, they are adoring the baby. And I say, adoring, hell. They’re wondering why there’s a baby in their food.

On the other hand, the image of the Baby Jesus in the manger is a classic one.

Yeah, I mention that when people get on my case about not giving Joe and Mary a room. I tell them that having a Christmas carol called “Away in a Hotel Room” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. They never have anything to say to that.

It’s said that a star appeared on the night when Jesus was born. Did you see it?

No. I was too busy trying to convince Joseph to rent a crib.

It’s said it was bright enough to lead the Three Wise Men to your inn.

Well, three men showed up at the inn. I don’t know how wise they were.

How do you mean?

The baby is born, right? And then these guys show up. And they say, we have brought gifts for the child. And I say, that’s nice, what did you bring. And they say, we have brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. And I say, you’ve got to be kidding.

What’s wrong with that?

Let me quote another Christmas song for you. “A child, a child, shivers in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold.” Really? Silver and gold? And not, oh, I don’t know, a blanket? An newborn infant is exhibiting signs of possible hypothermia and your response is to give him cold metal objects? Who ever wrote that song needs a smack upside the head.

You’re saying the gifts were inappropriate.

What’s wrong with diapers? A nice jumper or two? A Baby Bjorn? They were riding around on a donkey, you know. A Baby Bjorn would have come in handy. Have you ever in your life gone to a baby shower where someone says, congratulations on the baby, here’s some perfume. No. Because most people have some sense.

I think the idea is that all the gifts were fit for a king.

Yes, a king who first pooped in my animals’ manger. I would have appreciated a gift of diapers.

Point taken.

And another thing, they brought all these expensive gifts, but do you ever hear about Joe and Mary and Jesus being anything but poor? Or at the very most working class?

Now that you mention it, no.

Exactly. I think what happened is these three guys show up and they say, here are all these expensive gifts we got your baby. Oh and by the way, we happen to know King Herod thinks your baby’s a threat and plans to kill every kid younger than two years of age just to be sure, so you better go. Egypt’s nice this time of year. What? You’re traveling by donkey? Well, then you can’t take all these nice gifts with you. We’ll just hold on to them for now, write us a letter when you get settled and we’ll mail them. And then they never do.

I don’t think there’s scriptural support for that theory.

I’m not saying I have any evidence. All I’m saying is that it makes sense.

After the Three Wise Men, were there other visitors?

Yeah. It got a little crowded. The animal sheds aren’t designed for a large amount of foot traffic. And then that kid showed up with a drum, and I said, all right, fine, we’re done.

The song of that incident suggests the drum went over well.

Let me ask you. You’re a parent, your child has just been born, he’s tired, you’re tired, people won’t leave you alone, and then some delinquent comes by and unloads a snare solo in your baby’s ear. Does this go over well?

Probably not, no.

There you go.

After the birth, did your inn benefit from the notoriety?

Not really. Jesus kind of slipped off everyone’s radar, for, what? Thirty years? Thirty-five?

Something like that.

Right. So there wasn’t much benefit there. I got some mileage out of telling the story about the crazy couple who rented my animal shed, and the visitors, and the drumming, but I mostly told it to friends. Then just as I’m about to retire someone tells me of this hippie preacher in Jerusalem who got in trouble with the Romans. And I say, hey, I think I know that guy. I think he got born in my shed. And then, well. You know what the Romans did to him.

Yes.

Romans, feh. Then I sold the inn to my nephew and retired to Joppa. By the time Jesus became really famous I was out of the game. And then my nephew sold the inn and they put that church there.

The Church of the Nativity.

You been?

I have, yes.

It’s nice. I liked the inn better, of course.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I would have comped Joseph the crib.

That still would have changed the Christmas carol.

I know. But, look. You didn’t have to wash out that manger.

Early Cr-48 Impressions

I’ve had the Chrome laptop for six whole hours now. What do I think of it so far? Well:

* The black, matte “no distinguishing marks” look of the computer really appeals to my baser nerderati impulses, i.e., “oh, you have a Mac Air, do you? How nice for you. Excuse me while I pull out my Cr-48, whose very blackness will consume your pathetic hipster soul.”

* That said, in low light the keys are hard to read; more difficult to read than the keys on my Acer One, which are the same color. I guess the matte black really does suck in all available light to it; either that or the screen is really bright, which means there are contrast issues for my feeble 41-year-old eyes.

* The keyboard is of the chiclet type which I have generally not liked on other computers but which seems to be working fine for me here. This may be an effect of the “you just got a free computer, don’t complain” phenomenon.

* But allow me to complain anyway about the trackpad, which is twitchy and also requires you to use two fingers to right click, which I apparently do wrong all the time. I will have to practice more and/or look through the settings to see if I can change it and/or say “screw it” and use a mouse.

* The CAPS LOCK button being replaced with a search button? Awesome. I never used the Caps Lock button, ever, so now the button is assigned to something that’s functional. In real world terms the search button opens up a new tab, from which you may do a search; the search aspect of that is fine but in fact it’s the “opening a new tab” function which is useful for me. All the function buttons are gone, replaced with buttons that address specific computer functions. Oh, look, here’s the “lower brightness” button. Aaaand now I can see my keyboard better. Excellent.

* Speaking of the screen, it’s fine. Nice and bright, except when I use that button to make it less bright. On another note entirely, it’s amazing how much more comfortable a 12-inch screen is than a 10-inch screen, which is what my Acer has. I think I’ve found my laptop sweet spot in terms of screen size.

*Other small build notes: The screen doesn’t go back quite as far as I’d like it to, hinge-wise, but that’s not a dealbreaker. The battery is not quite flush with the bottom of the computer, but again, like I care. The slightly rubberized plastic of the Cr-48, which makes it feel like my Droid X has been experimenting with growth hormones? Excellent. Fan is mostly quiet.

* I know the Cr-48 is not going to be a computer that’s going to sell on the general market, so in some sense all the above is just neepery. But you know what? I would buy a laptop like this. I like the form factor and design a lot. And I love not having branding on it. Love it love it love it.

* On the software side, the thing boots up as quickly as advertised. From off to totally up and running definitely in less than half a minute (I didn’t have a stopwatch on it). Additionally the initial setup took almost no time at all; I turned it on, signed into my Google account, and whoomp, there it was. Close-to-instant power on is a good thing.

* And other than that? Well, someone said to me that if you want to experience what the Chrome OS is like without having to use the Chrome OS, all you have to do is open the Chrome browser and run it full screen. This is in fact a pretty accurate assessment. Basically, the experiencing of using Chrome OS is like having the browser up all the time. The good news here is that I already use the Chrome browser on a frequent basis, so there’s not too much of a learning curve. The bad news is all the annoying things about the Chrome browser are here too. I’ll have to go through and fiddle with the settings until they are to my liking.

* I used the Cr-48 to update the blog and also to write a movie column via Google Docs. Verdict? Again, like updating the blog and writing a column via Google Docs on the other computer. Mostly. I did have to do a couple of workflow workarounds, including using a slightly alternate means to get pictures onto the blog. We’ll see in the future how much this has to do with me, and how much it has to do with the Chrome OS dictating a different workflow.

So in all, not a bad first six hours with the new toy.

I’m a British Fantasy Award Nominee

For this very blog, in the non-fiction category. Very cool!

Here’s the entire list of nominees, via SF Signal. Congrats to all of them.

Update: Whoops, this information is from June. This is what I get for not paying attention. Never mind; as you were.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Nerdmas

Hey, guess what showed up on my doorstep today:

Yup, it’s one of those Cr-48s, from Google. Apparently they saw me kvetch enough about wanting one and sent one along. I did also sign up to be a beta tester, of course. But I think it was the kvetching that did it. So now I have one. Go me.

And you say, Hey, Scalzi, didn’t you just do a post on some of the philosophical problems with cloud computers? Why, yes, I did. And my response to you is:

1. What, you’re expecting consistency from me when I have a new toy?

2. And I also said I wouldn’t mind trying one anyway, SO THERE.

3. But more relevantly and to the point here, I’ve noted my philosophical issues with cloud computing, so now it will be interesting to work with a cloud computer and learn how my philosophical issues mesh with the practical aspects of playing with what is essentially a souped-up version of a “thin client.” I really do want to see how well it works for everything I do with a computer on a day-to-day basis. I am as noted more than a little skeptical we’re at the point where something like the Cr-48 is a true replacement for a computer with native applications. That’s my baseline; now let’s see whether I’m wrong or not.

4. Also, did I mention I have a new toy?

Now that I have it, what will I do with it? Well, when I applied for the beta I said that if they gave me one I’d try writing a novel on it. So, what the heck. I’ll try writing a novel on it. Or a novella, at least. I want to do one of each in 2011. So let’s try that and see how that goes.

Candy Candy Candy

Many of you know that before I had novels published, I was a frequent contributor to the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series of books — those books filled with informative, fun trivia articles just long enough to take care of one’s business, as it were. What you may not know is that I still write for the series on occasion. I do it because it’s interesting work, it fits easily in to my writing schedule, the UJ folks pay well, and because it conforms with my writing business philosophy of having multiple revenue streams, so that when one goes under — say, oh, the TV series you’ve been working on gets canceled — you still have income from other places.

Yea, even now, when I am bestselling novelist who lies upon pillows filled with caviar and fluffy ocelot kittens, I am not so proud that I won’t write an article meant to be read while people poop. Mayhaps this will be an instructional moment to you aspiring writers. Mayhaps this will indicate to you what novelists really make. Mayhaps I sleep on regular pillows, unfilled with ocelots and caviar, which would be smelly and claw-y in any event. Mayhaps I should stop using the word “mayhaps.”

Anyway, if you’re curious as to what sort of material I write for an Uncle John’s book, well, Neatorama has an article up today about the origin stories of various candies, taken from the recent UJ’s “History’s Lists” title. That’s right! Origin stories are not just for superheroes! And while Uncle John’s doesn’t typically break out which of their contributors contributed what, I can say that if I were to have written a piece for them recently, it would be not unlike this one. Not unlike it at all.

Mmmm… candy.

Yet Another 10 Things I’ve Done That You Probably Have Not

Following on this list, which follows on this one. Not saying you never did any of these things, just that I suspect you probably haven’t. I think the odds are in my favor overall. And if you have done all ten, stop stalking me.

1. Been a couple of feet away from a Shakespeare First Folio

2. Lived directly in front of a Christmas tree farm

3. Had a comedian borrow, with permission, a joke with the intent to use it on The Tonight Show (he was on; he didn’t use it).

4. Swatted a fly off Harrison Ford’s lapel

5. Bottle-fed a calf

6. Watched movies in a press-only theater with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel

7. Had a meeting with current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

8. Been in a car that crashed, in a not-quite-irony-free fashion, through a cemetery fence

9. Slipped down Neil Gaiman’s stairwell (without injury, my bad, not his)

10. Sung an original song at a friend’s funeral.

Feel free to add your own list in the comments/create a list on your own site and then add a link in the comments.

Zoe, In Japanese Form

Japan’s been a very good market for me, both in sales and in attention (I won the Seiun Award this year for best translated novel, for The Last Colony), so it’s nice to see Zoe’s Tale out there as well. And I find the cover illustration kind of interesting; Zoe here is clearly sporting a fair amount of ‘tude, and I don’t suspect those shoes are going to be particularly useful on Roanoke. But compared to some of the other covers for the series in Japan, this one’s pretty on target.

A Relevant Issue With Cloud Computers

Cory Doctorow points it out in a tweet:

A cloud computer is just like a regular computer, except you have to ask permission from the phone company every time you use it.

And this is why even though I’d be interested in playing with Google’s Cr-48 computer with the Chrome OS, at the end of the day there’s a lot of computing capability I’m going to want to keep native to my own computer. In the case of Google and its OS, there is or will be apparently some capability to work offline (the computer will sync with at least some its cloud components when it reestablished contact), but then the question will be how many of its components will do so, and how many of them won’t. A computer that doesn’t work how I want it to when I want it to isn’t a computer I’m actually going to want.

In addition to the point Cory mentions, I would add another, which is that in the United States, the 4th Amendment status of content saved “in the cloud” still appears to be ambiguous, notwithstanding this week’s 6th Circuit Court ruling regarding e-mail on service provider servers. I’m not fomenting treason or such, but even so, I’d still like my government to need a warrant if it suspects I am, rather than going to my cloud service provider and leaning on them to use its Terms of Service to short-circuit those rights.

Bear in mind I’m sort of talking out of both sides of my mouth to some extent, since in fact I use GMail to access my personal mail account, and a copy of my mail gets stored there, and I also use Google Docs on a weekly basis to write my Filmcritic.com column, for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea at the time, and now I keep doing it. I’m already partially in the cloud. But the difference, I suppose, is that I poke my head into the cloud when I want to, not because it’s the only option. And that’s still a substantial thing for me.

 

Taxes and Obama

I mentioned that I wanted to hold off commenting on the tax legislation deal agreed to by Obama and the GOP until after it passed. Well, it passed and Obama’s going to sign it into law later today. So here are my thoughts.

1. If I were a Congressperson, I wouldn’t have voted for it, because I think it’s stupid not to raise the tax rate on the highest-income folks in the US. We need the tax revenue, and they can afford it — and by “they” I do mean “we,” since I’m one of them, which is one reason I’m rather less than impressed by the piteous mewling of my fellow well-off, and the well-off’s hand-wringing financial underlings who apparently think that the response of the highest-income among us to a relatively painless increase in their top marginal rates will be to “go Galt” or whatever.

Seriously, the obsequious toadying at the feet of the well-off, and the commensurate implication that making the well-off chip in more than the least they have had to since The Great Depression amounts to class war, just appalls me. A little class war would be vastly preferable to the poor- and the middle-class grovel-fest we have now. When the revolution finally comes and I’m up against the wall, I will not be wailing how they don’t understand, my money helped lift all the boats in the rising tide; I’ll probably be asking them what took them so goddamned long.

(Mind you, I suspect a small rise in the marginal rates of the wealthiest of Americans would help to prevent the upcoming American Proletariat Revolution better than the current plan, which appears to be to rely on Glenn Beck to tell old white people to buy gold coins and bury them in the backyard. But clearly I’m a socialist, so what do I know.)

As I mentioned earlier, what a tax deal like this means to me is that the US political class has finally admitted to itself that money isn’t real and, additionally, that there’s no real risk in the US continuing to run up its deficit, because at this point all our creditor nations would find themselves magnificently screwed if we went down, taking their economies with us. Bear in mind this belief doesn’t have to be true in order for our political class to act as if it is. But on the other hand, from inside the US at least, the world really does seem to be handling the US like a bunch of relatives silently tolerating an obnoxious drunk uncle because they all put too much money into his ponzi scheme, and they’re just hoping he can find some way to get them their money back before the whole thing goes kerplooey. So maybe it’s not a bad strategy after all.

But it sure makes me nervous and I wish it would stop. I’m not entirely opposed to being part of a generation that says, fine, we’ll clean up the mess — Generation X has long assumed it’s going to get screwed anyway, so why not take it on our terms, and so on — but we’re not at the point where such a thing is feasible. Instead we’re still at the point where the US political party that likes to pretend it’s the fiscally responsible one still apparently proceeds from the insane premise that if they just cut taxes enough, the vast majority of Americans will happily accept a government that does nothing other than point guns at some people and puts other people in prison. Sorry, guys. People actually like their Social Security and Medicare and roads and relatively safe food, etc. You should probably find a way to fund it. Raising marginal tax rates on the wealthiest Americans might be the way to go.

But, apparently, not for the next two years at least.

2. Independent of the basic stupidity of not actually attempting to raise revenue, and purely on the political calculus side of things, Obama did what Obama does — looked at the landscape, found the solution that best suited his needs and then got people to agree to it and passed it into law. He let the GOP keep its precious tax cut for the richest 2% of Americans and in return got extended unemployment benefits and additional stimulus funding. Somewhere in there he may have also wrangled GOP support for the DADT repeal and/or START ratification; we’ll find out soon.

But even without those two things, a) he got a lot done that he wanted to get done b) before Congress got much more difficult for him to deal with, c) gave up relatively little, politically speaking, to do it and d) made himself look reasonable (and reasonably “bipartisan”) doing it. Add that to the pile of things he managed to get done over the last two years, which is by any measure a large and remarkable pile, despite unified, energetic political opposition and political allies with the organizational skills of the Keystone Cops. Someone tell me again how this president is naive/fumbly/doesn’t get things done.

And before you go on about me just jerking off Obama again, allow me to reiterate: I don’t like this tax deal. This isn’t about “my side” winning a political football game. It’s about noting how a politician actually does what he’s supposed to do — get as much of what he wants to get done accomplished while giving up as little political capital as possible, and looking reasonably good while doing it. I’m not pleased with the outcome here, but I can appreciate the process of how the deal got done.

Stargate: Universe Cancellation Followup

So, to answer some of the questions and comments I’ve seen here and various other places. Bear in mind I’m speaking for me and only for me.

Why was the show canceled? I’m not privy to the inner workings of Syfy’s corporate thinking, but I would expect it was because the ratings weren’t what Syfy wanted them to be; the ratings for the show dropped as a whole this season. I expect that some of that was due to Syfy deciding moving the show (along with Caprica, which was also canceled this year) from Fridays to Tuesdays, in order to make room for that science fictional classic, WWE Smackdown.

I’m not going to argue that Friday nights are intrinsically better than Tuesday nights for science fictional TV watching (note the great wailing when Fringe was moved to Friday nights), but I do know that since SG:U’s second season began, it’s had to contend with being scheduled against baseball playoffs, the election and Dancing With the Stars. So I don’t think it was a great night to be on, no. Lots of folks DVR’d the show and watched it later, but actually showing up for a TV show when it runs for the first time still matters if you want to keep a show on the air.

Add it all up, and it seems like the numbers just weren’t there for a third go-around.

What have we learned? Well, that Syfy likes its wrestling, and that if you want to support a TV show you like, you should watch it when they schedule it.

You wish to rant about Syfy and its non-science fictional practices. Go ahead, but you know what, if you want Syfy to run science fictional programs and not, say, wrestling or ghost hunting, you have to show up in numbers greater than the number of wrestling/ghost hunting fans who show up to watch that. Mind you, I don’t like wrestling on Syfy any more than I like the fact that it’s been, what? nearly two decades since MTV actually showed music videos. But then it’s not my job to program a cable network to bring in the largest number of viewers in a particular demographic lest I be fired.

I suspect at this point the sooner people recognize that cable networks once dedicated to one genre of programming now see that previous focus as something of an inconvenient guideline, to be ignored when expedient, the happier (or at least, less disappointed) they will be.

What will happen with the second half of the second season of SG:U? I have no idea. It does appear that Syfy currently plans to air the remaining episodes, but I honestly have no inside information as to what the plan is at this point. Syfy doesn’t call me to tell me what they’re planning. This should be obvious.

Will the remaining episodes [insert thing you want the remaining episodes to do]? Sorry, folks, my “no spoilers” policy is still in effect, so you won’t get any details out of me. What I will say is that I think the remaining episodes will take you places you’ll enjoy going; the writing is strong, the characters continue to grow, and there are some surprises and cool things coming. It’ll be worth it for you to make the time for the rest of the series.

How I am taking the cancellation: Well, you know. It’s sad for me. I enjoyed working on the show, and I enjoyed my role in the production process. I was a lot of fun to get the early versions of scripts, give the writers and producers notes, and see those notes incorporated into later versions and then ultimately into the show itself.

As I’ve noted before, my role is to be invisible to the viewer — that is, if I do my job right, the viewer doesn’t notice what I do — but when I watch the show I see my work there, in the science of the show but also in the characters as well, since I consulted on both. It’s nice that I’ve seen SG:U get credit for trying to make its science and situations as plausible as they can be given the nature of the show and the fact we still have to entertain people.

I will also miss working with the SG:U folks. My interaction was primarily with the producers and writers, and it was a ton of fun when one of them would come to me with a situation they’d want to put on the screen, and I’d get to help find a (reasonably) plausible way to make it happen. It’s problem-solving on an interstellar scale, and that’s a blast.

I didn’t work directly with the actors, but inasmuch as each of the major characters carries a very tiny bit of me in them (to the extent that I gave notes on each character, and those notes were used), I felt invested what they did as well. It was a pleasure to see the characters go from words on a page to people on screen, thanks to the work the actors did. I’ll miss that too, and them.

So yeah, I’m sad. This was a lot of fun, and now I don’t get to do it anymore. I hope I get to do it again one day; I’d love to be a consultant on another show.

How the cancellation has an impact on my life: As I briefly mentioned in an earlier entry, SG:U being canceled is sad for me, but it doesn’t cancel my family’s Christmas or otherwise put us in a bad situation. I’m a busy guy, and in addition to the consulting I did on the show I also write books (which you might have known about me), bang out a weekly column on film, do other freelance work, and have a few other projects out there that I can’t tell you about now but which, I assure you, are really spectacularly cool. I’m busy, and happily so.

Also (and importantly), I practice what I preach when I bang people on the head about money, and as a result, and without going into any particular detail, we’re financially sound and barring a major catastrophe will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. So, we’re cool. I do appreciate those of you who had concern for us about that, though. That was very kind of you.

In the short run, it does mean I have to reassess my 2011 work schedule; I had budgeted X amount of time to work on SG:U, and now I have that time freed up. It may finally be time to do that interpretive dance piece on the Crimean War I’ve kept meaning to get around to. Or, uh, maybe something else. We will see.

So, that’s everything I’ve got on the SG:U cancellation at this point. If you have other questions, go ahead and leave ‘em in the comments and I’ll try to get to them. Note I’ve scheduled this post to go up at midnight and will probably be asleep then, so it might be a few hours before I start to get to answering them.

Ending the Day on a High Note

I know we’re all sad about SG:U, and years from now we’ll talk about where we were when we found out the show was cancelled, but hey: Here’s a cute picture of my kid, looking all introspective in the snow and all.

And with that, I’m outta here for the day. See you all tomorrow.

Stargate Universe Cancelled

Here’s the tweet that says it, from Syfy’s Craig Engler, about ten minutes ago:

I’ll have more to say about it at some point soon, but for now I’ll say that it’s a shame, and also that it was a tremendous honor to work with the SG:U folks, particularly Brad Wright and Joe Mallozzi, the two writer/producers with whom I worked the most closely. They put on a really good show, and I was glad to be able to help them.

The good news for you is that you still have ten more episodes to look forward to, and you know what? They’re really excellent episodes. I can’t wait for you to see them.

Quick addendum, 4:17pm: For the people wondering if this means the Scalzi family Christmas is canceled, etc., I’m touched, but I’m fine and the family is fine, and thanks to my philosophy of having multiple revenue streams, we will continue to be perfectly fine for the foreseeable future. So don’t worry about us.

A General Reminder, Re: Bacon

Dear Assembled Masses:

Okay, it’s not quite 2 pm as I write this and I’ve already gotten six bacon-related e-mails today, so it’s probably a good time to remind people of this:

The Canonical Bacon Page.

It’s where you can go here on the site and post things about bacon, in order to share its smokey pork goodness with everybody, not just me, and also as a consequence, keep my e-mail queue relatively bacon-free. Because, yes, while I like bacon, I don’t actually have to be personally e-mailed every bacon-related thing on the Internet.

The Canonical Bacon Page does in fact get a surprising amount of traffic (and yes, I do check it fairly frequently), so it’s a fine way to show off your online bacon acumen. Because bacon, like love, is better when it’s shared.

Note, incidentally, that if/when you post on the Canonical Bacon Page, you do not have to then e-mail me to let me know that you’ve posted on the Canonical Bacon Page. One, I probably already know you’ve posted; I’m pretty good at keeping tabs on the site. Two, I set up the Canonical Bacon Page as an alternative to e-mailing me bacon-related material, so posting there and e-mailing sort of defeats the purpose of that.

In short: When you want to e-mail me about bacon, post it to the Canonical Bacon Page instead.

Thank you for your consideration.

I remain yours in nitrated bliss,

John Scalzi

Just Arrived, 12/16/10

Hey! Look what I got in the mail!

* Soul Hunt, Margaret Ronald (Harper Voyager): The third book in Ronald’s fabulous urban fantasy series has our paranormally empowered heroine discovering that she owes a debt to someone very powerful and thus must take on a job that she dare not fail at, or else bad things will happen to Boston. Yes, even worse than the Celtics not making the finals. This one will be out on December 28, so now you know what to spend those holiday gift cards on.

* Up Against It, M.J. Locke (Tor): This is an ARC for an science fiction book which has been getting a fair amount of early buzz for its look at life on an asteroid colony a couple centuries upstream — and the troubles one of that colony’s engineers has to deal with when it’s targeted for takeover. And if that’s not enough, a formerly helpful AI had gone rogue. See, this is why I stay here at the bottom of a gravity well. This one comes out in March, and Locke’s already slated for a Big Idea slot, so you’ll hear more about it here closer to release.

* Cowboy Angels, Paul McAuley (Pyr): This is a cool idea: A version of the US discovers a way to access alternate history versions of itself and plans basically to make these other versions its client states. Oh, America. Self-reflexive imperialism probably won’t end well, will it? Probably not — and there’s where the story is headed. This novel’s been out for quite some time in the UK but has its US release on January 1.

* Speculative Horizons, Patrick St-Denis, ed. (Subterranean Press): This fantasy anthology features stories from Tobias Buckell, Hal Duncan, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and others, got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, and a cut of the profits go to breast cancer research. It’s out now.

* Black Magic Sanction, Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager): The paperback version of Harrison’s latest installment in her Rachel Morgan series hits stores on December 28.

* Corruptor, Jason Cordova (Twilight Times): So there’s this video game which is so very awesome that playing it is just like actually being in it. What could possibly ever go wrong with that set-up, right? Yes, exactly. Sigh. When will people remember to pause the game and step away from it every fifteen minutes or so? It’s not so hard, folks. This one is out now.

* A Hard Day’s Knight, Simon R. Green (Ace): Green’s Nightside series is up to installment number 11, which is a pretty impressive series run, if you ask me. In this one, our hero private investigator John Taylor discovers the sword Excalibur has been sent to him in the mail, and you just know that’s going to mean complications galore. Apparently “Return to Sender” was not an option. This one’s out January 4.

Sequels, Remakes, and Transformers in 3-D

Over at Filmcritic.com today, I dip into the mailbag and answer questions about whether 2010 is unusually pocked with sequels and remakes, and what it means for the next Transformers movie to be in 3D, especially when Michael Bay whined about 3D so much earlier in the year. Come check it out, and as always feel free to leave your own comments over there.

Hey! Baen’s Updated Its Web Site!

And it’s celebrating its new look by offering you a free story: “Space Hero” by Patrick Lundrigan, which by its very title alone you can tell is going to be perfectly Baen-tastic. Check out the new look and enjoy the free fiction, right there on the front page of the site.