Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits

Some questions from Reader Request Week I’m not answering at length but still want to answer:

Melanie Novak: “I’d like to know your thoughts on ‘cloud computing’. It’s on my mind because Google is pimping their Chromebooks and I’m intrigued. Do you think you could live completely ‘in the cloud’ in relation to your computing life? (with Google or anyone else?) Would you want to – from both a technical and privacy perspective? Do you think we will reach a time when a critical mass of people can live without any local storage?”

“Cloud computing” is mostly just fancy marketing speech for “non-local storage,” and I’ve had and used non-local storage for years (via this very Web site) so I don’t think I think of it so much as a radical reinvention of the computing metaphor as others may have. I wrote most of The Human Division on Google Docs because it was easy to access my working documents on multiple computers, so I like that aspect. But I also stored copies of every episodes on local media as well, since redundant versions are useful. I think using “cloud storage” is fine casually, but everyone should be aware that anything you want to definitively keep you should store locally (and, ideally, transfer to a physical medium of some sort).

Matt Cramp: “From what I gather, most male feminists start off by having a ‘red pill’ moment where they notice something off about the way women are treated, and then start seeing the patriarchy behind it and a lot of other problems they dismissed as ‘how the world is’. Did you have a moment like that, and if so what was it?”

I don’t think I had that moment. I was raised by a single mother, had/have several strong women as role models (including my wife) and generally believed that men and women had equal rights. Which is not to say I didn’t have my load of gender assumptions and biases; I did and do (also, I am wary of assuming the mantle of feminist). But I can’t think of a specific moment scales fell from my eyes. If anything it’s been more of a refining and understanding of views I was given early.

Andy: “John, you seem to be both a highly productive person, and also highly distractible. Do you have any typical strategies for motivation that help you get work done and avoid the endless temptation technology and the internet offer for the average geek?”

When I’m writing novels, and find the Internet too distracting, I pull the DSL out of the computer until I’m done. Works for me.

Steve C: “Are you generally optimistic about humanity’s future over the next few decades (centuries?) or pessimistic? What gives you hope or gives you pause?”

Oh, I’m pretty sure that humans will survive as a species. Will we survive with the lifestyle/population we have now? I kind of hope not. I suspect the planet would be happy with fewer of us, and those fewer of us being smarter about how we share the planet.

Joe: “What are your thoughts/memories/etc. of Margaret Thatcher, if any?”

Most of my thoughts/memories of Maggie Thatcher come not from my own memories of her but from musical and other creative artists responding to her during her tenure — everyone from UB40 to Pink Floyd to Genesis to The (English) Beat on the musical front, and Alan Moore in visual/writing, particularly V for Vendetta. So from that perspective I don’t have especially positive associations. She was mostly out of the political picture when I started thinking about anything other than US politics. Personally speaking I don’t have any strong feelings about her, which is different from saying she didn’t have a huge impact in a larger sense. I recognize that she was iconic (and not positively so) for a huge number of my contemporaries, but for me she was not important. I mostly stayed out of the commentary regarding her passing for this; other people could (and did) essay her much better than I could.

Christina: “Whatever is, in part, about your life. Do you think future historians will think of you as an unreliable narrator? How right would that be?”

I don’t know. I don’t typically lie about myself here, but on the other hand Whatever is unapologetically “tuned” to be a version of me that personable and readable, and there are lots of things about my life that I just don’t bring up here, because they’re not anyone else’s business. So I suspect that while “unreliable narrator” wouldn’t be an accurate description, “an incomplete portrayal” would be, especially since I have designed it as such and fully admit the fact.

John Meltzer: “Have you ever considered running for Congress, against John Boehner?”

Not really. One, I don’t actually want to be a Congressperson. Seems like a lot of aggravation. I would rather write. Two, unless Boehner is caught on CSPAN sodomizing adorable kittens on the floor of the House while singing L’Internationale, he’s going to remain the 8th District’s representative until he retires or dies. Three, despite the fact I have yet to vote for him (nor does it seem likely I will in the forseeable future), he’s a fair representative of his district and its general politics, which is, at the end of the day, what a representative is supposed to be.

Grigorylukin: “You’re a liberal from California. Krissy was born and grew up in Ohio. Since gun culture in rural Ohio is probably pretty strong, could you describe your family’s relationship with guns and your personal opinion on them?”

Well, Krissy lived in California for the majority of her childhood, actually. And it’s worth noting that not every portion of California is hippy-trippy liberal; among other things, the last governor of California prior to the current was a Republican. So just to put that out there. As for my personal opinion on guns: I know how to shoot, but prefer my bow.

JReynolds: “Is there a book that, after you read it, you thought: “Man, I wish I had written that? Not necessarily because you think you could have done a better job, but that the idea or the execution were particularly noteworthy?”

No. The reason I love the book is almost certainly because that specific author wrote it. If I were to write a book on the same subject — and even with the same data and influences — it would be an entirely different book. Also then that book would be work for me. I don’t always want to work. Sometimes I just want to read.

David Lindner: “Personally, I’d like to know what you think about Elvis Impersonators. Obviously, not a hot topic, but for some reason I think that you could just be the one to bring some new insight into this issue.”

I think the further along we go the more Elvis impersonators are less likely to impersonate Elvis and more likely to impersonate a communal agreement of who Elvis was, an agreement shaped in part by Elvis impersonators themselves. And while this is interesting in a formal way (the semiotics of cultural iconography vs “authenticity”), at the end of the day I’m just going to listen to my Elvis singles, which are generally awesome.

Christian W: “If you were given the option of rewriting another great book like you did with Fuzzy Nation, what would you choose and how would you change it?”

I would choose nothing, because I already did that, and the reason to do it was the formal challenge of updating a story from another era into the current one. Having accomplished that, I don’t really have an interest in doing it again. Also, once is an interesting experiment; twice is a career strategy. I don’t think I want that to be my career.

Colonel Potter: “Three words: Sex Over 40.”

I’m for it.

Bruce Diamond: “Jeff Dunham: funny, or not funny? And why?”

I’ve not seen a full Jeff Dunham show in my life, but from the bits and pieces I’ve seen I suspect in general his humor is aimed at an audience that is not me.

Dave Smith: “I’m getting married next year (yay!), so wedding planning is on my brain a lot lately. One thing I’ve noticed is there is tons of things that you can do that are awesome and unique and it is hard to choose between them all. There are, however, a couple things that when push comes to shove, both me and my fiancee really want and will find the dollars to make it happen. Thinking back to your wedding, what was the one element that you really wanted? I’m thinking of things like having a certain DJ, or a certain style of food, or something unique like a photo booth. Now that you’ve been married some time, are you glad that you fought for that element in your wedding?”

Our philosophy for our wedding was “it’s our wedding, we’ll do what we want,” and we did. It helped that we paid for most of it — family chipped in (for which they were duly and genuinely thanked) but we were always in charge of the planning, because ultimately we held the pursestrings (it also helped that we didn’t really want anything ridiculous; there was no theme to the wedding other than “hey, we’re getting married”). I think if you have to fight to get something you want into your wedding, someone somewhere is forgetting who the wedding is about. I think it’s okay to remind them.

GreyDuck: “Growing your own food, especially in urban settings. Should we be growing more of our own food? What kind of food? Minneapolis recently started allowing bees and chickens in most neighborhoods. Is this wise?”

I think it’s fine to grow your own food (we have), although I think one should be realistic about it. You can grow vegetables just about anywhere; livestock, on the other hand, needs a certain amount of space. “Don’t be a dick to your neighbors” is a good guideline when growing food. I’m for more bees in a general sense, however. Too many of them are dying off recently.

Phoenician in a Time of Romans: “How the hell can you write convincingly about the future 40 or 50 years out when you see how it’s changed in the last 40 or 50 years without:

i, spurting out a nearly indigestible flurry of ideas that overwhelm readers OR

ii, writing twee space opera which isn’t at all convincing”

I think a good start is not to worry about whether what you’re writing is going to be a convincing future, because obviously you will have no idea until well after the fact (and you might be dead). Write what’s necessary for the story you want to tell instead. If you tell a good story, any complaints about it being a “realistic” future will be aside the point because you’ve entertained the reader, which (generally speaking with commercial fiction) is the point.

Orangemike: “‘Self-Publishing is the Only Viable Future’ vs. ‘Nobody Pays Any Attention to Self-Published (i.e., vanity) Books’”

I find much of the binary thinking on eBooks/self-publishing to be really tedious, frankly.  It’s fine to argue that one may be preferable/ascendant/whatever, but anyone who presents any publishing scenario to you in “either/or” terms is likely ignorant or invested in their their position for reasons that ultimately aren’t about giving you useful or accurate advice or information. We’re in a “nobody knows” phase, folks. If someone says they do know, hold on to your wallet.

MasterThief: “Writing Topic: How do you write good dialog? This is one of the things I find most difficult in my own creative writing.

One simple tip is to speak it aloud. If it sounds more like writing than like people talking, fix it.

Celiammm: “You rarely write about sports. (I can only think of that excellent excoriation of the Penn State situation.) Have you ever cared about a sports team or event (High school, White Sox, Olympics, etc)? Is there anything particularly distasteful about sporting culture that turns you off? Idiot fans, idiot parents, general uselessness, corruption, steroids…”

It’s just not something that I’ve ever been overly invested in, although I certainly don’t hate sports. I played them as a kid, I like going to sporting events from time to time because I find them more interesting live, and I enjoy the drama of playoffs and specific performances. Also, I find sports writing to be interesting; some of the best (or at least most readable) journalistic opinion and commentary is in the field. But in the end I don’t write about it mostly because I’m not thinking about it all that much.

It’s a thought2: “What are your thoughts on assisted suicide?”

For me? Not yet.

Thanks everyone, for all your questions during this Reader Request Week. We’ll do it again next year. Remember, however, you don’t have to wait for Reader Request Week to request a topic; you can always e-mail me.

24 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits

  1. On one hand “I wrote most of The Human Division on Google Docs,” on the other hand “When I’m writing novels, and find the Internet too distracting, I pull the DSL out of the computer.” Guess we’re not that distracting, in other words :)

  2. I’m amused you answered the Jeff Dunham question. I find him funny sometimes. But then, I find the Three Stooges funny, so mine is not exactly a sophisticated palette.

  3. Re: Sex After 40

    This is totally from memory (a preliminary Google didn’t turn up the actual anecdote) so it may be full of errors, but…

    Isaac Asimov told of a very early story he wrote in which he referred to a couple having the less passionate relationship of those in their late thirties… Anthony Boucher (or maybe it was James Blish) wrote to him and said “Dr. Asimov, you are in for a pleasant surprise.”

  4. John, love ya, love your blog. But. . . . (there’s always a but, right?) I think you’re selling cloud computing short. It’s a lot more than just cloud storage. It’s computing on-demand. I work at a startup of 6 people, and some days our website needs 2 servers. When we get on the front page of Hacker News, we need 19 servers. We go from 2 to 19 servers in minutes. I work with scientists who think nothing of firing up a server farm of 400 CPUs to run for an hour to solve some math problem they’re working on. It’s just a few bucks – why wouldn’t you?

    I know that Aunt Mabel doesn’t need an on-demand farm to watch the latest Cute Overload kitten video. But do you remember Greg Egan’s “QIPS Exchange” in Permutation City? We are close, damn close, to having that come true. Put a few more user-friendly interfaces on cloud computing and everyone is going to be a big-data, cloud-computer of some flavor or another.

  5. Bought a chromebook this weekend because I wanted a web browser that was stupid and simple. I am not planning on doing a lot of work on it. Personally it bugs me that google knows more about me than I want already and this is just handing them the keys to everything. As an IT security professional I have no faith that google can protect my privacy or ensure the safety of my data. Thats a matter of knowing too much about the state of the industry. I’ll save my initial review of the chromebook until asked.

    I wish I were as optimistic about the future of mankind as you are. I think people may well survive the coming mass extinction bu they won’t be people living in ‘civilized’ areas. They will be hunter-gatherers who can live off the land and whos resources are not destroyed by climate change.

  6. “Whatever is, in part, about your life. Do you think future historians will think of you as an unreliable narrator? How right would that be?”

    As a historian, I can assure you that everyone is an unreliable narrator. People lie to their own diaries, constantly.

  7. @Ell: Must have been Boucher; Blish was very close to Asimov in age.

    (Apocryphal or not, it was accurate: Asimov was fairly candid in his last autobiography that he didn’t have much of a sex life until his late 40s. And it’s probably true: he twitted himself in the same book for describing a character as “an old man of 30″ in one early story.)

  8. I came here to say what Dan up there said. True cloud computing is something the end user would almost never see, but the administrators that take care of things thank their God’s for every day. It’s way more than “network accessible disk.”

  9. I love my Chromebook. It’s how I come to see you lovely people. Unlike other computers, it Just Works. And it does have both on-board storage and USB/SD card ports.

    The “OMG I cannot leave my precioussss data in the cloud!” idea bewilders me, since I started using computers where everything was stored on distant mainframes and you dialed them up (Literally, dialed a phone). If you wanted local storage, you printed it out or maybe wrote it to a tape and reloaded it next time. Unless you still have a Rolodex, you’re already storing your contacts to your nearest and dearest in your telephone company’s cloud.

  10. “caught on CSPAN sodomizing adorable kittens on the floor of the House while singing L’Internationale” has got to be one of the best lines I’ve read this week.

  11. Cloud computing is no more reliable than your Internet connection, and considering that much of the country doesn’t have broadband, that’s not too sturdy a reed. Your information is under someone else’s control. It’s only chic until the first time that main fiberoptic gets pulled out by a scavenger looking for copper. For heaven’s sake, back up locally as well.

  12. It’s 3:35 AM Monday morning I just finished your book redshirts and I want to tell you it was a great Book!!!
    I am a low-key Native American but many many times I laughed out loud and had a big smile on my face. I started reading it Sunday night and just had to finish it well done Sir!!!
    I was looking at the back jacket to see what else you have done so I can pick that up also.
    Then I saw your blog address so I decided to contact you And tell you how much I enjoyed your book.
    And as an aside this is the first time I’ve ever blogged anyone, But your book was just so damn well done and so enjoyable. Thank you once again it made my day and night and put me in a great mood!!
    I usually read about 3 to 4 books a week and yours is one of the best books I have read in a long time!!!

  13. Lurker – actually your contacts are stored on the local phone. Second, the objection is not to the distance from the data. I assume google does it right and the data actually exists in several places so it is unlikely to just disappear by accident. The problems would have to do with access to the data if something goes wrong between you and google, the privacy of the data in such a publicly available storage from google as well as from people who shouldn’t have access to it and malicious activity.

  14. As someone who works in IT, its good to see a non-techy see the hype of the ‘cloud’. True cloud computer does not exist. Basically companies buy large amounts of storage and operate it in a way that gives them an economy of scale. You can then buy a certain amount of space and computer power on their system at an affordable price. They manage the services and the backups.

    This is pretty good for small to mid-size needs. However, it is not really a cloud. It is at a specific location. Amazon had a data center in northern virginia go out of service a couple of years ago. In a true cloud you would be able to keep working through another data center. Your data is at one specific location. So it is not really a cloud.

    Some businesses including the federal government have been radically over sold on the productivity of the cloud. In alot of ways it costs money. There are projects (both public and private sector) where all storage is in a cloud run by a 3rd party vendor (IBM offers a service like this). This vendor has complete control over everything. Yet, there contract does not require the level of service that developers need to get work done. I have seen cases where projects take longer, cost alot more money, and deliver lower quality due to this. There is alot of BS involved in cloud sales.

    If your company is planning to use 3rd party services like this be very careful what you buy. If your people don’t have access to solve problems, you will have trouble.

  15. John,

    You mean it is NOT true that your wedding had you and the bride decked out in Klingon warrior armour, you reciting love poetry [in fluent Klingon of course!], while she tried to kill you???? I am soooo disappointed! I thought I saw it on youtube?

  16. I think you’re merging “cloud computing” and “cloud storage” there, which is not surprising since marketing types use the two interchangeably – and often incorrectly.

    There is, I think, a distinct difference between “cloud computing” and “cloud storage”. Cloud storage is, as you say, nothing more than “non-local storage”. It’s the DropBoxes, Box, Skydrives, etc. of the world. Mostly just FTP on steroids. However,

    I’d say that “cloud computing” is a horse of a different color. Cloud computing is actually running the services, processes, and calculations “in the cloud”. In it’s simplest forms, this resembles the old mainframe method of data processing – your computer (or, actually, your browser) is simply a view into the remote computer, which is doing all the heavy lifting and just returning pretty pictures to your locale. At the other end of the spectrum, significant (some to all) of the actual data processing is done locally – this could be in anything from the browser (via java or any number of other methods) to a traditional “fat client”. In many ways, this is not completely different from the client-server model of years past. In both cases, what you’re trying to do is leverage the massive computing power of someone like Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), etc. and presenting results for your application to use.

    So, while “cloud storage” is pretty much just the 21st century floppy drive, “cloud computing” is considerably more.

    At least, that’s my view of a moderately foggy landscape.

  17. Last night Brian did an Elvis impersonation to cheer up Rosie while he gave her a dose of painkiller for a painfully skinned knee. Then he declared “Elvis has left the room.” and went to put the stuff away.

    Rosie turned to me. “Elvis has left the room,” she declared solemnly.

    “Yes he has, ” I said.

  18. “How … can you write convincingly about the future….”
    Convincingly? L. Ron wrote something has been used convincingly.
    Buzzard that.
    Howsabout worth rereading? Just write a much interesting story than usual.
    (And to build a space shuttle all you gotta do is assemble the parts.)
    -
    Cloud storage. I don’t see it as philosophically different from a thumb drive.

  19. I was at an Elvis convention/competition this last Friday, on assignment for the local paper, and I made the mistake of calling them Elvis impersonators. I was icily informed that they are called ETAs, or Elvis Tribute Artists, not impersonators. Impersonators are like those guys that dress up like Sesame Street characters in Times Square, whereas ETAs are performers and artists.

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