The 10s in Review: A Musical Playlist

What was I listening to during the 10s? Here’s a 40-song playlist on Spotify, alphabetical by artist.

For this playlist, I used the following rules:

1. Every song was put out in 2010 or later.

2. One song per artist; generally speaking, my favorite song from that artist during the 10s.

3. I actually had to have the song in my intentional music rotation, i.e., no putting stuff on that list just because it has cultural cache, even if the artist is otherwise a favorite of mine. So, for example, no David Bowie because I only gave his 10s albums a casual listen.

4. Conversely, no excluding songs that other people might find hopefully corny or unhip, because, well, sometimes one is corny and unhip.

5. No songs that I commissioned to accompany book releases, because that’s awfully self serving, even if the songs were pretty great.

6. No covers of songs, because those songs technically are all from another decade.

This is what we have:

What do we learn from this playlist? One, that I listened to a reasonable slice of new music in the 10s rather than just merely retreating into old dudeness; two, that while my personal listening is fairly well balanced in terms of men and women, it’s still pretty overwhelmingly white; three, my primary mode of new music in the 10s appears to have been pop and dance, with nods to rock and R&B; four, that my musical tastes are not exactly obscure, although there are some pockets of weirdness in there.

If I had to pick my personal Artists of the Decade, i.e., the ones with work from this decade that I intentionally listened to the most, the titles would go to The Naked and Famous and to Kyla La Grange, which is an excuse to toss in another song from each here, in the form of YouTube videos:

I’m aware that this playlist is deeply at odds with the critical consensus of the most important albums/songs of the decade, but, meh. I’m not here to be impressing anyone; I’m here to tell you what new music I was listening to in this decade.

What new music were you listening to during the 2010s? Share some of your favorites in the comments, if you like.

Behold My Jedi-Like Powers of Persuasion

Today on Twitter I posted a poll (which incidentally is still active as of this writing):

Which led to many spirited comments about Baby Yoda’s eating habits, the sentience of porgs, and whether Chewbacca should have eaten that porg he cooked up, regardless of the aghast looks of other porgs. This naturally let me to say:

And LO AND BEHOLD:

This is naturally the best piece of art that has ever existed, and I am proud to have played a part in bringing this truth to a hurting and needful world although it existed before I asked for it, I still feel pleasure in knowing my wishes were answered. Please enjoy “Baby Yoda Eating a Porg” in good health.

(PS: Here’s a link to the artist’s site if you’d like to see more of his stuff.)

Spice Gets Into the Season

Some might say it’s only because her favorite napping spot is next to the Christmas tree. But I think she likes the holidays for themselves, and because the Christmas tree has many compelling ornaments to bat around.

Hope your Thursday has been merry and bright, folks.

And Now, An Update on My Drumming

As you may remember, a week ago I got myself an electronic drum set, set it up and started pounding away on it. Here’s what I’ve learned from a week of getting back into the swing of it:

1. I still suck because I am unfathomably rusty, but after drumming roughly an hour a day for a week, I suck less than I did, and some things are coming back better than others. For example, I’m having no problem at all with syncopation, which has always been a strong suit of mine. On the other hand, I can play well or I can play really fast, but at the moment I can’t do both. Hopefully that will improve in time.

2. People have asked about how the cats are handling the drums and me playing it. Well, the picture above shows Zeus hanging out while I’m whacking away on the set. The secret: playing through headphones, so the only person who hears the mighty roaring sounds of the set is me; the cats hear drumsticks hitting mesh, which is very not loud at all. When I play the set through an amp, on the other hand, the cats are deeply offended.

3. At the moment I have a case of adhesive capsulitis going on in my left shoulder (more commonly known as “frozen shoulder”), which limits its mobility somewhat. I thought it might be a problem for playing the drum set, but it turns out it’s really not, and to the extent that I’m regularly exercising the shoulder at the current limit of its mobility, it might actually be helping to restore range. I can live with that.

4. Some folks have asked if I’m planning to put together a band or something. The answer is no, I bought the drumset for my own enjoyment and amusement. That being said, I have a plan to turn a part of my basement into a home music studio, of which the drum set will clearly be a part. Don’t worry, I’m not going to be giving up my day job. But that’s sort of the point; it’s nice to have a hobby.

5. And I am having fun! With that said — and here’s another reason an electronic set was the way to go — I’m playing the drums relatively quietly so that I don’t mess up my hearing. 50-year-old ears are not the same as 15-year-old ears, I have to say.

In all, I’m very happy to be thumping away again. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good! There’s more practice between me and that day, however.

In Which Krissy’s Picture is Stolen for a Facebook Advertisement

From a Twitter feed I just posted about this, archiving here: 

1. So, a friend on Facebook pinged me with this ad she saw there for a talcum powder lawsuit scheme and said, “isn’t that Krissy?” And indeed, it is — and the picture strongly implies that she’s holding a settlement check.

This is not true, and also, the photo was stolen.

2. The picture, which I took, is actually Krissy holding up our last mortgage check. I wrote a piece about that moment here:

The check is going out, not coming in. Krissy’s happy because we paid off the mortgage, not because she’s gotten a settlement.

3. Also for the record, Krissy is not now nor has even been a party to a suit regarding baby/talcum powder.

4. So how did Krissy’s picture end up on this ad? On a hunch, I typed “Woman Holding Check” into Google Image Search, and well, there she was. Not right at the top, but not that far down the page, either. The jackass making the ad probably made a similar search.

5. Now, obviously by this point, neither I nor Krissy consented to the use of this photo in this ad. Nor is this photo public domain, under Creative Commons, or legally licensed. I took it and retain the copyright to it. Its use is, flat out, unauthorized and illegal.

6. (This use is also definitely not covered under “fair use.”)

7. Leaving aside any strictly legal issues regarding the photo’s use, there are the issues that a) Krissy appears to be endorsing the site the ad links to, b) people who know Krissy might assume the settlement check means she is/was ill, specifically with cancer (she’s not).

8. The person bringing the ad to my attention is a friend of Krissy’s and I had to assure her that Krissy wasn’t part of a suit (with everything that implies). It seems careless and cruel on the part of the ad maker to use that photo and to make people actually worry.

9. I also can’t imagine an ad using unauthorized and illegally obtained photos for commercial purposes actually conforms to Facebook’s advertising policies. It would be nice for the service to have better intake protocols to keep this from happening in the future.

10. tl;dr:

a) A picture of Krissy I took was used in a facebook baby powder lawsuit ad;

b) Neither of us consented to its use;

c) Krissy was not party to a suit/settlement and is physically fine;

d) The ad maker/people using the ad are scum;

e) Facebook, do better.

/end

An Accidental Family Triptych

As most of you know I fiddle a lot with photos, and then upload them to my Flickr account. Today I uploaded a picture of myself, another picture of Krissy, and a third photo of Athena, and Flickr posted them in a manner that quite unintentionally made what I think is a really compelling family triptych, covering an interesting range of styles and emotions. This triptych will last only until I upload another picture, so I thought I would document it now. This is us, in December of 2019. More or less.

The 10s in Review: My Career

The short version is: It was a pretty good decade for my career.

Now, let’s expand that, in bullet points that are in no particular order.

* First, the stats: Eight novels, two novellas, two short story collections, four nonfiction books, six anthology appearances (there may be more, I suspect I’m forgetting one or two), two TV series, two video games, one interactive graphic novel. Multiple appearances on various New York Times bestseller lists as well as the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Locus, LA Times and other bestseller lists. A week as the #1 author on the entirety of Amazon. Won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, two Locus Awards for best science fiction novel, two Audie Awards, and was nominated for (and occasionally won) other domestic and international awards. Toastmaster of a Worldcon. Special Guest at San Diego Comic-Con. President of SFWA for three years. Got a nice contract. I’m probably forgetting something but I think you get the point. A solid decade for me.

* And also, not inevitable it would have been so. I’ve noted before that there is a three-year gap between the publication of Zoe’s Tale (2008) and my next novel Fuzzy Nation (2011), which is the longest gap between novels in my career. This was because Tor and I had a bit of a falling out in there (due to a contentious contract negotiation) and I spent time doing other things. Tor picking up Fuzzy Nation — or more specifically, offering on Fuzzy Nation in a manner I decided would be acceptable — was not a sure thing, and had Tor decided to go in another direction with that particular book, it’s entirely possible my next decade could have looked very different indeed. So you could say I’m delighted that Tor and I managed to patch things up. I strongly suspect I prefer the current version of events to what might have been.

* Am I the biggest science fiction writer of the 10s? Nope — in terms of sales of a single book, that likely goes to Ernie Cline or Andy Weir (for Ready Player One and The Martian, respectively), and there are other science fiction writers who I suspect in aggregate have sold as well as or better than I have. Nor am I the most important science fiction writer of the 10s — I’m very certain that honor goes to NK Jemisin, although there are other contenders as well, including Paolo Bacigalupi, Ann Leckie, Cixin Liu (in English translation) and Ted Chiang (this is, I assure you, not a complete list; also I’m not talking about fantasy at all here).

So if I am neither the biggest nor the most important science fiction writer of the 10s, when someone bothers to write up the history of the genre in this last decade, what will they say that I brought to the party? That will be up to them but if they were going to ask me, I would say: Consistency and approachability. My work comes out predictably and frequently, it’s remarkably regular in terms of quality (and that quality is pretty good), and my work is really easy to get into and share with other people, including people who don’t think they like science fiction as reading material. I am, more or less, “a sure bet”: People who know they like my stuff can feel pretty comfortable that whatever new thing I put out is going to be something they’ll like, and can share with friends.

Which is, I am the first to admit, emphatically not sexy, and is open to reasonable criticism — the negative complementary of “consistent” is “same-y”; for “approachable” it’s “unchallenging.” Likewise, my science fiction work is frequently called “lightweight” and “pleasant” and other such things. Which I cannot and really would not mount a defense against, because, well, it is, at least on the level of initial readability. My books are designed to suck people in and keep them zooming along until they come out the other side, hopefully having gone “wheee!” most of the way through.

I cannot say my writing is underappreciated, exactly — please see my sales and awards shelf for the last decade, and that contract of mine; I’m doing just fine — but I do think that it’s accurate to say that a very minor curse of an author who writes consistently and accessibly is that people often assume that what they do is easy to do. The best and really only response to this is, well, okay, try it. Then get back to me about how easy it is to do. Of course it looks effortless; that’s part of the point. But in practice it’s more complicated.

I will say that one of the advantages of writing consistently and approachably is that when you do (and, yes, when you’re a straight white dude in the SF genre), you get away with all sorts of shit. This decade, I wrote a novel entirely about metaphysics, personal narratives and free will. I wrote another novel with a protagonist whose gender is never revealed, and which features significant discourse on disability and culture. I wrote a third novel about humanity’s heedless exploitation of a diminishing natural resource it doesn’t understand, and the consequences of a society built on rent-seeking, where the majority of the people pushing the plot forward were not white, straight or male. All of these books got into the NYT lists and/or won awards.

So, yeah, I feel good about what I wrote this decade, and how I wrote it, and where I fit in with the other notable science fiction writers of the decade. Not the biggest, or the most important. But when they write that history, I’ll be in there.

* Any discussion of my career over the last decade needs to include the antipathy of me by a certain cadre of right-wing SF writers and fans, a group which overlaps (considerably) with the “Sad/Rabid Puppies” who publicly shat themselves so dramatically during the middle bit of the decade with regard to the Hugo Awards and other aspects of the business and community of SF/F literature. I noticed the first real push of the antipathy after Redshirts won the Hugo, and certain dudes suggested that Redshirts won because I had sucked up to the Social Justice Warriors sufficiently, rather than because, say, it was a popular book riffing off a beloved science fiction franchise in a clever and affectionate way, written by a writer who’d been nominated for Best Novel a few times before.

In the full bloom of the Puppy beclownery there was more of the same, a fair amount of snide discussion of my sexuality and gender, and general allegations that my sales numbers were inflated and/or propped up by bulk purchases by my publisher, which, by the way, was doing terribly and would soon be out of business. My personal favorite bit of this was when there was a long discussion about how my 2014 novel Lock In had been a massive sales failure and that Tor was about to drop me as an author; this discussion was happening simultaneously with me negotiating with Tor for my multi-book, multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract (which included not one but two sequels to Lock In). When the contract was announced, the narrative shifted to how much more I would have made self-publishing, and then later how I’d never really make as much money as the public figure of the contract. Which, well, okay, dudes. In time most of them have left off this nonsense, but there are a few of them still out there on this bullshit — why, I was chucklingly misgendered just this week!

What is it about me that bugged and in some cases still bugs these dudes? If you ask them they will give you all sorts of reasons, but having dealt with this nonsense for a better part of a decade I’ll tell you it’s mostly envy, and frustration about the state of their own careers, which they feel should be better because they write the sort of science fiction they’ve always loved and assume others still love as well. And which I also do, so why the hell do I get the big contracts and they’re (mostly) left to scrape by? There has to be something else involved — thus the secret cabal of SJWs, bulk purchases, also I’m gay and/or trans and thus not a man at all, hur hur hur. Add to this the fact that at least a couple of these dudes legit dislike me for other reasons (most of which boil down to the fact they can’t argue their way out of a paper bag and at one point or another I pointed that out to them in public), and some of them just happen to be bigoted as fuck, and you’ve got a fairly toxic mix of resentment and complete bullshit.

This hasn’t affected my career in any meaningful way — see the summary earlier in the piece — but on a personal level it could be tiresome. I’m guilty of taunting some of these dickheads on occasion, because they deserve the taunting and because I know my successes irritate the shit out of them. But mostly I’m glad it’s largely done and over with, save a few stragglers. I think after a certain point it just became difficult to argue that I was a failure, and that their doing so just accentuated their own relative positions, which they preferred not to do. And also, after a certain point you do just have to get on with your life and write your things. To the extent that some of them are doing that, good for them. Those that aren’t, well. Bless your hearts, dudes.

* The above nonsense notwithstanding, I do think the 10s were an outstanding decade for science fiction and fantasy, and that we exit the decade with the field being more diverse and (commensurately, as this is causation, not correlation) far more exciting to be a part of and to read. The mode of the genre has manifestly changed, in what sells to publishers and to the public, and to what is out there winning awards and other accolades. Science fiction flatters itself as being the literature of ideas and of challenging accepted orthodoxies; the 10s were a decade in which that actually happened to be true, not only in the topline, best known work, but also in the fray, where new writers are coming up to challenge old ways, and established writers are taking chances they might not have done before.

But speaking of the topline: starting in 2010, the (other) Hugo best novel winners have been Paolo Bacigalupi, China Mieville, Connie Willis, Jo Walton, Ann Leckie, Cixin Liu, NK Jemisin and Mary Robinette Kowal. Over at the Nebula Awards, you can add Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff VanderMeer, Naomi Novik and Charlie Jane Anders to the best novel list. These writers and their works could easily stand with the best writers and work of any other decade; every time I think of them as my peer group I get chuffed. Toss in the other nominees for both awards over the last decade and it gets even better. I can’t believe I got to be part of such an amazing decade in my genre.

I also think the field is only going to get better from here — more writers, more diverse experiences that they are drawing from, more and better fiction that take us places a lot of us didn’t know we wanted to go. Earlier this year, some half-wit suggested that I would never win another award in the genre because I was a straight white male. My response to this is a) I’ve won enough awards so it will be fine if I don’t win any others, and also b) I feel pretty confident my work can compete, in sales and in accolades, with any work by anyone. Whining that a larger and more diverse pool of writers (and award voters!) makes it more difficult for your work to be considered is the long way around to saying “I can’t write well and my work can’t compete.” It’s gotta suck to think so little of yourself and your work, and also (apparently unwittingly but even so) to say so out loud for everyone to hear and see. Not exactly a sterling self-recommendation.

* And in fact I am looking forward to the next decade of my career. My first book of the new decade comes out in April, and there’s more to come after that. Let’s see where this ride takes me next, and how long it lasts.

New Books and ARCs, 12/6/19

It’s beginning to look a lot like… time for new books and ARCs! What here is jingling your bells? Tell us all in the comments.

The Big Idea: Charles Soule

“There is nothing new under the sun,” as some playwright once said — but is it possible to put a new and intriguing spin on a old concept and in doing so make a really cracking tale out of it? This is of interest to Charles Soule in his new novel, Anyone. And here, with his Big Idea piece, it might be of interest to you as well.

CHARLES SOULE:

Anyone is a book about body-swapping. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. There’s the amazing Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon, Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates, and of course, Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday – among many others. The idea of experiencing life in someone else’s body is one of those concepts that comes around a lot, because it’s a pretty fascinating and alluring idea. It’s something we, as yet, just can’t do. We’re trapped in the meat in which we’re born, we see through the eyes we have, and that’s that until the day we die. Who wouldn’t want to experience life as someone else, even for just a little while? I know I would. Whether it’s terrifying or invigorating or some weird version of the uncanny valley I couldn’t even begin to anticipate, I know I’d learn something profound.

(A quick digression – we can’t get into another body (yet), but a process does exist by which we can get into other minds, and you’re doing it right now: reading. If a book is good, if it hits that transportive state that takes us out of ourselves and into the story, then, yeah – we’re living as Harry Potter or Lisbeth Salander or Jack Reacher or Mina Harker for a while. Writing is a bit like that too, but it’s harder to get there; you’re both creating and experiencing the character at the same time, so it’s twice the work.)

Digression complete. My point is that body-swap stories aren’t uncommon, and that alone wasn’t the Big Idea grand enough to build my second novel around. It wasn’t body switching I was interested in. I wanted to see what would happen in a world not too different from ours where it became commonplace to just inhabit other people’s bodies for a while, like renting an AirBnb. I wanted to find out how society would change if you didn’t know just from looking at someone the sort of body they’d been born into. When I started, I didn’t know the answer. Seriously. That’s the fun of writing a high-concept speculative fiction story, by the way – or really any story. You start with a question or a puzzle, and then you solve it by telling the tale. I didn’t know all the ways the body-switch technology in Anyone, called “the flash,” would affect the world when I started writing the book, and I was surprised by some of the places the story went. True, no-joke surprise. It’s one of the best things about writing a novel. You never know what’s going to happen until you really dig in.

I began by thinking about how we, as a species, approach other human beings. We make so many instant categorizations upon a first encounter with someone new. There are the basic, surface groupings: age, likely gender, physical characteristics like height and weight. Of course, those can all be misread, but it’s part of the information set we gather about a person at a glance. And then there’s the less conscious set of assumptions we might make whether we want to or not: things like socio-economic status. Those things come to us because of whatever biases we’ve grown up with; the cues we’ve come to recognize as having certain meanings, even if unfair or unwarranted.

So, the Big Idea in Anyone was to create a world where that did not exist. If you don’t know who the person you’re interacting with “is,” in the way we define that now, then you have to categorize them more by “what they do” – in other words, their actions. I like that idea very much. We should all be judged by what we do. What we put into the world, good or bad.

Now, look. I know body-swapping wouldn’t immediately create a utopia free of preconceptions or assumptions about other people, and the book acknowledges that. Human nature is human nature. We like to other-ise people. We like our tribes. I think it’s hardwired in from the earliest days out on the savannah trying to figure out what we can eat, what might eat us, and who might help us find more things to eat. But in the grand tradition of science fiction since its very beginning, Anyone lets me take a Big Idea (what if anyone could be anyone), apply it to society, and see what comes out the other side.

There’s obviously much more to the story – intrigue, spills, thrills and chills, page-turning action, twists and turns and a heck of an ending – but that’s the Big Idea I started with.

When anyone can become anyone… what defines who we are? Again – we are what we do. To quote the big theme statement of the novel: you are you.

Anyone is out now. I hope you’ll check it out, if you get a chance.

—-

Anyone: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow Charles on twitter.

 

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Five: Charities

For the last four days, the Whatever Gift Guide 2019 has been about helping you find the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones. But today I’d like to remind folks that the season is also about helping those in need. So this final day is for charities. If you’re looking for a place to make a donation — or know of a charitable organization that would gladly accept a donation — this is the place for it.

How to contribute to this thread:

1. Anyone can contribute. If you are associated with or work for a charity, tell us about the charity. If there’s a charity you regularly contribute to or like for philosophical reasons, share with the crowd. This is open to everyone.

2. Focus on non-political charities, please. Which is to say, charities whose primary mission is not political — so, for example, an advocacy group whose primary thrust is education but who also lobbies lawmakers would be fine, but a candidate or political party or political action committee is not. The idea here is charities that exist to help people and/or make the world a better place for all of us.

3. It’s okay to note personal fundraising (Indiegogo and GoFundMe campaigns, etc) for people in need. Also, other informal charities and fundraisers are fine, but please do your part to make sure you’re pointing people to a legitimate fundraiser and not a scam. I would suggest only suggesting campaigns that you can vouch for personally.

3. One post per person. In that post, you can list whatever charities you like, and more than one charity. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on charities available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the charity brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the charity and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a charity site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about people promoting charities they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find charities to contribute to.

All right, then: It’s the season of giving. Tell us where to give to make this a better place.

My Krampusnacht Gift

Here’s a fun fact that not everyone knows about me: My first musical instrument — before the ukulele! — was the drums. I’ve had a drumset since I was a teenager (a Tama Swingstar with Paiste 2002 cymbals for you drum nerds) and I used to play regularly. But then a while back I stopped, primarily because drums are super-loud and scare the cats and even in a big house require forbearance from others.

Recently I wanted to get back into playing drums more and casually started looking into electronic drumsets. Then it turned out a friend of Krissy’s, who played electronic drums, had upgraded to a new set and was looking to get rid of his older set for a very acceptable price. Suddenly: I have a new electronic drumset.

And how is it? It’s a lot of fun, actually. And also, since I haven’t seriously practiced drums in about a decade, I really really suck. I, uhhhh, have some work to do to get up to speed. Fortunately, I have most of my December free. The good news is that I can play in headphones at a moderate level of volume (i.e., without blowing out my own ears), and all anyone hears is tippity-tippity-tap-tap — which, as the drumset is in the basement, is easily filtered out by closing the basement door.

Also, my Fitbit is convinced I just did 44 minutes on an outdoor bike. Not true, Fitbit, but thank you for making the effort!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Four: Fan Favorites!

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For the first three days of the Whatever Gift Guide 2019, I’ve let authors and creators tell you about their work. Today is different: Today is Fan Favorites day, in which fans, admirers and satisfied customers share with you a few of their favorite things — and you can share some of your favorite things as well. This is a way to discover some cool stuff from folks like you, and to spread the word about some of the things you love.

Fans: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Fans only: That means that authors and creators may not post about their own work in this thread (they may post about other people’s work, if they are fans). There are already existing threads for traditionally-published authorsnon-traditionally published authors, and for other creators. Those are the places to post about your own work, not here.

2. Individually created and completed works only, please. Which is to say, don’t promote things like a piece of hardware you can find at Home Depot, shoes from Foot Locker, or a TV you got at Wal-Mart. Focus on things created by one person or a small group: Music CDs, books, crafts and such. Things that you’ve discovered and think other people should know about, basically. Do not post about works in progress, even if they’re posted publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. So focus on things that are completed and able to be sold of shared.

3. One post per fan. In that post, you can list whatever creations you like, from more than one person if you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on newer stuff. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of the work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about the work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. Comment posts that are not about fans promoting work they like will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting gifts.

Got it? Excellent. Now: Geek out and tell us about cool stuff you love — and where we can get it too.

Early Morning Sky, 12/5/19 + Further Pixel 4 Thoughts

I woke up early this morning — thank you, cats — and figured as long as I was up I’d go use the Pixel 4’s astrophotography mode, which is somewhat more advanced than the same mode on the Pixel 3, which was already impressive enough. I was not disappointed. This is a little after 4am, looking mostly west; you can see the constellations of Orion and Taurus, along with the Pleiades, and, of course, a bunch of other stars.

The photo that came out of the camera actually had more stars, I will note; I went into Photoshop and cranked it back just a little to make it closer to what my eyes see. Nevertheless, more than enough stars for anyone. I am genuinely impressed with this particular photo mode on the Pixel 4, and suspect I will be posting rather a lot of astrophotography photos in the future, because the phone makes it so much easier to do than it is on my DSLR.

Likewise, having now lived with the Pixel 4 for a week, I can say I’m more impressed with it than I was when I did my initial write-up. For example, the battery, while still not fabulous, is holding up rather better than my initial assessment. Part of that is due to me changing how I use the phone: because the Pixel 4 can detect when I’m reaching for it or looking at it, I don’t have the ambient display on all the time, because why have the phone screen showing the time when I’m not looking at it? But I think part of it is indeed better management of power on the part of the phone. I’m still taking an external battery with me if I’ll be away from the house for a while, but my experience so far is that’s more for my own peace of mind than an actual need.

I also find the face unlock mostly a good thing. I thought I would miss the fingerprint scanner more than I have, but inasmuch as the phone opens up quickly when I grab it and look at, it’s not been an issue at all. The face unlock is still insecure (it still opens with one’s eyes closed), but again as a practical matter I don’t sleep with anyone I don’t trust with my phone, so on a day-to-day basis this isn’t a problem.

Otherwise the phone works pretty much as I want it to; it’s snappy enough for anything I throw at it and since I’m well-integrated into Google services, it’s useful to me. The new thing I do a lot off the Pixel 4: Streaming, since the Disney+ app on my LG TV sucks donkey balls, while the one on Android can show me The Mandalorian without having to buffer every ten seconds. So there it is.

Camera-wise and aside from the astrophotography mode, the Pixel 4 camera, like all the cameras in the Pixel line, continues to be very impressive and one I would very much recommend. Once again I acknowledge the complaint about not having an ultrawide lens, but, also again, I don’t exactly miss it myself. I get wide enough photos as it is.

So in all the Pixel 4 is a phone I would generally highly recommend, especially for people who take a lot of photos. If you get one, you may find yourself wandering outdoors at 4am to take photos of the night sky. This is not a bad thing.

Sunset 12/4/19

The first sunset we’ve had this month — every other day has been overcast. This one was cloudy, too, but the sun got through anyway. As you can see.

The Case of the Felonious Bread

A few months ago, Seamus Blackley (who you might know as an engaging Twitter presence, oh and also the father of the XBox gaming console) started making bread using 4,500-year-old yeast scraped from ancient Egyptian pottery, and prepared as closely as possible to how it was made back in the old days (here’s a write-up about it in Eater, that’s worth reading for its own sake). At one point he offered to make a loaf for me — for the purposes of science, specifically, making a grilled cheese sandwich from the bread — and I of course accepted. He sent me a loaf via Fed Ex this weekend, and yesterday I got a notice through email that the package had been delivered. I went down from my office to retrieve it —

— and it wasn’t there.

Which confused me. I don’t live somewhere that thieves can easily nab things from my porch, and usually my package notifications are accurate. Fed Ex packages don’t just not show up at my house. So I went online and discovered that not only did Fed Ex claim the package was delivered, it was, in fact, signed for. This was especially odd, since a) I was the only one home, and b) the Fed Ex person did not, as they usually did when something needed to be signed for, ring my doorbell to get my attention.

Then I looked to see who it was who signed for my package:

“POLICE.”

Oh, well, see. That was interesting.

I used Fed Ex’s online help to try to delve further into the issue. The Fed Ex automated response told me that the package had been left “at a guard shack or station,” which confused me further, as there was no guard shack or station I could think of. Bradford, my home town, doesn’t even have its own police force; we are serviced by the county sheriff’s office. I thought maybe this was the Fed Ex delivery person’s way of saying they left it in my mailbox (which is a distance from my house on a rural road), but when Krissy got the mail on her way home from work, there was no Fed Ex package. Could the package actually have been intercepted by the police?

Reader, it could and had! When I spoke to a live person at Fed Ex, I was informed that the person who signed for the package had left a number to call. I called it; it was for a detective with the Dayton Police, Dayton being the city the Fed Ex facility is in. I called the number a couple of times and left voice mail, to find out what had happened to my bread.

And then, about an hour ago, Fed Ex showed up and delivered a package. It was the bread. And with the bread, a note from the Narcotic Bureau of the Dayton Police Department, which began:

On 12-3-19, during a routine check of freight at Fed Ex, a certified narcotics detection dog alerted to the scent of a narcotic on your package. The package was then opened by this office in order to determine its content.

Wow.

In addition to this letter from the police was a copy of the search warrant which was executed in order to open the package, and a copy of the police report about opening the package, in which the detective in question found… bread. And nothing else, because, really. It’s bread.  Seamus Blackley suspects that the coriander in the bread (which is historically accurate, incidentally) might have tripped up the dogs; I suspect it was the 4,500-year-old strain of yeast, or possibly the dogs working that line just going, holy shit I smell delicious bread and trying to get a slice. And who can blame those hard-working canines? Bread is yummy.

I will note I don’t think the police examining this package is an outrageous violation of my civil rights, especially since I now have it in my possession, without slices hacked off for “testing.” I do find it interesting that there clearly a certain number of people dim enough to send illicit narcotics through Fed Ex that drug sniffing dogs are needed. I also wonder how many false positives the dogs rack up, and how many baked (heh) goods are delayed a day or two thereby. I appreciate that there was an actual search warrant, signed off on by an actual judge and everything, along with a note saying “O hai we thought you might has the druqz but you dint, kthxbye.” It’s a nice bit of transparency about the process. That said, it’s… bread. Coriander or yeast or whatever else was the problem, it seems like it should make it through without delay.

In any event, it was quickly ascertained that the bread was not in fact heroin or cocaine or marijuana or whatever, at which point it was repackaged and sent along to me, a day late, sniffed by dogs and examined by humans, but otherwise unmolested. My plan is to saw off a slab of this felonious bread and make a nice ol’ felonious grilled cheese sandwich out of it. A happy ending to an exciting journey.

Update, 3:12pm: Got off the phone after a very pleasant conversation with the detective on this case, during which he detailed the process of examining my bread. I was pleased to learn that while it was taken out of the box, it wasn’t otherwise taken out of its packaging; it was x-rayed and then repacked. So if you ever have plans to bake a loaf around your contraband, well, maybe don’t do that (or, you know, send contraband through Fed Ex anyway, I mean, honestly, folks).

Also Update:

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Three: Arts, Crafts, Music and More

The Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019 continues, and today we move away from books and focus on other gifts and crafts — which you can take to mean just about any other sort of thing a creative person might make: Music, art, knitting, jewelry, artisan foodstuffs and so on. These can be great, unique gifts for special folks in your life, and things you can’t just get down at the mall. I hope you see some cool stuff here.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for creators to post about their gifts for sale; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Creators: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Creators (of things other than books) only. This is an intentionally expansive category, so if you’ve made something and have it available for the public to try or buy, you can probably post about in this thread. The exception to this is books (including comics and graphic novels), which have two previously existing threads, one for traditionally-published works and one for non-traditionally published works (Note: if you are an author and also create other stuff, you may promote that other stuff today). Don’t post if you are not the creator of the thing you want to promote, please.

2. Personally-created and completed works only. This thread is specifically for artists and creators who are making their own unique works. Mass-producible things like CDs, buttons or T-shirts are acceptable if you’ve personally created what’s on it. But please don’t use this thread for things that were created by others, which you happen to sell. Likewise, do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly elsewhere. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Also, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per creator. In that post, you can list whatever creations of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent creation. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on things available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your work brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your work and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a sales site if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from creators promoting their work as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting work.

Now: Tell us about your stuff!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day Two: Non-Traditionally Published Books

Today is Day Two of the Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, and today the focus is on Non-Traditionally Published Books: Self-published works, electronically-exclusive books, books from micro presses, books released outside the usual environs of the publishing world, and so on. Hey, I put my first novel up on this very Web site years ago and told people to send me a dollar if they liked it. Look where it got me. I hope you find some good stuff today.

Please note that the comment thread today is only for non-traditional authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors of non-traditionally published books only. This includes comics and graphic novels, as well as non-fiction books and audiobooks. If your book has been traditionally published — available in bookstores on a returnable basis — post about your book in the thread that went up yesterday (if you are in doubt, assume you are non-traditionally published and post here). If you are a creator in another form or medium, your thread is coming tomorrow. Don’t post if you are not the author or editor, please.

2. Completed works only. Do not post about works in progress, even if you’re posting them publicly. Remember that this is supposed to be a gift guide, and that these are things meant to be given to other people. Likewise, don’t just promote yourself unless you have something to sell or provide, that others may give as a gift.

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like, but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Now: Tell us about your book!

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2019, Day One: Traditionally Published Books

Welcome to the first day of the Whatever Shopping Guide 2019 — My way of helping you folks learn about cool creative gifts for the holidays, straight from the folks who have created them.

Today’s featured products are traditionally published books (including graphic novels and audiobooks); that is, books put out by publishers who ship books to stores on a returnable basis. In the comment thread below, authors and editors of these books will tell you a little bit about their latest and/or greatest books so that you will be enticed to get that book for yourself or loved ones this holiday season. Because, hey: Books are spectacular gifts, if I do say so myself. Enjoy your browsing, and I hope you find the perfect book!

Please note that the comment thread today is only for authors and editors to post about their books; please do not leave other comments, as they will be snipped out to keep the thread from getting cluttered. Thanks!

Authors/editors: Here’s how to post in this thread. Please follow these directions!

1. Authors and editors only, books only (including audiobooks). There will be other threads for other stuff, later in the week. Any type of book is fine: Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, etc. If you are not the author/editor of the book you’re posting about, don’t post. This is for authors and editors only.

2. For printed books, they must be currently in print (i.e., published before 12/31/19) and available on a returnable basis at bookstores and at least one of the following three online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s. This is so people can find your book when they go looking for it. For audiobooks, they must be professionally published (no self-produced, self-published audiobooks) and at least available through Amazon/Audible. If your book isn’t available as described, or if you’re not sure, wait for the shopping guide for non-traditional books, which will go up tomorrow. 

3. One post per author. In that post, you can list whatever books of yours you like (as long as it meets the criteria in point 2), but allow me to suggest you focus on your most recent book. Note also that the majority of Whatever’s readership is in the US/Canada, so I suggest focusing on books currently available in North America.

4. Keep your description of your book brief (there will be a lot of posts, I’m guessing) and entertaining. Imagine the person is in front of you as you tell them about your book and is interested but easily distracted.

5. You may include a link to a bookseller if you like by using standard HTML link scripting. Be warned that if you include too many links (typically three or more) your post may get sent to the moderating queue. If this happens, don’t panic: I’ll be going in through the day to release moderated posts. Note that posts will occasionally go into the moderation queue semi-randomly; Don’t panic about that either.

6. As noted above, comment posts that are not from authors/editors promoting their books as specified above will be deleted, in order to keep the comment thread useful for people looking to find interesting books.

Got it? Excellent. Then tell the folks about your book! And tell your author friends about this thread so they can come around as well.

Thinking About the Future of Social Media

Annalee Newitz has written a long, thinky piece for the New York Times about where social media might be headed for its next iteration, and she spoke to me (along with many other opinionated people) about my thoughts on the matter. If that sounds like something you want to stuff into your own brain, here’s the link. Check it out.

The 10s In Review: An Occasional Series

Me in 2010 and in 2019.

It’s now the last month of the last year in a decade, and I suppose that means it might be a good time to collect up some thoughts on the past ten years, on both a personal and larger level. To that end, from time to time this month, basically when it crosses my mind to do so, I’ll do posts on the people, events, creative work and other notable things that I want to note before the 10s officially recede into the rear view mirror. Some of this will be specific to me and my life, and some of it will be more general.

I don’t want to overhype this intended collection of decade-end pieces, because ten years ago a grandly announced a very similar plan for the years 2000 – 2009, complete with snazzy graphic, and proceeded to not write any pieces, how embarrassing is that. This time I plan to be more low-key about it. If I’m moved to write something, I will. If not, then, well. It’s not like I wasn’t writing here over the last ten years; you can find what I was thinking about things as we went along. But I do have some thoughts on it all, if for no other reason than to help me make sense of it all for myself, so I suspect there will be at least a few pieces before the end of the month.

I will note — and I think this should be fairly obvious if you’ve been following along here at all in the last decade — that the 10s were a pretty good decade for me personally. Not without its challenges, certainly, but one that on a personal and professional level brought a measure of success and contentment. This is contrasted, I think, with a larger more general trend away from contentment. This division was interesting to experience and not entirely comfortable in its implications, and I imagine this dichotomy will thread itself into the pieces. I expect I will leaven these thoughts with “decade in review” posts of cats and sunsets, however, so there is that, at least.

In any event, this is my plan for December. Let’s see how it plays out.