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.