The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Fourteen: Hand Sanitizer

There was this one time I was on a book tour, and I shook hands with someone in San Diego, and the next thing I knew I was in Minneapolis. Which would be fine, except somewhere in there I was also in Phoenix. I gotta tell you, I have almost no memory of being there, due to one of the gnarliest cases of 24-hour stomach virus that I had ever encountered. I mean, I must have been in Phoenix, and I must have done an okay job when I was there because I didn’t hear of anyone complaining about me. But, yeah. Really, just a blur.

That’s when I joined the cult of the Hand Sanitizers.

Look: I do a lot of travel. And I do a lot of travel to events where I am in close contact with a whole bunch of people, like conventions and bookstore events and conferences and book fairs. And when I am there, I am touching books that other people have handled, pens other people have handled, and hands attached to people. Sometimes people want hugs and sometimes when they ask for pictures they put their hands on me — not in a weird grope-y way, mind you, but still, there’s some physical contact. Some of these people — not you, of course — have colds or something worse. Some of these people — definitely not you — have questionable hygiene.

And thus I would often find, having gone to a convention or other event, that I would come home with a low grade something, and occasionally a high grade something. In the case of the latter, I would be out of commission for at least a couple of days. In the case of the former, I would feel like crap for at least the same amount of time. Mind you, it’s not just me and my oh-so-delicate immune system. This sort of thing happens enough that there’s a name for it : “Con Crud.” No, it’s not that science fiction fans are dirty, germy people. Well, it is, actually. But they are no more dirty or germy than anyone else. When you get any large group of people together for several days, they’re going to swap viruses like business cards. And because I belong to the class of people at conventions/conferences/book fairs/etc who constitute the entertainment, I come into direct contact with more people than most other folks.

I don’t want to get sick every time I go to an event. At the same time, I don’t want to keep myself distant from the folks who have come out to see me; aside from my own gregarious nature it’s just not good business. So these days, after book signing or other event where I’m socializing and touching people and things (and vice versa), out comes the hand sanitizer, and there’s a thorough rubbing of my exposed surfaces. Yes, that sounds a little dirty, doesn’t it. But in fact it’s the opposite of dirty, which goes to my point.

I and some other of my friends in the same position in terms of the public are aware sometimes people get offended if they see the hand sanitizer come out. This is one reason why I try to wait until I’m done socializing. But beyond that, here’s the thing. If you see me or someone else pull out the Purell or Germ-X when we’re having contact with you, it’s not that we’re saying you’re dirty. We’re saying that all that personal contact we’re having adds up. You’re going to like us better a) if we’re not sick and b) not passing along a petri dish worth of germs that we’ve gotten from everyone else at the event. We’re doing it for you. And for us. Mostly for us. But for you too.

Does it work? Yes it does. I’ve been using hand sanitizer pretty religiously for a few years now and I’ve noticed my incidence of being laid out by illness after an event has gone way down since I have. It doesn’t always work; for example, I got sick when I was Germany despite hand sanitizer. But then I was at the Frankfurt Book Fair, in close proximity to hundreds of thousands of people. A dab of alcohol-based gel can only be expected to do so much. Otherwise, yes. The stuff usually works.

Which I’m thankful for. I don’t like to get sick when I see people. I don’t like to make other people sick when I see them. A little hand sanitizer goes a long way to avoiding both scenarios. Everybody walks away happy, or at least not virus-laden.

SFContario Appearance Schedule for This Weekend

Starting Thursday I will be in Toronto — one of North America’s very finest cities! — as the International Guest of Honor for SFContario 2, joining the estimable Karl Schroeder, Gardner Dozois and musical guests Toyboat, who are also guests of honor. If you are going, or were thinking of going but were wondering what things I would be doing whilst in Toronto, here is my official schedule of events.

Reading at the Merril Collection, Thursday, 7pm: I’ll likely read from Redshirts and then possibly a couple other things, and have a Q&A. I won’t be having a reading at the convention proper, so if you want to see one, from me specifically, this is when to do it. More details here.

Opening Ceremonies – Friday 7 PM, Ballroom BC

Criticism and Critique: Critics in the 21st Century – Saturday 11 AM, Gardenview: “Developments in social media and web 2.0 technology continue to blur the line between amateur and professional critics.  As North American colleges and universities produce record numbers of graduates, the media consuming public is transforming itself into something that feels it ought to be included in larger critical conversations.  Our panelists explore how professionals and amateurs work together to evaluate genre media.” (James Nicoll(M), John Scalzi, Matt Moore, Elizabeth Hirst)

Autographs – Saturday 1 PM, Autograph Area: Bring your books.

Creation Museum Slideshow – Saturday 2 PM, Ballroom BC: I’ll be doing the live show of my trip to the Creation Museum. Come watch blood shoot from my temples!

Author Guest of Honour interview – Saturday 3 PM, Ballroom BC: James Nicoll puts the screws to me, and I suspect we’ll also open it up to audience questions as well.

Writing in the Digital Age – Saturday 5 PM, Solarium: How does one survive as a writer in the age of the internet?  How does an internet persona fit together with the introverted lifestyle of an author?  What’s the best way to deal with the trolls and haters? (Stephanie Bedwell-Grime(M), Leah Bobet, Kent Pollard, Brett Savory, John Scalzi)

Kaffeeklatsch – Saturday 8 PM, Room 20: I assume like most kaffeklatches this will be first come, first served.

The Business of Writing – Sunday 2 PM, Solarium: For creative people, the business end of things is often the most difficult. Issues like getting published, finding an agent or editor, hunting out sources of funding, and dealing with copyright issues can be daunting. Come and learn how our panelists tackle these issues. (Marie Bilodeau(M), Leah Bobet, Robert J Sawyer, John Scalzi, Douglas Smith)

Closing Ceremonies – Sunday 3 PM, Ballroom BC

I expect I will also be at the Aurora Awards banquet and ceremony, although I’ll just be in the audience, not a participant.

See you there.

In the Rabbit Room

We’ve had a spate of sub-freezing nights recently (although today is positively balmy at 60+ degrees), so we decided that it was time for Cthulhu, Lord Snuggleston, to come inside for the winter. Fortunately, we happen to have a spare room in the basement that will serve His Eldritch Fluffiness’ needs. Here it is. You will see that he has the run of the room, and that we are bringing in other pets to acclimatize them to each other — although we do keep the bunny in the cage when we’re not down there, since I’m still not entirely convinced the cats are going to be as benign toward him as Daisy is. Be that as it may, having one’s own private room is definitely a step up from the carny cage from whence this rabbit was sprung. I hope he appreciates it, in his rabbitty way.


I got a Klout account a few months ago when it did that promotion of allowing its members to get an early view of the US version of Spotify, and that was reason enough to give it a spin. Well, I still have my Spotify account, but this morning I deleted my Klout account. Part of that was due to the various kvetches I’ve seen regarding Klout’s rather lackadaisical approach to privacy, noted by everyone from Charlie Stross to the New York Times, but really, at the end of the day (or the beginning of it, as I deleted the account this morning), I left Klout because I suspect the service is in fact a little bit socially evil.

Klout, for those of you unaware of its existence, purports to provide some general ranking of one’s influence on the Internet, across the various social media. The service apparently sucks in data from all the other social media services you belong to which it tracks, throws that into an algorithmic pot, and renders it down to a number between one and one hundred. Then you can look at your score relative to other people’s and see where you fit in the grand scheme of influence, at least according to Klout.

Wherein lies a problem: Who made Klout the arbiter of online influence, aside from Klout itself? I could rank your influence online, if you like: I’ll add your number of Twitter followers to your number of Facebook friends, subtract the number of MySpace friends, laugh and point if you’re still on Friendster, take the square root, round up to the nearest integer and add six. That’s your Scalzi Number (mine is 172). You’re welcome.

Is this number any less indicative of your actual online popularity than Klout’s score? As far as you know, no. I’m sure Klout has what it considers an excellent rationale for whatever stew of algorithms it uses to assign you a number, but neither you nor I know what it is, or (more importantly) why it’s valid as an accurate determiner of your online influence and popularity. As far as any of us know, one’s Klout number is determined by college interns, each feverishly rolling a pair of ten-sided dice, and then that number is allowed to oscillate within a random but bounded range every day to give the appearance that something’s going on.

However, even if we did know the process Klout uses to determine one’s influence, there comes the question of what purpose it serves. It serves Klout’s purposes, it seems, in that they have a nice little business quantifying its members’ desirability to companies who offer stuff to the members with the implicit agreement that they then talk about it on their social media sites. Good for Klout, and, in the interest of accuracy, I did get early access to Spotify out of them, and did write about it, so there you are.

But what purpose does it serve for Klout’s members? Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s. In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

This is sad, and possibly evil. It’s especially sad and possibly evil because as far as I can see, Klout’s business model is to some greater or lesser extent predicated on exploiting that status anxiety. I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks. At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks, and getting let into Spotify a week early — or whatever — wasn’t worth being seen with dicks, or supporting that particular business model.

So now I’m out. It was interesting for a while, but ultimately I don’t care how influential Klout thinks I am, and I get enough perks in life without Klout’s queen bee corporate marketing style. And even if I didn’t, I’m more comfortable with who I am and my place in the world (online or otherwise) than Klout needs me to be in order for me to be a useful member for it.

All of which is to say: Bye, Klout. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it is you. I pretty sure I’m too good for you. But, hey: Thanks for the Spotify.