Because the blue check mark on Twitter is now a symbol of subscription status, rather than being a symbol that Twitter has verified that an account is held by the person it purports to represent, I offer the following, with apologies for the occasional use of the third person, and with informational bits up front and editorial in the back:
Hello! This is just to note, from author John Scalzi’s personal site (note the scalzi.com URL), which has been around since 1998, and which has verifiably been under his control that entire time, that “@scalzi” is the correct and official Twitter account for John Scalzi. Please note that “scalzi” here is spelled correctly and with no substitutions (for example, no capital “i” where the “L” is in the word), nor are there any additional characters in the name or after it, including underscores or numbers.
Please also note that Twitter allows users to easily change the “name” of their account, but not so easily the account handle (the part with the “@” in it), and never to an existing account handle, so always check the account handle to see if my or any other account is being spoofed. See the illustration below:
Note also that the icon/avatar of an account (the image that accompanies the name and account handle) can be changed at will and may be used to intentionally confuse/spoof/troll people.
Again, always check the Twitter handle to confirm the identity of the account. In my case, “@scalzi” is the correct and official John Scalzi account.
That should do it.
As of this writing (November 6, 2022) the “@scalzi” account has a blue check mark on it, but given the decision by the current Twitter management to make the blue check mark a symbol that one has subscribed to Twitter Blue, rather than a symbol that the account is verifiably held by the person it purports to be, that blue check mark may disappear off my Twitter account at any time, thus the need to have outside verification that the “@scalzi” account is the official account of John Scalzi, author.
(As a matter of disclosure, I will note that prior to this whole set of nonsense, I was a subscriber to the “Twitter Blue” service from the time it had become available, because I wanted access to some of its capabilities, including the “undo” and “edit” functions. I may or may not continue to be a subscriber to it, depending on its value proposition to me.)
As of this writing, it is my understanding that the blue check mark symbol will be available to Twitter Blue subscribers without verification that the person is who they purport to be (aside from the extremely basic and unreliable method of making sure the payment for the subscription goes through). Therefore, there are two things to remember, with regard to Twitter, at this point:
1. There no longer exists any verifiable method from Twitter itself to confirm an account holder is who they purport to be.
2. The blue check mark symbol should no longer be considered trustworthy in terms of identity, even on accounts which displayed it previous to its association with the Twitter Blue subscription.
Both of these are incredibly important. The first of these means (counter to the marketing of Twitter Blue’s takeover of the blue check mark) that Twitter is now extremely unreliable as a source of news and information, more than it already was. Where the blue check mark was a first-line prophylactic against disinformation (at the very least, you knew the account was who it said it was), it now falls entirely to the user to confirm the source as well as the information. Many Twitter users won’t, and those who traffic in disinformation know that. Twitter used to know that, too.
The second of these means that even if currently verified users keep their checkmarks (as legacy holdovers or because they subscribe to Twitter Blue), the symbol has become useless for verification purposes because the blue check’s meaning has been changed. Twitter users moving forward have no way of knowing from Twitter itself when the blue check mark was granted to the user, and thus, whether it signifies “verified user” or “subscriber.” When in doubt (which for most people will be always), one should assume the blue check now means “subscriber.” If the rumor that current verified Twitter users will have a grace period to subscribe to Twitter Blue or else lose the checkmark is true, then in a few months the blue check mark will only mean “subscriber” anyway, with no association to verification.
Either way, and to repeat: The blue check mark on Twitter no longer means what it did. Its meaning has changed from “This account is verifiably this person” to “I pay money for Twitter.” The current management of Twitter wants potential subscribers, and current verified users, to believe the blue check mark confers status in itself, rather than for what it previously represented. Anyone who rushes to subscribe to Twitter in order to receive the status benefit of the blue check mark, however, should be prepared for value of the mark to decrease dramatically as the new meaning of the mark comes to the fore.
(Two side notes here: First, anyone planning to subscribe to Twitter Blue for certain other features, such as priority placement in replies and searches, should be aware the priority placement will mean nothing if you’re muted or blocked, so thinking that $8/month will give you license to be a jerk will just mean you’re wasting $8; Second, if “Twitter” continues calling its subscriber check mark “verification,” and trying to position it as such, someone should probably file a lawsuit alleging deceptive trade practices.)
I am not planning to leave Twitter in the near future — thus, the need for this note — and I may choose to continue to subscribe to Twitter Blue, which means I may continue to have a blue check mark on my account. The blue check means only that one is a subscriber, and no other meaning should be attached to it, either for my account or any other. It certainly doesn’t mean “verification” anymore. Verification on Twitter no longer exists. You take your chances on who and what you find there. Unless they just happen to be able to, say, point to their own Web site of a quarter-century’s standing, or can point to verified standing on other social media (I’m verified on Facebook, as an example).
But this is a very silly workaround that not everyone has, and it’s ridiculous that the current Twitter management has now made something like this the best way to verify that an account on their service represents who it purports to. Twitter should know better. Perhaps it does, but it just doesn’t care. And that is something to be aware of, too.
I’ve been playing with the AI art generator Stable Diffusion, and one of the things it lets you do is use a photo for reference. So I went ahead and popped in a couple of pictures of Krissy to see what would come up, and as a text prompt used various iterations of “queen” and other references. The pictures that came out don’t look like Krissy (nor did I expect them to, I had the setting for fidelity to the originating photo set to low), but they do look cool. What they mostly do is make me wonder which artists the AI was trained on, and if I can hire them to do some work for me.
Because, of course, that is the thing: These AI generators have been trained on various artists, many if not most still alive and producing work. I’m happy, for the purposes of my own amusement, to play with these art robots and see what comes out, and show off the results on my non-commercial outlets. But when it comes time to commission art for paid work, or for the house, or wherever, it’ll also be time for me to pay up for actual living humans making art. Support actual humans, folks! You might be one yourself, after all.
Because of the recent acquisition of Twitter by Elon “I overpaid” Musk, people are wondering where on the Internet I am, just in case they abandon that service forever. So, here is where you can find various online iterations of me, more or less in the order I use them. Click on the name of the service/site to go to my presence there.
Whatever: My blog. You’re on it right now. It’s been running since 1998 and has seen the launch and demise of at least three generations of social media. When in doubt, you will always find me here. In addition to visiting it directly, you can also subscribe to it via RSS, email, and WordPress’ reader function (if you have a WordPress account). Please visit regularly and/or subscribe!
Twitter: As of this writing, the place I’m at the most, when I’m not here. We’ll see if that continues.
Facebook: This Facebook page is primarily for news and updates relating to my career. I have a personal page on Facebook, which is not difficult to find, but I strictly limit “friending” on that to people I know in the real world in one way or another. The page linked here, however, is open to everyone.
Instagram: I post pictures here, about once a week.
Flickr: I also post pictures here.
Ello: More pictures, these slightly more arty on average than at those other two photo places, posted somewhat infrequently.
Metafilter: Reasonably frequent commenter, vary rare article poster.
LinkedIn: I’m here but rarely post (like, once a year or so).
Mastodon: This is a “federated” Twitter-like social network. I post here infrequently but may increase posting if Twitter really goes down the tubes.
Reddit: I comment here occasionally and have posted, like, five times in 15 years.
YouTube: A really random collection of videos I’ve put up over the years. I update sporadically at best.
Tumblr: Mostly just a repeater for my blog.
Hive Social: This site is entirely app based at the moment, so that link goes to a landing page rather than my account, but I’m at “scalzi” there.
I have accounts on other social media services, but those are mostly placeholders to hold my name. If I’ve posted anything at those places, it is usually a picture of a cat.
I will update this post from time to time, when necessary or desirable.
So far I like it! But what I’ve really noticed about it is how little I’ve had get used to it. With every other iteration of the Pixel I’ve had there was always some significant bit of software, hardware or user experience that called attention to itself and I had to build into my use of the phone, for better or worse. This time around, I swapped the data from my Pixel 6 Pro, signed into my most-used apps and proceeded as nothing had changed. Everything worked right out of the box, in a way I was used to, and didn’t require additional fiddling.
This was both gratifying — Hey! Everything just works! — and also a little sad for the nerd in me. I don’t mind a little fiddling with a new bit of kit and figuring out all the new stuff. Falling into rhythm with my new phone this quickly makes me wonder what I’m missing. But maybe that’s the wrong way to think about it. The Pixel 6 Pro, because it had a new design and processor (the first-gen Tensor chip) experienced some hiccups right out of the box and real growing pains as it went along. The Pixel 7 Pro, so far at least, has none of these. It’s hit the ground running.
To be clear, there are newish things about the Pixel 7 Pro, many of them having to do with the camera: The telephoto lens now goes to 5x, and the way the camera juggles between its optical and digital zooms (through a combination of cropping and using the three back lenses in conjunction) means the zoomed-in pictures tend to be sharper than they were before. The wide-angle lens is notably wider-angled, and the main lens now also features a “macro” mode which lets you get closer to smaller objects (see below photo of a fly on a gourd). There are also new camera tricks, including a new “unblur” mode that works pretty well, at least for the one photo I’ve used it on so far, of one of my cats.
My experience with the camera so far is that it actually does take better photos than the Pixel 6 Pro, which is largely down to new tricks with computational photography and the updated chipset, since the actual camera sensors are, to my understanding, largely the same as last year’s. But that’s Google for you: fiddle with the software until you get something new. That’s why I upgrade every damn year, so this not me faulting them for it. The cameras on the Pixel are best of class, and photography is important to me. My only minor complaint about the camera this year is that the “macro” mode is a bit finicky (and turned on when I was trying to take a night photo in fog, which was weird). I figure that will get tweaked as we go along.
Aside from the cameras, all the newish stuff on the P7P is cosmetic (the weather bug on the landing screen has slightly more detail, which is nice) or involves things I haven’t had the opportunity to use yet, like always on captioning, or most of the stuff relating to making phone calls; like so many people these days my actual phone call volume has dropped to something close to zero. That said, the Pixel phone call management experience really is the best out of any cell phone; it screens, it blocks, it sits on hold for you, it offers transcriptions, so on and so forth. For as little as I use my phone for phone calls, I always appreciate the Pixel when I do.
Other notes: Face Unlock has returned to the Pixel line, but I don’t have it turned on, because I find it not especially secure, and because the fingerprint unlock, not great on the P6P, is greatly improved here. Early observation about the battery life suggests it’s marginally better than I got on my P6P, but then it’s a new phone, it should have at least slightly better battery life than a phone with a one-year-old battery. The design of the P7P is sleeker and prettier than last year (I have a Hazel colored one, and the metal camera bar and rail is really nice looking), but the whole thing is still made of slippery-ass glass; I slapped a case on the thing immediately because otherwise I probably would have already dropped it several times. The P7P is still a honkin’ big phone — it’s about the dimensions of the P6P, which was also honkin’ big. I’m not a huge fan of phone this size; size-wise my favorite Pixel phone was the 5, which fit my hand perfectly. But after a year with this form factor, I’m more used to it.
I had been on the fence about upgrading this year because the Pixel 7 Pro was likely to be an incremental upgrade rather than a substantial one, and I didn’t know whether those increments would add up for me. I don’t think that people who have, and are perfectly happy with, a Pixel 6 Pro or any other recent phone, should upgrade, unless like me they have slightly more money than sense, and like new shiny objects. Largely speaking, last year’s Pixel is more than fine, especially now when they have most of the software bugs sorted out.
For all that, I am certainly happy with the upgrade so far, and if you are in the market for a new Android phone, it’s difficult to see how you might do better than the Pixel 7 Pro. Other people have noted this in other reviews and I’ll repeat it: This year’s iteration feels like Google hitting its stride with the Pixel line. And for me, so far, it’s a new phone that doesn’t feel like a new phone, just a better phone. And that’s actually pretty good.
Another year, another anthology: doesn’t editor and author Lavie Tidhar have other things to do with his time? No! (Well, maybe, but not to the exclusion of this.) Turns out, he’s on a mission, and that mission has resulted in The Best of World SF: Volume 2. Here’s Tidhar to explain.
The Best of… what?
World SF, you say? Didn’t you write about this for the Big Idea last year?
You mean, they actually let you do a second volume?
And if so… why?
These are all legitimate questions. Being an annoying individual with a certain stubborn streak (or godly pig-headedness, if anyone still worships Moccus, the Celtic boar-headed god), I annoyingly decided, long-ago, to make a place for myself in English-language science fiction despite the obstacles. Those being, not even having English as a first language (it turns out – shock – English just isn’t that hard), growing up far away from America or Britain, and basically having no place in an industry that was approximately 130.5% dominated by American writers.
And, having more or less done so, I picked up the mantle of the old, discarded, “World SF” group that was set up primarily to let said American writers have drinks with their Soviet counterparts back in the days when we still had to worry about a nuclear war (oh, wait…), and proceeded to try and make something happen.
No one, of course, was remotely interested. But I somehow still managed to put out five small-press anthologies (The Apex Book of World SF), and run the World SF Blog for four years, which, I think, brought together a small community of international writers and enthusiasts.
Regardless. This was a long time ago, and in all that time I kept knocking on publishers’ doors (metaphorically speaking, as they don’t like you actually showing up in person), and being told no. Something, I am glad to say, publishing is still very good at!
One publisher, however, acted very oddly and, one could say, irrationally, and after about three years of me being annoying about it, gave me the keys to the kingdom. As it were. Or rather, the chance to put together The Best of World SF: Volume 1, an anthology so magnificent and so ground-breaking that the science fiction world embraced it with never-seen-before enthusiasm and gave it its highest honours – I mean, mostly ignored it. As was not entirely unexpected, going by previous experience.
So that might have been the end of it, only we did very distinctly put Volume 1 on the cover, perhaps foolishly. And if you do that then, American fandom’s endearing indifference aside, you kind of have to do a Volume 2.
Which, I am glad to say, we did!
I’m incredibly pleased with this book, I have to admit. 175,000 words of some of the best recent science fiction from around the world? Yes, please! This time including no less than nine original stories to go alongside my choice reprints. It’s not quite a traditional Best Of anthology, but it’s pretty unique. And, I think, good! Is it a Big Idea? I think so! But mostly I think this is a showcase for some of the exceptional new writers working in speculative fiction today, some writing in English, some translated, from China to Brazil and from Iraq to Uganda.
Should this join Volume 1 on the shelf of every science fiction reader in the world? Well, I’d like that! They’re handsome books, especially if you shell out for the hardcover edition. But the e-books are cheap and the first volume’s out now in a handy paperback. Why not take a chance on some writers new to you? They’re all pretty great.
And, if you don’t, well – you can’t blame me for trying!
Now that we’re several days into the Elon Musk era of Twitter, some additional musings on how we got here and where we’re going. In no particular order:
1. Elon Musk did this to himself. There’s an old quip about how to make a small fortune in publishing: Start with a large fortune. Well, certainly Musk has a large fortune — the largest in the world, if we’re talking valuation rather than actual liquidity — and he’s about to make it smaller, because Twitter is worth nowhere near the $44 billion or so that he paid for it. Certainly Musk realized that almost immediately, which is why he tried to back out of the deal as soon as he made it.
The (former) board and shareholders realized it, too, which is why they absolutely, positively would not let him back out. From their point of view, Musk was their patsy, their stooge, their pigeon in a confidence game that let them cash out while Musk was left holding the bag. Twitter hardly ever made money as it was; now with the debt Musk has to service on an annual basis, it’ll probably be underwater for a long, long time.
But, look, no one made Musk do this. No one made him decide to become Twitter’s largest stockholder, no one made him make a ridiculous offer for the service, no one made him make that offer at what was basically a locked-in high price with little to no way of backing out gracefully if the financials did not add up. Musk, high on his own presumed genius and fashy-flirting worldview (and possibly also just high, period), was playing to his right-wing cheering squad of simpering fanboys when he decided to buy the place, and didn’t think through the consequences. So now he’s got himself a social media service and no clue what to do with it. Which is actually a thing we should underscore:
2. Elon Musk has no idea what he’s doing with Twitter. Both Musk’s frothy bootlickers and ardent haters think the dude has some sort of master plan for the service and that he’s bought the place to turn it into a fascist-friendly sinkhole that he can push democracy into (this being a bug or feature, depending on one’s own tendencies). And maybe, left to his own rich-white-dude-libertarian tendencies, he would have done. But the thing is, there’s no money in social media that way. Elon Musk may be an authoritarian-frotteuring bore, but the majority of the heavy users of Twitter (i.e., the ones generating content) are vaguely-to-solidly lefty, and the companies who advertise on the service don’t want to have their ads served next to an orgy of bigoted utterances by shitty people. Musk’s deal for the service has left him with something like a billion dollars in debt to service on an annual basis. He’s not going to do that with an exodus of high-profile users and no ads.
And this is before the various governments all over the world weigh in on what’s acceptable content on social media platforms. The EU has already made it clear to Musk they will take a dim view of him turning the service into a Nazi clubhouse, US politicians are looking to revisit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which largely immunizes platforms from the legal repercussions of the speech of their users), and other countries will have their own bones to pick on this score. Thanks to Musk owning other companies that are vulnerable to government pressure and punishment (Tesla, SpaceX and Starlink among them), anything he does with Twitter that displeases governments can also have an effect on his other businesses.
Remember what I said earlier about Musk being left holding the bag? This is the bag! He’s got to find a way to make incredibly disparate constituencies — users, advertisers, governments — happy, and still make enough annually to service his debt. Doing all this was hard enough for the previous Twitter regime, and they didn’t have either the amount of debt servicing Musk has, or the additional business vulnerabilities he does.
How will Musk do this all? He doesn’t know! Neither does anyone else! But of course it’s no one else’s problem, now; he’s the sole director of the place. At the moment, he’s trying to suggest that raising the price of the Twitter Blue subscription scheme and tying verification to that is going to do something useful for him, which it probably won’t, since tying verification to payment is not a great idea, and Twitter Blue is — and I can say this as a subscriber — a benefit for a niche audience at best. He’s also going to lay off staff, which will save some money but is likely to make the service worse. Which brings us to the next point:
3. No matter what Musk does, he’ll probably make the service worse in the short run. Minimizing moderation on the site, allowing creeps and trolls more latitude, will make the service worse. Fiddling with how verification works and opening it up without an actual plan other than to have it as a bonus for subscribing to Twitter Blue, will make the service worse. Cutting staff hastily on sketchy criteria, will make the service worse. And making the service worse is bad for Musk, because everyone is watching him, and these first few days and weeks are very likely to seal the service’s overall fate.
Celebrities and other heavy users are already leaving or making plans to leave or curtail their use of the service. Advertisers can go elsewhere. What and who is left will not necessarily be inclined to participate in a subscription scheme. The snowball of collapse is likely to start rolling downhill, picking up momentum as it goes, hurtling toward the cliff.
Mind you, it doesn’t have to go this way — Musk could just say, hey, in the short term, I’m going to keep things as they are while I and my crew figure this thing out. But he won’t, because that’s not who he is. He’s the sort of guy who decides to buy a social media service in a fit of pique, and then panic when he realize he’s overpaid and is now in charge of a money pit. So he’s going to do things, and just doing things quickly isn’t going to be great. Beyond this:
4. Musk picked a really bad time to jump into social media. Aside from Twitter’s already-existing money and user woes — it is the smallest of the major social media outlets, by a considerable margin — all the social media giants seem to be doing a faceplant these days. Meta/Facebook has seen its value slashed by hundreds of billions of dollars as Zuckerberg frantically tries to make VR happen; the formerly trillion-dollar company was famously recently valuated less than Home Depot. TikTok really does seem to be Chinese government spyware, and an FCC commissioner thinks it should be banned. More widely, Google is thinking about layoffs, and even Amazon’s valuation dropped below a trillion for the first time in a couple of years. Just about the only major social media that doesn’t seem to be about to implode is LinkedIn, i.e., PleaseHireMeIJustGotLaidOffFromTwitter.com.
The best time for Musk to have bought Twitter was never, but last Friday was definitely not the second-best time. The whole concept of what social media is seems to be undergoing scrutiny, and not just on an existential basis. It would not entirely surprise me to see the social media giants of today sold at fire sale prices tomorrow. It’s happened before! Which, hey, dovetails right into this:
5. I don’t expect Musk to keep Twitter for long. Or at the very least I don’t expect him to have it be his focus for very long. Right now Musk is in the “oh, shit, how do I make money from this” phase of things, and once he figures out he can’t (or alternately, realizes what he’s doing will just make things worse), I think his attention will drift to the other companies of his that actually do make money and will need his attention. At which point he’ll either foist the service off to someone at a substantially reduced price (Google could take it on and happily mine it for all the ad data it’s worth), or hire a caretaker CEO, whose job is to keep the bleeding to a minimum as the service deflates like a sad balloon, and then go back to his previous role on Twitter, which is stoned billionaire iconoclast occasionally posting an outrageous opinion for lulz.
Which is to say: Musk is gonna lose money on this! Like, a lot! But it’s his money to lose, and also, he has the money to lose. If the other parts of his empire do well (and they might!), he might not even miss that money as his overall net worth continues to expand.
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. It’s possible that Musk will unlock heretofore-unrealized value from the service, shepherd it to wild profitability, and make all the services’ constituencies happy. In which case: Swell. I’ve liked Twitter, a lot, and would be happy for it to survive and thrive. Prove me wrong, Elon Musk! I will be happy to be wrong!
I don’t suspect I will be wrong, however. Musk overpaid, there’s not that much value to unlock, and he’s gonna take a bath on this purchase before he gives up the ghost and cuts his losses. Musk will survive his Twitter foolishness. We’ll see if Twitter survives it as well.
Sometimes walking in the woods will take you to places you never expected. During the writing of Angel Falls, authors Julia Rust and David Surface went for several walks in the woods, and this Big Idea, they tag-team tell you what they discovered.
JULIA RUST & DAVID SURFACE:
“I found an old trail. Maybe it leads somewhere.”
“Stay outta the woods!”
— The Red House, 1947 film with Edward G. Robinson and Judith Anderson
David: Julia and I love long walks in woods, preferably ones with ruins. One such place is near Bear Mountain, NY, called Doodletown—from a Dutch word that means “Valley of the Dead”. It contains ruins of a town that was settled in the 1700s and abandoned in the 1960s. Our first time there, we stumbled across an old graveyard with tombstones covered in moss.
Julia: Abandoned places have such an air of possibility, both spooky and wonderful. After Doodletown, we visited Gloucester, MA and started reading up on the abandoned area known as Dogtown, though we didn’t visit it that trip. Over bowls of “the best clam chowder in Massachusetts” we posed the question: what if a girl from NYC moves to Gloucester and meets a local boy in the spooky woods of an abandoned town? So, I wrote a chapter from Jessie’s POV, gave it to David, and he wrote the next chapter from Jared’s. Every week we’d exchange chapters, and then walk in nearby woods to discuss the story.
D: We knew there had to be a supernatural element to our story––we just didn’t know what it was. At first, I wanted to be ambiguous about it, present a series of strange occurrences that would be unexplained. While that can work in a short story, it’s hard to sustain that kind of ambiguity over the course of an entire novel. Julia kept telling me we could come up with a supernatural element that could be explained without ruining the story.
J: One day, David wrote this strange scene in which Jared’s teacher makes him think he’s burned him with a lit cigarette. His teacher flips the cigarette at the last moment, so he’s not touched by the burning end, but the character still feels it burn. That scene pretty much came out of nowhere, as did the next scene in which the burn inexplicably manifests on Jared’s arm.
D: It was fun to write but we still didn’t know why it happened––then we decided it was because Jared wanted it to, to prove that the teacher had been cruel to him. And to show that he had been scarred inside by that act, by that betrayal of trust.
J: We realized that our protagonists ‘wants’ could be the driving force behind the strange events they experience. But, as the adage says, ‘be careful what you wish for’ – there was a price to pay. In many supernatural thrillers, you have a human story and a supernatural story that sort of co-exist side-by-side. But now we no longer had a supernatural thing over there threatening our characters’ happiness––we had a supernatural element that was intimately connected to the characters’ wants and needs.
D: This affected our writing in some very powerful ways. For one thing, it required us to focus strongly on the characters’ deepest wants and needs, and to keep them front and center throughout the story. And the teacher (who faked the cigarette burn) went from being a minor character, to having a major role in the arc of the story and the culminating event.
J: By the time we first visited Dogtown, we’d completed the first draft of the novel. Entering the trail and walking among the giant stones we found ourselves laughing––it was exactly the way we’d written it. Every path and sound and feeling were completely familiar.
D: And because we’d spent so much time focusing on our characters’ deepest desires, we really felt a strong connection with them. I know it sounds like a cliche, but Jared and Jessie became real to us. And the last time we visited the woods in Dogtown, I felt like I could feel them there a few steps ahead of us, just around the next bend.
The Pixel 7 Pro that I finally unpacked and fired up today (it arrived last week, but I was traveling) has a new “macro” photo mode, which allows one to get pretty darn close to one’s subject to snap a photo. Here’s me snapping a photo of Spice about an inch and a half from her nose. She doesn’t look impressed, but no one looks impressed with a phone mere centimeters away from one’s face, I suspect. The distortion from the lens isn’t helping either, although Spice looks cute with a moon face.
I’ll likely write up the Pixel 7 Pro soon, when I have a chance to play with it a bit more. So far I like it! But I’ve also only had it a few hours. Let me take some more photos with it and otherwise play with it and see what I think.
My big idea is a dabare.
When you grow up in an area where everyone else speaks at least four languages fluently, but your family moves around, you start over with a different primary language every year or three. For other people, that meant getting very good at language learning. For me, it meant adoring the numerous West African children’s games that were numbers or science-based and could be played without being able to really communicate.
And it meant treasuring the words that were kept in the common argot even as we moved around the country of Cameroon. Dabare was one such word. The fact that it mostly related to science-y and engineering-ish type things made it all the more precious.
The word dabare from the Fulani language in current and historic usage varies significantly depending on which part of the Fulani diaspora is providing the definition and how recently the recording entity has conquered or been conquered by that powerful tribe.
Within The Dabare Snake Launcher, I honor that flexibility in the word’s meaning by redefining it before each section from a new fictional source.
\ da-ba-RAY \
an engineering construction made with repurposed parts and extreme technical know-how, which either works flawlessly or not at all
origin: West African Fulani
Definition from The Cassini-Sadou Dictionary, 3rd ed.
Dabare—the engineering know-how to plan, implement, and follow through on a complex project
(Samson Young’s note: Depending on context, “dabare” is sometimes applied to someone who only thinks they have this “dabare” skillset, but the resulting engineered object—also referred to as a “dabare”—proves the individual does not/did not.)
Definition from “Local Terms” in The TCG Kilimanjaro Handbook
Dabare—early texts using this term can be understood to mean some combination of the following: (1) scheming, (2) the practice of magic, (3) the application of knowledge in an attempt to force a result, not always successfully
Source: University of Yaoundé, Fulani Folklore Wiki
Characters who scheme make for really fun story-telling. And complex engineering is a delight to my nerdy soul. I began work on my Dabare novel after getting my hands on a hardbound 2013 collection of articles from the International Academy of Aeronautics titled, “Space Elevators: An Assessment of Technological Feasibility and Way Forward.” I skipped to the section in the back of the book with all the reasons why a space elevator was impossible.
They weren’t wrong.
But if you give me science fiction’s traditional single cheat, in this case, a tether of carbon nano fiber in truly industrial lengths, all the other problems are solvable with money, power, and hard work.
In short, a whole lot of characters would have to fight for and against the construction of Earth’s first space elevator. If it succeeded, it’d be the amazing wonderous kind of dabare. If it failed, it’ll be the greatest waste of all time, and Earth would’ve been better off if no one had ever tried. A space elevator project is a dabare. It has to be.
Written this morning and now posted here for archival purposes. I’ll likely have more to say on the topic soon, but at the moment I’m in transit and heading home.
Also note that if you’re reading this here, you probably don’t need the links to the site that I have provided.
1. As folks are asking, no, I’m not leaving Twitter at this time, for reasons I explained in April, when the current owner first started his quest to own the place (see the attached article). What I am doing, however, is re-evaluating how I use the site.
2. And not just how I use Twitter, mind you, although that is the current hot topic du jour. I’m thinking about social media generally, and the utility of “being the product” in exchange for ease of use and an audience. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t have advantages…
3. …for someone like me. I like having a largish audience and Twitter not requiring me to do much besides being quippish. But even before the new guy, the deal has been getting increasingly lopsided and requires more effort from me to use useful and usable.
4. It’s become less *fun,* honestly, and the steps that the new guy seems determined to take will make it more so, and more prone to trolling and impersonation and misinformation. The value proposition for me could go south fast.
5. If the value proposition goes south, then the question is how much of my time/effort I want to give the site. I don’t want to walk away from 200K followers, and I enjoy (most) of the interactions I have with people here. But I also have other places I can be…
6. … including my own site, where I don’t have to worry the owner is a bored, overly-rich shitlord trying to monetize every last possible thing because he overpaid dramatically for it. There are options, for me at least, because I stuck with my own online space all this time.
7. Now, I’m well aware that if I draw down on Twitter, not everyone here is going to follow me elsewhere, and, well. That’s life, and the decisions that will have to be made. I’ve gone through several Internet phases already. Nothing lasts, it’s always in flux.
8. Which means this “crisis” is also an opportunity. How *do* I want to be online in 2022 and beyond? I’m on Twitter because it’s easy, but what if I made an effort elsewhere? What would that look like and how would I do it? I’m thinking about these things now.
9. So, anyway. In the short-to-medium run, I’ll still be around here. But I am recalibrating what Twitter is worth to me, and making plans to do more things elsewhere, especially with my own site. Which I should have been doing already, honestly. I’m looking forward to it.
10. Also: Hey! Here is my personal site. Bookmark it in your browser, put it in your RSS feed, subscribe to in email, etc. I already update there daily and have for 24 years. Make it part of your everyday online experience if you like.
11. And now, as usual, here’s a cat to end the thread.
Here on Sunday at Hal-Con, and I was presented with two regional favorite ice creams: Tiger Tail, which is orange ice cream with a ribbon of black licorice, and Moon Mist, which is basically banana bubble gum. The Moon Mist was a little much for me — 11-year-old me, the one who would shove an entire package Bubble Yum into his mouth at one time, would have loved it — but the Tiger Tail was pretty great, and I ate the entire bowl presented to me. The was followed by probably the most intense sugar rush I’ve had in a decade. I’m back in my hotel room now, managing the crash.
Also, Hal-Con is now at its end, and I had a genuinely lovely time at it. Everyone was super nice, people seemed happy to see me, and the staff and volunteers were just terrific. As the kids would say, A++, terrific con, would attend again. Although next time I might not eat an entire pint of ice cream at one go. Time for a nap.
When the folks at Hal-Con asked if I would come visit their convention, I said I would if they supplied me with Coke Zero, Tiger Tail ice cream, and a framed picture of either Halifax’s own Sarah McLachlan, or, if one were not available, at least one member of the band Sloan (also Halifax’s own). As you can see, they gave me framed pictures of both, and threw in (Halifax’s own!) Anne Murray to boot! Plus ketchup chips! And hickory sticks! And chicken bones! Among other things. No Tiger Tail ice cream yet, but the fridge in my hotel room doesn’t have a freezer, so that’s reasonable. There’s time for it.
In other news, hello, I’m in Halifax, here for Hal-Con. It’s been lovely so far. As soon as I got my stuff stowed away, I set out in search of a (Halifax’s own) donair, the local spin on the gyro, basically, and enthusiastically consumed it. Now I am full and immobile on my hotel couch. Also, as I drive into town there was this:
A good omen for the weekend, if you ask me. If you’re in the area, hope to see you at the convention. If you’re not in the area, well, try to have fun anyway.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another Universal Yums review! If you’ve missed my other reviews, Universal Yums is a snack box company that features snacks from a different country every month. This month, we have Spain, which is actually the first country I ever got back when I used to get Universal Yums in 2019 for a few months.
I was interested to see if they had any repeats from the first Spain box I got, but it didn’t appear so. Some similar items, perhaps, but none that were like the same brand or flavor, I’m pretty sure.
Of course, I had to have a companion to snack with, so you’ll be getting my opinion, and theirs! So let’s just get right to it.
I was most curious about the Fried Egg & Sea Salt Chips:
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from these chips, but they absolutely nailed the flavor. It tasted just like an egg, more specifically it had a very yolky flavor. I was surprised how accurate it was to its intended flavor, but I suppose all things are possible through science (or magic). These chips were definitely on the extra crunchy side, much like a kettle chip. I really enjoyed these, and gave them an 8.5/10, because while they’re definitely good there’s almost always room for improvement. And my friend gave them an 8/10.
I wanted something a little less intense after that eggy punch, so I opted to try these Honey Butter Corn Puffs:
I am a huge fan of honey butter flavored things, so much so that my favorite chips in the world are the Haitai Honey Butter Chips from Korea. So I was excited to try these, but they were a bit underwhelming (why isn’t anyone ever just whelmed?). They had the consistency of a cheese puff, and the flavor of movie theater buttered popcorn. I was expecting a bit of a sweeter flavor from the honey, but it was mostly just butter flavored and lacked that honey aspect. They weren’t bad but they weren’t particularly good, definitely on the meh side, so they earned a 6.5/10 from me, and a 6/10 from my friend.
Switching to a fruity vibe, these Sour Kiwi Gummies were up next:
Other countries always seem to have less intense versions of what the US has when it comes to things like sweets, or in this case sours. Unlike Warheads or Sour Patch Kids, these kiwi slices were subtly sour, and barely made us pucker. I honestly prefer weaker sour candy because I like my tongue to be intact when I finish eating something. These were really tasty in terms of fruitiness, and it didn’t taste super artificial or chemical at all. My only complaint with these is that their gumminess had a bit too much chew to it and was more along the lines of leathery. Fruit leather is good, too, but very different from gummy. Overall, these were an 8/10 for me, and a 9.5/10 for my sour candy fiend friend.
After something sour, you gotta go for something sweet, so we had these Cocoa Dusted Salted Caramel Truffles:
These chocolates honestly just look like big Hershey kisses, but they have a way better mouth-feel and flavor. They were softer than I expected when I bit into one, and it sort of melted in your mouth right away. I thought the salted caramel flavor was pretty prevalent from the get-go, but my friend said it mostly just tasted like chocolate. It wasn’t overly sweet like a lot of salted caramel flavored things are, and there were a ton in the box. This was a great snack, and I deemed this one a 9.5/10, while my friend gave it an 8/10.
Back to something with a crunch factor, we tried the Lemon Pepper Chips:
I’m a sucker for citrus flavors in things that are not usually citrus flavored, like chips! And these were definitely lemony! To me, at least. My friend said they weren’t really getting that lemon flavor, maybe on the back end but certainly not upon eating. I totally disagreed, I thought they were quite lemony. They did have an odd aftertaste, though, so that made me want to not eat them as much. They were the same brand as the egg ones from earlier, so they still had that almost kettle chip type of crunch to them. These were a bit of a miss for me, so they only got a 5/10, and a 6/10 from my friend. I think the Limon Lays are much better if you like citrus chips.
Onto the things I feared most in the box, the Spicy Mango Gummies:
I knew I was getting myself into trouble with these guys since the word “spicy” was literally the first word in this candy’s name. Usually things like this have a slow burn, or heat on the back end, but these were immediately hot, and they did not come to play. They were hot; surprisingly so for one tiny little slice of mango candy! I will say that they tasted exactly like a ripe mango, so these were totally on par in terms of fruity flavor, but it was hard to appreciate that yummy mango goodness with my mouth on fire. Of course, I’m a total baby about spice, so if you actually like spice, you would probably enjoy these. These are good enough that I can recognize that if it weren’t for my spicy bias, I’d really like them, so I gave them a 6.5/10, because I can tell that there is good stuff goin on there, I just can’t handle the heat. My friend is much more spicy inclined than I am, and rated them an 8/10.
Okay, first off, these look just like those Advil pills that have that grossly sweet shiny coating on the outside that they warn not to give to kids because they’ll think its candy. This felt forbidden to eat. Aside from the appearance, they were a lot like harder M&Ms, specifically the white chocolate M&Ms. These had a strong caramel flavor and were extremely sweet. The tube also reminded me of the tubes that the Fun Size M&Ms come in with the pop-lid , so that was a fun packaging choice. These were pretty good, nothing special but a decent enough candy, earning them an 8/10 from both of us.
Continuing on with the candy trend, we tried this Milk Chocolate Peanut Cream Wafer:
I expected this to be a lot like a Reese’s, but was surprised by the crispiness the wafer brought to the table. The contrast in textures between the peanut cream and chocolate vs the crispy wafer was really nice, and it wasn’t overly sweet. It didn’t exactly have a peanut butter flavor, since it was peanut cream instead of peanut butter it had a bit of a different taste to it, but it was quite good. I gave this wafer an 8.5/10, and my friend gave it a 9/10. I would probably buy this at a gas station if I saw it on the shelves.
Moving on to yet another piece of candy, we have this Chocolate Pine Nut Candy:
While this is definitely a piece of candy, it tastes like something that should not be candy. Like, the flavor did not exactly say “candy” to me. It wasn’t sweet, and the flavor was so off, like it was expired or something. It didn’t taste like chocolate, and it didn’t taste like pine nuts, so I’m not sure exactly what it did taste like, but it wasn’t good. It was hard at first, and then after some chewing and really working it around, it softened up quite a bit and made sure to stick in your teeth. It was a 3/10 from both of us.
Finally, these Pistachio Toffees:
Okay, whoever made these has clearly never tasted a pistachio before, because this tasted like cherry cough syrup. Not even in a subtle way, just like straight up medicine. This was such a nasty candy, with that same hard to chewy consistency that the previous candy had. My friend couldn’t even finish it, and just ended up spitting it out and drinking water immediately after. It was super unpleasant, and I hope to never eat one of these again. 1.5/10 from both of us. It was almost a 1, but there’s definitely worse we’ve tried. But, yeah, this was icky.
All in all, this box was pretty decent! Nothing super stellar but it had such a great variety of flavors and textures. Lots of candy, lots of chips, both of which I love, so I can’t complain too much on this box. Not my favorite, but still good. I can’t wait to see what next month’s box has in store!
What looks the best to you? Have you ever been to Spain? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!
They’re making a Netflix documentary series about the time in the 90s a kid tried to get a Harrier jet from Pepsi, based on a commercial the soft drink maker put out on TV. As I watched the trailer, I had a vague memory of writing a column about it at the time. I checked the archives, and, indeed, I had! Here it is, from all the way back in 1996. That’s (counts on fingers) oooooof, a long time ago.
Anyway, if you were not aware of my existence in the 90s and wonder what sort of stuff I was writing a quarter century ago, here you go. I think you can see how I went from how I was writing then to how I am writing now pretty clearly. I will say that if I were writing the same piece today I’d do that last graf differently. The 90s were a bit more sexist than today, and at the time I was happy to be dude-ish for a punchline. We live and learn.
PEPSI POINTS AND THE JET
How much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet?
The question has relevance because someone, specifically John Leonard of Lynwood, Washington, is suing PepsiCo, the makers of Pepsi. PepsiCo won’t give him the Harrier Jet that he says they said they would give him if he collected 7 million “Pepsi Points.” Pepsi Points are credits that PepsiCo gives you for consuming their brown beverage — drink enough Pepsi, and you can get various trinkets from a catalogue they provide. They’re like Green Stamps, only carbonated.
One of the ads for Pepsi Points featured a 13-year-old kid who racked up 7 million Pepsi Points and redeemed them for a vertically-launching Harrier Jet. The kid was using the Harrier Jet to commute to school, which admittedly would have had some advantages (no traffic except for the occasional, very surprised helicopter; also, coming to school equipped with Sidewinder missiles tends cut down on the amount of homework teachers are willing to assign you).
Most folks who saw this commercial showed a rather un-American lack of initiative in pursuing the 7 million Pepsi Points, but Leonard, full of the moxie that made this country great, saw a golden opportunity. After all, Harrier Jets generally go for $70 million. Oh, sure, occasionally you can get a million or two chopped off the asking price, but you usually have to be an ally of the US, and have fought a war or two on the same side as us (or be France). The average Joe, on the other hand, presuming he could even get his hands on a Harrier, would have to pay the full dealer markup — which of course doesn’t include tax, title and delivery, or things like air conditioning or a cassette stereo.
But PepsiCo, who had apparently somehow managed to acquire a Harrier Jet (presumably the Cola Wars have taken on a new and more violent aspect), were getting rid of it for a mere 7 million Pepsi Points, which aside from drinking Pepsi can be bought at 10 cents a point. That’s just $700,000, still a lot of money — it takes Bill Gates almost 12 hours to make that much off of interest! — but a fair markdown from the Harrier’s listed sticker price. Leonard got some investors, got the $700,000, and approached Pepsi for the jet. Though we can’t know exactly what the exchange was between Leonard and PepsiCo, we can assume it went something like this:
Leonard: I’m here for my jet.
PepsiCo Representative: You’re nuts.
Leonard threatened to sue to get the jet. PepsiCo responded by filing for a Declaratory Judgement — basically asking a judge to tell Leonard to take his Pepsi Points and buy a clue instead. Leonard followed through with his suit, and that’s where it stands at the moment: Leonard on one side, PepsiCo on the other, and a Harrier Jet in between.
Ignoring the reality-based issues of this suit — such as the fact that PepsiCo never had a Harrier Jet, that its commercial was clearly meant for humorous effect, and that even if Leonard some how miraculously won the suit, the Pentagon would never give him a Harrier anyway — let’s deal with the theoretical aspects. I say that PepsiCo should give Leonard the Harrier Jet — if Leonard earns his Pepsi Points the way they were meant to be earned: by drinking his way through them. Just him, without help from anyone else.
Which brings us back to our original question: how much Pepsi would it take to get a Harrier Jet? According to an Associated Press report, it’d take 16,800,000 12-ounce cans — except in August, when points are doubled. So he’d only have to drink 8,400,000 cans, presuming he could drink them all in August.
It takes about 12 seconds to drain a can of Pepsi; the limiting factor is the mouth of the can. You could speed up the process of getting the Pepsi out of the can with something like rubber tubing (a “Pepsi Bong”), but then, there’s the set-up time getting the rubber tubing in the can and into Leonard’s gullet simultaneously. 12 seconds per can is as good as it’s going to get. That’s five cans a minute, 300 cans an hour, 7200 cans a day.
Assuming that Leonard, cathetered and with a nutrient IV drip to fulfill his basic life functions, did nothing else besides drink Pepsi 24 hours a day, it would take him one thousand, one hundred sixty six days and 16 hours to drink all 8.4 million cans. By which time, obviously, August would be over. He’d have to drink another 8.4 million cans to make up the difference. All told, Leonard would have to spend about 6 years and three months of his life doing nothing but drinking Pepsi to get enough Pepsi Points for the Harrier Jet.
That’s fair. If he can do that, I say he’s earned the jet. He’ll need a couple of other things as well (for example, a new digestive tract), but if you’ve drunk that much Pepsi, you can probably tuck a couple more cans of the stuff away to cover the medical expenses. I think it’s a solution that both PepsiCo and Leonard can agree on. I called PepsiCo, to see if they might be amenable to idea: Pepsi spokesman Brad Shaw declared, “I can hardly think of a better way to spend six years than drinking Pepsi non-stop.” So, John Leonard, get cracking!
Now, there’s another Pepsi Points ad in which these guys are drinking Pepsi, and every woman around them has turned into Cindy Crawford. I recently quaffed a Pepsi, but all the women near me persisted in being themselves. I think I may have a case.
Athena and I beat the rush to the polls this November by voting early today. It’s become my tradition to vote as early as I can (presuming I know who I am going to vote for, which this year I very much do) to have it done and not worry that something will keep me from voting on the day, like pleurisy or being pinned under a car. I dragged Athena along because voting is more fun if you bring a friend or loved one — try it and see!
It will not come as surprise to any of you that this election there was not a single Republican on my ballot. The GOP has well and truly gone over the bend and become unapologetically bigoted and fashy; I don’t give my votes to a political party that thinks democracy is an impediment to rule. That being said, I live in a profoundly conservative area so I don’t pretend my local choices are likely to prevail. State-wide and in the senatorial race? Here’s hoping.
If you have the option to vote early, I really do encourage it. It’s a nice feeling to have exercised one’s franchise, and everyone who can vote early makes the election day lines for those who can’t vote early that much more tolerable. Do it for yourself; do it for others.
But whatever you do: vote.
It’s Woolly Bear season, those being not actual bears but the caterpillars of a tiger moth, who wander around this time of year fattening up in order to freeze through the winter and become moths when it warms again, or so Wikipedia tells me. The rumor is that you can tell whether it’s going to be a mild or severe weather by how wide the orange band is on the Woolly Bears, but honestly, I can never remember the formula, and also the orange band always looks pretty much the same width every time I see one.
Also, the rumor that their hairs are poisonous is not true, but they can cause irritation by sticking into your skin like splinters. I didn’t touch this one in any event; I took pictures and then let it do its thing. I look forward to seeing it in its moth iteration… well, whenever that actually happens.
Yesterday I picked up an award from my high school for Alumni Outstanding Achievement, and it was both delightful and a little nerve-wracking. I’ve picked up awards in front of thousands of people and didn’t bat an eye; this time it was in front of maybe sixty people I went to school with, who remember me when I was fifteen and just starting to write. They know me in a way that not many people do, or can.
Fortunately for me, they and the others in attendance were fabulous. My class and school mates gave me a standing ovation, and then did the wave, which was ridiculous and awesome. It was genuinely touching, and lovely.
I’ve mentioned here before how important my high school was to me and how formative it was in me becoming who I am today, but I’m not sure I’ve made clear the affection I have for my classmates and the other folks I went to school with, and how much that affection has deepened over the years. These are important people to me, and there’s kinship and camaraderie there that’s not just rooted in the time we spent at the school, but also everything’s that come after. To be recognized by my school and to receive this award in the presence of these friends of four decades standing means more than I can express.
And then, when it was all done, we went and danced our brains out and then closed out a bar together. What a great day. What a great night.
Hello, everyone! Today I have some good, but vague, news for you all! I have an exciting opportunity in the works, and will be job shadowing a position next week. I’m not going to say what the job is yet, but as long as the job shadow goes well, the position is mine! I figured it was about time I actually have some money in my bank account and quit spending all of my parents’.
Anyways, I’ll let you all know how it goes and what the job is once I (hopefully) secure the position next week! I just wanted to share because I’m pretty stoked.
Until then, please enjoy this photo of two cats I cat-sit in Santa Monica last week.
And have a great day!