Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for May 30, 2010 – “Prose and Cons, 2010”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for May 30, 2010. I play (most of) a song by Phil Rossi; I do a recap of my time as an impromptu guitar tech; I recap CREATE South 2010; I play a song by Mudhoney; I talk about my experiences so far with Baltion 2010; I play a song by Jonathan Coulton as a belated birthday gift to spring. This episode was actually recorded onsite at Balticon 2010.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Around the Podosphere 5/26/2010

Here are some podcasts and particular episodes that I’ve particularly liked lately. Torn straight from my playlist!

I’ve been iffy on the Long Now Podcast and on the edge of dropping it. It’s got the same problem I have with TED talks – basically good-willed wealthy technocrats throwing the rabble a bone by letting them experience the sessions. Long Now is the far better of the two, TED always makes me feel like I’m being condescended to. The most recent episode really interested me though. It was Nils Gilman talking about “deviant globalization”, basically pointing out that while all business globalizes the business of criminals does so most of all. The whole thing worth it was for the part where he talked about “moral arbitrage.” I also liked the part when he said that Russian organized crime rose so quickly in the 1990s because only criminals had entrepenurial organizational skills during the Soviet era. Interesting stuff.

I’ve started listening to the Tell Em Steve Dave podcast. This is a Kevin Smith spinoff podcast, as players in the View Askew-niverse are forming some sort of a network of shows. To be honest, I’m not sure that I don’t like this show better than SModcast. I’m not a Smith fundamentalist. I like some of his movies but not all, and sometimes I even skip SModcast episodes. In particular, most of the live show recordings I find completely unlistenable. Playing to the crowd changes the dynamic and I find much to the worse. However, the first episode recorded from their tour I kind of liked.

My friends Michael Butler and Jasper Borgman keep it rolling with Good Clean Fun. I listen to all of them, but like any chemistry driven show some episodes hit better and some hit worse. I’m about 3 weeks behind so I just got to the May 4th show but I thought it was hilarious and I really dug it.

This morning I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac (the only thing I bump to the top of my queue so that I hear it when it is timely.) Today’s episode including a birthday shoutout to Caitlin R. Kiernan. This isn’t the very first time I’ve heard someone I know personally on that show but it’s always a nice surprise. Happy birthday, Caitlin!

A few months back I subscribed to Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. I think there were 30 or so episodes when I subscribed and it took me months to listen through the whole backlog. Now I’m relatively current (as current as anything – 3 weeks behind) and I heard his amazing episode with Robin Williams. I’ll admit that as much as I loved Williams 30 years ago, his relentless shtickifying has burned me out. Nowadays ff I see he’s in a movie I’m otherwise interested in, I rethink that interest. Imagine my surprise at the quality of this conversation between Maron and Williams about comedy, life, fucking up and recovering from it. It’s the kind of episode that by itself validates all the work that goes into the series. I’ve had those, and I think Maron has had multiple ones. Very highly recommended listening.

Westboro Baptist: God Hates Spellcheckers

Tomorrow morning Westboro Baptist will bring their silly hate carnival show to my little town. It’s been disappointing to me how effectively they can play the local media, which has been running news stories about them pretty regularly. They also are playing the people who counter-protest. Their goal is to get people to take them seriously, and the minute you try to refute them, you lose. To argue with them as if their position was one worthy of argument is to play into their hands. To paraphrase Dr. Pauli, “They aren’t right. They aren’t even wrong.” They just are plain acting out for attention, like the troubled kindergartener that pisses his pants to get attention.

It occurs to me that their primary influence is not any other protest groups but Andy Kaufman. I ain’t linking to it, but it’s not hard to find their page with the picket schedule. The entries all contain screeds full of weird typos and the assertion that “God hates you” if you are in one of the groups they hate. As you know, Hate Jesus told his followers “Hate your neighbor as you hate yourself.” Well played Westboro Baptist.

I have years of experience with an attention craving joke religion, namely The Church of the Subgenius. This suggests to me how you might try to counter them. Debating them is the wrong move, you have to fight them on the street theater level. I’d suggest making your own signs and joining their picket line. Some ideas:

  • God Hates Tolerance/God Loves Stupidity and Outrage
  • Gramer and Speling Are Tools Of Teh Devil
  • You Fags Can Suck It (smaller letters) Tonight at the Travelodge, Room 117
  • Repent And Spend Eternity with Assholes Like Us

Over at Laughing Squid, here is an example of a dada absurdist counter-protest. In this case, by making the signs funny the newspeople passed by WBC and took photos of the counter-protest. Attention is their oxygen supply, so cut that off and they lose their breath. I like the idea of trying to infiltrate but that might not be physically possible. There are only a few of them in the road troupe so surely they all know each other. I think swamping them is a fine tactic.

I’m planning on swinging by their protest tomorrow. It’s close to my house, and I’m going to try to get some footage of them. I will possibly use it in the documentary or maybe just to try to make fun of them.

Nicola Griffith on Starship Sofa

On the newest episode of Starship Sofa, my good friend Nicola Griffith has the featured fiction piece. Her story “It Takes Two” from the anthology Eclipse 3 is the bulk of the episode. This novelette was also selected for The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection and The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 4 so it’s not just your ordinary SF story. Check it out!

Social Media Vacation Wrapping Up

Theoretically, if I hold to my original setup today would be the last day of my social media vacation. This is the 28th day since I queued up a bunch of “send later” tweets and Facebook status and then shut all that crap down. I did violate the embargo last week to announce the news about CREATE South becoming sponsored by the Horry County Arts and Cultural Council, and then shut it all down again.

Here’s the deal. While I acknowledge that Twitter has upsides, I believe they come at too high a price for it to be a tool to draw my attention all day every day. I don’t anticipate ever returning to my previous levels of usage. A lot of the Twitter critics from big media, the same people that criticized bloggers 5 years ago, focus on the unseemliness of the hoi polloi enjoying the same ability to communicate as them. Screw those people, they can bite my ass. My criticism is the opposite. I see value in ordinary people having the channel to communicate, however I find the act of following it closely all day every day to be detrimental to peace of mind. Operative word: peace.

To use Twitter anywhere like the intended pattern involves a twitchiness and jangliness, like the shakes you get after your 7th cup of coffee. Either you are scanning it over and over manually, or you have something that notifies and interrupts you when messages occur. Either way involves Twitter taking your attention at frequent intervals, and usually for ephemera.

I stand by my original statement that there are only really three use cases for when I need information from Twitter right now: 1) when traffic is backed up between where I am and where I am going; 2) when I’m looking for someone with whom to have lunch; and 3) when I’m at a science fiction convention and I’m trying to find the room party that my friends are at. Everything else can wait, and it is detrimental to my life to be notified frequently. The act of getting notified reduces my life enjoyment more than the information increases it.

So, even though I’m coming off of Twitter/Facebook prohibition, I’m retreating from ongoing usage. I’m not sure if that means I only look at them at certain relatively infrequent times, only on specific days, or if I just say screw it and shut it down most of the time until I just feel like participating in them. For years I’ve been arguing with Steve Gillmor (I’d link to him, but links are dead) about the value of real time data streams. He finds them amongst the most important and salient bits of digital life. I’m finding them amongst the worst aspects of my modern life. Most people, myself at the head of the list, flatter themselves by feeling the need to be this connected. Most things in the world don’t need you, you don’t need most things in the world. I now choose to sacrifice connection for peace of mind and the satisfaction of being present in my daily life.

I’m choosing to live at a slower pace. I haven’t looked at a 24 hour news channel in 6 years. I’m clamping down my social media usage. Somewhere between Cory Doctorow and Ted Kaczynski is a happy medium, and for better or worse I’m falling on the latter end of that compromise.

Flattr-y Will Get You … Where?

I’m trying an experiment on this blog. I’ve Flattr enabled it via plugins, so now you’ll see those on both the posts and the RSS entries if you read them via Google reader or the like. I’m mostly doing this as to see where the value lies in this project. I don’t expect this blog/podcast will ever pull in significant revenue. I’d consider it a wild success if I broke even on my incoming and outgoing Flattr balance.

Here’s how Flattr works (as I understand it, with my vast 18 hours of experience with it): you put a certain amount of money in your Flattr account, and specify how much you’ll pay out each month. Then as you “Flattr” things through the month, those each get an equal share of whatever your monthly payout is set at. Think of it as Digg but with financial consequences, like Digging a thing means you are paying money to it.

What I do like about this is that you aren’t thinking about an amount as you pull the trigger to micro-pay something. The amount you are paying that recipient can range from the full amount of your monthly (if it’s the one item you Flattr that month) to such a small slice that it is a fraction of a cent. This solves one of the big problems of micropayment systems – the mental cost of valuing the payment vs the item to be paid for. In the Bitpass days, you have to think “Is this webcomic view really worth $0.15 to me” over and over again. If there is one aspect of modern life that is wearing me out, it’s being asked to make decisions over and over, all day every day, that I really don’t give much of a shit about. Instead, youmake two big decisions: 1) how much money to put into Flatter and 2) how much to pay each month Once those are locked in, you don’t think about money again. That’s smart.

The downside at this point is that the project clearly lacks critical mass and density. There are a lot of things I’d be willing to Flattr but thus far I had to really go looking for something to click. If this were more widely distributed, that would be easier. The other downside from an adoption perspective (but probably an upside from a business side) is that nothing happens at all until you’ve put some money in the system. You can’t receive a Flattr until you’ve made one, and you can’t make one until you put money in. Fiendish!

Here’s possible ways I see this playing out, not in any particular order:

  1. The whole thing is a Ponzi scheme and for most people it does nothing but the earliest people in do alright. This is also kind of the way the professional poker world works, as people shift the same money around to each other.
  2. It democratizes content payment, and people who create content for the love of it (like myself and the other podcasters/video bloggers/ et al) can pick up enough pin money to at least get costs covered pretty regularly. Sometimes you feel like you are winning the game when you just stop losing money.
  3. It is a total power law distribution, with the vast majority of items in the system getting 0 Flattrs (and thus no money), and a few getting a huge amount of them and little in between. This already might be happening, particularly with the “Top Flattrs” list in the site’s sidebar that means the rich get richer. This is how bestseller lists and iTunes directories work as well.
  4. It ends up like Digg but better because of the skin one has in the game. When you do capture lightning in the bottle with a post, viral video or something of the sort you end up scoring directly. Some sites already do this, some like You Tube notably do not in any reasonable way. I’m curious if there ever is a “Flattr millionaire” and if so, what the content is that generates it. I fear for the lowness of the common denominator, but I’m in the market to be pleasantly surprised.
  5. Much like all the best performing blogs in the Kindle marketplace are about (any guesses … ) the Kindle, at least now it appears many of the best performing Flattrs are about Flattr. Note that this blog post will be my first in that world too, and I’m curious to see what happens with that. The huge downside of this dynamic is that interesting new projects have incentives from day one to be circle jerks, creating little novel value but playing to the crowd. It’s the Web 2.0 equivalent of “Hello Cleveland! Are you ready to rock?” Pandering gets you everywhere.

I put in 12 Euros, which is 6 months at the lowest monthly payment setting. We’ll see how this goes and evaluate from there. If it seems too whorelike I might dial down the Flattr badge in every post setting, and only add it manually to a subset of them. Also, as of this writing (lunchtime EDT, Monday May 17) I think I have one extra beta invite code. I had signed up on the list for one weeks ago but when they sent me one, they sent two. I think the second code might work for someone else. Email me if you want it ,with the proviso that it’s possible it doesn’t work at all.

The Movie Has Rolled Footage

Today I went and did the first shoot of the documentary. My subject was Chavdar, himself a photographer who just graduated from Horry-Georgetown Technical College. By and large the setup and shoot went well. I have yet to review the footage so there is the possibility of a nasty surprise lurking. I screwed up one technical thing so simple and basic that I’m not going to say what it is. However, it was in the audio which is what I would have thought would be my strong suit here.

We’ll see where things go from here, but I’m happy. Just even getting out and shooting is a different level of reality from talking about it for years, even if every bit of this footage is unusable (which dear “Bob” I hope is not the case.) A few lines of questioning just don’t work, and I probably didn’t really arrange things properly to get at what I wanted to explore in the most efficient way. Still, it’s a learning process and now I’m learning. We have begun!

The Movie Is Happening

Tomorrow is a big day for me. The indie documentary idea I’ve been talking about for years is going to have it’s first shoot. I’m excited, slightly nervous but mostly ready to get some actual footage captured. I’m not an experienced filmmaker so I’ve been cramming like a college kid the night before a final exam, much of that from Anthony Artis’ The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production. This afternoon I set up my equipment and tested it out, and I was surprised what a good, professional image I was able to capture with my prosumer camcorder and some cheap lights from World Market and Lowes.

I can’t remember when I first spoke aloud to another person that I wanted to do this film. It might have been as long ago as 4 years. Last year at Balticon I talked with Earl Newton about it quite a bit and got some seriously good advice from him. I had a conversation with the Ukrainian girl that was the lifeguard at the hotel pool about it too. I have a shoot lined up for next week and beyond that, I don’t know. My plan is to take the footage from tomorrows shoot, edit out a 2-3 minute piece and put it up on the movie’s website. This is partly for myself as a test that the workflow will produce something watchable out the other end, but also to give prospective interviewees something to look at so that they can understand what it is I’m talking about when I give them my crazy pitch for this film. Beyond that, it’s a loose ball that I need to grab.

This is way outside my comfort zone but that’s a very large part of what I like about it. I have an inflated enough ego and sense of self-confidence that I don’t doubt I can pull it off despite my inexperience. After all, pre-2008 Andre and I had no experience in running a conference and yet CREATE South is continuing to provide value to our town every year. Something will happen from this. My goal is to produce a feature length documentary film, one that is of a quality that could be shown theatrically. Whether it ever is will be a business decision for a later day, but artistically I want to make something in that ballpark. If I can’t pull that off, I want to get an hour long cut that would potentially be shown on the South Carolina PBS network ETV or other PBS systems. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll make the highest quality short film I can get out of it. I’m a pragmatist so I’m OK with having tiers of success and doing whatever I can on the highest tier I can pull off.

I’d say wish me luck, that that isn’t much of a factor. Wish me preparation and determination. Those I can use.

Social Media Vacation, Week 3

I’m well into my social media vacation. I’m so far in I’m starting to approach the far end of it. My original “30 days away” plan would put me at 9 more days. I’ll be honest with you, people. I’m not sure I’m ever coming back. At least, I am never returning to the level of use of Twitter I previously engaged in. There is a calmness and peace to my days that was sorely lacking in the previous few months.

I’m about to briefly break my vacation to post the news that the CREATE South conference is now under the umbrella of the Horry County Arts and Cultural Council. This means that future contributions are tax deductible! It should be good news for us and I’d like to get that in the Twitterverse today as opposed to two weeks from today. However, I’ve been dreading even opening up HootSuite again. I did look at it for about 45 seconds the other day just to see what was happening on the #createsouth hash tag. I was (pleasantly) surprised to see that Mr. Tee Morris is still whaling away on the official CREATE South Twitter account. It’s a pretty open secret that he’s our ghost writer (tweeter?) and has done 1000X better job than I did when I controlled that account. So there is value being created by all this, but my point remains: what is the personal cost of creating this value and am I willing to pay it?

I’m gearing up big time on the production of my documentary. Later this week I should have the first shoot of the film. This is an exciting point to be at, since I’ve been thinking about this for at least two years and probably longer. There might well be some value in creating and maintaining a Twitter account for the movie but I just don’t really feel like doing it. My hiatus has reinforced my feeling that Twitter interaction is junk interaction, and I’d do better making phone calls or visiting the subset of people I care about personally and letting the larger Twitterverse go. In reality, I’ll probably arrive at some sort of equilibrium where I hold my nose and use Twitter/Facebook/FriendFeed and whatever horrific future monstrosities become the next geek toy fad.

However, from here on forward I for sure will be adjusting the dial so that the time and energy I put into social media matches the value I get out of it. No more imbalance for me. The days of twitchily checking for new tweets all day long is over. Just like I try to never turn on the TV when there is nothing in particular I want to watch, I’m done with social media when there is nothing in particular I want to say or hear.

Modern American Polling is Valueless

I don’t know how often I hear about “public opinion polls” on a daily basis. Let’s say a dozen on the average day. Just last night I watched The Daily Show where one of the founding tea baggers was a guest. This guy was using as a basis for claiming Obama as “tyrannical” was public opinion polls showing Americans disagreed with certain decisions. I am here to say that I don’t care what anyone says, i put ZERO stock in any modern American polling.

Just a few minutes ago, I received a phone call from some research firm out of Las Vegas. They asked me some questions. After a few minutes, it became obvious to me that the poll was being paid for by either an energy company or some form of energy industry group. The questions were stilted and skewed towards a point of view. Several questions were phrased in terms of “clean energy” rather than “renewable energy.” What I also noticed is that sometimes the positive options came first, and sometimes the negatives but the first options were always the ones that would be in the favor of an energy company. Not too subtle, dudes.

But here’s the real thing – I have not completed any form of phone poll in years. This one, like every one, I eventually hang up on when I get completely tired of them. I’m pretty sure these pollsters can’t call cell phones, and every call I’ve received has been on our land line. Just with that, the polls have already deeply self-selected for older people by virtue of 1) having land lines, 2) answering the land line and 3) actually taking the survey. At least half of the time they identify as pollsters, I hang up out of hand. Many of the times when they come in with bogus caller ID information I won’t even pick up the phone. Sometimes I’ll take part of the survey like tonight and hang up when I can no longer take having my time occupied in this mind-numbing fashion and for dubious intent. I don’t know who actually is willing to take the time to complete these surveys but whatever data can come of that is nothing I’m willing to admit as valid. If your basis for any decision making is opinion polling, I can tell you that it is full of shit.

Social Media Vacation, Week 2

Not only am I not finding it hard to stay away from social media, I’m thinking about staying away nearly permanently. In my previous fit of pique where I dynamited my entire Twitter network I only used Twitter when I was at science fiction conventions. That was predominantly to find out which room parties and hotel bars my friends were at. Frankly, I think I could go back to that sort of thing easily.

More and more, I’m thinking that I don’t care at all about social media for its own sake. It only really has value to me in the context of the logistics of a real world meeting. I’ve said over and over again that most of the value of Twitter to me is syncing up with other Myrtle Beach people where we are having lunch. I can envision a world where my Twitter usage is confined to a few days before any event (CREATE South, BarCampCHS, Balticon, Dragon*Con, etc) and between 11 AM and 1 PM on the weekdays. In fact, I could see value in building a customer Twitter API app that specfically didn’t check for new messages except in certain pre-defined time windows and possibly based on certain hash-tags. If that could be hacked in to HootSuite, that would be great. In all likelihood, I’ll do it the old fashioned way by just shutting the thing down except for the times I care about it.