11 May 2009

Rather Chunky Internet Sausages

Diving right into the sausage grinder, set for unusually large chunks...

  • In the "when not to call a joker the ace of spades" department, Writer Beware and Lee Goldberg have an unplanned dialogue on efforts to make vanity publishing, and to a lesser extent self-publishing, sound more respectable. Victoria Strauss starts things off musing about "independent" as a new label for publishers that aren't commercial publishers, and for authors who aren't being commercially published. Goldberg points his crowd toward that discussion and follows up with some useful commentary on when one should consider self-publishing.

    The bottom line is fairly simple: If you've noticed that nobody sells used cars anymore — just pre-owned, pre-driven, off-lease, or recertified — you already understand the game being played by vanity "publishing services" (and here's an objective way to know if it's a vanity press that is not subject to either advertising or contracting games).

  • Then there's non-trivial nitpickery that is accurate as far as it goes... but neglects to note that the initial article wasn't about publishing lice (or cooties), but about publishing melanomas. It's sort of sad, actually, to see such hearty miscommunication on a topic that deserves better. Primarily, the topic of "what ails publishing" deserves better data, not better punditry and one-size-fits-all prescriptions; but far be it from me — as a sometime publishing "pundit"1 — to criticize the very nature of and basis for punditry and prescriptive rants. As Judge Kozinski said, "The parties are advised to chill." Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894, 908 (9th Cir. 2002).
  • Robert McCrum spouts forth on the purported genesis of 1984. I suppose that it's possible that McCrum has gotten access to primary materials first made available since I was working on Orwell, but his account looks much more like a couple of notoriously polemical secondary-source accounts than what shows up in Orwell's own letters of the mid-1980s (for one thing, the sequence of events in title selection is... different). That said, it's a useful article — or, at least, it will be if it gets people to go back and read the book, and more importantly read it together with Animal Farm (the first book of the uncompleted trilogy, of which 1984 is the second).
  • The LA Times has a piece on Hulu, and what it might mean for TV stations and networks.

    Hulu illustrates the quandary that media executives face as they weigh the potential of the Internet against their dependable, old-line businesses. If the television industry does not find a way to preserve its two pillars of revenue — advertising and subscription fees — the consequences could be dire.

    I can't think of a more-deserving group of short-sighted, ignorant, arrogant assholes who need the experience of worrying about their futures in this economy and era of technological change (and that's up against some pretty stiff competition, such as "politicians"). Not content with sucking the life out of the people who actually create their shoddy products (and inventing an accounting system that "proves" that nothing is ever profitable), now they're whingeing about somebody else preventing them from getting blood from a turnip. Schade. These are, after all, the people who cancelled Firefly but then picked up Prison Break, American [False] Idol, Til Death, and Cops... and that's just one network! (That's not to say that Firefly had no flaws — only that it was objectively and substantially superior to each of the other items listed, and actually less expensive to produce than half of them.)

    Hey, here's an idea: How about affordable a la carte cable TV channel lineups, for which each consumer can choose his/her own package? It's not like the technology doesn't already exist to make it a one-time matter of about $1.50 in employee time! Even better, how about the ability to subscribe to, say, a given six-hour block of a given channel, one day a week? Oops, there's that "pillars of revenue" model in the way again...

    Sometimes I really miss paying the TV license fee in the UK. Plenty of whingeing still goes on, but at least it's not from idiots on expense accounts interviewed during their £100 lunches about their ability to survive tough economic times.

  • The International Herald-Tribune — I suppose I should now say New York Times Global Edition — has an interesting, if shallow, article on Secretary Gates's force-structure initiatives. The shallowness is, naturally enough, critical to understanding both why Gates is simultaneously right and wrong and why his proposals are so vehemently opposed. Bluntly, the biggest problem that the US military has had since the beginning of Reagan's second term has been a blithe insistance on upgrading its weapons systems at the expense of maintaining — let alone upgrading — its logistics. Modern warfare is about logistics: Getting the right forces to the battlefield, with the right intelligence and orders, keeping them supplied, and getting them out when necessary. We're smart enough to see this when we plan operations (such as the air assault on infrastructure during Gulf War I that did far more to force surrender of Iraqi forces than did the admittedly devastating bombardment of combat elements), but not when we're building our own forces.

    It's not that we need more light armored vehicles than heavy tanks; those are both combat units. It's that we're desperately behind in replacing our aging aerial-refueling fleet, and in adapting vehicles for combat supply missions, and (as pointed out in the article, although without adequate context) medical evacuation capability. Simultaneously, I'd really like to see the military experience and expertise of the "keep my district's expensive combat-systems contracts alive or I'll make you sorry!" senators and congresscreatures brought out into view; it would be a pretty short article...

    Meanwhile, the military tries to simulate hacker attacks with wargames at the academies... which, of course, is precisely the wrong environment for developing the skills and mindset to deal with real information attacks. (One of the things that Gates should be reviewing is the continuing need for military academies, which do a decent job of teaching how to fight the last war and a crappy job of teaching how to fight the current one or lead soldiers who do not share the academy background.) The best hacker attack on a military system, of course, will be subtle, and will be part of a relatively coordinated system of distractors and brute-force methods that tie up defensive resources. Hmm, that sounds just like Liddell Hart's theory of the indirect approach, doesn't it?

  1. See Fed. R. Evid. 702.