Google Flexes Its Muscle

google Google-iconIn an attempt to curb online piracy Google announced that it changed its search algorithm so that sites that point to pirated content appear deeper in search results. http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2376655/google-modifies-search-algorithms-in-bid-to-curb-online-piracy Okay. I guess. Many of these sites are nothing more than ad farms that make money the minute you hit their page so I would like to see less of them. If I am looking for information on a movie or some music I would rather see that information rather than someplace to download a free copy. Still, I have to wonder, is piracy so rampant, (if it is indeed as rampant as the studios would like us to believe), because it is available or because there is a breakdown in the value of content. On one hand we have a company like Apple handing out copies of U2’s latest. Granted they paid the band handsomely so this is not piracy but the message to the consumer is, “here is free music.” I mean if U2’s music is free why not Coldplay, or Katy Perry? Nearly every video streaming service entices you with either free months of service or a few free downloads. Again this only reinforces the idea, stuff on the internet is free. Intelligent minds should recognize these ploys for what they are but it would be nice if the sky rained M&M candies every once in a while too.

Another scarier thought is the power that this one company has over information. With just a few lines of code they can bury whole categories of websites. As Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but damn I hope none of my favorite sites get on Google’s bad side. Or do I? Web savvy users have long since known about the dark web, sites that do not appear in searches and can only be found by using their URLs. Google’s action will thwart the average Joe but the real internet pirate like the deep sea variety has his or her browser packed full of bookmarks and links to continue the hunt. In the end Google’s gesture may be just that, a gesture, but it should also remind us just how curated our information has become.

Great Time at the Sci-Fi / Fantasy Panel

audience at author panelThe authors and aspiring authors came, listened and asked questions. This was the first in what will hopefully be a regular event at the Think Spot at the Mesa Public Library Red Mountain Branch. The funnest thing about sitting on these panels is you never know which way the discussion will go. Sometimes it focuses on the nuts and bolts of putting a book together, other times it’s the ins and outs of publishing. Today’s discussion was an inspirational exploration of the creative process and writing habits. I think I may have wowed some with my admission to being a fan of writing in noisy crowded places. The room buzzed with energy and I felt my creative juices stirred up and ready for action. If you missed it, I hope to catch you at the next one. I know I am looking forward to it.

Rats On a Sinking Ship

To understand what I’m talking about read this article from Think Progress. http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/09/29/3573171/hundreds-of-authors-want-amazon-investigated-for-illegal-monopoly-tactics/ 

Author’s United is just the big 5 publishers’ latest way to enforce their antiquated system. The irony is that practice that these authors claim the government should investigate Amazon over is the same one that Apple used to force their way into the digital content market with the iTunes store. I hate to break it to these authors, but this is not about censorship. This is about a retailer wanting to sell their items at a price that the market deems appropriate. $15 eBooks, just because you have $25 hardbacks to move is not supported by the market. Amazon knows this. Some authors know this but the publishers do not. It will be interesting to see where this goes. As an independent author I have a vested interest in rooting for Amazon, and, no, I am not at the least worried that $9 or even $5 eBooks will devalue my work. It’s a shame millionaire best selling authors do not have as good a view of their own work.

Mark the Date

SciFi/Fantasy Authors Panel & Writers’ Workshop

Saturday October 11th, 2014
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Red Mountain Library – Think Spot
635 N. Power Road Mesa, Az.
(480) 644-3100
Directions

I will be part of a panel of local Science Fiction authors for a discussion on current trends and the process of writing Science Fiction. Joining me on this panel will be. Seating is limited so be sure to register at events.mesalibrary.org. Joining me will be:

So come on by and join the discussion. Afterwards all the authors will b eon hand to sign copies of their books.

Calling All Arizona Authors

books on smartphoneWe are just 11 days away from the opening of submissions to the 2015 OneBookAz contest. Submissions will be accepted from the first of October until the fourteenth. There are three categories, Adult, Teen and Kids. The contest is open to all Arizona authors. For more information please visit OneBookAz.org. This is a great opportunity to get your work in front of a broad audience.

Throttled By My Cable Company

cutting the cordAn alternate title for this post would also be, How the Cable Companies Punish You For Cutting the Cord. A few years ago my wife and I said goodbye to our DirectTv service and began relying on the internet services Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime for our TV habit. For the most part this has been a great success. We also purchased an unobtrusive indoor antenna, living as we do only 25 miles from Phoenix, over the air (OTA) is a viable option. Our Cox Communications provided internet was speedy enough to enable excellent streaming of our most watched TV shows and movies.

That was until our data cap reared its ugly head. The internet is full of arguments for and against data caps. As for myself, I have yet found an argument supported on a technical basis that data caps alleviate network congestion, their intended use. At best data caps are useful means to keep internet pirates from leaving their bit-torrent streams going 24/7 and at worst case just another revenue stream for the cable company. The latter came to fruition after the first couple of almost polite emails from Cox arrived telling us we had exceeded our plan’s data cap. We decided to move to a more expensive plan. We didn’t need the speed as much as the extra chunk of data.

My wife and I are not heavy bit-torrent users. We have used it to download an occasional movie or show not available via streaming, but most of our internet use comes from watching our favorite shows in Netflix. Our usage reflects that. Our upload use is very low compared to download, this was confirmed by a representative from Cox. A heavy bit-torrenter would have similar usage for both down and upload, while ours shows a heaver download usage indicating the use of streaming services. The curious part came when we asked some of our friends who were also heavy Netflix users if they get the same warnings. We found friends with similar habits but who kept Cox TV service never hit their data cap.

Things really became interesting when we contacted Cox. Before getting into that I should mention we subscribe to the second from the top service, Internet Premier, it features a 300 GB data limit and speed up to 100 mbps. Broadband speed is always a relative term and you are only promised a maximum possible speed that goes beyond what you typically will see. In this case our plan calls for downloads up to 100 mbs. After running some speed tests the best we could manage was 22 mbs. Many things effect broadband speed that are both out of the cable company’s and our control so speed figures should always be taken with a grain of salt. You can imagine our surprise when we spoke with a Cox sales rep who told us that something was wrong and they would be sending a technician out because their advertised rate is the rate we should be getting. We chuckled but said, “oh really.” Perhaps there was something wrong at the street or maybe even in our house. It was worth a shot. In addition they also gave us a discount for the next year on our service because we had not been receiving the posted speeds. It was a nice touch and gave us some hope.

The technician arrived at our home on time, and on Labor Day no less. It was a short visit. He began by telling us he looked at our history and noticed we had gone over our data cap a few times. Then in a tone that both my wife and I picked up on as accusatory told us to contact Cox because we obviously were being throttled. This was an unexpected revelation. The Cox website boldly states, “Cox does not throttle speeds.” We had asked about throttling over our previous two phone conversations with Cox representatives who both said that Cox does not throttle their customers yet in our living room was a Cox technician telling us that, you guessed it, we’ve been throttled. There was nothing that he could find wrong with our connections and our modem and routers were all current technology. So he left urging us to find out who we need to talk to at Cox to get throttled.

Will we? Probably not. The issue isn’t so much about going over an arbitrary line chosen by the cable company but it is about what happens when the same company offers two competing services, Internet and TV. They love bundling them together, as you can see from the ads. This starts out cheap but becomes very expensive. As you might expect the data used by Cox’s own services does not count against their data cap. Why would they crap where they eat, I guess?

We have since turned down our Netflix stream to a more conservative quality. The top Netflix stream will consume up to 7 GB of data an hour. At a data limit of 300 GB per month that stream will chew through that in just under 43 hours or about an hour and a half of TV a day in any given month. Now we were told by Cox representatives that if we had their TV service we would be watching more TV and not streaming as much so naturally the data cap would not be an issue, but we don’t want their TV service. Turning down the quality of Netflix results in a much smaller stream closer to .7 GB and hour. That 300 GB limit then allows for 429 hours of TV or just over 14 hours a day. That is a lot of TV watching but we still had to make the concession of accepting a lower quality picture. Such is life in this modern age I guess, instead of not being able to fight city hall the new adage should be you can’t fight corporate monopolies. 

10 Obsolete Myths

Here is something I found from Anne R. Allen’s wonderful blog,  10 Obsolete Beliefs That Can Block Self Publishing Success.

I file this under stuff writers need to hear. In this case they need to hear again just to make the point come across. Of all these beliefs the only one I might have issue with is number 3. Personal Appearances are very important for the self published writer. I agree, as the post says, care must be taken to explore the cost of the appearance against what you can hope to recoup. Some would argue that presence is everything, but unfortunately you can’t run a business on presence alone. You can sell more books in a month by making appearances just be sure to not spend more than you can hope to sell. While that $500 table sounds like a good idea at an event like Comicon remember your’s is just one small voice in that dealers’ room. It is very easy to fade into the buzz and noise of the place and that just leads to disappointment.

We are in new territory, and the way things have always been done is no longer the way to get things done. One constant remains though. If you have any hope of selling your writing you still have it in your power and must, I repeat, must ensure that what you are selling is the best writing you are capable of delivering, then get an editor and make it even better.

Monkeys Need Not Apply

monkey selfieI noticed this story on The Register that made me scratch my head. US Copyright Office rules that monkeys CAN’T claim copyright over their selfies I don’t personally know many monkeys but I guess some have tried to copyright their selfies. The skeptic in me sent me looking for some corroboration and I did find several news sources reporting the story. Actually the regulation states that the rights to such photos only reside with humans. I know animal discrimination at its worst.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.