February 2nd, 2010


[links] Link salad wonders if it would like to be a DJ

Clarkesworld 41 is up — With stories by me and Lavie Tidhar. My piece "Torquing Vacuum" is in the Sunspin continuity.

I have made four slots on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2009Green, Madness of Flowers, Other Earths and "On the Human Plan".

Blue whales are singing in a lower keyScientists don't know why, but some think the baritone voices reflect the security of their greater numbers.

Detailed updates on the shift in space priorities — Per Tobias Buckell, who has politely and correctly chided me for my simplistic approach to yesterday's report about the changes in the NASA budget.

Is The US Afraid To Admit That China Declared War On It? — Not sure I agree with the premise of this article, but it's interesting. (Via lillypond, a/k/a my sister.)

In Portland, Growing Vertical — A project to literally green a Federal building here in Portland. Ok, this is cool for a bunch of reasons. Naturally, Republican senators are opposed. (Thanks to my Dad.)

Trees grow at fastest rate for 200 years — The actual headline on this story is misleading, but the story is still interesting. Another one of those liberally biased facts too embarassing for the GOP. Confidential to the Republican party: consider aligning your policies with reality instead of wishing away reality to align with your policies.

Paul Cornell on Christians and civil rights — I wish more prominent Christians would speak up as he does. He's opposing Christianism, and that special, privileged bigotry in the name of Jesus that is so prevalent here in the US, and apparently in the UK as well.

The Golden Girls: How One TV Show Turned A Generation Of American Boys Into Homosexuals — And people wonder why I think conservatives are basically nuts. (Via Eschaton)

The Illuminati — Speaking of conservative idiocy, Slacktivist on Christianist worldviews, specifically with respect to the Satanist panics of the past decades. I can understand enduring the strain and the dissonance it requires to pretend to believe a comforting lie, one that offered some illusory solace that might seem worth the price of self-deception. But what on earth motivates millions of people to prefer a horrifying lie that makes the world out to be even worse that it is? Why do millions of people respond to such tales of satanic conspiracies and bloody rituals as though they were reassuring?

tongodeon with Prop 8 Lawyers Have No Idea How Same-Sex Marriage Could Harm Anything — Uh, yeah. Hard to demonstrate that bigotry is a compelling state interest, isn't it? Nice try, conservative America. You might yet win this one on points, but you're still irredeemably and immorally wrong.

?otD: What are the politics of dancing?

Writing time yesterday: 75 minutes
Body movement: 30 minutes on stationary bike
Hours slept: 6.5
This morning's weigh-in: 228.0
Currently reading: [between books]


[cancer] Chemo side effects bingo, updated

A few more notes on all this.

Collapse )Usually I'm a champion sleeper. I've slept through hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, a four-alarm dorm fire (when I was 19), parties, you name it. Not now. When, of course, I need to sleep more than ever.


Short term memory continues to bedevil me. For example, I left my credit card in a restaurant two days ago (I sure hope I did) and still have not managed to call and check on it. ebonypearl prompted me to realize I haven't listed moderate dyscalculia as a side effect, but when I'm on the infusion, and for up to three to five days after, I can't do basic arithmetic. Which among other things, significantly interferes with helping the_child with her homework. Math is also pretty important in my day job, though my ability to deal with things in Excel hasn't evaporated — I still recognize numbers, and know what I'm supposed to do with them, I just can't manage the operations in my head.

This, along with the anomia I mentioned the other day, is pretty damned frustrating. Fold it into the short term memory deficits and the lacunae in my long term memory, and I'm even more annoyed. Reading long form material is tough as well. Can't seem to hang in there.

I've also found in dealing with my personal life that emotional tolerance is slowly shortening. Since my relationship style is pretty much defined by emotional tolerance, this is rather distressing. calendula_witch, shelly_rae and everybody else close to me knows this, understands this, accepts this, and they all still love me, but I'm starting to think, and occasionally say, things which sound crazy even to me.

And of course, the endless fatigue. I'm not even a month into this, and I'm already sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Despite everything, I remain fundamentally positive in my outlook, and fairly peaceful in the rounds of my daily life. I know what these problems are — they're chemo side effects, they're not me. And honestly, except for some of the lower GI stuff, they're pretty mild, and reasonably livable. Some of my friends and loved ones both IRL and online, including calendula_witch, have been concerned that I'm too angry, or resisting too much. But this refusal to accept these changes is part of how I survive them, how I maintain myself in the face of challenge.

I will not be the person chemo is making me into — hard of thinking, forgetful, slow moving, exhausted. I will be me.


[publishing] An open letter to Kindle enthusiasts and ebook activists

Hello there —

My name is Jay Lake. Many of my novels are published by Tor, a division of Macmillan, including the Mainspring series, and the Green series. Over the past few days, as the controversy between Amazon and Macmillan has unfolded, I've been paying a lot of attention to what the Kindle community is saying about the situation.

Many of you are very, very angry at the prospect of seeing ebook prices rise. Many of you are blaming Macmillan for corporate bullying, and I've seen a number of calls for personal or large scale boycotts of Macmillan titles. I've also seen a number of calls for Macmillan authors to move to another publisher, or accept responsibility for Macmillan's supposed misdeeds.

I'd like to ask you to think about several things as you continue to respond to this situation. Perhaps by the time you read this an agreement will have been reached, and it will all seem moot. Still, this is worth discussion, because the underlying issues behind the dispute of the past few days are not going away.

First, every other one of the big six publishers wants and needs to do what Macmillan has done, simply to have continued viability. They're struggling economically, have been for years. The idea in the Kindle community that Macmillan is playing some unique game here, and therefore should be punished via boycott in favor of the other five publishers among the big six, is almost certainly an error. Macmillan jumped into this issue first, which makes them either the bravest or the most foolish. But every single one of the rest of the big six is watching this very closely, and their own business needs and goals are very similar to Macmillan's. If you as a reader are going to blame Macmillan, perhaps to the point of forgoing their titles, pretty soon you're going to run out of trade fiction to read as the other publishers follow Macmillan, wherever this leads. This strikes me as an unfortunate perspective for a reader to adopt, as the majority of fiction published and the vast majority of 'name' authors published are from the big six.

Second, Amazon in their letter to the Kindle community cited the high end price point of Macmillan's proposal, but didn't cite the low end of $5.99 or talk about the dynamic pricing. This would include older books reaching that much lower pricing point and staying there, which means over time an increasingly large number of ebooks, and eventually most Macmillan titles except the very latest, would be priced well below $9.99.

That second point seems to be an important factor that's being ignored in the outrage by the Kindle community. Many seem to assume that Macmillan is simply lying about lower prices, but why would they? That dynamic pricing model is exactly how print books are priced today, as they go from first release hardback to mass market paperback to backlist. The publisher knows how to manage that, the book buying public knows how it works. And they want your business as a book buyer, whether ebooks or print. Why would they lie about this?

So far as supposed corporate lying goes, note that Amazon was quick to inform you of the high side of the Macmillan proposal, but not of the part of the proposal that benefits you. That's lying by omission, and it certainly fanned the rage of the Kindle community quite effectively. That's a piece if corporate spin which has kept you from seeing the long term advantages to Kindle owners of what's been proposed.

The $9.99 promise was from Amazon, not the publishers. As ebook sales grow in market share, that pricing expectation kills publisher's margins. There's a reason hardbacks aren't priced like paperbacks, and fundamentally it's so publishers can afford to put out the books in the first place. I know from watching your discussion group a lot of Kindle readers will say good riddance to the dead tree dinosaurs, and bring it on, but the big six is where a great deal of the good fiction you read every day comes from. If they gave up, you'd have a lot fewer good books from good authors. The indie press and the self-publishing world are important, but they don't have the financial or administrative resources to publish big name authors, and provide the overall quality of editing and production that the trade press does. Not in sufficient volume to make up for the absence of the big six. Rooted as it is in older business models, the publishing industry simply has not yet produced a viable alternative to the current system. It probably will in time, but that's not the case today.

Third, much of the anger I see is from people who assume that ebook prices are a rip-off because an ebook obviously costs much less than a print book. This is not true on the plain face of the facts. The actual physical costs of a print book — paper, printing, binding, packaging, warehousing, etc. — are less than 10% of the cover price, even in small volumes, and drop to less than a dollar per book for large volume titles such as bestsellers. [ETA: These numbers apply to the trade press. Independents can see physical costs up to the 20-30% range due to lower economies of scale, as well as production quality decisions.] The money that goes into a book is dominated by acquisition costs, editorial costs, production costs, layout and design, art, marketing and business overhead. Ebooks must bear all those same costs as print books.

This doesn't pass the common sense test, I know. Frankly, much of publishing economics doesn't pass the common sense test. I've been a pro for nearly ten years, and I'm constantly baffled by how things work. That doesn't mean it's not true, it just means that if you do care passionately about book pricing, there's a lot to learn before you can understand the ins and outs of it.

People look at the physical object of a print book and see what they're spending money on. But a book is really a story, whether it's being delivered in printed pages, via audio, on a Kindle or other e-reader, or by an author standing up in a bookstore to read. And making those stories available costs money. Just as publishing economics are obscure and nonintuitive, even from the inside, so is the editorial process.

If you don't understand why it costs a lot of money to make a story into a book, go learn about it. You'll be surprised at how many people work very hard to put that story in your hands, whatever your preferred format. And every one of those people has to eat, pay rent, and get through life, just like you do. That means they need to be paid, and that means the book costs money, regardless of the publishing format. Even disintermediation and 21st century publishing models need to account for those processes. Trust me, as an author, the last thing I want to do is deliver my manuscript directly into your hands. What Tor does for my book improves it immeasurably between my keyboarding fingers and your reading eyes.

This is a much more complex issue than Amazon's $9.99 price promise. No one is out to rip you off, or anyone else. Why would I as an author or Macmillan as a publisher want to alienate you as a reader? When we lose you, we lose our audience, and ultimately our ability to make a living telling stories. I don't know who's right and who's wrong about the underlying questions of pricing and distribution. Frankly, neither do Macmillan nor Amazon. Everyone is trying different models, different approaches. This is market innovation in process.

The only way you lose, Kindle readers, is when you turn away from the books and authors you love.


Jay Lake

[help] Identifying a photo from Bremen, Germany, ca. 1955

Hello, Internets. My sister is scanning old family photos. We're trying to identify the bridge pictured below. My grandfather took the photo, probably in 1955, we believe in Bremen, Germany. Can anyone help us with the bridge name, location or historical info?


© 1955, Dr. L.E. Lake, Sr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Dr. L.E. Lake, Sr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[publishing] The folly of buying used books as a protest against the publisher

As long as I'm up late with chemo fail anyway, I have another observation about a meme I've been seeing on the Kindle boards. Kindle owners who are interested in supporting Amazon in this mess are proposing to punish Macmillan by purchasing print titles in used editions only.

Which is a deeply pointless form of boycotting. Publishers don't see a used book sale as a lost new book sale. How could they? There's no way to identify, track, report on or correlate that of which I am aware.

The only effect that deliberately buying a used book instead of a new one has is to drive down the author's numbers. The publisher doesn't see the lost sale, but they do see the author's total sales. If the author takes too much of a hit, their next books will either be worth less in an advance, or not be picked up.

So buying used to punish the publisher only punishes the author. The publisher literally never knows the difference, except indirectly within the author's performance numbers.

Note this is not a recommendation against buying used books. I often do it. But I'm generally buying out of print titles, or otherwise unavailable editions. And a used book is much better than no book, when the difference of a few dollars in cover price matters to your budget. It's only an observation that buying a used book to "punish" the publisher is utterly pointless, unless you happen to have it in for the author.

In which case, buy a different book.