now is the time to contact norwescon

Hey, music people! And, for that matter, anybody else interested in being an Attending Professional or Performer! NOW IS THE TIME TO CONTACT NORWESCON! Right now as in today – this week is in fact last call.

Here is the direct link to the contact form. There’s also a separate page for suggesting programming items, and you don’t have to apply as an attending professional or performer to suggest panel ideas, those are generally welcome.

So, yeah! Now’s the time. Go, now!

holy crow, you guys

Bone Walker and “Kitsune at War” are in play for Grammy awards.

I don’t mean that in some sort of abstract everything-that-gets-released-is-eligible sense. I mean as in a member of the Recording Academy has nominated both for consideration – Bone Walker for Best Folk Album, and “Kitsune at War” for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella.

These awards are given by The Recording Academy. Like the World Science Fiction Society and the Hugo Award, any voting member of the Academy can nominate any work for consideration for a Grammy. But unlike the Hugo awards, said nominations to go a jury for review, and unlike WSFS, TRA has qualifications for joining – it’s not like the Hugo awards where anyone can pony up their $40, become a WSFS member, and be involved. So there is in fact a higher bar here.

I don’t know what happens after the review jury, because I’m not a member. But six copies of CDs were requested for the jury, have been sent, and are now in the hands of the Academy. I have also seen some very strange play patterns on Bandcamp the last few days. These are probably coincidental. But they might not be.

Insert a million tiny eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee \o/ here.

Don’t confuse this with being on the shortlist; it is not that. This is just one person doing a thing, albeit being a person who is a member of the actual Recording Academy tossing these into the actual ring for actual jury consideration for an actual industry award.

It is certainly true that the odds of getting past this stage are low. I mean, who the hell are we with our homebrew recording studio and $90 microphones and everything-is-DIY aesthetic, right? These are industry awards. The odds of making the next around – whatever that round might be – are very long. I know all this.

But it is also true that those odds are a hell of a lot shorter than they were a mere three weeks ago. While still very long, they have shortened dramatically. And even with those odds, it is further still true that, regardless of the probabilities involved…

Bone Walker and “Kitsune at War” are, at this moment, actively in play for Grammy Awards.

Holy shit, you guys. Grammies! O.o

see also

i don’t even know where to start

Seagate and LaCie make wireless external hard drives for mobile use, so you can ‘expand your phone’ and carry around whatever external data you’d like to carry around without blowing your phone’s storage. I guess that’s useful. I imagine people also use them as ‘personal cloud’ devices, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, and other things.

But I don’t care, really, because THEY SHIP WITH AN UNDOCUMENTED TELNET SERVER RUNNING WITH ROOT ACCESS. You can read and write anything and everything.

This is… amazing. How do you let this happen? It’s another case where I need an Industrial Espionage Inside! logo sticker. Here, have a first draft.

On a related note, this talk at Black Hat 2013 on hacking z/OS mainframes is pretty cool, and tells me that back in my part of the problem days that I could’ve been a goddamn rock star in this admittedly-small field at Black Hat, because the shit I was doing on IBM mainframes was way more complicated and subtle than this.

There are mainframe people in comments telling the presenter not to be so glib about mainframe security because they know exactly what you’re doing via their monitoring systems. I heard that shit then, too; it was bullshit at the time and I’m pretty sure it’s bullshit now given the sploits he’s outlining. Hell, I submitted some reports through trusted third parties because they were just too easy – easier than these, even, and some of this is pretty damn easy.

I mean, seriously, ever seen a security patch for an unpublicised exploit released in one day? I have. That was caused by one of my third-partied reports. (Arbitrary access to any account in 19 keystrokes, completely unlogged. It was hilarious. But also too easy, so, reported. I knew exactly what they were doing wrong and how to fix it, so it’s not like they had to work at it.)

But enough of the past. Go play skeet shooting with your wireless Seagate and LaCie drives now. It’s probably more effective than trusting them.

life with supervillainy: product reviews

This is honestly how I feel about this product. I haven’t even put it away yet with the other emergency lighting, just because of this.

i guess i lied

I thought I was done with Worldcon and Hugo Award posts for the year, and said so, somewhere, possibly in comments; I guess I lied.

People are talking about a Best Series Hugo proposal. I think there’s an idea here, but it should be given every five years or so – that there aren’t enough series that reach the kind of level needed for this award to be meaningful on an annual basis.

I got jumped on over on LJ by someone who was “flabbergasted” that I don’t think enough series are published each year to make this award work, saying series make up half the field at this point, and generally asking what am I on? I’m elevating my reply to this post.

I think you misunderstand my meaning. I am saying that if you actually want to judge and award a series, you need time for that series to develop, and for fandom to become familiar with those series.

I’m not saying “a tiny number of series have books in those series published each year,” or “there are a tiny number of series.” I mean, let’s look at the pool from that standpoint for a second: it has to be a series that has a book out that year, I would presume, which tends to reward those series which have been going on and on and on and with tremendous regularity. Or, hey, maybe you wouldn’t have to have a book out that year, if the series is ongoing. Or maybe you do, but the latest instalment wouldn’t have to have to be particularly good – after all, you’re not judging the instalment, you’re judging the set. That widens the field.

Does a trilogy count as a series? I’ve been assuming not. Maybe that’s errant – it’s the kind of thing that hasn’t been defined yet. How about two books with intent for more. Is that a series? That makes the pool even larger.

Let’s assume all of those count. That is a very large number, as you say. Huge. Massive. How foolish of me not to realise that obvious fact!


As I told the sponsors, I’m willing to consider this proposal. But given the large investment involved in reading any individual series, I doubt that many people survey the vast range of eligible series when making their nominations, and I doubt even further that in the shortlist – the set of five series nominated in any given year – that many people will be adequately familiar with all five to make a cross-ballot judgement.

And what that gets us to is an important question: how many series are followed by enough people that you get that kind of overlap? Where it’s not just a series with its fans, but the sort of series that is so endemic across fandom WSFS fandom that a reasonable percentage of that fandom have read enough of the books to talk about any given series in comparison with others on the shortlist?

I strongly suspect that number is a lot smaller. I mean, through fannish history, what’s hit that kind of mass? Let’s keep in trilogies to bring it up a bit.

Lord of the Rings, of course. Foundation. White Mountains? I doubt it, but maybe. Pern. Darkover, maybe. Vorkosigan, as you note. Potter, certainly. Hunger Games, possibly. Ice and Fire. Newsflesh, I wouldn’t rule out, but that’s maybe just me. Dresden, maybe. I’ve never cared enough to pick one up and the entire series is in the library thanks to my partner’s interest, but maybe.

I do not contest that there are dozens, nay hundreds, of series every year with a new entry. I question how many are so endemic, so pervasive, that they can be part of a ballot which can be considered intelligently by any reasonable percentage of WSFS fandom, given that playing catchup between shortlist announcement and final voting deadline simply is not feasible.

That is a much smaller number. It’s certainly not “half the field.” More like, with books coming out within the year to trigger eligibility… two. Three, maybe.

And if that sort of cross-series comparison by fandom not the intent – and given that it’s effectively impossible, that can’t be the intent – the result is..

… a straight-up series popularity contest. Which series has the most fans any given year? Yay, a Hugo.

And those most popular series will make a lot of return visits to the ballot, it seems to me, for all the reasons I just outlined above.

That is what I’m talking about when I say there aren’t enough series to make this work on an annual basis. Not there aren’t enough published – that’s trivial and obvious. That there aren’t enough endemic across fandom that they can be compared seriously.

And that is the question Best Series proponents have to answer if they want this to be an annual award. If they can get me an answer that I buy – great! If not – it shouldn’t be annual. It should be, oh, maybe twice a decade, to give fandom time to be able to consider coherently. That, I can see. That could work.

But every year? I don’t see how.

life with supervillainy: junk mail

Supervillains get on the best ad mailing lists. I mean, honestly. We got this today. TWO titanium furnaces. Two! And a centrifugal melt unit! I’ve been saving just the right spot for these!

(Click to enlarge.)

some of the better displays

Some photos of the more interesting displays at PAX. The Mister Handy is really video fodder – he was articulated, animated, and talking. I need an easier place to put video of things like that because I have some video of that, but not the time to deal with it right now.

I’d write up a report, but I don’t really have a lot to say. It was nice, Fallout 4 didn’t have playable beta so WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT, I discovered that the classic Mutant League Football game is getting a reboot by the original creator who was there and I got a flyer autographed for Minion Paul. But while everything was gorgeous, nothing actually present really grabbed me the right way.

Oh, I did win a tiny prize for the time trials on Duke Nukem. I didn’t realise they’d started timing yet, I was just screwing around and not trying for speed. I guess my regular play on old-school FPS is pretty quick. XD

Anyway, pictures!

Do You Hear That Sound, Mister Handy?


MTG had their shit together, all their stuff looked great



Bigger on Flickr, like usual.

on the business meeting, part 2a: I never said what happened

I am reminded by comments that I never said what actually happened with “E Pluribus Hugo.” Somehow that part just escaped me.

It passed round one. Strongly. I had expected “4 of 6″ to have an easy time, and it barely cleared the majority hurdle. I had expected “E Pluribus Hugo” to be a real fight, and instead, we had a strong supermajority.

Now, it takes two WSFS Business Meetings to ratify anything. So our debate and vote was only round one. “E Pluribus Hugo” has now been sent to MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention and site of the 2016 WSFS Business Meeting, for final ratification. It may be debated, modified only in small ways that do not change the overall structure, and rejected or ratified.

If it’s ratified, it takes effect immediately; the 2017 Hugo Awards nominations would be under this system. If rejected, well, it’s rejected, and dead. We’d have to start over.

So if you’re going to MidAmeriCon II in 2016, you’ll want to go to the business meetings. We’ll likely all be needed to get this through.

on the business meeting, part 2: e pluribus hugo

So last time, we were talking about the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting, and all the proposals and such that were brought forth. The main event, of course, was E Pluribus Hugo – an amendment to modify the Hugo voting system to reduce the disproportionate impact of slate voters.

As a reminder, let’s go over what happened: about 13%-15% of voters participated in a mass slate vote – with pretty good but not perfect discipline – to support a slate which was specifically political in intent. As a result, they captured all the nominations in several important categories.

All those categories ended up going to NO AWARD as fandom decided to punish the slate activists for violating several decades of “we won’t do this” consensus. It wasn’t that the exploit was unknown; it was merely that using it had been considered socially unacceptable. Thou shalt not campaign, thou shalt not form parties, and so on. And the reason is simple: one party vs. unorganised parties always wins, so competing parties always arise in response, and the value of such an award – an award which has become purely a political football – is exactly zero.

E Pluribus Hugo changes the system in such a way that it reduces slates to their strongest candidates relative to their percentage of the total popular vote. It does not eliminate slates entirely, though it does reduce their presence on the final ballot to match the percentage of people voting for them; it does not single them out for special treatment; most of all, it does not need to be told, “this is a slate, discount it.” That judgement call never happens. It’s purely the fallout of the math.

The way it works is simple. Each category is treated separately, just like now. Each WSFS member gets to nominate up to five works in category, just like now – in fact, nothing the WSFS nominator does changes.

Each of these ballots gets assigned one point, which is split across all works nominated. In a full ballot of five nominees, each work would have 0.2 points, as well as one vote each, from a member.

The point total and vote total of all the nominated works from all ballots are added up. Then, the two works with the fewest points are pitted against each other, and the one with fewer votes – the one for whom fewer people voted – is eliminated.

This is important, because the point total never eliminates an nominee. Getting fewer votes eliminates a nominee. Total votes received remains the final call.

Once a work is eliminated, it is stricken from all ballots, and we start over again. If you nominated five works originally, and one was eliminated, your ballot now has four nominees, and each of those have a higher point value than before – a quarter point (0.25) instead of a fifth of a point (0.20). And the same steps are run through again, exactly as before.

Wash, rinse, repeat, removing the weakest each time, until five nominees remain; that is your final slate.

What this does in practice is start pitting slate entries against each other roughly midway through the tallying process. Assuming they have even reasonable support, the strongest – the one with the most people voting for it, which implies out-of-slate support – will emerge. If the slate is sufficiently weak, none of them will emerge, but for practical purposes, the number of survivors will be roughly proportional to the percentage of popular vote actually received.

“But Solarbird,” I hear you cry, “This lets some nominations from slates get on the ballot!” True! But only in proportion to their actual popular support. And in the event of political slates, it means we do not have to go to the NO AWARD option to block them.

Let’s say the events of this year were repeated under this system; with statistical approximations of real data, we’re pretty sure one of the Puppy candidates probably would’ve made it onto the ballot in most of their categories. It would’ve been the strongest; the one with the most outside support.

And that’s okay. If it’s crap, it’ll finish last, maybe behind NO AWARD, maybe not. But there will be four other nominees, because they’ll have the percentage of the ballot that aligns with their actual bulk support.

The rest of the ballot will provide a diversity of choices. We won’t have another year of five NO AWARD votes.

(And if it’s actually good – great! That’s kind of the point. Vote for it.)

This makes opposition slates completely unnecessary. Opposition slates arise when they are the only way to get non-slate works onto a ballot. Under the current system, that outcome is inevitable. Under E Pluribus Hugo, even if you do get an opposition slate, well, okay, maybe they get one nominee on the ballot too. That leaves three for traditional candidates.

Slates are a lot of work. Politically-minded slates are just as much work, even when the mighty power of spite drives the engines. So if you can’t stick it to the Whoevers without literally becoming the entire show, if you can’t lock them all out, then even all the ressentiment in the world probably won’t drive you to continue. There’s too much work and too little reward. There’s simply no point to it.

The system isn’t even political. It’ll reduce, say, an accidental Doctor Who episode slate down to its proportion of the vote just as effectively. Let’s say 60% of WSFS fandom puts down basically the same five episodes of Doctor Who for Dramatic Presentation – Short Form. Right now, they own the entire ballot. Under E Pluribus Hugo, they own 60% of the ballot, and other works can be considered too.

Because that’s the brilliance of it. I said this before, but it’s really important, so I’m going to say it again:

E Pluribus Hugo doesn’t know about intentional slates. It doesn’t need to be told, “this is a slate.” Nobody has to make that call, because it doesn’t matter. It’s kind of like a normalisation function applied to nominations. There are no arguments over whether a pattern or voting is intentional or a plot or intent or political – a lot of identical ballots will be normalised to a first-order approximation of their actual popular support, regardless.

That’s why it’s so elegant, and that’s why it’s so genius. It doesn’t lock anybody out; it just stops campaigns from locking everyone else out, dramatically reducing their value vs. their labour and monetary cost, and eliminating the incentive for opposition parties.

For me, that is fair. For me, that is enough.

I hope that, for the honest flank of the Sad Puppies, it will also be enough. One self-identified Sad came up and voiced active support for E Pluribus Hugo during the business meeting. Those who actually believe in the mythical SJW VOTER CABAL – which was emphatically demonstrated not to exist by the events of this year, but stick with me – will know that E Pluribus Hugo would normalise this supposed SJW CABAL slate just as effectively.

Is it sad that we’ve reached a point where this sort of engineering is necessary? Eh, maybe. Probably, even. But it has driven fandom to create what even some opponents at the business meeting called a more perfect nominating system.

Yes, it’s tedious as all hell to do by hand, but it can be done. Yes, it’s more complicated – but not much. It’s only a little different than what we do for final voting and for site selection already.

Yes, it’s more work for the Hugo administrators. That’s the downside. But from what I was hearing at the business meeting, there are a good number of inefficiencies in the current tallying system. Fix those, and the extra complexity of this system sounds to me like a wash. Develop the right tools – which there is now incentive to do – and you’re maybe looking at an improvement.

Do this right, and everybody wins. Everybody wins.

We have a chance here not just to “plug this one hole,” as the E Pluribus Hugo authors like to say their amendment does. We have a chance to make this whole system just a little bit better along the way.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


This part of a series of posts on the Sad/Rabid Puppy candidate slate-based capture of the Hugo Awards, and resulting fallout.

the new google logo

I kind of like it, to be honest, but I can’t resist. I mean, at first glance, I thought it was Twentieth Century. It’s not, I mean, the default kerning is different! And they didn’t use a calligraphy pen. CRITICAL!

“Product Sans” they’re calling it. Product sans what? Oh, I get it, sans everything.


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