Defend BoingBoing; display tasteful nudity for (against, really) SmartFilter

Boycott SmartfilterOkay, with all the monstrous crap afflicting our world, you may raise an eyebrow about stressing over Smartfilter, a web content censoring service, that put BoingBoing on their blacklist because they refuse to create identifiable URLs for posts containing nudity.

But it's the thin edge of the wedge. Google self-censoring in China, Yahoo flipping on a journalist, and now these quote-unquote content filtering services deciding what corporate America and indeed whole countries (like the UAE) can access. As the power of the Web has grown, so has scrutiny on just how "free" information can be.

For every non work-safe post (including, for example, nudity among the tortured in Abu Ghraib), BoingBoing serves the Web community with an enormous number of incredibly useful, cutting-edge tidbits, and that deserves a bit of righteous indignation. Learn more about the issue or display the naughty bits of Michelangelo's David to vex the censorware makers.

Final Nebula ballot -- disappointment (and relief...)

The final 2005 Nebula ® ballot has been posted on the SFWA site and while "Keyboard Practice" wasn't selected, I'm very happy it made it as far as it did in such distinguished company. All the novelettes this year were exceptional, and best of luck to everyone on the final ballot.

Truth to tell, a part of me is actually, well, a bit relieved. It would be a pretty scary burden to be a Nebula nominee with just your third published story. And I had no idea, if it came to that, how the hell I would have gotten to Tempe. I don't fly, and Amtrak was obscenely expensive.

Lemonade out of lemons? You bet. But the glass is half full, and it's on to the next story.

Overclock your brain with "Mind Performance Hacks"

Mind Performance HacksWant to count to a million on your fingers? Do back-of-envelope Bayesian analysis? Learn Morse code? Evade linguistic bias? Or, maybe just boost creativity?

Check out Mind Performance Hacks, a brand-new title from O'Reilly. Ron Hale-Evans, game designer and founder of the Mentat Wiki, picks up where the more theoretical Mind Hacks left off, and provides a toolkit for improving cognitive function.

Ron offers 75 memory tricks, mental math shortcuts, aids to creativity and clarity, and tips for improving mental fitness, drawing on cognitive theory and grounded in practical application. I found hack #18, "Pre-delete cruft," immediately applicable ("When you initiate an activity, determine a kill date for it at the same time." I love the idea of mercilessly purging timestamped folders without having to look or think about the contents again.) Also highly useful are the survey of different memorization systems from Lewis Carroll to Frank Gilbreth, and the decision-making hacks that employ Likerts, Gott's Principle, and iterated Prisoner's Dilemmas.

And hey, any book draws on Greg Egan's idea of the exoself and uses research to say I should play more video games to decrease the time it takes to task-switch is okay by me.

Full disclosure: I've known Ron for a long time -- ran into him in a chat on Bitnet, which tells you *how* long. But hadn't talked to him in years, and this book was a delightful re-acquaintance.

My 6-year-old, the Zen master...

We were talking about Zen koans and the appropriate use of "Mu" in the car on the way home from Chuck E. Cheese's today. Gradually, the conversation drifted into jokes, and he sprang the trap on me.

"Knock knock," he said.
"Who's there?"

I was immediately enlightened.

Boskone trip report: Doctorow rips IP a new a-hole, Cramer is the Eye in the Sky

It's always a pleasure to hear Cory Doctorow testify, and he was in great form this weekend for his special guest speech. He excels at expressing intellectual property issues with an sf-writer's eye for the telling moment. Discussing the corporate desire to plug the problem of analog to digital conversion (or, as he puts it, the 'a hole') he imagines a future camcorder that respects IP: a parent is videoing their child's first steps. Child walks in front of the TV, and the image goes black. Yes, the proposals are that dire, and without folks like the EFF out there fighting, this is the future we may well end up with.

Also wonderful was a panel on blogging with Cory, Kathryn Cramer, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Teresa warned that as the military-industrial complex increasingly takes blogging seriously, we can expect to see more "astroturf," or faux-grassroots sentiment being seeded into the blogosphere. And Kathryn provided a case in point of why blogging is worrisome to powers that be: she's increasingly using tools like Google Earth and Flickr to monitor hotspots, and finding that people gravitate to the site and feed her info not seen in the mainstream media. (She also just made the cover of Nature in a piece on mapping for the masses.)

The art show and program featured work by World Fantasy Award winner Tom Kidd. I hadn't seen Tom in years, and it's awesome to re-connect with someone you knew a long time ago. Tom and I were part of the same sf gang at Syracuse University back...well...a while ago. He's got a new retrospective book out, Kiddography, which is just stunning. (Jack, our 6-year-old, was most impressed by the early sketches for Treasure Planet. Ah, the reach of the Mouse...)

Cool link to calculate historical buying power of US/UK currencies

How much was 100K worth in 1958 US dollars? What was the price of gold in 1945? How much labor could you hire for $1,000 in 1910? If you need economic accuracy for a story,
Economic History Net has databases for the US and UK, some going back hundreds of years.

Thanks, Joan (author of Zulu: An Irish Journey)

Dick Cheney on what constitutes a newspaper of record...

Okay, anybody can accidentally shoot their friend in the face. But we're entitled to more than patent nonsense about why our Vice President dribbled the news out in a local paper. From the Brit Hume "interview"...

"The Corpus Christi Caller-Times is just as valid a news outlet as The New York Times"
            — Via the Corpus Christi Caller-Times
             [requires registration]

Yeah, right. Could it be because their website is literally red, white, and blue?

Boskone schedule

For anyone coming to Boskone next week, I'll be on the following panels.

Friday 8:00 pm Hampton: Scotty, I Need More Bandwidth: Managing Information Streams
Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink?! Many of us are already drowning in a sea of information (and misinformation) when we really just want the good stuff.... Does having more bandwidth help or hinder? How do you keep tabs on the information industry's output? What if you had a direct neural connection? — Would it help you to manage all those online information streams before your brain explodes?
John McDaid, Naomi Novik, Sheila M. Perry (m), John Scalzi

Saturday 12:00 noon Republic B: Net News: If It's On the Net It Must Be True
Can you trust the next blog better than the next barstool? Is the net quickly (surely?!) self-correcting? Or, does a lie that's interesting (or in somebody's interest) get to screens around the world before truth gets its modem on? Which stories has the net broken wide (and which were true)? How do you evaluate the material?
Kathryn Cramer, Daniel P. Dern, Daniel Hatch (m), John McDaid, Sheila M. Perry

Sunday 11:00 am Gardner: The Conventional Tropes of SF
A "trope" now signifies an accepted SF/F/H theme: hyperdrives, cyborging, immortality, time travel, wizards, ghosts.....what do they say about out field? Ourselves? What are the important tropes of the field? The new ones? The ones with the most juice left? When's the last time we added a new one?
Don D'Ammassa, John R. Douglas (m), Walter H. Hunt, John McDaid, Allen Steele

Learn to write pro sf -- or help others find out how

Clarion_Banner_150_x_58If you've ever thought about writing science fiction professionally, you've probably considered Clarion. And for good reason. It is a life-changing six-week immersion in the craft unequaled anywhere else on this planet, full stop. It might not always be fun -- trying to write a story a week never is -- and it might challenge your fantasy of being an author with the tough reality of the writing life, but it will shape your work for the rest of your career. If you're thinking about it, you're ready. Click on the banner, and apply.

If you're not the writerly type, you might consider donating some ad space on your site or blog to the Clarion Foundation. Like many independent educational efforts, the workshop has faced some precarious times in the past years, and it almost looked like it might die. But a group of really dedicated sf folks have managed to put together nonprofit status, and are looking for help getting the word out. If you have a few pixels to spare, and you love sf, please think about lending a hand.

See Cory Doctorow's post on BoingBoing for details on the ad campaign.

Outtakes from the SciFi interview...

John Joseph Adams, who did a great job making me sound good, has posted the rest of the interview on his blog, The Slush God Speaketh. Arigato gozaimashita, John.