Sunday, December 29, 2013

Google+ Stalker App

I'm conflicted by Google. I've been a fan for a long time. I use a lot of Google services (e.g., this is a Google Blogger site). However, there are privacy concerns because they track your search and browsing habits, and scan the content of messages in Gmail.

The benefits of Google's services are considerable. The only other company that offers a comparable level of integration between apps and business-friendly (enterprise-friendly) services is Microsoft.

And it's growing increasingly clear that Google+ is the cornerstone of how we will access all their services. YouTube comments are now done through Google+, and Google+ comments show up in search results. However, this strategy will fail unless they can prove themselves worthy of our trust.

There's an efficiency to making Google+ the central user profile for all Google services. I see it like using Active Directory on an enterprise network to manage all users in the organization. When you log into your computer at work, you may not realize this Microsoft product is being used to manage your user rights on the corporate network, but it's a powerful tool for managing access to computers, network drives, etc. Your Active Directory account may be used to manage your access to areas of your corporate Intranet, especially if the Intranet was created with Microsoft SharePoint. And it's also tied into your corporate email and calendar, Microsoft's Exchange server, which you access using Outlook.

When you're at work, you have a persona, a way of behaving, a role that you play as an employee. At work, you probably shouldn't go on a political rant, disparaging anyone who opposes your political views as stupid. That kind of behavior can be disruptive to a productive workplace, so you should save that behavior for outside of work.

Likewise, anything you don't want your employer to know, you should not send through corporate email. Some IT departments track the websites you visit, often even blocking access to sites they believe are inappropriate for employees to access. I've had coworker who got fired for watching porn at work. Well, that, and racking up a huge 900-number bill on his company cell phone.

My creepy Big Brother moment with Google came this week. My wife showed me an email she got from Google+. It included a montage of videos and photos that have been automatically uploading to her Google+ account from her Android phone. It's like a scene from a crime show when the detective stumbles on the stalker/murderer's secret wall-collage showing photos of the victim. Please rate the Google+ Stalker App in the Play Store. Yay!

So, Google+ is primarily for information you want to share with the world. Sure, you can set who you want to share your comments with, but it's not hard to accidently share with the wrong circles or with everyone. It's just as easy to make this mistake in Facebook. A friend of mine recently set FB to share posts only with himself for a week. I've made that mistake before, too.

To avoid accidently posting to the wrong audience, I use FB for content I want to share with friends and family, so I don't have to change the settings, which might cause accidental over-sharing. Google+, which is designed for plugging into other services that I want to use

Google may find it's subject to the Microsoft curse. By excelling at serving its business clients, Microsoft has lost a lot of consumer market share, where Apple and Google have become more dominant. Microsoft's Xbox is probably the most notable exception, but it does not integrate with Microsoft's enterprise products.

To avoid the curse, Google has to figure out how to do what most people do every day, intuitively change rolls based on context. They also need to become a bastion of personal privacy, and they've taken some serious hits on this. Their latest Google+ email campaign is not helping.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Duck Dynasty Supporters, Put your money where your Meme is!

It's time for supporters of Phil Robertson to stop hiding behind Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech memes, and use the power of Capitalism to keep Duck Dynasty alive. You don't need A&E.

If you really agree with Robertson's opinions about homosexuality and segregation, or you just don't see any problem with what he said (and I hope you've actually read what he said, or at least his most controversial remarks, before taking a stance on this issue), you might worry about your ideals being marginalized. I can understand the desire to win back the ethos of the country, to try and spin this in the opposite direction. However, I don't think you'll be able to reverse this trend. Instead, I propose another alternative: a Kickstarter to produce a web series.

The problem with all the posts I have seen that support Phil Robertson is that claiming his freedom of speech or freedom of religion are at stake is just untrue. Those who complain to A&E about Robertson's views are exercising their free speech rights, and so is A&E. Furthermore, A&E is exercising their right to make a business decision and remain a profitable company.

Based on his statements in the GQ interview, Robertson clearly understood that his controversial views might hurt the TV show because A&E always edited them out. Perhaps he misguidedly thought public opinion would force A&E to support him. That was a bad gamble on his part, but he's no victim. He states in the interview that he suspects this show is coming to an end soon, and his reason for doing the show is to use the it as a platform, to speak his beliefs. He was very successful in using the show as a platform (got him this high profile interview with GQ), and he was not censored.

So, you're losing the culture war. Should you fight harder? How about fighting smarter? Just because you are losing dominance, doesn't mean you will be wiped out. That's a false dichotomy or a slippery slope. There's a place for you in society, so develop that niche. You, as an American, deserve a seat at the table, no matter how much I or anyone else might disagree with you. However, a reality TV Show on A&E about your family is not an inalienable right.

As of the time I write this, there is no Kickstarter project to develop Duck Dynasty as an independent web series. You should be thankful that we live in this modern age where such things are possible. This is why I have hope for society. Not just because the democratization of information has given hope to historically marginalized peoples, but because it also gives hope to future marginalized peoples, even if they were once the dominant oppressors.

Liberals - my advice is to stop the vitriol of exclusion. By all means, let your voice be heard about what you object to. But name-calling is a contradiction to the ideal of diversity. Let's strive for consistency and intelligence on both sides, please. The oppression of Germany after WW I was one of the factors that contributed to Hitler's rise. As long as your political opponents refrain from violence (and the Robertson family tries to make it clear in the interview that they are opposed to violence), they should feel welcomed to the table.

When I started writing this post a couple days ago, I tried crafting a hypothetical scenario of a religious organization firing someone for speaking publicly about how their beliefs differed from that organization. Lo and behold! As if on queue, the United Methodist Church defrocks a minister for officiating a same-sex marriage.

Since the United Methodist Church is a religious organization, their beliefs are the very basis of the organization, and they have a right to ordain or defrock, employ or fire, based on religious beliefs (i.e., religious organizations have exceptions allowing certain leeway to discriminate on basis of religion). Sexual orientation is not listed as an exception to freedom of religion, but beliefs about race are explicitly listed as an exception to the freedom of religion. There may be those who want to change the church's stance on gay marriage from within the organization, or change the law - but I won't get into that.

Personally, I support both "firings." Each organization has every right to do so. I'm saddened by the defrocking of Rev. Frank Schaefer. But I am profoundly bothered by the discourse surrounding Robertson. The reason is because it is prejudice hiding behind religion, which I have experienced first hand.

When my wife and I were dating, there was a period where I moved back to Kentucky from California, so I could live with my dad and save up Money to come back to California on my own. I worked in the cafeteria of Berea College, mostly as a caterer, but occasionally in other departments. For one whole month, I worked in the bakery.

There was a father and son, who was a little older than me, that worked there, too. They heard about my long-distance girlfriend, and that she is from the Philippines. One day the father asked to chat privately with me in the men's locker room (not the athletic locker room, but the one for employees to change into their uniforms). He sat me down and told me how the bible said I should only marry within my race. He and his son are White, as am I. He went on to tell me how his son had dated a Latina for a while, but that had been problematic due to their difference in race, and it hadn't ended well, also because of the difference in race.

He spoke to me out of sincere concern. He wasn't angry or forceful. He didn't say Asians are inferior, just that the races should be separate. I was very uncomfortable. He probably saw that. I went back up to the bakery without saying much.

The older ladies I worked with in the bakery were very motherly, and they asked me what he'd wanted to talk to me about. I told them, and they were very supportive, saying, essentially "You never mind him and his silly ideas."

For context, perhaps I should also mention that Berea College was founded by an abolitionist preacher and an abolitionist statesman. It is a non-denominational Christian college. The motto of the college is "God hath made of one blood all nations of men." I want to mention this because it's important not to stereotype Conservative White Southern Christians, just as it's important not to stereotype Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, etc.

He's got a right to be a racist, and to have those beliefs, even to speak about it. He should not do it in the workplace, but I'll grant that he asked to have a private conversation with me, and he never brought it up again. I think he was embarrassed by the incident, too. So, I never complained about it, either.

But he was basically telling me I should not marry the person I love. He acted to influence his son not to pursue future potential love interests. So, this is very personal for me. It's easy to forget that Loving vs. Virginia, the landmark case that struck down state restrictions on interracial marriage, was just five years before I was born (still less than 50 years ago).

One of the things that bothers me about this man's message is that he was cloaking his racist beliefs in his religion. "It's okay to be a racist if it's part of my religion." Well, the law does not extend that to racism, although that kind of racism is what I encountered and is echoed by Robertson.

The field of Anthropology has struggled with this concept. It's called Cultural Relativism: you cannot judge a culture based on values that are external to that culture (e.g., the values of your own culture). When I was doing my BA in Anthropology in the 90's, there was a dialogue about Cultural Relativism being invoked to defend human rights violations. Most of those violations were violence against women, such as female circumcision, stoning, honor killing, etc.. When human rights, or civil rights, are being violated, you cannot use Cultural Relativism as an excuse.

In Star Trek, the principle of Cultural Relativism is embodied by the Prime Directive. This rule is frequently violated by Kirk, especially when lives or human rights are at stake. Cultural Relativism sounds like a great principal, but it's an Ivory Tower concept that proves problematic in the real world.

Ultimately, the culture war cannot be won, either by Liberals or Conservatives. For one to get rid of the other is Tyranny, and that's not a stable form of government. The vehemence of some conservatives is an understandable reaction to their increasing marginalization. But both sides would be well advised to remember that they cannot win this war, and only by civility in the democratic process and the social sphere can either side find long-term success.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Performance Writers

Scalzi's new Audible interview discusses history of publishing SF.

John Scalzi weighs in on what it takes to be a successful writer in today's electronic marketplace, and discusses his own unusual path. He talks about what he calls "Performance Skills." While these skills are not new, he says writers have leveraged them in the past, these skills they are more important for success in today's environment.

Scalzi also gives an interesting discussion of how distribution models (i.e., racks in the grocery stores and the rise of specialty book stores) coincided with Science Fiction's New Wave movement, to create the genre that we have today.


Charles Stross io9 Q & A:
Robert J. Sawyer interview:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bill of Digital Rights

Cory Doctorow & Margaret Atwood signed the UN petition for digital rights.                                   

I'm happier to support this movement than the one led by tech firms. A long list of tech companies signed an open letter to the US government regarding digital surveillance, including:
  • Apple Inc.
  • Facebook Inc.
  • Google Inc.
  • LinkedIn Corp.
  • Microsoft Corp.
  • Twitter Inc.
  • Yahoo! Inc.
The tech firms are pushing back against the government using personal digital information, but they're not so interested in limiting their own use of this information.

If you would like to add your voice, you might consider this petition on

Related Posts:
You Broke the Internet, Says Schneier to NSA
Credit Approved
Updated: Original picture showed Cory Doctorow and Ellen Datlow, new picture correctly shows Cory Doctrow and Margaret Atwood.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Charles Stross io9 Q&A

Stross offered observations on future of publishing.
In a brief Q&A session on today, Charles Stross was kind enough to answer my question on the future of publishing.

I asked him if he agreed with Robert J. Sawyer's recent interview (See related post from yesterday). In short, "Yes." But he did go on to say there is hope.

A few quotes:
... the publishing world today is almost unrecognizable from how it was 5 years ago.
The key thing to remember is that, however much you may be devoted to it as an art form, writing is a business.
[Yes, I see consolidation of large publishers/agencies...]; also a flourishing of small presses, agencies turning into e-publishers (a multi-agent literary agency has most of the folks an e-publisher needs).

Robert J. Sawyer interview:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Paying the Piper (or Writer)

Sawyer is not optimistic about the viability of writing as a full-time career for future generations. As long as there is sufficient demand, I am hopeful, but the lack of a clear path makes this a difficult and confusing time for a new writer.

Self-publishing has not fully emerged as viable alternative, though there are more and more writers developing viable strategies, including a hybrid of traditional and self-publishing (e.g., Michael J. Sullivan). However, it still requires a lot of non-writing work be done by the writer.

This Harvard Business Review  blogger points out that the media industry is not doing badly. It's changing, and people are reading more than ever.

But she also points out that advertisers are not paying as much for online marketing, even though that's where the eyeballs are shifting. The advertising dollars have not shifted to print proportionally. This reflects the issues for e-books. Traditional publishers operate on thin margins, and less money is flowing to the writer.

LinkedIn, for example, is making great use of their Influencers program, getting CEO's and others to write content for free. And there are a lot of people who are willing to write for free in order to promote something else.

But the nature and quality of that writing is very different from a novel or a well-researched non-fiction book. The hours, days, weeks and years it takes to create these written works is far greater.

The crowdfunding model holds some promise. But, can it work for new writers?  A successful writer or editor (e.g., Ellen Datlow's Kickstarter Horror Anthology) is less questionable, but we have yet to see how well the book sells beyond it's original funding.

I wonder what we'll see next?
  • Could a successful author make enough from a Kickstarter to give the finished product away for free? 
  • Will an advertising model emerge, perhaps via the controversial Google Books?
  • Should traditional publishers or agents try to run Kickstarter projects for new writers? 
  • How about high profile workshops like Clarion / Clarion West, or a contests like Writers of the Future?