Authors before books

It’s unusual for me to know anything at all about an author before first reading a book of theirs, but there are four authors I’ve read who I first knew online, from their blogs, from their presence at The Slacktiverse, or, in the last case, on YouTube.

In order,

I met Kit Whitfield initially in her comments on Fred Clark’s blog Slacktivist, and later in her role as a moderator on The Slacktiverse. She blogs mainly about literature (I’ve mentioned her first-line analyses before). Her two novels, Bareback and In Great Waters, are absolutely excellent. Particularly the latter. See posts 64 and 88 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts.

I also met Ana Mardoll through The Slacktiverse, where she commented frequently. On her own blog, she writes about feminism, literature, and other bits and pieces. I’ve mentioned her novel Pulchitrude here before, and also linked to some of her discussions about art and culture. See post 87 of “I’ve been reading” for my thoughts on Pulchitrude.

John Scalzi is a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He has his own blog: Whatever. He writes about writing (both the process of putting words together and the business of publishing), about the politics of fan-run conventions (particularly controversy in the past few years about the Hugo awards), and about anything else which takes his fancy, which of late has included quite a bit of American politics. I’ve so far read only one of his novels — Old Man’s War —, and I very much enjoyed it and intend to read more in the same series and in others.

John Green is one half of the Vlogbrothers on YouTube (his brother Hank is the other half). He’s also a noted YA author. I enjoy the Vlogbrothers — both their main channel itself and their educational spin-off channels such as Sci Show and Crash Course, so I sought out some of John’s books. So far I’ve read only Paper Towns, which is a fun read. It has a message, of course — all YA books do — but it’s subtle enough. It’s a well-crafted novel.

Google Glass: Privacy, Surveillance, Technology, Data

Google’s new product, Glass, will enable secret video recording.

Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.

Recorded video will be stored not on users’ own computers, but in Google’s data-centres. With Google’s excellent technology, indexing such videos using face recognition and voice transcription many not be too far behind. And who will have access to that data?

This is, of course, one of those things that, in general, matters far more to the margenilised  (who are often poor) than it does to the early adopters (who, in the case of this expensive product, must be rich). And so, as ever, the concerns of the margenalised are not heard in the public debate.

Someone in Seattle has been deliberately annoying people by videoing them in an intrusive fashion. His actual purpose is unknown (he’s anonymous), but it seems he’s trying to make a point:

In most cases, people become agitated and tell him to stop. That’s when the cameraman makes his point: Cameras are everywhere already. This one just happens to be held by a person instead of mounted on a wall or traffic light.

That said, surveillance cameras are often not reviewed, and the footage is usually deleted unless there’s a crime to investigate. What will happen with Google Glass footage is anyone’s guess: it probably won’t follow existing proven solutions.

One possiblitity, of course, is strong social shaming of people who use such technology. Physical assault is probably going a bit too far, though it has been attempted.

I mentioned recently that I am mystified by right-wingers. One of our many points of difference is that they’re more scared of powerful government, and I’m more scared of powerful corporations. Governments are scary too, but at least we get a chance to vote on them. Monopolies, less so.

And monopolies really are a problem. Putting all surveillance into the hands of the “authorities” (be they the police, transport authorities, or simply business owners) isn’t safe either. Citizen recording of police action has helped out in more than one incident of violent assault by police officers, and CCTV footage does have a tendency to go missing when it shows police in a bad light. Steve Mann refers to this citizen check on authorities’ actions as sousveillance, and he does have a point. So where does, and where should, the power ballance lie?


Sexist Fantasy: It doesn’t have to be that way

History is sexist. We know that. We don’t need to be reminded. The modern day is pretty sexist too.

Fantasy is fantasy. It can be sexist, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

And, of course, a sexist society can be portrayed in a non-sexist fashion, by examining it partly from the perspectives of the oppressed. So if you do want to write about a sexist culture, write about all of it.

Furthermore, history was not necessarily as sexist as you might imagine. In fact, there are rather a lot of recorded women doing things women don’t do.


The Future of Interaction Desgin

There are many ideas of how we will interact with computers in the future. One example is the Mozilla Seabird from Mozilla Labs, a “concept phone”. It doesn’t exist, but something like it one day may.

Microsoft also has ideas on how we’ll interact with technology in the future.

It’s nifty, though the way data can easily be slid from one computer to another bothers me a little. But we’re talking about usability here. And in that vision of the future, devises are easily usable, aren’t they?

Well, maybe not. All these flat screens are just “pictures under glass”, while our hands are much better at 3-d manipulation. Our hands can do all sorts of things, and using merely one sliding finger seems wasteful when we have so much more at our disposal. There’s room for much more research into technologies which use our hands to a fuller extent.

One interesting thing in Microsoft’s video is that they show a man using a keyboard. Hollywood thinks differently. They are very fond of “gestural interfaces” which wouldn’t work that well in the real world (not least because your arms would get tired if you were waving at a computer all day). In reality, 2-d screens are probably better for presenting information.

Another short look at the future is the film Sarfire, which was created in 1992, before graphical browsers.

Here’s the Seabird again, this time in 3-d.