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Short forms

You know what I miss? Novellas. Or, what we now think of as novellas. I used to own stacks of books than ran 150-200 pages long. They were serials, like the Travis McGee novels I still have locked away in my storage unit, or classics like The Scarlet Pimpernel and it’s many sequels.

Recently, only a very few writers are permitted the novella form. I think the last one I saw as a standalone was Patricia McKillip’s “The Changeling Sea” back in the late 80′s.

They still exist, but usually in that odd flip-flop format, you know where they print one novella by a famous name author in the front half of the book, then you flip the book OVER and rotate it and voila! There is a completely different novella on the back.

But now, with the ebook coming to the fore, I’m wondering if page-count will be less important. I mean, open a half a dozen books in your average Barnes and Noble and you will find different typesetting, different formatting, a different number of words per page, just so that the book can hit a satisfying weight and feel in the hand. Sometimes you run across a book (looking at YOU, “Monuments Men” where the type is small and crowded, or you run into a book (A few recent Patterson novels have this) where the font is large and the kerning stretched as far as you can take it before the words start to fall apart.

But without the page count, without the need to make a reader feel like they are getting $8 work of paper and ink, what counts is a satisfying story. What counts is that, at the end of the work, the reader feels they paid just the right amount (or maybe even that they got a bargain).

A couple of publishers are starting to take advantage of this new opportunity. Tor, for example, publishes exclusive shorts from it’s bestselling authors. Some are short stories, some are novellas, all are works too short to fit into the trade paperback format, but all are works equally worthy of sale.

The Problem is the People

Today, Mt. Gox, reportedly the largest and best trusted of the Bitcoin exchanges, vanished entirely.  They didn’t just halt trading, they took everything offline and the name on the url seems to have been sold.

http://www.coindesk.com/mt-gox-loses-340-million-bitcoin-rumoured-insolvent/

And over 340 million has gone missing along the way.  Needless to say, the price of Bitcoin has tumbled (don’t expect that to last, however) and a lot of people seem to be rethinking their decision to jump on the Bitcoin Bandwagon.

The problem, however, isn’t with Bitcoin itself.  The virtual currency is itself sound, still (as far as I know) un-hackable and non-counterfeit-able.  The problem is with the exchanges and the techniques used to store, trade and sell Bitcoin.  Much of it is probably due to the speed with which Bitcoin has gone viral.  You’re seeing it mentioned in TV shows (even ones targeted at older ladies with cats, like Castle) on the news, the cat is out of the bag and what previously was a niche trading market is now going the way that baseball cards, comic books and that creepy old vase you found in great-auntie Aida’s attic.  It’s gone insane.  Millions of dollars are being shoveled into Bitcoin exchanges and (for better or worse) the common-man investors are entering the market, bringing with them a limited understanding of how Bitcoin works.  The exchanges that might have been able to slowly upgrade themselves and their security to accommodate a slow, reasonable adoption of Bitcoin as a currency, are now beset from both sides, from buyers clamoring to sign up and from malicious opportunists looking to exploit the flaws in the system.

This type of aggressive exploitation is not unique to Bitcoin either.  A quick stroll through the history of currency and exchanges in general will reveal that we are just seeing updated versions of the kinds of scams and hacks that have plagued every new transnational method.  These kinds of problems have been solved before, and when the Bitcoin exchanges solve their generations issues, then the currency will be ready for global adoption.

Monetization at it’s not-finest

This kind of stuff simply frosts me.  Mobile games are still a bit on the Wild West side of things when it comes to game monetization.  I personally hit that sweet spot in game development, I’ve been a gamer for over 30 years now *and* I get to make games so I look at things through the dual lenses of consumer and producer.  This makes for some really long arguments some days.

Stuff like THIS though. this just frosts me.  I don’t mind paywalls in my games.  As a player, half the fun in trying to get around them.  What we have here, however, is a bait-and-switch.  And it’s not even a game.  This is the app for my kid’s Little League portal.  It’s free to download, but as soon as you open it up, it’s hits you with a charge.  It’s useless without paying the fee.  I don’t begrudge them the two dollars, but it’s the manner in which they have gone about it that pisses me off.  If I am going to go to the time and trouble of downloading the app (which they recommend we do) they should give me something.  Even if it’s just the league RSS feed.  Instead, I’m going back to Shutterfly to manage the team website and schedule.

 

Baseball

 

 

Through a glass, darkly.

We have all seen it.  The lensing-effect that the internet has on any given topic.  Part of this is driven by our own natural tendency to seek out the things that interest us; LOLcats or Supermodels or TV actors or bad tattoos.  We don’t go to the internet to broaden our minds, we go to the internet to search for something specific, and in doing so, we FIND that something specific and move on.

But stacking on top of this are the tools of the internet itself.  Tools that are supposed to show up the things that we want.  Cookies get installed in your web-browser that only show ads related to the last commerce site you visited (I’ve been seeing only Eddie Bauer ads for the past three days now), news portals that look at your recent search history (looking at you HuffPo) and make suggestions based on the last few news items you’ve read (try it, go to a news site and look up an article on some superstar.  80% of the suggested articles will lead you to similar articles/information).  So it’s very easy to think that the things you are deliberately searching for are the top layer of the internet, the important things that *everybody* is interested in.

Stack another layer, the comments section/s or any given article or organization’s web-pages, on top of that and you can very quickly find yourself inside of a virtual echo-chamber, thoughts and ideas similar to yours being bounced back at you and reinforcing whatever you came in the metaphorical door with.

The internet-savvy, those who not only have been at this a while, but those who retain the presence of mind to observe this phenomenon as it is happening, are possibly less-affected (or trolls, I mean, they gotta come from somewhere, right).  But I find, more and more, that there is a large swath of the population that is unaware of this effect.  Which is a problem, because the tools in place are supposed to help us find what we are looking for (whether or not someone is making money off selling us what we are looking for is a different question) but instead they are isolating us, segregating us into Reds and Blues and Greens and Purples.

MIT took a look at this problem recently:

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/522111/how-to-burst-the-filter-bubble-that-protects-us-from-opposing-views/

But the solution isn’t such an easy thing to find.  Most people aren’t going to actively search out opposing opinions online (unless they are in the mood to start a fight, I suppose) and most companies are not going to direct you to content you might not want.  So this “bubble” as MIT refers to it, or “lens”, to take a page from Schell, is not going to go away on it’s own.

I feel that this is  one of those growing pains that comes with a new technology.  Like only getting the NYT delivered to your house would color your opinions based on the news delivered, this is a far tighter focus because those who post content are able to work within a tiny niche and still make money doing so.  For every topic or specialty out there, there is a website (usually multiple sites) that serves it.  So unless we find a way to make balancing viewpoints a profitable enterprise (both financially and intellectually) for those who use the web, this lensing effect can only get worse over time.

Bits and pieces

Right now we are in a golden era of “Why the F*ck not?” where science and technology are concerned.  I’m not entirely sure if this is simply because the internet makes it easy to see (and crowd-fund) the thousands of tech projects out there, or if, dollar for dollar people are trying more and more things with a high risk of failure.  The thing is though, even if those things fail, they are a stepping stone, a puzzle piece.  The technology of a failed start-up can (and often is) be bought up by someone who has another innovation to mesh with it and we move a little further along the development path.