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Odd Lots

Paying by the Page Turn

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) book subscription system has been a laboratory of unintended consequences since it launched in July 2014. If you don’t subscribe or don’t know how authors are paid, my 4-part series on it may be useful. I’ll summarize very briefly: Each time a work available on KU is borrowed and at least 10% of it is read, the author is paid from a payment fund shared by all such borrows in a given month. The amount of money in the pot changes from month to month, as do the number of borrows. So the payment per qualified borrow changes from month to month. It’s been converging on $1.30 for some time. The length of the work doesn’t matter: Read 10% of a 150,000 word novel, and the author gets $1.30. Read 10% of a 1000-word short story…and the author gets the same $1.30. (For another another few days, at least. Stay with me.)

Care to guess the unintended consequences? Authors of novels pulled their works from KU or never opted in to begin with. Authors of short stories suddenly started making significant money. Authors of flash-length erotica (basically, isolated sex scenes) began making a great deal of money. And scammers began posting the same (very short) story on multiple author accounts, and Wikipedia articles as original works.

I could have guessed all of that except maybe the erotica, since I don’t read erotica. I had actually begun turning my individual short stories and novelettes into separate ebooks, figuring that $1.30 was way better than the 35c that 99c ebook shorts earn.

Alluva sudden, wham! Everything changes.

On July 1, a whole new KU payment system comes into force. The new system essentially pays authors by the amount of the book read. Read the whole book, author gets X. Read half the book, and author gets X/2. Read 10% of the book (perhaps because it was so bad you wanted to throw your Paperwhite at the wall) and author gets X/10. In general terms, when you read some arbitrary number of pages, author gets a pro-rata per-page payment. This is true (and evidently the payment will be the same) whether the book in question is a kids’ bedtime story, a romance novel, or a calculus textbook.

As in the current system, the per-page payment changes every month, depending on the size of the money pot and the number of pages read during that month. The two big variables are the per-page payout and the number of pages in the book.

Wait a sec…pages? In an ebook?

Yup. And this is something completely new. Amazon has addressed the fact that ebooks are not divided into pages by creating the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) algorithm. As best I understand it (details are sparser than we’d like) the KU servers will examine each book posted by an author, and impose a standard page layout on the book’s text in a buffer. (It will not actually change the layout in the published book.) It will then count how many “pages” exist in the book when expressed by the KENPC algorithm. I have seen no reliable description of what will go into this standard layout. It’s obvious that they’re trying to keep people from padding out margins or tweaking fonts to turn less text into more pages. They’re also trying to equalize the differences between devices with vastly different screen sizes. KENPC takes into account photos, tables, and technical art somehow. Again, details are sparse. However, I’m happy just knowing that they’re going to some effort to make a page on one device more or less equivalent in terms of content to a page on another device. I’ve seen some grumbling about page metrics for children’s books, but since that’s a genre I have no experience in whatsoever, I can’t say much. It does seem a little unfair that a 30-page kid book will only earn what 30 pages in a 500-page novel earns.

Pages will only pay off the first time they are read. Reading a book a second time on the same borrow will not generate any additional revenue. Nor will going back to reread a chapter generate additional revenue. Swiping/tapping rapidly through a book will not pay. Some sort of timer runs while a page is displayed, and if the page isn’t displayed long enough, the page will not be considered read. Countable pages begin with the book’s starting point, so dedication pages, review excerpts, and indicia will not be paid.

Now, what can authors expect as a per-page payment? Nobody knows yet. People are guessing somewhere between .8c and 1c per page read. We’ll find out soon.

Any system like this is a basket of unintended consequences. These are the ones that immediately occur to me:

  • Authors of art-heavy children’s books will bail.
  • A lot of that flash-erotica will vanish. (This may be an intended consequence.) Or maybe not. A nickel is a nickel.
  • More previews of other books will appear at the end of a book.
  • Reference books will bail. This may include computer books, which are rarely read from cover to cover.
  • Page-turners will dominate. Difficult books (fiction or nonfiction) will bail.

This last point bears discussing. Some books are bought to be seen in buyers’ hands or (more often) on their coffee tables. As Megan McArdle points out, Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century is purchased a great deal more than it is read. I think this is true of a lot of literary fiction as well. Authors will have to understand that they’re no longer selling books. They’re not really selling pages, either. They’re selling page turns. To make money on KU going forward, each page will have to compel the reader to move on to the next page, and repeat until EOB.

This is bad news for James Joyce. This is good news for George R. R. Martin. And, I suspect, me.

It may also be bad news for writers who just don’t know what they’re doing. To pay by the page-turn, Amazon will have to report how many pages were turned. How much detail those reports will provide is still unknown. It would be terrific to know how many pages were read per title rather than in aggregate across all of an author’s titles, but I don’t think Amazon will be doing that, at least not right away. However, if you have ten 300-page books on KU and get paid for 67 pages, the reader base is telling you something.

I suspect that this is a fully intended (if unstated) consequence: to improve the readability of the material on KU. Fistfights break out frequently over whether readability and quality are strongly correlated. This is the dotted line where literature is separated from fiction, especially genre fiction. But consider what KU is: a mechanism allowing maniacal readers to get all the books they can read for ten bucks a month. If you’re a normal human being, Finnegan’s Wake will take you most of a month to bull through, and you can get ratty copies for a penny plus shipping online.

No, it’s going to work like this: If you can keep a reader up all night with your hard SF action-adventures, you can make money on the new KU. Write page-turners, and put previews of all of your page-turners in the backs of all of your page-turners.

That’s certainly what I intend to do. I will make money. Watch me.

Odd Lots

Kick Ass. Just Don’t Miss

Frank&VickieDuntemann Bill Prendergast Wedding 11-21-1964-500 wide.jpg

Father’s Day. I’m not sure what I can say about my father that hasn’t been said already. If you’ve read this entry from 2009, you know most of his history. Maybe it’s time to lay out some more.

Frank W. Duntemann was, by his own definition, a successful man. He had a gift for aphorism, and he told me more than once: “Success means being at no one’s mercy but your own.” He wanted me to be successful as well, and did everything he knew how to urge me along. Straight As were a requirement at our house, and I delivered them. So were courtesy, respect, and correct English. He taught me how to teach myself things–good lord, it took me decades to appreciate the value of that lesson alone. He told me life was hard work, and so what? Successful people worked hard. They were also careful, and made smart choices. He summed it up with another aphorism: Kick ass. Just don’t miss.

In other words, weld enthusiasm to discernment. I had plenty of enthusiasm. Discernment came later.

And he worried about this. Much of my free time (at least free time that wasn’t spent reading) I spent banging on my grandmother Sade Duntemann’s cranky old Understood Standard #5, which she had given me when I was ten. I was writing science fiction stories. I showed him the ones I considered good, and he agreed. They were good. They were maybe a little too good, especially for a 14-year-old. My high school had teacher conference nights, and my parents always went. One of my English teachers told him something that made him proud, and evidently scared him (as he might have put it) shitless: “Jeff is an absolutely amazing writer. You should encourage him. I’ll bet he could make money with his stories!”

It was assumed that I would follow in his footsteps and become an engineer. And it’s true, I was always tinkering something up in the basement. But as my high school years passed, I spoke more and more of getting published, and not just writing, but being a writer.

He was gentle about it, but firm: Writing was not a good way to make a living. Trying to make a job out of writing was a good way to starve. Better to be an engineer, and write in your spare time…

The lessons stopped in the fall of 1968, when my father was diagnosed with advanced oral cancer caused by his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. I was 16. My mother was completely devoted to caring for him, and my sister and I more or less grew up on automatic. I was accepted at engineering school, and bailed after a single semester. I didn’t fail out, exactly, but I could tell it wasn’t going to work.

Alas, I had no clue about what would.

I enrolled at DePaul University’s Department of English, figuring I could always be a teacher. After all, I was good at explaining things. Again, I got straight As, and in the fall of my senior year I sold my first SF story, to Harry Harrison’s anthology Nova 4. I got $195 for it. My father pointed out that it was a good start, but I really needed a backup career. I still had no idea what to do with my life. After I graduated I took a job as a Xerox machine repairman, continued to teach myself electronics, and continued to write. I taught myself programming, and built my own computer out of loose parts. On a whim I began writing articles about home-built computers, and sold them, mostly to Wayne Green but later to Byte, and much later to PC Tech Journal and others. The money was thin, but over time it began to add up.

Frank W. Duntemann died on January 11, 1978. I was 25. Very weirdly, when he died I was under general anaesthesia at Evanston Hospital, getting a hernia fixed. Even more weirdly, while I was under I had a dream: I stood alone in space, gazing at a titanic wall of books on shelves, thousands upon endless thousands of books, extending to infinity in every direction.

People don’t dream normally under general anaesthesia, which is, after all, an artificial coma. I was hallucinating, surely. Or had my father taken a quick detour on his way to the Beatific Vision, and, figuring he had time to stick only one image into my head, chose an image that his weird nerdy writer son would understand?

If so, I think I know what he was saying: Go for it, dammit!

I did. That day was what writers call my “dark moment.” It passed, as dark moments do, and my life began to fall into place. Within a year I’d gotten a huge promotion and a transfer to a programming job at Xerox HQ. Within two years I’d sold three more SF stories, and within three years I had two nominations on the final ballot of the Hugo Awards. Within five years I nailed a contract for my first technical book. Within ten years I was Editor-in-Chief of a technical magazine with 217,000 readers. Within twenty years I was co-owner of Arizona’s largest book publishing company, and had a quarter million books in ten languages kicking around the world with my name on them.

I kicked ass. I didn’t miss. The kickin’ just took a little longer than either of us expected.

I wobble between two extremes on Father’s Days. The sentimental, mystical part of me assumes that he’s somehow gotten word that his kid done good–and the hard-bitten, rationalist part wants to wring his neck for checking out before I could prove him wrong and rub his nose in it.

Here’s the moral, as I see it: Fathers, believe in your sons as they create their own futures. Sons, cut your fathers some slack. They couldn’t see your futures while you were creating them…

…or could they?

Bad Timing

First of all, a hearty welcome to all the new readers who’ve posted in my comments here, and a fair number more who’ve left tracks in my webstats. I’ve had a number of links posted to my Sad Puppy Summary and Wrapup from some sites a great deal bigger than mine, including John C. Wright’s, Mike Glyer’s File 770, and Monster Hunter Nation, egad. Now you’re all probably wondering why I haven’t posted anything new since May 31. I don’t post as often as I did ten years ago, but two weeks away is unusual for me.

It’s just bad timing, timing we did not control: We got a decent offer for our condo outside Chicago, and accepted it. That meant we had to drive 1,100 miles, empty it out, clean it up, sort the garageful of artifacts transported to Carol’s sister’s house, complete the paperwork (which was complex, as there were multiple owners including a trust) pack a Durango and a half’s worth of artifacts into a single Durango, and then drive 1,100 miles back home. The process included some brute-force moving of furniture, many trips to Goodwill, and considerable exercise of my tessellation superpower in order to pack way too much stuff into way too little space. Forgive me if I’m exhausted. I’ll be turning 63 in two weeks, and feeling every nanosecond of it.

So give me a day or three to recover. There’s much to write about, most of it concerning writing, especially my plans for the coming year. I should be posting The Cunning Blood for sale on the Kindle store some time in July, for the princely price of $2.99. “Drumlin Boiler” will go up shortly after that, for 99c. “Whale Meat” is already there, for 99c. I still need a cover for my novella “Firejammer,” but the ebook is otherwise complete. Are you artist enough to draw a stone castle / warship sailing on an ocean of molten lava? I pay reasonably well for covers.

The big deal happens on January 7, 2016, when I’ll be releasing Ten Gentle Opportunities on Kindle, with paperbacks from CreateSpace. I have a cover contracted for that, from the dazzling Blake Henriksen, but I’m thinking of buying some interior art as well from other artists. Interested? Contact me. It’s my first new novel in ten years, and I’ll be putting my back into the launch.

In the meantime, I have to develop a Web presence for my fiction around the hardsf.com domain that I registered twenty years ago and never figured out what to do with. I’ll need some art for that as well, and I have a great deal of studying to do on WordPress extensions and internals. January 7 seems like a long way off. It’s not.

So hang in there. More stuff coming. As preface, you might go back and reread my New Year’s Eve 2014 post, which will be relevant to coming entries. Ditto my series on Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave idea, at least until you get to the Sad Puppies part, at which point you can stop. I’ve already said most of what I want to say about that, and need to get on to other things.

It’s time to go take another Aleve, but man, (he said zenily) I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

Odd Lots

Sad Puppies Summary and Wrapup

Sad Bichon Pillow - 500 Wide.jpg

As I mentioned a month or so ago, the whole Sad Puppies thing took me completely by surprise. I’ve been researching it pretty intensely for a couple of months now. I’m getting the impression that I’ve probably read everything useful about it, and what I’m seeing are mostly rehashes of things I’ve already read. So what I want to do today is summarize my research, then call it done and go back to my regularly scheduled life.

First, for those just tuning in, here in brief is what happened: Brad Torgersen, a writer of military SF, broadened Larry’s Correia’s notion of two years ago that more people should be brought into the Worldcon and to the Hugo Awards process. He explained how the Hugo Awards are decided, including the (suspiciously) obscure fact that $40 buys you a supporting membership in Worldcon that allows you to nominate and vote on the Hugos as well as vote on sites for upcoming Worldcons. Even I didn’t know that recent Worldcon members can download ebook versions (or at very least substantial excerpts) of most nominated works, which is a spectacular deal, and well worth the $40 whether or not you’re interested in the awards at all.

All of this was done out in the open. Nothing was sub rosa. Brad told people to go buy supporting memberships and nominate. He then presented a slate of works/artists that he and others in his orbit thought worthy of consideration, especially those who have been too obscure to be considered in the past. Brad’s slate leans heavily toward what Sarah Hoyt describes as “human wave” science fiction and fantasy; that is, fiction that embraces a wider range of techniques and themes than those popular with modern academic writing programs.

Some time in the past year, an author named Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) created his own similar slate of Hugo Awards recommendations and called it the Rabid Puppies. Vox Day is difficult to describe, much less explain. He’s a very bright guy with controversial opinions, and he suffers fools far more badly than I thought fools could be suffered. His opinions are off-topic here; don’t bring them up. He created his own slate similar to the Sad Puppies, and that’s pretty much all that matters for the current discussion.

There was some bitching about all this, just as there had been some bitching in the two previous years since Larry Correia had originally created the Sad Puppies concept. Nothing odd there; bitching about one damned thing or another has been the lifeblood of SFF fandom in all the 42 years I’ve been involved. The bitching and butthurt has gotten much worse in the last 20 years or so, which is one reason I’ve become steadily less interested in fandom, and have attended only a handful of cons since the 80s.

Then April 5 happened, and egad: The Sad Puppies recommendations swept the ballot. That’s when the hatefest began.

Some notes on terminology here: I use the abbreviation SP to stand for Sad Puppies, and to some extent the more general “puppies” notion of offering recommendation slates to the SFF-reading public. I use the term APs to indicate the Anti-Puppies, people who for whatever reason oppose the idea. I do not use the term “SJWs” for the APs because it’s inaccurate: I know people who oppose the SPs who are not themslves social justice warriors, and I suspect that the vast majority of SJWs have never even heard of the Hugo Awards, and would not care about the argument even if they had.

So that’s the short summary. Here are the points that I want to make:

  • First and foremost and above all else: The Sad Puppies organizers broke none of the rules established for the Hugo Awards process. None. All the Powers agree on this, including Patrick Neilsen-Hayden and George R. R. Martin.
  • There was no ballot-box stuffing. There are explicit rules against someone buying supporting Worldcon memberships in bulk and then voting them. This has been tried before, but the SPs were not doing it. Brad’s instructions to his readers were basically this: Go buy supporting memberships and vote them according to your judgment; here are some people who ought to be considered.
  • One of the APs came a lot closer to ballot-box stuffing by encouraging people to buy supporting memberships for people who can’t afford them. She emphasized that no effort would be made to influence how the recipients would vote, but c’mon: People know where the goodies are coming from, and the likelihood that the recipients of these gifts agree with their benefactors on the subject approaches unity.
  • The response of the APs to the SPs was venomous in the extreme. Brad Torgersen was called a racist mysogynist and much else. In truth, he’s happily married to an African-American woman whom he clearly loves and respects. The rotter haters among the APs who suggested that he was hiding his racism behind his wife and daughter did more damage to the APs’ arguments than anything the SPs said before or later. If I had to point to one single thing that turned me against the APs, it was this.
  • The media tried to slam the SPs, and mostly soiled itself in the process. Entertainment Weekly actually slid into libel and had to publish a retraction. Other outlets including Salon, The Guardian, Io9, HuffPo, Slashdot etc. published accusations that were all suspiciously alike, as though someone had offered a pre-written summary for them to follow. Most egregious of several lies was the claim that the slate was composed entirely of conservative white men. In fact, there were plenty of women and non-caucasians on the slate, as well as what might be a slight majority of liberals.
  • Several people hit me with the “You must condemn the Sad Puppies because GamerGate” gambit. I looked for a causal connection and didn’t find it. The SPs have been around two years longer than GG, and, yes, there is a certain amount of overlap between the two groups. There is also a lot of overlap between the gang attacking the SPs and the one attacking GG. I’m not a gamer and this entry is not about GG. I consider it off-topic; don’t bring it up.
  • As I said several weeks ago, the slobbering, high-volume, high-profile hate hurled by the APs probably took the SPs from a fluke to an ongoing institution. I call this “adverse attention,” and it cooks down to the Streisand Effect: Screaming about something attracts attention that makes that something a lot more visible. The sensible response to the SPs would have been silence.
  • Voting “No Award” against SP-recommended authors/artists is unfair in the extreme to those who were nominated. It’s an attempt to punish the SPs by hurting innocent bystanders, some or many of whom genuinely deserve the recognition. I predict that this strategy, if it succeeds, will destroy whatever credibility the Hugos have left.

And finally, the largest insight that I had, and the one that I think explains almost everything else:

  • The fight over the Hugo Awards is really about humiliation and loss of face. The Insider Alphas (i.e., the Right Men and Right Women) of the SFF community were humiliated on their home turf, and suffered a tremendous loss of face. High-status individuals can tolerate almost anything but humiliation. Their response to loss of face is generally one of igneous fury, and where violence is possible, physical violence. The fury was tactile, and Brad Torgersen received death threats. That pretty much nailed it for me.

Eveybody’s got a theory on how to fix the Hugo Awards process, but to me the process is fine; what’s missing is about 25,000 more involved nominators and voters. A large enough voter base is unlikely to be swept by something like a slate of recommendations. Whether so many new people can be brought into the Worldcon/Hugos community is unclear, but I doubt it.

That’s about all I’m going to have to say about the Sad Puppies topic for awhile. I’m turning my attention back to writing, to the concept of the Human Wave, and perhaps to a suspicion I have that fandom is in the process of splitting. The problems of fandom are caught up in the problems of publishing. Once Manhattan-style traditional publishing becomes more or less irrelevant, fandom may become an overlapping group of online communities centered on authors and genres. Each will probably have its own awards, and the Hugos will become only one among many. Is this a good thing?

You bet!

Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy

Really. You can’t. Lord knows, we tried. But Dash just keeps trying to pee on the furniture, and if we hadn’t discovered Pants for Dogs, the ottoman (at very least) would now be a total loss.

So I have to grin a rather sour grin to see people suggesting that the way to defeat the Sad Puppies and others like them (which are coming, trust me!) is to shame authors who were chosen to be on their slates, and keep shaming them until they withdraw their nominations. Several authors did in fact refuse the Hugo Awards nominations that they received back on April 5. Larry Correia refused his because he was the originator of the Sad Puppies idea, and felt that benefitting from it was unseemly. That’s legit, and he gets big points for doing the right thing. Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet withdrew because they didn’t want to be at the center of the ruckus, especially one with political overtones. Bellet said it very well:

I find my story, and by extension myself, stuck in a game of political dodgeball, where I’m both a conscripted player and also a ball.

I can sympathize here. I wouldn’t want to be the ball, either, and we have to respect their decisions. Trouble is, you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. My suggestion would have been to ride it out. Nobody has blamed the authors who were on the slate (yet) and anyone who would is a moron. (Alas, the world suffers no shortage of morons. We’ll have to remain on guard.)

The more important reason for authors not to withdraw is that withdrawing gives the anti-puppies (APs) this peculiar notion that they can use social pressure (shaming) to get authors to do things their way, up to and including refusing a major honor in the field. Note very well: I am not suggesting that either Kloos or Bellet withdrew because of social pressure. I take their explanations at face value. What I’m suggesting is that a certain nontrivial number of APs may assume it, and may further assume that social pressure is a tactic that can win, going forward. I’m already hearing that the 2015 Hugos need to be “asterisked;” that is, marked as disreputable, dishonest, and something that no upright fan or author will have anything to do with. The message is pretty clear: Any Puppy nominee who keeps their place on the ballot is to be shamed and shunned.

Now we can get down to business. The first of my two points today is this: Shaming is bullying. Shaming is about fear. Shaming is thug tactics. I’ll tell you what I hear when I hear people talking about shaming authors: “Nice little career you’re starting up here. Shame if anything happened to it.” Or, another interpretation that’s pretty much the same thing: “Stay on the ballot, and you’ll never work in this town again.”

In other words, we’re supposed to use mafia persuasion to get authors to refuse nominations that just might have been influenced by slatemakers like the Sad Puppies. (What if the works are just really good?) That’s bad enough. However, if you think about it a little more, you come to my second point for today’s entry: Shaming only works on people who value the esteem of the shamer.

That’s how shame works: You know that certain people are going to be displeased with you if you do something, so you don’t do it. You don’t do it because you like / respect / want to retain the goodwill of those certain people. The problem is this: The shamers will thus force only their own people–the people who agree with them and want to be liked by them–off the ballot. The people who then move up to take the vacated slots are more likely to be sympathetic to the Puppies.

Is that what you want? Really?

There’s this peculiar notion among some people that shame is the ultimate weapon, one that works every time, on everybody. My research suggests that it works best on heavily networked depressive teenagers, which would be all of us, right? Heh. So let’s try a thought experiment: Shame Vox Day off of…anything. (Divide by zero much?) Try shaming any of the Puppy sympathizers off the ballet. I’m sure I’d hear the laughter halfway up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. See what I mean?

There may be a way to “save” the Hugos from the depredations of the Sad Puppies. I think we first we need to agree on what those depredations actually are, and no such agreement currently exists. But whether such a fix exists or not, shaming authors is not only thug-like and unethical, it comes around like a boomerang and rips you a new one by driving your own people (the only ones who might conceivably be shame-able) off the ballot.

I honestly don’t think the Sad Puppies are any kind of problem for the Hugo Awards, Worldcon, or most ordinary fans. The whole business cooks down to this: A group who broke no rules made fandom’s Insider Alpha clique lose face in a very big way. Everything in the Sad Puppies dustup follows from that.

The Puppies are unshameable. Get over the butthurt, or bad things will happen, things that have nothing to do with shame, but everything to do with money, demographics, and the shape of SFF going forward. Give me a week or so (it’s nuts here) and I’ll tell you a little more about that.

Odd Lots

The Mysterious Electric Sword

Electric Sword 500 Wide.jpg

90% of the held mail that came in while we were in Phoenix was junk mail, mostly catalogs and postcards from place like Bath Fitter. 9% was real mail, most of it (alas) bills. 1% was…weird. And cool.

One of my readers, Guy Ricklin, sent me something he bought at a garage sale years ago for a dollar because it looked like an electric sword. He asked me if I wanted it, and I said, Sure! So there it was, in and among the shoe, pet supplies, and gardening catalogs. And yup, it looks like an electric sword. A shortsword, more precisely, as the “blade” is 14 inches long. The blade part is formed sheet aluminum with the resistance element inside. The handle is some stiff black sheet material (cardboard soaked in Bakelite?) folded over, with the cord running between the two halves.

No, I didn’t plug it in. What am I, nuts? (I was tempted.) I did measure the resistance at 217 ohms, which across a 120V line would draw 0.552 amps, and dissipate 66 watts. That’s a certain amount of heat, but not a huge amount of heat.

One side of the aluminum blade (shown above) is formed and curved. The other side is completely flat and polished smooth. I’ve looked online and found nothing remotely like it. I’m guessing that you’re supposed to rub the polished flat side over something. Laundry? Hair? Pasta? Gingerbread? I sniffed it, and as you might expect of Ye Olde Elecktrickle Stuffe, the whiff of Bakelite overpowers anything that it might have been used on in its long-gone heyday.

So what is it? You tell me. Really. Guy and I and probably a number of other curious people would very much like to know.