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Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up

Yes, I’ve been scarce in recent weeks, but bear with me: I’m off doing something difficult but important, which I’ll tell you about later.

Although it’s been going on now for three years, I hadn’t ever heard of the Sad Puppies phenomenon until a couple of months ago, and what brought it to my attention was an ongoing rumble raging up and down the social networks and blogosphere. The rumble was just a rumble until April 4, when the Hugo Award nominations for 2015 were announced. Then, ye gods and little fishes, the Puppies swept the slate and it became Hugogeddon. I’ve already described the Sad Puppies thing here as part of a series that I’d originally intended to focus on Sarah Hoyt’s Human Wave SF manifesto. It’s a movement to bring new people into the Worldcon culture and perhaps get some attention for writers who for whatever reason are never considered for the Hugo Awards. The Sad Puppies 3 effort was all very much up-front and out in the open. The most powerful man in SFF publishing, Patrick Neilsen-Hayden, stated quite clearly that the group violated no rules whatsoever.

But oh, my, the dudgeon, the squealing, the bright purple faces, the curses and threats and slobbering on the floor. Writers of considerable stature, whom I had read and long respected, lost that respect instantly and went onto my Seventh-Grade Playground Tantrum-Throwers List. They seemed to think that anyone who put forth a list of recommended authors or works was trying to dynamite the awards, and (worse) that this was a brand-new thing that had never been tried before. Well…Mike Glyer, who belongs to the Anti-Puppy (AP) faction, pointed out that slatemaking has been practiced erratically since the very first Hugo Awards season in…1953. Apparently the difference between recommendations and a slate is that a slate is put forth by people we dislike.

Takeaway: Hugo Award slatemaking is nothing new, and does not violate the rules. You have a constitutional right to be upset about it. I have a constitutional right to think of it as a nonissue. I’m not going to argue that point any further in this entry. (I doubt I will argue that point further at all. Don’t even bring it up in the comments.) I have something else in mind entirely. Let me phrase it as a question:

How in hell could a couple of mostly unknown authors turn the venerable Hugo Awards inside-out?

My answer: adverse attention. For a definition, let me quote from a textbook that I made up just now: Zoftnoggin & Wiggout’s Fundamentals of Sociometry.

Adverse attention is a rise in the attention profile of a previously obscure phenomenon caused by the actions of an entity that opposes that phenomenon. In the vast majority of cases, the triggering force is outrage, though it sometimes appears through the action of envy, pride, lust, asshattedness, butthurt, or other largely emotional psychopathologies.

This being sociometry, adverse attention may be quantified, and there is a standard unit for expressing it:

The fundamental unit of adverse attention is the streisand, defined as one previously uninterested person achieving a degree of interest in a phenomenon sufficient to compel them to email, share, or retweet information about that phenomenon to one other person in a social network. As the information propagates across a social network, the connectedness of the network influences the total amount of adverse attention that arises. For example, if each of ten previously uninterested persons receiving the information passes it on to only one previously uninterested person, eleven streisands of adverse attention have been created. If one of those previously uninterested persons has 200 followers on Twitter or 1000 Facebook friends, the number of streisands increases rapidly. In a sufficiently dense network, the rate of increase can become close to exponential until the number of previously uninterested persons asymptotically approaches zero.

I’ve seen evidence for this in the comment sections of many blogs that have criticized or condemned the Sad Puppies. A common comment goes something like this: “Wow! I never knew that you could vote for the Hugos without going to Worldcon! And I just downloaded the free preview of Monster Hunter International. This is way cool!” Zing! The world gets another Puppy.

The emotional tenor of the criticism matters too. I’ve seen a few comments that go something like this: “I’d never heard of the Sad Puppies before. I’ve been trying to figure out which side is right, but the sheer nastiness of the Sad Puppies’ critics makes me think they’re just sore losers. I’m more or less with the Puppies now.”

Then, of course, there are the hatchet-job articles (all of them roughly identical) in what most people consider legitimate media, like Entertaintment Weekly, which later retracted the article once it became clear that it was libelous. The Guardian wrote another hit-piece that fell short of libel but still misrepresented the phenomenon. These are not just blogs. These are significant publications that have a lot of readers.

And those streisands just keep piling up.

It’s something like a sociological law: Commotion attracts attention. Attention is unpredictable, because it reaches friend and foe alike. It can go your way, or it can go the other way. There’s no way to control the polarity of adverse attention. The only way to limit adverse attention is to stop the commotion.

In other words, just shut up.

I know, this is difficult. For some psychologies, hate is delicious to the point of being psychological crack, so it’s hard to just lecture them on the fact that hate has consequences, including but hardly limited to adverse attention.

My conclusion is this: The opponents of Sad Puppies 3 put them on the map, and probably took them from a fluke to a viable long-term institution. I don’t think this is what the APs intended. In the wake of the April 4 announcement of the final Hugo ballot, I’d guess the opposition has generated several hundred kilostreisands of adverse attention, and the numbers will continue to increase. Sad Puppies 4 has been announced. Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen have lots of new fans who’d never heard of them before. (I just bought the whole Monster Hunter International series and will review it in a future entry.)

To adapt a quote from…well, you know damned well whose quote I’m adapting: “Attack me, and I will become more popular than you could possibly imagine.”

Or, to come closer to home, and to something in which I have personal experience: “Feed puppies, and they grow up.”

Actions have consequences. Who knew?

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Practical and Impractical Swag

Borland Thermos and Mug - 500 Wide.jpg

Carol and I were digging out the far dark corners of our walk-in pantry, and an interesting artifact came to hand: A plastic thermos bottle with the following inscription:

It keeps hot food hot, and cold food cold. How does it know? Is it the most “artificially intelligent” object in the galaxy?

At the bottom of the front face was Borland International’s logo. The jug was a teaser for Turbo Prolog, and I think I received it while I was still at PC Tech Journal in the fall of 1986. I had to quote the text here, because as you can see from the photo, a good part of the inscription has been worn away. Why? Because I used it. I used it a lot.

That is not generally the case for swag.

Once I became a computer journalist in 1985, I was offered a lot of swag, and took more of it than I had any need for, mostly to be polite. These were, after all, advertisers and potential advertisers. Carol and I have gotten (and still get) swag from various persons and organizations, and it’s interesting to look around the house and see what we still have, fifteen years after I ceased to have advertisers:

  • In the summer of 1976, Carol attended an open house at a local real estate office in Rochester Minnesota, where she was at grad school. They gave her a yellow plastic noodle strainer reading “Joe Maas Gallery of Homes” and a phone number. Almost 39 years later, we still use it to strain noodles and dumplings and anything else that needs to stay in the pot while dumping the water. Joe Maas’s name is long gone to friction and detergent, but I still remember it. For swag, I’d say mission accomplished.
  • Seven or eight years ago, we received a plastic flyswatter in the shape of a house from the realtor in Chicago who helped us buy our condo. It’s a little smaller than most flyswatters, meaning that it has less mass and is more maneauverable, as a good many flies have found to their sorrow. I’m not sure I’d want my company name slobbered up with bug guts, but I use it most days in the summer and will never forget Rohn Realty.
  • In 1985, Quadram gave me a nice leather reporter’s notebook with their logo on the front. I used to use it a lot for pen-and-ink jotting, until technology made pen-and-ink mostly obsolete. Technology did the same number on Quadram, so I guess it doesn’t matter that I misplaced it some years ago. (I think I know where it is, but I don’t want to dig that deep in a pile that big.)
  • Premia gave me a nice little pen knife / nail file / micro-scissors in 1992 or so with the CodeWright logo on one side. It’s still in my desk drawer and I still use it.
  • Screwdrivers. I still have and use a pocket screwdriver from PK Ware, as well as the one that came in the box with Windows for Workgroups.
  • Thumb drives. These didn’t exist back when still I went to trade shows, but Eric Bowersox gave me a couple of teensy little items that came loaded with just about every piece of documentation AMD was giving away about its processors and motherboards. Double brilliant.
  • Canvas bags. Too numerous to mention. All that came to hand just now long outlived their vendors. A particularly good specimen from the 1991 OOPSLA is still my designated hamfest trick-or-treat bag.

Not everything makes good swag. Here are some cautionary pointers:

  • Pens. Live fast and die quick; that’s the pen motto. All are long gone, although a spring-loaded Levitra gimmick pen given to me by a doctor friend remains in my Personal Museum of Very Odd Things.
  • Coffee mugs. Part of the problem is that everybody gives out coffee mugs, and your swag mug gets lost among all the others, and is eventually given to the local thrift store. The other part of the problem is that coffee mugs aren’t always microwaveable, and if you can’t nuke the brew, that mug is on the short path to oblivion. I gave away the nice OS/2 Warp mug I once had because it was plastic. And early on, swag cups often had foil trim, which catches fire in the microwave. The Borland mug shown above is a very nice item, but man, you should have seen the fireworks when I turned the microwaves loose on it in the early 90s.
  • Clothes. Ok, folks, look at me: Am I an XXL? Then why are all these trade-show T-shirts size XXL? Because you can’t stock six sizes at your booth? Well, look at whose canvas bag I’m toting. It isn’t yours, hint hint.

Not all those XXL T-shirts are gone. We still have a couple, and Carol uses them for nightgowns and swimsuit coverups. A famous example has those cute little whatevertheyares from the cover of O’Reilly’s book Sed and Awk. When we were in St. John’s in 1998, a vacationing geek chatted up Carol, hoping that she was that rarest of beings: a beautiful woman who uses sed and awk. (Carol referred him to me. His disappointment was palpable.)

I’m sure there are others in drawers and cabinets around the house. The wonder isn’t that we still have them (we’re legendary packrats) but that such cheap and usually plastic geegaws can actually serve real needs for longer than ten minutes. Borland’s AI thermos will doubtless see ice-water service again this summer, now that it’s no longer in the bottom of a box. Houses have flies, and thus realtors will give away flyswatters. And a swag strainer that sees near-daily use for 38 years with no end in sight? That should be in a glass case in the Vatican, because God in heaven, it’s a miracle.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • Yes, I changed my mind and signed up for Twitter, after pondering somebody else using my name and creating a Fake Jeff Duntemann. (Thanks to Bob Fergert for prompting me to imagine the unimaginable–and I’m a good imaginer.) More on this a little later. I have yet to post anything due to lots of top-priority projects here, but I’ll get to it within the week.
  • Dietary saturated fat is not related to plasma fatty acids. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much saturated fat you eat; your blood levels of fatty acids are controlled by other factors. What other factors? Care to guess? Are you reading this on Contrapositive Diary? Is the Pope from Argentina? Is the atomic weight of ytterbium 173.04? It’s the carbs. Wow. Whodathunkit? (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal, who was the first of several to put me on the scent.)
  • There is actually a prize for the worst sex scene in literary fiction. It is not a coveted award, and I guess is seen as a sort of booby prize among literary writers. The WSJ recently posted a brief guide on how to avoid writing such scenes. (I avoid writing really bad sex scenes by not writing sex scenes at all. Works amazingly well.)
  • Two people in my circles who don’t know one another have independently recommended Ting as a cell carrier. First impression: Sounds too good to be true, and sheesh, they were created by Tucows. (That said, Tucows is no longer what most of us grayhairs remember it being.) Any other opinions? Getting new phones and a new carrier is my next big tech research project.
  • I’d also like to hear some early impressions of Lollipop, if anybody’s got it or is about to get it.
  • Here’s something you don’t see every day; in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it even once, ever: A square flat-panel monitor, with a 1920 X 1920 resolution. Assuming these survive their launch (not a sure thing by any means) I’d be sorely tempted. As the story says, “Enough of the ultra wideness already.”
  • I wasn’t sure whether good technical books could be created as reflowable ebooks, but Yury Magda is doing it. He has five self-published Arduino-related titles now, and what I can see in the samples looks damned good. I’m going to buy a couple, less for the Arduino content as for how he does the layout. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for putting me on to this.)
  • Gizmodo/Sploid has a very nice short item on the XB-70 Valkyrie, certainly the most beautiful and possibly the second-scariest military aircraft ever built. Do watch the video of how the second prototype crashed–and if you’re ever within striking distance of Dayton, don’t miss the other Valkyrie at the Air Force museum there. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
  • Barðarbunga is emitting over twice as much sufur dioxide every day as all of Europe’s smokestacks put together, and the volcano is still hard at it. SO2 is well-known to be a powerful cooling factor in the atmosphere. Combine that with a quiet Sun, and nobody really knows what might happen.
  • Best video illustration of how tumbler locks work that I’ve ever seen.
  • For that special, short, hairy, ironic someone in your life: You can get a genuine Flying Nun-inspired Weta-made Bofur winter hat, shipped all the way from New Zealand. Not cheap and not sure if it’ll arrive before Christmas, but if this winter keeps going like it’s going, you’ll be all set to face dragons, ice ages, or both.