To write in stone or sand

I know I know… I am breaking what I said about once a week. So what. I was reading some posts by people who ‘liked’ one of my post today and this one about physical books vs. e-books got me thinking.

I am a big fan of e-books. I even get upset when I find a book I want but can’t get it electronically. The reason why is simple. It is not that I am addicted to reading from a screen, on the contrary, I enjoy reading from a page. It is the convience of carrying. I have thousands of e-books and I can carry them all on my table (or heck, on my phone if I wanted to). So all those books can be right there with me.

Plus, when I am researching something I like having everything there and easily searchable. I can, from within Acrobat, search the contents of every pdf on my systems (with other software I can do the same with text and doc files as well). It is so much easier and less time consuming then finding “that book with that thing in it”. (Unfortunately, although I can remember theories and information and even entire passages well the sources are less memorable for me since the authors names are abstract facts, they themselves nor their names specifically relate to the enclosed ideas.)

Anyway, after reading John Guillen’s post entitled “Print vs. E-Book: Which side are you on?” I began to think about the difference between physical and electronic books – beyond the practical considerations.

E-books exist because the technology which maintains them and makes them accessible exists. Who reading this post has an 8-track machine, or a Beta machine… heck, a VCR any more. The existence of an e-book therefore, unlike print, is predicated upon the continued existence and compatible functioning of societies technologies. My PC or DVD player (sorry, my PS3) won’t play an 8-track, or an old Atari game cartridge. The flip side of this is print. A book in print relies on no other technologies after it is created for its continued use. You can read it today and need only it, some light, and maybe a pair of glasses depending on your eyesight and the print size and these are the only things you need to read it in the future. If I look through my files I can find many out dated file types. Microsoft’s .lit file type for the Microsoft Reader comes to mind – I have 930 of these files. Both the reader and file type were discontinued 6 years ago. Calibre supports converting it now, but what about 6 years from now. Will I be able to read it? Probably not, but there is no piece of software or hardware which can become outdated and stop me from reading the printed books on my shelf.

So, print books have a state of Existing because they exist on their own. They are an object with use and purpose not dependant on something else. E-books, while they may exist in that they have power and effect in the symbols they include (the words or pictures) it is the content which has being and not the book itself. They have no permanence granted by the existence of the object which contains them. Sorry to get so philosophical, the truth is, a print book has permanence, it exists. When it comes to the writer this should contain a very special meaning. To publish an e-book is to make known to the current viewing audience your ideas. To publish in print is to give life to something which may outlast you, a legacy more certain than anything published electronically.

One is written in stone while the other is written on the sand.


To Publish or Not to Publish, That is the Quandary

The title states the first question, but once someone has decided to publish many other questions arise. This has been an issue I have recently been dealing with. I promote Creative Commons, but publishing houses won’t pay for a book which is under a Creative Commons licence. There is always the options to self-publish, but that adds a lot of work to the writers plate. There are resources to help with it theses days and e-publishing is a great options given the amount of people using hand held devices. Then comes the issue of how to live off of your writing. If you are self-publishing you can’t get an advance, and furthermore you have to carry any publishing expenses yourself. Crowd funding campaigns have been successful, but that adds another level of work for the writer to occupy themselves with. All in all, writing and self-publishing, being true to the ideals of open information, and trying to get readers becomes a full time job with no certain avenue of revenue. A writer who is self-publishing needs to promote themselves to sell books adding even more work. Big publishing houses can give a writer exposure and recognition that they may never receive through self-publishing and it is often this exposure and recognition which sells books as well as opens other doors.

So, how do you succeed as a writer outside the “mainstream” publishing system. Personally I would rather release everything I write under Creative Commons and for free to my readers. But under the current systems this is simply not feasible. A writer has to pay rent and buy food too. So we have to charge money for that book. But how to get the book written while working just to survive. I have been considering all of this recently and have not been encouraged by the research I have been doing. It has been, quite frankly, rather discouraging.

I have a physical injury which restricts what type of work I can do, and sometimes makes me completely unable to work. This is a large part of why I returned to school at thirty-three to get a degree in anthropology. My injury hasn’t presented me with any serious issues for the past several years until this past year where I have had three times where I was barely able to get out of bed for at least a month at a time. How can I work any job with an issue like that? So, after deep thought, I decided writing was a good solution. I just needed more determination and focus. But how to succeed at that when starting from zero, in all categories.

So how do I overcome these issues and find success as a writer? This is what I have been contemplating and researching lately and what I will be writing about in the coming weeks. Though it has been discouraging I have not been swayed from my path. I will try, I will learn, and I will succeed… and then I will talk all about it.

The inconsistent blogger

I haven’t written in a while. Not that I haven’t been thinking of it. But life gets a little busy at times. Sometimes you get so caught up in learning and researching that you don’t get to post anything. So, I am going to try to commit to posting at least once a week for the summer. Any more than that and I am afraid the quality will suffer or I will run out of things to say (as if that is possible) and any less than that and I am afraid I will get too caught up in life and forget to post. The truth is, and this comes from someone who writes and does some teaching on writing and blogging, that you need consistency or your writing will fall by the way side. If you don’t commit to deadlines you aren’t too likely to get it done because you fall into that I’ll do it later, right now I want to do this other thing routine. So, we become inconsistent bloggers, or writers. If we have fans or followers we have to respect them and not just drop off the face of the Earth for a year or more at a time. But more importantly, whether we have fans or followers or not, we need to write just for ourselves.

Writing is an important creative process. It is not natural for human beings to write, if it was we would have pencils instead of fingers. But creativity is natural and expressing that creativity in a form outside of the self is an important activity. It is a release. It is also the activity which gives us presence and permanence in the world. It is the thing which says I am here, I was here, I will always be here. This doesn’t have to be writing. It can be whichever creative expression we are personally into. For me it is writing. Telling stories whether those stories be about academic or scholarly issues or about the lives of people on distant planets it is telling stories which releases the creative energies within me imposing my being upon the world for time eternal. Holding it in, on the other hand, and not writing, is more of a repression of the self. I spend much of my year attending classes at university where I study anthropology. I love anthropology but often the papers I have to write are not the solely the product of my creative endeavours but conform to the requirements placed on me by the system. So it is not a release. I come home from school or work and all I want to do is relax. I play some games or watch a movie. But I never feel relaxed. But every four months I get two solid weeks off and during this time I get to write what I want how I want and I have found that it is only during this time that I feel relaxed, happy, secure, satisfied… I achieve release.

When teaching and discussing blogging I am often asked the question “Why?” People want to know why they should blog and this has been the most difficult question for me to answer. I have taught or discussed blogging with people for 8 or more years now (and taught people to build and write for web sites for 15), and I have always understood that writing is therapeutic, but what is the value in writing on a blog rather than just a piece of paper. I don’t really have much of an answer except the one I give to my students “Whatever you interests you are not alone.” We all have great things to say and that information should not be kept to ourselves, it is selfish. Sure, there is risk in putting yourself out there, but there is risk in not putting yourself out there as well. On the other hand, sharing and connecting with others is greatly rewarding while writing only for yourself and hiding in the shadows gives you nothing in return.

To these ends I have recently endeavoured to force myself to finish a novel, or two, or twenty. I have discussed, on this blog, some of the issues of intellectual property in the digital age and make no secrets of my support for open source and creative commons. But in researching funding options, publishing options, and blah blah blah I have run into a system that is complex which at first seems restrictive but does have its benefits. At the same time I wish the system wasn’t a necessity as it does possess a barrier to many creative minds. So, I am starting a new section here on publishing which I will be working on in the coming months as I try to bring my first publicly released novel to life through self-publishing via a kickstarter campaign.

It will be a great journey, I hope you enjoy it with me.

Game hacking – harmless fun or virtual rape

(Note: I wrote the following post about a year ago but didn’t post it. I just noticed now marked as private under my list of posts. I would like to mentioned that although I find what people call “hackers” in games to be academically interesting I absolutely do not support the behaviour. But what such behaviour says about the individuals and our society is quite interesting to discuss.)

Day….z. Dayz? DayZ… DayZ! There, I think I have said it enough times to be noticed by search engines.

It’s been a while since I posted anything but I decided to try to get back to it. My posts have been few and infrequent due to my being overly busy but that really is a moot point since I have so few subscribers anyway. But today children I’d like to talk to you all about rape. That’s right, rape.

I’ve been playing DayZ lately, for those of you who don’t know what that is it is an online multi-player survival simulation mod of the Bohemia Interactive hit title ArmA2 (which only became a hit 3 years after its release due to the DayZ mod). If you want to know more about it I suggest youtubing it, there are some great vids (*whisper* I personally prefer Frankieonpcon1080p but don’t tell anyone else you might upset them).

In this game as in pretty much all multi-player games there are people who try to break the rules, hackers they like to call themselves but I think that is an insult to real hackers, so we will use the more derogatory script kiddies. These people have scripts that allow them to do all sorts of things which players are not supposed to be able to do. For example, on one of my first runs in Chernarus (another word for the search engine to find) I was in Kamyshovo (and yet another… and there will be more) and all of a sudden my whole screen went this awful shade of grey and had a very unpleasing sexual comment on it (and… enters the rape). On other occasions I have seen players get killed without reason, have script kiddies teleport in behind them to kill them, or unload multiple clips on someone to no effect because the kiddie had god mode on. The people using the scripts can also script into their inventory any item they want, including (or so I am told) weapons that don’t even normally exist on the server.

Now let’s be absolutely clear here, these are legitimate hacks. Not legitimate hacks as in they aren’t against the rules, just that they real are hacks and should not be devalued by my referring to those who use them as script kiddies. The people who created these hacks are hackers with talent, the majority of people using them are not and merely use what others have created putting no work into it themselves. This is a very important distinction to make before moving on. The script kiddies have no, or very little, skill.

Though they possess little or no skill they pat themselves on the back and strut around like they are top players. Like they are so damn good at the game. The truth is they aren’t. Had they any skill at the game they would play without the hacks. The truth is these people are not playing DayZ but changing the game to create one of their own fashioning – RapeZ – and forcing us to play it. (By the way, please do not confuse my use of the word rape with the gamer use of rape commonly found as in rape dungeon. I am using rape in a more common and academic sense.)

Why is this rape? A set of factors make this rape. First, the scripter is forcing their will on you completely without your consent. Second, the scripter is doing harm to players and though it may be virtual it can have real world consequence. Third, the person forcing their will and doing harm is seeking to dominate for their own gratification (possibly even masturbatory).

But isn’t a player who snipes you with a DMR from the hill overlooking Electro forcing their will on you as well? I am sure you didn’t want to be killed? No, this is not the same, because when a legit player signs on to DayZ they do so knowing that it is PvP and accept that at least within the confines setup by the game. Sure, when I signed on to DayZ I, as did all the other non-scripting players, signed on to be challenged by the environment and others, to be killed (virtually at least) by other players or zombies or to simply die of hunger, thirst, exposure, or cold (yes these things do affect your character in this game). Yes, this is true. But I signed on to it within the context and confines of the game itself, I signed on to how the game is meant to be played. By changing the game and forcing you to play it they have imposed their will on you in a non-physical though still violent manner. It is as much a violation as profanity which has power of violence because by saying it you are forcing other people to hear and have a reaction to it.

And this is how it causes harm. We all react to things differently and spending 3 weeks on a single character in a game with persistent death just to fall prey to some troll’s masturbatory act can make a person feel pretty bad, not to mentioned agroed. Sure, this might not be as much harm as that done by other forms of rape, and I am not trying to say that it is, there are many levels of a thing it does not mean they are different. Though this may be materially different than other forms of rape such as sexual rape it is still a violation of one person by another, which cannot be considered harmless under any circumstances, and is done for the personal gratification of the imposing person at the expense of the victim.

Last, these script kiddies do this not to be good at the game, and in DayZ it is not to win the game by cheating because you can’t actually ‘win’ DayZ. Simulations are by their very nature not winnable because they do not have a finite end goal. These scripters do it do dominate others, to have that power. Granted, this is the same reason why a lot of legit players play DayZ as well as other games, but at least they are playing the game we all signed onto and not forcing others to play their games.

I hope you have guessed by now that I am not just talking about DayZ here. I am talking about all online multi-user platforms in which a person with a few scripts can adversely affect other people beyond what is meant within the program by its creators and users. This type of online behaviour should not be marginalized but it should be recognized for what it is. It is harmful on an individual and a social level. It is also something very interesting to consider, explore, and discuss as it deals with peoples social behaviour – which is always a fascinating topic and the reason I am putting this forward.

Now watch some script kiddie get mad and rant on my blog or try to take it down…

Next on Wil pisses off the weirdoes… no wait, I like weirdoes, being weird is a good thing. Hopefully my next post won’t be too far away where I intend to talk about some basic personality/behaviour types shown through online games. I also intend to restore my other post to their original, much longer formats, or post them somewhere and link them. Until then… “anyone in cherno?”

Fueling the Technological Race

One of the largest criticisms of computers and the internet which I have heard is that it is just another gimmick of large corporations to take our money. Opponents of capitalism, a system that has truly powered the rise of the machine as well as the proliferation of anti-capitalist media we now have, will blame this trend to need more on marketing. They will say that we don’t need more, in which they are correct, and go on to say that it is the companies which brain wash us with advertising to believe we need more so that we will buy their products, in which they are incorrect. It is in fact the opposite of this more than anything which fuels the innovation and demand.

As computers become ever more powerful and devices ever more entertaining and diverse we demand more because it is in our nature to never be satisfied with what we have. No matter how useful a machine we already posses we always tend to think of what else we wish we could do that we cannot. As well, we tend to become overly familiar with things, to adjust to them – we are after all an adaptable species. So although the latest technology today seems fast to us given enough time to adapt it will seem slow.

Another fact which drives innovation is usefulness. Most people want to use a computer but most do not want to learn about them or simply do not have the time. Many software companies facilitate this by creating ever more intuitive and easy to use programs but at a cost of computer performance. As well, most people do not even understand the basics of the most widely used operating system today and use their machines in such a way that is easy for them but again at a cost of performance. This makes them believe they need more power.

I was once asked by my ex-girlfriend’s mother (though not ex at the time) to fix her computer. It was in the P4 days and was a 2.4 with a half a gig of ram running Windows XP. It was a decently new computer so she didn’t understand why it was running so slow. When I looked at her screen I noticed that her system tray – the area by the clock in the lower right corner – was filling an area half her screen width with some stuff still hidden. Looking though the programs there and checking them with the Task Manager I quickly found her problem, these programs were eating up all her processor power and memory. When I mentioned this to her she responded with, “Oh, I keep them down there so I can get at them easily. That’s how I like it.” This pretty much sums up a large portion of why most computer users think they ‘need’ more power. Of course, the problem is that with more power they will just find more ways to slow their system down and more ways to complain about it being slow leading them to believe they need still more power – a non-terminating loop.

Without this demand for more power computer companies could cut the cost of research and development and cash in for a longer period on technology. They would not need to spend money to create new ways of making faster processors. They would not need to figure out how to fit more virtual storage space in to smaller physical space. Nor would they need to learn new ways to enhance the speed of computer to computer communication. Developing all of these things costs money and it would be more profitable if computing technology lasted for many years without becoming outdated. So it is demand driving the companies to produce more powerful machines rather than companies manufacturing the demand through ‘brain washing’. But there are other factors which I shall leave for other discussions.

SOPA and the Death of Freedom on the NET

The U.S. government recently tried to pass a bill called Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA for short. I am forced to wonder if most people realize what this bill will do. Does anyone, the public or the elected officials, really understand how devastating this bill will be to the empowerment the internet gives the common people? Do the corporations? Well, the corporations probably do understand. They lost control of the internet in the late 90s. Any active internet user from that era can tell you that most services were corporate run, cost money, and only contained corporate created and controlled content. And this is the way the corporations of the United States wants it because they lost money once web space and user content hosting became free and freely accessible.

What SOPA will do, in essence, is cause all sites which are based on user content to shut down. This includes Youtube and blogging sites. Why? Simple. SOPA allows for a site to be charged, without being first warned, if anything on their site contravenes copyright law whether it was posted by the site owners or by an independent site user. So if I post a video to Youtube that contains the latest episode of Family Guy and Fox sees this they charge Youtube criminally even if they saw it one minute after I posted it and Youtube saw it 2 minutes later and removed it. No company is going to risk being criminally charged for hosting infringing material posted by a third party. Sopa also extend to all web hosting sites, free or otherwise, as well.

Without this ability for us peasants to post our content the only things on the internet will be that which is created, selected, and controlled by the corporations. But the lack of hosting sites will lead to another boon for the corporations. At present the common theory among most people is why pay for content on the web when so much is free. Back in the 90s when your only options to having your own content out there were to know how to code and most often have the money to pay for hosting very little was free. Newspaper and televisions network sites, gaming sites, even most email sites ran on a paid subscription service model. But with the rise in free content posted by users the model of the pay sites was broken though they still found ways to make their money through advertising models.

SOPA would kill the internet as it currently exists. It would no longer be a medium of freedom and expression but a medium of slavery and oppression. The idea will be that you must pay to see only what the corporations want you to see.

The Cost of Free Information

Information. It is all about that one word, idea, and ideal. We consume information everyday from many sources. Sometimes we have to pay for it; sometimes we are paid to consume it. There are those within our society who believe in the freedom of this information. Just having access to the information we choose to consume is a freedom in itself. Still, others go further. The controversy around the internet and copyright infringement is centered not on hacking, not malicious acts, not theft for thefts sake, but around freedom of information. In the earlier era of cyberculture the hackers sub-culture arose with the ideas of free access to information.

Freedom to information facilitated by such a convenient and ‘uncensored’ medium as the internet has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for people. If people are interested in gaining knowledge rather than gaining pleasure then they can look deep and seek all the facts. They can participate in self education on topics of personal interest or importance for today. They can gain exposure to things that they may not otherwise have the chance to including other places, peoples and cultures. The virtual world is a large world full of information and resources to facilitate almost any need or desire including education and the best education is one free of indoctrination or prejudice which allows the students the ability to think and decide for themselves.

However, there are those who make their living on information. There are people who publish works and rely on income from those works to survive. Much of the quality of that work suffers, or there will be less of it, if the writing is not profitable enough to live off of forcing the creator of the work to gain other employment to pay the bills. This is true of all entertainment media as well as education media. Novelists, screenplay writers, directors, actors, musicians, and all the other people employed in the creation of the work suffer if the work does not make money. If these people cannot dedicate themselves solely to their creation it will not be as good or it will take longer to produce than it would otherwise.

We can look at open source software as an example. While most community created and maintained open source software is good, powerful, and of course free, it is often not as user friendly or diverse as closed source software which usually costs. Adobe Creative Suite, for example, is closed sourced and very expensive but rather intuitive and to do the same things as this integrated suite of software one would need probably a couple of dozen different pieces of open source software which are not integrated allowing you to work between programs with ease. The difference here is that while software such as GIMP, Inkscape, Komposer, and other open source programs which can replace Adobe CS are free they are created by people with other concerns in life working other jobs and have less time to devote to the development of these tools while the developers of Adobe software are making their living at developing that software allowing them to devote more time, resources, and concentration to that product.

So the industries need their money to thrive and if they do not thrive the quality of product we receive is diminished as a result and the lives of those who actually created the work will suffer. This really is the greater problem in extending the ideals of freedom of information to cover copyright infringement and software pirating. THE INDUSTRIES NEED THEIR MONEY! Do you really think that if the industry loses money due to copyright infringement that the artist will get their share and the corporation will take a lower cut? Of course not.