The Social Gravity Well

I am fascinated by a conversation currently unfolding about the counter-intuitive interplay between shorter and longer form content online.  I became aware of it via Anil Dash’s post extolling a principle I personally take for granted, that your primary site of content creation should be exclusively under your own control.  Reading through this discussion reminded me rather strongly of a monologue I produced a bit over a year ago, on The Social Gravity Well.  I’ve been meaning to convert my more interesting audio pieces into text essays for sharing on this site so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.


In many corners, I’ve been hearing a dichotomy proposed between the web as pages and the web as stream. Jeff Jarvis constantly contrasts the two on This Week in Google, mostly when he is talking about Twitter. It stems from Dave Winer’s notion of the river of news. Rather than browsing to specific destinations a push based, approaching real time web flows information past a passive receiver. There is something to the comparison. You communicate differently through social messaging. You certainly receive information differently. New services entering the space have to understand the difference. I don’t think these two distinct points tell the entire story.

This sounds to me a lot like traditional broadcast. Without a DVR you are subject to the whims of network programming. You could talk about dipping your toe into the stream of broadcast news. The biggest difference between the stream and traditional broadcast is the barrier to entry in participation. The nature of programming is rather different, too. In the stream, content is dictated by your social connections. Even more so than broadcast, every person’s experience will be different. The breadth in that potential difference is immense. The unique character of streams then is a function of possible combinations, of social connections who produce information. The basis of my objection, why I make this comparison, is the implication of passivity. Maybe that is a function of a different scale I haven’t reached in my own utilization of social messaging. Dunbar’s number sets a physiologically rooted limit on meaningful connections. Maybe well past that limit the only useful way to approach information is more with passive immersion than active engagement.

I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the continuum between the two models of information flow on the web. Streams suggest high volume and low interactivity. Pages suggest lesser volume but greater potential interactivity. In contrasting the two, I think Jarvis makes it sound like one excludes the other. Stop and think about that for a moment. What would Twitter or StatusNet be like without anything longer to link to? It is kind of like the suggestion that SMS will replace phone calls. Or that IM will replace email. As a function of their different qualities different media will operate at different volumes. As an example, I have just over twenty-five hundred posts on my blog (as of writing this post). I have well over ten thousand tweets on my Twitter account. My blog is at least twice as old as my Twitter account. As a writer, I would feel utterly stifled if my micro-blog outright replaced my blog.

I think a gravity well is a more nuanced metaphor than flowing water. Social messaging is a high orbit utilizing higher speeds. Blogs and content sites are low orbits with stronger pull. You could chart any number of media on this hyperbolic curve. I think the metaphor is even richer than that. The tag, tl;dr, becomes a case of failing orbital capture.

Think about clawing out of a particular engaging blog post or even sites that have a strong memetic draw. They could be thought of as singularities. Wikipedia inducing a click trance is like a force of gravity so strong it drags event light past its event horizon. Irregularly read sources form eccentric orbits like comets wandering in from the oort cloud.

There is almost infinite space to explore how content fits into this model, not necessarily limited to low gravity or high gravity, or high orbital speed versus low orbital speed. The well can include related strands, stretching content across orbits, like an orbital tether with masses orbiting at different velocities. Capitalizing on the differential the whole moves together in the well as one construct. Such artifacts becomes useful, like a space elevator, for more easily moving, deeper into a gravity well and back again. Bookmarks are an extremely early construct for this. They allow a reader to drop a tag at high orbit that facilitates returning and falling back into content much more easily, like a pre-plotted trajectory or course. A blog post deep in the well, could be redacted into a status update with an embedded link, forming a natural gravity tether. Each end of that pairing moves at the appropriate speed and readers can move between the two according to the changing availability of their attention. A high speed capture could result in someone sinking into the well. Personally, I use the higher orbits to quickly collect links, then when I have time later, I allow myself to be drawn deeper in.

In the infosphere instead of gravity and the attendant energy burned it is attention cost that differentiates orbits. At higher velocity, each item needs to be cheaper. This maps well with more expensive items sitting deeper in the well. It also matches well with the cost of production.

Higher orbital traffic is the link economy. Readers can speed from well to well without necessarily getting trapped. Social messaging services act as gravitationally driven slingshots. They don’t require stopping rather accelerating the reader as they fly by. It is easier for some kinds of content to be spit out as pithy messages, especially in the form of links to pre-existing items optionally with simple comments for context. Such content speeds up discovery of more interesting items. It is harder to develop an editorial character this way, though it is possible. Doing so relies more on how the acts of selection reveals the character of the curator as the volume of short messages accumulates.

Aggregators like Digg, BoingBoing and MetaFilter already act as ground based orbital catapults, shooting readers all over the infosphere. Older model sites like these have a bit more drag. They offer more of a way station than social messaging. They can track orbits that are more complex though in the form of their ability to show a strong editorial character. They exhibit useful idiosyncracies like the flight capabilities of some bespoke orbital escape craft. The different placement of thrusters along vagaries of the mass and size of the central body lead to a very different ride in, out and around.

I follow very few people who create content that exists solely in high orbit. Usually it is highly original and creative. For example @rstevens posts all kinds of quips and non sequiturs. Shit my dad says is an unique example, hinging on posting short quotes based on a single premise, just enough content to deliver a punch. Other content in this rarified realm relies on the accumulated context, to expand and establish voice. Few if any examples would stand up to sustained attention deeper in the well. Shit my dad says would be far harder to turn into a single page blog post. It would have to change substantially, becoming far more traditional narrative. It would have to operate like a space craft needing to be able to withstand different stresses and to provide different amounts of thrust to maintain higher and lower orbits. Otherwise it would be crushed like an astronaut too long in orbit unaccustomed to the stronger pull so deep in the well.

A good creator will consciously consider the full span of the well. We already have many publishers that excel at going beyond the simpler models, acting as better examples of orbital tethers, catapults, sling shots and the like. Many people already naturally are using plugins, to link blog posts with social messages. Others have explored similar but even more involved models. As an example I received several email newsletters. All of these also have blogs which post the same content. The email digest is a medium velocity vehicle. It offers more than a 140 character social message but still relies on links to the full piece. It is nowhere near as quick to review as social messages but offers more detail at a slightly higher attention cost.

The deeper wells become, the more options authors have. Likewise, the better the technology, the easier to explore the full range the social gravity well has to offer. I don’t think there is any limit, really, other than perhaps shearing force. If orbits are paired that requiring attention that is too different in kind or quantity then the reader may experience too much stress. The burden is on content producers to find the most comfortable and hence useful combinations. The more effective ones will see more readers spending more attention, across the full range of the available space.

Convening of New Congress to be Streamed on Facebook

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has the details, which are fairly scant. He raises all of the questions that occurred to me when considering this announcement, especially how deeply you’d have to participate with the hosting page (i.e. liking it or not) and whether other sites could share and embed the video.

The response from Facebook doesn’t offer much clarity on these points.

Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s Manager of Public Policy Communications, got back to us by email and had this to say. “Hundreds of members of Congress use Facebook to communicate and connect with their constituents in an official capacity and we’re excited to see Facebook being used prominently as the 112th Congress gavels into session this week.” It turns out that Rep. Boehner, the new Republican Speaker of the House, is leading the effort with his new media team. Facebook is, however, one of very few 3rd party services that Congress has approved for official use, something that was a subject of controversy when the US government started using YouTube prominently.

I suppose given the gap between the capabilities of the public sector and the private it is unreasonable to expect the offices of our governing bodies to come up to the scale and distribution offered by Facebook and YouTube in such short order. I am still not happy that this isn’t being done on a platform that is relatively more open like, oh, say, just about any of them. I’d be happier still if the approved third party sites were used like metaphorical overflow seating in addition to whatever meager streaming resources the IT folks on the Hill could throw together on their own.

Facebook to Live Stream US Congress Opening Tomorrow, ReadWriteWeb

Pew Study on Use of Government Web Sites

Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica teases out some interesting threads from a newly released Pew Internet and American Life Survey. I didn’t see anything that surprised me in his breakdown, finding in general that use of government furnished online services is up across the board. He also points out a broad corollary between those who make more use of such services and a greater level of trust in the government.

One of the not surprising revelations is that there remains a considerable digital divide.

[T]he composite online government site addict was either male or female (52/48 percent), white non-Hispanic (74 percent), aged 30-49 (42 percent), and college educated (52 percent). This person was very likely to have home broadband (91 percent) and/or wireless Internet (78 percent), go online for political news (90 percent) and participate on social networking sites (65 percent).

There is cause for hope. In the two new classes of users revealed among the respondents, there is a better representation across divides for government social media use.

African Americans and Hispanics were by far the most enthusiastic about government interactive and social networking site features. Sixty-three percent of African-Americans, 44 percent of Hispanics, and 32 percent of whites agreed with the statement that government sponsored online digital tools “help people be more informed about what the government is doing.”

I am not sure what, if anything, that says about access to the net in context with access to other media useful for interacting with government. You have to bear in mind that phone calls and letters still carry more weight when dealing with our elected representatives than even email, let alone social networks and messaging.

I have one additional concern, a significant one, in seeing such a positive trend towards both greater use and participation through the net. The more everyone comes to depend on online offerings for public resources, the greater the risk of IP terrorist tactics like three strikes disconnect policies of wreaking more damage.

More Analysis of ACTA under NDA, Possible Counter-Intuitions about the GPL, and More

  • Opening of ACTA is hardly any opening at all
    Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge was one of the folks who saw one section of one draft of the agreement under NDA. Without violating that NDA, he describes his experience and concludes that at most the USTR made this move to blunt criticism of its continued secrecy. Sherwin is skeptical, though, that the USTR is even acknowledging complaints about the secrecy enough to make this argument.
  • Mozilla backs another downloadable font standard
    Wired’s WebMonkey has the details, that support for WOFF will be coming in 3.6 planned for release at the end of the year. They even include the very first thing I though of when reading this news, the potential minefield of licensing as exemplified by the font fiasco with Boing Boing’s recent site re-design (to which WebMonkey links).
  • Counter-intuitions about GPL, forking and MySQL
    Matt Asay takes a look at another angle to consider with the fate of MySQL post an Oracle acquisition of its corporate master, Sun. He cites Stallman’s letter to the EC as evidence that the GPL prevents forking, hence preventing the community from routing around Oracle’s control of the database’s code base. To be clear, RMS’ arguments are around dual licensing, the right to offer a commercial version. A fork is still possible, that is orthogonal. What RMS and Asay are focused on is the commercial licensability as an incentive to driving future development.
  • Real time, 3D rendering in the cloud
    I will give NVidia props for a novel application of distributed computing but I remain to be convinced that this makes a lot of sense. The higher end mobile devices can do a good enough, if not photorealistic, job of rendering for 3D games. Is the potential network latency and hiccups worth any sort of incremental or drastic leap in quality this might provide?
  • PayPal opening its platform to developers
    I guess I understand the vision outlined in this NYT Bits piece. I think there are considerably more hurdles to overcome than PayPal is letting on, though. Think about the higher need for trust and security when you talk about payments versus other kinds of mash ups. I am curious to see some deeper analysis once the platform is opened for outside scrutiny.
  • Contemplating AI and its definitions
    Ed Lerner at Tor.com has a nice, quick consideration of artificial intelligence. He calls to task some of the very definitions of the term, rightly so I think, especially where the goals or end states are demoted on achievement. He even ties it into SF literature, juxtaposing the Turing test with our conceptions about aliens, true ones vs. men in rubber suits.
  • The effect on range of quality by online publishing
    At Techdirt, Mike Masnick points us to a thoughtful piece by Umair Haque. In a nutshell, the contention is that the worst of online media is really no worse than traditional media but the de-coupling of production from traditional drivers frees online creatives to produce astonishingly better quality.

Shorter Copyright Terms, Chilling and Warming Effects, and More

  • Why we need shorter copyright terms
    Glyn Moody provides a strong, well reasoned case for shorter terms bolstering creativity. As an author, he has skin in the game and bases much of his argument on his own, first hand experience.
  • UK border agency suspends DNA profiling
    This Register piece offers a bit more explanation of the agency’s rational. As such, it seems like a narrow case, to me, not worth the unintended consequences and the inevitable high cost in terms of eroded civil liberties.
  • EU claiming head start on net neutrality
    Nate Anderson at Ars discusses remarks by EC Viviane Reding. Her target largely seems to be the de-regulatory approach of the US, contending what I have believed for some time, that removing requirements around whole sale provisions is decreasing competition for access.
  • Japanese court overturns secondary liability for infringement
    Cory has the link and an explanation at BB. The ruling on appeal seems to have hinged on the software author’s intent. It also defies the common stance in other countries, increasing pushes for strict liability, even liability for inducement.
  • EFF on new FTC rules for social media and ads
    The EFF got an answer from the FTC’s Cleland who claims that traditional media has rules around endorsements and review products so doesn’t need these new rules. This has a high bogosity quotient and the EFF is looking to press the issue as part of its larger initiative on blogger’s rights.
  • Chilling and warming effects in spat between BB and Ralph Lauren
    Wendy Seltzer has an excellent teaching moment type of post on Freedom to Tinker. It recaps the DMCA claim and ultimate, warming effect resolution between the clothier and the copyfighting culture blog.
  • Google starts fixing issues with access to Usenet archives
    Wired has a good follow up to what appears to be a direct response to their earlier criticism of Google’s curation of the Usenet archives it acquired a while ago. Google is optimistic that there is a single specific bug responsible for the poor search Poulsen described in his first post.
  • Amendment would deny protections to bloggers
    The EFF has news of another bit of legislation selectively curtailing protections for online speech. One of the senators responsible apparently claims the amendment to be a procedural gambit but this seems like an awful dangerous waiver if it doesn’t pay off for the greater good.
  • Wikileaks looking to embed submission form
    Dana Oshiro at RWW has the details of the info warehouse site’s plans to partner up with high profile sites to help with its collection of interesting data.

Three Strikes Hypocrisy, PATRIOT Act Reforms Falter, and More

  • More opinions on FTC rule for bloggers and product reviews
    Adam Theiere of the Technology Liberation Front provides a good list of links to folks chewing on the recently announced FTC rule. Like me, most still have more questions than answers. Adam calls out some potentially disturbing implications, namely that it looks like traditional media may largely get a pass on these new rules.
  • Hypocrisy abounds with three strikes champion Sarkozy
    According to the quote Cory extracted from this story, this isn’t even the first time Sarkozy has been caught out infringing copyright. I am sure the French president sees a difference in kind between P2P based infringement and what he has done, repeatedly, though the law makes no such distinction.
  • New release backs DVD Jon’s venture with Amazon’s legitimate MP3 store
    As Dana Oshiro explains at RWW, Johansen’s DoubleTwist was launched to use his knowledge of circumvention to enable device shifting. I don’t know much else beyond that but have to imagine that their use of Amazon’s MP3 store may increase their profile to the point where we may see some uncomfortable questions brought to bear on the venture’s other offerings.
  • PATRIOT Act review fails to reign in search powers
    The EFF tweeted the link to this NYTs piece. It looks like the provisions of the bill set to expire will be renewed largely as is. The article details the last minute edits that led to some vastly weakened measures being swapped in to replace my aggressive reforms proposed earlier. There is still the JUSTICE Act to consider but this is disheartening.
  • Piracy Payback offers a way to pay for your P2P indulgences
    Nate Andersion describes the idea at Ars, one that doesn’t seem like either side of the P2P conflict really want or are likely to use. Worse, I can easily see how an adversarial label could snare the company with secondary liability for inducing users to partake of P2P regardless of any fees collected on their behalf.
  • One of The Pirate Bay brings criminal charges against anti-piracy group
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt has the very torturous details of BREIN’s efforts in bringing its suit against The Pirate Bay. As it turns out, brokep seems to have uncovered evidence that part of their twisted efforts was to falsify a report, essentially committing perjury, and on that basis is pressing his own fraud charges.

Considering the Value of Digital Goods

I tried to post a comment on Chris Miller most recent post on Unquiet Desperation. He asks some excellent questions about how we calculate the value of creative works if we acquire them in digital form versus tangible form. I say tried because his commenting system foiled me attempts to comment without having to authorization or register my identity or some such which I cannot be bothered with at the moment. Besides, what started as several random thoughts, really is now the length of its own blog post.

Go and read his post first then come back and read my comments below.

On loss, if I have not opened a physical copy of a book in years, that might speak to it also making its way to the real world kipple pile. The cycle time may be longer, but I don’t think the fact it is a durable item means it automatically gets a pass. Conversely, I love that for CC-licensed works if I do lose my copy, I can instantly replace it from the source. I find that quality of it much more valuable, maybe perversely so, than a comparable physical good. I can focus on enjoying it and not worry about the ongoing cost of curating it against inadvertent loss.

Material cost of production is zero? That may be slightly disingenuous. Sure, there isn’t the incremental cost of the container, both in time and materials, but compare that against the non-material cost of production. I’d say the time an author spends writing and revising far outweighs those last steps of turning it into a physical book and shipping to a reader or a store. In that instance, I actually see digital containers as a continuation of the commoditization of material containers. I’d almost say that the way most traditional distribution channels work, the packetization of a work into realized form is almost sub rosa to both the producer and the consumer.

Now the costs of distribution are something else altogether. I’d argue that those costs have already been decoupled from anything else. Ten bucks for a Kindle edition of a book? Really? When I can still order the paperback edition from the same source for a fraction? Am I paying the difference for the convenience of Kindle? I am may be particular sensitized to this case but there is a huge opportunity cost when the ability to refresh/replace my digital copy may be denied by DRM or similar schemes.

I’ll provide a counter example to your locust swarm. When I pay to support a digital work, like say “Sita Sings the Blues”, there are several things going on that actually ultimately increase my valuation of that work. If I make a donation for a download on Nina Paley’s site, I know for a fact I am directly supporting the creator. Not so when I buy the latest DVD from the bargain bin. There is also a much greater opportunity for conversation and connection. Points of distribution for digital goods can themselves be data rich, with links to more material on the creator’s work, context around the work itself, and the all important hooks into the larger filter that may lead me on to find similar works I am likely to enjoy.

Physical goods either don’t do any of those or do them very poorly, like sectional circulars at the local book store. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be in the same place at the same time as an author, at an in-store signing, to have that conversation. Not likely and that increases the cost in terms of inconvenience, driving down the value compared to the low cost of doing the same thing online.

All that being said, I agree with the questions you ask, that they are worth asking. I just thought I’d share some more optimistic thoughts–opportunities–for digital goods to avoid becoming locust guano.

Quick News for 9/1/2009

Alas, after just over a week of breaking my research, comments, and shared links into daily posts, I think the run will at least temporarily end with my departure for Dragon*Con tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage to find a quiet hour each day to assemble these posts. Definitely, once I return and recover, I will get right back in the saddle.

  • Coca-Cola using CC licenses on Facebook
    Direct from the Creative Commons blog. It’s not any sort of direct adoption by Facebook itself, but a very clever use of the creative control available to larger organizations. If more follow suit, hopefully that will add pressure in combination with the user petition to incorporate CC licenses into the service.
  • Report claims drop in P2P is the result of traffic shaping
    The report in question is from a vendor in the space so requires a grain of salt. I find this a bit difficult to digest, not because I am opposed to reasonable network management but rather that this will be used to support more extreme approaches. I’d rather see cooperative approaches like the features added to the new uTorrent beta, Pando and P4P than unilateral squashing of file sharing.
  • Research into contact lens displays
    RWW has the few details as this project appears to be just getting underway in earnest. Their future goals are ambitious, reading pretty much like a fixture straight out of the earliest cyberpunk fiction.
  • BSA now considering supporting three strikes policies
    It would be very easy to get upset and disturbed by this bit of investigation by TechDirt’s Mike Masnick and rightly so. I think there is a bit of a silver lining. The desperation that drives trade associations to such extreme measures points to the accelerating collapse of scarcity oriented business models.
  • Is Creative Commons harming copyright reform?
    Mike Masnick at TechDirt does a pretty good job of really trying to understand what would superficially seem to be pot stirring. What is encouraging is to even consider the question of how public licenses would need to change if we did have much more reasonable copyrights. I think there is a compromise by always being clear about the role of copyright with any kind of public license. I think it is not as simple as mere contractual ties, as Masnick suggests, and realize the unfortunate challenge this presents in helping the average creator understand the underlying legal mechanics.
  • Advocates seeking new legislate to limit targeted advertising
    We really lack any kind of comprehensive protections against targeted advertising and data collection. As the NYT piece points out, Congress has signaled their willingness to consider new legislation so the usual suspects are gathering to share their ideas and requirements.
  • IBM patents a tweeting remote control
    It updates your social services when you start consuming a new program, huh? Undoubtedly this is novel for a discrete device you can hold in your hand, but it isn’t so distinct from what we’ve had for some time, where software viewers can send updates and messages. I see my Boxee using friends doing this all the time. I am skeptical the patent will be challenged, though, on any basis.
  • Chrome OS to support single sign-in for Chrome browser
    RWW covers the evidence suggesting this feature but quickly moves on to the more interesting question. Will it be possible or feasible to run a different browser on Google’s forthcoming OS?

Balticon 43

Balticon is one of my favorite conventions, not in the least because it is as near to a hometown convention as it gets.  Despite what some of my further flung acquaintances imagine, Baltimore is not right next to DC.  To be fair to their geography sense the distance or proximity of the two cities isn’t what makes it a local con for me.  The program participants, organizers, volunteers and attendees include all of my near by friends so it feels like “our con”.  The convention is large enough though that it is so much more than that.  It is one of the largest conventions on the east coast and in addition to seeing all of my local friends there I saw many of my distant friends with a few notable and understandable exceptions.

Just over half of the panels on which I participated were on technical topics covering several aspects of podcast production.  Even after four years of hosting and producing my own podcast, I still learned a few things.  I especially respect those of my co-panelists who have only just started speaking on panels, none more so than Paulette Jaxton who, at the risk of embarrassing her immensely, I think was the unsung star of the technical panels.  Beyond her own, now sadly defunct, podcast, I learned she also has been assisting on some high profile, multiple voice talent podcasts, Murder at Avedon Hill and Metamor City.  It sounds like she is doing some serious heavy lifting to help the creators of both of those superb fiction podcasts.

I was on a couple of technical panels that were new topics for this year.  If I am going to volunteer for these panels next year, all I have to say is that I need to study up.  Chooch, of the Into the Blender and City of Heroes podcasts, had me throwing my hands up and exclaiming, “Velociraptor!”[1] more than once.  On the flip side, I now realize I have a local audio expert to pester if I need help.  Dan of Fanboyhell brought just the book I need to be reading between now and Balticon 44, “Modern Recording Techniques“.  I am glad these advanced topics went so well despite being scheduled so late in the con.

I also suggested a couple of new panel topics that made it onto the schedule this year.  They sounded so good when I wrote them up ahead of time but I had a moment of near panic with each when I introduced the topic to the audience and saw a room of blank stares.  Thankfully, my co-panelists swooped in to save the day, offering up some great thoughts and driving what turned out despite awkward starts to be fun and fascinating conversations.  First I have to thank Patrick McLean, Dave Slusher and Earl Newton for their participation in the Peer Media vs. Broadcast Media panel.  I am especially in awe of Patrick who I knew to be a fine story teller with a gifted voice but whose parents were also scholars, economists, whose influence can clearly be heard if you can get him to talk about market economics.  All the better if you are lucky enough to hear him do so while sharing a drink and strumming a guitar.  His thoughts on the power of sharing content freely are clearly deeply considered.  They were punctuated brilliantly when at one point during the discussion he dashed out of the panel room to grab up the wonderfully packaged sampler CDs he made to promote The Seanachai, explained to the audience how he had these made at his own expense, and then urged them to take them, take them all.

The other panel where I was just as grateful for my co-panelists was Technology: Podcasting’s Rocket Fuel.  Steve Eley was on that panel and was able to offer up examples both from his own popular and well made podcasts and from his work in the field of technology.  Ask him about the podcasting platform on which he has already started work.  Really do since the more interest he has the quicker it will no doubt get to a point where he can start beta testing.  Chooch and Jim Van Verth completed the panel adding their own very much welcome insights.  I am still waiting for Chooch to attempt the experiment we conceived during the panel, to submit one of his episodes to Google Voice to see if it can discriminate two different voices and to compare how well it manages against some of the attempted by not very successful audio transcription services we discussed.

My copyright panel was a bit more lightly attended than last year but it also was back to earlier in the morning on Monday.  Despite the smaller audience, Thomas Vincent and I shepherded another excellent discussion.  The fifty minutes flew by and before I knew it I was apologizing for running out of time.  Given the audience interest and response we could have easily kept talking for another half an hour to an hour.  I think I handed out more cards and buttons at that panel than any of the others I was on so would not be surprised to continue some of the conversations through correspondence or at future conventions.

Speaking of cards and buttons, I have finally exhausted the first box of Moo cards I ordered for the podcast and depleted a bag on 1.25″ buttons I thought would last me through Balticon and Dragon*Con both.  If you want to do me a solid, click on that donate button over there and help me order more for Dragon*Con at the end of the Summer.  Just a few people pitching in a few dollars each really helps.


I am also pleased to report the progress we’ve made with the volunteer efforts to record the author readings at Balticon.  This is the third year I’ve helped Martha Holloway get recordings for the Balticon Podcast to help with the ongoing efforts to promote the convention.  Last year, Bruce Lerner stepped up to help us out halfway through the con.  He thankfully returned, with an upgraded recorder, this year at the very start.  Paulette Jaxton further cemented her awesominity by volunteering to help with the recordings as well.  (She also baby sat several times during the convention, I am beginning to suspect she may be a super powered being from beyond the stars.)

I was happy to renew my acquaintance with authors I have met in the past, like Tom Doyle, as well as to meet new ones, like David J. Williams.  Tom gave his usual powerful reading, appropriate as his is retiring the piece he read, “Crossing Borders”, since he has expanded it into a novel for which he is now seeking a publisher.  David floored me by giving me a copy of his newly released book, “Burning Skies” and totally unsolicited signed it to boot.  I had a moment of panic when later that day I misplaced the book, feeling miserable for half an hour at how such an generous act had wound up.  Thankfully I recovered the book, tweeting my exploits as I lost and found it.  David surprised me again with a short email this morning commiserating with my near loss of the book and making sure I had retrieved it successfully after all.

The accessibility and generosity of the authors who do readings at Balticon has proven more than ample reward for volunteering my time to record them and help promote their works through the Balticon Podcast.  So much so that after three years, I consider it an integral part of my experience at the convention and would dearly miss it if I didn’t have the opportunity to help out in this way again.


Last but not least, the social scene was definitely the best yet for me this year.  On a whim, I decided to organize a gathering of FLOSS and tech geeks Friday night after my one panel and opening ceremonies, in case anyone had planned to go to that.  We had a good turn out and would have had more if we didn’t have to move from our advertised location to deeper in the bar.  Catherine Asaro has a lovely singing voice but trying to talk shop doesn’t work very well when competing with a live stage act.  I was able to renew my acquaintance with several folks I’ve met at conventions over the years.  I knew they were techies but we’d never had the opportunity to discuss that topic specifically.  It was nice to indulge in tech geekery without feeling like we were crowding out other topics.

We even managed to rope Nathan Lowell into our discussion who is I think more of a techie than he gives himself credit.  As it turns out, he is involved in some very fascinating technical work in addition to doing all of his writing in OpenOffice on Linux.  If Nathan used Bill Gates’ own computer to write his stories, I’d likely forgive him given the quality of the work and the depth of my enjoyment.  I was thrilled though that he does indeed use FLOSS, it adds a little bit more awesome to an already impressive body of work.

Chooch and his lovely wife, and co-host, Viv outdid themselves with Saturday night’s New Media party.  The theme of the party was to come dressed as your favorite new media creator or character.  When I saw the hosts themselves in perfectly conceived and executed XKCD costumes (please tell me someone got pictures?!?), I realized how badly I had dropped the ball by taking the lazy option in coming as myself.  How hard would it have been to find a red cape, borrow some goggles, and craft a small gondola for a helium balloon?  The party itself was packed, the density of folks for the given room size and the resulting sweltering conditions being the sole complaint.  Even the overflow portion of the party out in the hallway was great.

I didn’t make it all the way through the book launch Sunday night but the part I did catch was great.  Christiana Ellis and J.C. Hutchins put together a great event.  I am not just saying that because I won a copy of J.C.’s new book, “Personal Effects: Dark Art“.  The activities were creative and fun, I just wish I hadn’t hit the wall and could have stuck around longer.

Speaking of amazing events, Earl Newton‘s Singularity was just as well staged this year as, if not even better than, last year’s.  Even though Dave Kanter is abroad for his studies, he sent in a great video message and Matt F’n Wallace is a more than acceptable substitute.  You could almost describe The Singularity as overwhelming: a short film by Jack Daniels Stanley, an interview with J.C. Hutchins, Brand Gamlbin and Rich Sigfrit having way too much fun with Earl’s Parsec, and the latest Stranger Things.  The best news is you didn’t have to be there, Earl has already tweeted that he is going to try to have all the video for the event, including the new episode, up this week.


On a personal level, there was nowhere near enough time to spend with all my friends.  The time I did get to share with them was welcome and re-energizing.  The con felt less frenetic to me this year, despite being just as tightly packed with panels, events, parties and volunteering as the last two years.  I feel more comfortable in this world of fast evolving creators and thinkers.  It certainly seems like many others are really hitting their stride, giving off their own vibe of reassurance and anti-hecticness.  I am completely wiped out at the moment, I even took a sick day from work.  But the exhaustion feels good, I feel like I will have that much more energy and creativity once I recover from having immersed myself in all Balticon has to offer.  I know I don’t have to say it but it bears expressing all the same–I cannot wait for next year.


[1] Viv, Chooch’s wife and co-host, claims to completely lack technical savviness[2].  When trying to talk about the accelerometer in many smart phones, she couldn’t recall the device’s name.  All she could come up with was, “Velociraptor”.  When she related this to me, I pointed out that this coinage was part of a long and respected tradition in our group debatably starting with Jason Adams‘, “I drive a van”.

[2] I don’t believe it, not for a second.  Just listen to the live Into the Blender they recorded at Balticon.  It is clearly a ploy to get Chooch and the rest of us techies in the group to do her bidding.