Thom on December 19th, 2014

This is still one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. And this is one of my all-time favorite arrangements thereof:

Thom on December 18th, 2014

A group of hackers supported by a foreign power have stolen vast amounts of data from your servers and are distributing it at will in a continual stream of embarassment. Then the group threatens massive terrorist attacks against theaters that show a film your company produced. What do you do?

I know what everyone says Sony Pictures should be doing right now. They claim that Sony should stand up for free speech and refuse to be intimidated by foreign powers with an inability to take criticism. They claim that America just lost its first cyberwar. But they all seem to forget one simple thing: Sony is not a country. It’s not a government agency. It is a business. And in America businesses already walk around with a target on their foreheads–not from terrorists, though that’s also something most large corporations need to consider, but from a litigious society that stands ready to ruin anyone who makes a mistake.

It’s easy to tell Sony what they should be doing when it’s not you who will be hauled into court and forced to cough up millions of dollars. That’s what would happen if, in spite of the warnings, Sony went ahead and released the movie in question only to have a major terrorist incident. What are they supposed to do, have everyone coming to the theater to watch that or other movies sign release forms? Are they supposed to tell the families of the victims, “Sorry, but your loved one just sacrificed their life to stand up for our company’s right to free expression”? Didn’t we just recently go through several massive political cycles proving we’re not all on the same page on whether companies have a right to express political will? No matter how big a proponent you are of free speech, chances are any jury called would hold Sony responsible for deaths resulting from the movie being aired.

Sony has enough problems right now. They have to think of their employees and their own safety and financial security while they continue to endure long-term humiliation at the hands of cyberterrorists. And now they’ve also been forced to weigh public safety against their own profits. Freedom of speech is a noble, lofty goal, but you know full well the moment something goes wrong the critics will discredit the “defender of freedoms” angle and focus with laser-like intensity on the “blood for profits” angle.

It would be one thing if the government were to step in and defend Sony, offering full protection in the form of boots on the ground to protect theaters and legal support to exempt Sony from liability. But our current government was willing to let an individual video-maker take the blame for a terrorist attack on our embassy rather than stand up for his rights to free expression. This government is not big on freedom of speech, and they’re even less excited about corporations–even those who contribute to their campaigns–when they cause inconvenience and difficulty for them. There is no reason to suspect the government would not look for the first opportunity to throw Sony under the bus to protect themselves.

True, the terrorist threat is not all that credible. While the group in question clearly has resources, there has been nothing so far to suggest they have the physical resources and assets needed to carry out a large-scale terrorist attack. There’s probably a 90% chance that the threat is all bluff.

But that also means there’s a 10% chance Sony Pictures ceases to exist as a company after a horrible loss of life and a  long, painful, humiliating public bludgeoning. The cost of failure is large enough that they’d be stupid to ignore it. They’re a business. It’s their job to weigh the risks and potential gains of every project they consider. This (and every movie, really) movie was already financially risky enough without any foreign extortion involved. There’s a good chance it would have flopped on its own. There comes a time when cutting losses is a viable option.

I’m not sure I would have made a different call. Why should a company have to go where governments fear to tread?

Now indications are that North Korea is behind the group that hacked Sony. No matter how backward we may think them, they are just crazy enough to try something, and have sufficient resources to succeed. Is Sony being too easily frightened? I don’t think so. North Korea has been itching for a way to bloody the United States’ nose for some time, and terrorist actions seem to bear surprisingly diminishing reperscussions these days, especially against America who, at least in geo-political politics, tends to blame the victim.

What is a company, bound by rules and laws, supposed to do against a country bound by nothing? The moment terrorist activity was threatened this really was out of Sony’s hands. They made the only move they could really afford to make and still act responsibly for their employees and stockholders–though I’d be surprised if this earns them any reprieve from North Korea. I expect to see terrorist attacks against Sony assets and personnel anyhow. That’s how bullies and terrorists work.

But no, we should stop blaming Sony for not standing up for free speech. This really is the time for the US Government to step up. I’m not known as a fan of “government solutions”, but this is a clear-cut case of why we have governments. It’s their job to stand up for freedom of speech and to protect citizens who just want to see a movie and companies who want to make them. It’s their job to push back and make it clear that North Korea is risking terrible repercussions should someone so much as get mugged outside a theater showing that movie. We have a foreign power attempting to interfere with our businesses and threatening the lives of our citizens. This should not stand.

Sony did the right thing. Time for the US Government to earn the taxes it gets from Sony.


Update: Meanwhile George Clooney makes some interesting points, especially pointing out how the events in the whole Sony hack helped prepare the battlespace.

Update: And now the hackers are thanking Sony, though it sounds more like a continued threat.

Update: In an “Onion-esque” vein, Kim Jong-Un will be hosting next year’s Oscars… At least I think this is parody. It’s getting harder to tell these days.

Thom on December 16th, 2014

I found this interesting Ted talk by Orson Scott Card. I can relate. I’ve watched as several of my children’s teachers have tried to beat creativity and enjoyment out of my children with their supposedly “creative” assignments. Considering all the anguish over “reading response reports” it’s amazing my children still like to read. Glenn H. Reynolds says that more and more, sending your children to a public school is looking like parental malpractice. Fortunately that’s not been our experience over-all, but there are days (and teachers) that make me wonder.


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Thom on December 15th, 2014

As we approach the end of the year everyone and their dog are writing “best of the year” lists. I kid you not, I just caught my own dog penciling her own list of “Best Things I Sniffed This Year”. Okay, but seriously. I decided to take a quick run through my reading list this year (and previous years) and see what it revealed. Here are a few thoughts:

– Brandon Sanderson heads the list of most-read authors this year. Out of thirty-three books I read/listened to, five were by him. There are only a couple of other authors who appeared on the list more than once: Michael J. Sullivan and Brandon Mull. So I suppose it’s safe to say I’ve moved from ambivalence toward Brandon Sanderson to liking him. On the other hand, the all-time winner is Brandon Mull–I read six of his books in one year back in 2012, and nine appear on my list since it began in 2012, compared to eight of Sanderson’s (on the other hand, one of Sanderson’s is like two or three of Mull’s–they don’t call him “Sanderson Tree-killer” for nothing).

– There aren’t many more writers that appear on my lists from year to year–Jessica Day George, Tyler Whitesides, and William Gibson, to name a few. Mostly this is because most authors only produce one book a year. But other than that, I appear to be sampling what’s out there. One of most authors is enough to sate my curiousity, it seems.

– So far thirty-three books in a year seems to be my limit.

– The list doesn’t include at least two drafts of novels I read for friends this year. I wasn’t sure what to do with those. I read them, certainly, and they were novels. But does reading a novel before it’s officially a novel really count? If so, I could also include my own. In all cases I don’t think the authors would really feel I’d read “their novel”.

– Assuming I live another thirty years and continue to read at this pace I have about a thousand books left to read. Now there’s an odd thought.

– Since I only consume between twelve and sixteen audio books in a year, I’m still managing to find a great deal of time for reading. Go me!

– Now that I think of it, audio books are something I added last year, so my 33 books in 2012 is all that more impressive now that I realize I actually read all those books, not just had them read to me.

– Regardless of medium, that’s just under three books per month on average, at least two of which are “analog”. Clearly reading is a priority for me or I wouldn’t find that much time.

– Though clearly if I could spend as much time writing as I do reading I would be able to write two to three novels in a year. But reading requires a lot less work, and I usually do my reading in the evenings when I’m too brain-dead to write. Still, if I could find a way to stay awake longer/better, it might be best to shift my priorities toward the writing side of things more.

– Four to five books a year are books I read to my kids. I like doing that. And considering they range from thirteen to nine, I’m glad they still like doing that, too. The record, though, is seven books in 2012. Clearly the trend is toward fewer books together. It’s primarily become a means of resolving the fight over “who gets to read it first” when a new, much-anticipated installment in a favorite series comes out. I can live with that.

– I built new shelves for our living room this year to help house the growing library of books in our house. This should surprise no one.

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Thom on December 11th, 2014

I have at least one child who likes to play games (by which I mean tabletop, card,etc.). The trouble is his siblings don’t always want to play as much or as often as he does. I’m launching a bit of a search to find some good games that can be played both with a group and as a solo game. Any thoughts or suggestions, Interwebs?

Thom on December 10th, 2014

I’ve mentioned before that I am a cub scout leader. Last night we had a pack meeting, in which we honor the boys’ efforts and achievements, show off what we’ve been doing, and provide some brief family activities. My wife-and-co-leader and I organized some games. One was a relay race in which the kids would line up on one side of the gymnasium. One by one they would take a sheet of orange tissue paper, run to the other side of the gym, stuff the paper in one end of a toilet paper tube to make a “lit candle”, leave it standing, and run back to tag the next in line. For the second heat they do the same thing, only “putting the candles out”.

It was a big hit. They wanted to do it over and over. My wife noted something later that reminded me just how removed I’ve become from the child I used to be: many kids love to run, with or without reason. It’s easy to forget the feeling of running free, of having the room to just let it go. When you’re young your body still, for the most part, does whatever you want it to without thought or complaint. Chances to use your body are liberating, a personal “look-what-I-can-do!”

It’s hard to remember ever wanting to run for the sake of running. Now I have to need to get somewhere quickly before I’ll consider it. Running is something to be avoided.

There’s not much I regret losing from having grown up. But there are times when the sheer joy of running is one of them.

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Thom on December 9th, 2014

I remember when it used to be a sign of advanced thinking to question everything we were told, especially by those in power. Somewhere along the way that flipped. We are now supposed to believe everyone (at least the right someones) implicitly. To do otherwise is victim-shaming, racism, empowering the oppressor, etc. We’re supposed to accept at face value that everyone is trustworthy and has no ulterior motives for anything. Unless they’re the wrong people. Then we should never believe a word they say.

The funny thing is that who the automatically-trustworthy and the completely-unreliable are varies by which side you identify with. If you’re on the Left, no one on the right can ever be trusted, and they can never have anyone else’s best interests at heart, while everyone on the Left is a paragon of virtue. Of course if you’re on the Right, the opposite applies.

At times like this cynicism is safer than trust. But at the very least, ask question. Poke holes. They’ll try and convince you you’re a horrible person for doing so, but as a general rule, the more they complain the more you should probe. Validate, verify, and make up your own mind. It’s generally safest.

I’ve been hearing about Larry Correia for a few years now. He’s a self-publishing success-story who parlayed his success into not having to be a self-publishing success-story any more. He got his start in writing with a collaborative serial on a gun enthusiast forum. Encouraged by the amount of hits his serial was getting, he decided to try a full-blown novel. He sold over 2000 copies, and caught the attention of a bookseller who likes to champion independent authors. That bookseller sold enough of his books that he made it on a bestseller list without the help of a major publisher.

Before long Correia had a contract with Baen Books for “Monster Hunter International”. You could consider “MHI” urban fantasy, except it mostly takes place in rural Alabama. You could maybe consider it Paranormal Romance, except there’s a lot of gunfights, monster-hunting, and other assorted action getting in the way of the romance. So perhaps it could be considered Rural Paranormal Fantomance? Or perhaps “gun porn”. There’s certainly a lot of gun description and gun admiration, but it makes a certain amount of sense, as these monster hunters rely on their weapons. I didn’t feel it got in the way. The story is still king, and I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

And just what is the story, you ask? Let me tell you! Owen Zustava Pitt is an accountant (who put himself through school as an illegal pit fighter) whose boss is a real monster. And that’s before he turns into a werewolf and tries to kill him. Pitt, or “Z”, manages to kill the werewolf, but is seriously wounded–he technically dies on the operating table. While unconscious he is contacted by a mysterious, eastern European man who tells him he has been chosen for a task to stop the coming storm. When he awakens he is visited by two groups. The first is the government agency in charge of keeping monsters “under wraps” so as not to spook the public. They’re there to kill Pitt if it turns out he was made a werewolf himself. The second is a private company called Monster Hunter International who, having heard of his incredible feat of survival, have come to recruit him. One of the two MHI contacts is a beautiful, smart, gun-nut woman.

It shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to reveal that Pitt does not become a werewolf, so the government Monster Control Bureau can’t kill him, and that he joins MHI. But with the return of an ancient evil–and the old guy in his head–his troubles have only just begun.

Considering that Correia himself is an accountant and gun-nut, one could make a strong case for this being a “Mary Sue” novel. Pitt is certainly good at keeping himself–and everyone else–alive. On the other hand, he’s as dumb as a box of rocks at times, and has a terrible temper. If you didn’t know much about Correia you wouldn’t notice the obvious parallels. Knowing as much as I do, I still didn’t care.

I’ll need to issue a language and gore warning. Monster hunters are not known for polite language, and their work is messy. The latter was graphic enough to trigger the gore anxiety I developed after passing out in a rather graphic first aid class presentation once. But then I was listening to the audio book, which for some reason is more potent. I’ve read as bad in print and had no trouble at all. The language, violence, and gore would give it an “R” rating in movie form, but Correia avoids sex and descriptive nudity.

What you will see is accurate depictions of gun use. His guns have recoil, run out of bullets, break, jam, and create an awful lot of noise. If people don’t use ear protection they have difficulty hearing after a gunfight. Correia is, as I mentioned, is a gun enthusiast and a certified instructor. He got his start writing for gun enthusiasts, who would have picked him into shreds had he not gotten it right. So if this matters to you, Correia is your man.

Monster Hunter International blends action-adventure, humor, paranormal, a dose of Lovecraft, and para-military fiction together in a fun package. The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the pacing is lively. It includes a lively and varied cast of characters, exotic locales (if you consider Alabama exotic, which I do, being raised in the high deserts of Idaho), historical tie-ins, and a goodly portion of romance. I had a lot of fun with this one. More than I expected.

The audiobook is narrated by the ever-excellent Oliver Wyman. I understand Correia’s other series, “The Grimnoir Chronicles”, a fantasy noir, is voiced by Bronson Pinchot of “Perfect Strangers”, Balki Bartokimus fame (who I also understand is an amazing narrator).

Thom on December 3rd, 2014

This is awesome!

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Thom on December 2nd, 2014

The main thing I have to say about Ferguson is this: I wasn’t there. I didn’t see any of what happened. Media reports are not enough. I’m not qualified to judge, and I wish a whole lot of other people would admit the same.

If the rioters that trashed Ferguson businesses were locals, shame on you. What good is that going to do? If the rioters were trouble-makers from outside the community, you are among the most despicable of human beings and should bear the full shame of having made things worse in this country, not better.

All the protesters who tried to disrupt peaceful gatherings in other parts of the country, shame on you. You are making things worse. In Seattle you made a bunch of innocent children fear for their safety. You are worse than what you claim to fight. You are making things worse.

On the other hand…

Benjamin Watson is my new hero. If we need a national dialogue about race, I hope he is invited to the table. His excellent Facebook post helped me see through his eyes, but also helped me see someone I think I could work with to try and fix a few things.

Devonte Hart and Bret Barnum are my heroes. It’s connections, one on one, that will overcome the problems we face much more quickly and effectively than blind, mass efforts. People change one at a time. I hope Devonte is less fearful for his future. Knowing there are kids out there like him has given me some hope. And thank you, Officer Barnum, for making sure the world was kind when Devonte dared to face it in a positive way.

It’s people like Watson, Hart and Barnum, as well as you and me, who are going to fix the problems we face if they can be fixed at all. It won’t be the angry crowds that bring about change. Anger breeds fear, not understanding. Fear makes it very difficult for people to connect. There are far too many who profit from making us fear one another. We can’t let them win. Suppose they threw a race war and nobody came?

For some people the names Wilson and Brown are going to be loaded with emotion for a long time to come. I choose to forget them.

Hart, Watson, and Barnum are the names I want to remember, and for an entirely different emotion.

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