Set My Bytes Free – A blast from the past post of August 2011

*Two blasts from the past posts in a week?  Well, yes, I have guest posts, but as you know I hate posting those late, and yesterday was a day of getting nibbled to death by ducks.  Tons of little things, none of them important, all of them eating my time.  And this morning I woke up late, partly because allergies have my nose completely stopped. So forgive me.  About the post below, now more than 4 years old, let me assure you that ALL IS PROCEEDING AS I’D FORESEEN.*

Set My Bytes Free – A blast from the past post of August 2011

A realistic guide to new publishing economics for the Idealistic, the Angry and the Fearful.

In one of my articles on another site, in response to comments about teens not reading (which made any teen reading it justifiably indignant) a – from spelling and word markings – very young woman yelled back that they read all the time, they just do not buy the books. They get them from torrents and friends because “information wants to be free.” She also informed us, in no uncertain – if clearly thumb typed – terms that this was the way of the future, and if we don’t like it, deal with it.

This of course, feeds directly into the fears of the majority of my friends and contemporaries, roughly described as between thirty and sixty.

And both the innocent young lady and my contemporaries are wrong.

Let’s start from the top – this is not a post seeking to prove the concept that information or data “wants” to be free. (Though the animist, not so say personifying statement makes me cringe a little.)

I believe any raw data, and to an extent data collected with governmental money and support, (with caveats on that*), should be “free” to access. This is not out of any deep redistributionist impulse but as a qualification of informed citizenry. For instance, if you hear that during superbowl most assaults by men on women occur, you should be able to trace that factoid and prove it or disprove it. (You’ll disprove it. Or at least you’ll prove it can’t be proven. Try it if you don’t believe me. Yes, tons of people say it, but the statistics don’t back it up. At any rate, it’s flawed psychology. If you believe that, you also believe every teen playing first person shooter games is a murderer waiting to happen. That is something like 90% of teens. [rolls eyes.])

However most books aren’t raw data. And I’m not setting out to prove it wouldn’t be “fair” to not pay for them because “blah blah blah.” Neither the idealistic young, nor the scared old pay the least bit of attention to those bromides, nor should they. “Fair” is a beautiful word and works great in kindergarten where the teacher can enforce the distribution of crackers. And appealing to people’s morality is always risky. Most of them might not have any. And some of it might be different from yours.

Instead, what I’m setting out to do is explain both to the idealistic and the fearful why this model cannot and will not apply to either fiction or researched-non-fiction books. Or if it does apply, it will be for a vanishingly brief time and then collapse under its own weight, and something else will succeed it. Because what this “system” is happens to be economic Marxism by another name. And Marxism, whether called that or “happiness” or “social justice” has never worked as an economic system anywhere, since the dawn of time to now.

I know, I know. Look, I was young once, too. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve got the pictures to prove it. And though I was always reflexively, knee-jerkingly anti-communist, I grew up in a society even more steeped in Marxist principles than ours, from the elementary school room on. And I thought that “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” was a lovely principle. And then I stumbled across the essential question “Who shaves the barber?” and was floored. Because the question that principle begs is “who decides?” Back then I was a teen, and I ran my nearest and dearest, the people who purported to know me best, through my mind. Who would I trust to decide what I could “give” and what I should “take” – my mom, the woman with whom I had knock down, drag out fights on the subject of what shoes I should buy? And how much housecleaning I could do while attending school? My brother, the sixties idealist who thought I could write great literature by the time I was sixteen? And who thought everyone should subsist on love and a crust of bread? My dad, the poet, who had the vague idea I should write whether anyone bought it or not and perhaps live in a garret and talk to the sparrows or something? (Eating them would be out of the question. Dad likes sparrows. And not on his plate.)

The absurdity of trusting even these people, more likely to have my best interests at heart than any bureaucrat could, to decide for me what I wanted and could do made the entire thing a ridiculous notion. I decided it would be a great system if we could get angels who could see into every heart to come and administer it for us. Until then we had to make do with what each individual knew he wanted, and what he knew he could give. And it was all arranged through this wonderful means of exchange – money – which seems to appear in every society large and complex enough to require it. With money as a reward of effort (not of want, because as the wise man said “you can’t always get what you want) and ability, the person being rewarded (or in the case of midlisters trust me, children, punished) with it can then provide for his or her own wants and needs. It’s not a perfect system – see the part where we’re not angels – but it is the best we can get. And now that I’m older and wiser, if an angel descended from heaven, who could look into every heart, determine everyone’s wants and needs, and undertake to govern us, the shield for minds and hearts and the assassination plot couldn’t come fast enough for my taste.

Now, after this digression to explain what’s wrong with the system, lets look at the whole information versus novels or investigative journalism bit, shall we?

I realize that what we’ll call for lack of a better term creative writing, like raw data, is composed of words, and that it can even convey factual information, as well as emotions, feelings and point of view. This doesn’t make it raw information.

I can give you most of the raw information about the novel currently holding me prisoner in one paragraph. “Man who has been confined for fifteen years to one of the most high tech and unbreakable dungeons humanity has created, escapes. He finds he’s the heir to one of the highest-power positions in his world. He also becomes convinced that the system under which his world is governed is both unfair, unjust and ultimately counterproductive at providing for most people’s needs, let alone wants. Spurred on by the fact a lot of his co-rulers want him dead, he finds himself getting involved in the coils of a revolution to overturn the system.” There. Now you don’t need to read the book, right? Oh, wait, silly me. I forgot a little bit. “There is also a love interest.” So, now you don’t need to read the book, right?

Oh, you do? But why? You already have the information.

The answer to that, of course, is that creative writing is not information. While it uses words as its raw material, its objective is not to convey “what happens” but to make you experience it, feel it. Well done novels (and some creative non-fiction) are the only way you can experience being someone else for a while. It is in fact an “entertainment experience.” The difference between te raw data that goes into the novel and what the author does with it, is the equivalent of reading the lyrics of a song, or hearing it performed by a talented singer.

“But, Oh Sarah,” say the most classically minded of my frightened colleagues, “what you define writing as doesn’t matter. These children think they can get it for free. They’ll steal it. They’ll break our DRM. They’ll read our books without permission and we’ll starve in the gutter and dogs will eat us.”

To which I say, take deep breaths, reconsider DRM and think the situation over.

DRM is at best an irritating barrier, and at worst an annoying one. No DRM will keep your books safe. So, ignore DRM. I don’t believe in it, and it’s never applied to anything of mine by my request. Some of my publishers insist on it, and I let them because there isn’t enough time in the world to talk everyone out of it.

It is not DRM that will keep your livelihood safe. It’s your talent and – yes – your craft. Why? Because no one has ever worked for free, while starving to death, with no expectation of ever being paid and created good crafts or art. Even those romantic artists of my dad’s imagination, starving their garrets for the love of creation, weren’t doing it without the expectation of ever being paid.

We do have examples of artists who were paid what their betters thought they should be (usually not much, unless you kissed the right #sses) and trust me, children, it is painful to see.

As part of one of my native country’s forays into socialist correctness, our TV played eastern European movies. A lot. Let’s say the only time they worked as entertainment was when my brother and I sat together and made a running commentary about the movie, ascribing the characters and events the most outrageous motivations.

And mind you, these artists were being sort of paid – with greater access to the stores, or with villas in the country, or… But the thing is they weren’t being paid to produce entertainment. They were paid to produce “messages” and it didn’t matter how painfully bad those were as entertainment. They got “paid” per message.

How does that correlate with working for free? And – say my colleagues, pulling their hair – how can you say that when you work for free? Like, all your Austen fanfic?

To which I say stop pulling your hair. Half of you are already bald anyway. Also, yeah, I do Austen fanfic for free. I also embroider for free. And I make stuffed animals for free and, occasionally – I don’t have as much time as I’d like to, these days – I draw or paint for free. However, the Austen fanfic, when done for free, is done at the same level as drawing or painting. It’s done as an amusement. Before Naked Reader Press published A Touch of Night, which was the most professional of my fanfics, they had to do extensive editing and chapters and clarifications had to be added.

Let’s just say I enjoy the heck out of writing fanfic because it is NOT my best work, it comes without the pressures of oh… self editing; fact checking; making sense… etc. It’s also highly targeted and I cater irrepressibly to the people who read that site. I use fanfic, in fact, to try out techniques and because of the ready comments, to see how they play to “normal” people defined as “people who don’t write for a living.”

It is no more serious than a professional seamstress doing cross stitch in her spare time. And the work is not the same as that of a professional embroiderer. It’s relaxing because it’s not being done for a living. And I can do it because I make a living elsewhere.

And here comes the rub. The idealists believe it is possible to have a “right” to other people’s labor because they’re by and large not supporting themselves. Their livelihood comes from elsewhere, in large measure parents or other arrangements. So it’s perfectly plausible to them to imagine a world in which “people just work if they want to.”

Of course, when you’re a college student you do a lot of that on the side, because you want to. But let me tell you, as someone who has had to work for a living (besides writing) that while many of my friends manage it they do it for extra money on the side and in the hope of one day quitting and writing full time. There is no one who writes forever, on the side, with no expectation of reward. EVER. And no status is not enough, not when you grow up and have kids and start thinking that this time could be better employed, perhaps, doing something you could sell.

Yes, I’ve heard the utopian nonsense about a society that provides the basics for everyone and where people can work or not. Even if it were possible – it’s not. These are dreams of academics and white collar workers who’ve never been near enough to a farm to get cow muck on their toes. Yes, I can explain it one of these days, but not now – this society would last maybe a generation. We are not angels. We’re creatures designed by evolution. To a vast – and possibly sanest – majority of us “basic needs provided for” translates to “do nothing, wallow in your own favorite vices, get bored as heck, get suicidal.” At the very least it translates to no reproduction. Those people that survive will not be the contented aesthetes people who write about this tend to imagine, but nasty, brutish and short lived. And barbarism will come shortly after.

Yes, I’ve also heard “So writers stop writing. Big deal. We still have nineteen centuries of literature.” Right…. Look, chilluns, if you think you can pleasurably read anything pre-Shakespeare, power to you. I can, but I was trained. (Not for free.) And even I don’t do it for a lark.

If you think you can read nineteenth century fiction for fun the same way you read the latest Urban Fantasy, you’re either highly unusual or you haven’t read much of that.

Science fiction ages, of course. Quickly and badly. Heinlein is now alternate history (and others, more recent, are worse.) But – you might not realize this – fantasy ages just as badly. No, seriously. A lot of it (granted not all) is near unreadable now, because the language feels “stilted” and this is less than 30 years old. Mystery? Well… A lot of it has also aged badly. I know, I know, but mystery when contemporary is steeped in the moment. Even to me references to phone booths, let alone phone books, and encyclopedias, feel odd and stilted, and I have to put myself in an “historical” frame of mind to read that. Only it’s not written as historical, with support and cluing of the anachronisms, so it’s harder work. Romance? Well… Let’s put it this way: I love Heyer. Do I love other romance writers from her day? Children, I can’t even read romance writers from the sixties, for the greatest part. The way people interacted in the sixties taints even the historical stuff. And since I spent the sixties learning to walk and getting potty trained and, at the very end of it, learning to read and write, it also feels stilted and weird to me. And much as I love Austen, I can’t stand the Brontes, let alone any of their lesser contemporaries. I’m not alone in this. If I were, Gutenberg would be a SERIOUS challenge to Amazon. Particularly in these days of tight funds. (And heck, I’ve been known to buy books on Amazon that I KNOW are on Gutenberg, because they’re better formatted or have an active index on Amazon.)

So, let’s suppose the idealists managed to make all “data” to include artistic performances, such as novels, “free” – what then? Well, I predict within a very short time – probably within a year – some writer a lot of people want to read and who has stopped writing to work as a cashier in the local store, will be accosted and offered money to finish the next book in a well loved series. And then the old system will be back.

So, to the frightened I say, Stop pulling your hair! Wipe your nose! Wash your hands before you touch that keyboard. And don’t be afraid. Economics is a natural system (natural to humans, at least) and can’t be abolished by fiat. If you have something worth the selling, people will pay your for it. There might be some lean months or years, but eventually you’ll get paid. Will the pay be commensurate with your effort, craftsmanship and talent? Who knows? There’s a factor of luck in all this. But at least you can try and don’t have some know-it-all angel (or – shudder – bureaucrat) dictating what you can do, and how much you can get.

To the idealist I say, go ahead. Pirate that book. Steal that entertainment. You’re young. We were all young once. (Except my older son, who was born at the age of fifty three.) And you’re broke. We were all broke once. (Some of us have been broke for years. We’re EXPERTS.) And you really don’t have a clue what it’s like to be responsible for your own survival, your own comfort. Worse, you don’t have a clue what it’s like to be responsible for the survival and comfort of creatures – cats, kids, dogs, etc – wholly dependent on you.

So steal those books. Get hooked on them, now when you have tons of time to read. Please do. Because in five or six years, you’re going to want more. And then you’re going to realize you’re not entitled to having someone work for you for free. That’s called slavery and it’s illegal. And you’re going to realize that no one does their best work for promises and prestige.

And then you’ll buy the books.

* Note – The caveat on any data gathered by government programs being free is that some of that data can endanger innocent lives and also that (for continuing research) other data can rob the people who gathered it of their reward. Suppose scientists have been working for years, tracking a gene that allows humans to be far smarter. If all data is published as collected, then someone else can come in at the last minute and scoop them, rendering all their work useless. Why would anyone – government or not – pay for research only to be “scooped” at the last minute. The same caveat applies to proprietary systems and discoveries. If people won’t be rewarded for them, everyone will lose because this type of research just won’t happen. Sorry. “All data should be free” is a fantasy. A pernicious one that – in the end – means “wha, wha wha, why can’t I have a right to other people’s work?”

150 responses to “Set My Bytes Free – A blast from the past post of August 2011

  1. er why can’t the impoverished check books out of the library?

  2. Tons of little things, none of them important, all of them eating my time.

    It is when you have the least time that the chronovores have a feeding frenzy around you. Loathesome things, chronovores.

    • “Chronovores” I love that word. I am SO going to steal it! And I’m glad I get it for free.

    • richardmcenroe

      Chronophages– even better because it will trigger your opponent since they’ll suspect it’s homophobic…

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    On reading older fiction. Charles Dickens used themes/memes that most modern readers who respond with a “come on now”.

    Oliver Twist (for example) was *known* to be of “gentle birth” because he was so “delicate”.

    Plus, Oliver was caught burgling a manor house owned by a friend of his true parents and just “happened” to be seated below a portrait of his mother.

    Dickens was a popular author of his day but some of his books don’t “translate” well for modern readers. [Smile]

    • Then they need to broaden their mind. Diversity in their reading material would help.

      • Indeed it does. I could hardly follow older works (Adam Smith, David Hume, etc) in college, but they are quite a bit more readable to me now, after reading quite a bit more of this ‘n that. Still takes some thinking to puzzle out, but there’s less guesswork.

    • OTOH, Dickens’ own life was full of coincidences. This may have been how Dickens really thought the world worked.

  4. Time was, this would not have needed to be said. Today, a hefty fraction of the American populace believes that “information” — in which they include the creative effort of writers, fiction and nonfiction both — “wants to be free.” And a hefty fraction of that fraction will say so to your face.

    “Most people are willing to give up their preconceptions…once they’ve had them tattooed on their heads with a blunt instrument.” — Keith Laumer’s “Jame Retief.”

    • Yeah, but what they really mean is “Information *I* want wants to be (or should be) free.” Their own financial or health information, that needs to be kept private and safe, but they *need* to know about the sexual proclivities of Jane Celebrity, the neighbor three doors down who is on a sex offenders list because he turned 18 four months before his girlfriend did, and the exact details of American espionage against our enemies and allies.

  5. On aging in works: I have at times wondered how well (or poorly, really) I’d get by even visiting times I have already lived through, never mind going even earlier – despite the fact that I ‘feel’ like the Modern Era (for me) started sometime in the 1950s, though I can really only recall as back as maybe the very late 1960s. Yesterday’s post brought up typewriters, once a standard and a standby for almost all, now largely a museum curiosity. I used one as late as the 1980s, even with computers coming into play.

    A little while ago I watched (on youtube…) the pilot movie for Mrs. Columbo and though it’s from 1979 (a year I can remember fairly well), it was jarring how terribly old it felt. The critical scene with the initial crime wouldn’t happen the same way today – not because it it’s “unimaginable” but because a safety device (ground fault interrupter) is now a requirement for outlets near plumbing fixtures. GFI isn’t there to prevent crimes, but to limit the damage of accidents. And that’s just one of the things there. I am unsure how long ago it was I dialed a telephone, as another example.

    • I’ve thought about that, too. For several years, I was deliberately a luddite in some areas of my life – I used a hand-cranked Salad Master instead of a food processor, for one example. For another, I’ve taken to shaving with a straight razor – and, boy, do my sharpening skills need honing 🙂

      One of the things I think of on occasion is just how many things can’t be related to by younger people because they’ve fallen out of use or changed significantly. Pretty much any song that involves telephones qualifies – as someone has said, before cellphones, you used to have to know where someone was in order to call them.

      I just ran across something last week that reminded me that my mother used to collect S&H Green Stamps. I doubt that my daughter (late 20s) has ever heard of them.

      • After my father died, we went through things and there was an odd little red disk – something that could have been easily discarded, yet was saved. I saved it as I had/have a suspicion of what it is (or was): a WWII ration point.

        • Does it say OPA on it?

          • I’d need to find it again. Right now I am unsure of the exact location, alas.

            • Reality Observer

              Could be that. However – did your grandfather have a retail business during the Depression? Many of them issued “trade tokens” – only good in their stores – with the lack of currency that was circulating. (I have about a half-dozen that read “Reddick’s Place,” made out of tin. He had a snooker parlor and beer hall back in those days.)

              • Not that I can recall. I know there are some trees he wound up planting as part of the WCC, and it might have been that I recognized the ‘OPA’ on it that gave it away to me as to what it was. That image is very familiar even without having the thing in hand at the moment.

      • Pretty much any song that involves telephones qualifies

        I wonder what people today would make of Jim Croce’s “Operator”… not only a telephone but a pay phone.

        • The puzzled looks on kid’s faces when you mention a “party line” are quite amusing….

          • Still offered when/if you connect to a landline in my neck of the woods. I’m told that NY’s public utilities commission requires it be offered. That’s government for you, always helping us consumers get the best.

        • To the best of my knowledge I’ve never seen a hand-cranked record player or telephone, but they were all through the cartoons and old shows I watched as a kid.

          When some parents start talking about how their kid can’t figure our a rotary dial phone or analog clock, I wonder what kind of closet the raised the kid in.

          • Hand cranked telephones make excellent fishing tools when the game wardens are not watching…..

            • The last time I read the NC Game Regulations (or the booklet extract you pick up at the store where you buy your license, perhaps)–which was awhile back–hand cranked devices were legal to fish for catfish in certain lower portions of the Cape Fear River. Also, wildlife biologists would use them to sample fish. I’ll have to ask my cousin at Thanksgiving if they still do.

          • Danged if I know why, but building one of those cool little portable folding Victrolas is a project that tickles my mind from time to time.

          • Reality Observer

            I used to hand-crank a washing machine for my grandmother, way back when. But yes, I haven’t seen a crank telephone or record player (except in museums, of course).

            • I had a toy hand crank washing machine and mangle. I WISH I’d kept them. I mean, how many of them can there be in existence?

              • Ah, British English? A few years ago I was watching an old episode of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ entitled ‘Three Men and a Mangle’ and was bewildered until they finally showed the device I knew as a ‘wringer’ – from grandma’s old twin-tub washer. Mangle is quite apt, as that setup would send OSHA types into fits now, I suspect.

          • My friend brought a 1920’s hand-cranked mechanical resonator record player made in Japan of all things to my house one Christmas.

            The record he was attempting to play with it? “Victory at Sea”. 😀

          • If they stick largely to TV, and then only look for what they saw on TV online, much is missed, alas. Not an excuse – a simple search for anything should bring up all sorts of related items to get lost in, and that’s where a lot of real learning can happen. Can.

        • “Long Distance Information, give me Memphis, Tennessee…

      • On straight-razors: While it’s tempting, at my age I don’t think I can justify the expense. I do use a double-edge razor, but it’s not that retro when that’s how you learned to shave. Have you checked some of the shaving forums? There’s all sorts of good info there on not only shaving, but honing and stroping.

        • Actually, I have checked some forums (fora?) and watched videos, particularly for sharpening. I’m just not certain that I’m getting them as sharp as I should for the best shave.

          As for expense, I’ve got four razors (you don’t want to use the same razor every day, I’ve read), and the two vintage ones that I bought at an antique mall were actually less expensive than the two low-end ones I bought on Amazon. Yes, it was a noticeable expense, but I already had some good sharpening stones for my kitchen knives, and the cost of disposable razors over a few years looks like an equivalent expense.

          I wasn’t about to go for one of the high-end $8k razors I saw while looking around. The only individual things I own that cost near that much are my car and house. Some of them were quite pretty, though.

      • Reality Observer

        I don’t think millennials would know what you mean by a “collect call,” either.

        I also remember a couple of times when we had a family emergency, and had the “operator” cut in on the call of the person we had to get hold of right now.

        • Nearly-free telephony has pretty much killed the concept of “long distance.”

          When I was making $3.25 per hour, a long distance call cost $2 per minute. After the Bell breakup it dropped to a dollar a minute, and I was making $5 per hour…

          For years, I spent more on long distance than I did on rent. Much of it at 1200 baud, since the phone lines were so bad 2400 connects were unreliable.

    • Sometime listen to one of the Dragnet old time radio shows. The police detective carry change and need to find a pay phone to call back to headquarters. Seems in those days nobody but RAH had thought of cell phones, and cell phone with 1950s technology would have just fit in the trunk of a car.

      • Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott PI novels frequently mentioned Scott’s car phone. That would be late 1940s to mid-1950s; I’d have to re-read the series to find out when the car phone first showed up.

        Scott often used his car phone to call his answering service…

        • Listening to Sirius/XM 1940’s music channel they have a blurb about calling them on your mobile device “…and enjoy 1940’s technology.” as “The first mobile phone call was placed June 17, 1946. The cell phone concept came a year later, …” Though execution would have to wait for some time for that to be readily workable.

        • As I recall, the original ‘Sabrina’ 1954 with Bogey had him using a car phone. I’d take his setup in that movie even today. Provided I have a chauffeur.

        • The Fabulous Judy Holliday was featured as a staffer of “Sue’s Answerphone,” a call answering service, in the film Bells Are Ringing.”

          Holliday’s character keeps involving herself in their subscriber’s lives. Hilarity ensues.

      • I remember a couple of movies, and maybe a radio show, in which a policeman urged someone to “drop a dime.” The lack of payphones today has caused that phrase to fall out of use.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          The last time I had to use a payphone it was “drop a quarter”. [Wink]

        • Bjorn Hasseler

          I remember a detective story where kids were urged to verify someone was really an FBI agent by asking to see his roll of dimes in additional to his badge.

    • We’re watching the DVD set of the original Columbo now. Oddly, other than no computers or cellular phones, it doesn’t look 45 years old…

      I wouldn’t be fazed by the lack of GFI outlets; I’ve never lived in a house that had any.

      • Reality Observer

        I’m slowly retrofitting them in my house as the old ones wear out.

        More pricey, but well worth it (water is only the most common cause for a short to ground, not the only one).

    • I love Rex Stout and think his Nero Wolfe novels aged very well. About the only time he manage to offend my modern sensibilities is when race becomes a part of the story. That was only 75 or so years ago and it was an entirely different universe.

      • One issue with Stout’s books is trying to translate the dollar amounts. A $10,000 fee in 1935 was two years’ wages for a business executive but in present terms … meh, not so big a deal. Scenes where Archie grabs a sandwich, cuppa and a piece of pie at a drugstore lunch counter and leaves a quarter (including tip) sometimes hit strangely.

        • I’d say multiply by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude.$0.25 becomes $2.50 or $25.00 I agree with you on difficulty of converting prices. I first encountered this difficulty when studying history.

        • I’m actually considered reading the modern pastiches by Goldsborough once I run out of Stout stories. One of the things I’ve wondered about is how he would handle day to day prices – especially since his stories have been written over the last 30 years.

          • bah, I need to learn to proof-read or something…

          • The Goldsborough pastiches were fairly good, as I recall; it rather depended on how much a purist you are. Originally written as fanfic for his mother, it was apparently good enough to be authorized by the Stout Estate* and commercially successful, so there is that. IIRC, critical reception was generally positive, so my estimate would be equivalent to middlin’ Stout, which is quite good indeed.

            I had been going to correct you on the “modern” part of your description, as my memory was that he had stopped writing them over twenty years ago, rending them “modern” only by polite stretching of the term, but a quick Wiki-check reveals he has picked it up again, with three novels published since his return (after an eighteen year lapse) in 2012 with the prequel, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. With the seven published from 1986 to 1994 and the three since, he has now added ten novels to the corpus. The first of those was well enough received to be given a 1986 Nero award by The Wolfe Pack.

            He has also written a series of Historical Mysteries about Chicago Tribune reporter Steve “Snap” Malek, five being published 2005 through 2011, with the first and last entries winning “Best Historical Mystery” awards at the annual “Love Is Murder” con, a Chicago based conference operating since about 2001, with apparent participation by Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Romance Writers of America (RWA), Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the Chicago Writers Association (CWA) amongst other groups.

            My guess is that your enjoyment of Goldsborough’s pastiches will be directly proportional to your willingness to accept somebody other than Stout writing these characters. Having read several of Stout’s non-Nero books (including 1939’s Red Threads, featuring Inspector Cramer, I will allow as Stout was capable of mundane work when not directly involved with the residents of the house on West Thirty-Fifth Street.)

            *As we know, this is not necessarily high praise. What some estates do with their property is enough of a crime someone could write a novel about it.

            • Interesting. I hated them, because they were … well… politically correct.

              • I find it sometimes necessary to distinguish between Political Correctness and the story being told, especially as at times the publishers demanded PC content. I can’t recall the books except vaguely, so the PC component may have been a mite forced (which would account for my blanking them from memory) or it might have only been the “Bad Bearnaise” sauce which the hungry reader will scrape off the steak while consuming it.

                It also matters just how the tale is marinated in the PC. I do not think it possible to make Archie, Nero & Fritz pro-feminism, for example. although the changes in social milieu would certainly make Archie’s dining & dancing forays with Lily Rowan rather more difficult to achieve (I am wholly incapable of imagining Archie dressing in white polyester and going to a Studio 54.)

                Stout was admittedly pretty liberal in his time, was active in the early years of the American Civil Liberties Union, a founder of Vanguard Press (“established with a $100,000 grant from the left wing American Fund for Public Service”) and even called to testify before the HUAC: where “chairman Martin Dies called him a Communist, and Stout is reputed to have said to him, ‘I hate Communists as much as you do, Martin, but there’s one difference between us. I know what a Communist is and you don’t.’ ” Thus i doubt not there was a fair amount of liberal, if not socialist, content embedded in his premises, although I don’t recall it generally affecting his (undeniably misanthropic) stories.

                The prequel, telling of when Archie met Nero is in my “pending reading” stack (along with a few hundred odd other books, not counting the ebooks) so perhaps I will have to move it to the top and determine whether the PC has retrograded (although I find it difficult to conceive how one inputs PC into the 1920s …)

              • Ah that’s too bad. I could probably accept Archie being somewhat PC, because he is a thoroughly modern man in the originals – but Nero is a man of the 18th century – to give him modern sensibilities would destroy the character.

          • Don’t. They’re horrible.

  6. For some reason, the people saying information should be free aren’t posting their personal information (DoB, SSAN, bank and credit card info, etc.). Purely an oversight, I’m sure.

  7. Actually you should publish data as collected. Data collection doesn’t have a focus and publishing the data exposes the data to new eyeballs and insights. Far too much of the current climate flap is because the crowd at the Climate Research Center at the University of East Anglia wouldn’t release data to people who wanted to perform statistical analysis on it for almost exactly the reasons Sarah stated.

    • Reality Observer

      Not quite. I have two criteria for whether data must be released (in a proper legal environment) – 1) is the data collection being funded by the taxpayer? and 2) is it being used to affect public policy?

      Some data is very expensive to collect. Some data just inevitably leads to an invention, it just has to be collected. And some data must remain secret – such as certain military studies.

  8. I look at old videos frequently and found some videos from when dial was first installed instructing people how to use it.

    • There’s a longish one up on And another one explaining why you shouldn’t use gasoline for doing laundry.

      I don’t *think* it was a joke… but I wonder what those clothes smelled like.

      • Ever hear of naptha soap?

        Naptha is a petroleum distillate.

        • In related fact, consider that old movies and billiard balls used to be made using celluloid formulations that could become highly explosive as they aged.

      • The Army officer dress uniform in WWII was called “pinks and greens”. I had a prof who was a B-24 pilot then, and he said they washed their pants (wool) in gasoline. The pants were grey, but the gas had a red tint that stayed in the pants. I say an Honor Flight recipient at the WWII memorial in D.C. in his old uniform–the pants were pinkish.

        • Yep. Mom cleaned dad’s suits with airplane fuel. Can’t remember the name right now, because derp.

          • Reality Observer

            Petroleum based solvents have always been the basis for “dry” cleaning. Perchloroethylene, benzene, etc.

            Nasty stuff – and firefighters really, really hated it when they responded to a dry cleaner fire; the place could very easily go up like a fuel air bomb.

            They’re still used, but modern chemistry has given them a much higher temperature at which they’ll “flash over.”

        • I was puzzled for a while (as a kid) about “white gas.” It was ‘unleaded’ – leaded gasoline had a red/pink dye added to indicate that’s what it was.

          • And aviation fuel came in three colors because of the different octanes: blue, green, and purple. Later blue (100Low Lead) red (80 octane) and the very rare purple (115) that is now reserved for air racing.

            • 80 Octane AVGAS?

              For a while there was a gas station in Garner, NC (next to Raleigh) that sold 100 octane gas. I have no idea why; but I bought some, if I recall properly. I can’t remember the brand, but the signs were mostly blue–Sunoco? I can’t remember what I was driving so I can’t remember exactly when that was (and vice-versa), circa 1990.

              • It is for the local racers and moonshine runners. Often one and the same if I recall that area correctly. Was there a local speedway or drag strip close to that station?

              • richardmcenroe

                If you mix hi-testable regular you actually get a lot of the benefit of the higher octane without the expense.

  9. “These are dreams of academics and white collar workers who’ve never been near enough to a farm to get cow muck on their toes. Yes, I can explain it one of these days, but not now – this society would last maybe a generation.”

    “Maybe” is optimistic. Adding in even a tiny fraction of the variables of a simple 19th century society tends to shorten the lifespan of such societies to a handful of years.

    • The Other Sean

      Interesting. I’d never heard of the North American Phalanx before. Its remains were only like a 30 minute drive (or 2 hours bike ride) from where I grew up, or half that from where I lived ages 12-20, and not only did I never hear of it, I never saw that historical marker. I learned something today!

  10. The problem (or at least part of it) is that our society no longer values art. People pay $5 for a cup of really sh*tty coffee (seriously, how does Starbucks stay in business serving that sludge?) but won’t pay $0.99 for a song/story/picture/whatever. And not only do they refuse to pay for your art, they’ll lecture you on how it isn’t worth their time/money/both/other to pay for your art. Seriously, this one guy gave me a whole spiel on lenght-vs-cost ratios and claimed he had spreadsheets to back his data up. Didn’t ask to see them, partially because the conversation was online, partly because I’d gotten sick of him beating me over the head with his “logic” and just wanted him to shut up and go away by that point.

    Another problem is that society has, for reasons that completely elude me, decided to romanticize the starving artist. And not only have we chosen to romanticize him, but romanticize him to the point where artists are expected to churn out their art for free, or “exposure and experience,” as we like to call it today, and if you even mention wanting to be paid for your work, you’re called out as a “hack” or a “sell-out” or “not a real artist.” Seriously, what exactly is romantic or noble about having decide between this month’s rent or a week’s worth of Ramen noodles? Or, in my case, still living in your parents house because my sh*t job didn’t pay enough for me to even afford rent to begin with?

    • It’s Romantic for the people who think NYC in the 1970s was “really alive” and that “edgy” is fun. I suspect if you dig deep enough, it ties into the noble savage mythology as well (which seems to be part of the allure of Gangsta’ culture for the urban upper classes, but anyway). Like the gal down in Austin who voted for all the tax increases for social services and then groused about having to . . . pay higher taxes. The “real artists all starve” folks have never been hungry, so hungry is cool and authentic and “so real, man.”

    • So don’t pay for it.

      The Boston Tea Party carefully threw the tea overboard to make it clear it was principle, not profit.

      • I don’t, but I’m not gonna steal Starbuck’s stuff, or throw it overboard. Don’t think the local police/port authority would take kindly to either.

        I’m sure as hell not gonna spend $5.00 for a sh*tty frou-frou “coffee” drink when there’s this little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in town that has the best espresso on the planet hands-down. Yeah, it’s about $1.25 for an inch-tall shot, but it’s it’s incredibly smooth and about as strong as three large cups of regular coffee. One shot of that stuff keeps me juiced all day (they sell double shots, but that would probably give me palpitations), and the Italian grandpas who frequent the place don’t put up with pretentious snot-nosed hipsters either.

      • The Other Sean

        Would that we could throw Obamacare into the sea so easily.

    • Actually, PEOPLE DO PAY for what they like, be it coffee, or stories. I have no complaints. The thieves are few, far between and delusional.

      • Depends on the genre. I’ve heard of writers taking seriously hits when their work is pirated.

        • I wonder, actually, whether this is an excuse for an utter flop. Or imaginary harm. Someone who shall not be mentioned talks about losing millions to piracy, but I bet you nine times out of ten the people pirate her because she has DRM and never actually read her.

          • Maybe. But David Freer makes the point that those who’d steal a book probably wouldn’t buy it, anyway, and TOR’s experience in dropping DRM seems to bear this out. No loss revenue from dropping DRM, which also implies no gained revenue with DRM.

            I have DRM on mine, so I’m sort of just watching and learning. If I drop DRM on existing works, what of those who’ve already bought them? This is a customer service issue, not a piracy one.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Oh? You had DRM on your Kindle eBooks?

              Didn’t stop me from converting them to ePub. [Wink]

              Seriously, I don’t think it’s a problem if you remove the DRM. [Smile]

              • FWIW, while I’m not offended in any way, like the undertaker using a chain to secure a loved one to a cooling board, it’s not necessarily something you talk about. Just saying . . .

                • The Other Sean

                  I’ve heard that first rule of DRM removal is that you don’t speak about DRM removal. 🙂

          • No, I mean writers whose books were selling and saw the rate go abruptly down at the right time.

            • Lois Bujold had the internet copy of her Cyroburn CD taken down (afaik she just asked nicely) because after its release the one book not on the CD (_Memory_) had triple the sales of the rest.

              Now, the people copying that CD weren’t breaking DRM or the law, they just weren’t voluntarily trooping forward to pay for copies of what they got for free. But I suspect that when piracy is easy enough a lot of people will react the same way. But the relative ease of piracy can be as important as the relative expense of the books. Which is easier, torrenting a pirated ebook and copying it to your Kindle or buying it on Amazon? Or, which is easier, torrenting a pirated ebook or buying it on Amazon, downloading it, and stripping the DRM so that the reader can do ____ with it?

              For the casual Kindle user, purchasing the book from Amazon is so much easier that torrenting a book and copying it over isn’t a factor.

              For the moderately advanced Kindle user who relies on Amazon for backup copies, buying the book on Amazon is still significantly easier.

              For the advanced Kindle user who keeps DRM-free or renderable DRM-free copies of his or her own books, there’s a path dependency. Once you’re set up to torrent, torrenting is easy — but you have to invest time into setting yourself up to torrent. Once you’re set up to strip DRM, stripping DRM is easy — but you have to invest time into configuring things to strip DRM. If you finish doing one and are comfortable with it, you may not want to invest the time & effort into setting up the second.

          • Millions? Millions???

            I don’t know what royalty rates run, and recognize that more popular authors command higher rates, but can’t help but wonder how many books would have to be “bought” for any author to make “millions.”

            Last I heard, about ten years agone a HB netted an author $2, so the claim presumes that complaining author imagines there are at least a million people reading her books without paying. I doubt there are a million paying readers for anybody this side of G.R.R.M. (and most of them weren’t reading him before the TV adaptation.)

            This article [ ] suggests the number of authors earning $1 million a year from ebook sales is very slight, at least in genre fiction.

    • And then there’s Shaw, whose “The Doctor’s Dilemma” romanticizes the artist as thieving scoundrel to be excused because of his superb talents…

    • > The problem (or at least part of it) is
      > that our society no longer values art.

      When “art” is presented as assemblages of welded-up junk, rocks stacked upon each other, Piss Christ, or someone eating paint and throwing it up on a canvas… I don’t value art either.

      • But if they made it any good, hoi polloi would horn in.

        Time was it’s being expensive was enough. then you had to go for fashionable. but now it’s so cheap, you have to go for bad.

      • Not to mention If You Were A Murderous Dinosaur In A World That Never Existed My Love.

      • It is wrong to restrict art to only a privileged class blessed with talent who have taken the time to develop the skills to best employ those talents. Untalented, unskilled people have just as much right to create art!

  11. Hmm . . . that paragraph you described . . . Isn’t that “A Few Good Men”?

  12. I’m somewhat amused to note that the angel you said you’d want assassinated is _very_ close to the Mormon version of Lucifer, and why he fell.

  13. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Some time ago, I read this “humorous” comic strip that showed the problem with “Information Wants To Be Free”.

    This hippie cartoonist created a phrase & character that he never copy-righted because “Information Wants To Be Free”.

    A “friend” of his did copy-right it in the friend’s name.

    Then we see the “friend” getting wealthy and the hippie remaining poor (& not in a good way).

    Finally IIRC the friend died wealthy after using the phrase & character the hippie created. While the hippie died in poverty still believing in “Information Wants To Be Free”. [Sad Smile]

    • scott2harrison

      Cute, but under Amereican law it was copyrighted the instant it was put on paper, disk, whatever. The hippie could have prevented his friend’s getting a cent from it whenever he wanted and still left it free for alll to use.

      • In reality, it doesn’t always work that way. If the hippie doesn’t have proof that he did it first and the “friend” copied it, it’s really hard to make it stick in a copyright case. And proof usually means spending the $$ to have it listed at the copyright office.

  14. > *Two blasts from the past posts in a week?

    Being a recent reader of the blog, I welcome the chance to throw my two bits in on antique threads from the dark ages of 2011…

  15. c4c

  16. I’ve been rereading RAH, and so far I’ve noticed that Martians and Venusians don’t match up between books. (Also, what a Hell-hole pretty totalitarian One-Earth state was running things in many of those books. Including Starman Jones.) F’rinstance, in Between Planets, Venusians were dragons/very large lizards, and a visiting Martian had wings. In Space Cadet, last part on Venus, no dragons, just large frogs. In Red Planet, no winged Martians, but now baby/larval(?) Martians, later to pupate to become Martian adults. But, Hey! All those stories work for me. Currently working on Podkayne Of Mars. His postulations on the presumed course of the world were “wrong”, but the stories work in their framework.

    • That’s because those were originally separate novels, only later shoehorned into his “future history” timeline.

      • Reality Observer

        I’d call it “sledgehammered.” RAH never said they were in any way part of the Future History, even if some did have similarities to certain aspects of it.

        There were several memes that kept coming up in his books. IIRC, there were at least a half-dozen different world governments.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I don’t believe those RAH books were “shoehorned” into RAH’s “future history”.

  17. Aren’t the last two paragraphs just an elaborate way of saying “Hey kid, go ahead and try it, it’ll be okay… the first hit is free.”

  18. On old books:

    Due to expenses, I tend to read public domain works, and find them a mixed bag. Kipling holds up well; Arthur Conan Doyle isn’t too bad. Did he introduce the “chase scene” in The Sign of Four? Twain, when he isn’t so bitter, is pretty good. I like to read Dickens around Christmas, and Poe is still good. The same for H.G. Wells. Then there’s gems like The Haunted Shanty by Bayard Taylor. And I like G.K. Chesterton and Gibbons.

    That said, I admit there’s a lot of clunkers out there. I can’t get past the beginning of the second chapter of Ben Hur,, and some public domain translations are dry. Milton doesn’t seem to hold my interest, and while I can read Shakespeare, it’s, well, not quite a slog, but not really fun. I couldn’t really get into The Skylark of Space, and it’s not that old. Some of it may be taste, but archaic language takes its toll, and some just aren’t that good.

    • I started Ivanhoe by Walter Scott but I couldn’t hack the accent.

      Guess I’m not Scottish enough.

    • Oh, Scott is just the beginning. We are, I think, serious people, here. language is important.
      Look up the poetry of Allan Ramsay:

      Frae twenty-five to five-and-forty,
      My Muse was nowther sweer nor dorty;
      My Pegasus wad break his tether,
      E’en at the shakking of a feather,
      And through ideas scour like drift,
      Streaking his wings up to the lift:
      Then, then my saul was in a low,
      That gart my numbers safely row;
      But eild and judgment ‘gin to say,
      Let be your sangs, and learn to pray.
      “I am, sir, your friend and servant!

    • I don’t know about his sonnets, but I find that I enjoy the plays the most when I’m watching them as plays, particularly if the production is well-done.

      I still remember a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” where Oberon would apply the potion from the flower gently and solemnly…while Puck would wack the victim on the head, bring in a wheelbarrow, dump dirt on the victim, plant the flower and then water it.

      There’s something about watching Shakespeare that brings it to life…I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, though… 😉

  19. To a vast – and possibly sanest – majority of us “basic needs provided for” translates to “do nothing, wallow in your own favorite vices, get bored as heck, get suicidal.” At the very least it translates to no reproduction.

    That was the alien’s plan in Christopher Anvil’s story “The Underhandler.” Good story.

  20. scott2harrison

    Most people, including the young woman here quoted, saying “Information wants to be free.” drive me up the wall. They think that they are making a moral/ethical point. B—S— Yes, information wants to be free, just like water wants to run downhill. We build dams to prevent the one and firewalls and security audits to prevent the other. Any information security professional will confirm that “Information wants to be free.” and will probably add a dammit at the end of the sentance.

    • (Came late to this conversation, and read through a hundred and two comments thinking I could add this exact point. Then I read comment #103, all the way at the bottom of the page, and found that I’d been scooped.)

      Precisely; IIRC that was the original intent of the quote: Information is so easy to leak, and so difficult to keep secret and close to impossible to rebottle once it’s out, that it’s as if it “wants” to be free.

  21. To a certain extent, I would rather say “good ideas want to be freed” rather than “information wants to be free”. I have come to realize that ideas are literally living things, living in our minds…

    When someone comes across a good idea, they want to preserve it, and they want to share it. Thus, people will seek out how to remove DRM, because DRM prevents both (but particularly preserving it, because you don’t know how long a given device will remain viable…)

    Now, how does one make a living creating digital stuff that can be easily copied? I don’t know–although, being a Linux user and a mathematician pretending to be a software developer, I have some ideas–but one thing I’ve noticed is that copyright doesn’t necessarily help artists make a living. Indeed, it’s one thing for your adoring fans to refuse to pay for your work: you could always hold future works for hostage (and if you can’t produce them because you have to work to pay bills, this will inevitably happen); it’s another thing when publishing houses decide that artists are best when they are starving, because they are the ones allegedly paying the bills…

    Of course, now that we don’t need to depend on publishers, anything can happen (and a lot of weird things *have* happened!).

    • I should also add that Sarah is right: so called “piracy” seems to fuel creative work rather than destroy it. As much as Microsoft tries to prevent piracy, for example, and have *always* opposed it, it’s bizarre how much their success is due, in part, from people who copied their work, and then paid for the upgrade or official version later. Get them hooked, indeed!

  22. The caveat on any data gathered by government programs being free …

    That data is not free, it has already been paid for with taxpayer dollars. The Government, being agent of The People, has no authority to withhold The Principle’s purchases from The Principle (i.e., The People.) That said, the caveat asserted above applies with regard to data which could reasonably be expected to pose risk of endangerment to people through its dissemination (e.g., military or diplomatic secrets.)

    As for the idiocy of “information wants to be free” — that is a consequence of inadequate grammar education and should be responded to by the traditional method of application of a wooden ruler. People unable to tell their adjectives from their adverbs ought be encouraged to keep their stupid mouths shut, sparing the rest of us their freely flowing ignorance.


    1. not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.
    “I have no ambitions other than to have a happy life and be free”

    2. not physically restrained, obstructed, or fixed; unimpeded.
    “she lifted the cat free”
    synonyms: unimpeded, unobstructed, unrestricted, unhampered, clear, open, unblocked
    “the free flow of water”

    1. without cost or payment.
    “ladies were admitted free”
    synonyms: without charge, free of charge, for nothing; More

    2. SAILING
    with the sheets eased.