Albacon, Upcoming

Himself and I will be at Albacon in Albany NY this weekend — it’s at the western edge of our traveling periphery, and it’s a small, low-key convention that we’ve always enjoyed whenever we’ve been able to make it. All too often, it used to coincide with the Viable Paradise workshop, but now it’s moved back to the spring — which is tougher on our pocketbook but easier on our schedule.

Right now — such are the joys of the freelance life — it’s still up in the air as to whether we’ll be doing the con in shoestring mode or have a bit of leeway for nonessentials. (At least the con hotel’s complimentary full American breakfast takes care of two meals for the weekend, which helps to stretch out the shoestring.)

But if you’re in Albany NY this weekend in a congoing mood, you could always drop by and listen to Himself do his presentation on “100 Years of Dead Magicians” on Saturday night.

Serial Comma Yes!

At least, with regards to labor disputes in the state of Maine, where delivery drivers for Oakhurst Dairies have won their case for overtime pay, based on the absence of a serial comma in part of the state’s overtime law.

The crucial clause, detailing activities that are exempt from overtime:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

The dairy company maintained that “distribution” was a separate exempt activity; the drivers maintained that the exempt activity in question was “packaging for shipment or distribution,” and didn’t refer to their job at all.  The court agreed with the drivers.

Style note: Also cited by the drivers (or their lawyers, at any rate) was the fact that all of the preceding exempt activities listed are gerunds – “canning” and so on – while “distribution” is a noun.  Under the principle that parallel ideas require parallel constructions, this implies that “distribution” is not meant to be a noun in parallel with the ones preceding it, but part of the prepositional phrase “for shipment or distribution.”

These things do matter, folks.

Stella!

Winter Storm Stella came through here yesterday and last night, and left a foot or so of snow behind, a lot of which is going to have to be removed from our driveway.  I give thanks for the presence in the household of our younger son, who shovels the driveway so we don’t have to – though what we’ll do when he departs onto the next stage of his Life Journey™, I don’t know.  Buy a snow blower, probably, if we can afford one.

At least we didn’t lose power – or haven’t lost it so far, let’s not get cocky, here – which means that writing and editorial work can go on unhindered.

Obligatory writing reference:  If you’re from one of the parts of the world where hard winters and deep snow aren’t a thing, do your research before writing about it.  And don’t trust film and television for a second, unless maybe you’re watching a Weather Channel documentary or the like; TV and the movies regularly have people running around in deep snow wearing outfits that would get them killed in the real world.  To be, however reluctantly, fair to the visual-media people, your actual effective cold-weather garments are about as far from photogenic as it’s possible to get, and nobody wants to turn their high-priced talent into a bunch of down-filled-parka-clad clones – but we toilers of the written word don’t have that problem, or that excuse.

If you don’t live in cold-weather country, and need to write about it, consider visiting some cold weather, if you can.  (If you’ve got a local friend, pay attention to what they tell you about what not to do.  If you’re a stranger to the area, double-check with the locals you do interact with – the tourist bureau, the waitperson at the diner, the clerk at the 7-11 – and if they say, “I wouldn’t go out there today,” believe them and stay home.)  Failing that, read some Jack London (“To Build a Fire” is a classic for a reason), or some Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Hard Winter), and take a moment to listen to the ballad of Frozen Charlotte.

Why So Much Online Discourse Sucks: My Theory

It’s simply this: In order for local standards of civility (whether those be vanilla-custard bland or three-chili-pepper strong, it matters not) to be maintained, what’s required is vigorous, hands-on, and visible moderation. Simply providing users with a “flag this post if you find the content objectionable” button isn’t enough. All that does, so far as the user can see, is push the problem off onto a faceless, and possibly automated, minion someplace, for said minion to deal with, or not, according to whatever invisible algorithm may or may not be in place. This does nothing to chide the offending user, or provide immediate feedback to the offended user, or steer the discourse into a less offensive channel.

To do all that, you need a person — a name, a face (even if that face is a cartoon avatar), a consistent presence — to be on the spot and monitoring the venue for discourse that’s about to go toxic. A good moderator can defuse or shut down toxic discourse as needed; a great moderator can spot the warning signs far enough in advance to change the conversation before the toxicity gets a chance to arrive.

Done well — and it has to be done well, if it’s going to be done at all — this is a full time job, and not one to be undertaken by volunteers. If you want somebody to stare into the abyss 24/7 — or better yet, two somebodies, so that they can take enough time off to stay sane — you need to pay them for it.

And sooner than pay good moderators a regular wage, most commercial online fora will either close down comments altogether, or go to one of the now-standard automated systems that end up pleasing nobody.

Not because these sites are run for profit. But because they are run for profit by cheapskates.

Business Cards, I Have Them

bizcard

Now all I have to do is figure out the most effective way to deploy them.

Do I press them into the hands of all I meet?

Do I save them for giving out to people who sound like they might actually be interested in editorial services?

Do I stick them up on random bulletin boards?  (If I were selling a used snowblower, I’d tack a notice up at the local IGA grocery store, but that’s different . . . or maybe it isn’t.)

Do I scatter them broadcast over freebie tables and consuites at sf/fantasy conventions I happen to attend?

This self-promotional thing, it is tricksy and difficult, especially if one doesn’t have the natural temperament for it in the first place.

Consider This an Unsolicited Recommendation

I have successfully obtained a refund for a piece of software that was on the netbook I don’t use any more. I had thought that when I purchased a year’s subscription that I would get a notification when it was time to renew, and would then need to do so manually . . . but no, it was an automatic thing, and the transaction went through about a week before Boskone, and nearly threw a monkey wrench into the works for that expedition.

I don’t like automatic updates. If my computer is going to change something or add something, I want to be present for the occasion so I can flip the switch myself.

The subscription charge was substantial enough that I went to the trouble of looking up the refund procedure, which – much to my surprise – turned out to be relatively painless and not to require actually talking to anyone at any point. So kudos to AVG PC Tune-Up, which I still have on all my working machines, for being prompt and efficient about the whole thing.