Get a digital copy of my JUNKYARD JAM BAND for 80-cents (plus a bunch of other rad books!)

My DIY musical instrument/noise-toy book Junkyard Jam Band is part of the Brainiac 2 Humble Book Bundle. If you’ve never bought one of these “bundles” before, the deal is this:Junkyard Jam Band Final_2_RGB

This is a commercial/charitable fundraising situation.  The Humble Bundle folks and No Starch Press have bundled together a bunch of awesome books.  Pay as little as $1 to get a few, $8 to get a bunch, and $15 to get them all.  If you go in at the $15 level, you get ~$300 in books (all digital, all in multiple formats, all totally DRM-free, so you can read them however and wherever you like).  It’s a really awesome deal (I bought plenty of Humble Bundles way before I ever was part of one—and, I’ll be straight with you: Being part of one as an author is a really big boon for me, too; my last Humble Bundle put an additional 30,000 copies of my book in front of eager makers, and helped me make enough money to stay afloat that year).

brainiac2_books_logo-dark-retina

Even if you only drop a buck for the first five books, you’re getting some great stuff—Medieval LEGO is fun, the Scratch book is solid, and my son loved Lauren Ipsum (which is sort of a modern computer-science take on Phantom Tollbooth; he’s easily read it a half dozen times).  Moving up to the $8 tier doesn’t just get you my book (which regularly sets you back ~$20), but also two of my favorite intro programming books (I learned Python from Teach Your Kids to Code, and Scratch Programming Playground is what taught my kid to code) and a really great manga book that’ll explain electricity to anyone.  And, of course, going whole hog just piles on the awesomeness (again, I’m especially pleased to see a couple DIY hands-on electronics books here, especially since Arduino has gotten so dirt-cheap to get into).  Every purchase doesn’t just benefit my publisher and me, but also Teach for America.

 

 

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Take 5 Minutes to Tell the FCC to Preserve Net Neutrality

Long story short:  “Net Neutrality” means that, just as the phone company must route all calls with the same priority and quality, broadband providers (like Comcast and AT&T) must treat all web traffic the same, and not, for example, make connections to Netflix super crappy so that you feel obliged to pay for OnDemand in order to watch Mad Max: Fury Road or Sophia the First.

You have until July 17 to tell the FCC how you feel about that.  Submitting an official comment—one someone actually reads and takes seriously—is super easy:

  1. Go to this link and click “Express” (to get a form you can fill out and submit right there) or click “New Filing” (to upload a document you’ve already written).
  2.  Express your feelings about Net Neutrality hitting on one (or more) of three key points:
    1.  How has Net Neutrality impacted your life? Do you have an online business that would be FUBAR if Amazon got priority connections?  Did a service that organically arose as a result of the net being an equal access zone improve your life (examples: Things you’ve learned off of YouTube, clients/jobs you’ve connected with over LinkedIn or Monster.com or a freelancing community, relatives you re-connected with via Facebook or genealogy websites, supportive communities you found in this forum or that sub-reddit, etc.)
    2. What do you understand you are buying when you pay for broadband? Is it more like a telephone line—a “telecommunications service” that creates value by giving you a clear connection to the information and services you want—or is an an “information service” in and of itself, that is, a service that creates value by giving you information?  (Under FCC rules, telecommunications services require greater regulation than information services.)  If you go online and go to YouTube to watch a video, then Facebook to kibitz with pals, then check your Gmail, your broadband is a telecommunications services.  If, on the other hand, you boot up your laptop, rub your hands together, and say “Ah!  Time to go check the Comcast website for the latest news and weather, then go to the Comcast Cat Video service to watch some cat videos, then head on over to ComcastBook to chat with my pals!”, then it probably makes more sense to call Comcast an “information service.”  (Yes, I realize most of the “Comcast information services” I listed don’t exist; that’s the point.  They offer few “information services,” and most other ISPs don’t even offer those.)
    3. Competition.  If your current ISP decides to start blocking YouTube traffic and slowing Netflix to a crawl, can you just lickety-split change services to one that treats all traffic equally, or is it hard, expensive, or impossible to switch, or even shop around, because competition is too scarce?

(Ars Technica has a great article going into detail about this approach to discussing Net Neutrality with the FCC.  Highly recommended read!)

Here’s a draft of my comment:

I do not believe that the FCC should reclassify broadband as an “information service.”  As a consumer, it’s plain as day that I’m purchasing “telecommunications service” from Comcast when I pay for my broadband access.

Although I’ve had broadband Internet access through either AT&T or Comcast for at least 15 years, I have never used either company for any of their “information services.”  I currently use Apple, Amazon, and Google for cloud storage, FastMail and Apple for email hosting, NearlyFreeSpeech.net for web hosting, DynDNS for domain name services, ArborDomains for domain name hosting, the University of Michigan for my VPN, and Verizon, Skype, or Google for telephony.  Heck, even though Comcast *does* offer cable TV and streaming video, I don’t use that service (they dropped the only channel I wanted), instead relying on Netflix, YouTube, Apple, and Amazon.

Comcast actually does a pretty good job of providing me with a telecommunications service–but to call that an “information service” is as obtuse as calling the highway system a “grocery service” simply because the grocery store has produce delivered via truck.

When I pay Comcast, I’m paying them for fast and reliable broadband service, connecting me to the many “information services” I want, value, and pay to use.

Thank you for your time and attention.

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

Go forth and tell your government how you want them to handle regulating this vital public utility.

I’ll Be at the Michigan Writing Workshop on March 25!

Just a quick note: I’m on the faculty of the Michigan Writing Workshop this year, doing fantasy and science fiction critiques (I still have a few open slots, they tell me).   Lots of interesting speakers this year (I’m especially hoping to drop in on D.E. Johnson’s thriller/mystery/crime writing sessions; I dug his book The Detroit Electric Scheme).

Tech Companies: “How Dare You Suggest We’d Help Build the Muslim Registry We Already Built!”

So, when I saw this item the other day, I immediately thought of this blog post I penned in January 2015.  tl;dr on all this:

Trump transition team has been publicly mulling over creating/reviving a “Muslim Registry.” The Intercept started calling social media/tech companies and only one—Twitter—said “We’d never help with this!” (FYI, IBM has been down this road before, and yet still somehow doesn’t know the right answer to this question).  Yesterday, Facebook finally clearly said “No way! We won’t do it! We’d never build a Muslim Regsitry!”

But here’s the thing:

  1. As I pointed out back in Jan 2015, these companies have already built these databases.  They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know if you’ve been bad or good or if you even give two shits about Santa Claus.
  2. More to the point, the abstract threat I wrote about back in Jan 2015, when it freaked me out a little that Amazon had clearly flagged me as a Jew, became real in the Spring of 2016 when a bomb threat was called in to the Jewish Community Center housing my daughter’s daycare.  Because I sit on the Board of our congregation (which uses that building regularly for our religious services), I ended up touching base with the local police and FBI agents investigating the incident.  As it turned out six JCCs across the U.S. (in locales as far-flung as St. Louis, New York, and Louisiana) received the same threats at the same time—and all had very similar names.  When I did some googling, I found that all of us were listed together alphabetically in online Jewish education directories, with our phone numbers and addresses.  I.e., someone was just working their way down a list. This time around, it was just to make phone calls and fuck with us and our kids.  Next time?  Who knows; here’s what said in 2015, and it’s still about the same:

[I]n Amazon’s datacenter, I’m a row in a table. The index on that row is something like “CUSTOMER #2045674” and the cells include “kindle-owner” and “SF reader” and “owl pellet buyer” and “Jew” and my mailing address. Just another row, among millions–until that table gets resorted by the “Jew” column, and then I’m a box waiting to be ticked off by God-knows-who for God-knows-what-reason. Maybe they want to send me free Xanukah candles! Maybe they want to send me a bomb disguised as a printer cartridge! I guess I’ll have to wait for the mail man to come and find out then!

So I guess it’s swell that Facebook and IBM and Amazon and whoever else handwould never-ever-ever build the Muslim Registry they already built, but what if they maybe entirely accidentally do build a registry (which they already built, which is already being used to facilitate hate crimes and international terror)?  What then?

FYI, in business jargon, this is an externality.

 

Pseudopod: Year 10–Support this Lil Engine that Can and Does

In celebration of their 10th anniversary Pseudopod—a consistently solid horror fiction podcast—is running a kickstarter:


Pseudopod has an excellent track record—both in terms of delivering the goods and doing right by their contributors—and impressive longevity (10 years of weekly operation publishing fiction for free is hard going; I know from experience).  Their goal is to raise funds to increase what they pay artists and ensure their longevity.  These are Good Things™

Kick in a few bucks; the 21st Century is nuts, and perhaps the nutsiest thing is the jaw-dropping array of free arts & letters we each enjoy every day—but it can only be free on the daily if we all kick in now and again.  This is one of those moments.


Add bonus
: there are some really nifty backer premiums, including this rad-as-hell mug and their first ever anthology, For Mortal Things Unsung—which features both reprints of pieces they

Pseudopod Horror in Clay limited-edition tiki mug
a mug of unspeakable horror

bought for the podcast (including mine), as well as new work A.C. Wise, Jim Bihyeh, and others.

The Two Productivity Gurus You Meet in Heaven

Good Buddy AMEM writes:

You ever write a piece on productivity?

To which I reply:

Sorta!

I’ve written scads of advice things to folks who’ve emailed me expressing interest in freelance editing/copywriting, but nothing sort of generically about productivity in the “GTD” sense.

Anyway, when it comes to that, two pieces of advice jump to mind.  The first is something a rabbi said during High Holidays services once, which amounted to “God doesn’t really give a shit about something you did one time; it’s when you repeat things over and over again that God takes notice.”  The rabbi was talking about sin, basically advising against beating yourself up over a single fuck-up.  Instead, make good and move on to Do Good Things (which may or may not square you with any Magickal Sky Fairy, but is certainly a helluva lot more socially productive). 

But this position—that the thing you do one time isn’t what you are—goes for everything, good and bad:  You aren’t a thief just because you stole something one time, and you aren’t a writer just because you wrote and sold one good thing.  The last story/book/article/brochure does almost exactly jack-shit to help you write and sell the next one.  You are a writer because you write every day.  So, decide on the thing you want to be, and be that thing for at least a little while every day.

This sounds sorta stupid—or, at best, equal parts stupid and profound, like the Wise Men of Chelm—but still, every story I’ve sold in the last, I dunno, eight-ish years has been mostly written 25 minutes at a time weekday mornings while children slept.

The other piece of advice is straight from Ramit Sethi, who is sort of a huckster and sort of dead-on about most of what he says (albeit in a huckstery life-coach-ish way).  Anyway, one one his big pieces of advice (at least a few years ago, when I was more actively following him) was to stop saying “I don’t have time for X.”  All of us are busy and all of us blow precious minutes and hours dicking around on Facebook and leafing through shitty magazines and watching crap we don’t care about on YouTube and whatever.  We have time for it.  You can get up 25 minutes early every morning and write stories and novels 25 minutes at a time.  You can get in shape—great shape, really—25 minutes at a time.  You can learn about retirement savings or knitting or how to eat all vegan 25 minutes at a time.  We use time as an excuse, because we don’t really—in our hearts—give a shit about the things we say we want. Just like TLC warns, we are scrubs “always talking about what we want / then we sit on our broke ass” 

The real problem isn’t the time, it’s the prioritization.  So, just the honest and start saying “I’m not prioritizing that.”

  • “Lose some weight?  Sorry, I’m not really prioritizing going to the gym right now.”
  • “Hate my job?  I’m not prioritizing finding a new one.”
  • “Feeling perpetually pyscho-emotionally fucked up?  Yeah, well, I just can’t prioritize finding a shrink and going to sessions.”

(These are all drawn from my life, incidentally.)

Changing your language like this forces us to really look at what we’re doing, ’cause when your kid says “Can we go play at the park?” or “Can you read me this book?” or “Can we watch this show?” and instead of saying “I’d love to sweetie, but I don’t have time” you say “I’d love to, sweetie, but I’m not prioritizing that right now”—well, you feel like a royal douchebag, and you do the important thing instead of the thing you thought was important.

So, that’s the advice:

  1. Be the thing you want to be for at least a little while everyday.
  2. Don’t talk about “time,” talk about Priorities.

EpiPen, with Occasional Music

This is an Auvi-Q.  It’s an epinephrine autoinjector—basically an EpiPen—so that folks with severe allergies to bees or shellfish or whatever don’t have to die suddenly.  The neat thing about Auvi-Q: It talks!

(My boy has a pal with a couple severe allergies, and so said pal always comes with an autoinjector; this was what he was using a couple years back, when I made the video.)

Here’s the thing about epinephrine: It saves lives, it’s cheap as hell—the amount needed to save a life hardly costs a buck—and it can’t be patented, because it’s just nature’s way: Giving someone heading into anaphylactic shock an epinephrine shot is basically doing what the body would do on its own if it could, with the very stuff the body would use to do it.

But you can hardly expect a stranger in an emergency to whip out a syringe and a tiny bottle and not fuck things up.  So the autoinjector (i.e., “EpiPen”—which you may have heard about for recently for some reason) is a legit and important product improvement.  It ain’t a $500 improvement, but there’s definite value to an autoinjector, and the EpiPen is an excellent one.

Auvi-Q took the autoinjector one step further by making the EpiPen-Auto-Injectordevice talk you through the process.  And, when it came out, it was cheaper than the EpiPen (which, at the time, was midway through it’s moon-shot price hike, which drove a meteoric revenue boost for Mylan—the company selling EpiPens; check the graph).

I mostly thought to bring this up because it’s a neat business lesson:

  1. Autoinjectors are a great product: The medicine itself isn’t a great product (it’s just sorta there, like water or yeast), but making it easier to administer is a great place to improve, and folks will gladly pay for that.
  2. Auvi-Q was a fantastic product addressing a very real pain point: Normal humans often hesitate to even do the EpiPen thing, because they are terrified of fucking up. People with EpiPens die because no one has the presence of mind and confidence to juice them in time.  Lowering the “threshold resistance” is always a place to make a dime.
  3. It’s a great example of the Free Market at work: Just as the Free Market first brought us EpiPen (you can’t patent the drug, but you can patent the delivery method), it then brought us the Auvi-Q (you can’t compete on efficacy, but you can on packaging and price).

But then the “EpiPencil“—a $30 DIY EpiPen workalike—hit the news feeds, and I thought it was worthwhile to point out one last lesson in the product arc of Auvi-Q:

  • Auvi-Q—a product that was both cheaper and, by some measures, better than EpiPen—was recalled in 2015 because it wasn’t reliable dosing people at the right level—which can be deadly.

The point being: A problem can be well defined, its solution known and well understood, and yet implementation on scale can still be an absolute clusterfuck. 

Which is why EpiPencil worries the fuck out of me.  Does it work for the dude giving the instructions?  Maybe; I have no clue.  Probably.  But will it work for millions upon millions of people with diverse biologies in diverse settings having suffered diverse misshaps?  Fantastically unfuckinglikely.

Please don’t leave your kids’ survival up to a self-declared DIY Internet doctor (who is, in fact a PhD mathemetician).

(title comes with apologies to Jonathan mathematician, whose work I love)

I got the best letter from the US Postal Service!

This arrived in my mailbox on Friday, August 12:

2016-08-13 19.06.16

 

Lemme zoom in on the first graff:

postalfiregraff

And just one more time:

postalfire

A postal truck “experienced a fire.”

My God, I love that!  We have sentient postal trucks, out there having new and interesting experiences, and yet they don’t have the damned sense not to play with fire.  It’s a self-aware 80,000 pound truck with the executive function of a toddler; O brave new world that has such people in’t!

At any rate, this does tend to explain the errant check for several thousand dollars I’ve been waiting for.  *sighs* Guess I’ve gotta call a client later today.

Anyway, for the curious, here’s my mail burning up last month:

-077dab07e6c61c86

(source)

The Art of the Not-Making-a-Total-Putz-of-Yourself

If nothing else of substance, the last couple days of RNC Trump Speech brouhaha have offered a pair of very important business lessons.

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

My initial impression was that we were looking at this kind of fantastically gobsmacking paradox:

A candidate renowned for his wealth and business acumen is either unable to afford or incapable of selecting competent help.

But according to this article, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Skilled workers are perfectly happy to hold their noses and accept Trump dollars, but their employer is totally unable to actually use the tools he purchases.

This puts me in the mind of a business aphorism (which I believe I first heard from Ramit Sethi):

A students hire A students; B students hire C students.

To mansplain: An A student knows what good work looks like, that good work is hard, and is confident that they can reliably produce good work through the judicious application of hard work.  A students want to see good work, and do not want to look like putzes, so they choose subordinates who are as capable as themselves (if not more so).  B students may occasionally do good work, but since they don’t know this other stuff (about how to judiciously apply hard work to reliably produce that good work), they can be pretty insecure.  They hire down the ladder to shore up their ego.

But, of course, Trump is proving to not even be a B student; the B student is insecure and frustrated because he or she knows what good, consistent work looks like—they just can’t produce it.

Trump is a C student wallowing in the depths of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.

So, to revise:

A students hire A students; B students hire C students.  C students hire an A student, a B student, two C students, a guy on Craigslist, their cousin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mike Tyson, six doctors, and a personal trainer, follow none of their advice, and then scream at them when they get the C they earned.

The Trump U Sales Playbook: A Marvelous Primer on the Dark Art of B2C Sales

I wanna start with an apology: Based on a very brief hot-take published in Slate, I posted this quip:

After seeing the these two Jon Oliver episodes (vol 1 and vol 2), I finally dug into the 2010 Trump University Playbook in earnest (as opposed to just re-reading the same nibblets everyone was passing around). And you know what? This playbook is special.

Since the Slate excerpts were chosen for the lulz, not the insight, all I saw was what was there: Standard-issue sales training materials, with the genre-mandated jankety English and flop-sweat sheen of Glengarry Glen Ross bravado.  If you have experience with consumer-oriented sales (i.e., “B2C”—that’s “business to consumer”, generally contrasted to “B2B,” which is “business to business”), none of this is that unusual. And so that’s what I tweeted.

But, of course, I was looking at it as someone who’s worked in sales, studied the psychology of selling, written sales copy, and slogged through a lot of terrible sales material and ethically questionable sales advice.  After digging into the playbook with my “Normal Human” eyes on, I’m seeing the ickiness much more clearly. That fantastic, revelatory ickiness.

Give these materials a gander, esp. the “Sales Playbook” section starting around pg. 96.  Read it, and get a sense of what a steep disadvantage you are at, as a normal human thrust into a professional sales situation (e.g., buying a car, sitting down with a “financial advisor,” being dragged to court, being interrogated). 

This is, in fact, a pretty tight textbook on the dark arts of high-pressure sales/persuasion situations where there is a built-in power differential that favors the seller. 

Frankly, if Trump U really wanted to give students value, then screw real estate investing; they should have handed out copies of this. “Here’s how we suckered you; go forth and sucker others!”

Maybe not worth $995, but certainly worth more than nothing. 

RECOMMENDED READING2010 Trump University Playbook