Thugbutt

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Yes, that is Sachiko’s box seat. (No, it’s not a permanent installation, but we’re in no particular hurry to get rid of it.)

Lately Watanuki has been waiting for her to settle down in the box before he walks up and looms threateningly over her until she leaves. Then he settles in and gives her a mock-innocent look.

All very 1930s gangsterish. It’s not by accident that one of his nicknames is “Thugbutt”.

Patreonizing

Well, hell. Patreon is currently in the midst of shooting itself in the foot.

Brief background for those of you who need it: Patreon is a crowdfunding site optimized for creators. Unlike Kickstarter, which focuses on specific projects, Patreon focuses on the creators themselves. Backers commit to funding individuals on an ongoing basis (either a set amount per month or a set amount per work of art*). In exchange, they receive benefits defined by the creator: early access to comics, patron-only poems, commissioned art, online meet-and-greets, etc., etc., etc., limited only by the creators’ imagination and the supporters’ pockets.

* “Art” being loosely defined here. It could be a drawing, a song, a mechanical object, or anything else the creator produces.

Patreon itself takes a 5% cut of the donations, and up until now, the creators have absorbed the cost of the contribution–the credit card processing fees, money transfer fees, and so forth. To grossly oversimplify, creators received about 75 cents of every dollar donated. More if they had a few large contributions, less if they had a lot of small ones, but somewhere around 75%, if the comments I’ve been seeing are representative. And, of course, the amount the artist receives varies from month to month, as the proportion of small to large contributions changes.

Effective December 18–unless Patreon changes its mind–supporters are going to be charged a fee for each contribution to offset the credit card and other processing charges. Patreon is promoting this as wonderful for the creators, who will now receive 95 of every dollar.

Well, yeah, except that a large portion of the contributions are currently at the $1 level. Those will now cost the supporters $1.38. Supporting somebody at the $5 level? That’ll now be $5.50.

Mind you, Patreon hasn’t officially notified supporters of this change yet, despite the fact that it’ll take effect in a little more than a week.

But they have notified creators and many of them are unhappy.

Seanan McGuire explains why in a Twitter thread.

In brief, she expects many smaller contributions to disappear, leaving her with a small number of larger ones. That’ll turn a reasonably solid support into a classic “rickety stool”: if even one of those larger supporters drops out somewhere down the road, the support is gone and Seanan falls on her ass.

And she’s right.

I’m not one of her supporters, much to my chagrin, because she’s one of my favorite writers, whether I’m reading for pleasure or professional development. But I have a limited amount of money I can afford to spend through Patreon, and so I’ve had to leave out many authors and artists I’d love to support.

With this change, I’m going to have to cut back. Most of my contributions are $1 a month. If that becomes $1.38 a month, it means I’ll have to stop my contributions to a third of the creators. That doesn’t only hurt the artists and writers I’m no longer supporting, but it hurts me as well, because I’m not getting the benefits of supporting all of them anymore.

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Patreon needs to rethink this plan and quickly. Granted, complaints are always louder than compliments–but I’m not hearing any compliments about Patreon’s plan. Not from patrons, not from artists.

If the only people who approve are Patreon’s staff, that doesn’t bode well.

Let’s be blunt here. In most businesses, credit card processing fees are part of the cost of doing business. You factor that in when you’re setting your prices. That’s why some businesses don’t take credit cards or offer a discount for cash purchases.

So here’s a thought: Patreon could smooth out the monthly variation–which they’re touting as a major benefit of their planned change–by taking a slightly larger cut from artists and using the money to cover the processing fees. And on the other end, treat patron contributions in bulk to minimize the fees*.

* Again speaking bluntly, they’re already doing this. If I make ten $1 contributions, they charge my credit card for $10, which would make the processing fee 64 cents (2.9% + $0.35). They’re not making ten separate charges with an aggregate $3.80 fee, and claiming they are is damn insulting when I can look at my credit card bill and see otherwise.

I can’t speak for all the creators, of course, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them would rather get 90 cents of every dollar from their current supporters than either 95 cents from a much smaller group, or the current 65 to 85 cents.

I’m sure there are other ways to solve whatever funding crisis Patreon has. But pissing off your customers is a less-than-optimal approach in any business.

Arrrrrrgh

Just a quick commercial message with the Official Gift Giving Season upon us: The RagTime Traveler makes a great gift for your mystery-reading friends. Available at all the usual outlets–if your local store doesn’t have it in stock, they can order it–and I believe Borderlands still has signed copies. End of commercial.

Since we’re on the subject of book sales, let’s talk about piracy. It’s been a hot topic in the genre publishing world for the last couple of months thanks to Maggie Stiefvater‘s tweet about the cancellation of plans to publish a box set of one of her series.

I’ll be honest here. I don’t know Ms. Stiefvater, and I haven’t read the Raven Cycle. But they’re well-reviewed and quite popular.

And that’s the core of the problem. The books are popular, but they’re not selling well enough to make that boxed set economically viable.

Ms. Stiefvater attributes the disconnect to piracy, and as that tweet shows, she’s got evidence to support her position.

Then there’s the contingent of writers who shrug off piracy as free advertising. That’s the position that says “If they can get books free, maybe they’ll try something new, decide they like it, and buy the sequels.”

That group tends to point to the Baen Free Library. SF publisher Baen Books made (and still does make) some titles available free. When the library was introduced, sales of paper copies of the free books jumped, as did later books in the same series.

The trouble is, you can’t generalize from the BFL, which generally only includes the first book of a series, to the broader world where everything is available free. If a reader can go back to the same website where they got Book One and grab Book Two, Three, Four, and Five, there isn’t much incentive to shell out thirty-five or forty bucks for them.

And don’t forget: those early numbers from the BFL that everyone cites came from a time when pirating a book meant scanning every page and then going through a tedious process of OCR conversion and proofreading. Today, it’s a thirty-second task to take the legit ebook and strip off the copy protection. It’s gotten to the point where everything is pirated.

Yes, even TRTT. I know it’s out there–I’ve seen it. Pirating has gotten so quick and easy that totally unknown authors’ works are made available on the off-chance somebody might want them. It’s easier to grab everything published and crack the encryption than to decide what you actually want.

In fact, pirate copies of TRTTstarted showing up on June 7, the day the book was released. That suggests the whole process is automated, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the major distributors has a backdoor somewhere.

I’m not suggesting beefing up the encryption. Music, movies, and games have all tried increasingly-tougher copy protection, and all the attempts have failed. It doesn’t stop the pirates, and it inconveniences legitimate buyers.

I don’t have an answer. I’m fairly sure there isn’t one beyond occasionally reminding everyone that if books don’t sell, publishers and writers won’t be able to put out more.

I can’t stop anyone from pirating. But if you do, how’s about you have a heart and buy a book occasionally? Thanks.

Dancing

The dance of feline politics continues.

Three cats on the bed–usually Rhubarb, Yuki, and ‘Nuki–isn’t uncommon. Lately, however, Sachiko has been hanging out on the bed as well. I suspect it has to do with the weather cooling off, but that’s (a) conjecture and (b) beside the point.

The actual point is that her presence disturbs the normal alignments. Instead of Rhubarb and Yuki cuddling in one corner and Watanuki monopolizing another, we get something of a feline compass rose:
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Mind you, cats have their own sense of direction. They’re marking out East-SouthNuki, West-SouthSachiko, West-NorthYuki, and East-NorthRhubarb.

Not so great for geocaching.

Rather awkward for humans trying to lie down as well.

But what can one do? We all know who’s really running this joint.

Equifax

I’d call this unbelievable, but in 2017, the year of untrammeled greed, it’s merely par for the course.

Remember Equifax? You know, the big credit report company whose security breach exposed the personal information of millions of Americans?

The company that collects financial, demographic, and employment information, but is apparently unable to install security patches in a timely fashion or reliably tell you if your information was stolen?

The one that can’t even keep track of its own websites and sent consumers to a fake site instead of their own (unreliable) “check your information” site?

The one that initially tried to force people to waive their right to sue if they tried to find out whether their information had been stolen?

Yeah, them.

The story behind that second link suggests there’s good reason to believe Equifax is using the massive security breach–which exposed personal information on nearly half of the American population–as a revenue-generating opportunity. In short, by directing worried consumers to Equifax’ own credit freezing service, they’re lining up millions of people who will, once the initial year is up, be paying around $30 every time they need to let someone check their credit–when buying a home, a car, a cell phone, or in many cases, even when applying for a job. Nor is that fee fixed: Equifax could raise it at any time.

Apparently they weren’t drawing in enough business, because now they’re getting other companies to shill for them.

Last week, I got a letter from AT&T. Oddly, even though the letter is dated October 23, I didn’t receive it until November 23. Clearly, some poor printer has been working day and night to get these letters out. But I digress.

It says, in part, “There was no breach of AT&T systems or the data we maintain, but we … understand there is a possibility that your personal information might have been exposed.” It then encourages me to go to that same unreliable Equifax site to check my information and “sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection.”

I can’t help but wonder what’s in it for AT&T. I doubt they get a cut of revenue–but only because this is a paper letter, so there’s no way for Equifax to track which suckers came to their site thanks to the letter.

But one odd little possibility comes to mind. If the FCC carries out its threat to repeal the Network Neutrality regulations, will AT&T start charging its customers extra to access Equifax and other credit monitoring services?

Proper Construction

It’s that time of year again–when zillions of people across the country are making a mess of their leftover turkey sandwiches. And that’s a real shame. The noble turkey should never be wasted on an inferior sandwich.

And it’s so unnecessary. We covered the making of a proper turkey sandwich four years ago.

To be fair, the blog had fewer readers then. So if you’re new here, check out that post and spread the word. As a bonus, you’ll get our mindlessly-easy recipe for turkey soup.

But that aside, there’s another sandwich-related problem plaguing America–a worse one, as it strikes at the very foundation of indigenous American cuisine.

As we noted four years ago, mayonnaise is the devil’s condiment. So why has it become the default on hamburgers*?

* Let’s not get into the argument about the ancestry of the burger. Sure, every meat-eating culture has a dish involving ground meat. It’s a great way to use up the leftovers. But the hamburger qua hamburger? American born and bread. (Sorry).

I blame Canada. No, seriously. Forty years ago, Canadians were the only people so lost to virtue as to put mayo on a burger. Today, everywhere in America, if you don’t say “NO MAYO, DAMN IT!” you’re going to get a thick, slimy layer of that white stuff on your burger.

Yeah, a thick layer. Even if I was prepared to accept mayo on the bun–which I’m not–it would have to be as a condiment, like the ketchup and/or mustard* it’s ostensibly replacing, not as an ingredient in its own right. But no, the default is a giant scoop of the evil stuff, outweighing the bun. Heck, I’ve occasionally gotten a burger where I’m fairly sure there’s more mayo than meat.

* You may be surprised to learn that a person of such definitive opinions won’t take a position on the ketchup/mustard debate. The reason is simple: my preference in the matter changes. Some days I want one, some the other, and sometimes both.

It’s a deplorable situation, folks, and it’s only made worse by the ever-increasing tendency for burgers to include lettuce.

I’m not talking about a big wad of shredded lettuce intended to make a fast food burger look as though it’s got some nutritional content. No, I’m talking about an allegedly legitimate food burger with a wad of iceberg big enough to have sunk the Titanic.

Does anybody think this is a good idea? Really. Serious question. Lettuce adds no taste. On a burger, it does two things, neither desirable. It bulks the burger up to the point where you can’t possibly open your mouth wide enough to eat it, and it delivers water straight to the bun, making it soggy.

Really, people, get with it. You want tomato on your burger? Go for it. Onion, raw or grilled? No problem.

But when it comes to lettuce, follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and Just Say No.

And that white, slimy stuff?

Hell No to Mayo!

If It…

My apologies to anyone who came by yesterday expecting a Thanksgiving blog post. I decided to sleep late–and believe me, I’m very thankful for the unusual lack of telemarketers which allowed me to stay in bed as long as I did.

But I know there would be rioting in the streets–albeit small riots–if I didn’t have a post up today, so enjoy this picture of Sachiko in her new “phwone”.
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She enjoyed it so much when the box landed on the floor, we decided to leave it for a few days. Now we have to decide how long after Thanksgiving we’ll give her before we explain that it was only a temporary phwone.

An Ism

Odd how ethnocentrism (and other isms) can sneak into your thought processes and whap you upside the head.

Case in point: I was thinking about my favorite movies recently, and realized they had something in common.

Let me digress for a moment. My favorite movies fluctuate. My all-time favorite changes frequently, though it’s usually one of three, and I’d have a hard time coming up with a top ten list, because I don’t see enough movies to have collected that many that stay with me.

But, back to the point. Those top three actually have a fair amount in common. They’re all filled with digressions, and to a great extent they depend on an ensemble cast for their success. What struck me the other day is another similarity I hadn’t considered before. In a way, they’re all road movies.

Cold Fever is a weird Icelandic/Japanese road movie–in fact, it was billed as the “best Icelandic-Japanese road movie of 1995.” Yeah, that was done as a bit of a joke, but that’s beside the point. Everything happens on the way somewhere; the destination is almost irrelevant.

Tampopo is a weird Japanese road movie. Or, from one perspective at least, a movie about the road. Two of the main characters are truckers. Many of the diversions are related to the road, trains, or travel.

And Return of the Secaucus Seven is a weird little film full of comings and goings, travelings to and from, and even a nod to going around and around at the race track.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to call the latter two road movies, but there’s a theme there. Maybe not enough for a dissertation, but a dedicated critic in desperate need of an article could make something of it.

But, to get back to the original point of this post, did you catch the ism? Yup. “Icelandic/Japanese movie,” “Japanese movie,” “film”. Despite what Hollywood would prefer you to think, film is hardly a uniquely American creation, nor is American cinema the root stock from which all other countries have sprouted as twigs.

The mode of thought that says “the way we do it here is the only correct way,” is the cause of far too many problems. It’s disheartening to trip over it in one’s own thoughts.

Those Guys Again

All is not sweetness and light around the Backyard Bowl.

We put the food out for the cats, and we don’t particularly begrudge the occasional possum who drops by. They’re generally polite and usually only take a couple of mouthfulls of krunchiez.

Then there are the trash pandas.

They are not polite. They track mud in the water bowl. They empty the bowls and then shove them around looking for more food. And they’re arrogant. The stroll around and give us dirty looks as though they’re the property owners and we’re a bunch of ragged squatters. And the language they use! Well!

So it’s a great day when we catch them off guard and force them to tree themselves.

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There was much rejoicing that day.

Feeling Lucky?

It’s raining here. I say this, not to evoke sympathy–after all, I’m inside, warm and dry–but to set the stage.

Rain is coming down, and Casey is under-caffeinated. A messy combination that usually leaves me staring out of the window at the rain instead of doing what I should, i.e. writing a blog post.

There’s a soggy crow on the nearest street light, an even soggier deer halfway up the hill across the road, and what looks like the paper wrapper from a fast food burger disappearing around the corner.

This is all fascinating when I need to make another mug of tea.

Suddenly, my idyll is interrupted. An unmarked white van pulls up across the street. No more than three seconds pass before the driver, who’s wearing a dark-colored hoodie with the hood up, leaps out and takes a single step toward the house.

He hurls something over the front fence, frisbee-style. Before the object touches down, the driver is back in his van and halfway down the street, chasing the hamburger wrapper.

Folks, earlier this week four people were shot less than a block away from here. The police believe they were targeted, but say they have no suspects and no motive.

So I did what any sensible person would do: I got the hell away from the window.

I waited a couple of minutes, and when nothing had gone boom, I figured it wasn’t a bomb and went to investigate.

Turned out to be small padded envelope decorated with the Amazon logo. Considerately, it had been wrapped in a large plastic bag to protect it from the rain. I’m fairly sure it isn’t explosive.

I’m not about to open it. Not because I think I might be wrong about its explosive properties, but because it’s addressed to Maggie. But it’s sitting on the dining room table. Who knows what it might do half an hour from now?

I hadn’t realized I was this nervous.

But, sleepy paranoia aside, the situation is ridiculous, and not in a humorous way. In today’s restive–I might even say “hair-triggered”–environment, how many people would have taken a shot at the driver? “I was scared! It could have been a bomb!”

How long will it be before someone does disguise an explosive device in an Amazon box?

Gig economy drivers are even less visible than salaried, uniformed drivers in trucks bearing corporate logos.

It’s a hell of a murder method. You don’t need to shell out for anything but a box: no uniform, no rented truck. And, unlike a mail bomb, you’ve got complete control over when it gets delivered.

Like Herding Cats is going out to the beta readers nowish. Maybe I should take advantage of my time away from it to write something cheerful. (Which is not to say LHC is a depressing book, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns either.)

But I can’t believe this hasn’t happened yet.

Feeling lucky?