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Just in case any of my writing-oriented readers aren't already aware from other sources, I thought this might be worth providing some extra signal boost for.

Random House recently announced that they were starting up a whole bunch of e-book only imprints for various genres of fiction: Hydra (Scifi), Alibi (Mystery/crime), Flirt ("New Adult", apparently) and Loveswept (presumably Romance).

Contracts offered by these imprints have now started to surface, and if I had to describe them in one word, it would be "avoid". Other people, with more useful arms, have expressed themselves using greater numbers of words, however:

Writer Beware regards them as "second class contracts", while the words used by the SFWA include "outrageous", "egregious", and "exploitative". John Scalzi summarises them thus: THIS IS A HORRIBLE AWFUL TERRIBLE APPALLING DISGUSTING CONTRACT WHICH IS BAD AND NO WRITER SHOULD SIGN IT EVER. (His caps.)

The highlights include a total lack of advance payment, a terrifying rights grab (all primary and subsidiary rights for the life of copyright, with no meaningful reversion clause) and Hollywood-style accounting that puts a whole bunch of (specified and) unspecified costs you'd normally expect the publisher to cover from their share ahead of the author in getting paid.

As a related issue, people may be interested to know that the Society of Authors offers a contract advice service to members; if you've been offered a contract, the society will be more than happy to accept you as a member by email and check your contract immediately. (As it happens, this was the point in the publishing process at which I joined - I didn't have an agent, decent specialist lawyers are very expensive, and having your contract checked over thoroughly by someone who really knows the business inside-out is essential.)
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As I wandered through our local supermarket, not buying anything (it was cold and dark and I wanted a walk somewhere that was air-conditioned and not raining), the label on a pack of bottles for minimising the hassle you get from airport security caught my eye. It asserted that the 100ml bottles in the bag were suitable for "All gels, foams, pastes, and other liquids". Is it unreasonable for me to feel that even the marketing nerk who wrote the text should have been able to identify that "gels, foams, [and] pastes" are by definition emphatically not liquids? Is that specialist knowledge that I shouldn't expect people to possess? (And if I asked for comments explaining the relevance of this posting's title, who would be first?)
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I've just added "The Meaning of Tingo" to the pile of books to be got rid of.

I can only assume that the "Absolutely Delicious" attributed to Stephen Fry on the cover was either relating to something else entirely, or an explanation that the best thing to do with the book was shred it finely and use it to add some bulk to your "absolutely delicious" cheesy mash.

The author starts off by observing that the Albanians have "no fewer than twenty-seven words for [...] mustache, ranging from mustaqe madh, meaning bushy, to mustaqe posht, one which droops down at both ends."

That's not 27 words for mustache. It's 27 adjectives that can be used to describe mustaches, like "bushy", "extravagant", "feeble", and so on. I suspect that with a bit of effort, anyone likely to be reading this could come up with at least another 24 examples in English.

And it didn't honestly get any better from there. Well, I suppose possibly it did, but I got bored after trying half a dozen dips that weren't any more interesting or revelatory. Spanish, he reveals, has a word to describe the job of someone who is paid to climb telegraph poles and fix problems with the wires at the top. So does English ("Lineman" is the correct technical term), but presumably he doesn't know that. (Possibly because the specialised job has now largely disappeared and been subsumed into the more general purpose "Engineer", leaving Lineman little-used). I'd expect a decent modern dictionary to still contain the older term (and, on checking, my Concise OED does indeed give it with that meaning, followed by one to do with sport). Did you know some languages have words to distinguish between food that's "stale" and food that's "rotting"? It may sound amazing, but it's true!
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This started off as a collection of links to go into a comment on [personal profile] naraht's journal, but it got a bit out of hand, and took rather longer than I intended, and....

Behind the cut, you'll find a very slightly ranty description of some of the evidence that using DRM not only increases costs, but actually cuts sales too. That is, if you have two identical (electronic) products for sale at the same price, one with DRM and one without, not only is the margin (and thus profit-per-sale) on the DRM-free version better, it will sell more copies as well. Big media companies tend to insist that everything needs to have DRM because all their customers (you and me, in other words) are thieves by nature: the evidence is that not only is that attitude highly offensive, it's directly costing them money as well. Where does the evidence come from? Well, mostly from sales figures provided by big (and some smaller) media companies, actually.

Read more... )
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Why is it that so many surveys appear to be designed to not collect information? I don't even mean the ones that are obviously designed to lead to a specific set of answers so that the news business/political party/think-tank/NGO/whatever who commissioned it can say "see, everyone agrees with us". I mean the ones where the questions don't even make any sense.

For example... )
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Some time ago, a friend recommended "The Thick of It' as TV comedy that was intelligent and, you know, funny. While his taste in music is sometimes questionable (how can anyone prefer "Revolver" to "Sergeant Pepper", I ask you?), we seemed to have reasonably similar tastes in humour, so I gave it a try.

Conveniently, there was a series on at the time, so I looked up the previous week's episode on iplayer. I watched it for ten minutes before giving up in disgust: not only was it not actually very funny, it managed to be amazingly offensive at the same time. Maybe I just hit a bad week? So I tried again when the next episode was available, and stopped after only about five minutes. It was much less offensive, but still suffered from being not funny.

The friend (who'd been away for a week) admitted he'd not actually seen the first of those two episodes, and hadn't thought highly of the second one.

Rather more recently, he bought the DVDs of Series Three (for his own pleasure, not for me:) and persuaded me to try again. I managed to struggle my way through the whole of the first episode, but I really can't bear to watch another. I mean, I found it funnier than "The Office", but only because that's about as funny as a typical concrete paving slab. I've had head injuries that gave me more pleasure than watching either "The Office" or "The Thick of It", and I do mean that literally[1].

So where is the problem? It isn't the swearing - while swearing is very rarely funny in its own right, I don't have a problem with it; it can even (rarely) be effective for enhancing a joke or (more often) for character or situation development/revelation. The swearing in TTOI doesn't achieve either of those things, though; Malcolm Tucker's swearing doesn't tell us anything about the situation, or even about him as a character except that he swears all the fucking time.

The primary subject matter is fine too: I have a long history of enjoying political satire both ancient and modern, including plenty that has a low opinion of politicians and their dirty-handed minions. Much political satire is polite to its targets, and indirect in its complaints and assertions, but much of it isn't - "Spitting Image", for example, was capable (at its best) of pointedly shredding a politician's argument (or policy), whilst simultaneously being hilariously funny (and frequently obscene as well).

The problem lies in the attitude the writers take to society; the casual (but often vicious) kicks down at people in less privileged positions, or fighting for causes they think are good. The first episode of Series Three, in one short scene, takes stabs at:

  • single parents

  • teenage pregnancy (I mean, that's inherently hilarious, right? Oh, not so much, actually)

  • 'mixed-race' couples (if a white teenage girl has a black boyfriend, obviously he must be a drug-dealer)

  • disabled people

  • at least a couple of other groups that escape me now (I'm hoping to expunge the whole thing from my memory if at all possible, and this seems a positive start)

And the whole of the rest of it is like that - that scene was particularly concentrated, true, but everything that seemed to me to be intended to be a joke was aimed at a disadvantaged group. (With one exception, which was also, by a remarkable coincidence, the only time in the episode I was actually amused.)

The bits of other episodes I saw were much the same. The main focus of the first one I saw, which I switched off in disgust, was the best way to make political capital from a woman's legal campaign against the safety-regulation-dodging employer whose tactics had killed her husband and coworkers. After all, what could be funnier than corporate manslaughter? It's right up there with rape and genocide, don't you think? Personally, I'm with the writer on the "Spitting Image" pilot (a couple of months before the actual series, for some reason) who, when asked by a member of the production team why they hadn't done a sketch on the week's main news story (the Harrods Bombing) replied "It isn't fucking funny".

According to the back of the case (quoting the Observer), "The Thick of It" is The funniest program on television. That would probably explain why I haven't watched much TV in the last few years.

[1] I was about five years old, and the nurse gave me a cream egg after stitching me back together. The cream egg more than made up for a bit of blood and inconvenience, and the experience was definitely positive overall. If I'd fallen about an inch further along I'd have lost an eye on the same sharp edge, and it would be a much less amusing story.
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This was bad enough. The idea that a major publisher of peer-reviewed science journals would publish a fake medical 'journal' in exchange for cash from a drug company is repulsive at best[0]. But they didn't stop at one. So far as anyone knows, this is limited to Elsevier's Australian division[1][2], but do you know what? I don't care. Even if the top of the company was merely happily ignorant of what was going on, I want their entire journal publishing empire to collapse as a warning to other people. It's bad enough to deal with creationists, quacks, and other loonies publishing allegedly serious journals full of b***s***, but to have a major scientific publishing house fake one is completely unacceptable (not to mention the fact that this plays needlessly into the hands of the 'modern medicine is a sinister conspiracy run by big pharma' morons). The initial discovery was the "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine" (and relates to an ongoing court case against the sponsor of that 'journal'), but the known others now include two cardiology 'journals' as well as one on neurology and two on more general topics. It's not in any way impossible that people have died as a result of this, and if they have, then I hope Australian law includes a corporate manslaughter charge to take the b******s down with[3]. Putting other people's health - and lives - at risk (all the examples discovered so far are medical journals, remember) for profit is so wrong that words just fail me.

[0] Dr Goldacre's article also discusses the assorted other revolting tactics used by Merck in attempting to prevent people finding out that the drug in question was dangerous, whereas Orac's two posts are specifically about the Elsevier 'journal' problem.

[1] They're running an 'internal review' at present, and hopefully lots of deserving people will be fired (or, better yet, executed), but even if it really is a local problem[2], the damage to the company's reputation will be huge, world-wide, and long-lasting - and well-deserved.

[2] Since the website for Excerpta Medica, the 'strategic medical communications' division of Elsevier given as the imprint for the fake 'journals', says that it employs 200 people at offices in the US and Europe, it seems unlikely that this is a small local problem. See comments on Orac's two articles linked to above for more information about this....

[3] An unfulfilable idea, alas, as the best you could do would be to show that statistically speaking the number of deaths was higher than would otherwise have been expected, but that's not proof of what caused those deaths, or that they weren't a random blip. While there would be some justice in it, I'm not convinced that such an argument passes the 'reasonable doubt' test, although that might depend on how unlikely you could show that the bump would be as a random event.


Jan. 10th, 2009 08:03 pm
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We're supposed to be helping two friends celebrate their wedding this evening, but the doctor prescribed me antibiotics for a secondary infection this morning and [livejournal.com profile] stripey_cat is still in the 'too full of virus to leave the house' stage. So we'd be no fun to have at the party, wouldn't be able to have much fun ourselves despite it being full of lovely people we want to spend time with, and might give evil germs to other people if we went. So we're staying at home, and it's not fair.

fx: has quiet tantrum (not enough energy for a noisy one).


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