Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

I have been reading I, Cringely off and on since I was an IS professional (children, that’s what we called IT people in the 1990s), back when we fibbed to get free copies of InfoWorld.  He’s usually been very good, and my editorial eye would assess his writing ability very favorably.

Also, unlike one industry pundit, he never had to eat a soup of one of his columns at Comdex. However, here he does a retrospective (or autopsy, if you like) on his predictions for 2020. Enjoy.

This is when I typically generate a list of technology predictions for the coming year. The challenge this year isn’t coming up with predictions, it’s finding a moment of calm to share them when people are most likely to read. With a pandemic rolling along and the nation in political and economic crises to boot,…

Bob’s 2021 Tech Predictions: What a Difference a Pandemic Makes — I, Cringely

 

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How I would hire an editor if I were an aspiring author

Life has taught me that quite a few of those who have appointed themselves editors and proofreaders are competent to do neither. If you could see the number of posts in editors’ forums full of bad English, requests like “I want 2 become an editor can u point me to any sites where I can learn grammer?” you might despair. If you can see them, you despair daily.

All right. Let’s do something about it. Knowing what I know now, but assuming I were not actually an editor, how would I do it? Imagine I wanted to be a published author and sought editing help. Assume that no matter my proficiency with the language, I’m sensible enough to realize one set of eyes isn’t enough. I also realize that volunteer first readers might be reluctant to be blunt with me.

In addition to continuing to write every day, even if it were only fifty words, even if all I said was “writing sucks today because…” I would start with short stories. The goal would be to get them published sooner rather than later, firing up the income stream. I’d give away the first few for free, hoping to build a following. But before I published any, I’d be confronting the hiring of editing services. Thus:

It’s not smart to hire people when one doesn’t know what they do. Rather than be foolhardy, I would read up on the different editing modes, so that I didn’t sound completely clueless when time came to have the conversation. When I did that, I would probably conclude that I needed a developmental edit. Even if I weren’t sure, I would desire such an edit in order to see my blind spots. I might later evolve my writing to a point where I ceased to need these, but I’d be planning to wait for an editor to tell me that.

I would not go to any of the sites that purport to help one hire editing services from a pool. Know what I’d do? I’d get on one of the writers’ groups on Faceplant, like Writers Helping Writers or Writers Unite. While some of the requests from purported writers might quease me out, this would provide me two benefits. One, it would show me the truly wretched quality of English on display for most of the likely competition, thus making me feel much better about my own. Two, it would let me see which editors participated in attempts to help these poor lost souls. I’d watch how they conducted themselves. I’d grade them for honesty, knowledge, and helpfulness. I’d make a list of the top five and order it according to how much each provider appealed to me.

Then, one by one, I’d contact my top five. I would not contact several at once. I would not waste others’ time or try to get them all to compete with each other; this isn’t buying a new car. I’d look the first one up, contact her, and see what her process was like. I would not ask her about costs until the very end of the discussion. I’d ask her for a sample developmental edit, presuming she did those, on just one to two pages of short story. I’d be very up front that I was starting with short stories to improve my writing, build a name, and work into the process.

The quality of guidance in her sample dev edit would be an enormous factor. If it was cold, that would be all right provided it was intelligent and honest. I’d make sure that the sample included some passive voice, ellipses, italic emphasis, and some other bad habits, just so that I could get her take on them. I could live with her telling me it was complete garbage, provided she told me specifics about why. If I didn’t get a good vibe and feel from this process, I would thank her for her time and let her know I needed to keep searching for a better fit.

If I did get a good vibe, I’d do some innocent cyber research. I’d see what kind of reputation she had, look into her testimonials. If her website offered a list of her credits, I might buy one of those books just to see how her handiwork might have come out. If I decided she was The One, I would not send her an NDA to sign (the only one of those I ever signed was for a tech editing project that involved being privy to the hiring party’s clients’ confidential information). If she sent me a contract to sign, I’d read it and decide how I felt about its provisions. If she wanted money up front, I’d examine that and decide whether I was comfortable with it. Also, to be frank, if she charged by the hour I’d assume she was more likely to be capable than if she charged a flat fee. There’s complicated thinking behind that, and it’s by no means perfect or universal, but it is my considered observation and experience.

Once I hired her, I would carefully consider everything she said. At times I would challenge her in ways, especially by asking her to explain the reasoning. If she had a process, I would follow it, soaking up everything I could. I would pay her promptly when the time came. I would not try to piggyback free work. At the end of the first project, I would decide whether her participation had improved my skills and the project. If it had, I would seriously consider hiring her again.

Any questions?

Judging a book by its . . . no, not just its cover — words / myth / ampers & virgule

For most of my life, the public was willing to trust experts—in whatever field—to render judgment on what was better or worse (an argument, a product quality, an artistic work). The zeitgeist has shifted, and now the cultural norm is to distrust experts and reject expertise as a basis for judgment. This applies to book…

Judging a book by its . . . no, not just its cover — words / myth / ampers & virgule

[J here: this I found an insightful guide to a subject dear to my heart. I believe quality in book manufacture and production matters, obviously, or I would not be part of the process. I do adore to see good quality production.]

A way of examining religion and its aspects

One of the blindest, most irritating bicker-fest categories I see is that over what constitutes religion. A good example involves Judaism, where some people who do not embrace the religious principles still identify as Jewish. I know people who don’t follow the LDS faith, and who even identify as jack (or jill) Mormons, but the point is they still consider themselves Mormon on some level. We have people who actively pray for spiritual beings to do their will, yet are careful to toss in the caveat that they hope their own will to be that of their spiritual being.

None of it would entail bickering if it were not for people trying to exclude one another from a given religious tent. I think these are akin to the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, typically an appeal to purity. It does matter to writers, and not only from a philosophic or cosmological standpoint. If a writer is going to incorporate any form of religion or spirituality into fiction, that writer must surely have a sense of the components of faith and practice that combine to form what we refer to as a religion. The subject has fascinated me ever since taking Sociology 349 at UW with Prof. Rodney Stark, one of the foremost scholars in the field of sociology of religion.

Let’s look at the various components of a belief system, some of which not all belief systems may address. As I see it, it is possible for a given individual to embrace some aspects but not others. Does that make that person not of that religion? That’s where the bicker-fests come in. Rather than have another such fest, we can take steps at least to create a belief system parfait of sorts:

Cosmology: Most religions propose to explain origins. Where did the universe come from? Where did people come from? Some embrace scientific explanations but venerate specific mythos. Some will insist that their own mythos constitute science.

Divinity: If there are divine beings, what is their nature? How many might there be? Do we know? Can we ever know? Or is it all a creation of the human mind? Faiths run this gamut, but whether or how a belief system addresses divinity is key to understanding it. The question of afterlife, if any, seems to straddle the worlds of cosmology and divinity. If there is an afterlife, it seems, a cosmology defines it and a divinity performs triage.

Magic: Most religions teach that people can influence their environments and outcomes. Some teach that this is done through appeals to divine beings (prayer, ultimatums, etc.); others teach that the power is within ourselves. Some would wet themselves over the application of this label to some forms of prayer, but to my eye those are simply another form of magic: the statement that one’s own judgment or desire should prevail.

Such are the perpetually unprovable factors. Their unprovability has never stopped people from fighting about them, naturally. Agnosticism doesn’t know whether or not there’s anything to any of those. Atheism asserts that there isn’t. But there are more:

Philosophy: How should we live our lives? What acts and perspectives are morally acceptable? Which are abhorrent? Into this category falls all definition of what Judaism calls a mitzvah (good deed) or what many religions call a sin (bad deed, ranging from minor to unpardonable). This one came into focus for me because most of us at times will face ethical dilemmas. I asked myself: “If my religion doesn’t help me figure out a right and valuable handling of these situations, what the hell good is it?” I might not be the only person who ever asked him/herself that.

Ethnicity: In many cases religion defines ethnicity to a degree. In the Serbo-Croatian-speaking world, Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs share a slightly varied common language in which one’s religious identification is part and parcel of one’s ethnic identity. Judaism considers Jewish anyone born to a Jewish mother. There are those professing Asatru who allege that only those of Germanic heritage may be Asatru. (There are Asatruar such as myself who reject this notion as bigoted and ridiculous.) This matters because it’s one thing to profess a faith; it is quite another to join an ethnicity, and in some cases problematic.

Culture: If religion is not necessarily an ethnicity, I find that it always develops a culture and a sense of cultural identity. Let’s take the Latter-Day Saint movement as mentioned earlier. Someone raised in the LDS church will surely gain some cultural overlay from it; same is true of Wicca, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or Chasidic Judaism. Someone not raised in a religious culture may seek to embrace it as an aspect of embracing that faith.

Evolutionism: No, not that. By this I mean a sense of whether religion should evolve or remain unchanged. How conservative (in the philosophic meaning of the term, not the faction label) should religion be? Must today’s Lutheranism be precisely the same as that of Martin Luther? (Evidently there are several different notions of that, or where it should go. Having been raised in a branch of the Lutheran faith, I have some personal experience with this.) We might examine Islam and its varying views on the subject, and we would find that the two largest branches differ on the rightful mantle of leadership post-Muhammad, so they differ not just on evolution of the belief system, but the departure point for any such evolution. It is akin to racers who do not concur on the starting line and stance.

I find that this compartmentalization helps me to look at any belief system by removing the conflation tendency that runs rife through most such discussions. If one person is arguing philosophy, and another is arguing cosmology, and both are insisting that philosophy and cosmology cannot be separated, they can’t even agree on what they are discussing. Of course they will never find common ground, nor even understand each other. One is talking about soil chemistry and the other is talking about marketing harvested crops.

In editing, I use this outlook to develop perspective on clients’ religious presentations in fiction. While I can imagine it playing a part in non-fiction, I’m most likely to encounter it in fiction because most religious authors aren’t terribly comfortable with an editor not of their faith.

This perspective is evolving. I may feel differently two years from now.

As this is the last blog post of the 2020 Dumpster Fire of a Year, I want to thank everyone who has been a reader and commenter during this time. May you all have an excellent 2021.

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

JK here: I found this a good description of differing styles. As with editing, most people don’t know different modes exist. Enjoy.

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Your goal, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, should be to paint word pictures vivid enough to engage the theater of your reader’s mind. Readers love to be educated and entertained, but they remember forever when they’re emotionally moved. So deciding which you’ll employ of the four main writing styles is crucial to leaving a powerful…

4‌ ‌Styles‌ ‌of‌ ‌Writing‌ ‌and‌ ‌How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Decide‌ ‌Which‌ ‌to‌ ‌Use — Jerry Jenkins | Proven Writing Tips

 

Doing what we are told–or not

While this won’t see publication until mid-December 2020, and I admit it doesn’t have much to do with editing services, I wonder if there are others out there who think as I do. I write on November 30, at the height of what we are told is Cyber Monday.

For the US readership, and those of any other country with a lot of Christmas gift-giving, did you buy anything online today? I did not. Were you tempted? But how could I resist the bargains, bargains, bargains? I was not even tempted.

I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else is as cynical about commerce. My starting presumption was/is that the designation of this as A Very Special Commercial Day was an attempt to manipulate the herd into overspending. The logic goes: “Better hurry, or other people will get all our Very Great Deals.” I assume it’s all smoke and mirrors; that they just raised prices and then marked them down, like our grocery stores do; that it’s a con job.

Black Friday, as it has been designated in order to make it Another Very Special Commercial Day, held even less attraction for me–and had done so in the many years before the pandemic turned large gatherings into superspreader events full of maskholes. “But you won’t get all the good deals!” Oh, I bet most of them aren’t so good. I don’t resent the marketing industry for presuming that the public is stupid, because for the most part the industry is correct when the public is taken as a mass. I probably should, but I do not. After cracking a couple of Black Fridays Matter jokes with my wife–and reflecting on the unfortunate impact of language choices on perceptions–I stayed home and watched college football.

The point, I guess, is that the Designation of the Very Special Commercial Days by itself was enough to turn me off. It triggered automatic assumptions that following a large crowd would lead to me spending money I should not, spending more money than necessary for anything I might want, and jostling around arterial streets and stores or the online ordering platforms.

It was that way with Amazon Prime as well. Remember when that came out? To me, it seemed obvious that Amazon would not do this unless they expected it would draw people to spend money with them more often than they should, just to “take advantage.” I took one look and said: “What is to your advantage will occur at my expense. No thanks.” Am I the only person who sees it this way? I just saw an American corporation pitching a gimmick, assumed it was screwery, and moved along.

The same applies to investing. On any given day, one can read a ton of articles about Some Intensely Important Indicator having made a critical shift: a Death Cross, an Inverted Yield Curve, a 50-Day Moving Average, or some other bit of technical talk. About half the time it warns us that we should sell, sell, sell, in order to avoid losing money. The other half is spent telling us now is the time to buy, buy, buy or miss the boat. Each side is right about 50% of the time, which poses a greater problem than people generally realize because in order to achieve an outperforming capital gain, one generally has to be right twice (timing of buying and selling). No wonder people just buy index ETFs.

Speaking of which, if you want a very effective strategy for cutting out all that racket and ignoring the Cassandras and Candides of our precious financial media, seriously consider subscribing to Jason Kelly’s financial newsletter. It is not cheap, but if you are managing five figures or more of assets, you should earn enough on dividends alone to wipe out the cost. It is entertaining, consistent, and often supplemented with midweek issues that comment on major movements. I can also verify from our business dealings and contacts that Jason maintains the highest possible standards of integrity and value. Time and again I have seen him lean to the side of making sure people are fully informed, well updated, and well supported. That’s not true of every financial newsletter out there, something I paid a lot of tuition (in the form of dumb investing decisions) to learn. Jason takes care of his people.

Unlike most of the money wonks on MarketWatch, Jason can write entertaining English with a dry wit. I go back to the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Jason (who lives in Japan), decided to seek sock donations to give to refugees. There’s always some negatory type who could find fault with free beer or a form of cheesecake that causes weight loss, and sure enough, one of them wrote in to question Jason’s qualifications to operate this process. With elaborate tact and patience, Jason reviewed what was required: use platform to request socks from community, assemble socks once arrived, load in van, take to refugee centers. Approximate quote: ‘Do I think I’m qualified to put socks in a van and give them to people? Yes, I think I’m qualified to do that.’ One of the highlights of my week is watching him point out what’s wrong with what the financial media are currently saying.

Of course, Jason’s guidance doesn’t tell people to do what most of the media are stirring them to do. That might be the greatest part of its early appeal to me. His method radiates indifference toward mass manipulation efforts.

Good holidays to all you who are observing holidays. Good fun to those who are just having fun. And great fun to all my fellow nonconformists; you aren’t the only ones.

Writer’s Block: Why It Isn’t Just About Writing and What You Need to Kick It for Good — Kit ‘N Kabookle

C.W. Tough love. Taking responsibility. Not making excusesYou have the power. Image by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash.“I can’t write today because—” Image by Luke van Zyl on Unsplash.That’s it. That’s why you have writer’s block. “I can’t right.” No, you can’t. Why? Because you just told yourself you can’t. Feeling defensive, guilty, or ashamed? You’re…

Writer’s Block: Why It Isn’t Just About Writing and What You Need to Kick It for Good — Kit ‘N Kabookle

JK here: Mary De Santis consistently does a good job. While my own stance on the phantom ailment under discussion is to refuse to dignify its existence, in reality I don’t see how this differs much from that. And I’m for anything that stops coddling and cuddling the phantom ailment. Enjoy.

What’s really tough in my field

Now and then I sense that many observers think I have a pretty good gig: “You fix their grammar, duh, and get paid.” I grant that I’ve had worse jobs, and ones to which I was worse suited, but it has agonizing moments. (And I don’t just “fix their grammar.”) Take for instance:

A referral contact comes in: a rambling phone call leaving a several-minute message about her manuscript. It is evident that the caller is elderly and perhaps dealing with memory issues. Her name is Ada Miller. She conveys:

  • The ms is an autobiography about Ada’s life, which has been about as interesting as most people’s (that is, not very much so).
  • Ada was referred to me by my old friend Edna, who lives in the same senior complex. Edna is a wonderful lady who is always trying to do nice things for people, and I respect her very much.
  • She has not quite finished it, but she would like a firm quotation. You know, just to get an idea of how much it will cost to clean up a few minor errors.
  • Ada is on a fixed income, and in case I don’t get the hint, more or less indicates that this better not cost much and that I should offer a senior discount. After all, how hard can it be to fix a few typos? she asks with a chuckle.

I call Ada back, addressing her as Ms. Miller (old school Kansas boy, here), and attempt to discuss the ms. That is not feasible, unless I’m willing to talk over her and be branded rude. Ada rambles about her life, her story, her two cancer diagnoses, her children, her life, her story, how to find a publisher, her poverty, some other health problems, what a great buildup Edna gave me, and on. And on.

Ada is a lonely elderly lady hoping to make a little bit of extra money and get her story out there. She is a fundamentally nice, good person who thinks of others. However, she understands little about editing, the modern world of publishing, marketing to publishers, self-publishing, or any of that stuff. She expects me to educate her about all this, in between her soliloquies, and certainly does not expect to pay me for that time. (Not that I’ve ever charged for it, but I also reserve the right to limit it.)

When Ada does not like what she’s hearing from me, she argues with me in her genteel way. Each disagreement is grounds for her to deliver several minutes of reasons why she is correct.

Okay. You want to be an editor? Here’s your job. Decide:

  1. Plan on a massive amount of unpaid effort, wading through a ms loaded with problems, knowing Ada will reject probably half the edits, all in service of a project that will never make her one dime, for what will turn out to be an effective billing rate of about $5/hour. And that’s just for the editing time, which will be the most painful editing of your entire career. That’s not taking into account all of Ada’s loneliness emails and conversations.
  2. Find a way to reject this poor, nice, elderly potential client, who has no idea what she’s doing and isn’t willing to follow any guidance that she might not agree with. Challenge: do so without crushing her soul and sending her to Edna with many humphs about how unhelpful and rude you were to her.

Yeah, I have such an easy job.

Recent read: The Devil Drives, by Fawn Brodie

Having spent our Pageant of Democracy at the coast (in Oregon, that’s how we say “the beach”), I needed a good read. If I had been doing the ideal thing, I’d have finished reading the book about marketing editing services. Instead I brought along this book, a biography of Sir Richard Burton.

Introductions are in order. Brodie was a UCLA history professor who wrote several biographies, notably one of Joseph Smith. I had read that one and thought it rather good, though the LDS Church doesn’t seem to have shared my opinion. In my estimation, she is credible. As for Burton, he was an 1800s English philologist, foreign service officer, explorer, and researcher of human sexuality. Some called him a cad, but no one called him dull.

Burton had a great natural flair for learning languages, eventually mastering about twenty-five with another fifteen dialects. He spoke Arabic well enough to infiltrate Mecca despite not being a Muslim, which would have gotten him a messy punishment in case of discovery. He quarreled with the British Foreign Office, fellow explorers, other researchers, and anyone who tried to boss him around. He visited Utah in the early 1860s, and Brodie (a native of Ogden) calls his book on the LDS community the best study of its time. I’d think she should know.

As for human sexuality, Burton picked an unreceptive time and place to discuss it. Wherever he went, he studied sexual practices and beliefs. Much of his work in that area scandalized much of his home country (in which he lived very little of his actual life), and much of it we will never see, because his fanatically religious wife incinerated a large amount of his unpublished work and diaries after his death. The effect was to attach to Burton an air of amorality, but his real sin was not to study sexuality and publish his findings. His real sin was not to appear properly ashamed and embarrassed about doing so. For that, the court of public opinion crucified him.

Brodie didn’t write nearly as many biographies as I wish she would have, probably thanks to her thoroughness and urgent need for a passionate interest in her subject. This one’s a winner. Recommended.

Print media aren’t being killed; they’re taking slow poison

At least, that’s how it looks and feels to me.

We used to take Portland Monthly, a print magazine of the titular subject matter and frequency. While it was very kombucha-Portlandy, with minimal relevance to us out in Burberton and especially to those of us who avoid downtown (and were doing so years before protests began), enough of its content had enough value that we enjoyed it. We’d learn about a few new places to eat, or local history, or something else fun. It was worth what we paid for it.

One fine day, my issue came with a flyer. It began by thanking us for our support of independent journalism and told us how wonderful we were. That’s when a thinking person begins to expect at least a four-joint bohica.* It then informed me that there would be a change to my subscription. In order to better meet subscribers’ needs, I’d now only get four mailed print issues per year. The rest would be available online. They urged me to give them my e-mail address, so that I would not miss an issue. There was nothing about a refund, either partial or full.

Now let’s examine this. Here’s my takeaway: “Hi. We heart you big time. However, we’re now quartering the amount of content we offer you under the terms of your original subscription. Why? Because fuck you, we think you are enough of an idiot to go along with getting 1/4 of what you paid for, and we really like cutting our costs.”

Canceling my subscription felt almost like a moral duty. I don’t want to read magazines on my computer or my flip phone (can’t anyway). If I had a more advanced phone, I wouldn’t want to read them on that either. However, they could have avoided this by offering me some form of refund, offering a subscription extension, just about anything–anything, that is, except what they did: “Because we think you’re an idiot, we will be giving you less content and no compensation; suck it.” They could even have begged: “We understand this is a major change in the terms for which you paid, and we hope you will consider that a small but valuable contribution to the cause of local journalism.”

It came down not to money (the $15-odd refund isn’t exactly enough to retire on), nor to questions about content and value. It came down to my recoiling from the tactic of first kissing subscribers’ asses, then insulting our intelligence.

They’re committing suicide. Deep down, these magazines don’t ever want to print another paper copy again, so they’re doing their best to drive away anyone who wants a physical magazine in their mailboxes.

It’s working.

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who stands up and objects to the constant messaging trend: “In order to serve you better, we are cutting staff, reducing hours, eliminating services, raising prices, decreasing portions, and trimming options. We want you to believe this is for your benefit. We think you’re enough of an idiot to buy this.”

 

* Slang of military origin, an articulated acronym for “bend over, here it comes again.” We used to measure them by joints involved, with three for example meaning the finger, four meaning the whole hand, and six meaning up to the shoulder. Up to twelve was a double bohica, and after that one counted vertebrae for the dreaded super bohica.

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.