Tag Archives: better living through technology

I ASSURE YOU WE HAVE NOT BEEN HACKED

God damn it, WordPress.

OK: so about a year ago, this site got hacked. One of our fine contributors had their password set to “password” and someone in a basement office in Asia figured it out. They edited several pages, adding links and keywords to various boner pills. And nobody noticed it, because nobody reads this site.

Some time later that Google’s webmaster tools thing sent me a nastygram saying our site was hacked. I reset passwords, edited pages, and submitted forms back to Google saying yes, we were hacked; yes it was under control. Weeks or months later, they replied, and all was well. But in the interim, any google search results on the site said we were hacked. (Ultimately not a big deal, because nobody reads this site, and definitely nobody is searching for it.)

A year went by. We published three books. We posted here four times. I think a total of seven people visited, five of them looking for boner pills. It was a banner year.

Then, yesterday, another stern warning for Google. Site hacked. Turns out one page still had some mentions to boner pills, buried away in an invisible frame no human could see, but that Google could. Edit, resubmit to Google, wait. Luckily, as I said, nobody reads this, no big deal.

WordPress is horrific. The back-end interface is ugly, outdated, impossible to use. When you ask WordPress experts about this, they will tell you that it’s fully extensible, you can get plugins to change anything. You then search, and find plugins written a dozen years ago that never work, and don’t really do what you want. You also find people more than willing to charge you thousands of dollars to write plugins that never work, and don’t really do what you want. Meanwhile, you get a site that looks like the pinnacle of technology in 2004.

The advantage to WordPress is that everyone uses it. This is also an advantage to people in Russia who spend all day hammering web sites looking for security holes. Once they find an exploit in a WordPress version, they can easily jump from site to site and crack them open like walnuts. And because WordPress was written by a bunch of volunteers and random teenagers, it’s full of security holes. They remedy this by issuing a stream of updates, which then constantly break plugins, or flat out don’t work, and lock up your site entirely. It becomes a full-time job updating WordPress. And yeah, if your full-time job is fucking around with WordPress, this is trivial. But my full-time job isn’t fucking around with WordPress. I have too many other full-time jobs to deal with adding another.

The best alternative to WordPress is something that nobody uses that is probably about to not be maintained anymore because its author is graduating college next year. Or, it’s something about to be bought by Google and shut down. And before anyone says “you should be using…” note that I have no interest in taking a month of my life schlepping over hundreds of posts and reconfiguring .htaccess files and answering emails from authors who haven’t talked to me since 2006 because the link to their story broke.

I don’t have time to do much with this site anymore. I want to do something with it, but I’m working, writing, and PL has been receiving no attention, other than maybe a monthly “I should do something on the PL site” and then… nothing. This isn’t some announcement that I’m closing the site. It will continue puttering along. It’s just an admission that I’m lazy and burned out.

I won’t even get into the futility of posting things here and hoping people buy books based on it. Or attracting new readers. Or getting people to write stuff here. Jesus, just thinking about this is depressing.

Could be worse. There’s a woman out in Indiana who killed her husband and lover and fed pieces of them to her neighbors at a barbecue. Always good to see my home state in the news.

Anyway, we haven’t been hacked. Go buy my last book. And go buy John’s book. And while we were fucking off, Fiona Helmsley wrote a really good book and got it published at a real publisher, so go buy that first.

Thanks for reading.

5 Hints about Explosive Decompression

Explosive Decompression, a new novel by John L. Sheppard, will be published on Sept. 4, 2016 by Paragraph Line Books.

1. Why we’re on the brink of mass extinction (The Daily Beast).

2. A molecule of water can exist in six places at once (Vice). 

3. Bio coding language makes it easier to hack living cells (New Scientist).

4. Frankie Yankovic, “Pennsylvania Polka.”

5. Dalai Lama: Religion without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality (Vice).

The Love for Analog

Scan 10When Konrath is not rambling on about UFOs, he sometimes has a good point.  Check out this entry on The Wrath of Kon, which starts talking about how he’s idiotically decided to start dumping all of his money into film cameras, but then has some good points on our relationship to digital versus analog works.

http://rumored.com/2014/07/19/why-i-love-analog/

Distraction-free writing, 1925-style

the-isolator-640x539Back in the day, scifi writer Hugo Gernsback apparently had the same kind of ADD I do, and spent all of his writing time reading whatever people read instead of FacePlace, maybe some telegraph-based social networking thing. So how would he get around his crippling distractions and get writing done? Science, bitches!

His invention was called the Isolator. Basically it was a helmet that clamped over your head and made you completely deaf. It also blocked your eyesight except for a narrow slit, enough to see a single line. To avoid suffocation, it would pump in oxygen from a tank. It also made you look like a character from a Tool video, although that wouldn’t come along for another 70 or so years.

I’m currently working on an Isolator mark 2. It’s similar to Hugo’s setup, but has a tube for Coke Zero and adult beverages. The oxygen tank also has a Y valve so I can pump in nitrous or maybe ether. Does anyone know how I can Kickstarter this shit?

(via Laughing Squid)

The death of fiction via algorithm

Server pornOkay, here’s some bullshit for you. Some computer science gearheads have written an algorithm to determine if a novel will be successful or not. They basically took the text from a bunch of best sellers, and then did statistical analysis on the text to try and determine why a book sells.

They found that “Novelists who write more like journalists have literary success,”  or using more nouns, pronouns and prepositions.  Says Yejin Choi, one of the paper writers:

“It has to do with showing versus caring,” Choi said. “In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would.”

There’s all of the usual disclaimers on sample size and whatnot, and this kind of project isn’t that new.  I’m too lazy to cite anything, but people have been doing this for years with music metadata. This kind of number-crunching on qualitative works with quantitative figures has been going on in the basement of computer science departments ever since computer geeks started watching Star Trek. And data mining is big business; you can make tons of money by selling the FBI or the NSA tools to mine through data in the name of security theater, for example by digging through grocery store sales of falafel to catch terrorists.

What’s more scary/disturbing to me are the implications for fiction writers. The article I linked above had a couple of chickenshit quotes from an agent and a writer, saying this would never apply to their respective lines of work.  But I’m certain that once this is productized, it will result in book publishing that’s vetted by a program that spits out a score based on your work’s ability to fit within the cookie cutter. It’s like the Save the Cat crisis in Hollywood, where the catalyst has to happen at the twelve-minute mark or you’ve failed.  This has created a Hollywood where every movie is the same damn thing, or at least the ones getting big funding are.  Books are already heading that way, but once Microsoft Word gets a fiction profitability wizard (“It looks like you’re trying to write a YA vampire romance!”) good luck trying to sell anything that’s not written with the exact structure of every other book out there.

And before someone gives me the “but that’s the beauty of self-publishing: no gatekeepers!” – 99% of self-published books that sell are just aping the same romance and detective story structure as the best-selling Big Four authors.  If something like this came out, every self-publishing hack would be telling their cultists they absolutely needed to use it to make their books a success.

Looks like it’s time for me to scrap that non-linear, emotional novel and start punching up my zombie erotica project.  Big money!