Category Archives: Web/Tech

I’m hosting Falling Skies: Second Watch

 

Wil Wheaton hosts Falling Skies Second Watch for TNT

Two creators, one geek.

 

Remember when I said 

I don't cancel convention appearances lightly, because I know how disappointing it is for the people who are attending. I assure you that this isn't a ploy to win a game of Mystic Warlords of Ka'a, or even a bowling match… this is just something that happens from time to time when someone like me is lucky enough to land a dream job that conflicts with a planned trip out of town.

This is what I was talking about:

TNT announced the launch of a new web show, 2nd Watch, hosted by Trek and Leverage star Wil Wheaton. The show will air on http://fallingskies.com with a live premiere episode on Sunday June 17 at 11pm ET – following the two-hour East coast season premiere of Falling Skies.

I love Hardwick's show Talking Dead (even though I wasn't crazy about last season's Walking Dead), so when TNT asked me if I was interested in hosting a similar show for Falling Skies, of course I said yes.

I mainlined Falling Skies over two days, watching every single episode from the first season and everything that they gave me for the second season. Also, [REDACTED]. 

I'm really excited about this for a few reasons: Number one, it's online, so you can watch it anywhere in the world whenever you want to see it. I believe that this is a fantastic step in the right direction for TNT (and all networks) because — let's face it — online is the future where everything is happening right now, and making it easy for fans to gather in one place and geek out over the shows they love just makes sense.* (Now if HBO would only listen to all the cord cutters who want to give them money… but that's slightly off topic.) Number two, I get to spend a ton of time geeking out with writers and actors who make a show that I love, and I get to ask them pretty much whatever I want. Number three, I'm standing on the shoulders of Chris Hardwick, which is always a nice place to be**. 

Most of the episodes are taped, but the season premiere and season finale will be followed by a live show (this is why I can't go to the Denver Comicon, and why I may have to miss GenCon this year.) I really want to say a lot more, but the NDA I have with TNT is terrifying, so I'm going to err on the side of shutting the fuck up, which is a new thing for me.

* I see in comments that you have to be a cable subscriber to get access to the show. Damn. Well, baby steps, I guess.

**I love this guy!!

This is really obnoxious, TypePad

Oh, hey, look! It's time for another ranty rant about the Internet. I swear to FSM, I've become Grandpa Simpson.

When TypePad was bought by an advertising company, we all knew the clock was ticking, and it would eventually be time to start looking for an alternative. To be honest, I'm surprised (happily) that it took this long.

Earlier today, I started composing a new post, only to see this on my composing screen:

Screen Shot 2012-06-04 at 10.53.50 AM
Little nuclear bombs went off in my eyes, and I wrote the following on Tumblr:

This is REALLY fucking obnoxious, Typepad.

Presenting this “easy way to embed relevant links” into a blog post may be worthwhile to some people, but not letting those of us who don’t care completely ignore the stupid thing and then putting precisely the kind of advertising we hate into it is worthy of me collating paper.

It’s bad enough that you won’t let me collapse this stupid window by default, but shoving promoted bullshit advertising into my fucking composition window on my own fucking blog when I am paying to use your service is totally unacceptable.

Small but important note: I use disconnect in my browser, so I suspect that it preventing TypePad from saving my preference to keep this stupid goddamn window closed. So that's on me. The argument about why we need to even use disconnect is its own thing, so I'll stay away from that, but it's relevant, nevertheless.

This is part of a pattern that I find exceptionally disturbing, and it's probably why I get all ranty when it happens: a company or product I love is bought by a company that I hate, and the thing I love is changed in subtle and unsubtle ways until it's just another example of why I hated that company to begin with. I'm always happy for developers to cash in and profit from that amazing thing they made that I loved, but I wish there was a way for them to do it without guaranteeing that that thing I loved will be trashed.

I really, really, really hate the entire concept of "promoted" anything — Tweets, posts, links, whatever — because it's advertising that tries to pretend that it isn't. At least on other services, I can accept it (they're free, after all, and everyone has to pay the bills) but when I'm paying a subscription fee to a service and this bullshit still shows up? HULK SMASH. 

I was a Movable Type user way back before TypePad even existed [HIPSTER KITTY], and a Grey Matter user before that. I love TypePad, and it's been a fantastic platform and service for me since I hosed my database at WWdN. In fact, it's been so easy to use and so stable, I haven't had much incentive to collect all of my things here in Exile and move them back to WWdN…

…until today. I guess it's finally time to leave Exile and go home. It will take a couple of weeks to get it all set up, but to be honest, it's something I should have done a long time ago.

an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes

I frequently find myself in an unpopular position in the entertainment industry: I believe in network neutrality, I don't believe that piracy is the end of the world as we know it (I particularly don't believe that a download or file shared automatically equals a lost sale*) and I don't believe in crippling the Internet to protect a business model that desperately needs to change.

One of the things that drives me crazy is the belief in Hollywood that bittorrent exists solely for stealing things. Efforts to explain that this is not necessarily true are often met with hands clamped tightly over ears, accompanied by "I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA."

As an example of the usefulness of bittorrent for entirely legal purposes, I present the following comparitive images:

Screen Shot 2012-05-13 at 10.39.50 AM
Screen Shot 2012-05-13 at 10.39.56 AM

So yesterday, I decided that I'd download Ubuntu and put it in a Virtualbox on my iMac, just to see how the distro is doing these days. As you can see from the images above, if I'd downloaded the iso straight from their server, it was going to take the better part of an hour, so I decided to grab the torrent instead. Turns out it was a good choice, because it was finished in about six minutes.

I was so happy with the speed and performance, I seeded it until I got to a ratio of 3.0, to give back, you know?

Some ISPs are blocking all bittorrent traffic, because bittorrent can be used to share files in a piratical way. Hollywood lobbying groups are trying to pass laws wich would force ISPs to block or degrade bittorrent traffic, too. Personally, I think this is like closing down freeways because a bank robber could use them to get away, which I know is an imperfect comparison, but is the best I can do after a night of not-especially-good sleep.

Anyway, my point with this post is to illustrate that the bittorrent protocol is useful for more than just infringement, so when you hear industry lobbying groups making a lot of noise about piracy, you'll remember that they aren't giving you all the facts.

 

*Longtime readers may recall that I did not always believe this, but I've, uh … evolved … on the issue.

Google is making a huge and annoying mistake.

I like Google Plus. Some of the smartest people I've ever read are on Google Plus, and the Hangout is amazing.

But Google is doing everything it can to force Google Plus on everyone, and it's pissing me off.

Yesterday, I tried to like a video on YouTube. I wasn't signed in to my Google Plus account, and this is what I saw:

What_the_fuck_google
Where the thumbs up and thumbs down used to be, there is now a big G+ Like button. When you go anywhere near it, you get a little popup that tells you to "upgrade to Google plus" for some reason that I don't remember, because the instant I saw it, I made a rageface.

Here's what I wrote on Tumblr:

Oh, go fuck yourself, Google. This is just as bad as companies forcing me to “like” something on Facebook before I can view whatever it is they want me to “like.”

Just let me thumbs up something, without forcing me to “upgrade” to G+, you dickheads.

The worst part of this? For a producer like me, I’m going to lose a crapton of potential upvotes for Tabletop, because the core of my audience is tech-savvy and may not want to “upgrade” to yet another fucking social network they don’t want or need.

I am adding now: Those upvotes are incredibly important to us, because we need them to earn another season of our show.

I'm even more grateful now than I was yesterday that we own the IP for Tabletop, because we can produce it ourselves, or crowdfund with Kickstarter, or something like that, if Google keeps doing things like this that will negatively affect how users can interact with us on YouTube.

I was reblogged by Neil Gaiman, who added:

I wish Google would leave the Social Network thing to others. When Google does what it does, and does it well, it changes the world. When it rides bandwagons, it’s irritating.

I’m not on Google Plus, and I suppose that I won’t be liking YouTube videos any longer.

John Green also reblogged me, and he said:

I strongly agree with this. Making it so that only google plus users can decide whether a YouTube video is worth watching benefits no one except for Google Plus: It is bad for viewers, bad for video creators, and bad for YouTube’s ability to curate and tailor videos to potential viewers.

By crippling functionality on sites Google owns (like YouTube) and forcing users to "upgrade" to a service that they may not want or need to get that functionality back, Google is making a huge and annoying mistake. You get people to enthusiastically use services by making them compelling and awesome and easy to use. You don't get people to enthusiastically use your services by forcing them to. In fact, that's probably a great way to ensure that a huge number of people who may have been interested in trying out your service never even look at it.

Someone found my Kindle on the airplane this weekend. I’d really like it back.

I left my Kindle on an airplane this weekend (post-convention exhaustion will do that to you), and someone found it.

I know that someone found it, because they've been using my account to buy games and books. Based on the purchases, I'm fairly sure the person who found my Kindle (which is named Wheatley) is young, possibly a teenager or a college student. He or she likes Scrabble, Battleship, Spelling Star, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and something called Telesa. He or she also hopes to learn Samoan, French, and Spanish. He or she has spent a fair amount of my money on these things.

I used Amazon's Personal Document thing to send a note to my Kindle, thanking the person for finding it, and telling them that I can be contacted at [email protected] to arrange its return.

I'm hopeful that this person will do the right thing and get in touch.

*Updated*

I called Amazon, reported it stolen, and they deactivated it after refunding me the fradulent purchases.

This isn't the end of the world; I can afford a new Kindle (thank Steve the Fruitbat), and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't the biggest of deals… but I sincerely hoped that whoever has my Kindle now would have read the note I sent to it, which is titled TO THE PERSON WHO FOUND MY KINDLE, and gotten in touch to return it to me. I want to believe in the basic goodness of people.

I really hope that it wasn't just taken by some kid who decided to keep something because, you know, Finders Keepers. I really hope that it was taken by some dirtbag who turned around and sold it to a kid who is too young to know that "this Kindle comes with whatever you want and you never have to pay for it, just give me fifty bucks for meth!" or whatever is a pretty clear flag that something isn't totally honest with this thing.

Anyway, it looks like I'm not getting it back, and all someone has for their trouble is a useless piece of plastic and wires.

life imitates art (or: I don’t know much about brain scans, but I’ll help you fix your computer.)

Earlier today, I got an email from a Star Trek TNG cast member who will remain nameless. I've chosen the pseudonym Jonathan Frakes for the purposes of this post.

"Jonathan Frakes's" email had been compromised, and I'd gotten one of the things it sent out, so I pinged him and offered to help him fix it, if he needed assistance. "It turns out I still have a little Wesley Crusher in me," I typed. Then I thought for a moment and added, "…eww. That doesn't sound right at all."

I walked him through scanning and removing spyware and malware, mostly via text messages… which was hilarious to me, because my text message alert tone is the original Star Trek communicator sound.

It all ran smoothly, but "Frakes" was concerned about his CPU maxing out. "It's using all the power," he typed to me. Then, and I swear to whatever god you believe in that this is true, he followed that up with: "I'm givin it all I can, Captain!"

I typed back, "Okay. Run a level five diagnostic and emit an inverse neutrino pulse through the main navigational deflector."

A moment later "Jonathan Frakes" replied, "All done! It worked. Thanks for your help."

"Any time," I replied. Then I collapsed into a fit of giggles.

This was funny to me, because we're two Star Trek guys (with magnificent beards), making contextually-relevant Star Trek jokes with each other. More significantly, though, is that we did this using handheld computers which were inspired by the show we were on twenty-five years ago.

Finally, in a nice, poetic bit of closing the circle: twenty-five years ago, I helped Patrick Stewart set up his first Mac II computer. It was an incredible technological marvel, that blew me away… and it didn't have a fraction of the computing power or memory of my four-and-half ounce smart phone.

I love living in the future.

So I broke down and made a Facebook thing…

I’ve resisted using Facebook for years, mostly because I have a huge problem with the privacy policies. I’m really happy using a combination of Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus to do all my social media public life stuff, and I don’t really want to add something else.

But I’ve talked with friends who I trust and respect, people who create and produce awesome things for the Internet, and they have all told me that even if I don’t like Facebook personally, having at least some kind of Facebook presence is an important part of our public lives, especially because there are thousands and thousands of people who get online and never really leave Facebook… so I asked Felicia Day to help me figure out Facebook, and with her help I think I made the privacy things work as best as I can, so I can have a Facebook… thing. Page. Whatever. Like This. Something.

I know that a PR person would tell me to “spin” this as something I think is totally awesome, and brand something and interact with synergy excitement Bieber, but the truth is: I feel weird and not entirely comfortable doing it. I feel like I’m compromising something I’d rather not compromise. But I’m there because I know that even though I’m not crazy about Facebook, a lot of people are, and it’s silly to ignore all those people because I’m a cranky old man. Also, being on Facebook affords me some business opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and being able to support my family is more important to me than shaking my fist at a windmill every day.

I told my wife, “I know that I’m an adult, because I made a compromise that made me uncomfortable, because it was in my family’s best interest.”

Then I said, “But it still feels weird.”

So I have a Facebook thing, which I hope to turn into something cool, or at least interesting. If you care about that sort of thing, now you know about it.

Just so you know what to expect if you subscribe to it:

I have currently connected Twitter and Tumblr and occasionally my blog to the Facebook thing, so all my things are in one place. This means that there will occasionally be a huge flood of Twitter things or Tumblr things posting here automagically. Also, I say "thing" a lot. 

I'm happy with this, and I honestly like having one place on the Internet that holds all of my stupid things together. I realize, however, that not everyone shares this opinion, and if you're one of those people, you should probably unsubscribe; no big deal.

 A few other things you should probably know:

  • I'm opinionated.
  • I love hockey.
  • I'm a progressive populist.
  • I'm a secular humanist.
  • I have zero patience for people who are dicks, and I block pretty ruthlessly.
  • I love science.
  • I don't really censor myself. I swear a lot.
  • Occasionally, something will show up here from my Tumblr that's NSFW.
  • I'm probably going to disappoint you in some way.

I've been there about a week, and I don't completely hate it. I read as many comments there as I have time to read, and I'm not able to respond as often as I'd like.

However, love it when some silly or stupid thing I did sparks a conversation between people who have nothing in common other than reading whatever that thing is. Maybe some of you will become real life friends, and come to a w00tstock together, and then you'll be all, "Hey, we met because we both liked that thing, and now we're here together." Then we'll all high five, take a picture, and post it online.

Okay, that's all. If you still want to subscribe to it, I hope it's worth your time.

 

Today the US Senate is considering legislation that would destroy the free and open Internet.

“Why is it that when Republicans and Democrats need to solve the budget and the deficit, there’s deadlock, but when Hollywood lobbyists pay them $94 million dollars to write legislation, people from both sides of the aisle line up to co-sponsor it?”

        –Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian on CNBC.

I put this on my Tumblr thing earlier today, but I'm reposting it here, because it's important to me. If you don't know what SOPA and ProtectIP are, read this technical examination of SOPA and ProtectIP from the Reddit blog and come back when you're done.

SOPA Lives — and MPAA calls protests an "abuse of power."

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has looked at tomorrow’s “Internet blackout” in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—and it sees only a “gimmick,” a “stunt,” “hyperbole,” “a dangerous and troubling development,” an “irresponsible response,” and an “abuse of power.”

“Wikipedia, reddit, and others are going dark to protest the legislation, while sites like Scribd and Google will also protest. In response, MPAA chief Chris Dodd wheeled out the big guns and started firing the rhetoric machine-gun style. 

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.”

Can I interrupt for a moment? Thanks. When you complain that opponents didn’t “come to the table to find solutions”, do you mean that we didn’t give NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS to congress like the MPAA? Or do you mean that we didn’t come to the one hearing that Lamar Smith held, where opponents of SOPA were refused an opportunity to comment? Help me out, here, Chris Dodd, because I’m really trying hard to understand you.

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

Oh ha ha. Ho. Ho. The MPAA talking about “skewing the facts to incite” anyone is just too much. 

“A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”

Except for the part where this is completely false, it’s a valid point.

“It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

Riiiiiiight. Protesting to raise awareness of terrible legislation that will destroy the free and open Internet is an abuse of power, but buying NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS worth of congressional votes is just fine.

I’m so disappointed in Chris Dodd. He was a pretty good senator, wrote some bills (like Dodd/Frank) that are genuinely helping people, and is going to be on the wrong side of every argument as the head of the MPAA. What a wasted legacy.

===

I am 100% opposed to SOPA and PIPA, even though I'm one of the artists they were allegedly written to protect. I've probably lost a few hundred dollars in my life to what the MPAA and RIAA define as piracy, and that sucks, but that doesn't come close to how much money I've lost from a certain studio's creative accounting.

The RIAA and MPAA are, again, on the wrong side of history. Attempting to tear apart one of the single greatest communications achievements in human history in a misguided attempt to cling to an outdated business model instead of adapting to the changing world is a fucking crime.

A free and open Internet is as important to me as the bill of rights. I don't want the government of one country — especially the corporate-controlled United States government — to exert unilateral control over the Internet for any reason, especially not because media corporations want to buy legislation that won't do anything to actually stop online piracy, but will expand the American police state, and destroy the Internet as we know it.

Please contact your Senators and US Representatives, and tell them to vote NO on SOPA and ProtectIP. The future of the Internet — and the present we take for granted — depend on it.

I really, really, REALLY hate DRM. Especially when it screws honest people.

I'm sure that many of you know that I hate DRM so much, it makes me want to punch babies. I have promised that I will never knowingly infect anything you buy from me with DRM.

So you'll probably be as surprised as I am to learn that Lulu put Memories of the Future, Volume 1 into the iBook store and into my Lulu shop (yay! awesome! Memories in a native eReader format!) but put that horrible, intrusive, disgusting, annoying, stupid Adobe DRM bullshit into the files.

I've heard from a non-zero number of readers who legally purchased MotFv1, and were (rightly) furious that they had to install some bullshit software they didn't want, just so they could read something that they paid for.

For example:

Adobe Digital Editions doesn't run on Linux and Lulu, like most companies who sell digital content (*cough* audible *cough*), doesn't care.
For Linux users like me there are three options:
a) Find a Windows machine or Mac at work or with friends, then install
ADE there (thereby also using one of my six devices I'm allowed to read
on for someone else's computer)
b) Spend hours getting it to work in wine on my Linux machine
c) Bittorrent it.

I think it's pretty obvious which one is the least work. If I'm inclined
to buy another ebook I'm much more likely to bittorrent it and the
donate on the author's web page than buying over Lulu.

I completely agree with this email, and others like it. This is the sort of thing that drives honest people to piracy, because the pirates are providing a better end user experience for them than the legal alternatives.

I tried to revise the file so that there is no DRM, but I can't do that without uploading an entirely new file. I tried to download the file Lulu made (which, other than the DRM bullshit is really nice and well-formatted; I would totally use their conversion service again in the future, if I was given the option to do it without DRM) so I can convert it to a non-DRM'd version and re-upload it, but it keeps telling me that there's an error with the file — yeah, no shit, that "error" is what I'm trying to eliminate! — and since I'm leaving for FedCon in just a few hours, I don't have the time to keep banging my head against the wall trying to fix it.

So: I want readers and potential readers to know that I'm aware of this problem, it is not my fault, and I'm doing everything I can to fix it … it's just going to be a week or so until I can.

The silver lining in all of this is that I was able to do a really neat .mobi conversion that I uploaded to the KDP store yesterday. If everything goes according to plan, you should be able to buy Memories of the Future, Volume 1 for your Kindle by the weekend.