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29 Apr 14:00

MC Hammer Watch: Beneath The City Is Turn-Based Thief

by Nathan Grayson

Well now, here is a brilliant little surprise. Who’d have thought the best game set in the Thief universe this year would be an itsy bitsy isometric Ludum Dare 29 entry? Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but Beneath The City really is a smart (though sadly brief) execution of a really fun idea. In short (but undeniably stout), it’s a real-time turn-based stealther set in Thief’s City. Each time you dash in any direction with a lithe tap of an arrow key, so too does every guard on the map. There’s also light sources to account for, water arrows to fling, and a mystery to partially unravel. Garrett – the real Garrett – would be proud.

… [visit site to read more]

28 Apr 18:45

Attention All Roleplayers, Fanfic Authors, and Simmers: Drop What You’re Doing And Play Storium

by Becky Chambers

I’m no stranger to group storytelling. In high school, I wrote fanfic with a friend, swapping a spiral-bound notebook back and forth. During that same time I was working at a renaissance faire and my inbox overflowed with email threads of in-character letters. When I was in college, I was an active participant in a Star Trek sim. My World of Warcraft guild forums had a section dedicated to roleplaying. And in recent years, after I moved countries, my previously-local friends and I went through a short period of playing Parsely and Dungeons & Dragons via Google Hangouts.

So believe me when I say — if you like to roleplay, if you like collaborative storytelling, if you have gaming friends you can’t meet in person, Storium is what you’ve been looking for. 

I went into this one blind. April has been a hectic month for me, and though I had given the game a cursory look before I agreed to dig deeper, I didn’t have a solid understanding of what Storium actually was. “It’s a…simming game, kind of,” I said to my partner over dinner, after she asked what I was going to play that night. “With action cards, I think.” I shrugged, and took another bite of pasta. “It looks promising.”

It’s very promising. It’s also one of those games that’s difficult to condense into a pithy description (”online storytelling game” doesn’t do it justice). After I’d logged into Storium (it’s browser-based), watched the video, and skimmed through the instructions, I still didn’t have a good feel for it. That’s more on me than the developers — I learn by doing. I needed to dive in.

As I quickly figured out, Storium is essentially an elegant framework for simming, with the added kick of card game-ish mechanics. For the uninitiated, a play-by-post game (also called a sim) traditionally takes place on a message board or through an email list. There’s a basic premise, and a host who wrangles the players. Depending on the game, players either create whatever characters they fancy, or are given clearly defined roles (such as in the Star Trek sim I played — I was cast as the first officer, but was allowed to build my own character within that role). The players then take turns writing chapters or scenes, typically tagging other characters to pick up where they left off.

Storium operates similarly, but it’s got a structure more like a pen-and-paper RPG. Each story is a world, and every world has a narrator (read as: game master). Now, I imagine Storium is most fun when writing your own story from scratch, but it’s also got a set of pre-built templates you can use right away (which was perfect for me, as I lacked an abundance of time). The templates can serve as a customizable jumping-off point, or you can use them as-is. There’s a whole bunch of template worlds available — Urban Fantasy, Steampunk, Occult Horror, and so on. Me being me, I went with Space Adventure.

The narrator’s first task is to set the stage. Write your premise. Find a pretty picture to go with it. Specify whether this game will be public (which anyone can read and/or request a spot in) or private (just for you and your buddies). Specify how much of a time commitment your game will require (for example, 2-3 scenes per week). Line it up, and let it go.

If you don’t have specific players in mind, this is the point where you sit back and wait for folks to sign up. Otherwise, you can send email invites to friends. The narrator has complete control over who joins their game. If someone submits a character who doesn’t fit, you can send the request back, asking for revisions. You have this kind of control over invitees as well. As someone who has watched many an RP session crash and burn due to nonsensical characters, trust me, this is an awesome feature.

I enlisted my partner as my guinea pig. Side by side on the couch, we oooh-ed over how smooth the whole process was. I sent an invite. She got a tidy little character creation form, which she filled out and submitted. A minute or so later, I got an email notification letting me know someone wanted to join my game. Easy peasy.

Once I had a player on board, I was free to post a scene. The narrator can sow a scene with cards — challenge cards which will affect the narrative, item cards which can be required for later challenges, goal cards which behave like side quests. My partner had cards of her own, which she selected during character creation. Strengths and weaknesses (I was somewhat reminded of GURPS in this respect), assets, and a subplot (!), which gave her extra flavor. Each of my challenges required her to play a set amount of cards to overcome them, but she also had to describe the action taking place.

I could give her a setup, and I could try to guide her actions, but the decisions she made were ultimately her own, and they affected the way I wrote subsequent scenes. It’s a dynamic that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever roleplayed around a table. We were both delighted by it.

“This is exactly what we’ve needed,” she said. “We need to get our stateside friends in on this.”

Because, see, the reason the G+ Parsely and D&D sessions were short-lived is that my friends and I are busy. We all have various combinations of jobs and spouses and families, and as much as these things interfere with in-person gaming sessions, it’s exponentially worse when you factor in four different time zones. Storytelling games wither without the momentum generated by regular sessions, and preventing that wasn’t practical for us.

But an online game people can play on their own time, which automatically sends email updates when there’s something new to read, which requires you to check in just a couple times a week — that’s ideal for me. I bet it’s ideal for a lot of people. Not to mention this game’s presentation is slick. A friendly, easy-on-the-eyes user interface. An unobtrusive sidebar for out-of-character conversation. The means to nudge players that need to get moving (players can nudge the narrator, too). Storium streamlines everything that is messy about group roleplay. It’s like the Ikea closet organizer of online storytelling — simple, effective, uncomplicated.

Storium’s currently in open beta, though it requires a Kickstarter backing to play (they hit their funding goal in twenty-four hours, so yes, this is happening). To sweeten the deal, they’ve got an impressive roster of authors and game designers slated to create worlds (Mur Lafferty, Elizabeth Bear, and Nancy Holder, to name a few). I highly recommend that you check this one out.

Becky Chambers writes essays, science fiction, and stuff about video games. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also be found on Twitter.

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24 Apr 04:21

Nendoroid Sakura Kinomoto

by gsckahotan
Clarissa

Aaaaaah, so adorable~

I know everyone has been waiting for this one!! ♡

Hello everyone, Kahotan here! (@gsc_kahotan)

Today there is no time for stories, I need to get straight into the review!

Nendoroid Sakura Kinomoto! ♪

From the anime masterpiece ‘Cardcaptor Sakura’ comes a Nendoroid of the main character, Sakura Kinomoto! She comes with three expressions including a gentle smile, a more serious expression to pose her sealing cards as well as the adorable face she made whenever she saw something she liked! She also comes with her Sealing Wand and a Clow Card to bring out the story of the series!

Alternate lower body parts are also included together with a special version of her wand allowing you to display her using the ‘Fly’ spell, and Keroberos (Kero-chan) is also included to display by her side! Sakura has jumped back from the past as a Nendoroid, ready to be loved by all her fans once again! ♪

Sakura-chan!! (*´▽`*)

She’s finally here!! Nendoroid No.400!
Dressed up in her most well-known pink and white outfit!

The giant ribbon has been faithfully kept in Nendoroid form! (`・ω・´)

Her frilly, layered skirt and all the smaller ribbons scattered around her outfit have also been beautifully sculpted!

She also comes with her Sealing Wand… and even a Nendoroid-sized version of Kero-chan (Keroberos) to display beside her!

The shape of his stomach is somehow so adorable!! (*´Д`)

How could anyone not fall in love with Kero-chan’s cute, fluffy appearance! ♡

His cute little wings are also faithfully sculpted, down to the little twist at the center! ♪ Not to mention that his neck and tail are articulated allowing you to alter his pose to match however you choose to pose your Sakura-chan!

Now that I think about it… I actually still have a talking Kero-chan plushie at home… ( -ノェ-)

As I’m sure everyone has noticed, she also comes with a Clow Card to hold… but look at how detailed the design on the reverse side is! ヽ(*・ω・)人(・ω・*)ノ

It’s a bit hard to tell from my photo… but I’m sure many of you already know which card it is! ε=(。・д・。)

She even comes with an alternate lower body part and wand to display her in a flying pose to match the card!! (`・ω・´)

I’ve always wanted to pose Sakura like this!! (´;ω;`)

I just had to include the option for the Nendoroid!

Even now the episode where she flies with wings on her back sticks in my mind… and seen ‘The Fly’ Clow Card was also included… these parts simply had to be included too! ( -ノェ-)

The flying parts give the Nendoroid an amazing presence too!

The alternate lower body also allows for other poses such as sitting with bent legs! Speaking of Clow Cards… she can also be displayed in this very special pose!

\ RELEASE!! /

Sakura-chan is well known for her lovely smile, but she has a more serious side as well! ♡

The sealing scene was another scene I really wanted to see in Nendoroid size! There are so many wonderful possibilities with Sakura-chan!! The tip of the Sealing Wand comes in an replaceable form with the Clow Card on the end to recreate this pose! (`・ω・´)ゞ

This pose keeps her cute side but also has such an epic feeling to it! I love it!! Not to mention that if you look at her feet… you’ll notice the magic circle from the series is also included!

We really strived to get the circle looking just like it did in the series! There is a hole in the circle allowing it to be attached to the center of her Nendoroid stand with ease!

Combining the serious expression with the flying parts also makes for a more combat-orientated pose! She looks ready for anything! We got a load of help from Kodansha with regard to getting Sakura-chan as perfect as possible – from various checks to providing us with original designs from the series – they were a great help in helping us perfect Nendoroid Sakura-chan!

A big thanks to them for all the support!!

There is still a lot more that I’d like to point out to everyone with regard to the smaller sculpting details and more… but I think I’ll wait for her release to really get into the details! (`・ω・´)

Keep the timeless heroine my your side to love forevermore! ♡

Nendoroid Sakura Kinomoto!

She will be up for preorder from tomorrow!!

Those who order from the GOOD SMILE ONLINE SHOP will also get a little bonus! ♡

The Sealing Wand… in Key Form! ★

This photo is actually of the coloring prototype, but the final version is planned to be a charm to attach to your keys, phone, bag or anything else! Be sure to check the GSC Online Shop tomorrow for more info! (σ・∀・)σ

But wait… are there only two expressions?

Of course not! There is one more expression that I haven’t revealed anywhere except for the live broadcast last night!

If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll have to check the official product page tomorrow!!

゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚ ゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚ ゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚゚・*:.。..。.:*・゚

/Kahotan’s Inner Voice\


  ∧_∧
 ( o・ω・).。0   (Catch you, catch you, catch me, catch me~!)
 ( つ⊂ )
 と_)_)

Anyway, I hope to see you all again tomorrow!

Planning Team / Kahotan
Twitter ID: gsc_kahotan

 

ⓒ CLAMP・ShigatsuTsuitachi CO.,LTD./講談社

23 Apr 22:52

In a Bizarre 1976 Comic Book, Spider-Man Fought the Villain of Misleading Sex Education

by Sarah Mirk

Last week, I came across a very strange comic book: in 1976, Planned Parenthood teamed up with Marvel to publish a one-off comic in which Spider-Man defends America's youth from misleading sex education.

read more

24 Apr 07:00

FTL Meets Dwarf Fortress: Universe Edge

by Adam Smith
Clarissa

This is probably one of those games that I will appreciate the existence of, but never actually be able to play with any facility.

When we asked readers how they had chosen to spend their eggstra long weekend (for those in countries without a Holiday Eggfest, my apologies), I learned one thing – with the release of the expanded edition, FTL has ensnared the crew of the good ship RPS once again. I enjoy the game – Captain’s Edition, naturally – but I crave a more complex ship management and construction component. Universe Edge may have me covered. Citing Gnomoria, The Sims and EVE Online as inspirations, the space exploration simulation is seeking Kickstarter funding right now.

… [visit site to read more]

23 Apr 15:59

Here’s Why This City’s Businesses Love Its Paid Sick Days Law

Paid sick days banner

CREDIT: Flickr

The majority of Seattle businesses support the paid sick leave requirement that went into effect in September of 2012 and report few, if any, costs or challenges, according to a new audit from the Seattle Office of the City Auditor with help from the University of Washington.

Seattle’s paid sick days law requires employers with more than four employees to provide leave for those who are sick or need to deal with a critical safety issue to all workers, including those who are full time, part time, and temporary.

The audit found that 70 percent of employers in the city support the law, with 45 percent saying they are very supportive. This held true for businesses of all sizes. “These business owners, managers, and human resources professionals view paid leave as a valuable and important benefit for their workers,” the report says.

It’s not hard to see why they might feel so supportive. The costs and impacts “have been modest and smaller than anticipated,” the audit notes. The majority report no effect on profitability or customer service, with just 17 percent believing that it made them less profitable. The average reported cost of implementing it was about one eighth of a percent of their annual revenue and providing the leave for the first year was on average four tenths of a percent. To deal with any costs, 8 percent raised their prices or otherwise passed the cost on to consumers, 6 percent decreased raises or bonuses, 5 percent decreased vacation time, and just 2.7 percent reduced employment while only 0.7 percent said they closed or relocated.

Businesses also didn’t find it hard to put into practice. Most didn’t find it difficult to implement the various aspects, although the biggest challenge was record keeping, which almost a third said was difficult. Less than a third found it difficult to reassign the work, but for most, they had absent employees either do the work later or other employees cover it, with about 20 percent saying the called in other employees and just 1.4 percent hiring an outside replacement. And despite fears of widespread abuse, “workers used far less paid leave than employers had anticipated,” the audit notes, and most have no concerns or moderate ones about abuse. “Overall, employers judged the impact of the Ordinance as small or negligible.”

Besides the individual impacts, the audit found that the paid sick days law didn’t harm business, job, or wage growth in the city. All three measures grew over the first year after it took place. The number of employers grew more in Seattle than nearby cities. “If anything, the Ordinance seems to have had a positive effect on the hiring sector,” the report notes. While total wages grew more slowly in Seattle than the other cities after it took effect, the report notes, “This effect is not strong statistically and should be interpreted cautiously.” Wages grew both before and after the ordinance, and the researchers found weak correlations between the law and the slower wage growth.

Past preliminary data had come to the same conclusions. It found that job growth, new businesses, and business sales in Seattle weren’t negatively impacted by the law. Job growth was actually stronger, including in retail and food service.

And it’s not the only place to have this experience. In Connecticut, which has had a paid sick leave law in effect for two years, employers have experienced few costs and difficulties and little to no abuse. There, more than three-quarters of them support it, with nearly 40 percent very supportive. San Francisco has had a law in effect since 2007 and business growth increased after it was implemented while jobs weren’t harmed and businesses saw little impact. A majority of employers support it. And in the time since Washington, D.C.’s law went into effect in 2008, business owners haven’t been discouraged from opening up in the city or encouraged to relocate. There are now four other paid sick days laws in effect in the country, and more may soon join.

The post Here’s Why This City’s Businesses Love Its Paid Sick Days Law appeared first on ThinkProgress.

19 Apr 13:06

Japanese ghost stories, blogged

by Bryan Alexander

The Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai blog does a fine job of posting Japanese ghost stories and related creepy tales.

Mizuki_shigeru_yuki_onna

(thanks to Randy McCall)

16 Apr 16:30

“I learned that keeping players on the field was a priority.”

by Maya
Clarissa

In case you forgot that things culturally associated with men's concerns, and things that make a lot of money, are more important than silly things like women's human rights and safety.

Jameis Winston

(Photo credit: Phil Sears/Associated Press)

If you want your head to explode with rage this afternoon, go read The New York Times in-depth report on the investigation — or rather, lack thereof — into the rape accusation against Florida State University football star Jameis Winston. As the Times reports — and then methodically and devastatingly documents — “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.” It will be one of the more infuriating things you read this month, I promise.

14 Apr 18:00

Lovecraftian Freeware Pick: The Rats in the Walls (Shilov)

by John Polson

rats in walls.pngPartially based on H.P. Lovecraft's work, Shilov's The Rats in the Walls is a short experimental horror adventure. Players make their way through a seemingly deserted mansion, haunted by many things, but none seem more maddening than the rattling rats.

[Download The Rats in the Walls at Game Jolt]

14 Apr 19:33

Donationware Pick: Horror Vacui (Skelefactor)

by John Polson

horrorvacui.jpgSkelefactor's Pac-Man-like game Horror Vacui requires patience to trick enemies that roam and lasers that surround the grid you try to claim as blue. Each death resets the grid and yourself to gray, and in the case of fiendish boss fights, their health bars reset, too.

You slowly gain up speed as you claim the grid, until you get a dash of invincibility you can use to crush enemies. As long as you are blue, at any speed, you can take down the enemy spawn portals.

I would prefer to have some of the stages cut before the first boss fight, as they don't feel too varied. Those that hang in there might feel like the game was child's play up to that battle, though. It's super tough! As the trailer below shows, even crazier challenges await:

While this shares the title of Shaun Inman's Horror Vacui, a quick glance will let you know the two games are different. If you're not sure how much you want to pay for Skelefactor's Windows and Mac game, you can download it for free first and then return to pay what you want.

[Pay what you want to download Horror Vacui]

14 Apr 13:00

How Bookstores Survive

by Choire Sicha
by Choire Sicha

Here's a look at how six great independent bookstores make it in the big city, which is actually a question I have always wanted answered. The Park Slope Community Bookstore has done it in part by catering to Park Slope's child-related needs, which seems obvious; BookCourt did it by buying their building and, eventually, the building next door. PowerHouse Arena, as anyone who goes to things knows, does it by tirelessly having things to go to (and lots and lots of space rental). The lovely Greenlight books did it through canny investment and fundraising and by being a bookstore where a bookstore was needed. And Sarah McNally of McNally Jackson does it by selling a crapload of books:

She attributes more than $4 million in sales last year to an obvious factor: volume. “Instead of getting rid of shelf for display,” she says, “we’ve gotten rid of display space for shelf space.” So 65,000 books have been squeezed into 7,000 square feet (along with a café), while creative organizing keeps them compulsively browsable.

My only complaint about these bookstores is that, with the exception of BookCourt's cat (pictured!), there aren't enough cats in them.

14 Comments

The post How Bookstores Survive appeared first on The Awl.

10 Apr 16:00

This List Reveals the Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change Now

by Melanie Pinola

This List Reveals the Heartbleed-Affected Passwords to Change Now

By now you've probably heard about the massive Heartbleed security bug that may have compromised the majority of the world's web sites. Everyone should change their passwords on the affected sites—but only after those sites have patched the issue. Mashable is maintaining and updating a list of the most popular sites you should change your passwords for ASAP.

Read more...








08 Apr 18:10

Free access to Oxford online resources the week of April 13th

by Lisa Gold

To celebrate National Library Week, Oxford University Press is providing free access to their online resources from April 13th through 19th:

Username: libraryweek
Password: libraryweek

Go here to see the full list (with links) of online resources you can access. A few highlights:

  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Oxford Bibliographies Online
  • Oxford Reference
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online
  • American National Biography Online
  • Grove Art Online
  • Grove Music Online
  • Berg Fashion Library
  • Oxford African American Studies Online
  • Electronic Enlightenment

 

28 Mar 11:00

How to Buy Ebooks From Anywhere and Still Read Them All in One Place

by Eric Ravenscraft

How to Buy Ebooks From Anywhere and Still Read Them All in One Place

Most ebook sellers try to lock you into a particular ecosystem. If you don't mind buying from the same company every time, this isn't too bad, but you lose the ability to comparison shop, as well as making it difficult to switch apps. Fortunately, there's a way around this problem.

Read more...


    






28 Mar 13:01

Why Won't Anybody Say That "Noah" Is Terrible?

by Choire Sicha
by Choire Sicha

Noah is getting the strangest good reviews. "I’m not sure who exactly this often grimly rapturous movie was made for, but I find myself surprisingly glad that it was made," wrote Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair. A.O. Scott went with: "Mr. Aronofsky’s earnest, uneven, intermittently powerful film, is both a psychological case study and a parable of hubris and humility. At its best, it shares some its namesake’s ferocious conviction, and not a little of his madness."

These are all incredibly charitable. This is not a good movie. I wanted to bite off my fingers. From the opening sequence, which explains the silly state of the world and some fallen angels by means of text that looks suspiciously like the unholy Papyrus font, to the senseless howling and weeping and gnashing of teeth and stomping around that proceeds over the next two hours, Noah looks all around like a film gone seriously wrong. In terms of emotional pitch, it makes Black Swan look like Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's tiresome, exhausting, bizarre and self-serious. Aronofsky is pretty close to being a great director who's never actually made a great film.

In anyone else's hands, the story of grim old stick-in-the-mud Russell Crowe saving the beasts of the world from the evils of men would be extremely camp. And there are times that the movie looks like claymation or the performances turn just a bit too histrionic. But there's never anything laughable, really—ever—in even Aronofsky's most ridiculous situations. That's what makes Noah so tiring. And yet… visually captivating? I guess the upside is, it's refreshing to see a movie where you literally cannot imagine what will happen, even though you assume there's going to be, like, a big flood, and an eventual yacht collision with Mount Ararat.

I always start to suspect that it all goes wrong with his collaborators. Noah has the wonderful Clint Mansell's worst score to date (and I say this as a huge, huge Mansell fan), and Aronofsky's stuck by his production designer and editor from Black Swan and his costume designer back to The Wrestler. But that's not it: they all do great work over and over. Thérèse DePrez also did the impeccable production designs for Stoker and I Shot Andy Warhol and Happiness, and Amy Westcott did costumes for The Squid and the Whale and "Entourage" and the delightful What's Your Number? (She has the craziest job of all here: "pretend there was actually a first iron age before the one we know about and also there were magical animals and angels and stuff and they'd discovered indigo dye and invented really sophisticated looms but nothing else." You end up with a kind of Bottega Veneta as reimagined by al Qaeda members.) Likewise Noah's editor did Moonrise Kingdom, The East and Fantastic Mr. Fox. So everything wrong with this movie is Aronofsky's fault.

From the east coast, this looks like the insanely expensive end of Darren Aronofsky, with the production budget plus the marketing budget teetering quickly towards $200 million. But the studio, after some early wrestling for control of the film, gave it up and gave in, and are now 100% on-board. Probably their testing shows something we can't see for the vast multiplexes of America. A Dances with Wolves for the last of the Billy Graham set? God, it could be just the beginning.

20 Comments

The post Why Won't Anybody Say That "Noah" Is Terrible? appeared first on The Awl.

28 Mar 18:00

Kickstarting board games adapted for blind people

by Cory Doctorow
Clarissa

Accessibility is still a big issue in games, physical and digital, so this is a cool idea.

Emily sez, "Working in the blindness field, my husband, Richard and I have many blind friends. We are gamers at heart and have always been dismayed that our friends couldn't play our favorite games. When Richard began pursuing game publishing our first inclination was to make all games blind accessible. However, this proved to be nigh on impossible. We discovered if we wanted our games to be accessible, we had to make accessible games ourselves."

Our plan with this campaign is to buy a braille embosser. With the embosser we can create braille stickers that will be compatible with a huge range of existing card games. This will allow blind people to play games alongside their sighted friends. If we make the goal of an embosser, we have stretch goals planned that would allow us to make braille dice as well. We even have dreams of being able to modify game boards. We know how to do it and we are hoping you and kickstarter can help us make it happen.

I am a Teacher of the Visually Impaired with 10 years experience and special certification in braille. Previously I managed national blindness education programs. Richard is a Special Education teacher with a passion for board game design. One of his designs was a finalist this year in the Hippodice Spielclub game competition. Together we have the knowledge, passion, and experience to make this a success.

Board Games: Now Blind Accessible (Thanks, Emily!)

    






28 Mar 21:00

Pinterest board full of nostalgic D&D art

by Cory Doctorow


Brad sez, "Trusty Sword, an Olympia, WA-based RPG developer, has posted hundreds of scanned D&D cover art from dndclassics.com [a site where you can buy all the classic D&D modules and books as ebooks, though some are larded with DRM] to Pinterest. It's awesome."

D&D 1.0 (AD&D) Cover Art on Pinterest (Thanks, Brad!)

    






22 Mar 13:00

Lost Bakshi Lord of the Rings footage found

by Ethan Gilsdorf

If you remember the first film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, the 1978 animated version by Ralph Bakshi–the legendary outsider director behind Fritz the Cat, Wizards, American Pop and Fire and Ice–you’ll recall the experience was a mixed bag.

The movie was a dark, moody, oversaturated vision of Tolkien’s world, with stunning design and many memorable scenes. Bakshi used rotoscoping to trace live footage for animation, and posterization to give it a rough, hand-made look. Both techniques allowed many corners to be cut, but at the time, the film’s PR claimed Rings was the “the first movie painting.”

Sadly, Bakshi’s 133-minute film left viewers stranded after the battle at Helm’s Deep, just as Gollum is about to lead Sam and Frodo into Mordor. Roughly two-thirds through Tolkien’s three-part story, Bakshi didn't get to make the final installment. Rankin-Bass, the studio behind the 1977 TV adaptation of The Hobbit, churned out The Return of the King as a “sequel” in 1980, with little artistic resemblance to Bakshi’s vision.

Now, quietly, some of the scenes from that 1978 classic have been rescued from the “cutting room floor,” Bakshi, now 75, said when I reached him via email this week.

Eddie Bakshi, Bakshi’s son, has been busy scanning in original “cel” artwork from Bakshi's archives, timing them to the cartoon’s original exposure sheets, and posting the scenes on Bakshi’s Facebook page. (The Facebook page also includes clips from Bakshi’s other films, though it appears none of these are new.)

The particular Rings footage that has been restored comes from the Gandalf vs. Balrog fight sequence, and it is brief. One clip is a three-shot, 12-second sequence of the two characters falling into the void, titled “Gandalf recalls fighting the Balrog.” The other is a 10-second shot described as “Gandalf duels with the Balrog and smashes into the endless staircase.” In the film, the Balrog battle was recounted via minimally-animated still images.

“If you’re getting close to delivery, it’s better to cut the animation out to make the scene work, than racing to reanimate it to make the cut work,” Bakshi said, recalling the hectic atmosphere as the film’s deadline loomed.

Asked why Gandalf and the Balrog look quite different in these new scenes, compared to the rotoscoped Gandalf and Balrog seen on The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Bakshi said, “Well, it’s hazy, but I was trying to make memories different than the real time story. I was wrestling with trying to separate the styles.”

It’s unclear what other lost scenes from The Lord of the Rings might be found, shot and posted. Due to low budgets and little wiggle room to fix, reanimate or make cuts, “Very little or nothing ended up on the floor,” Bakshi said. If any gems are discovered, Eddie Bakshi will decide whether they are worthy of reshooting. For the elder Bakshi, it’s “been there, done it.”

Bakshi fans should feel nostalgia for this old footage, which evokes the days of hand-drawn animation: “It was great to see it again,” he added, “but I got aggravated at the animator again for making the mistake 30 years later.”

Still, Bakshi was effusive in his praise for his team of artists who made the movie, which included a young Tim Burton, in his first job out of college.

“My animators–old school–were the greatest ever," Bakshi said, "barring none.”

    






19 Mar 17:30

Tolkien's 1926 Beowulf Translation Will Be Published This May

by Jia Tolentino
Clarissa

Nice! I have his translations of Sir Orfeo and The Pearl, will be cool to get a hold of this one.

by Jia Tolentino

Almost 90 years after JRR Tolkien translated the 11th-century poem Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings author's version of the epic story is to be published for the first time in an edition which his son Christopher Tolkien says sees his father "enter[ing] into the imagined past" of the heroes. [Guardian]

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18 Mar 21:00

UK Sunday paper won't review books marketed "to exclude either sex"

by Cory Doctorow


Writing under the rallying cry "Gender-specific books demean all our children," Katy Guest announces that the Independent on Sunday -- one of the UK's great weekend papers -- will no longer review any books that are marketed to "exclude either sex." It's tied to the Let Toys Be Toys/Let Books Be Books campaign, which petitions companies to stop tying their products to specific gender-identities. Guest characterises the segregation of products by gender as a means of "convincing children that boys and girls can’t play with each other's stuff, is forcing parents to buy twice as much stuff."

I remember being surprised when someone told me that Little Brother was a "boy book." Yes, its protagonist is a boy, but every protagonist has to have some kind of gender identity, and it's a weird world when we're only allowed to read fiction in which the lead character has the same gender identity as us. I once co-wrote a novella whose major characters are galaxy-spanning AI hiveminds -- it would have a rather small audience by that standard.

Good on the Independent on Sunday for this!

There are also those who argue that children are set upon their boyish and girly courses from conception, and that no amount of book-reading is going to change them. In fact, there is no credible evidence that boys and girls are born with innately different enthusiasms, and plenty of evidence that their tastes are acquired through socialisation. Let’s face it, any company with a billion dollar advertising budget could convince even Jeremy Clarkson to dress up as a Disney princess if it really wanted to, and probably would if his doing so could double its income. So what hope is there against all this pressure for an impressionable child?

I wouldn’t mind, but splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing. Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.

You see, it is not just girls’ ambitions that are being frustrated by the limiting effects of “books for girls”, in which girls’ roles are all passive, domestic and in front of a mirror. Rebecca Davies, who writes the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk, tells me that she is equally sick of receiving “books which have been commissioned solely for the purpose of ‘getting boys reading’ [and which have] all-male characters and thin, action-based plots.” What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.

Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex [Katy Guest/The Independent]

(Image: Modern Book for Girls, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from snigl3t's photostream)

    






21 Feb 14:45

2700 Years of Female Silence

by Jia Tolentino
by Jia Tolentino

Mary Beard, at the London Review of Books, has written a phenomenal essay on women and speech in the public sphere. "I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’," she writes, discussing the Odyssey, and the moment when Telemachus tells his mother Penelope to "go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff… speech will be the business of men."

Right where written evidence for Western culture starts, women’s voices are not being heard in the public sphere; more than that, as Homer has it, an integral part of growing up, as a man, is learning to take control of public utterance and to silence the female of the species.

Beard takes a "very long view" on the subject of women who speak up "in order to help us get beyond the simple diagnosis of ‘misogyny’ that we tend a bit lazily to fall back on… if we want to understand – and do something about – the fact that women, even when they are not silenced, still have to pay a very high price for being heard, we have to recognise that it is a bit more complicated and that there’s a long back-story." She goes back through public record:

One earnest Roman anthologist of the first century ad was able to rake up just three examples of ‘women whose natural condition did not manage to keep them silent in the forum’. His descriptions are revealing. The first, a woman called Maesia, successfully defended herself in the courts and ‘because she really had a man’s nature behind the appearance of a woman was called the “androgyne”’. The second, Afrania, used to initiate legal cases herself and was ‘impudent’ enough to plead in person, so that everyone became tired out with her ‘barking’ or ‘yapping’ (she still isn’t allowed human ‘speech’). We are told that she died in 48 BC, because ‘with unnatural freaks like this it’s more important to record when they died than when they were born.’

There are only two main exceptions in the classical world to this abomination of women’s public speaking. First, women are allowed to speak out as victims and as martyrs – usually to preface their own death. [...]

The second exception is more familiar. Occasionally women could legitimately rise up to speak – to defend their homes, their children, their husbands or the interests of other women.

The whole piece is long and fascinating and disturbingly familiar, and ends on this somewhat timeless note: "For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it, it’s the fact you’re saying it." [LRB]

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19 Feb 19:00

Survivors of the Florida School for Boys return to the site of legal kidnapping, torture and murder of children

by Cory Doctorow


Mother Jones has published a heartbreaking story about the survivors of the Florida School for Boys; children who were, basically, kidnapped by southern cops and sent to a hellhole where backbreaking labor, torture, and murder were the order of the day. A state court has finally given the go-ahead to exhume the graves of the children who were killed and buried in anonymous, unmarked graves by their jailers. The survivors returned for a press-conference, but found themselves with almost no press to speak to.

Mike Mechanic writes, "Johnny Gaddy, 68, still doesn't understand how he landed at Florida's Dozier reform school. When he was 11, the police showed up at his front door. 'They told me the judge wanted to talk to me,' he recalls. 'I'll never forget it as long as I live. I was watching 'The Lone Ranger' on TV. My mama said, 'The officer going to take you down, the judge going to talk to you.' I said, 'Mama, why's he going to talk to me?' She said, 'Go ahead.' He took me to the police station, told me to get in a cell. I never saw a judge. I wasn't sentenced for anything as far as I know. I was handcuffed all the way to Marianna.'

There's been a lot of press about the alleged horrors that took place at the Florida School for Boys, a.k.a. the Arthur G. Dozier reform school, but not a lot about how blacks and whites were treated differently on the campus, which was segregated until 1967. Last August, around the time of a state hearing that granted scientists permission to exhume dozens of graves on the grounds to find out what had happened to those boys, five elderly black men returned to the site of their nightmares with photographer Nina Berman. This multimedia story chronicles their visit back, and some of what they experienced at the school.

"It Was Kind of Like Slavery" [Nina Berman and Michael Mechanic/Mother Jones]

(Photo: Nina Berman)

    






25 Feb 06:00

Forgotten placeholder text

by Cory Doctorow


There's nothing wrong with using placeholder text. It's hard to imagine design without it. But it creates the unique danger that you forget your text and leave it behind. Here's a rather good roundup of forgotten placeholders in contexts ranging from newspaper headlines to error messages to bottles of wine. Alas, the images appear to be uncredited ganks from around the Web (the headline above, from Cape Town, may have come from this 2011 article, though that credits a tweet as its source).

One of the many things I do that prove that I need to get out more is collect examples of placeholder text that ends up in a final interface. But I’ve also noticed that the issue happens more and more in the offline world as well. As I looked through my folder this morning I realized that, in the interest of science, I should post some of my favorites here. If you have any other good examples, please let me know!

What happens when placeholder text doesn’t get replaced [Rian/Elezea]

    






26 Feb 04:00

Chicago PD's Big Data: using pseudoscience to justify racial profiling

by Cory Doctorow


The Chicago Police Department has ramped up the use of its "predictive analysis" system to identify people it believes are likely to commit crimes. These people, who are placed on a "heat list," are visited by police officers who tell them that they are considered pre-criminals by CPD, and are warned that if they do commit any crimes, they are likely to be caught.

The CPD defends the practice, and its technical champion, Miles Wernick from the Illinois Institute of Technology, characterizes it as a neutral, data-driven system for preventing crime in a city that has struggled with street violence and other forms of crime. Wernick's approach involves seeking through the data for "abnormal" patterns that correlate with crime. He compares it with epidemiological approaches, stating that people whose social networks have violence within them are also likely to commit violence.

The CPD refuses to share the names of the people on its secret watchlist, nor will it disclose the algorithm that put it there.

This is a terrible way of running a criminal justice system.

Let's start with transparency, because that's the most obviously broken thing here. The designers of the algorithm assure us that it is considering everything relevant, nothing irrelevant, and finding statistically valid correlations that allow them to make useful predictions about who will commit crime. In an earlier era, we would have called this discrimination -- or even witchhunting -- because the attribution of guilt (or any other trait) through secret and unaccountable systems is a superstitious, pre-rational way of approaching any problem.

The purveyors of this technology cloak themselves in the mantel of science. The core tenet of science, the thing that distinguishes it from all other ways of knowing, is the systematic publication and review of hypotheses and the experiments conducted to validate them. The difference between a scientist and an alchemist isn't their area of study: it's the method they use to validate their conclusions.

An algorithm that only works if you can't see it is not science, it's a conjuring trick. My six year old can do that trick: she can make anything disappear provided you don't look while she's doing it and don't ask her to open her hands and show you what's in them. Asserting that you're doing science but you can't explain how you're doing it is a nonsense on its face.

Now let's think about objectivity: the system that the CPD and its partners have designed purports to objectivity because it uses numbers and statistics to make its calculations. But -- transparency again -- without insight into how the system runs its numbers, we have no way of debating and validating the way it weighs different statistics. And what about those statistics? We know -- because of transparent, rigorous scholarship, and because of high-profile legal cases -- that police intervention is itself not neutral. From stop-and-search to arrest to prosecutorial zeal or discretion, the whole enterprise of crime statistics is embedded in a wider culture in which human beings with social power and representing the status quo can and do make subjective decisions about how to characterize individual acts.

Put more simply: if cops, judges and prosecutors are more likely to give white people in rich neighborhoods in possession of cocaine an easier time than they give black people in poor neighborhoods in possession of crack (and they do), then your data-mining exercise will disproportionately weight blackness and poorness as being correlated with felonies. Garbage in, garbage out -- there's nothing objective and scientifically rigorous about using flawed data to generate flawed conclusions.

But even assuming that this stuff could be made to work: is it a valid approach to crimefighting?

Consider that the root of this methodology is social network analysis. Your place on the heat-list is explicitly not about what you've done or who you are: it's about who your friends are and what they've done. The idea that people's social circles tell us something about their own character is as old as the proverb "A man is known by the company he keeps." Certainly, it wasn't a new idea to the framers of the Constitution (after all, the typical framer was both a member of a secret society and had recently participated in a guerrilla revolution -- they knew a thing or two about the predictive value of social network analysis).

But the framers explicitly guaranteed "freedom of association," in the First Amendment. Why? Because while "birds of a feather stick together," the criminalization of friendship is a corrosive force that drives apart the bonds that make us into a society. In other words: if the Chicago PD think that crime can only be fought by discriminating against people based on their friendships, they need to get a constitutional amendment before they put that plan into action.

Finally, this program assumes that its interventions will be positive, and this assumption is anything but assured. The idea that being told that you are likely to commit crimes will prevent you from doing so is no more obvious that the idea that being treated as a presumptive criminal will lead you to commit crimes. What's more, well-known, well-documented cognitive biases (theory blindness, confirmation bias) are alive and well in the criminal justice system: if someone on the blacklist is suspected of doing something minor, we should expect the police, prosecutors and judge to treat them more harshly than they would someone plucked from off the street. If you're already in a machine-generated ethnicity of pre-criminals, society will deal with you accordingly.

What's more, this will lead to more arrests, harsher charges and longer sentences for pre-criminals -- seemingly validating the methodology. It's the Big Data version of witchburning, a modern pseudoscience cloaked in the respectability of easily manipulated statistics and suspicious metaphors from public health.

The minority report: Chicago's new police computer predicts crimes, but is it racist? [Matt Stroud/The Verge]

(Woodcut-1598-witch-trial, Wikimedia Commons)

    






19 Feb 16:21

Tell Congress to legalize unlocking your phone

by Cory Doctorow


Sherwin from Public Knowledge writes, "The Copyright Office and the Library of Congress think that copyright law and the DMCA make it illegal to unlock your phone and take it to a new carrier. This is plainly ridiculous: a year ago, 114,000 Americans wrote the White House to tell them that, and the White House agreed. So did the FCC. And, eventually, so did the phone companies, who say they'll work to unlock most consumers' phones for them. But the law has stayed the same. It's still illegal for you, even if you've paid off your entire contract, to take it upon yourself to unlock your own phone."

It's time to change that. A bipartisan bill (H.R.1123, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act) has been proposed to reverse the decision that made phone unlocking illegal, and it's coming up for a vote in the House soon. We're asking you to support it.

We want Congress to get the message that copyright law and the DMCA aren't all-purpose tools to be whipped out anytime someone needs a way to restrict consumers. That message can start with this simple ask.

Act Now : Tell Congress to Support the Unlocking Consumer Choice & Wireless Competition Act! (Thanks, Sherwin!)

(Image: Unlocked Cell Phone Shack, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from consumerist's photostream)

    






25 Feb 21:37

Oscars, Hollywood, Sexism and Women

It was apparent that sexism at the Oscars was going to be a huge morning-after conversation when, less than two hours into the broadcast, Buzzfeed posted a list of “6 Sexist Things That Have Already Happened At The Oscars” (later amended to “9 Sexist Things”). Shortly thereafter, New York Magazine’s The Cut offered “Seth MacFarlane's Sexist Jokes, Transcribed.

Slate’s movie critic Dana Stevens, in her review of the show, wrote that despite the show’s theme—“a defensive anxiety about the ascendant power of women”— it “was a night dominated by a trio of powerful, glittering, seemingly indomitable women.”

But the key word there is seemingly.

It’s clear it was the women who rocked the broadcast awards, from Adele to Jennifer Hudson to Michelle Obama. But when the time came to hand out statuettes, it was still the men who took home all the prizes.

Across 19 categories, 140 men were nominated for awards versus 35 women. In the end, just seven women took home non-acting Oscars. (Women won in categories for Animated Feature Film, Documentary Short, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing and Music, Original Song.)

It would have been great if all 35 women nominated had taken home prizes, but even that still wouldn’t have fixed the huge imbalance in the nominations. For that, we have to look deeper at the structure of Hollywood, of which the Academy Awards are really just a snapshot.

As we noted in our newly released Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2013 report, exactly how women’s voices are missing in nearly all the behind-the-scenes positions in Hollywood feature films – as writers, as editors, as cinematographers. Women were only nine percent of directors of the 250 top-grossing domestic films of 2012. Says Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, which releases an annual “Celluloid Ceiling” report, “[the] director role is traditionally the most male role. With narrative films, whether they are independently produced or produced by a studio, there is still that celluloid ceiling women have to overcome.”

Women do represent a larger share of directors when it comes to independent films particularly on documentaries where, according to a study of high-profile film festivals, women made up 39 percent of documentary directors.

But when it comes to narrative films – which where most of Hollywood’s attention lies – there is still a gap for women directors. According to the same study of film festivals women accounted for only 18 percent of directors of narrative films.

Is it simply a lack of experience that is keeping women out of the director’s chair? It’s not as if resumes keep men from being given keys to big budget films. As Women’s Media Center Co-Founder Jane Fonda recently remarked on Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan, director Marc Webb made a low-budget film, (500) Days of Summer, and then was given a budget of $230 million to make The Amazing Spiderman, while Rupert Sanders had no prior feature film experience before directing the $170-million Snow White and the Huntsman.

As Robin Morgan says, the “director's chair is perceived as a place of command and control”—and studios seem to mostly perceive that role as reserved for men.

But what’s interesting is that female directors bring more women into behind-the-scenes positions. Sundance Institute and Women in Film commissioned Stacy Smith, Ph.D. and University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism for a report, Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers. They found female directors facilitate behind-the-camera equality. When compared to films directed by men, those directed by women feature more women content creators (writers, producers, cinematographers, editors) behind the camera. This is true in both narratives and documentaries.

So when we finally get to the Oscar night and find seven categories (including Directing, Cinematography, and Writing, original screenplay) that have no women nominated and five with exactly one woman nominated, we’ve come to the culmination of a long process of women’s voices being squeezed out, ignored, or entirely missing from production of some of our most influential cultural products.

This could be why the Academy Awards sees nothing wrong with picking a host who starts off the night with a joke about actresses’ breasts, makes an 9-year-old in the audience the subject of sexual innuendo, and tags a movie about a dedicated female CIA officer with an eye-roll-inducing joke direct from 1950 about how women “never let anything go.”

Normally, sexism in Hollywood hides beneath the surface, but during last’s night Oscars we got to see it on full display—a solid reminder how our sexist media culture works. Hollywood is organized by power, and the Academy Awards are a reflection of that: white men on top, women and people of color at the bottom.

It’s telling that the Academy might not even think a lack of viewpoint diversity is a problem for them. During last year’s Oscars season, the Los Angeles Times quoted the now-late Frank Pierson, a governor and former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as stating, “I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population . . . We represent the professional filmmakers, and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”

Still, it seems that drumbeat about the lack of women behind the camera is getting louder. Reports like The Status of the Women in the U.S. Media, Celluloid Ceiling and Exploring the Barriers and Opportunities for Independent Women Filmmakers have been making more and more people aware of the lack of women’s voices in Hollywood films. Meanwhile, during the Oscars, many other people joined our conversation at #OscarWomen on Twitter, or started their own talk about sexism, racism, and homophobia in Hollywood and in the Oscars broadcast itself. The almost instantaneous critique of sexist and other offensive commentary during the broadcast from all quarters is a good sign that change is on its way.

When the audience speaks up, Hollywood will listen. The 2014 Academy Awards show can have a less sexist host (and here, at last, we agree with Seth MacFarlane: why can’t Tina and Amy host everything?) but we’re also hoping the 2014 awards will have more women overall.

14 Feb 15:42

Are annual mammograms still a good idea?

by Michael Kennedy-Toronto

Annual mammograms of women between 40 and 59 do not reduce breast cancer death rates when compared to regular physical examinations or usual care, research shows.

A new 25-year study shows that annual mammograms often pick up a lot of small, harmless cancers that will never cause symptoms or death in a patient’s lifetime.

“The use of mammography to screen for breast cancer ought to be rethought,” says Anthony Miller, professor emeritus in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

While recognizing that these results may not be generalizable to all countries, Miller says, “In technically advanced countries, our results question the rationale for mammography screening which should therefore be urgently reassessed by policy makers.”

Published in the British Medical Journal, the study compares breast cancer incidence and mortality in more than 89,000 women aged 40-59 who did or did not undergo mammography screening.

During the 25-year study period, the number of women in the mammography group who developed breast cancer was similar to the number of breast cancers seen in women who did not have annual screening. The number of women who died of the disease was also similar.

“In addition to not changing the number of women who died from breast cancer, 22 percent of the women who had an invasive breast cancer detected by screening actually would never have been bothered by their breast cancer. They were over-diagnosed and received unnecessary treatment,” says Professor Cornelia Baines. “There’s no justification for spending in North America billions of dollars on breast screening.”

The researchers agree that education, early diagnosis, and excellent clinical care should continue, but their research shows that annual mammography “does not result in a reduction in breast cancer specific mortality for women aged 40-59 beyond that of physical examination alone or usual care in the community.”

Source: University of Toronto

The post Are annual mammograms still a good idea? appeared first on Futurity.

13 Feb 21:00

Celebrate V-day with a Misandrist Tote Bag

by Cory Doctorow


Laurie Penny writes, "What do you give your single friends and ex-partners on Valentine's day? Cult online journal The New Inquiry has released a product line to help them keep on paying their writers and staff. Their exclusive misandrist totebag, with a design by Imp Kerr, is aimed at all those who want to smash the romantic industrial complex in style."

Limited Edition Valentine's Day Tote (Thanks, Laurie!)

    






13 Feb 18:23

TED Talks Don’t Cover Abortion Because They Say It Doesn’t Count As A Human Rights Issue

ted-talks copy

CREDIT: TED

TED Talks, the award-winning videos produced by a nonprofit group of the same name, promise to cover “ideas worth spreading.” The videos feature public figures ranging from Bill Gates to Rick Warren, as well as leading intellectuals and scientists that don’t have as much name recognition, and they often go viral. In 2010, the organization launched TEDWomen, a spin-off intended to cover gender issues.

But, as Jessica Valenti reports at the Nation, there’s something conspicuously absent from TED’s hundreds of videos on innovation, science, and human rights. TED is happy to cover issues like workplace equality, access to contraception, and feminist theory. But why don’t the nonprofit’s videos ever cover abortion access?

When Valenti asked TED’s content director, Kelly Stoetzel, whether omitting abortion is a conscious decision, Stoetzel confirmed it. “Abortion is more of a topical issue we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill,” Stoetzel said, explaining that it simply doesn’t fit into TED’s focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights.”

TED’s stance disappointed reproductive health advocates, who believe that ensuring access to the full range of women’s health care is a critically important aspect of human rights. Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, quickly penned a letter to TED asking the organization to rethink its position. Hogue expresses concern that TED has “fallen prey to the insidious campaign by an extreme minority” to portray abortion as extreme, rather than acknowledging that it’s simply part of reproductive freedom.

“The intersection of abortion access and human rights is at the forefront of the cultural conversation,” Hogue writes. “In fact, the hesitation to discuss these issues among inspired thinkers, writers, scientists and advocates prevents us from moving forward into an enlightened future.”

Indeed, thousands of women around the world are still dying because they don’t have access to safe abortion services. The United Nations has repeatedly pointed out that oppressing women by denying them reproductive health care, including abortion, amounts to a form of torture. And this isn’t a hypothetical debate; it’s playing out on the international stage. In 2012, when a 31-year-old woman died in an Irish Catholic hospital because she wasn’t allowed to have an emergency abortion, thousands of people took to the streets in protest — and Ireland agreed to amend its stringent abortion ban for the first time in over 100 years.

Ultimately, TED’s decision to exclude abortion from its overall mission sends a clear message about the organization’s assumption that abortion is something that can’t be discussed in the open — a harmful attitude that’s deeply ingrained in U.S. society.

“Abortion stigma is the belief that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable, and TED is reinforcing this by deliberately excluding talks about abortion,” Steph Herold, the deputy director of a new organization called Sea Change that’s working to eliminate abortion stigma, explained to ThinkProgress. “Separating out abortion in this way has real consequences — not only are they suggesting that abortion is not an ‘acceptable’ topic of conversation, but by extension, they’re implying that abortion is not as important as other human rights issues, and that abortion is a shameful experience that should be silenced.”

While the official TED-sanctioned talks shy away from abortion, the topic has made its way into other types of TED’s community products. TEDxTalks are independently organized events that don’t necessarily get approval from the larger nonprofit, and one of them covered abortion back in 2012. Herold and her colleagues wish the rest of TED would follow suit — and they’re ready to help.

Herold, whose organization has developed a theory of change for shifting the culture away from abortion stigma, would be happy to work with TED in the future. “We would love to give a TED talk about using these tools and strategies to create culture change around abortion!” she told ThinkProgress.

“I would love to see TED begin a discussion on how we support our friends and family as they experience abortion,” Renee Bracey Sherman, a reproductive justice activist who sits on the board at Sea Change, added. “When I talk to people who have abortion experiences, they say it’s the isolation, lack of support, and fear of rejection from loved ones that hurts…Being a supportive listener to someone sharing an abortion experience can be revolutionary.”

This isn’t the first time that the nonprofit has landed in hot water for declining to “spread” the ideas it considers to be too controversial. In 2012, after a venture capitalist gave a TED Talk in which he argued that taxing the rich was the best way to spur economic growth, the organization initially declined to release it. Chris Anderson, the director of TED, explained that he decided not to make it public because “it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We’re in the middle of an election year in the US.” After coming under some pressure, TED later reversed its decision.

Update

NARAL has escalated its campaign against TED Talks, launching a petition to put more pressure on the nonprofit. The pro-choice group hopes to get 30,000 signatures urging TED’s director to “change this policy and allow for authentic conversation around the issue of abortion rights.” Bracey Sherman has also initiated a petition on Change.org.

The post TED Talks Don’t Cover Abortion Because They Say It Doesn’t Count As A Human Rights Issue appeared first on ThinkProgress.

13 Feb 19:00

Self-published ebooks: the surprising data from Amazon

by Cory Doctorow


Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).

Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.

I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. That's not just bad, it's catastrophic.

The second point is the opportunity cost of being your own publisher: almost all successful authors have to do things that aren't writing in order to sell their books (all the hustling, touring, etc that comprises the writerly life in the early 21st century), but if you're your own publisher, there is an order of magnitude more non-writing stuff that becomes your job. Going the traditional route makes sense for writers who can earn more by writing another book than they can by spending that writing time being a publisher; it also makes sense for writers who just aren't any good at that stuff.

Now, this second point does not militate against self-publishing per se -- rather, it suggests a new kind of service-bureau/publisher that provides services to authors that sit somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Companies like Lulu, Bookbaby and Smashwords already do this, and many of the big literary agents are starting to do this for their authors, especially with their backlists.

But the first point is a significant concern. In the 1980s, when the midlist collapsed and the number of mass-market distributors in America fell from 400+ to three, and the trade retail channels for mass-market books were dominated by Barnes and Noble and Borders, authors discovered that their careers could be suddenly and totally ended, merely because the mass-market distributor stopped carrying them, or one of the retailers stopped selling them. Writers who'd published a new novel every year for decades suddenly found themselves with no one willing to publish, distribute or sell their next book, or carry their backlists.

That's what concentration begets. It's a major problem, and an existential risk to the market that Howey has identified. There are ways to improve the odds for indie authors -- a plurality of payment systems, lots of different search- and recommendation services, more companies providing services to authors. These, of course, are exactly the sort of thing that extremist copyright proposals like SOPA and the TPP work against: by making the companies that serve authors and their audiences bear the liability for infringement, we shrink the number of companies that supply authors and ensure that only big players like Amazon, Paypal, Apple and Google can occupy those niches.

Pro-competitive ground-rules won't solve the competition problem on their own, but without them, no solution is possible. As creators -- and as audiences -- we are all best served by a churning and chaotic retail and publishing channel, in which many companies compete to offer us all the best possible deal.

You may have heard from other reports that e-books account for roughly 25% of overall book sales. But this figure is based only on sales reported by major publishers. E-book distributors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the iBookstore, and Google Play don’t reveal their sales data. That means that self-published e-books are not counted in that 25%.

Neither are small presses, e-only presses, or Amazon’s publishing imprints. This would be like the Cookie Council seeking a report on global cookie sales and polling a handful of Girl Scout troops for the answer—then announcing that 25% of worldwide cookie sales are Thin Mints. But this is wrong. They’re just looking at Girl Scout cookies, and even then only a handful of troops. Every pronouncement about e-book adoption is flawed for the same reason. It’s looking at only a small corner of a much bigger picture. (It’s worth noting that our own report is also limited in that it’s looking only at Amazon—chosen for being the largest book retailer in the world—but we acknowledge and state this limitation, and we plan on releasing broader reports in the future.)

There’s a second and equally important reason to doubt a 25% e-book penetration number: The other 75% of those titles includes textbooks, academic books, cookbooks, children’s books, and all the many categories that are relatively safe from digitization (for now). Print remains healthy in these categories, but these aren’t the books most people think of when they hear that percentage quoted. E-book market share is generally spoken of in the context of the New York Times bestsellers, the novels and non-fiction works that are referred to as “trade” publications. If we look specifically at this trade market, it’s quite likely that e-books already account for more than 50% of current sales (some publishers have intimated as much [link]). Factoring in self-publishing and further limiting the scope to fiction, I’ve seen guesses as high as 70%. But that can’t be possible, right?

The Report [Hugh Howey/Author Earnings]