Today On Ujima – Books, Social Media & Auschwitz

My first guest on today’s show was Amy Morse. Like me Amy is part of the organizing committee for this year’s Bristol Festival of Literature. She was on the show to talk about the crowdfunding effort that we have launched to help raise the money necessary for venue hire, printing publicity materials and other incidental costs of putting on the Festival. You can find that campaign (and a video of Amy) at the Fundsurfer website.

Along the way I talked about the SF&F events that we’ll be having. The BristolCon Fringe event will feature new novels from Jo Hall and Jonathan L Howard. And I’ll be chairing a comics event featuring Mike Carey, Paul Cornell and Cavan Scott.

Amy stayed with me for the second half hour to talk about social media and blogging. Amy is running some courses in Bristol next month, and I figured this was a good opportunity to talk about life online. A great deals of nonsense gets talked in the mainstream media about what goes on online, and while what happens to people like Briannu Wu is indeed terrible, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that follows any (usually thoroughly justified) denunciation of white feminism’s media darlings is quite ridiculous. People need to know how to stay safe online, and much of it revolved around “don’t be an idiot”.

Anyway, you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Interesting though my conversation with Amy was, I hope she will forgive me for saying that the second hour was spectacular. My guest on the studio was Christina Zaba, a local journalist of Polish extraction. Christina has been heavily involved in Bristol’s Holocaust Memorial Day. As a result of this she has visited Auschwitz. This has led her to discover some family history, and also the stories of two remarkable men. Kazimierz Piechowski was a young man during the war. He escaped from Auschwitz disguised as an SS officer and is still alive (he’s 95). Witold Pilecki was an officer in the Polish resistance who volunteered to get himself arrested so that he could help organize the prisoners and perhaps stage a revolt. He too later escaped from the camp, but was executed by the Russians after the war.

Both Piechowski and Pilecki were also members of the Polish Boy Scouts. The Nazis regarded the Scouts as a paramilitary organization and singled them out for special persecution, which of course led them to becoming a key part of the Resistance. Christina also talked about the Girl Guides who helped smuggle messages, food and tools into the camps.

Christina is writing a book about the Polish Resistance and the part they played in the history of Auschwitz. I’ve already told her that I want her back on the show when it comes out. Gut-wrenching though it can be at times, we do need to keep talking about this history. Auschwitz was both a slave camp run by Nazi businessmen and a giant factory dedicated to murder on an industrial scale. This sort of thing should not be allowed to happen again.

You can listen to the second half of the show here.

Being on air also allowed me to give a mention to various Jamaica-related stories. Tomorrow (August 6th) is Jamaican Independence Day. The past week has seen Jamaica’s first ever Pride. And of course Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel based on an attempted assassination of Bob Marley, has found its way onto this year’s Booker Prize long list.

Today’s playlist was as follows:

  • I Want Your Love – Chic
  • Thriller – Michael Jackson
  • Computer Blue – Prince
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • The War Song – Culture Club
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley
  • No Borders – Jama

A Lesson in Crowdfunding

A couple of days ago I saw a tweet from Neil Gaiman promoting a crowdfunding campaign for a play about trans people. I went and had a look at the campaign page and sent back a concerned tweet to Neil. As it turned out, the project is indeed a good one, but the causes of my concern make for an interesting lesson, so I thought I’d blog about them.

The first thing is nothing to do with the campaign itself, but rather the Indiegogo website. These days I get most of my news from Twitter, and I normally access it via my phone and tablets, not via a PC. With the phone I am often doing that when I’m on a train, in a cafe, or otherwise away from my home network. Bandwidth is an issue. But when you click an Indiegogo link from Twitter on a phone you don’t get the website. You get an ad for their bloody app. When you have just spent several minutes waiting for the page to load (on a train, remember), this is enormously irritating. Companies should not do this.

However, eventually I got through to the campaign page, and I read the blurb. With crowdfunding all of the advice pages talk endlessly about the importance of the video, but if you are on a train with limited bandwidth you are not going to watch a video. You just read the text, and in this case it was problematic in two ways.

Firstly there was this:

People like actress Laverne Cox, model Andreja Pejic, celebrity Chaz Bono, director Lana Wachowski have led the charge, but it was Olympic legend Bruce Jenner whose declaration sparked a media frenzy and forever thrust transgender identity into the light of day.

That immediately sounds alarm bells for me. Laverne Cox has done a huge amount of work for the trans community (as has Janet Mock). It was Laverne appearing on the cover of Time that started everyone talking about a transgender tipping point. Jenner, in contrast, has spent most of the last few months in “no comment” land. A focus on Jenner suggests to me that this is a campaign aimed mainly at well-to-do cis white people, not something that will help the trans community.

Anyway, I read through the text, and what I saw was a lot of talk about using the stories of real trans people, but nothing about their involvement beyond that. What I was looking for was how trans people would be involved in the production and staging of this play. I saw nothing.

When I tweeted Neil he asked me about the video. Of course I hadn’t watched it. (On a train, remember.) When I got home I fired up a laptop and checked it out. Immediately I saw trans people, including some who were fairly obviously in the cast (Calpernia Addams, for example). There was much relief in my corner of the world.

So the lesson here is that if you are doing a crowdfunding campaign, don’t put important information in the video, and leave it off the text (or vice versa). You need people to get the whole message, no matter how they end up consuming it.

And now, if you’d like to back the Trans Scripts campaign, that would be a fine thing. If you happen to be very rich and a big Neil Gaiman fan you can get a personal Skype call from him. If you live in Edinburgh, or are going to this year’s Fringe, I’d love to hear a report of the play.

In Which I Learn A New Word

Social media is a rapidly evolving space, and not just because of changes in hardware and software. We monkeys are learning new ways to interact, and devising new rules for it. Part of this involves coining new words. We are probably all familiar with “trolling” and “derailing”. We may be less familiar with the term “gaslighting”, though use of both the technique and term are quite common in posts I see. Yesterday I learned a new word: “sealioning”. There’s an explanation here. Again the technique is very common, so I’m not surprised that it has acquired a name.

What interests me about this is that these are all forms of rhetorical device. It is almost as if we were back in Athens learning the rules of public discourse once again. I suspect this is a very fertile area for research.

New Writing

Last night (UK time) a new ebook appeared on the Twelfth Planet Press website. It is the Galactic Suburbia Scrapbook, which advertises itself as containing, “some of the highlights of 4 years and 100 episodes of Alex, Alisa and Tansy speaking to you from the Galactic Suburbs!” This is entirely true, however, it also contains various guest articles and pieces of feedback received by the show, and one of the guest articles is by me. The title of the article is, “Curse You, Tansy, I Bought Another One”, which probably gives you a good idea of what it is all about.

Naturally the book contains lots of other content, all of which is fabulous, so you can safely ignore the two pages of mine in it. All proceeds from the book go towards keeping Galactic Suburbia on air, which is a very fine cause. You can buy it here.

Also, my latest column for Bristol 24/7 has just gone live. It is about trolls. The boring kind, not the nice Nordic creatures.

What Was She Smoking?

Today, for reasons nothing to do with this post, I spent a few hours on Skype chatting with an academic about social media (as you do). A chance exchange at the end, after we had finished our business, set off a light bulb in one of the less sane regions of my brain. Here is a mad idea.

I want to run a modern day superhero role-playing campaign in which the heroes, their secret identities, the villains, and various key NPCs such as the mayor of the city, the police chief, the newspaper editor and so on all have public Twitter accounts that people can follow.

Luckily for you lot, I don’t have the time to do this. Then again, with the right group of players, it could be awesome.

Here Comes The Geek Agenda

Geek AgendaOne of the more hopeful things happening around fandom at the moment is the number of young people doing their own thing. It’s sad that they don’t feel part of Worldcon and the like, but then I’ve had enough run-ins with UK fandom myself so I’m not entirely surprised. Anyway, here, thanks to Laura Kate Dale and her new podcast, The Geek Night In, is news of a new website launched today. It is called The Geek Agenda, and judging from the mission statement they are aiming for a very inclusive view of geekdom.

Of course the first thing I noticed was that, while they have lots of posts up, there are none under the Books category. Something will need to be done about that. But whoever is in charge of their Twitter feed is clearly a comics nut. So here, just for them, is a Young Avengers Valentine’s poem.

The Vision’s red-faced,
The Scarlet Mom’s pissed,
But Billy is pink
From the Skrull boy’s kiss.

Parents, eh?

On Internet Outrage

This morning I noticed a really good post by Cora Buhlert on the subject of internet outrage and responses thereto. This is a matter of some interest to me because, as a trans woman, I am apparently one of the most vicious online bullies in the world. Well, at least according to cis, white feminists anyway. And Piers Morgan, of course, poor little downtrodden fellow that he is.

The sort of incident that Cora talks about should be well understood by now. It has a very familiar pattern, as follows:

1. Someone with a fair degree of privilege writes something that is calm and superficially well-reasoned if you don’t question its assumptions, but is at best naive, and at worst condescending and insulting to significant numbers of people.

2. People with far less privilege respond with frustration and anger.

3. Friends and fans of the original poster clutch at their pearls and complain about how the Internet has been poisoned by the presence of violent bullies.

There is also the flip side, which goes like this:

1. A member of a “minority” group writes a post asking for more representation (and I used scare quotes there because women and people of color are not “minorities” in the human population as a whole, they are just seen as such by people used to a predominantly white male commentariat).

2. People react to this with furious blog posts, threats of violence, rape threats, death threats and so on.

3. Pearl clutching is conspicuous by its absence.

Of course not every Internet flame war falls neatly into these two categories. And in all such cases trolls on both sides revel in stirring things up. But it isn’t hard to diagnose where on the spectrum a particular flare-up falls. Just ask yourself why the people who are angry are angry. Is it because they are being talked about in unflattering terms and silenced yet again, or is it because they feel that their position of privilege is threatened.

The Great Firewall of Britain: Assistance Requested

Every since the Internet started, I have been worried that big business and government would try to take control of it away from ordinary individuals, to the detriment of small businesses and minorities. It has taken a while, but that now appears to be happening in the UK. I make a point of getting my Internet service from a small, business-focused ISP, but most people in the UK will get their home and mobile service from large utility companies, and they are starting to find that sites are being blocked.

It is all done with the best of intentions, of course. For a long time now, tabloid newspapers and other purveyors of Moral Panic have been complaining that the Internet allows children access to pornography. As public displays of pornography are generally only available in tabloid newspapers, and apparently the ladies toilets of hip London restaurants, Something Must Be Done.

So, the Government passed the usual sort of Something Must Be Done Act, and accordingly something largely useless was done. ISPs agreed to filter out “porn”. Lots of people who know stuff about computers said that this would end in tears. No one took any notice because Something Must be Done and we had to Think Of The Children. Now we are suffering the consequences.

A lot of the problem is that people don’t know what is being blocked, or why. I suspect that the support staff at the ISPs don’t understand the system very well, and don’t have much ability to fix issues. It may well be that companies have been buying third party software that they don’t fully understand, and which may contain proprietary features that they are not even allowed to query.

The results, however, are pretty clear. Chaos is being caused. Lots of people are upset. It is not hard to see why. O2, possibly uniquely, have provided a website through which you can check whether your site is blocked or not. I tested some of my sites, most importantly the bookstore, which is rather important to me from a business point of view. This is what I got back.

WTB blocking

That didn’t worry me too much. The site does, after all, encourage people to spend money. I can see parents wanting to restrict access to such things. But just to be sure I checked the competition. Here’s what I got for Amazon.

Amazon blocking

As you can see, there is a difference. It is not clear what that means, and O2 does not provide any explanation. But the only explanation I can come up with is that kids can be blocked from buying anything on both sites, but they are blocked from browsing mine, whereas they are not blocked from browsing Amazon. Given that they are likely to sell all of the books that I sell, I don’t see why that should be the case. Indeed, O2 appears to be giving preferential treatment to a big, powerful company.

Just to be sure, I checked a few other bookstore sites. They all came up similar to mine. Even Waterstones.

Waterstones blocking

So clearly the list of companies with powerful lawyers that O2 is afraid of and prepared to make exceptions for is quite short.

When queried on this, O2 tend to hide behind bureaucracy. Their Twitter account points people at this document which talks about how mobile Internet providers have got together to agree on a censorship scheme. However, that doesn’t explain in any way how these censorship decisions are made. Instead it talks about sites being, “classified suitable for those aged 18 and over”. Any site which is not so-classified may be subject to parental blocking.

As traffic on Twitter today has shown, many, many sites are being classified as subject to parental blocking. Those include the Wizards’ Tower Press site, Salon Futura and Emerald City. I checked with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to see what they think ought to disqualify something from being views by people under 18. The list is here. What of this am I actually guilty of? Strong violence or horror? No. Actual sex? No. Discriminatory language and behavior? I hope not. About the only think I could think of that might warrant such a classification is the occasional use of “fuck” or “cunt”.

Whoops, now this site is going to go on the block list.

Part of the problem is that the classification scheme for Internet censorship has only one cut-off point, at 18 years of age. Film censorship has several: 12, 15 and 18. It turns out that you can do almost anything you would do in an adult film for 15-rated films, except show actual sex and use “cunt”. 15+ teenagers using the Internet don’t get that option.

By the way, I did a quick check on Salon Futura. It ought to classify for a 15 rating. It fails the Internet censorship rules because it has a couple of uses of “fuck”. Karen Burnham and Sam Jordison, you are very bad people.

Another problem is that, as I understand it, parental controls are turned on by default. Lots of people either won’t know that they are on, or won’t be able to turn them off. It is opt-out censorship, not opt-in.

Finally, we don’t actually know how most of the ISPs interpret the need for parental controls. Where we do, what we see is horrific. The guidelines that O2 pointed to are for mobile providers. Home Internet providers do not use the same rules. BT has published a list of the categories under which parents will be able to block access, and it goes well beyond what the BBFC would do. For example, parents are able to block off access to the official websites of pop groups (but not to websites of sports clubs), to sites giving fashion and beauty tips, and even to search engines. Perhaps most controversially they can block sites on the grounds that they provide “sex education”. This can mean something as seemingly obvious as teaching “respect for a partner” and, inevitably, “gay and lesbian lifestyle”. It doesn’t mention trans lifestyles, but I’m betting they are covered too.

What exactly does “gay and lesbian lifestyle” mean? Well, it is standard homophobe code for anything that presents being gay or lesbian and in any way normal or acceptable. It is Section 28, or the new laws in Russia, being given to parents to implement in their homes. Does anyone ever ask to censor sites that portray “heterosexual lifestyle”? Of course not. And by the way my “trans lifestyle” includes eating, sleeping, reading, doing housework, running my businesses, and indeed everything else that I do because I am guilty of Living While Trans.

Here too we have come full circle. Teenagers desperately need advice on sex. They need support if they think they may be one of QUILTBAG. They need to know the risks of sexual contact. Parents are often the last people they will go to for such advice. The Internet has been a valuable resource for very many of my young trans friends. So we start by saying, “Will No One Think Of The Children”, and end by putting kids in danger. Well done, government.

Anyway, I did say at the top that I would appreciate some assistance. Most companies have not been as helpful as O2 and BT. With many of them there is no way to check whether your site has been blocked except by trying to access it over a connection supplied by a specific provider. Nor, indeed, is there any central point where you can complain if you think that your site has been unfairly blocked. So I’m hoping that UK readers will be able to test my various sites for me using their own connections and report back. I am particularly interested in cases in which sites are blocked outside of the parental control system, and where my bookstore is blocked but Amazon and other larger competitors are not. Please report in comments if you notice anything. And thank you for any help you can give.

Hugo’s Midnight Party

I spent three hours in the middle of the night helping Kevin and Mur Lafferty host the text-based Hugo Award ceremony coverage. I got no sleep beforehand, and only about three hours afterwards, so I am barely functional today. I am running my end of month backups, as that’s about the only work I am good for.

The live video feed was very temperamental, going down frequently through the webcast. LoneStarCon 3 is insisting that this was the fault of their tech team, and nothing to do with UStream who provided the web services. As a result, we once again had a huge audience, peaking at 822. That’s a far cry from the 100 or so I used to get when I first started doing this.

The video appears to be available for replay in bits. UStream appears to be counting each time it went down and back up again as starting a separate broadcast. Hopefully LSC3 will be able to get a copy of the whole thing to them at some point. I’ll try to watch the whole thing before announcing the Best Dressed Award, but on the basis of what I’ve seen thus far I think Deborah Stanish is a very hot tip. Elizabeth Bear also looked very classy. Sadly John Scalzi’s attempt at a ballgown wasn’t up to much. It looked just like a suit to me.

With far more people I have had to be far more ruthless about comment moderation. That’s partly because having to watch loads of people congratulate each winner does not make for a good show, because everything scrolls through too fast. I just had to delete those comments and post a general “lots of people very happy” comment. Equally there’s no point in posting endless versions of “the video is down again” and “the video is back up”.

With regard to the tech failures, there was an interesting balancing act to be made between providing answers to genuine tech questions and letting through a flood of snark and uninformed opinion. I don’t think I always got that right.

What was noticeable is that as viewer numbers have gone up the level of spite and mean-spiritedness in the comments has gone up too. I screened out all of the vitriol about who had won, what the winners were wearing, Paul Cornell’s jokes and so on. I also ended up screening out almost all of the positive comments because that lead to complaints about my allowing them through.

Overall, however, I think the evening went well. I hope that Loncon 3 allows us to do it again next year (and I’m really looking forward to doing color commentary again rather than just comment moderation, as I’ll be able to be in the audience). If possible I recommend that they set up an audio-only feed as well as a video one, because video appears to still be very hard to get right.

The good news is that, as Kevin survived a sneak attack on his chairmanship of the Mark Protection Committee yesterday, we are still able to do these things officially on the Hugo Awards website.

I’ll do a separate post on the Hugo results later, but here I want to give huge hugs to my co-commentator, Mur Lafferty for her Campbell win, and for managing to get up the steps without tripping like certain other members of the team I could mention.

Twitter Phishing

Those of you who have spent some time on Twitter are doubtless familiar with DM-based (DM = Direct Message) phishing attacks. When people fall victim to these they generally report that they have been “hacked”, but that normally isn’t the case. Saying that you have been hacked implies that someone worked out what your password was, or found a way around it. Doing that is hard. Phishing is much easier, and more common. As the name suggests, it relies on bait. The phisher tries to get you to click on a link that takes you to a malware site. Because you have actively clicked on the link, it is able to harvest your password.

Most people quickly get the hang of this and learn not to click on mysterious links sent to them via DM. I certainly thought I was too smart to do that. But today I got told that my account was sending out phishing DMs. Eek.

First up, apologies if you got one. I’ve taken the recommended precautions, which should have put a stop to the problem. But I want to know how it happened, because I don’t click on links. What I did do this morning was open a conversation. That is, I had a phishing DM from someone, and I went to the page of such messages to read it. I do that because if you don’t then the Twitter client will keep reminding you that you have unread messages. I know I didn’t click on the link. So did just reading the message reveal my password?

There are other ways for people to get your password, but they involve signing up for services, and Twitter has no record of my having done so, so I am bemused. Is there anyone out there who knows more about the security issues who would care to comment? FYI, I’m pretty sure that I was using my iPad when I read the DM, so that would have been through Tweetbot, not the standard Twitter client.

OMG! The Internet!! Moral Panic!!!

It being silly season here in the UK, the thoughts of politicians and journalists have inevitably turned to dreaming up threats to the nation’s children, and launching moral panic campaigns based on these. The favorite target, probably because neither politicans nor journalists have much of a clue how it works, is the Internet.

First up, our glorious leader, Dave, has decided that British children need to be prevented from seeing anything on the Internet without their parents permission. The spin is protecting them from porn, such as is freely available in every newsagent, but inevitably the net will be cast much wider to take in things that kids really need to know, but which parents may wish to keep them in ignorance of. Thus we discover that sites that give support to kids suffering from eating disorders, or who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, are likely to be blocked. Bizarrely, sites offering “esoteric knowledge” are also to be targeted.

The main problem with such schemes is that the software implementing the filters is likely to be very dumb, and difficult to challenge (remember all the trouble we had with the Hugos webcast on UStream last year?). It is likely, for example, that many LGBT support groups will end up being blocked as “pornographic”. That’s especially the case for trans sites, give that the government made it clear during debate on the same-sex marriage bill that they regard trans people as dangerous perverts that “normal” people need protecting from. Equally sites that give support to people suffering from domestic violence will be deemed “violent” and blocked. Large and powerful organizations such a S’onewall are likely to be able to get around this, and I don’t expect the Guardian website to be blocked because of Liz Williams’ articles on paganism. But for the smaller charities and support groups, and for private individuals, the bureaucratic hoops that you’ll be required to jump through to get unblocked are likely to be a major challenge.

Currently this isn’t full censorship. It will be possible to opt out, and if your ISP is not one of the major suppliers signed up to the scheme then you’ll be OK anyway. But the filter will be there by default, and most people won’t bother to turn it off (or indeed be able to work out how to do so). And that means that I expect that a lot of UK residents will no longer be able to see this blog (because it discusses trans issues), or my bookstore (because it sells novels with LGBT themes).

Meanwhile the commentariat is getting exercised over the subject of trolling. This did at least start with a genuine problem: the appalling level of abuse that gets directed at women who dare to express feminist opinions online. A lot of men have had their eyes opened by articles showing examples of the sort of crap that high profile women like Laurie Penny have to put up with on a day-to-day basis.

The trouble is that people now think that “something must be done”, and because actually stopping the people who send this abuse from hating women seems an insoluble problem, something quick and potentially disastrous gets proposed instead.

The problems with an “abuse” button on Twitter are manyfold. To start with, Twitter hasn’t caused this problem, and is by no means the only place that trolls operate, so a Twitter-based solution only targets one symptom amongst many. The attraction, for celebrity journalists, is that it reduces the whole issue to a popularity contest. So if someone has a go at them then they’ll be able to get all of their followers to report that person as abusive, whereas ordinary people are unlikley to be able to complain effectively if they get abused.

Even then, however, the celebrities won’t be safe. After all, an abuse button is just another tweak in the rules of the game. The trolls will be eagerly working out how they can use it to their advantage. They are in the game to make life difficult and unpleasant for others, and they are prepared to spend huge amounts of time and effort on it. People just trying to get on with their lives will inevitably lose out, and commercial operations like Twitter and Facebook won’t be willing to spend a fortune to help us.

There are, I am sure, things that can be done. One good suggestion I saw was that Twitter should provide a higher level filter that someone under attack can use to limit the messages that they see to ones from people that they know and trust. Also Twitter does monitor frequency of posting (because you get locked out if you tweet too frequently). It should be possible to spot someone who is targeting an individual with lots of tweets. One author I follow mentioned getting 2000 tweets from one troll. That sort of thing is obvious.

Finally, of course, much of what is said by trolls is already covered by existing legislation. Threatening to rape or kill someone can result in you ending up in court. The big problem there is getting the authorities to take the problem seriously. It is hard enough to get a conviction if you have actually been raped, let alone get the police to do something about rape threats. Facebook is very enthusiastic about banning pictures of women breastfeeding on the grounds they they are offensive. It doesn’t show anywhere near the same level of concern over pictures of women being beaten or raped. Indeed, when a successful campaign was waged by feminists asking leading brands to protest to Facebook about their ads appearing to endorse violence against women, Facebook’s reaction was to promise to keep advertising off such pages.

It all comes back to social attitudes again. If men don’t take abuse of women seriously, then no amount of technological fixes will solve the problem. Sadly that means that more brave people will have to poke their heads above the parapet and make themselves targets, then talk about what happened. It is horrible, but I don’t see any other way we’ll get change.

Today on Ujima – Juggling, Glass, Twitter & Housing

Well that was a busy day.

What I knew about today’s show was that I was going to be interviewing Rod Laver, the amazing juggler who was part of Amanda Palmer’s show in Bristol. That took up the first half hour, in which we discussed Amanda, Rod’s act, the juggling world championships, running away to the circus and much more.

What I didn’t know was that I would also be interviewing Jackie Victory, a Bristol-based glass artist, who does some really cool things, and who gave me an excuse to mention Dale Chihuly on the radio. After the ad break I bring in a couple of the regular crew to talk more generally about art in Bristol. There’s a lot of it. One thing I didn’t mention, because I wasn’t sure of the dates, was the crazy golf exhibit at the Arnolfini, which looks like a lot of fun.

All of that is in the first hour, which you can listen to here.

The second hour begins with one of those “lighter look” segments that always gets serious and political in the end. We were supposed to be chatting, in a light-hearted way, about how to put off unwelcome attention from men. But that was partly inspired by the awful trolling that has been going on on Twitter recently, and that led to me having a rant about the proposed abuse button. I guess I need to do a blog post about that. And about the equally idiotic porn filter.

Paulette actually got on the show for one segment doing Woman of the Week with our fabulous Amy, but then she ducked out again and left me to present the final half hour on housing issues. I’m not sure that the discussion got anywhere, but at least people got opportunities to air grievances.

You can listen to the second hour here.

Update: I’m just listening to the first hour and there’s a blank spot during the first ad break. We had a small tech snafu. Don’t worry, it comes back.

Got Downloads?

Well, this is embarrassing. I’m way to used too things on the Internet being there for ever. I was therefore somewhat surprised when it was pointed out to me that some of the links to my Ujima shows no longer worked. I was even more surprised when I was told by colleagues at the station that no archives are kept. The shows that have been shunted off the system to make room for new ones have just been thrown away. Aaarrrggh!

From now on I will be making backups of every show that I do. But I don’t have copies of the interviews I did with Stephanie Saulter, Emma Newman, Bea Hitchman and Jack Wolf. If anyone downloaded those shows, can they please get in touch?

Social Media Trickledown

Yesterday John Scalzi had a small moan on Twitter about people who only got in touch with him to try to get him to RT things they were promoting. I can see why this might be very annoying, when you have a profile as high as John’s. I also know why they do it.

A week or so ago John blogged about this year’s Hugo controversies, and linked to a post by Cora Buhlert which provided a good link round-up. Bear in mind that only a fraction of John’s readers will have clicked through to Cora’s site, and only a fraction of those will click on any of the links she posted. And yet that still meant that Cora was sending enough people to my site to give me well over 1,000 visitors for the day, which is the best I have done since I last got NeilWebFailed.

In contrast, yesterday I did what I thought was a pretty good couple of interviews with a very fine new author, Emma Newman. I blogged about it. To date just 17 people have clicked on that post, and only one has clicked through the the Ujima Radio website to listen.

So while I absolutely sympathize with the links John and Neil, who must be overwhelmed with requests for help, I can also see why people think they have to be that pushy, because the potential benefits are so huge. Personally I try to treat my friends with respect. But I wish I could figure out a good way to promote interest in good books.

An SEO Tip

Yeah, not the sort of thing I normally blog about. 🙂

Over the past few weeks I have achieved around a 50% increase in blog traffic. I didn’t do anything special myself. It is all down to this post, in which I report briefly on an LGBT History Month talk. Ever since I posted that, “gay cartoon” has been one of the to search terms for the blog (often first, and with “gay carton” in second place). That little post has been the most viewed page on the blog on many days.

I have no idea what the people making those searches hope to find, and I’m pretty sure that they don’t find it. But, to quote Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, “still they come”. Weird, but definitely traffic-enhancing.

Joining The Cool Kids

I have been reliably informed that no one under the age of 20 even knows what a blog is any more, and no one under the age of 30 would admit to having one. If I want to reach out to people who are liable to call me “grandma” I apparently need to get a tumblr account. So I have been and gone and done it. Let me know about follows and such, as I’m sure that the basic rules of social media haven’t changed that much.

Social Media Stats: Not What They Seem

Yesterday I got email from LinkedIn informing me that, based on endorsements on their site, I was one of the 1% of top bloggers in the UK. My first thought, naturally, was, “that’s nice, go me!”. However, this was quickly followed by, “that’s ridiculous, how ever did they get such a daft result?”

I mean, John Scalzi is a top-rated blogger. Compared to him I’m a total nobody. My blog posts only average a couple of hundred readers. There must be lots of people in the UK with a bigger readership than me.

But this is, after all, LinkedIn we are talking about. It is supposed to be a professional networking platform. How many people on there actually list blogging as a skill? Very few, I suspect. I don’t take the site very seriously, so I’m happy to list what I actually do. I can’t see me ever being offered a job blogging in the UK. I’m old, female, trans and a science fiction reader. I’m positively drowning in cooties. (Indeed, no one is going to offer me a job doing anything in the UK, for those same reasons.)

So how did this happen? Where did these hordes of people endorsing my blogging skills come from? Well, “hordes” is a bit of a misnomer. I only have 457 connections on LinkedIn. I have no idea how I got that many, as it is the one site where I routinely turn down requests from people I don’t know. At least one of my connections is dead.

As to people who have endorsed my blogging skills, the number is 59. More interestingly, only 13 of those are based in the UK. So much for being a top British blogger, eh? I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

But I bet there are people out there who got the same email and are trumpeting their glory. Unless, of course, there are fewer than 100 people in the UK who list blogging as a skill on LinkedIn. That would not susprise me at all.

Medical Fundraisers (and PayPal)

I have finally found the time to go and donate to Jay Lake’s medical fundraiser. I’m sure that most of you have heard about this via other people’s blogs and social media, and the thing met its base target in record time, but Jay has been a good friend for many years and tried hard to help me with my US immigration problems, so I want to do more for him. I wish I had sufficient following to make it worth my offering to do something silly. (But hey, I got The Guardian to mention my vagina in an article, isn’t that enough?)

As you have probably also heard, Jay ran into trouble with PayPal. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Their “guilty until proved innocent” approach to anyone who suddenly has large sums of money go through their account has been well documented by many people. Thankfully Jay has friends in high places and it was all resolved fairly quickly. Jay tells the story here.

PayPal claims that they are going to try to do better in future, but frankly I don’t believe them. They have messed me about so badly that I no longer have any faith in them. The only reason I haven’t yet added Google Checkout to the bookstore is that I have had more important stuff to do. My personal account is fairly useless. They put a block on my adding funds from my US bank account and set conditions for lifting it that were almost impossible to meet. After I emptied it of most of the money in it they wrote and said they were restoring my account to good standing, except that they didn’t remove the block on adding funds, they just removed the issue flag on my account, so now I still can’t add funds and I have no way to address the issue because according to PayPal there is no issue. Hopeless.

Jay is well aware that he’s been fortunate here. He has a loyal fan base and good friends. But he notes:

Yet I cannot help wondering how this would have gone without my own social media footprint and widespread network of friends and fans. Would I be looking at weeks of paperwork and a continually frozen account, as my friend has experienced?

Yes Jay, you probably would.

To his great credit, Jay also adds:

The same question applies to the fundraisers themselves. Would the Acts of Whimsy fundraiser be closing in on 200% of goal if I were just some guy down the street with cancer?

He’s right. Not everyone has the pull to do this stuff. Today I dragged a young friend of mine along to the BristolCon committee meeting, in part because he’s trying to raise funds for some surgery. Nathan doesn’t have a life-threatening problem like Jay, but his surgery will be life-changing. He does nice anime-style art, and he’s offering to do drawings for people in return for donations. You can see some of the work he’s done already on the fundraiser’s Facebook page. If you are looking for some nice art for a fanzine or some such, please consider commissioning something from him. He’s not asking much per picture.

Jetpack Update

Sorry folks, seems like I was wrong about how Jetpack generates the menu for the mobile theme. It doesn’t use the inbuilt WordPress menu. It does it by finding all of the public pages you have, whether they are linked into your site’s navigation system or not. This is a VERY BAD THING. Consequently I’m disabling the Jetpack mobile theme and goning back to WPtouch.