May Amazon suggest some medical books for your edification?

I occasionally use Amazon at work to confirm bibliographic info like ISBNs, and I also use it occasionally for personal stuff. Either because Google/Chrome is tracking everything I type across platforms or because I’ve signed in to Amazon on my personal account at work, I get some interesting recommendations. But I was especially happy to see Amazon getting all medieval on its ideas about medicine: (Click to embiggen)

So maybe Amazon’s AI isn’t a threat, yet, to readers’ advisory and reference librarians.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 7:30 pm  Comments (1)  
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Charmed, I’m sure

Everybody steals everything online, it seems. I never mind when someone legitimately swipes pictures or quotes from my blog when they’re writing about swords, dorkery, or swords and dorkery, but occasionally weird content farmers steal entire posts just populate their awful little adfarms. Most recently “Cellulite Planet” started swiping my posts, in their entirety, though I have jack-all to say about cellulite. Must be hard to sell cellulite on its own merits or something.

They even took the trouble to the text through some kind of paraphrasing script, too.

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it. 

becomes

I don’t thoughts admitting I’m sort of psyched that my schedule is now readily available on the subject of DriveThru RPG. The Shed Pages keep is the put to grab the tough copy, shipped from Scotland (I likewise hear some copies could be showing up at the much better conventions too). Yet obviously Drive Thru RPG is an crucial distributor, and I’m pleased individuals could be able to stumble upon my schedule also if they’ve never ever heard of it.

They paraphrased my title as “The Unsatisfactory Pilgrim’s Almanack” too. That’s pretty harsh for a robotThey didn’t even have the decency to include a link to buy my damn book. But they are like #5 or 6 on the Google hit list if you search “Poor pilgrim’s almanack” (as I might do occasionally to see if anyone has taken notice of it).

As a librarian, I’ve run into some really shady operations that publish books this way swiping Wikipedia entries, which they’d be allowed to do if they gave proper attribution, but then no-one would buy their crap books, so they leave out the attribution. When people started catching on to this, the next evasive action was to paraphrase the articles, much like my post was paraphrased above. It gets dangerous though with some of these — I’ve seen books like this on various medical and legal topics, which could probably get someone killed or in jail.

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Beautiful Mutants!

The guy who runs the “2 Warps to Neptune” blog started an online magazine, “We are the mutants.” Check it out!

The image isn’t on 2W2N or WATM, as far as I know, but it used to have Duty Now for the Future on LP and never forgot the image.

Club Devo ad from the inner sleeve of "Duty now for the future." Original image source: Wikimedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/Club_Devo.jpg

Club Devo ad from the inner sleeve of “Duty now for the future.” Original image source: Wikimedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/Club_Devo.jpg

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 9:17 am  Comments (1)  
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Vor Da-Da war, da war Da-Da

A cautionary tale. Ish.

So back in grad school, some 20 years ago, another student shared his amusement with the German phrase “Vor Da-Da war, da war Da-Da,” which we translated as “Before there was Da-Da, there was Da-Da.” It just sounds funny, but it is also probably true. He could not remember where he’d heard it first and I forgot all about it, until for whatever reason I recalled it. So I decided to try Googling the phrase. That was not something you could do back when I first wondered about where it came from. So my Googling turned up exactly one hit, which led to a question I’d sent to a listserv 20 years ago (asking participants of a list discussing a German philosopher not associated with Da-Da if they might have heard the phrase). It was easy to navigate from there to the larger archive of listervs, and see all the posts ever made to it. I wasn’t the most active participant of the list during my stint, but it was a little bit like reading letters from old friends.

It was a listserv that changed hands a few times and technically seems to still be “active” in the sense that you can try to join it, but in reality all that it shows for the past dozen years are monthly announcements from some other mailing list. Reviewing older stuff, though, it was pretty interesting to see what other topics I’d asked about, and what I’d answered to other people’s questions, and in general what online conversations between strangers looked like back then. In fact even the most “heated” exchanges are pretty tame by today’s standards.

So the cautionary part of this tale is that the stuff I posted to that listserv was mostly harmless and mostly not embarrassing, and I’m glad about that because at the time, it was a private listserv that you had to join to see the archives, but by the magic of intertoobing you can actually find all the posts everyone made back then. Back before keyword searching of everything digital was an option, back before people had surrendered all expectation of privacy online, back before your words posted to an obscure academic discussion list might come back to haunt you, the posts were made somewhat innocently. I guess there is no way to be sure how long such things will continue to exist “out there” on servers, but it is a good reminder that any time you write something online, you are writing in permanent ink.

Apropos nothing, “Da-da” is also a pretty great Alice Cooper album, one of the ones he now has no memory of writing or performing because of his struggles with addiction in the early 1980s.

Published in: on April 8, 2016 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Podcasts

Here’s a brief rundown of some podcasts I’ve been listening to during my commutes and during some the more routine tasks I do at home or work. Not all are swords and/or dorkery related.

Save or Die! : a podcast about OD&D and the various “Basic” sets and their clones. This one is worth listening to only when the guest is a good one (e.g. John Peterson) or they are covering an interesting old supplement. Most of the time, there is far too much chit-chat among the hosts. My issue with the hosts is that they are very prone to saying some opinion or ruling they prefer is the only one that “makes sense” without making much effort to understand alternatives. That just gets on my nerves. YMMV. B.

Nerd Poker : a podcast about Brian Posehn and some comedian friends of his playing D&D. This is definitely not for people who are hung up on rules, as they stumbled through 4th edition for something like 30 sessions before giving up and going back to 2nd edition, which they actually don’t seem to understand any better than 4th. But this the only “actual play” podcast I’ve liked, because the table talk is always pretty funny and the campaign settings have been imaginative, even though the actual play part is mostly horrifically slow combat. Table talk is probably 50% or more of the run time, meaning they rarely finish an encounter in one episode if it involves combat. A.

System Mastery : A podcast devoted to making fun of RPGs, I think. I’ve only actually listened to one episode (about the Galloway Fantasy Wargaming), and I probably picked a bad one to start with because I actually know a fair amount about this one and have a soft spot for it. In this case they went directly after the low hanging fruit (sexist comments in the literature review, stat mods for females) but they did give some begrudging kudos for the magic and religion ideas. Listening was a good reminder about how incredibly easy it is be snarky and hypercritical of something if you studiously ignore context and only half pay attention. (I don’t think the podcasters here would disagree, since they bragged about doing “no research” and made a lot of bizarre errors about history.) As a comedy podcast, it had its moments though, and I’ll check out a few more before firming up an opinion. C.

Heavy Metal Historian : I don’t know how I found this one, but it is not bad at all. Each episode looks at some part of the development of and influences on heavy metal or a subgenre within it. The narration is mixed with excerpts of music and from interviews or documentaries, and this is a big plus. I was kind of impressed with an early episode that illustrated the influence of classical music on Black Sabbath (cf. Holst’s “Mars, the bringer of war” juxtaposed with Black Sabbath’s eponymous song), and I really like being able to hear snatches of obscure bands that I’ve heard *of* but never heard. A.

Welcome to Nightvale : I know this one has been around a long time and has been praised to death elsewhere but so far I’m really enjoying this too. I can’t listen to it at work for fear of laughing out loud. If you haven’t heard of it, it is supposedly a broadcast from a small town in Arizona where rivalry with the neighboring town, eccentric locals, and cosmic horror are all facts of life. A+.

Stuff you should knowStuff to blow your mind / Stuff they don’t want you to know: Howstuffworks.com has a whole portfolio of podcasts, blogs, and whatever the word is for video podcasts. So far I’ve really enjoyed a lot of them. In particular I’d recommend the ones on Vultures, Ergotism, spiders, and of course Dungeons & Dragons. A.

WTF with Marc Maron: This one is evidently really well-known too, I am late to the party, whatever. Comedian Marc Maron just has really in-depth conversations with people. The best on I’ve listened to so far is with Wyatt Cenac, a distant second is Jason Bateman. Bob Guccione Jr. was great too. Maron has a way of really probing his subjects and getting them to open up in a way you don’t often hear. A+

 

Published in: on October 8, 2015 at 6:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Random plots

I saw this web site, “The story starter,” recently — it was highlighted in a blog about writers. It just generates randomized sentences, and they are kind of goofy. Some examples:

The absent-minded dentist dialed the cell phone in Fort Knox on Wednesday for the Russians.

The religious trivia whiz jumped near the hidden room during the heatwave to clear the record.

The smart diamond cutter spoiled the joke near the huge truck four days ago to cover things up.

There is something to be said for specificity, but with so many random clauses, there’s almost too much to incorporate.

But the “junior” version is pretty cool. The prompts it generates are much simpler, and more evocative because of that.  Here are some examples:

The flower grower was following a treasure map near the volcano.

The fisherman was looking for clues on the moon.

The writer was crying near the lake.

See? There’s a lot less to go on, but for me anyway that gives the imagination more of a spur. Why is the writer crying, and why at the lake? is an interesting question that allows the story be sad, scary, funny, or whatever; the adult version sentences, being more detailed, seem to have fewer possibilities.

Naturally my thoughts also turned to using these sorts of things for quick adventure prompts for D&D. I started looking around for other story prompts or plot generators and was surprised at how many there are.

I particularly like a fairytale plot generator here and a fantasy plot generator at the same site. Actually I pretty much stopped looking once I got to that site. There is a full list of its plot-generators here. If you happen to roll up an interesting one, why not leave it in a comment here?

Published in: on May 25, 2015 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bookjacking is a real thing, a real sh;tty thing

So I’ve never been terribly fond of Amazon.com for many reasons (they are a giant welfare queen, they put b&m bookstores out of business, the Kindle is disposable rather than repairable, … feel free to add your own grievances to the list).

But today I learned of yet another atrocity. In this case it is not really Amazon’s fault, though it is something they tolerate and apparently make no effort to stop. I am talking about “bookjacking” — the practice of using software to find books listed on one but not another book seller site (Amazon, Abebooks, Half.com, etc.) and automatically relisting said item on the other sites, at a markup. And by “markup” I mean a potentially huge markup. Though you could say “caveat emptor” and yeah you should probably shop around, the fact is that they are exploiting and hurting consumers, plain and simple. By automating this process, these phony sellers are able generate sales, and feedback, so that they look legit, even though they just act as middlemen and do nothing but run algorithms through the sites. A more detailed explanation of the process is here at Zubal Books’ site.  Do not patronize the bookjackers identified there.

If you are like me, you occasionally purchase out of print titles. These bookjackers drive up prices  and use deceptive advertisements (see Zubal Books above — the bookjackers use weasel words and ambiguous, generic descriptions because they are not examining the merchandise, they never see it). If you want to see what bookjacking looks like for RPG titles, see this listing (it will no doubt change over time but as of this writing there are listings for the Judges Guild “Dark Tower” module with prices all ranging from $115 to over $325, and all the conditions are blank or generic BS like this: “Item may show signs of shelf wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. Includes supplemental or companion materials if applicable. Access codes may or may not work. Connecting readers since 1972. Customer service is our top priority.” (emphasis added)

<Update!> A colleague suggested another way to check if a seller is bookjacking:

Check to see if they offer expedited shipping. They cannot because they do not have the book in hand. This also applies to a seller supplying a print on demand title. In addition, this will separate out sellers who allegedly are located in the US but ship from the UK–or Norway or India or wherever.

 

Published in: on December 5, 2014 at 11:27 pm  Comments (45)  
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Another one bites the dust

If you have followed any blogs over the past few years you have probably noticed sites that die, and perhaps even get deleted by their owners, only to return some time later as bullshit advertisements.  The latest one I happened to notice is the Retronaut blog, which used to have amazing old-timey photographs and articles about historical curiosities.  But if you go to http://www.howtobearetronaut.com/ now, you get a typical ‘squatter’ site — in this case with “reviews” of “books” on miracle cures.  I don’t know how long ago this happened, as I have not been as active as a blog reader lately, but WTF!

I bet a good many links on my own blog now point to squatter sites but I have never gone back to fix them, because in some cases I was holding out hope that the blog or site would return, or in others because I have been meaning to see if anything is cached in archive.org.  I suppose I should work on that, because any ill-gained traffic those sites are getting from me must stop.  If you happen to notice and dead or broken links while you are here, do let me know.

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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The internette has arrived!

So recently I stumbled across wimp.com, a curated collection of interesting videos which are all “family friendly” and (as far as I have seen) ad-free.  So it is basically a very small subset of the videos you might find on Youtube or Vimeo — a video version of the Internette.  Granted there are only a handful of guinea pig videos, but you can search “guinea pig” on wimp.com and not stumble onto a trailer for Gini piggu 2.*  This is a useful feature if you occasionally browse videos with your kid.

The videos it does have tend to be a mix of animals, educational shorts, music performances (skewed toward the unusual), and animation.  The curators accept submissions but basically accept only things they find interesting, family-friendly (not defined but I’m guessing no strong language, no violence, no sex), and not “sensationalistic” (? I think they mean nothing disturbing or upsetting?).   They add about 4 or 5 videos a day, so the content is much more limited than something like Youtube, and they tend to prefer shorter videos, citing the preference of their audience of children and seniors.  Wimp.com does not allow comments, which is something Youtube probably wish they’d thought not to do.

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*I’m not sure Youtube even has  a trailer for this particular film, but you know what I mean.

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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Rennes-le-Chateau

I was looking for an image of a venomous sheep (no, really) when I stumbled upon a blog dedicated to various conspiracy theories surrounding the church in Rennes-le-Chateau in France.  Astute readers might recognize that as one of the epicenters of the theory documented in the conspiracy book Holy blood, Holy Grail, and used as a plot point in The Da Vinci code.

But apparently that’s just one of the conspiracies linked to this place.  Another one, which could be torn from a D&D campaign, claims that the parish priest discovered part of a vast treasure which he used to renovate the place in the 19th century.  It was supposedly part of king’s ransom (literally — the ransom collected for Louis the IX of France who was captured during the crusades).  The full value was supposed to exceed 28 million gold pieces, and of course most is supposed to be still missing.  Another thread of the tale mentions that a carved figure of a devil which supports a holy water font is claimed, by the  villagers, to be  one of the former parish priests who had been turned into a devil because of his wickedness. The actual source of the renovating priests’ funds is now known to be his scam of selling thousands of masses and prayers for the dead by mail, which he never performed.

Anyway the website (which has very long articles and posts, so long that I am not even sure if the blogger believes any of these conspiracy theories!)  has lots of images and legends that should be fun to run with as a DM. So far it reads like an extended riff on an article from Suppressed Transmissions — a straight-faced report on conspiracies that may not be true but which are very convoluted and could provide some crazy plots for a game, including weird cults and rituals, strange imagery, and a number of questionable people.

Published in: on July 10, 2013 at 8:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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