Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Email Lists: CAN-SPAM Compliance

17 May 2015

Best Practices: CAN-SPAM Compliance header graphic
I just went through a bunch of (non-writer) email lists I was on, and realized that a whole bunch of them weren’t even pretending to comply with US anti-spam laws, even for people/companies sending commercial email in the United States.
So here are the two biggies if you’re sending commercial emails of any sort:

  1. You need to offer the recipient a way to opt out. Then honor that request!
  2. You need to provide a real street address, though this can be for a mailbox. Unfortunately, this requirement keeps a lot of female writers from creating email lists. (Sorry, I don’t have a good solution to that.) I’ll just add that the mailbox doesn’t have to be in your town, but it’s likely that it’ll have to be somewhere convenient to you.
    Note that even if you’re located outside the US, many mailing list providers require that you still comply with CAN-SPAM, though they may not require you to disclose your full physical address. (I’m not certain if other countries do.)

The catch is: what’s a commercial email? The FTC guide is quite good.

My Own CAN-SPAM Saga

  1. February 13th, I bought a WordPress plugin that I liked. This was written by one company (whom I’ll call the developer) and launched in partnership with another company (and I’ve kept the relationship with the launch partner, whom I otherwise like).
    When I got some spare time, I set it up, then was having issues with my site. I went to look at the error logs and discovered this plugin was just SPEWING stuff to the logs because it was trying to write to the plugin directory. (Which is a bad practice.)
    The specific file (an error logger) wasn’t written by either company, by the way, but five years ago by an Iranian developer who was apparently in high school at the time. There’s nothing hideously wrong with it (given a quick reading) apart from where it’s trying to write to, but it’s clearly PHP code that was written for command-line stuff and not PHP code that was intended for a WordPress plugin. Hence, the log file’s location was not as important.
  2. March 1, I filed a bug with the launch partner (per instructions given), giving them the line of code and the log file. (It’s not my job, you know? I’m just a nicer person than I should be sometimes.) The ticket’s updated saying they’ll get with the developer.
  3. We go on a cruise, so I don’t check back for a couple weeks. March 19th, I file for a refund request. They offer me an alternate purchase, but I say no, and I receive my refund on March 22nd.
  4. I’m still on the developer’s email list, and I finally realize there is no unsubscribe link. Every time I get an email from him, I’m reminded of the product I really wanted to love but felt let down by. I try to unsubscribe. No luck.
    I file another ticket (my third!) on April 16th to say I can’t get off the developer’s email list and that their email doesn’t comply with CAN-SPAM. What do I get from support?

    Honestly speaking, we know that [developer] is not doing any kind of illegal stuffs and that’s one of the main reason we have partnered with him. We are aware of Can-Spam and we follow all the rules strictly.

    Yay, gaslighting. My response, excerpted:

    With respect, I wish that [launch partner] would listen when I raise an issue. (And I know all about Apple, I was a software engineer there for more than 5 years.)
    There are two specific requirements that [developer] is not complying with: 1) method of unsubscribing, 2) street address. He has NO links to unsubscribe. He does not respond when I’ve emailed him. That’s not okay.

    …and then I give a simple workaround for the problem I reported in the first ticket that would take less than an hour to fix.

  5. The next commercial email I received from developer (!) had an unsubscribe link. I clicked the link. CAN-SPAM allows the commercial enterprise up to ten days. I took screen shots of three times, responding to three different mailings, over a period of a couple of weeks. Sadly, I accidentally deleted them while I was moving files around sometime while my mom’s been in the hospital.
    So here’s where it hits a problem: many people who have commercial websites want to do some form of content locking, where part of the site’s content is only available to people who are on their email list. But email lists are typically through third-party providers. So this developer had the opt-out go through his site rather than directly to the third-party email provider. I understand the (likely) reasoning, but if that’s not working, then you need to push through the unsubscribes manually until it is working. (And test your code better!)
  6. With my mom going to the hospital, I kind of lost track of how long it had been, but every 2-3 days, I’d get another email from the developer. On May 14th, I was finally certain it had been 10 days since my last request, so I wrote to the abuse department of his third-party email provider. They suspended him pending an investigation, and blocked his ability to send to me.
  7. Yesterday, I received another email from You Know Who, which surprised me given the suspension. Viewing the source showed why: developer was using a different third-party email provider…who has since suspended him.

And I wonder how long I’m going to have to play whack-a-mole just to not continually be reminded of the mistake of trusting the wrong company. Yes, I could filter out his emails, but that’s not the point.
Thing is, I still think the original idea was pretty cool, and I’m wistful that it’s turned into this rather than being the cool product I wanted it to be.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If it were legal advice, it would be accompanied by a bill.

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Disrupting Demographics: Nixon's War on Drugs

16 May 2015

Nixon and Elvis: War on Drugs
Most of the people I know in the US have lived their entire lives after the War on Drugs started.
John Ehrlichman, Counsel and Assistant to President Nixon:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Interviewed in 1992 by journalist Dan Baum, author of Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure, full quote in “Truth, Lies, and Audiotape” by Dan Baum (2012). You can read the book’s first chapter here. The first chapter covers some interesting side topics, including the genesis of Cheech and Chong. It also covers Lloyd Johnston’s annual survey of 2,200 high school students:

What drugs have you used? Johnston’s survey asked. Have you used them in the last year? The last month? The last week? How accessible are drugs? Johnston also included questions about alcohol and tobacco.
When the questionnaires were processed, it emerged, unsurprisingly, that tobacco was the-most widely used drug among high school students and about a third of them smoked it every day. Alcohol was next, predictably, with about one-fifth of the students drinking once or twice a week and another fifth once or twice a month.
What surprised Johnston was that nearly 80 percent of the group had never smoked marijuana. Barely I percent smoked every day. Other drugs were hardly visible; neither heroin nor cocaine had ever been tried by nine-tenths of the sample. The kids were pretty clean: black, white, rich, poor, grind, and dropout.
This was news, Johnston thought. In the book he and his team rushed together, Johnston wrote that “there certainly was not a widespread “epidemic, of illegal drug use among these high school students as the popular press had suggested.” His interpretation: American youth are “less radical” and “more traditional” than their public image would indicate. “In fact, their continuing adherence to traditional practices—namely, the-widespread use-of alcohol and cigarettes—may ultimately be the most important fact about youthful drug practices to emerge from this study” (emphasis in the original).

Now, granted, I was eight in 1968, but it sure seemed like things went obviously truly crazy for a few years between then and 1974 or so.
The photo, where President Nixon met with Elvis Presley after Elvis requested to be made a federal agent at large to help fight the war on drugs. Irony, of course, given the role of drugs in Elvis’s own shortened life span.
One of the books that formed my thoughts on America’s drug policy was Thomas Szasz’s Our Right to Drugs., which is basically a libertarian look at drugs (and suffers from many of the libertarian perspective problems, granted). What stuck with me is one of the analogies he used. When someone injures themselves skiing, we don’t call it ski abuse. When they injure themselves with a chainsaw, we don’t say they have a chainsaw problem. But if they injure themselves with drugs, it’s abuse. Why should one get special pejorative language?

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We're Skipping RT Booklovers Convention

12 May 2015

RT Booklovers Convention header graphic
This was supposed to be my first year attending the RT Booklovers convention. I booked my membership and hotel early, Rick decided to come, and we booked our flights.
Naturally with my mother in the ICU, that has to come first. Rick volunteered to stay behind, but I know that I’d be constantly fretting if I’d missed a message, if I were needed for something. Plus, my mom would rather I stay, and that’s important.
Of course, I’m sad to miss RT Booklovers.
I’ve read a few of the winning or nominated books, but there are oh so many I haven’t read, too.

RT Booklovers Convention: Crowdsourcing the Fun

If you’re going to RT Booklovers, I’d love to hear about or see:

  1. A fun moment you had at the convention.
  2. A new book you’re excited about (in any romance/romantic elements genre).
  3. Fun times you had meeting an author.
  4. Or, if you’re an author, your best fan story from the convention.
  5. Selfies!
  6. Convention reports and links to same.
  7. Which of the award winners was your personal favorite? Were any of the acceptance speeches particularly funny or good?

You don’t have to know me—if you go, I’d love to hear something fun. It’s also totally okay to share this post with others.

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Things Are Looking Up

11 May 2015

Kitesurfing in California
This a continuation of the medical saga that began here.
Where we were as of a couple of hours ago:

  • Mom’s still in the ICU, and probably will be for at least a couple of days more. They’ve been able to keep her stable without surgery, which is good because then she’ll be more likely to survive it.
  • She still needs surgery (and recovery from same) before she can come home—and will need it before they step her down out of the ICU. Otherwise it can happen all over again.
  • Most of her numbers are vastly improved. She’s able to write almost normal size now, so her motor control’s a lot better with the current medication regimen. One of the meds I’ve been on and it makes you shaky.

I’ll add updates to this post rather than to the comments.

How The Cat Is Holding Up

I started writing this post because I wanted to say something about how our cat Tanner is handling it. We got our cat at a local shelter five years ago. Tanner bonded to my mom as her Primary Person, and she’s been just distraught since mom’s gone. Obviously, we don’t smell like mom when we come home, because hospital mom doesn’t smell like Tanner expects.
One of Tanner’s quirks is that during any period of time (and I mean weeks or months), the cat will have only one “spot” in the house. Or no spots in the house. Sometimes that’s my ottoman, but usually it’s mom’s bed. The other thing is that the cat spends most of her time outdoors, even when it’s cold and wet. She doesn’t spend time indoors when we’re not around, typically.
Rick and I (and our friend Duncan) had just gotten home from the hospital and we were calling the cat to get her to come to the back door and come in. After quite a while of that, she decided to show up from inside the house—she’d been in mom’s room all along.
Awwww.

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The Way Things Look from Here (Rather Bad)

07 May 2015

First, for those of you who don’t know, my mom’s been in the hospital. The short version is that she’d had a gallstone, and that had caused diarrhea and vomiting, and she went to the ER a week ago Tuesday.

They transferred her to a hospital room. A few days ago, it looked like she’d be getting out of the hospital, and they’d do the gallbladder surgery in a few weeks when everything had calmed down.
Then she took a turn for the worse three days ago. Not a huge turn, just a slight detour. She wasn’t getting out of the hospital after all. She’d seemed better the day before yesterday, per Rick, and then somewhat more fragile last night. Not hugely so, just somewhat.

One of the things she’s complained about over the last few days is pain from a hernia that has needed repair. That, as it turns out, has been a huge factor in the cascading crisis.

I got a call at 4 am from the hospital saying they had to transfer her to the ICU. She’d gone into atrial fibrillation, and they needed to stabilize her.

I got another call at 8:30 in the morning. They had her somewhat stabilized, but there was a bigger problem: the hernia’s completely blocked, preventing things draining normally through the gastrointestinal system.

Which means, of course, she vomited up the fluids, got a significant bunch in one lung, which is called aspiration pneumonia. So she’s on 100% oxygen to help with that.

As a complication of all this, she’s also got sepsis, and they need to go in there to fix the hernia.

Except that she’s got one of the classic side effects of atrial fibrillation (and everything else: low blood pressure. They had to put her on two meds to bring her blood pressure up to a workable range.

And anesthesia will lower it. (Okay, this is an oversimplification, but a) I’m not a specialist in this area, and b) I have had two hours of sleep, so that’s as complicated as I can be right now.)

They just get her heart rhythm back to normal with defibrillation (but defib increases risk of stroke), and they think they have her stable enough to do the emergency surgery.

There are also renal failure complications and she may need to be on dialysis, but they can’t do that now because dialysis also lowers the blood pressure.

It’s a big cascade failure and they are doing what they can, but it’s pretty touch and go right now. The heart rhythm improvement is the first positive sign we’ve had since she was admitted to the ICU.

Lessons Learned

My mom had been putting off the hernia repair surgery, and things wouldn’t have gone sideways this far if that had already been done. If you or someone you know have been putting hernia repair off, please show them this.

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Writing Beginnings and Endings

06 May 2015

writing: beginnings and endings
Chuck Wendig had a great post yesterday about writing.
Once upon a time, I sat in a writing workshop class: a critique circle with a bunch of other writers. The piece we were critiquing was another classmate’s novel chapter, and everyone else but the workshop leader had gone. I was up.
“What I liked most about this chapter is that it has a classic narrative structure used very effectively.”
At that point, I had everyone’s full attention, and I could see that half the class didn’t understand what I meant.
The character, a woman, had an objective when she showed up at someone’s door. As I recall, she was looking for something. She failed to achieve her goal because the person she asked didn’t have what she wanted. However, in the meantime, the other party in the scene told her something interesting that she hadn’t previously known. Offhand, I can’t remember if it was directly related to the scene’s goal or not, but it was related to why she was looking for what she was looking for.
In short form: she had a goal and motivation behind that goal, she attempted, failed, then got new information, and left the scene in a slightly different direction than she came in: with a modified goal.
It’s not the only possible scene structure, but it’s a common scene and chapter structure in longer work. If you look at most of Chuck’s list of what a novel consists of, basically points 2-9 are some variant of the above, though I’d personally throw the character a bone or two for an upbeat chapter. “Yay, we got somewhere!”

Lessons from Being a First Reader

As someone who’s read slush (unsolicited manuscripts), I thought I’d talk a little about what I learned doing that for the three markets I’ve read for.
Most newer writers have no idea where to start the story. It seems to be the hardest part. We write our way into the story. The most important lesson here: where you start writing isn’t necessarily the start of the story.
Let’s take a hypothetical short story about a high school football player. (I don’t play or watch football, so forgive any lack of sports-fu on my part.) Let’s say our dude in question has recovered from an injury, but hasn’t fully mentally realized it yet. He’s avoiding something because of fear of being injured again.
The ending of the story’s fairly obvious: he goes for it, and he succeeds, and all is well and right and just in the world. Oh, and his team scores…and maybe even wins. But the big victory is that he’s recovered.
So…where to start the story?
The general rule is: as late as possible. There’s a 35% chance the newbie writer starts writing with the player waking up, but that’s the part you edit out. One could also start with the doctor’s office visit, a talk with the parents, and the coach’s pep talks. Etc. I’m not saying these can’t work, because anything can work if you do it right.
Our player has the ball, has that momentary rush, and he sees someone else coming, and he chickens out. That gives opportunity for some great self-loathing, some yelling at by the coach, threats that his girlfriend (or boyfriend) will leave him if he doesn’t snap out of it, and of course the fear that his college scholarship will vaporize.
Then there’s that moment where everything changes for him—whatever that is—and he works through it. Victory, followed by the end.

Writing Beginnings that Match Endings; Writing Endings that Match Beginnings

The best way I’ve heard the structure described is by Karen Joy Fowler when she was my Clarion instructor. Paraphrased:
The ending of the story should be the ending to the story you started at the beginning of the book. The beginning of the story should be the beginning of the story you ended the book with.
They’re bookends.
If you take just your first and last chapter (and/or first and last scene, and/or first and last paragraph), do they go together? Do they feel like they’re from the same piece?
If not, there’s something to work on.

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The 2015 Locus Award Finalists

04 May 2015

Locus Awards header graphic
Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top five finalists in each category of the 2015 Locus Awards. I note that Connie Willis will MC the award ceremony at the Locus Awards Weekend.

Science Fiction Novel

Fantasy Novel

Young Adult Book

First Novel

Novella

Novelette

Short Story

Anthology

Collection

Magazine

  • Asimov’s
  • Clarkesworld
  • F&SF
  • Lightspeed
  • Tor.com

Publisher

Editor

  • John Joseph Adams
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Gardner Dozois
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Artist

  • Jim Burns
  • John Picacio
  • Shaun Tan
  • Charles Vess
  • Michael Whelan

Non-Fiction

Art Book

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Like an Octopus

04 May 2015

friends-come-and-go
Someone on facebook mentioned wanting this in a plaque form, so I decided to get out the spiffy digital papers and have a go at it.

Design element credits

Polka dotted background: Uber Grunge 13 by Joyful Heart Designs
Solid inner: Solidified Seven by Joyful Heart Designs
Typeface: La Paz from TipoType

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Hugo Award Voting Now Open

02 May 2015

hugo-awards
Hugo Award voting is now open. Voting closes Friday July 31, 2015, 11:59 PM PDT.
In order to vote, you must be a member of Sasquan, this year’s Worldcon. If you’re not currently a member of this year’s Worldcon, you can join as a supporting member for $40 or as an attending member for $210. The convention will be held from August 19-23 in Spokane, Washington.
For your reference, should you wish to use it, I’ve updated The Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide for what (I hope!) is the last time, including those who withdrew their nominations. The full ballot can be found here.
May the odds be ever in your favor.

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Getting Past the Attack Narrative

01 May 2015

Getting Past the Attack Narrative
When does something become an “attack” online?
Serious question.
Let’s say that two people, Jane and Cait, are both authors.
Jane says something that involves Cait, only she uses a word incorrectly. Cait responds that, hey, that word used that way and applied to me in that context is offensive. And Cait’s right.
Why is Cait then accused of “attacking” Jane?
After all, these are words, the tools of both of their craft. Is not their increased understanding of them in both of their interests?
Wouldn’t one typically expect Jane to apologize for using a word incorrectly and hurting Cait’s feelings by doing so?

A More Complex Example

Let’s take a more complex variant of the above.
Sarah hears Jane say something that involves Cait, using a word incorrectly. Sarah understands it to mean the common meaning of the word. She writes about it, but doesn’t name Jane.
Ken reads Sarah’s comment, then says something about it where Cait hears. Cait responds that, hey, that word used that way and applied to me in that context is offensive. And Cait’s right.
Then Sarah says I wrote that, and the person who said it is Jane. While Sarah misunderstood part of what happened, what she did not misunderstand was the word.
And there’s a huge pile-on, in the middle of which Jane reveals that she hadn’t used the word the way Sarah, Cait, and Ken understood it to be used (i.e., the way it is commonly used), and that Jane was using the word in a non-standard way.

  • Ken apologizes.
  • Cait apologizes.
  • Sarah apologizes.
  • While Jane accepts all of their apologies, she does not herself apologize.

Yet, were it not for what Jane said, and others’ over-reading of the intended meaning because of Jane’s misuse of the word, none of this would have happened.
Substitute names as appropriate, and you have the skeletal structure of what happened 1-2 days ago.

Abusing the Word “Attack”

When you use the word “attack,” you absolve yourself and the people you see as your allies of apologizing or behaving well.
I’m considering removing anyone who uses the word in a non-physical sense from all my social media. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, too, and I know it’s a hard habit to break.
Instead, try to consider what actually happened in that moment without characterizing it, either to yourself or to others, as an attack.

Criticizing Content Is Not Criticizing the Speaker

Often I see “attack” used for criticizing the content of what someone said as opposed to criticizing the person.
I totally get how it can be hard to separate the two, especially when it happens to you. Been there, made that mistake. However, it’s one I’d expect writers to be, on average, less likely to make given the prevalence of Clarion-style critiquing.

Us vs. Them

I incorporate by reference this brilliant post from Jim C. Hines.
If I have information that will clarify a situation, regardless of whether or not I like the person it helps and also regardless of what it will cost me in so-called friends, I will bring it up. Principles before personalities. (Am I perfect at this? No, of course not. I also don’t seek things out, so I can and do miss such opportunities.)
Also, if I’m in contact with you, there is something I admire about you. I’ve been friendly with very contradictory sets of people, and I’m able to accept that everyone’s a mix of good and bad—and hold that complexity in my head.
If you’re one of my contacts, I don’t expect you to like everyone else. I don’t expect you to understand what I see in other people.

Connotation of Unprovoked

“Attack” used this way also carries the connotation of “unprovoked.”
If, instead, we look at the events above as a misunderstanding and clarification, rather than an “attack,” we can learn from it.
You know, build a community rather than destroy it.
Just a thought.

The Header Image Background

The header image background is a photo I took of the battering surface of an M60 Patton tank. It seemed an appropriate choice.

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