Wednesday, 24 January 2024

The debacle around the 2023 Hugo Awards

I’m not going to go over the drama surrounding the 2023 Hugo Awards that erupted following the release of the nomination stats. File 770, Cora Buhlert and Camestros Felapton have detailed analysis and commentary, if you want the gory details (it’s even made the mainstream media!).  There’s been some great analysis around the blogophere, but, as you’d expect, there’s a degree of hysteria as well, with some commentators suggesting that the awards are, or could become, irrevocably tarnished. I think this is a definite overreaction.  I agree this is different to what happened during Puppy-gate, because this time it’s the award process itself that is under question, not an external group trying to game the awards, which themselves remain transparent.  This time round, there’s no transparency at all, with obfuscation and diversion from Dave McCarty, the Hugo administrator for this year.

But, for me, at least, this is very much a 2023 problem, not a problem with the awards as a whole.  I think the lesson to learn here is to not let McCarty have oversight of the awards, and that people will be watching Glasgow very closely (as they should), but I think there’s enough eyeballs on the awards to ensure that either their integrity remains intact, or that (as in this case) any meddling is caught quickly – I think the full 2023 stats had been up for only hours before the first social media and blog posts about the anomalies started going up.  The community cares about these awards.  There’s pride that they’re regularly referred to as the leading awards in the SFF field and I think this love is already being demonstrated in not just the detailed analysis of the stats, but also all the attention being paid to the WSFS constitution and its structures to try and find a way to prevent this from happening again.

In the end, since each WorldCon is an entirely independent beast, we can’t say that a previous mess will necessarily infect the next one, since there will (almost certainly) be entirely different groups of people running them (and hopefully willing to learn lessons from their predecessors).  I’ve got no answers myself, but I’ve got faith that the community will work something out.

Saturday, 13 January 2024

Favourite books of 2023

According to GoodReads, I read 115 books in 2023.  I review them all over at BooksOfTheMoon, but I thought I’d pull out some of my highlights of the year.  Since I’ve already reviewed them, I’m not going say much about them, but I will link to the full review.

  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi
    A really fun popcorn book of escaping lockdown to work for a society that preserves kaiju.  Everything you need to know about this book is in the title
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree
    Warm, comforting and sweet.  I’d make a comparison to some sort of fancy coffee drink, but I don’t like coffee and know nothing about it, but this low-stakes story was a big hug of a novel
  • Bookshops & Bonedust, by Travis Baldree
    The prequel to Legends & Lattes sees a young Viv making friends with a bookshop owner.  Every bit as delightful as the first book.
  • The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, by Sangu Mandanna
    I’ve read more romance (mostly romantasy) this year than usual and I adored this story of a lonely witch finding love and family with a grumpy (Northern Irish!) librarian
  • Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki
    A story of belonging and acceptance, love and music.  Heartbreaking at times, but utterly wonderful
  • Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar
    A book where the writing reminded me of Ray Bradbury, in the best way. Wonderful lyricism and characters, albeit not much in the way of plot

And a couple of series to round things off.

  • I was introduced to the Gobbelino London books by a friend a few years ago, and have thoroughly enjoyed this snarky cat PI and his bumbling human sidekick, trying to make living as supernatural PIs in Leeds.  The first book in the series is Gobbelino London & a Scourge of Pleasantries and the whole series is currently on Kindle Unlimited
  • I picked up the first Beware of Chicken book on a whim, because it was also on Kindle Unlimited, and proceeded to tear through the whole series.  In what is a bit of a theme for me over the last few years, it’s sweet, full of found family and the peril is mild at worst (at least until the third book).  I’m now reading through the newer stuff as it’s being written on Royal Road since the current volume is still ongoing

So there’s your lot.  If you’ve read and enjoyed (or, indeed, hated!) any of them, I’d love to hear about it.  Leave a comment here, on the review itself, or ping me on social media (see the sidebar to the left).

Thursday, 11 January 2024

On leaving Twitter

When I first heard of Twitter, I really didn’t get it at all.  It was only several years later, after I got my first smartphone, at the start of the last decade, that I started to get an inkling of the point of microblogging.  I signed up for an account and quickly got hooked.  Just over a decade later, I’ve finally given up on the platform.  Not microblogging as a whole, just on Twitter.  One of the things I loved about Twitter was that everyone was there.  From my real-world pals, to people working in my industry, to celebrities, to journalists, to companies.  You could keep up with breaking news; you could complain about a company, and stuff would often get done; and you could just post memes at your friends.

It wasn’t perfect.  Content moderation was never as strong as it should have been, and when everyone’s there, that attracts bad actors, trolls, mischief makers and so forth.  But it was never bad enough to drive me away.  Until Musk took over, and made everything ten times worse.  I nearly stopped when he killed third-party clients, but I grumbled and made the move to the official (and much worse) client; but when I realised that my feed was mostly just news, companies and adverts, I just gave up.  The fun stuff that used to intersperse the doom was gone.

I didn’t stop immediately.  I had had a Mastodon account for some time, and so went back to have another look.  Lots of people were jumping ship and creating Mastodon accounts, so I had  bunch of people to follow.  But I’d also still drop in on Twitter regularly.  A few months later, Jennie emailed me asking if I’d like a BlueSky invite, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I now split my time between the two platforms, which have a different feel to them, and eventually stopped checking Twitter entirely.  Mastodon still feels like the Linux of social media, despite various changes to improve the experience of people joining the service a number of things still feel clunky; whereas BlueSky seems more mainstream (albeit oh so horny!).  It’s also still in beta, which, of course, affects the feel of it (if we’re friends, and you’re not yet on BlueSky and would like to be, ping me for an invite).

So I’m still on social media and microblogging.  But also, I think that people should go back to writing longer form thoughts on their own blogs, which won’t be vulnerable to awful billionaires buying them up and destroying them.  And we should bring back RSS for aggregation (I still don’t understand why the BBC dropped RSS on their journalists’ blogs, but then, the BBC have made some baffling decisions regarding their news site over the last few years).  I was scarred by Google killing Reader, so rather than move to one of the other cloud-hosted services, which might also just disappear, I set up a web server on a Raspberry Pi and run my own RSS aggregator there.

Twitter at its best was a wonderful thing, and I don’t think we’ll see something like that again, as social media is now fragmented into all all these different services.  But like I say, I’m not going to stop microblogging.  I’m on these services and I’m going to keep posting on both of them for the moment.  Until the next calamity, when I guess I’ll move on again.  I’ll even try to post here a bit more frequently.

Tuesday, 9 January 2024

End of an era

Some of the first posts I ever made on the first version of this blog, back in the early years of the new century, were about ObSys, the online course management system that I’d been working on.  Yesterday I logged the ticket to finally shut down the server that it lives on, and that was actioned today.  After over twenty years of faithful service, ObSys is no more.

It was originally built purely to let students sign up to courses that my department ran, but it was a bespoke application and I added features as they were needed within the department and it ended up being pretty powerful.  If you look at it today, it looks pretty antique.  Although the student-facing screens were semi-regularly updated to fit the then-current University website template, the admin screens are stuck with a template from when those early days.  But that still belies the functionality of the system.

From a technical point of view, I started writing it in around 2002, when the only Java web technologies were servlets and JSPs.  No Spring, no MVC, no IoC, just raw servlets and JSPs.  Not even filters.  I had to write my own database connection pool library.  And it was a a more naive era, before anyone had ever heard of Little Bobby Tables. I finally replaced the final string concatenation for queries with prepared statements just last year, at the same time as I finally shook up the infrastructure, bringing it up to a modern platform.  I honestly thought it would last another twenty years.

But my colleague, the one who managed the courses, retired a few years ago.  He was really the one who had liked and still used ObSys.  The folk who were left kept it going for a bit but they’ve finally decided that they want something different.  I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t talk to me to see if we could add additional features to ObSys, but I can see they might want something off the shelf, not relying on just me as a developer, and my colleagues who have probably never even checked out the source code.

So all good things, and all that.  I’m still proud of ObSys. The work that went into it, and the fact that it was integral to the running of the department for many years.  How many software systems in the internet era can say they’ve lasted so long?

Monday, 1 January 2024

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

We’ve come to the end of twenty twenty three
It wasn’t a great year, to put it mildly
But it’ll worry us no more
As we boot it out the door
And welcome in twenty twenty four

Happy New Year

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