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From Crime Reads:

Writers of “unlikeable” protagonists have it tough. They have to make their central character complex and interesting, and their story so compelling that a reader will put up with someone objectionable leading it. In real life, we might not be able to avoid the people we dislike: the narcissistic mother, the backstabbing boss, the professor with the personality disorder. But we can easily close a book.

An unlikable protagonist might be psychopathic, vain, silly, naïve, foolish, selfish, self-deluded, arrogant or, if you buy into a more superstitious notion, just plain evil. There are supremely unpleasant characters in literature—and not just in genre fiction—whose antics and boldness are so impressive that we can’t look away. It’s not just that they contrast so vividly with their supporting cast. We simply have to know what they’re going to do next. That’s when the story gets good.

The technique of employing an unlikable narrator didn’t begin with Gone Girl. Classic literature is full of them.

. . . .

The Grandmother, A Good Man is Hard to Find (short story), Flannery O’Connor, 1953

Narcissist, hypocrite, fantasist. The grandmother at the center of O’Connor’s classic short story initiates a dramatic chain of events that gets her entire family, including her grandchildren, murdered. She believes that everyone around her should bend to her beliefs and whims, and she shapes her self-righteous commentary and arguments to (in her mind) represent herself as an important, respectable, and piously Christian woman. Her desperate need for acknowledgement results in a fantasy that takes her vacationing family down an unfamiliar road where a freak accident will leave them all at the mercy of a notorious killer. While the story is fraught with religious and moral implications, it’s also a perfect gem of a read.

. . . .

Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith, 1955

Psychopaths aren’t necessarily unlikeable, and Tom Ripley has a flattering, swindler’s charm that often works on his fellow characters, as well as many readers. His most prominent qualities are similar to those of many psychopaths: he’s remorseless, arrogant, charming, deceitful, and manipulative. He’s also murderous, but he murders with purpose, particularly when someone threatens his enjoyment of the finer things in life. On a list of unlikeable protagonists, he might be the least unlikeable, second only to the more recent Dexter Morgan, of Jeff Lyndsay’s Dexter series. At least Dexter keeps his murders focused on serial killers, and doesn’t project Ripley’s highly irritating arrogance.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Other unlikeable protagonists:


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Not exactly to do with books, but PG is reading dystopian science fiction at the moment (Winter World by A.G. Riddle) and enjoying it, so, inasmuch as the OP felt a bit dystopian, it piqued PG’s interest and he thought it might also be a writing prompt.

From Just Security:

While the world grapples with Russia’s use of Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation, a former NATO secretary-general recently voiced concerns that Russia was using Ukraine’s upcoming elections as a laboratory for new forms of interference. A troubling case may signal that disruptive innovation is already underway in the post-Soviet space, whether by Russia or by others: ruthless operatives in Ukraine have weaponized the dating application Tinder for political purposes.

The new case involves character assassination by means of fake digital avatars. This inexpensive and efficient disinformation strategy not only destroys reputations, but also threatens to cause social and political disruption on a national scale.

. . . .

On Nov. 7, 2018, a Facebook account belonging to Ukrainian university student Natalia Bureiko published a post accusing a top police official of sexual harassment. Her post included screenshots of a purported Tinder conversation with Officer Oleksandr Varchenko. In the screen shots, “Varchenko” threatens Bureiko when she turns down his demand for a sexual relationship.

Bureiko’s Facebook post claimed that Varchenko mailed her flowers with a box of raw chicken legs, and that he also had harassed her family and friends. In addition to posting the information on Facebook, Bureiko filed a formal complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office (the Ukrainian equivalent of a district attorney).

Her post became an overnight media sensation. It racked up several thousand comments and shares in just a few days. Almost all of the comments expressed outrage, not just at Varchenko, but at the police and government as a whole.

The only problem: The Tinder account and conversations were fake.

Varchenko denied the allegations, writing on Facebook that he had never corresponded with Bureiko and that “this information attack is related to the fact that my wife, Olha Varchenko, is the first Deputy Director of the State Bureau of Investigations, and for many it was a bone in the throat.”

Two days later, Bureiko posted a retraction on Facebook and then disappeared from the public eye for three weeks. When she resurfaced in an interview with Strana.ua, Bureiko claimed that someone she knew had offered to pay her roughly 50 U.S. dollars in exchange for access to her Facebook account. That same individual, Bureiko said, forced her to file the complaint at the prosecutor’s office, saying that would be the only way she could get her normal life back. Bureiko never named the person who allegedly did this. In this bombshell interview, Bureiko expressed regret at being used to facilitate a fake news campaign.

Shortly thereafter, Bureiko turned herself in to the Ukrainian police, reported the scheme to the police, and started living in an undisclosed location under the protection of Ukrainian law enforcement.

On Dec. 10, 2018, the Chief Military Prosecutor in the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine said he had identified 11 people involved in recent information attacks, including the Tinder scandal. The two suspects most closely tied to the Tinder attack are the infamous Ukrainian “political technologist” Volodymyr Petrov, and his friend, a blogger and former advisor to the minister of information policy, Oleksandr Baraboshko.

. . . .

Tinder may be a testing ground for developing the technology that combines “kompromat” (the Russian term for compromising information) and digital platforms. The Tinder attack clearly follows the pattern of Russian kompromat, a sabotage technique favored by the KGB and its successor agency, the FSB.

. . . .

Kompromat has never been easier or cheaper to manufacture. Creating a fake Tinder conversation does not require sophisticated technological capabilities. Anyone can do it. It is also cheap.

“In the 1990s, an individual seeking to discredit a rival could place a compromising news article in the most popular Russian daily newspaper, paying between $8,000 and $30,000 for it,” according to University of Washington Associate Professor Katy Pearce. “A television story to disgrace someone could cost between $20,000 and $100,000.”

Creating a dating app account, however, is free. So is posting on social media. Anyone can invent kompromat and then deploy it to the world.

The media environment in Ukraine was ripe for promoting the fake Tinder exchange via Facebook. In 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko banned the country’s two most popular Russian social networks, Vkontakte (VK) and Odnoklassniki. Since that time, Facebook’s Ukrainian audience has grown dramatically, by about 3 million in the past year alone. Nowadays, Facebook is the predominant social media platform in the country and therefore a powerful tool for shaping public opinion.

. . . .

First, this type of digital campaign creates fake digital personalities, avatars that live forever online. Once disinformation is released, it persists on the internet. Even today, if one enters the Cyrillic spelling of Oleksandr Varchenko’s name into a search engine, his name appears amid a cloud of words like “harassment,” “scandal,” and “Tinder.” Controversial headlines are followed by images of the “Varchenko” Tinder account’s conversation with “Natalia Bureiko” and the photo of a gift-wrapped box of chicken legs. Oleksandr Varchenko’s public image is forever tarnished by a digital avatar that was created and managed by someone else.

. . . .

Third, and most sinister, the Varchenko-Bureiko Tinder scandal could be the beginning of a new phase of disinformation emanating from the former Soviet Union.

The social media environment makes it easy for people to represent themselves online, but also makes it easy for people to fraudulently misrepresent others in the digital world. As digital avatars proliferate across platforms, verifying account ownership without compromising personal privacy becomes a challenge. This case demonstrates the frightening ease of using dating apps and social media to create social disruption and political turmoil.

Link to the rest at Just Security

In the old days of the Cold War between the Soviets and their Eastern European satellites and the West, the conflict provided lots of fodder for riveting books – think Tom Clancy and John le Carré – but lately, a much-shrunken Russia, with an economy based on selling oil to the West seems more like a Middle-Eastern fiefdom than an existential threat to a great many readers.

But, social media is free and credulous journalists are never in short supply, so perhaps some sort of online Cold War can be fashioned for the benefit of those who miss the old days.

James Bond as a suave computer engineering genius will take some serious creative work (“A Kombucha. Shaken, not stirred.”), but PG suspects the Ian Fleming estate might be interested in a discussion.

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From Tor.com:

“Build a man a fire and he’s warm for a day,” I say. “But set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it.” —Jim Butcher, Cold Days (2012)

That’s “Sir Terry” to you, Dresden… but other than that, the only wizard listed in the yellow pages is right on the money.

Terry Pratchett is best known for his incompetent wizards, dragon-wielding policemen, and anthropomorphic personifications who SPEAK LIKE THIS. And we love him for it. Once we’re done chuckling at Nanny Ogg’s not-so-subtle innuendos and the song about the knob on the end of the wizard’s staff, however, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface of a Pratchett novel. The real reason Pratchett’s work resonates so deeply with so many people around the world—and will continue to do so for decades to come—is that every one of his stories tugs at a deep, philosophical thread that sneaks up under the cover of action and punny dialogue to mug you faster than a denizen of the Shades.

. . . .

The Nature of Absurdism

“Magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.” –Mort

Those unfortunates who have yet to read Pratchett properly may be tempted to dismiss his humorous approach to reality as simply “absurd”…as if that were a bad thing, synonymous with gratuitous laughs and an absence of deeper meaning.

They would be very wrong in this estimation, starting with the nature of the absurdity itself. The comic absurd in Pratchett goes far beyond a few, well-needed laughs, and serves a deeper purpose.

The hierarchy of wizards in Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University serves as a good example. In Pratchett’s early works, the University is a seething hive of murder and destruction. Promotion through the Orders of the arcane comes mostly through assassination, the tradition known as “dead man’s pointy shoes.” That magical arms race inevitably leads to recklessness, and threatens to rip the veil between Universes and destroy the Discworld completely.

Enter the absurd, embodied in the larger-than-life person of Archchancelor Ridcully. The man’s name is Ridcully. He literally incarnates Ridiculousness. But he’s also the one to bring some semblance of stability and order to an organisation that wields the greatest powers below Cori Celesti. His absurd nature shapes the deadly seriousness around him into a tenable structure, and all the way down the hierarchy, you end up with wizards who are too busy murdering tea trolleys to murder each other.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, driven younger wizard Ponder Stibbons and, even more so, the genius Leonard of Quirm are the epitomes of Reason in an unreasonable Universe—as a result, they usually end up the most absurd of all.

Absurdity is the necessary bulwark that tempers Reason and Power—it is the only thing that stops these forces from turning on themselves and becoming instruments of corruption (like the magic wastelands left over from the Mage Wars), violence, and domination. And that’s true whether you’re sitting on a ball orbiting a larger, burning ball spinning around a supermassive black hole, or whether you’re on a disc on the back of four elephants, standing on a turtle swimming through space.

Link to the rest at Tor.com

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Epiphany Davis arrived at work in lower Manhattan on a recent morning, consulted her cellphone and set off by foot in search of products ordered via text message by wealthy New Yorkers.

From her company’s loft-like headquarters, Ms. Davis walked to a health food store to get SmartyPants Kids vitamins, but the variety was out of stock. Checking her cellphone often for instructions, she walked to a grocery store for a single bag of Guittard milk chocolate chips. She rode the subway to a Nespresso store for three boxes of coffee pods, then walked to Bloomingdale’s to pick up a $245 navy blue MZ Wallace backpack.

Ms. Davis works for Jetblack, a personal-shopping company targeted at mothers launched last summer by a surprising newcomer to the field— Walmart Inc. A few hundred shoppers in New York City pay $600 a year to order anything by text message except for fresh food. Members were invited by Walmart, or referred by current members, and need to have a doorman to join.

Their orders go to Jetblack headquarters where dozens of agents sit at computers and field requests, from reordering diapers to making suggestions on high-end cribs, organic snacks and yoga attire. Couriers fetch the items and bring them back to a Manhattan delivery hub, where they are wrapped in black packaging and hand delivered, usually the same day.

It’s a labor-intensive operation that loses money. But making money isn’t the goal, at least not right away.

. . . .

Walmart is using Jetblack’s army of human agents to train an artificial intelligence system that could someday power an automated personal-shopping service, preparing Walmart for a time when the search bar disappears and more shopping is done through voice-activated devices, said Jetblack CEO Jenny Fleiss.

“It’s the tech of the future, right? It’s not what everyone is doing today,” said Ms. Fleiss, who previously co-founded apparel rental company Rent The Runway. The CEO said it could be five to seven years before the system is mostly automated and less reliant on humans. “This is a long journey,” she said. “And I think we were aware of that going in.”

Walmart is competing with Amazon, which has $233 billion in annual sales, including web services. In addition to Prime, the online giant has same-day grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores in some cities, plans to open dozens of small physical grocery stores and has sold millions of Echo speakers that let shoppers skip stores and websites altogether, and shop for products or request music with their voice.

Walmart is the world’s biggest retailer by revenue, with $514 billion in annual sales, but e-commerce makes up only a small percentage. That’s out of sync with where retail is growing fastest. Across the U.S., online shopping accounted for 9.7% of total retail sales last year and grew 14.2% from the previous year, according to the Commerce Department.

. . . .

Jetblack is a small piece of Walmart’s online investments, but it is one of the biggest gambles Walmart is making to attract wealthy shoppers and burnish its tech credentials.

Walmart primarily views the company as a research hub on AI and voice shopping. Some pieces of the business “could very readily be applied to the broader ecosystem in time,” she said. Jetblack’s software is learning to make agents more efficient, already suggesting language to use for many text interactions, said Ms. Fleiss.

Jetblack’s goal is that over time, through these interactions, the computer algorithm will learn to respond to requests with humanlike nuance but machine efficiency.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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From Fast Company:

Voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are women rather than men. You can change this in the settings, and choose a male speaker, of course, but the fact that the technology industry has chosen a woman to, by default, be our always-on-demand, personal assistant of choice, speaks volumes about our assumptions as a society: Women are expected to carry the psychic burden of schedules, birthdays, and phone numbers; they are the more caregiving sex, they should nurture and serve. Besides, who wants to ask a man for directions? He’ll never pull over at a gas station if he’s lost!

But what many people–myself included–have missed in the gender criticism of personal assistants is that it was even binary to begin with, as so much of the world identifies outside that schema. This oversight is exactly what Q is trying to fix. Q claims to be the world’s first genderless voice for AI systems developed by the creative studio Virtue Nordic and the human rights festival Copenhagen Pride, in conjunction with social scientist Julie Carpenter. The project had no client; it was born from a design exploration inside Virtue Nordic and snowballed from there.

. . . .

Meet Q: The First Genderless Voice - FULL SPEECH - YouTube

. . . .

Now, voice assistants are often gender-specific for a reason. Companies test these computer voices on users and listen to the results of those tests. At Amazon, users preferred Alexa as a woman rather than a man. That relatively small sample set was extrapolated to represent Alexa for everyone. Research has shown, too, that men and women alike report female voices being more “welcoming” and “understanding” than male voices, and it’s easy to understand why these would be qualities any company would want in their always-listening voice assistant. But these companies and researchers only tested male and female voices. And testing a narrow set of options on a limited number of users isn’t the best way to build representational technology.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

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From Printing Impressions:

As technology continues to disrupt and transform the book market, publishers are responding by changing business models that affect how media is produced, distributed and consumed in the book publishing industry. As dramatic technology shifts continue, book publishers, authors and printers need to adapt to benefit from new opportunities.

With the start of another year, book publishers and manufacturers are evaluating what the future might hold.

. . . .

For those in the printing industry, Walter highlighted that there was modest growth in print book sales in 2018 with volume climbing 1.3% — in a year where there were no major blockbuster bestsellers like “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Harry Potter.” Walter expects the market to remain relatively flat but stable. The key is the migration to more and more digitally printed books.

. . . .

The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) is a leading book industry trade association that offers standardized industry best practices, research and information. O’Leary said one of the biggest issues facing the book market is the management of the supply chain and shared results of BISG’s year-end “State of the Supply Chain” survey. O’Leary highlighted that the three top priorities respondents were focused on in 2019 when it came to supply chain management were:

  1. Making data-driven decisions
  2. Timely, high-quality metadata to improve discovery and sales (At its most basic level, metadata is how people find your book. This includes the ISBN, keywords, the author name, pub date, BISAC code, reviews, author bios and more. )
  3. Keeping up with new technologies to improve workflow and supply chain management

. . . .

IBPA CEO Angela Bole explained that three publishing models continue to exist: traditional publishing; self-publishing, where authors can be assisted or unassisted by vanity press organizations; and hybrid or partner publishing.

Bole says that in 2019, the industry will experience the rise in hybrid publishing — a gray zone between traditional publishing and self-publishing that is still being defined. Bole described hybrid publishing as publishing companies behaving like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return, a higher-than-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales. Hybrid publishers provide a range of services for the author such as:

  • Vet submissions.
  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBN(s).
  • Publish to industry standards.
  • Ensure editorial, design and production quality.
  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
  • Provide distribution services.
  • Demonstrate respectable sales.
  • Pay authors

Link to the rest at Printing Impressions

PG won’t spend time venting, but he will suggest that traditional publishing is already author-subsidized in that authors receive only a small percentage of the money generated by their books while publishers receive a significantly larger share.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Scholarly research has always been a global affair, which is why, explained a panel of stakeholders at the London Book Fair on Tuesday, Brexit may hit the U.K. scholarly publishing community hardest of all.

“Brexit will rewrite rules governing partnerships with European colleagues,” noted Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally, who moderated the discussion. “If the nature and even the timing of Brexit remain unclear, one may still confidently predict that Brexit will mean important changes for the U.K.’s scholarly publishing industry.”

. . . .

“I think at the moment the most significant consequence comes purely from the currency exchange,” said Outsell’s Hugh Logue, noting that the prospect of leaving the E.U. has hit the pound hard, something acutely felt by academic researchers, whose funding is fixed. “When they are buying equipment or other consumables, those are already 20% more expensive.” And that has a “knock on effect” for scholarly publishers, he said, because when trimming costs, scholarly publications are often the first cut.

. . . .

Meanwhile, Logue said he has also heard “anecdotally” of British lead scientists being dropped from projects because “the likelihood of getting renewed funding is diminished.” Further, the issue of immigration looms as one of the biggest challenges of Brexit, he said, adding that around one-in-six researchers in the U.K. comes from outside the country.

. . . .

“I actually think at this stage it’s a psychological thing,” observed Tim Britton, formerly of Springer Nature. “Would you move your family here? Would you build a house here?” Britton wondered. “If I was coming out of Berlin having just finished my post-doc, would I come to London? Absolutely not.”

Britton said that the “psychological effect” on researchers, “which is impossible to measure” could potentially have a far bigger impact than any of the actual policies Brexit may eventually settle on, making it harder for U.K. institutions, including publishers, to recruit and retain the best talent.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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My job is not to frighten children, but sometimes addressing fears and concerns within the safe boundaries of a picture book can fill me with an awesome responsibility to be as truthful and transparent as possible.

~ Debi Gliori

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From Publishers Weekly:

There are picture books that engage, transport, amuse, intrigue, enchant, comfort, or even haunt adults, but that don’t connect with the children who are their purported audience. This would be absolutely fine—picture books are a unique and endlessly variable art form—but it can be hard to overcome customers’ resistance to buying them for themselves. As one of my bookselling colleagues said recently, people will spend $40 on glossy coffee table art books they’ll look through once or twice, but are reluctant to buy themselves an $18 picture book they can’t stop leafing through in the store.

I’ve had more than a few customers over the years pore through picture books, then sadly place them back on the shelves, saying, “I love this, but I don’t have little children in my life anymore.” Good news, my friends: Picture books are not just for children, especially now.

Why have we come to a place where picture books are relegated to the landscape only of the very young? It was not always thus. We didn’t used to hurry children away from picture books into beginning readers and chapter books at age six, the way most parents do now.

. . . .

Parents often dismiss picture books as an entire class—not registering their relative complexities, subtleties, and nuances. They don’t want to spend money on books they think are beneath their children’s intellectual capacities. Even in the span of time I’ve been a bookseller (22 years), I’ve seen word counts shrink and parents push their children out of picture books younger and younger. They may not understand that the language in picture books may be much more sophisticated than the chapter books they are eager for their kids to read.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are some of the picture books mentioned in the OP. Each has Look Inside enabled to provide an expanded view of the images and design:


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