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A better Amaretto Sour

I’m pretty sure I was introduced to the amaretto sour in college by my roommate’s girlfriend. I liked it—because I like amaretto—but I had the vague notion that it was kind of a simple, overly-sweet drink even back then, and they mostly fell off my radar. After I got introduced to...

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Cotton, hay, and rags: giving bias the veneer of rationality

As you’ve surely heard by now, a mid-level engineer at Google—he’s anonymous, so I’ll call him Mr. Rationalface—wrote a memo called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” in which he argued that “differences in distributions of traits between men and women...

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A new home

Over the years, I’ve ended up with multiple “presences” online:</p>

  • The original Coyote Tracks, hosted at Tumblr

  • “Coyote Prints,” an attempt at a writing news-ish weblog, generated with Jekyll

  • My Ranea.org website, made with a hacky homebrew static site generator

  • The occasional foray onto Medium


That’s not even inclusive of earlier attempts at this, like a LiveJournal and, before that, a very simple bloggy thing that worked by putting files with names like 1999-01-01-entry.txt in a specific directory that were picked up by a small PHP script. (That was back in the days when PHP was just used to embed bits of interactivity in HTML pages, just like that, which is something it’s pretty good at. I’m pretty sure I was doing that in early 1998, which by some measure might make me one of the earliest bloggers, or would if there had been just one damn person reading my home page.)


While this hodgepodge of bloglike objects had good intentions—separation of concerns, trying new platforms, keeping up with the cool kids—it’s become too unwieldy. The decision where to post is sometimes kind of arbitrary. Many of the people who read about my writing are interested in tech; while the reverse isn’t as true, I’d actually kinda like to expose some of my tech audience to my writing, especially stories that involve techy things.


A bigger concern, though, comes down to fully controlling my own content.


This isn’t a new concern; Marco Arment was writing about owning your identity back in 2011. Some blogging services let you bring your own domain—Tumblr does it for free, which is why you go to tracks.ranea.org instead of chipotle.tumblr.com—and others, like WordPress.com, let you do it for a modest charge. Medium makes it possible, but only for publications (and at a fairly high cost); many other services don’t offer this at all.


So: Welcome to coyotetracks.org.


But while owning your online identity is necessary, it’s not sufficient: you need to own your content, too. I don’t mean that in a legal sense—despite the headless chicken dance the internet goes through every time somebody changes their legal boilerplate, no reputable service ever has or ever will tried to steal your copyright. I mean it in an existential sense.


I still like Tumblr, despite its foibles, but as far as I know it was never profitable on its own, it was never profitable for Yahoo, and it’s on track to never be profitable for Verizon. As for Medium, I love what it’s trying to do, or maybe I love what it was trying to last business model and not so much now, or maybe vice-versa, or maybe it was three or four business models ago. What other businesses call pivots, Medium calls Tuesdays.


I’ll circle back to that, but the upshot is that I decided I needed a POSSE: “publish own site, syndicate everywhere.” (Look, I didn’t make it up.) And that brings me to…WordPress.


I’ll be blunt: I don’t like WordPress. Internally it’s a dumpster fire, full of arcanely formatted non-OO code, bloated HTML, and a theming engine designed by bipolar squirrels.


So I looked at other things. I know there are ways to make static site generators quasi-automatic, that Matt Gemmell swears it’s faster to blog from his iPad with Jekyll. I’ve done it, with a system not too dissimilar from the one he describes. It works, but I don’t love it. I’m comfortable at a shell prompt, but I don’t want it to be necessary for blogging, especially if I’m on an iPad. (I’m moving back to the Mac for portable writing, but that’s another post.)


I also looked at Ghost, which started with some fanfare a couple years ago as a modern take on WordPress that focused back on blogging essentials rather than shoehorning in a content management system. Now they’re a “professional publishing platform,” and all their messaging is we are not for you, casual blogger, pretty much the opposite of their original ideology.


But I can publish to WordPress right from Ulysses. Or MarsEdit. Or the WordPress web interface, desktop app, or iOS app. The WordPress API is, at least for me, a killer feature. And its ecosystem is unmatched: I have access to thousands of plugins, at least six of which are both worth using and actively maintained.


So: I’m still finding my way. I’ve added a cross-poster which can theoretically post everywhere I want, although I’m not sure if I’m going to use its Medium functionality—I want to be able to vet what it’s posting before it goes live there, so I’ll probably just use Medium’s post importer. And I don’t want to syndicate everything everywhere: I want to syndicate selectively. (This post probably won’t even go to Medium, for instance.)


The semi-ironic footnote: I don’t know if this is really going to make me post more, when all is said and done. I’ve always been guilty of being more interested in building things than running them. But we’ll see.



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Daydreams of moving on

I'm finding myself spending more time searching rental and home listings in other parts of the country. Finding myself is such a passive phrase, as if it's not me doing it, but it truly feels like it's just...what I do when I'm bored or restless. I daydream about being somewhere else.

I haven't been journaling the way I used to years ago in, well, years. So in a quick "catching up with things" rundown, I've been out here in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2002, and living in Santa Clara since 2010. I moved to Santa Clara for a job with Nokia in Sunnyvale when they moved their offices there. On the first day their offices were open, I was laid off, with about half my team.

I bounced around between other technical jobs, and grew to loathe working with code. Especially bad code, but to some degree, code, period. I hate to trivialize real PTSD, but I think it truly broke me in some small but noticeable way. To this day I fall into frothy screamy lunatic moments when my computers do something I don't expect or want in a way that just didn't happen five years ago. I know I've always had a short temper, but this is much more oh my god, listen to yourself, what the fuck is wrong with you kind of irrational rage.

In 2014, I lucked into a terrific startup, RethinkDB, not as a coder but as a technical writer. I loved the people, genuinely liked the product (as you can guess, a database), liked the commute (25 minutes to or from the office on a bad day, usually under 20), was paid really well. It was as close to a dream job as I suspect I'll ever have unless I go into business for myself.

So naturally, that couldn't last. They spent all of 2016 trying to get more VC funding and finally threw in the towel in September.

I'm employed again, at a company in San Francisco that's...nice enough, I guess, but I have issues with them that I might get into in another post.

The truth is that 2016 was already a bad year for me, emotionally. I can't say why with absolute certainty, but my mom had a serious health scare in late 2015--I spent months kicking myself for not dropping everything and flying out to be with her while she recovered from surgery--and a series of house troubles in early 2016 which ended up seriously throwing me into flux, because it seemed that the theoretical Some day you will move back to Florida to take care of your aging mom was nigh.

Now, there are things I still like about Florida, and I think some of the urban areas I used to visit have gotten, well, more urban in the last decade. Hipsters are starting to spring up and, setting aside concerns about gentrification for the moment, that means non-retiree culture is starting to spring up. (Also setting aside how uncomfortably close to retirement age I'm getting.)

But all other things being equal, Florida just--isn't high on my list of places to live anymore. I don't like the climate, I don't like the bugs (seriously), I don't like the politics. It's cheap compared to where I am now, but that's not a useful metric.

So I spend my free time looking at other cities.

Portland or Seattle--that's where techies flee the Bay Area to, right? Staying in state, Sacramento is beautiful and has a thriving craft food scene. And there's Eugene, Oregon, kind of a lower-cost, small town version of Portland. An artist friend who used to work at RethinkDB--she did my Twitter icon--suggested Santa Fe. Honestly, Albequerque has pretty areas, despite what "Breaking Bad" may make you think. For that matter, if we're thinking desert oasis, there's Las Vegas.

I know this is silly. I still expect to move in with my mom, wherever she is, and that's almost guaranteed to be somewhere around Tampa. (She's looked at moving away from the rural area she's been in for the last thirty years, but I have my doubts she'll commit.) Putting it that way makes it sound like something I'm dreading, but--it's complicated. I love my mom and want to be with her in her twilight; I just wish there was a way for us to move into The Perfect Town For Both Of Us, whatever the hell that would be, into separate side-by-side houses, or two sides of a duplex or something. So I'm right there, but still have my own space.

But I can't make that happen.

I hate moving. All things being equal, bluntly, I'd rather stay here. So, for the foreseeable future, I am. But my salary is about 15% lower than it was at RethinkDB. Commuting to San Francisco is about a two-hour process each way, when all is said and done. I only have to do that two days a week now, thank God, but between the costs for commuting that incurs anyway and the cost for buying my own lunches when I'm working at home, I'm spending a couple thousand dollars more a year to go to the job that isn't paying me as much. And the rents here are getting so, so high; I'm pretty sure we're paying about 50% more on this lease than we were on the one we signed in 2010, and I would be (perversely) pleasantly surprised if there's merely a 5% increase when we're asked to renew in a couple months.

So I wait. I wait to see what happens with this job, what happens with my mother, what happens with the Bay Area, what happens with my friends. And I daydream about towns I'm not going to move to.

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  • Current Mood: restless
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Alas, poor LiveJournal

I'm joining the migration to Dreamwidth, finally. Well: that's kind of a mischaracterization on two counts. First, I don't use LiveJournal much anymore; second, I've had an account on Dreamwidth for years, but I just kept using LJ anyway.

I know that a fair number of people, including some who were on my LJ friends list, abandoned LJ back in the Six Apart days when they had their brief flurry of panicked journal deletion-and-reinstatement because Save The Children Something Something. And, on the one hand I get that, but on the other hand, Six Apart listened to their users, reinstated most of the journals, promised to do better, and for the most part did. Was this perfect? No, but it seems at times like they never got even partial credit for trying harder. Water under the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and all now, I suppose.

The sale to SUP, the Russian media company, was interesting, in what a friend described a while ago as the American sense. ("When Europeans say something is interesting, they mean it's interesting. When Americans say something is interesting, they mean it's worrisome.") In retrospect, though, I think SUP did a lot of things right that they don't get credit for, either: for years, LiveJournal was the Number-One-With-A-Bullet blogging system in the Russian Federation, and SUP did their damndest to keep it a free and open platform--no mean trick given the political reality. That's why "LiveJournal, Inc.," remained an American subsidiary, with their servers on American soil, for so long.

I suspect, though, in the end that became their undoing. In September 2015, Russian Federal Law 242-FZ, the "Russian Data Localization Law," went into effect. It mandates that any business that collects or stores personal information--which includes names, email addresses, and even IP addresses--of Russian citizens to use data centers in Russia.

While I couldn't find any smoking gun that suggests this law is why SUP moved their servers to Russia, it's hard not to suspect that's the case. In mid-2016, Russia blocked LinkedIn for non-compliance with the law, and at that point the writing was likely on the wall. In theory, SUP could "simply" run servers in both the US and Russia, and segregate data based on a geolocation algorithm. In practice, though, even assuming they had the resources for that, they'd be under harsh government scrutiny. Dissidents start figuring out how to get his data on the US servers, and that gives the government enough pretext to take the whole company down. From SUP's perspective, it's a choice between submitting to Putin or going out of business. It's easy for us to say they should have chosen the latter, but it's not our livelihoods in question, is it?

Also, let's be blunt: given the Trump administration, SUP probably didn't think having servers in the US was much of a safe harbor anymore.

Will Dreamwidth rekindle my longform blogging? Honestly, I doubt it. It's not that I don't still have that desire, sometimes, it's that Dreamwidth just isn't a platform I like much. "But it's the same as LiveJournal!" Well, no, it isn't. There are a few clever things with filters and access that DW does better than LJ (whenever I'm critical of DW they always get brought up, and yes, I get it, honest), but in terms of the overall design and UX, DW feels pretty much like the LJ of a decade ago, and the LJ of a decade ago didn't feel that much different from the LJ of a decade before that. The reason I kept sticking with LJ is--well, partially inertia, okay--but also because over the last few years or so, SUP put real effort into modernizing things. (Unfortunately, they also closed off the code base.)

And, frankly, all of them feel way less modern than Tumblr--the site I suspect is one of the three crucial legs in the LJ diaspora (the other two being Twitter and, as a distant third, Facebook)--or, for that matter, WordPress 4. And then there's sites like Medium, which are joys to write and read on. (And, for that matter, publish on. I don't think there are any modern LiveJournal clients anymore. If I were writing this for Medium, I'd be writing it in my beloved quirky Markdown editing app Ulysses, and publishing it directly from there. As it is, I'm still writing it in Markdown, but it's going to require some effort to get it from Markdown to DW, because Markdown was invented in 2004 and that's just too dar recent for the LiveJournal codebase.)

Having said that, though, DW/LJ offer unparalleled access control, something that you'd think would be more popular these days given all the concern about online harrassment. There are other valuable things, large and small--from threaded conversations in replies to multiple user icons that we can set for a given post based on topic, mood or whim--that seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. The goal of clean, simple UIs is worthwhile, but maybe there's some functionality we should be re-imagining for a new decade rather than merely stripping away.

I've thought a lot about this; people who follow me on Twitter know I've half-joked about making a "modern" LiveJournal equivalent. The thought's still there, although I'm not honestly sure the time and energy is. On the other hand, I'm at the age for a good and proper midlife crisis, so we'll see.

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(tap tap tap)

 It's time for my biennial "hey, I actually have a journal." Actually it's been more than two years over here on Dreamwidth, where I'm writing this; I've gone back to LiveJournal slightly more recently, because I still like their interface more. Given the turmoil over LiveJournal quietly relocating their servers to Russia (a report I was originally dubious about, but as MetaFilter notes, the traceroute is pretty clear), though, I'm reconsidering that. I didn't have the mistrust of SUP, the Russian company that bought LJ from Six Apart, that some users did; if anything, I think SUP put active effort into trying to fix the trust issues that Six Apart created, and my suspicion is that they wouldn't have made this move if they weren't being forced to by the Russian government. Of course, that makes the argument for no longer using them even greater. if I'm going to not be anywhere, it's probably better to not be here. As it were.

Having said that: holy hand grenades, does Dreamwidth look archaic compared to modern LiveJournal. I'm not suggesting LJ is an excellent example of clean, modern web work. But DW just looks so…2002. I'm sure there will be people popping up to argue that's a virtue rather than a flaw, and if that 15px default text size looks tiny and hard to read it's my fault for having a higher-resolution monitor than 1024×768. To those people I say, with love in my heart, zark off. There are many modern web design trends worth complaining about, but a much greater emphasis on readability and typography is not one of them.

Anyway: I doubt I'll really resume journaling here, but I'm going to try to check in more and see if anyone else I used to follow is here. If not...well, we'll see where things go, I guess.

(N.B.: If you are reading this on LiveJournal, it's because I'm crossposting there, like many other DW users do. I'm not sure if I'll keep that setting enabled, though.)
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(no subject)

So it appears I have three stories premiering at Anthrocon 2016, which I will again not be at.

“A Day With No Tide” will be in the anthology Gods With Fur, edited by Fred Patten. In addition to my novelette, the anthology includes stories by Alice Dryden, Kyell Gold, Jefferson Swycaffer, Michael Payne, Mary E. Lowd and many more—23 stories in total. The cover art by Teagan Gavet is also amazing. It’s published by FurPlanet, and it’s available for preorder now.

“Trade All the Stars” will be in another anthology, Fragments of Life’s Heart, edited by Laura “Munchkin” Lewis and Stefano “Mando” Zocchi, published by Weasel Press. Rabbit Valley will have some copies to sell at AC. (It should have distribution on Amazon and other online booksellers, too, including in ebook form.) This anthology has a loose theme of love in all its forms–not always romantic. My story is a prequel to both the earlier story “Tow” and the forthcoming novel Kismet. Other contributors include Renee Carter Hall, Jess E. Owen, Ocean Tigrox, Kris Carver, and M.C.A. Hogarth.

And, my story “Wit’s End” will appear in Sofawolf’s next issue of Heat, their annual adults-only fiction and comics periodical. They tend to have plenty of issues to sell at cons; you can also order them from Sofawolf’s web site or, eventually, from Rabbit Valley. It’s a somewhat comic story set in the 1970s, about a straight-laced young businesswolf who, following the advice of a coworker who told him to “loosen up,” finds himself in a bohemian coffeehouse and gets swept up—almost literally—by a whirlwind of a jackrabbit woman.

Last but not least, for those of you of a slightly technonerd bent, I may start writing occasional articles over at Medium, while Coyote Tracks gets back to being a bit more of a “share interesting links” blog.

(Also, my novella “Going Concerns” is still a 99¢ ebook! You can find links to Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Kobo at its publisher page, or buy it as a DRM-free download at Bad Dog Books.)

(Originally posted at Coyote Prints)

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(no subject)

My novella “Going Concerns” is available as an ebook, published by Pronoun. Here’s the pitch:

People from across the empire come to the cosmopolitan city-state of Raneadhros to find new lives. After fleeing a past employer she’s sure tried to have her killed, though, Ann Swift’s having trouble starting over: when you’re a six-foot-six wolf woman, it’s hard to convince people you just want a quiet job as an accountant. When Gibson Scava, a brash feline detective investigating the very employer she’s trying to get away from, barges into her life to get her to “work the case” with her, it gets even harder.

As assassins start showing up at her doorstep and the Ranean Guard starts taking a dim view of her “interference,” Ann needs to decide just much she can trust the flirtatious Gibson—and just how far she’s willing to embrace the Big Bad Wolf stereotype she’s been fighting against her whole life.

Set in an inventive society of Victorian engineering, low magic, and human and animal races, this darkly humorous mystery was nominated for a Cóyotl Award in its original publication.

Watts Martin is also the author of the Cóyotl-winning “Indigo Rain,” set in the same world as “Going Concerns,” and of the short story collection “Why Coyotes Howl.”

This is something of an experiment to see how publishing with Pronoun works. Short form: pretty well. I might like a little more control over the front matter in particular (I’m neurotic that way), but it’s pretty solid.

Anyway: if you like the story, please give it a review! Early reviews in particular really help stories move up in Amazon’s rankings. Here’s the Amazon page. And, speaking of shameless commerce, I’ve lowered the prices of Indigo Rain and Why Coyotes Howl to $2.99 on Amazon, so if you haven’t given them a try, now’s an excellent time.

(Originally posted at Coyote Prints)

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Ursa Major Award nominations

It’s that time of year again. And again, this year I have things eligible for nomination! Unlike past years, I have no longer works, but I have two short stories.

The first story is “Tow,” from The Furry Future anthology and now available to read online. If you’d like to buy the full anthology—and it’s got a few terrific stories in it—you can read more about it and find links on my for sale page.

The second story is “Fixer,” from Inhuman Acts. While the full story isn’t online (the anthology’s pretty new), you can read an excerpt in my post from last September—and, again, you can buy the anthology by following links from my for sale page. (Both anthologies are available in print from the publisher and Amazon, Kindle ebook from Amazon, and DRM-free ebook from Bad Dog Books.)

Last but not least, Teagan Gavet’s cover for The Furry Future is also eligible for an Ursa Major! It’s terrific artwork, and I’d say that even if it wasn’t an illustration of Gail, the protagonist of both “Tow” and Kismet. (But it is, which makes it that much more awesome.)