Adjusting to “The Secret”

Continuing my series of entries from my time as a ratings family. Adjusting to changes isn’t always the easiest…

September 5, 2015

This is becoming a pain in the ass. I hate the fact this company has set the sensor to need you to “check in” every 43 minutes. I’m certain that time has something to do with how long tv shows on networks are or something like that, but it absolutely doesn’t fit how I “watch” things. Let me restate – It’s a pain in the ass.

Example – I have a “smart” TV (the quotes are because I don’t believe it to be particularly smart – it’s simply connected to the net so I can listen to music or watch YouTube on it). I like to put a music provider service up, pick one of my channels and allow the music to be my background while I do stuff around the house. Never gave it much thought. NOW, every 40 minutes or so all the little blinky lights on the Nielsen box go berserk if I’m not paying attention to them. As part of the deal I’m supposed to hit the remote and “check in”. Yes, I know it’s stupidly simple. All I have to do is hit a button. That’s really the point though – before Niellsen it didn’t require any more thought once I turned it on. I would have it on or I wouldn’t. They have by their nature effected their own data. There have been times I have just turned things off when I might have kept them on before because I was tired of having the little blinking lights going off when I was in the middle of doing something else – or worse yet, at the climactic point of the movie I’m watching in the dark.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to change this. I’m certain they’ve got a stack of folks that routinely put a lot of thought into stuff like this and they’ve not come up with a better answer yet, so I doubt I’ll come up with anything either.

As I look over the mail that came in today something else has occurred to me. I can’t just trash the junk mail.

Yes, junk mail still happens but now I can’t toss it without looking at it first. Why? Because Nielsen is so worried about people influencing me and my watching choices that all of their correspondence arrives in unmarked envelopes. No logo, no name on the return address, nothing to give away our “big secret”.

OK, I get it. I know a number of people connected (loosely and distantly for sure) to the media that wouldn’t mind swaying numbers. So now I have to open all the junk mail – just in case.

Desire

You can read one of my stories for free!

I do actually still write. I know I am not nearly as prolific as many (most) of the other writers I know, but it is still something I do.

This past Wednesday the folks that came to the Watch the Skies meeting in person got a physical copy of the fanzine. I bring that up because my story Desire is published there.

IF you’re looking for a short story to read head on over to the website and check it out!

Overthinking It

Another post from my secret time as part of the ratings system. Much shorter this time:

July 19, 2015

There’s a testing thing… I’m trying to remember what it was. Something about the simple fact that you’re observing changes the outcome of the experiment. I’ll track that down here sometime.

That is precisely what has been crossing my mind every time I look at the TV now. I think about what I’m watching more than I ever did before. Will they note the fact that I turn the volume to “mute” every time a commercial comes on? Will they realize that 5 minute commercial break is the reason I turned that show off?

I actually turned the TV on, then off again, then on again debating this sort of stuff in my head. I’m clearly thinking things over far more than they want me to. The idea is they want me to just do what I did before without thinking about it. How can I do that? They’ve inserted a step that makes me think about what I’m doing.

We’ll see if that changes as I go forward.

Do not rocket while impaired…

Space TrippingSpace Tripping by Patrick Edwards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars-ish.

IF you’re looking for distant planets, space battles, far ranging corporate plots and drunk aliens doing the equivalent of “hold my beer” then this book is for you. It was amusing and a very quick read. I think I actually knocked it out in a day.

The reason this suffers in my opinion is that I have other drunken adventures that I am much more partial to. Totally not a “fair” thing to this author, but it is how I feel.

If you like this book and you’re looking for something else, you will probably very much enjoy the works of the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in Scary Tales of Scariness (Fortress Publishing).

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Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold! by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I read this once a long time ago. I suspect it didn’t fit with the sort of fantasy I was expecting at the time so I didn’t particularly remember it, but I picked it up again since it was a book group choice.

This actually falls directly into the category of “matters when you read it”. The main character is NOT the typical fantasy hero. He’s already had a lot of life and success in his career. He’s middle aged, not the mystery secret sixteen year old prince who’s been in hiding all his life. At this time in my life I really appreciated the difference in character.

Yes, there are other fantasy tropes in there that were kind of expected. Yes, there are some small hints of anachronism since the book was written over 30 years ago. None of those things bothered me and I really enjoyed the story this time. This may very well move up to the top of the Terry Brooks list for me.

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Justice

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best science fiction works I’ve read in a very long time. I really enjoyed this book. I understand why it garnered the praise that it did.

Taking the point of view character away from being a human is never easy, but splitting that character apart into the many places an AI can inhabit would be particularly challenging and the author handles it wonderfully.

There is a lot of discussion worthy stuff in here. IF you’re a fan of science fiction this is very much worth the read.

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Let the Ratings Begin!

Last week I posted about the little secret I’ve been keeping for the past 2 years – being a ratings family for Nielsen. This is from installation day…

July 17, 2015

Installation day!

Mike (expected) and Courtney (new?) were very prompt. The appointment was set up for 10 am and that’s when they got here. No insignia on the car, no official uniform, just computers, equipment and lots of zip ties.

Both of the installation folks were very personable and couldn’t have been nicer. They worked diligently at getting everything connected and running properly. Sounds easy, but they’re monitoring everything connected to the TV. They were crazy detailed about it all. There’s an entire basket full of equipment tucked neatly behind my TV stand that’s connected to all the ins and outs of my smart TV. I’m still not convinced my TV is all that smart, but that’s what they call it. The level of detail they went to lends (at least to me) the genuine sense that this is a thorough and well thought out scientific basis for all their numbers. They sat with my remote and clicked one by one through every single channel I have listed to be certain the signal was connected. EVERY CHANNEL. All the way to channel 1648 or wherever we topped out at, testing the signals all the way.

There were smart and engaged representatives that weren’t allowed to tell me anything about their viewing habits at all. Seriously – nothing. I was trying to describe something to them druring the course of the conversation and said, “have you seen the new Avenger’s movie?” because I figured it would be an accessible place to start from. Mike’s response was, “Sorry, can’t talk to you about that. I can’t tell you if I’ve seen it or not.”

I was shocked. He went on to explain that they aren’t allowed to tell me anything at all about what teams they like or what they’ve watched for fear of influencing what I would watch. It’s a bit silly, I’ve already seen the movie and it’s not in the theater anymore. What difference could it possibly make at this point? But Ant Man is just coming out…

I was really into hearing about what they could talk about. Neilsen is a big company and they’re everywhere. They also monitor more than just TV channels. I believe they’ve scooped up arbitron for radio. They’ve got folks that monitor how you use your credit card. They’ve got folks that monitor what groceries you buy. They’ve even got a group (and I don’t know where or how big this group is) that monitors and verifies what you throw away vs. what you recycle.

I had a little trouble with that last bit. I wasn’t even certain I would be a good demographic – I don’t particularly care for or about TV and don’t watch the regular networks. Mike said, “all information is important to someone…” and proceeded to tell me he’d seen people that didn’t turn their TV on for a month at a time, but somebody wanted to know, when they *do* turn it on, why? What do they want to see?

The process of getting all the information hooked up and connected and tested and running right took significantly longer than I suspected it would. We were all in the living room for about 3 ½ hours. Right through lunch and on until they were certain I had a handle on it all – not that it’s hard. I’ve now got an extra remote that I have to hit my number and “OK” when I turn the TV on. As long as I don’t forget, I’m good.

So – what to watch first?

Fiction fan

I’ve written reviews of Linda Nagata’s work before over at MilSciFi.com. The Red series is not the only work by her that I’ve read. She is one of the writers whose work I look at and think, “Damn it, she’s good. It’s almost not fair…”

And then I want to go out and see what she’s done next.

This post allows her to tell you a little about her latest – and I’m really looking forward to checking out her “big idea”:

The Last Good Man

Shhhh! It’s a secret!

I’ve had a secret, but I can tell you now. I think they want me to wait a little longer, but I also think it very unlikely that anyone will actually check up on me. For the past 2 years our house has been a Nielsen ratings family. We’ve had a bunch of stuff hooked up to our TV and our computer to report in on what we’ve watched and how we’ve connected to sponsors. It’s been a long, secret journey but it’s over now. Since it was such a secret I wrote stuff down as we went. Now that we’re done I’m going back and giving up the details!

July 2, 2015

I’d heard of TV ratings for years. Everyone touts that they have the “number one show” or the “number one comedy” for shows that aren’t actually the most watched but come in higher in the ratings than other shows like it. I know about demographics and I understand that I’m really not anybody’s target demo anymore. I just never really knew exactly how it was all figured out.

It was a really big surprise when somebody that works for Nielsen (the TV ratings folks) actually knocked on my door and asked, “Do you want to be a Nielsen family?”. Uh, sure? I guess?

In my head I immediately thought, “OH! I can help out all those shows that don’t get the love they deserve.”

Then I started to think about it a little more. How much do I really watch TV? Truth be told I’ve written a number of times about the paucity of programming despite more channels than ever and the shallow level of thought involved in attempting to grasp for my dollars. I’d actually shut off our cable for about 3 years – and after an initial detox period I didn’t really miss it. Even now that I do have TV again I don’t watch any network shows. Everything I want to see is online, on demand or part of a smaller channel. TV is a time sink and I use it to help clear my head so I can get some sleep most nights. I can’t think of the last regular TV show I watched all the way through, start to finish. I wasn’t lying when I told the rep that I probably wasn’t the demographic he was looking for.

Undaunted, Dave (the rep) told me that was fine. They’re interested in measuring what we actually watch and if our eyeballs looking at a show lead us directly to a website. They’ve started this new tracking bit – they put a small tracking program on your computer that counts if a website that was mentioned in a program is accessed on your computer. We’re going to represent about 25,000 average households for their estimation purposes. Our “vote” counts quite a lot.

There were lots of survey questions to determine where we “fit” compared to other people that are on the program. There wasn’t any actual paperwork for me to sign – so that was a little surprising. Dave the rep did all the work. The cool bonus to him doing all the work? Nielsen likes to thank folks for being part of their ranking system so they give you gifts – like $50 the day they install the tracker thing on your TV. Then a couple weeks later they send you another $50. So we’ll start with $100 and hit a little button when we turn the TV on to start tracking. That’s not a bad deal in my mind.

So, all this cool stuff – all the neat things to talk about and all the thoughts rolling around in my head my next thought was, “This will be so cool. I can’t wait to get together with everyone at Watch The Skies and let them know what’s going on”.

Not so much. Dave the rep told me this is actually a secret. I’m not actually supposed to tell anyone because they’re afraid that other folks will attempt to sway what I watch and when I watch it. He told me to watch the mail carefully because they don’t even mark their envelopes – the mailman isn’t even supposed to know.

Well, crap. Now what? I’ve got all this cool stuff and I can’t tell anyone about it. For a writer and sometime blogger that hurt. It’s interesting, it’s important to some degree and it’s uncommon enough that people will be interested in knowing what’s going on… and I suppose that’s exactly their point. I know (directly or indirectly) independant film makers, script-writers, authors that are looking to sell the rights to their work, entertainment bloggers, book bloggers and any or all of them might be interested in swaying 25K votes on what shows go or what shows get better ratings.

This is just the initiation. It will be about 2 weeks until the installation representative comes to the house and connects up the little box to start counting what we watch.

So it’s a secret. I can’t tell you until it’s all done and over with (and that can be as much as two years if we keep up with it). What to do about it?

Keep a secret journal of course! I’ll keep making notes and tracking how the whole thing goes. Hopefully this will be as interesting when this is all done as it sounds like it could be now.

Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian: The Complete CollectionConan the Barbarian: The Complete Collection by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan. It took a barbarian’s strength to push through this whole thing. It was a test of endurance for me. Not because I didn’t like the stories, just because there was so much of the same thing stacked up in one place!

This collection was assembled (as I understand it) from multiple novels that were not originally part of the same work. What happens when they are lumped together is that you get a repetition of phrasing you might not otherwise notice. Comparisons to wolves and tigers using the same descriptors gets really old – quickly.

I see clearly where the inspiration for Frazetta and so many others comes from. This is a cornerstone in the building that is modern fantasy. There are many, many things that clearly descend from this ancestor.

At the same time, it does have issues. IF you decide to take the challenge and plow through this whole thing, be prepared for turns of phrases that are out of date. Prepare for the use of language that has developed different connotations over the intervening eighty years or so – giving an odd flavor to the text despite the technically correct usage of certain words. Also be prepared for characters that are placed / labeled or otherwise called out based on their physical descriptions. Any non-white persons in this book are judged and categorized based on that fact. I don’t know if that was the opinion of the author or a shorthand sort of cheat. Why develop a villain when all I need to say is “he was of the darkest jungle with fuzzy hair and sharpened teeth”? It’s uncomfortable and makes certain aspects of the book less enjoyable for it. Females fall directly into either weak and lust worthy or strong and lust worthy – either category to be part of the conquest. There really are women of power in here, just don’t expect them to take on significant roles.

I would say it’s important to read this original Conan material to learn where so much of today’s fantasy comes from, but read it with the age and context in mind.

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