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This, that and t’other

A large number of articles and news reports related to writing have caught my eye in recent weeks.  I thought you might enjoy a selection of them.  Follow the links provided to learn more about those that interest you.

1.  AMAZON AND “FAKE” REVIEWS.

A couple of weeks ago, I found all the reviews for my latest book, “The Stones of Silence“, had mysteriously vanished from its page at Amazon.com, with no explanation given.  I immediately fired off e-mails to Amazon’s Author Central and Kindle Direct Publishing divisions, and awaited their response.  I didn’t hear anything at first, but within 24 hours, all the reviews had been restored.  A day or two later, I received bland e-mails from both divisions saying that all my reviews were there, none were missing, so what was the problem?

I’m willing to bet that one of Amazon’s artificial intelligence systems had decided that my reviews were suspiciously favorable, and decided that they needed checking.  The fact that they trickled back, one or two at a time, over the next few hours, makes me think that humans were inspecting each one and deciding whether or not they were problematic.

This ties in with the whole issue of “fake reviews” at Amazon, which the company takes very seriously.  A recent article in the Washington Post, “How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews“, provides more information.  If you sell your books on Amazon.com, this is essential reading, even though it doesn’t specifically address book reviews.  The issues involved are the same.

2.  WHAT OUR CHILDREN ARE READING.

Spiked Online has a thought-provoking article titled “How kids’ lit became misery lit:  Adventure stories are out; tales of woe and stress and illness are in“.

According to the judges of the Branford Boase Award … fiction for young people is getting increasingly narrow and downbeat. Philip Womack, one of the prize’s judges, told the Guardian that around one third of this year’s entries were domestic dramas, all with a ‘very similar narrative’: ‘There’s an ill child at home, who notices something odd, and is probably imagining it, but not telling the reader. They’re all in the first person, all in the present tense, all of a type.’ Such books were, he added, ‘so enclosed, so claustrophobic, so depressing and formulaic… It does make for a rather depressing children’s literary landscape’.

I’m profoundly indebted to the literally thousands of books I read as a child and teenager… and not one of them was like that!  May I never be guilty of writing one!

3.  IS THERE A CONSPIRACY TO EDUCATE OUR KIDS SO THEY CAN’T READ?

That’s the question posed by an article titled “K-12: History of the Conspiracy against Reading“.  Its answer is depressing.

The vast majority of children were reading and writing 100 years ago. Now, thanks to deliberate policies of our Education Establishment, we have two thirds testing below proficient.

. . .

[The 1930’s were] when our Education Establishment (most probably, I would suggest, influenced by Comintern subversives) abolished phonics and made children memorize words by their shapes. This approach has been a disaster, yet the public has been persuaded to accept it until this day.

I and others write constantly against this development, with less than the hoped for effect. Our society, and especially the people at the top, seem all too comfortable with rampant illiteracy. How is that possible?

Ayn Rand perfectly captured the country’s predicament in these few words: “[t]he hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.”

That’s where we are. The glaringly evident escapes notice. Most Americans have been conned into not seeing that our Education Establishment (i.e., the professors in charge) must be the chief cause of illiteracy and other educational failure. Truthfully, nearly all of these pretend educators should be fired for demonstrated incompetence.

I wasn’t educated in America, so I can’t comment from personal experience:  but the relatively low number of enthusiastic readers among our younger population is disturbing, to say the least – particularly to us as writers.

4.  SUBSCRIPTION BOOK SERVICES CONTINUE TO DESTROY OLD-FASHIONED AUTHOR INCOME MODELS.

Last year I wrote here, in an article titled “It’s time to face facts: online lending and streaming media is, increasingly, the future of books“:

“… writers are going to have to get used to making much less money per copy of their work than they’re used to. I’ve been analyzing my own sales since I started releasing my books in 2013. There’s a very clear decline in the sales of each book, both older titles and new, as Kindle Unlimited ‘borrows’ ramp up. Combining the numbers, I’m moving a similar number of copies, but earning much less for each. Today, I’d guesstimate that I’m going to make between one-third and one-half as much per book, in total, as I did back in 2013, and that figure is continuing to decline.”

That reality has just been demonstrated yet again by a textbook publisher.

Two authors have filed a federal lawsuit against educational publisher Cengage, alleging that the company’s new Cengage Unlimited subscription service will improperly cost them sales and royalty payments … the suit claims that in introducing its subscription service, Cengage “is systematically dismantling and frustrating the business of selling Plaintiffs’ work” in favor of selling subscriptions to Cengage’s digital products. The authors, the suit states, “expect their royalties to decline substantially” as a result of Cengage Unlimited.

. . .

… in pivoting to its digital subscription service, the suit claims the publisher has “wrongfully” implemented “a unilateral change to the compensation structure for its authors,” switching from “the contractual royalty-on-sale” compensation model, to a “relative use” model, which pays authors a “fractional percentage of Cengage’s subscription fees, based on the relative use of the work.”

The suit also claims that Cengage is not properly compensating authors for its distribution of “digital courseware” and other add-ons such as “multimedia displays, homework, quizzes, tests and other supplements” derived from their authors’ work.

And finally, the authors claim that Cengage is refusing to share royalty and sales data that would allow the authors to audit their payments.

It looks to me as if Cengage has (probably accurately) judged the future of the textbook market, and is trying to position itself to survive:  but its authors are not prepared to face the reality of lower incomes that must inevitably result from changes to their publisher’s business model.  In its response, Cengage noted that “we are disappointed that this complaint was filed, as it seeks to perpetuate a broken model of high costs and less access”.  From its perspective, that’s true.  However, its authors apparently aren’t willing to “roll with the changes”.  They appear to be locked into a traditional publishing perspective that’s ignoring today’s commercial and technological reality.  Who will win?  Regardless of what happens in court, the market will dictate its own terms – and only those who adapt to them will survive.

(While on the subject of subscription services, an article titled “Kindle Unlimited Royalties: KDP Global Fund and Payout Trends” offers a useful overview of Amazon’s subscriber library service.  It’s a year old, but I find it’s pretty accurate, and certainly comprehensive.  Recommended reading.)

5.  WHY ARE WE ATTACKING OUR ALLIES?

That’s a very good question.  I see far too many conservative and/or culturally traditional and/or independent voices calling out others in the same field for differences in their perspectives and/or actions.  There are myriad examples.  Why are we shooting at each other, when we could (and should) more profitably be aiming at those trying to destroy the society(ies) and culture(s) we seek to uphold and defend?

Writer Jon del Arroz has irritated some independent authors (I am not among them) by his brash, outspoken, “in-your-face” approach to defending himself and his work against his critics, and marketing his books.  Nevertheless, he’s “one of us” in opposing social justice warriors and their efforts to impose far-left, progressive ideology upon all aspects of the publishing and entertainment markets.  He’s recently written two articles that, I think, are worth reading and pondering, whether or not one likes their author:

(a)  “Those Who Attack Right-Leaning Art Are Destructive To Our Movement

(b)  “But Why Do You Defend THAT Person? Aren’t You Angry About How They…

I submit that both articles deserve our attention.  Even if we don’t agree with some positions taken or approaches adopted by others, there’s the old Arab proverb:  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”.  I think we might profitably keep that in mind.

6.  MORE ABOUT VELLUM.

I recently offered in these pages a brief comparative review of Vellum, a desktop publishing program that I’m using to prepare my latest books.  I’m finding it invaluable, but struggled at first to get some of the finer details right.  My lovely wife found a thread on KBoards, currently dozens of pages long, devoted to Vellum and its idiosyncracies.  I highly recommend it to those of you considering and/or using the program.  It’s a big help in mastering the software.

7.  GOING WIDE, OR STAYING NARROW?

In an article titled “Selling Out: Going Wide or Going Exclusive to Amazon“, the author examines the alternatives and explains what motivated his decision to go wide.  I found it a worthwhile study of the alternatives.

The only thing lacking, from my point of view, was that he didn’t acknowledge the greatly increased administrative overhead of having to monitor sales, mount marketing campaigns, etc. across multiple platforms.  The more platforms/vendors one uses, the higher that burden becomes.  For a “one-person shop” like most independent authors, that can become so great that it gets in the way of writing one’s next book.  I’m profoundly grateful to Dorothy for taking some of that burden off my hands;  but she has her own life to lead, too, and can’t take it on as a full-time job.

Dorothy and I considered – very seriously – going wide with my current trilogy;  but we simply don’t have the time available right now to deal with those issues, so we decided to stay “narrow” and launch on Amazon alone.  Nevertheless, we’ll continue to keep an open mind about the situation – particularly foreign sales, where Amazon is much less of a force in the market.  The situation will bear watching.

8.  SPACED OUT!

Finally, I’m sure many of you have faced the conundrum of “old school” typists.  We were taught, back in the days of fixed-space typewriter fonts, to use two spaces after a period, exclamation mark, question mark, colon or semi-colon, to visually distinguish the start of a new sentence from the preceding text.  With the advent of variable-space fonts, that was derided as “old-fashioned”, and the argument was advanced (and enforced by many publishers’ editorial staff) that we should use only one space between sentences.

Now, an article (in the Washington Post, no less) titled “One space between each sentence, they said.  Science just proved them wrong” has debunked the issue.

The major reason to use two spaces, the researchers wrote, was to make the reading process smoother, not faster. Everyone tended to spend fewer milliseconds staring at periods when a little extra blank space followed it … The study’s authors concluded that two-spacers in the digital age actually have science on their side, and more research should be done to “investigate why reading is facilitated when periods are followed by two spaces.”

Works for me!  This article is written with the “traditional” two spaces between sentences, as I was originally trained.  However, I’ve long since (at great effort in time and mental angst) trained myself to revert to single spaces in my books.  I wonder if it’s worth the hassle to “re-train” myself back to the old ways?

84 Comments
  1. 23skidoo

    June 8, 2018
  2. I was thinking about the spaces after periods portion, and it occurred to me: one period after commas, or internal sentence punctuation, and two spaces after periods or other punctuation that ends a sentence provides a subtle visual cue as to when we’ve reached the end of the sentence.

    While this is perhaps more crucial in, say, German, where you go hunting for the verb in the paragraph … I find that it’s easier to read text where I know when I’ve encountered the end of a strand of thought aka a sentence.

    June 8, 2018
    • TRX #

      I’m now seeing forum and blog messages without periods, particularly at the ends of paragraphs. Often enough that it became noticeable last year.

      I’ve been guessing it’s some kind of txtspk thing, like lone “u”s, egregious homophone errors, and no or random capitalization.

      June 8, 2018
      • Sounds about right. I’m also seeing walls of text with no paragraph breaks. /whimper

        June 8, 2018
    • I’ve ALWAYS tried to keep to the double-spacing rule, any time I reach the end of a sentence or internally with colons: curiously, just one space for semicolons. It has always annoyed me that HTML coding demands (or demanded when I learned it in the ’90s) a special notation to indicate the second space, and I suspect that such systems as this, eliminating the gap automatically (and without any warning to the unwary writer) are as guilty as the fonts themselves for the deterioration of this standard. Even in printed works, a too-narrow sentence gap will sometimes bring me up short while I’m reading as surely as a bad misspelling or a wrong homophone.

      June 9, 2018
    • Robin Munn #

      That “two spaces is better” study has one MAJOR flaw, which you have to read halfway down the article to learn about. The flaw is that they used a fixed-width font (Courier New) for the test. One of the study’s authors said that the results of the study should also apply to proportional-width fonts like Times New Roman, but there’s no evidence that this is the case. Word width is significantly different in proportional-width fonts, so I personally doubt that the study’s results will be applicable to modern fonts.

      June 10, 2018
      • The problem is, actually exaggerated in a fair few of the proportional width fonts out there. There’s three or four (no I’ve never found the name of them, just seen them used) where the kerning is so bad around the period that adding a single space actually winds up getting applied in the negative and you wind up not only with no space at all, but with the words before and after the period running together.

        The kerning issue is a major problem with proportional width fonts because not only do you have to worry about the spacing of the font maker you have to worry about how the program interprets the kerning. I can’t use Libre office because whatever they use to read fonts in screws up the kerning on ALL of the ones I’ve tried. I think it would be MORE relevant in proportional width fonts where such issues can have disproportionate responses.

        June 10, 2018
        • Robin Munn #

          Wow, talk about font designers who have no idea what they’re doing! What do they think will happen with abbreviations where there’s no space after the period, like c.f. or i.e. or e.g.? *Shakes head in disbelief*

          June 11, 2018
  3. Christopher M. Chupik #

    Don’t worry, traditional publishing is just fine. It’s not as if they’ve been reduced to do printing Obama-Biden fanfiction, or something.

    https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/567536/hope-never-dies-by-andrew-shaffer/9781683690399/

    June 8, 2018
    • You’ll know it’s gone too far when we start seeing Obama/Biden fanfic….

      June 8, 2018
      • The Patterson factory has just “collaborated” with Bill Clinton.

        You notice that the creep is savvy enough to commission a thriller, rather than a non-moneymaker.

        June 8, 2018
        • Zsuzsa #

          I have many complaints about Bill Clinton, but one thing I have never accused him of is being stupid.

          June 8, 2018
  4. TRX #

    > However, its authors apparently aren’t willing to “roll with the changes”.

    The key part here is going to be when the court decides if “digital rights”, which were almost certainly part of their contract, tops “right of first sale”, or the equivalent.

    The author contracts I signed were were structured around the idea of sale; I sold the publisher a work, which they then duplicated and resold, and we unevenly split the income.

    However, by common usage whether a subscription counts as a sale is questionable. Plus, from what I gather at least some of those educational subscriptions expire after a set time.

    This is likely to be a BIG decision, at least as to how it affects author royalties, particularly with authors who have old-style contracts.

    June 8, 2018
    • And then you can delve into whether or not eBook transactions are even considered a “sale” according to the terms of service.

      June 8, 2018
  5. TRX #

    > administrative overhead

    This is a complaint I’ve been seeing ever since indie became a thing. “I just want to write, which is what I’m good at. I don’t want to have to deal with all the gnarly editing, layout, and selling bits.”

    I kept expecting groups to form small co-ops and hire someone to do it for them, or for some former editors or marketers to hang out their shingle.

    I expect there probably are such services out that I simply haven’t encountered, but they seem to be keeping a low profile…

    June 8, 2018
    • The problem with “Author Services” coops etc. is that the money to pay for them comes out of the author’s pay. As Peter says above, authors ain’t getting paid. So they have no money for editing etc. and have to do it themselves.

      Seriously, should I spend $200-$500 on editing and proofing fees for my first book? Then another $200-$500 on a cover by a proper artist? When I’ll be lucky to sell dozens of copies?

      I’ll work for free, but I won’t pay to work. That’s a bridge too far.

      June 8, 2018
      • I chatted with an editor at Sasquan about what it would take for an independently wealthy person to publish his/her own books to the same standards as a traditional publisher. Assuming physical, printed books, but not including marketing or distribution. It worked out to $10,000 to $20,000 per book. Most of that is salaries for the many different people who go over it again and again.

        One can quibble with the numbers, but it’s certainly true that traditionally published books are (usually) highly polished, and the public is willing to pay something for polish. Some of the public some of the time, at least.

        June 8, 2018
        • I doubt very much whether that sort of expense is necessary. I strive with all my might to produce a very professional product, including using Vellum to format my manuscripts for publication (and investing in an Apple computer to run it!), plus paying an average of $250 for each book’s cover. However, I doubt that my expenses, all told, amount to more than $500 per book – probably less as I amortize the software and hardware costs over more and more volumes. I put in a horrendous number of hours, editing and checking for errors, and I think that shows in the finished product. It would be simpler and easier to pay others to do that for me – but it would also be unaffordable, if I paid anything like a worthwhile hourly rate.

          I’m fortunate in that I have enough background in English language and literature to do that for myself. Others, lacking that, might not be able to do it in the same depth, of course. That would add to the expense.

          June 8, 2018
        • Greg, I don’t know what “skilled editors” make but for the sake of argument, lets call it $25/hr. That’s ~$50K a year, that’s the number being bandied about for staff at NYC Big Five publishing companies.

          $10K is 400 hours. They spend 400 hours polishing a book? 40 hours a week, that’s 10 weeks. Seems like a lot. Given the quality of work I see on the shelves, I’d be shocked if the average labor budget for a fiction novel is more than 20 hours all-up.

          One pass by a copy editor, one pass by a proof-reader/typesetter/jack-of-all-print trades dogsbody, and then off to the presses. Probably less, I bet they only do the first hundred pages.

          A really nice coffee-table book about rare monkeys or something, maybe something by a Name author that is guaranteed to hit, then I can see hundreds of hours spent by page designers, illustrators, copy editors, proofers, etc.

          At $10 each for a paperback, you have to move 3,000 pieces just to cover your editing cost, and that assumes $3 a piece of net return to publisher over and above printing costs and author pay. How many paperbacks by not-Name authors are breaking 10k copies sold these days?

          Of course I can see them -charging- $10k to $20k for editing etc. to a moneybags client for 50 hours work. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.

          June 8, 2018
          • The question I asked the editor, though, was what it would cost to hire someone for it as a contractor–not what it would cost if you employed someone full-time. That might bring your number up to as much as $100/hr.

            As for the time, I note that traditional publishing takes something like a year to get a book ready for publication. (Is that about right?) Anyway, it’s a whole lot more than just a few weeks.

            And they have zero incentive to drag their heels on this. For their own bottom line, the sooner it gets on the shelves the better. They must believe they’re doing something of value.

            Here’s a site that figures about $13,000 for a 120,000-word novel just for the editing alone.

            https://thewritelife.com/how-much-to-pay-for-a-book-editor/

            June 8, 2018
            • That’s almost ten thousand dollars more than the quote for scientific editing I was able to find quite quickly by searching for a science editor and landing on PaperTrue– and their baseline is 15 days, which suggests the folks doing the blog page might be a bit off; poking around, the only place I can find even close to those numbers is from Keven Anderson and Associates, which makes it clear that “developmental editing” ($9kish at the blog) is them helping you write the whole dang book:
              Base Inclusions

              All packages include:

              Interviews and ongoing consultation via phone or Skype (in-person interviews are available at our NYC, Nashville, and Los Angeles offices, free of charge, or anywhere in the USA or Canada for an additional fee)
              Brainstorming, planning, and developing a detailed outline of the manuscript
              Marketing strategy
              Ongoing critical analysis throughout the writing process
              Editing rough draft material supplied by client
              Final edit by an additional editor who is unfamiliar with the manuscript
              General formatting
              An original, custom-written query letter
              An up-to-date contact list of the 10 best possible publishing/literary agents who are actively accepting manuscripts in the genre. The list will include all necessary contact information and preferred method of contact for each agent.
              Publishing consultation by our team of bestselling authors and publishing insiders
              The entire process will be overseen by one of our managing editors

              They also do ghostwriting. :wry:

              June 8, 2018
            • BobtheRegisterredFool #

              That an industry takes forever to do something does not mean that it must always take forever. There is such a thing as delays caused by bureaucratic overhead. Such delays can be excessive, especially if the bureaucracy is extremely dysfunctional. I’m not an industrial engineer, but I’ve heard enough of their propaganda that I’m going to suspect possible time savings until proven otherwise.

              There are different degrees of editing. Furthermore, the more advanced the degree of editing, the more specialized it will be.

              There’s a limit to what the markets for business, academic, and technical writing will accept from a editing supplier in terms of delays and irregularity. It may be that they are paying enough to develop and retain a skilled editing workforce in those areas.

              If tradpub isn’t paying enough, it may not have a skilled workforce handy. If fiction editors are generally not paid to work for long careers, fewer will develop the highest levels of skill. Which means that the skilled ones can charge a higher price to those who are aware of the difference, and need it.

              I think the editor brokering problem is interesting, but there is a lot I do not know.

              June 8, 2018
            • ‘Here’s a site that figures about $13,000 for a 120,000-word novel just for the editing alone’ Greg: that comes under ‘there’s one born every minute’ targeting. In the real world publishing companies are subcontracting at 1/10 of that, and former editors (now out of work) are glad to take it. From 3-10 dollars a page depending on how much work there is. I’ve got copies of every one of my edits – from three different publishers over 20 books and loads of shorts. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have benefited from 400 hours work, but that would mean they produced on average less than one page of corrections, questions and suggestions in 400 hours. Do find that likely?

              June 10, 2018
        • 1) Have you looked at the ‘professional standard’ lately? I see as many malapropisms and typos in trad work as indie. Trad is using the same stock photos that indies use (Romance is really bad about it. It was quite literally the same exact stock photo. Same dude. Same pose.) And it wasn’t an expensive one. (I found it on Dreamstime. For a midlist print run usage probably cost them $50.)

          2) I priced out edits with someone I know. Simple copy edit with proofread? about $300 for a 100k novel at the speed she edits.

          3) I can likely do my own covers, but if I can’t I can find people in, the $200-$300 range who are putting out work every bit as good as the Trads. So let’s split the difference and go with the trads.

          4) Make small logo. Give cover artist small Logo for “Dreaming in Plot Studios” Bam, publishing house logo for covers. $100 for LLC set up, cheaper with some of the other options and that’s over the life of many books, not just one. But lets assume one.

          5) I have InDesign. I don’t have vellum, I’m not sure it’s worth it when I already have InDesign. It’ll probably be slow set up, but once I get an InDesign template going it should be trivial to shove just about any book with the proper information through it. And InDesign IS what the Traditional publishers use for print.

          So, all told. I can get a professional job to the quality the midlist actually gets or BETTER. Out the door for $700. $100 of that not being truly a ‘per book cost.

          June 9, 2018
          • Correction to the end of point 2 (never change thoughts in mid stream, it leads to incomplete corrections.) It should read: Let’s go with the high ball of $300. (I had not finished backspacing. *sigh* Can I blame it on the hospital?)

            June 9, 2018
          • Don’t forget the current fad for printed covers that are:
            BLOCK LETTERS
            SMALLER BLOCK LETTERS

            on a black book, with a single, solid color background set around the block letters; generally it is title and author’s name, but sometimes it’s title and sub-title; letters are either black or a metallic that complements the solid color.

            Occasionally, there’s slight swirls to the solid color.

            ***********

            I gave up on the claim that professionally published works were better edited than indy when I realized I wasn’t mis-remembering plot points due to exhaustion (new baby, about three hours of sleep at a go), a book really did have two different versions of the same half-chapter; I would guess they revised to do the “skip to another perspective” part, and somewhere in the layers of editing they utterly failed to notice that the version were the corpses were moved was done before the split, and the one where the corpses were moved and the gal had a flip-out was done again in the morning.

            No wonder authors talk about having to get their stuff edited themselves.

            June 9, 2018
            • (Nods) I just happened to read a tradpub book yesterday where, for whatever reason, the main character’s name was underlined randomly throughout the entire book. There was no rhyme to it, and no reason, either. And this house actually has a decent rep, and one of the book’s authors is one of their big moneymakers.
              What happens elsewhere?

              June 10, 2018
            • Slither #

              I just read a tradpub book, major publisher, in which the last two chapters clearly hadn’t been edited at all. You had characters talking to people who had just left the room, and later on someone apparently forgot who they were sharing a hot-tub with!

              June 13, 2018
      • Yep. My sales are getting close to the point where buying covers makes sense. Paying for editing and covers is still a loosing proposition.

        June 8, 2018
  6. TRX #

    > variable-space fonts

    The printed-paper world used kerning to save space and for some kind of artiness that I, frankly, never saw. But it wasn’t intrusive.

    Unfortunately, when PCs got fonts and kerning, the designers went nuts, squashing characters much more closely (and unevnely) together than commonly seen on paper, until the characters themselves were hard to distinguish. Which was probably no problem for the “read by word shape” people, but for those of us who go by letters, it is a freakin’ visual disaster. And every web page, every document, has a *different* font, with different kerning, just to make it even more annoying.

    I maintain monospace fonts are always going to be easier and faster to read than varibable space fonts, no matter what propaganda the arty types keep making up.

    June 8, 2018
    • The question of function is one I don’t see asked very often, outside “engineering” circles. The artistic community wants to “make a statement” with their text presentation, at the expense of the function of text, which is to be read.

      I’m sure there are plenty of studies out there on what makes a page or a form more readable or less readable. Governments all over the world must have done that research over and over, each time picking the worst possible method and implementing it in their forms.

      As a writer and soon-to-be e-publisher, knowing what fonts, spacing and page layout make reading the easiest would be really nice.

      June 8, 2018
      • The typographers and type designers I’ve interacted with online (at Typophile, mostly) tend to be very focused on the readability of the final product, on screen or on paper.

        There are “display” fonts, suitable in headings or on book covers for special effect and well-nigh unreadable in running text—so use them only for those special purposes.

        And there are poorly-designed “text” fonts, too—lots of them, especially on “Free Fontz!” sites. Some are poorly done rip-offs of good commercial fonts; others are the early efforts of beginning type designers. Some are poorly “hinted” so they appear terrible on low-resolution screens. Some are so tightly over-kerned that “kerning” becomes “keming”.

        But there are also thousands of very readable, highly polished fonts. Many of them are free; some come with e-readers (don’t use custom fonts in an e-book except for headings or localized special effects); others are commercial products. (Adobe has a very good reputation for their fonts. “When in doubt, use Caslon.”)

        June 8, 2018
        • Robin Munn #

          There are also a growing number of open-source fonts, which are not just free as in “can be legally used without paying anyone”, but also free as in “you have the freedom to load this font into a font designer’s tool and tweak it if you want”. The most common license in use is the SIL Open Font License or OFL. Some of the OFL-licensed fonts are high-quality fonts done by professional designers, such as the Noto font series from Google.

          My rule of thumb: if the font is freeware, it’s often an amateur effort. If the font is licensed under the OFL, it’s likely to have been done by someone who actually knows what they’re doing and pays attention to detail (something that is essential in a good font).

          June 10, 2018
  7. JDL seems a bit over the top at times, somewhat like VD, but usually has his information together. I don’t see the point of attacking someone over the way they present their argument as long as their argument is sound. We all are going to have slightly different takes on any given situation, it can be instructive reading about how other people view things.

    June 8, 2018
    • Chrtistopher M. Chupik #

      Always get your facts straight before going off. Saves you a lot of grief later.

      June 8, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        Wow, misspelled my own name.

        June 8, 2018
  8. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Item 3:

    Not a conspiracy. Conspiracy is a legal term with a very specific meaning, which hasn’t been proven yet.

    There are groups working together in a way that compromises oversight and the sort of feedback that would actually adjust performance for the better. Certainly there is collusion that permits the collection of rent without regard to actually teaching students or to their safety. But that is not necessarily something that can be proven to meet the elements of conspiracy.

    One of the chief justifications for continuing to fund public education, even as much as it is garbage, is that there are people in such dire straits that they still benefit from it, and that simply abandoning them to grow up without any schooling would be a problem in several ways. I’ve found that this is a hard argument to falsify. The teachers would be having to molest all the children to do so, and they would be lynched before reaching that point.

    Education is not a more fundamental right than arms. In terms of unrest, we are seeing some consequences similar to not funding education. At what point are the practical objections to cutting funding moot?

    June 8, 2018
    • “Education is not a more fundamental right than arms.”

      Must disagree. Education is not a right. Education is a SERVICE. In exactly the same way that health care is not a right, it is a service.

      Western countries have previously felt that a government delivered education SERVICE, aka government schools, is a social good. All citizens pay for the education of the young.

      The result, inevitably, is ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing performance. Exactly the same as the government run health care in every Western nation. Costs rise, performance drops.

      The right to bear arms for self-defense is an -individual- right, given by God to each human being by virtue of their existence. I live, therefore I must defend my life.

      But no one has the right, by virtue of their existence, to demand the labor of another person. You have no right to be healed by a doctor. You have no right to be educated by a teacher. You must -pay- for these things.

      Government is the most inefficient and corrupt method of paying for things that has ever been devised. That’s why kids can’t read.

      June 8, 2018
      • Brett Baker #

        The claim no one was functionally illiterate in 1910 is a bit of a stretch. Teachers had incentive to lie about their performance in “The Good Old Days” too.

        June 8, 2018
        • Draven #

          its a lot of a stretch…

          June 8, 2018
        • BobtheRegisterredFool #

          Nutrition alone would make education and intelligence comparisons between hundred year back populations and current populations challenging.

          There was a decline in the math testing for fifteen year old cohorts, relative to the rest of the world, that is probably problems caused by common core. Math common core seems to have been hot garbage, and the teachers seem to have gone along with it cheerfully. If education administrator fads show a long term negative trend in one area, it is possible that they are generally dysfunctional and would have severe flaws in other areas as well. If teachers will teach immensely destructive curriculums in one area without protest, they can be expected to do so in other areas as well.

          June 8, 2018
        • “The claim no one was functionally illiterate in 1910 is a bit of a stretch.”

          You can’t compare USA 2018 to USA 1910, as Bob says above. They’re more different than USA 2018 and Afghanistan 2018.

          I would hazard that few, if any, graduated high-school in 1910 and were still functionally illiterate. At that time in the USA there was no monetary incentive for teachers and school-boards to pass kids who were failing. They only passed the ones who met the standard. Passing a kid who couldn’t read would be a scandal.

          These days failing a kid who can’t read is a scandal. Literally.

          June 8, 2018
  9. I was never aware that how reading was taught had changed. It’s just not something you think about. Being a child in the 1970s I was of course taught phonics and sounding out words. Checked the Wikipedia page and every study over the last 30+ years concludes phonics is highly effective, So it makes you wonder what the motivation was to shift away from it in the first place…

    June 8, 2018
  10. Um, guys. Phonics had a bit of competition in the 80s and 90s–in the US at least–but it won that war twenty years ago. Phonics is standard everywhere today. It’s even part of Common Core.

    June 8, 2018
    • Draven #

      Sarah’s boys were taught whole word.

      June 8, 2018
      • Hmm. Where and when? Obviously there are a lot of school districts in the US and they have a lot of autonomy. But do a few searches for things like “do us schools teach phonics” and you’ll find plenty of evidence that almost everyone thinks that battle was won a long time ago. Plenty from people claiming phonics doesn’t really work, of course, but they wouldn’t be complaining if their kids weren’t being instructed that way.

        June 8, 2018
        • lfox328 #

          What schools CALL phonics – a structured introduction to helping students learn the ‘code’ that governs the connection between the alphabetic characters used in a word, and the pronunciation of that word, is generally NOT used.
          My experience with my daughter in the early 1980s:

          My eldest, a smart kid with a good vocabulary, was struggling with reading in 1st grade. I talked to her teacher, and was informed that she was receiving reading help through a tutor. She explained that Shannon didn’t understand the sound that the medial vowels – the short vowel sound, in the middle of words, and should improve when she learned that. This was in September.

          I asked if the tutor was teaching her that concept, and was told, no, the tutor was not permitted to introduce concepts before they were covered in class. Which, by the district schedule, would be in February.

          These are the kinds of words that form the content of Hop on Pop (Suess).

          I checked a few books about reading out of the library, and taught her myself.

          I doubt the other kids’ parents did the same. Their kids struggled with reading for years.

          This district, like most, bragged about their comprehensive use of ‘Phonics’.

          June 9, 2018
          • THIS. In my day they said they used “phonics” as part of a “whole language approach.” The truth? It was all “guess the word” because it was supposed to be faster.

            June 10, 2018
    • There’s 20 years worth of folks who were indoctrinated in “whole language” from back then though. Wonder how many became teachers and are propagating their altered thinking process onto the current generation?

      June 8, 2018
    • So is “whole word;” that’s what the “sight word” and “irregularly spelled words” parts are.

      Thing with common core is that pretty much everything is in there. How it’s done in practice is where you find the devils. :/

      In theory, the way that it describes to teach math is a good idea, you learn a bunch of different methods and how to use them, then you can apply the one that ‘clicks’ for you.
      In practice, the books and teachers focus on either the method that was hardest for them or that they like the best, because you’re working with humans trying to teach a group of 15-30 kids.

      For folks wanting to look:
      http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RF/K/

      June 8, 2018
      • Whole word/sight word is still very much a part of the curriculum across the country.

        My wife gave up teaching 4th grade math because it was getting utterly stupid. They way things are taught in one grade aren’t the way things are taught in another, and using the wrong one will get your answer marked wrong depending on the teacher/district, even if answer is correct.

        No Child Left Behind and Common Core seem to have been the final destruction of actual educational instruction in this country. They should more correctly named Every Child Left Behind and Lowest Common Denominator.

        June 8, 2018
        • I have to go through the books I use on the kids pretty closely– thankfully they’re well exposed to the idea that reading is fun, and Starfallcom does a really good job of teaching phonics combined with “sight words” in a way that actually teaches phonics and reading skills. (C-A-T. C-aaaaah-t. Cat. Cat! [cat walks across screen])

          Education dot com is kind of hit or miss, but they’ve got a really wide selection so you can do “what works for this kid.”

          June 8, 2018
        • Roger Ritter #

          As Jerry Pournelle pointed out, “No Child Left Behind” is identical to “No Child Gets Ahead”

          June 8, 2018
    • Incidentally, even when something is listed as using “phonics,” you really need to look at the details– there’s no shortage of ‘whole language’ training that declares it uses a balanced approach, because it also teaches things like “A– ah– apple” even when it doesn’t use it as a building block for actually sounding out the words. As Sarah has reported, you look at the shape, see a few letters, and then are supposed to “guess” the word.

      You’ll get more key words to poke around for from this article:

      http://www.todays-learners.com/history-of-teaching-reading/

      Whole word, whole language, look-say and sight word are all phrases used to describe the memorize-each-word method that is used.
      Incidentally, that method is very good for proving the kids are great readers. Just need to test them only on words they’ve learned, they’ll get a lot more of the irregular words correct…..

      June 8, 2018
    • The big struggle between phonics and whole-word was in the 50s and 60s.

      June 8, 2018
  11. I was taught phonics in the ’50s.
    The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, but is an ally.

    June 8, 2018
  12. Zsuzsa #

    On (2), I think it’s been discussed here before that the real “market” for children’s books isn’t children–it’s children’s librarians. Thus, we can infer that the powers that be think that children ought to be reading books that are “so enclosed, so claustrophobic, so depressing.” Makes you think that there might in fact be something to (3), a conspiracy against reading.

    On (4), it’s worth noting that the textbook market has always been highly distorted. For the most part, it’s about authors/professors with a captive audience forcing students to buy their books. Students have done their best to get around this with things like used books and rentals, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’d eagerly embrace streaming digital copies. I’m not saying that Peter is wrong about the future of reading being streaming services, but I will say that I wouldn’t extrapolate trends from the textbook market to the personal reading market.

    June 8, 2018
    • I thought textbooks would be a natural for Kindle, when Amazon first brought it out. My daughter was sampling college on the GI bill at that time, and the cost of required texts was a killer.

      June 8, 2018
      • Zsuzsa #

        And that isn’t even getting into the other big advantage of Kindle for textbooks: weight. Most of the dead tree editions of those things could break your foot if you dropped them.

        June 8, 2018
      • TonyT #

        The physical Kindle is TOO SMALL – imagine trying to use it for, say, a physics or math text…. Also, I’ve heard that doing complex formatting for Kindle is, to put it nicely, a total pain in the rear, if it’s even possible.

        June 8, 2018
        • BobtheRegisterredFool #

          I may have ordered a physical textbook, I think prepared using LaTeX, last year. Amazon may have offered me a chance, after the order, to read the text in their browser based kindle reader. The formatting may have been garbage and largely unusable.

          June 8, 2018
      • Synova #

        I was excited about the idea of ebooks for text books but when I went back to school I found them near impossible. First, you *rented* access and didn’t get to keep the “book”. The pages weren’t interactive (This is mostly Pearson crap.) so the really great stuff like changing the font size wasn’t available. The pages didn’t auto format but were essentially photographs (jpegs, whatever) of the text book page so none of the illustrations or diagrams were selectable in a “let me see this chart as a full page – click”. If you increased the size of the page you were looking at it just pushed content off the sides.

        One time I was getting really frustrated because nothing was making sense and it took me half a chapter to realize that I was “paging” forward while having the “page” open to two facing pages, my screen only showing one half of that, and then “paging” forward and not showing me every other page.

        I did get ONE proper e-book text book. It’s one on Geologic Structure from, I think it was, Cambridge Press. There was an online component but the book itself was a proper e-book that worked as an e-book should. And I still have it on my device because it is MINE.

        June 8, 2018
        • BobtheRegisterredFool #

          If PDFs of a text book count, there are some fairly nice and usable PDFS. But that depends on both the publisher and your university library.

          June 8, 2018
        • TonyT #

          I’ve been thinking lately that for something interactive, a “book” isn’t the best approach, maybe one could use something like Project Jupyter / Jupyter Lab
          https://jupyter.org/

          June 8, 2018
        • That’s the text book company being moronic; back in ’07 I had a college class in logic, online, and they required a specific text book– which came with a DVD version of the book which was not only well done, but the software that came with it was a more elaborate version of the practice problems in the book– A Concise Introduction to Logic, I believe.

          June 8, 2018
        • lfox328 #

          The new physics textbook – Essential Physics, by Steven Chu – is not only fully interactive, but connected to simu-labs, videos, and quizzes. AND, with directions for the most commonly used graphing calculator.

          June 9, 2018
    • I don’t think it’s a conspiracy against reading as much as it is yet another variation on the “children’s literature must have some element of moral uplift/be about Very Serious Topics” idea.

      June 8, 2018
      • Zsuzsa #

        And then they wonder why kids prefer their computers and tablets…

        June 8, 2018
    • Brett Baker #

      Further on the children’s librarian comment. What did they read? I remember reading a Judy Blume book in the mid-80s, it had a “reality sucks” feel to it. The other ones by her I glanced at seemed the same. And didn’t S.E. Hinton books all end with the protagonist growing up, usually assisted by several kicks to the crotch?

      June 9, 2018
  13. I can’t find the definitions at the moment, but I seem to remember the big “gotcha” for the literacy rate is that those who are institutionalized were not counted.

    That’s before confoundments like extremely disabled people not being able to survive as effectively in the 1920s as in 2015, and people not counting people who “obviously” are not relevant to the statistic.

    And then there’s the reporting issue, where at least some of those reporting on literacy rate were going for “able to read their name and very basic sentences,” while we don’t consider ability to read “get the new iPhone 47!” to be proof of real literacy. (One study I read ended up having buried in the footnotes the fact that they didn’t consider someone literate if they didn’t read long form writing voluntarily; another had issues where the test they were using was very poorly written, and basically required that you figure out what the author meant even though it was ambiguous.)

    ******

    The link to support “memorize words by their shape” actually links to whole-word theory, which is unlikely to persuade anybody who doesn’t already agree, mostly because the argument the guy made is kinda weak. There’s plenty of evidence that learning phonics, and then learning the exceptions, is a much more effective way to teach people to read, but folks’ll be biased against it by an overstatement.

    Folk example is how people who are extremely advanced readers almost always say words wrong, because they’ll know words from reading– but not from having heard them. So you get stuff like my five year old talking about a “Mar-eye-n core-ps” or spelling some words that have a ‘t’ in them with a ‘ch,’ because that’s how it “sounds out.” (Or the girl who lisps using ‘th’ for the ‘s’ sounds, because that is how she says it.…. 😀 ) All three of our kids over the age of five read for fun, by the way. 🙂

    ********

    I suspect the reason that fewer folks are reading for fun is that most of the books they have us read in school are not just not fun, they’re freaking miserable.

    I suspect the judges are on the older side, though; that’s the only way I can figure they managed to miss that the Misery Lit (a phrase I’m totally stealing) has been the go-to for “youth” books for three to four decades.

    June 8, 2018
    • Synova #

      My understanding of whole-word is that someone studied how literate adults who read gobs of books read and they determined that people don’t sound out words. The stupid happened when they decided to just skip ahead to that as if the initial learning to sound-out wasn’t important.

      Also, for whatever it is worth, I still sound out unfamiliar words every day.

      June 8, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        Yeah, I think it is sorta the same stupidity as ‘teach them the techniques of advanced math users without teaching the foundation that got the math users there’. Tediously doing the simple tasks until you get fast lets you trivialize the simple bits where they are included in a more complex bit.

        I think ‘misery lit’ is part of another issue common to both reading and math. I’ve been trying to push myself in new directions recently. There’s a huge difference between when I’m excited to get into something and when I’m dreading the same thing. If something is fun, you’ll tolerate a great deal more complexity and learning. (Which doesn’t mean that the education administrator ‘design for fun’ proposals actually work.) Hit someone with something that is miserable or simply too complex for their current level, and you can inspire a fear or distaste that stops them from choosing to improve that subject in the future.

        June 8, 2018
      • Similar to the math scewballery.

        June 8, 2018
      • Synova #

        Yes, yes. Exactly like Math!

        June 8, 2018
    • I said “catch” for cache for many a year. At least I didn’t confuse it with cachet.

      There was a question out there the other day – if you had a time machine and could use it to kill only one person, who would that be?

      There are times when I would be tempted to say “William the Conqueror.”

      June 8, 2018
      • Brett Baker #

        If it wasn’t for William the Bastard, we’d be having this debate in some other language! (No carp, please)

        June 8, 2018
  14. Synova #

    Also, I’m assuming that the picture up there is Peter Grant and the fact that you look like a teddy bear is freaking me out, Peter!

    June 8, 2018
    • You mean I’m unbearable?

      🙂

      June 8, 2018
      • Synova #

        🙂

        June 8, 2018
  15. Side note: as to the question of “why we are attacking our allies,” it might be helpful to consider the difference between “allies” and “cobelligerents.” Allies have some kind of bond beyond the shared enemy. Cobelligerents do not.
    I don’t know about JDL. But I do know that VD is a cobelligerent, not an ally, and could quickly become an enemy.

    June 8, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Definitely a difference between ally and cobelligerent.

      Not every regular commenter here is an ally to every other regular commenter.

      I’d note my politics are fairly extreme, and I prioritize issues differently from some of the other folks here.

      June 8, 2018
  16. http://monsterhunternation.com/2018/06/08/sign-david-webers-petition-in-support-of-free-speech-at-cons/

    Of significant note and interest to folks here, and germane to one of the points of discussion.

    June 9, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Apparently he is moderating more aggressively or something. Cause that posted yesterday, and has zero comments.

      June 9, 2018

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