Thank you to John @Scalzi and Joseph Perla for their articulate assessments of Facebook

This stuff, from Scalzi’s Whatever is absolutely brilliant.  Make sure you read the whole screed, but here are few choice tidbits:

Facebook has made substandard versions of everything on the Web, bundled it together and somehow found itself being lauded for it, as if AOL, Friendster and MySpace had never managed the same slightly embarrassing trick. Facebook had the advantage of not being saddled with AOL’s last-gen baggage, Friendster’s too-early-for-its-moment-ness, or MySpace’s aggressive ugliness, and it had the largely accidental advantage of being upmarket first — it was originally limited to college students and gaining some cachet therein — before it let in the rabble.

In addition to the elitism, which I hadn’t previously thought of, there is the dumbed-down web aspect:

Facebook is the Web hit with a stupid stick, but that doesn’t mean people are stupid for using it.

And let us not forget what it’s all for – not bringing people together, that’s merely a by-product of the commercial enterprise:

Its grasping attempts to get its hooks into every single thing I do feels like being groped by an overly obnoxious salesman. Its general ethos that I need to get over the concept of privacy makes me want to shove a camera lens up Zuckerberg’s left nostril 24 hours a day and ask him if he’d like for his company to rethink that position.

Again, it is not the people who use Facebook that is the problem, it is the platform itself.  And the real question, which Scalzi presumes to answer, is whether the MASSIVE market penetration will ever let this unfortunate and inadequate advertising device go away.  Here’s a clue to Scalzi’s opinion: He’s a bit more optimistic than I am.

While Scalzi looks at the technological inadequacies of Facebook, which he thinks will be its downfall, I see evidence that the outsized adoption rate, the 500 million members, creates a mythology of profit that goes beyond the reality of substandard technology.

I have no idea who Joseph Perla is, but this article, which may overstate the case a bit, brings up some questions about the value received by Facebook advertisers.

More and more people sign up to Facebook, and more and more businesses hear about how many people are on Facebook. It seems like a huge opportunity. TV shows and award-winning movies are made about Facebook.

Perla suggests that the it’s all sizzle and no steak:

What is clear from everyone I know who has advertised on Facebook is that it was a waste of money. Facebook promises big returns on ad spending, but delivers nothing. Yet, their value and growth continues because they can use that money to grow their user-base more and assert profitability (in this sense it’s not quite entirely a ponzi scheme, but there is no closer idea). It’s possible that they do not even realize that they are like a Ponzi scheme.

Perhaps Facebook is not a Ponzi scheme, but this concept of questionable value to advertisers has been on my mind for a while.  It was refreshing to see someone echo those sentiments.

Continuing to wrap up 2009 – the Reads!

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That’s right, folks! I read seven books this year!  Considering how slowly I read, that is actually a bit of an accomplishment for me.  Oh sure, I also read a lot of Jim Bouton’s iconic Ball Four (which I will finish some day) and a zillion articles about the Phillies.  There were also a few short stories, cartoons, comic books, tweets, status updates, briefs, cases, opinions, blog entries, articles and instruction manuals along the way.

But, ever since high school, I’ve really loved the novel – with it’s long format and character development, it is a feast for the mind, a smorgasbord for the imagination.  The problem for me with novels is that I usually read a book so slowly, I want to be as certain as possible that it will be worth my while.  That’s where John Scalzi’s Big Idea project has proven to be quite helpful.  Scalzi is a real professional with the written word.  He was writing for money well before ‘making it’ as a sci-fi novelist.  After gaining huge success, he has devoted a great deal of attention to directing his fans to more good ‘genre’ fiction.  All seven of these titles are sci-fi/ fantasy and four come from Scalzi’s Big Idea.

The Dark River, by John Twelve Hawks; this is the second book in the Fourth Realm Trilogy, and embodies a lot of the same intense paranoia that worked so well in book one – The Traveler.  The world looks these characters inhabit looks like ours, but under the surface there is a desperate battle between evil corporate forces that would rid the world of Travelers, a spiritual master that can go between parallel realities and bring enlightenment.  Although this second installment didn’t have the punch of the original, these books both offer the most horrifying concept of panopticon that I have yet come across.  Imagine a world where literally everything you do is monitored and digested by corporate interests who know everything you’ve said, every place you’ve been and everything you’ve done.  There is no where to hide and there is no escape!

WWW:Wake by Robert J. Sawyer; this title comes right off The Big Idea list and does nothing more than hypothesize a way in which the internet (you know, the internet) wakes up and begins to form a consciousness.  Talk about HEAVY!!  This is also the story of a young girl who is blind and is learning through technology, to see.  She becomes the webs first friend.  If all of this sounds like it’s a bit far fetched, then you don’t know Robert J. Sawyer.  All of his science checks out and holds up – no senseless psychobabble allowed.  Despite the amazing tech, Sawyer manages to bring the emotional side into play as young Caitlin and her big friend try to find their way in a frightening world.  This was a GREAT read.

Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi; this book tells the same story of Scalzi’s previous effort “The Last Colony” but from the point of view of another character.  Young Zoe is not the main player in the action of Lost Colony, but she does play a pivotal role that happens outside the action of the story.  Scalzi pulls a neat trick by now revealing what that action consisted of.  His professionalism and skill allows him to deftly shift gears and give the story a sincere freshness with this young girl’s voice.  It must help that Scalzi has a daughter routinely plays a role in his various blog entries.  Like all of his other books, Zoe’s Tale is tremendous fun, but with an added sense of genius that elevates the storytelling from pure escapism to enriching pulp.  I just love carrying around those little mass-market paperbacks.

Norse Code, by Greg van Eekhout; this is a great first novel that retells the awesome battle of the gods Ragnarok.  Neil Gaiman’s American Gods did such a beautiful job with the character study of Shadow, but didn’t succeed as well in the cataclysmic part of the myth.  No such problem for van Eekhout’s debut novel.  We get big battles that rattle California almost to ruin.  The characters left me wanting a bit more, but I realize that in a 290 page novel about the battle that brings about the end of the world, you can only do so much.  Suffice to say that the dialog and action are just what I wanted and I sped right through this selection from the Scalzi Big Idea list.

Mark of the Demon, by Diana Rowland; this is another debut and it was great.  The book is part X-Files, part CSI.  There are no little green men, but there is a whole lot of magic.  The setting is Louisiana and the main character is a young detective who also just happens to have the magical skills to summon demons from other realms.  It may be a crazy premise, but it is set up with such careful development and deliberate pacing that it all works beautifully.  There are certain aspects that seem to be a bit contrived detective novel stuff, but then I come back to the insane premise and I can’t get enough.  This is another selection from the Scalzi list and it just kept getting better and better.  I’m waiting to see if Ms. Rowland can get the series picked up.  Writing is no easy game!

Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey; this book was an absolute riot.  As slow as I read, I plowed through this bloodbath in just a few days.  Stark, a young magician, got sent to Hell by some unscrupulous associates and now, after eleven years of murder, mayhem and torture, he’s back for revenge.  Kadrey is a total rock star with the one liners and his taste for violence is varied and expansive.  It was great to read this book right after the Diana Rowland because a lot of the magic is similarly described.  But Kadrey goes the extra mile by referencing spaghetti westerns, samurai stories, Dirty Harry, Tom Waits, and everything in between.  Somehow, this books is really offensive and really likable at the same time.

Green, by Jay Lake; I save the best for last, even though it’s already been a few months since I finished Green.  This is one of the best things I’ve ever read, and the ending made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my eyes fill with tears.  A young girl from a fictional land is sold by her father to become the property of an ageless tyrant in a far away civilization.  From that horror, she goes on a journey that will form her into a young woman, a religious zealot, a merciless killer and a potential savior of gods and men.  This is a book of extraordinary power and emotion and it deserves it’s own post, which I will try to attend to before the year is out.

    It’s a READING frenzy!!

    After having (finally) finished Jay Lake‘s stunning new book, ‘Green‘, I’m all charged up to do some serious reading.  Em is out of town for the next two nights, so it will just be me and the four-letters.  Right away, there a ton of decent-looking selections close at hand.

    Firstly, I have to give a special shout to John Scalzi’s ‘Big Idea‘ project. On his ancient blog ‘Whatever‘ he’s been highlighting a veritable cornocopia of tasty sci-fi, fantasy and more. I would never have heard of ‘Green’ or ‘W.W.W Wake‘ if it hadn’t been for Scalzi. And, as of today he’s now featuring ‘The Big Idea’ on his Twitter feed, so check it out.

    The next novel I’m reading comes right off that list and tells the story of a Louisiana detective who uses demons to help her solve crimes. I’m not completely sold on the premise of the appropriately titled ‘Mark of the Demon‘, but it’s a good choice for Halloween and the reviews are very positive so far.  Plus, Scalzi hasn’t really steered me wrong yet.

    In a piece of conceptual continuity, a great mystery writer whom I enjoy is taking up a great all-time graphic novel character. Ian Rankin of Rebus fame has written a nice fat graphic novel in the John Constantine series for Vertigo called ‘Dark Entries‘. As if that weren’t enough to get me on board (it is), the story puts Constantine, paranormal investigator, in the midst of a reality TV show – Brilliant!

    In addition to those items, I’ve picked up ‘Sandman Slim’ by Richard Kadrey for after ‘Mark of the Demon’.  I think this is an urban fantasy about revenge from beyond the grave.  Again, it seems to fit in nicely with the theme I’ve got going.

    In the realm of shorter works, the incredible Aliette de Boddard has just published a short story over at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  This site takes the traditional sci-fi fiction journal and puts it online.  I paid about $2.50 for the September issue and I get de Boddard’s On Horizon’s Shores, which is the featured work, and a number of other tasty looking goodies.  It’s actually a novelette (as opposed to short story) and after just reading the first few paragraphs, I know it’s going to be great.

    The other shorter work I’m excited to look at is a crazy-looking new wave script from 1980 that was linked on io9 today.  The Tourist would probably have made a great movie if it hadn’t been for infighting and development hell.  In present day (well, 1980, anyway) Manhattan, there are aliens living among us, in disguise.  In real life they look like amazingly icky H.R. Giger creatures, because he was brought in (following the groundbreaking success of Alien) to do the concept art.  There’s a link that lets you download the script and I’m hoping for something partway between Cronenberg and The Hunger.

    Other stuff (not Wayne Shorter-related)

    F1 racing – is getting ready to tear itself apart.  Teams refuse to be subject to standardized technology and budget caps.  To make matters worse, the proposed changes are voluntary, meaning that the 2010 Championship is expected to be a two tiered affair.  I’m very much in favor of some measure of fiscal control on the sport, but standardized technology takes away a key element that is really integral to the tradition and definition of F1 racing.  And a two-tiered championship is absolutely unacceptable.

    Phillies – pulled out a nice squeeker tonight.  Hamels gets the win, although it seems he’s not quite as sharp and dominant as he was last year.  Same with Lidge – BIG TIME.  But he did get the save tonight and was a damned entertaining game to listen to.  Franzke is coming into his own (as Scott Graham did, a few years back) on those exciting calls at the end, particularly Lidge’s strikeout for out number two with two on in the bottom of the ninth.  Nice job.

    John Scalzi – is a fine SciFi writer, a real professional.  He’s been blogging prolifically since 1998.  That’s some pretty good output for one guy.  Getting the benefit of really good writing on a daily basis is quite a treat.  But when its Scalzi’s twisted sense of humor, well then it’s priceless.  And, hey, it is priceless, totally free!  He recently featured an interview with a stick of butter, and today confronts his inner geek as he contemplates the purchase of a new computer powerful enough to play fancy new games:

    As an example of this problem, note the picture above, of CyberPower PC’s “Lan Party Commander.” Leaving aside the name of the PC, which screams “I am encrusted in the residue of Cheetos and Mountain Dew,” this rig is one of the more subtly-designed of the gaming rigs CyberPower puts together, and it still looks like a cooling tower at Chernobyl. If I walk into a room and something is glowing like this thing is, my first instinct is to dive toward the lead shielding.

    Read the entire post here.  I particularly like image of him encrusted in the residue of Cheetos.

    WordPress – is ready to getting ready to go to 2.8 and only just installed this version (currently I’m using 2.7.1) on March 26.  That’s less than two months ago!  But it’s a dilemna because the last update (that I just installed) was terrific.  Fortunately, it’s still in beta testing, and I’m not feeling that adventurous at the moment.