State of the Blog – 2016

December 30, 2016 Blogging, Personal Comments (1) 311

This post is some wonky navel-gazing, so feel free to click away if that kind of thing doesn’t interest you. Might I recommend my personal favorite post of the year?

This was an odd year at Nomencreature, as it was everywhere else. It likely would have been the biggest year this little blog has ever seen, if not for my host screwing me. More on that in a minute.

I started the year vowing to dedicate myself to blogging, but then in January suffered some personal trauma and wound up taking a 6-month break until July. As a tip for fellow bloggers: Six month breaks are not great for readership. I didn’t write much of anything in those six months, other than tweets and private journal entries. Also not great for aspiring novelists.

The Saga of My Top Post of the Year

When I finally got back in the saddle,  I found some readers. My most popular post of the year–by far–was Dear White People, Your Safety Pins are Embarrassing, which followed the Trump election. This was certainly my most-read essay ever, but most people didn’t read it here. That’s because my host at the time, Site5, decided to turn off my site as soon as my traffic grew. It remained offline for about a week until I found a new host (Inmotion).

Site5 was great when I first signed up with them, but then they were purchased by a larger hosting company and everything went downhill. To illustrate: Once before, a post went viral and crashed my site. That was a February 2015 piece about Caitlyn Jenner (at the time identifying by her male name and pronouns) which crashed my site after 350,000 views. The Safety Pin article did so at around a tenth of that.

That’s why, when the Huffington Post asked if they could reprint the piece, I made an exception to my usual rule that says I don’t allow others to profit from my work without paying me. I lost track of how many reads the piece got at HuffPo–their counter doesn’t seem to be accurate, but it was shared more than 250,000 times on Facebook alone. I also cross-posted the piece at Medium, where it got more than 130,000 views.

It feels safe to believe more than one million people might have read that piece, but here at Nomencreature it got 38,186 (as of this writing). Thanks, Site5.

The Big Picture, and the Money

By the end of 2016, this site will have received just over 75,000 views, making 2016 my third-biggest year, after 2013 (85K) and the monster, 2015, at 423,000 views.

For that traffic, I earned just under forty dollars through AdSense, the only way I monetize this blog. I make a little less than some bloggers because I don’t allow ads for supplements, plastic surgery, gambling, get-rich-quick schemes, astrology, or phone apps. Those are the highest-paying advertisers, and Google keeps recommending I change my policy, but I don’t want my readers getting scammed, triggered, or told that their bodies aren’t good enough.

By my math, I spent just over $250 this year on various costs directly associated with this site (hosting, templates, domain transfer) which puts me in the red for the tenth consecutive year.

Incidentally, it is possible to make money doing this. That Caitlyn Jenner article in 2015 made around $750 before my site crashed. It’s just hard when your web host, to whom you pay a not-insignificant-monthly-sum, turns off your site before it even earns back the money it cost that day.

Other Top Posts

While 2016 was not much for traffic here at Nomencreature, it’s safe to say I found more readers as an author than ever before. Not only did that Safety Pin piece take off, but its companion piece, How to Easily be a White Ally to Marginalized Communities, did similarly. Here, it got only 7,000 views, and at HuffPo only about 2,500 views (though Facebook says it got 2,500 shares, so something is definitely screwy with HuffPo’s stats) but at Medium it got more than 614,000. Also, it was reprinted at GOOD (who paid me for it, bless them) and while I have no idea how many times it was read there, it got about 1,600 Facebook shares.

My third-place post, oddly enough, is It’s About Time Somebody Called Out Blue Bloods, an essay from two years ago calling out the CBS series for its questionable treatment of race. All of this traffic comes from Google searches. I don’t know, I guess a lot of people agree that Blue Bloods is kind of racist. It got 4,700 views.

My Personal Favorites

My favorite essay of the year was It’s Time for Republican Party to Abandon its Racist Base, and I’ll tell you why: I wrote this a couple of weeks before the election, when I was so assured that Trump was going to get trounced that I felt confident telling the GOP–in advance–what it had to do if it ever wanted to win another Presidential election.

Oops.

Nonetheless, it remains a clear and concise (in my opinion) summary of how the Republican Party came to embrace White Supremacy, and why they must move away from it if they want to be viable in the future. Maybe it will actually be relevant again someday.

I’d also like to plug The Electoral College Must Go, without dispute the essay I worked longest and hardest on. It originally ran as a five-part series, laying out a comprehensive and non-partisan argument against the electoral college…that nobody read. I even made charts and graphs. Oh well.

What’s in Store for 2017?

I’ll be honest, I don’t really have a comprehensive plan. I use this site to pretty much write about whatever strikes me–whatever engages my interest enough to generate a cogent essay–and to keep my writing skills sharp. Oh, and when I have something to say on Twitter that takes WAY more than 140 characters.

As my readership grows, I may consider options for monetizing this work. It does take up a significant amount of my time, and though I’d do it anyway, I would like to earn something back. I currently have no intention to become a full-time essayist because (and here I’ll be quite blunt) my day job already pays a lot more than most essayists, even very popular ones, make. So whatever small amount I might earn from this would be great. I don’t know. I may look into Patreon, but something tells me the time investment there might not pay for itself.

I do intend, again, to blog more regularly. I’d also like to post more cartoons. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, I generally don’t have the time. I’m currently working a day job, running a small side business, and working on finishing a novel–and I have several other creative projects and collaborations I’m juggling at any given time.

I’d love the opportunity to focus full-time on creative endeavors, but income-wise that feels a long way off. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing what I have been doing. I mean hey, by my count across multiple platforms, around 2 million people (maybe more) read my essays and/or cartoons. That’s pretty freakin cool.

Also, I did make forty dollars.

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“Russia Didn’t Hack Voting Machines” is Fake News

December 29, 2016 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (1) 518

There is no compelling evidence that Russian hackers interfered with US voting machines to change vote totals in the 2016 election.

Read that sentence again, carefully. It’s true, to the best of my knowledge. There is, however, an important distinction between not having evidence of something and knowing it did not happen, especially when there has been no investigation that might have turned up said evidence.

In recent days, I have seen experts I respect quote, in mocking tones, a YouGov poll that says more than half of Democrats believe Russia tampered with vote totals. There is a valid point here: Many voters misunderstand recent announcements from the CIA and Department of Homeland Security that Russian intelligence agents hacked a number of entities in an effort to swing the election for Trump. Those hacks did not include voting machines, and no government agency (or any other reputable source) has come forward to say the Russians hacked US voting machines.

That said, reporters overstep the truth when they say “Russia did not hack American voting machines.” No one knows whether they did or did not, because no investigation has occurred. Continue Reading

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Backpacking Yosemite: Mist Trail, Yosemite Valley, and Clouds Rest

December 27, 2016 Featured, Personal, Travels Comments (0) 383

I realize now that I never posted about my Yosemite trip. Hopefully late is better than never. This was one of the great experiences of my adult life, one good thing in 2016, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone.

2016 didn’t start out great for me. In early spring, I decided I needed a good hiking vacation to clear my head and recenter. After reviewing several options, I chose Yosemite National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. I booked my flight to Oakland and a rental car, figuring I’d throw my backpack in and drive four hours straight into the mountains.

A view down the Mist Trail from atop Vernal Fall. Look close and you can see the hikers in their rain slickers making their way up the trail.

Of note, you can’t really just up and travel to Yosemite, especially if you want to backpack overnight. The Park Service has instituted a permit requirement that requires advance reservations. This protects the environment, as well as a sense of wilderness in what might otherwise feel like a shopping mall. I first applied to begin at trailheads along Tioga Road, not realizing Tioga Road in late May was still buried in snow and closed. I was lucky, though; there was one spot still left at Happy Isles, the park’s most in-demand trailhead. I plotted a course, a 30-mile circuit that would take me over or past some of the park’s most famous landmarks. I also bought my first bear canister. Continue Reading

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Westworld: Unanswered Questions for Season Two

December 9, 2016 Featured, Pop Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 424

** As you may have guessed, this post contains spoilers for Season One. **

I was reluctant even to begin watching Westworld when it debuted. With J.J. Abrams involved, I anticipated a Lost-style mess of unanswered questions and unresolved mysteries. Instead the show’s first season generally proved satisfying, even if it often traded pace and story for a big reveal.

The show’s biggest reveals, the true identities of Bernard Lowe and the Man in Black, were teased for so long and so frequently they hardly could have surprised anyone. The Maze, it turns out, was an elaborate metaphor. Wyatt, like Bernard, turned out to have the most obvious and unsatisfying true identity.

That said, the Westworld season finale fit the story so far, and didn’t fumble or cheapen the rest of the season like, say, True Detective‘s first season finale. With most of the major mysteries resolved, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the show’s second season, but some viewers may have overlooked unanswered questions.

1. What host did Robert Ford create in his secret lab?

Leading into the finale, the show made a point of lingering on a first-generation host printer, slowly assembling a new host. We first saw this Episode Seven, when Bernard kills Theresa, and many viewers expected to see a host Theresa turn up in Episode Eight. Instead, we got another shot of that printer still at work. In Episode Ten, we see in the background that the printer is empty, its work complete.

So who came out of that printer?

Considering that the mystery was not resolved in Season One, and the way clues were subtly-but-not-subtly worked into several episodes, the most obvious conclusion is that the Robert Ford who took Dolores’s bullet in the head was a host impersonator, and the real Ford is still somewhere in the park. Or, given Ford’s face turn to host liberator, perhaps he uploaded his mind into a host body, and shuffled off his mortal coil? That would fit, quite literally, with his stated desire to “become music.”

2. What is Delos’s Larger Plan?

In numerous conversations, Charlotte (Delos board member and exhibitionist) referred to some larger plan from Westworld’s parent company. We don’t know for sure, but since it wasn’t addressed we should assume Peter Abernethy, living thumb drive, made it out of the park with proprietary information. It appears the board will not be around to receive it, but the question remains: What exactly did Delos have in store?

Let’s hope it’s not the far-too-obvious and done-to-death “military application” for hosts. They’re hardly Terminators, anyway, when a single shot can bring one down. It seems more likely Delos is interested in immortality via host clone, which would fit nicely if Ford did indeed upload his own consciousness.

We know the same medical technology used to repair hosts can also fix human injuries (assuming Sylvester, the tech with a temporarily slit throat is not himself a host). It seems highly likely that technology already has applications outside the park, explaining the gratitude the Man in Black receives from strangers. If that element of the Westworld tech is already functioning outside the park, what more might Delos be after? What is it that could be smuggled out in the mind of a host?

I have my own theory, that I’m not quite ready to give up on. What if Ford’s software can be used to control an actual human brain?

3. What’s the relationship between humans and host duplicates?

We know the hosts are physically identical to biological humans in almost every way. We know this is a change from the early technology, and that it is, for some reason, “more cost effective.” We know that at least one person, Arnold Weber, lived a second life as a host–but we don’t know for certain, because we didn’t observe it, that Robert Ford built Bernard Lowe. We also know that Arnold, who was responsible for the core host software, was tormented by the death of his son.

What if Bernard is not a host clone of Arnold, but in fact Arnold himself, reanimated by Westworld’s medical tech and “reprogrammed” by its software? It’s not much of a leap to think this would be possible if a host brain, like the rest of its anatomy, is identical to the real deal. This might also explain why some hosts have memories of an earlier life they cannot shake–which would suggest an even deeper back-story for Maeve.

The flaw in this theory? We do see Maeve resurrected from whole cloth in the finale, after her body is destroyed by fire. So clearly the identity is not tied directly to the body, but it might still be that an actual human mind can be uploaded into a host–and that doing so might facilitate a backup that would enable future resurrection.

It might be a long-shot, but it would help answer another question I just can’t give up:

3. Why do Logan and Hector seem so similar?

This question has haunted me since early in the season, and I’m not the only one. I refuse to believe a show as detail-oriented as Westworld could accidentally hire two similar looking actors, allow them to keep their hair and beards almost identically groomed, dress them both all in black, and give them both minor villain roles. I still believe there must be some connection.

Again, the obvious answer is that Logan became Hector, by whatever process Arnold became Bernard. It’s notable that Hector never appears in the earlier timeline with William and Logan. The last time we see him, on horseback, he is seated and naked–exactly the way we have seen hosts throughout the series.

Coincidence? Maybe. There is one scene between Hector and the Man in Black, early in the series when they break out of of prison. I don’t recall any subtle nod to a shared backstory, or other indication that Hector meant more to the Man in Black than any other host. But again, I refuse to believe it’s coincidence.

To those who point out they are played by different actors, I will only point out that the show would have to hire similar actors if they wanted to keep the connection secret. To have the two characters played by the same actor would make it too obvious.

So did the Man in Black perhaps use his position as Delos majority shareholder to design a special torment for his villainous would-be brother-in-law? Or did Westworld accidentally cast Javier Bardem and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the same show?

Hopefully Season Two will tell. We only have to wait two years to find out.

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