Archive for November, 2021

The Interface Problem

The first two definitions of “interface” are: (1) the point where two systems, subjects, organizations, etc. meet and interact and (2) a device or program enabling a user to communicate with a computer.

One of the greatest problems with the increasing use of computerized systems is that all too many human/computer interfaces are flawed, both on the human side and on the computer side, as exemplified by the following examples.

A little over a week ago, the local Walgreens called to remind my wife that she was due for her second Shingles shot. She couldn’t do it immediately, but she had time after a dental appointment last Tuesday. So she stopped in at the Walgreens around 5:00 p.m. and went to the pharmacy. There was no one waiting for anything, and two pharmacy technicians and a pharmacist were on duty. She asked for the shot. She was told she had to make an appointment, except the store’s pharmacy telephone information line said that appointments were only necessary for COVID and flu vaccines, and that people could go to the pharmacy without an appointment. The main Walgreens website said the same. She pointed out that when she’d called the store, she was told she didn’t need an appointment for Shingles. She came home furious, but she called for an appointment, but was told by the Walgreens central vaccine scheduling office that they could only schedule COVID and flu shots by telephone. Other shots had to be scheduled online. But when she tried that, the Walgreens system wouldn’t schedule anything but COVID and flu. Another call back to Walgreens vaccine scheduling didn’t solve the problem, but the person on the other end suggested a Walgreens’ scheduling subsite that she could go to directly, a site that wasn’t listed anywhere. That worked… so far as getting the appointment, but that site wouldn’t accept her doctor’s info, which mean more of a wait when she did get the shot.

That’s definitely an example of an interface problem.

Another example is something experienced by a Canadian reader who was trying to obtain a Kindle version of ISOLATE from [the Canadian Amazon outlet]. He could get the audiobook and the hardcover, but not the Kindle ebook. The same was true for a number of his Canadian friends. I brought the matter to TOR’s attention, and my editor looked into it. Amazon replied to TOR that there was no problem. The links worked fine. Except they didn’t for those Canadians. Paradoxically, my Canadian friend got the Kindle from [the U.S. Amazon], but he informed me that still said the Kindle version was unavailable, not only to him, but to number of others.

I’d like to think that these are isolated examples – but they’re not. Too many organizations have websites that are close to impenetrable even for people with considerable familiarity with computers, not to mention those businesses with semi-AI telephone systems that not only work poorly, but often never allow a caller to talk to a real person, or only if the caller spends forever going through menu options and trying to reply to a computerized voice saying “I didn’t get that. Did you mean XXXX,” or the equivalent.

Yet more and more businesses are relying on flawed computerization and voicemail systems that don’t deal with real-world people and their problems… and with the shortage of workers, this problem is likely to get a lot worse.


Now that Isolate is finally published, I’ll be interested to see if reader reviews follow a familiar pattern to that of my earlier books, a pattern, interestingly enough, that also occurs in the political world.

Once one of my books is published, usually the first reader reviews are mixed, but almost immediately, along with those who liked the book are those who go to great lengths to find faults with it, of all sorts. Those quibblers and naysayers tend to have a greater presence in the days and weeks immediately following publication, but then, over time, those who quibble and carp about what’s in the book and about what’s not (and find the book “boring”) drop off, and later comments tend to be more positive.

What I find interesting about this is that it’s very similar to the reaction to major political events. Whatever the event or occurrence, the naysayers are usually out in force first, whether it was January 6th, or Obamacare, or walls and immigration, masks and vaccination.

Part of the similarity, I suspect, lies with the subject matter. Neither politics nor my books are simple, and anyone who’s studied either knows that. Anything that’s complex tends to draw opposition, possibly because saying “no” is always easier than a considered and thoughtful response.

In addition, in dealing with large numbers of people, even the best crafted regulation or law will have repercussions on someone. If a vaccine is 93% effective (and that’s high for a vaccine), that means that it doesn’t work well on 7% of those who receive it.

Likewise, even the best crafted thought-provoking book will irritate some people, and as study after study has shown, negative reactions show up more often first and more strongly than positive reactions. This has been true in politics as well. The AMA and most businesses were initially dead-set against FDR’s Social Security proposals. Going back a bit farther, the southern states would have blocked the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had slavery been outlawed from the beginning.

But it doesn’t always happen that way, which is why, sometimes, it’s better to think things over, from books to politics.

Arrogance and Arrogance

In the United States of today, I’ve observed two types of arrogance manifested by those who have ability and power, usually but not exclusively by males. The first type of arrogance is that typical of most elites in most societies – that they’re special and everyone should know it, even if they gained their position, power, and wealth largely aided by factors they had little to do with, such as family economic and social position.

The second kind of arrogance is the assumption that, if they can do it, anyone can, if others only work hard enough. I’ve seen this kind of arrogance manifested far more than a few times, usually by white males. I’m not saying that most of them didn’t work hard to get where they got, because many of those I know did in fact work hard, but all too often hard and even hard smart work isn’t enough.

What few of them fail to realize, or at least to acknowledge publicly, is that many of the aspects of their lives that they take for granted as “normal” are anything but normal for tens of millions of Americans, things like a stable home life growing up, having enough to eat as a child, a decent grade school and secondary education, living in a low-crime area, not having an ethnic/cultural background that makes strangers suspicious, having good role models.

Another factor that too many “self-made” individuals ignore or minimize is the role of luck and timing. I owe a great deal of my success to what I’ve learned from my wife, yet how we met was statistically effectively impossible.

A publisher once told me that the great success of a particular book/series was made possible by a set of circumstances that existed for only one five-year period ever in the publishing industry. Now, the writer in question had been published previously and could have likely continued as a successful midlist author…and perhaps eventually done better than that, but those circumstances and the fact that the publisher recognized them gave the author far greater success than others who had equal ability, but wrote earlier or later in time.

I’m not writing about myself, but in my case, I got my first and long-standing editor as a result of the intersection of three facts – the fact that I’d published a handful of stories in ANALOG, that he read short stories because he compiled anthologies, and that he recognized my last name because he’d known my cousin [with the same uncommon last name] in college. Those were just enough to get him to read my first novel… and to publish it and eventually many others. And it was pure luck, from my point of view, that he then became an editor for a publishing start-up then known as TOR.

Yes, I sold my first stories over the transom to people I’d never met, and I worked hard, damned hard, and I sent that first novel to every F&SF editor whose name and address I could find, but I’ve known lots of other authors who have worked hard and weren’t in the right place at the right time with the right book. And even after that, it took me another ten years to be able to become a full-time writer.

It’s been said by others that great success comes when hard work meets great opportunity, but hard work doesn’t always meet such opportunity. For those reasons, and quite a few others, I find that it’s arrogant when someone says, “If I can do it, anyone who works can do it.” It’s just not that simple… and it never has been.

Dying for Your Beliefs?

The fatality rates of diseases, at least in theory, shouldn’t have any connection with political beliefs. That’s in theory, but since this past June, that theory has been proven wrong.

Since Delta began circulating widely in the U.S., COVID has exacted a horrific death toll on counties where Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote, killing 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the number is about 10 out of 100,000.

In October, twenty-five (25) out of every 100,000 residents of heavily Trump counties died from COVID, more than three times higher than the rate in heavily Biden counties (7.8 per 100,000). October was the fifth consecutive month that the percentage gap between the death rates in Trump counties and Biden counties widened.

Is this a lethal political litmus test? In a way it is. Because of the vast amount of COVID misinformation circulated and accepted by Republicans, or for other factors unique to Republicans, they are far less likely to get vaccinated, and vaccination keeps the vast majority of those vaccinated from being hospitalized or dying from COVID.

A late October poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found that 39% of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, while just 10% of Democratic adults were unvaccinated.

Yet depending on the state and the statistics, between 89% and 98% of patients hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated, and the current number of U.S. COVID fatalities is now at 751,000 and continuing to grow.

What I want to know is why so many Republicans believe that dying for the freedom not to be vaccinated is so glorious.

Election Insanity?

Not all election insanity or power-grabs are national. Last Tuesday, Cedar City held an election for its mayor and for two city council seats. The city’s population is roughly 36,000, and the city’s annual expenditures are [if I’ve added all the scattered budgets correctly] are around $42 million, which, besides normal government functions [administration, water, trash, sewage, parks, police, and fire] also include operating a modest airport, a municipal theatre, and a golf course.

Councilors serve four years and are paid slightly more than $13,000 annually. The mayor has a four year term and an annual salary slightly above $20,000. The City Council is the body that decides policy, and the mayor has no voting power.

On the surface, the council seat elections were unremarkable, in that the four candidates [all male – after all, this is Utah] all promised that they would be the best in guiding the city forward. The four candidates spent from $5,000 to $15,000 each on their campaigns, for a total of roughly $40,000.

The mayor’s race was another story. The two-term incumbent is a corporate attorney in her very early thirties, married to a doctor, with deep family roots in the area. She was the youngest mayor in city history and the only woman ever elected mayor. She raised over $106,000 from a variety of business and corporate sources, as well as from personal sources, but the majority of contributions came from the business and corporate sources.

Her challenger was a local businessman who had founded and expanded an extremely successful plumbing supply business for over 30 years, who put $130,000 of his own money into his campaign, and who also donated $11,000 each to the two council candidates that he favored, effectively allowing them to significantly outspend their opponents.

In the end, money won. The challenger came up a winner by a little over a hundred votes out of a little more than 7,500 cast… but only one of the two council candidates he backed happened to win.

I still have a hard time understanding why the race for a mayor’s position that pays only $20,000 a year and has no voting power ended up costing close to a quarter of a million dollars, except that the mayoral challenger clearly wanted the position.


The other day I read in the next-to-latest edition of BBC History about how the BBC was swamped with complaints about a program that depicted a Roman Legion Commander as dark-skinned. The facts – lots of them – prove that while the Romans were imperialist bastards, they didn’t give a damn about skin color. Their upper class, all across the empire, had various skin tones. So did their slaves. Power and wealth mattered, not skin color.

Yet, to this day, people deny this, along with scores of other matters that go against what they want to believe, and in this time of “pick your own news” and pick only your own facts, this trend of denialism is worsening, certainly in the United States, and apparently in at least some of Europe.

So why do intelligent people believe things that are not so? It’s not primarily a matter of intelligence. In fact, studies have shown that intelligent and well-informed people, whether conservative or liberal politically, are often more likely to use their knowledge in support of matters that are not accurate or true than are less informed individuals.

In psychological terms, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.

In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively straight-forward. Present strong evidence, or evidence of a strong expert consensus. Unfortunately, when scientific advice presents a picture that threatens someone’s perceived interests or ideological worldview, large numbers of people will reject those facts. The strength of rejection turns out to be related to someone’s political, religious or ethnic identity, and the strength of those identities.

In short, denial is notoriously resistant to facts because it isn’t about facts in the first place. Political or scientific denial, as well as other forms of denial, are an expression of identity – usually in the face of perceived threats to that identity.

And, unfortunately, right now, a great number of facts threaten a great number of personal identities, and many of those facts don’t appear to be going away.

Hot Off the Press

I was recently featured on Con-Tinual’s “Hot Off the Press” program, along with other authors.

The Facebook version is live now at .

The U-Tube version should go live in a few days at:

Follow the Damned Numbers

Just because people feel strongly and voice those feelings persistently at high volume doesn’t mean that they’re right. It usually does mean than they’re feeling angry and frustrated. Sometimes, those frustrations are justifiable, as in the case of people who’ve been denied equal rights and fair treatment under law for generations.

And sometimes, they’re anything but justified. Like many Americans, I’m more than a little tired of those who shout and scream that the last election was stolen. It wasn’t. They lost fair and square, as shown by the numbers, counted in more states by Republicans than by Democrats, but the people who stormed the Capital on January 6th, as well as many others, continue to refuse to believe that. But such individuals equate their “cause” with those of civil rights protestors and black and other activists.

The difference between the two “groups” is simple. The civil rights and most other activists have the law and the facts on their side. They also had the numbers of the election results. The “Trump-related activists” just have anger that they didn’t win an election that Trump then tried to steal. They’re also angry that the other guys might have gotten a little more power. So they shout and scream louder.

The same is true of the conflict arising over vaccinations. I’ve read and heard a great deal from both sides, but the plain fact is that vaccinations work on an individual level, and the Covid vaccinations have a higher level of effectiveness than any flu vaccine, as well as many others.

All the arguments against the vaccinations are, from what I can tell, based on the literature, flawed or theoretical. The facts are simple. Over 93% [roughly] of the hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated. So the vaccines don’t last forever. Many don’t. So they don’t stop the spread. Of course, they don’t, not when anywhere from thirty to fifty percent [or more] of the population, depending on the state and locale, aren’t vaccinated.

Yet far too many Americans, including many considered intelligent, ignore the basic numbers in so many areas and argue, vociferously, on the basis of feelings not grounded in hard fact or grounded in hard facts that are largely irrelevant.

Millionaires argue for lower taxes, saying that all that excess wealth creates jobs, and it does, but far too many of those jobs pay so little that those who hold them live below the poverty line, and with each reduction in tax rates for the wealthy income inequality and the federal deficit and debt increase.

The numbers show that negative media and Facebook presentations gain more supporters than balanced or positive ones, which is one case where following the numbers “works,” at least for those owning those media outlets.

Just follow the hard basic numbers and learn what they mean, not what you think they mean.