Nominating podcasts for the Hugo Awards

Recently, I read a tweet that moved me to respond to the author.

The reason Jason tweeted to say that his podcast (The Incomparable) wasn’t eligible in the Fancast category was that he takes sponsorship. Both he and I thought that rendered him ineligible for any fannish category, due to the fact it represents a revenue stream.

A photograph showing previous Hugo Awards on display at a convention

I tweeted at Jason, and we discussed podcasts and their place in the list of Hugo Award categories. There are two categories in the last couple of years that have seen podcasts nominated. The first and most obvious is Best Fancast, in which a range of fannish podcasts have been nominated but which is specifically for non-professional ventures. The other is Best Related Work, in which Writing Excuses was nominated in both 2012 and 2013.

In which category would The Incomparable belong? Upon reading the WSFS Constitution1 we find:

A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria: (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

The definition of the Best Fancast category as expressed in the same document is — to preçis — any podcast that is “non-professional”, i.e. any podcast that does not meet either of the above criteria. I have been told that the reason that Writing Excuses is not eligible as Best Fancast is because it is published by Brandon Sanderson’s company, which qualifies it as a professional work.

What this does mean, however, is that any podcast with sponsorship and adverts can be nominated for Best Fancast, as long as that sponsorship does not make enough money to qualify the podcast as professional.

Podcast collectives

Where this becomes somewhat less clear is in the case of podcast collectives. The Incomparable is a part of the 5by5 network, which employs Dan Benjamin on a full-time basis, so anything published by or owned by 5by5 counts as a professional work. A podcast collective does not own the podcasts that belong to it, but I don’t know how a Hugo Awards administrator would rule on whether a collective counts as publishing the podcasts that belong to it. Jason argued that it wouldn’t in an email to me, writing:

I own my show (5by5 hosts it and sells some of the advertising, but I have all creative control as well as our separate site at theincomparable.com) so 5by5′s business status probably doesn’t connect.

I agree with Jason — it seems clear to me that podcast collectives are not publishers. Despite my opinion, however, the word ‘publish’ is not explicitly defined in the WSFS Constitution and so I can’t be sure of how an administrator would rule on the issue. I would argue that the fact that 5by5 has no editorial control over the podcast means that they don’t publish it, but I suspect there are arguments one could put forward to argue the reverse. I hope that future administrators would agree with me, but without a test case there’s no way to know.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion is to nominate The Incomparable as Best Fancast and watch what the administrators do! Go nominate it now, and I’ll write a follow-up blog post when it’s announced as a nominee at Satellite 4.

Thanks to Andrew Trembley and Warren Buff for discussing this subject with me!


  1. I apologise for linking to such a completely awful website, but unfortunately it’s the best way to link readers to the constitution. Hopefully one day it’ll get a fresh coat of paint. 

TV licences in the 21st century

After having a brief debate about the future of the TV licence on Twitter with @robhague and @fredtilley, here are some thoughts about it. For those who don’t know (the non-Brits, mainly): In the UK, watching live television (in colour) carries with it a licence fee of £145.50. This basically means that if you own a television you pay the fee (unless you can prove you’re not using it to watch live broadcasts) and technically speaking, if you watch iPlayer live, you are also required to have a licence.

In the future, obviously, the number of people watching live TV is probably going to decline. I don’t know the timescale on which this will occur, but at some stage the idea of live broadcasts is going to wither and die in the face of the realities of the Internet. As a result, Fred tweeted:

Why should people pay for a monitor fee to support a national broadcasting company? Well, the fact of the matter is that the BBC does a lot more than TV and radio now. iPlayer is an obvious one, but their news organisation is one of the best in the world and puts a lot of news online for free. Podcasts with much free content are available for download and the Beeb also puts a lot of effort into expanding infrastructure. Those who don’t use the BBC’s website or other online services might say that they shouldn’t pay, but this is the same argument as people who only watch Sky use against the TV fee, and it hasn’t worked yet.

This point leads me neatly onto privatisation of the BBC as a second option.1 I don’t support privatisation of the Beeb, because I think it would be a huge blow to the quality of news and programming in the UK. However, if the licence fee stops delivering enough revenue to the BBC at the same time as a Conservative government is in power, I can see the need to reform the licence fee being used as a platform to scrap it entirely. I would like to hope that a Labour government would not do this, and that they’d update the fee instead.

However, if a monitor fee that has to be paid on iPads and laptops is brought in, there are obvious problems with making people pay up — the television is a mostly static thing, and easy to locate and charge for (I suspect the exemption of the handheld is partly based on the difficulty of proving someone owns one). The solution to the difficulty of locating televisions and making people pay up is familiar to any resident of the UK: The lovely experience of the TV Licensing company writing to them, ad nauseam, threatening court action if they don’t submit (regardless of whether or not you actually need to!). This problem of finding televisions is one that would be far worse if a monitor licence was introduced, and the current solution is a massive waste of paper and revenue.

So, perhaps, a third option is more sensible. Simply add a percentage to every tablet, laptop and monitor sold (call it the Display Surcharge, or something) which is paid on top of VAT at the point of sale. The money from those fees goes to fund national and public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom, nobody has to be badgered to pay for their television licence, and everyone wins! (Except those made redundant from their jobs as a result of the TV Licensing company going under, I suppose.)


  1. The debate over whether or not the licence fee should exist is an old and tired one that has been had many times; I am reluctant to spend too much time discussing its merits here. I’m focusing on reform, rather than removal. 

Finding images to use on blogs

A picture of a red butterfly resting on a leaf.

I recently transferred stewardship of the Leicester Sabres PR machine1 to a new council, and as part of the process had to explain how to construct blog posts on WordPress. The new PR rep asked some questions about how to find images to use on a website, and what the rules were about using images. I explained that she would have to either find images that were in the public domain or licenced with Creative Commons2. It is not legal to simply use an image and credit the copyright holder; you must have their explicit permission before using any image! She balked a little at the news, and so I briefly explained some of my tricks for finding suitable images. Since I figure they might help my fellow bloggers, I humbly present them here!

Take your own photographs

Simply create your own images, either by photographing things that you want to write about or by drawing the images you want to use. In one way, this is the simplest solution: you created the image, so you definitely know you can use it. In another, it’s the hardest: you need to be able to create the image. You can’t just take a photograph of a piece of artwork, since that’s making a copy of the artwork and therefore copyright infringement. It has to be original!3

A stylised photograph of a butterfly landing on a yellow and red flower.

Flickr

This is usually my first port of call. Visit Flickr, and simply enter what it is you’re looking for in the search box on the front page. Then, click ‘Advanced Search’, scroll to the bottom and tick the box that says ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’. The result of your search will give you images that you can use on your site. Flickr is a huge website with a lot of talented photographers putting images up completely for free, so this is a great way to do things.

deviantART

A drawing of a blue butterfly.

Like Flickr, deviantART lets creators tell their visitors that images are under Creative Commons licences. Unlike Flickr, DeviantArt lacks any sort of way to search based on this. As a result, Google is our friend; simply perform a Google search for what it is you’re looking for, with site:deviantart.com "creative commons" tacked on (if you’re lazy, click here). Doublecheck the copyright status of the image by opening the ‘details’ tab below the picture; if it has a Creative Commons licence, you’re good to go!

Alternatively, you can search via DeviantArt and then click ‘Resources & Stock Images’. The description of the image will generally have the terms under which you may use it. This is another useful way to find images you can use on the site.

Wikimedia Commons

A photograph of a butterfly on someone's fingertip.

Wikimedia Commons is a collection of media, including images, which are free for you to use either because they are licenced by their creators under Creative Commons or because they are in the public domain. Simply head over to the website, enter the thing you’re looking for, and look through the pictures to find one that you like. Below the photograph will be information about the copyright status of the photograph explaining how you can use it.

Other sources

If you’ve explored the above sources thoroughly and you don’t know where else to turn, there is a setting in the Advanced Search on Google Images which can find permissible images. I’m a bit hesitant to use it, though, because I don’t fully understand how they tell if a photograph is available for use; it’s worth a try, but make sure to read the webpage that Google finds before using the images!

Another potential source for images is organisations like NASA, which tend to make their images free to download and use as people see fit. This is provided that a specific credit is used, depending on the institutions and agencies involved in creating a given image. Other organisations involved in scientific research disseminate images, so if you know of one, look to see whether you can use their images. For instance, EFDA, the organisation responsible for JET and ITER, lets you use their images for “non-commercial, scientific, news and educational purposes provided that you acknowledge EFDA as the source”.

Hopefully this blog post will give people the tools they need to illustrate their blog posts whilst staying within the law. I hope you find it useful!


  1. It’s not a very big machine, if I’m honest. Mostly a Facebook group and a website. 
  2. If you haven’t encountered them before, this is a good explanation of the different Creative Commons licences and what they let you do
  3. A legal grey area arises if you take a photograph that happens to include a piece of copyrighted artwork, but which isn’t simply a copy. Or making screenshots of software, since they include the developer’s art assets. Do these count as making a copy and are they therefore against the rules? I haven’t found the answer to either of these problems — if you know the answers, please do comment below (preferably citing your sources!). 

Modifying epub files to include ‘sort by’ metadata

As most people know, books are usually organised by the surname of the (first) author, alphabetically. As some others will know, ebooks are not always great at this; iTunes sometimes thinks it should sort a book by first name instead of last name, and my Nook sorts by the last word of the first author’s name regardless of where their surname is. I’ve written about my tinkering with Calibre and ebooks before and this blog post is a short snippet that builds on that. As before, I’m using Calibre to perform the tweaks.

I’ve been trying to fix this problem by including something that looks like the following in the OPF file of my epub files:

<dc:creator opf:file-as="Beagle, Peter S." opf:role="aut">Peter S. Beagle</dc:creator>

The dc:creator tag is used by the epub specification to identify the contents of the tag as a creator of the work. The opf:role="aut" is there to identify Peter S. Beagle specifically as the author of the work. opf:file-as="Beagle, Peter S." is obviously there to make it clear what the sort criterion should be for this file.

There’s only one problem with including this line: it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, but often my Nook will complain of an unreadable file (even though Calibre will read it just fine). So, what’s up? I have been puzzling over this issue for ages, and today I finally cracked it.

At the start of your book, there will be a <package> tag, and then below that a <metadata> tag. In order for your epub to be able to use the opf:role and opf:file-as attributes, the <metadata> tag has to look like this (or at least include this part):

<metadata xmlns:opf="http://www.idpf.org/2007/opf">

Making sure that your <metadata> tag is correct solves the problem. Wahey!

Further notes on Markdown and WordPress

For a long while, my blog post on one of Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter projects was my most popular blog post, thanks in no small part to AFP herself tweeting a link to it, providing a very nice uptick in my hits for the day! However, a different blog post recently overtook it — I am, as you’ve almost certainly worked out from this post’s title, talking about my previous blog post about using Markdown with WordPress, which I’m happy to see is proving to be useful to so many people.

However, things have changed in the way I use Markdown with WordPress since then. Michel Fortin has announced that his PHP Markdown Extra will no longer be updated as of 1 January 2014. He’s introduced PHP Markdown Lib 1.3 to replace it, partly because he no longer wants to maintain the WordPress elements. This is fair enough, but it introduces a fly to the ointment. One annoying thing about PHP Markdown Extra is that, if you have it installed on WordPress but then deactivate it or uninstall it, your blog no longer knows how to handle Markdown. This results in all of your blog posts displaying raw Markdown, rather than the HTML that they should show to visitors. Therefore, when a plugin is depreciated, it can be a real pain in the backside to get everything back to where it was.

As a result, as a WordPress user I have been casting around for a replacement for PHP Markdown Extra that won’t create the same problem if you need to deactivate it. I am here to tell you I believe I’ve found something that fits the bill perfectly.

An image showing the Markdown on Save Improved pane in the WordPress editor.

I’d like to recommend Markdown on Save Improved as a solid replacement for PHP Markdown Extra on WordPress. It addresses the concern I’ve outlined above very elegantly, by maintaining the database of Markdown separately to the database of blog posts. This means that if you write a blog post in Markdown and then uninstall it, the blog post will still display as HTML to the audience of your website — obviously a huge improvement over the ‘naked’ display that could occur with other Markdown plugins.1 Markdown on Save Improved is maintained by Matt Wiebe, who works for WordPress.com’s parent company Automattic — which presumably means he knows his stuff — and uses PHP Markdown Extra to parse Markdown, so it should produce identical output.

Markdown on Save Improved has one major drawback: when I installed it, it didn’t know which of my posts were Markdown and which were not, so I had to trawl through my database and hit ‘Update’ on each post. Whilst this isn’t a huge problem for someone like me who has a relatively small number of blog posts, someone who has more might find it a little clunky. Also, it assumes that you want to use Markdown every time you create a new blog post; perfect for me, but not great if you don’t want it to do that.2

What else has changed about my use of Markdown in the time since I wrote my original post? Whilst I’m still using the same beloved TextWrangler to edit my Markdown, I’m now using it in conjunction with the excellent Marked, which works with any text-editing app. The way it works is simple: you set your .md files to open in Marked, and then when you open them you see the rendered text displayed. Hit ⌘E and it’ll open the source in your editor of choice. Whenever you save the file in the editor, not only will Marked update the display, but it’ll indicate the paragraph of your latest edit so you can instantly focus on where your changes are appearing. It’s an incredibly elegant and useful app, and a snip at £2.49 on the Mac App Store.

So, in summary, go check out Markdown on Save and Marked. Both are incredibly useful tools that will make your Markdown even easier to write than it is at the moment.

A screenshot of this blog post and what it looks like in Marked.


  1. It’s also, I think, a huge improvement over WP-Markdown, which converts your Markdown to HTML when you save a blog entry and then converts that HTML back into Markdown when you come back; there are a couple of threads on that plugin’s support board that complain about this process badly mangling their Markdown and making it much harder to work with. 
  2. There is an alternative plugin called Markdown on Save, coded by Mark Jaquith, which is the plugin that Improved is based upon. This means you turn the option on for each blog post, rather than having to turn it off for each one. It’s prettier, but it contains a bug which causes footnotes to break on any WordPress page which displays more than one blog post (such as the front page or any category’s page). That’s why I’m not using it.