16 May

The First Time I Had Pneumonia I Thought I Was a Medical Miracle

This essay came to me while I was feverish and unable to sleep at some point over the last week and a half. I woke up the next morning convinced that I’d written it, as I could remember the outlining, the main points, and the title.

Alas, I had not actually written it.

But, having remembered writing it in such vivid detail, I thought I’d give a stab at rewriting it and fulfilling a feverish prophecy, as such.

The first time I caught pneumonia I was somewhere between 1st and 3rd grade. I suspect 3rd, for reasons I’ll cover in a moment. But there’s a difference between US and Commonwealth school numbering, so I’m always getting it mixed up.

I was elementary school age for sure.

That morning I woke up feeling pretty horrible and tried to convince my mother that I was sick and didn’t want to go to school. Now, my poor mom, a single mother basically by that point, was the Attila the Hun of parents that forced you to go to school. Unless I had a compound fracture, major blood loss, a fever that was causing visible sweats, you were going. to. school.

To be fair, I was mobile that morning and deteriorated later in the day. She rowed me in our small fiberglass dinghy to shore and I caught the taxi that took me and a few neighborhood kids to the school.

I don’t remember much about the morning. I do recall slipping into a sort of daze. But I’m ADD and that wasn’t all that unusual for me. Most mornings featured me slipping off into my own little world in elementary school. It’s one of the reasons I never fully learned my times tables until college, or the order of the alphabet until late high school, or the order of the months of the year until my mid-20s.

I do remember staring at beams of sunlight outside.

See, one of the things I remember fondly about the Caribbean is that when I got sick I basically turned into a cat: I’d find a warm puddle of sunshine, curl up in it, and sleep. I’d lay out on the deck of the boat we lived on and sun. I even swam to shore when sick and just wriggled into the sand like a turtle and waited for the sun to bake the sick out of me.

All morning long, I just waited for a chance to get out in the sun as I started to shiver.

At recess I ran out with all the kids. But instead of heading to the grass to play soccer, I veered off next to the steps out of the building where the concrete was toasty and warm in the high sun. I curled up there, hugging the concrete, and then… just passed out.

I woke up because all the kids had come back inside, and class had started up and I’d gone missing. The teachers, standing on the steps and looking out over the field hadn’t seen me. A search had begun. I was found, passed out hard, feverish, soaking up sun.

If I recall right, it was the teacher a year or two ahead of us that shook me awake. They realized I was burning up and not doing well, so it was decided I would be driven home.

Now, this was where my unique living situation caused some confusion:

“We don’t seem to have a number for your mom.”

“We don’t have a phone.”

“Why not?”

“We live on a boat.”

“Oh, where is that?”

“Lance Aux Pine Harbor.”

“Can you get home if one of the teachers drives you there?”

“Sure?”

“How will we contact your mom then?”

“Shout.”

Which is how I, while out of my mind with fever and wanting to do nothing more than sleep, ended up navigating my teacher toward the harbor we were anchored at. I’m not sure they really believed I lived on a boat, there was a lot of adult humoring voice, from what I remember.

I was also a little bummed, because this teacher had what I considered a ‘sexy car.’

I don’t know what it was, but it was the first car I ever saw that didn’t have ANY RIM around the window. The doors opened, and there was just glass window over the door. Madness!

I’d wanted to ride inside a car that cool for so long. But instead I napped, and then woke up when asked where to turn.

But I got us there! Stood on the water’s edge and shouted until my mom rowed out to get me and the teacher filled her in. I was too tired to even be triumphant about being right.

I later trucked along with mom for a trip to get diagnosed. I think I was on antibiotics. Maybe X-rays? It’s fuzzy. But I do remember one thing. The doctor mentioned how serious pneumonia was, impressing on both of us how serious it was. I somehow, tired, got the idea that pneumonia was a killer and I completely failed to scale in my head how deadly it was. I thought it was like, Black Death deadly. Or Cancer deadly. Like, I was very likely to die.

I certainly felt shitty enough.

So when pneumonia broke and I got well again, I, elementary kid, was convinced I was a certified fucking medical miracle.

My school librarian explained it was quite survivable a few weeks after I came home. But for those two or three weeks, when playing soccer, or climbing trees, I threw all caution to wind.

Because I was just about fucking immortal, I knew, from having beat pneumonia.

07 Apr

Six Things I Learned in My First Month of Using Patreon

Last month at this time I launched a new experiment, a Patreon. What’s Patreon? Think of it like a subscription service to an artist. Some artists just post a Patreon that let us support something they’re already publicly doing, like videos on a YouTube channel. You sign up for a certain amount a month and you get the pleasure of knowing you’re helping them usher something cool into the world. I really like The Nerdwriter‘s videos, and he uses that model:

Other Patreons use more of a ‘subscriber’ model where you get access to content otherwise not available, which is what I’m doing.

Now that I’m a month into using one, here are some things I think have jumped out at me.

1) Conversion rates for paid art are low

I launched my Patreon by first pinging my newsletter of almost 1,000 people who have indicated they’re interested in hearing about upcoming fiction of mine. That created an initial surge of 17 patrons, with maybe some more coming in on the second day when I announced the link to twitter.

I have over 9,500 followers on twitter, which is where the bulk of the growing has happened since. The Patreon is currently at 94 subscribers.

Conversion rates for art are super low because money is a finite resource and it’s one thing to have people following you, but another to make the ask. For example, here’s an article about a band with 1,000,000 Spotify streams that shows their royalties as $4,955. They made $0.004891 per stream.

Sometimes you see frustrated artists online point out that they sell thousands of books/CDs/projects, when they have tens of thousands of followers. But that’s actually a super high conversion rate. And thinking that people following us online are the prime consumers is often a blind that doesn’t represent reality.

When I set out to launch the Patreon I had no idea what the conversion rate would be. I knew that my lowest Kickstarter, another form of crowdfunding, had 170 backers, and my best had 270. When I did a poll on twitter 6 months ago over 250 people indicated an interest in a Patreon, so I had some hope that between 150-250 would eventually end up on the Patreon. But how long would it take for word to filter out, or for people to jump on, I didn’t know. Kickstarter has a definite time limit, and Patreon doesn’t. The urgency isn’t as strong usually.

2) Asking for a monthly amount is a bigger ask than a one time project

Speaking of Kickstarter, my most successful Kickstarter was a $12,500 ($1,000 came in after the Kickstarter closed), 192 backer, total for my novel The Apocalypse Ocean. That’s kind of similar to thinking of a $1,000 a month Patreon, were I to do one novel a year and one Kickstarter a year.

But for the Patreon I launched we have half the number of backers so far. It’s a tougher ask to ask someone of their hard-earned money to commit to a subscription as opposed to a one time payment for a project. Which makes total sense.

That being said, at $550 a month for short fiction the Patreon is pretty close to matching the income of doing a single short story collection via Kickstarter (my last Kickstarter was a $7,000 Kickstarter for Xenowealth: A Collection). It’s wild that 100 subscribers are in for getting a short story a month.

However, writing is a wildly variable income stream. I’ve been super, super lucky to make over half my needed income from writing every year for the last ten years. But I can never predict when checks will arrive, when deals will strike, or royalties pay out. Royalties are paid out every six months. Contracts can take six months to fourteen months to pay out. I could strike a million dollar book deal tomorrow, and still run out of money in nine months if it takes twelve for the contract to get negotiated and a check to be cut. While Patreon is a harder ask, getting a monthly check for art is worth strapping velcro to myself and jumping against a felt wall for. Having predictable income is something of a brass ring.

3) I needed to not worry about failure

Rejection is hard. Jim Hines just wrote about the fact that even at this stage in his career he still gets rejections. I still do. But that rejection is private, between the editor, my agent and me. I have almost a thousand to date in my career.

But a crowdfunding project is very, very public. The first time I did a Kickstarter a few people reached out to me, worrying about whether I’d hit the amount I set. Failure in public, if the Kickstarter didn’t fund, would be a tough hit.

Setting up a Patreon is something similar. You’re going to reveal to the world how much support and interest there is out there for what you’re doing. Then there are your own expectations. You look at other Patreons, you wondered where you’ll fit within the rankings.

Then there are your own internal expectations to manage. I’ll be honest and open here, I was hoping to get to $1,000 in the first month because my big goal is the $1,500 before the year’s end (when I run out of savings) that I want to replace the freelance income that vaporized in January. I looked at Kickstarters and polls and thought $1,000 was attainable. While I’m sure people may compare my Patreon to others, or make judgements, I tend not to care what people think but am harder on myself trying to get to goals I set up for myself. I’ve learned to not worry about others but pay attention to my road. But missing my own expectations was still a pain.

But getting to 55% of a goal is strong progress. I’m over halfway to my own internal goal. I’m starting something new to me, so I’m learning a lot. I’m an egg again, and that means there’s work to be done ahead. Just because I was doing well at the novel career game doesn’t mean I automatically am given a platter on this crowdfunding thing.

4) Profile matters

Since I got knocked back on the health front in 2008 I feel like I’ve been playing catch up, or just struggling to stay afloat with my career. It may not look like that from the outside, but from 2009-2012 I had limited energy. I had to split that between writing, freelancing for money, and being a father. To get the writing done, I pulled back from being a part of the general community. I twitter, but not as frequently as others. I even took a four month sabbatical from social media to finish the last novel. I don’t interact as much as I would like. I certainly backed way off the daily blogging that had become a huge traffic item for me.

When I’m in survival mode I tend to go quiet and focus on the work in front of me.

As a result of that, it is a hard sell to come out of the cold and announce that you’re twittering again, blogging, and trying to engage and ‘oh yeah, there’s a new Crowdfunding project.’ I’ve also fallen away from the habit of being open, partially because my problems are problems some people would like to have (oh, you make half your family’s income writing novels and the other half freelancing, but want to shift that ratio more toward writing, boo hoo. Your novels haven’t sold quite as much as you’d like: boo hoo. etc). I’m easing back in, but as I said, I’ve been in survival mode now for almost seven years and focused just on the writing and less on the public sphere that I used to dwell in.

(As a complete aside, part of that reason is a conversation I had with Jay Lake, where we talked about how being open about sicknesses had caused us to lose projects. In my case it was a high value three book possibility that an editor told me I was being considered for but some of my conversation on the blog about having a heart defect meant I was passed over. Since then I’ve been utterly gutted about the idea of losing projects and harming my family due to that and my old instinct to share has been dulled, I’m trying to get it back, though.)

I’ve given some speeches on how I think there’s a three-legged stool to make a crowdfunding campaign work. That is a leg of having a strong social media presence and profile. A leg of haven proven that you can deliver on the project and have delivered in the past. And lastly, a leg of a project that is compelling in and of itself.

I knew I was going in one-legged. What I mainly had was proof that I could deliver (I write). I knew that the inherent project idea “I’m going to write a story a month” was old, as others were already doing it. And I knew that my profile was a bit weak of late.

5) I needed to offer something to $1 backers

One of the ways I think I failed at the start was not offering more to $1 and $2 backers. I looked at a lot of Patreons, and a lot of them offer the stories for $1 a month. Other Patreons don’t offer anything at $1.

I decided to offer a once a week ‘5 Things Monday’ blog post for $1. For $2, behind the scenes of what I’m working on. Then, the meat of the sandwich was the $5, story once a month level. But sign ups for the $1 a month level of the Patreon were pretty anemic compared to others doing the ‘everyone gets a story.’

I adjusted the Patreon so that $1 backers knew they would get all the stories as a collection at the end of the year as long as it was over $750 a month. So the basic value proposition for a $1 backer is that for $12 you get a short story collection, once a year at the end of the year. For a $2 backer, they get a story every quarter, and then the collection at the end of the year.

6) I am in it for the long haul

The mental model I’ve had for projects like this is one month of frantic activity, and then fulfilling it down the road a bit. There was a binary result, either I reached the amount needed for the Kickstarter to fund, or I didn’t.

With the Patreon, after the first ten days of patrons jumping on board, the Patreon remained essentially flat. For the next two weeks it remained flat, with even a slight dip in the middle. Not gonna lie, if you refer back to the ‘don’t be afraid to fail in public’ point, this was a moment where I started to wonder if I had, in fact, failed in public:

One of the things about the Patreon is that, while the extra money is nice, I’ve been careful not to set up too much extra so that I don’t end up working far, far harder for the money there than if I was freelancing. I can’t afford for the Patreon to take all my writing time away and then end up not working on novels. This has to be a thing that helps my career, not slows it down. I’m making an initial investment, hoping that it will get to $1,000 to $1,500 or more so that I can work more, and harder, on novels. If it remained stuck at $500 I’d have to shut it down and walk away.

And my ego could take the hit. After being in and out of the ER in 2009 and having tasting some near death experience I know for a fact that there are worse things than screwing up in public, or failing. I can fall flat on my face here. But, I was starting to wonder if I needed to shut it down and open negotiations with a couple leads for more freelance work.

However, after that slow period, growth started up again and we’re getting close to 100 patrons on the project. So I’m realizing this isn’t a one month and I see where things are. I’ve seen some Patreons hit the amounts people need in a month, but that isn’t going to be my path.

Judging by the growth I’ve seen in mine, it looks like it’ll take 12-24 months to see if I can get to the point I’m aiming for. Whether I’ll run out of money before then, or if it will grow enough that the money lasts long enough, I have no idea. This experiment is going to take at least nine months to play out for me, when the lines cross.

But that means taking a nine month view. I said in the beginning when I first launched the Patreon it felt like jumping off a cliff, doing something new. I’m still committed to falling for another nine months and not focusing so hard on the week.

Because if the growth of the last week continues out that long, I might look back at this and be ever so grateful to myself for taking this big, public risk.

Enjoy this? You can support more like it for as little as $1 on:

03 Apr

Why I Hope California Goes Ahead With Medicare For All

As part of my attempts to reduce anxiety-loops related to media consumption, when the argument broke out about Obamacare eight years ago I purchased a number of books about healthcare around the world to better understand the global context and options.

I find Americans tend to argue that there’s ‘market’ driven healthcare and ‘socialist’ healthcare. Europe has ‘socialist’ healthcare and that’s expensive, they use a high amount of taxes to support it. America has less taxes, and spends more on defense, so it uses ‘market’ healthcare that its citizens pay for.

Often, the argument between left and right Americans is between arguing for higher taxes and better healthcare, or using the ‘market.’ Many Americans who have healthcare via their jobs are also somewhat uninformed about what American healthcare looks like and how it works. The number of people I’ve talked to who have day jobs and healthcare through employers and who are upset about Obamacare market exchanges being forced on them when they’re not using it, is somewhat astounding to me.

Talking to Europeans and other folk around the world, I also noticed that people took it for granted and saw it as invisible, or talked about the downsides. It wasn’t until I would outline how it worked in the US that they got horrified faces (I knew it was bad, but fuck me, was one friend’s response via email).

As far as I can tell, the America system is an amalgamation of a number of different healthcare approaches all followed somewhat haphazardly. It actually uses elements of ‘socialized’ healthcare and ‘market’ healthcare. But those two dualities are not altogether right, as far as I can tell.

The book that laid it all out the best is The Healing of America, which I really recommend anyone who opens their mouth about healthcare options read.

Different Types of Healthcare Models

There are basically 4 approaches to offering healthcare in the world that humanity tries. Wikipedia summarizes them here:

The Bismarck Model

This is the model followed in Germany and in its rudimentary form was laid out by Otto von Bismarck. The system uses private initiatives to provide the medical services. The insurance coverage is also mainly provided through private companies. However, the insurance companies operate as non-profits and are required to sign up all citizens without any conditions. At the same time all citizens (barring a rich minority in the case of Germany) are required to sign up for one or the other health insurance. The government plays a central role in determining payments for various health services, thus keeping a decent control on cost.

The Beveridge Model

This model adopted by Britain is closest to socialized medicine, according to the author. Here almost all health care providers work as government employees and the government acts as the single-payer for all health services. The patients incur no out-of-pocket costs, but the system is under pressure due to rising costs.

The National Health Insurance Model

The Canadian model has a single-payer system like Britain; however, the health care providers work mostly as private entities. The system has done a good job of keeping costs low and providing health care to all. The major drawback of this system comes from the ridiculously long waiting times for several procedures. The author, T.R. Reid, would have had to wait 18 months for his shoulder treatment in Canada.

The Out of Pocket Model

This is the kind of model followed in most poor countries. There is no wide public or private system of health insurance. People mostly pay for the services they receive ‘out of pocket’. However, this leaves many underprivileged people without essential health care. Almost all countries with such a system have a much lower life expectancy and high infant mortality rates. The author gives his experience with the system in India, and a brief description of the ancient medical system of Ayurveda.

So by the writer’s estimation, the USA mixes in from all four of those models above in bits and pieces.

Healthcare Models the US uses all simultaneously:

  • The Bismark Model for people under 65 and in the workforce. Although not non-profit, as in cheaper and more successful Bismark models, for profit companies work with employers to get health insurance set up in US. 64% of the US population, according to the US Census, is covered by the for-profit Bismark model. Kaiser Family Foundation claims it’s 49%.
  • The Beveridge Model for Veterans, Active Military Personnel, and Native Americans. This is where the government directly hires the doctors, and builds the hospital. This is how the UK creates national health care (and is actually sort of what Americans think socialized healthcare is). .5% of the population is active military, 5.2% are veterans, and about .5% of the US population are Native American eligible for that coverage. Up to 6% of the US population is covered by this centralized government healthcare model.
  • The National Health Insurance Model in the US is used for anyone 65 or older. This is called Medicare and Medicaid. The government acts as the insurer, collected payments (either through taxes or straight payments) and negotiates with private hospitals and doctors. According to Kaiser, 14% of the US population is on Medicare. 20% of the US population is on Medicaid. 2% is on other public assistance (like CHiPs for children to get access to healthcare if their parents have none). Canada uses the NIH model, it’s even called ‘Medicare’ and it’s basically Medicare for all, even though it’s decried as socialism by the American right wing.
  • The Out of Pocket model is used in the US for poor folk who have slipped between all those other systems and is often advocated for by right wing folk.

So, 36% of the US uses some form of a system from the NIH model, 50-60% of it uses some form of Bismarck mode, but using for-profit systems that are lightly regulated, whereas every other place that uses the Bismarck model (some of Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Japan, and Switzerland) don’t actually do socialized medicine, they just highly regulate the companies that provide and demand they cover all citizens and offer minimum benefits.

Canada and the UK, which offer what some might imagine as socialized medicine, do it through two radically different mechanisms (Canada creates a national health insurance company via the government, Medicare, while UK government directly hires doctors and makes hospitals).

Few of the above, even in Europe, are actually truly socialized medicine, by the way. The UK comes the closest. Socialism is ‘seizing the means of production from private capital.’

What is ‘Single Payer?’

Okay, a number of debates are about ‘single payer’ and socialized healthcare vs ‘market’ healthcare.

Single payer means the government acts as an insurer and collects all the payments, whether via a tax, or via a set payment, and then pays private hospitals or doctors for your treatment. Having a single source means the government can negotiate down costs.

Medicare and Medicaid are single payer. The UK and Canada are single payer models. Canada is Medicare for all. A third of the US system is single payer. It is just that most Americans do not realize this, it’s a wonky term. Many people hear ‘single payer’ and they don’t think ‘Medicare’ they think ‘Canada’ or ‘Europe’ even though Europe has a mix of systems.

Who likes their healthcare the most?

Funnily enough, UK patients tend to self-report as liking their healthcare the best:

 

But that doesn’t mean the more socialized the healthcare the happier people are. Switzerland has a fairly lean Bismarck model that the US would recognize and is second on that chart up there. The difference is that they regulate the ever-loving hell out of it and require (mandate) that everyone buy some, something the US keeps shying away from.

Who lives the longest?

People in Japan live the longest. Switzerland is next, followed by Singapore, then Australia, Spain, Iceland, Italy, Israel, Sweden, France and then Republic of Korea for your top 10.

Now whenever I post that someone links me to a look at how much more they have public transportation, or a better diet. Sure, it’s not healthcare alone. But it’s the single largest impact on life expectancy of a civilization. The fact the USA is #31 on the life expectancy list  and dropping (one of the few or only developed nations to be reversing a trend in life expectancy growing in areas of the US) demonstrates the power of healthcare and quality and longevity of life.

But can America afford healthcare?

Often I hear an argument that goes “well, the US spends so much on defense we’d have to give up other things to have the government create socialized medicine, socialized medicine is too expensive.”

Well, arguments against the complicated amalgam of systems the US currently has isn’t an argument for socialized healthcare and also no other system is more expensive than the US system.

Here’s what countries spend, both in taxes via the public government, and via private systems, visualized on a graph:

You can see that just in government spending, the US spends as much as Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Belgium and more than the UK. So we don’t have to spend any more than we’re already spending, we just need to change what we’re doing.

Also, all of those systems get dramatically better results for longevity and patient-reported happiness.

Woah, why is American healthcare so expensive?

There are a lot of reasons. A big one is that America is one of the few countries that assumes health insurance companies should be big, profitable businesses. Most countries look at it as a service. Fire, police and teachers aren’t big, for-profit business, but are services for the community. They make assumptions moving back from there. America’s education system also puts a huge burden on medical professionals who take on a lot of debt, who then charge more. The US also has a legal system that allows big lawsuits, that means doctors take out expensive operating insurance.

There are many other pain points as well, but another huge one is this:

The entire US system is actually socialized, and it was socialized by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s with something called EMTALA. I have a long post about that here.

Short version: the US used to require payment or proof of insurance before you went into the ER. Reagan changed that to legally force ERs to take care of anyone who came in. Thus, the moral contract America legalized was that all people should be taken care of.

What Reagan never did was to decide how we paid for it. We’ve been arguing ever since. But hospitals are still admitting people. And since many Americans don’t have insurance for preventative care, they use the ER as their doctor. ERs pass this cost onto any American who has insurance by randomly fiddling with billing to make sure the hospital as a whole makes a profit.

I sometimes thus make the argument that American health insurance is a ‘socialist’ (using some right wing arguments about healthcare) unfunded mandate.

So what do I think we should do?

Funny you should ask.

This is of interest to me:

One of my friends who is a nurse retweeted this and it caught my attention because of the history of how Canada came to adopt the NIH model. In 1947 in Saskatchewan, a Canadian province rolled out an act that guaranteed free care, thanks to one Tommy Douglas. They couldn’t quite do universal health care, the original vision, due to funds at the time. Alberta came next with medical coverage for 90% of the population. In 1957 Canada’s Federal government created a 50% cost payment plan, and by 1961 all the provinces were using that plan to create universal programs. In 1966 it was expanded further.

That hints to me that all we need is one big state to do something similar in the US. Vermont had looked into it after Obamacare was passed, as that law has a provision allowing a state to take federal funds for health and pool them all into one giant pot if it’s creating a universal healthcare situation. That’s basically the Canada path.

I also think using Medicare as the vehicle is smart.

Medicare has a great brand. In the US, 75% of its users report satisfaction, making it one of the more well-liked American institutions.

Further, using existing Medicare program for growing would bring down older users costs in the program by healthifying the Medicare user base.

Lastly, Medicare, even though it’s for older folks and higher risk by default, is pretty damn cheap in comparison to workforce insurance and self employment health insurance. Part A is free (basic emergency stuff and hospitalizations) and Part B (doctors and preventative stuff) is $150/month and part D for drugs is $50. I’d jump on that.

And none of this means employers have to stop offering great healthcare plans to sugar employment deals. In the UK, and all throughout Europe, people who make extra money bolt on private health insurance plans on top of the public options so that they can the care they want in the style they want. Medicare has a part C, which is where you can get a more Cadillac private insurance set up added on.

But having the option so you can get out of a shitty employer healthcare plan, or move around, be portable? That sounds great.

One Canadian province setting it up got other provinces to look over there and say ‘hmmm’ and spread the idea. If California got rolling, it wouldn’t be too long before Washington and Oregon joined up, and the entire west coast was set up. They’d draw a lot of small business over there.

I’ll be rooting for California.

20 Mar

Game of Thrones as an allegory for climate change

I’ve been mulling this over in relation to a short story idea. I was recently approached to write a climate change short story for an anthology coming out early next year. While doing short story idea generation session I scribbled down the question “how does one create an allegory, a fairy tale, for climate change, that grapples with the lack of human political structure’s ability to deal with a slow-moving, future threat that is of little interest to the day-by-day drama of the polity?”

While I did come up with a story idea (it’s on the short list of first stories to be written for my Patreon readers), one of the things that jumped right out was how well Game of Thrones works as an allegory for climate change.

To wit:

There’s a distant, vast threat which could overwhelm the polity. The white walkers, basically ice-zombies, are currently contained by the fact that it’s summer in the long season of the world of Game of Thrones. The walkers and the magic threat they represent are basically a new threat for the kingdoms south of the wall.

But now that the entire environment is changing. It’s not just that winter is coming again (a natural cycle, so don’t yell at me about the metaphor going long here, I know I’m stretching it 🙂 it’s that the white walkers are coming because it’s a super long and new event in these character’s lives.

Realistically everyone needs to band together and make sure the wall is in good shape. Which was done in the past (much like we all banded together to stop ozone depletion using a form of market cap and trade, but which now conservatives claim can’t be used as a tool because it’s liberal, despite its excellent result on ozone and acid rain).

NewImage

Also, there are people trying to warn everyone that something freaky horrible is happening out there. 99 out of every 100 scientists is sounding the alarm, but folk are all like:

NewImage

This poor scientist is trying to warn everyone, but you know what they say about the bearer of bad news.

Anyway, there’s an army of bad shit coming slowly and inexorably for us, all like:

NewImage

Global warming’s coming for you.

And while that is building up, everyone in the polity is killing each other and fighting to realign their borders like:

NewImage

While refugees are not welcome, but heading to safer areas:

NewImage

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

How will it all end?

Probably not well for everyone concerned unless we all figure out how to join together and fight the larger common threat. But what makes Game of Thrones so applicable and why the metaphor really works is because humans refusing to band together against a larger threat is a very human trait. This story is all too recognizable, whether it’s white walkers or something else.

Hopefully we can set our issues aside some time to fight.

But sometimes I’m not so sure…

NewImage

Winter (isn’t) coming.

20 Jul

Useful Tools: Fitbit Blaze sports watch and steps tracker

On Friday, facing a lot of work needing done yet on a rewrite and the house being a bit topsy-turvy with a remodel, summer-time kids running in and out, and a fragile ability to concentrate being a pseudo hallmark of being ADHD, I decamped for a hotel in Columbus to lock myself into a room until the novel I was rewriting was officially over.

Just a couple weeks earlier I’d traveled out to Indy Popcon, a pop culture oriented media convention where I sat at a table for the weekend. While I was there my Fitbit Charge HR gave up the ghost yet again.

I snagged a Fitbit HR last year to solve a couple of problems I had that I felt unsolved by the Apple Watch. I need decent battery life as it’s hard for me to remember to keep something charged. I wanted a sleep tracker, a step tracker, and a way of tracking my heartbeat as I got back into more activity now that I’m cleared by my cardiologist.

NewImage

The Fitbit HR was less of a big cost, at $130 or so for me to ease into the idea of trying a watch again (something I’ve never been able to keep on a wrist as a kid or young adult).

IMG 1847Sadly, the Fitbit’s band material (some kind of rubber) started delaminating and pulling away from the top section of the Fitbit. They had some very excellent customer service when I called in and sent me a new one. But while at Indy Popcon it started delaminating again and then just stopped working.

I gave up.

But after four weeks without it a few things happened.

1) Being able to twist my wrist and see my heart rate, even if it may be off by a bit as the Fitbit’s HR device isn’t super super accurate, gives me a general sense of how I’m doing when taking long walks, exerting myself, or just feeling funny. It’s like a quick way to check my pulse and see if I’m roughly where I think I should be. If it’s running high, I have a much more accurate EKG monitor on the back of my phone I can use to get a more accurate reading. But as a first layer of managing my heart health while exercising, it’s great. It’s also something of a security blanket.

2) Being able to track my general resting heart rate over time is a good indicator to me of how my health profile is doing (rested, calm, etc). When things are stressful, or my health is declining, or I am not getting enough rest, my resting HR climbs pretty dramatically and I’m given a clear indicator of how things are going.

Screen Shot 2016 07 20 at 6 30 41 PMSix months ago, before getting cleared to run again and when I first snagged the HR, my resting heart rate was in the high 80s, which is not great. It’s linked to early cardiac death and issues later in life. I’m now rocking more of a mid to high 60s. Better. High 60s when I’m stressing over a novel rewrite with a deadline.

3) Tracking my sleep is helpful. I overslept this morning by a couple hours and did the same the day before. Checking just the last five days of sleep reminded me that I had skipped a few hours of sleep Saturday night. The bill always comes due. Not having a log of sleep hours meant I couldn’t tell if my tiredness came from sleep deprivation or something else. It’s a useful self diagnostic.

4) There is a silent vibrate alarm function on the Fitbit that would alert me at 11:45pm that it was time to get ready for bed. Seems silly to most of you who can follow a schedule, but even after radically changing mine to a non late night schedule, I still don’t have an inbuilt ‘it’s late’ function in my brain. The vibrate at 11:45 was part of my ‘go brush teeth and get in bed’ cue that, once it had been off my wrist a few weeks, meant I started slipping back into my ‘stay up late’ habit and I was falling into some odd sleeping patterns.

Those were four very good reasons to call up customer service, as my Fitbit was still under warranty, and get another one.

But, whether it’s my skin or being out in in the heat, the Charge HR and I clearly don’t get along. And I started looking at the Apple Watch.

Negatives to the Apple Watch that I couldn’t get past:

1) As far as I can tell there is are sleep tracking apps, but they have to be turned on. I’m not very good at remembering to do things. Automatic sleep tracking is where it’s at. So the sleep tracking isn’t as good. And, this leads into the next thing…

2) …short battery life. I’m, as mentioned, ADHD. The responsibility of charging a device once a day in order to use it… that’s just too much. I thought, maybe, every morning, I could get up, take it off, and charge it while I was doing breakfast. And I would need to keep the watch on at night, in order to have sleep tracking. So it would have to be a morning charge. Which means I’d likely get sidetracked and leave it charging. I needed more than a single day’s charge out of a watch that can also serve up my HR and track my sleep without fuss.

So, sadly, I figured the Apple Watch is going to be a Gen 2 or Gen 3 for me.

I went back to Fitbit and took a look at their new watch; the Fitbit Blaze Smart Fitness Watch [Amazon link is an affiliate link, I get a small cut if you order one, FYI]. It had one of the longer promised battery lives out of all the watches, worked with my iPhone, and I already was familiar with their app.

I ordered it to arrive Thursday, but it got delayed and in order to have it for the weekend I literally ambushed my postdude when he was somewhere else in town to ask for it a few hours early as I was headed down out of town to seclude myself and finish rewrites on the afore-mentioned book.

I’ve tried on the Apple Watch, the bands are vastly superior. The device is much nicer.

But the Blaze is rocking all my needs really well.

NewImage

It handles all four of my points above. Heart rate tracking at a glance (and the newer technology than the Charge HR means I also see time of day and a graphic ring showing steps goal). Tracks my sleep automatically when I go to bed.

How does moving from a Charge HR to watch do for battery life? Fitbit claims 5 days battery life. I didn’t charge it up when I got it, but it showed a full charge. I got it Friday, it lasted until Tuesday at dinner before I blinked and plugged it in.

That’s slick.

Additionally, and I didn’t know I was getting this functionality, the Blaze can synch up to my calendar’s alerts and buzz me. That has been wonderful, as I use calendar alerts to keep me on task and set aside blocks of hours to do certain kinds of work and warn myself to take breaks (hand stretch breaks, meal times, etc). But in my home office I often mute or do not disturb my phone and put it on a desk, so the alerts have been nice.

I don’t get any apps ecosystem like an Apple Watch, but this little device has been pretty on-point for all my needs and is about $100 cheaper.

I can’t wait for the Apple Watch to hit the points I need, as I really would like a more precise band. My current Fitbit band is either slightly too loose or too tight. A slimmer, smaller profile on the watch would be welcome, but maybe I’m just not used to wearing watches. I also think the glimpse function (where you tilt your wrist to wake the watch up) is VASTLY better on the Apple Watch than the Fitbit Blaze, where a third of the time I find myself repeating the wrist flick.

I feel like there is this GIANT THING on my wrist even though I went for the smaller Blaze. I also felt like having a regular smaller Fitbit Charge HR was this GIANT THING on my wrist, though. I’ve not had anything there most of my life.

IMG 1849

Also, do you realize how long it’s been since I’ve had to read analog clocks to tell the time? I’m having to actually redevelop this mental model. What time is it? I, uh… Seven! It’s seven! And a little bit.

All in all, it’s surpassed my exceptions in the initial run. And that’s nice.

29 Jun

How to collaborate on fiction in 2016 using pair programming, Skype, and Google Docs

I just finished a new collaboration. It’s a short story of nearly 10,000 words that will be in Bridging Infinity (you can pre-order here), edited by Johnathan Strahan “The latest volume in the Hugo award-winning Infinity Project series, showcasing all-original hard science fiction stories from the leading voices in genre fiction.”

NewImage

The writer I collaborated with was Karen Lord, who currently lives in Barbados (author of Galaxy Games, Redemption in Indigo, you’re reading her, right?).

There are a lot of different ways to collaborate. I’ve done many of them. But for seamless and rapid writing, one method stands out to me that was first introduced to me by Karl Schroeder.

In 2007 Karl and I spent a weekend in Toronto writing a short story called ‘Mitigation.’ The story would eventually spark my time spent on the novel Arctic Rising a couple years later. To write this story, Karl invited me to spend a three day weekend at his home while we worked on the story (also a 10,000 word story).

We spent the first night there drinking scotch and spitballing ideas, and the next morning in a diner scribbling ideas on the backs of paper mats. The fun, world building stuff that could go on and on.

But back at Karl’s office the work started. Karl had a plan, one he said he’d done with another writer before, where we would share the keyboard. One of us would write a single sentence. Then the other would revise that sentence, then write a next one. Other writer would revise that sentence, then write another.

Starting can be the hardest, but with one line at a time, swapping in and out of the chair, we soon had a few paragraphs. In fact, it was starting to get hard to stick to just a single line. Karl commented that once we started being unable to stick to a line, we’d switch to paragraphs.

This had the effect of blending our styles. It also forced us each to check in with each other, live, line by line, on what we thinking and trying to do. Get stuck? Jump out of the chair and usually the other writer could jump in.

We did this until we had 2-3 pages in short order. We broke for lunch and spitballed some outline ideas, coming up with upcoming scenes.

At that point, we then each took alternate scenes, not paragraphs, concurrently. I’d work on my laptop, Karl on his desktop, and email the scenes into a final document and edit them. In three days we had a clean, tight, 10,000 word short story that ended up being in a Year’s Best anthology.

I’ve done many other forms of collaboration. Handing the document back and forth, outlining for others to write, muddling through it on an ad-hoc basis. But Karl’s method really jumped out at me and I proposed trying to use it despite the fact that Karen and I are thousands of miles apart.

The methodology we used is something programming friends of mine indicated were similar to the idea of ‘pair programming.’ According to Wikipedia:

Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.

While reviewing, the observer also considers the “strategic” direction of the work, coming up with ideas for improvements and likely future problems to address. This frees the driver to focus all of his or her attention on the “tactical” aspects of completing the current task, using the observer as a safety net and guide.

Karen was willing to try it. To write the document we used Google Docs as we could both use it at the exact same time, creating that concurrent use atmosphere and live ability I found so fascinating when I worked with Karl.

To get the live Pair Programming aspect, we used Skype. To write like this, I really found the live ability to talk to a partner to be killer. The reason is this, in past collaborations, I’ve found a lot of communication can be lost in text, emails back and forth, and people going around in circles without realizing it.

I found that just talking live to the person, I can see their face the moment I suggest an idea and more accurately assess whether we both truly love it, or whether they really love it and I don’t, or whether it’s something we’re both ‘meh’ on and should keep talking about. There is so much more you can figure out, and faster. You can tell when someone is just spitballing, as opposed to really hung onto something.

Karen and I spent a two hour Skype spitballing ideas on the first day, from which we came up with a skeletal idea for plot, some world building, and what we wanted to accomplish from the story.

The second Skype session was a half day of using the same method I described Karl and I did, but with Karen and I meeting over Skype and using Google Docs. One of us wrote a line, the other edited it and wrote the next. Then the other would come on and edit that then write the next. Soon we were doing paragraphs. Then sections.

The next two days we traded off sections, and then we did a series of revision passes that were not done live on video.

It took about four or five days to create a 10,000 word story called The Mighty Slinger for Bridging Infinity. Calypso singers, hard SF megastructures, idea SF. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I’m pleased to see that for a second time this process of ‘pair writing’ in a near-live situation works well, and that fact that it can work over great distances was a pretty amazing experiment, I felt.

Writing can often feel isolating. Being able to spit ball ideas and gain energy from another writer’s enthusiasm over the project made this a great experience.

28 Jun

Dear new writers: you do have the power to speak

Several times a year I encounter moments where a writer, or a new writer, or a writer yet to be, is reluctant to write an essay or talk about a position they are passionate about. This is doubly so if it’s political. They believe that they’ll be blackballed from publishing or their career will falter.

Since it’s a political election season, I’d like to note:

The ‘industry’ of writers/critics/readers/etc are not nearly monolithic enough to blackball you. It’s easier to die quietly in a midlist spiral. Or to never get noticed at all.

This fear of blackballs existed when I was an egg as well. I was told a lot of things to do when I joined up by older writers.

Don’t talk about politics, you’ll lose readers. Don’t talk about controversy, you’ll lose readers.

Don’t lose readers!

Don’t be too ‘strident’ or no one will want to work with you.

I’m not going to lie and say you won’t get labeled. I’m not going to lie and say that you won’t lose readers.

But…

Most readers aren’t online, they’re aren’t involved in the bubble of who’s saying what unless you’re being quoted in major magazines. Most readers want to be entertained. Most editors want to sell a book to readers that will do well. (and, ps, you’ll also *gain* readers).

Speaking up doesn’t preclude a career. If so, some of my favorite writers today wouldn’t have one. And some of my least favorite as well.

Yes, you do have to pick where and when you’ll fight. Choose where to spend your energy. I try to invest most of my energy into the fiction.

Yet, the blackballing thing keeps coming up. Over 15 years observing, this is one of those things that people believe that I try to dissuade. Obscurity is far more a threat to a career than blackballing. You’d also be surprised at the number of voices that people in the field become aware of due to speaking up.

So if you really want to, tell us what you’re thinking. Really.

26 Aug

Some thoughts on the herding of POC writers into diversity panels

Kate Elliott writes:

In the wake of 2009’s #Racefail discussion, LJ blogger delux-vivens (much lamented since her passing) asked for a wild unicorn herd check in to show that people frequently told they don’t read SFF and aren’t present in SFF circles do in fact exist. In some ways I personally think of this as the first unofficial “diversity panel.”

I seem to recall the token diversity panel goes back further than that. I sat on a panel at Conjose in 2002 called “Ebony Age of Science Fiction?” with Wanda Haight, Steven Barnes, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Bill Taylor. And it was incredible seeing a (slightly) more diverse audience than normal Worldcons come to that.

It was, in 2002, packed, by the way. People have been hungry for diversity for a long while, even as others shouted ‘no no no’ and put their fingers in their ears.

Future Classics, a fannish history site it seems, has a lot of panels from Worldcons up. I still remember catching a small piece of Vandana Singh’s Imaginative Fiction: A Third World Perspective panel in 2003 Noreascon. If I recall right, there were some corridor discussions there.

In 2009 I was on a panel at a Worldcon called Writing Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Geographic Terms. You can see a good write up here. If I recall correctly there was much angry aftermath when the panel was over by some people you’ll recognize as ‘sad puppies‘ today (that shit ain’t new).

So while I’m not sure there weren’t token panels before 2009, I do think Kate’s right that around 2009 due to Race Fail there started being more dedicated panels.

Oddly enough, it was about that time I started refusing to be on them due to a reason Kate points out:

Now, however, without in any way suggesting that the need for discussion is over or that we have solved the problems, I am wondering to what degree the “diversity panel” may be beginning to become less effective and perhaps even to exacerbate the problem.

I have begun to agitate, among those who will listen to me, to propose panels with large numbers of PoCs that have nothing to do with diversity. At a couple of cons, I’ve conspired to suggest putting PoCs on futurism or science panels and shock the audience by then proceeding to not talk about race but all the cool shit the PoCs are interested in about said topic.

The one place we managed to get this done I heard was a success, and while some people in the audience were a bit confused, it was a lot of fun.

When I went to Det Con recently I took myself off of diversity panels and their like and asked for hard sciences and futurism. I was on almost no panels with any people of color. At *Detroit Con.* When appropriate, I represented PoC books and media about the future and science to the audience, which I doubt would have been done had I not been explicit about making sure I was on those non specialty panels.

And then, when I was out walking around, several times, people asked ‘oh, hey, I was surprised I didn’t see you an [diversity-related panel X].’

Which is why I did it that way.

I’m not lecturing PoC panelists, by the way, to start spreading around. No, the diversity panels are great. But some day, at a Worldcon, or any other con, I hope to be on a panel of with a large number of people of color that talks about Developments in Near Space Access.

Mainly because I’m trying, in small ways, to fight back against the ‘diverse books book displays’ issue, where a bunch of diverse books are stacked together in a specialty display that… people ignore as they come in.

I think there is a place for that. But I also think honestly representing that diversity means including it not just in cordoned off spaces. Yes, we need diversity panels, and suggestions for diverse books for those of us looking for that. But if that’s the only place we’re showing up, or that a panel-creation committee automatically thinks to stick us… then we’re always going to be in an echo chamber.

So I myself, while championing what others are doing and supporting the diversity panels and sometimes being on them, am trying to more and more to get some PoC friends on a panel with me to talk about other topics, to make those panels diverse just by who is on them.

I haven’t gotten very far with it, it’s still all nascent, but there you go.

22 Aug

Paneling while light, but not white

I just got back from London, and would love to be uploading pictures and talking about two weeks spent in Europe, but I’m catching up on bills and getting into the swing of work. And my kids start Kindergarten. And the dogs need picked up. So I’ll be a little late.

However, a few people have pinged me about a couple of blog posts that reacted to the panel “Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding.”

London Worldcon had a fascinating vein of programming with an openness to discussion about diversity, challenging status quo, and world viewpoints. Noticeably more so than past Worldcons. It’s a far cry from the first time I attended a worldcon, and there was just a sole obligatory ‘race in SF’ panel and that was the one (maybe only, outside corridor meet ups) place to find this discussion.

This panel was another one of London Worldcon’s varied pieces of interesting programming. It featured Mary Anne Mohanraj, me, Kate Elliott, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Victoria Donnelly, and Ellen Kushner. The panel description goes thusly:

Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture – buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space – in creating a fantasy world?

Two people in the audience were a bit taken aback. Blogger Not By Its Cover (I’m not sure of their name) was upset when I demurred talking about being ‘light but not white’ for the panel and was pressed by panelists to keep on the subject:

He repeatedly said in his response that he doesn’t usually like to talk about his experiences of race, that people outside the Caribbean find his presence in discussions of race disturbing and confusing, that he doesn’t have the energy to deal with that, and that he does not want to be an educator. What enraged me was that, in response to his saying this, a couple of his fellow panelists exclaimed that he absolutely should participate in discussions of race precisely because people found it so problematic and that even if he didn’t wish to participate…

Kate Nepveu also noticed this and commented on it in her panel notes.

So on this panel, I talked about the fact that looking white but not identifying as such due to my bi-racial background complicated discussions. I’m happy to engage in this in some situations and in certain contexts where I known I don’t have an audience that’s still struggling with race 101 level stuff, but for the panel itself I didn’t come prepared and wasn’t expecting to become a focus of the panel. Partly because I came a bit more prepared to talk about what went into creating a fantasy world and how it’s done more deeply, and because I wanted to interrogate and poke at pseudo-medieval constructs.

So, the panel swerved to a bit more of ‘how we authors’ try to deepen work and use our backgrounds to do it. Panels swerve quite often, but I was unprepared for this and tried to demur. I was tired, as I’d just come out of three weeks of travel (promoting Hurricane Fever, teaching a workshop, then a week in Spain, and finally London Worldcon). My ability to switch tracks wasn’t there, I was very exhausted. I was also trying to monitor the panel’s conversational flow and make sure the sole non-writer on the panel, our archeologist Victoria Donnelly, who was making her first appearance at a science fiction panel, was not overrun by us authors and our opinions (even though I was sure Mary Anne wouldn’t do that, I wanted to make sure, as I thought Victoria had a very interesting background we could gain a lot from).

So I demurred, and the panel thought that I might have interested things to say and they…

…keep in mind Mary Anne and Kate and have known me a while…

…pulled a bit at me.

On the panel itself the fact that the audience felt my reticence and responded was not surprising. I didn’t want to talk about the complications of being light not white as a working writer right there because sometimes I have to carefully consider the impacts of my words. And I was tired. So I was worried about making mistakes.

But we muddle our way through. I wasn’t upset with Mary Anne or any of my panelists at the time, just momentarily trying to change the entire set of ‘stories’ and conversations I had arrived with loaded into my mental ready-state.

So why was I reticent?

It’s that if I get up and talk about my struggles, in some cases I can easily negate the even harder struggles others have. Look, I look and ‘read’ white to most people (including non-whites). I therefore complicate discussions about diversity due to living in a culture that takes race as binary. Look, I see the president of the US and see a bi-racial dude from a mixed family background. Most Americans are all like ‘dude’s black.’ And so are a lot of non-white Americans.

So I roll up and talk about how it’s personally annoying when people of all kinds don’t want to recognize me as bi-racial and that’s sometimes problematic. Here are writers struggling far more than I have who come from a legacy and background of far more vicious racism than can be even sometimes explained. So what if I’m left off most lists of diverse SF writers. Boo hoo, right? (And this has mostly been on my mind because I’ve been told by some that I’ve been taken out of articles or such for not being ‘properly diverse’ and just as someone who wants to be part of the tribe of diverse SF/F authors doing amazing things it pains to be excluded on a personal level, but on a larger societal level, shit, injustices against the people of diversity is vastly larger) People read me different than I read myself, I’ve been dealing with that for 35 years. It’s cool. But trying to talk about the complexities of it mean I can inadvertently suppress other narratives, right? I don’t get the *right* to say who gets on a list of diverse writers or how I’m considered at large, I can only keep conversing and trying to add to diversity and talk up good things. So when someone suddenly asks about the complicated nature of how I’m perceived or received in genre, or what my struggle has been, I freeze.

But even as that happens, I also get annoyed with narratives that try to require me to fit into a certain ‘type’ of diversity. It seems the white power structures like immigrant narratives and magical realism from brown-identifying folk. Man, is that ever true, and even allies can fit into this. There’s been a heavy pressure on me to drop doing the action and to write about magical immigrants. I’ve been offered book deals and better money, and it’s funny, I’ve had three editors in the last ten years point blank sketch out the outline of the same novel: immigrant from the Caribbean arrives in the US and does something magically realist.

So, you know, it’s complicated. I’m writing Caribbean Space Opera and have had historically black media *and* white editors tell me they’ll pay attention when I do a magical realist book and I want to keep doing what I’m doing and I’m slowly building this wide audience of people who are digging diverse characters in high octane adventures. Do I want to appear not grateful to make a living doing what I’m doing in public? No. I’m building something, and I’m trying to make sure I spend less time annoyed with people who don’t get what I’m up to and more time sharing excitement with those who totally get it!

So let’s end this positively. I’m all good. The panel was fascinating and was a sign of a fantastic convention (for me at least, I didn’t get to a ton of panels). I was delighted to be up there with amazing minds. And I’m impressed that the audience felt defensive on my part and thank them, but I bear no ill-will or negative feelings towards any of the panelists.

02 Jul

NRG CEO says solar will be competitive with local electricity in half the states in the US starting next year!

Some utility companies are starting to realize what’s happened abruptly over the last couple years:

“David Crane, who runs NRG Energy, says that in fully half the states of the union, electricity from residential solar panels will be cost-competitive with that delivered by local electric utilities by next year.

DON’T MISS: Will Solar Panels Destroy Electric Utilities’ Business Model? Yes, They Say

Crane was quoted two weeks ago in a blog post by Navigant Research, which focused on his company’s aggressive efforts to migrate to solar power for a growing portion of its portfolio.”

(Via Residential Solar Competitive With Electricity In 25 States Next Year: NRG CEO.)

I guess he’s just a hippy green type.

Interestingly, a few energy companies are spinning off all their alternative energy portfolios into brand new companies called YieldCos. Sort of like rats deserting a sinking ship.

Not only that, but they’re doing it in a clever way. The parent company gives them to right to acquire their alternative energy assets that they build in the future, thus taking up the mantle of up front capital that the newer, smaller company can’t sustain. The smaller company then sets up to funnel profits back to shareholders and parent company (sort of a quick and dirty master limited partnership).

While MLPs structures have a long history, if you assume dirty fossil fuel will collapse in the long run, it’s also a great way to shelter assets so that the green division’s ability to generate profit and income isn’t taken out in a collapse. Hedge your bets by granting stock in the new yieldco.

I’ve found the sudden interest in yeildcos on Wall Street interesting. Because, you always follow the money. And when the money wakes up to the basic facts on dirty electricity generation, it gets fairly fascinating.

Speaking of which, Barclays just downgraded the entire electric utility sector.

Guess why?

Electric utilities… are seen by many investors as a sturdy and defensive subset of the investment grade universe. Over the next few years, however, we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo. Based on our analysis, the cost of solar + storage for residential consumers of electricity is already competitive with the price of utility grid power in Hawaii. Of the other major markets, California could follow in 2017, New York and Arizona in 2018, and many other states soon after.

In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power. We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade. We see near-term risks to credit from regulators and utilities falling behind the solar + storage adoption curve and long-term risks from a comprehensive re-imagining of the role utilities play in providing electric power.

The question isn’t whether we’ll be transitioning. It’s how fast, and who gets rich off the change?