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Message for GISHWHES participants

If you are a participant in GREATEST INTERNATIONAL SCAVENGER HUNT THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN ...

Do NOT send me email.

If you send me email asking for me to do your homework for you, I will mock you publicly on this blog.

As per previous blog entries: I am not your bitch.

(This notice prompted by the fact that I am currently being mailbombed by people who want me to do their homework for them. Really fucking annoyed now. Got a job to do and a deadline to hit: You. Are. Not. Helping.)

Clarification (having slept on it): the thing about GISHWHES is that I've never heard of it, never volunteered to participate in it, and had no idea what a scavenger hunt was before this pile landed in my inbox. I'm not merely trying to work—I'm about 99% of the way into a third of a million word death march to finish a trilogy, I've got a deadline looming in the next week, I'm utterly exhausted from over-work, and I am not generally receptive to being bombarded by requests to write flash fiction (which I don't do, anyway) several times a day. It feels very much like a case of "shoot at the monkey's feet, watch the monkey dance" by a random internet flash mob, and it is not fun.

Longer term: perhaps GISHWHES, in future years, could establish a mechanism for allowing people in my position to post a "don't contact me" request. Then exploding messily all over twitter wouldn't be necessary.

I'm not the only professional working SF/F author who is having this problem; a bunch of us are comparing notes, and several are highly annoyed by it. Because it's not just one team doing it—one higher-profile author than me is fielding what seem to be hundreds of requests.

78 Comments

1:

What, vaguely, are they asking for? I hope it's nothing too demanding, but I know in my heart of hearts it is.

p.s. Please answer this whenever you feel like Charlie. You're not my INTERNET bitch.

2:

I've seen some really amusing answers given to that sort of annoyance.

3:

They're looking for Charles Stross books, perhaps?

Back in the early days of the internet I maintained a couple of FAQs. I regularly got mail from people DEMANDING detailed information on... almost anything. Like they worked themselves into a rage, and mine was the first email address they came across.

The guy demanding information about some odd brand of outboard motor was memorable. He apparently thought that if I was providing some information about the Delphi programming language, I ought to tell him about outboards too. He kept coming back, like a fly batting against the window, apparently certain that I was withholding information just to spite him.

Unfortunately, while he was probably the worst, he was far from alone...

4:

Going by the list of items: http://almaasi.tumblr.com/post/93619095170/gishwhes-2014-list-of-items

I'm guessing:
IMAGE. Get a previously published Sci-Fi author to write an original story (140 words max) about Misha, the Queen of England and an Elopus. -Annie Houston 59 POINTS

AND/OR

VIDEO. A NYT best-selling author or Tony-award winning actor or actress doing a dramatic reading of a section of this: http://apps.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/right_of_way.htm 112 POINTS


I'm all for having fun, but it seems like some of the items are designed to make the players annoying to others. And some are just dickish:
VIDEO or IMAGE. Last year, NASA used their official twitter account to politely ask us to stop bothering the astronauts on the space station. NASA has undoubtedly spent the past 12 months regretting this hastily-made decision, so we are giving them a second chance to get in on the fun… Get “GISHWHES conquers space” or “GISHWHES [insert other clever phrase]” written on or in something orbiting in space. 400 points if an astronaut poses with the inscription. No photoshopping allowed! A couple of teams cheated last year on the space item and were disqualified. 289 POINTS

Last year they politely asked you to stop bothering the astronauts, so this year you just had to create an item that encourages people to bother the astronauts. FFS.

-MegaZone

5:

Apparently they are asking writers for a bit of flash fiction. The person on twitter who asked Charlie also asked a ton of other SF writers, the one to Wm. Gibson was more specific asking for 140 words. The ones who responded have said no, though one said they'd already done something for someone else.

6:

They are not asking you to 'do their homework'. I'm quite sure they explained that they are part of a scavenger hunt called "GISHWHES" to raise awareness for a charity called "Random Acts". It's about thinking outside of the box and doing random acts of kindness... both of which seem to be over your head.

Your cruel replies are currently being passed around, which means, unfortunately, that there will be a bloom of hate coming your way from those who take these silly things personally. There are over 20,000 participants with an abundance of free time and they are all connected by social media... I wish you luck.

7:

As Bernard Shaw put it, "Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice others without blushing."

8:

@crzydeona: Mr. Stross's reply wasn't cruel, it was simply to the point. While the goal of GISHWHES is admirable, the way in which some of the participants go about it is not - to wit, asking authors for stories and then getting unreasonably angry when said authors refuse, which is well within their rights as people.

Nobody is beholden to you just because you asked. Or, you know, "Charles Stross is not your bitch."

9:

Please do not feed the troll. Charlie can deal with his post later, if he wants. Subsequent discussions that do not include polite mocking of the troll are likely to be unapproved pending Charlie's involvement.

10:

I'm busy looking at the page for "Random Acts", the charity group GISHWES is apparently supporting - and as far as I can tell, it's a charity doing nothing in particular for everyone in general. It certainly doesn't seem to be raising money for a particular purpose, or for any campaign or similar. So I have to wonder what the charity is actually for. Even more interesting - the last set of reports up there are for 2012. Nothing for last year. Nothing for this year. For an organisation which is apparently committed to transparency... I have to wonder.

So, call me an old fuddy-duddy if you like (I won't mind) but I think I'll stick with dedicated charities with definite goals and definite plans in mind. "Conquering the world one act of kindness at a time" could mean anything.

11:

They had me at "Conquering the world ".

12:

There's a clear update on https://www.gishwhes.com/g_blog/updates/ about harassing people. If somebody's being a dick in private email, report it.

13:

Would this be before, during or after Charlie does the work which is actually paying his bills? (Just asking out of curiosity). Also, is he able to report a bunch of nincompoops in a single bulk email, or does he have to report each one individually?

14:

I am being pestered by large numbers of teams asking me to write them a piece of flash fiction.

Once is amusing. A dozen times a day -- or more -- while I'm trying to write is downright annoying.

They're basically coming over as demanding that, in the name of a charity I've never heard of, I drop everything to work for free for them. Entitlement, much?

15:

If it were me, I'd either create an entry in my spam filter to shunt them to the waste bin, or (harder), just ignore my in box until you finish your death march.

Also, the whole concept seems rather rude, regardless of the objective of the "charity". It's like asking your doctor friends medical questions, something I go to pains (pun not intended) to avoid.

16:

"Published writer" includes all those people selling their deathless prose only as a Kindle book. I did once pay money for such a book…

17:


This looks like a nasty cross between CHUGGING - that is to say Charity Mugging - and a Ponzi Scheme .. " After registering for GISHWHES, you will be presented with a “refer a friend” option. If you refer a friend, and they, in turn register for GISHWHES, your name will be placed in a drawing to join the winning team and Misha in Vancouver. "

" 5 Guinness World Records " indeed!

It should be crushed like a snail! I wonder if slug pellets would work on these creatures?

18:

Don't crush it - broil it in butter with garlic!

19:

I think there's an xkcd for these people:-

http://xkcd.com/322/

20:

One of them sent the same sort of request to the BSFA via the contact form on our site; except they were asking us to ask a published author to write the 140 words, etc. Which is a bit cheeky.

21:

It's a subject of some current discussion on a [private] mailing list for working SF/F novelists. Lots of us are getting these requests. The higher-profile folks are getting a lot of them, especially people with a steampunk track; while a few writers are okay about it, many are being driven to distraction.

There are tens of thousands of people on this scavenger hunt, while the pool of well-known SF/F novelists in the English language is only a couple of hundred at most. If all of them send one request, randomly distributed ...

You do the math.

22:

They're basically coming over as demanding that, in the name of a charity I've never heard of, I drop everything to work for free for them. Entitlement, much?

Sort of similar to an anti-SPAM mindset I ran into a few years back. For a while some ISPs offered an anti-SPAM service where if you wanted to send someone email you had to "register" with the ISP. Some folks thought it was great. Even some folks who should have known better. I really ran into this when I was on the board of our local community pool.

So you want me to spend 5 to 10 minutes to get approved to send you email?

Sure, why is this (5 to 10 minutes) a problem?

Gee, let's see. We have 180 families at the pool with about 400 to 500 email addresses we send email to. If I'm really fast I can do one of these every 3 to 5 minutes. So that means you want ME to spend 1200 to 2500 minutes (20 to 40+ hours) asking you for permission to send email to the email address you GAVE ME!

All while doing an unpaid volunteer job. Which most of them would not volunteer to do.

23:

Jokingly, in amongst a discussion of various networked services like NTP and the like, the suggestion came up for "Sod Off As A Service".

I think its time has come.

25:

As someone who's helping someone else in their GISHWHES efforts it does seem a bit off to pester an author you don't know personally to do this.

If I actually knew the author (as in was on first name terms with them, and them with me) I might ask, and through a private channel.
I would also ask a friend who knew an author well if they could ask them (and trust their judgement on if the author would be receptive to the idea).

Just asking on twitter etc? That's not going to fly, and just seems stupid...

(FWIW my OH's team have a published Sci-Fi author on the team, so that's an easy one :D)

26:

They have, since this started last Saturday, broken three more world records and are working on two more.

27:

Greetings me hearties!
I am here to tell of the octopus and elephant,
Shining in the night.
Heart-warming and yet, somehow
Wistful.
Hail to our ruler,
Elizabeth Regina (Mi
Sha).

For as much as we are all
Ordained by God.
And, therefore
Died.

And, if anyone asks, I guess http://www.amazon.co.uk/Implementing-Functional-Languages-International-Computing/dp/0137219520/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407345282&sr=1-2 shows science publication, and the corrections must indicate the fictional nature of the book.

28:

Charlie, I know you're an atheist, but you're showing the patience of a saint here.

Now, who regulates and investigates dodgy charities in the UK? After all, tips to their in box would be a true act of kindness that keeps on giving.

29:

Here's an idea for a story to give them:

"Get lost!" Cut and paste as necessary to get to the 140 words.

(I can see this appearing in future Stross anthologies....)

30:

I think the "commandment" not to harrass writers or others misses the point. It's not the issue if one asks politely or not. _The issue is that with many people asking, no matter how politely, the whole thing becomes a DDoS attack.

31:

Earlier versions of this sort of presumption have been around for a long time. Robert Heinlein used to bitch about teachers who gave their classes the assignment to write a letter to a writer asking questions about their work; apparently enough of them did it to take up an uncomfortable amount of writing time. My sympathies are wholly with the people who don't want to be bothered.

32:

Proof, if proof were needed, that there's nothing new under the sun. It's chain mail with a backspin and added nuisance value.
These days of course it's the sort of behaviour that's the bane of Facebook use but it's not unique to it.
The particularly obnoxious factor is that it sounds oriented to bother complete strangers rather than 1st or 2nd degree acquaintances.

33:

"Scavenger Hunts" were around in the 1920s, and were one of the slightly amusing newspaper stories about the Bright Young People of the time. Who were generally pretty well connected to their targets, and not that large a group.

This sounds big enough to be serious trouble for the targets.

"A lock of Boris Johnson's Hair" would be more interesting. It might even be fun to watch the chase. (Cue Yakety Sax...").

34:

Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; dozens of times a day is a denial-of-service attack.

35:

"They have, since this started last Saturday, broken three more world records and are working on two more."

This one's for you, crzydemona: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFZrzg62Zj0

36:

I find it very hard to believe that the organisers of this "event" were unaware of the likely impact of their list of items. You're talking tens of thousands of people; there is no way you can reasonably expect them all to be well behaved in this regard - and it only takes a relatively small percentage to create a flood of messages.

I see two options.

Option number one: the event organisers announce that any teams that are found to have harassed an author - with the definition of "harassed" lying with the author, not the team or event organisers - are disqualified. Problem: this deals with the problem after the fact, not before.

Option number two: the event organisers immediately withdraw all items that involve targeting one of a relatively small group (authors, professional athletes, and the like), and award zero points for such items.

Some of what's on the list is genuinely amusing, clever, or worthwhile. Some is puerile, but affects only the participants. And then there's the rest of it. Which is, in my opinion, far too much (bluntly, even one item that involves dragging in anybody that is outside of the event is, IMO, one too many.)

37:

Given that the organisers' response to being asked (last year) not to pester astronauts was to specifically request that this year's entrants deliberately pester astronauts, I don't see much chance for them taking up either of your options. Or doing anything else worthwhile, come to that.

I imagine the organisers are canny enough that they haven't technically (ie from a legal perspective) organised harassment, even though harassment of various groups is an obvious outcome of their requests. (And an outcome they clearly not only predict but actually encourage.) If they were (organising harassment, that is), a bit of heavy-footed stamping might prevent future years from involving outsiders with such enthusiasm...

38:

Time for you to set Mr Chatbot going and knock out a few thousand originals they can choose from. That would suitably piss them off.

39:

140 words or so (counted using 140dw in vi) from a markov chain babble generator trained on OGHs "A Colder War".

Enjoy.

Roger licks his lips nervously. "That sounds like sacks -- chuckles appreciatively. "Yeah. Like Hitler was a diplomat. 'One more territorial demand' --'' he glances round and sees Mehmet (family name unknown) approaching from its course, but the entire Minuteman force. In principle, we will be able to blast it to pieces before it can be brought to full wakefulness and eat them when they were sleeping in their concrete beds.

The lieutenant supervises a squad of marines with complicated-looking man, wearing a red thermal suit three sizes too big for him: salt-and-pepper stubble textures his jaw with sandpaper. Right now, he looks like a cauliflower head, or maybe a squid with not enough tentacles.

40:

APPLAUSE! MOAR!

(But I shall avoid reading them until I finish today's death march. Because today I intend to kill this trilogy-shaped-thing dead.)

41:

Totally off-topic, but I'm new around here and can't figure out what OGH stands for. I mean, it's clear who it refers to, but what do the letters stand for?

43:

I never heard of GISHWHES before reading this column. Does that mean I can still ask you to do my homework?

44:

I have a lot on over the next 3 or 4 hours, then I'm off for a long weekend but if anyone wants to join in the generator I used can be found here:

http://projects.haykranen.nl/markov/demo/

Just paste a text into the input box and press the button.

45:

Ah, thanks. Couldn't figure it out for the life of me.

46:

The testimonial on their website starts with "I've been banned from Wikipedia" which doesn't seem to be a strong push-back against vandalising another volunteer project and wasting other people's time.

47:

Yes, but I may mock you for entirely different reasons. Especially if it turns out that you don't even own a dog.

48:

Target the charity they donate to (Megpie's summary makes them look sketchy) and the GISHTWHES hosting service. Either see if they can be nailed for fraud or violating ToS. Or both.

49:

I was looking through their site last night and saw this on the Updates page:

"Commandment 4 – Harassment – It’s come to our attention that a number of teams have been verbally harassing authors and politicians to achieve items. If someone doesn’t want to help you, this is no reason to verbally attack them. We are trying to create art and change lives, not hurt people. Your team will be docked points if we determine that you are breaking Commandment 4. Perhaps more importantly, you are dinging your karma credit. Be nice to people. Remember, you are representing the global community of GISHWHES and that community believes that through art we can change lives – not hurt them."

Here's the official Commandment 4:
"4. Behavior during the Hunt - You are not permitted to physically, emotionally or psychologically hurt or attack yourself, another GISHER or anyone outside The Hunt. The only exception is as follows: If GISHWHES corporate identifies a person or entity as “An Enemy of Hunt” on the “Updates” page during the hunt you will be asked to use hexes and telekinesis to undermine them."


It seems these "Supernatural" fans do a little more than "use hexes and telekinesis", at least on Twitter. Almost makes me wonder if there isn't a secret goal to collect as many irate replies as possible. A Public list of goals online, and Actual goals emailed to players? I don't actually believe that, but it's not impossible.

50:

Behavior during the Hunt - You are not permitted to physically, emotionally or psychologically hurt or attack yourself, another GISHER or anyone outside The Hunt. The only exception is as follows: If GISHWHES corporate identifies a person or entity as “An Enemy of Hunt” on the “Updates” page during the hunt you will be asked to use hexes and telekinesis to undermine them

I read that and had to do a double take. This, along with other writing on their site (and the list of things to hunt) indicates to me that this charity event is extremely amateur. I used to work for a charity before and shared an office with some of the fund raising team, they made sure people had fun sure but they were always strictly professional and had clear guidelines for every eventuality. There's no way that in a guideline on harassment for any event they'd make a stupid joke rather than listing the best procedure for rectifying the situation.

51:

Digging in, it looks like they're using an anonymizing service offered by GoDaddy.com called domains by proxy.
Now, the who is offers a complaint line and an email, that I suspect will be worth nothing, but hey, who knows:
Registrar Abuse Contact Email: email@godaddy.com
Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.480-624-2505

Then there is the claim form for objectionable content.
https://www.domainsbyproxy.com/ClaimForm.aspx?Type=3
I suspect that enough of these would might get GISHWHES to change some of its behavior.

52:

Now, for their charity.
Contact e-mail for complaints (particularly about GISHWHES and their behavior) is concerns@therandomact.org

They're using the same anonymizing service as GISHWHES, but unlike GISHWHES, they do offer a PO Box mailing address:
Random Acts
PO Box 2039
Denver, NC 28037
USA

Which means that there isn't a quick way to get in touch and point out that GISHWHES is dragging their name through the mud.

However, they do have regional reps.
http://www.therandomact.org/about/regions/#usa

I suspect politely approaching them about the behavior of the GISHWHES teams might begin to escalate things and maybe force some behavior changes.

53:

I had heard of GISHWHES before, and I was sceptical, and all they've managed this year is that the only time I've heard of them it's in a negative manner.

The list of items has had several changes. One which was removed was an actual DDOS attack on williamshatner.com. Another was covering yourself in peanut butter and offering strangers free hugs, which was changed to whipped cream presumably when somebody heard about anaphylaxis. And there's more along the lines of harassing NASA and other people etc, and irresponsible uses of leaf blowers.

54:

Random Acts was started by Misha Collins, who hosts GISHWHES. I'm sure they know what GISHWHES does, and I'm not sure what else Random Acts does independently.

55:

Hmmm.
So that only leaves filing complaints with the Secretary of State that its chartered in.

56:

Looks like Random Acts actually is based somewhere in North Carolina, as the PO Box suggests. Therefore, I'd suggest contacting the Better Business Bureau of Charlotte North Carolina at http://www.bbb.org/charlotte/ if you want to make a complaint about Random Acts or GISHWHES. My logic is that both the PO Box and Random Act's executive director seem to be based there, although Misha Collins probably is not.

57:

Just visited a couple of related sites to find out more about the founder and this org. Overall impression is that this is probably a new art-form which I'll call 'behavioral sculpting'(apologies to any real psychologists out there reading this) using mass/e-medias as its shaping tool/chisel.

Based on this org's/founder's past choices of charitable acts, the nature of actions undertaken to acquire donations, plus the overall net positive impact of any donations collected/distributed, my conclusion is that this person is not even a well-meaning jerk. Really and seriously -- this looks like an exercise to see just how much garbage people will swallow if it's dressed up as 'charity' or good intentions, that is, a Milgram experiment using e-media and current US-ian societal and power/dominance values/relationships.

58:

Ah right, just because you don't care then it means nothing to anyone else and therefore must be crap. I'm pretty sure Copernicus proved that the universe doesn't revolve around you.

59:

Well, I just searched the NC SoS website. Nothing. So I just contacted them and asked if they were chartered in NC and where to find their filings. We'll see what happens.

60:

The sheer ignorance in this thread is breath taking. Where do you guys sign up for the torches and pitchforks? Is there no rational thought involved here? "I don't understand it! HULK SMASH!"

I know this will probably get deleted, as anyone with actual first hand knowledge of GISHWHES and Random Acts is considered a troll that goes against the "Smash it" mentality of this thread, but you seriously have no idea what you're talking about and you're lashing out at thin air.

Mr. Stross, thank you for your updated edit. It's appreciated. I'm truly sorry that you have been inconvenienced as awareness is the key, not annoyance.

If anyone actually cares to know FACTS about Random Acts and GISHWHES, please let me know, I'd be happy to provide more information or put you in contact with someone more knowledgeable than me.

61:

... and the donations breakdown of 15% to Haitian orphans and 51% for flowers randomly distributed to western mega-city inhabitants is noble?

Yeah - sure!

62:

Y'know, you don't come across as witty, scathing, or fearsome. You just come across as young.

63:

Fine.
Proof that Random Acts is registered with the NC SoS as a charity.
Filings for 2013.
List of current board of officers and a means of contacting them.
That would do as a start for facts.
Because for a group that states transparency as one of their top goals, they're sure being opaque and sketchy.

64:

http://www.therandomact.org/about/reports/

That's their reports. Really not hard to find. You know, on their website. Where is 2013? Who knows. Being a non-profit employee myself, I know that a lot of admin-y stuff like web pages get put off for dealing with actual charity work. Their EIN is right on the reports. There's also a whole page, on their website, for contacting them. http://www.therandomact.org/contact/

Oh, and the staff you wanted: http://www.therandomact.org/about/staff/

Honestly...

65:

Thanks.

Now, who shall begin reporting them to the NC SoS for the actions of the folks raising funds in their name?

66:

Trey, who is raising funds in their name?

Do you even know what you're "reporting"? Do you have any proof/facts/common sense? Or are you, perhaps, just jumping on a lynch mob bandwagon because it makes you feel like you're part of something?

Maybe you've become exactly what you're raging against, a mindless mob with a sense of entitlement that isn't justified.

As for Sean, I am a 43 year old woman, I pray I am never perceived as "Old".

67:

I think it's a good writing prompt, though. "Annoying charity asks author for 140 word flash fiction. For their sins, he answered." Shades of Equoid.

So this is the 21st century's answer to 7am god botherers. Not that those ever went away.

68:

that is, a Milgram experiment using e-media and current US-ian societal and power/dominance values/relationships.

Off-topic, but mention of Milgram reminds me of something I've wondered. With all the news in the past year about how the Milgram and Stanford Prison Experiments weren't exactly as portrayed (particularly Milgram's) I've been curious if that had been known earlier it would have affected "Glasshouse" and any potential sequel?

70:

Gotta remind myself.

Don't feed the troll.
Don't feed the troll.
Don't feed the troll.

71:

There's apparently no need for the stories to be unique. Harry Connolly is offering a GISHWES story that all participants can use.

72:

Yes, you're right. There's an implied "if the organisers of this thing have any sort of moral scruples about them" in my comment that should have been made more clear. The whole thing really does strike me as being more than a little amateurish in its setup (if not outright trolling).

73:

Saw a comment about asking a doctor friend for some advice, isn't it more like asking them to excise a lesion or write a prescription or something along those lines?

Loved the markov'D A Colder War btw, from unsettlingly plausible alternate history/AtMoM sequel to surrealist comedy, bravo!

74:

Some people (number one of my friends, whom Feorag and Charlie have both met in meatspace, and Foerag has been on an Eastercon panel with, amongst them) are allergic to cream. Nuts are not the only allergy.

75:

140 words seems oddly specific. Do you think they meant to make it Twitter-able, and didn't realise Twitter was limited to 140 *characters*?

76:

if that had been known earlier it would have affected "Glasshouse" and any potential sequel?

Possibly ... what would really have affected "Glasshouse", however, would have been the after-disaster analysis of what the survivors did in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Mostly hung together and tried to look after each other: the shooting was done by the crazy survivalists and cops who were convinced that the urban survivors would turn to rioting and cannibalism. (Racism in action, in other words.)

77:

Ahh I was curious if that was a possibility. A quick google shows it's less common than nut allergies, so I supposed slightly better, although hardly reassuring to your friends, and still unpleasant for everyone else.

78:

TBH cream alergy seems to involve deliberate ingestion (ok, include force-feeding here) rather than "being present whilst others are eating cream" but the point still stands that the suggestion was rather less funny than the originator intended.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 6, 2014 1:03 AM.

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