Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask #81

An Audio Interview With Dave McCarty by Chris M. Barkley

Dave McCarty. Photo by Chris M. Barkley.

Yesterday, Saturday February 3rd, my partner Juli Marr and I drove from Cincinnati to attend Capricon 44 in downtown Chicago.

We went because we were cordially invited by Helen Montgomery for a semi-surprise party in support of Leane Verhulst, a beloved Chicago area fan. The Facebook Invitation read as follows:

In September 2023, Leane posted that she had a brain tumor. Since then she had surgery to remove it, and the tumor was biopsied. As some of you may have heard, Leane has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma. She has completed chemo and radiation, but this cancer is aggressive and unfortunately has a low survival rate.

As some of us discussed this, Dave had the idea that we would much rather celebrate her *with* her now instead of later. (I mean, we’ll celebrate her later too. Probably often. Because we embrace the power of “and” here.)

Please come join us at Capricon 44 on Saturday night at 8pm Central for our Celebration of Leane. Capricon 44 is held at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. 

Juli and I have known Leane for many years and have socialized and worked with her at other sf conventions, including several Chicago Worldcons. 

Leane had been in remission and was expected to be there but unfortunately, she had a rather sudden relapse on Friday that required her to be hospitalized for immediate treatment.

As of this post, she is conscious and in stable condition but tires easily. 

As a consolation, Helen Montgomery set up a laptop and people attending the party spent a few minutes chatting with and to lift her spirits up. Juli and I were among the last to speak with her and I must remark that she was bearing up very well despite the difficult circumstances. In one way or another, we all told her that we loved her, wished her well with the hope of a speedy recovery…

Leane Verhulst

The other less important reason was that I was also there to receive my Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer from Dave McCarty, who was until recently the head of the Hugo Award Administrators for the Chengdu Worldcon. (He was also a co-host of Ms. Verhulst’s party.)

The party was a success and a literal Who’s Who in fandom was there including Don and Jill Eastlake, Ben Yalow, Alex von Thorn, Marah Seale-Kovacevic, Laurie and Jim Mann, Steven H and Elaine Silver, Stephen Boucher, Tammy Coxen, James Bacon, Jesi Lipp, Greg Ketter, Geri Sullivan, Janice Gelb, Ann Totusek and Kathy and Paul Lehman.

(Although many photographs were taken, I refrained from doing so for personal reasons.)

As all of you are probably aware of by now, these Administrators, and Mr. McCarty in particular, have been under fire for the shocking and unexplained disqualifications of the works of fan writer Paul Weimer, Chinese-born Canadian sff writer Xiran Jay Zhao, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman mini-series on Netflix and the novel Babel by novelist R.F. Kuang from the Long List of Nominations that was released on January 20.

Mr. McCarty, who has been involved in sf fandom for decades, was bombarded with inquiries from most of the ineligibles (save for Ms. Kuang, who issued a brief statement of her own on Instagram), from outraged sff fans on social media and from curious factions of the mainstream press as well. 

(Full Disclosure: I have not stated this recently but I must make it known that I have known and worked with Mr. McCarty for several decades. I have worked with him on many conventions in a subordinate role and clashed with him on many occasions involving contentious issues that I have brought before the World Science Fiction Fiction Business Meeting. Despite this, I have maintained a cordial and respectful relationship with him over the years.)

As a journalist, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum; being the recipient of the Hugo in Best Fan Writer category this year, I am in the uncomfortable position of being a part of the story I am reporting on.  

But, since I am in the eye of the hurricane so to speak, I am also in the unique position to observe and report on the situation. Keeping my bias in check, I extended an invitation to interview Mr. McCarty several days before I left for Chicago. A day before I left, I receives a text from him accepting the offer, something he did not do when asked by Adam Morgan,  a reporter from Esquire Magazine, which ran the following story this past Thursday, the first day of Capricon 44, much to Mr. Carty’s chagrin: “Hugo Awards 2024: What Really Happened at the Sci-Fi Awards in China?”

On Sunday morning, Mr. McCarty and I sat down in the lobby of the Sheraton Grand Riverwalk Hotel for an extensive talk about his experiences as the Chengdu Hugo Administrator, the Chinese colleagues, he worked with, his future in fandom and the mysterious origins of and his reactions to being named, “the Hugo Pope”.

[Here is a transcript of the interview produced by consulting two different AI-generated transcripts, and lightly copyedited by Mike Glyer.]

One question I neglected to ask at the time was whether or not he, or anyone on the Chengdu Hugo Awards Administration team, were required to sign any sort of non-disclosure agreement by the Chinese government or any other entity involved with the convention. I sent Dave McCarty a text message asking the question after I arrived home Sunday evening. His response:

“Nobody on the administration team signed any kind of agreement like that, we’re just bound by our regular WSFS confidential customs.”

And finally, there was the matter of my Best Fan Writer Hugo Award:

I was informed via text by Mr. McCarty that the six or so Hugo Awards shipped from the People’s Republic of China to the United States for distribution arrived at his house this past Monday.

Unfortunately for all involved, all of the awards had been damaged in transit; while he did not detail the damage to the other awards, Mr. McCarty told me that mine had suffered the most damage in that the panda had chipped paint and had also become completely detached from the stargate. He theorized that this happened because the cases did not have any cushioning material inside to insulate it, so that any practically any motion during transport would cause the awards to rock and bounce against the case.

Mr. McCarty reported that all of the custom cases were for all practical purposes, unusable. 

He did tell me that he thinks that the awards can be either fully repaired or possibly even replaced in the next month or so. 

He did offer to give my award as is and have it repaired on my own but I declined and said that anything that he could do to have it restored would be fine with me.

This turn of events will mean that my daughter Laura and her family, my bookstore and library friends and all of ardent admirers at my local Kroger’s supermarket will have to wait just a little while longer to take their selfies with one of the most iconic symbols in literature… 

256 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask #81

  1. I usually vote on the Hugos. Have we entered the “why bother” stage, when an administrator gives the finger to us voters?.
    Also, the fallout has taken a friend, Kevin Standlee, and not a friend, Ben Yallow, two people who have worked for decades in service to our sf community.

  2. @OGH

    I’m sorry to disappoint you. I followed that imbroglio primarily via Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit.

    It’s still all within the genre family as Glenn is a fan of SF/F works!

    Parenthetically, I do wish that I’d been aware of Worldcons and the associated activities much earlier in life.

    ‘There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.’ Ray Bradbury

  3. @John S: I wouldn’t describe the field of graffiti as a free speech zone in China in the way Dave implied. From the cited article (written in 2022):

    Artists can still go it alone underground, as long as they follow certain unspoken rules. “Nothing on government property, and nothing political, religious, or pornographic,” lists Dezio, calling them a set of uncodified “Cardinal Rules” that all street artists are aware of. “And you can’t be too open about it. That’s it.”

    Break these rules, and the repercussions can be severe. “There was a guy in Chengdu once,” says Dens. “He painted some political content across from the American Consulate when it was closing in 2020. The police got him, and he’s still in jail now.”

    (Emphasis added.)

  4. I need to correct myself, apparently; I was unaware that CoNZealand hadn’t used Kansa to count nominations, they were using one of the non-open-source systems for it, which explains why people have wondered about different behaviour there.

    (sorry for the confusion, folks; I wasn’t on the team there, I was overstating my knowledge of the process)

  5. I’ve never forgotten this story about what happens when someone really really wants the fun of writing some particular code.

    Thank you for sharing that. It would be an excellent horror story to tell around a campfire of programmers.

    As a longtime professional coder myself, one of the things I like about modern software development is the emphasis on leaving working code alone and making changes as minimal as possible to help ensure everything still works. Every developer knows the temptation is strong to scrap it all and write something new from scratch. It’s almost always a huge mistake. I tell this to new programmers walking on their shaky Bambi legs all the time.

    If we can’t get a permanent tech committee on the WSFS, perhaps we can do better at spreading the message that we want to keep using the software that worked at past Worldcons. Chris R’s comments here are more visibility into our software development than I’ve seen in a long time. It’s very helpful.

  6. On thing about convention software in general that has perplexed me for years is that in a culture entirely built around gift economies and volunteering, most software I’ve seen conventions use is homegrown or commercial, rarely open source (much less Free in the GPL/MIT/BSD/Apache licensed sense). It’s confusing, and kind of dismaying.

    Kansa, Planorama, Wellington, and NomNom are all of the latter kind, which I hope will enable some of them to survive to be used in the future. Of those, Planorama and NomNom are narrowly scoped — Plano is program planning, NomNom is Hugos — and designed to integrate with registration systems for any convention, which, again, hopefully will allow them to fit into other conventions’ plans.

  7. There are a lot of issues that would be between fans and a successful lawsuit over this, but McCarty has admitted to engaging in fraud here.

    I’ve been waiting for this shoe to drop. The Mark Protection Committee needs to discuss the legal liability caused by Dave McCarty fixing an election and whether actions can be taken to pre-emptively protect the WSFS if fans who participated choose to sue.

  8. @rcade: Looking back at my records I see that I read that book in 1984 which means I’ve remembered that story for 40 years. It is a horror story for programmers (not as bad at Theriac, but still…).

  9. Camestros Felapton on February 6, 2024 at 4:59 pm said:
    amplified a secret slate…There’s no sign of EPH having done that… possibly a slate, possibly ballot stuffing, possibly all these numbers were just made up… the absurd size of the numbers was a way to get around EPH by brute force.

    You need motive, means and opportunity.

    If Hugo admins were simply rigging to benefit a particular party, they would have covered their tracks better than this.

    Site selection votes without mailing addresses were all from China, whereas beneficiaries of the big apparent slate were Western.

    IMO simplest explanation is a group that already knew how to put a thumb on the EPH scales was going up against naive slaters. (You gather as much information as you can about who is likely to vote for what in what numbers. Craft a variety of ballots centered on those among your preferred works which already have organic support. Use social marketing to create momentum or at at least apparent momentum for others of your preferred works. Identify additional works you deem unavoidably likely winners, then support/exploit them as decoys to push other competition over the cliff.) However, the unknowns surrounding an influx of Chinese voters may have prompted them to overdo it with unnecessarily high “brute force” (as you termed it) numbers, which is why the result looks so extreme. In contrast, if you look at the bottom of the longlist for novels, less experienced slaters may also have promoted a rec list or circulated sample ballots in a less effective way such that Chinese works possibly manipulated trailed far behind.

  10. On the other hand, I was once hired to rewrite the firmware of a data control terminal. The original had been written by EE’s and had gotten to a non-maintainable state. The only thing I kept was the display driver.

  11. The hardest part of doing a complete rewrite is figuring out what the original was supposed to do. Including all the unexpected quirks that nobody bothered to document, but that turn out to be critical to something else that no one bothered to mention.

  12. @Jim Janney:
    That is why Scribe is one of the positions I propose for a Permanent Hugo Tech Working Group. My programming ability is small, but I’m married to a database guru-level consultant who’s build, maintained, and rescued a LOT of systems over the years. I’ve heard a lot of these stories over the dinner table and I know how uninterested most coders are in writing documentation & manuals.

  13. whether actions can be taken to pre-emptively protect the WSFS if fans who participated choose to sue

    I’d be more worried about if one of the excluded authors choose to sue. Having the Hugo Award winner sticker has a small but real impact on sales. Much easier to prove real damages.

    Now, given their public reactions so far I suspect it’s not a likely development. But as a potential liability it probably wildly outweighs a fan lawsuit.

  14. @Jim Janney: Fortunately, the communications protocol was well documented as was the input “syntax” check. But I had to learn the processor and hardware, and implement a couple new features, so it took around 9 months to release.

  15. @Chris R: Thanks for making it open-source and taking the suggestions into account. No opacity there!

    @Doctor Science: Mr. LT had a career in that as well. We are so nerdy we have a t-shirt and a plushie of “Duke”, the original mascot of what we now know as Java. Wish they’d kept him.

    Also, I think your idea of a permanent Tech Team is very good.

  16. @Lurkertype

    The coffee pouch in my hotel room this morning was labelled “JavaOne”. I doubletook.

  17. I’d be more worried about if one of the excluded authors choose to sue. Having the Hugo Award winner sticker has a small but real impact on sales. Much easier to prove real damages.

    I would think an author is less entitled to be nominated or win a Hugo than a paying member is entitled to an election that is non-fraudulent. But that’s just an entirely uneducated guess.

  18. Brian Z: IMO simplest explanation is a group that already knew how to put a thumb on the EPH scales was going up against naive slaters.

    The simplest explanation here is that two or three Chinese censors started whacking away at the longlists after EPH was run, then tried to reapportion the nominations for whacked works without understanding how EPH works.

    A slating operation of the magnitude you propose — 850 people all voting for the same 5 things — would have become known among Worldcon members. A slating effort among 50 Western voters could probably have run under the radar — but 850 voters? Yeah, no way that happened.

  19. It’s a bit frustrating to read the implication that there has been no previous public discussion of the software involved with the Hugos. I wrote about the choice to use the open-source Kansa system in 2017, 2019 and 2022, and I’m pretty sure that OGH linked to all three of those posts at the time.

    People who are smarter than me tell me that Kansa is now reaching the end of its useful life, and I am really glad that Chris R is working on an alternative. I totally encourage others to have a go too.

    It is my firm belief that institutionalising tech solutions for WorldCons in a standing committee, as proposed above, will be disastrous. It will blur accountability and demotivate volunteers. It will institutionalise gate-keeping at a time when we need to be attracting younger talent to keep WorldCons alive.

    In normal years, the social pressure to get it right is sufficient to force WorldCons to find good solutions, especially when the solutions already exist. I do not believe that a formal oversight committee could have made a positive difference in the cases where I have seen things go wrong (ie in abnormal years).

    The “permanent Tech Team” already exists informally. The pool of knowledge is not wide but it is deep. Also, we should not forget that the Hugos are about a lot more than software. Please let’s not overcomplicate things.

  20. So how do we do we at least mitigate the possibility of an abnormal year like 2023 from happening again? McCarty and company ignored social pressure to get it right (and still are), did not create good solutions (software and otherwise), and got it very, very wrong. This has caused everyone who participates in or even follows the Hugos to lose faith in them.

    There were signs of trouble all along. They were a month late opening nominations. Nominations had issues and were closed for parts of the nominating period. After nominations closed, they took nearly two months to determine the finalists. Even considering the added complexity, this was excessive. Normally contacting potential finalists is the longer part of the process between nominations closing and finalist announcement.

    Then after waiting three months post convention, we get nominations statistics that have way more than the couple substantive problems McCarty admits to in the interview. The wrongful removal of eligible nominees has overshadowed the fact that the ballots do not appear to have been processed correctly in the first place.

    All this has certainly dampened my enthusiasm for nominating this year. Whereas, normally it is one of my favorite parts of the whole process.

  21. @Laura, it’s worth noting that, even with a committee that we believe has excellent intentions and will run a transparent and accountable Hugo Awards (Glasglow 2024), nominations were late to open and experienced troubles. That can happen to any convention, regardless of what their ethical situation is.

    Nicholas did a better job than I did of articulating my concerns with a standing Worldcon tech committee. In addition to those, though, I’d also like to make explicit my belief that a committee responsible for making those technical decisions is unlikely to be adaptable enough to changing circumstances to be viable for the long haul. I say this as someone who has been involved in the software side of multiple Worldcons at this point; I don’t think it’s the right direction to take.

    I do think that I would endorse a resolution recommending that when software is developed for use in a Worldcon, that it be open source at minimum, and preferably Free software as well, so that future Worldcons can learn from it and adapt it if appropriate.

  22. @Chris R: Completely agree about a resolution recommending development and use of free and open source software for Worldcons. That would provide guidance to committees, without making it complicated.

    Maybe what’s needed is an update to the Worldcon Runner’s Guide. It doesn’t say anything about open source. The website says there is a project to update it.

  23. I do think that I would endorse a resolution recommending that when software is developed for use in a Worldcon, that it be open source at minimum, and preferably Free software as well, so that future Worldcons can learn from it and adapt it if appropriate.

    The WSFS voted on a proposed amendment in 2015 by Kate Secor and Ben Wolfe to recommend the use of open source software.

    It was defeated in part because Ron Oakes, the author of the code being used for the Hugos, said he would allow reasonable requests by members to see the code but that making it open source might cause issues that could harm his employment prospects in the future.

    Shortly after that vote, I emailed Oakes requesting to examine the code. He said no.

  24. @ Chris R

    @Laura, it’s worth noting that, even with a committee that we believe has excellent intentions and will run a transparent and accountable Hugo Awards (Glasglow 2024), nominations were late to open and experienced troubles. That can happen to any convention, regardless of what their ethical situation is.

    Glasgow opened nominations at about the usual time. (Maybe a little late considering the convention is early August.) When they closed them again, they posted on the page what was happening and also sent emails letting us know when they re-opened. Chengdu just left us wondering why we stopped being able to sign in. Glasgow’s actions leave a much more reassuring feeling that it was more a case of getting out ahead of a problem rather then something breaking and them hoping they might fix it before anyone noticed.

    From the beginning everyone kept asking Yalow and McCarty what was going on, and they kept dismissively reassuring us everything was fine. It was soo not fine. First Progress Report after Glasgow’s and after the big bombshell of the change of dates and venue. Pretty much no word at all from Dec 2021 to Jan 2023, and communication never really improved even then. Glasgow has certainly been much more active, open, and accessible since even before they officially won the bid.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I appreciate the fact that you and Nicholas Whyte are in a better position than many of us to say whether an official tech group would help or hurt. Open source software at the least seems like a good beginning. But Chengdu and McCarty have dealt a serious blow, and unfortunately it’s going to take a lot of ongoing work to assure people that Worldcons can run a fair Hugo Award.

  25. @Nicholas Whyte:

    I’m not trying to downplay the depth of your experience, but when you say

    institutionalising tech solutions for WorldCons in a standing committee, as proposed above, will be disastrous

    –in what were they not disastrous in 2023?

    In this interview, McCarty admits that the ballot-counting software was “flawed” i.e. wrong at the SQL level, and it sure looks as though he or he & someone on the Chinese side were building it from scratch and didn’t test it thoroughly. If people & works hadn’t been DQed, this would have been enough of a disaster that we’d maybe have tried to get the raw ballot or nominations and run them again, and wouldn’t that have been a shit show.

    To put it baldly: the software didn’t work. The only reason that isn’t the big scandal of the 2023 Hugos is that the results are clearly not just due to bad software, but to direct human manipulation, and that scandal has drowned out all the rest.

    You say:
    It will blur accountability and demotivate volunteers
    I don’t understand how it will blur accountability at all. But you’ve got a LOT more experience with bureaucracies & cons than I do, please explain.

    One kind of accountability my proposal builds in is that someone from Worldcon N-1 is on the Working Group, to report and discuss what worked & didn’t work last time. Because not all the work last time was done by Worldcon N-1, blame for fuckups doesn’t land only on them, so (hopefully? naively?) different Worldcon tech committees can cooperate more smoothly.

    Another kind is that there will be at least one Scribe, who documents what happens and keeps the manuals (for the people who set up systems & collate nominations).

    A third kind is that the Working Group’s software suite will, as part of its mandate, be auditable. This is even more important than it being open source! — and I think it absolutely ought to be open source.

    demotivate volunteers
    Up above, Chris_R said:
    convention committees all seem to have at least one person on them, in a position of authority, who wants to be the one to invent the software suite to rule them all that will solve all future fannish endeavours henceforth.

    As rcade’s story shows, in addition to the normal fannish desire to make a cool thing, and a common level of ego, the con’s lead software developer can be motivated by personal career goals, and make choices that they think will be good for them personally, regardless of whether it’s good for the Hugos or fandom.

    Collecting, collating, and processing the nominations; collecting and counting the ballots; these are tasks that need to be done every year, and I think they should be more reliable — and more boring. Less likely to attract the sort of diva who, in their quest for The Perfect, rides roughshod over The Good — or even The Functional.

  26. Doctor Science on February 11, 2024 at 1:03 pm said:
    – in what were they not disastrous in 2023?

    I don’t think you can attribute to bad software what was self-declared malfeasance. The Hugo Administration for Chengdu did not give a flying fig for an accurate and transparent ballot count. And I suspect they did not understand to what degree the tampering was blindingly obvious to anybody with the right expertise. As I believe I have heard many say “If I had wanted to cook the Hugo I would have done a much better job of it.”
    In a way this disaster has proved that EPH offers a check against tampering. There is an audit committee – it springs into action every time the data is published right after the ceremony.
    There isn’t much that can be done to avoid bad faith, though.

  27. There is an audit committee – it springs into action every time the data is published right after the ceremony.

    Or 3 months after the ceremony in this case. Either way too late.

  28. @rcade: “that making it open source might cause issues that could harm his employment prospects in the future.”

    I can think of a couple ways of spinning this, neither of which make him look particularly good.

  29. @Doctor Science: If you think the best solution is a Worldcon Software Working Group, form a working group. Worldcon (and fandom in general) works on a volunteer basis. Getting formal approval from WSFS is neither necessary nor sufficient. If you think the software should be open source, which I agree is the right way to go, look to the open source community for guidelines, essential advice, and tools that will help the working group get started. First and foremost, to have a working group, you need people who are willing to work.

  30. @Anna Feruglio Dal Dan:
    I’m saying that, by McCarty’s admission, BOTH malfeasance AND incompetence were in play. And he specifically admits a) that the coding for either the nominations or the final ballots was wrong, and b) he didn’t say anything about it because does it really matter? headdesk headdesk headdesk

    Yes, the malfeasance is worse, and what’s attracted most of the attention. But I think we need to prevent this level of misfeasance happening again, too, and fortunately that’s a lot easier.

    Has the audit committee sprung into action? There’s sure a lot of springing to be done …

  31. @Chris_R:
    I see a couple other people are working on NomNom with you; are you looking for more collaborators for WorldconVotingSystems? Do you have a Master Plan™?

    I myself am not qualified, but I have a very wide acquaintance that may reach a different group than you usually work with. On the other hand, macOS (shudder) … but that IMHO just means you need someone to make the Windows version alongside. (yes, we all have our biases) ;P

  32. Yeah, so, that sort of OS snarkery is more or less how we get “new team comes along and decides to rewrite things” in tech 😀

    Anyway, NomNom doesn’t run on macOS, because that would be kind of weird and overpriced to serve; it runs on any viable OCI compatible container runtime, at least to a first approximation (I have not exhaustively tested it with non-docker runtimes, but I’m not doing anything clever). It’s just a web application, same as most of the other ones (with at least one notable exception). I develop NomNom on macOS, because that’s my daily driver computer, so the instructions I have for it are the ones that make sense for me.

  33. @Chris R: “some parts of the tech industry have a VERY weird reaction to open source code.”

    To using it, sure, especially with GPL-style licenses, but I find it hard to believe that in 2015 the mere fact that someone wrote a thing for which they released source would in and of itself be of any consequence.

    I don’t know this person at all, but on general principles these are some possibilities as to how his employment prospects could be harmed:

    He works exclusively in some sector for which the entire concept of ‘open source’ is anathema (I’m not sure such a sector still existed in 2015)
    If his association with SF fandom became known it would tarnish his professional reputation and he would lose out on opportunities (that ship would have sailed as soon as, say, meeting minutes came out)
    The code works but stinks on ice, and if anybody considering hiring him found out about it they’d consider it a dealbreaker
    The code does not work, or there are substantial irregularities, and if anybody interested in the results examined it they’d raise a ruckus forever tying his name to it
    He was under contractual obligations to his then-current employer such that all work created by him at the time belongs to them, or some similar condition, and he was in violation by his having written it in the first place (same objection as (2) applies).
    The code was created using resources that belonged to his then-current employer, and actually belonged at least in part to them.
    There would have been no consequences whatsoever, but the code was his and he didn’t want to share.

    Like I said, I don’t know this guy, and all I’m going on is rcade’s description of the situation, but I’m giving the whole thing the side eye.

  34. I can think of a couple ways of spinning this, neither of which make him look particularly good.

    It wasn’t a confidence builder in the reliability of the code, though there could be other reasons he didn’t want to do it, including good old fashioned recalcitrance.

    These days so much more of our software stack is open source that an amendment recommending it might be easier to pass.

  35. Tom Becker:

    Maybe what’s needed is an update to the Worldcon Runner’s Guide. (…) The website says there is a project to update it.

    Well, the website says “is in the process of being updated”, and that there is a standing Worldcon Runners Guide Editorial Committee. The sentence has been there over 5 years. Some of the PDFs (exported from an earlier wiki, which had apparently been found too difficult to maintain) have slight changes from 2022. (To be fair, 2023 brought a new article “North American vs European Worldcons” and a deeper rewrite of the Art Show one.) The 2022 Business Meeting minutes say that the “committee had again made incremental progress this year”.

  36. I do think that the technical issues are separate from the problem of corruption, and that fixing the technical issues won’t fix the other. I do think that some sort of outside auditing process would be a good thing, but I might be wrong about that. The problem that an outside audit fixes, though, is the corruption issue.

  37. @Lydia

    Software to calculate a ranked choice vote like the Hugo uses is quite simple. I’ve run a few such votes and they ran problem free with something written in a few hours. It’s the logistics around it, like authenticating who can vote, canonicalization etc. that take some more work.

    That’s why I think the actual software we want isn’t the vote counting, but a system to assure the auditability. Fortunately that’s not too hard either. You create something that receives voting forms and distributes them out to the current worldcon, and saves a copy for the auditors. A mailing list would do the job, for example, and the “WSFS Hugo team” would once a year redirect that list to the current worldcon’s intake address. Now, you could also build a ballot input system which is fairly standardized and helps people input ballots and then feeds them to the list address. But if the local con wants to build its own that’s fine. You could have this system able to authenticate hugo PINs though that can also be done by the local con and auditors. The real security is in the generation of the PINs, but that’s now part of the membership sales system, though you could build it in the Hugo system. (The auditors must be told the secret which is needed to verify a hugo pin, though, if the PIN is to be short. If the PIN is long, it can be verified without knowing a secret.)

    But at it’s core the only part the WSFS section has to do is the mirroring, and that’s pretty simple. If you want to verify that the local convention doesn’t generate tons of fake ballots for fake members, you do need something more, but that’s in the membership auditing area, not the Hugo auditing area.

  38. The final voting with ranked choice seemed more or less okay. (Although I’m kinda taking all the 2023 stats with a giant grain of salt now.) It was the nominations and EPH scoring that was completely messed up. Even though that is not really complicated either.

  39. @Laura – I have not written software to do EPH, since nobody else uses it and it was a poor choice, but no, it doesn’t seem super hard. It’s all in the logistics. Making a master system has challenges there. If we had one, would it work for Chinese users in their language? Quite possibly not, which would have necessitated a local system in 2023. My own system would have worked but only because it’s so simple and AFAIK all Chinese fans have passable skill with the roman alphabet for basic activities. Hard to imagine that canonicalization of nomination ballots could be done anywhere but by native writers of the language unless planned in advance.

    The cliff distribution of nominations has led some to speculate that somebody inside might have stuffed in extra nomination ballots, or they could have been mailed in from a large slate group. It’s hard to see how to automate elimination of that, but it could be made auditable.

  40. Brad Templeton: software to do EPH… Making a master system has challenges there. If we had one, would it work for Chinese users in their language? Quite possibly not

    EPH is completely independent of language.

    The canonicalization process is definitely dependent on language. But canonicalization has always been a part of the Hugo nomination process — long before EPH ever existed. It must be fully completed before EPH is run, and it has nothing to do with EPH.

  41. Jake, having non-participating parties muttering unpleasant assumptions about one from the sidelines is also not the best way to build a community. Watching you do this, I can only assume you’ll also say that kind of thing about me whenever I don’t live up to some random moral standard you’ve set for me. It’s kinda crappy, and it certainly doesn’t predispose me to give much weight to what you have to say elsewhere.

    (and if your first reaction to this is “how dare you make those assumptions about me, I never said anything to imply I’d react that way!” congratulations, you’re most of the way to the key insight I hope you take away from this)

  42. I fully endorse criticisms about my conduct according to whatever particular moral standard someone may have. If I agree with that standard then yeah, they’ve got a point, and I should probably reflect on why I did what I did, think about what I could change to avoid doing it in the future, and so on. If I do not agree with that standard then buddy it wouldn’t be the first time that happened.

  43. For anyone interested in the open source idea, I recommend taking a look at that resolution proposal and discussion in the 2015 Business Meeting minutes available at (item B.2.4). (rcade links to it above) You can get a summary of what Ron Oakes and others argued for and against. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could also watch the video. Looks like the discussion took place at the end of Friday’s session.

  44. I’m not a professional software developer, but it seems to me that Ron Oakes concerns were about turning something into open source which wasn’t created as such and which was partially based on previous work by others which was also not open source to begin with. Something originally developed as open source would be entirely different.

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