31 December 2010

Atomic Time

This is one of my favorite essays from my time in the military. (You can also find it here.) It's from 2001 - I know, because I mention snow. New Year's Day 2000 for me was temperate and mild - much the way it's shaping up to be this year.

But this lesson still stays.



“It’s okay. My watch is set to atomic time.”

I knew better, yet I briefly expected to see a small nuclear generator strapped to his wrist, ticking the seconds away with radioactive precision. But no, it was just a regular plastic wristwatch (though with calculator pad and memory function) set just that morning to the most accurate time in the world. Apparently even more accurate than even the ticker clock on the Weather Channel, which disagreed with the watch by four seconds.

Normally, such a small difference would be insignificant, but this was different. This was important. Someone – nobody was quite sure who – had noticed that we were running out of year. That there were only minutes left until midnight – few seconds remained of the first (or last, depending on how you want to count) year of the millenium. The previously subdued party erupted in a frenzy of channel-flipping, trying to locate the ageless Dick Clark or, failing that, a ball dropping somewhere in the world: an effort to find an “official” countdown to chant with.

There are times when it becomes painfully obvious that I no longer live on the East Coast; New Year’s is the most obvious of them. As the channels flipped by, news, after-midnight televised parties resplendent with second-rate pop icons and drunken hordes, and even the occasional rerun of a sitcom confronted us. It seemed that our only timekeeping salvation would be in the precision of a small quartz diode, only hours ago calibrated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock, a feat made possible by technology and an Internet connection.

“We’ve still got three minutes,” the watch-holder announced. The relief was tangible – for a moment there, we were afraid we’d missed it entirely. Paces slowed, and our final preparations continued at a more sedate pace. That is, until the bathroom door swung open, and another guest who had missed the ruckus raised their watch aloft.

“I set my watch to atomic time this morning! We’ve only got sixty seconds left!”

I caught sight of my reflection in the window; outside the night was dark and freezing, moonlight shone upon the snow. Behind me the ghostly reflections of people scurried, bearing hats, noisemakers, poppers, champagne. Someone was making sure the kids – collectively and safely sequestered downstairs – were on-cue and taken care of.

And we had no idea if the New Year had come yet.

Did our resolutions count yet? Did we have time for a last cigarette, a last sugary snack, a final drink? Was it time to kiss someone, or wish for someone to kiss? Should we be toasting, singing, reminding our loved ones that they were our loved ones after all? Was it time yet to start fresh, to wipe the slate clean and try to do things a little better than we had before? Nobody knew for certain – the watches disagreed with the television channels, and all of them disagreed among themselves. No ball (or Dick Clark) was visible yet, and suggestions flew back and forth. “Try CBS.” “ABC! Dick Clark’s on ABC!” “Headline News always has a clock!” The mood was nearly frantic – several of the timekeepers already claimed we were in the New Year. Then:

“Why don’t we just say we have twenty seconds left and start counting?”

In a rollercoaster of emotion, the thought ran through our brains. Suddenly, we would decide when our New Year began. We, nobody else, would decide when to start anew, to hold ourselves to our resolutions, to love our families and remember our friends. From there, from that simple idea, realization spun outward: If it was possible to just say that the New Year began whatever time we wanted today, then we could do the same each day. Every day, every midnight, every minute could be a New Year, a new chance, a new opportunity.

The New York ball suddenly glistened upon the television in gaudy glory; someone had found it. It was a replay; Mayor Guiliani smiling as the seconds counted downward an hour ago (despite the “LIVE” blazoned in the upper-left hand corner). Dutifully, we joined in, chanting away seconds with the televised throng; distanced by thousands of miles and nearly an hour of time.

It was several minutes into the New Year, poppers popped and champagne drunk, that we noticed that the ball hadn’t agreed with either of the disagreeing watches, both meticulously set to atomic time.

30 December 2010

And this passes as logic?

Last week I got drug into a conversation about healthcare reform. The person I was speaking to was bitterly, passionately opposed to any kind of "Obamacare".

I asked him why.

He began to recite a long list of problems. A list of problems that he had with his own insurance company over the last five years. He told me about the problems he had with health coverage when he changed jobs in the past.

And all I could think was "bwuh?"

He was basing his objections to a future system because of the problems he had with the current system.

When we make our New Year's Resolutions, maybe "thinking things through" can be one of them.

29 December 2010

Dark Textboxes with Firefox

One of those small "grr" things that I finally figured out, so I'm sharing. :) I like having a dark color theme (GTK theme), but they interact oddly with Firefox, sometimes causing text boxes that are nearly unreadable black on grey or black.

There's a lot of attempts out there to try to fix this - but none of them entirely did the job... until I tweaked this one from Silent Voices a little bit.

1. Install Stylish.
2. Optionally, install Terminal Darkness or Twilight themes.
3. Write a new style (as Silent Voices describes), but use the following code:

@namespace url(http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml);

@-moz-document url-prefix(http), url-prefix(https), url-prefix(file) {

pre, select, input[type="text"], input[type="button"], input[type="submit"] {
color: white !important;
background-color: #4C4039 !important;
background-image: none !important;
border-left-color: gray !important;
border-right-color: gray !important;
border-top-color: gray !important;
border-bottom-color: gray !important;
}
}


I only added input[type="text"], but it made the difference. Note that a form that does not specify what kind of thing it is will still appear dark. There's no real way around this without cosmetic problems (black square borders around transparent buttons, etc.).

28 December 2010

Using Gammu with an old phone

There are plenty of tools for using your mobile with linux - but sometimes older phones have limited support. Mine is one of them. I can send and get text messages, but I don't get automatic notifications of when a text message shows up... and that was the big thing that I wanted. And when it pulls SMS messages from the phone, it pulls them all in one big text file.

This is not good.

Luckily, this is linux, so I was able to bash (ha!) something together on the command line. It's a combination of bash scripts and a C program that work together. I'm sure there's a better, more elegant way to do all this... but this works, and you're welcome to it.

The bash script to show new messages I'm especially happy with - not only does it display the unread messages, but you can reply to them right in your terminal window. Yay!

Please note that lines 116, 120, and 122 of the C code need edited for your appropriate pathnames before compiling. It should be ANSI C compatible with no unusual dependencies. The bash scripts need editing for pathnames as well.

You will also need to run hcitool inq to get the bluetooth address of your phone.

I've got the code up at pastebin - here's the C program, the daemon is here (bash), and the script to show messages is here.

If you improve on them, do let me know!

27 December 2010

Why I've quit FrontierVille

Yeah, I know. I said I wasn't getting into any Facebook games. But I tried Backyard Monsters, based on a recommendation from Hamlet Au, and it wasn't so bad.

I could share things, or get some extra "shiny" by getting more people to play, but they were relatively unobtrusive things. Yes, I had to pay some attention to how much time I spent with it, but the resource model (a la Warcraft) effectively limited what I could do without spending money.1 I'd been playing for a few months. I really have it under control - only a few minutes most days. Maybe an hour a week, tops.

So I finally gave in, and got around to trying FrontierVille.

This game is right up there with World of Warcraft, and deserves its own mention in this comic.

It's brilliant - in a totally evil kind of way. You're gold farming for fun. And the game is set up to maximize your desire to do so. Frequently running out of energy so you have to spend "food"- but quickly regaining it, so you'll come back multiple times a day. Quests and missions redouble - and require that you have friends that play the game. (Unless, of course, you want to spend money...) You have to publish results to your Wall, letting people know that you play the game so that you can complete basic quests.

Oh, sure it's free to try... but you have to get some of your friends to try too.

I've known drug dealers who didn't push so hard.

FrontierVille is a brilliant way to destroy your soul. (Or at least, your time.) Unlike Backyard Monsters, there does not seem to be any "plateau" where your time investment levels off - instead, it's constantly getting more and more demands placed on it.

So, I bid adieu to the Frontier... and hello



...er, not to oblivion. To my time back.

1That was one of my criteria - that they be free to play.

Run For It - A 100 Word Story

You might have missed it due to the holidays - remember that there is a call for flash fiction on right now!

You know the drill - read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to my story below or download via this direct link!

either sexy, or slutty, santa...not sure which”You think he’s watching?” I put my hand on Mrs. Claus’ arm as she shakes her head.

Her lips run over the elfin point of my ear. “Of course not. He watches the human children. You are neither human” – her hand runs down my body – ” nor a child.”

I fumble with the buttons on her blouse; she slides me out of the green jumper. We explore each other’s bodies as twenty four hours pass like one.

Which means he pulls up while we’re still naked.

I try to run, but damn if my socks don’t keep filling up with coal.

26 December 2010

A Challenge to the BBC & SyFy

Doctor Who and a Dalek with the TARDISIf you need any reason to think that media companies are not aware of the changes in their business, you only have to look at Doctor Who.

I love the reboot, especially now that Steven Moffat's at the helm. I loved Season Five (and not just for Amelia Pond), and am right with io9 in liking the Christmas Special.

Of course, I watched all of seasons one through four on Netflix streaming. And Season Five is available at iTunes... but I don't have cable.

So how the hell have I seen the Christmas Special already? 1

I only watch a select number of shows. I tend to watch them "clumpily". I tend to watch them on my computer. Paying $50 (or more) a month for the privilege of getting two channels - and then not watching 90% of the content on those two channels - doesn't make economic sense for me. (Using Amazon's Watch Instantly means I spend $10 for Season 5 of Doctor Who and $2 an episode for Caprica & SG:U... which is somewhere around $10-$16 a month for what I actually use.)

So I was pleased to see that the BBC wanted to "stamp out online piracy" with the Doctor Who special. Surely they'd make it available for those of us online. It's a Christmas episode, after all. Even dedicated DVD watchers will want to see this one on Christmas. The system's already set up at iTunes...

Clipboard01.png

Nope. Still just the promo trailer. (This screen cap is for over 24 hours after the show first aired in the UK.)

What about Amazon then? They have everything, right?
Screenshot-1.png

Nope.


On the other hand, the screenshot below is pretty comparable to what it looked like four hours before BBC America showed the episode in the U.S (the screenshot is actually from today):
Screenshot.png

There's over nine thousand people that want that seasonally themed episode. I'm willing to bet that a good number of them would pony up the dollar to three dollars that it would have cost to watch the episode.

Instead, those nine thousand (really, more, because who knows how many have already disconnected?), plus everyone who went to a friend's house to watch the show, are lost revenue for the BBC.

I mention SyFy for the same reason. They (@SyFy said it as well, but John Scalzi's said it better) also hold that
...actually showing up for a TV show when it runs for the first time still matters if you want to keep a show on the air.

And that makes sense, if you rely on the TV ratings system and advertisers. Just for S&G, I went and looked at the reported tracker numbers for the last aired episode of SG:U at the Pirate Bay. There's still about three thousand people connected, a month after the show aired.

Maybe I'm just an optimist. I think that especially in fandom, we have the will and temerity to support the shows we love. (Remember, the Star Trek franchise almost died twice...)

So here's the deal, SyFy. You've already announced that you're going to cancel SG:U, right?

Challenge us.

1. Put the remaining episodes up as video-on-demand as they air.
2. Seed the torrents yourself. Put up a version with an advertisement (advertising dollars, right?) and a message from the cast and writers to support the show.
3. Ask the pirates to watch the advertisement, and pitch in a few bucks.
4. If the money reaches a certain goal, then commit to another episode of SG:U. (Or bonus content, or something.) If not, the money goes to a geek-worthy charity like Child's Play or the CBLDF.
5. Tell the world, sit back, and see what happens.

You don't lose. At worst, you donate some bucks to a charity and look good doing it. At best, you may stumble onto a new way of funding the stuff you love to do. The pirates are not going to suddenly watch cable TV - because you've already canceled the show. They might, however, chip in money to help get more.

This goes double for the BBC. You're a bloody world-wide organization. You have such a long-tail to draw upon, it's not even funny.

Sure, you can do nothing. And then the pirates will still go on pirating. And others will head over to their cable-owning friend's house.

The piracy will never end.

But the shows we love will.



1 I have friends who have cable and satellite TV.

25 December 2010

The Days of LOLMas 2010

Merry LOLmas!For the sake of brevity, here's the last verse. Regional variations are encouraged. :)

Singing this post aloud is also encouraged. Even if you can't sing. ESPECIALLY if you can't sing.

I did it (it's not the greatest recording, but isn't that the point?). (direct download here if the player's not working)


On the Twelfth Day of LOLMas, my in-laws gave to me:

Twelve Wikileaks
Eleven Vuvuzelas
Ten do not wants
Nine Takeis calling douchebags douchebags
Eight Leeeroy Jenkins
Seven Sheldons knocking
Six more cowbells
Five For The Win!
Four basement cats
Three Zombiewalks
Two stuffed Failwhales
And Bacon On A Tree!!!

24 December 2010

Holiday Tales

Holidays are pain.

I would say "Life is pain," but that dredges up its own set of memories - and its own pain. The pictures I was going to post hurt as I looked through them. These stories are painful.

They're memories of things that have changed. Nothing stays the same, but nothing asks us to expect it all to stay the same quite like holidays.

Each year, my "Christmas stories" have gotten written later and later.

I haven't written one at all this year. Not even a dark one like last year.

I'm not certain yet what, if anything it means. (I did write stories involving aliens, Civil War vets, zombies, and giant robots, so that's something, right?)

But I wanted to share something with all of you.

I often get (unsolicited) praise after readings. When I still read Bible verses at a church, I was told that I "could read like Moses." But so many people are so spread out anymore. I rarely get to see you all. I almost never get to read for some of you.

So I have, here.

You can listen to the stories below, or if the player's borked, download them from this direct link. (You can find the text for all of them through this link.)

I hope you enjoy the stories, and wish you and yours the best in this holiday season.

Inspire - A 100 Word Story

You know the drill - read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to my story below or download via this direct link!

She kicks me out of bed, rumpled rolling tangle onto the cold floor. I cover my face as the cheap pen and notepad arc over the edge of the mattress.

My voice is a croak. "Now?"

She looks over the comforter. "Yes."

I have fifteen hundred words when she leaves. She rotates among us. "Write," she commands. "Write."

We write until our fingers bleed. We have to.

I was the first to discover she didn't like alcohol. As I drank and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, she snorted at me.

"You and Hemingway," she said. I ginned, free of the muse.

23 December 2010

Call For Flash Fiction

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." — Mario Andretti

And even though I've drug my feet over this, it still feels fast. But it's well past time for this:

I want to invite you - yes, you - to submit for a paying market for flash fiction.

Got an idea for a flash fiction? Want to feature a short vignette with your characters in another series? Fight unimaginable evil in a loosely shared-world universe?

Of course you do.

We are currently seeking flash fiction for a digital anthology to be edited by Paul Genesse. (I'm the business guy.) This anthology is a "shared universe" - but one that allows for far more creativity and diversity than you'd expect.

The call for submissions is already up on Duotrope (though not in the search results, oddly), and should be up on Ralan soon.

But Do Not Wait.


As you sup that egg nog and open presents, give this some thought because the reading period ends 15 Feb 2011.

There's a lot more to this project than just the stories - check out our guidelines, some background to the world of the Crimson Pact, and the "mission" of this project (or how running the business end of this project fits into everything else I've been saying about eBooks and digital publishing).

Please pass this along to others who might be interested.

Mages and Magic - eBooks available now!

The latest in the Blue Kingdoms books is now available digitally (the print run will be available later this year).

My story, Herald Rising actually adds a completely new aspect to the shared world of the Blue Kingdoms. I try to answer (or begin to answer) this question: "What if something like the Cthulhu mythos had taken place in a fantasy universe?"

You can read a sample of the book online at Smashwords, and pick up a ePub copy there, or a Kindle copy at Amazon. Perfect for that eReader you just got (or are about to get) - over six hours of reading pleasure for less than the price of coffee at Starbucks.

22 December 2010

Why hire an eBook converter?

eBook ReaderI was recently asked (in e-mail) where the decision point is between hiring someone like me to do an eBook conversion versus learning to do it yourself. Some of this also goes into "When should you bother to convert your book at all"...

As I mention on my website, converting a word processing document to an ePub or Kindle formatted book is easy. Doing it so that it looks great can be really difficult and time consuming.

There's a couple of basic things that go into the decision point:

1) How much revenue do you expect to make? While the eBook market is growing, it is still a business and a fledgling market. How likely is your target demographic to use eReaders? Many large-scale print authors are saying that electronic sales are 5% - 10% of their print sales.

2) How much revenue do you expect to make... indefinitely? Unlike a print book, the costs you put into creating an eBook are relatively flat. You do not have to "print" more copies as demand grows, and you can always keep copies "in stock". The cost can pay for itself over time, unlike a print book.

3) Don't worry about formats changing. Over the decades, I've seen file formats come and go - and when you have a file that meets the official specifications, it is often easy to convert it. In fact, that's what I do to create Kindle formatted documents. I create a standards-compliant ePub and convert it automatically, then make any small tweaks that might be necessary.

4) What percentage of the cut do you want to take? Keep in mind that automatic conversion services like Smashwords (or the uploader for Barnes & Noble or Amazon) clearly state that you cannot redistribute the converted work. The numbers for profitability become significantly different when you're getting 100% of the gross receipts instead of 30% or even 70%. If you hire someone like myself to convert it (or do it yourself), then you have full rights to the converted text.

5) How much time and prior knowledge do you have? At its root, ePub is a zip file with some metadata and HTML. If that sentence made sense to you - and you have the time and patience to debug - then give it a whirl. If, on the other hand, you have no knowledge of HTML or CSS, then be aware that you've got a much steeper learning curve.

21 December 2010

Random Picturey Post

I got hit with a stomach bug (hooray for Tang and crackers!), so it's a grab-bag of pics from my (new-to-me) cell phone. Keep in mind that I wasn't looking for a camera, just a cheap phone that makes calls... so yeah, this pictures are... abstract... at times. But hey, they've got witty captions, so it's all good.

Startled Kitty Is Startled
Image000.jpg

Teenager Practices Looking Disinterested, Aloof
Image001.jpg

Ex-Smoker Swears He Gained Weight Because He Quit Smoking, Really. Ignore the Twinkie.
Image003.jpg

These last three don't get witty captions. The horror speaks for themselves. These were NOT at a thrift store. I saw them at Walgreens while waiting for my anti-nausea meds. They're supposed to be Christmas carolers or something... or something... Note the irregular, bulging eyes...as if they've seen something Beyond The Void....

Image007.jpg
Image006.jpg
Image005.jpg

To think that we burned oil to import these ... things... from overseas... ::shudder::

20 December 2010

Things I Know From Your .Sigfile

I've been reading Gladwell's book Blink today. It's decently written, and actually mentions a researcher whom I had the opportunity to talk to during graduate school. There's a few things that definitely ring true - one of which is the ability to make good assessments of individuals after a few moments.

Before people I know IRL start chuckling, let me specify that for me it rings true when it comes to text. Specifically, e-mail and your signature. While this is a bit snarky, I've found it pretty relevant. Add yours in the comments!

* The EULA .sigfile disclaiming all responsibility that's longer than the message: You're ignorant of the law, the internet, or both.
* Multi-line .sig proclaiming your accomplishments: Insecure.
* Calling it a .sigfile: You were around on the internet pre-2000.
* HTML in your .sig: You probably have a virus or spyware on your computer.
* "Background" image to your e-mail: Your status bar has so many icons that it reaches the "Start" button (because, obviously, you're running Windows).
* The presence of Geek Code: Could you help me with this config file?

18 December 2010

Contest Winners!

So our inspirational contest has come to a close. First, I'd like to thank everyone who mentioned this on their blog, with a special thanks to Alethea Kontis and Tobias Buckell.

Alethea is Everyone's Fairy GodPrincess. Everyone's. Except for that one guy. And those few over there. But she's definitely yours. I cannot recommend her book of essays "Beauty and Dynamite" highly enough [LINK].

Take the inspiration from here and participate in Tiara Day for her birthday! And yes, I mean you, serious-looking person back there in the intarwebs!

Tobias gets a special mention simply because I'd forgotten one motto he told us at a novel-writing workshop: "Get excited and make sh!t". It's a good motto indeed.

So here are our entries (in roughly chronological order):

Gregory Gunther started us off with this one:
206054633.jpg

Rennata had two entries:
apeacockangelmosaic.jpg

carborundum.jpg

I received the first of two anonymous entries:
lions.png

Lawrence brought his usual (delightful) brand of snark:
5254553490_acfce529a5.jpg

And then I received the second anonymous entry:
whatdoiwant.JPG

And finally Tony submitted this entry:
plan-act.jpg

Oh yes, and to steal a page from Lawrence, a "Planet Surge" submitted this tongue in cheek entry:

aperature.png

So who won? It was hard - even the snarky ones brightened my day. So I did what any self-respecting gamer would do: I rolled a die.

And Gregory Gunther of Uproar Media wins his choice of the three books! I'll be e-mailing him, um, now.

Thanks to everyone that sent in entries. I hope that not only did they inspire me, but that they'll inspire you as well.

17 December 2010

Celebrate the Season

Virgin saints carrying lampsIt's that time of year again. The time of year when posturing hypocritical blowhards suddenly seem to give a damn about a religion they're surprisingly unconcerned with the rest of the time.

I mean, who decided to take Mithra out of his own birthday celebration? And how could we forget the pagan nature of our most beloved symbols of the season?

What, you figured that shepherds slept on hillsides when the average night-time December temperatures in Jerusalem are in the low 40's Fahrenheit?

Look, it doesn't matter if it's the right day. It doesn't matter if someone else is preoccupied with commercialism. It doesn't matter if the symbols are pagan, or Christian.

Essentialism is crap. You think your deity can't figure out who you are (or aren't) praying to?

If you're so damn worried about "the spirit of the season", then act less like an attention-seeking hypocrite, praying loudly on the corner. Act more like a carpenter's son who got nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.

16 December 2010

Google Alert (or how I know you're talking about me behind my back)

Whenever you start to develop a public persona, Google Alerts is great for searching for yourself, your work, and so on. That's how I knew a story of mine was in a torrent, or when people comment on the inspirational quotation contest (remember - it ends Friday! Find a picture of a beach on Flickr if you have to!).

And then you find the link aggregators - where stuff gets jammed together in order to try to attract eyeballs for ad views. But damn, do they lead to some FUNNY alerts:

Clipboard01.png

15 December 2010

Review: This Way To Egress

This Way to Egress is the second short story collection of Lawrence C. Connolly's that I've read. And, much like the first, I was not disappointed. 1 It's a limited edition - I really have no idea how many Ash-Tree Press has remaining (if any at all).

I've had a growing feeling about Lawrence's work for a while now. He often gets labeled as a "horror" writer, but I don't think that's quite right. He doesn't write "horror" stories like Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, or even Stephen King. They're strange stories - stories that are disturbing in a pleasurable way.

It's no surprise that some of the stories in this collection first appeared in The Twilight Zone magazine. Connolly is a master of the twisted reality, where things seem just a little bit... off. The title story - "This Way To Egress" - encapsulates this sense of warped reality perfectly. Nothing much happens, but there's a sense of unease, of dread, of... something just a little bit off-center that you cannot possibly put back.

If you have a chance to get one of the limited editions (or the 100 paperback copies from World Horror), do so. Failing that, check out Visions, another collection of Lawrence's that came out last year.




1 Full disclosure: I know Lawrence, and have done readings with him. He has an excellent voice, and does wonderful readings. Definitely something to see.

14 December 2010

Collections of Blog Essays

I've been lax on the book reviews lately, dammit, so I'm going to try writing shorter ones to get myself past the mental block.

First two I'm going to hit are collections of blog essays

Shoes & Ships & Sealing Wax (A Writer's Blog) by Alma Alexander1 and That Was the Millenium That Was by John Scalzi.

Before reading these two books, I would have been ...skeptical... of reading a collection of blog entries. But I decided to give them a chance, and I was pleasantly surprised.

That Was the Millenium That Was is a series of entries that John Scalzi wrote at the end of the last Millennium that chronicled what he "thought were some of the best, worst and weirdest things of the last millennium." He released it as a free eBook earlier this year. It's fascinating to read - not just because Mr. Scalzi is often scathingly funny, but because it's awesome to see how much has changed in a decade. Despite - or perhaps because of the few dated elements, it's worth reading.

Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax is a wonderful hodgepodge of essays. Unlike Scalzi's, they're not arranged around a particular theme - which makes summarizing them rather difficult. So I'll use her words: "The essays include more than five years of thoughts and feelings, laughter and tears, triumph and tragedy. I write about rivers, and stars, and dolphins, and cats, and words, and love, and growing up and growing older. In short, shoes and ships and sealing wax."

Her essays are well written and often quite moving. Definitely worth the low price of admission. Check them both out!

1 Full disclosure: I did the eBook conversion of this text.

13 December 2010

Playing Doctor - A 100 Word Story

You know the drill - read & listen & vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to my story below or download via this direct link!

Also, don't forget to make an inspirational poster for the contest! Even Lawrence from 100 Word Stories did!

I read a chapter of the self-help book, then the entirety of _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_. It's a potent combination: 12-step uppers with sentence fragment gonzo hallucinogens.

The arthritis pains come with the first real snows, beautiful stabbing aches as white flakes. Pain induced insomnia turns everything into buzzing noise I read another self help chapter, and see myself, my patterns in the book. Then I mainline British science fiction.

Is love always portrayed as codependence?

I watch Fight Club again instead of staring at her picture.

I wonder if self-medication always feels like this.
Malady

11 December 2010

Thank you.

Thank you to everyone who e-mailed, twittered, facebooked, called, sent a card, or otherwise wished me a happy birthday.

It really does mean something.

Thank you.

the portal cake

10 December 2010

Yeah, it's my birthday tomorrow

I'm, um, old tomorrow. I actually don't know how old I am at any given time - I'd have to actually sit down and do the math.

Please, no. Don't do the math.

I've been going grey since I was in my 20s, but hopefully not bald (my dad still has most of his hair...) anytime soon. I'm definitely in this strange "I don't feel old, people tell me I'm not old, but I kinda think I'm old" place. Cultural references are hit-and-miss with college students, so it's a good thing I never really tried to be "cool", right?

So, um, anyway.

I've decided what I'm doing for my birthday. I am going to sit down and watch the Lord of the Rings straight through. Because I can.

If you're wondering what you can get me for my birthday, money's always nice. :)

Or rate and review my work on Amazon or Goodreads.

Seriously, though. Money.

09 December 2010

A contest (for real, this time)

I don't like "passive" inspirational quotes. I ranted about it here... and mentioned a contest, which I then forgot to post. Whoops.

So here's my contest:

Create an inspirational poster that inspires you to go out and kick ass. I'm looking for quotations like:

Illegitimi non carborundum (or its variations)

OR

In order to be walked on, you have to be lying down. - Brian Weir

Things that tell you to get off your ass and GO. Combine 'em with a kick-ass image (sensing a theme?) - making sure to respect creator's rights, of course - and then get thee to a copy of Photoshop (or the Gimp)!

Post the image (or a link to it) in the comments here by midnight EST the 17th of December. I'll choose my favorite and send you a copy of your choice of Hungry for Your Love, Timeshares, or Pencils Made This Scar - just in time for Christmas!

Illegitimus non carborundum est (AND A CONTEST)

NO TRAMPLE

If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain. --Maya Angelou

I hate that quotation. Absolutely loathe it, right up there with the "hang in there" cheesy kitten from the 1980s.1

I hate every last "inspirational" quote that preaches acceptance.

Hate.

Every last one of them - usually spotted plastered on a middle manager's office wall - is a blatant "shut up" to every employee there. It's the threat of "Be glad you have a job." It's the stuff that points out exactly how right Marx was.

And that leads us to a better inspirational quote:

In order to be walked on, you have to be lying down. - Brian Weir


Whoops - forgot to post the contest bit. Next post. My bad.

[Edit: Added in the last two words that really triggered this reaction.]

1 It's possible that the "attitude change" mentioned is to one of resistance. Because I respect her, I hope that's how it was meant... but it's definitely not how it's being represented.

08 December 2010

"Normal" Template

Beast & Battle & Hayden

He tells me that I'm not as strange as I think I am.



I've known him for years and across states. And he tells me I'm not weird, that I'm normal. Just like him.



I tell him that maybe, instead, he's not as normal as he thinks.



But it's not enough. What he said bothers me. Especially when I see the strange and unusual, the wunderkammers I love and identify with, become commercial and mainstream.



Again.



I can't say it's bad that the strange and unusual has become far enough mainstream to earn some people money. Being starving doesn't give one's art more legitimacy.



But I have never fit in with "normal" folks either - even when they've liked some of the same things I do. Our shared experiences and interests only overlap a small bit.



It was a church that clued me in.



It's not just churches, though. It's churches and political parties and businesses and clubs and ... well, just about every sub-group out there. They don't just want you to join. They don't want you to just participate in your own terms.



They want you to assimilate. You get restrained by the associations and ties that go along with being "normal".



Attend the meetings. Get on a committee. Do this, do that, vote this way and think that way. Become indistinguishable. Become like them.



And that is what scares me about being normal. That is why I do not ever want to be "normal".



Because you can never be normal enough. They always want more.



Until you're one of them as well.

07 December 2010

Writing privacy publicly

The other day, I happened to see where someone I cared a bit about was upset.

Yeah, it happened days ago. You either saw it or you didn't - and you probably wouldn't put me and this person together, simply because I've never met them.

Not in real life.

I've traded a few e-mails, some tweets, and read blogs and listened to interviews. I know enough about them that I could claim them as an acquaintance. Enough that, if I were close enough on the planet to have comforted them at the time, I would have. Human decency, if nothing else.

At the same time, I have to be horribly careful about talking about my day to day life. Most of the people I know IRL at least know where I am online. It's caused problems more than once when they thought I was talking about them. It's caused problems when I really was talking about them.

And it's a weird place to be.

In some ways, writing to a blog seems safer - at least at first. In some ways it's easier to be open and completely honest with people who are far away.

At least, until the rest of the internet falls on you.

Not only wrong...

As boingboing noted and NewScientist covered, the GOP wants the American public to try to judge what science projecs need cutting. A key paragraph for me:

The suggested search terms – "success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus" – and the contrast drawn between "worthy research in the hard sciences" and "questionable projects" hint that researchers funded by the NSF's Directorate of Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences have the most to fear.

Why is this such a bat-guano insane idea?

I've taught research methods classes. One of the hardest things to teach students is this:

The things you take for granted as "normal" need to be tested as well. Think of all the things your parents or grandparents "knew". Even in the hard sciences, we "knew" that going too fast - like 60-70 mph - would do horrible things to the human body. We "knew" the capabilities of women versus men. We "knew" that lobotomies were the best way to treat people.

We have cultural assumptions. They're the things we "just know".

And almost always, it's not quite right.

So when you hear about the research that proves (or investigates) something that "everybody knows", maybe you should take a second. Be glad someone actually tried to find out the truth.

06 December 2010

It seemed like a good idea - A 100 Word Story

You know the drill - vote at the weekly challenge website, enter this week's challenge, listen to my story below or download via this direct link!

I stop typing when Bob's fetid breath flows into my cubicle. "Write the good idea episode."

"Huh?"

"Write where his companion says it seemed like a good idea to gallavant across time and space in a telephone booth - but they miss their regular boring day job and regular boring life."

"Already?"

Bob nods. "There's discontent. People are starting to want more from their lives. Time for their hero to say that regular boring lives are... important."

the future of the daleks"Time for him to lie again."

"Exactly. Allonz-y!"

"On whose authority?"

A pepperpot's shadow slides past my door.

"The highest authority. The highest."

03 December 2010

Quickly read saved web pages

[For all those who read all my blogs, yes, I accidentally published this to the wrong one yesterday. Whoops.]

Yes, more geek-fu for you today, but it's useful geek-fu, simple, and cross-platform. Requires Lynx, Python, and a script I'll point out. All free.

I have tons of saved web pages. Sometimes they're reference, sometimes they're just saved blog pages. But there's few viewers that simply give me the text quickly and simply.

Enter lynx - a text-based browser. ( Main | OSX | Windows ) It's fast and simple, and can browse your local directory pretty easily. (Arrow keys follow links and go back - you'll get used to it pretty quickly.)

You edit LYNX.CFG - and the one line that starts with STARTFILE you change to this:

STARTFILE:file://localhost/~/

Or if you don't even want to do that, type "G" in Lynx, and then paste:

file://localhost/~/

The problem is that the layout is ... um, informative but unusable. (I *like* the colors, you can set your own.)

Clipboard01.jpeg

Looks like dog doo. I much prefer this:

Clipboard02.jpeg

So, you've got Python already, yes? Now you can download DropboxIndex. It's a useful script in its own right if you have dropbox, but it also makes a dead simple directory tree.

Unpack the files into their own directory. Copy template-example.html to template.html. You use Dropbox index like this on all systems (from the command line):

*nix

python dropbox-index.py -R -T template.html ~/Documents

Win32 (not sure if you have to use short filenames)

python dropbox-index.py -R -T template.html C:/MyDocu~1

The examples have it indexing your entire "my documents" directory. This WILL place an INDEX.HTML file in each directory - so don't just throw it at your entire hard drive!

Then you point lynx at the index.html file...

file://localhost/~/Documents/index.html

The results look a lot better in lynx, so you can easily move around your directories and view the files (lynx should call viewers for things it can't handle). And because it's just sitting at the command line, it takes up next to no resources, so you can keep it open all the time.

Geek-fu!

Management 101

You do not always have to reward the people who do more.

You always have to avoid rewarding the people who do less.

02 December 2010

The Art is About the Money

Writing samplesIt's the money, stupid.

I now take a very pragmatic approach to writing and getting paid for doing so.

I wasn't always like this. I used to be as pie-in-the-sky "I just want to be published" as anybody else. I thought my work was perfect, and not in need of editorial tweaking. I thought I was an artisté (and actually did smoke Camel Lights, have a black turtleneck, and wore a beret... though the last was part of my Army uniform). Not anymore. It's Yog's Law all the way for me, baby.

Let me tell you why that changed.

  • I remember thinking about the "art" of writing. It was... oh yes, today. Pursuing money and creating art are not polar opposites (despite the example on Family Guy when Brian writes a bestseller). It is possible to do both.
  • Art does not mean "inaccessible". It can mean that, but it doesn't have to. The "highbrow" vs. "lowbrow" distinction is bullshit. There's good and bad art of both varieties. So can you write an NON-artistic "literary" novel? Absolutely. Can you write an artistic adventure story? Absolutely.
  • Getting paid for your art means that you have that much more freedom to do more of it. Pretty straightforward, isn't it? Whatever amount of your income you can replace with writing, that's that much more time that you aren't stuck in a cubicle.
  • Paying markets gets your art in front of more people. Gems among the "for the love" markets are rare. Also, if they're paying (whether in royalties or up-front money) then they have a business plan - which means they intend to make money by getting as many people to see the work as possible.

But here's the biggie:

If your work is awesome - which it is - you deserve being paid for it.


As I said in the above, there are different ways for you to get paid. Yog's Law - money flows toward the author - is key, but how that happens is a different story. In these changing times, make sure you know what you're getting into. If you don't, then ask. And if there's a bit in a contract that you don't like, question and challenge it.

01 December 2010

Showing ToDo's with Conky by Context (HOWTO)

In my ongoing series of "Gosh, I love tweaking my desktop", I've come across a solution to my todo.txt problem.

I love the todo.txt script originally created by Gina Trapani. Keeping my todo list in a flat text file lets me keep it portable. It also makes it easy for conky (or if I was still using Windows, Samurize or Rainmeter) to display my todos on my desktop. While this HOWTO is written with conky in mind, if you can run a bash script on your system you can probably modify this to your purposes.

The problem I faced was that my todo list - even when sliced down by context or project - got to be too large for my desktop. Either the font was too small, or items were not displayed, or I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff to get done.

I had four requirements in order to solve my problem:
  • Be able to show any combination of categories
  • Be able to dynamically choose which categories to show
  • Have the items update
  • Low system resource usage
This is what I came up with, using a combination of grep, cat, conky, and zenity. You may not have heard of zenity before; it allows you to have an extremely customizable GUI option selector. I did a standard install of the todo.txt, and created two files. Both reside in ~/scripts; there's
todorc_base.txt
and
show_todo.sh
. I'll comment the bits of code, then give you the full script here in a second.
cat /home/USER/scripts/todorc_base.txt > /home/USER/.todoconky
First, we copy the base of our configuration over to the home directory, overwriting any that might already be there. Then this bit: ans=$(zenity --list --text "What categories shall we show?" --checklist --column "Pick" --column "options" TRUE @pc TRUE @web FALSE @data FALSE @fiction FALSE --separator=" -e "); cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e $ans > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt; echo 'grep -e '$ans > /home/USER/scripts/categories.txt; echo '${execi 30 cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e '$ans' > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky ; echo '${color White}${execi 30 cat /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt | grep -e' $ans'}'| cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky Yes, that's all one line.
ans=$(zenity  --list  --text "What categories shall we show?" --checklist  --column "Pick" --column "options" TRUE @pc TRUE @web FALSE @data FALSE @fiction FALSE --separator=" -e ") 
This uses zenity to present us with a messagebox with checkboxes for each option. It's actually simpler if you know you'll only show one category at a time; that example's in the code. My categories (or contexts) that I'm searching for are @pc, @web, @data, @fiction. I actually have more, but this gets the point across. It returns $ans with my responses.
cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e $ans > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt 
This takes my todo.txt and parses it into a new text file that conky will actually read. Let's say I chose @pc and @web. The actual command passed to grep will be
grep -e @pc -e @web
, because the separator is -e. Sweet, huh? So only items that have @pc or @web in them will be in this text file.
echo '${execi 30 cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e '$ans' > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky 
This adds a line to my conky config file so that it will recreate this same sorted text file every thirty seconds. That way, when I use the todo script to mark something as done, it's automagically reflected in my conky display.
echo '${color White}${execi 30 cat /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky 
This adds a line to my conky config file so that it displays the right text. I could have put it in my base copied file, but this makes more procedural sense to me. Same with this line:
echo '${color DarkSlateGray}${hr 2}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky
. And then the script kills all conky instances and restarts the appropriate ones. There's two things I'd love to be able to do - have the contexts highlighted in conky's display (the same way you would if you had --color=always with grep, and a way to only restart the particular conky instance in question. If you know how, please let me know in the comments! Anyway, here's the script and config! show_todo.sh #!/bin/bash # Magic that makes it happen: # One category: #ans=$(zenity --height 300 --list --text "Which context would you like?" --radiolist --column "Pick" --column "Context" TRUE data FALSE pc FALSE web FALSE fiction FALSE nonfiction FALSE secondlife FALSE writing FALSE email FALSE phone); cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep --color=always @$ans > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt # Move base there, overwrite old. cat /home/USER/scripts/todorc_base.txt > /home/USER/.todoconky # use zenity to choose categories. use text files to hold categories ans=$(zenity --list --text "What categories shall we show?" --checklist --column "Pick" --column "options" TRUE @pc TRUE @web FALSE @email FALSE @phone --separator=" -e "); cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e $ans > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt; echo '${execi 30 cat -b /home/USER/Documents/todo/todo.txt | grep -e '$ans' > /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky ; echo '${color White}${execi 30 cat /home/USER/scripts/sortedtodo.txt}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky echo '${color DarkSlateGray}${hr 2}' | cat - >> /home/USER/.todoconky killall conky # restart my top-of-screen bar conky -c /home/USER/.conkybar & # start or restart my todo list conky -c /home/USER/.todoconky & todorc_base.txt # Text alignment, other possible values are commented alignment top_left #alignment top_right #alignment bottom_left #alignment bottom_right # Gap between borders of screen and text # same thing as passing -x at command line #gap_x 970 gap_y 40 #maximum_width 300 use_xft yes xftfont verdana:size=9 xftalpha 0.8 own_window yes own_window_type override own_window_transparent yes own_window_colour 262626 own_window_hints undecorated,below,sticky,skip_taskbar,skip_pager double_buffer yes draw_shades no draw_outline yes draw_borders no stippled_borders 10 border_width 1 default_shade_color grey default_outline_color black default_color BADCDD use_spacer none no_buffers yes text_buffer_size 2048 uppercase no color1 F8DF58 update_interval 5 update_interval_on_battery 10 TEXT ${color DarkSlateGray}${hr 2}