ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

You might be a racist if...

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Racist : SlotI've long said that the easiest way to tell if a joke or statement is "ist" (racist, sexist) is to substitute another category and see how cringe-worthy it is.

Today's installment:

"They got mad on me because they thought I told a gay joke. Well, I did tell one gay joke, but it was a really funny one."

Substitute other groups - especially ones you belong to - for the word "gay" in the above sentence.

"They got mad on me because they thought I told a dumb blonde joke. Well, I did tell one dumb blonde joke, but it was a really funny one."

"They got mad on me because they thought I told a fat joke. Well, I did tell one fat joke, but it was a really funny one."

Don't get it yet?

"They got mad on me because they thought I told a black joke. Well, I did tell one black joke, but it was a really funny one."

If that didn't make you cringe, then we're done talking, move along smartly. If, on the other hand, only the last statement made you wince, figure out why.

And then fix it.

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Holiday - A Flash Fiction

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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!



How do you decide which direction to pray?"

Abdul shrugged, floating in the starship cabin. "Towards Earth.
Close enough, I guess." He rolled up his mat and looked at Joseph.
"How do you decide when it's the Sabbath? Do you use Greenwich Mean
Time?"

Joseph laughed at his station. "Of course not. You use Jerusalem time."

Mary looked over her shoulder. "Both of you hush. It's Christmas today."

The men glanced at each other, then her. "Relativistic time
distortion," they said together.

The ship dropped out of FTL. Earth shone before them.

"You're all wrong," Sarah said. "It's Homecoming Day."
"

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Gratuitous Animal Pics

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Because they are suffering you see. There isn't enough ice cream or tuna for them. Deprived, they say they are.

Kitty on a beanbag

A Dog's Life

A Dog's Life

Truly. Suffering.

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You're not you - unless you are.

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Want something weirder to deal with on your Thanksgiving weekend?

The thing you call "yourself" is a dialectic - an ongoing "conversation" of sorts. You are a process made up of interactions. The whole "mind-body" duality is nonsensical - it's the interactions between "mind" and "body" that are, in a very real sense, "you".

You think, therefore you are. Not in the way Descartes meant it, of course. Descartes intended to show that thought was evidence of some kind of ineffable and demonstratable "self". I mean this instead in the Meadean 1 sense. You are the process of your thoughts. Each and every thought you have changes your biology - and the reverse is also true.

But wait, there's more!

You're also the interactions between "you" and everyone else. So when you interact with the rest of society, that means that the process of you changes in the interaction. That conversation you had changed you in a very real, and very fundamental way. That experience, that communication - all of it changes who you are. I don't mean this in some fru-fru "spiritual" way, I mean it in a very literal fashion.

When you are visiting relatives over Thanksgiving, you - through your interactions - are literally a different person.

Tie this together with yesterday's post: Since you are your interactions, the level of abstraction you are operating at fundamentally changes those interactions. Think about it: "Let's look at this rationally." "It seems that way now, but in the bigger scheme of things..." "That seems reasonable, but what about the people it impacts?" You think differently at different levels of abstraction.

That means that you're a different person then, too.



Too often we're able to calmly and easily see the problems with family relationships when we're outside that relationship - but it can still be confoundingly difficult to deal with when we find ourselves interacting with the same people.

That's not because you're failing - it's because you're a different person. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to begin to have those processes interact and talk to each other.

Have fun digesting your turkey!

1 George Herbert Mead; you can read Mind Self & Society for free at the Mead Project.

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Pictures in Your Books

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I was discussing eBooks with Mike Stackpole at World Fantasy 1, and mentioned image resolutions. I'd just finished the conversion of Goldfish Dreams by Jim Hines, and the color nook had been announced. I'd been formatting my images with 256 colors. There's two good reasons: It saved a LOT of space, and loaded a LOT faster with eInk 2. That color level also looked just fine with eInk's black & white resolution.

"Yeah," Mike said, "but more people are going to be reading with iPads and other devices that can handle larger sizes gracefully. And 256 colors is so 20th century."

He's got a point - the 256 colors looks crappy on my main computer. But that's not the market I'm designing for. Just this morning (it's Black Friday), quite a few eBook readers sold out of online outlets of box stores. The low-end readers as well.

There are ways to present different resolutions of images - Scott Westerfeld's Behemoth for example, does it well with multiple sizes and formats of images. (The illustrations are gorgeous, and why I purchased a hardcover edition as well.) The eBook is also huge because of all the images - 24 megs when most eBooks are half a meg or so.

But I also know that no - or crappy - cover art is a significant annoyance. Several of the titles I've bought from large publishers simply have the title page (with its fancy font) as the cover image. That's annoying as well; I like seeing the cover. For example, when I bought Jim Hines' book Red Hood's Revenge,

I was presented with this as the eBook cover:


When this is the real cover:


Maybe the best solution is to do something like what Behemoth does and have multiple versions of images. WIth only one major image per book, it won't be a major issue for most.

What do you think? Are images - and I mean cover art and interstitial artwork here - important to your reading experience?


1 As I hobnobbed with the cremé de la cremé of authors, all possessing a certain je ne sais quoi along with several other phrases in other languages. Or in other words, I'm providing context for this musing, not just namedropping.
2 The only times I've had my Sony Reader crash were due to eBooks trying to load too many images - and page turns got a LOT slower if each "chapter" had many images in it.

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Thanksgiving means Geek

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Or at least, for me it does. Geek and animals as I house-sit various beasties. As a result, I've spent half a day merrily bustling away at my Ubuntu install. (Look, some of you redecorate rooms or tweak cars - I putz with my operating system.)

I used to run blackbox for windows over... well, everything from WindowsME through Vista. So while I really enjoyed Ubuntu's "just works" and the spiffiness of GNOME, I'm really a minimalistic kind of guy.

So I installed OpenBox as my window manager. I'm not going to go through the whole process, but I am going to point out a couple of things that tripped me up (or made things easier).

I've got a Conky config (below) that's a single bar across the top of a 1280px screen. Key features include a simple current weather, barometer, LAN & WAN IP address, wireless network strength, automatic toggle of bandwidth measures between wired & wireless, and low refresh rate so it's not going to eat your CPU for breakfast.

Enjoy!

(Edited to fix a bug)

#avoid flicker
double_buffer yes

#own window to run simultanious 2 or more conkys
own_window yes
own_window_transparent no
#own_window_type normal
#own_window_type panel
own_window_type desktop
#own_window_type dock
own_window_hints undecorate,sticky,skip_taskbar,skip_pager

net_avg_samples 3
cpu_avg_samples 3

#borders
draw_borders no

#shades
draw_shades no
draw_outline no

#position
gap_x 0
gap_y 0
alignment top_left

#behaviour
update_interval 2

#colour
default_color 8f8f8f
#default_shade_color 000000
#own_window_colour 262729

#font
use_xft yes
xftfont sans:size=8

# Force UTF8? note that UTF8 support required XFT
#override_utf8_locale yes

#to prevent window from moving
use_spacer right
minimum_size 1270 0

TEXT
${color white}GET EXCITED AND MAKE SHIT $color|${color white} ${desktop_name} $color| ${color white}${font ConkyWeather:size=8}${execi 300 conkyForecast --datatype=WF}$color${font sans:size=8} ${execi 310 conkyForecast --datatype=HT --hideunits}/${execi 320 conkyForecast --datatype=LT --hideunits} | ${execi 330 conkyForecast --datatype=CT} ${execi 340 conkyForecast --datatype=BR}/${execi 350 conkyForecast --datatype=BD} | ${font StyleBats:size=9}a$font ${color white}${cpu cpu0}%$color | ${font StyleBats:size=9}4$font ${color white}$memperc%$color | Uptime: ${color e0e0e0}${uptime_short}${color} | ${font StyleBats:size=9}b$font ${color white}${acpitemp}$color | ${font StyleBats:size=9}o$font ${color white}${addr wlan0}$color | ${font StyleBats:size=9}x$font ${color white}${execi 60 wget -q -O - checkip.dyndns.org | sed -e 's/[^[:digit:]|.]//g'}$color | ${if_up wlan0}${color white}${wireless_essid wlan0}$color::${color e0e0e0}${wireless_link_qual wlan0}${color}| ${if_existing /proc/net/route eth0}${font StyleBats:size=9}5$font ${color e0e0e0}${upspeed eth0}${color} / ${color e0e0e0}${downspeed eth0} ${color}${else}${if_existing /proc/net/route wlan0}${font StyleBats:size=9}5$font ${color e0e0e0}${upspeed wlan0}${color} / ${color e0e0e0}${downspeed wlan0}${color}${endif}

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Jim Is a Bond

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Levine & Hines
As the fire-spider turns another drink into a flaming cocktail, the author leans over the bar, leather jacket filled with pockets.

"Hines. Jim Hines."

"Funny," I said. "I thought you were David Levine."

Er... not that kind of bond.

Over at SF Novelists, Jim C. Hines blogs about his changing advances over time. (And by the way, congrats, Jim!)

It's worth reading, as it's a nice endcap to the "First Novel Survey" from earlier this year, but Jim's publishing history also shows something about the traditional publishing industry.

(I'm going off memory as my internet connection is spotty right now, so I hope I don't get something wrong...)

The first Jig novel - Goblin Quest was originally picked up by a small publisher. It was only later obtained by a "big NYC publisher", who also picked up the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Since then, Jim has steadily produced quality novel-length fiction.

Jim is an asset to a publisher.

Think of stocks and bonds. Jim is currently a good, solid stock to buy. Consistently turning over decent profits and quality goods, he's a pretty safe bet. After finishing two series of books, he's shown that he can perform - so they invested nearly twice as much in his next two books. Does this mean they think his popularity is going to double? Not necessarily.

Remember that bringing a book to press and getting it distributed is still a capital (money, for you economic purists) intensive process. Every time a publisher puts out a book, they're making an investment. (If you don't quite understand this, go back and read Kris Rusch's "Changing Times" series of blog posts. If the book fails to be successful, the publisher eats the loss. The publisher has absorbed all the risk.

Any investor has a mix of "risky" and "safe" investments. Smart investors put most of their money in low-risk investments that will pay off. The publishers are pretty sure that they'll make their money back - even if they give Jim more money up front. If I were to land a book deal with the same publisher - even if I could write rings around Jim (which I can't) - he would still get a bigger advance because he's a proven quantity, and so a safer bet.

As authors, we like to think that payment (both royalties and advances) are measures of how talented we are. We have to remember that publishing is, first and foremost, a business.

This also illustrates one of the ways that different models of publishing - ones that are low in financial capital - can really upset the cattle cart. Apple cart. Whatever. By distributing the risk among multiple parties - even on a per-project basis - riskier projects can still be profitable for all involved.

And those projects can just as easily come from small folks as they can from big publishers.

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Not distraction, abstraction

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what you are worrying about right now is a distraction from what's really important in your life
TEH TUBES OF THE INTERNETS ARE MAKING TEH CHILRENS STUPIDZ!

It's a pretty common refrain. It's even hit the webcomics scene with this Joy of Tech cartoon. The internet (and now, social networking) supposedly makes people unable to focus. And there's some anecdotal (and rigorous) evidence that distractability has increased. I know someone who heard a fellow college student complain about a five page article being "too long".

But I think we're measuring the wrong thing here. Let me tie a few things together.

1. We know that humans do not parse and remember every detail - at least, not on a regular basis. If we did try to do that, we'd simply end up transfixed on simple details.

2. Humans parse out what's relevant and only remember a small amount of what we actually parse. That's one of the reasons why time seems to "slow down" for so many people in near-death situations - more details are parsed and remembered.

3. During the course of the 20th century, humans in the global West trained themselves to be better with abstract concepts. For example, "markets" used to just imply physical places to buy and sell goods, but now represent some intangible, abstract sensibility of buying and selling. This shifting to the abstract happened enough so that IQ tests (which have abstract reasoning as a large component of the test) had "normal" adjusted higher and higher over the last century.

Points one and two mean that people have a certain amount of "bandwidth" that they can parse. You could call it "a comfort zone of rate of stimuli", but we'll stick with bandwidth. Too much data for someone's personal bandwidth, and they feel overwhelmed. Too little, and they feel bored. This isn't anything new or radical.

Here's what's different: The problem isn't bandwidth, but switching between layers of abstraction.

We - yes, I include myself here to some degree - are able to abstract things out and parse salient details a lot more quickly. We may not get all of a scene in a first-person shooter, but we're definitely able to see what doesn't fit (and shoot it). Because there's a layer (or multiple layers) of abstraction, it's easy to deal with a lot more data. (Simple example: Acronyms.)

This is good. It's a useful skill, and lets us see processes that would be otherwise obscured. We can do really neat stuff when we can abstract away from the details.

This is bad. Abstraction is lossy. Details, subtlety, and the natural fractal complexity of life go by the wayside. (Think the way American politics has been headed, and how stupidly the issues are treated by all sides, and you get the idea.) Appreciation of a single rose is a completely lost art. We lose fractal complexity when we abstracting.

I've already hinted at part of the solution. Reality is fractally complex. You zoom far in, far out - it's complex and higher-bandwidth than anyone needs. When we get stuck at a particular level of abstraction, we're artificially (and somewhat permanently) throttling our bandwidth.

The solution is this: When it is time to amass huge amounts of data and shove it together in new and different ways (like the above), then be abstract. When it is time to really look at the back of your hand, then be detailed. Switch back and forth as needed rather than feeling overwhelmed or terminally bored and needing a new distraction.

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Dayjob - A 100 Word Story

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Last week, I pointed out how writing 100 Word Stories could expand your skills and make you a better writer.

This is not that 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!

YellMy day job is telling people that they're a douche.

I guess it sounds easy. Maybe even fun. But it's not. I can't do the simplest chores - fill out your check BEFORE the cashier's done, you douchebag!

I'm always busy. Hey - you! You park like a douche!

And I have to explain my job - no, ma'am, it's not sexist because douching was developed by our patriarchal culture. Douches aren't healthy for women.

Some days, I wish I could just make widgets all day.

"Quit bitching about your job! You're a douche!"

You're a douche!

At least I have job security.

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Who pats down the TSA?

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I'm hyper-efficient. When I fly (or go through metal detectors), I typically have everything pre-packed into coats and bags so they could go through the x-ray. I have little patience with those who find themselves "surprised" that there's a metal detector at the courthouse or airport.

It's security theater.

Security theater never reassured me 1. It actually bothered me at times - like when flying out of NYC a few years ago and they had us all dump bottles of any liquids into a common container. (Because apparently terrorists can't read the warnings on a bottle of bleach or Windex.)

This has gotten stupid. It's morphing from security measure to self-aggrandized and self-important fiefdoms. When agents and officers cross lines, they must be disciplined publicly and quickly to reinstate the confidence of the citizenry. Instead, the federal stance is that these procedures are justified.

Or in other words: I actually wonder if the TSA agents who harassed that mom in Dayton will read this. If they do, are they going to try to find me to "let me know the error of my ways?" When will it finally be "too far"?

God help me, I'm linking to WorldNetDaily.

1 The vast amount of anti-terror work is not public-facing, and we've never heard of it.

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12 tips for improving your medical visit

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Every so often - on average, every two years - I end up posting a list of things I think will help people make the most out of their trip to a medical professional. Some of these don't apply as much to doctor's offices as they do to hospitals or outpatient services like an endoscopy clinic. These aren't just things I think up, but things I hear other medical folks say as well. These are not, of course, medical advice or the point of view of any of my employers, and so on.

Again, these are things I think will help make your experience more effective. I am not saying they're the way things should be, they just are that way right now. If you disagree (or have additional tips), post them in the comments!

  1. Do the "prep" for the test. If it says don't eat, then don't eat for the time specified. If it says "don't have caffiene" then it means it. If your doctor does not give you prep for a test, ask if there is one.
  2. If you have not done the prep, be honest about it. You might "get away with" not doing the prep and still go through the test - but the results will be inaccurate.
  3. Herbal and dietary supplements count as medications.
  4. If you're not taking your medication, be honest about it.
  5. Ask for instructions and explanations in writing. Seriously.
  6. Answer questions simply, but ask if they need to know details. For example, the question "Have your bowel habits changed?" can be answered "Yes, they're looser/more constipated. Do you need more details than that?" It saves everyone time and embarrasment.
  7. Go to the bathroom when you first get to your appointment. Many people wait until they're called, which slows everything down.
  8. Technicians and technologists cannot give you results. Period. Asking them "What did you see?" is understandable - but still asking them to give a diagnosis (and thus, breaking the law).
  9. Hospital departments are doctor's offices. The lab cannot get your blood pressure just because you're curious. X-ray cannot prescribe medications for you.
  10. Know your medications. If you forget your list of meds, saying "it's the blue one" or "it starts with a H" isn't enough to identify it. There are so many medications with so many similar names that it's seriously dangerous to you for us to guess what your medications are.
  11. Many functions in a hospital are separated. The person doing your test may not even know where the transcriptionists, medical records, or billing are located. They may be halfway across town. Understand how that limits folks.
  12. The people doing your test generally have no control over your insurance company, approval, or payment. Insurers negotiate rates with providers. So two people with different insurers may be billed different amounts for the same test. Someone without insurance (but the cash to pay for it) typically pays the most. Yes, most "regular folks" in the medical field think this is jacked up as well.

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It isn't you, it's me.

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Because the times are (probably) necessitating it:

  • I will frequently go on about things that I've talked about in real life here on the blog. Some of those things may have been sparked by a conversation I had with other people, or an action someone else took.
  • I frequently take artistic license when talking about real life, usually to make an example more clear.
  • I frequently obfuscate real-life details, even if I report an event completely accurately.
  • If I'm reacting to a blog post, tweet, public seminar - anything that's a broadcast medium - I will usually cite the person I'm talking about if I can and if it's relevant.
  • If it was prompted by a non-broadcast or limited broadcast medium - a private conversation, e-mail, anything on Facebook, forum post behind a password - then I will obfuscate the individual(s) in question.
  • If I didn't explicitly "out" you as the person I was talking to, there's one of three reasons: 1) I didn't want to for my own reasons. 2) I didn't ask you about it beforehand. 3) I wasn't talking about you, or just about you. The last is the most common, by far.
  • If you choose to "out" yourself, please remember #3 above and realize how you might look silly.
  • If you think I'm talking about you and I misunderstood your point, please remember #3 above and ask me. For example, I could say "a female writer I know who I spoke to about eBooks" and easily refer to fifty people or more.


What questions do you have about this policy? Does it make sense to you?

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Fact-checking apparently annoys people

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At least, this is the impression I now have.

I'm a pretty anti-twitter-spam kinda guy. One of my favorite things about Tweetdeck is the block & report spam by DM function. I'm also the guy who will let you know if your e-mail or tweets look like you might have been hacked. (I've also been right, more than once.)

What does my twitter-spam look like? Usually it's porn spam or writing related. Usually I'll check the person's profile, just to make sure it's not a fluke. The really obvious ones have pages of posts all with the same text. Some of the more sophisticated ones space out the spam tweets so it's not obvious.

Remember: The best way to fight spam on a social network is to report it.

So I happened to see two tweets come through @Jeremy_Morrison's account that promoted porn webcams. Strange enough. Then I looked at his Twitter page, and saw that suddenly there were a lot more retweets...including several porn retweets (go look for the porn retweets yourself)... right after he complained about having problems with Tweetdeck.

Which made me think that maybe he'd been hacked. So I let him know.

Turns out I was wrong - he knows the people making the porn. Fair enough. I let him know why I thought he might have been hacked, and said it was cool that he wasn't.

But then he (jokingly?) asked if I was stalking him.1

Look, folks, if your profile is public, anybody can see it. (Wow, Steve, you posted three entries today! Feeling sporkstabby?) If you suddenly start posting out-of-character stuff on ANY social network, people are going to think you've been hacked, especially when it's ads for porn.

And when someone asks if you've been hacked - even if they're wrong - that doesn't mean they're stalking you. Last weekend I passed along a resource to a group of authors. The url was kind of funny looking, so a few of them asked me if I'd been hacked (or if I sent it).

That's being a good person.

Maybe I'm just cranky tonight. I'm taking a nap.

1 If you're really interested, a screencap of the whole conversation (created by http://www.tweetconvo.com/) is here.

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Newsflash: Don't be a dumbass with cops

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[Edit: I wrote this before all the TSA kerfluffle. I think this is an interesting counterpoint; before you slam or praise, ask yourself what the differences are between this and the TSA's scan-or-grope policy. Is this comparing apples and brontosauruses?]

I saw this video in class. Take a few minutes and watch it.



What stunned me when I was looking for the video on the web was how many people complained about the Officer McNevin and called him a "Nazi strom trooper" [sic].

Look, folks, there's such a thing as being a dumb-ass. I don't mean this woman being a jerk to the cop. I mean her continuing to sit in the car when he clearly states that he will taze her if she does not get out of the car. We aren't simply talking about her "not doing it fast enough", we are talking about her simply disobeying.

Maybe it was because we'd recently seen an interview with the female police officer involved on in this case:

Daniel Williams, 41, who had a history of criminal and mental problems, flagged down a police cruiser being driven on Central Parkway by a 23-year-old female officer on Feb. 2, 1998. Williams pulled a .357 magnum and shot the officer four times in the leg and abdomen below her bulletproof vest, then shoved her to the passenger side, got behind the wheel and sped away. Though wounded, the officer was able to pull her gun and kill Williams.

Or the videos of other officers who were severely beaten during routine traffic stops.

I don't think the woman should have been charged with "resisting arrest" or anything like that. She was stupid, not criminal. That said, I think the officers did exactly what they needed to in order to ensure that she was not a threat to themselves or others.

There's a fine line between being rationally suspicious and abuse of authority. It's a line that law enforcement officers have to walk every day, and it can be a hard distinction to make in peaceful situations, let alone stressful ones.

Bombastic rhetoric - on either side - only ends up making things worse.

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Getting Frothy

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There's something about the 700 Club that makes me frothy. (And I don't mean the Pat Robertson bits - I mean the "news" bits.)

Oh yes, that's right. It's bloody inconsistency.

I don't (despite the above) have anything against Christianity per se. Hell, I'll still call myself one if pressed. I have no interest in "proving" whether Yeshua ben Yosef really claimed himself the Messiah, et cetera and so on. What drives me bonkers are the people who follow Christianity.

For example, today I overheard a "report" that only a small percentage of teens in the United States have "a Biblical perspective". My first thought was Oh good, that means most teens won't want to commit mass murder in order to get permission to marry a girl. My second thought was And maybe fewer people will grow up and sell their daughters into slavery, or offer their kids up to be sexually assaulted to save themselves. 1

I can imagine it now: "That's not what we mean by a Biblical perspective!" That is exactly my point. Those are all things in the Bible. 2 If you do NOT want to include all of that other crap (and I say "bravo!" to those who want to throw the inhumane and mysogynistic bits right on out), then why not just say what you really mean? 3 In one very real (but oversimplified) sense, Yeshua's message can be summed up as "Be excellent to each other." If most teens in our country followed that mindset, it would definitely be Wyld Stallions time.

Unless, of course, these folks are being duplicitous asshats. Unless the 700 Club (and everyone else who goes on about "Biblical" values) is more concerned about people following the 700 Club's version of Christianity than they are about actually practicing the values that Yeshua preached.

I look at all the Christians protesting and spending money, time, and mental energy spent fighting consensual homosexuality.

Then I think about the sobering statistics of human trafficking and slavery that exist today.

For the moment, I have to think that those followers of Christ have some serious priority issues.


1 Saul & David, multiple instances, and Lot, respectively.
2Sure, I understand that many Christians may not be aware of these (and other) nasty bits; I spoke to a woman yesterday who did not realize that Paul (the New Testament Roman prophet) had never met Yeshua during his earthly life. I kind of thought that was basic knowledge.
3 And don't you give me some crap about Yeshua or Peter getting rid of all those old rules. Not a jot or tittle, yo. Yeshua said he was the fulfillment of the Law, not a replacement - it was folks coming along later (see footnote two above) that started revising the rules.

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How much to pay for your website?

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Control PanelI had a friend (who may or may not "out" themselves) ask about web hosting costs. I thought that this was also information worth sharing and putting out there.

The biggest thing to decide is: What are you going to do with your site? Are you hosting a blog? Are you selling stuff from it? Are you putting up a portfolio page? Or a landing page so you're findable on the internet?

Be honest with yourself. Do you need three terabytes of bandwidth a month for your 100-word stories? I sure as hell don't! My hosting needs are very different than someone like John Scalzi.

The simplest (and cheapest) thing to do is to create a simple "landing page". Lifehacker has a good guide for doing that here.

Remember that you can move things around on the internet. If you're just starting a blog, a hosted WordPress or Blogger or Tumblr account will do you just fine. It is possible to migrate from one to another (google-fu will result in how-to guides).

Hosting costs depend on what you're looking for. How much bandwidth per month do you need? Do you need SSL support (which means a dedicated IP address)? (The answers are "depends on your visitors now", "probably not yet", and "probably not yet".) Find a third-party review site that covers webhosts. Lifehacker covers webhosts, free webhosts, and name registrars. You will probably have to deal with compromises - I use namecheap.com for everything, but if you want super-easy-peasy setup, somewhere else might be worth paying a little more.

If you have the skills to modify and edit themes (or aren't afraid to learn), I would not recommend laying out a whole ton of money if you can't afford it. There are various types of free templates out there. Most of them suck. But some of them are pretty cool, especially if you can edit and tweak them. For example, I used zenlike from freecsstemplates for my website.

Be sure to check licenses! I had to pass up some good layouts because they were non-commercial (and I wanted to sell stories from my website) or did not allow alterations to the code, etc. Zenlike only required attribution.

If your sense of color and style sucks, get professional help. I have a hard time putting things together from scratch, but I'm great at combinations and modifying existing patterns and color schemes. If you're not, pay the cash to look professional.

I guess lots of it boils down to "What are you wanting out of this?" If you're just wanting to have your own domain and run a blog, then you only need to buy a domain name and keep a free hosted blog. (That should run you something like $3-$10 per year.) I switched to pro hosting when I decided that I wanted to sell stuff from my website and didn't want to deal with uptime issues.

I guess I'm saying start cheap and flexible so that you can scale up - domain names can point somewhere else within 15 minutes - but if you're in a 3 yr contract and find out you've bought far more than you need, you're screwed.

If you have the money to spend on the theme and do not have the time/desire to learn the skills, then spend the money. Money is a substitute for learning how to do it yourself.

What's your advice for hosting?

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Two Tweets and a Phonebook

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When I walk out of work, my cell phone is able to connect to the network again, and I suddenly get a bunch of tweets. This makes for some interesting juxtapositions - in this case, these two tweets from @dizney_93 and @horrorlitchica:
Dear Students, Can't find a dictionary. Googled it on my phone = privilege.
Companies yank cord on residential phone books - Yahoo! News http://yhoo.it/bWmApi LOTS of teens in my area w/o computers & cells. Hmmm...
I hate getting residential phonebooks. I don't think I've referenced one since 2005, and even then it was only once or twice a year. I'd much rather get all the metadata (reviews, maps, coupons, alternatives) from looking things up on the web.

But these two tweets so close together reminded me exactly how much privilege I have - and how much privilege is practically required to be successful these days.

Search costs for finding employers are so much lower when you've got the internet. Many people - myself included - are almost impossible to get on the phone, but very easy to reach via e-mail and twitter. Familiarity, not only with the technology, but with the social conventions of these networks has become vital social status markers for better jobs.

I remember when a second phone line was a prohibitive expense and those darn teenagers who kept talking on it reduced the employability status of the household. If you didn't have a phone - even in the 70's - there was the presumption that there was something wrong with you. Now, the internet and cell phones have largely taken up that role.

I'd argue that along with decent transportation, connectivity is a key component in employability today. But is it more expensive? Maybe inflation makes a difference. I looked at two different inflation calculators, here and here.

In 1970 dollars, the laptop I'm writing this post on would cost $104. ($200 in 1980's dollars.) My monthly internet access fees would cost just under $7 in 1970's dollars and about $15 in 1980's dollars.

But what all this obscures is that lower-end wages have not kept pace with inflation. In 1970, minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. In 1980, it was $3.10. This graph shows that the real value of minimum wage has gone down since the late 60's. This table shows the same thing in exact numbers.

So you've got a key component of "making it" in today's society where the prices keep pace with inflation - but the sectors of our society that could reap more benefit from it are not getting paychecks necessary to keep up.

It's possible to get online (high-speed; dialup just doesn't count anymore) for about $40 a month in 2010, and you can get internet-capable machines for $300-$500. Maybe that is a workable solution - get those "old" 500 mHz or 1Ghz machines, slap Ubuntu (or Xbunutu) on them. (Can you tell I'm impressed with the out-of-the-box usability of Ubuntu?)

Without some kind of solution, we are actively making it harder for those already down on their luck to work their way to success.

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Accurate and Unhelpful

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I have to keep posting this every so often: Racism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on do not have to be deliberate.

It's a problem, because the actions and statements we end up describing are sexist, racist, and so on - but they are not deliberate. That's a concept that is very hard to get one's mind around - I still have problems with it - but it's true.

Sometimes it's societal structure - the playing monopoly concept - and sometimes it's just habit.

I critiqued a sci-fi story where a male soldier was talking to his female commanding officer. The male character said: "I don't know why he doesn't just take it like a man." (Emphasis mine.)

The author (a white male like me) was very chagrined when I pointed out how sexist that statement was. He didn't mean for it to be sexist - he was trying to communicate the bad guy's cowardice. And then he realized what that implied he was saying about men & women as well. I think he ended up cutting the line entirely.

Too often when we point out this kind of "-ist" behavior, it's taken as a personal attack. Rather than a realization like the author I mention above, the other person shuts down and withdraws from the discussion. And those of us who know this have a responsibility to manage our language appropriately.

Aside from a spat among Facebook friends, there's a specific reason I'm blasting this post out right now: The Mustard Seed Foundation.

It seems like a well-meaning organization that looks to help teen mothers. That's good. Every picture of "teen mothers" on their site has women of color. (For contrast, a Google Image search for "teen mother".)

There's a disparity, yes (page seven of this PDF document), but surely there's room for some diversity. Otherwise, it's subtly (and almost certainly unintentionally) reinforcing the idea that teen pregnancy is a problem exclusively for women of color.

I could fire off some nasty e-mails pointing out how racist that is - and be right. But I would not accomplish a damn thing.

This isn't a "pass" for everyone else. Sooner or later (preferably sooner), we all have to be confronted when we're sexist, racist, heterosexist, and so on. All of us have to face not only the intentional discrimination but the unintentional discrimination that exists.

And when we try to help others confront that unintentional discrimination, we have to do so in a way that actually accomplishes our goal.

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Potato Peel - A 100 Word Story

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You know the drill. Read it below. Listen through the player or this link. (No, really, listen this time.) Vote for it. Write your own.

Repeat.

"We will find a way out of this. I promise."

She slapped my hand away from her face. "How stupid do you think I am? There's only a hundred words in this story. Then we're gone. Forever."

I looked around the sparsely-described kitchen, desperate for a way out. My gaze landed on the bucket of potato peels Ma had left.

"That's it!" I kissed Sally.

"What are you doing?"

"Remember when Ma had you peel potatoes? The thin peels would fill up twice as many baskets, right?" I held the sharp peeler up to the words. "Let's get started."

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Write your own 100 word story

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Burnt out on your NaNo book? Feel like you just don't have time to write?

Surely you've got time to write a 100 word story.

Write one that relates to the week's theme - in this case, Day Job. It can mention it explicitly or just have the same kind of feel. Make it have a beginning, middle (conflict), and end (or at least suggestion of resolution). Then see exactly what you've got to do to get your story up as part of the weekly challenge.

Then do it again. It's good practice.

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Breaking the Ice

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I hate icebreakers.

There's the "getting to know you" type. First, there's the problem of those who hate talking (or love talking) about themselves. Further, after the first few classes as a graduate student - even at a commuter university - you know nearly everybody in your cohort. The "introducing yourself" icebreakers tend to feel, well, stupid and repetitive.

The other kind are the "joke" icebreakers.

They can be okay if they're relevant or just simply silly. Examples? I've used videos like this slow loris being tickled, just as a way to get most people smiling:



Note: The rest of the videos aren't exactly NSFW, but aren't really appropriate for work either.

I've also used "Male Restroom Etiquette" in a research methods class (after noting that it describes the situation from a heteronormative point of view and includes some anti-gay violence). Not only does it highlight the strange in the familiar (which is useful for getting students thinking in a research methods class), but it has its own assumptions which can be used as object lessons. The presumptions of the video become fodder for the class.



But when the videos are "comedy", you run the risk of increasing tension rather than reducing it. In my experience, it's usually a matter of what group (if any) is being mocked. For example these two videos both address the same thing - ultraviolet and ... emissions... at crime scenes:





Remember, our society is still sexist (when women make the same amount of money as men for the same jobs, then I'll think about re-examining that statement). Throughout the first video, the woman is demeaned. She's portrayed as being late (irresponsible), putting her social life before work (irresponsible), not knowledgeable about her own job's practices (not knowing how the UV works), too stupid to figure out what that means, and, oh, by the way, participating in sex acts that are often portrayed as demeaning. The first video reinforces the subordinate social role of women in our society.

The second video pokes fun at people who already have power in society (police officers, white males) and assumptions shared both by them and the audience (I'm taking a class today primarily about the bad assumptions CSI has given to the population and juries). This video subverts and critiques the social order.

"Breaking the ice" is supposed to indicate that the social rules are loosened. That (in a classroom setting, for example), the instructor is not just a tyrant and the students passive listeners. When you choose videos and activities for icebreakers, make sure that they don't reinforce the very rules you're wanting to loosen.

What are the best (and worst) icebreakers you've experienced (or used)?

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Vampires, Belinda, and Pedophiles oh My!

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No, I don't mean the one with sparkling vampires (well, okay, I'll get there eventually). The one that was on sale at Amazon that advocated pedophilia. (Background)

In case you didn't know, the book's been taken down. A search for the title gives you very nice safe titles such as "Predators and Princesses: The Internet Safety Guide for Parents" or "Sex Offenders and the Internet".

I'm commenting because there's a few points that seem to have been missed - and also because it directly relates to putting your own work up on Amazon (or other related stores), and that's something I've been talking about for months.

The book violated Amazon's own policies and (apparently) included instructions on how to commit illegal acts. There are already rules in place to deal with this; once Amazon (and perhaps relevant authorities) were notified, the internet flashmob was irrelevant.

It also sets a crappy precedent. Realistically, "boycotting Amazon" when the book was first noticed is kind of silly. You absolutely should point violations out to Amazon and give them a chance to investigate it. But boycotting them for it simply being up there? Hell no.

Why? Do you really think someone reads every submission? Of course not - and the TOS makes the author (or publisher) liable, not Amazon. But as consumers, we have to give the retailer time to investigate the claim. Otherwise anybody could point to *any* book they didn't care for and have it taken down. Why, I think that Glenn Beck book offends me. Amazon could investigate the claim, see that Mr. Beck's book doesn't violate the TOS, and things carry on relatively fairly.

If, on the other hand, the book did violate their TOS and they still didn't remove it, then that would be a reason to question the seller. Which brings me to my last point - a sort of meta-commentary on the whole affair.

Why is this guy getting so much outrage compared to the damage other works will end up causing?

Anne Rice's Mayfair Witches trilogy has a young teenage woman seducing a forty-year old man. Her book Belinda is explicitly about an illegal teen/adult romance? 1 Both of these have been available for at least two decades with no real outrage.

Put simply, nobody who isn't already a pedophile was going to start abusing children because of a self-published guide to pedophilia. Reading a book that celebrates a ephebophilic relationship (yes, you should know the difference) might just blur the lines between pedophilia, ephebophilia, and a consenting adult relationship.

predatorOr, put another way, how many pre-teen and teenage women now think that having a guy break into their room and watching them sleep is romantic instead of f'ing creepy stalker behavior? From this site (among many, many, many others) came these two quotes that really just scare me.

But the truth is [Edward Cullen] became a stalker because he loves Bella. And Bella loves him. Isn't that what counts most of all?
I also think Edward is a stalker. But he could stalk me any time. Lol.

Given that an overwhelming majority of sexual assault survivors (both those assaulted as children and adults) know the assailant, I have to wonder why we're more worried about some asshat's unread self-published book than the millions of people being told that much more common behaviors are not only okay, but signs of "true love". I've had more than one female friend who endured sexual, emotional, and physical abuse because of twisted ideas about "love". Seeing them praised in bestsellers and on movie screens sickens me.

Yes, stop child sexual abuse. Absolutely.

At the same time, let's pay a little more attention to what we're celebrating and holding up as "good role models".

1 I only cite these two because I'm aware of them and they come to mind. Feel free to leave your own examples in the comments.

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And even through bot sentry...

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I use Pidgin for my instant messaging needs - largely due to the bot sentry plugin. Apparently it's time for me to change the challenge question from the default one.

Why? Because spambots are apparently smart enough to match phrases - but can't even recognize their own language...

Conversation with roseanncalder1364 at Thu 11 Nov 2010 06:36:40 PM EST on uriel1998 (yahoo)
Roseann Calder: Hey U!
uriel1998: Hello?
Roseann Calder: Hello there.. My name is Jennifer.. Got ur ID through Messenger Directory :)
uriel1998: mmmmmhmmmmm.
Roseann Calder: I love chatting with new people.. Would you like to chat today? Where are you from?
uriel1998: 011110010110111101110101 00100000011000110110000101101110
Roseann Calder: Nice Im 22 years old i'm going to school in Houston.. Can i ask you a question?
uriel1998: 01101000011000010111011001100101 00100000011110010110111101110101
Roseann Calder: Do you like big booty girls with big tits? lol seriously cuz thats what i am/have..Is that too much for you to handle?
uriel1998: 01100001011100000111000001100001011100100110010101101110011101000110110001111001
Roseann Calder: so yea i'm lonely would you like to have some kinky fun? Would you like to see me?
uriel1998: 0111000001101100011011110110111001101011
Roseann Calder: ok but i have no pictures on my computer.. but i have a video camera connected :-)
uriel1998: 0110010001101111 00100000011110010110111101110101
Roseann Calder: ok let me set up my camera for you baby i hope your ready for some booty shots..

Anyway, it amused me. :)

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When to query editors

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Lately, I've had several people (online, off, at conventions) ask me how long they should wait before querying after a submission. These are my rules of thumb, in order of priority:

1. Write another story instead of worrying about the submission. Seriously.
2. What do the guidelines say? If the guidelines say six months, then six months it is. If they say two weeks, so be it. If it's an anthology, do not expect to hear back from an editor at least until submissions are closed.
3. What does Duotrope say? Duotrope often has return times. While this is useless for anthologies, it can give you a decent idea with magazines. For example, the reported response times for Analog match my experience.
3. Did you get a "receipt" e-mail? Many online submission sites will send you a "we got it" e-mail. If you did not get one of these, then you'll want to edge towards the low end of the response time. If you did get acknowledgement of receipt, then be patient. Longer often means that they're actually looking at it seriously.
4. Barring any other guidelines, 90 - 120 days minimum. And let me just say that if you decide to inquire at that point, you better be saying "Dear editors: I am just wishing to confirm that you received my story "Snarkdoms Gate". If it did not reach you, please let me know so that I may re-submit it."
5. Decide if you want to deal with them. I followed step 4 twice for a publication. I finally sent a withdrawal notice ("Dear editors: I regret to inform you that I withdraw my submission of the story "Snarkdoms Gate". I hope to work with your magazine in the future."), and had them beg me to send the story again. I sent it again, and still hadn't heard from them four months later. I since withdrew it and moved on.

To keep track of your submissions you can use an online service, something simple as a spreadsheet, your own database, or a dedicated software program. I use a freeware program (runs on NET or Mono) called Sonar3.

Honestly, I only recommend taking a day a week for reviewing submissions and re-sending anything that's come back. The rest of the time, write, write, WRITE.

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Find - A - Freelancer

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One of the most common questions I hear from authors thinking of going independent (either to self-publish or to reprint works where the rights have all reverted to them) is "where do I find people to do ...."

Well, now there's an answer.

Assuming I didn't screw up anything, the freelancer resource site should be live now at:

http://authorsandfreelancers.com

As you may remember, the point of the site is to (essentially) provide free advertising to freelancers so that independent authors (or heck, even publishers) can find them relatively easily. (As with all things, caveat emptor.) There's a handy-dandy form for getting yourself added as well. Point your artist/webgeek/editor friends at it as well.

Again, free advertising.

Please let me know what you think, if there's any corrections to be made, and share freely!

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Penguin - A 100 Word Story

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You know the deal - vote for your favorite story over at the 100 Word Story site. Then go and write and record your own. Why? There's actually a damn good reason to do this - even if you're slogging your way through NaNoWriMo.

Writing a drabble (a story of 100 words), complete with beginning, conflict, and end, requires you to seriously consider word choice and what elements are truly necessary for you to tell your story.

Additionally, the prompts sometimes get really, really redonkulous. Next week is "potato peels" - full rules and instructions here. Anyway, you can listen to my story alone below, or download it using this link (let me know if there's problems - I'm trying to use Dropbox for this purpose).

Watch for PenguinsShe doesn't know what to make of me. "You're a long way from home."

I waddle closer. The male with her frowns. "Don't polar bears eat them things?"

She leans over and smiles at me. "They live by the South Pole. Didn't you pay any attention to the movie?"

He grunts and tries to kick me. I waddle to the side and peck her ankle. She screams as I dive into the bushes.

Next month, in the full moon's light, I will meet my werepenguin bride. We will hunt the man.

And he will feed our chicks all winter long.

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You're so vain I bet you think this story's about you.

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I wear this shirt sometimes. I think it's funny when people think it's an enticement.

It's a warning.

It's something you should be aware of when you know an author. You don't get to choose what bits show up in stories, and what parts don't. If you're a particularly paranoid sort of person, you'll suddenly start seeing yourself in all their stories.

Which means that either they're completely putting you in the stories, or that they're doing a good job as a writer and you're empathizing with the characters.

I'm mentioning all this because it's easy to confuse an author and their work. It's easy to think that all works are biography. The same amounts of inspiration from real world events or emotions are there in all my stories - but people don't ask as much when the stories feature time-travelers or zombies in love.

So I'm heading off the questions that will inevitably come from my drabble in this week's Drabblecast, "Turning to Stone". I know that I'll get them from some quarters, simply because it got the questions when I showed an earlier version to my writing group quite some time ago. And I know it's not just real life, because things got changed in the editing process when Norm picked the story up.

So is that really you in that story there?

The answer, of course, is that it's absolutely true. And it's completely made up. That character is totally based on you. And completely imaginary.

All at the same time.

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"Turning to Stone" in the DrabbleCast

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My 100-word story "Turning to Stone" is in Drabblecast 186. Yay!

You have no idea how thrilled I am to be in audio, to be one of the "strange authors" bringing strange stories to strange listeners, such as yourself. Sure, I've got the text below, but you should take the time to listen - Norm did a great job with the audio. (There's a single synonym for poop before my story, FYI.)

For Drabblecast listeners who are coming from the podcast (or those who don't know), you can also find more of my stuff at my main website.

MedusaTurning to Stone

She offers to wash my clothes, and her hair's scales slide across my skin.

"No," I say. We stand on the porch of our... her place. I look out over the lawn. The apartment key is in my hand. I remind myself that I am leaving her.

"I could make dinner," she says. Another snake winds around my leg, smelling of chili. "You could crash here." This snake holds my neck, smelling of sex.

I see her hair, the snakes, reflected in the windows.

Her hair turns me. I meet my girlfriend's gaze.

The apartment key clatters on the ground.

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PhotoMontage!

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Still working, so I give you a photomontage of the last week or so (play some kind of fast-paced inspirational music to get the A-Team montage feeling going). Click to embiggen in a new window...

Jim C. Hines & David D. Levine not only share the need to use middle initials, but they both had the same badge holders at World Fantasy! Otherwise, no resemblance at all. This is also my only picture of World Fantasy. Oy.

Levine & Hines

The neighborhood kids drew on a parking lot wall (in chalk). Someone added these later. ::walks away whistling softly::

The Cake Is A Lie

Kiddo was a zombie for Halloween. It looked really good - though apparently the latex did bad things to his skin.
Halloween 2010

I don't have floor vents. This is how I know I have the thermostat down low enough.

Cat

Cat needs bubblewrap.

Cat

Okay, and these last ones are my real reason for the photomontage. You might remember that my cat likes looking out the window:

Window Kitty

Yesterday a squirrel jumped onto the screen... and the following ensued. The window, luckily, was closed.

Cat and Squirrel

Cat and Squirrel

Cat and Squirrel

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My Bread & My Circuses

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Man in a box.Robert Heinlein is (often) quoted as saying:
‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.
He was wrong. It's worse than that.

The day before the election, I had the misfortune to see part of an interview with a Tea Party representative from Harry Reid's district. As you may have, um, noticed, the Tea Party has made "small government" one of their watchwords. And this is what I heard from a Tea Party representative:
And this is Harry Reid's district, and we have a high unemployment rate. He's the most powerful man in the Senate, and we can't get jobs here?
Which is when my brain exploded. A small-government advocate was openly questioning a senator's worth because there wasn't enough pork? Really?

And that's why it's worse. It's not just that people are voting themselves bread and circuses. They're voting themselves bread and circuses while being pissed off at anyone else who gets crusts and a street mime.

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Scheduling Through A Time Warp

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Someone's Lost Schedule BookAnd somehow it's Wednesday. I've been in a time warp since Friday - something you might have noticed when I was ticked off about political commercials and wasn't going to take it anymore, um, the day before the election. (Note to television networks: We'll do this again next year, okay?)

As some of you who saw me at WFC know, I've got this week off. I spent a good two hours meticulously planning out how I was going to Get Things Done.

The good news: I'm getting things done.

The bad news: Not nearly as fast as I thought I could.

So while I'm working on behind the scenes stuff 1, the outward facing things like this blog are going to be fallow for a little while. But hey, I got my joke lists running again!

So things will be irregular. If you're not already using an RSS reader (such as Google Reader - HOWTO here) you might want to consider it - that way you don't have to worry about checking back and seeing if I've posted anything.

With all that free time you have not pondering my awesome words (and being more efficient with a feedreader), why not write a 100-word story of your own for Lawrence's Weekly Challenge? The topic this week is Penguins!


1 Including, but not limited to: quitting smoking, coding 500 surveys, meeting with professors, creating the freelance page in a professional way, converting two eBooks, expanding my Second Life business, revising and editing stories, sending them off, making a realistic budget, and, y'know, taking time off to relax.

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A Modest Proposal for Political Ads

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TelevisionDear Television Companies:

I could turn this letter into a parody of Swift, but an hour's exposure to morning "news" and political ads has drained my hope that you would understand what I was saying. So I'll try to keep it at a level you can understand.

I agree with @dogwalkblog's tweet:
Based on the 2010 midterms we will be spending billions on the 2012 general election that we could be spending on investment and education.
So television, here's the deal:

I don't need you.

I don't need the hate and venom spewed by everyone's political ads.

I'm done with your drama.

I am not watching live television until the political ads are gone. TiVo, seasons of shows on DVD, Hulu - whatever the means, I will not watch another goddamned political ad on television.

Nielsen determines ratings based on only 25,000 households. That means that every response counts for 4,580 households. By your own statistical assumptions, my statement here counts for 4,580 people. 1 Every person who retweets this, who likes it on Facebook, who even nods their bloody head in agreement represents another 4,580 households.

We're fed up with the slogans, the fact-free emotional manipulation, the never-ending dance of crap of political advertisements.

We're done with their drama, and until you reject their crap as well, we're done with you.


1 I do stats, and I realize the flaws in my argument here. However, the flaws are methodologically identical to the ones that Nielsen makes.

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