Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Fix digital images' EXIF date with a few simple commands - crossplatform solution!

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technology.pngI just started using a photo manager (yeah, I know), and I realized my EXIF data was all jacked up. The file dates are (usually) right, but a lot of the extra data had been stripped out.

I have thousands of old digital photos; no way in hell am I manually organizing those into dates/events.

Luckily, there's a cross-platform tool that does a great job with it. It's called EXIFTool. The website has instructions for installation with Windows/OSX/Linux - and there's standalone binaries for Win/OSX.

This guy's solution is what I essentially ended up going with. It's important to have at least the first and last lines:

exiftool -v "-FileModifyDate>DateTimeOriginal" *


exiftool -v "-FileModifyDate<DateTimeOriginal" *

The first changes the EXIF metadata to reflect the "last modified" date. The second changes the file date to the EXIF "Taken On" date. Wonderful!

Also - at least on linux - it recursively searches directories, so no need for getting funky. Just run and go. Backups are made in the directories of each file.

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Simpe BASH wrapper script to test if you're online or not

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technology.pngThis falls squarely in the "small annoyances" category. More and more wifi hotspots will let you connect - but not access anything until you log in. Sometimes, I don't bother to - I'm not doing anything online.

That doesn't stop cron jobs from trying to connect to the internet.

So I wrote a small wrapper script to test and see if you can find the WAN IP address. It connects to (using wget), and uses SED to parse out the IP address. If you're not connected, you'll get garbage back - which won't fit the length parameters of an IP address.1

Just call this script with all the parameters and whatnot that you would your other program (yes, all of them, it passes them all in one fell swoop), and if you're not connected - it doesn't run. Saves you error messages in the logfile, and lets you get on with your day.

You can find the script at Pastebin, here.

1Yes, it doesn't error check. I said it was simple.

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Hunger - A Guest 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

This story was written by my son, Chris The Nuclear Kid.

You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I walk quickly, carefully, cautiously, fearfully. My hunger nagging me as I find a store with food. I stop suddenly and listen. I here groans and gunshots. Just as I turn to leave I here a high pitch scream catches my attention and I go inside.

“Timmy, Sara?!” I exclaimed surprised to find my old friends. I ran to their side, zombies were everywhere.

Timmy's pouch of bullets fell forwards and he dove after them, right into a zombie that attacked him. The smell of blood attracting the other zombies. Moments later we saw Timmy's body... and we run.

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Office Party - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

No audio from me this week, but take a listen to the Spec The Halls trailer - because you don't want to end up like Roger.

You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Roger left his office building, gingerly holding the box of leftovers. His co-workers had left him passed out after the office party, Post-It labels of "Scrooge" and "Humbug" on his forehead.

That didn't matter. The ghosts had come. All three, just like Dickens, though they'd talked about CDOs, short-selling and unemployment. It wasn't just numbers anymore - he'd seen the effect of his trading.

The protesters were still there, despite the cold and snow.

"If you're hungry, I've got food," he said to the demonstrator laying on a bench, clutching a crutch.

But he lay unmoving in the December cold.

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Get some online backup this holiday weekend!

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technology.pngI actually use a couple of different services for online backup and access - and many of them have saved my bacon in one way or another. Whether through traditional backups, or having a file handy that I *really* needed, they've all come in useful. And most of them have basic accounts for free!

So during this long weekend, why not set up one (or more) of them? (Note: Most of these links are referral links - which usually get me, and often you as well - extra space on the service.) While each has their strengths, keep in mind that you can use them all!

Box.Net (now just Box) has 5 gigs of online space, which you can mount as WebDAV. (You might know this as "web folders".) This makes it pretty easy to move stuff back and forth as if Box was just part of your computer's hard drive. It has a pretty straightforward mobile app as well, but its strength is with your main PC - though this guy uses it with his iPad and Pages. If you've ever used a network drive, this is the experience I tend to have with Box.

Dropbox has 2 gigs of online space for free, and pay accounts for more. The mobile app is spiffy, and there's lots of integration with other mobile applications. If you're looking for a mobile-access site, this is the one you want. Seriously. You can increase your space by referrals; be sure to associate an .edu e-mail address with it for a student bonus with each referral! When you sign up through a referral link, you should get extra drive space as well. is the new kid on the block. It starts with 10 gig free space to start out with. They focus on a clean, clear interface - it's the only one of the bunch where I actually like the web interface. is strong when you want to share things (either publicly or with selected people). Their suggested uses include: Create an online portfolio of your work, share photos and videos, publish your work whether it's an ebook, music, photos and more, share lecture notes with your class, share anywhere via the browser, desktop and mobile. Like Dropbox, referrals get both people extra space on the service.

SpiderOak, however, is the cross-platform secure backup solution for me. The service isn't speedy, but that's not what it is meant to be. It is all about keeping your data safe and secure. While there are sharing solutions, its strength is backup. On top of actually saving your files, it has some robust versioning - that means that you can go back to an earlier saved copy. It also has the largest referral bonus (for both parties) - one gig per referral. Starting at 2 gigs free, that's not bad at all. SpiderOak has personally saved my bacon more times than the others combined.

If you've used another service that you'd recommend, post about 'em in the comments!

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The biggest shopping day of the year is the day after we give thanks for what we already have.

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thanksgiving guestsI don't "get" major holidays.

Maybe I'm able to have this perspective because I haven't often gotten major holidays, at least, not from work. Whether from working in a hospital, being in the military, or a combination of the two, I've often worked or been on call. At best - like this Thanksgiving - I only had the day itself off, so there really wasn't a lot of time to prepare, get in the mood, or anything else.

So it puzzles me.

Let's take Thanksgiving as a perfect example. The bare bones of the holiday come down to this: A number of people - usually, but not always, family - gather. They eat a meal, visit, perhaps do an activity or three together, and then go home.

My parents and grandparents have always lived a decent number of hours away from me - enough that casual visiting is simply not possible. (Case in point: I spent twice as long in a car yesterday as I spent at my grandmother's.) What I just described is pretty much every time I go to visit my grandmother. In fact, because my parents live on the other side, they often make a point of trying to visit at the same time so that we can all see each other.

The only difference is that we were making an effort to be thankful.

The ritual - gathering on Thanksgiving - carries with it the obligatory attempt to be thankful for things we take for granted every day. It's good that we remember that day, that the ritual helps us to remember.1 But the ritual can become so important that it replaces the actual intent. The problem with rituals, with tying a specific "good" thing - like remembering to be thankful - to specific events is that it makes it easy to forget the good thing outside of the ritual. Don't believe me?

The biggest shopping day of the year is the day after we remember how thankful we are for what we already have.

I was really glad to see the thanksgiving advent calendars popping up. That's great! I've been using Instagram to try to take a picture of something every day - to pause and see something more clearly, to reflect on it, to remember it.

Maybe the best way to take the stress, anxiety, and (often) anger out of the holidays is to quit focusing all that meaning2 into a single day or weekend. Take a moment - right now - to be thankful for what you already have.

And do it again tomorrow. Or later today. Or in an hour.

Feel free to eat turkey (or tofurkey) while you're at it.

And if you haven't yet, help someone else in the world be thankful. Stop by Spec The Halls, donate some money to Heifer International, and get a kick-ass eBook all at the same time!

1I think this is the value of scheduled religious services as well, by the way.
2Regardless of which holiday

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Use iPad versions of websites to get an elegant "communication window"

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technology.pngA little (mostly) cross-platform goodness for you today - making a kick-ass separate communications window.

I use multiple desktops (built in on most linux installs, VirtuaWin provides it for Windows), and I like having a bunch of communication stuff open on the last of them. That keeps it open... but also able to be shunted to the side in case I need to concentrate. This is my current layout (it's a laptop monitor):

From the right:
Pidgin, a cross-platform and multiple-network IM client.
Turpial, a thin Twitter client - it runs off of Python, and should run on Windows... but is unsupported.

And finally, a Chrome window that auto-loads Google Voice, Mail, Calendar and Plus - along with Facebook. In the mobile (and/or iPad) versions of each. This is the one that takes a tiny bit of kludging.

First, make a new Chrome profile using the directions for your OS here. Make sure you edit the shortcut like it tells you to. Then open up the tabs you want. Go into Preferences (the wrench icon) and under "On Startup" click "Use Current Pages". Save the configuration, resize the window to what you want, and exit.

Then create a shortcut for your new profile. Here's the special sauce: Edit that shortcut so that at the end (after the user-data-dir bit) you have this parameter:

-user-agent="Mozilla/5.0(iPad; U; CPU iPhone OS 3_2 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/531.21.10 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0.4 Mobile/7B314 Safari/531.21.10"

Now you'll suddenly have the iPad version of everything (except Voice). GCal and Gmail are both quite elegant in the iPad version - even on your "boring" computer screen.

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Spend some of your Black Friday/Cyber Monday cash on a charity... and get a kick-ass eBook too!

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As people everywhere get ready to "get in the spirit of the season"1 by going and trying to pay hardworking folks less for extra material items they don't need and won't use, take a second to do something different than the herd.

Yes, different. Because you're not like everyone else out there. Sure, you shop, and you buy gifts for people - but you know that you've got it pretty well off. And you want to help other people who need it. Really help them.

But at the same time, you don't want to just sign a check and then get metric craptons of junk mail. Or the phone calls. Or e-mails. I hate that stuff too.

And you'd like to see some sign of appreciation for your donation. Of course you would. That's only human. But you don't want that sign of appreciation to be paid for by your donation.

And that's where Spec The Halls comes in.

All proceeds of the charity eBook go to Heifer International2. (That means anything that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or PayPal don't force me to pay them.) All the work with the eBook - the stories, the eBook conversion, the distribution - even the cover - are all donated.

This is the perfect solution. Sixteen speculative fiction stories centered around the winter holidays, including award winning authors Laura Resnick and Donald J. Bingle, as well as NYT bestsellers Alethea Kontis and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and many more. And the money goes to charity.

And if you want to donate to Heifer International directly - go right ahead. Then send me the receipt3 and I will give you a copy of the eBook. Just like that.

Stop by the Spec The Halls website and buy it there to get it in Kindle, ePub (nook, Kobo, Sony, iOS), and PDF formats. Or pick it up in Kindle (only) format at Amazon and ePub (only) at Barnes & Noble.

And gosh darnit, here's an audio promo featuring me and Chris the Nuclear Kid. Direct link here - it's on a CC-license so you can use it (without alteration) in your own podcast, broadcast, or other audio media.
Creative Commons License
Spec The Halls Promotion by Steven Saus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

1No, really, I've heard people express this very opinion.
2Yup, the same one that Pat Rothfuss supports with WorldBuilders.
2See the Spec The Halls website for information.

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Excessive Gravitas for Amusing Results

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random.pngBecause once I said it, you knew I would have to do it:

Pantera's Mouth of War... with gravitas. Use the player below, or click here for a direct link.

After listening to this, dealing with relatives should be easy... Take that, Richard Cheese!

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Raising head, looking around

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I finally finished grading papers for my sociology class last night, and got the grades turned in today. I (mostly) got caught up on - or marked read - about a month worth of articles in my RSS reader.

So now I can take a chance to stop and relax.

Oh crap. There's a story I'm supposed to turn in tonight. And two conversion projects due Saturday.

Right - back to work!

- I'm mobile blogging, please ignore formatting snafus

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Waiting to interview

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I'm about fifteen minutes away from my first job interview in years, and I'm only vaguely nervous. Partially because I don't know that I can afford to take the job.

First world problem, I know. Then again, so are the student loans, credit card debt, and mortgage that would make the difference.

I've been thinking a lot about this one - it would cut my salary by a third, but would give me a LOT more time to write, publish, teach, an do research. You know, the stuff I want to do.

My current job keeps me afloat... But does horrible things to my stress levels. When you can feel your blood pressure rise as you head to work, it's not a good sign.

So take this as a lesson from the old guy- avoid the debt. Do what you want now. Avoid the jobs that kill your soul - and escape as soon as you can.

I had a lot of anxiety leaving the military because I suddenly wouldn't have a rock-solid same paycheck every month. That stability is addictive and seductive. It will keep you places you hate, just because it is certain.

I don't know if I'll take this job - or even of they'll offer it to me. But trust me, you don't want to be in the situation where you have to choose between a job you hate and a job you can't afford.

(and if anyone reading this is looking for a writer/sociologist/ teacher/ computer geek to hire... I'm looking for you. )

- I'm mobile blogging, please ignore formatting snafus

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We Don't Have to Make Sense All The Time; Neither Do Other People

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soc_econ.pngI talked some yesterday about the practical living-your-life problems with assuming other people are always acting intentionally with their own self-interest in mind. But there's a scientific reason for thinking that such systems (and I'm looking at you, evolutionary psychology and behavioral economics) have a fundamental flaw.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about evolution is the idea that "evolved" means "best" or "most efficient". It's largely the fault of the phrase "survival of the fittest".

Folks interpret that small clause as an absolute maxim. It's why people think they're "better" or "more" evolved than other species. But really, that pithy little phrase should be written like this:

"Survival of the best-adapted organism to a particular environment, among the possible competitors at that time."

That's a very, very different phrase. Is a cheetah "more" evolved than a penguin? Depends on whether that animal is on the African savanna or Antarctic ice fields.1

But even in the right environment, an organism doesn't have to be perfect or "the best". It just has to be better than the other organisms competing with it. As long as you're not falling behind the competition, you can have all sorts of problems, design flaws, and other issues.

And that's what evolutionary psychology, objectivism, and behavioral economics all miss about our psyche.

We don't have to make sense all of the time. We just have to make enough sense that we don't completely pooch ourselves.

And that's the only measure that counts. As long as we are rational enough to get by, the rest can be all kinds of crazy cruft. Superstitions. Horoscopes. Religions. Belief in the goodness of mankind. Belief in the evil of mankind. The specific kind of crazy believe or maladapted thought processes doesn't matter (remember Hanlon's - or Heinlein's - Law) - it all falls in the same category. It's just noise to something like game theory - but it's a very important and human part of our experience, and something we cannot afford to ignore.

1Homo sapiens cheats. We use tools to essentially perform "on the fly" adaptation to an environment.

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Game theory needs to add "stupidity theory" to its playbook

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soc_econ.pngI have big problems with objectivism, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral economics. At least, with the popular notions of them.

I'm talking about the ideas that people's behavior can always (or even mostly) be explained in selfish motivations. It's the idea that altruism can be explained as mate selection or get-laid schemes. It's the idea that everything people do must have some kind of personal "payoff" or benefit.1

It has nothing to do with whether I find the models distasteful. There's a practical real-world problem with using these ideas as explanatory models.

We can't know anyone else's motivation. Not really, anyway. We can know something about what areas of the brain are activated2, but that's not the same thing as knowing motivation.

But we all know something about paranoia. We've experienced it. And that's where these explanatory models go to hell really, really fast.

People do some really screwed-up things. If you believe that people are always (or even usually) acting in their own self-interest... then all of those screwed-up things must be done intentionally.

Quite simply, people aren't that smart. Hanlon's Razor (or Heinlein's Razor) sums it up pretty damn well:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

But if you think that people are usually acting intentionally, and for their own gain, then sooner or later it all ends up looking like conspiracy. Specifically, a conspiracy against you. Any time someone's an idiot, overlooks something, or is generally clueless, it gets interpreted as an intentional attack instead.

And given how often people do stupid things, that sounds like a pretty miserable way to live.

1I'm aware that I'm paraphrasing popular understanding of science, not the science itself. Short science-y answer to anyone about to pull citations on me: They explain one variable well, but they've not made the case that they are talking about sufficient cause in all cases.
2In laboratory cases, which has its own problems.

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The First Thing I Saw - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Grading dog is gradingI can tell it is still dark outside, even though my eyes are closed. I lay still, keep my breathing regular, so they won't know I'm awake.

They're near. I hear them breathing, smell their unwashed bodies. I don't know how I will escape them, but I must try.

Slowly, I work my hands free from the restraining cloth. I tense, ready to move and -

- they notice.

I open my eyes with the blast of rancid breath, and can only see my dog's rough tongues descending to lick my face clean.

What a way to start the day.

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HTML entities broken in PubIt! nook previewer! : So You Want To Make An eBook?

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ebook_cover_200Title really says it all, doesn't it folks?

I found out the hard way this morning (after fixing a typo in Spec The Halls - go check that charity fundraiser out!) that HTML entities are currently breaking the PubIt! previewer.

I'd switched out the HTML entities for smart quotation - specifically:

’ to &rsquo;
“ to &ldquo;
” to &rdquo;
… to &hellip;

The previewer stopped rendering after any of those. I switched 'em back - but I'm concerned about this behavior, especially with older readers not always being able to render unicode characters properly. This is also opposite to my advice in my guide, as well as a change from what some other retailers would like to see.

Of course, there's one simple, easy way to make sure something as simple as punctuation doesn't bork your eBook.

Let's all say it together...

"...we don't need so-called smart punctuation in order to read our books."

Because, y'know, that last sentence was so hard for you to read.

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Spec The Halls - Call For Submissions

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There is a contest portion of Spec The Halls as well - with the intent of getting more great holiday-themed speculative fiction out there for folks to read!  We have cash prizes (which do not take away from the donations!), and entrants may be asked to participate in next year's charity anthology.

Check out the guidelines and FAQ about the contest and submissions!

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Mutually Exclusive Business Values

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soc_econ.pngWhen your values conflict, you have to decide between them. It's pretty damn simple in principle, but gets hard in practice. It's hard with yourself, and even harder when it's within a corporate top-down hierarchy.

Think about it: Which do you want? The more fun job that pays less, or the craptastic job that pays more? Which do you choose?1 There is no "right" answer - what works for me may not work for you. But there is a "right for me" answer, and a "right for you" answer.

The same thing applies in all areas of your life. I like my alone time. Maybe you never want to be by yourself. I like music while working, where it might distract you. And the list goes on.

And then we get to corporations. Theoretically, this shouldn't be a problem. Decide what you want to do, then do it. Example: "We want to help people file as many tax returns as possible." Not a problem. Automate as much as possible, be hyper-efficient, and shunt people with weird returns off to a separate queue so that they don't gum up the works. Or another example: "We want to help you file your return, and know that we took care of every detail." Also not a problem. You get lots of staff, make sure there's lots of time blocked off so that weird things can be handled on the spot, etc.

But those two values are mutually exclusive. You can't have high throughput while taking "special individual care" of any kind. It's assembly line vs. handcrafting, and they work in fundamentally different ways. That's not a big deal when you're working for yourself - you choose whichever option appeals more to you.
When you're in a corporation, however… that's when it goes wrong. If someone above you - whether immediately above you or the CEO of the company, it doesn't matter - decides that the company should produce handcrafted items at assembly-line speeds…

…well, you do get both of something. Both of the disadvantages and none of the advantages of either method. It seems pretty straightforward, which is what puzzles the crap out of me. If this is so damn obvious (and it is), then why is this such a system-wide problem in corporate life?

1 If you said "neither, I'll make a bloody high-paying job that I love", then that's yet another value choice, isn't it?

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The MarcoPoloization of Culture

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soc_econ.pngThe McDonaldization of everything faded a little bit from the forefront of American consciousness over the last five years, but the process is still there. Perhaps we have simply become used to it - that not only can you go to most any American city and experience the same stores, the same chains, the same food, but that you can travel throughout the world and have the same experiences as well.

Or maybe it's because the rest of the world is fighting back.

Really, we should call it MarcoPoloization, if we have to call it anything. McDonalds may have been the most prominent characteristic, but "McDonaldization" is not a new process. The process began the first time Neandertals met Cro-Magnons and traded. It'scultural transfer, just like the kind that occurred when Marco Polo accompanied monks and brought back spices.

What is new is the speed with which this cultural transfer now occurs. It hit me when I was listening to dubstep over New Year's. Dubstep is a rather new musical subgenre - the first instances were somewhere around 2000 - but it largely stayed in London until 2005 or 2006.

Now I can hear (and like) dubstep only five years later. I can probably find a club that plays dubstep in my region, half a world away. I can marvel at the iterations of dubstep as it has morphed over the last decade - and see a prominent dubstep forum recognize a user who lives in an area where it's impossible to associate with other fans of the genre.

The speed of adoption for successful trends and fads has increased sharply because it is so easy and fast to transmit cultural ideas across long distances. Those popular trends and fads - the mega-hits - are what we point at when we talk about McDonaldization. The mega-hits have something good about them - otherwise they wouldn't spread so successfully - but they crowded out local variations. Think about the desolation of Wal*Marts - and the number of small businesses destroyed by that behemoth - across the American landscape and you get the idea.

But we cannot forget the inseperable good things that come from fast cultural transmission. First, our ideals travel as fast as our icons and franchises. It's never a perfect transmission (kimchee on your Pizza Hut pizza, anyone?), but it's far faster and easier than what the monks who traveled with Marco Polo faced. When innovation happens, there are few physical barriers to the innovation spreading quickly away from "spiky" centers of change. 1 As someone who grew up away from those spiky centers - but could still look at them - this is a good thing.

The other good thing is evidenced by my earlier example. There is an active dubstep fan who is so far away from the physical center of the genre that they can't hear it live. (I believe they were in central Asia somewhere...) But they can still participate in a meaningful way. And that's how things are fighting back. Small centers and locuses of innovation, difference, change, and even deviance are able to survive and even thrive. They are able to expand their numbers due to the same process that brought generic conformity to their door.

I recently saw a picture of Colonel Sanders wearing a kimono, and smiled. Our culture is spreading to the corners of the world - but the corners are spreading into the center as well. Despite the best attempts of corporatization, we are not creating a bland uniform cultural broth, but a chunky thick stew of goodness.

You may never have heard of any of the musical artists I like, and vice versa. And we don't have to have heard of them in order for them to make a living doing what they love.
And that's not just okay, put pretty damn cool.

1 Cultural resistance, of course, is a different story.

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Linux: Using Google Without Using Google

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technology.pngI really do like Google Reader and Gmail - most of the time.  Mostly.

But sometimes I want something local.  Or offline.  Or speedy.  Luckily (and with a wee bit of elbow grease) I now have that - while keeping my web access intact.

Here's the steps (I'm running Ubuntu 10.04 with Openbox):

Desktop Google Reader: Download and install RSSOwl from the website (I don't have the dependencies for Liferea 1.7+).  RSSOwl synced up my Google Reader account right out of the box.

Desktop/Offline Gmail:

1.  Configure Postfix (if you're running Ubuntu, it's probably already running) following this guide.  Read the comments.
2.  Get OfflineIMAP.  Install it.  Use this guide for configuring .offlineimaprc
2a.  If you're fine with a CLI interface, install mutt.  See above guide for configuring mutt.  You're done.
3.  Install Dovecot.  I installed 1.1.2 from the Ubuntu repositories.  Note that Dovecot will not work at all with an encrypted directory.  It just fails and doesn't tell you why.  Believe me.
4.  Point Thunderbird (or anything that works with IMAP) at localhost.  No password, no encryption.  Make sure that it shows unsubscribed folders as well.

This takes some tweaking - and probably a bit of frustration here and there - but once it's done, you'll be surprised at how much time and frustration you were losing waiting for messages to load or deal with the latest web interface overhaul.

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Getting rid of the annoyances with internet radio on Windows and Linux

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technology.pngI've loved streaming music for over a decade now (le sigh), but I've had four major annoyances:

  1. Bulky player interfaces (I'm looking at you, Pandora - linux users, see Pithos for a great desktop interface to Pandora's service, Mac users, see PianoPub.).
  2. Too many stations when I just want to start a damn stream (I'm looking at Shoutcast and Icecast here)
  3. Lack of support for the playlists, so when a server moves, my desktop client's bookmark simply times out, and we're back to #2... (This is my major gripe about playing streams in Clementine, which is otherwise my music player of choice - and cross-platform, too!)
  4. Only supports a few incoming formats.  WMP is the worst about this, obviously.  Last time I tried a few years ago, it couldn't play streaming MP3 out of the box.  Really?  Really?
When I'm on Windows boxes, I like Screamer Radio.  It has a pretty extensive library of stations already built in, but you can also configure your favorites.  Support is currently from XP up, but an older version can handle your remaining Win98 boxes.

For Linux, I like RadioTray.  Yes, you have to manually add stations - but I think that's a good thing.  I usually only listen to a few stations (see #2 above), so I don't need a whole directory.  It's very lightweight, and now that I have AAC decoders installed, I can use the super-lightweight 32k AAC streams from Digitally Imported.   (Handy tip:  right click the "click to play", and "copy link location".  That link - which ends in .pls - can be used as the station, so issue #3 isn't a problem.)  Because RadioTray uses gstreamer, so any codecs you have installed there (howto) will play, so #4 is a non-issue.

What to listen to?  Aside from the Shoutcast and Icecast directories, Screamer has a great searchable directory of internet radio streams for anybody to peruse.

Overall, these two applications fill my Windows and Linux streaming radio needs.  I just recently found about FStream for the Mac, which has very similar characteristics (lightweight, plays streams, leaves you alone, and free).

What do you like listening to?

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Spec The Halls - The Charity

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The winter holidays are a special time of year - even if you're on a planet that doesn't have winter.
Spec The Halls looks at the winter holidays - both real and fictional - from a speculative fiction point of view. Fantasy, horror, and science fiction take turns showing us this time of year from a slightly different point of view.

This year's anthology includes stories by Kelly Swails, Alethea Kontis, T. Lee Harris, Laura Resnick, Steven Saus, Chanté McCoy, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kerrie Hughes, Marian Allen, Patrick M. Tracy, Risa Wolf, Jess Hartley, Graham Storrs, Donald J. Bingle, R.T. Kaelin, and Sue Penkivech.
When you buy the book from Alliteration Ink, you get a ZIP file with the book in PDF, Kindle, and ePub (nook, Sony) formats. If you buy it from Amazon, you get only the Kindle format, and if you buy it from Barnes & Noble, you get only the ePub format.
The proceeds of every sale go to Heifer International. Act quickly - this eBook is only available for a limited time!

Buy from Alliteration Ink in PDF KINDLE NOOK formats  Amazon  Barnes&Noble

If you buy the eBook from Alliteration Ink using the "Buy Now" button, more of your purchase money goes to the charity.

If you donated to Heifer International since 1 November 2011, see this link.
If you just wish to donate through us, see this link.

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My kid makes a good zombie

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Night of the living candy eaters
My kid's had a good run with costumes - usually last-second ones, and done on the cheap. This year I got to do a lot of the makeup work for his zombie costume. Folks who were at World Fantasy last year may recognize the tie (skulls, brains, close enough).

Photo Oct 31, 6 23 12 PM
Yup, those are maggots. They were supposed to glow in the dark, but there were enough problems getting them to simply stay ON....

There was something about the lighting of this shot that just begged for a zombie picture. Absolutely creepily gorgeous.

Photo Oct 31, 6 23 03 PM
Zombies need candy too. Or else they need your brains.

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The Reason For The Season - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again! As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

Night of the living candy eatersMy benefactor chortles from the shadows. "Your Trunk-and-Treat was very...sanitary, Pastor." His belly moves when he speaks.

I nod and mumble my thanks. "Thanks to you, it was a very Christian--"

He laughs and his belly jiggles. "I don't care what you call it. Just so they forget what this holiday is really about. Forget the sacrifices. Forget what they were scared of."

Two short men - elves - grab my wrists, and I glimpse red cloth and white beard as my benefactor rises.

"And then they'll forget my holiday, and milk and cookies will never, ever be enough."

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