# ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

## Your Ears Need This: The United States of Pop 2012 (Shine Brighter)

Making a huge mashup of the top hits of the last year has become something of a fad among bootleg/mashup artists.

DJ Earworm's work is consistently far, far superior. He takes all the disparate sounds and lyrics, fusing them into something that is completely different than all the originals put together.

He's done it once again this year, with the United States of Pop - "Shine Brighter".

Turn up the volume, dance like no-one's watching, and enjoy!

## Review: Allied Star Police (iOS, free)

Somehow I missed Allied Star Police. It's a free iOS game by PopCap's "4th and Battery" imprint, and I'd like to recommend it to you (and any game designers out there).

It's not because of the backstory of the game's creation (which involves the Make-A-Wish foundation), or even the story of the game itself (police?  fighting a war...whaaa?).

It's because I'm a huge tower defense geek (even if I'm not that good at them), and Allied Star Police manages to do something pretty new1 and pretty cool with them.  Take a look at this gameplay trailer:

It might take a second to realize it - but those "vehicles" are essentially playing the role of towers that move. (Sorta like Trenches meets Plants vs. Zombies, but not.)   The game requires minimal explanation (seriously, minimal) but the mechanic allows for both rough brute force and strategy to be viable options.

Which is great, because it means you can come back and still beat a level after screwing it up.  Because, um, that's about how crappy I am at these games (which, yes, I love playing.  I know).

There's only three levels, but add in the "beat your own best time/score" mechanic, and it's a nice chunk of time for the high price of free.

Low learning curve to learn to play, a decent amount of strategy that becomes organically obvious, a new twist on an overdone gamestyle that does something other than ramping it to 11 to make it challenging?   Awesome.

Check Allied Star Police on the App Store for a fun play - and perhaps some ideas on how to do games better.

1 At least, I've not seen it before.

## A Sneak Peek At My Typical Workflow For eBook Conversion

I occasionally have people ask exactly how I'm working when I am converting eBooks, so I thought I'd take a stab at answering.

My box runs a highly stripped down version of Ubuntu with OpenBox as the window manager (really, I ended up re-creating CrunchBang linux, but hey).  I typically use Geany for most of the heavy lifting, and GEdit for the rest.  (Windows folks, you'd probably use Notepad++ here instead.)  I use Leafpad for simple cut-and-paste jobs, and XPad for sticky notes for per-project things.

If I have to reference a PDF, I have that up in the other monitor.  Otherwise I'm mostly working with one monitor, but multiple desktops.

You can see what this typically looks like here:

Mostly because I built this up from scratch, it's not as confusing for me as it might look for you.  I know what each bit is, where it goes, and what it does, because I put it there.  Which is hugely liberating.

## Fix Google Video/Chat/Hangout in Ubuntu Based Systems With Integrated Webcams

This is going to be for a very select group of people, but they'll be thankful as hell.  I've been searching for this answer for the last two weeks.

My tech specifications:  Ubuntu 10.04, stripped down with an Openbox WM.  Dell, with integrated webcam and audio.

Google Voice/Chat/Video/Hangouts all stopped working for me.  Other video - Skype, for example - worked just fine.  No idea what happened, or even particularly when it happened, since I don't use the service all the time.  Happened no matter what browser I was using, no matter where, what firewalls (or lack thereof) were up....
The plugin would install (because I stripped it out and put it back in half-a-dozen times) and there'd be a black square with no video or sound when I went to verify my settings.

Turns out it wasn't me.  (Note:  If it's working, don't "fix" it!)

It's a known problem with version 3.10 (which is "current" as of this writing) of the plugin.    After finally stumbling across this thread I found the download links for version 3.7.

Ubuntu 64-bit

Ubuntu 32-bit

EDIT 7 Feb 2013:  The above download links no longer work.   There is a copy of each deb (both 32 and 64 bit)  at https://www.box.com/s/yn3ht0925yvxqslqp4h8

I uninstalled 3.10, then downloaded the .deb package, installed it, and BOOM.  Good to go again.

See?

## To the Douchepuppet Who Almost Hit Me at Kroger

Hey dude. Didn't mean to scare you.

At least, I'm hoping you were scared when I asked you what had gotten you in such a hurry that you almost rear ended me in that parking lot.

See, I'm a writer. And you weren't headed to a hospital or anything, or even going very fast once you got on the street.

Maybe it's because I saw that episode of Louie. I just wanted to know, y'know? I couldn't understand what would cause you to rush through a snow covered parking lot and almost rear end me... But wasn't important enough to be life threatening.

Anyway, even though you never answered me before driving away, maybe you got something from the experience. It's something I'm trying to teach my kid.

See, I just wanted to understand, so my characters could be more three dimensional.

But I know that's not the only reason I could have stopped you.

Sometimes when you think there aren't going to be consequences... other people go out if their way to make sure the consequences find you.

I'm not one of those guys.

But the next person you're a douchepuppet to might just be.

## Get Fancy With eBook Design at Your Own Risk - A Practical Example

Sometimes my clients for eBook conversion ask me why I don't do fancy with converted eBooks.  When I tell them it's because I want to be able to guarantee a consistent reading experience across all devices, sometimes they'll say that they only care about the modern eBook readers.

That's actually not a bad point.  Try using Gmail with the "basic HTML" interface, and you'll see this isn't just a piddly thing.  But that's not enough.

Please note - while Barnes & Noble is used in this example, that's simply because I like nooks better than Kindles.  I've seen this same problem show up across different Kindle apps/devices.

I just finished reading the latest Dresden Files novel (it was great if you're already a fan!).  I ended up reading a bunch of it on my nook Touch, though I ended up reaching the end on my iPhone, in the nook application.

With me so far?  Same eBook.  From the same store.  Official app from that store.  And yet:

That's not because of scrolling or anything else. The "fancy" styling behind the word "Chapter" simply shows up as a black box on the official app on the iPhone. (There are also some problems with drop cap rendering on both devices that showed up, but you get the point.)

This is actually a relatively minor issue - you understand that "Ten" in big letters by itself at the top of a virtual page is probably the chapter number.   It's also an avoidable issue.

Again let me stress:  I have seen this same kind of error on all sorts of devices and applications.  No store or format or app is immune.

I take that back.  There is one way to avoid this kind of problem:  Keep it as simple as possible.  Remember that you are working with reflowable text.  Remember that eBook layout is fundamentally different than print layout... except for one thing:  When the layout detracts from the text of the book, you've failed.

## tl;dr: Even with WINE to let you run Windows software in Linux or OSX, the filenames are formatted differently. This shell script fixes that so you can set it as an file association in Finder, Nautilus, Dolphin, etc.

When you're using linux or OS X, there are just some times that you want (or have) to use a Windows program.  There's a free program/layer/whatever called WINE that lets you do just that (Linux downloads here, OSX folks, look here) for most Windows programs (here's a database of working programs).

A good example for me is the awesome Windows freeware graphics viewer and editor IrfanView.  (While I use IrfanView as an example, this same principle would work for other filetypes, such as MS Office files.)

It's not my viewer of choice (that's Viewinor) or my heavy-duty editor of choice (the unfortunately-named GIMP), but IrfanView works great for middle-level image manipulation with a simple GUI.1

I'm defining middle-level manipulation as things like:
• Batch resizing
• Batch format conversion
• Quick visual cropping
These sorts of things are awesomely easy, intuitive, and fast with IrfanView - even under WINE - because it's such a lightweight program.  When I'm just needing to crop a single photo with a quick mouse-dragged rectangle, I don't want to wait.

But there's a problem.  Windows expects file names to be formatted like this:

c:\path\to\file.jpg

but both linux and OSX expect

/path/to/file.jpg

Which means that even if I set up a file association in my viewer (OSX, Ubuntu, KDE), I'll have to manually choose the file. Which takes time, and kind of defeats the purpose.  So I made a quick BASH script to automagically change the path format from *nix/OSX to Windows and run the program through WINE.   It's currently written for a default IrfanView installation in a default WINE installation (IIRC);  you'll have to edit it slightly for the home directory location anyhow.

Then you can make the script executable and make it the default (or optional) association for image filetypes. It's a little work to set up once, but if there's a Windows program you have to or want to use frequently, this will save you a lot of work in the long run.

1 Yes, ImageMagick is hugely powerful, but I don't need that level of control - and if I did, I'd be using GIMP for it.

## A Musical Merry Christmas For You

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

Some selected Christmas music for you here; a short video collection, a longer Spotify one. Be safe, and remember those in the #gloaming.

(If the embed code doesn't work, this link should.)

## Your Kid Has (or is getting) a Computer? How To Keep An Eye On Their Usage Without Hovering

If your child - especially your teenager - has access to a computer at home, you're a worried parent.  (If you're not a worried parent, you probably should be.)  Even the most innocent child will stumble into a bad neck of the internet, or get curious, or simply get distracted when they should be working on homework, or...

As always, it's worth noting that any sufficiently motivated teenager can overcome these with a bit of effort.  However, it'll also start being obvious that it's disabled...

There are software solutions to help filter internet threats (I use K9 Web Protection for Windows and Mac (free)), but even the best only works so well.  Ultimately, it boils down to parents keeping an eye on what their kid is doing.  For example, I managed to see where the Nuclear Kid was once typing "sexy teen girls" (thank goodness I stopped him before he hit enter!) even though I was halfway across the house.

There's two parts to this setup:

Active Monitoring via a VNC remote desktop server (tightVNC for Windows, which is the same protocol as the screen sharing option for OSX, also compatible with Remote Desktop for Ubuntu).  This is pretty straightforward.  You set it up (with a password to connect and a different administrative password so it can't be shut off "by accident") and every so often virtually "poke your head in".  It will be obvious when you're doing so, and will totally bork any gaming the child is doing.  This will also let you control the other system - so you can type in different commands, help them troubleshoot if they get stuck, or enter a password if you want to keep control of all of that for them.

However, it is noticeable, so their behavior will change when they're sure you're watching.  They'll resent it.  And you do not want to casually open your home network to remote viewing... and control.  That's where the second part comes in.

Passive Monitoring via ScreenCapture.  You'll need to get two things to do this bit - but it's easily the most useful part.  First, get a Dropbox account for you and your child, and a shared folder that the two of you have access to.  (I would recommend "hiding" the shared folder on the child's computer and disabling notifications on Dropbox!)

Then you'll need to get something to take screenshots automatically.  For Windows, the free utility MiniCap works quite well.  For OSX and Linux, ImageMagick reportedly can do it as well (see this post for a starting point), but I've not tried it myself.  I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that most of you reading this have a kid on a Windows box, so I'll go into some detail with MiniCap and Windows.

MiniCap has all the options we need - it can save to a specific filename (with a time/date stamp) and do so silently.  Schedule a recurring task (instructions for Windows7 here).  I scheduled mine for when a user logs in and recurring every five minutes.  Then I have it run this command (I used browse so I didn't have to worry about spaces):
c:\Program Files\MiniCap\MiniCap.exe
and with these arguments
-save "C:\DROPBOXFOLDER\SHARED\$dt:%Y%m%d_%H%M$.jpg" -compress 5 -capturedesktop -exit

That gives me a filename like this: 20121224_1245.jpg in my Dropbox folder (remember, it's shared), which looks like this (at least when I'm setting it up):

It's blurry, but I can still read it.  It's only about 200k, so it's barely noticeable bandwidth-wise.  And I can check the photos in that shared folder on my phone, even over a 3G network.   And when I've reviewed them, I can delete 'em and keep the folder relatively small and clean.

The specifics will vary a bit depending on which tool you decide on, but it's going to be largely the same... and b-freakin'-dow.  If I see something fishy, I just send a text message to him saying "Stop doing that thing."  No explanation why or how.

Between these two solutions, they let me give my kid a lot of rope and freedom.  That's important.  But my child's safety is also important, and I can make sure he's not getting himself into too big of trouble.

EDIT:  To keep the "black box" from showing up, follow these directions from SuperUser

## The Special Present - A 100 Word Story

﻿His heart slipped with every beat, sliding in his chest, tripping over ribs like they were coated in ice.

She slid one fingernail through the tape, glanced up at him.

Beat. Slip.

She folded the paper back. His heart slid with a disturbing liquidity, trading places with his stomach as she exposed the small velvet-covered box. She glanced up again.

It was the worst idea, worst present ever. He knew it, knew it, finally knew it but the box was open.

She looked at the ring, at him.

He tried to ask, heart flopping sliding inside, throat tightening.

Please note that the 100 Word Story Podcast is changing URLS to http://oneadayuntilthedayidie.com/!

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Ideatrash) in your podcatcher or phone. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

# Enough of the ranting. On with the caring.

We're coming up on the Christmas weekend. Despite my adamant "Happy Holidays" rants, I know that:
1. Most people in the US celebrate this holiday in some fashion (whether they're Christian or not)
2. Most people view this holiday (if not the whole season) as having something to do with family.

It can be pretty damn depressing1 when the folks around you are with family and you - for whatever reason - cannot.

I've had more than a few situations like that in my life. Sometimes because I was overseas, or in the military, or working at a hospital. Sometimes because of divorce, or other tragedy, or just bad planning.

It doesn't matter why.

Earlier this year, Lillian Cohen-Moore2 came up with the brilliant idea of the #gloaming. As she put it:

I was so sad, and so lonely last year. This year might not end being that hard. But I want to open up a little virtual campfire, because I don’t want anyone to feel as sad and alone as I did. So drop by on those days over the hashtag, pass this on to folks who might need it. Even if you don’t celebrate any holidays but end up feeling sad or anxious, for whatever reason, feel free to surf the tag.

I'll be doing likewise as much as I can through Christmas itself. I'll also be online on GChat (steven.saus), Skype (steven.saus) and Y! messenger (uriel1998) as much as possible. You might need to answer a question to get through a spambot for IM accounts. If you know of a good way that we could set up a public chat room for a while that doesn't require a lot of technical know-how on the user side, please let me know.

No matter how dark it is where you are, look to the light. There's others groping our way toward it too.

1 Yes, the suicide rate thing is a myth, which is why I say "depressing".
2 You can see her fiction in Dangers Untold, and some of her kick-ass nonfiction in Save vs. Sexism

## Yes, Virginia, I Realize That There Are Trolls (or Why I Keep Doing the Happy Holidays Thing)

Why yes, I do lose my crap over people getting pissed off by "Happy Holidays". (As always, I'm talking about the people who object to "Happy Holidays" or state that "Merry Christmas" is the only acceptable greeting, etc, etc, etc.)

Think about it for a second, and you'll realize why.

No, it's not because they all forget that it's actually Advent now. (Though they do.) No, it's not because most of the people pretending there's a "war on Christmas" need to feel persecuted in order to validate their beliefs. (Though I suspect they do, or have been convinced they should by their leaders.)

It's like all other things in the culture war1:

## Liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce. Conservatives winning is scorched earth policies toward liberal values.

Consider:
1. If liberals "win", conservatives can still do pretty much what they want with themselves and don't lose much of their own personal liberty. Example: Nobody is forcing any straight folks to get married to members of the same gender.
2. If conservatives "win", they've clearly stated that liberals will not keep large chunks of personal freedom and liberty. Example: Conservatives don't want gay people to get married. Ever.
3. Therefore, liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce.

See the pattern? It's the same as with the seething hatred toward "Happy Holidays". (Yes, hatred. Because if you bother to object to someone wishing you "Happy Holidays", you're kinda being eaten alive by hatred.)

1. If liberals "win", we say "Happy Holidays", and it covers Christianity2. Christians are still able to say "Merry Christmas" to each other.
2. If conservatives "win", anything other than "Merry Christmas" is mocked and treated with horror as being "politically correct". Everyone besides Christians is excluded.
3. Therefore, liberals winning the culture war is the same net effect as a truce.

Luckily, it seems to be not nearly as virulent as in past years. Maybe people are starting to realize that being a douchepuppet to others when they're wishing you a happy holiday season is just ... well, douchepuppetry.3

I can only hope.

1 I'm rephrasing the same post because I want it on this blog as well.
2 Christianity - and specifically Protestant Christanity - is apparently the default religion for conservative culture warriors.

Ah, hell. I just realized this will be the first Christmas without either of these dogs there. ::sigh::

## Happy Freaking Holidays (an impromptu mini podcast)

If you've never heard me rant and wanted to actually hear what I sound like, here you go:  a four minute rant about Happy Holidays. If you've been following me about this on Facebook and G+, there's not a whole lot new here, except you get to hear me say it.  :)

## Two Posts to Revolutionize Your Life

I know.  Most people don't like going to other posts, or following links.

Here are two posts that will - at the least - cause you to re-evaluate your life and your relationships.

How To Avoid Problem People

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person

Bookmark them.  Read them.  Really take the time to consider what they have to bring to the table.  And I say this as someone who hates that scene from Glengarry Glenn Ross.
The "Problem People" article is a bit quick to be wary...  because that's the point of the whole article.   And I want to take an extra minute to talk about the "Harsh Truths" article.

If you stopped reading and thought that it meant you had to give up on your dreams, go back and read the damn thing again.  Despite surface appearances - and despite that damn scene from Glengarry Glenn Ross - it is not saying to give up your dreams.  You didn't read to the end.

That post is saying "Quit whining about it and do it."  You want other people to see that you're more than your job?  Then show them what you are.  You keep setting the bar too high?  Quit using that as an excuse to not try, and get off your ass.

-----------------
Every so often the Universe smacks me upside the head.  This would be one of those times.  Many thanks to the folks whose work and efforts got this through my thick skull:  David Wong, Libidia Morgasm, Alasdair Stuart (for the outro for Pseudopod 301, who is, by the way, going to have a book of his excellent critical outro essays including that one coming out soon), and Cynthia K. Marshall, for not getting (too) tired of smacking me upside the head.  Again.

## Products and Tools - And Knowing the Difference

There are two ways that any service or item can be described:  as a product or a tool.

Products have features! and upgrades! and widgets! and lots! of! exclamation! points!   They are frequently cool widgets! and features! - so many that it can seem overwhelming.

Tools just work.  You don't need to know the feature list of a tool;  you just use the damn thing.  It works.

The first is used to sell things.

The second is used by the people who use things.

Know whom you're talking to, and which of the two they're most interested in hearing about.

Practical example:  If This Then That.  As a product, it has an impressive list of channels that you can connect together.  As a tool, it has shareable recipes.

(Yes, this strongly parallels the difference between rote mastery and understanding mastery.)

## For Once, It IS About the Children: Hug Your Kid, But For Once Don't Just Stop There, Dammit

There was a tragedy in Newton today. Early reports have a score or more people, most of them children, dead at a gunman's hand.

Today and every day, around twenty-one thousand children died.

Today and every day, over two thousand children went missing.

Today and every day, thirty two children died in the United States from accidents.

Today and every day, five children died in the United States from abuse or neglect.

For those families directly affected by today's tragedy, my compassion and sympathy go out to you.

For all the rest of us, the ones who normally feel secure and confident that our child is safe, we need to remember two things today and in the days to come:

• Your safety is illusory.  Your child could disappear at a moment's notice.
• That fear and uncertainty you feel today is every day for millions of parents.

Hug your child.  Spend time with them.  And then come back and follow the links above (or here, to MissingKids.com, www.childhelp.org, www.childrensdefense.org, and www.unicef.org) and do what you can to make sure other parents will have the same opportunity.

Oh yeah, and it is the right day to talk about gun control. And this essay "Why the NRA Should Support Gun Control", published earlier this week, pretty well illustrates why.  If you're thinking about saying something about arming children and/or teachers, please do yourself a favor and shut up now.

## Just Monkeys - A Flash Fiction

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

My voice was still too crap to record this one, unfortunately. Hopefully by this weekend I'll be up to it...

And for further reading enjoyment, don't forget that the Spec The Halls is still taking entries, and you can read the ones already up for this year!

﻿On top of the tower, the wind blows through her hair. She flares her wings, enjoying the air passing through them. The clouds scud in a grey ceiling above her as she waits.

There is still time, she thinks looking over the city. So much metal and plastic. So far from the jungle. They didn't have to be perfect, just better than the apes they descended from.

The clouds part above her; sunlight flares down. The Voice booms its answer.

"No."

She draws her sword and slams it through the tower, and begins the long job of destroying the world.

## Convert Easily From PLS to CMus Playlist

I did more than one geeky thing last week;  here's the other:

Converting PLS to CMus playlist format

It's a bash script that serves as a playlist converter for CMus.  CMus (or cmus or C*Mus) is a small, fast and powerful console music player for Unix-like operating systems (that includes OSX, by the way).  It's not much to look at:

but it's really light on the system resources.  It's got a lot of nice features which I simply haven't taken the time to research - but it's also got a playlist feature.  The playlist (at least in the version that's packaged with Ubuntu) is a stripped down version of the PLS format.

Now, I use Clementine (free, runs on *nix, Win, OSX) for actually managing my music library and dynamically changing what I'm listening to.  But I've got some pretty straightforward playlists for certain tasks, and I just want them to play and stay out of my way.  CMus works great for that.  But exporting PLS playlists from Clementine isn't quite the same format as what CMus expects (and it hides that damn playlist as well, expecting you to actually manage it inside CMus).  So I wrote a quick little bash script that will convert your exported PLS playlist from Clementine (and presumably other music players) to what CMus expects

## Thank you everyone.

I wish people a happy birthday on Facebook.

Sometimes I don't know them.  Sometimes it's not a very smart, clever, or original greeting - just the standard "Happy birthday!", and nothing more.

No matter how much people don't want a big deal made about their birthday, they do want to know that someone remembered.  That someone cared enough to bother to say something.

Because there's a huge damn difference between "not a big deal" and "nothing".

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday today.

## Get User Input and Print to any Networked Printer From the Windows CLI and Visual Basic

I actually wrote this for work:  A way to get user input and print to any networked printer from the Windows command line and using built-in utilities and Visual Basic.  (Yes, I keep calling it "Virtual Basic".  I know.)

Here's why I wrote it:  There's a specific situation where we have to have to notify another station halfway across the facility that a customer is ready.  We have been using phone notifications, but it simply becomes prohibitive when you're on hold for five to ten minutes in order to reach the other (very very busy) station simply to say "Hey, here's a job for you."

They already use printouts as part of their workflow, so we just needed a way to input customer data and have it print on a printer across the network.  It also needed to tell us that it'd done so (or if it had failed).  Obviously, I've stripped out information that identifies my facility from the code.

While this is a pretty specialized need, I ended up finding answers to questions that a lot of people apparently had.
• Creating the equivalent of a radio button (sort of) from InputBox
• Comparing strings in VBS
• Printing to the non-default printer (including networked printers) from CLI
• Creating multi-line output in a MsgBox
• Handling case and multi-step if/then loops in VBS
• Testing for empty strings in VBS
• Testing for numeric input in VBS
• Reading and writing from text files in VBS
• Get a return status from a called system process
• Execute different actions based on the return status
• Getting human-readable system time from VBS
I learn best by examining other people's (annotated) code, so I make this code for printing to a networked printer using Visual Basic available to the public under a CC license.  If you have a use for it, I've tried to note all the places where you MUST make changes to make the code useable (mostly putting in the network paths to your printers) in the file TOCHANGE.TXT.

## This Person Says Happy Holidays - And Here's Why (with shareable images)

Because it's already starting this year - though I think there's a degree of "really? are we still doing this stupid dance?" to it - I present to you the following images, ready to be used on Facebook (right-click, save as...). Feel free to copy, edit, or otherwise spread the word.  A brief commentary follows each image.

A very important side note:
I know people who say "Merry Christmas" and graciously accept any other holiday greeting in return. Like the people who offer up their prayers for atheists or others who don't share their faith. In those cases, they're synonyms for good-wishes and cheerful tidings. (Hi Mom.)  If you're one of those people, this ain't aimed at you.  Move along peaceably.

These images are aimed at those people who protest stores saying "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings". The ones who correct others who wish them anything but a "Merry Christmas". 1 The ones who aren't happy unless their holiday - and only their holiday - is recognized. The ones who seriously think there's somehow a "War On Christmas".  We all clear on who we're talking about now? Cool.
End of the very important side note.

Seriously. I always, even at my most religious, assumed that "Happy Holidays" was meant to cover Christmas and New Year.  Took me a long while to realize the object to "Happy Holidays" was simply a demand that ONLY one holiday be recognized, and to demand that all others be ignored.

You're not fooling anyone when you emphasize "Merry Christmas" when someone wishes you a happy holiday season. Seriously. We know you're being a superior, judgemental dick and trying to disguise your asshattery as something holy. It disrespects others and it disrespects your own religion.

I know honest-to-goddess serious pagans.  Though the ones I know are largely Norse, rather than Greek or Roman, in denomination, the point stands.  This is a pluralistic country.  I'm sending out holiday cards to pagans of various stripes, atheists, Christians (of multiple denominations), Jews, Muslims, and Wiccans.  I wish them all well as the world turns and seasons change.

You know how "repressed" you feel when people don't explicitly say your religion all the time?  WELCOME TO WHAT YOU DO TO EVERYONE ELSE.

This is one way that being raised Catholic was useful;  in some parts of the country, Catholics are still referred to as "papists" and are routinely told that they're not "Christian".  This is one of the reasons I didn't particularly bash on Romney for his Mormonism;  aside from knowing some really cool and thoughtful Mormons, I know how easy it is to be seen as the "other".  For one example of such, see this post about the trampling of my Easter traditions...by Protestants.

I shared this one previously on Facebook.  It's true.  Again, if the above would make you feel uncomfortable, welcome to how everyone else feels.

1 What always drives me nuts about these people: It is NOT the Christmas season right now. It's ADVENT. The Christmas season is actually from 25 December to 6 January.

## The Worst Thing In The World - A Flash Fiction

﻿The other girls peered in as Brittany sat across from the old fortuneteller. The seer grasped Brittany's hand, her voice a low whisper. "Your life is pointless."

Brittany smirked and eyerolled. "Don't curse me."

The seer shook her head. "No curse. Just your future. Your life will have no impact. No-one will change because of your decisions. You won't even enjoy your own life. Your existence is pointless."

The girl's voice shook with belief. "I'll kill myself."

The seer smiled evilly. "You'll fail. You have no choice. You'll live your whole life. And it won't matter."

"Not even to you."

Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. No audio; I'm still fighting off the irritation of bronchitis. However, you can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

Don't forget, of course, that even short drabbles like this completely count for Spec The Halls!

## Using "I Feel" Correctly: A Challenge For December

I want you to try an experiment this month.

We often say "I feel" to describe an action, a judgement, or what we imagine someone else is thinking. Stop doing that.

Instead, only use the word "feel" to directly describe emotions and nothing else.

Emotion words are things like: mad, glad, sad, happy, scared, nervous, anxious, giddy, fearful, small, unimportant, powerful, strong, loving, unloved, and so on. There's lists online to get you started.

So try using this model:
"This situation makes me feel [FEELING]. From what you said/did, I imagine that you're thinking [fill in the blank]. Is that how you feel/what you're thinking?"

This goes beyond grammar; it changes the way we look at a situation.

Try it. It will feel awkward for a while. A long while, really. But it makes you totally reconsider how you're approaching a conflict.

This exercise is loosely based upon my understanding of Non-Violent Communication; more importantly, it directly addresses the thing I most often see people (including myself) get wrong with NVC. If this exercise intrigues you, try checking out Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and going from there.

## Spec The Halls - Speculative Holiday-Themed Fiction and Doing Good

Spec the Halls was originally founded by Abra Staffin-Wiebe several years ago as a way to share stories freely, to help introduce new writers (and old) to new readers and celebrate the season. In doing so, she helped encourage quite a few new writers - including myself.

The last two years have been pretty bad for her. Big, nasty life events just kept happening to her, in ways that she simply couldn't control.

I decided that it would be right this year for Spec The Halls, the celebration of stories which she started, to give something back to her.

And it's not money.

Well, okay, it is money. But that's not the point. You see, she gets to decide what to do with the money. She gets to control that. She can keep it, she can donate it, she can use it, she can save it.

After the last two years, I want her to be able to control this one thing in her life, fully and completely.

That's the gift I want to give to the founder of Spec The Halls.

I'm not asking you to give money.1

I'm asking you to participate by helping fulfill the vision of Spec The Halls. I'm asking you to freely share a work of winter holiday related speculative fiction.

I'm looking for submissions between now and 30 December 20122. Length can be as few as 100 words; bonus points if you record your story and send me the MP3. Details about the submissions process, rights, and everything else can be found at http://specthehalls.com.

Links to submitted stories can be found at the All Submissions page 3(RSS | e-mail). Other news and announcements will be through the Alliteration Ink blog (RSS).

1 Mind you, I won't turn away any donations, matching or otherwise...
2 "Submissions" is a strong term here. We are sharing stories, not competing here.
3 I'm currently waiting for the feed/page to update with new content, so if you're still seeing posts from last year, that's why.