Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Time for the bi-weekly flash writing!

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You've seen the posts every other week, so you know the deal.  Write something (poetry, flash fiction, whatever) under 1500 words based on the prompt (see below).  Post it at  (click the forum button and register; it should be mostly painless).   That means that your work hasn't been "previously published".

The deadline is midnight tomorrow (2/17/2018), and critiques 24 hours after that.

You can see the prompt at .  Fair warning: it's definitely aimed at horror writers and might be disturbing.  (Though I would be delighted if someone did something other than horror with it!)

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The GOP plan to destroy local businesses - while shaming people who need help.

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The GOP administration's plan to replace SNAP (food stamps) with food boxes isn't just about eliminating food choices, or eliminating fresh fruits and vegetables and meats from poor people's diets.

The proposed SNAP change will take $200,000,000,000 away from working people and local economies.

It's about making lower-income neighborhoods even worse, keeping poor people poor, and destroying working-class people.

Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash
Let's break it down.

That there are restrictions on what you can buy with SNAP: essentially just food items. 

They're things you'd find in a grocery - probably one close to where you live.  And then you use those benefits at the grocery.  Sure, you get fresh food that way, but you also are spending money at a store in that community. 

If it's a locally owned store, then there's a huge local multiplier effect (tl;dr: money spent locally improves the local economy a lot more.)  Even if it's just a store that employs local people, those benefits have helped not only the person who gets the benefits, but others in the community when those benefits are used.

That isn't the case with these "Harvest boxes".  The money that creates those benefits goes only to the (presumably) large companies that make those boxes and ships them out.  (Since they're nonperishable items, it's reasonable to expect that it will be massively centralized.)  

This program's impact is going to be much greater on people who are not receiving SNAP benefits. They, at least, will still be getting food.

This proposed change will take $200,000,000,000 away from farmers, grocers, and local economies.

And while big retailers like Wal*Mart (who gets a goodly chunk of these monies) will lose the most in raw dollars, they have enough centralization of their own (and other products) to survive.  

Who will lose the greatest percentage of their income?  Local grocers - and that will not only be a blow to local economies, but will create even more food deserts in our country.  (I live and work near one.)

The biggest impact of this program will not be on SNAP recipients.

The biggest impact will be on our local businesses and economies.

And the GOP is doing it by trying to heap shame on people who need help.

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An hour of your life is worth a bit less than a pack of incontinence pads.

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An hour of your life is worth a bit less than a pack of incontinence pads.

Admittedly, they're 30-count and "created for heaviest leakage", so maybe it would be a more palatable deal to think two to five minutes of your life would be worth a single one of these pads.

But probably not.

My friends and I were talking about cryptocurrency, and we quickly got to how pretty much all currency was "fiat" currency.  That is, it has value because someone (usually a government) says that it has value.  Typically ,when someone thinks of a "backed" currency, they think of it being backed by precious metals - gold and silver.

...but if you think about it hard enough, those are fiat currencies as well.  If everyone suddenly had a bunch of gold, the price would totally drop - because it wouldn't be as scarce.  (And before the tech industry, it wasn't particularly useful.)  Which means that gold doesn't have some kind of absolute value either.1

The only thing that makes sense as an absolute is time.1

Which means, quite simply, that our minimum wage is literally saying what the minimum cost of an hour of someone's life is worth.

And that's less than the value of a pack of incontinence pads from Wal*Mart.

Remember that.

1 Example: It takes time to extract precious metals (leading to their rarity and "value"); if it was easier to get them due to better extraction techniques or a new supply, then the amount of time needed to collect the same amount would go down, and so would the price.

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Screw getting news and updates from Facebook. Get it from the source, easily.

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You're rethinking how you get your news, information, and just general internet.

Photo by on Unsplash
Maybe it's because of the way Facebook has been pointed at for influencing the election, how it spreads and profits from fake news (and still does, since folks are already finding ways around "safeguards"), how it's reportedly banning/blocking independent creators for sharing their work and crowdfunding projects (instead of buying ads), or the way it's trying to become the next AOL and killing off independent sites like Funny Or Die in the process.

But at the same time, you don't want to go to a bunch of different sites.

Well, friends, let me (re)introduce you to RSS - short for Really Simple Syndication.

Here's the short form: Lots of websites and blogs (including this one) produce a stream of information called an RSS feed.  You can subscribe to these, kinda like you would subscribe to a newsletter, except there's a few big advantages:

You don't give away your e-mail address to scammy marketers.
You know when your favorite websites update.
You don't clog up your e-mail with articles.
Someone at Facebook doesn't decide what you see (and where you see it).
You can open it up and read when you want...
...and if you choose a cloud service, wherever you want.

Sound good?  Then you want to get yourself going with an RSS reader.

Lifewire has more about what RSS is, and how it works

The most aggressively cross-platform one I can find is The Old Reader (it even has a Kindle app) which also has a built-in social aspect.  RSSOwl is one of the more popular cross-platform desktop feed readers; SharpReader is free for Windows, I use Liferea for Linux, Reeder is available for the Mac (though it costs $), Feedly is based on the web (though slightly limited on the basic plan), and there's plenty of other readers out there for web and mobile services as well as self-hosted ones.

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I'm loyal to nothing...except the dream.

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I've seen some of my friends and acquaintances say it before now, but this... this is my tipping point.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday accused Democrats of being “un-American” and “treasonous” for their lack of applause during his State of the Union address last week when he spoke of rising wages and historically low African-American unemployment.

I served alongside soldiers of many different political stripes. Sometimes we agreed. Sometimes we disagreed.

One thing we all agreed on was this core philosophy1:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

By labeling disagreement - not even that, just mere lack of loud approval of Trump - as "un-American" and "treasonous", there is no defense of this administration.


There is no pretending there's a silver lining, that this is a matter of simple disagreements on policy. This, here, is when Trump has openly declared himself to be against America.2

We have a man who wants to be dictator in the White House, surrounded by his cronies and enablers.

He is right about one thing - this is not a time to be silent, not a time to be civil and restrained.

This is a time to roar our loathing of dictators and fascists.

We will not be silent.  We are your bad conscience.

Take us home, Cap.

Listen to me — all of you out there! You were told by this man — your hero — that America is the greatest country in the world! He told you that Americans were the greatest people — that America could be refined like silver, could have the impurities hammered out of it, and shine more brightly! He went on about how precious America was — how you needed to make sure it remained great! And he told you anything was justified to preserve that great treasure, that pearl of great price that is America!

Well, I saw America is nothing! Without its ideals — its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash! A nation is nothing! A flag is a piece of cloth!

I fought Adolf Hitler not because America was great, but because it was fragile! I knew that liberty could as easily be snuffed out here as in Nazi Germany! As a people, we were no different from them! When I returned, I saw that you nearly did turn America into nothing! And the only reason you're not less than nothing — is that it's still possible for you to bring freedom back to America!"

1The quote is often attributed to Voltaire, but is actually by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

2There were lots and lots of reasons to oppose Trump before now; this one is fundamentally against every last shred of American life.

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Video games did more than improve my reflexes. Really.

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I'm a gamer.

And I've learned four key things from them.

These lessons mostly come from multiplayer games here - whether tabletop or MMO or even team-based shooters... and they all apply in real life.

1. You have weaknesses. Don't deny them. Work around them.

The simplest example is with character statistics. Used Charisma as your dump stat? Maybe the high-level negotiations aren't for you. Dashing bard who has trouble lifting a lute? Maybe head-on combat's not your thing.

But take a step further - many games have some kind of a weakness mechanic. Perhaps your character is overweight; long dashes away from zombies may not be their thing.

If you deny your actual weaknesses, you both set yourself up for failure and you can't work to improve them later on down the line.

2. Your support network has weaknesses too - but not the same ones you do.

Your friends, co-workers, family, lovers - whoever is part of your support network - have their own weaknesses and flaws. Often times, they aren't the same ones you have - and that's a good thing. You want to have the cleric to turn undead. Big nasty critter? Let your fighter take the lead.

Maybe you're having a hard time keeping to a schedule, or getting overwhelmed with your tasks. Let the "party member" who is good at time management help. Maybe they aren't so great at cooking, and you can help there.

3. You are part of a group.

You are part of a network of people. Maybe a small one. Maybe a large one. Hell, probably several, if you stop to think about it.

And perhaps the things you all are fighting aren't dragons or owlbears.

Even so, they are dangerous, and they are intimidating... but they are dangers we can overcome together... as long as our cleric doesn't wander off when there's undead, our computer person is unreachable when the hard drive crashes the night before the report, and so on.

4. You have to ask for help.

There is nothing that has driven this home for me as much as the Smoker in L4D2.  This nasty little special infected will constrict you and drag you off out of sight and kill you dead before your teammates know what's going on. 

At first, I figured the other players would notice... and I kept getting downed by the stupid critter before anyone realized what was going on.  (I wasn't that good at first!)  Since then, I've learned it's absolutely vital to alert your teammates - via voice or text chat - to what's going on so they can help you get free.

The same thing goes in real life - and yeah, I know this is one of those things where everyone knows it, but it's so damn hard to do it.

One of the nicest things about Pokemon Go right after launch was how damn helpful everyone was.  We'd wander the parks and alert each other where to find the elusive ones, and work together to use our lures.  We'd help out those having trouble and share tips and tricks.

That was a brief, happy glimpse, thanks to gaming, into what we could be like.

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Write with us. Please.

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You've seen the posts every other week, so you know the deal.  Write something (poetry, flash fiction, whatever) under 1500 words based on the prompt (see below).  Post it at  (click the forum button and register; it should be mostly painless).   That means that your work hasn't been "previously published".

I've decided (since I'm the flashmaster, thanks to Donna's kindness) that the deadline is midnight tomorrow (2/3/2018), and critiques 24 hours after that.

I'm thinking of doing something... interesting... with this biweekly exercise.

Join us now.

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I don't wear the red on my sleeve.

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"Why aren't you wearing red today?"  The co-worker's voice is shrill, sanctimonious righteousness dripping from her tone.  "Don't you know that wearing red today shows that you support women's heart health?"

What I didn't say, what I wish I'd said, was this:  "Rather than exploit underpaid garment workers and line the pockets of clothing executives to show off how good a person I am, I'd rather actually support women's heart health by supporting a living wage and universal health care so that all women could afford treatment and the more expensive healthy foods needed for cardiovascular health.

"But I guess it's easier to buy a t-shirt."

Maybe you shouldn't cry for this country.

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Oh, my feed is full of people weeping for this country.

A "president" who ignores the laws Congress passes.

A "speaker of the house" who calls for a purge "cleanse" of the FBI.

It seems as though conservatives of principle are gone, replaced by jargon-quoting Trumpistas ready to follow their Supreme Leader no matter what the evidence says.

Perhaps they are right to weep.

But maybe they shouldn't cry.

Maybe it should turn into something else.

Maybe it should turn into anger.

Because angry gets shit done.

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Free Software Activity: A Playlist maker for MPD based on genre and BPM

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Back in November I wrote about mpdq, an MPD autoqueue client that has no external dependencies (and is pretty easy to set up).

I've used the data that MPDQ creates to make a playlist generator for MPD.  It makes it pretty easy to make playlists based on (currently) two criteria - genre and BPM.  Using Zenity, you'll get a prompt asking you where to save the playlist, which genres to include, then what BPM to center around (and how much variation there should be).  Then, with just a touch of computer magic, you'll get a nice playlist.

This kind of thing is important when you need a playlist of a specific BPM - like if you're running for distance or doing another kind of cardio exercise.  Personally, I find high BPMs good for focusing on work, but you can use this to quickly find low BPM tracks as well.

I hope you find it useful!

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