Saturday, January 31, 2009

January Readings

I gobble books and stories like candy. Sometimes, I read so fast and so often that I'm already on the next book before I've taken a chance to reflect on the one I just finished. As a result, I forget almost as quickly as I read.

This year, I'm trying to reflect just a little bit more on the books I read. When I finish, I'm writing myself a paragraph of notes on each book. At the end of the month, I plan to list the books I finished that month and write a quick summary*.

Here are the January books:

  1. Chalice by Robin McKinley (Jan 1): is a sweet little fantasy novel. I gobbled it down in a single sitting, and was left with a sweet taste in my mouth and a desire to re-read it in a few months.
  2. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer (Jan 2): is your classic late-Heyer Regency. I hope some day I can make my prose look so effortless.
  3. The Magic or Madness Trilogy by Justine Larbalestier, which includes Magic of Madness (Jan 4), Magic Lessons (Jan 10), and Magic's Child (Jan 20): is a young adult urban fantasy** series about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm disappointed. Everything happened in such a hurry that each book was over just as I was starting to enjoy it. On the other hand, I really liked the characters. I wish there had been a chance to get to know them amidst all the craziness that kept flying at them.
  4. Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Jan 8): This is a young adult science fiction roller coaster ride with a deeply satisfying ending. Like a roller coaster, it took a little time to get up the first big hill. Once we built up some momentum, though, it was an amazing ride.
  5. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (Jan 12): is an urban fantasy, possibly marketed as young adult. Some of the main characters were young, but some were very old people who just looked young. Whatever. I couldn't shake the feeling that something important was missing from either me or the book. I finished the book, but only because I wanted to see what happened. Overall, the experience was disappointing.
  6. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Jan 18): is a young adult urban fantasy. I had to force myself to keep reading but eventually I found my way into this book. I enjoyed it, but I didn't think the story was particular memorable. Until I found myself in the shower, thinking about some of the story's ideas. Mostly, I disagree with them, but they've still got a hold on my brain. I've got the second book in the series queued up for later reading.
  7. Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin (Jan 19): is another urban fantasy. I tried to force myself to read this one too, but by page 55, I decided that I didn't deserve such punishment. The constant use of colorful similes kept jerking me out of the story so hard that I was getting whiplash.
  8. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (Jan 24): is a fascinating look at some of the differences between our world and 19th century England. I want my own copy on hand for the next time I read a novel set in that milieu.
  9. Prom Nights from Hell (Jan 26): is a paranormal story anthology. The stories are by Meg Cabot, Lauren Myracle, Kim Harrison, Michele Jaffe, and Stephenie Meyer (yes, THAT Stephenie Meyer). Michel Jaffe's was satisfying; Kim Harrison's story was deeply unsatisfying, and the rest fell somewhere in between.
  10. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica (Jan 27): is a memoir about stressed out, cranky waiter who is also something of an asshole. Just not to the customers, which puts him far ahead of most of the customer-service people in the world. I was also glad to learn that I usually fall into the average 70% of the dining population. With very few exceptions, it's not good to be outside the norm.

* Why not just paste in the original paragraphs? Three reasons. First, I'm long-winded so paragraph just means "a block of text with a more-or-less single topic." Second, I'm not making any attempts to avoid spoilers in my personal summary. We all know that some people find spoilers to be crimes worthy of corporal punishment. Third--and probably most important--my first impression of a book is not necessarily my final opinion. A good opinion needs a little time to grow and develop.

** There's a lot of urban fantasy on my list in the coming months. My second and third novels are urban fantasy. I thought I should get to know the genre before I started revising my first drafts. Nobody likes a dilettante. And people save a special hatred for newcomers who act like they're the first to discover ideas that other people have been exploring for years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Sleepmonger"

Read "Sleepmonger" at 512 Words or Fewer

You can also listen to me do funny voices, or get the backstory infodump.

I'm still mulling the comedy pilot I wrote last summer, working title: "Apartment of Champions." I would never call it "Friends meet Heroes," unless maybe I was actually trying to sell it to someone. But the script still needs a lot of work.



Strangers have invaded the house twice in one week. I hate it. The first time, the invaders were a couple of female humans carrying lots of noisy tools and smelly liquids. They caught me while I was under the dining table watching the squirrels. It was scary! I barely escaped in time to get under the bed.

Bayla and I stayed there while they made a terrific racket and rubbed stinky stuff all over the pace. My eyes watered for hours. Days later, the smell still lingers. I don't know how humans can stand it.

Yesterday was the second time. Luckily, Bayla and I were already on the bed, so we just crawled under as fast as we could. Good thing! Big male humans came into every room, pushed buttons, and made strange noises.

At least they were gone quickly. Those other humans were around for hours! They set a trap, though. As soon as I thought it was safe enough to take a few steps out from under the bed, the ceiling started to beep. I had to run back under so fast that I bumped my head on her leg as I went past.

Things are quiet now. I just hope the humans don't let any more strangers into the house this week!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Years Until Retirement

(The anticlimactic conclusion to the laptop repair saga!)

We drove back to Northwest Computer Support this afternoon to pick up my laptop. Desiree, the technician working on it, had called me yesterday to say that she couldn't figure out what was causing the problem (networking dies after returning from standby or hibernate), and recommended a full factory restore of Windows. I said I could do that myself, and there was data I'd want to get off the drive first anyway. I could be mistaken, but I think she sounded a bit relieved that I was taking it off her hands.

It's ironic, I suppose, because I've been watching The IT Crowd. (Although so far, the show isn't really that much about IT, or even work. But that's another story...)

Anyway, after we got home, of course I had to spend the entire afternoon mucking with the laptop myself. I couldn't change the "deep sleep" setting that Jessen recommended, because my T61p doesn't have the same hardware as his T60 did. But I did update my networking drivers again (Desiree had rolled them back to the ones that came with XP), cleaned up the registry a bit, and left Lenovo's Access Connections software uninstalled because it doesn't play well with the latest networking drivers.

At this point, I probably won't do a factory restore, because the inconvenience of not being to put my laptop on standy or hibernate is less than the inconvenience of reinstalling every damn piece of software I've loaded on it over the last year.* If things get worse, I might consider it. And you better believe I'm doing regular offsite backups. (Yes, Mozy, I said select all! We're paying $57 a month for broadband; I might as well get my money's worth.)

The title of this post refers to the fact that on Tuesday, I shelled out $130 to extend my laptop warranty through the end of January, 2011. I didn't expect Northwest Computer Support to be able to fix this standby issue, but they did a great job replacing the main system board when that failed, and I'd much rather have someone else dealing with hardware issues. I don't mind getting my hands dirty, but I'd prefer not to pay $800 the next time I need a new motherboard.

I don't know when I'll get another laptop after this. I'm not interested in a "netbook"--I tried out an OLPC XO last year and was not impressed; for writing, I'd prefer to pick up an AlphaSmart Neo, which is only $219 and boots up in less than two minutes.

I will be getting a new, quad-band mobile before our trip to Europe this June, and that device is likely to be the Jesus phone or something similar. We'll see.


* Besides, without knowing the cause of the problem, I have no guarantee that it won't resurface after I've wiped the disk and reinstalled everything. And then I'll have wasted a lot of time for nothing, won't I?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Draft

I'm starting the first draft a new novel today. CKL asked me if it was going to be a Victorian. It's not. So I said, "No!" in a horrified tone of voice. I was really surprised that he should ask me such a question.

Then I remembered that I just finished reading What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, and that I'm currently reading Daily Life in Victorian England by Sally Mitchell. He's seen me with those books. He was even in the room yesterday when I started building my rural Victorian village in the Sims.

I've been talking about the Victorians a lot lately, too. I find the differences in our lives mind-boggling. For example, A typical laborer might need to spend more than 1% of his weekly income if someone sent him a letter. Food was more than 60% of that same laborer's weekly budget... if his family lived on oatmeal, bread-and-butter, potatoes, and ate meat only on Sunday. Housing was expected to be less than 10% of income.

By comparison, I pay nothing to receive more stuff in the mail than I know what to do with. I eat meat almost every day, but I'm still offended if my food budget (not including restaurants) exceeds 10% of my income. And I feel like I'm getting away with something because our housing is only 20% of our monthly budget.

Those are just the easy differences. I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to live without electricity, plumbing, or communications. And that's nothing when I try to imagine getting married and no longer having ownership rights to anything that used to be mine, including my body.

So I guess it wasn't entirely unreasonable for CKL to ask me if I was writing a Victorian novel. But I'm just playing around with the Victorians. They're interesting and their world is alien to me.

My new novel is much less interesting. It's about a high school girl in a family of werewolves.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Spoiler Warnings"

Read "Spoiler Warnings" at 512 Words or Fewer

I was really into comic books in middle school and high school. Once a week, my mother would drive me out to Galaxy Comics on 190th Street, and I'd spend most of my $20 allowance on DC books--Green Lantern, Justice League (the inimitable Giffen/DeMatteis run), Star Trek (I still have fond memories of the Barr/Sutton/Villagran Mirror Universe arc), and more.

I remember following all four Superman titles, which DC had scheduled so there would be a new issue out every week and plenty of crossover storylines. I was never into Batman, but I picked up Wonder Woman for a while after I saw George Perez's art in Crisis on Infinite Earths. My parents probably have lots of bagged-and-boarded back issues in their garage somewhere.

When I went away to college, I drifted away from the comics scene. Too many other things going on, I didn't know where the local shops were, and I didn't have an easy way to get there. I found that I didn't really miss it that much.

It wasn't until 2004, when we ran the Justice Unlimited Game, that I got back into comics. Doing research for a superhero-themed puzzle hunt was a great excuse for me to catch up with changes in the DC Universe (the new Green Lantern is who?) and pick up some TPB collections of Ultimate X-Men. I also found out that the Mountain View public library stocks tons of comics--go check out the shelves by the Teen Zone, or upstairs for the "mature" titles (read: indie titles).

I'll never be as enthusiastic as my teenaged self was about comics, but at least now I can pop over to Wikipedia or any number of other web sites to find out what the hell is going on with the latest Interminable Crisis or Marvel Zombie Monkeys. My tastes have also matured somewhat--I really dug Y: The Last Man, I loved Queen and Country, and D and I both enjoy Fables.

But I still have a soft spot for superheroes.


Thursday, January 22, 2009


This is how the day is supposed to go: she gets up first and does her jumping around on the little platform in front of the TV. The rest of us take a mid-morning nap. That way, when we get up, we all get to go straight to breakfast. Bayla and I eat while the humans are still gathering up all their supplies. Then the humans take forever with their breakfast, and I watch the birds and squirrels out the window. After breakfast, we play with strings or paper balls a little while before the humans get all boring with their computers. Bayla and I spend this time resting up so we can have dinner and run around at night.

I could do without the part where the humans are boring, but it's a good routine. I like it.

Today has been all wrong! First, she didn't get her jumping around out of the way while we took our nap. She just went into the room with the TV and took a nap. When the rest of us got up, she was just getting started with the jumping around. It took much longer than usual, too.

This wouldn't have been a problem if our food bowl wasn't completely empty. But it was! Bayla and I had to wait forever for the humans to turn off the TV and start breakfast. While he was waiting for her to finish, he locked me out of the most interesting room in the house. I yelled for him to stop messing around, but all he did was pick me up and carry me around.

Usually, I like that, but not when I'm hungry and the routine is all messed up. So I got down. I may have scratched his shoulder a little, but he didn't need to make such a fuss over it! For such big creatures, humans are really wimpy. After all the commotion, I wasn't surprised when they interrupted our routine even more to waste time and cut my claws. Stupid humans! Now I'm going to have to spend weeks sharpening them again.

By the time, we finally got on track and had breakfast, it was too late. None of the squirrels or birds came to visit. When I got bored with watching nothing out the window, I told the humans to do something interesting. Their idea of interesting was to pick me up and carry me around some more. I didn't like it once already this morning, so I got down again. At least this time, nobody yelled and made a fuss.

Then we did paper balls for a few minutes, but nobody's heart was in it. I guess I'll just take a nap with Bayla now.

It's been a very frustrating day. The humans need to work harder to maintain a proper routine!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lost and Lost

The bad news: On Sunday, I misplaced $400 worth of electronics.
The good news: I hadn't actually paid for any of it myself.

The items in question were a Creative Zen portable media player ($100) and a pair of Shure sound-isolating earphones ($300). I got the former from my previous employer as a bonus gift, and won the latter in a drawing at Coverville 500. I'm unhappy about losing them, but not heartbroken. Mostly, I'm confused, because I'm not sure how it happened.

Here's what I do know: On Saturday night, I watched an episode of Stargate Atlantis on the Zen--in bed, before I went to sleep. On Sunday morning, I took the Zen and the earphones from the nightstand and put them in my jacket. Then D and went out to breakfast and a movie. When I went to look for the Zen on Sunday night, it wasn't in my jacket.

The jacket in question was a SCOTTEVEST ("SeV") garment. I've owned three different SeV jackets and loved all of them--as a geek, I love to carry around a lot of gadgets. (Even in high school, I would go everywhere with a backpack and a messenger bag.) This jacket has nearly 30 pockets and storage compartments, and all but three of those are zippered, velcroed, or otherwise secured shut: the two pen holder slots, and this one:

Yeah. Guess where I had put the now-missing items? That's right, in the only pocket without some kind of closure. 'cause I'm smart. S-M-R-T.

To be fair to myself, I've been wearing this jacket since last summer, and I had carried stuff in that pocket throughout five months of Travels With Our Cats. It's an interior pouch, and nothing has ever fallen out before. I still don't know for sure that's what happened, but it seems the most likely of all the unlikely scenarios I've imagined.

I won't be using that pocket anymore. And if you have one of these jackets, you shouldn't, either.

Like I said, I'm not too broken up about losing the stuff. I'm just frustrated that I don't know what happened. I suppose I'm like House that way--I need to know the answer. I hate losing objects, but I hate losing information even more.


Monday, January 19, 2009

That Word Does Not Mean What You Think It Means

Photo from Wikimedia

Dear Entire Freaking World,

Please stop overusing the word "miracle."

You know what I'm talking about. Ever since US Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger safely landed his crippled Airbus A320 in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew, you've been calling it a "Miracle on the Hudson."

Excuse me. Human achievement is not a miracle. If there were any Catholics here, they'd be giving you dirty looks.

And if you're thanking God for saving those people, you should also be cursing Him for putting those birds into the engine in the first place. Or maybe you believe it was Basement Cat who did the bad thing, or that Ceiling Cat just moves in mysterious ways?

Yeah, it's nice that you think every soul on the planet is just a pawn to be sacrificed in some mystical cosmic power struggle. I'll thank you not to devalue my entire existence.

That plane landed safely, and all the people aboard are still alive, because the entire flight crew was on the stick. Give some credit where it's due, for cryin' out loud. Show some respect for your fellow humans. You're going to have to deal with us a lot more often than you deal with any supernatural beings.

Hugs and kisses,

P.S. Please calm down before the inauguration tomorrow. You know who you are.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This maxi-house has a lot of doors.

I'm not ready to call it home yet, but I'm starting to get pretty comfortable in this maxi-house. Jasper and I have only had to leave it once. We went to the vet, but even that wasn't too bad: no shots. I was really glad to get back to the maxi-house.

I've already mentioned the most obvious differences between a maxi-house and a mini-house: it's bigger; my own furniture is here; we don't go places all the time. There are also more doors.

In the mini-houses, there were usually a few doors: the one to the rest of the house, the one to the bathroom, the one to the place humans kept their clothes, and then one with a lot of noisy machines that the humans never opened. Sometimes, there was a door that led to the bed.

Here, the door to the rest of the house also leads outside. The humans seem to get a lot more excited about this door than they ever did about the exit from a mini-house. She's always waving around a paper, or yelling and kicking when I show interest. I make a point of showing a lot of interest whenever she's stumbling and sleepy first thing in the morning. I made her fall down once. Paper flew everywhere. It would have been more satisfying if he had yelled and gotten up to see what was wrong, but he and Jasper just grumbled and rolled around in the bed. They're both lazy like that.

We also have two doors to bathrooms here, instead of one. The humans put our litter box in a box-sized space in one of the bathrooms. The litter box cubby has curtains. Jasper and I finally have a little privacy when we need to use the litter box. Even though the humans can't watch us anymore, I still like to open the door and watch them when they use the human water-chair. It makes him uncomfortable. We also like to go explore after they take a shower. Water is best when it's hot and fresh from the tap.

The clothes room is bigger here, too. Jasper and I both like to climb up onto the shelves. Sometimes, he takes a nap inside our small carrier. I don't know why he does this. The humans only use that carrier when they want to take us somewhere new. I hate going to new places, even if the vet wasn't so bad this time.

I can't prove it, but I have noticed that after I go to the vet, I get new pills. She always use her squeaky "good cat" voice on me when I get a pill, but I'm not fooled. It's just another torture humans have devised for us cats. I'm very proud of the fact that I've never stopped resisting, even after all these years of pills. She was slower than usual yesterday, so I spit out my pill three times and even managed get him to come over so that I could spit water on both humans.

I could talk about my victories over humans all day, but this is a post about the different doors at mini-houses and maxi-houses. They can actually open the noisy machine doors in this house. There are two of sets of machines behind two doors. One set of noisy machines washes the cloths humans like to put all over everything. I don't object to cloths. They're kind of fun, actually. I enjoy lots of different textures for walking, for scratching, and for sleeping. The other machine room just holds a big tank of water. Before the humans filled the room with boxes, Jasper and I liked to lie next to the water tank. It was warm, when it wasn't noisy.

There's a door to the bed here, too. The humans rarely close it, so I don't care about it.

There are three doors here that aren't like any of the doors in any of the mini-houses. One door holds more human clothes and shoes. It's got a separate door to a connected space right next to it where the humans stockpile food. I like to jump and climb on the shelves. These doors also make a satisfying thump-thump noise when I open them at night. I like to wait until the humans are sleeping before I do this.

And then there's the door I like the least. There's nothing special about it. It just leads to another part of the maxi-house. The humans go in all the time, but they never let us come inside too. At first, Jasper and I thought it was an oversight. So we tapped and called and scratched at the door. The humans didn't open the door. They just ignored us, talked to us through the door, or came out and picked us up. I hate being picked up; it's almost always something unpleasant.

I've had sniffs and glances when the door was opened, so I know there's nothing special in the room. It has a bed, computers, furniture, boxes, and books. But the humans are keeping it a humans-only secret. He spends a lot of time in there. Sometimes, she joins him. We've even had a semi-strange human over. The guest-human got to go in the room whenever she wanted, but she didn't let us in at all. This is not fair. I have a right to climb on top of all the furniture and sleep under all the beds in my own maxi-house.

I vow never to give in to the tyranny of a door with a humans-only room behind it. If both humans go behind that door, I will paw at the door, yell, and cause trouble however I can. Humans need feline supervision. The sooner they realize it, the sooner all of us can call this place our home.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Laptop Sticker

(Previously, on CKL's HotSheet... "Languishing Laptop." And now, the continuation!)


I picked up my repaired laptop from Northwest Computer Support yesterday afternoon. That's their work order number sticker on the corner of the lid. They replaced the main board under warranty, so I didn't have to pay anything, and the good news is that it now boots up properly and works as before. The bad news is that coming back from standy/hibernate still kills the wireless networking.

After updating my NIC drivers to the latest from the manufacturer's web site, I now have yet another icon in my XP system tray (Intel's PROSet/Wireless WiFi Connection Utility, which so far seems to be playing nicely with Lenovo's Access Connections--knock on wood), but still no solution to the problem.

I'm very happy with Northwest Computer Support's service. They called me as soon as they started the repair, and were done with it just two days later. I'm so happy, in fact, that I'm taking my laptop back in on Monday so they can investigate this standby/hibernate issue.

Having done my own research on the web and found many other reports of the same problem, I'm not optimistic that they'll be able to fix it. But I might as well get my money's worth out of this warranty before it expires on the 30th.


Friday Flash Fiction: "The Coronation Will Not Be Televised"

This week's 512 Words: "The Coronation Will Not Be Televised"

You can also listen to the podcast and read the liner notes.

I'm sure various news outlets will make a big deal out of Monday being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Tuesday being the inauguration of America's first black President. That's fine. But we should also not forget that Ricardo Montalban passed away earlier this week. Is it too much to ask for a full week of mourning? My friend Gene doesn't think so:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back to the Future

Read it now!
Chapter 7: We Happy Few

When I was in college, I started writing a series of science fiction stories collectively titled FREEFALL. They were set in a semi-parallel universe, where a family named Quinn (and yes, they are mighty) turns a textile business into a powerful multi-national conglomerate. By the mid-21st century, the company now named "Quintex" actually has enough power to challenge the United Nations of Earth when violence erupts in the mining colonies of "the Torus"--the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

I had a lot of fun writing those stories. And when I put them online in the mid-1990s, it was one of the few pieces of science fiction available on the Internet. I got fan email from people all over the country, and even one from Australia. I even made it onto Sergey Brin's booklist.

But I stopped writing FREEFALL. Like the song says, life is what happens when you're making other plans. I have no regrets about working my ass off, doing some good, and collecting some money during the dot-com bubble, but now, I'm doing my best to honor my true calling. I never forgot how much I love writing. I just didn't remember to make it a priority.

I recently dug out a bunch of my old notes and outlines for FREEFALL stories. I was surprised to find that one of the outlines, Tail of Night, bore more than a passing resemblance to my second NaNoWriMo novel, Waypoint Kangaroo. Both involve the hijacking of a large spacegoing object by someone who tries to turn that object into a deadly projectile. In Night, it's Halley's Comet; in Kangaroo, it's an interplanetary cruise ship. A lot of years, and 9/11, passed between that outline and this novel, but I guess some ideas just grab hold of you and don't let go.

I was in the middle of a twelve-part story titled No Fate when I abandoned FREEFALL. I just finished Chapter 7, "We Happy Few." I'll post an update here whenever I publish a new chapter, which will be once a month between now and the end of May.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I should go write back to that guy who emailed me in 2005 wanting to "catch up with the end of the story." Better late than never, right?


Golden Boys

"Boos and booze for Cohen and Gervais at Golden Globes," Metro (UK)

"So Kate Winslet's got two Golden Globes. And hey, she also won a couple of awards tonight. Oh, what? It's true!"

I can only imagine what else Ricky Gervais might have said, if his beer-in-hand stand-up routine had come just a little bit later in Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards telecast. He certainly couldn't have done worse than Sacha Baron Cohen, who even had Sandra Bullock shaking her head at Borat's limp, not-ready-for-the-Catskills act. The old saying is true: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

As for the awards themselves, I'm pretty happy that Slumdog Millionaire (trailer above) took home the big prize. D and I saw it last week, and it's every bit as good as everyone's been telling you. And if no one else has told you, I am. Go see it. If you have to drive an hour each way and pay for a babysitter, go see it. It just won't be the same on a small screen.

Slumdog makes a lot of noise about destiny, but the theme I saw was more what murder police have known for years: "It's good to be good; it's better to be lucky." That, and you make your own luck by recognizing and seizing opportunities. Life is bigger than any of us, but we're not powerless.

Also, I was amused at how Anil Kapoor, playing the game show host, kept pronouncing "millionaire" like "milliner." Yes! I would like to make fine hats for ladies and gentlemen!

Now I'm off to add Danny Boyle's Millions to my Netflix queue, and see if the Slumdog soundtrack album is any good.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

You know, going FTL does imply time travel

Back in the 20th century, I got into my head this crazy idea to make a mockumentary about how my friend Bryan had invented faster-than-light travel. It was based on an offhanded comment he made once, about how he wanted to change the world by doing something really big, and which he now denies. WHATEVS. It was a good excuse for me to spend $2,000 on new toys.

So I got D to help me produce it, and his wife Karin helped us rope a bunch of his friends into giving fake interviews, looking back on the historic event--because this documentary was, after all, being shot in the far future: 2004! We didn't tell Bryan about it, because it was a surprise birthday present for him. We also didn't finish it in time for his birthday party, but we did manage to put together a 90-second trailer:

After that, it was a simple matter of dealing with Windows 98 crashes (remember those?), Adobe Premiere crashes, Pinnacle video capture hardware problems, and a gigantic 10GB RAID array. Did I mention this was 1999?

We only managed to output three-quarters of the movie we wanted, because we couldn't get the finished project to render completely unless we removed one of the sections. But after months of dealing with computer issues, both D and I were just about ready to re-enact a scene from Office Space, and we had to stop. (Now, I have a Mac. HO HO HO)

The world premiere of Superluminary: The Notorious BHB took place on April 1, 1999, which seemed like an appropriate date. It also aired on public access cable in Palo Alto a few times, and now, you can watch the whole thing online. Be warned, it's 25 minutes of inside baseball:

(Trivia: The entire film was supposed to be widescreen, like the trailer, and we composed all the shots that way; but it was taking way too long to render the edited video with the cropping effect, so we scrapped it. You can see the microphone at the top of the screen during my interview, and probably some other things here and there.)

I still have all the raw footage on VHS, and I'm toying with the idea of putting together a "special edition" for the 10th anniversary. But only if I can include an interview with Bryan. He's a busy guy, you know.


Friday, January 09, 2009

Backhanded Compliment of the Day

"It takes about three days to get used to [the Kindle] -- during which you wonder what chimp engineer designed it so every surface a normal human would use to hold the device is actually a button -- but after that you can't live without it."

- John Rogers, co-creator of Leverage

My 2009 Commitments

I don't make New Year's Resolutions. It's a terminology issue--I don't make resolutions. I'm not Congress, or the United Nations.

I also don't set goals, because that word has been poisoned by years of working in Dilbertville. (I reserve the right to punch, in either nose or neck, the next person who invites me to discuss "stretch goals" or "sandbagging.")

No, I make commitments. Besides being the name of a great movie, the word implies something personal. It's most often used in reference to relationships; e.g., a man's fear of same cited as why he ain't popped the question yet. When you commit to something, you give your word, you make a promise, you take an oath. And that's not just a piece of paper--that is a matter of honor.

So you can hold me to the commitments below. If I fail to meet any of them, it won't be for lack of trying.
  • post a new 512 Words or Fewer story (text and audio) every Friday
  • finish "Freefall: No Fate"
    • post a new chapter every month until finished (ETC: May 2009)
  • get 2 short stories published in pro/semi-pro markets
    • 1 NEW submission every month! (resubmit rejected stories continuously)
  • critique 1 VPXII classmate's story per month
  • send out 2 novel manuscripts (past query stage)
    • finish 2nd draft of Waypoint Kangaroo by end of March, start querying
    • finish 2nd draft of EndGame by end of June, start querying
    • finish 1st draft of Spaceship Castle by end of September
  • do Script Frenzy in April (dot-com heist caper)
  • upload all home videos to YouTube/Google Video by end of year
For you bean counters, this means I'm committing to finishing six pieces of short fiction and one-third of a novel draft per month. That's approximately 45,000 words a month, or 1,500 words a day. I suppose I should jump on the bandwagon and put a word-count widget on my LiveJournal...


Friday Flash Fiction: "Bachelor of Science"

Not my best story:

"Bachelor of Science" at 512 Words or Fewer

D didn't like the ending, and Loren liked the original opening better. I wrote those three paragraphs last year sometime, and sat on them because I didn't know where to take the story next. Giving myself a deadline this week forced me to just pick something and go with it, but as usual, my idea was too big for 512 words. I might try expanding it later, or using it for a spec Heroes script. I mean, it can't be any worse than the shit they've been shoveling this year.*

If you have six minutes to spare, listen to the podcast too. My recording's a little fuzzy due to computer troubles, but I really like the intro/outro music I found. Hooray for Creative Commons!


* Baby, you got to be cruel to be kind.

Win a Date with Felicia Day

Okay, so it's a charity auction, and the item on the block is actually a half-hour video chat, but it's as close as you'll ever get to her for thirty minutes.

Get all the details from Humanety, who are orchestrating this to support the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. (Pun intended.)


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Languishing Laptop

This is my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I bought it last January, and it's survived five months of road trip, including a few good tumbles--while we were packing up our house in Mountain View, it actually slipped off our bed and hit the wood floor hard enough to dislodge the CD drive from its slot. (That incident may have been feline-related.) It was actually powered up and running at the time, and amazingly, didn't show any ill effects.

Later on, though, it started glitching, perhaps due to the cumulative knocks and rattles of being repeatedly moved between car and hotel room. I got a couple of non-repeating MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION blue screens*, and a few months ago, it started killing both wired and wireless networking interfaces when coming back from standby or hibernate.

That I could work around (and did), but this morning, when I went to boot up the machine, all I got was one long and two short beeps, and a blank LCD. According to the Lenovo support web site, that's either a problem with the system board, the LCD assembly, or the DIMM. I tried reseating and swapping out the memory, to no effect. Maybe whatever hardware issue caused the blue screens finally got worse.

The good news is, it's still under warranty, and this removes the burden of deciding whether I should take it in for service. It's not that I don't trust Northwest Computer Support (the only local repair shop which responded to my email inquiries in November); I just don't know them, and I'm always wary of people touching My Stuff. But now I really don't have a choice.

I'll be dropping off my laptop tomorrow. My biggest worry is that the problem is in the LCD and they'll have to junk the entire lid, which is why I took plenty of pictures of my sticker-customized case, as shown above. I'm hoping it'll be a simple matter of replacing some bad hardware. Knock on wood.

This seems to be the month for writers to have problems with their laptops.


* For the curious, and search engines, the specific STOP addresses were:

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

(FAIL Blog via Making Light via Boing Boing via Tiffani)


Daily Routine, Part 2

(The long-awaited conclusion to Part 1!)

As promised, here's a breakdown of my writing habits. D will have to speak for herself. And, ironically, today is a very atypical day--we got up at eight in the morning, at least two hours before I usually stir, so we could let the cleaners in at 8:40 AM. They're earning their pay right now.

I've committed to writing a new flash fiction story every week until at least October, 2009; those appear every Friday at 512 Words or Fewer. I usually spend most of Thursday--or Wednesday, if we have other plans for Thursday, as we do this week--writing that story and recording the audio. Best case, it takes me an hour or two to do the writing, half an hour to record myself reading it, and another half hour to find intro/outro music and do the audio editing. Most weeks, I'll spend Monday and Tuesday mulling over my story idea until I can get a handle on it. Writing is as much about critical thinking as it is about stringing words together.

Since I get bored quickly and am easily distracted, I've taken to using full-screen text editors: WriteRoom on the Mac, and DarkRoom Q10 on the PC. I suppose if I had more self-control, I wouldn't need to clear my screen to keep from playing on the Internet when I should be writing, but the green-on-black display is also comforting and nostalgic. Besides, it's still easy to hit F9 or Alt-Tab, respectively, when I need to look something up in Wikipedia.

I save my current works-in-progress on a 4GB thumb drive. Since they're all text files (UTF-8, thankyouverymuch), I can easily move them between my Mac (which is user friendly), my desktop PC (which has MS Office), and my laptop (which also has Office, and is portable). I know, I could use Google Docs or DropBox or something to sync files, but it's like Scotty said: "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain." I just need one frickin' text file, okay?

And yes, I do have emacs installed on all my computers. Fear my elite skill set.

I often listen to music while I write. Usually it's a film score, because lyrics can be distracting; "Weird Al" Yankovic songs demand too much cognitive focus to be background. I'm not looking for noise--just something that's different enough to be orthogonal to my primary task, but ideally complementary to it. For example, Hans Zimmer's scores are great for writing action scenes.

When I know what I'm going to write, I can produce about 1,000 words an hour of first draft. (I type pretty quickly.) My problem, as I told Jim MacDonald at Viable Paradise, is not putting words down on paper; it's putting the right words on the paper. ("Ah!" he replied. "You have achieved enlightenment.")

Backups are important. I copy finished files from my thumb drive to my desktop PC, where they'll get automatically uploaded to Mozy every seven days. All my computers run MozyHome for offsite backups, and though I haven't needed to restore anything yet, I've lived through two complete hard drive failures in the past, and I'm willing to pay $5 per computer each month to avoid a third massive-data-loss ordeal.

I've started using Duotrope's Digest to track my short story submissions. One of my goals for this year is to get two(2) pieces published in professional or semi-pro markets... but I'll talk about all that in a separate post later this week.


On the Twelfth Day of Xmas, My True Love Gave to Me

I don't know why this image isn't featured on the Wikipedia page for Epiphany. Maybe the double-entendre is too much?


Monday, January 05, 2009


Hey, Mac users! I'll bet you were all excited about today's announcement that Google was releasing its Picasa photo software for the Mac, weren't you? Well, so was I! Until I discovered the bad news--it only works on Intel CPUs. PSYCH! So it's no good for our humans' vintage 2005 Mac mini, which runs on a PowerPC G4. LAME! I mean the new Picasa is lame, not our Mac mini. Macs are cool!

I guess Mac users who like Picasa are stuck with the iPhoto uploader, which works okay, but you still have to deal with crappy iPhoto. Macs are cool, but their software isn't always so great. We use Picasa on Windows to organize photos, and fortunately, PCs outnumber Macs 4:1 in our house. Because you can play more games on a PC! We love games! One of the humans bought a new Vista box just so she could play The Sims! But we're not going to buy a new Mac so it can run Picasa. That would be pretty silly.

JoCo in da PNW

That's "Jonathan Coulton" and "Pacific Northwest" to you:

Friday January 23 at 8 PM
Moore Theatre (Seattle, WA) with Paul and Storm

Tickets: (link to evil Ticketmaster)

Saturday January 24 at 8 PM
The Aladdin Theater (Portland, OR) with Paul and Storm

Tickets: (link to evil Ticketmaster)

I don't envy them the three-hour drive from Seattle to Portland, especially if it starts snowing again. Maybe they're taking the train. That would be smart. Unless it starts snowing again. Stupid snow.

D and I already have our tickets for the 24th. If you're thinking about going, you should do like we did and buy your tickets in person at the box office. It gets you out of the house (or out of your routine), and you don't have to pay the Ticketmaster vig.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

'sno joke

This is what our Prius looked like after driving home from Tigard, where we visited our friends Brit & Enid (and their kids, Aidan and Ava) this afternoon. It had started snowing a little when we went out for dinner at Elmer's (the kids' favorite restaurant), and on the way back to their house, we had to get out and push the minivan up part of a hill. Just a little.

Brit ended up parking the minivan a few blocks from their house, on a level stretch of road, and we walked the kids home. They seemed pretty happy about the whole adventure.

Below, a close-up of the ice sculpture that accumulated just forward of the windshield wipers during our drive from Tigard to Vancouver tonight:

D drove, because she's had more experience driving in foul weather from living in Chicagoland. We passed a few stopped vehicles on our way home, but only one collision, just before our exit from I-205 North. We phoned it in to 911, and were glad to hear that state troopers were already on their way.

Snowfall--especially the big, fluffy flakes we got tonight--makes a distinctive sound when you're driving through it. It's a gentle shhh, almost like the sound of the ocean. Unlike rain, which smacks hard and loud against the windshield, the snow is falsely comforting in its softness.

And then it hits the ground and starts partying with its good-for-nothing friends and clumps up and ices over, and if that goes on for long enough, you get crap like this:

Stupid snow.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008 in Blog Posts

As so many other bloggers have done, here's a non-random sample of my 2008 output, featuring the first post in every calendar month from CKL's HotSheet, Travels With Our Cats, and 512 Words or Fewer:

HotSheet: The View from My Parents' House

HotSheet: Quote of the Day

HotSheet: Overheard at a Wedding

HotSheet: A New Blog
Travels: T minus 10 days and counting

HotSheet: First of May
Travels: The First Casualties

HotSheet: My Work, Cut Out For Me
Travels: Overheard at Lunch

HotSheet: I'm Going to Paradise!
Travels: That's What I'm Talking About

HotSheet: Denvention Has Begun
Travels: The Mile High Club

HotSheet: JoCo@PAX08
Travels: PAX08 Photos
512: Watch This Space

HotSheet: iz mai birfday
Travels: Address! (by Jasper)
512: Happy Birthday to Me!

HotSheet: Creepy Gaiman
Travels: Famous! (by Jasper)
512: "Guns, Shooting Velociraptors Out Of"

HotSheet: Test Post
Travels: Movin' On Up
512: Temporal Mechanics


Friday, January 02, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Finale"

Happy New Year!

I realize that I've been neglecting my shameless self-promotion, so you can look forward to a HotSheet post every Friday that links to that week's 512 Words or Fewer story.

This week, it's the ironically named "Finale," which continues the what-do-we-do-with-this-alien-artifact theme from last week ("The Forty"). If your eyes are still bloodshot from celebrating and not up to reading a whole five hundred words, you can listen to me read "Finale" while you sober up for a few minutes. Completists can also check out the liner notes for "Finale."