Friday, February 29, 2008

Clarion caul

It's done. I've just submitted my application for the Clarion writing workshop in San Diego, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will recall that I also applied to Clarion West last month. I'd be happy to get accepted to either one.

Because it's specifically a short story workshop, Clarion requires every applicant to submit "two complete short stories, each between 2,500 words and 6,000 words in length. The stories should represent your best fiction work to date." I didn't have a lot of time, so I reworked two existing pieces.

The first story was "Ghosts of Earth," based on a piece of flash fiction I had previously submitted to 365 tomorrows. At 500 words, that wasn't really a complete story, but it intrigued a lot of people--I got at least three inquiries about when I was going to write a sequel. In the process of fleshing out the premise, I changed a lot of things from the 500-word version, including the identity of the narrator and the details of first contact with the aliens.

The second story was "Working Graves," which started out as a dream I had in 1999. I've written several versions of it, including workshopping it at BayCon one year and later attempting to turn it into a screenplay, and at one point the narrator--Griffin--had all kinds of crazy magical superpowers. I ended up dialing all that back. Six thousand words is not very long.

There's a saying that you can never write a perfect novel, but you can write a perfect short story. On the other hand, Voltaire said that perfect is the enemy of good. On the gripping hand, if you never actually finish anything, quality is irrelevant.

I am hugely grateful to my wife, who is an excellent reader and always gives unforgiving but helpful feedback. The geek in me wishes I could have kept the "you're doing it wrong" line in "Working Graves," but D was right--it was too flippant for the moment, a little too action-movie-quippy. She helped me whittle both stories down to their essential elements, which meant discarding a lot of potential subplot which might have been interesting, but was ultimately irrelevant.

I'd also like to apologize to her for the horrible pun in the title of this blog post. Sometimes I just can't help myself.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Not Safe For Work

Actually, this probably isn't safe for most homes, either.

Brought to you by Kevin Smith and the cast of his new movie, Zack and Miri Make a Porno:

(If you're wondering where this came from, see's chronology of effing videos.)

It's too bad that Elizabeth Banks can't actually sing. I'm almost as disappointed as I was that Alyson Hannigan didn't have the pipes to do a full song in the Buffy musical episode.

And to wrap up this musical tribute to intercourse, check out Jonathan Coulton's springtime anthem "First of May", which you can download for free. Because, as you know, the best things in life are free. And you can give them to the birds and bees.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oscar Fever

On Sunday, D and I threw our annual Oscar Party to watch the Academy Awards with friends. Favorite moment: our audience's boo/yay/meh cheers for each movie during the 80-years-of-Best-Pictures montage. (Gladiator: BOO! Lord of the Rings: YAY! Crash: meh.)

Nearly thirty people showed up, which is more than we've ever hosted. A thermometer at the edge of the crowd topped 74 degrees Fahrenheit, but I suspect the temperature was higher near the center of the room. And that's with an air conditioner and two fans running.

Even our TiVo was feeling the heat. Here's the internal temperature log from tivoweb:

As you can see, it always runs pretty hot, but 118F is unprecedented. Of course, the drives could have gone up to 50C (122F) and still been within acceptable operating limits.

That's hot. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

This was our last shindig in the bay area. We'll continue throwing Oscar parties in Portland next year, but Ken has offered to carry on the tradition down here. He, and anyone else who's interested, is welcome to use my Oscar Acceptance Speech BINGO cards for future events--I'll continue updating them every year and improving the word-sifter algorithm.

Last but not least, some photos from the evening:


Friday, February 22, 2008

Madness? THIS. IS. THE GAME!

Game season is here! In addition to the GC Summit in March, there's another Shinteki on May 3rd and 10th, coed astronomy just announced a mini-game on April 19th, and last week I received an invitation for "Midnight Madness: Back to Basics" on April 5th:

(click through for more photos)

D and I are moving to Portland in April, so we're going to miss Shinteki and the coeds' mini-game, but we'll definitely stick around for Midnight Madness, which appears to be based on the movie that started it all.

I played my first one of these puzzle hunts in 1996, and still have fond memories of those older events, which were more secretive and mysterious. You didn't know who GC was, and teams had to be invited to play. (There was a talk about this at last year's GC Summit--perhaps someone was inspired?)

Of course, "Back to Basics" could be good or bad. One of the oldest complaints from players is "too many paper clues." And though some teams say they miss searching locations to find clues, we've found (as GC) that they get frustrated within ten minutes. Also, we have no idea who's running this Game, and while I'm all for more people running more Games, I'm not so keen on rookie GCs with limited experience trying too many wacky new things.

But, as the saying goes, cold pizza is better than no pizza. And on the plus side, these guys made their invitations look less like junk mail than The Genome Game (whose postcards several teams discarded at first). I guess that suggests a non-newbie GC, or at least someone who's been active in the Game community since 2004. Or earlier. Hmm.

Joe Belfiore, who started the tradition at Stanford and carried it on to Microsoft, has more to say about the history of The Game...


UPDATE, 20 Mar 2008: Team Snout have revealed that we are the ones running this Game. Thanks for putting up with our charade. :)


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"High Tech Noon"

Totally awesome. It's like TOS meets Firefly...

The sad thing is, this is pretty much what the "special editions" of the original Star Wars trilogy were. Except that George Lucas wasn't having a laugh--he had simply gone insane. Absolute power and all that, y'know.

(from, via the flick filosopher)


Monday, February 18, 2008

Dead President's Day

D and I did our taxes yesterday (why wait?), and the good news is, we got a significant refund from the state of California. The bad news is, we had to pay more than expected to the federal government because of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Boo AMT. Boo!

It's more annoying than anything else, because we knew we were going to make a lot less money in 2007 than 2006, and have been paying estimated taxes every quarter. We had calculated a 90% target, but AMT added a few thousand dollars to our total taxes. Ironically, we suspect that the trigger in this case was the large deduction we took because of our state taxes paid for 2006.

Other IRS-related lessons we learned recently:
  • Know how to fill out your Schedule D correctly.
  • H&R Block's TaxCut software is more user-friendly than TaxAct.
  • If we ever get rich, we are definitely hiring an accountant.
Fortunately, we're going to make a lot less money this year, so we should avoid a lot of these tax traps next time around. And by then, we may be living in a place with no state income tax. That would be nice. Get off my lawn, Caesar! And take those damn kids with you!


Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Mother-In-Law is in the Hospital

I wasn't privy to this morning's phone conversation, but I understand it went something like this:

D's Mom: The doctor was so mad! (cough) 'cause the nurses were coming into my room without masks and gloves on. (cough)
D: I thought your pneumonia was just caused by the flu. Do they think you're still contagious?
D's Mom: (cough) He said I have the "H" virus.
D: "H" what?
D's Mom: (cough) I don't know. He says it's the "AV"...something. The "AV" flu.
D: Mom. Did he say you have avian flu?
D's Mom: It might have been "AVN." I can't remember all those letters! (cough)

To be fair, Donna (D's Mom) has been really sick the past few days, so it's understandable that she'd be a little confused. She started having chills during her 24-hour bus ride from Pennsylvania to Missouri, where she was to begin training for her new job, felt bad enough to go to the clinic on Tuesday, and has been in the hospital since Thursday. They had her isolated in ICU for a while. Yeah, apparently it's that bad.

The good news is, they don't actually know for sure that it's H5N1, and even if it is, no strains of that particular virus have been transmitted from human to human. I'm hoping that by next month, this will just be the punchline to another mother-in-law joke and not the basis for an episode of House. Or a Lifetime movie.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

I am a Twelve-Year-Old Girl

No, this is not an Internet-dog-joke variant. I'm just very much in touch with my inner tween.

Consider: Of my wife and myself, I am the one who wanted to go see Enchanted in the theatre. I am also the one who sat through all three hours of MTV's broadcast of Legally Blonde: The Musical. And enjoyed most of it. (D sat down for a little while, but had to leave during "Gay or European," after giving me her trademark "What the hell are you watching?" look.)

I even teared up at the end of the cut-rate ABC TV version of Annie--you know, the crazy 1999 production with that stupid "NYC" song and in which Annie doesn't actually sing "Tomorrow." Like I said, crazy. But worth watching for Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth alone.

Anyway. How cool is it that three out of five of this year's Best Original Song nominees are from Enchanted? I mean, okay, it's not really fair to put The Frames up against the guys who did The Little Mermaid and Wicked, but you can't argue with quality.

And I am curious about, but mostly dreading, the musical version of Time After Time, a sequel to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Unless they go wacky and include a dancing Morlock kick-line. That might be worth seeing.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Who wouldn't want to see Bill Murray in a movie about meteorite-induced sexual compulsiveness?"
- Charlie Anders, io9: "Stanley Kubrick's Crazy Space Lawsuit"