Friday, October 31, 2008

Sherman Alexie pwns Stephen Colbert

My favorite part is at the very end, when Colbert knows he's been pwnd and can't even summon a comeback:

Just before D and I watched this, we had a brief discussion about how it made more sense for even outlandish people (like Socialist presidential candidate Brian Moore) to appear on The Colbert Report than The Daily Show, because on Colbert you are almost guaranteed to appear less idiotic than the host, whereas Jon Stewart and company will just make fun of you on Daily.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Depressing Quotation of the Day

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

Thanks a lot, John Adams, and happy birthday to you too.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where in the World?

Propagating my friend Marko's travel meme...

Five really interesting/beautiful foreign places I’ve visited:
  • British Columbia
  • Niagara Falls
  • Taiwan
  • Mexicali
  • Hawaii (that's a "foreign place," right, Cokie Roberts?)
Five countries that are high up on my List of Places I Want To See:
  • Italy
  • China
  • Israel
  • England
  • Australia
If I could speak one more language fluently, I’d like to be able to speak:
  • Spanish
If I had to trade my citizenship for another one, I’d most likely move to:
  • Canada


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Voted Yesterday.

The government here in our new home conducts all elections by mail, so D and I have already cast our ballots. If you can vote early, I encourage you to do so.

Yesterday, I helped decide legislation and appoint leaders and officials for Clark County, Congressional District 3, Legislative District 49, the great state of Washington, and the United States of America.

I voiced my preferences regarding transportation, euthanasia, and health care in my community. I chose the people I want to represent me in the state Supreme Court, the Governor's office, the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House.

In black and white on a piece of paper, I exercised my right and privilege as a citizen of this republic.

I voted.

What the fuck have you done lately?


P.S. If you live in California, please vote NO on Prop 8 next Tuesday. Also go read Ex Machina, a learned political science treatise disguised as a comic book.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Truthful TV Title Cards


See the original post for more. I want these on T-shirts.


Classic Trek FTW

"Let's put it this way: Kirk kissed a lot of ladies, and none of them were his sister."
-- Stephanie Reid-Simons, "Star Trek ain't Star Wars, J.J.!" from
I, too, have my doubts about next year's Trek reboot. Abrams does some things well, but Lost didn't really find its genre way until he stepped back and let some other folks drive the island (I love you, Brian K. Vaughan).

I'm not a big fan of the new bridge, as pictured in Entertainment Weekly. But D laughs out loud every time she sees Chris Pine's smarmy mug on the cover. "He's perfect," she says. She may be right. Even if his eyes are the wrong color.


jra's thoughts redux

My friend Jeff, late of MSF and now in the UK, recently started blogging again. He's a smart geek who cares. You should read his stuff.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Charity Begins at Reading the Fine Print

While preparing myself for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I browsed the web site and saw a "Get Sponsored!" link. Intrigued, I clicked, and was initially pretty happy:
You can get friends and family to sponsor your novel-writing month through All proceeds from sponsorships go to NaNoWriMo's parent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Office of Letters and Light to pay for this year's Young Writers Program and adult main program.
Cool, right? Then I went over to to see how this sponsorship thing works, and got one page into the signup process before hitting disappointment.

Now, I've talked about online donation services in the past, and I don't want to get any more hate mail than necessary. So let me just quote part of's Terms and Conditions (my emphasis below):
Firstgiving will (i) be paid and process on-line donations (“On-Line Donations”) made by individuals or entities (“Donors”) through the Firstgiving Service; (ii) comply with the Privacy Policy in the form set forth at, (iii) hold the funds received through On-line Donations in a non-operating bank account; (iv) remit funds to the designated non-profit or by check or electronically to the bank account the On-Line Donations, less (A) a service fee of 7.50% of on-line donations collected via the Firstgiving service, (B) 3.3% for fees collected for all online event registrations processed through our system (only applies if Firstgiving’s Paid Event Registration module is used). These fees above are inclusive of all credit card processing and banking fees; these fees are subject to change at any time at the discretion of Firstgiving...
I understand that any service like this needs to charge a fee. They need to pay for web hosting, staff, credit card and bank fees, and so on. But seven and a half percent? That's more than twice what most credit card processing fees run (around 3%). That's more than the sales tax in some states. Maybe it really is the least they can charge and still get by as a business. But knowing that only $18.50 of a $20 donation will actually make it to the charity still rubs me the wrong way.

So please, if you're thinking of giving any money to NaNoWriMo, just write them a check. It'll only cost you a postage stamp and an envelope, and they'll get every cent of what you donate. And don't forget, it's tax deductible.


Pulp Direction

Today is the birthday of Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage ("The Man of Bronze"). Writer's Almanac describes his formula for writing a 6,000-word pulp story:
Dent wrote more than a thousand pulp fiction stories, all with the same formula, which he detailed in an article that explained an exact formula for writing a 6,000-word pulp story.

Here is the formula for the first 1,500 words:

1. First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved — something the hero has to cope with.
2. The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3. Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4. Hero's endeavors land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1,500 words.
5. Near the end of first 1,500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.
The complete formula is online at The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. In Dent's own words: "No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell."


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Now We are on iTunes

I just realized that I hadn't actually announced my latest project here. Last week, I launched a new blog, 512 Words or Fewer, where I'll publish a flash fiction story every Friday and post audio of myself reading that story.

The podcast of those readings is also available via iTunes:

Subscribe now, and tell your friends! I've committed to a story every week for at least one year, so by next October there should be roughly 26,000 words and 3+ hours of this stuff.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Closing the Tabs

Installed a new Firefox extension today (RetailMeNot, if you must know), so it's time for a restart. And I might as well clean up these tabs while I'm at it:

Stanford Magazine and the Interstitial Arts Foundation are both looking for short stories to publish--up to 2,500 words by November 5th and 4,000-10,000 words by December 2nd, respectively. I probably have a better shot at the latter, which is likely to more receptive to genre (rather than "literary") fiction.

I really shouldn't be spending more money right now, but these Gamestop coupons are awfully tempting.

A fellow Viable Paradise graduate's (not my class, but still my tribe) short story "Chrono-Girl Vs. Kid Vampire" has been published online.

The latest issue of ACM Queue is online. Probably my last, since I didn't renew my membership for next year.

GrooveLily has posted "The Flash Point," another demo track from their new show Long Story Short.

Courtesy of Lifehacker, links to two things that sound cool but I don't really need: Windows registry hacking and a utility that clears all the "Recently Used" lists in Windows.

Viable Paradise linkage: Jim McDonald's recommended Emergency Kits and Elizabeth Bear et al.'s seriously serious Criminal Minds fanfic, Shadow Unit.

We need some kind of toy hammock to keep things from falling behind the corner bookshelf in the living room.

More things I really don't need: USBCell rechargeable AA batteries, a $50 Stargate mirror, and a $40 print of Serenity Valley.

I don't remember why I was looking at the Superstruct Game.

Another VP alum got her poem published online at Expanded Horizons.

A great collection of photos from VPXII--thanks, Alberto!

Charity art project to fight malaria, co-sponsored by open-source screenwriting software Celtx.

Writing links from VPXII.

Researching uses for our ancient WiFi access point: Avaya/Lucent/Orinoco RG-1000 Residential Gateway notes and WDS page from Wikipedia.

More from VPXII: Preditors and Editors™ and First Lines from Famous Books.

Read Free Star Trek Comics Online!

Last but not least, Writer's Digest reveals 28 Agents Who Want Your Work. But that list was published in August, so they're probably swamped with queries at this point.



"Everyone's really self-employed. If you work for a company, you just have one client," says Gregg Fisher, 35, founder of Gerstein Fisher, a New York financial-planning firm. "If they fire you, you're out of business."

-- "6 financial milestones before 30", MSN Money

Except, of course, the IRS doesn't make you pay that silly extra tax.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Almost Famous

My friends Crissy and Elena feature prominently in today's San Jose Mercury News story about the city's annual Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon:
Eschewing the mental "zone" that long-distance runners try to enter, Crissy Gugler and Elena Melendez decided they would stop, get down and boogie at every musical stage along the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon.

"We do this every year, more for the music than for the running,'' said Gugler, 37, of Sunnyvale, who teaches hula hoop at night and didn't want to talk about her "boring'' day job...

"It's all about dancing to great music,'' said Melendez, a 35-year-old singer from Mountain View, "and a little running, too...''

Gugler and Melendez didn't care about finishing times. Decked out in black and shiny silver outfits, they would have looked like authentic rock queens on the stage if they didn't have to wear those big race numbers pinned to their clothes.
You gotta love the local news.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Really Should Be Writing

Instead of browsing teh internets. And yet...
LogoThere are
people with my name in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?


The io9 Guide To October Science Fiction

A handy, printable calendar showing sfnal media events in October. Includes conventions, author appearances, book and DVD releases, movie openings, and new episodes of TV shows. The "new comics" dot on Wednesday is unnecessary, but overall, a nice planning aid for trufans (especially those on the west coast).

read more | digg story

Friday, October 03, 2008

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die

Skip ahead to 2:05 if you must. Yes, you do recognize her from Dr. Horrible; and no, you should not judge. Simply enjoy.


Short Answer: NO

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten's September 21st piece, titled "Illiterature: Can a computer judge fiction?", includes 385 words of custom-built slush. An excerpt:

By Gene Weingarten

The two lovers writhed as one, entwined and moist, like a spool of twine that had been dropped in the toilet.

"Oh, Laurence," Jasmine moaned, her breath the color of warm air.

Jasmine had a very complex character arc. Actually, it wasn't an arc so much as a parabola that could be expressed in Cartesian coordinates as an asymptote with polynomial coefficients, viz., y2 = 4ax, x2 = 4ay. In short, Jasmine was really hard to fathom, the way it's hard to fathom why you sometimes have to type "www" to access a Web site, but usually you don't. Also, she had very perky breasts...

Ow. Ow. My brain hurts.

The point of this exercise was to test a software product--advertised on craigslist, natch--which promises to "electronically analyze the quality and commercial viability of a work of fiction and prompt changes that will make it better." The software, of course, proclaimed that the above text showed "emotional depth," "motivational punch," and "resonance."


I don't even trust the grammar and spell checkers in Microsoft Word. I have absolutely no confidence that editorial judgment, a much more complex undertaking, can be automated. Unless, of course, we're talking post-singularity, and then all bets are off.

In the meantime, I'll stick with good ol' human critiques of my work. Because when I get published, they're going to be the ones buying my books.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Something Scalzi said at Viable Paradise (paraphrased): "Your first sentence buys you the first paragraph. Your first paragraph buys you the first page. Your first page buys you the first chapter. Your first chapter buys the next one."

In that spirit, here's a collection of first lines from college application essays--specifically, Stanford's class of 2012. Some of these could be (and some probably are) hooks for really interesting stories. My personal favorite is "I have old hands."


iz mai birfday

I thought there would be more lolcats on this subject, but I guess it's a bit common.

Today is also former President/peanut farmer Jimmy Carter's birthday. I recall with unusual lucidity a moment from my childhood, when some friends and I were playing with a wind-up toy that was a peanut with Jimmy Carter's face--like the Planters mascot, but with eyebrows, nose, and teeth clearly caricatured to resemble President Carter.

The thing I remember most vividly is our discussion of what to name this toy. Should he be "Jimmy Peanut?" Or "Peanut Carter?" Even then, over twenty years ago, I was concerned with nomenclature. It's the details that reveal character.

Now I'm off to have some fun. I leave you with this thought:
"A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It's a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity."
-- Jimmy Carter

Many happy returns of the day.