Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Subscribe to SnoutCast

You can now subscribe to SnoutCast, the bi-weekly podcast wherein DeeAnn and I talk about The Game, other puzzle hunts, various tabletop and video games, and random word definitions!

Get every episode delivered to your listening device of choice using one of these handy links:

CKL DeeAnn

Monday, December 28, 2009

Like Netflix for Books

I just finished reading The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century, the oversized hardback edition of the epic comic book series by Frank "300" Miller and Dave "Watchmen" Gibbons. This book has a cover price of $100. It's 600 pages long and weighs over seven pounds without the slipcase.

(photo from BoingBoing)

It's a good book, and I never would have bought it myself, but I got to read it and enjoy it for free, thanks to my local public library.

My wife and I live in the Portland (Oregon) metropolitan area, which means we have access to the Multnomah County Library in Portland proper and the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, just across the river in Washington state. Even better, both library systems have online catalogs, so you can search for the exact book you want.

The best part is that both libraries allow patrons to place any book "on hold." Back in Mountain View, the library would only allow you to put something on hold if it was checked out--if the book was on the shelf, you had to go find it yourself. Not here. Even if a book is shelved, tireless Portland and Vancouver library staff will retrieve it for you--from anywhere in their system--and send it to the "hold" shelf at your preferred branch.

Once that's happened, you'll get an e-mail telling you the book is "on hold"--only your library card can check it out--as long as you pick it up soon (within ten days in Vancouver; seven in Portland). After you've got it, you can also renew it online, unless someone else has put it on hold after you.

The only way this could be more convenient is if, like Netflix, the libraries mailed books directly to us. And they actually do offer that service--in Vancouver, you need special approval; anyone can request it in Portland for $2 per book plus return shipping costs. But it just seems wrong for us to be that lazy, especially when running errands is one of the few things that gets us out of the house these days.

The big advantage for us is being able to create something akin to a Netflix "queue." We tell the library what books we want to read, and they tell us when those books are available. I put Superfreakonomics on hold in Vancouver last month, and I'm now up to #20 on the list, but I'm in no hurry. Portland has a great graphic novel collection, and I was able to catch up with DC's insanely insane Final Crisis stuff without having to track down individual issues at comic shops or spend money on trade paperback collections that I'd only read once.

This also makes for some pleasant surprises, when we get pickup notices for books that we'd put on hold months ago and then forgotten about. I've currently got two books on hold that the library hasn't even purchased, because they haven't been published yet. But I know I'll be able to read them when they are.

None of this takes away from the fact that I love owning books. It still requires non-trivial self-control to limit my purchases every time we hit Powell's. It's just really nice to feel like at least some of my local tax dollars are going to support a great service that we use quite a bit, and from which we derive great personal benefit. I didn't ask my country to do this for me, but I'll take it!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Gift of the Maggie"

A day late and a dollar short, as they say.

Read "The Gift of the Maggie" at 512 Words or Fewer


Happy Boxing Day

Friends and family: If you did not receive a holiday card from us, please accept our profuse apologies for the oversight. Our contact list may be out of date. Send us your home mailing address and we'll make sure you're included next year.

Meanwhile, everyone and their dog can read our exciting 2009 family newsletter (below).

SoleChen 2009 News

[Download PDF - 306 KB]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper Bayla

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SnoutCast #3: Story Time

Apologies for the audio artifacts this time around. I forgot to unplug my laptop before recording and had to remove the 60-cycle hum (and harmonics) using a software notch filter. Which is ironic, because I warned about this very problem on the Wired How-To Wiki.

[ Download mp3 - 39 MB ]

00:00 - random teaser
01:25 - shout-out to our two confirmed listeners!
02:10 - "Which Game had the most coherent story?"
06:25 - DeeAnn votes for The Goonies Game
12:20 - stories in Snout Games
13:45 - clue difficulty distribution; dromedary vs. camel
21:27 - Curtis actually means Mickey Rooney
22:47 - "Go to Hogwarts" (see what she did there?)
37:46 - in other gaming news...
41:04 - The End

Happy Holidays, y'all!

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Skullcrusher Mountain," "Tom Cruise Crazy," and "Chiron Beta Prime" by Jonathan Coulton

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

Monday, December 21, 2009

"HP computers are racist"

Just... just watch it. Now. I'll wait.

News coverage here.

The best part is, this was very nearly the exact premise of the "Racial Sensitivity" episode of Better Off Ted, quite possibly the funniest show on TV right now:

Single-camera comedies rock.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "Guards"

All I have to say is, Orson Scott Card has a lot to answer for. (And I don't just mean the homophobia.)

Read "Guards" at 512 Words or Fewer


25 Hours From Now...

I'll be appearing on the 30 Hour Day livestreaming telethon between 1:00 AM and 3:00 AM Saturday to read some traditional holiday stories, including:
  • Clement Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas"
  • Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" (inspiration for GrooveLily's excellent Striking 12 stage show)
  • O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"
...and a little gem from 1922 that you've probably never heard of. Hint: I'll be doing a few different British accents.

Tune in any time between 4:00 PM Friday (today!) and 10:00 PM Saturday night to see a colorful parade of entertaining and interesting personalities from Portland, Oregon (complete schedule here). You don't even have to close your laptop. And it's all for charity!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "The Stories We Tell Ourselves"

It's been a tough week. I guess I should thank Neil Gaiman for his advice: Make Good Art. Or, at the very least, try.

Read "The Stories We Tell Ourselves" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bayla died yesterday.

Bayla died yesterday.

It happened in the car,
on the way to the vet.

We weren't ready for her to go.
We never would have been ready.

She'll never
dance by her water bowl
or drink with her front paw

She'll never
sharpen her imaginary claws
on the corner of the coffee table
or the underside of the dining table

She'll never
serenade us from the bathtub
in the middle of the night

She'll never
sit with her front paws crossed
and her "we are not amused" face

She'll never
lie on the bed
next to DeeAnn
or Jasper

She'll never
be curled up in a ball
with her paws over her face

She'll never
wake DeeAnn in the morning
by patting her face

She'll never
sit inside a cardboard box

She'll never
lick or chew a plastic bag

She'll never
play with her curly ribbon,
batting at it
and chewing on it

She'll never
rub her face against the wall
or on the book we're reading

She'll never
stand on DeeAnn's thigh
and beg for a piece of sandwich

We'll never
feed her lunch meat
from our sandwiches

We'll never
comb her tabby fur
and remark on how much she sheds

We'll never
hear her thundering down the hall,
running away from Jasper
or chasing him

We'll never
see her grooming Jasper
while he sniffs at her neck

We'll never
hear her complain
when Jasper bites her
or when we pick her up

We'll never
check her belly
to see if it's pink or fuzzy

We'll never
clean up after her
or give her a pill
or worry if she's eating

We'll never
hear her snoring under the bed

We'll never
kneel down on the floor
to see where she's hiding

We'll never
watch her walking across the bookshelf
or have trouble jumping onto the bed

We'll never
hear her licking her catnip mat
with her scratchy tongue

We'll never
feel her lean into our hands
as we pet her
or rub her chin

We'll never forget her.

I'm happy
she gave us fifteen years,
like DeeAnn asked.

I'm glad
we were both with her
at the end.

I hope
she knew how much
we loved her.

Good-bye, Bayla.

We miss you, baby-girl.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SnoutCast #2: Old People

Not only do we talk about old people, DeeAnn and I also talk like old people in this podcast. It's a performance. Like improv! As far as you know.

[ Download mp3 - 53MB ]

00:00 - "Old People" GC prototype (Sean & Crissy)
04:23 - discussion of same
10:55 - the origin of "we're not having fun anymore"
12:13 - getting back to the prototype...
17:39 - inside baseball and randompodcast.com
19:10 - following up on the 10,000 hour rule from Outliers
20:55 - asshats and gaywads (as seen on Daily Show & Colbert Report)
23:30 - we are not experts; doing the math
31:09 - DASH 2 and trying new things
44:23 - "Old People" Clue recorded live (Sean & Lisa and coed astronomy)
56:23 - The End

You can also hear Jasper-cat yelling in the background every now and then.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "A Talk with George," "Mandelbrot Set," and "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

Monday, December 07, 2009

Scalzi on Self-Publishing!

Jasper here, with more on self-publishing, this time from New York Times bestselling author and multiple Hugo Award winner John Scalzi! From his "Quick Note on Self-Publishing":
[I]f you are going to self-publish, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, don’t pay to do it. In this day and age, there is no reason to do so...

[This] assumes you are minimally competent to copyedit your own work and are competent to do a basic design for your book, either on your own or using the default settings available on Lulu or other similar services. If not, you can hire people to do these specific tasks, which is still very likely to be cheaper than a suite of services you would buy from a vanity publisher.

In related news, there's been a bit of an online brouhaha surrounding romance publisher Harlequin's announcement that they're launching their own "vanity press" imprint! They got spanked pretty soundly by several trade organizations, including SFWA, and that's all I'm going to say about that!

Always remember Yog's Law: Money flows toward the writer! (And thanks to Viable Paradise's Jim Macdonald for originating that axiom!)


Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Flash Fiction: "On Orbit"

Let's get this out of the way right now:
Read "On Orbit" at 512 Words or Fewer


Thursday, December 03, 2009

The ORC Equations

Last weekend, at OryCon 31, I ran two Open Read & Critique (ORC) sessions. I've done writing workshops before, but this was my first experience with the ORC format (called "rogue workshops" in other places).

There were a lot of unknowns this year; the ORCs used to be an unofficial, late-night thing at OryCon, and this was the first time they were scheduled in the afternoon alongside other panels. I think the ORCs went well, and I was impressed by the quality of all the pieces read and everyone's critiques, but I have some ideas for better time management in future programs.

I wrote up my analysis into a four-and-a-half page document, which you can download as a PDF. If you're not inclined to slog through four pages of algebra, I'll sum up:

ORC sessions should be broken into hour-long segments. Sign-up sheets should provide slots for 5 participants and 2 waiting list names in each hour. Readings should be limited to 5 minutes, and individual critiques to 2 minutes (if more than 4 people in the room, 1 minute each). Any extra time can be used for group discussion. (edited 09 Nov 2010)

(For the next part, it might help you to picture David Krumholtz standing in front of a whiteboard.)

Here's the formula to determine the time for a single round of critiques, t:

t = R + (n-1)C + D

Where n is the number of participants; R is the time to read a single piece; C is the time for each individual critique; and D is the discussion time at the end, when an author can respond to questions.

So the time T required to complete all critique rounds is:

T = n(R + (n-1)C + D)

Given a time limit T and setting certain constraints on R, C, and D, we can solve for n:

Long story short, we set T=60, R=5, and D=2, and we can fit 4 people into one hour if C=2, and 5 people if C=1. Any less than that and most people won't be able to provide a useful critique; any leftover time can be added to D, since most writers never seem to tire of talking about writing. Q.E.D.

Applying these equations to other writing workshops is left as an exercise for the reader.