Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Post Where He Introduces Himself to His Students

Note: I am using copyrighted content for educational purposes. No copyright infringement intended under the Free Use Act.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Approaching the Fiscal Cliff

"That guy's dead. You better believe it."

I don't pretend to understand any of this fiscal cliff stuff. I do know, however, that it might be high time to do something about it, rather than continue kicking the problem down the road to be dealt with at a future time. Funny thing about the future, it keeps turning into the present.

I have no confidence that either the Democrats or the Republicans will come up with a fiscal cliff plan, let alone agree on one. Both sides are counting on making the other side look bad so they can score political points, rather than making up a plan that could possibly work. Of course, there's the thing: They'll still get their jobs and pensions and free health care for life whether they come up with a solution or point fingers at each other or end up like Smiler, just kickin' that can down the road a bit further. It works either way, because they get to paly the blame game, which is much more fun in Washington than actually coming up with a plan that works. Or even a workable plan that both sides could possibly agree to.

I don't have any great solutions, either. That taxes should be going up to pay for stuff is probably a given. That some expenses should be cut is also a given. But where to get the money from? Government track records show that they aim for the upper class but tend to hit the middle class square between the eyes. And while you might wonder why, for example, ethanol needs to be subsidized, there are people who have come to rely on their subsidies and have lobbyists employed who will keep screaming about the subsidies until the subsidies are protected just to keep the noise levels down.

But I'm not in charge. Nobody has to listen to me, because the election-time butt-kissin' is over. And I'm no expert in these matters. And the experts in these matters are either on one side or the other or are shaking their fingers at Washington or at home on the Xbox doing some kind of accounting with the Kinect kind of thing that the rest of us are probably better off not knowing about.

The people who are in charge are doofuses. Playing politics when they should be making policy.

President Obama, maybe you shouldn't have gone on vacation. I know you wanted to. So do the rest of us. But I stand a chance of not having a job should we fall off the fiscal cliff, and if that happens I'm packing up my family and moving to DC to camp out on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in our little camper until things are fixed. and I will not shower or shave and I'll buy a lot of fans that will blow my stink your direction.

Same for you, Congress. Yes, I know you're in a dither about guns right now, with good reason. But that's a sideshow issue. Sideshow. Get back in the big tent and on to the main event.

If anyone loses jobs or health insurance over the country going over the fiscal cliff, y'all ought to be in the front of the line. First to lose it all.


And we'll take away your limos and such.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Read in 2012

Remember, when you get smug about how much you've read, the title of the last book you read is "The Poodle That Killed."

2061: Odyssey Three, by Arthur C. Clarke. 207 pages.
Asking the Right Questions, A Guide to Critical Thinking, by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley. 176 pages.
Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, by Barbara Ehrenreich. 237 pages.
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, by Bryan Burrough and Johy Helyar. 528 pages.
Book of Mormon, The; translated by Joseph Smith Jr., 531 pages.
Book of Sorrows, The, by Walter Wangerin, Jr. 339 pages.
Childe, The; by C.A. Kunz. 411 pages.
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. 233 pages.
Consumed, by Benjamin Barber. 339 pages.
Daisy Chain, The; by James O'Shea. 351 pages.
Dark Side of Camelot, by Seymour Hersch. 498 pages.
Diary of A Superhero Kid, by Brent Boyd. 50 pages.
Diary of A Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney. 214 pages.
Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, by Jeff Kinney. 224 pages.
Einstein: The Life and Times, by Ronald W. Clark. 718 pages.
Flying Dutch, by Tom Holt. 252 pages.
Forbidden Area, by Pat Frank. 221 pages.
Guardians, The; by John Christopher. 214 pages
Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift. 240 pages.
Here is Your War, by Ernie Pyle. 306 pages.
Investigation, The; by Stanislaw Lem. 189 pages.
Last Planet, The; by Andre Norton. 192 pages.
Let's Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should, by David Gaughran. 210 pages.
Making Money, by Terry Pratchett. 394 pages.
Manhattan is Missing, by E.W. Hildick. 240 pages.
Me and Caleb, by Franklyn E. Meyer. 139 pages.
Medical Detectives, The; by Berton Roueche. 403 pages.
Messenger, by Lois Lowry. 169 pages.
Nixon: A Life, by Jonathan Aitken. 633 pages.
O Ye Jigs and Juleps, by Virginia Cary Hudson. 50 pages.
Parliament of Whores, by PJ O'Rourke. 233 pages.
Quest for Comets, The; by David Levy. 260 pages.
Radio Planet, The; by Ralph Milne Farley. 228 pages
Rama II, by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee. 420 pages.
Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale. 144 pages.
Right Ho, Jeeves. by P.G. Wodehouse, 234 pages.
Rubber Legs and White Tail-Hairs, by Patrick F. McManus. 198 pages.
Rules of Thumb, by Tom Parker. 148 pages.
Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters. 336 pages.
Spouse in the House, The; by Richard Armour. 215 pages.
Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, by Harry Harrison. 190 pages.
Tales from the Glades of Ballymore, by Bob Brooks. 300 pages.
The Purple Squirrel, by Michael B. Junge. 238 pages.
Thirty Six, by Daron Fraley. 200 pages.
Thud! by Terry Pratchett. 373 pages.
Turning of the Screw, by Dave Barry. 90 pages.
Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett. 402 pages.
Who's Afraid of Beowulf? by Tom Holt. 206 pages.
World Set Free, The; by H.G. Wells. 316 pages.
Young Frankenstein, by Gilbert Pearlman. 152 pages.
Ze page total: 13,831 pages.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Resurrection is a beloved trope in science fiction. How cool (or frightening) would it be, the writers ponder, if that whole resurrection thing, whether from Christian or Buddhist or whatever theology you might care to name, were real? And could be studied by a rational society, not a society filled with mysticism, such as that inhabited by one Jesus of Nazareth?

Stanislaw Lem rowed down that stream, and paddled well.

But still, left me wanting more than he provided at the end.

Lem's "The Investigation" follows a mysterious string of incidents at mortuaries in a small area of Norfolk in England where bodies at first are found in different positions, and then, most mysteriously, disappeared and then rediscovered, much the worse for wear, far away from where their beloved left them reverentially dead.

The police allow the typical "I'm not saying it's aliens, but it's aliens" rumors fly as they try to figure out what's going on. The sci-fi comes in as Lieutenant Gregory, a Scotland Yard investigator, pairs with Sciss, an eccentric statistician, to figure out what the holy hell is going on. Sciss' theory: A mutated virus once responsible for cancer has mutated and instead of taking life from living matter is now trying to reanimate life in dead tissue. Creepy.

But -- SPOILERS lay ahead -- we don't get to know. I know it's a popular thing in science fiction to ask a question, throw out a thesis or two and then provide no answers, but RRRRGH it's infurating. Hints. Give me hints. A direction. A glowing arrow pointing to a door marked FREEDOM. I guess with some sci-fi, I'm more of a Fred Colon than anything else.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Extras

So I'm hoping to take advantage of time off from work this Christmas to work on a few book extras, namely a map for the Hermit of Iapetus, plus the startings of a book trailer. Yes, I need to do a lot of editing as well, but I'm going to let the book sit untouched a while longer before I jump into that.

First, the map:

Then the book trailer. Here's a rough cut at the storyboarding:

Hoping to get my son, who loves to draw cartoons, to so some cartoony drawing for the book trailer. I had half thought of taking the video camera out to Hell's Half acre to do some recording of my own, but I don't have a chance of getting any footage that would be halfway serviceable. So it's cartoons.

The song might be the problem. I'm going to have to find out who has the copyright for San Antonio Rose. And I'm probably going to have to steer away from the Patsy Cline version which, of course, is a damn shame.

(Yes, there is a version of her singing live. However, it's terrible. She's much better in this studio cut.)

Facbook Will Be More Annoying in 2013

This just doesn’t bode well.

First on my list of naughty websites for launching intrusive autoplay ads was The Huffington Post. No great loss there, you may argue, but it’s a pain to go into panic mode when an autoplay starts on the rare occasions I want to read something at the Post.
Next came the Los Angeles Times. Again, no great loss, but still a rather annoying thing to deal with for an occasional reader such as myself.

Now this. Facebook says it’s going to roll out 15-second autoplay ads sometime early next year.

For just a taste of how annoying autoplay is, consider this:

I’m on Facebook all the time. So to thik I’m going to have to fight autoplay ads starting sometime next year, well, I’m not too happy about that. I’ve played along with their redesigns because, well, they’re inconsequential. The privacy/terms of use thing? Well, I’m just a Facebook babbler, so I’m not really losing all that much if they want to market every little bit of froth I post. But autoplay? Well, that’s different.

Here’s what AdAge has to say about it:
In what's sure to be a controversial move, the visual component of the Facebook video ads will start playing automatically -- a dynamic known as "autoplay" -- according to two of the executives. Facebook is still debating whether to have the audio component of the ads activated automatically as well, one of these people said.

On the desktop version of Facebook, the video ads are expected to grab a user's attention by expanding out of the news feed into webpage real estate in both the left and right columns -- or rails -- of the screen. Facebook is also working on a way to ensure that the video ads stand out on the mobile apps as well, though it is unclear how exactly the company will accomplish this. (Some details about the video-ad plans remain vague and could change as Facebook gets more feedback from clients.)
Now I appreciate how hard it is on the Internet to make a buck. We’re used to getting things for free, and we’re used to things like AdBlock protecting us from stuff we don’t want to see (I’m excited to see if AdBlock will be able to kill these autoplay ads; I haven’t yet tried THP or the LA Times on a non-AdBlock computer). Facebook is a ripe audience for advertisers – but it’s an audience that’s pretty damn whiny when it comes to things like this, I’m sure. So Facebook will want to pursue the ad revenue, but in a way that doesn’t drive away the audience (or at least the noisy part of that audience that will make a stink about it).

It is annoying, isn’t it?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chapter Something: The Esses and Ems of Progress

NOTE: Something that struck me this morning for the Hermit of Iapetus.

Because I have read a lot of science fiction, I know how this is supposed to go.

It comes in varying patterns, but what is typical is a scientific and cultural renaissance that follows a long period of technological and societal darkness – most likely with fingers pointing squarely at the Twentieth century, as if the authors have knowledge of all there was and all there is to come.

The renaissance in technology is supposed to usher in the renaissance in culture and bring with it peace, prosperity, and progressivism.

I call it pee cubed.

I am proud to say that my presence on Iapetus owes nothing to a period of enlightenment following a period of darkness. It owes much to a society of stubborn plodders who saw a problem, studied it, tackled it, and, over generations, refined the techniques used to surmount the problem until it was no longer a problem or even a major inconvenience.

I am thus not a product of some technological Enlightenment, but of a society that worked through its difficulties one by one, slowly, taking steps forward and steps back, finding new troubles along the way but generally working on a slow upward curve.

Also note: I am not here because I, myself, am at the aegis of any technological renaissance. I am of only average intelligence, if above average desire to flee. I am here because I had a little money and the ability to persuade those in power -- and those with power but not of it -- to get me here.

I am here, alone, free, comfortable and able to care for myself, not because society back home is progressive or empowered or emboldened or labeled with any adjective with multiple esses and the ems of progress. I am here because the technology existed to get me here, and I chose to come.

I am also here because there are problems that technology cannot fix. But that is a story for a different day. Or at least a story for a different chapter. Of, perhaps, a different book.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Things Go Wrong

It is good that we are shocked when things go wrong.

That shock tells us that, for the most part, our lives are going as we would like them to go. We may have minor difficulties, but the shock they provide the system seems surmountable as we take a set of clearly-defined paths that show us the way.

Occasionally, a shock arrives without that clear path. Nevertheless, most of what the path needs to form is time. As time passes, we see the path ahead light up as the waypoints appear. Getting to those waypoints may be difficult. But we get there, and see, in the distance, other beacons light up.
Occasionally, a shock comes and all that lies before it is darkness.

But it is not quite darkness. Because we are humans, because we have eyes that always want to see the light, we see in the distance, in our heads, imagined waypoints. Splotches of light that might be a beacon, but might be a nervous remnant of some mote in Brownian motion floating through our field of vision. It may reflect some light from a familiar place, a similar path we once took before.

It might also be a mirage that leads us to a familiar place where we can hunker down ‘round the fire to ignore the wolves baying just outside that familiar circle of light.

Those false beacons may be things like gun control. They may be clucks of the tongue as we hunker, wondering where the civility of the past has gone. They may be a rote defense of a right to bear arms forgetting that somewhere as well there ought to exist a right to attend elementary school without someone coming through that door with a gun and a grudge you had nothing to do with. Our waypoint may be that violence in entertainment doesn't bleed over into violence in society. Or that entertainment is compartmentalized, that it has no bearing on behavior.

Where there is no clear path, we all run to the familiar fires, chant the familiar songs, wail the familiar wails and gnash the teeth we have gnashed before.

We are impatient. We recognize that finding the path forward often takes time, and we think by taking shortcuts of rhetoric and shortcuts of thought that we can start that journey and decrease its duration.
Each time as we start off confidently into the darkness, we fool ourselves into thinking we know exactly where we’re going.

I do not know where to go from here.

I do not own a gun, but I agree with a gun-toting friend who says she’ll favor gun control when she knows everyone – everyone – will play by the same rules. The waypoints through the darkness to this goal are unlit, unpopulated, unfamiliar – because they call on a human nature that in light of events that spin us into the abysmal darkness we believe is absent or dulled or ignored in the factions screaming at each other over the barbed wire fences no one can see in the darkness because screaming is the preferred action to lighting a candle.

We may lament, as we stagger in the darkness – for forward motion, even motion that leas us in circles to dead ends we have visited before – is preferred to standing idly, mouths agape, not knowing what action to take. We lament in the darkness that no one sees our way as we strain to see the waypoints that may be real, that may be ghosts floating in the aqueous humor before us.

We may hear, in the darkness, the lament of Job (Job 3:23-26):

 Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

When shock comes to us, we are in safety. Our lives were quiet.

Now it seems we will have no rest. Trouble comes.

I do not live in fear that some tragedy will befall the ones I love. I do not live in fear that in exchange for security, some freedom may have to be withdrawn.

What I fear is that when events occur, the shock will diminish. We will not, as a society, scramble around in the darkness, chasing motes of familiar light as the beacons and waypoints that lead the way forward refuse to light – but rather we will refuse the light that is given to us as our ways appear hedged in. That the fear that comes when what we fear is upon us will fade. That when trouble comes, we refuse to blunder on in the darkness towards some distant solution, but instead remain idle, frozen, fearful to leave what pool of safe light we may stand in now rather than wander off into the darkness to find a newer, brighter light.

I fear not that we flounder as we seek the right way, but that we stop seeking and flounder in place.
The Book of Mormon prophet Ether saw it all, as he saw millions of his fellow men slaughter each other because they no longer saw the light – and here I speak not only of the light of God, whatever God you may call on, but the light that shows us, without divine intercession, that killing one another ought not to be done.

(Ether 15:14-15)

Wherefore, they were for the space of four years gathering together the people, that they might get all who were upon the face of the land, and that they might receive all the strength which it was possible that they could receive.

And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together, every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their children—both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and breastplates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war—they did march forth one against another to battle; and they fought all that day, and conquered not.

Conquering not.

”Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgment,” says another wise man – the wizard Gandalf the Grey. “Even the very wise cannot see where it all ends.”

Letting the shock wear so thin that we no longer feel it, except through a desire for revenge.

Or through a desire for smugness.

Or pride.

Or the ability to stand hunkered at our familiar fires and say, no, it is the others that are at fault, it is because of others that thinks like this happen, that things go wrong.

When it is for us to decide.

It’s us.

Eye for an eye.

Tooth for a tooth.

Which, of course, leaves us all blind and toothless at the end.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


After nearly seven years working in a dumpy double-wide trailer in the middle of the Lost River Desert, I’ve been moved. Granted, I’m just in the slightly better building next to the dumpy double-wide trailer in the middle of the Lost River Desert, but I have left WMF-653 behind.

It’s weird. That building has been my home for quite a while now. I’d gotten used to it: The leaky windows, the ceiling tiles that suddenly fell out because the building’s halves are settling slowly away from each other.

Best day there: I was at my desk, heard a shuffling in the hallway, looked out of my cubicle and saw a marmot ambling down the carpet. He looked at me, nodded, kept walking, as if he were saying “Hey, how’s it going? Is it time to go home yet?” Barry Scott, a drafter and fellow in the trailer, and I finally coaxed him out, after he wandered the length of the building, checked out the copier, then went out, startling an engineer who was coming into the building as he was coming out.

Now I have to get used to a new place. It’s quiet here – just as quiet as it was next door – but it’s a different kind of quiet. If it was quiet in 653, it’s because Barry and I were working, or I was working and he was gone, or something. Now it’s quiet but there are an awful lot of other people in here being quiet as well, so like Gru’s adopted daughters, I cannot sneeze or burp or fart.

Good news is I thought I was coming into a smaller cubicle. I think they’re about the same size. I’ve got a better work configuration, as I don’t have to scoot my chair over baggy carpet to get to my other desk. It’s a little less optimal for working with someone else at the computer, though, as the filing cabinet is in the way. I may have to fix that.

One drawback: I don’t think there’s a scanner in the building, so I’ll probably have to keep using the one back in 653, which isn’t the end of the world, but it’s still kind of a pain in the butt. I’ll have to ask around here to see what I need to do to get access to a local scanner. If there is one. If I can find it.