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Friday, July 31, 2009

Writerly linkee-poo - the Charm of Three

If you haven't checked out the SFWA LJ lately, you might want to look at them again. SFWA has been doing a lot of cool things lately, like this LJ with interviews, commentary and writing tips. It makes me want to join them again.

The Blood Red Pencil blog is something I stumbled across (can't remember who put a link there, Matt Staggs I think). I haven't read much, but what I have read has been good. Nice writing advice.

Jim Hines is giving his books away for practically nothing. Come on, books for nothing, chicklets for free. What could possibly go wrong (contest ends tomorrow morning).

Lucy in the sky

clicky to embiggen, these are 800xwhatevertheyendedupat. More details in the bigger images.


I've restarted doing what I did in college for photography courses, that is taking cloud pictures. Clouds have always fascinated me. I love a dramatic sky. See, in NE Ohio, we don't get many clear, sunny days. So we make lemonade.

So this is what I picture the early Greeks seeing and imagining those are the towers of the gods they were given a glimpse of through the lens of the rain.



These are from this past Sunday, and taken from my driveway as we arrived home from Confluence. I wish I had the camera in the car to get a photo of the drive home on I-80, and I was in too much of a hurry to get home to pull over. It had been a long (but good) weekend.

Friday Flower Pr0n






click to embiggen

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Confluence

Confluence was a blast. I didn't get to all the panels I wanted because I took the time to catch up with friends (that seems to take more and more time). And for some bizarre reason on Saturday and Sunday there were panels first thing in the morning that I wanted to go see.

But first a picture.


That's John Scalzi up on stage. Yes, the photo is in focus, John is a blur of energetic raconteurism. Seriously, he's blurred in real life. The only reason his publicity photos aren't blurred is because he took them himself, and it's like those steady cams attached to people with a camera looking back at them. How their head and body seems strangely still but the background is moving like crazy. He kept the audience in the palm of his hand for the hour he did his Guest Host panel which consisted of taking questions from the audience and telling stories of his life. You may know the story of how he met his wife, but it is much more hilarious to hear John tell it in person.

And here I want to thank John Scalzi for being a wonderful guy. I met John, what, three years ago. I was just a commentor on his blog. John networked me within the first three minutes of meeting him in person. He's given me plenty of insight into the business of writing. John's a giver. I hope when my turn comes I'm as gracious and as helpful as he is. I also got to spend plenty of con time in his presence.

Oh, and he has a wicked knife. Just saying (and yes, he demonstrated opening it one handed).

One of the first panels I made it to was on Magic Systems. Here are some disjointed notes beyond the big three ideas (magic must follow rules, you need to compensate for magic within society, and there's always a price to magic). Magic can be a metaphor for or an antithesis of science. With magic you should keep in mind the conservation of mater and energy. There was lots o' bagging on JK Rowling's magic due to ease of use, lack of rules, and lack of price (although I personally think this is not exactly true). There is ceremonial, mental, internal and "power of the Gods" magic, choose one for your world (not all). only with the Gods is magic a panacea. SC Butler made an interesting comparison between Bond Trading (his day job) and sacrificial magic (having one account lose money to move the markets higher to make more money for the rest). Magic can be gnostic, if you have the wisdom you have the power. There's a note to look up Plasma Cosmology as a potential magic system (given by John DeChancie who also used it for his books).

At the end I have a personal note, something I thought of slightly tangental to the conversation. How about a magic system akin to drug addiction. That is after a time you have to do it more and bigger to get the same buzz until eventually it fizzles and you need it just to feel normal (like meth addiction, with all it's side effects).

There was a panel on Fantasy and Folklore. There are differences in story telling between written and oral traditions. Spoken form needs to remind people where they are in the story (if it's over multiple nights). Urban myths as our modern folklore. Truth versus fact or fiction; Truth has resonance, fact or fiction is dry. There are some real stories that don't work for fiction because nobody would buy it as "truth". There was a discussion about areas of politeness and that "niceness" varies with cultures.

The panel of being a full time writer was interesting. Let me sum it up. Have a supportive spouse. Even then, if you want to make a living at it do other writing than genre because you're not going to make a living unless you publish six books a year (3 authors, all male, two make more from non-fiction writing which supports their fiction habit, one all time fiction author publishes 6 or more books a year under several pseudonyms). And you can do everything right, and still not succeed.

Random thoughts. 1) What is the morality of wolves where it concerns the sheep. 2) The meager lens of the past (lack of full documentation).

So, like I said, on the way home I was energized, baby. Ready to kick ass and take names. And here's one reason why.


That was on the way back. Huge full rainbow stretching across the horizon.

International Blog Against Racism Week

It's International Blog Against Racism Week. I didn't post earlier this week because 1) of all the ranting I needed to get out (thanks for bearing with me) and 2) because it's a week and most people are pretty much done blogging it.

First, some administrivia. The obligatory post of the letter from the Carl Brandon Society on the Tempest vs. Ellison rumble. There's also some good stuff near the end about how to talk about racism.

And let's get the basics out of the way.

In case you didn't know, you should also be aware that it is International Blog against Racism Week.

How do you participate?
1. Announce the week in your blog.
2. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of color, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc. (Linking back here is highly appreciated!) The optional theme this year is "global."
3. Let us know by bookmarking your post on Delicious with "for:ibarw," or comment with a link to your post in one of the link collecting posts.

Basic functioning: Prejudice, the roots of racism
And here I'm just going to address racism, ignoring the lingering cultural and economic effects of slavery.

Okay, so now the pleasantries are over with, lets get the ugly out of the way. I'm prejudiced. Yeah, I am. Sorry about that. But you know what, you are too.

See, prejudice is part of the monkey or lizard brain. It's the part that screams toward the higher brain functions "Not One of Us!" when it sees something it doesn't recognize as one of the tribe. In chickens, it's the part that screams "RUN!" when it sees the shadow of a raptor. It's also the part that discerns your auditory, olfactory, taste, and pain senses as well as the visual. The auditory could come out as "What's that rustling in the bushes?!" Olfactory and taste help us avoid things that would give us the squirts (and worse). And out touch/pain sense keeps us aware of things we may not see, smell or hear.

For millennia the prejudice function of the lower brain kept us part of the "fittest" for survival. It's the part of the brain that quickly figures out if we're in trouble or not. While it's been demonstrated that skin color in humans is highly plastic (we can adjust our appearance in as little as four generations) and that we are all more inter-related than even the most hopeful diversity proponents would wish (DNA Ancestry Project, Family Tree DNA, National Geographic's Genographic Project), human culture (for the most part) still will lump people in "race" piles. This is because it's easier for us to sort ourselves into tribes (and this is way tribal) this way than say by "serial-killers and sociopaths" and "the rest of us". As Wednesday notes in "The Addams Family" when asked about her costume, "I'm a serial-killer. We look just like everybody else."

For a long time, this was an adequate way of "keeping the tribe safe." People who looked different (as in opposite the way people in deep Appalachia look the same) were from "the outside" and "not one of us." Sometime around, oh, let's pick a point, say 4000 BCE that function started causing problems. It was good when maybe you would only see about two hundred people in your entire lifetime. But once we started civilization that function started tripping us up.

Milk, the other homogenized, or "We'll take the blacks and the chinks, but no Irish"
Prejudice in the case of racism is more a function of "who is in and who is out." It's a quick summation of character traits (stereotyping) which becomes a shorthand for cultural biases. Where racism starts becoming transcendent is when those snap judgements bring along their ugly baggage for the trip. So not does the monkey brain start screeching "Not one of us" it triggers other higher brain conscious functions which then say, "Oh, look, an Italian. I wonder if they have pizza with them?" Except for brain surgery, we'll probably not get rid of our monkey brains, they'll continue to screech until we become "transhuman." However, we can, through education and live experience, disconnect the negative cultural stereotypes from the prejudice snap judgements.

You see, modern racism (as in the kind we face here in North America) is a by product of European assumed dominance. The Europeans, safe in their convictions of their God(s) felt they were "better" than all those other peoples scraping a living out of the dust. See, we were civilized and they were the heathen scum. After all, we invented the spork. And from this we have the "purists." I'm not going into their insanity right now, except to say they feel that their views are the "right order of nature." However, history shows how completely screwed up their vision is (see Phrenology).

Right now, modern racism considers basic skin color and body topology. To be crass about it, the blacks, browns, pinks, yellows, and "tannish" divisions of "racial" identity are where we draw the lines. This isn't historical by any means. It wasn't so much than a 500 years ago (25 generations if you will), racism meant than English wouldn't mix with French which is hilarious because just another 22 generations before (1066) the aristocracy of England was suddenly made up of French (well, Norman and Burgundy). You can look at the history of Europe and see racism isn't about just "who's white and who ain't."

And these divisions are still there (Polish jokes anybody?) and were very evident even in the beginning of the 20th Century where former slaves were more welcome in northern US States than Irish, Germans or Italians were. No, seriously. I'm not making this up. Look at any major northeastern city and the "neighborhoods." Those were considered "racial enclaves" formed by the various immigrants for support and mutual protection. Now, to be sure, freed slaves were also marginized and in many cases forced to live completely outside of the cities, but not fully to the extent they were starting in the 1920s (and still are to this day). The 20th Century in the US saw many "civil rights movements" (lower case) which saw "white culture" rise and "black culture" excluded and pushed to the edges. The major reason for this was the death of the abolitionists and the intermarriage of European immigrants until it was difficult to point to who was Irish, Welsh or French.

Higher functioning: Cultural bias
Let's say you're Black in America and you get an urge to go to Africa to see where your ancestors came from. Are you going to be surprised when the Africans do not consider you African, but White North American? It doesn't matter what your skin and body shape look like, to them you're an American and that defaults to White.

Even within the US we have differences in what we consider Race. There are African Americans who "pass" for "white", and this isn't just by their outer appearance. Look at the racial discussions about OJ as he was on trial for killing his wife. Or that conversation about Michael Jackson now that he is dead. In each case, the "Black Community" welcomed them "back." The popularity of OJ and Michael didn't so much make them trans-racial as they were accepted into white culture (aka, "the mainstream"). And then there was the discussion about if Barrak Obama is "black enough."

Then there are other groupings of cultures that the color of one's skin is less important that other things. The Caribbean, South American, and some ancient cultures in the Occidental lands (including northern Africa) didn't delineate between skin color as much as other cultural indicators. Class and allegiance are more important to those cultures.

And then there are highly xenophobic cultures which put our own (North American) racism to shame. The Japanese, as a culture, hold many racial attitudes toward other Asians, their own indigenous culture (although that one is changing), and toward any European type.

Most of all, however, racism is political. It is a direct attempt to disenfranchise a group of people based on cultural squickiness than on ability. It's about making the group perpetrating the racism feel better about itself.

You and your racist friend.
So what we need to do is change the cultural baggage that comes with the prejudice reaction. This is where racism needs to be defeated. People need to learn that this baggage is just that, it's nothing based in reality. To place on others the past misconceptions based on a prejudicial twitch is neither warranted or acceptable in this age.

And because this is a conscious function, this is changeable.

But only if we challenge it. And talk truth to power about it.

I've read on other people's blogs about how racism is more prevalent in the South (of the US) and I want to call shenanigans. The racism in the South is historical. However, the South, as a culture, has dealt with the problem openly. It's still there. It's still there big time. However "we in the Deep North" know it's also here, big time. It (and here I'm talking about racism against African Americans) may be about the same as in Civil War time (there were race riots in NYC against integration), but we haven't dealt with it openly and it remains there. In the past months since President Obama was sworn in I've had to deal with racist comments (and have done my own asshattery regarding them). To my shame, I think I've only challenged about 50% of those being made in my presence.

Playing the Cracker Card
Lately we have had a spate of "Reverse Discrimination". I want to call bull shit on this. What this is mostly is that those in a previous position of privilege suddenly fund themselves without that privilege. They don't comprehend the cultural issues surrounding racism and so shout out that they aren't getting theirs.

The Connecticut firefighters (one of whom is hispanic)? If the city had promoted black officers who either hadn't taken the test or had scored way below them, they'd have a case (it would be countered by affirmative action, but they'd still have a case). As it is the city said, "Hmm, there seems to be some cultural bias with the test, that's against the law, we better throw it out and not promote anybody until we fix it." Until the Supreme Court rewrote the law (conservative activist judges, heaven forfend) and smashed their previous guidance (so much for Starry Decisis) and wrote in a precedent not found in the law, it was perfectly acceptable.

And then there are those who continue to spout racial comments and when called on them say, "Sorry, ignorant white person. I didn't know." Now, that's an acceptable excuse, in my book, except when they continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Then the excuse is really, "I'm white and I don't care."

Just like sinning, you have to make the effort to change or any forgiveness is null and void.

And with that, I think I've rambled on way too long for a blog post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Everything I needed to know I learned in 6 years of college (except everything else), Part 1

Okay, well let's start with a meta lesson I learned in college. It's not to late to change your mind and switch directions. And if you do, there is a price to be paid.

My first major in college was Computer Programing, Math Option (that's the hard one). I was pretty good at both (programming and math). Hell, I won a full ride Air Force scholarship for it. I was admitted to the Honors Program and choose an eclectic alternative general studies program including a minor in Creative Writing. Then came my sophomore year and my life decided it was going to go to shit. By the start of my Junior year I was out of the Air Force and had switched majors to Graphic Design.

It would take me another four years to finish my degree program. I would be working four jobs and taking our loans to repay my scholarship and afford to live at school (and afford school). I would get permit slips from my professors to work in the art building overnight (to do my coursework as my apartment wasn't large enough and I couldn't afford a table of my own). After a decisive event (which will be the subject of another post) I got the fire in my belly and while I didn't graduate with honors (the fallout from the self destructive cycle of my sophomore and junior years) I ended up in the last two years being on the Dean's List at the very least (and in a good way). I made President's List three times.

I didn't take art classes in High School. I had never done much more than cartoons and simple sketches before this. But with hard work and applying myself I excelled in design. It did help that I had interest in the field and a slight aptitude for information architecture. One of the first things I would learn with a new programing language was the output functions (this was in the time before GIU computing) and I would format and label my output.

I changed my life. I paid the price for that change and I worked hard for the change. But I did switch majors and I've had a somewhat successful career so far. So it is possible to do new things and be successful at it.

The other lesson of this was that I wasn't very successful at first. Eventually with that hard work, acceptance of critique, progression of skills, and continuing to learn (heck, I've been a professional visual communications designer for nearly twenty years and I'm still learning new things), I became good at what I choose to do. I can do the same with writing fiction. So can you.

Writerly linkee-poo, because I've grown tired of my own bitchin'

Really, I had a fabulous weekend at Confluence. There was awesome to be had by the pickup-truck load. Good friends, good meets, good revelations (some of which I can't talk about, sworn to secrecy in fact), and plenty of "keep your mouth shut while the adults talk about business" moments. All good stuff.

And driving back home I felt the energy tilting me toward my interior windmills. The wind blew at my back, the road rose up to meet me, and the sunshine smiled gently on my face. And then I got home and got hit with two major council things (Stop! I will not bitch, I will not bitch...).

And no words have come out since last week. I didn't get chapter 17 done, but I also did get some words from (probably) chapter 20. So it's coming out of order, which for me is a Good Thing(tm).

So first up is Six tricks for writing when you don't feel like it (mmm, all universal laughing at me goodness). Grokked from Matt Stagg.

Matt also points us to essay by Mark Chadbourn on finding the real-world roots of fantasy (set up by Jeff VanderMeer).

A NY Times article on William T. Vollman which makes writing sound almost fun again. He's the "run around, gather all the info you can while making inroads into communities and then spill it all out for a literary romp" kind of writer. Although a 1500 page book doesn't sound like my cup of tea, I wish I had his mad research skills. (Grokked from Jay Lake)

S. Andrew Swann talks a little about writing "Once more, but with feeling."

Steven Brust is writing a hilarious series of buddhist knock offs on his blog. Seriously funny stuff there about "Billy-Bob Gautama. Like these gems, "Life is like a flea on a coon hound.  Well, really, it ain’t much like that at all" and "Before Enlightenment: change the oil and rotate the tires.  After Enlightenment: change the oil and rotate the tires."

Speaking of "cut wood, carry water," Rick is back to his old tricks with dragons.

And finally, because time is pressing, Jennifer Jackson is back to her letters from the query wars. Some good stuff for us wannabee published authors.

Things that chap my ass - my semi-annual ranting rage rears it's shaggy head

(examples from last night's meeting)

Playing the "I'm the wise old man of the village, sonny boy, and I know better" card when you've forgotten to wear your hearing aid to the meeting. Yes, my voice is soft, but the clerk on the other side of the room could hear me clearly (and I know she has hearing problems). Do not speak over me when I'm talking (it's rude when you're young, it's rude when you're old) using your hearing problem as an excuse when you're two feet away and can see my lips moving. If I ask you a question, answer it, just as you expect me to answer your questions. Don't ramble on or just repeat your first false claim when I've asked you to support it. And while we're at it...

Playing the "It's worked for us for years and we've always done it this way" card when it obviously isn't working (if you were paying attention you might see that). And you know what? This isn't the 70s anymore. You might have missed it, but the world just lapped you. Seriously, I've heard this crap for too long now. We can't run the Village on $5,000 and off of the Clerk's dinning-room table anymore. The proponents of this like to say, "Back when we used to..." and then laugh that why can't we see how good and easy we have it now. Back then we didn't have police coverage all week or the full fire equipment we have now. We also didn't have a waste water plant that the EPA requires we have 24/7 management on. Regulations and training stipulations have changed. The cost of everything is nearly double. This is all before we get to how we actually get work done. We had two grocery stores and three auto dealerships, a vibrant retail community, and a growing economic base. We don't anymore. Our factories were state of the art, they aren't anymore. Really, make this argument again and I might just call you an ignorant hick backwater fuck on camera the next time. I don't care about your past service to the village, you're doing us a disservice now.

As to why it's not working. Okay, 1) we've been blessed with a Mayor that not only is highly skilled and talented (in ways he didn't know he was) he also had a job he could schedule around and is currently retired. His day job is highly flexible to allow him to do the things (he's not actually empowered to do) to keep the Village running and bringing in the grants to help us get some work done (really, the Mayor's position has been "full time" for the past ten years, it's only because we've been lucky that this hasn't been an issue yet). 2) Council does its kabuki dance to wave off suspicions that we aren't in charge (well, we are, but not as much as the Charter dictates), the "we broke up responsibility so we can keep it all on the part time" concept no longer works (see previous cluster fuck issues and the need to bring in grants and work with other communities and governments). 3) We have good employees that are able to manage themselves, and where we have supervisors in position they are also doing a good job. However, they would all benefit if they had somebody on hand they could go to for guidance, direction, coordination, and to make plain whatever needs to happen. If either one of those three legs, and let me be clear they aren't operating the way our charter dictates but just close enough, stops working or has a hiccup, this stool is going to tumble.

Not being able to understand plain English because you have no desire to actually listen to an answer that doesn't fit in your preconceived notions. Really, you pound the table and demand answers and then give me the confused puppy look when I give them to you? Sorry it wasn't what you expected, but that doesn't make me wrong. It just means I gave you the real answer, not the one you wanted to rail about.

Also, the whole, "but what'll we do if things go wrong?" argument is wearying. What will you do? The same thing you'd do now. Grow a pair and step up to the plate. That's why you're an elected official for Christ's sake.

And the argument about if the administrator is incapacitated and needs to appoint another to be in charge and ZOMGs! that might mean somebody else has to step forward and do the work and gee, maybe that might impact their own day job. Yeah, that's an argument FOR the goddamn administrator in the first place. Council needs to approve (or if the administrator is unable to appoint one Council has that responsibility) any appointment. Elected officials still control the village.

Let's be honest with ourselves for a moment. Our mayor is actually a full-time position now and has been for the past decade. Our committee chairs and president of council all work outside the village and are unavailable through most of the day. Our junior councilman isn't ready for chairmanship. Our senior councilman is now making an effort to attend committee meetings, but just like his last term, this is only because he's up for re-election (for the first three years of his term we didn't see him at any committee meetings, same as his previous term). The other councilman, well, he is running again, but I'm not sure of his health (and his being on council I believe changes his recovery from a "better" question to a "when will the next heart attack happen"). One BOPA member is out of the town most of the winter and is long past retirement (he has trouble following the meeting order even with it printed out in front of him). The other is the guy playing the "village wise man" schtick above and probably won't run again (also having the same trouble with meeting order on the meetings he runs). The third one is good, but I can see the wear of constantly being in the position of defacto leadership. And we have to beg to have these people serve, nobody is stepping up (let me say we are grateful they do serve and serve to the extent of their abilities). There is no up and coming leadership in the village.

Really and seriously, if you don't see that the current system as spelled out in our Charter is broken (which we aren't even following anyway except to give it enough of an appearance that we are if anybody asks) you're being willfully ignorant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the responsibility of command

This, again, is not the post I wanted to write. However, I just gave an impromptu lecture on the subject of command decisions. My mind is running through all that I know to try and help that person understand that when faced with a horror and a cluster-fuck, you have to make the decision. And here begins the exhaustion rambling on tactical command decision making.

Now, when military commanders (and much of my command/leadership philosophy was formed through the lens of my time in the Air Force and includes "natural command" ability, what I've learned, and what I've been forced to down the road) discuss "control of the situation" most everyday people think that means that they are in absolute command of an area in the way of "being everywhere" in a oversimplified way (such as a soldier on every corner, breaking up meetings, being able to flip a switch and cut off communications, power, services, etc). And it is to some extent. But what they really mean is that the choices they make are the choices they want to make, that their choices aren't dictated by "the enemy." And there is a difference.

In other words, being good at command means being able to avoid/manuever out of/cutting off avenues that lead to making the kind of decision I am faced with. It's being in the position of forcing/dictating the tough decisions to be made by "the opposition." Or in the case of combat, making the other guy die for his country/ideals.

So good commanders control the situation to not be forced into decisions. They change the field to make the decisions they want to make. Or, you want to make the decision of laying down fire from behind this rock or this wall instead of making the decision of retreating under SAFIRE and inviting heavy weapon fire or advancing into a cross fire trap. You want the other commander to have to make the later decision.

That's a gross oversimplification, but I hope most people can see what I'm getting at. If you're good and "in control of the situation" the choice for you is rotate your troops on a twelve hour schedule or eight hour schedule and make "the enemy" choose between resisting and giving up. It's also a matter of choosing OpTempo versus having it forced upon you.

Okay, still here? That's your goal. Force the bad decisions on the other guy.

Sometimes, though, you don't have full control of the situation and must react to other's optempo and goals. I'm faced with that. Sure, there are other avenues of action. Such as in an ambush you can try to pause to evaluate the situation, retreat, stay where you are, or attack (which may including calling in reinforcements). The better option is to avoid the ambush altogether and maybe set up a counter attack. However, sometimes you can't avoid it, or don't realize your in one until the shooting starts.

As a commander you do not have any good options at that point. Hunkering down or pausing and returning fire is playing to the other commander's decision tree and will lead to high casualties. Retreating can sometimes work, but not if you're facing a competent commander (in that case, retreat means certain death). So you're left with attack. All that needs to be decided is which way to attack (and that choice is the difference between success and failure, ie. an "attack to the rear" might not be much different that the retreat). Going forward is typically not a wise decision (unless you have armor or some other advantage such as fresh troops). After all, the ambush is designed to halt you (although if it appears the ambush is back loaded waiting for your retreat, pushing forward maybe the way to go to foil the trap). Typically picking a flanking into the heaviest fire has the greatest chance of success (again, situation on the ground may make that impossible, then choosing the path of least resistance to movement balanced against further possible ambush is best - a completely open pathway out should be avoided as that would be booby trapped).

Have I confused you all yet (I hope not, I know many of you have command experience)? There is no "good" decision in this case because there is a high probably someone is going to die or be wounded (even if you're in armor) no matter what you decide. Indecision is worse, you're all gonna die then. As a commander, you must make the choice. Well, here I'm talking about the tactical command, which means sergeants. If you're an officer and your sergeant has more combat experience there's the question and then the order. Even if the sergeant makes the decision it's still yours, you own it (that's a whole 'nother lecture).

The decision comes down to this, how many people am I willing to lose, how much damage on "the enemy" do I want to impose? The choice to avoid any chance of losing someone is gone. Your choice decides the probability of everybody making it out. And you have to make it (if you don't, your sergeant better and should, in this case the command decision flows down, not up - ie. no chance to "get orders" somebody needs to take charge and move everybody out).

You may make the wrong decision. That's the cougar I mentioned in a post a long time ago. It's hungry and it's always stalking you (Navahos have a saying, "Coyote is always out there, and he's always hungry"). But a decision must be made.

For my decision, I'm hoping to avoid the ambush, but I think we're too far in (it's up to others to see that direction and open the path). Retreat is not an option for us, in this case as it would lead to complete annihilation (it is an option for the opposition to back away from their position). Forward, in my opinion, means accepting too high a casualty rate. So if it comes to it, I will choose the cluster-fuck side and charge. We may not all make it, but there is at least the probability we will.

I'm tired, and rambling and over simplifying (and my brain is also saying, "Yeah, but given other extent factors choosing the retreat or forward charge could be better"). But I hope this make sense.

Hopefully the other avenues will play out and we can avoid the ambush decision. That is the best option at this point. The ambush choices concern risk to the Village, how much and what type of risk am I willing to accept. The person I was discussing this with didn't understand, they believed the forward charge into the ambush option was the only sensible path. I've tried to explain choosing your priorities concerning other situations. For me, these decisions come quickly (YMMV). As I told him, "If you have to make a choice between losing one person or three people, I hope you can make that decision." (and again, you want to avoid having to make that decision in the first place, but when faced with it, you must decide)

I know my priorities. When I see a third path, the lateral thinking, I'm also able to take that. Hopefully we'll get reinforcements. With this I do see a third path, a compromise, and the starting positions may be just that, starting positions. Given the view on the ground, though, it looks like it's an entrenched position and they expect I'm going to make the forward choice. They're going to be disappointed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

And that, your Honor, was when I snapped

So I had a post all planned out. And then major Village stuff interfered. Not just the major thing already on the docket for tomorrow, but a recurring pain-in-the-rump just flared up again and became a major problem. One that may involve lawsuits and substantial changes to services in the Village.

I'm seeing red, and I aim to misbehave.

Of course it also blew all thoughts about how writing spec fic is or isn't an art and how this related to my BFA in Graphic Design.

Imagine me doing my best Lewis Black imitation.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

No place like Gnome

Back home. Tired to the bone. A lot of good information, lots fun stuff, lots of network and catching up with friends.

Would like to talk about it all, but see that tired thing. Tomorrow is the day job. I guess the village has also been a buzz this past weekend as people finally get that we're going to ask them to change their government in a big way (well, not really, but because it's NEW they don't think it's good). I guess there were many phone calls this weekend.

So for at least the next two days I'm going to be dealing with Night Job stuff.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Confluence

Here at confluence, spent way too long in the bar, but listened in on interesting conversations between John Scalzi and Michelle Sagara West. And believe me, you would have stayed awake for it too (as well as all the other fun). Way too tired. Having fun. First panel I want to go to is at 10am. Type later when more away awake.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday things

To the kindly person who sent me the Jesus Tracts from Chick Publications, thanks, I needed the laugh. The address was hand written, without a return, and by someone left-handed (there's an obvious slant). And being left-handed myself, I can crack this joke, I think it's hilarious that someone who is sinister sent me the Jesus tracts.

So, I was walking through Jo Ann Fabrics today (one, yes, I am a crafty person and two, I was getting a frame, and three, yes, I do know how to sew) and saw this. ::wants:: Seriously, I've been wanting to start a t-shirt business for years. I know people in the advertising specialty business who have given me good quotes. I've also looked at starting a a cafe press store.

This morning was excellent sleeping weather, especially right as I needed to get up. Soft rain wetted the trees and gurgled in the downspout. A cool breeze flowed out from under the canopy and disturbed the sheers. Twilight lingered in the boughs and corners of the world. Hauling myself out of bed took some time. Dratted work pulled me from sweet dreams and easy sleeping.

This weekend is Confluence in Pittsburgh. I'll be off tomorrow to meet, confer, converse and otherwise hobnob with my fellow writers and fans. Also to apologize in person. Then there will be the interesting panels and talk, catching up with people and feeling relaxed by being with other fans.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ongoing conversations

Steve has a conversation over on his blog about some issues I brought up before. If you want to see me wearing my best asshat, read the comments.

Steve makes some good rebuttals and provides plenty of links for his viewpoint.

And as I say in the comments, I know Steve and his wife (and a great many people) are upset at what's going on and go out to events (Steve's wife was an organizer for one) and protest about it. They have a point to their arguments and they come to their decisions by their own path. Also, make sure, I believe everybody has the right to protest and make their voices heard (as long as it remains below incitement to riot). Gods knows I wish more people would care about what their government does and become more active and participatory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Story Bone - It's like the alternate ending of "Misery"

I'm working on those "What I learned in Design School" posts, but first here is something related. It's an article that talks about books bound in human skin (grokked from Matt Staggs). Now that's a rarity I'm not sure I'd want to collect.

How does that relate? Well, back in the late 90s there was a paper mill (in Hungary if memory serves) that produced a paper whose selling point was that it had the texture of human skin (and it was pretty damn close). We had a sample book. Unfortunately I no longer work there and I couldn't get an extra copy of the book for myself (it was pretty damn expensive paper). I remember my first reaction with was an unequivocal, "Ew!" I was assured that the paper had better ink representation qualities than actual skin. (and if you think that's ultimately sick, I'll remind you that vellum is sheep skin, and many other animals have been used in the book making business)

And then, as a story bone (and now you'll know where the horror side comes out) there is also the practice, however limited, that when a loved one dies, you can remove, tan, and display their skin in a frame (warning, highly illegal in some jurisdictions). There's a subcult that does this. Yes, I've seen samples in person (I used to draw flash in school, hell, I've done tattoo art for other designs lately, and I used to go to some tattoo festivals, and no, I don't have one). They're not ultimately as creepy as you may think (YMMV). And some of them are quite beautiful. Not that I would collect them myself (typically held by family members).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Astroturf, the plastic grass with no roots

Well, it's time for the astroturf industry to get moving again. Nope, I'm not talking about drought solutions for those whose world view doesn't allow grass to be anything but green. I'm talking about the political right's false grass roots movements.

Patients United Now is the latest front group for American's for Prosperity, here's a SourceWatch article on them and a WonkRoom article. They're one of the major backers for the so called "Tea-Parties" (sorry, Steve, yeah, it's not as much a grass roots movement as you think, sorry about that, you were being used). For those of you who don't want to read the whole article, they're your basic, pro-tobacco, Global Warming is all fake science, no taxes (at least for the rich) and has lots of ties to the Koch Industries (SourceWatch article on them). You should probably read that Koch article. Patients United Now likes to say they support "real health care reform," but I dare you to find their actual policy on reform. I looked on their site for a half hour and only could find "ZOMG! They're going to give us Canadian Health Care and we's all gonna die" rhetoric. Typical conservative action, say you're one of the little people and then institute a Fear Uncertainty and Doubt attack. Oh, and lie. Set up a strawman and knock him down. My guess is next week they'll have a two page policy statement they'll say is their "legislation" but is basically talking points expanded into sentences.

Here's an article taking apart PUN's ad. It's not much more than what we've said here. Rationing is already happening. If you don't have the money, you're at the bottom. And call up your doctor and ask for an appointment. How long is it until you can get in? Don't want a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor? You already have one with your insurance. And I think I've discussed payment issues before. It's the same scare tactics of fifteen years ago. And they want the same solution, the one we've had for fifteen years. How's that working out for us? We have the highest costs and the lowest care (high infant mortality, shorter life spans, lower recovery rates) than most of the industrialized world. We only lead with how much we pay per capita.

"We are people just like you," PUN says. Well, no, I'm not a multinational corporation or a millionaire. I'm not hiding my funding behind a 5013 organization. so you're not like me. I don't sit on a board made up of industry heads from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Philip Morris, Pfizer, and ExxonMobile.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

July 20, 1969. One Giant Leap.

Forty-years ago today, mankind landed a craft and stepped out onto a world that wasn't Earth*. While the space program to the politicians was another raising of the bar in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, to the rest of humanity it was a watershed moment. It was the frontier, and we had bridged it. Men had travelled beyond the Earth. We had not fully escaped the gravity well of our home planet (after all the Moon, while escaping, is still bound by the Earth's gravity), but it was enough to show we could. We have walked on another planet. We had crossed the technological Rubicon.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth.
High Flight - John Gillespie Magee, Jr

And now, because the Chinese have declared their intention to go to the Moon, we have a new program on the books. Robotics are fine, but when you look at the moon, you can point and say, "We were there." When you see the ISS streaking across the twilight sky, I know my heart beats faster knowing, "We are there." With robots there just isn't the same connectedness.

So, we're going back. Once again mankind will walk on the Moon.

Gods speed, Altair.

* Well, the current theory that the Moon, Luna, was part of the Earth and was ejected from the planet by a massive collision while the Earth was still forming.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Almost Sunday

Chapter sixteen is in the bag. It came in at 1385 words. There was plenty of time staring at the screen forcing the words out.

It's not good. I should probably run through it again before moving on, but I don't know if that will happen.

And right now, as you can tell, I'm drained of words. It's time for bed. Tomorrow is lunch with the niece who graduated HS this year. She's going to college way far away, so we won't see her too often after that.

And that's the way it was, July eighteenth, two thousand and nine.

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) has left the newsroom.

He was the gateway drug to the news for me. In my library I only own four biographies, his is one.

Sweet Sixteen

Chapter sixteen is coming along slowly. I know what needs to happen I'm just having problems getting it out. Right now it's at about 890 words or so. Some future things get set up, and some information needs to get used and a phone call made. It's not coming out easily, but then that's why it's called work I guess.

It's rained the past two days, so the ground is really too wet to do stuff outside. There's plenty of stuff that needs doing and I've got the materials. And next weekend is Confluence in Pittsburgh, so I won't have time to do it then. Man, this summer is just flying by. Soon it'll be August.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This week's healthcare issue

You might remember last week's adventure with a bill from last year. This week brings one that is a little closer. This bill is only from February. It's for a blood test. Bette spent an hour and a half on the phone with the insurance company, the doctor's office and their billing company.

Here's the first position of everybody. Insurance company claims they never received bill. Doctor's office verifies proper chain of billing. Billing company submitted bill twice, since they never heard back classified us as "not insured" (my doctor has had a policy for the past two years when you check in, not only do you make your copay then, you also must show a current insurance card) and listed us as "past due."

So, through out this the insurance company swears they never received a bill, billing company swears they put proper codes and billed twice, doctor's office is slightly helpful by providing diagnostic codes. After and hour and a half, this is what finally emerged. Doctor's office filled out their forms properly, billing company transposed diagnosis code (not the service codes, those were fine), insurance company did receive two bills but because diagnosis code was wrong (didn't relate to anything, just a blank) didn't acknowledge receipt of bill nor did they contact billing company to say, "wrong code." Billing company, not hearing anything (not an unusual circumstance) rebills with same paperwork. Again, insurance company doesn't recognize diagnosis, does nothing.

Now, they had the right insurance number. Every year we get one blood test without any diagnosis issue (if your sick they'll cover more). And the insurance company didn't deny the claim, they behaved as if they never received a bill.

Again, my insurance company is a name brand, I own stock in it (although am looking to sell soon), and is a major player in the health care industry.

Tell me again how this system is more efficient and cost effective than a single payor?

And while having two weeks consecutive of having to do this is unusual, having to do this isn't all that unusual (normally every other month).

Story Bone

Here is a news story about a lost cemetery in Florida. Seems it was a known burial ground at the time it was active, but then because it was black immigrants buried there, it was never marked or preserved. Now there's a company trying to build low-cost condos and apartments on the site. There's a lot of background material that can lead to stories of their own. The most obvious take is a version of Poltergeist, but I think you can do better. The thing I get from the article is that the people just want to be remembered. There's a story line with the cemetery when it was active, that would be cool as well. Florida as frontier.

Just as an aside, please don't go in the direction of the "magical negro." Nobody needs that anymore ("Oh Brother Where Art Thou" got away with it because he's actually the Oracle of Delphi).

I love cemeteries. I've visited a lot of them around me and have taken lots of photos. Martha's Vineyard has several burial grounds. Some of those only have one or two stones left. The public cemetery at Gettysburg also has some great stones and interesting history of it's own. There's a lot of things you can do with cemeteries beyond the traditional ghost story.

Anyway, as I read that article my "writer sense" was all a tingling. Hopefully it'll do the same for you.

Auctions for Good Causes


Jim Hines is throwing an auction for a good cause. He's got an ARC of The Mermaid’s Madness up on the block and all proceeds go to benefit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Jim gave a reading of The Mermaid’s Madness at Confusion back at the beginning of the year and I can tell you, it's a kick-ass book. At last look the auction is up to $65. If it goes over $100 Jim will throw in another book for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How we see type

Some of you have heard me rambling on about how we actually read and see type (and if you haven't consider yourself lucky).

Here's a little primer which explains a lot of it and includes some good tips and rules of thumb. The page I linked to from this (on the same site) has some interesting manuscript layout tips which aren't "universal" so I'll stay away from that.

But, look there. See, I'm not so crazy as you thought. Also, this is definitely based on US preferences. It changes a little from country to country (like our preference to see type with serifs in the US, but in Europe they prefer sans-serifs).

A shout out to Astrid who sent me the original link.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On cross pollinating (and my wife will kill me if you tell her I used that phrase)

In one of the latest posts on writing advice I had a link showing what to put in and what to leave out to make a successful picture. As I said, this was helpful with creation of scene in a story (prior experience coming in). Now, Jay Lake (man, I've been grooving on his Link Salad lately) had a link to this methodology for creating new ideas. This wasn't a technique I learned in school, but I learned it from other professionals. On my own I think I've used is only a few times, but when you're stuck this is a good way to brainstorm and concept into reality.

While this methodology works well to create visual impressions, it also can translate to full plots or even scene building. It's a way to cut the dross from the cycle and get to what is needed. And since it's word based, you have some good ones to include in the writing.

Also, Jarrett suggests that I do some more posts about how my previous training in graphic design has translated over into writing. I think that's a good idea. So (he said tempting the fates) I'll try and get some of those thoughts posted soon. And they might work pretty well over on Genre Benders (which I've been ignoring my duties over there).

Story Bone

The best ideas come for stories when two or more ideas crystalize around a concrete event.

Say like driving home last night listening to a report about how the vaccine for the new H1N1 (aka swine flu) may be late because the virus grows slowly in egg medium. Now, I added this to my previous knowledge that all human influenza vaccines are grown in chicken eggs (which kills the embryo, but you won't hear about that in the Pro-Life literature). Why? Because it works and it's dirt cheap (Cheep, get it?). Anyway, there's also the previous knowledge about how it's the protein shell of the virus that allows infection, and those protein shells are coded to species that the virus can infect.

With me so far?

Okay, so, this is why you can't (normally) give your dog a cold by sneezing on them. Or, and this is more important here, you can't give it to your cockatoo. Because the protein shell won't be accepted by the other species. And especially by the other species in the different Kingdom classes.

Now, there are protein shells which are accepted by several species. Flu that pigs can process are notoriously easy for humans to process. This is what swine flu is, after all; a influenza virus that can infect both pigs and humans. This is also why the avian flu (remember avian flu?) is so damn hard to humans to catch. Sure, it can happen. The flu can overwhelm the host, but you need a whole buncha the virus in your system to start it (any virus can enter your system, but if you can't process it, you'll "shed" it out). And then it's very difficult for that infected individual to spread that infection to others of the same species (ie. humans, sapiens-sapiens). The virus just can't break on through to the other side.

Now, this is why when there is a virus that can jump species, it's especially virulent. It's like having a skeleton/pass key, it can get you almost anywhere with great ease. And, if it crosses kingdoms classes, like an avian flu, it is also especially deadly; because their flu are not our flu so we have little resistance to their effects. Also, the flu isn't keyed to our metabolism and will tend to kill us before it can evolve to just get us sick and pass on the flu this is why things like Ebola are so deadly, it's not meant for us, so it kills us quickly before it can continue its life in a new host.

Eventually the population will develop resistance (immunological response and natural selection) to the "bug" and it'll no longer be a big deal. Also, the virus will evolve (natural selection) to cause fewer quick deaths. Or the virus will die out by killing its host to quickly (again, natural selection, it's a bitcher, ain't it).

So how do viruses cross species and kingdoms classes? Well, they can mix their RNA. Like earlier life on the planet, they have a greater plasticity to absorb and change (ie. evolve). Of course, most of this ends up killing the virus, but if enough survive to reinfect that the lines continue. Now, when there's a vector, say a pig, that can be infect by a human virus and a swine virus, that pig's cells become a little chemical factory pumping out new viruses until the cell explodes, which releases the viral caps into the blood stream to infect other cells, or be shed or expelled from the host. Now, if the same cell is infected by the human and a pig virus, in all that reproductive orgy, some things cross. And if your luck is right, you get a new virus that can infect pigs and humans and has part of both. A new virus. (just a point here, this is how most viruses continue to infect, see, we keep getting the same flu every year, mostly, but it's different enough to continue to cause us problems). Now, when you have a vector that can accept many different viruses, like a pig can catch the flu from a wide range of species including birds, you have a problem. Like if an avian flu gains enough RNA code to adjust its shell and other tags to infect humans. Like what happened at the beginning of the 20th century.

Okay, got all that so far.

Now, here's the fun part. Remember when I said that human vaccines are grown in chicken eggs? And remember the part about protein shells? And remember the cross kingdom class virulency? And that avian flu are especially dangerous to us humans?

See the problem? Okay, if you don't let me be a little more blunt. By choosing a method of vaccine reproduction (which is normally deactivated flu) which relies on the virus keying into an avian medium (the egg), and also meant to infect humans (how we gain our immunization response for the vaccine) we are artificially bridging the gap and have created a new reservoir species (the egg medium). And we're doing it because of cost (which, yes, are very high to switch to tissue culture reproduction).

Ladies and gentlemen, your next deadly pandemic. Brought to you by cheap manufacturing and a host of immunologists who will slump back in their chairs after viewing the California stains (DNA/RNA examination technique), scratch their collective heads, and think, "Huhn, how did we not see that coming?"

(to be fair our immunization vaccine flu would have to infect an animal, like a pig, swap out the inactive virus part with an active avian flu, keep the cross kingdom class protein shell and then reinfect a human)

And that's your story bone.

Those wacky heath insurance people

I feel Jay Lake's pain. Tell me again, Daddy, how the private insurance companies and that business model is better than a single payor?

Yeah, our insurance companies have tried this with us. They attempt to deny a claim, or shift the cost to the higher deductible by saying the doctor you went to is "Out of Network." Then only for us to reconfirm (because we checked up front) that they are in network and have them rebill. Which then delays their payment for another three months. Which once sent our bill into a collection agency, because everybody has "automatic billing software." Fortunately we got them to pull it back out of the collection agency and it was removed from our credit history. An apology? Seriously, you expected an apology? No, it must have been "a computer or data entry glitch, must have transposed a number which bumped it out."

Um, yeah. More than likely just trying to reduce their coverage. Because it is a "small part of the overall bill" and (here's the kicker) most people would just pay it themselves. They don't feel it's worth the hassle to fight it. We just happen to be people who feel a company, when contracted and paid in advance, should do the work they are contracted for and cover their obligations. Especially when there's a whole set of rules we have to abide by.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Well, it's traditional, yeah, traditional

Started Chapter 16 on lunch. Got about 500 words out, so far the overall action is what I thought it would be (which is always a Good Thing(tm)). However, it went a little bit toward the steamy side. It's cliche, but then most noir stories have a sexy widow with the long gams who tempts our hero, so I think I'm within the genre parameters. And, yes, she does have legs that go all the way up. Although she's wearing slacks (which I don't think was in the classic noir detective story vocabulary, but I'll make do).

She seems somewhat concerned for her former husband (who may still be alive), at least at this point, but I don't think she's really going that direction. I think it will end up she wants to smack him around a little before she kills him.

Telling lies for fun and profit

Sometimes writing comes easy, sometimes it's like a self-administered appendectomy.

John Scalzi has a post about writing Fiction vs. Non-fiction. He links over to a post by Marissa Lingen that talks about a lot of things in writing fiction (but only briefly).

There's a bunch of things going on in both posts.

But I'll agree with John here that the most important line of Mrissa's post is "If you haven't written a lot of fiction, you probably can't write good fiction right off the bat." This is what's known at the "Million Words of Crap" theory (aka, practice makes perfect - actually, practice makes permanent, critique and improvement give you the continuous improvement process toward perfect). And we only have to scroll down to the sixth response in John's post before we get the inevitable, "But, not for (insert tale of wondrous freak of nature who published their very first novel attempt at the ripe age of 12 for a six-figure advance)" (okay, well, not really in this case, but you know what I mean).

Mrissa also talks about what detail you put into the story to make it work. As a visual artist (that day thing I keep yammering about), I do have a minor in Illustration (which is different than "pretty picture making"). So I have a bit of experience here with what details should be added, what you can shorthand, and what you can leave out that people will fill in automatically (hint, if you want to make people look sinister, draw their teeth with detail). Here is an example about how to imply scale and it doesn't mean throwing in as much detail as you can (grokked from Jay Lake). In fact, it's all about what detail you include, and all the detail you leave out. Writing a scene is very similar. You have to choose which details to show and ignore all the other details that aren't necessary. Those details you show must concrete the image in the readers head and give them the flavor of the place (in a Synethesia kind of way).

And because all of that is a bit heavy, for contrast we offer Jeff VanderMeer's Top 10 Little-Known Freelance Writer Survival Tip and a Basic Instructions - How to Tell a Riveting Story (again, grokked from Jay Lake).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

She'll tell you she's an orphan, after you meet her family

Chapter 15 is in the can with a crappy first draft. Oh sure, nice things happen (word and writing wise, not so much for the characters, at least nobody tries to fry them), but it feels a little "meh" right at the moment. The main character asks too many questions, and he's supposed to be protaging. Oh well, that's what rewrite is for.

With Chapter 15 coming in at 1400 words (on the nosey), that brings us to 25,777 total words.

Hopefully 16 and 17 flow out faster. I'm pretty sure what happens in Chapter 17. Chapter 16 has a "filler" feel to it right at the moment. I might need to move up a piece that I was going to save for later, but could fit now. And actually, now that I think about it, it makes a little more sense.

I've felt the coldness of my winter

The garage sale is done. We didn't make that much money, but we did sell a number of things. The economy basically sucks in the county, and the majority of things we had were priced at $.25 or $.50, at most a few dollars. And we had people making counter offers on things that were a quarter. Really. "Would we take $.15 for this?" Um, it's just a quarter.

For the end of the sale, today, we started the week with it supposing to be clear. Then on Wednesday we had a 30% chance of showers today. Then Thursday it was 50%. Yesterday it was 80%. It started thundering at around 10 this morning. So I rushed out to help bundle up the items and haul them back into the garage. We had a few passing sprinkles. People were still pulling up with the rain drops as we were packing and wanting to look. We made about four dollars even as we packed.

Also on the plus side we took two car loads to the thrift store. Our garage is still filled so we can't park our cars inside. Hopefully this week we can solve that problem.

While we were in Chardon (where the American Cancer "Discovery Shop" is at) I stopped off at the Home Depot and got the stones to finish up the rain barrel project by building a ledge to hold buckets while filling. It'll also serve as a step to bucket out the bottom of the barrel (there's about two feet of water left by the time it runs out of pressure above the spigot). The ground was a bit too wet to work on it today. Maybe tomorrow.

Now back to chapter 15.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Band on the run

Still running like mad. Spent last night doing councilman thingies and getting my blood pressure up. Plus this weekend (started yesterday) is our neighborhood garage sale, so half my house is spread out over the front lawn. Fortunately the sister-in-law is up helping us out. I should get supplies to continue work on the extra part of the rain barrel project, and pipe to redo the gutter drainage (extending it) so we can get this pile of dirt outa my yard. But I'm feeling burnt at both ends. And next week we'll see some of the extension of what I worked on last night.

Chapter 15 is dribbling out. I get about 50-100 words a day (and haven't had much evening time to work on it). Normally when this happens I'd put in a place holder and get to what I can get out fast. But I wanted to work on this in order (mostly) and don't want to skip. I'm probably shooting myself in the foot though.

I have the flights and the room for VP (and the time off). Now I need to get the car, organize between the airport and the island (probably do closer to time) and get my brain back in gear. And I need sleep. I need a lot of sleep. That may be why the novel is coming slowly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Think I'll buy me a football team

Well, got one of the last condo rooms available for Viable Paradise just this morning. Also scored some sweet airline deals last night. And HOLY FRAK have I been spending money (airlines are up front, the Inn required 50% down, plus the tuition payment). So don't mind me if I FREAK OUT for a little bit realizing that I just spent the equivalent of a down payment on a car (well, I'm also paying for three people up front, two of which I have to cover fully). And a nice car, not a BMW, but also not a Yugo (do they still sell Yugos in the US?).

I'm going to collapse into a quivering, gelatin like mass soon. You may have seen me fret about other purchases (have I shown that side of my neurosis here?). Making the purchase of the Dyson vacuum cleaner was a three-day fret-fest (and about two-weeks after I found the deal). Having not grown up with money to burn, spending money is a difficult process for me. So, if you can imagine my quandary over the vacuum purchase, consider that in the past two days I've spent ten-times as much. With not a lot of chance to think it all through (I feel better when I double and triple check purchases and do "Due Diligence" on them). And I'm not done.

Breathe in, breathe out. I need to go to my happy place. I'm calm, the center of my being (holy frak, holy frak, holy frak, holy frak).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Open Letter to My Senators Regarding Health Care

One of the other pieces of news we got this weekend (besides the Viable Paradise acceptance) was the good news that my insurance paid a bill. The insurance plan I no longer have. We switched in February. But it's okay, because the bill was one that was resubmitted December 30th of last year. Original Bill was the end of October. Six months later and they pay the bill. Yeah, the private insurance industry is so wonderful.

So now that the health care bill is in the Senate, it was time to break out the word processors.

Dear Senators Brown and Voinovich,

I'm writing to you today to encourage you to support a revamping of our health care industry. That revamping could include a variety of techniques, most of which would be considered far more onerous than a "Public Option" health insurance program. Such legislative options include restricting health insurance providers to be non-profit organizations and operate under the "mutual" concept many used to. For this reason, the re-engineering of the industry that would be brought about by the "Public Option" is the easier path to trod. In either case, something must be done, and soon. Preferably this year.

(* This paragraph was only included to Senator Voinovich *) I know you prefer to leave these decisions up to the states, but in my opinion that's just a way to duck the issue and vote for the status quo. Our current system is regulated by the individual states. Depending on which state your in the mandatory coverage, which primarily is the template for the coverage certificates, can vary widely and creates a patchwork system of regulation which other industries (automotive manufacturing, energy production, firearm manufactures) have all decried as inefficient and a barrier to business. In the past year we have also seen ideas floated to allow the purchasing of health care from different states. If such an idea is enacted, the health care companies will make a run to the least restrictive state and provide their coverage from there. I submit as an example the credit card industry which moves their nominal headquarters to the state which they feel gives them the most latitude for their business. Leaving the regulation to the states is an invitation to a worse situation than what we have now. I urge you to reconsider this position.

While the cost of energy maybe dragging the economy, the cost of health care has our economy by the throat. The cost of health insurance, despite what the US Chamber of Commerce likes to say, it the real engine of non-competativeness for American businesses. Before the current economic downturn the major stumbling block in union contract negotiations wasn't hourly pay or respect in the workplace, it was the cost of health care (UAW, various teachers unions and city workers, and my own GCCU Local 546M contract negotiations). A quick google search will demonstrate the wide spread nature of the issue.

My own personal story includes such a problem. With the downturn in the economy my employer was forced to have layoffs this past April. I have several coworkers who are close enough to retirement to have volunteered. My employer wasn't able to offer a buy-out option to cover their health benefits. The two people who would have needed to volunteer for me to keep my position told me personally that if it weren't for the cost of health care until they qualified for medicare, they would have volunteered. I'm told the same was true in several other departments.

The cost of health care is a major contributing factor to individual bankruptcies, driving over 60% of those filed, 75% of whom did have health insurance according to a study by Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University.

The cost of health care has been one of the contributing factors to the stagnation of wages in the past decade. My previous employer used the cost of insurance in my "total compensation" package. While the total compensation increased by a significant percentage every year, my actual pay increased below the cost of living. On top of that we continued to rewrite the insurance program increasing copays and deductibles every year.

The cost of health care is also prohibitive to small businesses, the growth engine of our economy. They are unable to compete for the best workers because they are unable to negotiate fair rates because of their small employment number, so they would pay higher premiums per employee. For that reason, many are unable to offer that benefit.

Our companies are straining under the cost burdon of providing health care. It's stifling investment in new technologies and production improvements by draining capitol. It is ruining our economy with "stealth" costs, such as payments to cover the uninsured from the government and forcing providers to adjust their charges to cover their losses from the uninsured which lead to higher premiums for the insured.

The status quo, or a "continuous improvement" process isn't acceptable and isn't what's needed. We need to re-engineer health care for our business and our jobs, but mostly for the people and our economy.

This is why I support including a public option being included in the health care reorganization laws currently being discussed.

Critics of a public option talk about rationing, bureaucrats standing between the patients and doctors and making medical decisions, and limiting choice of doctors. We've had fifteen years of experimentation of allowing the "free market" to solve the problem of increasing costs and we already having rationing of service by limiting covered medical costs. We already have bureaucrats standing between patients and their doctors in the form of insurance customer service representatives who deny benefits and procedures. And with adding prohibitive costs the insurance companies are controlling choice of doctors with a two tiered cost structures for in-network and out of network providers which in effect limits the choice of the insured to in-network providers.

The public option would force private insurance providers to reduce their own internal costs and bring them inline with with their foreign counterparts. It'll adjust the market to where the insurance companies are responsive to their customers and the doctors they pay. Instead of being forced to fulfill their contracts they will see the need to provide the service they're nominally in business to provide. The private insurance industry has had fifteen years to show they could make the system work. They've failed to contain costs and provide better service as they promised to do back in 1994. A public option would actually make the market work better.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Be kind to your small feathered friends.

Monday Misc.

Just to show that reality is too weird for fiction, They (and you know who they are) are developing a fuel cell that runs on blood. Okay, it's actually kinda cool, a small fuel cell that feeds off of glucose in the blood stream that is implantable. Can a Terminator that requires blood sacrifice be far behind. And, "The animatronic zombies on this ride are so realistic." (from a link grokked from Jay Lake's link salad)

And, as they say, astronomy is looking up. And if you do look up in the sky right now, there's a pretty good chance you might see the ISS (International Space Station). I've seen the station twice, and I've gotta say, it gets my geek on. Seriously cool to realize that moving light is man made and that there are humans in space. NASA runs a site in case you want to track when you can see the ISS yourself. (from all around hoopy Dad Dan)

On why most politicians at this level have people to help them write a speech (text of Gov. Sarah Palin's resignation speech). Seriously. Don't do this. And the wild population of freeze-dried whackaloons will grow by at least one at the end of the month.

And finally, Jeff VanderMeer writes about The Fear. He doesn't use that word in discussing the freelance life, but it's there. It's the thing that has kept me in a day job instead of jumping, like Jeff did two years ago (although I would just into graphic design freelancing, something I know rather more about). And his point #5 is something I struggle with constantly and I have #6 engraved in my soul.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Long weekend

A long weekend spent doing a whole bunch of things, none of which was writing. This week will also be a test for writing fiction; we have a committee meeting where I'm standing in as chairman, lots of work for the day job that needs accomplished, and next weekend is our neighborhood garage sale, which we spent some of today getting ready for.

Plus making arrangements for VP. While at my Mom's for the fourth my wife and sister-in-law hatched a scheme that since I would be spending on the room anyway, that they would take a holiday and vacation on the island. I've been looking at various transportation methods over to Martha's Vineyard. I looked to see if I could get a car slot on the ferries, but their websites didn't return that any where available. Fortunately there's a car rental place at one of the docks island-side.

So, a long weekend taken a breather. Jump back into it tomorrow. Hope you all had a great weekend.

Friday, July 3, 2009

NEWS! - As the ceiling flew away

The Fourth of July is a special holiday for me. Now, I like Halloween and Christmas. I like decorating to make it festive. I don't do that for the Fourth. The Fourth is my time to shout inside my skull. It's my time to watch fireworks and be happy for my freedoms. It's like Christmas, but my presents are freedom and the rights of citizenship, which, frankly, leave anything ol' Santa could stick in his sack wanting.

But now I have another reason to celebrate. I've been accepted to Viable Paradise. Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to turn cartwheels 'cross the floor. And then I need to go book tickets to be one of sixteen (well, 28) vestal virgins leaving for the coast.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Teh Stupidity Factor(tm)

Wow. Ever since now President Obama was declared President-Elect Obama, Teh Stupidity Factor(tm) has been a growth industry. Really. If it were a stock I'd have invested in it because, man, it's numbers are going through the roof.

Now, I tend to seethe on friends blogs (Janiece Murphy and her ongoing "'Tard of the Week/Month" posts, Jim Wright and his, well, almost most of his posts that don't concern military history or woodworking, Nathan whenever he's not talking about the movie business, Vince whenever he wants to, and even my friend S. Andrew Swann - although he comes from a different end of the political spectrum, and finally even my friend S.C. Butler asked recently "When did all republicans go nuts?"), and sometimes it overspills here.

And I try not to get involved in government issues that tend not to affect me or have a spill over effect (such as other states passing anti-evolution education bills), but with this one, Teh Stupidity Factor(tm) was so great, I had comment.

Missouri Congresswoman Cynthia Davis, who ironically is the the chairwoman of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on Children and Families, wrote a recent newsletter to her constituents criticizing the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' summer food program. This is the program that provides free or low-cost lunches to Missouri children. Among other stupidities, including the ever present "why don't they get a job" argument, wrote "Hunger can be a positive motivator."

One in five Missouri children are underfeed. Do I need to run through all the health problems and educational issues that being underfed cause?

And before I get to my comment, with full disclosure I qualified for these programs when I was in school, from when I was nine-years old. Now, I didn't go hungry often, but that extra help during the school year (at the time there was no summer program as there is now) helped my family greatly, even though it was immensely embarrassing and shameful for my little ego (at the time the program had separate meals and even a separate line for the lunch). With my brother and I getting subsidized lunches that helped us afford decent food for dinner. And I've been working since I've been twelve.

So, Congresswoman Davis, and I say this with all respect honoring your choice to step up and serve in government (if you're a new reader, I'm a councilman in my Village), although I believe state legislators even in Missouri make a decent salary, and knowing how hard it is to find places to cut spending to come in line with revenues (although the program is Federally Sponsored), with all that in mind, and I don't say this lightly, fuck you.

Story Bone

Who wants to live forever? Obviously, not Dr. Hayflick, and his research is the cornerstone of most longevity research. And if you don't know what the Hayflick Limit is, you'll definitely want to learn that for this story.

Here's an interview with him (grokked from Jay Lake's link salad). There's lots of good SF material in that short interview. Plenty of plot lines and lead points for further research.

If you read the comments to the article you'll discover our mass obsession with our own immortality. There's plenty of "teh stupid" (which has been on the increase lately) in those comments. And plenty of hackneyed SF tropes being tossed about like they were reality (or just around the corner, which they are not).

Mix in to this the issues Jay Lake has been facing with his own possible recurrence of cancer and my own issues with cancer. Also the pathology of that disease.

And then it comes, to live forever there's a simple formula. We must become cancer. We would need to harness some of the mutative properties of cancer, remove the harmful side-effects, and channel the growth within norms (or we'd become lumpy masses of flesh like the "horrible abomination that was the Dixie Chicks" from Bender's Game). Would you accept eternal life if it came at that price (you become the disease)? How would you solve the standard problems that would come with such extended life spans (just look at what's happened since the 19th Century and our limited life expansion)? What would happen to religion as we become near immortal? All the societal changes that would need to happen to handle a population that never dies (except for accident or major disease), hell just what would it do to marriage and other social contracts (vampire stories have dealt with this slightly, but only from the "limited population lives forever" aspect).

For me, I would write this story with the premise of a serial murderer running rampant. It might be this person has created and is spreading a disease, or they could be doing it the old fashioned way. Would the people treat them as a hero (like the old time gangsters)? Would they hunt the murder down like a rabid dog (because they are adjusting the status quo)? Would the benefit of serial murder to society be greater than the impact of the deaths? What if the murder is being committed by curing the "cancerness" of the people?

You're welcome to use this angle as well.