Stories Stories


October 2nd, 2015
Thought we needed something actiony now.

Episode 4

It was I who heard them first. Horses pushed hard by angry men.

We had covered perhaps five miles by sunrise; the terrain was still friendly enough, and the sliver of moon provided enough light for us to avoid the worst obstacles. A bed of pine needles on the forest floor softened our steps as we wove between the dark pillars of the tree trunks. Katherine, when I could see her at all, seemed to blend with her surroundings until she was little more than a shadow. If ever needed to kill her, I decided, I’d make sure I did it in town. But today we were on the same side, or at least running from the same people, and the sound of pursuit to the south meant that blood would soon be spilled.

“Horses,” I said.

The others stopped to listen. After a moment Katherine nodded. “Riding hard — they don’t care if some of them break their legs.”

“How many?” Bags asked his partner.

“Several. Maybe ten.”

I would have wagered seven were I in a more congenial crowd. “No dogs,” I said, with some relief. Dogs are harder to deceive.

Katherine scanned the rising ground ahead of us. Not far to the west a rocky outcrop peeked above the trees, its pale face shining pink in the early-morning light. “We’ll set up there,” she said and turned that way without waiting for an answer. Bags and I followed, jogging behind her.

She didn’t slow until she was at the top. While Bags caught his breath I explored the outcrop, listening as the horses drew near. We were in a a good, defensible position, the approach to the outcrop easily visible. To the right was the gentler slope we had climbed, to our left the rocks were broken and jumbled.

“I should be able to get a couple of them before they reach shelter,” she said.

“What if they shoot back?” I asked.

She smiled. “I hope they do.”

Bags pulled his sword free. Everything about him was ragged except that blade, gleaming in the early-morning light. “I can hold the path,” he said, “’till you pick them apart.”

I studied the outcrop, and realized that I would be little help in the battle they were imagining. I have no sword, no armor, and no bow. “I’ll see you two later, then,” I said, and started down the other side, away from all the trouble.

“Where are you going?” Katherine asked me sharply.

“Not sure yet. I’ll play it by ear.”

“You godfucked son of a mongrel,” Katherine said. “I didn’t take you for a coward.”

“This isn’t my sort of fight,” I said over my shoulder.

“See you later, then,” Bags said.

Her voice was steady and hard. “I will find you, Martin. You can count on that.”

“I’m counting the minutes, Kat” I called back. Then I was among the trees, and I began moving more quickly, while wisdom warred with curiosity in my head. If I kept walking, I could live to spend the gold in my wallet, Kat’s threats notwithstanding. I could be far from the ugly politics, far from hundreds of angry soldiers. Eventually Katherine and Bags would be killed, Katherine’s connections discovered, and I would be forgotten. All I had to do was keep walking west.

Wisdom lost the battle, but of course you knew that already. Wise men rarely have interesting stories to tell; people don’t crowd pubs exchanging stories with their friends about the time they did the wise thing. I found myself curving around to my right toward the jumbled rocks on the north side of the outcrop where my friends waited to fight seven to ten well-armed men.

Our pursuit would have seen our change in direction and known exactly what it meant. They would be cautious. Katherine’s bow would slow them, and Bags’ sword would push them back, but assuming my companions won those two skirmishes, there would be other men looking for a more subtle path up. I needed to find that path first.

I found a likely spot, a fissure in the weathered granite that provided shelter from arrows and unwanted eyes. Through that passage the honorable men who wished to slaughter us would be able to get behind my companions at the top of the hill, making the fight much more fair than I was comfortable with allowing. I moved through the gap and found a nice nook behind a loose boulder. I was just settling in behind the rough, weathered stone when I heard the first man cry out. An arrow had found flesh. There were shouts, the leader instructing his men, but I couldn’t make out specific words.

Another curse, and the clash of metal, then quiet. If Bags had been overwhelmed, the enemy was now above and behind me. Best not to think about that. I had only one choice: to trust my judgement, to trust my companions, and to do what I do best.

Perhaps ten minutes later I heard the first furtive sounds of men trying to be stealthy while wearing metal clothes. By the time they were near me I had identified three of them by the sounds they made. I would have preferred two.

The knife I chose for this job was thin and razor-sharp, her blade the color of a dark dream on a moonless night. The smith who had forged her was dead now, slain by her twin. If I was going to die today, I wanted to die with this lovely blade in my hand. The steel was surprisingly resilient, but if I erred and hit armor rather than flesh she would break in a thousand pieces. Mentally I promised the piece of metal that I would not miss.

Three of them. I’d have to wait until I was right in the middle of them to make my move. If they didn’t cooperate and pass where I thought they would, my best option was to start running and not stop until nightfall.

They cooperated. The first was past me when I lunged from my little haven and cut the throat of the second, my black steel sliding through his flesh like it was air. The third in line had time to raise his sword before I found his larynx and pushed my knife home. Blood gushed onto my hand, threatening my grip, as I turned to face the one who had been in the lead.

He was facing me, sword ready, shouting obscenities that were frankly unimaginative. His feet were searching for purchase on the rocks, his hard-soled boots with tapered toes were made for the stirrup, not uncertain ground. His armor was clean and showed not a spot of rust, his green cloak hung easily on his shoulders. He held out his sword, fighting for balance on the rocks, and he knew that his only advantage was that his deadly steel was longer than mine. We seemed to be in a standoff. From above came another clash of steel, another cry of pain.

“You’re the last one,” I said. “All your friends are dead.”

“You are a lying son of a whore,” the soldier said. He was barely more than a kid, the fuzz on his cheeks more a wish than a beard.

I shrugged. “We can stand here until my big friend comes down to see what all the shouting is about, or you can drop your sword and go back the way you came.”

“If I drop my sword, you’ll kill me.”

I smiled and moved my blade to the side just enough, my empty hand in a placating gesture. “Why would I do that? I just want to be on my way. Drop your sword and start walking, and we’ll have no reason to kill you. We’ll be keeping your horses, of course.”

From above the sound of heavy footsteps. One person, favoring a leg. If it wasn’t Bags, I wanted my current situation resolved long before he arrived. “You’re time’s running out,” I said.

The sound of his sword rattling among the rocks reverberated through the forest. “Thank you,” I said. I reached out my hand to steady him as he clambered back past me. When he was next to me I cut his throat and watched his eyes widen in shock as he choked on his own blood. “You saw my face far to well, kid,” I said as he slumped to the ground. He deserved an explanation.

I turned to meet the approaching footsteps. Bags greeted me with his gap-toothed grin. There was blood smeared on his cheek, but I couldn’t tell if it was his. “Good to see you,” I said.

“Dangerous work,” he said. “Three of them, huh?”

I nodded. “Kat all right?”

“Yeah. Might go easier for all of us if you call her Katherine.”

“I know.”

“You also should have told us your plan. So we could work together.”

“I didn’t know my plan.”

“Maybe not specifics, but you did know generalities.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to take the chance to leave you guys behind.”

His face was almost serious for a moment. “Fair enough. Why didn’t you?”

“Still might. But you’re a good guy. Hate to see you die some anonymous death out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“You imagine a better death for me?”

“Maybe not better, but later.”

Bags laughed. “I’ll take it. And I’ll tell Katherine that I’ve already chewed you out for not being a team player.”

“A lot of good that will do.”

Again that smile. That toothless smile that lacked any guile at all. “Oh, she’ll still be madder than a cat in sack, but she won’t say anything. And she knows that you’re going out of your way to annoy her for a reason. She just has the wrong reason.” He laughed again. “She thinks you like her.”

Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

Up… for now

October 1st, 2015

Techno-troubles here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas! The faithful little computer that has been serving up this site for the past years is not healthy right now. I didn’t realize how important this damg blog is to me until it stopped working. Just when I was getting some momentum, too.

I’m looking for the best answer now (MacMiniColo.net has a pretty spectacular special running right now), But in the meantime it’s proving tough to keep this thing up. So, sorry in advance for outages.

Photography Photography

How’d They Do That?

September 29th, 2015
In any industry, asking that question is a high compliment.

One of the magic things about a tilt-shift lens is that if you can find a vantage over a cityscape and look down, you can make images that look inexplicably toy-like. Something about the altered perspective monkeys with the cues our brains use to establish scale.

Here’s a great example (© Jay Lee*):

There’s an Audi ad running right now that says, “this car is the best toy you will ever own.” It blends a child’s fantasy with footage of the actual car. Helicopters abound. But many of the “actual” shots have a distinctly toy-like look to them, much the way the tilt-shift-from-above shots do. Granted there’s a ridiculous amount of post-processing in the ads, but I have to think that the original videography is the foundation for that toy-like quality. Yet the perspective is not the down-from-above angle that I would expect.

I’d like to meet the director of photography for that ad and learn how he did it.

* Jay Lee also weaves bacon.

Stories Stories

The Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Write: Chapter 3

September 24th, 2015

There’s a milestone in the development of the characters I need to reach before I walk away from this setting.

Chapter 3

A gentle silence settled around us as we finished our food. We all knew what must follow. Travel. Pursuit. Fear and maybe death.

I don’t make much of an impression when I’m in a room, and that’s all right with me. Even after I killed the baron I doubted anyone who was there would be able to identify me with certainty. Were I alone I’d just need to put enough distance between my face and that ugly scene, and refrain from showing too much of the baron’s money in one place, and I’d be fine. Eventually they’d find some other bastard to execute.

Bags, however, had made quite an impression. We could get him new armor and maybe even new teeth, but it wouldn’t matter. The baron’s friends would follow him to the end of the world. It was time to find shelter from the storm.

“Know anyone who hated the Baron?” I asked my new companions.

Always-Katherine nodded. “Almost everybody.”

Almost everybody is worthless. “Anyone who might be grateful enough and powerful enough to protect us?”

She framed her response carefully. “Grateful and powerful, yes. But willing? Probably not. The baron’s enemies aren’t going to want to reveal themselves yet.”

Yet, she said. I wiped my fingers on my cloak and stretched my legs. The fire was just a glow now, painting our faces red. Bags belched and laughed. I asked the question I already knew the answer to. “What makes you think that?”

She spit into the fire. “Because one of them hired me to kill the son of a bitch.”

Bags laughed. “That’s why she made us come marching out here. To see who stole her fun.”

“And to keep you alive,” she said. She turned back to me. “Who are you working for?”

“I fill my own belly, and starve on my own account,” I said.

“Why did you kill him, then?”

“He was an asshole.” And that’s the whole truth. But people want to make it complicated.

She smiled, but it wasn’t a particularly friendly smile. “Do you kill all assholes?”

“I’d like to.”

“Bags said the baron was attacking a woman, and you killed him for it.”

Katherine was trying to like me, trying to see me as a defender of the weak, a man willing to risk his life to protect the downtrodden. A lot of people are like her; they feel a need to enjoy the company of the people around them. Those people annoy me. “I killed him,” I said, “but that’s not why.”

Bags snorted.

I let it drop. If they wanted to think I was some godfucked saint then it would be easier if I ever needed to cut their throats. “We should be going,” I said. “And Bags, can we prevail upon you to not leave a trail of blasted vegetation behind you?”

Bags gave me his toothless grin. “Probably not,” he said.

“They’ll know by now we are headed toward Bishop’s Junction.” Katherine said. “They’ll be waiting for us there. We should turn north.”

The terrain to the north got very rugged, making mounted pursuit less of an advantage. It also meant slow, hard travel and a much longer wait before I could start spending my money. “Maybe we should split up,” I said. Without Bags, I was pretty sure I could fade into the forest and emerge somewhere else, just another stranger.

She looked at me with narrowed eyes and shook her head slowly. “You’re the one who got us into this.”


“Baxter’s messes are my messes, too. And this one’s yours as well.”

“I wanted to do it,” Bags said as he sucked the last of the chicken grease off his fingers. “They were hurting her.”

“That’s because you’re a kind-hearted idiot,” Katherine said, but she didn’t sound angry when she said it. She looked back at me. “I don’t know what you are. We’re staying together until I figure that out.”

And not a moment longer, I added silently, because that was the truth of it. I stood. “Best get going, then. I hear the north is lovely this time of year.”

Observations Observations


September 22nd, 2015

Good health habits will resume any day now.

Any day now.

Writing Writing

Looking for a Motivator

September 17th, 2015
Yes, I want to use you guys for my own ends. You got a problem with that?

I’ve been trying to think of a way to increase the priority of writing in my life. My good buddy Keith has been a great encouragement the last few days, as I’ve let some rough-draft prose leak onto these pages. I used to do that a lot, and fun was had by all who bothered to express an opinion that I choose to remember.

I’m wondering if there’s a way I can leverage you guys more effectively. Make commitments, celebrate hitting milestones. Maybe something like kickstarter, but without the money. I say, “I’m gonna finish Monster.” You guys say, “If you finish Monster, then X!” Then I finish Monster. You do X. We are all happy.

But what’s X?

Stories Stories

More from the Novel I’ll Likely Never Write

September 13th, 2015
Because it's hard to walk away from an interesting character.

I don’t have a plot, but I have some characters.

The fire crackled and sputtered as it nibbled at the damp branches I had laid for it. Smoke rose reluctantly in the heavy night air; were it not for the heavy cloak of clouds overhead I would not have risked giving away my location. But after a good night’s work I felt I deserved better than to huddle in the darkness. I had put a lot of distance between myself and the blood-soaked public house, and I had taken pains to be difficult to follow.

My stomach growled. I wished I had take the time to eat before saving that girl. It wasn’t the first time I’d gone without dinner, however, and it wasn’t likely to be the last. Nothing drives the work ethic quite so well as an empty belly.

I sighed, pulled my travel-worn cloak tighter about me, and once more opened the purse I had liberated from the baron. We are creatures of habit, all of us, and I honestly don’t remember removing the baron’s money sack even as I removed his family jewels. But here it was, heavy with gold — far more gold than the baron could possibly have needed for a night out abusing his common folk.

The freshly-minted coins gleamed in the fickle light of the fire. Whatever the young baron had intended to do with them, they were mine, now. My little friends.

The sound of footsteps made my ears want to swivel on my head. Still far away, but heading my direction. Two people, one making no attempt to be quiet, the other almost silent. Alone, the furtive one would have been able to get very close indeed. I took a long breath in through my nose, released it through my mouth. I needed to act, but I needed to act wisely. And quietly. There was only two of them, but if they had found me, they were probably more skilled than the average yahoo.

But dark woods at night — that’s my battlefield. I am, in the words of my father, one sneaky son of a bitch. Away from the fire I moved, easily, carefully, silently. I had scouted fallback positions before laying a fire, and on this damp night I chose to move out and up, into the comforting branches of a towering conifer thirty yards from the little clearing that had been my home. Some twenty feet off the ground I pulled my night-colored cloak around me and relaxed with my feet underneath me. If I had to, I could jump, but that didn’t seem likely. I practiced my knife skills while I waited.

It was twenty minutes or more before the pair arrived at my campsite. During that time two things became clear to me: they were following me, and they weren’t trying to hide the fact. By the time the big man stepped into the light I was not surprised to see him. His ragged chain shirt had another gap, but I didn’t see any sign of blood. I might have smiled, but my teeth would have reflected the waning firelight.

Behind him was another man — no, a woman. The quiet one. Her eyes flashed into the shadows all around the fire, not scanning for me, but for signs of my passing. She held a short blade of darkened steel, more a large knife than a sword, while a compact bow hung from her shoulder. Her clothes were earthtone and her boots were soft. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back so it would not interfere with her vision. She was a tracker. I’d never met a woman in that line of work before, but her presence here marked her as a darn good one. I was going to have to me more careful in the future.

The big man turned and smiled at her; she smiled back. He slipped the pack off his back and sat on my rock as he swung the pack around in front of him. She remained standing, keeping her eyes on the shadows in my general direction, the dark blade comfortably loose in her grasp.

Out of his pack the big man pulled an oil-stained bundle. He opened it to reveal three roast chickens. He laid the cloth at his feet, pulled a drumstick off one of the birds, and took a bite. “Shit, this is good,” he said.

I smiled. She saw me, but she tried to pretend she hadn’t. “Do you have enough for one more?” I asked.

“Sure,” the big man said, “But I’m not giving you your seat back.”

I began my descent. “So you recognize that it’s my seat.”

The tracker spoke. “The seat belongs to us all.” Her voice was a husky alto. The conviction it carried sounded like trouble.

“My little brother has a saying,” I said as I reached the base of the tree. “The man with the chickens can sit where he chooses, as long as he shares.”

The tracker opened her mouth to speak, but then just nodded. I stepped into the light and appraised her as she appraised me. We were about the same height, and about the same weight. Her blue eyes made me think of snow. Her mouth was set in a thin line that pressed the blood from her lips.

“My name is Martin, more often than not,” I said.

“Baxter,” the big man said through a mouthful of food. “But usually Bags.”

“Katherine,” the tracker said. She paused, and a tiny smile quirked her hard face. “Always.”

I sat on the ground next to the food and turned to look at the big man. “You all right?” I asked. I gestured toward the new gap in his chain shirt with a chicken bone.

He smiled toothlessly. “Definitely gonna be purple under there,” he said. “But that’s what the shirt’s for.” He took another bite of chicken, pulling the tender meat off the bones with his molars.

“Looks like it’s saved you a few times.”

He looked down at his battered armor. “Yeah,” he said. He pulled at the metal links idly. “Lotta holes in it now, though.”

Katherine’s back was to the fire. All I could see of her was a cloak that draped to her knees, lean calves and skinny ankles below that. “Then why haven’t you replaced it?” Her voice was carefully flat.

The big man, Bags, looked at me and shrugged, a little half-smile on his chicken-grease-slicked face.

I sliced off another chunk of meat and ate it off my knife. Rosemary filled my head and I felt benevolent toward the entire world. “I found some money recently,” I said. “Let’s get you fixed up right.”

“Well, actually—”

“Thank you,” Katherine said. She crouched down and tore a piece of chicken away with long, slender fingers. “Good people should help each other.”

“And on occasion I help good people as well,” I said, to lighten the mood. Let’s not make any mistakes here; I am not a good person.

Katherine sent me a thin smile. “This is going to be an interesting journey.”

Writing Writing

I’m Ready for my Singularity now, Mr. DeMille

September 11th, 2015
I'm well-suited for the post-biological era.

I was reading an interview that Marc, one of the Kansas Bunch, endorsed. I was almost immediately annoyed by the phenomenal sucking-up-and-interjecting-self job the interviewer pulled, but the dialog had barely started when Ben Marcus called a story “something we consume”.

Immediately I connected stories to food, and I liked what I found there. What would a world be like where stories sustained people — physically? Bing-bang, the article was forgotten and I realized that an economy based on storytelling is not so far-fetched. Stripped of the biological imperatives of survival, what’s going to keep us going?

When we overcome the frailties of these meat bodies, stories will be our food. I’m sharpening my pencil.

Photography Photography

The ‘Before’ Session

September 10th, 2015
Because if it's not recorded in the Internet, it never existed.

Before my appointment with Mindy this evening, I thought I’d better commemorate what I was about to lose. Of course, you can click the pictures to biggerize them.

Because hair, that's why.

Yep, the hair had only hours left as part of my head. I pulled out a couple of lights, a box fan, and my favorite portrait lens and took a few selfies.

It turns out ten seconds is not quite enough time to find your mark (has to be perfect for the focus), get your hair blowing in the wind, get into position, and finally switch off the photographer and activate the inner model to throw some personality back toward the camera.

Who knew the line between glam and metal was so narrow?





Guitarists: pay no attention to my left hand; getting that detail right was just one detail too many.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

I can see opportunities lost in all of these poses, but that’s the way it goes. I’m featuring ones here that show my hair in all its glory. Yes, an ‘after’ episode is coming soon. I’ll leave you with another guitar solo face.
Guitar solo face.

Guitar solo face.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Venus’ Last Stand

September 8th, 2015
When siblings are awesome.

For a couple of years she beat her little sister, but now Serena gets all the big wins. Time is separating the two, now Venus is “only” the 23rd top player in the world. Tonight’s match may be the last meaningful showdown between the sisters.

First set: Serena.

Second set: Venus — decisively.

Third set: still early, leaning Serena. I’m kind of pulling for big sister Venus. I gotta think it will matter around the table at Thanksgiving.

Stories Stories

An Excerpt from a Fantasy Novel I’ll Likely Never Write

September 4th, 2015
Because sometimes stories happen.

So I just banged this out and I’ll discuss it maybe a bit in the comments — it diverged from the idea in my head in an interesting way — but I should warn you that this gets violent. Knives and genitals meet.

The Duty of the Strong

The Baron grabbed the serving girl and pulled her forcefully onto his lap, sliding his hand inside her dress. Her cries were drowned out by the laughter of his men. Her struggles only added to the merriment. “I like ’em feisty!” the baron shouted.

The man sitting next to me at the long common table tensed. He was big, but for his size he was lean and hard. He wore a simple chain shirt that had been repaired many times; in places the links bunched while other areas were only thinly protected. The shirt he wore beneath was tattered, more hole than cloth. His long dark hair was tucked behind his ear, revealing the tension in his square jaw and the crease of his brow pulled down over deep-set eyes. A scar, still slightly pink and puffy, bisected his eyebrow and continued down his cheek.

Another cry from the serving-girl, barely audible over the roar of the baron’s retainers. My stomach turned. But I am a smallish man, slightly built, talented in my own ways, perhaps, but helpless to prevent what was about to happen. The big man was breathing carefully.

“It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak,” I hazarded, softly.

“Perhaps,” said the big man, in a voice for me alone, the product of a throat that has known no shortage of shouting, “But I am more inclined to help the girl.” He looked at me directly. His eyes were blue, sapphires buried in the shadow of his brow. “But I am just one.”

“Sometimes simple brawls have unexpected collateral damage,” I said. “Where no one is looking.”

He smiled, revealing a void where his front teeth should have been. He put a hand on my shoulder, a big, hard hand that bent me under its weight. “It is the duty of the strong,” he said, “to protect the unarmed.”

He rose with a roar, tipping his chair and mine, his blade gleaming in the light of the fire, a living thing almost, flawless and beautiful. I rolled beneath the table adjacent, lost in the rush to flee the violence.

“Come here, you little bitch baron,” the big man shouted. “Come over here and learn what it means to be a man!”

The baron stood, dumping the girl on the floor, and for a moment I thought his pride was going to render my skills unnecessary. He drew his sword, stepped forward two paces, and said, “Nobody speaks to me that way.” To his men he said, “Kill him.”

Twenty green-cloaked men rose and I didn’t like the chances of my new friend, however strong he was. I was not going to tip that scale, however; he was on his own. All that was left for me was to make his death worthwhile. I chose a thicker blade, a cutting knife rather than a stabbing one. I thought perhaps the extra blood on the floor would end the violence more quickly.

From one table to the next I moved, though in the confusion and noise I need hardly have bothered. The big man was using that gleaming blade to keep the greencloaks from getting too close, but it looked like he’d only killed a couple of them so far. I continued toward my goal.

They say that poetry is lost in this world, that the bluster of commerce and war has hardened our souls to beauty, but it is lost only to those who don’t know where to look. There is the poetry of moments, a poetry of found things that a perceptive mind understands. Take for example, a moment when one emerges from beneath a table, holding a very sharp knife, to discover the genitals of a man about to violate a woman while she watches her would-be savior perish. The poetry is further enhanced if one is well-versed in the various ways to use a knife, and if the possessor of the genitals releases a particularly shrill scream when they are removed from him.

I almost didn’t kill the baron; living his life so altered would almost certainly be another poem, and enduring sonnet. But I knew he would hold a grudge, and he had seen my face. I cut his throat as he clung to his gushing crotch, interrupting his continued scream with a burble.

The baron’s scream had turned the attention of the greencloaks my direction. “Time to go!” I shouted to the big man, in the event he was still alive. I dove for the shadows and the window in the corner that was still open despite the chill. Always know where the exits are, my mother used to say. My mother was a wise woman.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Facebook 101 Part 1: How to be a Shrill Victim

September 2nd, 2015

In part 1 of what is almost certain to be a series, we look at a simple, step-by-step guide on how to turn your misplaced anger into a moment of fame at the expense of an innocent third party.

  1. Get in a snit. It has to be a snit with a recognizable name.
  2. Go to a meme generator site and paste your rant on a picture. People don’t read words unless there’s a picture behind them.679181
  3. Notice that your rant doesn’t really seem all that worth getting upset about. ADD SOME LIES. Racism is a good one. The mouth-breathers who thrive on this shit will eat it up.679188
  4. Post it on Facebook!
  5. Feel gratified when a quarter of a million other idiots jump on the bandwagon and start trashing the organization that has done nothing wrong.
  6. When people actually start to mention ACTUAL FACTS, duck and cover. You don’t need that sort of negativity in your life!
  7. Years later, thousands of people will still believe the ridiculous accusations you made were true. If you libeled a small charitable organization, for instance, you could permanently undermine their ability to make the world better.


Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

Junk Science — A Telltale Sign

August 28th, 2015

The other day a friend of mine posted a link to a peer-reviewed scientific study concerning the effects of a vegetarian diet. He posted an excerpt from the paper’s abstract:

Our results revealed that a vegetarian diet is related to a lower BMI and less frequent alcohol consumption. Moreover, our results showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with poorer health (higher incidences of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), a higher need for health care, and poorer quality of life.

Before I even clicked the link, alarm bells were going off. Just in those two sentences, they list seven things measured. That’s not science, kids, that’s shooting dice in the alley. If you measure enough things about any group of people you’ll find something that looks interesting. Holy moly, I thought, how many things did this survey try to measure, anyway? (I believe the answer to that is eighteen.)

It’s possible that some of the correlations these guys found actually are significant, and not the result of random chance. It’s not possible to tell which ones they might be, as it’s almost certain that many of the conclusions are completely bogus.

And then there’s selection bias. I read elsewhere (link later) that in Austria, many vegetarians eat that way on Doctor’s orders, because they’re already sick. That will skew the numbers.

But the paper was peer-reviewed, right? I spent a little time trying to figure out who those peers might be, but there’s no sign of them I could find on the site where this paper is self-published. And, frankly, “peer-reviewed” doesn’t mean shit anymore. Peers are for sale all over the place. If you can’t see the credentials of the people who reviewed the work, it may as well not be peer-reviewed at all.

And none of the authors seem to have any credentials or degrees themselves. Perhaps they just didn’t feel compelled to mention them, but that strikes me as odd — especially for Europeans, who traditionally love to lay on the titles and highfalutin name decorations.

The site has 53 references to that article being mentioned in the media. Some of the places that quote this nonsense actually have “science” in their titles. Sigh. Apparently Science 2.0 is Science where you believe every press release that crosses your desk. Perhaps Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas will make number 54 — although I suspect the keepers of PLOS ONE might not want this reference promoted. But to their credit they do show the link to an article in that Bastion of Science Outside Online, where at least one journalist took a sniff before pressing the “publish” button.

Outside Online, you do science better than Science 2.0. You have my admiration.

So is this research totally useless? Actually, no. It’s possible a grad student somewhere could find ONE of the claims made in the paper interesting enough to do REAL science to improve our understanding of nutrition and health. The study might be to test the hypothesis “a vegetarian diet increases the chances of lymphoma,” or something like that. A single question, while keeping the rest of the variables as controlled as possible in a human study (which is really tough).

That work would take years to accomplish and would not show up in The Guardian or probably even Outside Online. It would be a small brick in our edifice of understanding, a structure that has been growing for hundreds of years.

So when you read about “a study” that shows many things, look at it with squinty eyes and you’ll see behind it a group of people rolling the dice, and there’s often no telling who their master is. It’s not really a study at all, but a press release with numbers.

Writing Writing

Inspiration is All Around Us

August 28th, 2015
You just have to open your eyes and see!

lrgGRA214747220_MLP_twilight_sparkles_twinkling_balloon_3_1000Riding from home to work along a well-worn groove, I get to know some of the debris that builds up along the side of the road. For the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a My Little Pony doll in the gutter — underneath a layer of road grime its plastic body is in that pink-going-on-purple range of hues, while the nylon fibers of the tail are more aggressively purple, and still shimmery-sparkly.

This particular little pony has been decapitated; it lies mutilated and forgotten, waiting for the street sweeper. When I see it I can’t help but think of a sketch you might see on Robot Chicken: A mash-up of The Godfather, My Little Pony, and this slightly disturbing story by Kij Johnson. In my “research” for this episode I see that at least some MLP’s even have unicorn horns, making Kij’s Nebula-winner even more appropriate.

The sun rises to find BITCH PUDDIN’ waking from her slumber. She doesn’t look so good; last night’s hard partying has taken its toll. The camera pulls back and… MY LITTLE PONY’S head is in the bed next to her, bleeding sparkly rainbow-blood into Bitch Puddin’s satin sheets…

Practically writes itself.

Rumblings from the Secret Labs Rumblings from the Secret Labs

Sucky Irony

August 24th, 2015
Databases are stupid and we should get rid of them.

Today at work I was wrestling with a database connection that was defying all my attempts to make it play nice. I needed to type in a command that I couldn’t pull off the top of my head, but I knew where on this blog to find it.

So quick like a bunny I typed in muddledramblings.com to find the answer, and I was greeted with a screen that said, in big bold letters:

Error establishing database connection.


Obviously it’s fixed now, or you wouldn’t be reading this, but dang.