Jerks

Spam has become a real pain in the butt. My august sister and fellow blogger has had a few comments on it lately, and it’s time for me to join in.

The whole email system was set up by a bunch of geeks who never stopped to ask, “how could this system be abused?” They needed a way to send messages between each other, and they made one. Simple as that. Why should they have the system verify the origin of the sender? Why would Dr. Schmidt send a message and say it was from Dr. Li?

Well, the Internet grew up, and before long just everybody was using it, but the standards upon which the system was built were not modified to protect the system’s users from abuse. Thus was born spam.

We all get spam. It’s a part of life. There are sophisticated programs designed to detect and stop spam, but the spammers have sophisticated programs to get around those programs. For a while I was actively telling spammers to take me off their lists, listing the laws I would throw at them if they continued, and while this took more time than deleting the messages would have, I had the satisfaction of getting far less spam than any of my coworkers.

These days, occasioinal spam slips through into my mailbox, but not much. I hardly feel the billions of dollars the big providers say they lose on spam each year.

But now, this.

There are spammers using my business domain, jerssoftwarehut.com/, in the sender and reply-to fields on their spam. That means I get hundreds, if not thousands, of returned messages every day that were sent back as undeliverable. My mailbox is always full, which means people trying to reach me for legitimate business reasons, like to send me a damaged file so I can find bugs in Jer’s Novel Writer, cannot. The message is returned with a “mailbox full” message.

What impression does that give prospective clients? That of a flake who doesn’t even read his email. It gives the impression of a company that is not currently doing business.

Then there are the thousands, perhaps millions of people receiving spam with my domain on it. It is quite possible that my domain could be blacklisted on mail servers. The spammers would stop using me, but I wouldn’t be able to send emails to some of my clients, either.

The system is broken, and the only real solution is to fundamentally change the email protocol. The change is long overdue.

Let’s talk about roses for a moment

I’m a watcher. I see things. Perhaps I learn from the things I see, but that’s asking quite a bit. Here’s something I know, however. When a guy gives a girl a flower, it means something. There is symbolism that goes deeper than bone marrow. What you say when you offer a flower is indelible, permanent, and inarguable. If you are lying with your flower, she will suffer, you will suffer, and in the end all of humanity will suffer. It is a foundation of civilization, a sacred trust.

In the pantheon of flowers, at the top there is the rose. Perhaps one can offer daisies lightly, or carnations. If you ever receive a lily from me, watch out. That is not a family of flower I give lightly. But the rose, it stands at the top. There is never a rose given that does not carry weight.

The weight, oddly, is inversely proportional to the quantity. You can give your love a dozen red roses, and she will be happy. But just one rose, alone, is a much more potent symbol. It is not ostentatious; it is something that exists within itself, a completely contained symbol, and the color of the rose means everything. What that color says is something no words will ever amplify, and can never undo.

Red: love. A single red rose, on a crooked stem, still with thorns, is the grandest expression of love possible. Sure, there’ve been some pretty decent sonnets and crap, but this is the one gesture that can never be mistaken. The thorns are critical. The flower is your beloved, and the thorns are part of her. I’ll be going into that in a story, shortly.

White: friendship. This doesn’t mean you don’t love her, it just means that you will do everything in your power to make her happy. Devotion might be a better word than friendship. A single white rose is a profession of love, knowing the love will never be returned.

A dozen pink roses: Hello. Congratulations. Happy Birthday. A single pink rose: Coward. When you give a single rose, know what the hell you’re saying, and say it! Unless your intent is to say “I’m a confused and spineless schmoe,” stay away from the single pink rose.

What brought this up was a couple near me here in the bar. They were all lovey-dovey at first, but then he did something to piss her off. From over here, it looked like she enjoyed being pissed off. I watched the friction for a couple of minutes, and then she picked up the rose. She smelled it, smiled at him, and set it back down. The smile was empty, and the discussion was over. The petals were white, with red tips.

It was a beautiful flower, but the dude had proven himself to be symbolically spineless, and she felt it. I’ll say it one more time. When you hand someone a single rose, you better know what you’re saying with it, because she sure as hell will.

Something I’ve done that you haven’t

Many years ago, while bowling, I knocked pins down in the next lane over.

Oh, yeah. You got nothin’ on me.

Nursing a Blue

We’ve all had the blues. Its a special sort of sadness, a reflective melancholy that does not particularly want to be consoled. From the blues comes a deeper understanding of the world and of who we are. The blues are a window to truth, the time when your brain is naked, when the darkness presses in, asking questions you don’t want to answer.

I have been nursing a blue for about a week now. Just a singular blue, not enough to be crippling or debilitating, just enough to imbue my characters with the pathos that allows a reader to like them. Just enough sadness to make joy feel tenuous, and life an act of courage. The best characters are wounded, birds with broken wings that cannot be healed, but if they can’t fly, they still walk, and perhaps in the end they learn that flight is not about wings at all. Those are my favorite stories.

So for the last few days I’ve been riding this blue, keeping it alive (though I suspect I have no control over it at all), and writing every waking moment. Soup Boy reminded me to eat yesterday. Before that, I think there were days when I lost some weight. I have been consumed by this blue, and I have eaten it alive and sucked every last morsel of sadness from it.

The blue is fading now; I write this from a reverberation, the last echo of the bell over the graveyard.

Just So

I had brunch with Graybeard the other day, at a place popular with Americans. They serve big American breakfasts on the weekends, and that is always a Good Thing. Mmmm… Big Brain Scramble!

After we ordered the waitress brought us our utensils and napkins. Exactly two napkins. Graybeard, as you might guess, has a long, gray beard, and he likes extra napkins to keep it clean. He made a comment about how cheap the Czechs are, only bringing one napkin per person, but on reflection I think he’s missing something about Czech culture.

The czechs as a group are craftsmen. Do not confuse this with industrious or efficient, but in the little daily tasks most czechs I know like things to be just so. Rather than provide some napkins, the waitress will carefully count out the correct number. Not out of cheapness, but out of rightness.

I doubt this attitude would carry over to a repetitious task like working in a manufacturing plant. There’s little opportunity for craftsmanship there, and other czech habits, like drinking beer with breakfast, would probably reduce productivity. Where I would hire a czech would be for something that required skill and patience, but the deadlines could be a little looser. Perhaps manufacturing high-end musical instruments, or glass blowing.

The Trap

I think it started when an online Mac journal gave a glowing review of Jer’s Novel Writer some time last week. I’ve always had random people coming to the site, and most of them leave again, never to return. It will always be that way, and there’s no point worrying about them. Then there are the faithful few, the ones who’ve been here all along, posting or lurking as is their wont. These people know what they are getting into, and if I injure their brains it’s their own damn fault.

Now, however, there is a new category of visitor. These people come here because they are interested in the guy who wrote the software. I found myself thinking yesterday, “I should get a better episode up, so some of those visitors coming as a result of the review might come back – or at least not think that their favorite software was written by some crazed cretin who doesn’t know when to put a sentence out of its misery and go on to the next.”

That, of course is a slippery slope, changing my style to meet the tastes of some imagined constituency. I think I’m going to write an episode that’s really muddled just to snap out of it.

Oops. That’s the slope on the other side of the ridge. Gaah!

The Dark War, Chapter One

The shots echoed up and down the twisting, deserted street. There were three, evenly spaced: pop, pop, pop, followed by silence.

The war had begun.

I moved deeper into the shadows, the metal of a security door at my back, waiting. Moments later I heard footsteps, running, coming from the direction of the shots. The shooter flew around the bend and lightly ran down the narrow lane, directly past me. Always in the right place at tht right time, that’s me.

The supressor on my 9mm reduced the sound of my shots to soft thuds. One, two, three, swiftly, the three bullets making a neat triangle on the runner’s chest. As the assassin fell his—her—face was caught by a street lamp. She crashed to the street, dead, her gun clattering across the ancient cobblestones.

In a quiet villiage like this one, the police would respond quickly, but there was little they could do now. What had started minutes before in the the little town square would have to be finished, no matter what the cost, no matter who died.

I looked at the form crumpled on the pavement, her face in shadow. For a moment I was tempted to go to her, to get a look at her face. I’d probably seen her around before. It didn’t matter anymore, though. I wouldn’t be seeing her again. She was lucky; she had only known war for five minutes, from the moment she killed the commissioner to the moment the bullets entered her heart.

She had probably wanted to grow up to be like me. In that case, I had done her a favor.

The girl had been running toward her friends; I walked the other way. I was tired, although all I had done was pull a trigger.

I dove for the shadows when I saw Hampton sprawled on the street. He was supposed to be on the rooftops, and if he wasn’t, then someone else was. Chips flew from the stonework around me as a burst of machine-gun fire tore thgough the space I had been moments before. I crouched in the recess of a doorway while the bullets continued to rain down, chipping away at the stone. My shelter would not last long.

I waited for the gunner to change clips, then turned and kicked at the wooden door behind me. It gave with a crash and I dove through into the darkness as the bullets streamed past behind me. One hit me hard in the ribs, but my ballistic armor stopped it.

I regained my balance and looked around. Stairs up, staris down. I had a choice. The town was famous for its catacombs; I chose down.

The stairs creaked above me; I turned and fired even as I fled. Someone grunted and fell. Enemy or bystander, it didn’t matter anymore.

At the bottom of the stairs was another door, locked, but no match for my steel-shanked boots. I have trained long and hard in the art of kicking things. Bullets followed me through the door into the apartment. A couple cowered in the corner of the studio. There were no other doors. Dead end.

Shadows flitted past the window high up on the wall, the feet of more people rushing to where I was. There were a lot of them. Perhaps I had at least diverted them long enough that the rest of my people could regroup or escape.

“Sorry about this,” I said to the two twenty-somethings cowering in the corner. I emptied my clip out the door, and heard someone cry out. Three cliips to go. “Is there another way out?”

The girl shook her head, a brief terrified jerk.

The situation wasn’t going to get any better. No sense in getting these two killed along with me. “Guess I’ll be going this way, then.”

I am a soldier, and a damn good one. Physically, I was blessed with the tools a soldier needs. Strength, agility, endurance. A steady shooting hand. Good night vision. But in this day and age, none of those things matter a great deal. Machines give us our strength. When you throw a hundred bullets at your opponent, you don’t have to be a sharpshooter to score a hit.

This war, however, would never involve great armies. It was an ugly war, a war of stealth and swift action. Action without remorse. It was the war I was born to fight.

I remembered the stairs I had come down, and knew just where the enemy would be. I dove through the shattered doorway, firing from memory. One, two, three. Two of soldiers waiting for me fell immediately, the third put a bullet into my armor before I sent him on his way. Above those three the stairwell lit up with furious gunfire, but they could not reach where I was, and they could not move until they stopped firing. I closed my eyes to protecct my night vision and waited.

The gunfire slowed but did not stop, and they advanced, spraying bullets before them. I pulled myself into a corner of the landing, then climbed, bracing myself between the door frame and the ceiling. I steadied myself and got one hand free.

They were blinding themselves with their own muzzle flashes, and as they descended I put a bullet into one, then the next. They assumed I had gone back into the apartment, and were working to get firing angles through the door. Another, then another fell. As the soldiers came down I would shoot a leg, then when the man fell I would shoot his face. No armor there.

My legs and the arm I was holding myself with were starting to shake. I was not going to be able to stay up there much longer. On the stairs, the bodies were starting to pile up. Whoever was in charge up there called a tactical retreat. I dropped to the floor. I heard voices above, but the ringing in my ears from the gunfire prevented me from hearing it.

I glanced back into the apartment. The two were still there, huddled in the corner, looking back at me wide-eyed. There were three bullets left in my clip, so I switched it for my last full one. I heard sirens outside; the police had arrived. That had to work in my favor now. The cops wouldn’t be able to do much, but they would try, and that would complicate any attack on my position.

I attacked. I stepped over the corpses on the stairs, counting my bullets as I put one man down, then another, then another. By the time I had killed five of them the rest were on the run, forcing me to shoot them in the back. The last of them spilled out into the glare of the headlights of the two police cars. The four cops, armed with little pistols, called for the heavily-armed soldiers to drop their weapons. Cops are so stupid. They are soldiers like me, but badly equipped and blinded by duty to something completely imaginary. They think they are defending the law, but there they stand, hoping the law will protect them. They talk before they shoot. The last of the men I had routed tore the cops to ribbons before I could kill them.

Outside again, I put my hands on my knees, gasping for breath. The windows looking down on the street were ablaze now, onlookers silhouetted in front of their laccy drapes. I stepped back into the shadow. The other guys still owned the rooftops.

Back in the shadows, I wrapped my scarf around my face and pulled my hat low. It didn’t matter who was out there, it was time to be going. Every policeman for a hundred miles was on his way, and probably the army, too.

I felt someone behind me. Close behind me. The hair on my neck stood and my ears tried to swivel to the back of my head, an ancient mammalian reaction, as I heard the action of a revolver right next to my spine.

“Excuse me, miss, do yo have a light?” The voice was a smooth baritone, calm, almost laughing. He spoke in English, my native tongue, with an accent. Austrian, perhaps.

I froze, trying to grow extra arms out from my shoulder blades, and eyes in the back of my head.

“Very well, then,” he said. “Would you like a cigarette?”

“I quit.”

“That’s too bad. Tobacco came from America, did you know that?”

“Our gift to the world.”

“Now, smoking is a worse sin than adultery in America.” He sounded mournful.

“There’s still plenty of both.” I had to do something soon. Time was moving, the world was closing in.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

“What else is a girl going to do on a Saturday night?”

“It’s Wednesday.”

“Well, damn. I should be washing my hair, then.”

“Do you know who that was you killed?”

There were bodies everywhere, but I knew who he meant. The runner. The assassin. “No.”

“That was my niece,” he said. I closed my eyes, knowing what came next. A bullet to the spine. He was more careless now, I could feel where the gun was. If I made a move I had a reasonable chance of winning. I just couldn’t muster the strength to do it. I wondered what it would be like to have a niece, or any family.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I loved her,” he said. “But I knew she would get into trouble.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again. There really wasn’t much else to say.

“She wanted to be like her sister.”

I knew what he was going to say, even as I knew it was not possible. I turned, hoping he would shoot me before he finished. He had lowered his gun.

“She wanted to be like you.”