Tý Voda!

I learned this morning that my new neighbors are pretty cool. When the Polish family downstairs moved out, I idly hoped that a bunch of single women would move in. Alas, my wish fell one ‘wo’ short. I had seen a couple of the guys coming and going, in the last few days, but I had not had a chance to say more than ‘hello’.

Early, early this morning, before the sky had even begun to turn light, I slowly emerged from deep slumber, gradually becoming aware that someone was banging on my door. It did not occur to me right away that there might be a good reason someone was knocking. “Oh, great,” I thought. “The new guys are getting home from a bar and they’re drunk and they want to share the joy.” That thought didn’t last long. Other sounds were starting to register, but I was still a bit surprised when someone opened my front door. I stood up and — splash.

I thought of several different titles for this episode over the course of the morning, from “The great flood of ’06” to “Bad day for dust bunnies.” The title I chose is a cross between the most common phrase I heard this morning, tý vole, which is a not-very-polite word, and voda, czech for “water”. (Tý vole translates literally as “you ox”, but over the last few decades has for whatever reason become the default curse.)

Water. Lots of water. I stood in the kitchen, water covering the tops of my feet. It was dark; the only light came from the hall. The main breaker for my flat had popped. I was annoyed at that moment, not considering that my feet were in water than also had power strips floating in it. Yes, overall it’s a good thing that circuit breakers break circuits now and then. (There was little danger of me being electrocuted; the wiring would have caught on fire before I got up.)

Voda, Voda, everywhere, but not a drop of čaj. I really wanted a cup of tea at that moment.

I live on the top floor, and water, being composed mostly of matter, responds readily to the call of gravity. It is crafty in the number of paths it can find to make its way downhill. The water was flowing out my front door in waves, cascading down the stairs and pouring in delicate little waterfalls from one flight to the next. I could see paint lying on the treads of lower flights; as the water sought the center of the earth it paused to work its polar molecule magic on whatever substances it encountered, and paint and plaster were the biggest victims. Water doesn’t necessarily have to go over things to get where it wants to go; it can go through as well. By the time my landlord woke up this morning, water was dripping from his ceiling. That can’t be good.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of water; everybody should have some. But when you just let it run loose, nothing good can come of it.

As I stood in shock, awe, and tea deprivation, the new neighbors had already sprung into action; and before long we discovered that shutting off the main to the water heater stopped the flow. About then I looked at the clock. 5:45 am. The downstairs neighbors had been getting ready to go to work when they noticed that something was amiss. I set to trying to get as much of the water down a drain, as opposed to letting it soak through the floor and into my landlord’s apartment. As I used a dustpan as a surprisingly effective water scooper, I began to appreciate the acre-foot. (For those still mired in the metric system, an acre-foot is a unit of volume — the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land to the depth of one foot.) I was dealing with an apartment-inch. I scooped and scooped, then the neighbors hauled in towels and buckets and eventually (after emptying the large buckets several times), we got the situation under control. The bucket team headed downstairs, where the basement was getting deep. I stayed upstairs and commenced mopping-up operations.

Incidentally, when you’re dealing with a major flood, it’s a good idea to keep one towel dry through the first phase of operations. It was purely accidental in my case, but having a towel that wasn’t saturated made a big difference at the end.) By 7:30 the worst was over and a nice lady arrived to help me clean up. She chased puddles in the corners while I tipped up the furniture to see how things were underneath. The plumbers arrived at 8:00, and by 8:30 they were gone, the electricity was back on, and I had my tea.

I have yet to try any device whose power adapter was on the floor (luckily I have a spare for the laptop), and my WiFi thingie was on the floor as well. Tomorrow, perhaps, we will learn the fate of those electronics. The insurance guy comes on Tuesday.

Whew! It’s over.

It was with a deep sigh of relief that I submitted my draft for the final word count and read the congratulatory message from the folks at NaNoWriMo central. This was the first time the outcome was in doubt since the first year I did National Novel Writing Month, a lifetime ago. (Literally — I was an Engineer homeowner in Southern California then. Proof that there is such a thing as reincarnation.)

My plan was to publish it as a blog, and let people stumble across it and interact with it, allowing it to grow. The first thing I realized was that 50,000 words in a month is way, way, too much for a blog, and trying to develop all the themes simultaneously so they could reach conclusions in a month was just plain crazy. So I kept writing at the same pace, but posting at a more human-digestable rate. Then, I ran out of story at around 40K. I had tried to scope the project so it could be told in 50,000 words, but at 80% of the target I was just fiddling with pieces, starting to get repetitious, (not that this or almost any other blog isn’t, but this blog has no pretense of being literature), and I had said all that I had set out to say. I had a couple of thousand words to go to wrap things up, which I just couldn’t keep from being maudlin no matter how hard I tried.

Finally I sat down and spent a day writing an 8000-word subplot in a completely different style, that the world will never see.

I haven’t posted much on the other blog recently; to be honest after pulling my hair out over the thing these last weeks I’m pretty sick of it. This evening I’ll do a bit of recreational writing before getting back to work in December.

I guess Internet Radio counts as well

For the record, I just stopped listening to the Charger game on Internet radio. I turned it off with about two minutes to go in the third quarter, right after the Raiders intercepted.

The Chargers only score happened during a server timeout.

Apparently it was at about one minute to go in the third quarter that the interception occurred, at which point the Raiders had the ball deep in San Diego territory. I turned off the game, deciding at that point that sleep would be more fun. I awoke the next morning to discover that soon after I turned off the game, San Diego had intercepted the ball right back. They went on to score two touchdowns (benefitting from a bizarre rules interpretation by the referees) and won the game.

I now attribute the server error that prevented me from hearing their first score to “curse interference” — it was such a slam dunk for them to score that the universe had to stop me from listening for a moment to allow it to happen without inviting untold destruction.

I have a bad feeling about this…

Today the words aren’t coming very quickly, so I decided to take a short break and do a little career upkeep. WritersMarket.com has a feature called Submission Tracker which allows you to follow the progress of your work, tracking where you have submitted it, where you plan to submit it next, and things like that. With a click you can see a list of all the places you are waiting to hear back from, or all the manuscripts that are sitting around gathering dust rather than out there working.

Make that “could”. It’s been a while since I logged on over at WritersMarket.com, and there have been changes. I had a few beefs with the Submission Tracker, but I wasn’t looking forward to having to figure out a new system. As I poked around, my stomach began to twist up into a little knot. There was a section called My Manuscripts. So far, so good. I clicked and got a list of the works I’ve entered into the system to track. Only — the list seemed shorter than I thought it ought to be. Nevertheless, each entry had a link to “view submissions”. Not as versatile as the old system, but — what the #@$%$!!!. All the submissions have the status “active”! I can’t tell which places have rejected the manuscript, and which were the ones I planned to submit to next! I can’t tell which manuscripts have been published, and where. I can’t tell which agents have see The Monster Within, which are still considering it, and which have rejected it.

It appears that all submissions that were not linked directly to current WritersMarket.com listings are gone. That means, for example, that all my submissions to Piker Press are missing. If that was the only submission for the piece, then the manuscript itself is also gone from the list.

Still there are twenty-four submission entries for Monster. Some of those should show as rejected, but several were there for my next round of submissions. Now I don’t know which is which. And agencies not listed on WritersMarket.com? Information on agents and agencies I’d gathered from all over and consolidated there is now gone, along with any hint that an agent may or may not have seen my work already.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the information is there and I just didn’t know how to find it. Maybe the transition to the new system isn’t complete yet. Maybe. The help system just says “coming soon.” I sent a message to customer support, so maybe in a couple of work days they’ll clear things up.

Right now, I feel ill.

I just got a nice note from the WritersMarket.com support team saying that my data had been carefully preserved, but would not be available online for two more weeks. They attached a spreadsheet with my info as well. That is a massive relief, as well as an excuse to slack for two weeks. They also asked me if they could contact me for feedback about the new system. I replied that I have opinions on everything, and am happy to share. So, at this time I’m guardedly optimistic that everything will turn out all right.

My Telvision is in My Head

I got a rejection from the Atlantic Monthly yesterday. My first thought: if I knew how long it would take them to reject me, I never would have sent it in.

There’s no shame in being rejected by that magazine. It’s possible that there are periodicals that accept submissions that are tougher to get into, but none with the sheer whamness of Atlantic Monthly. Sending them a submission was an expression of faith in myself.

I got rejected. I’m OK with that. What I’m not OK with is that right now I hardly have anything out there trying to find a home. The business side of things is languishing, even as I write some words I quite like. I have a pretty sweet story ready to go, and I know where I’m sending it. All I need is a cover letter, and a message to my stateside postal enabler (Hi Dad!) and it’s done. That has been the state of things for three weeks.

NaNoWriMo. Bless it, curse it, dance in the meadow, bludgeon myself with a sharp rock. I need NaNoWriMo. I feel my productivity fall off as summer wanes, and November rekindles the fire. This year is the toughest since the first, and when I’m not too busy whining about it I’m having a blast. Add hundreds of new Jer’s Novel Writer users, though, and there’s no time for anything else. Say, writing, for instance.

I think December may be busier than November.

To veer suddenly to the side, yesterday I was at the Little Café Near Home, and I was thinking about a Chapter One I posted in this blog a while back and dang if the idea didn’t grow. I looked over the previous episode tonight and it didn’t have the punch I remembered, but Natasha has developed in my head since then. I spent a few hours spinning the tale through various scenarios, and it was fun. I came up with a nice twist I’ll be able to use somewhere eventually.

I feel oddly guilty about spending all that time with Natasha, though. Guilty because I have so many things going right now. Oddly because most Americans spend more time watching television each day than I spent developing a frighteningly compelling character. A great new character who stands on her own is the pay dirt of my profession, her birth a moment to celebrate, and I missed the party, frustrated by my lack of productivity. My blue-sky time was pure self-indulgence. Sitting around imagining ridiculous things is my television. I could do it all day, but I’d never get anything done.

The New Bond movie – 10 seconds too short

Those of you who have seen the new James Bond movie, “Casino Royale”, probably already know what I’m talking about. There is a sequence where 007 pops over to Miami, follows a Bad Guy into an exhibit called BodyWorld, violence ensues, and then our hero is off again to the airport to drive a tanker truck remarkable for it’s spryness while loaded with aviation fuel and which is also a convenient exception from “Bond’s Law”: anything that can explode will, if a bullet comes within ten meters.

Whew! As most of the critics have pointed out, that sequence was just too much for too long. What they needed was a little break in there. One critic (I forget which) went so far as to say, “what that scene really needs is a shot of a couple of guys looking at the plasticized dead people.”

But there is no such shot. It’s quite possible that I’m in that scene somewhere, but my featured “guy looking at things” foreground role now lies on the cutting-room floor. While I’m disappointed, I imagine that the actors with speaking roles in that scene are far more disappointed. I think the original intent was to really take advantage of the plasticized dead people for atmosphere, and so they filmed a lot of stuff to give a good feel for the weirdness of the exhibition. Actors portraying a local news team were interviewing the creator of the plastic people as he walked through the exhibit, and things like that. (You can still hear a bit of Gunter’s voice in the background.)

In the end, in an already long Bond movie, there just wasn’t time for all that. In the middle of a long Point A -> Point B -> Point C -> ad infinitum sequence, there just wasn’t time to stop and smell the latex.

As a side note, in the airport scene there is gunplay and terrorism going on on the runways — police cars with flashing lights, etc, and apparently the tower controllers didn’t notice, as planes were still taking off and landing. The last time airport personnel were so incredibly stupid was in one of those Die Hard movies, but at least here it was just to pull off a moment of cheap drama. The Die Hard flick’s plot depended on hundreds of people in responsible positions being mind-bogglingly stupid. No, thousands. In fact, every pilot on the east coast, every person in the FAA both past and present, and every member of every security agency must have had the IQ of a rutabaga. That movie sucked.

Breathe, Jerry. Think happy thoughts. The bad movie is gone, now.

I enjoyed “Casino Royale” quite a bit, actually, once I got over the ridiculous opening title animation. It is grittier than previous Bonds, more modern, and cinematographically more adventurous. There were a couple of long sparring conversations between Bond and Vesper that could have been shorter; eventually they wore that subject pretty thin. Bravo for putting meaningful dialog in a Bond movie, but it was undermined by the urge to beat it over our heads (“Hey! Look! We put meaningful dialog in a Bond flick!”). Giving Bond a scrap of emotion is good, but trying to make a tuxedo out of a scrap doesn’t benefit anyone. (This was not helped by the British pronunciation of “Vesper”, which made me think of an Italian scooter, and then Princess Vespa in “Spaceballs”.)

If only they could have trimmed those cat-fights a little bit more, so they could have put in that ten seconds where it was really needed.

Czech Parking

I was walking up the hill from the corner shop, heading toward the Little Café Near Home, the days provisions heavy in my backpack. I could tell that Martina was working; I recognized her little silver VW out in front of the shop. It is a no-parking zone, but because of the placement of the sign reinforcing the previous no parking sign, locals interpret the small space between a side street and the sign as a parking space. A small car can fit there and only be a danger to people pulling out onto the main road.

That spot was already taken, so Martina simply did what any Czech would do — extend the already-fallacious logic and thereby extend the parking zone. The logic goes like this: If the presence of a side street canceled the previous no-parking stricture on the main street, then clearly the previous no-parking zone ends at the start of the intersection. Therefore, parking is legal within the intersection. She is parked with her car blocking anyone who might want to turn onto the side street, her rear bumper just far enough from the curb so that anyone who took issue with her parking could not accuse her of being parked on the road before it reached the intersection (which would have blocked the turn lane). Of course, for safety she has her hazard lights on.


Every once in a while I get a special treat in my mailbox — I will receive a message notifying me that someone has voluntarily paid for Jer’s Novel Writer. (My favorites are when someone with the ability to turn a nice phrase decides to haggle.) In a world of software pirates, there is another sort of person, one who pays for the things that help them for no other reason than it is the right thing to do. I think in general software companies would do a lot better if they used persuasion and value rather than coercion to reduce piracy. I also think people are more willing to pay a company that is recognizably human. I couldn’t change the way I interact with my users even if I wanted to, but I think people respond to it well. I am, quite obviously, just a guy who couldn’t find a word processor that was about writing. (In the intervening years that has changed, and there are a couple of other strong candidates as well.) I have also set up a system where I make people happy by stealing their ideas (‘paying attention to their suggestions’, I call it in official Hut correspondences).

But I digress. (You couldn’t tell it was a digression because I actually started on a course tangential to the point I set out to write. Yes, I’m that talented. But, once more, I digress.) I was enjoying a Saturday breakfast with fuego and MaK, and I began to wonder how much I’ve made so far from JersNW on an hourly basis. It’s impossible to come up with any sort of accurate assessment of how many hours I’ve put into it; there are weeks of furious development with pauses only to sleep, followed by a month without much time invested at all. I did some wild-ass guessing, though, and the numbers came out quite a bit higher than I expected. Its even possible I’ve now earned more than five cents an hour for my efforts, if you don’t count expenses like geek school and caffeinated beverages. If you count tea costs, I have a long, long way to go to break even.

Of course, that hourly rate will continue to climb, which is good, because it takes a lot of juice to run the antigravity generators that keep the Secret Laboratory complex floating in its sky city, the sun glinting off the great glass climate dome, while air cars swirl about, drifting serenely between the clouds over this quiet Prague neighborhood. Plus, anything that buys me a little more time in this life I’ve made for myself, a little more time to build a career as a writer, is welcome. Obviously, though, if it was about money I would not have left my day job. I think one of the reasons people are willing to pay for the software is that they know I’m in for something other than money. You know what that thing is? It’s fun. I enjoy working on the code, making it beautiful inside and out, and I enjoy watching the software evolve and change into something I never imagined at first. I enjoy learning new techniques and delving into new areas of the programming framework. I enjoy writing the dialog box text, and I try to make that fun, too. I think when a creator of anything is having fun, be it a movie or a spacecraft or a computer program, it shows in the product. Stodgy business software isn’t stodgy because the customers demand it be that way, rather because the creators are incapable making it any other way. Software for drones by drones.

Maybe if the big software companies got their own sky cities the resulting increase in morale would show in their products. I wonder how high this thing can go…

magnificent insignificance

My spelling checker didn’t like pissant. Stupid spelling checker. It suggested piss-ant. Just to make sure I wasn’t completely insane I consulted my dictionary (oh, dictionary, help me enumerate the ways I love thee…) and sure enough there it was. Origin: the noun piss+ant. So of course I looked up piss. It comes from the Old French verb ‘pisser’, which the dictionary theorizes is imitative of the sound. But then I had “French” and “pissant” in my head at the same time, and I typed in “puissant”, a fine word if ever there was one, and opposed to pissant on more than one axis. Not only do they mean pretty much the opposite, but people who are likely to use one are unlikely to use the other.

A challenge to the muddleverse: a bit of doggerel that will fit in the header above that uses both words, preferably next to one another. You may work individually or in groups.

Vinárna Jana

There is an awkward time in the day for a restaurant to have customers. During the slow times in the afternoon the staff counts on not having customers so they can do the preparation work for the evening. When I worked in a pizzeria, it was the time we cooked up the sausage, made the dough, baked the rolls, or whatever else required doing. When a customer came in, someone would have to put down what they were doing and prepare a meal. That’s not to say that customers weren’t welcome, in fact some of our favorite regulars came in during those hours and we would chat with them once we got back to our prep tasks.

I get the feeling they like being disrupted here less than at other places. Then again, they’re czech, and in fact I might have caught them in an especially good mood but they would never let a customer see that.

Vinárna Jana is fairly close to my house, right next to the post office, but most times I pass this way the place is closed. I think that’s because it’s just a bit off my regular track, and I get over this way mainly when everything else is closed as well. The restaurant is divided between a vinárna (wine bar) and a pivnice, which translates literally as “beer place”. (As with the mythical many names of snow, it seems like the czechs have a lot of diffferent ways to say ‘bar’.) I think the two are connected, at any rate.

When I first stepped inside and looked around my reaction was favorable. There is lots of dark wood, floral cloths on the tables, and only a faint smell of tobacco. I took the smallest table in the place — I don’t like to take more than I need, even though I am the only customer. This is not a place where I will be facing communications challenges; I will not be confronted with more than “Yes?” “One more?” and “You’re welcome.”

I just took a break to shovel down some very tasty chicken in a blue cheese sauce. The place is dark on this gloomy afternoon and they are doing nothing about it. Suits me fine. The radio is on a station that plays Glen Campbell and his associates from America and domestically raised. The song playing now is in Czech, occasionally punctuated with a “Goodbye Joe”, while the backup singers are straight out of ’70’s classics like “Big John”.

It’s a good place. My meal out of the way I am no longer disruptive to the workflow of the kitchen — in fact, I believe I was overconcerned before, as they are all sitting around now, enjoying an afternoon meal. The sound of czechs singing to banjo music is pleasant, and there’s still plenty of time on the laptop battery. I think I’ll be here a while.

Rainy Afternoon

It’s a gray day here in the city of 100 spires, the air chilly but not freezing, perhaps 5C or so. I’ll be meeting up with fuego later to watch the Czechs take the ice against the Finns, but in the meantime I find myself outside my usual neighborhood. I let my feet guide me. I passed up on the Zlatý Had (Golden Snake), traveled one more block and now I am sitting now in Kavárna V sebém nebi. It’s a very pleasant place. I’m sitting by the window, watching as the world drifts past outside — pretty girls with colorful umbrellas, workers in coveralls hunched over with cigarettes clamped firmly between stoic lips, baby carriages with elaborate clear plastic rain covers.

There was something else that it took me a while to put my finger on, but now I have it. They make the coffee quietly here. I think we’ve managed to somehow deafen ourselves to it, but the modern coffee house is a very noisy place. The grinders are noisy, and the steam valve makes a racket. Now I’m sitting here as the guy behind the bar is very quietly steaming up a latté (or whatever it is one steams up), and now that I know it’s possible to make coffee without making noise, I am all the more perplexed by people’s tolerance of all those other loud places.

Right now the music is a funky, almost calypso cover of “Smoke on the Water”. The conversation around me is muted as well, since there is little background noise to compete with. When I got here I was the only one (at least on the ground floor), but other customers have arrived in a steady stream. They know each other, that much is obvious, and the mood is brightening even as the day gets darker.

The Curiously Uncomfortable Couch

I’ve mentioned the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch before. I rent a furnished apartment (actually, in Czech tradition, overfurnished) and one article is a large two-piece sofa unit that is not pleasant to sit on. I’ve witnessed (even built) some furniture that fell short in the comfort department, but what makes this particular piece unique in my experience is that there seems to have been no attempt whatsoever to make it comfortable.

The thing converts into a curiously uncomfortable bed, as well. There is a drawer that pulls out and a rather clever mechanism that raises a pad to be level with the couch. The raised pad section is far, more comfortable than the rest of the couch. Obviously the manufacturer knew how to make comfortable things, in this case they just… didn’t.

I don’t sit on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch very often. Last night was an exception, however. I was reading a book, didn’t want to stop, and the couch looked like a good place to be. I marshaled all the pillows I could find and settled in. Almost instantly the sleepies hit me, and rather than haul all the stuff back to the bed, or even pull out the drawer, I turned off the light and rolled over to sleep.

It was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time.

Gambler’s Alert

Tomorrow the San Diego Chargers play in what looks to be a good matchup, and it’s one of the few early games they play this season, which means it’s also on at a good time for me to watch. The oddsmakers are giving the Bolts the thinnest of margins as they travel to Cincinnati, but you may want to think twice about where to put your money this time around. If possible, I will try to alert you ahead of time whether I’m watching the game, the better to document my curse.

Neither rain, nor snow…

It’s a gloomy day, and although the spitting rain has stopped, an icy wind is blowing.

Why, then, was I not surprised when I heard the ice cream truck outside?


Help me out. Glide is a graceful word, but in the past tense glided is particularly ugly. Glid? Glode? I could substitute floated, and in my context I could even use slid (see glid), but glide is the right word. Or it would be if the past tense didn’t have two abrupt stops in it that undermine the meaning of the word. The word serves as the antithesis of its own definition.

Here we have one of the hallmarks of English, its strength and weakness all in one, that rules are made to be broken. Yet we have a case where an irregular conjugation would vastly improve the word. How could Shakespeare’s inventive tongue ever have allowed glided to happen?