Maybe not so Unprepared After All

It appears many of the materials I wanted to have prepared for this weekend aren’t necessary after all. These publisher and agent types don’t want to be encumbered with paper, so I just need to leave a strong impression and a name. Then it’s up to me to follow up later.

Man I can’t tell you what a huge relief that is. Now all I have to do is hook some movers and shakers, then come home and get the stuff ready for them – simultaneously with NaNoWriMo and my job. What could be simpler?

On the subject of NaNoWroMo, my story this year will have one of the best opening chapters of any book ever written by anyone. If I can get it right. I am fired up and ready to go!

Woefully Unprepared

At the start of September I had a plan: 1) Spend September finishing a draft of Dark War that my brother could critique and maybe even hand to people. 2) Spend October working on The Monster Within and get it ready for some serious flogging at the World Fantasy Convention. Simple enough.

Dark War started running long (other projects pushed in, I got stuck a couple of times) but I wasn’t too worried. October is a long month. Then, as regular readers are aware, I got a job. For the most part a job is a good thing, what with paychecks coming in, keeping up with technology, and getting to apply my programming skills to make the world a little bit better. It comes at a price, however, and when you jump in on a project that is running behind and people aren’t even sure how behind it is, you can run into a pretty major life suck.

And so it was that I finally took most of today off to prepare for the WFC (after a work meeting that had the benefit of getting me up early this morning). Monster is untouched, which really sucks because the first chapter could have a lot more impact, and my goal in the next few days is to get people to read that chapter. I have no current synopsis, no other sales materials prepared.

This morning I went to the WFC Web site to check out the program, and see what time things were starting tomorrow. The answer: the festivities start tonight. I’m not going to make it. I don’t think I’ll be missing anything critical, except a chance to rub elbows with people who might give me money for my work. Tomorrow I’ll hit the ground running.

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Happy Halloween!

While I haven’t managed to separate my brain from my work long enough to get fiction flowing, I did manage to take time out to catch a Halloween shoot with Harlean Carpenter, self-created fiction. Here are a few of the shots. Enjoy!


The rest of the gallery can be found at Poetic Pinup. Take a look!

1

Filling a Need

I dragged my sorry butt out of bed just before 7 a.m. Big meeting. I put on my fuzzy bathrobe and plunked down in front of the computer while my sweetie made me tea. Then she went back to bed. We stayed up way too late last night.

Skype lit up and away we went. The meeting was more about my employer and the evolution of their corporate character than about technology, deadlines, or the transient issues of the day. How do you make a company run smoothly when you span from San Jose to Moscow? How do you make sure everyone is having a good time while you’re at it?

At one point in the conversation I was asked for bio data for my employer to put up on their Web site. I thought I would throw them a link to the bio page here here first, as a joke and also to let them learn a little more about who I am (or who I want to be, at least). I popped over here and saw… that this site had been suspended by my Web host. I checked my email. No notice. I checked my account on MMHosting’s site. Suspended, no reason given.

Some Mondays are Mondayer than others.

I sent off an urgent help request and spent the rest of the day bouncing between databases, php server code, and Flex client code, generally trying to be smart enough to deserve what they are paying me. Eventually I got a message back from MMHosting.

First, they said they had in fact sent an email. I searched everywhere I know how to search, and I couldn’t find it. No matter; they also turned the site back on. The guy said that some of my php files (code that runs on the server and builds these pages) was loading bazillions of times and slowing down the server. Uh, oh! Looks like some plugin I’m using ran amok. The people sharing the server with me probably weren’t happy.

That’s what I thought until I started looking at the numbers, anyway. Runaway software? Not at all! It turns out this table I wasted way too much time on got mentioned in a prominent place, and twitter and digg took care of the rest. When you look at the graph, remember that the site was down for much of the time during that traffic spike. Holy Schnikies!

Traffic for the last month. The bulge at the beginning is from Cyberspace Open traffic. Things have been slow since I started working - until today!

Traffic for the last month. The bulge at the beginning is from Cyberspace Open traffic. Things have been slow since I started working - until today!


I really did put a lot of work into that dang table, so I’m glad people are picking up on it. Maybe there are other CSS3 features I could tote up – transform and shadow come to mind.

Boy, I sure wish I had a killer episode at the top of the blog to hook some of these visitors. Oh, well.

1

Why Mazda Should Pay Me To Go On Road Trips

Actually, this episode is here to allow me to play with different gallery plugins for WordPress. There are quite a few and so what happens when you click one of the thumbnails below may change dramatically at any moment.

For test photos I went back through my archives and grabbed a few with a common theme, which turned out to be pictures of the Miata during my epic road trip. Hey, Mazda? If you’re watching, I can sell the Miata lifestyle for you, this time with a redhead in the passenger seat. The open road. The byways of North America. People. Adventure. Wind. Freedom. Marketing gold, baby.

Progress Update: A couple of the lightbox options look pretty sweet, but there are none that I found with an option to fit the images to the user’s browser window. Strange. I looked at the source code for one of them and it even uses the size of the page in some calculations. Still, I like letting people see the full-size versions of the images without leaving and having to click the back button, so some type of lightbox plugin will likely remain.

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Self-Portrait Friday

Since I don’t have much to say, really, what with my brain being off in technology-land, I thought I’d share the result of this week’s Self-Portrait Friday. I have not been consistent with this tradition at all, but today I grabbed the camera and shot myself.

Self-Portrait, October 23, 2009

Self-Portrait, October 23, 2009


In case you haven’t picked up on this, most of the pictures in this blog can be expanded by clicking on them. Not that there’s much reason to in this case, but there you go.

1

None of Your Cheese Wax

I’ve been pretty busy for the last week, coming up to speed on the project, fixing bugs, and generally stressing over the fact that I failed to provide instant lift. I always provide instant lift. Not this time. While I was familiar with all the tools used in this project, putting them all together at once was a lot to assimilate. So I’ve been sitting in this chair, typing on this keyboard, but not doing much to advance the Media Empire.

I have busy fingers, however, and I will always find something on my desk to fiddle with while I’m thinking. On day one of this project my sweetie brought me lunch at my desk, gave me some words of encouragement, and left me to mutter at the screen. One of the items in my lunch was a little round of soft cheese, wrapped in red wax. I love those things.

My meal finished, I started to play with the leftover wax, and I made a little sphere. The next day, another cheese, another shape, this time a cube. A tradition was born. Each day I would start to fiddle with the wax, never sure what I’d end up with. Here is the result of my first week on the job:

Cheese Wax Figures

Cheese Wax Figures


The dumbbell-shaped one was the most recent; I’m breaking out of the simple geometric mold. What will be next?

2

Employed!

Well, now I’ve gone and done it! I have a short-term job, helping to program up a fancy Web-based learning management system for a couple of companies in the medical industry. I didn’t really look for the job, but it found me anyway.

This month is going to be pretty crazy; and I won’t have nearly the time to get ready for the World Fantasy Convention now. On the other hand, I’ll be able to pay rent. That’s pretty important, what with this being the rainy season and all. Don’t know what’s going to happen to the ol’ blog here; I was a little bit employed at the start of my homeless tour and still managed to keep things alive, so let’s hope.

Long ago, when I was dabbling in radio, a mentor told me “if you have a safety net, you will fall into it.” I had a safety net, a job programming computers. I fell into it. I’m going to have to be very, very careful that I don’t allow that to happen again.

1

My Life in the USA

Moving to California hasn’t affected me much…

pumps

1

The Delicate Dependency

There are a lot of vampire stories out there right now, most of them occupying the Ann Rice (with Buffy Extensions) World. Rice, I suspect, as primary architect of the AR(wBE)W, is justifyably proud of the impact she’s had on mainstream literature, as writers of every skill level have adopted the AR(wBE)W — some to add interesting twists on it, others because they aren’t inclined (or able) to come up with a world of their own.

But is that really the world vampires would build?

Let’s say you’re a vampire, oh, around the time of the ancient Greeks. Give or take. You have been around for a while, much longer than the fleeting human lives that surround you, and you understand that now you are a fundamentally different animal. A more evolved species. What do you do? Do you run out willy-nilly and vampirize the cheerleader squad and the buffest dudes?

Probably not. You would probably be very selective about who you invited in to your immortal fraternity, choosing the best and the brightest that humanity had to offer. Centuries pass. Your cabal now holds the greatest minds, and preserves lost knowledge. You are part of a secret cult that weilds immense power, subtly. Things are going pretty well, but there’s one problem. People. Those clever little bastards are getting better and better at killing each other, and killing your kind. You see the day coming when everything will change.

Let’s call that day the Victorian Era, a time when Learned Men spoke of the Triumph of Reason over Superstition. Scientific method and exploration are turning the mysterious into the Known at a dizzying pace, and a technology boom looms close behind.

The Delicate Dependency by Michael Talbot is a story told by one of the champions of reason of the Victorian Age. Dr. Gladstone is a physician and a medical researcher. He is rather passionate about influenza (it’s personal) and has devoted his life to understanding the virus. As a result, under a bell jar in his laboratory, he has an influenza virus for which the human body has no resistance whatsoever. It is a supergerm. To him it is a professional triumph, to others it looks more like the first weapon of mass destruction, and an entirely indiscriminate one at that. A global catastrophe waiting to happen.

That’s when the vampire comes to live at his house. Dr. Gladstone wants to study the creature. There is nothing that can’t be explained, after all. His teenage daughter Ursula has other ideas. Yet when the vampire leaves suddenly, it is neither Ursula nor the virus he takes with him.

He has even warned his host: Nothing the vampire do is as it seems.

The language of the book feels authentic to the period, and reads right along. One thing I noticed: adjectives. Lots and lots of them. Dr. Gladstone would never lay something on a desk, he would lay it on an oak desk with teak inlay and gold trim. Rarely is does a bit of setting escape unadorned, even if it’s the third reference to the object. I think this is deliberate on the writer’s part; the good doctor has an eye for the finer things in life and when details of craft or workmanship catch his eye, he will report them faithfully. He is an object-oriented person.

The prose takes its time moving through the story, and much of the action is intellectual, as clues and mysteries mount up. There is a rip-roaring chase or two, however, and you can feel the breathlessness of the characters as they dash for survival. This is a fine read, a story well told, with plenty of surprises and twists along the way.

Note: You’ve really got to want this one, as dealers are asking huge prices for used copies, but as always if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

2

The Book Review that Wasn’t

Last night I wrote a review of a book. I was pretty pleased with the results. It actually talked about the book for a while. This morning I tweaked it a bit and hit post.

It vanished.

Well, mostly vanished. The title was there, as was the little blurb at the top. Everything else was gone. “Poop!” I said (or something like that).

I use ecto to compose my larger blog episodes; the offline editor is much nicer than any in-browser editor I’ve encountered, especially on my 8-year-old laptop. I don’t call it Ol’ Pokey for nothing. Plus there are times I want to write an episode but the Internet is nowhere in sight. ecto has been working very well for me. Except when it loses my work. This is the second time, but somehow this one hurt more. Also, ecto was recently bought from the original developer and seems to be stagnating.

“Looks like it’s time to give MarsEdit a serious look,” I said, and downloaded the latest. I fired it up and was greeted with “Your trial period has expired.” Dang. I’d launched it once when comparing ecto and MarsEdit back in the day. MarsEdit was missing a particular feature (don’t remember exactly what) and that made ecto the winner. Before it started losing my work.

Lots of people like MarsEdit (lots of people like ecto, too), but am I willing to pay for it without writing a single episode with it? That’s hard to justify. I’m downloading a program called Qumana to rewrite the book review with. We’ll see how that goes.

Edited to add: Nope. Qumana didn’t work. At all. I checked the system requirements, and it should work. But it doesn’t.

One Last Microsoft-Related Thought

While watching television a couple of nights ago, I saw an ad for the new Windows 7, code-named “all the stuff we wanted to put in Vista but ran out of time.” After the ad was over I turned to my sweetie and said, “I know there’s a joke about the significance of them using the theme for The A-Team in the ad, but I can’t think of it.”

After perhaps a second of reflection she said, “How about, ‘We get the job done but there might be a lot of explosions first.'”

I laughed, thought for a few seconds, and ventured, ‘There will be a lot of shooting, but no one will be hit.’

Obviously my sweetie is funnier than I am.

Cyberspace Open Round Two

Although my first entry was not good enough to place me in the top one hundred, I decided before the competition started that I would do the following rounds whether or not I was still in the running. Tonight my resolve was sorely tested, but my head has been in geek-space too much lately, so the chance to do a writing assignment seemed like a good idea.

That’s not to say that I put a whole lot of effort into it, however.

Here’s the new premise:

Your PROTAGONIST’S allies have turned on him (or her.) His reputation is now in tatters, largely due to his own screw-up — which has been magnified and broadcast by the ANTAGONIST. Write the scene in which the protagonist tries to win the allies back. The scene should include a heartfelt mea culpa. You may use any setting, era or characters in addition to the ones indicated, as needed.

Although competitors have all night, I only spent a couple of hours on mine. While pondering what to write, I realized that I already have some stories that I intentionally don’t devote much time to. So here’s a scene from Allison in Anime, way out of sequence, pooped out in screenplay format for the sake of this exercise. (I played a little fast and loose with who the protagonist is, but in a good story everyone thinks they’re the protagonist anyway.)

For those who aren’t familiar with my little exercise in logorrhea, Allison in Animeland is a spoof of Japanese cartoons in which an American girl finds herself in a Japan where all the strange conventions of anime are actually true. In this Japan, transfer students ALWAYS turn out to be more than they seem, and the destruction of entire cities is routine, as are exclamation points. This scene takes place quite a bit in the future from any published episode and uses several characters who haven’t even been named in the main story yet.

INT. DOJO – DAY
Afternoon sun slants through high windows, forming shafts that reflect off the highly-polished wood floor. All is quiet. Suddenly the door slides open with a bang.
AZUSA (17,) slender and athletic, storms into the room, her red hair trailing behind her.
AZUSA
Damn that girl!
KIRA (17,) a tall and lanky boy, emerges from the shadows. His blond hair shines in a shaft of sunlight.
KIRA
Hello, Azusa.
Azusa wheels, her eyes wide with shock.
AZUSA
Kira!
KIRA
Were you expecting someone else?
AZUSA
The transfer student will be here soon. We have a training session.
Kira walks farther into the room. He is holding a sword.
KIRA
You were instructed to break her.
AZUSA
I will! She’s —
KIRA
She’s stronger than ever!
Azusa bows in shame, then raises her eyes, narrowed and calculating.
AZUSA
Her strength will be ours to use.
HAYASE (16,) buxom with a long black ponytail, emerges from another corner of the dojo. Her pretty face is set in a sneer. She too carries a sword. Azusa whirls to meet her. Hayase poses to emphasize how much more attractive she is than Azusa.
HAYASE
Ours… or yours? You’re planning something!
AZUSA
What do you mean?
HAYASE
You want to use her power yourself.
AZUSA
Do not accuse me of what you desire for yourself!
KIRA
You plan to overthrow the council! You plan to overthrow ME!
AZUSA
No!
From another corner NARUMI (14,) a geeky-looking boy, emerges. The sunlight glints off his glasses and off the blade of the sword he carries. His voice is thin and weak.
NARUMI
Tell us what you have learned. Tell us of her powers.
AZUSA
Her speed with a sword is uncanny. She can strike several times without stopping to talk.
The other three gasp.
NARUMI
Impossible!
HAYASE
What sort of demon magic is this?
AZUSA
She can even strike when her opponent is talking.
From the fourth corner of the dojo IRUKA (17, dark, mysterious) steps forth. He carries his sword casually. He speaks slowly, confidently, his baritone voice filling the room.
IRUKA
Not even demons and death spirits have powers like that.
Azusa turns as the four other members of the student council close in around her.
AZUSA
The transfer student is not a demon.
IRUKA
Oh? Are you an expert on the subject?
AZUSA
No.
Azusa raises her own sword, but tries to make it look casual. The others start to move in a slow circle around her. She tries desperately to keep an eye on all of them.
KIRA
What is she then? A robot?
NARUMI
Robots don’t generally fence. They prefer particle weapons and cannon.
AZUSA
I have seen her bleed.
HAYASE
She must be an escaped lab experiment, then, like I always said.
NARUMI
She is good with computers. We saw that the last time our school was blown up.
KIRA
Don’t forget what she did to–
Iruka slashes his sword.
IRUKA
Enough!
The group falls silent. Everyone stands frozen in place. Kira swallows nervously.
KIRA
Azusa, as head of the student council, I relieve you of your duties.
AZUSA
No!
Hayase shakes her pigtail and folds her arms under her ample breasts.
HAYASE
(to Kira)
You should have given me the job in the first place. I could break her in fifteen minutes.
AZUSA
You don’t understand! Allison is vulnerable! This is the key moment!
HAYASE
Allison? Ha! I thought so! The transfer student says you’re… friends!
AZUSA
You have to let me finish!
IRUKA
Finish what, Azusa? When the time comes, who are you going to choose? The Council, or your… friend?
Azusa lowers her sword and her head.
AZUSA
I… don’t know.
KIRA
You wish to rule at her side, don’t you?
Hayase smiles wickedly.
HAYASE
But which of you is the prince and which is the princess… or will you take turns?
AZUSA
I have always done my duty to the council.
KIRA
And you have always thought you would be a better leader than me.
IRUKA
Kira, we all think we would be a better leader than you. And we are all correct. But you have been appointed, for reasons unknown. Azusa.
Azusa turns to face Iruka. Even in the light he seems to have shadows cast on him.
AZUSA
Yes?
IRUKA
You have befriended the enemy.
AZUSA
Yes. I am sorry.
She drops to one knee and lays her sword on the floor in front of her.
AZUSA (CONT’D)
I have failed you.
IRUKA
Not necessarily. You said she was vulnerable.
Azusa hesitates. She knows what is coming.
AZUSA
Yes.
Iruka steps forward and places the blade of his sword against her neck, very gently.
IRUKA
You can break her?
AZUSA
Yes.
Iruka crouches down to look Azusa in the eye.
IRUKA
Then do so. Today.
AZUSA
Yes, sir.
The door to the dojo slides open with a bang. ALLISON (16,) perky and dressed for fencing, enters. She drops her bamboo practice sword with a clatter.
ALLISON
Oh! I’m sorry! Am I interrupting something?

Speaking of Google and Microsoft…

Now there’s Google Chrome Frame, or at least the glimmer of it in the future. Google’s spin: since Internet Explorer is holding back the Web; we’ll make a plugin so people can use our more standards-compliant browser technology from within Internet Explorer.

It seems nice on the surface and I’m happy that someone would go and fix Internet Explorer despite Microsoft, but I have to wonder how many people will actually install the plugin. The people who are using IE now are ones who either like IE as it is or who must use IE because their IT department says so. Will the first group see value in adding a plugin to make their browser work like another browser (which they just as easily could be using already), or will IT departments allow their ‘clients’ to install such a large unknown quantity on their machines?

The thing is designed so that the WebKit code (what Chrome is based on) will only be invoked on Web pages that specifically enable it. (This might help the IT guys relax a bit.) I will enable it for this site, although the differences Chrome Frame users will see are only cosmetic. It costs me nothing. Somewhere the Google minions will make note of my Chrome enabilization and use that as part of a marketing pitch.

My hope for the plugin is not that it converts a lot of Internet Explorer users, but that it spurs Microsoft to accelerate their own adoption of the next wave of standards. That would be the biggest win from where I’m sitting. It doesn’t seem likely, though, until HTML 5 becomes a valuable tool for its business customers.

Whether it’s Bing making Google Search better or Chrome making Internet Explorer better, in the end I’m glad these two companies don’t get along.

Whew! That Could Have Been Trouble!

I was watching television this evening and there was a commercial for a car of some sort. In the ad a giant claw descends with a crash and lifts an old junker up into the air. From underneath the crappy car a shiny new car drops.

At the bottom of the screen, in fine print: Do Not Attempt.