New Public Key

For those who have joined my tiny push for better internet privacy, please note that during an upgrade of my key software my old keychain got knocked akimbo. Everything’s fine now, but while I was at it I created a new public key using the newer (better) encryption. Hopefully I can revoke the old key, but in the meantime please go to my key page to get the new one.

The software upgrade that caused the trouble was to get around a bug in the way GPGMail and MacGPG2 interacted. The GPGMail guys have done a great job ironing out the wrinkles I encountered (as far as I can tell so far), and they’ve built an excellent installer that makes it much easier for Mac users to get up and running protecting themselves from prying eyes. I’ll be updating (and shortening) my instruction page soon.

The What Now?

Range Rover has introduced a new version of their suburban assault vehicle, a massive beast that will get the kids to soccer practice on time at the cost of $100 per quickly-depleted tankful: the Range Rover Sport. I’m pretty sure they didn’t intend irony when they gave it that moniker, but I have to believe the marketing team that blessed one of the least-sporty vehicles on the road today with that appellation must have had a good laugh when all was said and done.

And… it will work.

To: The Beemer Driver Behind Me This Morning

As I slid into the morning rat-farce today heading north on 280 I saw your modern, aggressive grille in my rear-view mirror. Sleek, shiny, and black. Not some cheap-ass little 3-series.

You were behind me for perhaps two miles, the entire time maintaing a safe distance. I could have switched to a faster lane, but like hell I was going to give up the chance to have a courteous, safe driver behind me. Eventually, of course, someone had to move into the space you left in front of you, and climb into my tailpipe.

I remind myself that not all of the people who ride my bumper are impatient assholes; some of them are merely incompetent. You, Mr. Beemer Driver, were both courteous and competent, and obviously interested in not ramming your sweet ride into the rear of the guy in front of you.

Thank you, sir, for a few low-stress minutes on my drive to work this morning. Hopefully I’ll see you again.

Marketing Education

Got a kid who’s not interested in school? Maybe the right Web comic can help:


Cyberspace Open: What they Really Want

The Cyberspace Open is a pretty cool contest, but there seems to be a gap between what they say they want, and what they actually want. The rules are evolving as the organizers have been moving from rewarding high-speed output to giving writers the time they need to create something more memorable (and marketable).

I’ve done the contest a couple of times now, and I’ve seen what wins and where I consistently fall short.

Four categories of scoring? Not… so much.
One of the things emphasized is that you are scored in four different categories. “Originality is 25% of your score,” they say. When you get your scene back, you get a breakdown of how many points you get in each category. Last time, out of hundreds of scores I checked, NONE had a difference of more than two points between categories. You would expect some entries to be wildly creative but very poorly executed, and for the scores to reflect that. Instead, it seems the judges arrive at a gut-feeling score and then divvy up the points fairly evenly between categories.

Don’t worry so much about the one-scene rule.
According to the rules, you’re supposed to submit a single scene. Part of the difficulty with this edict is that a “scene” is a technical movie-making unit, not a storytelling unit. They soften the rule to say that if your “scene” continues between rooms of a house during the course of a conversation, that’s ok. (Technically, every time the scenery changes, it’s a new scene. Changing rooms is a new scene.)

I’m all for this relaxed interpretation. How I would write the rule is, ‘continuous action that cannot be interrupted by cutting to another scene with different characters’. That lets you move your action, but keeps the “scene” as a fundamental storytelling unit.

However, even by that definition, two of the three top finalists last time had multiple scenes. One of the finalists used a brief scene at the start to establish the story, while another jumped scenes (and skipped ahead a couple of hours) halfway through the action. So it would seem the one-scene rule is not enforced at all.

Tell the Whole Story
The contest clearly states that they want a single scene that is part of a larger story. They don’t want a short film. The prompt they give is for a key moment in the arc of a story already under way. The thing is, judges can appreciate the scene more if they have an understanding of the context. Last year’s winner had an extra, short scene at the start with no other purpose than to supply context. One of the first-round winners last year included an extra little scene at the end that provided closure. In both cases the judges rewarded writers for breaking the letter of the law. Both of the other finalists last year had as-you-know-Bob-style dialog to provide context. fuego was specifically chided for not including more backstory in his scene.

You know? That’s OK with me. I think of my first (losing) entry and the really cool car stunt that happened immediately after the scene I submitted. I should have included it, even though it was technically another scene. My most recent (losing) entry could have benefitted from more context as well, but it also needed…

This is my mantra this time: make every moment crackle. I honestly thought I had that last time, but it was a verbal confrontation (they said they wanted dialog) and without a better understanding of the characters it failed to sparkle. If my dialog had been combined with bloodshed, things might have been much different.

Make every phrase one that could go into the movie trailer, every motion filled with peril. All the other rules and guidelines above take a backseat to this simple axiom. Whatever they say they want, whatever restrictions they impose, all will be forgiven if you write a taut scene with intensity – and it has to stand on its own. Of course the judges couldn’t see the tension between my characters since much of it was based on things that had come before.

Three to Five Pages
While the text on the Web site sounds flexible, they’re really hardcore about this now. Five pages and one line was not acceptable last time around.

Don’t lose on a technicality
As much as it sucks to get a low score, it would suck even more to get zero points because you didn’t submit your work correctly. There are things you can do before the contest that will allow you to save time and worry when submission time comes around.

You must submit your entry in a document named in a particular way, with specific formatting and a cover page with the proper information. Why wait until the last minute, when you’re tweaking the last few words as the clock ticks down? Go ahead and make the document now. Set up the formatting. Name it according to the submission rules. Write the cover page. Check it all twice. Now you’ve got all the ticky-tack stuff out of the way and when minutes count you can focus on the work, not the submission.

Have Fun!
I don’t participate in this contest with dreams of megabucks movie producers knocking on my door, I do it because it’s a challenge that appeals to me on a fundamental level and I’ve learned a lot from my previous failures. I like sharing my output here and getting feedback.

There’s another reason to have fun: It shows in the work. If you’re smiling while you’re typing, chances are the judge will be smiling while reading. Give it your best go, but have a good time and let your own quirks show through.

Just so long as you don’t push me out of the second round!


A New Privacy Invasion to Fight

They are probably not unique, but has robots diligently combing the world for your personal information. What they have on you might be surprising. And, while it is possible, they don’t make it obvious how you can delete (or at lease hide from public view) the data about you they have gathered for profit.

Telephone numbers, addresses, relationships, and of course age are only a few of the things about you that they are selling.

So: time to get your profiles off of If anyone out there knows of similar services out there, let’s consolidate the “quit making profit by selling my personal data” list.

NOTE: These instructions might be more complicated than necessary, but this method is what I tested.

  1. Go to
  2. Enter your name. Scan the matches for any that might be you. You will have to delete each profile individually.
  3. Select a profile. In the window that pops up, select “see it all”.
  4. You will go to a screen that tries to sell you the service, including “See all available information, including photos, profiles, lifestyle and wealth data.” Now you remember why you’re dong this.
  5. Copy the entire URL from the address bar of your browser.
  6. Down at the bottom of the screen is a teeny, tiny little link that says “privacy”. Click that.
  7. Paste in the URL.
  8. Supply an email address. TIP: you can tag your address with a plus sign. For instance, instead of [email protected] you can use [email protected] That way any email they send to you will be tagged. (This opens up a different discussion that I will leave for another day.)
  9. Try to decipher the CAPTCHA, then submit.
  10. When the email arrives, click the link and your data will be “removed”. I don’t honestly expect the data is actually deleted, but at least it’s a little more hidden.
  11. Repeat the process with any other profiles that might be you. You will have to use a different email tag each time.
  12. Write a robot that automatically deletes records from their database. If I had the skills I’d do it myself. With robots they gather, with robots we take away.

I recommend that you don’t do this “later”, or “tomorrow”, but now. If you have any troubles, leave a comment and I’ll clarify the instructions. If you know of other “services” like this one, let’s add them here!


Harlean on the Move

This is just a quick note to tell folks that Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction) has moved her blog from MySpace (which is becoming a fiction) to Blogspot. Right now she’s moving her favorite posts from the old to the new, so you can get a nice ‘best-of’ album right now to introduce youself to her inimitable style. Check it out!

Working With a Screen-Toucher

Yes, It’s true. One of the people I work with touches his computer monitor with his fingers. I never suspected that a place like Apple could harbor such people.

Today we were in a meeting discussing our project. He’s doing the database stuff; I’m concentrating on the presentation layer (see my previous rants about HTML). We were sitting side-by-side, each with his laptop open. On his screen was a dump of the data structure he was sending over to my code. “Here is the list of …”

Actually, I’m not sure what he said after that. I was staring in horror at the end of his finger, where it was pressed firmly against the surface of his screen. “Data list value array,” my co-worker said. I heard none of it. Here’s what I was thinking: Fingerprints. Photons baffled and confused. Acidic oils burning through the surface. Pixels, suffocating, twisting in agony. His screen was covered in fingerprints, the oils from countless screen-touchings built up into a layer that my eyes could no longer focus past.

“Will that work?” he asked.

“Um…” I replied. I wondered what it was that he was talking about. I wondered how he could work when his screen was—

His hand shot out, left index finger extended, directly at my screen. My lovely, lovely, screen, only three weeks out of the box — pristine, innocent of the bruising touch of errant digits. Nooooooooooo!

Perhaps it was my sharp intake of breath that interrupted the course of his rampaging digit. Perhaps he’s already aware that while touching one’s own screen is one thing, touching the screen of another is quite something else. The tip of his finger stopped just above the surface of my virgin monitor and hovered there, twitching, as he described something about something. There was a corner of my mind sending up a flare that perhaps the actual words that my co-worker spoke might be important. The signal was lost among the klaxons and Emergency Broadcast System alerts that demanded that every neuron be devoted to ongoing analysis of the motion of The Finger. The Homeland Security lobe of my brain was altering the threat level meter a dozen times per second, adjusting duct tape and adrenaline with every minute vibration of the chemical-weapon-bearing heathen on the doorstep. The threat level never dipped below ‘orange’.

After two draining seconds the threat receded. My screen, even now, does not understand the horror that nearly came to pass. (Or does it? My laptop shares an intimate network with thousands of others. Perhaps there are legends and stories that pass between them. Perhaps those other computers smile to themselves at the excited puppylike banter of my computer — “Wow! I’m running MySQL server!” — while the grizzled veterans roll their eyes. Meanwhile, the old-timers quietly admire the stoicism of my co-worker’s laptop. “Someone did that to me, I’d just kernel panic,” the headless X-serve in its air-conditioned enclosure says.)

Meanwhile, my co-worker thinks he’s told me stuff. I was sitting right there and looking where he pointed, so I must have been paying attention. I’m reasonably confident that he was speaking, I think I would have noticed if his voice stopped. Probably. He isn’t talking now, however, so he must be waiting for me to say something.

“I’ll be working on that next,” I say. “Can you send me a summary in an email?”


to: Douchebag

If blue smoke and the smell of burning rubber aren’t enough to get you to stop tailgating for even a minute or two, maybe you shouldn’t be driving.