There is a lot of shit code in this world. This blog uses some of it. I have fixed one aspect of the shittiness, so now you can once again voice your appreciation for words well-spoken. I will look into the problem with the comment upvote thingie… later. It could also use a face-lift, I think, so people even notice it’s there.
I was poking around in the musty, poorly-lit tunnels beneath the smooth and glitzy blog you are reading, and I discovered a rather unsettling fact: I have 51 episodes I started but didn’t finish, yet still haven’t deleted. For the next week or three, I’ll be pulling up the ones that deserve to see the blinding light of the public eye.
So if you see some references that are clearly dated, welp, that’s why. If you see episodes that start to develop but then suddenly stop, it’s because I liked the episode, but at this stage I’m not gong to finish it (in all likelihood because I can’t remember the incidents described any longer). Some episodes might still have cobwebs, or spots of rust. Some might be full zombie now, shambling out of the past, hoping to find relevance by eating your brain.
We will start with a marketing campaign by McDonalds that ended a while back. I had meant to explore the idea a little more, but I stopped mid-sentence. Probably scrabbling for the right word. Or just distracted by something shiny.
I will mark the episodes from the archives with the tag “bottle of beer”.
Note that actual current episodes might appear as well, like the one that just landed in the Jury Life series. Crazy times at MR&HBI!
While I try to figure out where the fuck WordPress had hidden basic stuff like where I set the category and keywords of a post, I’d like to talk about the upcoming year.
Oh, for crying out loud, I’ve accidentally published this episode already, while I have yet to find how to set the category for my post. You know what the next episode will be about.
ANYWAY, it’s a new year and I have resolutions. Actually, only one resolution. Communicate. I will talk to my friends this year. I’ll drop a message every now and then. I’ll post here on the blog on a regular basis. And most important of all, I’ll start reading my email again.
I have come to hate noise. It’s why I never visit Facebook anymore. And my email is so filled with noise that I have simply stopped reading it. The terrorists (and the marketers) have won.
This year, at least I start talking again. I was never much for listening anyway, except for the comments here at MR&HBI, which is honestly the social contact I pine for the most.
This has not been a good week for my writing mojo. This weekend I want to poop out a few thousand words of Glass Archipelago and also get a draft of the next episode of Knives to near-ready status. That’s a lot of writing.
To improve things and give myself a shot at a moderately productive weekend, I’m going to continue what has been very relaxing tactic for the last two days: no Facebook. Although it might appear that I’m over there, rest assured that my presence is really that of a robotic doppelgänger, taking my words from here and gluing them into my feed over there. Jerry the human will not be appearing until he has caught up a bit. If Jerry the human finds himself happier as a result of the exercise, he may continue it.
Keep in mind, then, that at least for now comments you make to my posts on Facebook WILL NOT BE READ BY ME. If you click “like”, I’ll never know. If you want to comment on my words, do it here on the blog. If you think they’re sweet, there’s a button for that, too.
Now, back to the task at hand.
Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas first started in 2003, when the Internet was young and even tiny backwater blogs could score high on search engine rankings. It really started to gain traction a few months later, when I hopped in my car and started a road trip for “a few weeks” to see more of the lovely United States before relocating to Prague.
The road trip lasted more than seven months, and one of the best things about it (from my point of view) was the blog. I kept the driving short most days, and allowed plenty of time for writing. I was enjoying it so much, I actually tried to get Mazda to hire me to keep doing it. I was really living the Miata life. Alas, I never found a contact with a remote understanding of what I was proposing. (“Good luck with your book!” they would often say.)
So eventually I stopped driving, hopped on a plane, and found an apartment in Prague. Living in a foreign country is of course the source of many good stories, and the blog grew and flourished. (For certain, very small values of “flourish”.) It never became big, or popular, but it did form a nucleus for a wide-spread community. That made me happy.
When I came back to this country the tenor of the blog changed again; I can’t give too many details about my work, and now I’m in a relationship that makes much of my life none of your damn business. Facebook continued to grow and fill the community role that blogs like mine once did (more easily, if not as well), and the list of regulars here has diminished. Still I keep blogging.
Today, however, I’d like to climb in the way-back machine and look at some of my favorite older posts.
It was today that the truth became obvious to me. Driving peacefully up Glenwood from the main town, two six-packs of beer placed carefully so that the side-to-side forces of the upcoming twisty road would not dislodge them, a squirrel came dashing out from the far side of the road and ran full-tilt to intercept me.
Sometimes the blog episode is merely a catalyst that gets people talking. This episode debuted early in my road trip and sparked a lively conversation in the comments. It was that post, I believe, that began to gel the blog community, or bloggcomm, as it was soon to be known. 84 comments followed, covering black holes, David Bowie, and squirrel activity around the world.
On the penultimate page our hero is hurtling across the heartland, thinking deep thoughts. You turn the page, and it just says, “And then he stopped.” You blink at the sentence, feeling gypped. “That’s it?” you ask the book, but the book just sits there, ignoring your ire. “And then he stopped.”
It was a bittersweet time when I gave up the road trip and moved on to a very different phase of my life. I thought of the story I had been telling, and how it ended. It turns out, it ended in a way very satisfying to Eastern Europeans, with more questions than answers.
“Transfer student!” called one student as he dove under his desk.
“We’re doomed!” shouted a panicky girl, cowering in the corner. “So young… I’ve barely lived at all.”
“She’s so cute…,” said a boy holding a handkerchief to his nose.
“Everybody stay calm!” bellowed another girl over the noise.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” huffed a pretty blonde.
“Don’t turn me into a monkey! Please don’t turn me into a monkey,” sobbed another boy.
The teacher seemed unaware of the bedlam. “Allison has come all the way from America. She may not be familiar with all our customs, so be sure to do your best to help her feel welcome.”
One of the serial fiction pieces on this blog. I noticed that in many Japanese cartoons, untold mayhem is wrought by transfer students. It occurred to me that any student in that world would immediately recognize that the presence of a transfer student was Big Trouble. Transfer students are always demons, or robots, or escaped lab experiments. Allison, however is a perfectly ordinary American girl who knows nothing of those conventions. Or is she!? I intentionally did not spend a lot of time honing the episodes of this adventure, but just let myself be silly. I am tempted, one day, to carry this forward. There’s so much more anime to lampoon.
“Hey,” Soup Boy said to me, “you want to be in James Bond?” “Sure,” said I. Now, because of a simple accident of logistics, you will quite possibly see my mug on the silver screen, while interesting things happen behind me.
While in Prague I had span of a few months where I landed several gigs as an extra in large films and an actor in small ones. It started with Casino Royale, where my job was to look American. Then followed a gig looking like a bum, and then looking like a lab assistant, and others. Good times.
“Please, sit,” the border guard said, unconcerned for the busload of people who were waiting. Close up, Robert could see that his uniform was faded and worn almost through in places. “May I see your passport, please?”
Robert handed over his passport and his visa paperwork. The soldier looked at the visa, nonplussed. “You intend to stay here?”
The guard set down the papers and scratched his head while he regarded his guest with open confusion. “Why?”
Each November 1st I publish an excerpt of the writing I did to kick off NaNoWriMo. In 2005 that effort was The Stan-Man Plan, in which venal Washington politics land a mild-mannered language expert in the forgotten land of Ztrtkijistan, which may be a country, or may be a province of a neighbor. No one has ever cared enough to figure it out. It’s that kind of place. In fact, when Ghengis Kahn came through, he took one look at the little valley and decided to go around. McFadden quickly admits he is a spy, thinking that would get him sent home, but of course it’s not that simple, and hijinks ensue.
“Hello,” I say. Suddenly I feel like I’m intruding. I should have knocked. “The door was open.”
The door on the right opens and a figure emerges, small and gray and lost in the gloom. “Of course,” she says. She steps forward into the splash from one of the windows. Her hair is dark and very long. Her skin is pale. She looks moonlit. “Preacher’s not here,” she says.
“That’s all right,” I say. “I’m looking for the Cowboy God.”
She takes another step forward and stops, back in shadow, but I can feel her watching me. After a moment she says, “We got the same God as everyone else.”
I nod slowly, but then shake my head. “No,” I say.
The first straight-up fiction I recorded here (I think), and there’s still a lot about this one I like. It grew in my head after I passed a sign at the side of a Texas road, white in the gray of a rainstorm. The story grew in my head as I drove, heading toward North Carolina in the final weeks of the Homeless Tour. That night, somewhere in Louisiana (I think), I sketched out a draft. The Wanderer shows up in a lot of my stories; someone traveling, seeking, without knowing what he is searching for. Most of those stories appear elsewhere, but there are a few here.
“I just can’t believe what a big deal you all make of this.”
“Listen, we have to look out for each other, and it’s traumatic for the newbies. We’re not like you. We don’t just sniff each other’s butts and then go out and get drunk.”
I let that pass. I had tried the “more hygenic than shaking hands” argument before, but it never worked.
Though complete short stories are rare around here, I do like to share little bits and fragments of stories I will never write. The ol’ Vampires-n-Werewolves-n-shit sector of the urban fantasy genre has been beat to death, but honestly I think there could be more butt-sniffing. And leg-humping. So I provided it. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.
I laughed, accepted the pen, and signed the back of the photo. Around me people were trying to figure out who the hell I was, that a man with a long gray beard would stop me, already have a picture of me, and ask me to sign it. At that moment I was implicitly a celebrity, and if only they had known how to ask they could have got my autograph, too. I was a supermodel.
Graybeard is gone now, but he made Prague interesting, to say the least. This day saw us crashing a promotion for a fashion magazine. I was, I must say, the best model in the bunch, but not the prettiest. Not by a long shot.
Among a certain type that booth is legendary. It’s the booth where Louie the Skunk shook hands with Precinct Captain O’Malley, giving Louie control of a large slice of Midtown, the booth where Six Finger Frankie proposed to a dancer named Lorraine before she took off with Old Ed in Frankie’s car, and it’s the booth where Lumpy Gannett accidentally shot himself twelve times with his revolver. There’s a mystique surrounding that booth, and it repels those who don’t belong. Maybe the faint smell of corruption and blood speaks to some part of the human animal, pushing them away. If she noticed it she was unaffected.
The link is to the first episode, which is a hyperbolic exaggeration of 1950’s hard-nosed detective pulp written as part of a Google-bomb experiment. What follows is my first shot at serial fiction here at Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. Since I didn’t want this project to interfere with my “real” writing, there were rules: I couldn’t spend more than 90 minutes on an episode (though in the later episodes I sometimes spent much more than that), and at the end of each episode I’d pick a title for the next one that was intentionally difficult. No planning, no vision for how the story comes out, but almost by accident there are some sweet moments. Ah, Meredith. I should probably bang out the last couple of chapters sometime.
She may still be out there somewhere. I hear rumors now and then. Moscow, or Cape Town, or Jackson Hole. She’s the kind of person who could be in any of those places. She could be anywhere. Her potential is everywhere…
Because nothing says romance like particle physics. This is a piece of what the kids call “flash fiction” these days. This little piece actually found its way to print, with a little tweaking.
Dreams can be complex and confusing things, not bound by the rules of logic or waking life. When I wake up slowly from a dream-filled sleep the transition can be gradual, as the elements of the vision scatter and fade before the onslaught of rational thought that (usually) marks my waking hours. Sometimes, however, there remains a last vestige, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin. Like a grin without a cat, it can certainly be an odd scrap of thought.
I suppose the brief, inconsequential little episodes should have representation here as well; this is one I stumbled upon while looking for something else. If you like it, there are plenty more.
I think I’ll stop there. I’m omitting some of my most popular episodes; for instance for several weeks this blog was the top hit on Google for the phrase “New York Sucks” (back when humble blogs could top Google searches), and the episode “Eggs Over Easy — The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide” stayed near the top for a long time. There are more technical episodes as well; my treatise on CSS border-radius, with up-to-date info on support in various browsers, got a notice from a big tech publication and became so popular that my web host of the time shut me down.
The other thing not well-represented here is the community. Funkmaster G-Force, gizo, Dr. Pants, bug, Mr7k, and all the rest who made this thing worth doing. The commenters, the lurkers, the people far apart but all right here. This million-word celebration is about you guys. Thanks to all of you.
It has happened. Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas has rolled over the odometer and has blasted well beyond the 1,000,003-word line. I decided to celebrate by taking the day off work to throw out a bit of a redesign here; the old code simply did not support some of the cool new WordPress features I’ve been wanting to leverage. A ground-up rebuild is long overdue.
Even when you start with a fairly clean off-the-shelf theme, however, a great deal of fiddling and tweaking ensues. Some of the old widgets, like the colorful tag cloud and the sweet-o-meter, seem to be awol right now, and I’m not sure about the typography for reading my longer-winded treatises.
Also missing, and a little more difficult to bring back, is the poetry feed that was playing in the header. I’d like to bring it back, but at this moment I’m not sure where to put it.
What do you think? Too dark? Please leave comments here on the blog, while I work on getting the styling of the comments on the blog looking right.
Later tonight, after the celebratory single malt, I will compose the Inevitable Retrospective Episode.
I’m not sure exactly when yet, but Muddled Ramblings & Half-Baked Ideas will be going down for some long-overdue maintenance shortly. You may have noticed occasional outages lately, and with not one, but TWO exciting new sites soon to be hosted on this hardware, it’s time for a little renovation. The Mac Mini behind this site has been running non-stop nigh-on five years, and it has a lot of old experimental junk on it that just needs to go away.
The outage will likely last a few hours, and when things come back up they should be zippier than ever.
Then if I could just move this site design forward by about a decade (the irony that the massive article about rounded corner support in modern browsers uses tiled images to create rounded corners is not lost on me) we’ll be in good shape!
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.
There was a time, I call them the good ol’ days, when this humble blog was the anchor of a small but interesting community. I took great pleasure in the contributions of the blogcomm, as Funkmaster G-Force dubbed it; there was a second, more interesting layer under my ramblings — conversations that could last months, novel ideas and clever rebuttals. Traditions grew, and along with them a lexicon that applied only here. Members of the blogcomm even coordinated travel plans in those comment threads.
Things change. Facebook, for better or worse, has become the de facto place for online communities. I started announcing my new episodes on Facebook, and for a while that actually grew the community. Then people started assuming they would hear about new episodes from Facebook. Then Facebook started not telling everyone who has said they want to know, unless I pay. And if I don’t have a picture associated with my episode, the notice Facebook grudgingly gives up is almost invisible in the ridiculous noise of the news feed.
And the best discussions, those that would last weeks, die out more quickly now; people leave comments in Facebook-space and those that don’t join the discussion right away are left out.
To be fair this blog has changed as well; I’m working a corporate job at a company that doesn’t appreciate blabbermouths, and so a big part of my life is off-limits. But those changes began long after the erosion of the Muddled Community was well under way.
Meanwhile, many of the community functions that my blog offered to the regulars were supplanted by Facebook’s promise of group communication. It was only natural that the blogcomm would move. But as far as I can tell, the blogcomm didn’t move. It died. Where there was a group, now there is a series of individual broadcasts, the efficiency of which is governed by Facebook’s arcane rules. Perhaps the blogcomm was reincarnated in a form I don’t recognize, but I miss hearing from nico, f-g-f, gizo, and the rest. This is ultimately on me; if I had kept things interesting enough here, folks would still be around. Unless those folks were relying on Facebook to tell them when I posted a new episode.
Times change. It’s quite possible that using this format for personal expression and community building is obsolete. The thing is, social media in general and Facebook in particular don’t seem to be doing a good job of replacing it. Facebook sure looked promising back in the day, but when they decided to make their money honestly (charging their users) in addition to the making it dishonestly (selling their users) the way they always had, the whole dynamic changed. Now you pay to be seen on Facebook, and everyone agrees that they will quit that dang platform and…
Find another social media service that hasn’t started asking them for money yet. But mostly people don’t do anything except complain. As far as I know (which isn’t very far), Google’s social platform is still evil-only in terms of how they make their money, but even they haven’t managed to create a meaningful exodus from Facebook.
Facebook has become a giant advertising platform that we all dance on. Long ago I thought to use them to build my audience. For free. Facebook doesn’t owe me anything; I wanted a one-way relationship where Facebook would expand my audience and I would give nothing in return. Now they want something in return, and I’m not willing to give it. I’m the asshole in this relationship. But maybe it’s time for a breakup.
Huh. I did not expect to reach that conclusion when I started typing this episode, but I can’t argue the logic. Maybe it’s time we broke up. Maybe it’s time I started rebuilding the blogcomm honestly.
A week has passed since my last episode, for which I am profoundly sorry. Happily, young Ms. Shaw from the previous episode (I picture her as a college student with the unenviable job of combing through responses to emails that robots send out with her name attached) wrote a follow-up letter (well, a robot did, anyway) which inspired me to compose another response.
This time I actually sent it to the poor benighted young lady, to give her a little smile, a brief ray of sunshine as she toils in her corner of the sub-basement of a decaying building, her only sources of light her flickering computer screen and a feeble incandescent swinging naked from a wire, while water drips from a large pipe that runs horizontally through the middle of her “space”. The only thing that breaks up the monotony of her job are visits from her cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed ogre of a boss.
I’m pretty sure, if you read between the lines of the original message, that all that is in there. And more. But this isn’t about poor Katie, who really just needs to earn enough money to pay for her mother’s new kidney before she’s out of there for the bright lights of Hollywood. This is about me. Here’s what she will be reading when she comes in to the office tomorrow (at 6am, after the early shift at Dunkin Donuts, with just enough time to study for her Quantum Electrodynamics exam):
Dear Ms. Shaw,
Indeed I do remember your previous email. I get messages like this from time to time, but yours struck a particular chord with me. I think it was the phrase “professionally written in line with your site’s theme and voice.” An intriguing dialectic, that.
First, this thing you call “theme”. The theme of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas is much like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster; while there may be a few crackpots who believe a theme exists, the more level-headed among us realize their ravings are just a cry for attention. We smile and nod and move on, trying not to encourage them, but we remain mildly worried what they might do if we too readily dismiss their silliness or roll our eyes once too often.
Second, your humorous use of “professional” and “my … voice” in the same sentence did indeed give me a little laugh. Trust me, Katie (may I call you Katie?) there’s nothing professional about MR&HBI. On a good day I might achieve “whimsical” or more often “snarky”, but professional is right out. The site’s been active for over ten years, is approaching a million words of content, yet “professional” remains a distant dream, my Xanadu, if you will; glimpsed in a fevered vision only to shatter on the jagged shore of reality.
My metaphors aren’t very tight, either.
Ironically, despite all that I have just said, cher Katie, you have already provided me with content for Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. You see, I was tickled enough by your first request that I devoted a small episode to it, including another, briefer hypothetical response that contains no references to opiate-addled Romantic poets. So I guess I owe you one.
Yours in Perpetuity,
Note: for veracity I left in the improper semicolon.
Well, more or less. The months-long grind at work is over, culminating with a swift kick to the professional groin as I missed my deadline despite working every waking hour (after a while I enforced a five-hours-of-sleep rule) for a couple of months, and even before that at least ten hours a day, weekends included, since January.
My apologies to those I’ve snubbed in the last while, especially those passing birthday wishes my direction. What I had planned as a glorious celebration of my half-century on this planet turned out to be a really shitty day.
I’ve taken a little time off from work since then, to get my feet under me, to get my health habits restored, and to generally feel human again. I still dream about the project, and find myself lying in the early mornings going through the solutions to some of the pending tasks on a project that no longer exists. It was so very close to being so very very cool.
The last few days I’ve managed to get a little bit of creative juice flowing, and perhaps soon I’ll be ready to write that retrospective on the last fifty years. April 2th (rhymes with ‘tooth’) has come and gone, but still deserves some observation. In the meantime I’ve got The Monster Within, which by God I’m going to see in book form this year if I have to publish it myself.
Next week I might be ready for human interaction again, so those I’ve been ignoring should be hearing from me soon. Thanks for your patience!
I’ve been bad about posting here lately, for a variety of reasons. It’s not that I haven’t been writing at all; I’ve got some things in the hopper waiting for finishing touches and I’ve got a few other things queued up in my head. So this week I’m taking a little slice out of my Nethack time (more on that later), perhaps making an exception in my weight-loss plan (more on that later, too), to bring out a bevy of fascinating bon mots to cheer your evenings, at the astounding rate of one episode per day!
I’ll be starting tonight, with a rant about Mrs. Fields’ cookies. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.
You would think that damn near forty-eight hours on a train would lead to a burst of blogging activity. I would have thought so myself. But no, I spent the time reading instead. It was pleasant. Then I got back to town and while I had collected some interesting stories on the road, I just wasn’t inspired to write about them.
Perhaps someday I’ll tell you about Charlie, the deep, gravelly-voiced dark-black (Barry White after 10,000 packs) man shorter than me from Louisiana who sat next to me from Los Angeles to San Jose, who was once stabbed in the neck by a random asshole and probably would have killed said asshole if he hadn’t passed out from blood loss first. That’s the way he tells it anyway. At the trial the prosecutor asked Charlie, “what do you think we should do with this man?” “Give him to me,” Charlie said. According to him, that broke up the courtroom. Charlie was all about making sure his grandchildren didn’t get into the same shit he did. He was all right. But man, he liked to talk.
I took refuge from Charlie in the window car (Lounge car? Observation car?) that sat atop the train bar. From Santa Barbara well north a pair of guides in forest green uniforms spoke through a makeshift little PA system, telling us about the history of the places we rolled through. It was pretty cool, actually. Figs, rockets, railroad lore, and pretty scenery. Between lectures I read a novel by a guy who is not afraid to kill people you like. Maybe more on that later.
But I’ve been back now a couple of weeks and then some, and I haven’t even checked in on my favorite blogs. I’m in a twilight place, with an intimidating literary to-do list, and I’m pretty much frozen. I check Facebook more than I ever have before, clearly a sign of the apocalypse. I even retweeted something yesterday. (Spelling checker does not object to retweeted. I’m not sure how I feel about that.)
So, now I feel the need to reconnect. I’ll start with my favorite comics, then go and read the blog episodes I’ve missed, and leave comments that are far past stale.
And here at MR&HBI, I’ve got some ideas. Not new ideas, but ideas. We’ll see.