Sunday, November 30, 2008

This blog is smarter than I thought

Or something like that.

According to a site that claims to rate the reading level of blogs

blog readability test

(Click on the graphic to go to the rating site.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The family that robs together

Does time together.

(Hmm. I'm starting to post the way Atrios does. I'm not sure that's a good thing.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


It's a brave new world, indeed. Alltop is an RSS aggregator oriented toward the horror field and its denizens. This blog is one of the sites being aggregated there. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Laying Sookie Stackhouse

We're hooked on the HBO series True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. I'd never read the books, but because of the TV show, I bought the first book in the series. I've been struck by the confusion in the book between lie and lay. It's written in past tense and first person, and repeatedly Sookie tells us that she lay her hand or head on his shoulder, that he lay her on the bed, and so on. I think the only thing that gets laid is Sookie herself.

I've heard people complain that standards of English usage have deteriorated, and they'll point to errors in recently published books, such the one I just mentioned, as proof of it. I explain to them that what has diminished isn't knowledge of English, which was never high in the general public, but the number of copyeditors in the publishing biz. As costs were cut (a trend that started as a byproduct of publishing companies being absorbed by non-publishing corporate behemoths, long before the current economic crisis), copyeditors were among the first to go. Twenty or thirty years ago, that misuse I mentioned would have been caught and corrected by a poorly paid copyeditor, and readers would never have known that the author didn't know the difference between lie and lay. (Just in case you're confused, see here.)

Even decades ago, you'd read books with grammatical errors. Those were novels by authors of such stature (i.e., earning power) that publishers would accede to their demands that their writing not be edited. Go still further back, to the early days of mass printing, and spelling and grammar varied wildly from one book to another. Did that damage literature? Weren't all those earlier times part of the Golden Age, from whose heavenly standards we've fallen so far?

In other words, should books be copyedited for grammar and spelling at all? If a writer doesn't know the language, should that be hidden from the reader? Of course publishers want the books they publish to sell the largest possible number of copies, but earlier times had bestselling authors whose grammar was a bit wobbly or at least eccentric. Lots of people bought the Sookie Stackhouse books even before the HBO series, and I bet most of them didn't know or care that the author uses an intransitive verb transitively.

Anyway, isn't it dishonest to extensively massage John Smith's original manuscript and still label it a work by John Smith? At the least, shouldn't publishing emulate Hollywood and have a page of credits reading something like

Nuts to Your Guts

(Catchy title by Ima Serf, Editorial)

A Novel

Story: John Smith
First Draft: John Smith
Draft with corrected chronology: Poor Schlub, Editorial
Draft with fixes to absurdly messed-up character references: Harold "Harried" Braindead, Editorial
Grammar, spelling, and usage corrections: Nameless Freelance Copyeditors
Cover design: Etc.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dick Whittington didn't have a cat

And he didn't start out poor. The real one, that is, as opposed to the fictional one.

I'm very disappointed. I read the folktale version of his life when I was a kid and loved it. Now, decades later, I just made the mistake of Googling Dick W., and my fond childhood memories are shattered, I tell you, shattered!

On the bright side, just like the fictional Dick, the real Dick wasn't at all a dick.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Until he's forty!

Okay, this makes me feel old.

Then there's Galois, the silly twit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Smashing two stories together

There's probably a technical term for that, but that's what I call it.

Occasionally, I've found myself with two separate novels in the mental planning stages, and neither had enough to it to make a complete book. So I've played with the idea of combining them, even if they seemed utterly unrelated. In a couple of cases, the two separate stories clicked. I don't mean just that they could be forced to coexist, but that they seemed to be made for each other. I'd say that they illuminated each other, but that sounds too pretentious.

This is different from starting with an idea that contains various subplots. I'm talking about books that were conceived separately, based on unrelated ideas.

The first case that I'm really happy with is my last book, Business Secrets for the Stars, which I still consider the best thing I've written and which I'm now preparing for reissue by a small press, Norilana Books.

The second case is what will probably be my next book, and which I'm thinking a lot about right now but writing very little of so far, the working title of which is Chains. I assure you I won't let a sentence like that one survive in it.

If that works, I'll try smashing three unrelated books together! And then four! Wow! Maybe there's no limit!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


When I was a kid in school in South Africa, studying Latin, I was delighted when I learned the word plumbum, lead. What I found so delightful was that we get our word plumbing from it, because the Romans made their pipes from lead (which may have contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Emp.). Of course, that was years before I became a homeowner.

Alternative title for this post: After 40, everything collapses. When we moved into our house, it was a youthful 4 years old, and everything seemed perky and firm. The house is now 40 years old, and it ain't so perky. We started having problems with sewer-line backup via the drain in the basement quite a few years ago, so I guess the house was in its 30s at the time, which shouldn't be old for a house. The main sewer pipe from the house is clay, though, which was common at the time the place was built; it can be damaged by ground shifts or settling. We were warned that the pipe needed to be dug up and replaced, but the quoted price for such a job made us decide to put up with periodic invasions of our basement by ghastly water.

The most recent time was the last straw, though. Mr. Rooter came over to clear the pipe and ran a camera through it. That showed just how many breaks there were in the line. So we bit the bullet and agreed to have the line replaced. That took a week, involving breaking up part of the sidewalk and part of the street, and a backhoe digging a very deep trench from the house to the street. (The house sits above street level, so the sewer line is quite a way down.)

While they were here, I had them do some other fixing up inside the house that has needed to be done and that I decided I'd rather pay someone else to do than do myself. For quite a while, the trap in the basement floor drain has not been holding water, and I asked the Mr. Rooter guy if he thought the trap might have a crack in it. The Mr. Rooter guy said it sounded like it, but that replacing it would require digging up the concrete floor around the drain. I gave the go-ahead because the water in that trap is what keeps sewer vapors from coming up into the basement, and lately they have indeed been coming up. So they jackhammered away, only to find that the metal pipe from the main sewer to the drain was completely corroded away and even non-existent in places. The plumber said he's seen pipes in much better shape in century-old houses and speculated that there might be something in the soil that corroded the metal.

So they had to keep digging up the concrete and dirt along the pipe till they could find a non-corroded part that they could hook the new (PVC) pipe to. Now that's all replaced, along with the floor, and we've cleaned up the basement once again, although at least this time we were cleaning up dirt and dust, not the effects of filthy water. It smells better down there than it has in years!

They did warn us that it's possible that the main line itself is also corroded, although they ran the camera through it and couldn't see anything, so it could be okay. (I.e., the metal line inside the house, not the clay line outside that they just replaced.) At some point, we'll have to have someone dig up more floor and check, just to be on the safe side.

The delights of homeownership. On the bright side, I can remind myself that an Englishman's home is his castle, and not even the King's might can enter without the homeowner's permission. Oh, wait, that was dug up and removed a while ago, wasn't it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hard women, soft actresses

This is one of my (numerous) pet peeves.

In old movies, tough guys were often played by wimpy actors. It wasn't a serious problem since they were normally fully clothed. When they did, say, take their shirts off, the tough-guy swagger became laughable. Or at least, it's laughable to our modern eye, conditioned as we are to seeing tough guys played by tough-looking actors with very large muscles. I think we owe that to Arnold Schwarzenegger and the first Conan movie. Sean Connery looked tough in the early Bond movies, but compare him to Daniel Craig and he deflates.

Unfortunately, the same thing hasn't happened with female characters and the actresses who play them. Since nowadays there are more female characters who are supposed to be physically tough than there were in old movies, and since they show much more of their bodies than was acceptable long ago, the contrast between what the character is supposed to be and what the actress looks like can really mess up your willing suspension of disbelief.

I think this is even truer on TV than in movies. Battlestar Galactica is a prime example. The difference between the men and the women is striking. A lot of the actors are, if anything, too muscular for the characters they play; you keep wondering when they have time work out so much. The actresses who play fighter pilots swagger and sneer and posture and threaten each other and generally act as macha and fighter-jock(ette) obnoxious as they can. But their outfits let us see just how wimpy and soft they are. If they were lean and hard, their characters would still be obnoxious, but at least the act would be believable. Instead, it's laughable.

Last night, I watched a taped episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a show I'm increasingly hooked on. The episode, "The Tower Is Tall but the Fall Is Short," was a good one -- well written and acted, and it moved the story arc along satisfyingly. It also introduced a new character, Jesse, played by Australian actress Stephanie Jacobsen. Jesse is yet another refugee from the post-apocalyptic future, a tough soldier. Now, Jacobsen has a face that one can stare at for a long time in delight, but her body, which we saw a nice amount of, is that of a wimpy fashion model. She's no lean, hardened survivor from that future guerilla army. For that matter, Lena Headey, who plays Sarah Connor and is supposed to be just as tough and dangerous as Jesse, is only marginally physically better suited to her role.

What's so annoying about such casting is that it's unnecessary. Los Angeles is famously filled with fitness babes, and I saw lots of them in Vancouver the last time I was there. Surely many of them can act adequately. So whether a series is filmed in Hollywood or Hollywood North, there's no reason for the kind of casting I'm complaining about.

Do audiences not care? Are other viewers not struck by the incongruity? Or are they so unfamiliar with the look of female fitness that they don't even see the incongruity?

(Update. Here's another example - Silk Spectre in the Watchmen comic books and the wimp who'll be portraying her in the movie. The absurdity of having her wear high heels seems to come from the comics.)

(Graphic novel: noun, synonym for comic book.)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The brilliance of Denver drivers

Car crashes into Denver home, driver bolts

Guy knocks over a telephone pole and damages a hous
e so badly that it has to be shored up to keep it from collapsing, then takes off running, leaving his smashed-up car lying on its side, license plate intact. "The cops will never catch me now!"

Maybe it was a stolen car.


Something is in the air! Last night, in a different part of Denver, a man drove a car into a Vietnamese restaurant.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Apartheid and Old IU

This is something that happened geological eras ago. Yesterday's election and the wonderful pictures and TV scenes of black people celebrating and crying made me think about it again.

I came to the U.S. from Apartheid-era South Africa as a teenager and went to high school in northern Indiana. That was in Elkhart, a medium-sized town that was somewhat rural and farm oriented but was nonetheless part of the Chicago-to-Detroit Great Lakes industrial region. The civil rights movement was boiling into the consciousness of America's whites, but I thought of segregation and race problems as being limited to that strange, alien world known as The South.

Later, I went to college at Indiana University in Bloomington, in southern Indiana. For quite a while, I didn't realize that, while the campus was culturally part of the North, when you stepped outside it, you were virtually halfway across the river into Kentucky.

The incident I'm remembering happened when I was a sophomore at IU, I think. So I was probably 19. That would have been about six years after I came to the U.S., and details about the Apartheid system were far fresher in my memory than they are now. A bunch of us were eating together in the dining hall. The group included one kid from some small town in southern Indiana. Somehow, the conversation turned to Apartheid, which was becoming an issue in America then, especially on college campuses. With a skeptical expression, small-town kid said to me, "It's not really as bad in South Africa for blacks as we hear, is it?"

So I launched into a long description of everything bad I could think of about Apartheid -- the restrictions, the pass system, the horribly inequitable application of laws, the poverty, the squalid living conditions, the privileges and immunities enjoyed by whites, and on and on. As I talked, his eyes widened and his mouth opened. I'm getting through to him! I thought. I felt proud of myself.

Finally I finished. He took a deep breath and said, "That sounds like paradise!"

My new bumper sticker

Actually, rear-window sticker.

I have a black-and-white printer, so unfortunately the smiley face prints as shades of grey:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Squamous cell carcinoma

If you must get skin cancer, that's the kind to get.

I had one on the top of my head, years ago. So far, no return on that one.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the dermatologist for my regular six-month checkup (a schedule I was strongly urged to get on after the squamous cell carcinoma on my head). I pointed out something on my knee. "Looks benign," she said, "but I'll cut it out and send it to the lab just to be sure." It came back positive, so now I'll be going in "for a little excision," as the voice on the phone put it.

The knee is not a good place to have chunks of you cut out. You have to keep bending it. I think I'll discuss working at home for a while, once that little excision has been done.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Interviewed by NPR

Sort of.

Today, I went over to the main post office in downtown Denver. Outside the P.O., I was approached by a man who identified himself as an NPR reporter and asked if I had a few minutes to answer some questions. He wanted to know where I lived, if I was registered as a Dem or Rep, whom I was voting for, and why. So I babbled on and on about the wonderfulness of Obama and how important it is for the future of America, the world, and the entire galaxy that he be elected.

And that was it. Will it show up on NPR at some point as a Babbling Man in Street Interview? Did he delete it as just too awful? Dunno. I do know that afterwards I realized I should have spelled out my name and the URL of my Web site, and I should have said, "And my books are available on!" Darn.