Wednesday, December 23, 2009

David’s Definitions for February 2010

Hapless

Unfortunate, luckless, unlucky. It comes from an old word, hap, which originally meant luck or chance and then later came to mean good luck. We don't use hapless in modern English, but we do use other words that come from the same root. For example, happen was originally happenen and it meant "occur by hap." If you're happy, you possess hap, good fortune. Haphazard, meaning irregular or disordered, comes from combining hap with hazard, which was a game played with dice.

(Will be published in the February 2010 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at:
http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WIPing along, again

I’ve been working fairly steadily on the Work In Progress, working title Chains, as you can see from the graph on the right.

The stepwise nature of the graph isn’t what I’d like to see. The steps are the result of long periods of little or no productivity, until recently. It would be great if the line on the graph were fairly straight and at a 45 degree angle – or even better, around 60 degrees.

Better than flatlining, though.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This here’s Winkel’s town, pahdnah

And don’t yew fergit it.

When I was a boy (traditional opening of stories told by old guys), my family moved from South Africa to the US. We didn’t stay here long, that time, but it was long enough for me to watch every cowboy show I could on TV and every cowboy movie I could in the theaters. At that time, there were a lot of both.

Then we moved back to South Africa. I was 10 at this point. We moved to a town named Rustenburg in the Transvaal, the deepest depths of the Afrikaner homeland, an area that had played a huge role in Boer history. Afrikaners in those days felt that there was considerable similarity between their ancestors of Great Trek days and the Americans who settled the Wild West, and the local library had a huge collection of cowboy novels. (No one called them Westerns in those days.) I devoured them all.

Rustenburg was a small town then, with one main street, which had lots of small shops owned by individual proprietors. (Yes, this was during Apartheid, so those were white shops, for use by whites only. At 10, I wasn’t aware of any of that.) The main street was paved, but because of the sun, there was a wooden canopy over the sidewalk, supported by posts. It looked a lot like the main streets in those beloved cowboy movies. Most of the stores had signs in front of them that said DuPlessis se Winkel and Smith se Winkel and so on – in each case, an English or Afrikaans surname followed by se Winkel.

During our brief stay in the US, I had forgotten whatever Afrikaans I had known before, so I deduced that se meant and and that Winkel was the name of some powerful rancher with a mighty big spread just outside town who had forced all these honest but cowardly shop owners to fork over a 50% ownership in their shops. All that was needed was for a hero on a white horse to ride into town and set everything right. All I had to do was be there when that happened.

And then I started learning Afrikaans and discovered that se is a possessive, um, something or other (preposition?), and Winkel means shop, and all those signs just meant So and So’s Shop. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Three reasons I don’t plan to see Invictus …

… despite my being an ex-South African who was moved by the episode the movie depicts and despite loving that poem.

  1. Movies are for escape. I have no interest in serious depictions of serious matters in which stuff doesn’t get blowed up real good and there are neither monsters nor space ships. Major babes are also helpful, but they’re not sufficient in and of themselves. Of course, this objection applies to many other movies, too.
  2. I’m sick to death of the unspoken belief that South African history began with the end of Apartheid. Both white and black history in South Africa extends far back beyond that and is full of fascinating stories – and many of them actually have nothing to do with race relations! Even those enormous figures who did have a great impact on race relations had interesting and important lives outside that area. (And black history in South Africa involves more than Chaka and Mandela.)
  3. I’m even sicker of movies set in South Africa in which South African characters are played by American actors. Yeah, I know about box office. It’s also possible that Eastwood is friends with Damon and Freeman and wanted to work with them. I don’t care. South Africa has a movie industry of its own and a goodly supply of fine actors, black and white. They’d work for less than the Hollywood stars, they’d do a better job, and they’d get the accents right. South African actors are also objecting. Let’s hope that does some good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Today’s stupid criminal trick

Teens arrested by police on suspicion of stealing cars ask if they've set a record for most cars stolen in one day. 

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_13900186

Monday, November 30, 2009

They always land on cars

On tonight’s episode of Heroes (which you should be watching because it’s still a great show no matter what the self-consciously jaded masses say), a character commits suicide by jumping off a tall building. (Nathan Petrelli. And this time, he’s really dead.) (Oh! Spoiler warning!) (Oops! Too late!)

He falls in rather overdone slow motion and lands … on a car. Even though the alley below is almost deserted and there seem to be only two cars parked anywhere nearby, he manages nonetheless to hit one of them squarely and smash its roof in.

Why don’t onscreen deaths-by-falling-from-high-buildings never, nowadays, end with the character landing on the concrete with a splatsplash? It’s almost always a car. More dramatic, I suppose, but still it’s one of those silly clich├ęs that very much interfere with my willing suspension of disbelief.

On the positive side, the car landing in this TV episode wasn’t followed by the car alarm going off.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Boycott

I hope this proposed boycott has failed miserably. No doubt it’s nice to have the luxury to wax high minded about crass commercialism, but those of us who are out of work need an orgy of buying by those who have jobs so that hiring will pick up in January.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Zombie dreams

I've been dreaming of zombies, probably because I recently sent a zombie story out. I wake up in the middle of the night and pick holes in the dream's plot, but that doesn't help me go back to sleep.

The story was a bit unsettling, but the dreams are more so. There’s something about being in the action, in full color in the most recent case, that makes it much more disturbing than any prose can be.

I hope tonight’s better. So long as it’s not vampires …

Sunday, November 22, 2009

David’s Definitions for January 2010

Peregrination

A journey, especially a journey on foot to a foreign country. The root is a Latin word that means foreigner. The word pilgrim comes from the same root. Peregrination is not a word you run into normally in modern English, but we do still speak of a peregrine falcon, which is called that because at one time it was standard practice to capture those birds on their first flight, or pilgrimage, from their nest.

(Will be published in the January 2010 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at:
http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The system of male and female reverse!

I posted a while ago about Japanese advertisements for porno and/or dating sites showing up frequently in the comments section of an earlier blog post.

For a change, I decided to enter the latest comment into the Google translation site and see what English resulted. Here it is:

dating back to topic now! Do you have experience already? This site has a choice about adopting the system of male and female reverse Supporters hope. More financially successful woman is hungry for love that is rich. Now from the page of interest

Oh, those hopeful supporters!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

David’s Definitions for December 2009

Moot

To bring something up for discussion. At one time, moot could also refer to the discussion itself. This usage no longer survives in ordinary English, but it's still used in law school, where a moot court is a simulated court proceeding, part of the training of law students. Originally, a moot question was one that could be debated or was subject to argument. At some point in the 19th century, it came to mean a question that was no longer worth discussing, or one that had no practical application outside the realm of debate. The word traces back to 12th century England, when it referred to a meeting of the freemen of a shire to discuss local issues. In turn, it came from the even older word gemot, which was a meeting of freemen assembled to discuss issues or impose justice.

(Will be published in the December 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hate mail

In response to this essay on our Web site:

I read your mindless 'manifesto'  (sounds SO euro-for the people!)

You liberals are such wandering and aimless idiots. Your ultimate goal is nothing short of eradication of all the moral values of TRUE Americans, those who pattern themselves after the original revolutionaries who established this great country.  

Your only hope is in sheer numbers, since you fail miserably in moral fiber, original ideas and true partisanship.  You fools have no idea what it takes to build UP a country, only what it takes to tear one down.  And an that you're minions are doing a hell of a job!

Credit where due: This one was actually written in English.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Basal on my shoulder

Makes me unhappy.
Basal on my shoulder
Makes me frown.

The song John Denver never sang.

I have a basal carcinoma on my shoulder, which will be cut out on November 3. This might affect my weightlifting regimen. Such as it is.

It’s supposed to be the least dangerous kind of skin cancer, fortunately.

Once again, I wish I could go back in time and lecture my boy self about the sun and sunburn. Of course he wouldn’t have listened to some weird, old guy. Kids those days!

A Public Fine and Private Place

The story is now visible to the world at:

http://theferalpages.com/issue1/?page_id=30

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Fine and Private Place

Title of a ghost story of mine, taken from the marvelous poem “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell (a poem which, I once read, has provided more titles than any other, and no wonder).

It will be published in the new online magazine The Feral Pages, in the October/November issue. Thanks to Chris Holm for alerting me to the magazine, which has also acquired a story of his.

The editor wrote the following to me. (If I had a smaller ego I’d be embarrassed. If I had any shame, I wouldn’t reproduce his words here.)

This is a marvelously complex piece with which I am still peeling back the layers. I discover something new every time I read it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to publish it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Screwed by the state

When I was laid off by Quark in mid-May, I applied immediately for Colorado unemployment benefits. Everything sailed through smoothly. Oodles of paperwork arrived in the mail – notification of approval, how much I’d get, when it would start, what I had to do every week, and a thick book telling me the rules and Dos and Don’ts and procedures.

Included in the book was a brief sentence saying that I was required to notify the state if I withdrew money from a 401(K) to which my employer had contributed.

As it happened, my 401K had been doing surprisingly well, despite the financial meltdown. I made what seemed to be a very prudent decision. Since I had to move the money out of my now ex-employer’s 401(K) plan, I decided to roll half of it over into an IRS and use the other half to get us (finally!) completely out of debt, eliminating what had been a burdensome monthly payment. (The result of youthful indiscretions combined with some unavoidable emergencies. We’d been painstakingly paying down that result for years.) What a relief that was! And how much easier it would make it to survive on unemployment benefits while I searched for a new job.

Of course I notified the state about it. I figured that they would delay the beginning of my unemployment checks by a few more weeks because they would treat one-half of the employer’s contribution to my 401K as part of my severance package. That would have been fair and reasonable.

Then I received a letter from the state saying that under Sections 8-73-110 (3) (A) & (C) of the Colorado Employment Security Act, since I did not reinvest every penny of the 401(K) in an IRA or Keogh plan, the entire amount of the 401(K) was being treated as a lump-sum retirement payment. This delayed the start of my unemployment benefits until March of 2010.

I appealed, noting that I had reinvested half of the 401(K) in an IRA, and moreover that of the half I had withdrawn for my use, only a small portion was my employer’s money, as opposed to my own. Would I have been penalized the same way if the money had come from a regular savings account? No. Would it have hurt the state to mention this bizarre law in the thick booklet it sent to me? No.

I was given a hearing date. I went on schedule. I repeated all of the above objections to a hearing officer named Benedict, a tired man despite my being his first appointment of the day, a distracted man, an uninvolved man. He’d heard it all before. (To be fair, perhaps he was sympathetic but had been trained not to show it.) As I expected, the appeal was denied.

So there’s a law on the books that affects your unemployment benefits, but the booklet from the state that tells you what you need to know when you apply for unemployment doesn’t tell you about that law. It tells you that you must notify the state about a 401(K) withdrawal, but it doesn’t tell you what the consequences of such a withdrawal are.

I’m not living in Colorado. I’m living in Kafkarado.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pull on your pant and flex your bicep

I was shopping at Costco today and saw a sign, above a pile of clothing, that read MEN’S PANT. They also sell WOMEN’S PANT.

This misuse has been around for a long time (more than a century, according to this site), but I’ll never get used to seeing it. It bugs me every time.

Some people can’t understand that some words are only plural.

Another such common mistake is bicep. People seem to think that you have one bicep on each arm and hence two biceps in total. No, you have one biceps on each arm; the name is plural because of the double attachment to the bone. At the back of each arm, you have one triceps, which has three attachments. On each thigh you have one quadriceps. So many attachments! So many opportunities for detachment! I tore one of those attachments mostly off in my right biceps years ago, but assume that muscle is still my biceps, not my unicep.

I haven’t yet heard anyone refer to cutting paper with a scissor, but I’m expecting it to happen.

Addendum:

This is another common and somewhat related error. I just ran into it on Facebook: An individual being referred to as a homo sapien. I suppose people think that sapiens is a plural form, whereas it’s simply a Latin ending, and singular.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

David’s Definitions for November 2009

Nonplussed

At a loss for words. Also used in a more general way to mean bewildered. From the Latin non plus, no more, no further. That's simple enough. The word has been in use since the late 1500s. What's really odd is that, starting about ten years ago, it acquired the meaning "unimpressed" or "unmoved." No one knows how this happened. Perhaps people thought that it meant that someone was "not plussed." But there is no word "plussed" in English. This strange, new trend leaves me bemused - perplexed, lost in thought. "Bemused" has been around for 300 years. What strange, new meaning will it suddenly acquire?

(Will be published in the November 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cups outlasting comments

In July, I put up a short post titled Cups outlasting companies.

For some reason, the comments for that post keep filling up with what appear to be ads for Japanese dating and porn sites. Why those sites and why that post? I am mystified.

I’ve been deleting them. If any of them are actual comments, not ads, and I’ve misinterpreted something, I hope the commenters will let me know in English. If I have not misinterpreted, I wish they’d stop.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Best blog of all time!

http://bloggerschoiceawards.com/categories/1?page=384

No votes so far, and there are an awful lot of entries in that category. But imagine being able to put that award on your blog!



Update: Well, er, this is embarrassing. I must have nominated my own blog, way back when. I don't even remember doing so.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dvorkin Global Enterprises, Inc., Ltd., PLC, GmbH

Some time ago, as a joke, I created this page on our Web site to tell visitors about the Intergalactic Headquarters of Dvorkin Global Enterprises, Inc., Ltd., PLC, GmbH.

Yesterday, I got a letter from Google, telling me about the value of Google Adwords for my business, and addressed to Dvorkin Global Enterprises, Inc.

Giggle.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Classical Muzak

I love classical music*. Listen to it via streaming radio all the time. However, the local classical station, KVOD, spends hours every day playing shallow, derivative, tedious crap from the late 18th Century that I’m sure was background music in its day. I can just imagine someone from that time, brought forward via a time machine, listening to KVOD and shaking his head in wonder. “Dude,” he would say, in the 18th-Century equivalent, “you actually sit in concert halls listening to that crap? Man, in my day, that was playing in the background while we drank and played cards and tried to get girls to go to bed with us. You people are twisted.”

 

* Oh, come on. You know what I mean by that phrase. Don’t give me that music-history shit.

Explanation of Benefits

I'm cleaning up my desk, which means processing old paperwork that I should have processed long ago. In the stack is a bunch of messages from so-called health insurance companies titled "Explanation of Benefits". But these are really shallow excuses for denial of benefits. They ought at least to be honest and label those letters "Benefits Denied and Suck on It".

Monday, September 07, 2009

Evil government medical programs

Leonore and I went to Walgreens today to get (seasonal) flu shots. United Health Care, the insurance plan for which we pay an absurd amount each month, soon to become almost three times as absurd, didn’t cover Leonore’s shot. Our cost: $25. Medicare covered my shot. Our cost: $0.

In an earlier post, I told Barack that he coulda been a contendah. One way would have been to propose expanding Medicare to everyone, with some major upgrades to the system itself and to Medicare taxes. Too late now, of course.

Lemonade Stand Award

Which you can see displayed off to the right. It came from here, and now it’s my turn to do my part.

I hereby bestow the Lemonade Stand Award on (may I have the envelope, please) the following (cue the trumpets) blog(ger)s:

Chris Holm

Travis Erwin

Kristen Tsetsi

Mitch Wagner

Stephen Blackmoore

There are other writer blogs I read and enjoy, and it’s hard to choose from among them those that I think deserve a special award. What makes these stand out, for me, is that these bloggers share both their writing and their lives with us and that each does so with a unique voice. When Google Reader says that one of them has a new post up, I’m delighted and look forward to reading it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Jews. All they care about is money.

I don’t know what reminded me of this. Perhaps it was the recent commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two. (How many Americans were surprised to learn that WWII began in September of 1939 and not December of 1941?)

Some years ago, descendants of Jews whose artworks and other valuables had been stolen by the Nazis were in court trying to get the goods back. Back from a government that claimed it owned those items because they had been willed to it by the Nazis who had stolen it or because the items had been signed over to the state by the Jewish owners. Any civilized person would surely agree that thieves have no right to will their stolen booty to anyone and that if the original owners had signed their goods over to the Nazi state, it was under duress and those agreements are invalid.

Consider, too, that the thieves involved were the same people who, in their insane lust for Jewish gold, cut the fingers off concentration camp victims to get their rings, tore earrings from the ears of living prisoners and gold fillings from their teeth.

While the court case brought by descendants of those Jews was in the news, I heard a man-in-the-street interview on the radio with people in Germany. What did they think of this lawsuit? Should those descendants be awarded possession of the goods stolen from their forebears by evil, amoral, blood-and-gold-lusting barbarians? (Obviously, that wasn’t quite the question the interviewer asked.)

I can’t forget the answer of one young German woman, possibly the granddaughter of one of those beasts who cut off fingers to get gold rings, who tore earlobes and yanked out teeth to get Jewish gold. “The Jews,” she said, with a sneer you could hear. “All they care about is money.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lot’s and lot’s

I was exchanging IMs with someone this morning and realized belatedly that I had written lot’s for lots.

I hate the way such crap has insinuated itself into my unconscious. It seems to be happening increasingly. Frequent reading of other people’s grammatical transgressions is damaging my brain circuits!

Monday, August 24, 2009

David’s Definitions for October 2009

Sterling



This word has three meanings, and they're all closely related. It can refer to the pound, the unit of currency in the United Kingdom and some of its dependencies. It can refer to a grade of silver. It can refer to a high level of character, for example, "He is a man of sterling character." In Medieval England, a common type of coin was a silver penny. It was stamped with a small star - in Medieval English, a sterling. The coin itself came to be called a sterling. People who dealt in large payments would measure them in pounds of silver pennies. Eventually, a pound of sterlings became a standard unit of currency itself - a pound sterling. When the government standardized the amount of silver that the pennies had to contain, silver of that quality came to be called sterling silver, and anything of reliable, standard quality was said to be sterling.

(Will be published in the October 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I wonder why the fundies aren’t going after SyFy

A lot of the movies shown on Saturday and Sunday nights on SyFy, whether made for the network or old theatrical/DVD releases, are reworkings of Greek mythology in which the gods are real and magical stuff happens.

At one point, the wackadoodles attacked Harry Potter, but then they backed off. I suppose they realized that that fan base was too large and devoted, and it would be a losing battle for them. I’d love to see them work themselves up into manufactured outrage over SyFy’s movies and end up looking like asses.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three British soldiers died in Afghanistan today

Let’s hope some good poetry comes of this, at any rate.

And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall thank their lucky stars they were not there.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries
And lack of single-payer universal health care.

You blew it, Barack. You coulda been a contendah.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Liberals are afraid of strong, smart, independent women!

And that’s why they’re so afraid of Sarah Palin and feel the need to attack her and tear her down!

This meme was popular on the right during the 2008 presidential election, and I’m seeing it crop up again – e.g., in Facebook, where Leonore sneered at Palin and bunches of Palin supporters jumped to Palin’s defense with variations of the above canned line.

And it is so obviously canned.

Years ago, probably in an attempt to wean black voters away from the Democratic Party, the right started repeating that social programs to help blacks were part of a sinister plot by the Democrats to keep blacks weak and dependent on them. Strong, independent blacks were the Democrats’ worst fear. I heard it said quite a few times in almost exactly those words.

Perhaps there’s a group of marketeers in a hidden bunker that comes up with this crap for the GOP. Then rightwingers all over swallow the latest party line and repeat it.

Let them keep deluding themselves.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Jesus hearing aid

One my hearing aids has been malfunctioning lately. I put it away in its little felt-lined tomb a few days ago. This morning, on the third day, I tried it again, and lo! it is risen! It works again.

Well, you’d need a rest, too, if you spent all day in some guy’s ear canal.

Sequelitis

My agent is eager to see a sequel to Time and the Soldier (which won’t be known by that title, but I’m still calling it that till we settle on a new one).

When he said that, I told myself not to think about a sequel now because doing so might distract me from the novel I’m working on. But then a really cool idea popped into my head. It would tie into Time really niftily and would be fun to write. So now I can’t stop thinking about it. The cool ideas are the worst, that way.

You know, maybe I should try to do a synopsis in a really brief form, just a few paragraphs …

Alternet plagiarism

This is infuriating.

Years ago, I published an essay on our Web site titled The Surprising Benefits of Being Unemployed. It’s been getting lots of hits over the years, especially when someone linked to it on Slashdot.

Today, a copy of it showed up on Alternate.org, the online news and opinion publication, with a slightly modified title and with the byline of someone named Jeffrey A. Dvorkin.

Grr.


Update, the next day, 8/2:

I got an e-mail from an Alternet editor apologizing for the mixup (Jeffrey D. was in the database, so someone assumed he was the author) and also apologizing for using the essay without permission. How that last thing happened will be looked into. The attribution has been corrected. I used to think it was always a good thing for an author to have an unusual name, but now I see that it can also be a disadvantage - when there's another writer around with the same unusual name.

I'll also get a payment to soothe my hurt feelings. As Dr. Johnson said: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

Friday, July 24, 2009

David’s Definitions for September 2009

Nepotism



The act of giving a job or other preference to a relative because of the relationship and not because of competence. For example, President Kennedy was accused of nepotism when he appointed his brother Robert to the post of Attorney General. The word comes from the Latin word for nephew. In the Middle Ages, when the Pope had a son and wanted to give him some kind of office in the Church, he would introduce the young man as his nephew. Of course, he couldn't admit that the young man was actually his son, but everyone knew that he really was. So the Pope's "nephew" would get a nice job, thanks to nepotism. A related abuse is cronyism, where people give preference to their friends. That word probably comes from the 18th Century English criminal underworld, where partners in crime were referred to as a man's cronies.

(Will be published in the September 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Representation

I’m now represented by Brendan Deneen of Fineprint Literary Management.

(Woo hoo!)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Watch this space

“Space this watch,” the starship captain ordered in disgust when his expensive timepiece stopped working again.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Where were you when we landed on the moon?

And how many blog posts/Web essays/printed articles will be showing up over the next few days that ask that question? Zillions, I tell ya, zillions.

On July 20, 1969, I was in the MOCR, the Missions Operations Control Room, at MSC, the Manned Spacecraft Center, in Houston. (Later renamed the Johnson Space Center.)

Mind you, this wasn’t the MOCR that was controlling the Apollo 11 mission. This was the other MOCR. I always seem to be in the other place. Because of the time required to prepare the control center for a mission and to clean and fix it up afterwards, there were two control centers, and they alternated. So strictly speaking, I wasn’t really in the MOCR at all, if you want to be picky. Similarly, not every NASA employee worked on every mission. So some of us were working on Apollo 11 but a lot of us, including me, were working on later missions and weren’t required to be in the (real) MOCR or on call during 11.

Everything was turned off in the backup control center, but lots of us were allowed to cram into it and the conversation between Houston and the astronauts was piped in over the speakers, so that we could feel part of the live excitement.

My job focused on the the rendezvous phase, after the Lunar Module lifted off from the moon and was heading toward rendezvous with the orbiting CSM, so I didn’t know what the terse phrases I was listening to meant. I think it was mostly the astronauts reading off speed along various axes and remaining fuel. I don’t think most of the other people in the room knew, either. We all had our specialties. Dividing those enormously complex missions into numerous small phases and having each team focus just on its tiny aspect of the huge whole was one of the main secrets of NASA’s success.

At the end, after some technical jargon having to do with the LM engine, Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” A lot of people in the room started cheering and clapping wildly. Some of us – including me – didn’t get it at first. I had expected him to say something like, “LEM on the surface.” (A lot of us still referred to the Lunar Module as the LEM, from the earlier name, the Lunar Excursion Module.) Or, in the worst case, no sound from the astronauts at all, ever. Or just possibly, “Oh, shit.”

And then we all left the room and went back to work.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot more about moon-landing deniers. I thought those had mostly faded away long ago, but apparently something like 14% of the US population either think the whole thing was a hoax or aren’t sure. Well, idiocy will always be with us. I have to say that if the landings were a hoax, I wish I had known that at the time. I was in my twenties with a wife and child at home whom I yearned to be spending all my time with, and if my work was pointless anyway, I’d have spent far fewer extra hours at the office.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I didn’t get any exercise yesterday

But I did write a scene in which a character lifted weights. Does that count?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cups outlasting companies

I was washing dishes this evening (no, we don’t have a dishwasher) (the mechanical kind, that is), when it struck me that some of the cups and glasses we use are imprinted with the logos of software companies where I used to work – and the companies are gone, but the cups and glasses are just fine.

“Gone” can mean acquired or evaporated. In either case, the companies where I worked don’t exist. But the logos and the breakable items bearing them go on and on. It’s sorta like some kind of metaphor for the software biz, man!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Green shoots

Here we are on the first day of the second half of the year, and I got a whole bunch of promising job-related nibbles and bites today. It’s a sample population of one, and maybe nothing will come of any of these contacts, but the sudden increase is striking, and it makes me hopeful – for me, and for everyone else.

No agent nibbles, unfortunately. (Every silver lining has a dark cloud.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SFWA

It's time for my annual internal debate about whether to renew my membership in SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America. Every year I wonder if there's any real point to it. This year, I'm also worried about the money. I suppose if I get a job before the deadline, I'll probably sigh and grumble and shake my head and write the check, just as I did last year.

Coming up: the same internal debate about renewing my membership in HWA, the Horror Writers Association.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The economic upturn that matters most

I’m seeing more job postings for developers and tech writers, and I’ve been getting more nibbles, including an interview today. All of which is of course very encouraging and a hopeful sign for the future.

But I’m wondering when we’ll see the rise in the statistic that matters most: number of new books being bought by publishers. That one should be explooooding any day now!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stop living from paycheck to paycheck!

I just got an e-mail that promised to tell me the secrets that will enable me to stop living from paycheck to paycheck. Hah! I cast heaps of scorn upon your secret information!

All on my own, without the help of strangers who send spam e-mails, I have learned how one stops living from paycheck to paycheck. Me and millions of other people. All you have to do is get laid off.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The explosions in the street have finally stopped for the night

The yahoolings are nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of cherry bombs dance in their heads.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

David’s Definitions for August 2009

Husband

The man in a marriage. Originally, the word had a rather different meaning, which survives in specialized ways. It comes from the Old Norse word husbondi meaning “master of a household.” That word had nothing to do with whether the man was married. When the Norsemen settled in England, they often married local, Anglo-Saxon women. The Anglo-Saxon word for a married woman, wif, continued to be used for those women. That became our word wife. But because such marriages were so common, the Anglo-Saxon term for a husband, wer, was gradually replaced by the Norse husbondi, which became our word husband. The master of a household took care of the land, the animals, and all the other resources associated with his property — good care, if he was a good husbondi. So farming was once called “husbandry,” and taking care of farm animals is still called “animal husbandry.” We also still speak of “husbanding resources” — i.e., taking care to preserve them. In nautical usage, the person who manages a ship’s expenses and receipts is called the “ship’s husband.”


(Will be published in the August 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)


I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Monday, June 22, 2009

Arc of the moral universe

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King, 1967

I’ve been seeing this line quoted a lot lately (or misquoted or paraphrased). The sentiment King expressed may be a comforting one, but it’s bullshit.

It boils down to karma, what goes around comes around, and similar nonsense. Obviously, such beliefs make no sense unless you believe in a guiding force or principle behind everything. Karma, the moral universe, God – at base, it’s all the same thing and it’s all wishful thinking.

It’s uncomfortable to think that the universe has no form of intelligence or morality, that evil goes unpunished, that good is not rewarded, and so on. But that’s what the lack of evidence for the opposite leaves us with.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Only theologians can be atheists

At least, that’s the conclusion one has to draw from the latest ploy used by a certain contingent (cabal!) of theists to argue against atheism.

More properly, they’re arguing against public expression by the most visible atheists – e.g., Dawkins – rather than against atheism itself. But of course their real purpose is to keep those visible atheists from making atheism respectable and appealing.

So they’re now grumbling that Dawkins and his like must not publish books attacking religion unless they can show that they’ve studied the literature of theism in depth. Unable to defend their wacky fundamental belief – the existence of invisible Sky Daddy – these theists are trying to divert the debate into an argument about irrelevant details. If you can’t demonstrate an intimate knowledge of all the convoluted arguments about just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, then you’re not allowed to ask for proof that angels exist.

So let’s engage in a thought experiment.

Suppose that long ago, a hunting party of American Indians in western Colorado, while sitting around the campfire in the evening, had a religious experience, a series of visions, orgasmic and transporting. They imagined that somewhere nearby was an immense but invisible and undetectable rock, and that the rock was speaking to them. They dreamed that the rock told them it had created the world, including them. So they worshiped the invisible rock and sacrificed animals and passing Spaniards to it.

Once Anglos began pouring into the area, large numbers of the white settlers converted to what they called Rockism. From the city that grew up around the imagined site of the invisible rock, thousands, then millions, of pages of detailed theology flowed out around the world. Hundreds of millions of people converted to Rockism.

Rockist theologians, including some of the most brilliant minds on earth, spent their lives arguing with each other about the exact order in which the rock created the various parts of the world, and whether it created the rest of the universe first, or later, or simultaneously. Should they use the newest technology to try to actually detect the rock and determine its nature, or would that be blasphemy? Did the rock extend down to the center of the earth? Up as far as the orbit of the moon? And so on and on and on.

Any sensible person would say, “Prove to me that this rock exists.” Who in his right mind would think it necessary to read all of the Rockist theological drivel before declaring the whole religion to be utter nonsense?

Using Windows Live Writer

I created and published the previous post using Windows Live Writer, a blog editor for PCs, that I had just installed.

I’m very impressed with it and would recommend it to anyone who blogs from a PC. And no, Microsoft did not pay me for this endorsement. If they want to send me a check for a zillion bucks in gratitude, I won’t say no, despite being an obscure blogger whose blog hardly anyone reads and whose opinion is therefore of little moment.

Oops.

Missing the secret, important stuff

Being unemployed means having to fill in lots of forms and notify lots of people and offices about your status and needs. I think everything’s now put to bed and copacetic and stowed away safely, cap’n. But I keep thinking it’s not, that I’ve missed something vital, and it’s going to rear up and tear off my head. Metaphorically speaking.

I often feel this way about the various obligations, duties, processes, and procedures that life subjects us to. Part of that is because I have a bad memory and I do indeed tend to forget important steps. But I just realized that it’s deeper than that.

As a semi-deaf and severely nearsighted kid, without either glasses or hearing aids, I always missed important things in school. I sat at my desk lost in my own world, neither seeing what the teacher was writing on the blackboard nor hearing what teach was saying. Which was fine with me, but I’d show up without homework assignments that I didn’t know had been assigned, and when called on in class I’d either ignore the caller or would have no idea what the subject under discussion was. Other kids looked at me as though I were crazy. Teachers assumed I was stupid or disobedient or both. This probably has a lot to do with why I disliked school so much.

It probably contributed to my habit of losing myself in escapist fiction, and later writing it. It also probably explains why themes of secret, important stuff happening in the background, beyond the ken of characters who are endangered by their not knowing, crop up so often in my fiction.

Maybe that’s also why I got hooked on Philip K. Dick from the first novel of his I read.

Monday, June 08, 2009

He was asking for it

Here's a thought experiment.

A man, smaller than average, less strong than average, walks down a street in the evening in a dangerous part of town. He's dressed in an expensive suit, wearing rings, Rolex showing, and he's counting a big wad of money. He is attacked, robbed of everything but his underpants, beaten severely, wakes up in the hospital, or doesn't wake up at all.

Surely no one will say that his attacker had the right to do what he did. And surely no one will say that the victim had it coming to him. Or that he was asking for it.

But surely it's proper, even while expressing sympathy for the victim, to condemn him as a damned fool. Surely it's proper to point out that human predators exist and we should be aware of them. That's not excusing the predator. That's self-defense.

(I'd like to observe in passing that many, maybe most, human predators are born, not made. Their daddies should have taught them properly? Oh, hell, their daddies probably tried their damnedest and finally gave up in despair.)

I used this invented example years ago, when I was discussing rape with a friend of mine. Unlike some people in today's blogosphere, she didn't blame all men for the rapes committed by a few. (Although she was the first person I heard express the wacko and sexist contention that all men are obligated to teach all other men how to behave.) She did, however, insist that women should be free to go wherever they want and dress however they want and be safe from attack.

And I agree. Of course they should be. Just as men should be, just as the guy in my example should be free to walk down that street, dressed as he wants, flashing his money. That's the way the world should work. It's just not the way it does work.

Most of us realize that. We start learning it when we're kids.

Well, most of us. Some kids never do. All the way up to adulthood, they expose themselves to the predators. It may be dress, it may be behavior, it may be location, it may be dating bad boys. The result can be tragic.

Pointing out the dangers isn't vindicating the guilty or blaming the victims. It's simply pointing out that we don't live in an ideal world.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Three phrases that stifle dissent

Earlier today, I commented negatively regarding some statements about men in a blog post. One reaction to my comment was that it sounded "dismissive to women". It struck me that that phrase is often used to stifle dissent.

It also occurred to me that, in that respect, it's much like the phrase "insulting to Muslims".

The third phrase, which was used against me by my parents when I was young and disagreed with them about Jewishness or Israel, is "Jewish anti-semite".

The phrases may be completely inapplicable in the particular case. That doesn't matter. What matters is that they can be used as weapons to intimidate someone into shutting up.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fucking rightwing barbarian

Costco's magazine for members recently asked whether income tax should continue to be taken out of unemployment insurance. Some rightwing shit-for-brains heartless turd wrote in this month's magazine that unemployment insurance should be subject to income taxes because:

Accountability - being responsible for your situation - is more of what is needed in our country. Therefore, every possible incentive to getting off unemployment insurance as soon as possible is needed.

Braindead bastard.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

DC-NYC, 5/8-5/18

It was a wonderful trip, despite the memories being slightly poisoned by what happened when we got back.

We flew to Baltimore on the 8th, picked up a rental car, then drove to Bowie, MD, where our granddaughter, Emily, lives and where we had a motel room reserved.

We spent the first weekend with Emily and felt that we bonded with her in a significant way. It was a delightful time. On Friday evening, after we arrived, we took her out to eat and talked endlessly. She loves the Baltimore Inner Harbor and the aquarium there, so we spent Saturday up there. Lots of walking around in the heat and humidity, but it was a happy time anyway. We ate dinner at the Rusty Scupper, a high-end restaurant on the Inner Harbor; she likes the place, and at the time we weren't worried about money, fortunately. (Had I known what was coming, the vacation would have been less happy.) On Sunday, the three of us went to see the new Star Trek movie. Leonore and I liked it quite a bit. Emily loved it. She said it was the best movie she'd ever seen. When I was 15, I would have agreed. Then we took her to dinner at a restaurant and talked much more. Really, it was a marvelous time for us, and Emily seemed to enjoy it greatly too.

We hope so much that she'll come out here to visit Daniel and us. Unfortunately, the idea of traveling this far without her family seems to unnerve her. We'll just mention it from time to time, avoiding pressure, and hope that eventually she'll give it a try.

After that, we drove to Leesburg, VA to spend a few days with Bob and Virginia, friends who used to live in Denver. They have an enormous house in a new development outside Leesburg. There are sprawling developments there, bedroom suburbs for DC. I'm sure it was much more charming 100 years ago, but it was beautiful to us because of the astonishing greenery and lushness. We were also in luck with the weather, which was cool and pleasant instead of the heat and humidity we dread. We spent time catching up on old times and, in my case, drinking lots of bourbon, of which Bob is an afficionado. He's enjoying being retired. He said that every day is like Saturday, and every night is like Friday night. Of course, they have that huge house and lots of money, neither of which most retired people have.

They took us into DC to show us how to get to the Metro station, etc. The four of us walked around the Mall and spent a few hours in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I looked at space vehicles that I had worked on in the 60s and 70s but had never actually seen before -- an odd thought. We took photos. I also saw German WWII V1 and V2 rockets, which the Germans fired at me when I was a baby in England. (When I was working at NASA in Houston in the late 60s, I ran into Werhner von Braun. I wanted to jump up and down in front of him and say, "You missed me!" But I didn't.)

The next day, Leonore and I went back to DC and the Mall by ourselves and walked for hundreds of miles. We didn't go into the museums but instead walked down the Mall, past the Washington Monument, along the tidal basin (missed the cherry blossoms by a couple of weeks), into the Jefferson Memorial (one of my favorite presidents), on to the Lincoln Memorial, then back. We had intended to include the White House, but Leonore was exhausted by that point, so we skipped it. Ate some food and then took the Metro back.

I loved downtown Washington. I had expected it to be cold and sterile, acres of marble. Instead it seemed warm and friendly. The good weather probably helped. I'd love to go back, but I suppose it would be best to avoid the middle of summer or winter.

Then we went to Bethesda and had a fine time with my old college roommate, whom I hadn't seen since about 1965. He's aged, of course, but he talks and laughs and stands the same way as long ago. We both liked his wife very much. It was a very nice visit, and I hope we'll have a chance to see them again soon. They didn't seem inclined to head west, so it will probably have to be there again. I'm so glad we were able to do that.

Then we drove to NYC to stay with Lisa, Leonore's dorm mate from Indiana U, and her husband, Andrew. We didn't go into Manhattan this time. (We did last year, when we visited Lisa and Andrew.) Instead we spent one day at the NY Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, followed by dinner in the Bronx's Little Italy section. At the Gardens, we met up with another old college friend of Leonore's, whom we hadn't seen in 45 years or thereabouts. That was a nice surprise. The next day, we went to The Cloisters. Both days, it was chilly and rainy, which Leonore and I loved. The natives bitched about it. Everything we saw was lovely. If only all of NYC were like that. The drive to La Guardia on Monday morning, through rush-hour traffic, was a fucking nightmare.

Thanks to the two-hour time difference, we got home about 2 p.m., so I was able to do the weekly grocery shopping and get ready for the next day at a leisurely pace. Then I went to work on Tuesday and got laid off.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gilbert and Sullivan

Where are you, now that we need you? *

We are the justices of the court supreme
Whose decisions often make you scream.

Gilbert would have known what should come next.




* Dead

Monday, May 25, 2009

David's Definitions for July 2009

Ineluctable

Unavoidable, inevitable. This rare word tends to be used to refer to major things, such as an ineluctable fate. A related word of opposite meaning, even more rare, is eluctate, meaning to struggle your way out from something. If you're taking an English literature class in college, you might discover that the novel Ulysses by James Joyce is ineluctable. In that book, the third chapter begins with the sentence: "Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes." You might want to switch majors.


(Will be published in the July 2009 issue of Denver's Community News.)

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Laid off!

At 11 a.m. this morning. Right after we decided it was safe to spend lots of money on the house, etc.

I was hoping I'd finally found a place I could stay till retirement and not have to go through this shit again. Grump.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Oh, no, the Mormons posthumously converted my Holocaust-victim grandmother!

They probably did, since they've been doing that to Holocaust victims. And others, including, we now learn, Obama's mother. And they've been doing it secretly. Lying about it to the world. Bunch of slimeballs.

Rather, that's what they think they've done. What they've actually been doing is performing a silly, religious - oops, that's redundant! - ritual based on their particular set of fairy tales.

Speaking as an (angry! aggressive!) atheist, the religious rituals performed by Mormons mean as little to me as the religious rituals performed by undiscovered tribes deep in the Amazon rainforest or by Martians, if there are any Martians and if they perform religious rituals. Fairy tales are fairy tales. My grandmother and other members of the family died at the hands of madmen about 70 years ago; that was the tragedy and the crime, and nothing the Mormons do now has any effect on her.

The sleaziness is despicable, but that's about it. Beyond that, you can only get upset if you believe in the fairy tales.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Making fun of muscles

Damn, this annoys me.

In a review in Slate of the movie Wolverine, Dana Stevens smirks as follows: "The first time Jackman appeared shirtless, about 15 minutes into the movie, his absurdly pneumatic chest garnered one of the few laughs at the screening that I attended."

Pneumatic: "Having a well-proportioned feminine figure; especially: having a full bust."

That's the first part of the standard sneer at muscles - implying that they're somehow feminine, not really masculine at all.

The second part is the implication that a muscular male physique is inherently laughable and contemptible. Among a certain subset of the American population, this is a commonplace. For those people, the presence muscles is assumed to prove the absence of brains.

Jackman's developed chest is not absurd. First, it fits with the cartoon character he's playing. Second, to those of us who lift weights, it denotes the hours of hard work the actor underwent and his admirable self-discipline. What's absurd is Dana Stevens and her ilk. Perhaps she needs to spend a few hours in the gym.

Intelligent Design Sort

It's enough to make a theist out of you!

http://www.dangermouse.net/esoteric/intelligentdesignsort.html

Orson Scott Card goes even further

around the bend.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Atheist art

Of the in-your-face variety, which I think the world needs more of:

http://www.atheiart.com/

Monday, April 27, 2009

Update on pregnant woman hit by car while running from bear

Mother and child are fine. She says that, in honor of the euthanized bear, she's going to give her kid the middle name Bear.

Really.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Another Chance at Life: A Breast Cancer Survivor's Journey

Leonore's book is now available online.

At Barnes & Noble, both the hardcover and trade paperback have shown up.

At Amazon, so far only the trade paperback is listed.

Oh, God, I love Belgian blondes!

I'm talking about beers.

My First Dictionary

It's an extremely clever and funny blog.

Friday, April 24, 2009

David's Definitions for June 2007

Bellwether

(Will appear in the June 2009 issue of Community News)

Something that indicates a trend or leads the way. For example, in an election, people pay attention to certain states that they feel indicate how the country as a whole will go. Those states are bellwethers for the election. You'll sometimes see this word misspelled bellweather. Perhaps some people think that it has to do with a bell that warns of bad weather. Nope. In old English usage, a castrated ram was called a wether. English farmers would put a bell around the neck of a wether and let it lead a flock of sheep. That way, a farmer could find his sheep by following the sound of the bell on the neck of the bellwether. I suppose no farmer in his right mind would try to put a bell around the neck of an uncastrated ram.




I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pregnant woman running from bear hit by car

Really. It's an actual story in today's Denver Post.

And it was a hit and run, to boot.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

We may be able to breed with aliens!

That's one implication of this article, anyway.

Woo hoo! Let's get working on that warp drive/hyperdrive/makeupanameforit right away, you scientist guys!

Of course, we'll have to be able to fit together properly. That could be difficult. Then there's the likely difference in body chemistry. Oh, quibble, quibble, quibble.

Wedding anniversary

It's my 41st wedding anniversary today. That number doesn't seem quite real.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Brother-in-law has died

In a previous post, I said that a brother-in-law was diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer. He died today, many months short of the time he was estimated to have left. It was his heart that did it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

They're not fallen heroes. They're dead soldiers.

Local and national news always refers to the American military dead in Iraq, and now Afghanistan, as fallen heroes. (Other nations' military dead and civilian dead aren't referred to at all. They don't count.)

This imbues the dead, and hence the illegal military invasion and occupation, with a somber and sacred nature. It also eliminates the distinction between those who actually died heroically and those who died in accidents or by their own hands (an increasing number, apparently) or because they were sitting ducks.

No, a few are heroes, but most are not. They're victims of an American government gone mad, just like the million Iraqi dead and the millions displaced. And they aren't fallen. They're dead.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Offense-O-Meter

This is a product the world needs.

For decades - since childhood, I think - I've had some sort of chronic sinus problem. Certain things make it flare up, such as a head cold or chili peppers. When it flares up enough, the result is bad breath that could kill a fly at 50 paces. (Which is not even a useful skill in Denver, where we have few flies. Although it does suggest an idea for an offbeat superhero comic.)

Before I got hearing aids, I used to speak too loudly, a common problem with the hard of hearing. Or sometimes too softly, because I feared I was speaking too loudly.

In both these cases, part of the problem is that I can't detect the nastiness myself, so I'm constantly worried that I'm offending other people. What I need, therefore, is an inconspicuous gadget that would warn me. For example, it might be something that would fit on my glasses and flash a signal onto the lenses. Color coded, maybe. A red blink for bad breath and an orange one for speaking too loudly. Something like that.

Other people might need to be warned if their body odor is offensive. The gadget would have to be personalized.

The Offense-O-Meter. I'd pay for something like that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Apollo 11 anniversary official moon dust simulant pen!

I just an e-mail from the group I used to work for at NASA concerning a party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. (I won't be attending. Houston is a tad to far to go.)

Included was the URL for a site where I can buy a commemorative pen containing official moon dust "simulant"!

Whee doggies! All right! Copacetic!

Actually, I think I have some of that stuff in my back yard.

Added: Here's the site, where you can see the pen, watch video of Kennedy calling for the moon program, and see a clever Photoshop of an astronaut in space holding the pen up for view.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Just arrived from Amazon. Woo hoo! So far, it's a delight.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Friends and relatives and cancer

A week ago, a friend, a local writer named John Kennedy whom I've known for over 30 years, died of stomach cancer. It was discovered in the fall, by which time it was already well advanced. Today we learned that a brother-in-law has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to his brain. Awful.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

David's Definitions for May 2009

Meretricious

Something is meretricious if it seems attractive and flashy but really isn't. The attraction may be false or it may be vulgar and showy. It can apply to people, to clothing, or to television commercials, for example. It can even refer to showy, misleading arguments, such as the ones we hear during political campaigns (but only from the other party, of course). It's an insult that sounds like a compliment, so you might be able to use it against someone with a small vocabulary. It sounds like a compliment because it sounds like the positive word merit, to which it is actually closely related. The root is the Latin word meretrix, meaning a prostitute, and that word comes from mereri, "to earn," which is also the root of the word merit. Here's a surprising related word. There was an earth-colored spice the Romans valued for its medicinal properties. They called it terra merita, meaning "earth of merit." After passing through Medieval French and Old English and then finally into modern English, that name had become distorted into "turmeric" - a spice whose attractions are quite genuine and thus the opposite of meretricious.




I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The internationalism of music

Via streaming over the Internet, I listen to a South African classical station, which just played a very good performance of "There's a Place for Us" from West Side Story, sung by a Greek tenor, recorded in a live performance in Moscow.

Somehow that seems more surprising than when the same station plays a piece by Tchaikovsky performed by, say, an orchestra in Brazil.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Proofreading

Sitting here proofreading Business Secrets from the Stars in preparation for its reissue by Norilana Books, and I'm struck by the thought, "Dayum, this is good!"

Obviously, billlllllions of people didn't agree, the first time around. I wish I could think of some way to change their minds for the second try.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Where does Superman work out?

Alternate title: Why does Superman have big muscles?

I've long wondered about this. You get big muscles by lifting big weights many, many times. In his normal life, nothing represents a heavy weight for Supes, so he'd have to put in the hours in a gym, like other musceley fellows. But where is this gym? On Jupiter? It couldn't be on Earth, or we'd be aware of the gravitational attraction of the plates.

What are the weights made of? What kind of bench could support him and the bar he'd be using for presses or the dumbbells he'd be using for flyes?

And look at those lats! Man, you could fly with those things! Oh, wait, he does. Anyway, I'd like to see the pulldown machine he uses to get those lats.

I suppose that the heavy-duty musculature of superheroes is the outward manifestation of their superheroness, rather than something they all coincidentally happen to work to get. The rest of us have to sweat and strain for muscular development, but those darned superheroes just have it because they're superheroes.

Superheroines don't tend to be extremely muscular, in comics or on the screen, but they do tend to be beautiful and sexy. (Lynda Carter says that Eliza Dushku should be Wonder Woman, and who in his right mind would argue with that, or with any reason to see Dushku on the big screen? In a bikini?) So I assume that their beauty and sexiness is the outward manifestation of their superheroineness.

All of this might well make the rest of us feel inferior. Positively mortal!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mmm! Fudge!

It's Daniel's birthday* today, and in what has become an annual tradition, I've made him a batch of my Fabulous Fudge. Damn, it's good!

Good? Did I say good? Heck, it's fantastic! If I do say so myself, and obviously I do.

The recipe is here.




* 40. I don't know how I can possibly have a 40-year-old son. Time travel must be involved.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer

has died at the age of 91.

No doubt other people knew him far better than I did, but I did meet him and have dinner with him once.

That was at MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, in Kansas City in 1976. My first novel was scheduled for publication by Pocket Books the following spring, and my editor, Adele Leone, took Leonore and me out for dinner with Farmer and his wife. (She also took us out for dinner with Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm at the same convention. It was all quite thrilling.)

Farmer was charming and indulgent to a somewhat bumptious young man - nicer than I would have been, I think in retrospect. He seemed genuinely interested in my upcoming novel. His behavior provided a lesson I have yet to learn but must try to.

I had been a fan of his for years and was both awed at being treated like an equal and astonished that he was such an ordinary and nice guy. Based on his novels, I had expected a wild man. How silly of me!

Now he's dead and I never had any contact with him again. Foolish boy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Agents and partials

With some exceptions, literary agents who accept fiction queries by e-mail want just the query first. If they like the query, then they'll ask for a partial - 30 or 50 pages, say, sometimes with a brief synopsis included. If they like that, they'll ask for the whole book. If they like that, they'll offer representation.

Most submissions don't make it past the first stage, the query letter. Perhaps the query is badly written or the genre is one the agent doesn't handle or the description of the book doesn't grab the agent. If a partial is requested, the agent may lose interest after the first few sentences. That's not as harsh as it may seem. The agent knows that any editor to whom he submits a book is inundated with other submissions and must make quick decisions about marketability. Readers in bookstores make quick decisions about which new book to buy out of the gazillions on the shelves, each one screaming, "Snazzy cover! Blurbs! Catchy synopsis on back! Buy me, buy me, buy me, pleeeeeaaase!" If the first few sentences don't grab, then it's no sale.

So an agent reads a query, then maybe a few paragraphs or pages of the book, then maybe the whole book, and rejection can happen at any stage.

In the old days, when this entire process involved printed pages, agents understandably tried to limit the paper inundation by requesting one-page query letters and only rarely asking for partials (smallish packages) and very, very rarely whole manuscripts (large packages). But here in the 21st Century, most agents do all of this electronically. So why don't they ask for the whole shebang from the get-go?

In the electronic age, going through all the steps - query letter, partial, full - just wastes time. Why not ask for the whole ms. plus synopsis as part of the initial submission? Or, if the agent is wary of attachments, why not make that the second step - full ms. instead of partial? That way, if he likes the first few sentences, the agent can read the first few pages. If he likes that, he can keep reading. If he doesn't like it, he can stop at any point. It seems to me that this would take no more of the agent's time than the current system, but it would save lots of time for agent and potential client over all.

Storage space shouldn't be an issue. I assume (but perhaps this is a false assumption) that agents delete unsuccessful submissions anyway, whether query letters or full manuscripts. For those who hold onto submissions for reference purposes, external hard drives are cheap and immense nowadays.

Am I missing something? Am I looking at this like a techie geek instead of an agent? I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's some important consideration, obvious to an agent but invisible to me, that blows away my entire argument. If any agents read this blog (unlikely, I know), I'd love to have their input.

Probably I'll have to drift along forever in a state of bewilderment - regarding this question and so many others.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

That's a famous line spoken by Strother Martin in the movie Cool Hand Luke, in which Paul Newman starred.

Out of the blue, I have a strong desire to have a character say, "What we've got here is failure to excommunicate." I even know the alternate history novel I could use that in, but I don't know if I'll ever get around to writing that novel.

Given that line, how can I not write it?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Self-promote or be damned!

Agent Colleen Lindsay posted on her blog recently about authors who don't want to do the self-promotion necessary for literary success.

We pause to ponder the irony of artists who must dip their hands into the filthy swill of commerce in order to gather unto themselves enough filthy lucre to be free to pursue their art.

Okay. Pause over.

Colleen's point, illustrated with at least one actual example (Tad Williams), is that no matter how much you hate self-promotion, you must do it. I'm certainly not going to argue with her about the necessity of self-promotion. But for many of us, self-promotion remains something monstrously unpleasant and maybe even impossible. I don't think that's because we all think we're above such grubby concerns and the world should see the brilliance of our genius shining in the darkness and come to us instead of requiring us to catch the world's attention. I think that for most of us, it's simply a matter of personality.

We were the serious kids in school. We thought about things, we read about things, and usually we wrote about things. We were bright, even brilliant, but in the vast majority of cases, we were not outwardly notable. Meanwhile, the beautiful but not brilliant kids were capturing the world's attention by virtue of their surface. Some of us - okay, many of us - okay, most of us - kinda sorta resented that. A lot. We did tend to think that the world should notice our inner beauty. Damn that world! It refused to! A lot of us tended to make a virtue of not being showy. Given our personalities, most of us couldn't have been showy even if we had to.

But now, years later, we learn that we have to be showy and on display in order to sell our books. Holy cow! We're still in high school! Those who are able to smile and shake hands and push themselves into the limelight will succeed, and the rest of us will continue to be ignored! It's just not fair!

I'm sure I'm exaggerating. Somewhat. I've done a bit of the book-publicizing thing, and it was hard. In some cases, it was more than that. For one book, I approached a number of writers I know, mostly local people whom I've socialized with for years, and asked them for cover blurbs. They were all kind enough to supply me with the blurbs. They were understanding and friendly about it. I was squirming inside with self-loathing the whole time. Couldn't help it. I still feel embarrassed at the memory. What was/am I embarrassed about, exactly? I dunno, it's just, eeew, you know? When I run into those writers at local events, they're friendly, but I keep thinking that they must be thinking, "Oh, hell, he's here. I hope to God he's not going to ask me to blurb another book!"

(Curiously, I've occasionally been asked to provide blurbs, and I was always pleased and flattered to do so. Impostor syndrome at work there, I suspect.)

I forced myself to do it, anyway. But I still want one of my novels to become a humongous bestseller all on its lonesome, with no promotion required on my part. That's wildly unrealistic, but I can't help wanting it anyway.

In conclusion, I have no conclusion, except to say that it's not immense ego and an overblown sense of self-importance that makes writers dread and avoid self-promotion. No, the avoidance is caused by precisely the shy, retiring, inhibited, introverted personality that made them gravitate toward writing in the first place.

Ironic, as a writer might say!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Chinese dance served on a bed of religious propaganda

Years ago, Leonore and I saw a performance of very old Chinese dances and music, all done in period costumes. It was wonderful, and we've been on the lookout for anything similar. So when we saw a flyer for a performance of traditional Chinese dance by an organization called Divine Performing Arts, we were hooked in advance. The flyer did mention that the organization was connected with the Falun Gong, a.k.a Falun Dafa, movement, and that gave me pause because I don't like contributing money to religions, but I rationalized that away, and we ordered a couple of pricey tickets.

The performance was last night, January 31, at the Temple Buell Theater in Denver, which has been renovated into an excellent performing space. Our seats were good ones. The costumes were beautiful, the dances were enjoyable, the music was entrancing. But the whole purpose of the night's entertainment, it turned out, was to preach the wonders of Falun Gong and the salvation it represents for humanity. As the evening progressed, dance receded into the background and religious proselytization increasingly became the focus of the performance.

There were a few songs, lamely performed, with lyrics about the wonderfulness of Falun Gong and, in one case, the evil dangers of atheism. (All sung in Mandarin, but with the English translation projected on a screen behind the singers.) We noticed that the applause kept diminishing throughout the evening, especially after that song. In my own case, it became nonexistent.

Here are some other opinions about this traveling show. The first is from the Chinese government. It's hard to take anything from that source seriously, though, given that China is ruled by a gang of thugs whose treatment of Falun Gong members is horrifying. But here are the opinions of a couple of bloggers, one in Canada and the other in London. Their reactions were the same as ours. After the performance, we chatted with a couple who had been seated behind us. They were very upset. The husband said he hadn't spent that much money to be proselytized. The wife, a Chinese American, seemed deeply angry and said she feared that an American audience would think that this really represented Chinese culture.

The hosts (a man and a woman who engaged in lame scripted banter) urged us a few times to tell our friends in other cities about the show. So that's what I'm doing with this post. Don't waste your money.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The wackos are still in control

Or at least, they're still have far too much power.

According to this article, at the upcoming Superbowl, the Transportation Security Administration "will be scrutinizing the body language and demeanor of fans as part of the effort to spot suspicious and possibly dangerous people in the crowd."

This is pseudoscience. All the training of law-enforcement personnel in body language is rubbish. Don't believe anything you hear about the significance of eye movements or the use of "uh" in sentences. It's as solidly based on actual data as is astrology.

These are the same sincere but deluded and not very bright twits who are watching people in the security lines at airports for signs of nervousness. Because of course only a possible terrorist would be nervous while lining up to have his bags and possibly rectum searched by the TSA so that he can shuffle along to his airplane along with the other cattle so that he can be crammed into a flying sardine can that hasn't been adequately serviced since the last time a Democrat was in the White House.

Shitheads. Obama, get on this.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"What're you in for?" "Cussing."

A bill now in the South Carolina state Senate would make it a felony to swear in the presence of a minor. This ghastly crime would be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More of that darned Stock Show weather

Stock Show still going, temperatures in the mid-50s.

Damn you, Al Gore! This is all your fault!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thalaron radiation!

I just learned about this by watching Star Trek: Nemesis. See, it's this radiation whose existence is only hypothetical, even though Geordi LaFarge knows how to detect it using plain old standard-issue Starfleet detectors (detect-ores), and research on it was outlawed by the Federation because it has the ability to - shiver! - destroy organic matter at the subatomic level!

Which leads me to wonder why it wouldn't destroy any matter at the subatomic level, because at that level, there's no difference. But what do I know? I didn't graduate from the prestigious Engineering School at Starfleet Academy with an advanced degree in technobabble.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More on Denver's fake Western heritage

Which is to say, its pretense to a Hollywood Western Heritage:

Tuesday (tomorrow) has been declared Tuesday declared Dress Western Day in Denver.

Have you ever seen anything so fucking dumb?

Stock show weather

Denverites like to exclaim, when the stock show's in town and the weather turns cold and snowy, as it did today, that we're having "stock show weather." It's a local belief that the stock show has a magical effect on the weather, bringing cold and snow to Denver with it.

Bunk, of course, and finally a genuwine scientist feller has analyzed the weather data and shown just what bunk it is.

But you just know that no one will listen to him and that every year people will exclaim in wonder at the predictable yet uncanny appearance of stock show weather. In January. Because, if the stock show weren't in town, we'd neeeevvvveeerrr have snow and cold in Denver in January.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Mainstream is hard!" said Ken

The novel I'm working on, Chains, is science fictional in some respects but really mainstream, so I'm dealing more than before with making all the character inner stuff work properly, because that's the main focus. It's so much easier when you can solve a problem by having someone jump into a time machine or spaceship, or have two men burst through the door with guns blazing.

No wonder there are almost no worthwhile mainstream writers. Oops, sorry, that just slipped out.

Anyway, it's fun and fulfilling, and I'm feeling hopeful that this book will be a rip-snorting, bell-ringing, guns-blazing page turner of a, er, serious mainstream exploration of the human condition.

Now if only we could do something about all those other people who

fire into the air in celebration.

Do they think the bullets go into orbit? Do they think?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Denver's fake Western heritage

Actually, it's not really fake. Denver and the Front Range have a real Western heritage: mining. That's what brought the white settlers here in droves and resulted in the establishment of the state. The fake part is the imagined Hollywood-style cowboy heritage.

We get a walloping dose of that fakery every year around this time because of the stock show. There are TV and radio ads featuring gravelly voices speaking with that bizarre distortion of a Southern accent that Hollywood uses to depict anything Old Wild Western (and sometimes anything rural, no matter what part of the country a movie is set in).

The real history of the West in general and Colorado in particular is fascinating, colorful, and an important part of US history. I wish we'd hear more about that and less of the Hollywood version, although I fear that most Americans see their entire history through the lens of the movies.

Speaking of movies, Benjamin Button sucks.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Curious Special Effects of Benjamin Button

There's far less to this movie than meets the eye. What meets the eye is the special effects, which are remarkable. The rest of the movie ranges from inconsistent to incoherent.

It's very loosely based on a short story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," by F. Scott Fitzgerald - an insignificant story by an insignificant writer with an overblown reputation. The movie uses the basic idea, a man born old and growing ever younger until he becomes a newborn and dies, and blows it up into an interminable and pointless 150 hours of nonsense. The title character is played by Brad Pitt, a curious choice for a serious role. The movie is heavy with symbols that don't symbolize anything, presumably so that a certain type of moviegoer will feel that he's seen something significant. For example, the opening scenes involve a clock that was deliberately made so that it runs backward. But that has no connection to the backward-living Benjamin Button. Absurdly, it remains the main clock in a busy urban train station. The story is set in New Orleans and ends during Hurricane Katrina, which is a gratuitous and irrelevant bit of business, used apparently so that we can see the flood waters engulfing the clock, now stored in a warehouse, and causing it to start running backward again - an event which also plays no part in the story but which looks, like, heavy, man.

The movie would have been improved if half of it had been edited out. For example, there's a loooong section in which Benjamin, serving in the crew of a tugboat, goes to the Soviet Union in the very early days of World War II. There he has an affair with the aristocratic wife of a British trade official. Benjamin tells us that the man is also a spy. He knows this, but the Soviet secret police apparently don't. Nor do the secret police notice that the Yank and the Brit are coupling in the hotel and roaming the streets at night. The two are all alone, both in the streets and the lobby and bar and kitchen of the crowded hotel at night. Russia is at war, but the onscreen Russians don't seem particularly upset. Other than letting us see the Englishwoman, decades later, fulfilling her girlhood dream of swimming the English Channel, this entire section serves no purpose beyond pulling us out of our already tenuous suspension of disbelief.

Inconsistencies abound. When Daisy, the Cate Blanchett character, is hit by a car and severely injured in Paris, Benjamin is told about it and rushes to her side. But he is able to tell us, the audience, all about the curious and unlikely sequence of events that led to the girl and the car being at the same point at the same time. How does he know? Why is that used to pad an already long movie? When Daisy is old and dying (during Katrina! thunder! lightning! heavy rain!) in a hospital, her daughter, reading Benjamin's diary and looking at her mother's press clippings from before the car accident, is astonished to learn that Daisy was once a famous ballerina. "You never told me you danced!" the daughter says. Yet there's a scene in which the daughter, aged 11, is in her mother's dance studio, where Daisy teaches girls to do what she can no longer do. It's not believable that she would not have pictures and newspaper articles on the studio walls from her days of ballerina fame. Of course the daughter would know about that aspect of her mother's life.

This is a script written in pieces by different people, from a checklist, without the writers communicating with each other, and with impressive special effects used to distract us from the inconsistencies and shallowness and pointlessness of the story.

Blanchett overacts embarrassingly, making one wonder if her remarkable performance in the first Elizabeth movie was a fluke. Pitt shows that he can indeed act, as long as the part is monotone and undemanding. The supporting cast would be good and convincing if they were appearing in a high-school play.

Rating: 2 blisters out of 10, for the special effects.

Blow dryers!

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_11355943?source=rss