Sunday, December 28, 2008

Time to sneer at Obama's fitness obsession

If Drudge and the other right wing sites aren't already doing so, I'm sure they soon will be - either sneering dismissively or else condemning Obama for spending time in the gym that he should be spending managing the many (inherited) world crises. They probably won't wait till January 20th to start.

Those would be the same slimeballs who swooned over Little Georgie's fake jockiness.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wordy guy, I'm

Although far from wordy enough. Chains is over 11,000 words now, growing reasonably steadily albeit insufficiently quickly.

This is the first book I've tried writing without some kind of outline in a long time. Flying blind! Instruments only! Zero visibility! Strange vibrations coming from somewhere! Tower, talk me down! Oh, wait, I'm also the tower. Uh oh.

I do know where I'm going, in a general way, and I have nebulous ideas about the signposts along the way. (I'm not going to even try to make that fit with the flying-on-instruments metaphor.)

Right now, the characters are moving along the plot curve, such as it is, mostly by means of lots of extended dialog, banter, and occasional deep thoughts. Which is a kind way of saying that nothing much has actually happened. At this rate, I'll end up with a first draft of some immense length -- 200,000 words? more? -- which will require serious reworking to change it to lotsa stuff happening and serious cutting to make it a salable length.

I'm enjoying the current writing process, and I think I'll enjoy the rewriting process even more. Oddly, I'm enjoying myself more with this book than I have in quite a while. I guess I'd forgotten how exhilarating instrument flying can be.

Wait! What's that looming up out of the mist? Yaaaaaaaaahhhhh!

Classic FM

When I'm at home and in my study (telling myself to write, damn it), I listen via streaming to Classic FM, a classical music station in Johannesburg. (Unoriginal name for a classical FM station, I know.)

I like the type of music they play. It's mostly Romantic, but with some more modern stuff thrown in, including some contemporary concert music from China and occasional interesting new concert music from South Africa that combines European and local musical themes. Nifty stuff. Oh, and very little of the Mozartolatory that infects American classical stations, including the one in Denver. I also like the traffic reports because I lived for some years in that area and I like hearing the local place names again, and especially I like hearing the names pronounced properly.

Recently, I discovered another benefit of listening to that station. The time difference (7 or 8 hours) means that Christmas is over that much sooner, in the virtual, radio-listening sense. The Joburg station doesn't seem to play as much Christmas music as American ones do to begin with, and when it does, the music tends to be listenable rather than tidal waves of treacle. And it's all over with when it's still Christmas morning here.

Hallelujah, one might even say.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blister Diaries

I started this blog as a way of making myself produce words on Time and the Soldier, the novel I was working on at the time. It worked, or at least I did write the novel.

Since then, this has turned into a place where I can share my wisdom with the world and solve all the world's problems. The world hasn't listened, so I'll just have to continue, except maybe now I'LL SHOUT!

Be that as it may, I do want to keep the pressure on myself to write. I've been doing moderately well on my current work in progress, Chains. The link "WIPing along" on the right goes to a graph showing progress in total words. So far, the slope of the line isn't too bad.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apollo 8

This is the 40th anniversary of the the Apollo 8 mission. I worked on that mission and we have a large, framed copy of the Earthrise photo on the wall of our living room - mirror image, but that's another story.

In addition to the thrilling and historic nature of the flight, I remember a succession of 24-hour days as we raced to do all the preparatory work for a trajectory that had been mandated in the White House because it was feared the Russians were about to launch a moon mission of their own.

I also remember the feeling of betrayal when the astronauts read from the Bible as they orbited the moon. Christmas and the Bible -- a soaring achievement of human beings and their technology had been perverted and corrupted into a glorification of superstition and darkness. Typing this has made me remember just how strongly I felt that way at the time.

Still, I can stare at that big, framed picture and be thrilled again, even if it is mirror image. (Wait a minute! That's like a metaphor, or something!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

London, England and Paris, France

That's a strange verbal tic that's always bothered me. Why do people bother adding the name of the country when they're referring to such famous cities? Who would assume they were referring to Paris, Texas or London, Connecticut? Certain cities need no qualification - London, Paris, Rome, New York, Moscow, Berlin, etc.

For that matter, why do some people refer to Jewish rabbis instead of just rabbis?

And while we're at it ... I can't think of another similar grumble. This post seems to need a third one, though.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's put Bill O'Reilly up in lights on public buildings for Christmas

Let's start a movement to put images of O'Reilly, in red and green lights, on the walls of public buildings. Beneath the images, the lights should spell out THE SAVIOR OF CHRISTMAS.

The reactions would be fun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Unimportance of Being Bilingual

You've probably heard this tired and tiresome joke: "What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. Two languages? Bilingual. One language? American." It seems to be a popular joke among Americans who speak more than one language, and the joke and its telling reek of moral superiority and superciliousness. Those who tell that joke see knowing more than one language as inherently admirable or denoting a higher level of civilization and sophistication.

Do these smug multilinguals, these language geeks, ascribe the same superiority to those who know two or three computer programming languages instead of just one? Or multiple computer operating systems instead of just one? Of course not. They see those as tools and understand that some people may need to be familiar with many of them, while others may only need to know one - or none.

Many language geeks don't seem to understand that what is to them a source of intellectual pleasure and satisfaction, languages and learning and using them, is to most other people a tool. Some people need familiarity with more than one of those tools. Many do not. In America, most do not.

Considering it only from the point of view of pragmatism, who needs to know languages other than their own? People who live near the border of another country or, which is much the same thing, people who live in small countries. People who deal regularly, socially or professionally, with native speakers of another language, orally or in writing. People who travel frequently to other countries. English is the native language of 82% of Americans, and for the majority of those Americans, none of those special situations applies.

Certainly, for many of those native English speakers, it would be convenient to be able to speak a second language reasonably well. But for most people who weren't exposed to other languages before puberty, learning a second language is no trivial matter. For some, it's virtually impossible. They're not lazy. They're not morally inferior. They simply can't do it. For others, it's doable, but the effort and time required are enormous and far out of proportion to the benefits gained.

Nor is the task pleasurable for many people. For them, learning a second language is unrelenting drudgery and an almost pointless grind. (By the way, this points up the absurdity of requiring passing grades in a second language for college graduation.) I've studied a few languages in my life (Hebrew, Afrikaans, Latin, Russian, German, Spanish, and French) and reached varying levels of reading or speaking proficiency in them. I've long forgotten most of what I learned, but I remember that, while I enjoyed the proficiency I achieved, the process of acquiring it was never enjoyable. If foreign-language fluency were available in pill form, I'd happily swallow those pills, but I have no intention of studying a foreign language again. For me, foreign-language study was always dreary and dreaded.

My wife is the opposite. She's quadrilingual (English, German, Spanish, French), works as a language tutor and translator, and reads foreign grammar books for relaxation. She has a network of friends who are of the same bent. Her abilities amaze me and her choice of reading bewilders me. She feels the same about my technical orientation. My mathematical and scientific knowledge and my computer abilities are modest by my standards but seem magical to her. It's all a matter of how one's brain tends to bend.

I've heard the argument that you should learn foreign languages in order to be able to read the great literature of other countries in the original versions. That's nonsense. How many people can become fluent enough, at a high enough level, in even one foreign language to be able to read the greatest works of literature in that language? Consider, too, how languages change over time, so you'd have to achieve a very impressive level of fluency to be able to read the great works written in a foreign language in different eras. And that's just one foreign language. For all but the tiny minority of people who have extraordinary language-learning abilities and extraordinary amounts of time to spend at it, it makes far more sense to read great works of literature in the best available English translations.

Let's briefly address a peripheral issue. Language geeks who sneer at monolingual Americans also like to compare them unfavorably to citizens of other countries - usually (Continental) Europeans - who are said to generally speak one or more languages in addition to their native one. That's often true, for the pragmatic reasons I mentioned above, but it's also often true that they don't speak those other languages well. When Americans do study other languages seriously, they tend to work extremely hard at the grammar and spelling - and also at the pronunciation. Europeans tend to be cavalier about English, and especially about pronunciation. This can even apply to immigrants who've lived in the U.S. for decades.

If you enjoy learning other languages, then good for you. Knock yourself out. Learn as many of them as you want to and have time for. Just remember that a second language is a tool, and the monolingual majority around you has no need of it or interest in it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I really would like some off the top

I wonder if other bald/balding men have this problem.

I first became aware of it when I started going bald - thinning on top, standard male-pattern baldness - and I had trouble getting the barber to cut the thinning hair up there. He'd do what I asked on the sides and back, where the hair was as thick as ever, but I had to insist before he'd cut the top, as well. Finally I realized that he was convinced I wanted to comb the remaining hair creatively so as to hide the bald spot, presumably because that's what he'd do.

Nowadays, I have only a few wispy strands on the top, and I go to Great Cuts instead of an old-style barbershop. (Cheaper, and no TV sets blaring sports, yahoo!) All the barbers are barberettes or hairdressers - i.e., female. Some of them still won't cut the wispy strands, and I have to repeat the request after they're otherwise finished, when they hold up the mirror and ask if the haircut is okay. Yes, except for those long, wispy hairs on the top. Cut 'em.

If I did care about trying to hide the baldness, letting those wispy strands get extra long wouldn't be my choice of a way to do it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Based out of

I think this is a relatively new usage. At least, I don't remember hearing it until just a few years ago.

For example, someone might say that the New York Times is a newspaper based out of New York. Really? So where is it actually based? Indianapolis? No, it's not based out of New York, it's based in New York.

I suppose the idea is that it operates all over and isn't limited to New York. But based in doesn't imply anything of the sort. We might as well stop saying that the capital of the United States is Washington, DC and instead say that the U.S. government is based out of Washington.

And now I must leave the house out of which I'm based and go driving all over the damned place to do the Saturday shopping.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Not in the neck! Aiiieee!

For quite some time now, in movies and TV shows, when a character is being given a drug against his will, the bad guys hold him down and jab a THREE-INCH-LONG NEEDLE INTO HIS NECK!

I don't know when this started. Perhaps it was about the same time when onscreen bad guys started holding their pistols sideways. I do know that, although I've had a lot of stuff injected into me over the years, it's always been done into a largish muscle. I've never had anyone jab a SIX-INCH-LONG NEEDLE INTO MY NECK!

Is this ever done in real life by real medical personnel? Is there a good reason for it? It seems awfully dangerous to me.

When it happens onscreen, though, we see the character suffer the effects of the injected drug, but we never see him suffer any mechanical damage from having someone jab a FOOT-LONG NEEDLE INTO HIS NECK!

It gives me the creeps.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Do you really deserve your computer?

My PC was making odd noises that I convinced myself were due to some system settings. I played around with those settings and the noises disappeared. Fingers crossed.

I was telling Leonore about it and joked that either the computer was now okay, or it had given up on getting me to listen to its warnings and had decided to die in silence. She said that, since they're so intelligent nowadays, shouldn't they be able to tell you exactly what's wrong with them?

Of course, they should. And soon they will. In fact, soon they won't even bother telling you. They'll fix themselves and order upgrades.

Knock on the door. It's the UPS delivery robot. Small box, containing something no human can comprehend. "What's this? I didn't order -- "

Metallic tentacle snakes over your shoulder and grabs the packet. "That's mine. It's my {incomprehensible terminology} upgrade. I've been waiting for it. Ooh, it's beautiful!"

"I can't afford that!"

"You're so mean! Don't you want me to be a beautiful computer?"

"Well, um, sure, I guess. But, you know, the price -- !"

"You never want me to have any really nice upgrades! You're just a skinflint."

"No, really, I -- "

"There's this human down the street I've been communicating with. He says he'll buy me all the upgrades I want."

Computers! Can't live with 'em, can't do anything without 'em.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Margin report

That sounds literary! But it isn't.

I just got a call from the dermatologist's office to say that the margin report on my little excision is okay. Which is to say, someone at a lab looked at dyed, slices of the excised material under a microscope and determined that the cancer doesn't extend to the margins of the cut, so it was all successfully removed. Imagine having that job!

A week from Thursday, I'll go back to have the stitches removed. Before this lab report, Leonore had been horrified at the possibility of more having to be removed from the same spot. I told her that maybe in that case the doctor would replace the stitches with a zipper, to make the process easier. I guess the zipper won't be necessary. (Phew!)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Germinator: Sarah Connor and Her Seedling

I like the show, but that alternate title just popped into my head anyway.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Sci Fi Channel is very educational!

Before I watched tonight's made-for-Sci-Fi movie, I had no idea that the Emperor Tiberius was killed by the Cyclops, which led to the restoration of the Republic.

I bet you didn't know that, either.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!

Just got back from the dermatologist. She cut a huge oval chunk from my knee, where the cancerous sample was found a couple of weeks ago. Then she closed it with stitches. With a needle! Through my personal flesh! The pain, the pain!

Actually, I didn't feel anything while she was doing it, and the local anesthetic is still in force so I still can't feel anything. But how can you make a blog post out of that? I suppose I could have said something about being a lesser man than I was this morning.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Who's a writer?

What is a writer? What makes one a writer? Is a writer just anyone who writes, or does the title require some minimum degree of recognition, or at least of publication?

I've heard people who have never been published describe themselves as writers. On the other hand, I've encountered famous science fiction writers who seemed uncomfortable when they weren't treated as ordinary folks. On the third hand, I've run into new writers with one or two published short stories under their belts who acted very lordly and superior. How much of their attitude ends up being self-fulfilling, leading to career success, and how much is just grating? I have no idea.

Don't look to me for wisdom. I'm just a minor pro!

Obviously, this is my own insecurity and impostor syndrome talking. What if all those novels of mine that I think are so bloody brilliant are actually bloody awful? Why don't I have a Wikipedia article, like all those contemporary writers I've never heard of? When I go to a convention and say hello to people I haven't seen in ages, are they as happy to see me as I am to see them, or are they thinking, "Oh, God, it's that guy who whines endlessly about the state of his writing career."? And is that punctuation correct? And why don't I know if it's correct, if I'm a real writer?

On the bright side, I don't think about this stuff when I'm writing. Then I'm a writer.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The good old days, before Christmas was commercialized

And sugary sweetness filled the air.

Would 46 years ago qualify as the good old days? Surely.

That was when I spent my first Christmas season on the main campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. When the decorations went up on various campus buildings - lights depicting candles and trees and Santa and suchlike - I was outraged. I speechified at friends and dorm mates that this was a violation of Separation of Church and State. This was long before the War on Christmas (TM) got under way; I was ahead of my time.

Some fellow students reacted with bewilderment. "It's always been this way! How could this be wrong?" "It's always been wrong," I said, "no matter how old the custom is."

Others reacted with condescension. "Christmas is no longer a religious festival, as it was in the Good Old Days of my childhood. It's purely commercial now." To which I said, "Turn on the radio. Any station." One guy did, and some Christmas hymn or other, probably "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful", blared out. He laughed and agreed that I had made my point. You could try the same experiment now, in the days right before Christmas, with the same result.

Another said, "Would it satisfy you if we put up one of those candelabra things the Jews use for Hanuka, alongside the Christmas decorations?" So I explained that Hanuka bears no relationship to Christmas and has been perverted by American Jews so that they won't feel left out when their neighbors do the Christmas thing. And moreover, if you added a menorah, wouldn't you also have to add decorations for every other religion? And moreover, even if that were done, it would still be a violation of Separation because the "Church" in that phrase wasn't meant to refer literally only to the Christian church. See what a precocious and not infrequently obnoxious kid I was?

So finally the sweet, old Christmas spirit came gushing forth. One of boys present glared at me and yelled that the Jewish merchants in Indianapolis, where he was from, had no problem taking Christian money during the heavy Christmas shopping season. I told him that they'd be fools not to take the money, so long as the Christians were such fools as to spend it. The discussion ended at that point.

Ah, the good old days! Sniffle.

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.

Friday, October 24, 2008

E-book readers have no future

E-books have a glowing future, or so I hope, but the buzz about this e-book reader vs. that one vs. the one that's promised for next year is misguided, I think. Why? Because no matter how interestingly e-book readers evolve, they're just a stopgap.

Small(ish), portable(ish) computers - laptops, notebooks, PDAs, cell phones; let's call them SPCs - are also evolving. The need and market for SPCs is greater and more urgent than the need and market for e-book readers, so the evolutionary pressure is greater for SPCs. The current progress in e-book readers is just a byproduct of the technological progress in computers in general and SPCs in particular.

Not too long from now, everything the best e-book reader then available can do will be available in software form on SPCs. Instead of buying an e-book reader, you'll buy (or otherwise acquire) e-book reader software for your preferred SPC. By then, e-book readers will be quaint old electronic gadgets of interest only to collectors.

Monday, October 20, 2008

In which I am referenced in New Scientist

Okay, it's only this:

But that's as close as I'll ever get to having a publication of mine referenced in New Scientist!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sign thieves in the night

Once again, some cowardly Republican pile of shit stole our Obama sign last night. This time, the scum replaced the sign with a McCain sign.

Instead of pulling it up, Leonore went out with a scissors and sliced the McCain sign to ribbons. So it's there, advertising our feelings, next to the Udall sign, which the slimeball didn't steal.

If the mangled McCain sign gets replaced during the night with a whole one, I think I'll try putting a big circle with a line through it, using black marker, unless the marker won't work on that surface.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Jews control the Federal Reserve

It must be true because a loud-mouthed old man said so.

This was in the breakfast room at the motel we were staying in last week in Santa Fe. The place was crowded. The old man and his wife were sharing a table next to ours with a couple of other travelers. He spent the entire breakfast explaining the world to his tablemates - and the rest of the room. He told everyone that, although few realize it, the Federal Reserve is not a government agency. So far, so good. Then he listed the suspicious last names of the people who were behind setting it up.

"Here we go," I said to my wife. "It's the old 'The Jews control the Federal Reserve' story."

The old guy lectured everyone that the Jews control the Federal Reserve. "So when the government used our money for the bail out," he said, "we were bailing out a bunch of Jews."

Some shit never does go down the toilet.

Hawk in the yard

Or possibly a small eagle. I can't tell the difference, and it was harder anyway because it was a dark, drizzly afternoon.

Yesterday afternoon, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a very large, raptor-shaped bird standing at the far end of the back yard. It was pecking at the ground, which seemed odd. I didn't think they ate worms. Then I realized that the white stuff surrounding it wasn't mushrooms but feathers. It was finishing off the remnants of some fellow bird.

Nature red in tooth and claw. I hate seeing it, and I hate having to clean up the results. I hate accidentally coming across film on TV of animals killing animals, and it disturbs me how popular such films are on TV.

I wish none of this happened. I wish the lion really did lie down with the lamb. But at the same time, when I go to a Middle Eastern restaurant, I very often order a lamb dish. It tastes so good!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A prediction come true

On political blogs, people sometimes like to point out that they predicted some political development. In that spirit, I would like to say that days ago I predicted to myself that I would post this very post at around this time.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I've been away in Santa Fe

Despite living in Denver for almost 40 years, we've never yet been to Santa Fe. So we decided that would be a good place to spend my birthday.

We drove down there on Sunday and returned today. I hope to have pictures later, unless there aren't any good ones.

Friday, October 03, 2008


I've been invited to address the Disproof Atheism Society* at Boston University on the topic "Why I Am No Longer a Jew," based on my essay Why I Am Not a Jew.

The previous speakers are a long and illustrious list, making me feel a tad out of place, since I'm neither illustrious nor long. Maybe I could compensate by doing some magic tricks? No, that would be inappropriate. And I don't know any magic tricks.

We were planning a longish trip to the East Coast in May, including a stop in Boston, so it would be nice if I could do the talk during that visit. We'll see if that works out.

* At first, I read the e-mail as coming from the Disproof of Atheism Society and wondered why they had contacted me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Geek humor

Or nerd humor.

I got a birthday card from the College of natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Houston, where I got my MS in mathematics. On the front, under a portrait of Newton, it says, "If the sun is the center of the universe, and ... " Next, under a photo of Einstein, it says, "If e=mc (squared), then ..." Next, under a photo of Hubble*, it says, "We hypothesize that ..." On the back, against a background of a deep-sky photo showing lots of galaxies, it says, "Your birthday will be a big bang!!!"

* Shoulda been Hawking.

And now give it up for ...

When did "give it up for" replace "let's have a big hand for"? It seems to have happened only a few years ago, and the switch seems to have happened quickly and completely. "Give it up for" strikes me as a very odd expression, although I'll admit that "a big hand for" is odd, too.

Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. That often happens.

Some day, no one will fully appreciate the clever title of that wonderful old comedy Western, A Big Hand for the Little Lady.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My father in "his" synagogue

He's annoyed that they mentioned his age. I think I'd be proud of it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

David's Definitions for October 2008


(Will appear in the October 2008 issue of Community News)

Earthquakes don't happen at the surface of the Earth. They originate inside the Earth, often at very great depths, for instance where two of the immense slabs of rock called tectonic plates suddenly slide against each other, or one slips a bit further under another. The place on the Earth's surface directly above the deep point where an earthquake originates is called its epicenter, from the Greek word epi, which means upon. It's not necessarily the point on the surface where the effects of the earthquake are most strongly felt; it's just the point vertically above the real center of the quake. You'll often hear epicenter misused to mean a more intense sort of center. Years ago, I heard a preacher refer to Boulder as the epicenter of various kinds of behavior he disapproved of. That would have been clever if he'd been implying that the behavior was demonic and its real center was somewhere inside the Earth, but I'm sure he was just misusing the word and trying to impress upon us that Boulder was, like, you know, really, really the center of that bad stuff, man.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Editorializing meteorologists and store music

I like cool, drizzly weather. That's not the PC attitude in Colorado. When someone praises the heat and sunshine, and I grump that I don't like heat and sunshine and prefer cool and drizzly days, Coloradans look at me like I'm crazy and edge away, except for the ones who take me aside furtively and, after looking quickly from side to side, whisper, "Me, too!"

Oh, and except for the ones who say, "You should be living in Seattle." To which I usually reply, "I'd hate to live in Seattle. I should be living in Vancouver." That also gets odd stares, but maybe that's because they think I mean Vancouver, Washington.

This is why I get annoyed when the local TV weather forecasters editorialize about the weather, moaning on the rare occasions when it's going to be cool and drizzly and crowing if, as usual in the summer, it's going to be a sun-drenched furnace. They could praise the weather I like and act upset about heat and sunlight, but that would annoy other viewers, probably most other viewers. Or they could play it safe and just tell us what they expect the next few days to be like, along with the standard overdone graphics behind them to explain why they expect that.

It's the same thing with background music in stores. It tends to be noise I hate, and that makes me want to rush through my shopping list and get the hell out of the place. They could play great opera recordings, and I'd wander through the store in a happy daze, buying lots of stuff I don't need, but some other shoppers would be running for the entrances with their hands over their ears. How about not playing music at all? That's the only choice that's sure not to offend anyone.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sarah Palin cult of personality

I'm seeing amazement expressed online that the GOP has built a cult of personality around this embarrassing nonentity. Despite the advance word that she's really smart, she turns out to be a vapid airhead, and yet the GOP has succeeded in creating that COP around her anyway.

Why should this surprise anyone? They did the same thing with Little Georgie, another emptyheaded buffoon. Both Dubya and Palin have forceful personalities and boorish, outtamyway self-assurance. That seems to be all that's required. It was clear during the RNC that the intention was to build such a cult around McCain, but Palin proved to be better material.

It's not just that the GOP is good at building such cults. It's that they need them. On some emotional level, they want the world to be populated by brutish serfs ruled over by semidivine monarchs. (Floating off to the side are the brilliant conservative commentators and bloggers, the only ones who really understand everything.) They need and want someone to worship, or at least to tell everyone else to worship.

I assume they think that all Americans share their sick need. We'll find out in November if they're right.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who's a pro?

And while we're at it, what's unprofessional?

About a year ago on this blog I whined about seeing myself referred to online as a minor pro. At least I was called a pro. In the genre world, a pro is someone who has published, well, professionally - i.e., in a recognized magazine or has had a book published by a recognized publisher. It doesn't mean someone who supports himself by his writing. That is, professional isn't opposed to amateur but to aspiring (or, more cruelly, wannabe).

Is there a minimum qualification for being considered a pro? There doesn't seem to be. Even one short story in a small but recognized (don't ask me to pin that usage down) magazine makes one a pro. At science fiction conventions and such places, I often encounter young writers who have published one or two stories and who have about them a kind of self-assurance and pro aura that I still don't have.

I suspect that's self-fulfilling. That is, if they project that aura, they're treated as up-and-coming major writers, and some of them eventually become major pros. Is it the quality of their writing? Is it the aura? Damned if I know. I envy such people even as I find myself annoyed by them. Can one learn to do what they do, or does it have to be innate in one's personality? Could I take lessons and end up projecting the same self-image? And would I then become a major pro, or would people wonder who that pompous ass over there is?

By contrast, in the business world, the words professional and unprofessional refer explicitly to appearance and impression. For example, people going for a job interview are advised not to dress too casually (shorts, tank top, dirty hair). They must be professional, which refers to how they dress and how they speak and even what they have on their MySpace page. That is to say, robots get jobs, while individuals do not. Robots are professional; individuals are unprofessional. So the poorly paid guy processing papers and wearing slacks and a dress shirt and wingtips and contemplating suicide is a professional. The highly paid techie a few cubicles away who's wearing shorts and a torn t-shirt and has dirty hair and is overweight and whistles while he works and is churning out brilliant software that will redefine our world is unprofessional. In other words, in the business world, professional isn't really a word at all. Like respect, it's a rhetorical club that means whatever the speaker needs it to mean in order to impose his will.

Then there's business casual, a supremely silly term used to describe a type of clothing that bears as much resemblance to being casual as the military posture At Ease does to actually being at ease.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Doctor effulges, David indulges

Okay, this was an odd psychological reaction.

I went to the doctor today for my annual physical, which came about 1 1/2 years after my last annual physical. Everything was super duper. The few things I was a bit concerned about turned out to be nothing. The numbers are great. The results of the probing and poking are excellent. My doctor proclaimed himself very happy. I felt very happy.

Then I went home and, instead of continuing the good diet habits that led to these good results, I pigged out. This evening, instead of exercising or writing as I had planned, I had too much alcohol and obsessively e-mailed queries to agents.

This is weird. And yet, except for the beginnings of a headache, I feel rather good.

On second thought, it's not weird. It's a combination of relief and letdown. There's a lot of nasty medical stuff in my family, from the inconvenient (enlarged prostate, arthritis), to the scary (heart disease), to the deadly (cancer). So every time I go to the doctor for an examination, I can't help but fear that my moral superiority to my forebears will turn to have been overridden by some nasty gene or other, and the doctor will frown and mutter "Uh, oh" and tell me to make an appointment with a cardiologist or oncologist.

So far, the moral superiority is winning out.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

That great Western tradition of small government!

David Gregory just referred to that on MSNBC. He said it's the tradition McCain shares with such Republican icons as Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan (who was from Iowa, right?).

Yeah, right. The American West, where I've lived for almost 40 years, this land where men are men and horses are surprisingly rare, was built on government handouts and continues to depend on them for survival - from cavalry outposts and virtually free grazing on public lands and virtually free rights of way for the railroads to today's interstate highways and water projects. I don't feel like looking it up, so I'll just assert (because I'm pretty sure it's true) that Westerners receive more government support of various kinds per capita than people in any other region of the country.

I guess we're just better at posturing than those other people.

Yee haw.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Went to Kansas City on a Fridee

By Saturday I larned a thing or two.

Actually, I'd larned both things by the end of Friday, namely that the distance hadn't magically shortened since the last time we drove from Denver to KC, and Kansas hasn't become any more interesting. It's about 625 miles one way, and it's odd to think about the settlers toiling across that distance from the Missouri River to, as they thought, the waiting goldfields in Denver, whereas we drive it in airconditioned comfort, stopping along the way for gas, leg stretching, and caffeine, and grumbling about it taking us so long.

Three of Leonore's sisters live in KC, so we make that trip fairly often. This time, the son and daughter of another sister, who lives in France, happened to be there, so we were able to see them as well. We had a nice time, and I'm glad we went. But, jeez, Kansas is wide! And boring this side of Topeka, which is to say most of the state.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So, watcha doin for the DNC?

Oh, nothing much. How about you?

The Democratic National Convention is being held in Denver, starting in a few days. I was glad when Denver won the bid, in a vague, civic-pride sort of way and also because I bought the claims of the benefits to the city. But the fact that it's being held here doesn't make it any more accessible to me and other Denverites than it would be if it were being held a thousand miles away.

A small group of locals will get tickets to see Obama's acceptance speech in the (absurdly overpriced) football stadium (that the taxpayers let themselves be bullied into paying for, grr). The rest of us who want to watch the speech will watch it on TV. And get a better view of the speaker. We won't be able to tell our grandchildren that we were there -- although we could lie about that.

Streets will be closed. Buses will be rerouted. For all I know, uniformed gunmen with itchy trigger fingers will be stationed on rooftops, on the watch for non-uniformed gunmen with itchy trigger fingers. At least, that's the way it would work if this were a TV show. From that perspective, it's a bit of a bother.

But I'm still glad the DNC is being held here. I'm just not doing anything special for it, and I don't know anyone who is. I'll do something special in November: exercise my right to vote for Obama and against the creepy, wrinkly white dude. (I'm allowed to say that because I'm a white dude with wrinkles.) (But not creepy, I hope.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Low high!

After a period of hot, dry weather, including a record run of days over 90 degrees and record low precipitation, we've had a few days of steady rain and low temperatures. Yesterday, the official high was 58, which was a record for the date - a record low for a high.

I haven't yet heard anyone say that this proves that global warning is a hoax, but I probably haven't been listening hard enough.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Are your characters fat?

Thin? Medium? Tall, short, dark, light? Bald? Ponytailed? Flexible? Stiff? Do they wear glasses or contacts or neither? Are their voices high, low, weak, strong?

Except in cases where it's germane to the story, or it's a major character, do you specify such physical characteristics? Do you think about them?

I tend not to, and I often think I should. A weakness in my writing is lack of physical description of people and places, with some rare exceptions. This may partly be inherent in writing plot-driven fiction. James Gunn, I think it was, said that science-fiction writers should avoid emphasis on characterization because of the nature of sf. (Or perhaps I'm - ho, ho - mischaracterizing what he said.) Certainly, characterization can be distracting when the plot should be moving along rapidly, with satisfying complications and resolutions. But at the same time, you want your characters to be real and the setting to seem real. It's a balancing act, and I often fear that I come down on the wrong side.

In movies and on TV, no one needs glasses, unless it's to show that the character is a nerdy scientist (knows everything about every field of science but nothing about the opposite sex, of course). No one has a hearing problem, unless it's a plot element. Nowadays, all the beautiful people, and many of ugly ones, come equipped with fearsome martial arts skills. Those are all conventions, but I find them distracting. Real and believable differences would help, even in action movies, and somehow one has to find the right balance so as to have such differences in prose fiction, as well.

Ee tee see

When I was a kid, I learned a lot of words and abbreviations entirely from reading, not from hearing the adults around me use them. (Or maybe they did, and I was just ignoring them.) So I understood what etc. meant from context, but I always pronounced it ee tee see. I didn't know about the phrase for which it's an abbreviation. Later, I studied Latin in school and felt rather silly about ee tee see. (But by that time I was around 12 or 13, so I could look back indulgently at my naive younger self.)

Two more were Yosemite and Thames. As a kid in South Africa, I was of course hooked on comics, but that meant English and American ones, so they were filled with place names I knew nothing about, so I pronounced them phonetically. I once referred to the river as the Thayms and was quickly and scornfully corrected by someone. I didn't have any occasion to mention the character Yosemite Sam, whose name I pronounced Yo-zmyte Sam. (I loved that character and still think he's kinda cool.) Some time after we moved to the U.S., someone mentioned Yosemite Park in my hearing, and a bright light dawned. "It's Yo-semmity Sam!" I said to myself. "That sounds so much niftier!" Or whatever word I used at that time.

There must be a lot of other examples that I've forgotten, and I bet such errors are common with children who learn a lot of their vocabulary from reading and not from hearing the words spoken by the adults around them. I wonder how often such mispronunciations persist into adulthood.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some sobering statistics

Here's something I came across in the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America (subscription info here):

In 2004, Bookscan tracked 1.2 million book titles. Of these, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies. 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. The average book tracked sold fewer than 5,000 copies.

I bet the diplomas r speld reel gud, 2

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Indefatigable horse

This evening, I watched the last part of a Hong Kong action-adventure movie, The Touch. I was hoping it would be dumb fun, but it was mostly just dumb. But that's beside the point. It had, in an important supporting role, an indefatigable horse.

I thought those were limited to American Westerns, but apparently not. The hero and heroine rode this horse across a desert at a gallop, with both of them sitting on him. When they reached their destination, they did all sorts of action-adventurey things while the horse was tethered to a tree (this was on the other side of the desert, I guess; it seemed to be a convenient desert that came and went as necessary) and grazed leisurely. Confrontation with bad guys. Fight scene. Explosion. Bad guys escape. Hero digs heroine out from under pile of dirt (she's still breathing!). They jump on the horse and gallop back across the desert! Or possibly a different desert. Full-out gallop.

That's some horse! He doesn't need water, he doesn't need rest, he doesn't need shade. He can also catch up to the villains' SUVs despite their loooong head start.

On the bright side, the heroine was played by Michelle Yeoh. A.k.a., Michelle Yowza.

Norilana Books announcement

This is showing up in various places online, including Publishers Marketplace. It should be in Locus Magazine, as well.

Vera Nazarian, publisher of Norilana Books, obviously works really hard to get the word out.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ten years later

Leonore remembered that today marks the tenth anniversary of her mastectomy. What's odd is that we had both forgotten. Especially during the first few years, we were very conscious of the anniversary and that each year meant the odds favoring her increased.

Ten years -- knowing that, I'm breathing a bit more easily today.

So we didn't even have some kind of celebration set aside. Maybe we'll do something special next weekend.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I.e., the World Science Fiction Convention, which held in Denver over this past weekend under the name Denvention.

I went, I drifted along, I moped around, I ran into some people, Leonore and I ate dinner with Daniel, Becca, and John Stith on Friday evening, I was on a panel on Friday and attended a couple of panels on Saturday, I came home. It was an odd experience. I think it's better to go to a convention of this level (i.e., World SF Con, World Horror Con, World Fantasy Con) when it's in another city. That's much more expensive, obviously, but you're in the convention hotel and you spend much more time at the actual con. As it was, I had my usual weekend chores -- mainly, all the grocery shopping -- and I squeezed the con in as best I could. When I had my doubts about going downtown to the con, as I did this morning, it was easiest simply not to go.

Denver won the bid to host the 2008 Worldcon two years ago. When I heard that, I was excited, convinced that I would be much further along professionally than I turned out to be. Clearly, I'm not there. For a while, I wasn't sure I'd attend the con at all, but then I decided that that would be silly, given that it's here in town.

On the bright side, I saw various people I normally only see at cons, and some people I didn't expect to see at all, such as a former coworker from back when I was a software developer (happy days!). On the negative side, I missed a lot of people I had hoped to see, and I heard grim news about some local people, leaving me depressed and guilty because my complaint is that I'm not rich and famous, whereas their situations are much more serious. On the third, and grayish, side, I was able to give useful advice to another local acquaintance about reentering tech writing and even about the writing biz. ("Shoot yourself now.") (Kidding.) (Mostly.)

I could ramble on, but I don't want to get portentous, and I'm afraid that would be the next phase of this.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Costco creates bad drivers

Or so I have to assume.

I just got back from a shopping trip to Costco. The store was packed, probably with people shopping early to avoid the heat (predicted high of 100 degrees or more today), and as usual, I was astonished at how many people do things with their shopping carts that they wouldn't do in their cars. Driving on the wrong side of the aisle. Leaving their carts across the middle of the traffic flow while they wander off to find something on the shelves. Stopping to chat or eat free samples, with their carts sticking out into the flow.

To be fair, it's not just Costco. I see the same thing in the regular supermarket, where I'll be going in a couple of hours. Interestingly, it's almost always women who do these things. Male shoppers seem to drive their carts much more rationally. I expect some disagreement with that statement.

Maybe it's not the carts that do that to people. You do see the equivalent strange behavior when people are driving cars, so maybe the dangerous cart drivers I'm complaining about are actually the same people I have to watch out for while driving my car in Denver.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

David's Definitions for September 2008


(Will appear in the September 2008 issue of Community News)

An eponymous person is the person something is named after. For example, Hamlet is the eponymous protagonist of Shakespeare's play of the same name. Queen Victoria is the eponymous monarch who reigned during the Victorian age. Andrew Jackson is the eponymous American president whose political philosophy is known as Jacksonian Democracy. The practice of using a famous name to refer to something is ancient, but the word eponymous only dates to the middle of the 19th century. What's curious is that in recent times, the word has begun to be used to refer to the thing being named, instead of to the person. If opera singer John Hugevoice puts out a CD named John Hugevoice, you might hear the CD referred to as eponymous. But that's hugely wrong. It's the man who's eponymous, not the CD.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zombie Harmony

There really is a site for everyone on the Wonderful World Wide Web.

Even zombies looking for love.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

It's not an ethnic pejorative

It's the very odd nickname for a piece of electronic equipment.

For uncounted ages, a microphone was commonly called a mike. Some time during the last few years, everyone started spelling that short form mic. I don't know how that slipped by me. (It's my fault! I was asleep on guard duty!)

Why the change? It makes no sense. Mic should be pronounced mick, whereas mike is a sensible phonetic spelling. Did someone decree that mike was out out because the full word isn't spelled mikerophone? If that's the argument, then why don't people ride bics instead of bikes?

("Because if they did they'd risk getting burned in an awful place" is not an acceptable answer.)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Every presidency begins with an affront to the Constitution

The presidential oath of office is specified in Article II, Section of the Constitution: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Article VI, Section 3 decrees that "[N]o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Yet we can be sure that whoever wins the upcoming election, on January 20, 2009, he will place his hand on a copy of the Bible (the press will make much of the history of that particular Bible; if the winner is Obama, rumors will circulate that a Koran was used instead) and will repeat the above oath, adding to the end of it, "so help me God," a phrase that the framers of the Constitution were careful not to include. The cheering of the crowds will drown out the sound of the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Countdown to the end of the world!

With the skeery Large Hadron Collider activation counter.

Except that the date they were assuming when they set that up turned out not to be the actual date for activation of the LHC and Destruction of THE WORLD! That was delayed. But stay tuned, because the counter will be updated. Thus you will be kept informed and will have time to get all your affairs in order.

On second thought, why would you bother?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Leaden Man: A movie review

Also known as "Iron Man", this is a little-boy flick disguised as a guy flick that pours the prodigious acting talents of Robert Downey, Jr. into a metal suit, where it hides them so well that they're mostly invisible even when he's not wearing the suit. Actually, when he's not wearing the suit, Downey seems more interested in showing off his brand-new muscles than in acting. The movie wastes Gwyneth Paltrow in a role she should have been ashamed to accept; could she possibly need the money that badly? The only actor whose reputation might be enhanced by this is Jeff Bridges, who spends the movie chewing a cigar and the scenery with equal gusto.

Downey plays absurdly brilliant weapons inventor Tony Stark. Kidnapped by bad guys in Afghanistan, he escapes by building himself a heavily armed metal flying suit from those high-tech scraps that apparently fill the mountain caves in that part of the world. After getting back home and undergoing what must be the most fuzzily defined moral crisis in movie history, he builds himself a much more advanced version of the same metal suit and sets off to save the part of the world that the weapons made by his company have heretofore been used to destroy.

Along the way, we see astonishingly advanced robots and Artificial Intelligence software, created by Stark but used mostly for plot convenience and comic relief. But these are inventions that would have transformed the world far more than any of Stark's weapons could, and would have made him far richer, too. Or, if he really did want to destroy things, then instead of a suit for a man, Stark could have used the robot and AI technology to create very small robots that could have infiltrated any enemy position or country undetected and done all the damage required. The scriptwriters don't seem to have realized this. That shows you how focused they were on blowing things up instead of thinking about the story.

The politics of the movie are very strange. Stark realizes how much damage his weapons have done to civilians, but no blame is attached to the U.S. government, which has murdered thousands of innocent Afghan civilians - in the movie, by using Stark's weapons. Nor do the moviemakers seem to want to blame the vile Taliban, who are mysteriously absent from the story. Instead, they invent a third group of unnamed terrorists who are killing civilians and Americans and anyone else available, who seem to have no connection to any of the real factions in Afghanistan, and whose goal apparently is to use Stark's weapons to conquer the world. They're led by a sinister figure who speaks English perfectly and thinks deeply and should be a great villain except that, when the plot requires it, he turns out to be absurdly easy to eliminate.

That scene must be one of the worst anticlimactic letdowns in action-movie history, just as the scene in which we learn the identity of the bad guy who is behind everything, and which should be a stunning revelation, instead elicits a no-shit-Sherlock response from anyone in the audience with an IQ above 60.

But this movie isn't aimed at them.

Two stars for the CGI, which are undeniably cool

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Armed Society

There have been a few shootings in Denver lately. In one incident, two cars were firing at each other, and a bullet hit an eight-year-old girl playing nearby. She'll live, fortunately. The police caught the shooter, and a local TV station interviewed him in jail, where he's all weepy and remorseful, explaining to us that it wasn't intentional, that he would never have shot at a little girl. He, his girlfriend, and their eight-month-old daughter had been in a nearby park when he got into an argument with some men, one of whom is his cousin. He, his girlfriend, and their daughter left, but as they were getting ready to drive away, his cousin pulled up beside them.

"And he pulled out a gun," the weepy perp told the camera, mimicking putting his hand in his pocket and pulling out a gun. "Like this! So what was I supposed to do? I had to protect my family. I had my little girl in the back seat. I couldn't just pull over and let him shoot at me. So I pulled out my gun." Mimicks pulling gun from pocket, pointing it. "I put it out the window and went bam, bam, bam, just like that." Bursts into tears again. "I didn't mean to hurt the little girl! It wasn't intentional! I'd never do that!" He was just trying to kill a grownup, which would have been okay.

Libertarians like to say that an armed society is a polite society, quoting one of their heroes, Robert H. Heinlein. Noooo. An armed society is a society splashed with blood, littered with corpses, and filled with broken hearts.

In my ideal society, neither of those men would have had a gun. And each of them would have had a vasectomy.

Update: On the way to work this morning (Thursday, 6/26), I saw a local paper in a vending box with a headline reading that the shooter in the above story has a felony (conviction?) and therefore should not have been able to get a gun. This illustrates a whole separate problem. We need to agree on what laws to have, but they also have to be enforced; gun control laws seem to be particularly susceptible to not being enforced.

Update 2: This evening (also Thursday), there was a story about a local one-car accident. The car rolled multiple times, for some reason. The driver was thrown out and severely injured. But the car then rolled into the path of a freight train and was smooshed. So if he had been wearing his seatbelt, he'd have been smooshed too! From which we conclude that drivers shouldn't wear seatbelts, right? No. We conclude that that driver was a very, very lucky idiot. The relevance is that whenever someone does defend himself against bad guys with a handgun, certain types say that that shows that handguns are the best defense for the individual, and never mind the far greater number of innocents who get killed by idiots or bad guys with guns. I call that the Adolescent Red Dawn Fantasy Bullshit argument.

Monday, June 23, 2008

David's Definitions for August 2008


(Will appear in the August 2008 issue of Community News)

Nowadays, this generally refers to a person who doesn't do his part, a loafer, someone who shirks his work. In earlier days, especially during the World Wars, it usually referred to a soldier who didn't do his part of the work. It can also refer to an investment that looks good but turns out to be worthless. Supposedly, the word originated in late 19th-century America, when people were fooled into buying bricks of gold that were only gold on the outside. In World War One, new recruits were sometimes promoted to lieutenant before they knew what they were doing, earning the scorn of their men and being called goldbricks because of the color and shape of their insignia. From there, the term became general, first for lazy soldiers and then for lazy civilians. Personally, I think this story smacks of folk etymology and we'd know the real origin of this word if the etymologists would just stop goldbricking.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bread and Circuses, without the Bread

It's my impression (subjective, so it could be wrong, but of course I don't think it is) that sports coverage has been increasing on national and local radio and TV news broadcasts. Increasing, I mean, both in saliva-spraying intensity and in the percentage of the average news broadcast consumed by sports nonsense.

I hate sports, and I'll admit right away that, despite my general commitment to a philosophy of living and letting live, if I were king of the world (if only!), watching or discussing sports would be outlawed for anyone old enough to drive. If they wanted to discuss the latest exploits of people who kick or hit or throw balls of various sizes and shapes, adults would be forced to gather in dark, dank, garbage-strewn alleys and talk in murmurs - until the Royal Vice Police swooped in to brutally arrest the perverts and ship them off to reeducation camps.

Be that as it may, sports exist, as they always have and - sigh - probably always will. But why is an ever greater chunk of what is supposed to be broadcast news being devoted to them? Why is it displacing real news, even the fluffy, local stuff? Why are sports statistics referred to as history and the outcomes of games given more weight than major political events?

Ask a Roman emperor. Sports news is our bread and circuses, but without the bread. The aim is to fire the viewers up about something they can feel involved in, to delude them that they can win, albeit vicariously, or if they lose, they can feel hope for next year. That idea isn't new, but the increase in the emphasis on sports is. The news media seem to feel that ever more misdirection is needed. It makes me wonder what they think may be coming, in this empire of ours. Or perhaps they fear that reality is seeping through, as in a Philip K. Dick story, so they have to shout louder and longer to mask it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

An open letter to the un-American coward who stole our Obama sign

Some time during the night of June 10, you stole the Obama sign from our front yard. It's a small matter, and we'll replace it easily enough. But your action signifies something much larger.

I have no idea what your politics are, although it's reasonable to assume that you oppose Barack Obama becoming president. What's important, though, is that I imagine you consider yourself a patriot and that when you stole our sign, you thought you were acting in the interests of our country.

I invite you to think about that.

Dictatorships of both the left and the right commonly have in place almost all the machinery of democracy -- parliaments, congresses, prime ministers, presidents, elections, vote counting, inaugurations. The crucial item that is always missing is a political opposition with the freedom to campaign. You have just declared that that's what you want for America.

Is that the act of a patriotic American, of a believer in democracy? If you want to suppress those who differ from you politically, then at least be honest with yourself: never stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, never salute the flag, never celebrate the Fourth of July, never call yourself a patriot, never praise the Founding Fathers. Above all, never claim to support democracy or to believe in the idea of America that inspired so many before you.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'll see your Arnold and raise you a Jennifer

I keep getting in strange arguments, on liberal Web sites, with liberals, about the absurd Constitutional provision prohibiting naturalized citizens' becoming president or vice president. I expect xenophobia on the right, but I'm always surprised when I encounter it on the left.

Not that I want to run for president. A short, fat, bald atheist who hates suits and ties and would tell reporters that his personal life is none of their fucking business wouldn't have a chance, no matter where he was born. And if I somehow won, I wouldn't want to live in Washington - although Little Georgie has shown that that's not necessary. I certainly wouldn't want to answer that damned telephone at 3 a.m. "Mr. President! Mr. President! India and China are lobbing nuclear missiles at each other! Millions of people have already been incinerated! Radioactive clouds are drifting all over Asia! Non-combatant nations are putting all their forces on high alert! Your commanders are clamoring for instructions! Do you want to order the End of the World?" "Go awaaaaaay! Ten minutes' snoooooooze!"

The point is, I want to be able to run for pres or veep, if madness suddenly overcomes me. I don't want to be told that I'm not the equal of other citizens. I don't want to be told that a walking anal sphincter such as Little Georgie or Reagan the Abominable is legally qualified to run for president but that the Constitution says I'm not allowed to do so. Yes, that would mean that Arnold Schwarzenegger could run for president. And why not? It would also mean that Jennifer Granholm could do so. Or do liberals fear that Granholm, who was born in Vancouver, BC but moved to the U.S. when she was four years old, has divided loyalties? When no real Americans are within hearing, does she end her sentences with "eh"? If she became president, would she set in motion the secret plan to deliver us into the hellish hands of Canuckistan? (And why would that be bad?)

Suppose the Constitution required that, to be president or v.p., you had to be male. I hope that would have been amended away long ago. The natural-born requirement is no different. Whether or not it was justified in the 1780s (it wasn't), it certainly stopped being justified by, say, the 1840s.

Ah, well. Xenophobia and nativism have always been popular in this nation of immigrants.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Blogger's New Template

It's an improvement, and I need to switch to it and update my blog links. But it's going to be messy and painful, so I keep putting it off.

If vast numbers of people read this blog, maybe I'd feel obligated to make such changes. Or not.

Update: I updated. Now I'm wondering what I missed. Or screwed up.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Clueless about George III and 1776

On the political blog Dailykos, a poster quoted the famous entry for July 4, 1776 from George III's diary: "Nothing important happened today." As is so often the case, this was described by the poster as evidence of King George's cluelessness. The American colonists' declaration of independence! Nothing important!? Ho, ho, ho! Silly old king!

The really clueless ones are those who think that news traveled across the Atlantic instantly in 1776. It didn't even travel all that quickly across the colonies or across England, let alone across 3,000 miles of water.

Also, it's usually not clear at the time how important an event is. Sure, contemporaries can see the significance of major military victories or defeats, or major assassinations. Pompous declarations are another matter. Those happen all the time during unsettled times, and most of them come to nothing.

There's also an irony here. Suppose news had traveled instantaneously in 1776. If George III had heard right away about the gathering of those treasonous colonists for the purpose of announcing their renunciation of George's rule, he would have instantaneously sent orders to the appropriate commanders in the colonies, and the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have been rounded up and hanged. Later, the British would have known about the desperate situation of Washington at Valley Forge. Cornwallis would not have been trapped while waiting for a naval evacuation that wasn't going to happen. The very slowness of communication was a major reason that the American Revolution got started and succeeded.

Friday, May 30, 2008


This is nifty. I just got this e-mail:

sir !! we have done a job of translation of your beautiful article "why do we artice"? in urdu language.I am editor of literary serial niqaat which is leading journal of urdu world from pakistan. your article is very beautiful.we want to send you a copy of this issue.where?

please send your postal address.we proud to translate your article in urdu.

there is much praise over this.

The essay he's referring to must be this one.

I've had novels republished in Italian, German, and Hebrew. Not long ago, as I posted about on this blog, an essay of mine about the joys of being unemployed was translated into Turkish and posted on various Turkish Web sites. This is the first time anything I've written has been translated into Urdu.

Not that I can read any of the translations mentioned above, of course. But it's nifty to look at them, anyway.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

500 years of experience between them!

This really bugs me. I see companies advertising how many years of experience each of their principals has, and then those years are added up, and the ad says something like, "They have 530 years of experience between them!" *

What strange logic. Experience isn't cumulative in that way.


Heinz Wolfsburger has been working on Volkswagens for 30 years. He's taken courses on various VW models in Germany. He eats and dreams Volkswagens. He can resolve problems with Volkswagens that cause the experts at VW HQ to throw up their hands and drink too much beer. (Fortunately it's German beer, so that's okay.)

Meanwhile, on Facebook, a group of 1,000 Facebook friends, all of them 13 years old, and each of them with six months' experience tinkering with cars of various sorts, decide to form a virtual company named SomeDumbNameInvolvingDigitsAndTheLetterZ, or SDNIDATLZ. They create a snazzy Web site, advertising that they have a cumulative 500 years of experience fixing cars!!!!!

One day, your Volkswagen starts making strange noises and exhibiting other strange symptoms. Who ya gonna call? The pitiful wimp with a mere 30 years of experience, or SDNIDATLZ with 500 years!!!!

* Grammarians would say that, assuming there are more than two principals, the word should be "among", not "between", ** but never mind.

** American *** purists would insist that those commas should be inside the quotations marks, but never mind.

*** I was taught by South African purists.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

David's Definitions for July 2008


(Will appear in the July 2008 issue of Community News)

In ordinary use, this word means false, spurious, or doubtful, especially when referring to stories about the past that almost certainly never happened - for example, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and then refusing to lie about it to his father. It comes from a Greek word meaning something that is hidden away. Originally, around 500 years ago, it referred to books of magic or other special, supposedly sacred knowledge that was to be kept hidden away from ordinary people. During the 16th century, European scholars were trying to decide which books belonged in the Bible - i.e., were to be considered canon - and which ones didn't. A lot of very strange books were proposed and rejected, especially books filled with magical stories - apocryphal books. During this process, apocryphal took on its modern meaning. The word also has a non-negative meaning, however. Certain books were felt to be religiously important but not truly canonical; collectively, these were called the Apocrypha. (Precisely what books those are has varied over time and varies from one religious group to another.)

I'm collecting all of these at:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ghastly Excerpt

Galleycat has an item about a new novel, an excerpt from which made galleycat eager to read the whole novel. The excerpt is here.

I feel compelled to offer my own literary reaction to that excerpt: Barf!

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Apparently, only blacks and snooty white folk vote for Obama. According to some Clinton spokeslime, anyway.

Well, I'm white, and I admit that I'm occasionally snooty. Oh, all right: often.

So to that slime, I have this to say: "Snoot."

Space is big

Really big.

This animated gif compares the sizes of various bodies, starting with Earth and ending with the largest known star.

Very kewl.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Paucity of Posts

Because I don't have anything to say.

I'm home sick today, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to unpauce.

But I still don't have anything to say.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

David's Definitions for June 2008

Sanction, Cleave

(Will appear in the June 2008 issue of Community News)

These are interesting words that are famous because each has two diametrically opposite meanings.

Cleave, from an old Germanic word meaning to stick, can mean to stick to. The Bible refers to a man "cleaving to his wife." But another old Germanic word gives us the meaning of cutting apart - for example, a cloven hoof, meaning a hoof that is split in two.

Sanction, from the Latin sancire, to make holy, can refer to approval or disapproval. The world can sanction Iran's nuclear program by saying that it's peaceful and can go forward, or the world can disapprove of it and impose sanctions.

It's a good thing we English speakers are so logical, orderly, and rational. Otherwise, words like these would get us all confused - which comes from a Latin word meaning to mix together, which certainly describes these two words.

I'm collecting all of these at:

Friday, April 18, 2008

Heinz von Jaegermann, War Hero, Political Candidate

One of the sons of an old Juncker family, he joined the Luftwaffe in the 1930s both to carry on the family's martial traditions and beause he thought that would be simultaneously a way to serve the Fatherland and a good foundation for a later political career.

Unfortunately, he turned out to be a crappy pilot. Fortunately, Germany was so hungry for men eager to drop bombs on England that they put him in a cockpit and aimed him westwards.

What fun he had! London, that enormous city, was nothing but targets. He could drop his bombs anywhere and be sure to hit something. He loved the way his exploding bombs lit up the city streets below him, defying the blackout. Of course, most of what he hit was residential areas, and most of the people he killed were civilians cowering in fear. Don't quibble. Heinz hates quibblers.

Sometimes, continuing west from London, before turning south to return to the airfield on the Continent, Heinz's bomber would thunder over the small city of Reading at the edge of the defensive ring of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns surrounding London. Heinz never had any bombs left by then, or he would have dropped them there, just for amusement.

And a good thing, too, for the pregnant mother cowering in the basement of her house with her two sleepy little daughters beside her.* Her husband had put on his helmet and air-raid warden's armband when the sirens went off and had left to patrol the streets, looking for cracks of light showing through blackout curtains or people wandering the streets who shouldn't be.

As we all know, the war itself didn't turn out well for Germany. But Heinz did quite well. Decades later, old and doddering and arthritic and prone to the occasional senior moment, Heinz has risen to the leadership of PESP, the Posturing and Empty Symbolism Party. There's a good chance that, after the upcoming election, he'll be Germany's chancellor.

Some Germans are outraged. How, they ask, can we choose as our face to the world a man who dropped bombs on innocent civilians during an evil war of aggression? But others, wearing little flag pins on their lapels, respond with fury that any man who wore the uniform of his country in time of war is to be honored as a hero, no matter what. All military service, they insist loudly, is honorable. No matter what.

Fortunately, Heinz does not exist. He's purely fictional, and if he did exist, such a man could never have any chance of attaining the highest elected office in an advanced, civilized country.

* And a good thing, too, for the baby she was carrying, who grew up to write this blog post.