Friday, December 21, 2007

I took a picture of our computer stations about 45 minutes ago. There was not a soul using them. I was just about to check out the front windows and make sure there weren't any piles of clothes full of red dust or something in the parking lot. Or a fading mushroom cloud.

Now there are people on the Interwebs. Phew. Civilization continues.

Because it's quiet, I'm going to add a post about last night's gaming group. What I really should be doing is writing something witty to post next week. Banking articles is the key to consistent blogging. But I'm fresh hell out of wit, so close to the holidays.

So I run a game for teenagers once a month in the library. It is beer and peanuts gaming. Without the beer, of course. Because that would be advocating alcohol abuse. Or the peanuts, really. Because of allergies, you know. I have a short adventure with Kobolds, and a longer one that I downloaded from the net. The "plot" involves going from room to room, killing monsters, stealing their stuff. I've been doing this off and on since I got here.

Anyways, it's not the gaming that's the fresh experience. It's always the kids. I like the enthusiasm they have for even simple things. An interesting thing about this last set of games is that it is on the same night, and directly attached to, our Manga club. So I get some young ladies in my groups. One of the young ladies was a warrior with a broad sword, taking great joy in cleaving apart foul fiends.

The kids are fun not just for the way they game. I also like what peripheral bits of conversation I catch about their lives. Some of them were writing books, a personal interest of mine. They have very definite opinions about a lot of subjects. They are bold, and fun, and self confident. They're often a pleasure to be around.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was when a young lady from the other parts of the manga club dropped by to kibbitz. The other kids were talking about their characters. Ms. Kibbitz asked if she could be a "fanciful pony."

There were about a million reasons I found this amusing. First, I liked the language. Fanciful pony is a lovely phrase. Also, she was trying to needle the other players, thinking that "fanciful ponies" weren't "cool" enough for the game. This is just funny to a grizzled old gamer dude like myself.

Also, back when my library group was all young gentlemen, one of my colleagues mortified my group by telling them that we would be playing the "Pretty Ponies Role Playing Game" that day.

Lastly, my own daughter loves My Pretty Ponys and dinosaurs both. When she is of gaming age, and if she shows interest, I would love incorporating fanciful ponies or dinosaurs into the game. Like this guy*.

Hell, I'd do it for my current gamers. I might make them play a pretty ponies game.

I like the juxtaposition, for one. And role playing games are all about the landscape of the imagination. Fanciful ponies are part of that. I liked that the thought of playing magic ponies in Dungeons and Dragons existed at all.

*I don't know if the thread will link consistently, so here's what the OP (original poster) is riffing on. It was a joke, and a funny one. The picture of pretty ponies with polyhedral dice is a hoot. But, it doesn't have to be a joke. OP, by the way, has posted about doing simple LARPs with his pre-school daughter, which I think is hella great.
Earth 250 million years from now - You have to say it with an echoe-y voice. I can't see my house on this map.

Happy Solstice!

I have, in the last five or six years, been big on celebrating the winter solstice. I am not a neo-pagan: the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. Afterwards, to quote the Beatles, "Here comes the sun."

It's not that I worry that the sun won't come back. But it's always nice to know that I'm on the other side of Seasonal Affective Disorder, of whatever screwy biochemical thing short circuits my personality on the dark side of the year. Excercise and vitamins help also.

Hooray Solstice!

In other news, I have changed my email address. If you did not get an email to this affect, and you wish to keep in touch, do please send a email to one of my old accounts. I will be monitering them off and on for a month or so.

Friday, December 14, 2007

So yesterday we took Poppy to a rather delayed teacher conference (a scheduling conflict voided the first one).

We were pleased to hear Poppy's teacher tell us how much Poppy likes reading, how she was up to pretty much any academic challenge. While we were talking to the teacher, Poppy was working out words on the white board: Dinusor, Tricerutops. Poppy's kindergarten teacher is a great lady. She's affectionate and clearly cares about her kids, and stresses the importance of play in addition to working on academics.

I was more pleased that her teacher said that Poppy got along well with all the other kids. She plays with everybody. I hope that continues.

In other news, I saw 300. Not impressed at all. It's not like I didn't agree with most of the movie's points. Freedom is great, it should be fought for when necessary.

I suspect that sitting in the middle of a battle field and waiting to get slaughtered is not the best route to freedom. If it's the only route to freedom, I guess the only way you can make it upbeat at all is to have the CHARACTERS YELL ABOUT BRAVERY THE WHOLE TIME. It's a matter of aesthetics, I think. I prefer my last stands to be a little more quiet and steely eyed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Worldly things made beautiful

When I went to China in 2002 I bemoaned American paper money. This was before the era of the Big-Head bill, when the dollar was much drabber than it is today. The dollar still doesn't match the Yuan for color.

The Dream Dollars website makes art out of money, money that is art, every aspect, from the denominations in a irregular sequence to the fact that it changes from season to season. The colors are still muted, but the imagery is rich and detailed. Dreamlike.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One Short Word About the Bullshit Surrounding the Golden Compass

Ruby was all bent out of shape that the Catholic League is throwing a hissy about the Golden Compass movie. We both very much enjoyed the series, and nobody likes to see a favorite book torn down. I suspected it, although I admit I thought it would be the third movie that drew the most fire.

What bothers me more is the kind of ho-humming that this guy does:

"As for the trilogy itself, I'm no fan, but only because I found the last volume confused, muddled, and dramatically, a dud."

I replied:

I have to disagree. That statement sounds like a kind of curmudgeonry. Pullman's thesis was very clear and I didn't have any trouble keeping track of the narrative. You shouldn't have either.

As for dramatic tension, just becuase Lyra didn't cut the head off of Darth Vader doesn't make it boring. The revelation that the universe is bigger than god is exciting. Unless you've already roped off that particular possibility.

But for someone who hasn't, it's kind of exciting. Especially for a fan of teh fantasy who gets a little tired of wonder being co-opted for purposes of obedience.

I'll add that it's especially irritating because he seems like a thoughtful guy. Dissing the literary quality of Pullman is partisian and thoughtless, ignoring the qualities of the work because it proposes an arguement against what you are comfortable with. I'm used to blowhard special interest groups talking smack about areligious works. But at some point I'd like to see a thoughtful reaction from theologians. Who are supposed to be thoughtful.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Superscience Round Up

Nanoparticles enable surgical strikes against cancer and then give you a face life and clean the plaque out of your arteries.

A Utah-based company is now six years into the development of a unique robot that fits around its user... and then turns into a SUV for your commute to work.

And last: Bow before your robot dinosaur masters!

Pleo is like the antagonists of:

Magnus: Robot Fighter

and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter all rolled up in one delicious package.

Sure Pleo looks harmless now.

But wait until he grows up.

Special thanks to Psychosaurus and whoever uploaded that Magnus pic.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Kindle Price per circ

Is it worth doing any of the projects mentionied in my previous kindle post? How would we determine it?

On the face of it, doing one or two of these projects would be reasonably expensive. $400 for the reader plus $5 to $10 a book for 50 to 200 titles. That's $650 to $2,400 for a project. In concrete terms, for my library, that's a moderately to very expensive project. Multiples, which would be needed if any project took off, would make even a moderately expensive project very expensive. It should look less expensive to large libraries, who are used to fielding projects that cost more.

How many circs would you get out of a Kindle? Well, we circulate most books for 4 weeks, high demand for 2. So, based on that, you would circulate a kindle 13 to 26 times a year.

But use would be more, perhaps. If the kindle circed for 4 weeks, we could assume that 2 of its 200 titles would be read, minimum. Probably more. A book a week? Some people an read a book a day, so it could be up to 28 items used. So each Kindle would be "used" 26*1 (one book read in two weeks) to 13*28 times (one book read per day for four weeks) or 26-364.

That's a range of $25-$50 per circ (midrange $37.5) or $1.75 to $25 per use, midrange ($13.39).

Well, for instance. Many of my bestsellers will circulate 15 to 35 times in the first year. We pay about 15 dollars after jobber discounts. That's a .43 to $1 per circulation or use, or about .79 midrange. 17 to 32 times less expenseive, per use or circ respectively.

That looks really expensive, too.

And it looks like buying one book is 17 times more effective than buying a Kindle with 50 books. It would probably be a geometric progression, too, each book being 17 times more effective. Which makes sense to me because, let's face it, each book is a user interface. Each Kindle is, too, which creates a bottle neck for fifty titles.

And the $650 is for a Kindle with 50 older titles. Best sellers would double the cost per circ/use.

Could you turn those numbers around at all?
I am in a mood. Don't know what it is. Every year in November we start thinking about our "goals" for next year. We come up with projects that we need to complete. Every year, I keep coming up with projects to help move the library forward and provide the patrons better service

Inevitably, my brain hijacks itself during the process. For some reason, it's especially bad this year. This is the list of 2008 goals that I want to suggest:

1) Finally oversee the cloning of hyper-intelligent monkeys to act as tech support for our internet users and gofers for Rolfe.

2) We need to find a way to liven up book discussion and author readings: how about killer robots?

3) The head of circulation is creating a disaster recovery plan. I have volunteered to write the zombie attack portion. Alternately, I can write the Giant Monster Attack or Alien Invasion portions.

4) Personal goal: Scar half of face with acid. Live in the Western Michigan University steam tunnels. Kidnap graduate student to do chores around the steam tunnels while I compose an opera of transcendent beauty.

Wouldn't I be a pip at your staff meetings?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thanksgiving was really nice. Ruby cooked, as usual, which makes it especially nice. I made mashed potatoes. Too many. We ate them until Yesterday.

Our guests were my parents and one of my co-workers. Everybody was charming and fun. I wish tryptophan till worked on me the way it did when I was a kid, however. It would have been nice to snooze the evening away.

Poppy wrote her list for Santa Clause the day after. She mailed it with some help from Mumma. She is determined to make a gift for Santa. It's only fair, you see. When I referred to Santa as a guy, Poppy corrected me. "He's a man!" She said, establishing some kind of hierarchy of which I had been previously unaware.

The rest of vacation was uneventful. This week at work has been nice. I am finishing a lot of chores that had been left hanging, and been thinking about the Kindle, as you can tell from my post below.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New law reduces speed of light

Okay, what this lady does, is, she tunes the optical properties of a 0.1-mm lump of atoms called a Bose-Einstein condensate. I could use that as super science dialog in a comic book. It is so cool sounding it makes me vibrate with geek joy just to read about it.

What could this be used for? A gentle accelerator for a very light starship?
New law reduces speed of light

Okay, what this lady does, is, she tunes the optical properties of a 0.1-mm lump of atoms called a Bose-Einstein condensate. I could use that as super science dialog in a comic book. It is so cool sounding it makes me vibrate with geek joy just to read about it.

What could this be used for? A gentle accelerator for a very light starship?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Garments of Light - The Kindle and it's possible role in libraries

I am of the opinion that when a suitable kind of e-reader comes along, it will be adopted by the public at large in a steady and quick fashion. This is sometimes referred to as my "Garments of Light" theory because I suggested that instead of losing books to the electronic format, which is how most people think of it, that more books will be immortalized, clothed in garments of light and remembered forever by humanity.

I think the qualities you need for an e-reader to become succesful are A) a readable interface and B) a good selection of books.

About a year ago, Sony released an e reader that, from all reports, had a readable interface called e-paper. However, ebooks at that time were running as much as a hard bound copy. Selling ebooks for those kind of prices will create a shortage. I don't think many people will pay as much for an ebook as for a hardcopy, for the simple reason that a book printed on electrons can't have the kind of overhead that a book printed on paper does. They look too expensive for what they are.

Yesterday, Amazon released the Kindle, which is a reader. It looks like it uses the same e-paper technology. In addition, they are selling best sellers or 11 bucks, and other titles for even less. They have 88,000 titles. From casual browsing, it looks like I've read a lot of the stuff that I'd be interested in. I'm sure that won't be the case a year from now.

To be fair, I haven't seen a kindle. I don't know if it's any good as a device. I hope to rectify that, but we'll see. A lot of people will tell you why the Kindle sucks, reasons ranging from Digital Rights Management to "it doesn't feel like a book."

What I'm interested in is brainstorming ways to use it in a library. So I've been talking to some of my co-workers, and this is what we've come up with.

First of all, I'll begin my saying that I wouldn't buy a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns just to circulate on an e-book. Paying $10 to put a best seller on a $400 reader makes it a $410 hardcover. No thanks, I'll just buy another copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns, in hardcover, for $15.

The purest joy of owning a Kindle would be in carrying 200 of your favorite or most anticipated books around with you all the time. So, like iPods, I don't see a great deal of utility in circulating one title on one for four weeks.

The Kindle will in no way serve my patrons needs to get a copy of a book into their hands quicker, unless e-copies of out of print titles become negligibly cheap through some kind of micropayment screen. The Kindle is not a collection development tool.

That said, after a few minutes of thinking about it, one of my staff and I had three ideas.

The most obvious is that However, it could be a very useful to vacationers. Wouldn't it be great to circulate the entire list of best sellers for two weeks?

My staff suggested that you could cirulate whole collections to senior living centers, and they could be passed around. The Kinle would need to have a large print setting for this to be the case, however.

I also thought that if you had a large number of titles in various lanuages, each could serve as a portable world languages collection. My community has small but highly educated populations who speak Hindi, Chinese, and of course we have some Spanish. I am at a loss as to how to build collections for such diverse but small communities.

How about putting two hundred inexpensive books in Hindi on one reader, 200 in Chinese on another, and 200 in Spanish on two? We circ them for one or two months. If there is no reserve, we can circ them for another one or two months?

The teen librarians suggested they would be great for classes.

So the Kindle, in library terms, could be a distribution device. It is good for many people with limited or localized demand. Let me throw out some other ideas:

You could sponsor a Kindle with a collection of books on it for a local retirement community, as sort of a mini electric branch.

Rural libraries could circulate several titles at once to patrons who didn't get to them very often.

You could keep your whole reference collection on one to half a dozen, depending on the size of your library. For that to be really functional, there would have to be some function for taking snippets of reference books and making them portable to other devices.

They would be great for barbershop, doctor, or other waiting rooms.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This is my weekly post about life in general. This will be a two week post: I am about to post everything of substance for this week as well, being so close to the end. I'll do a post-Thanksgiving post next week. Like you want to hear about overeating and shopping.

Last week Ruby took Poppy roller skating for the very first time, and Poppy exhibited her usual fighting spirit. Ruby says she got into the rink and fell right on her butt. When Ruby asked her if she wanted help, Poppy howled "I can do it!"

She then proceeded to get up and do it. Then complain about how much her butt hurt for two days. She got huge joy out of having a legitimate reason to say butt.

I heard all this second hand, being a huge non-fan of anything being between my feet and the ground except the floor.

My week has been boring, except for the fact that I was practicing to be a STAR!

Every once a while in my professional life, it seem that I get roped into getting on stage and making an ass of myself. Because librarians are "advocates for the community."

This year, it was the great grown up spelling bee. The spelling is only part of it. The spellers bring along a "cheering squad" and they perform quite elaborate set pieces. I'm sure there will be pictures up soon.

This year, at least I was an ass in style. We had a "Village People" theme. I was the biker. We satirized "YMCA" and "In the Navy" to cheers. And won! Most original something or other. My Glam Fu is strong! Or at least I didn't hold my more daring team members back.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Start a new habit

Lets see if I can get in the habit of weekly updates.

Last week was Halloween, of course. And the end of the month. And staff development day. And working one evening. So it was a chock full week.

Halloween is a very important holiday around here. We are "high orthodox Halloween" types. Jack O' Lanterns, pumpkin seeds. Whole nine yards. The friends of our library throws the staff a pizza party on Halloween, and it's always fun to just hand around and chat.

Poppy was a lion for Halloween. She was so excited about trick or treating that I got excited, too. I dressed in some of my Rennie garb. I went to work and told everybody that I was "the guy from Fleetwood Mac." Nobody at the library really gets Rennie. Frankly, I'm not sure I do. But I felt pretty!

I stayed home and handed out candy. Poppy was very excited after coming back. Her pumpkin was full to bursting with candy. Ruby says the Awww factor was so debilitating that some people just kept shoveling her candy as Poppy stood bewilderedly on their porch.

The weekend was national D and D day. I played a game at Fanfare. Then I hung out at the park with Poppy and Ruby. I started teaching Poppy how to play the Pokemon card game. She loves the cards, but she doesn't really understand the rules yet. But we'll see. She always surprises me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More notes on super soap operas

I especially like that 52 and Heroes use lots of minor super heroes.

It's often hard to sympathize with paragon characters like Batman (a mortal dude who can outwit the Man of Steel), Superman (the very definition of uber), the Flash, or Wonder Woman. Minor super heroes have the benefit of being familiar (they've been in the comics for years) yet more vulnerable. You can feel the tension of their interactions more.

Heroes, I think, handles the familiarity issue not only by being an ongoing show (you meet the same characters week after week), but by giving most of the characters broad powers: everybody knows what telepathy and invisibility are about. The weird powers, like absorbing other people's powers, super hearing, and turning metal to liquid, were either given to characters with lots of screen time, allowing viewers to familiarize themselves with the characters over time, or very little screen time, making it a non-issue.

I'm sure somebody has commented about this before, but Clark Kent, in the context of having lost his powers in 52, if a much more interesting character than Superman.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not only can't you go home again...

It's not even on the same spot you left it, usually. I went to my 20 year high school reunion this past weekend.

I was mildly excited. More than that, I was amused by the reaction I got from friends, coworkers, my wife.

"You're going to your high school reunion? Why?" Nobody else I talked to wanted to revisit high school.

For me, though, there were a bunch of whys. The foremost is that I hadn't been to a high school reunion before. And I was curious. What's all the fuss about? What are my contemporaries like? It's fun to catch up with old friends sometimes.

Another reason that I wanted to go was that I've been thinking of doing some autobiographical writing. I'm wondering how to go about the process of getting material. My memory is no good for my wayward youth (too many latex star wars figure fumes or something).

Lastly, this was the first time I was close enough to take advantage of one of these things. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be interested later on. So I decided I was going to this one.

You can probably get the idea that I felt pretty detached from the whole thing on the surface. It was an excercise in curiosity. Science.

I wasn't even sure who I might meet. I couldn't remember which of my high school friends was actually in my class! I hung around with alot of people both older and younger than me. I had to scan the class directory to pick up most of the names that I should recognize.

I did have some nerves, but I couldn't pinpoint a reason for them, so I ignored them. I was most ambivalent about spending $75 a ticket and having no fun at all (cheap, cheap, cheap). I convinced myself that it was valuable as a research trip.

The food was steam table fare. They had an open bar, which served us well (not too well... I was driving). It was pretty crowded. Out of a class of nearly six hundred, about half of them turned up.

The real surprises were not in the people. As far as I can tell, only one person showed up who I had any signicant relationship with. That was a childhood friend that I didn't actually hang out in high school. Like many of my boyhood friends, we'd drifted apart when I just failed to get interested in sports or girls at the right age. He looked good though, I have to say. He looked like his dad, whom I remember as a nice guy.

I also briefly spoke with a woman who had been kind of crappy to my sister and I in high school. She looks like the stereotype of a middle age real estate agent now, which is too bad. I remember her as being kind of menacing and hot, and it's a shame when that kind of cartoony lovlieness gives way to the law of thermodynamics.

Of old girlfriends and people I'd gamed with I saw not a one. It was disappointing. But my crowd of geeks and gamers and loners are probably still not reunion types in their heart of hearts.

Some people were really stoked to be there. Some were meeting old friends and reliving old rivalries.

But not me. It wasn't useful for what I'd hoped it would be. No memories to mine. No real comparisons could be made. Ruby and I ate and chatted. Everybody we spoke to was very nice. Circulating was difficult because of the layout of the tables. I got tired, and couldn't make the effort to chat in a loud, crowded room.

Still, I came away feeling strangely bouyant the next day. The things I found interesting were, as is usually the case, extrememly tangental.

It interested me to see faces that I remembered in larval form as adults. I think everybody could use that reminder from time to time. Life moves on, and so should you. Really. Move, now.

Second, a nice guy whose name I remembered introduced me to his wife as "one of the smartest guys in their class." Which is weird, because my GPA was distinctly sub-par. I didn't realize that black nail polish, john lennon glasses, and fringed leather jackets made that kind of an impression on people.

Lastly, the class directory interested me a lot. Looking through it that night and later the next day, it seemed to confirm some basic statistics of life for me: most of my class that said something about what they were doing had pretty safe and conventional lives. Some were mildly unconventional (like me). A couple of them did really wild things. Kudos, by the way, to the teacher chick who wrote, under Highlights/Interests:

co-director of CNUSD Unity Camps which guide mis-guided, racist, abused, drug-addicted, gang affiliated, fundamentalist, heterosexist, misogynistic, special and AP/IB educated, chubby, athletic, physically challenged , and well-adjusted high school students to understand, accept, respect, support, and love one another.

You rock, baby.

The class directory thing probably sounds weird to many people. But: I find it comforting that the economics of the world are so reliable. I wish we were all the strangest confections of our imaginations. But I don't think that many other people wish for the same thing. It is easy, and probably healthful, to work within the system. Especially when its one as wealthy as the United States.

I wish I found it easy and healthful.

Anyways, I felt bad for leaving after only two and a half hours. I could have had other nice conversations. But I was very tired, and I realized those weren't the people I really wanted to have nice conversations with. And in, fact, I already know the people I want to have them with, and I know where I can go spelunking for others.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What My Kid Learns Playing Arcade Games

There always seems to be a lot in the popular press about what terrible things video games are: they waste time, make you fat, and cause kids to shoot up schools.

The scholarly press seems have a different view in general. Games can be used for training (the army, second life), exercise (dance dance revolution), and encourage cooperation and give them community (massive multiplayers).

Here's something that struck me while I was playing a game with my daughter the other day: do video games help you learn real life skills?

Sometimes, when I go home after work, and I want to spend time with my kid and don't want to re-enact Pokemon battles, we color. Sometimes, we play games. Given the number of posts on this site about playing games, that should surprise no-one. We play card games: War, and Go Fish, and Uno, and Old Maid. We've played Candyland. We play a cheaty, kid version Scrabble. The benefits of Scrabble are probably obvious: it reinforces spelling, a practical and immediately applicable skill.

War, however, I found to boost her understanding of, and speed at, matching value. Old Maid, Uno, and Go Fish are all matching games, improving pattern recognition. In addition, they teach order of operations and patience. She is much better than when she began at doing chores in their proper order. I think it may have made our mornings easier, as she has gotten used to standardizing processes.

Sometimes, we play video games. She has watched both Mumma and Daddy play MMPORGs. She likes the action. But with her, we've played some kid online games, and a bunch of arcade: Bejeweled, Supercollapse, I Spy. My favorite is what she calls the Fishy Game, or Feeding Frenzy.

In Feeding Frenzy, you play a little fish that eats littler fish. As you complete a level, you get bigger, and eat bigger fish. You have to avoid obstacles, and avoid getting eaten by the bigger fish.

This could be construed as violent, I suppose. Nature is violent, but not in this obviously cartoony, scaling power kind of way. It's not realistic.

But I remember that when we started playing, she would pass the game to me when she got scared of a level (we take turns). She would return to the lower levels again and again. As I encouraged her, she stopped taking the "death" of her fishy game avatar too seriously. Now, when her fish, gets eaten, she says, "that's okay, I don't care."

I still get upset when my fishy gets eaten. The pupil surpasses the master.

This last time we were playing, she kept forgetting to pass the mouse to me on my turn. She kept going up and up levels, through levels that she used to shy away from. She was really good at this silly little arcade game, picking up skills that I still had trouble with, like sneaking up on the squids to eat them before they squirted her with ink.

When she did pass me my turn, she kept hassling me. "Are you sure you don't want me to play this level, Daddy? Here, let me do it. You're going to get busted."

It was great.

I wonder if this experience applies to real life. Is she learning anything about appropriate risk taking? She is certainly learning confidence. Some studies would say video games are good for hand-eye coordination. I personally think she is learning real world skills, and it makes me happy. Because I like the video games, too. I'll be sad when she moves past arcade games to consol games. Those just go right over my head.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

President spends like crazy for 7 years, cynically tells the democratic congress they they are fiscally irresonsible in 8th in order to improve his position in the public eye.

Don't you wish headlines said what they really meant?

"Chris Edwards of Cato says federal outlays, when adjusted for inflation, have increased faster under Mr. Bush than under any president since Jimmy Carter. “When he gives speeches now, you hear him bashing the Democrats on overspending,” Mr. Edwards said. “It sounds ridiculous, because we know he’s a big spender.”


"Historians say there is nothing like a good spending fight with Congress to boost a president’s sagging fortunes. When Republicans shut down the government in late 1995, Mr. Clinton emerged the winner. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, with just 16 months left in office and his approval ratings still crushed by the war in Iraq, Mr. Bush is putting up his fiscal dukes."

Is the president a criminal? Nah. Is he a pig? Yeah.

“If he was interested in fiscal discipline, he should have started $3 trillion ago,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus."


In Shift, Bush Emerges as a Budget Warrior
New York Time, September 22, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some things about writing

Thing 1: There is an economics to writing. For most writers, time spent writing is time not spent with your kids or friends. It is time not spent relaxing or on vacation. It is extra person hours in an individual schedule that is otherwise spent earning money to feed, house, clothe, and entertain oneself. And you must do it cheerfully, because no one cares if you bitch about your hobbies.

Thing 2: While I was at the convention last April, I ran around telling everybody that I'm interested in "the process," only to realize after doing my two pages one morning that it's true. I like having written. Not in the sense of the canard: "I hate writing. I like having written." I feel rewarded to have 2 pages more of a book each day that I get up to write. Unless it was a particularly bad two pages. Maybe it's my acquisitive nature. I like squirreling away my story on its pages, bit by bit. Knowing how hard it is to find financial reward, I think I've got the better end of the writing thing, now.

Thing 3: I don't get writer's block. Ever. I get ambition block. I get periods where I want to write something other than what I'm working on, but I can't figure out WHAT. I get days where I sit in front of my screen and think: "Fuck my head for an empty soccar ball. I am fresh hell out of cool." It never lasts for long. I can always wait it out, just like I do my perodic bouts of lassitude. I never like either period. See above.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two weeks of whirlwind change. Last week, I began the physical portion of a project that will end up changing the look that our library presents to the public. We are changing our atrium so that it is more user friendly: the shelves will be more accessible, the lighting will be better, more of our popular collections will be housed near the entrance, and there will be more face out shelving, so that we can display books in a more attractive manner. I am looking forward to the results.

In addition, my daughter started kindergarten. She handled the transition with aplomb. Her mother and I were much more worried about her getting on a bus by herself, but she handled it like a pro. A pro what? A pro school bus rider, I guess. Whatever, she excelled.

I got to see her classroom. We even played with the foam letter puzzle for ten minutes the first day. She likes school: they have different toys, and short people to play with them with.

For those who know me, and who may visit for information about Poppy, there will be information about another kid: Saturday, the 1st, my sister gave birth to a nine pound baby boy named Nishan George. Which is a little bit of a flashback, because I used to hang with a dude named Nishan in the BIG CITY. We call him Nieko for short. I am not sure how that got settled on. He is strong like bull! Rolling over on his side at about a week, which I understand from baby Mavens is an unusual thing.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

There's a some talk about You tube putting the method of production in the hands of "the people," a la lonelygirl15. This isn't new. The argument between new and old media dates back several years, to before the Fall of Dan Rather.

Here's the thing, though. Unlike such august resources as blogs (I get everything I'm interested in from blogs right now. Hell, I surf through blogs. This also means I don't get much news, but there you have it.) and print resources, Youtube is only distributing marginalia right now. Wicked funny private jokes, online mutterings, and homemade music videos. Some short, arty cartoons, but not much in the way of narrative entertainment.

I was visiting with some friends in May. They showed me this:

Go ahead. Browse the video.

It's a TV show! It's fan fiction, but I think it is the technical definition of wicked cool. Not because it's great. The acting and script are fun but amateur. The setting and costumes, however, are at least as good as much BBC programming, or Sid and Marty Kroft.

When it comes right down to it, the means of production for fiction have always been in the hands of the consumer. Heck, the means of procution are your hands (and your head).

But for other forms of entertainment like music and movies, you need equipment. Electronics, props. The USS Justice crew had the means of production. Scripts, of course, are head and hands. Dedicated fans have costumes and props. Everybody has a video camera and home computer at this point. The USS Justice guys used video game backgrouns and a blue screen for sets. Wicked cool!

Seeing that video, for me, meant that the means of production is out of the hands of the studios. What I'm waiting for now if for someone to take talent from local theaters, make some costumes, and film something really cool and original.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Mist was one of my favorite short stories when I was a teenager. Although I like some of his recent short stories, I don't think anything has surpased Skeleton Crew in terms of sheer creepiness. The Jaunt still kind of freaks me out.

I like end of the world stories, and particularly liked The Mist because it was such a baroque end of the world story. The world is shrouded in mist. No big deal, right? But there are monsters in the mist. An endless variety of monsters. I've often thought about doing a Mist one shot RPG for Halloween one year, but never gone ahead and done it.

So, in a movie season largely devoid of films I am desperate to see, it gives me the Googly Mooglies to find a trailer for a Mist film. I am so there November 21st.

As I mentioned in my Soap Opera post, I had some very good reading luck. In addition to the titles menioned there, I lucked upon Wildside, an old school style SF novel that postulates an odd technical problem and then lovingly describes the interesting problems it engenders while building a slapdash plot around it. There are a lot of reasons it wasn't a good book: deux ex machina ending piled on top of an explanation for the phenomenon that wanted to be shocking but really wasn't, the author didn't take opportunities for narrative tension (all in all, the book needed more Sabertooth Tigers, I think). Despite all of that, I really enjoyed it. It was short, it moved, it had a Swiss Family Robinson feel that made me remember why I enjoyed Science Fiction as a kid, and the main character was engaging in a Mary Sue via The Great Brain kind of way.

Then I read The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, a novella in a collection of Heinlein stories. I don't think I've ever read Heinleinian fantasy, but that's what it was. Or, more properly, Heinlein's take on Cosmic Horror. It was very Lovecraftian, despite the lack of shambling horrors. Also a flawed but fun work, full of his wonderfully nuanced writing for adults: beautiful descriptions. I was interested that some of his curmudgitations on the nature of people seem timeless. I shouldn't be: nobody bitches about anything new, except for bitching about everything new. But some times I think we feel like Scott Adams invented workplace dissatisfaction. Turns out, not so much.

Last, I ran across some copies of the Chronicals of Wormwood. This is a graphic novel title by Garth Ennis. As usual for Garth Ennis, it emphasizes the graphic. The novel part is engaging. The story is about Wormwood, the Antichrist, who works as a producer for cable television shows.

Then I had some bad luck with sloppy comics writing. I picked up The World Below because it was by Paul Chadwick, and I like Concrete. And it's about monsters and robots in a hidden subterranean kingdom. What could go wrong? Well, despite its fun premised, and some cool ideas (a monster that reproduces by tearing off an opponents head and sticking an egg on the stump that turns into a new head. Also, the monster swaps limbs with fallen creatures), it's slow and full of little sermons, none of which I found particularly new. I can see why it got cancelled, and only his name got it collected.

Then I picked up Side Scrollers, which is Clerks, with three guys instead of two. It is comical vignettes driven by absurd dialog about pop culture and slacker life. It even has a Jay and Silent Bob duo. Just, none of it is as good as Clerks.

C'est La Vie. I picked up a novel, er, work of non-fiction about the end of the world, which is coming up in 2012. Though lacking in anything like rigor or focus, I'm making my way slowly through it and having fun. I love end of the world fiction. I'm having fun by treating this as non-fiction.

But... I'm thinking it's a good excuse to have a party.

I wonder what apocalypse will come after 2012?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Funnest free game evar.

Bible Fight.

This is Eve taking a beating from Satan. In the Garden of Eden, no less. I really like the art. The moves are really spectacular. I am unimpressed with loaves and fishes, but cross bash is most excellent. As always, Satan's are the most extravagant.

In all fairness, the controls are a pain. But I really dig the art. It makes the bible look fun! Which, you know. The bible has a hard time being for me. Fun, that is.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ninjas and Leviticus

This and this.

Comic book and RPG collectors of the world, rejoice

Your collections are all incrementally more valuable.

If ever there was a week for blogging, this is it.

On Sunday night, I realized that our basement was flooding minutes before our game was started. So I had to send my gamers packing while Ruby canvassed the neighbors for a water vac and then out to Meijers to buy fans, since ours had died in storage. We got the basement dried, but not before two boxes of books, five or six boxes of comics and magazines, a couple of miscellaneous boxes, and a rolled up carpet got soaked through.

I am not a collector, certainly not a speculator. Sorting through the stuff that got wasted, I was a little surprised at the stuff I kept that I didn't much care about one way or the other. Still, losing my run of Dungeon will hurt. I could have scrounged for ideas in there. And some of the stuff I lost was stuff that I remember fondly, and will never be republished. Like the Warlock 5 series, that was just totally over the top goodness.

Then I spent all night throwing up. Hooray.


Poppy's party went very well. Her presents include lots of new dinosaurs, a pokemon plush, some my pretty pony toys, and some games and puzzles that we can play together from her very thoughtful friends. She's having a great time with them, playing in a frenzy, and we both appreciate the new stimulation. The party itself was a blast. I love Montessori because it's taught her so much, and because she's met so many nice kids there.


I downloaded and created the membership for the 10 day trial of the Dungeons and Dragons multiplayer. It took two days to download the updates, so by the time I started playing last night, I had eight days left. Can't argue with the price, though.

I have come to the conclusion, having tried three, that Massive Multiplayer games are all alike. They are fun as point and shoots or adventure games, but not really enthralling. By the time I finished Neverwinter Nights, I think I had decided that computer RPGs wouldn't ever be more than an occasional thing for me.

The story lines, structurally and inspirationally, are pretty much the same quality across the board. As a game, they are a bad value: ten bucks a month as opposed to fifty bucks for unlimited play is not good deal.

The real value in MMP games are: the look of the game, whether you want to spend time looking at it, and the potential to play with other people. That's kind of fun if you can do it.

I found City of Heroes was pretty friendly, World or Warcraft less so, and after four or six hours of playing DND, it seems like the community is more scarce than stand offish.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Turn and face the strange changes...

All right slugger... walk it off. You can do it. Walk it off.

I, uh.

I signed on to the dungeons and dragons website, and I saw this:

For the uninitiated, this is a reference to the long expected fourth edition of dungeons and dragons. All my current books and notes may go kaplooey, depending on how much they change the system.

It's like hearing that your favorite television show is getting canceled. But more so. Cause, you know. This is like fitty percent of my slack time.

I must needs wait for news, but what this means to me on the fly is:

* I don't think I'll be buying in. I don't really want to drop a ton of cash on a new game system right now. Even if the new system is smoove like dat, I can't see putting the kind of money I'd want to into the game.

* My other blog may be entirely outdated.

* I was looking forward to trying the new digital content utility wizards was working on for D and D. But I'm less inclined to do so now.

* Monte Cook's World of Darkness looks cooler to me, so far. I've been wanting to try something besides straight heroic fantasy for a long while.

* Money for DND books can go to something else. Or I can catch up on some stuff. That might be a positive...

Waily, waily.

update 4:14 PM

Scuttlebutt sounds like some pretty big rules changes coming.

A lot of people on the newsgroups are greeting this positively, and I say good on them. Make it a good think for you. Nothing's going to stop it coming, after all. I'm still hoping that many people stick with d20. I will need new material. Anybody want to trade?

Ah, to be quick and funny.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Soap vs. Pulp

I like Harry Potter. I don't love Harry Potter. I don't memorize the trivia of the milieu. I wasn't waiting breathlessly for the new book. But I liked all the books, and read them quickly. They were engaging reads for a lot of really different people. They are a soap opera, and it surprised me that I enjoyed them so much. For a time, I thought that she had updated the fantasy genre with elements of the soap opera. But the more I read of them, I realized she had simply imported elements of fantasy into a soap opera.

I think maybe there are three viable "modern" methods of story telling: the soap (driven by the interaction of diverse characters), the pulp (driven by violence), and the internal-interrogative, or navel contemplation, novel (driven by talking about how miserable your life is, often in the face of a complete lack of actual physical discomfort).

The old distinction of tragedy and comedy doesn't seem to fit much anymore. Maybe I'm not reading widely enough, but comedy seems to describe nearly all the reviews I see buying fiction for the library.

Anyways. I was chagrined at the idea that I was reading soap opera. I mostly like pulp, in the science fiction and fantasy genres. But I've noticed lately that a lot of the media I enjoy is of the soap opera mold:

Harry Potter, Soap with trappings of pulp.

52, a DC comic which has an ensemble cast of minor super heroes making due in a world without Superman, Batman, and the Flash. More pulp, but still largely soap. The personalities of the characters really shine, I think.

Heroes, the TV show about normal people who start exhibiting classically super heroish abilities. Mostly soap, with a little pulp thrown in.

I picked up one of CJ Cherryh's Atevi books, which are these great SF novels about humans stranded on an alien planet and trying to live with the dominant culture there. I'd forgotten how much I loved reading them, and they're very soapy, with just a dash of pulp thrown in.

Maybe all literature uses both methods of forwarding the plot. It would be interesting for the purposes of reader's advisory to suggest a tool: say Harry Potter is 80% Soap (although the rating for the series as individual titles would be lower in later books). Star Wars is 30% Soap. The Time Traveler's Wife is 98% Soap. I imagine that you could write a program to process the number of dialogs versus the number of actions. What an exercise!

All of them rely to a certain extent on a pulpy method of carrying the story forward. But their primary was of moving the story is soapy. So, after years of being firmly in the pulp camp, I find myself dallying in the soap camp regularly.

Go figure.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Meatloaf was great, by the way. One of my best ever, I think. I would probably just use soy sauce as liquid in the next one, and use a cup of bread crumbs. But, you know, necessity being the mother of invention and all.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

This is what I did for meatloaf today:

2 lbs. Ground Turkey

Couldn't find breadcrumbs, so I started with 1/2 cup of instant potato flakes.

1/4 tsp of garlic salt, 1/4 tsp of pepper, 1/4 tsp of celery seed (a smidge more: I love the smell), and a couple or three of twists of some steak seasoning stuff that's heavy on the pepper.

Put 1/3 of an onion, a ?cup?, maybe a cup and a half of carrots, and a stalk of celary into the blender. Had to hold it in with a ladle to get it all chopped finely.

Lightly sauteed a small package of sliced mushrooms in butter. Saved out the fattest ones, chopped the rest on the ground ice setting and added it to the savory mixture.

That gave me about two cups of filling, not including the potato flakes.

Added 1 Tbsp Soy Sauce, 1 Tbsp Barbecue Sauce

Ground turkey is kind of a moist meat, and when I mixed all that it was a very soft mixture. So I made Ruby find the bread crumbs and put in another half a cup of crumbs. Still kind of wet, but it was all I had to go with.

Stuck the saved out mushrooms on top of the meatloaf.

I'll tell you how it went tomorrow. Could be meatloafaggedon.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fantasy & Science Fiction in Periodical Databases


This is one of those little librarian finds.

The Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction is online, short stories, reviews and all, in the Masterfile Premier index and General Reference Center Gold.

That's crazy to me. Crazy in a good kind of way, like dying and finding out that there's a heaven and they serve meatloaf and have back issues of Hellblazer kind of way.

So, how do you get to them? Go to your library's website. In Michigan, you can also go to, and you will need a Michigan library card or driver's license to sign in.

If your library has some kind of magazine or database search, or federated searching, go looking for Masterfile or General Reference Center Gold. Those are the two databases that I know have access to Fantasy & Science Fiction, but you're looking for a general interest magazine database of anykind.

If it's Masterfile , click on the title of the database. Under Masterfile Premier, there should be a link that says Title List. Click that, and in the search bar titled Browse Publications, type Fantasy & Science Fiction. Click the browse button. Click the title of the magazine. See the column of dates on the right? Click any one, and it will give you a list of that year's issues. Click the issue to get a list of articles and stories. Click the pdf link under a article or story to download a pdf file of the article. They index 1994 to the present, full text.

If its General Reference Center Gold (via in Michigan), then get into the database. On the basic search screen type Brin into the Find search bar, and Fantasy & Science Fiction into the Publication search bar. Click the search button. Under the title of an article, it should say About this publication. Click that. Use the drop down menu of years, and the column of dates at the bottom of the page, to navigate between issues.

I almost hesistate to print this in fear that somebody will decide that those stories shouldn't be indexed anymore. I can see authors being uncomfortable that their stories are being syndicate in this way. But I think it's great for several reasons:

1) I get access to the stories.
2) It supports the magazine. Without the magazine, we wouldn't have submission venues for short stories at all.
3) It eventually supports the authors. Seriously, if you have a few more people browsing the back issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, they'll get exposed to so many more good authors, and want to buy their books.

It's not just great for me, it's great for science fiction as a genre.

Unfortunately, I would never have thought of looking in a library's periodical database for the magazine. Usually, people go there for non-fiction. I totally found it by accident. So I'm doing my best to let people in the SF community know about it. A resources is only as good as its use. Now I have to wonder what other fiction magazines might be indexed in there.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Miskelaneous Reviews

Saw the third pirates movie over vacation (cough: two months ago), and liked it alot. It was long, but never really felt it. And it was chock full of cool.

Finished The Color of Magic, striking it off my complete disk world list and the top 20 geek books list.

Terry Pratchett's writing evolves over time, but it was kind of weird reading his first published novel. You can see the bones of all of his themes in it: things man was not meant to know, tyranny of determinism, joy (and terror) of chaos, adventuresome pragmatism versus pragmatic adventurism, the liberating march of technology and cultural change. All his very fun ideas and tweaking of fantastic fiction, layered over sort of incomplete plots and a rather thin, un-compelling set of characters. I'm glad I started reading him in the middle.

Read the latest volume of: Y, the Last Man. Boy, I love that book. I'm so glad comics is moving beyond spandex characters. I mean, I know I spent twenty some years really grooving and spandex antics. But really, I love other kinds of stories, too, and I'm glad really smart writers are getting to share them in comix. Y the Last Man is so hard nosed. I love how it teases you about the origin of the Gendercide with mysticism and pseudo science. I would be charmed if he answered the mystery with a plausible answer, but won't be heart broken if he doesn't.

Friday, July 20, 2007

As a sign of how purely catchy The Simpsons are, my daughter was wandering around the house singing "Spider pig, spider pig... does whatever a spider pig does."

She's never watched the Simpsons, doesn't really care about Spider Man, has never heard the Spider Man theme song...

She does like pigs.

She saw the scene in a trailer on TV. She has not a single cultural reference with which to triangulate the humor contained in that scene.

But now she's repeating the commercial and wants to see the movie.

I don't think I can allow this. I'm afraid she will notice how alike Homer and I are.


Thing two: Does the hubbub over the Harry Potter release date accomplish anything besides making Time Warner and J.K. Rowling look priggish?

I thought not.

Oh, wait: It artificially inflates the value of the press surrounding the books release.

How seriously can you take anyone who says crap like: "True Harry Potter fans won't patronize booksellers who sell the book early." Which entirely ignores human behavior by holding it up to some straw man morality that elevates revealing the ending of a pop novel to even little white lie status.

I think that the legal fees for challenging the "leaks" would probably pay for the print runs of fifteen unpublished fantasy writers, or send two or three talented Harry Potter fans to an ivy league college.

Don't get me wrong. I like the Harry Potter books. I am no Harold Bloom, nor Pope Benedict. I really want to find out if Snape is in fact not a villain somehow. But the fuss over release dates is unbearably self important.


A related notion: I was thinking on holding off reading the new Harry Potter. However, I realized I am very curious about one question: whether Snape is truly an evil character. He is such an unsympathetic character, I will be interested to see how his role in the story is resolved. In many ways, I think he makes Dumbledore a more interesting character. Dumbledore is a Mary Sue, not necessarily in the most pejorative wish fulfilment sense, but certainly in the sense that he simply never fails and has no discernable personality flaws. If Snape is evil, Dumbledore failed to detect that. If he is not evil, then it will be interesting to see how his actions are explained. And really, more interestingly, if his broken personality can be resolved.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Indexed is on a role this week

Especially this one.

It's great that the cartoonist can do so much with so little.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Blog falls to the bottom again.

I sort of lost momentum when I stopped finding reliable wireless, so the vacation posts went by the wayside. I should comment on how kind everybody was. Though it's a small corner of the blogosphere, I should report my host's graciousness to the internet sprites. John, Cathy, Gary, Lou, our Yuanling Group, Peter, Yoshi, and Gina, Nick and Monique were great hosts, and went out of their way to make us feel welcomed. Thanks, guys.

It was a lot of driving and hanging out with our adult friends, and I worried about the Poppy-eye view of things. I'm certain she got bored, sometimes. However, she adored being fussed over, and had a great time watching the atrociously cheesy show at Medieval Times. Hugely great. Really, I was a little befuddled by how great a time she had watching scripted fighting with forsooth-ized wrestling commentary. The food wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered it. There's one near you.

She took the lead from her mother: "Hit him in the guts!" and then, "I really don't like that yellow knight, but he sure is cute."

It starts so soon.

Really, I've been noticing that Poppy can do things this summer that she couldn't do before: talk to strange kids with relative ease, and swim the length of a big pool (with water wings, but still) being two. These periods seem to come along. Couldn't talk - can talk. Reading multi-syllabic words of the juice box. Using a mouse competently. It's always a little disorienting and exhilarating, at the same time, to watch her get stronger, smarter, and bolder.

I am reading, keeping up on writing my third to be unpublished novel, exercising, working with Poppy. That's about all I have time for. I have the sneaking suspicion that other pursuits may get derailed this summer, like games and blogs and writing short stories. Lets hope not.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gone visitin'

Notes on travelling:

I decided to re-write and date this post because, honestly, it was emotionally false. It sounded peevish to me, and although I am often peevish, it doesn't really reflect how I am feeling about travelling.

Travel is broadening: It's true. I don't know who said it. But travel, all travel, not just to exotic shores, but stupid little jaunts to Cedar Point. I have written about how browsing is the one great act of mystery in life. Travelling, like shopping, and cruising, and surfing the net. They all offer direct, unfiltered access to the parts of the world. (Fri, Mar 30th)

I love travelling. Really, I love driving. I love getting in a car and going for awhile, just seeing things on the road, people in rest stops. It reminds me of things, like how I don't want to become a cartoon of my ideals, and how people use the gaudy and ephemeral to give themselves definition. I adore the gaudy and ephemeral. I will be a very tacky old man.

Because I have a poindextery, librarianish love of dates, I took rough notes on time of departure and arrival. We drove approximately ten hours to New Jersey, three chunks each day. It was nice and leisurely. We pushed a little more the first day, and traffic was clear. There was a huge mass of congestion on the east edge of Pennsylvania. Luckily, it was on the other side of the freeway.

Coming Next: Some travel writing: irrelevant hotel reviews, friendships made and lost, exotic sights.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Cool Wikipedia Uses

In an earlier post about wikipedia, I wrote about how I like to check out comic book titles that I am unfamiliar with before I buy them. You can get rundowns of the plots of a whole series.

Another nifty thing I like about Wikipedia is that you can use it to find time lines. This is often handy when kids are doing school reports. For instance: "I have to do a report about something that happened in 1969." If you type a year, like 1942, into the Wikipedia search bar, you'll get an article about that year with events listed by month, lists of births, deaths, and events by other categories, I'm assuming as strikes the fancies of contributors.

In addition, there's a funky panel on the side that will lead you to macro and micro-topics: 1942 in New Zeland, in Art, in whatever. What a beautiful browsing tool.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Long Tail

I like the long tail idea because it is an expression of human potential. Basically, what the long tail idea says is that people's interests are far more individuated than the mass market has historically been able to support. So, for instance, if you have a big thing for blotter acid art, you're out of luck because ABC and Random House aren't going to do TV specials or publish coffee table books about the topic you love.

But now that computer storage and searching are getting so cheap, sub-cultural art and craft will flourish because you can find pages like this, which not only shows you pictures of blotter acid art, but will sell you posters made from it. You can see the applications on the web from conspiracy theory to toys. Nothing sells niche better than the web.

I was equally interested in this post by the long tail dude, that says bored people have lots of energy to do other things. It sounds common sense, but what it really means is that if you put even a fraction of your boredom into a craft, hobby, or personal interest, you are contributing to the advancement of the human race. It's a sort of cubical Christianity: bettering mankind through the harnessing of ennui.

David Brin
touches on the spare cycles thing in both The Transparent Society and Kiln People. In Transparent Society, he suggests that hoards of interested amateurs will help make advances in fields like astronomy. In Kiln People, he sort of literalizes the connection. Kiln people are time limited pseudo-biological copies of yourself that you can send off to work while you participate in hobbies. Spare cycles galore.

I like the energy and optimism of these ideas. What they mean to me is that someday in the not too distant future, lots of edumicated people will be able to make a living exploiting intellectual niches that they love, or at the very least get compensated for contributing to the culture at large.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

No love for for the tops of malls

Every once in a while, we get an interesting question on the desk. By which I mean, not usual. Something that requires me to think about where I find the information.

I just had a guy call up and ask for an aerial photo of the local mall. After prodding a little bit, doing what we in the biz call a "reference interview," I found out that his kid, in school in ?Europe? needs it for some project or another. He says "It should be easy to find."

Strangely enough, my gut agrees, although my head is laughing. Easy? Ariel photo of a mall?

I fussed around on Google images for awhile. We have a collection of ariel photographs taken by a local dude, but I thought the mall was newer than the collection by several decades (I may have been wrong). I probably should have checked the mall website.

What I eventually did is talk him through finding the mall on Google Maps, using he satellite view, and then copying the screen into paint. I don't know if it will suffice (I imagine it would be rather hard to alter in a image program, for one, and the mall isn't very distinguishable from the surrounding parking lot for another) but he seemed happy, and the law of diminishing returns kind of made me feel like it wasn't worth pursuing.

I was happy to have thought of Google Maps. I'm surprised his kid didn't twig to it, personally. I was only thinking of it because I had an involved conversation with a co-worker about a senior center replacing a greenhouse in my neighborhood, which reminded me of a conversation I'd had with my friend Adam upon my moving out here. He'd been using Google maps to look at my new house, asking what that air plane hanger looking thingy was. It was the other greenhouse in my neighborhood.

It is funny that both the patron and I thought it would be "easy" to find aerial photographs of a mall. Why? Who cares about the tops of malls? Even if there is some kind of architectural need to photograph malls from the air, who would bother to collect the information? If it was collected, who would care enough to spare the time and effort to collate it on a web page, much less print it? What library would let a said collection take up shelf space if it were printed? It would certainly not been available in your average public library fifteen years ago.

In the age of the internet, we expect everything to be online. Everything. In fact, the roof of the crossroads mall is, to my knowledge, only online as an artifact of another resource.

Websites and other electronic resources, though they take up so little physical space, still take time and effort. There has to be interest, personal or financial, in gathering and collating the info. I'm still fussing around on the internet, looking for a mall roofs site, not finding it. Sad to say, no love for mall roofs. I doubt that even Santa Clause, the king of both mallrats and rooftop topography, cares enough to make a website.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

So, um.

Over the weekend, I put ads on my two blogs. This one and rosy rod of wonder, my Dungeons and Dragons blog. On that blog, I post magic items that I've created for the game. For those who haven't been exposed to Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft or Harry Potter, when you play a character in a game like Dungeons and Dragons, he often collects magic items: rings or cloaks that make you invisible. Magic swords. Wands that throw spells. Stuff like that.

And ads started showing up.

They are curiously literal. I expected to get ads for RPG stores and massive multiplayer sites and stuff. I got ads for the site Motor City Pagans... which is for people of the neo-pagan faith. And, for people who collect knives and suchlike. And that's cool. Probably a lot of crossover between the role playing and neo-pagan communities. People who buy swords buy dungeons and dragons books. You know.

I'm a little uncomfortable with, and Those seem to be sites that promote magic as an answer to life's problems. I'm all for escapism. But in my real life, I'm a fairly bloody minded atheist. Paying people to perform miracles for you, or even encouraging them to wish upon a star for good luck, strikes me as... impractical at best. Chicanery if you are really making your living off of other people's grief and despair. If you are a skeptic of any sort, you can imagine my chagrin.

My chagrin being what makes it funny, actually. I have kind of a cruel sense of humor.

So, you know. I will wait awhile and see what ads show up generally. I'll see if I can find a way to block the "psychic hotline" style ads if they keep showing.

What I really worry about... see, what I really worry about is that the only two ads that have showed up for this estimable blog have been for insomnia products.

Like, dude. What does that say about my blog?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Kapture to America

A new survey from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, The National Poll on Children’s Health, has found that US parents rate Internet Safety as being a more serious health threat to children than school violence, sexually transmitted diseases, abuse and neglect.

From: Telecrunch


Get a GRIP.

That the internet is on this list at all is a little foolish. That it ranks higher than school violence is oddly savant. But, um, more than abuse?

One might as well include "riding their bike to the next block" on the list.

Scares me more.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

We're not unreasonable, I mean no one's gonna eat your eyes...

It's not the video, it's the song. It's really the first song that's made me want to buy an album for, let's say conservatively, five years.

"Someday you'll run out of food and guns and have to make the call..."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Blogs worth feeding

The joy of setting up an RSS feed is that you can check it every day and look at the posts that are most interesting. The problem is that the wealth of possible content can make you feel obligated to read every single post. The ideal is to find blogs that you can page through quickly, or update infrequently, and always have interesting material. I have a bunch of blogs that are more useful to me: hobby and work related blogs. This is a list of the blogs that I find most worthwhile: browsing them often brings me a little feeling of joy. They maximize the interest to volume ratio.

Bibliodyssey: This blog is for book, art, and history lovers alike. This dude posts pictures of old manuscripts that are both beautiful and informative. It is a window into the personalities of other ages. I made a PC desktop out of a page from an old alchemical manuscript, and would hang pages from the Islamic science manuscripts on my walls if I could figure out how to make posters out of them.

Indexed: Oddest web comic evar, I get a huge kick out of seeing graphs as cartoons. It takes some work to decipher the joke sometimes, but quite often, between the label and the graph there is a fun or charming joke. April 20th is simple and amusing. March 27th is pointed. And amusing.

Be not solitary, be not alone: I ran across this lady's blog at random. She is cheery, takes lovely , richly textured pictures of interesting things (bugs and ?Taiwanese? market places and tourist spots). Her posts are spotty, but always interesting to page through.

Jeff's Gameblog: I think this guy is one of the sharpest nails in the box, largely because he has a good idea of why people have fun playing games. Such as this rule. This blog is largely for uber tabletop gaming nerds.

Post Secret: Because it reminds me that, despite the professional or kewl facades that we show the world, there really is a wealth of feeling in the human animal.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I posted a link to the funniest gaming comic strip ever earlier. For sheer funny, you cannot beat something like singing about TPK (A "total party kill*" for those not in the know) and ressurection spells to the tune of Danny Boy. It's... the combination of knowledge so obscure ("nerdy") with something so heartfelt that does it to me, I think. Like nitpicking at someone's feelings is funny. It is the radical disconnect of perfoming an action so petty in the face of something so elementally unchangeable that makes me grin.


I began thinking about feelings and geek culture. I've been turning that over in my head for a week now, since I heard about the cancellation of Dungeon and Dragon magazines. It made me melancholy. I know, it's silly. But it's like the death of a favorite character in a much loved book or show. Above is the cover of the first issue of Dragon Magazine I ever bought, when I was in sixth grade. When I was a kid, it was something really magical. It was a source of fresh ideas for playing a game based around ideas. It was all new and exciting. For a nerdy little bastard like me, opening a copy of Dragon Magazine was like finding a dollar bill on the sidewalk.

A dollar was still a lot of money in sixth grade. Well, when I was in sixth grade. It could still get you a comic book.

I don't buy Dragon much, now. I use my own ideas in games now, mostly. And glossy magazines are expensive, anymore. But it was a great companion to me as a child.

I really hope the new "digital initiative" thing that Wizards of the Coast is replacing the magazines with pans out, because I think it has the potential to give the gaming community much more new stuff for lots cheaper. So, I say to Wizards, "you go, boys."

* A total party kill is when all the PCs (Player Characters) in a party are slain during a battle. I personally think that a GM's attitude towards TPK says alot about them. Was that a just a huge mistake, or a triumph?

Funniest DND Cartoon EVar.

NSFRP (Not safe for regular people)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This is the first unambiguously good piece of news that I have heard in awhile.

What could be more interesting, more cheerful, more optimistic? It give us someplace to go if we decide to get up off our gravity well. It removes "earth like planets" from the realm of conjecture to hard fact, and gives us the possibility of companionship in the universe if only by proxy, standing in for all the other earth like planets that we will be sure to find. It might even give us a way to start triangulating how many earth like worlds we should expect to find. To me, it feels like a light at the top of the ladder, making the univers more awe-inspiring and giving it a more homey feeling all at the same time.

What a beautiful thing. I wonder if there will be any Gliesian stories in science fiction? Not that there needs to be. But I can see the romance of finding the first earth-like planet leading writers to claim it for its own.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I am at a science fiction convention. I've probably been to three of these things in the three years I've been back and Michigan, which is the same number that I attended during the 13 years I was in New York (and they were never in New York proper: Boston, Baltimore, and ... someplace in Pennsylvania).

The "fan community" here seems to have a lot of pubished authors, and there are some writers workshops. I am always interested in learning to write better. As long as they have workshops, I will come to one or two a year.

This time, I am workshopping the first thirty pages of my current novel, which people have so far liked. Well, one person. The rest, I will find out about tomorrow.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at conventions. At least three a year, sometimes four if I could convince someone to go out of state with me. I did a lot of my growing up at conventions and camping out with Viking re-enactors. More of my late nights and partying were in really fring-ey places like this. Forget the punk and goth clubs: for really strange stuff, I always came to Fandom.

An odd side effect of growing up at science fiction conventions is that I've become something of a hotel queen. It probably has to do with sleeping on the floor of so many of them, or scrunched under the table by the door, in order to keep costs down. The Troy Hilton, where I am, is nice. Attractive, good soaps and shampoos, not too harsh on the skin. Roomy. Not near much of anything, though, so your food choices are limited. I am spoiled, now, by Indianapolis, whose convention center is connected to a Mall as well as the hotels.

Many of the faces are the same, which is strange. In my memory, everyone is really fifteen years younger. It's a trade off, though. In their memory, I have hair down past my shoulders. And I'm fifteen years younger.

I have been listening to Charles Stross and Elizabeth Bear speak, as well as others. Everybody has been charming, and the bit Mr. Stross read of his next novel has made me a future reader. A very near future reader.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

- Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

Friday, March 30, 2007

I have just been scolded (gently) for not updating frequently enough, and in my haste to write I sat down and nearly subjected my few, dear readers to... ugh... philosophy. Which is okay for some.

But not for me.

So here is a short synopsis of the concrete thoughts that have been taking up room in my brain:

My daughter takes all the good dinosaurs. I feel like a dick every time I wrangle her for them, but I feel like a wuss when I don't. I understand that those are crass extremes of what should be a nuanced approach to parenting. But I know that if nobody tells her that she can't have all the good dinosaurs all the time, she will not only become unbearable in the short term, but will not be able to face the disappointments life brings with grace. Human beings have so little dignity as is, that grace is important. Also: I really do like the stripey dinosaurs too.

I have been reading The Higher Power of Lucky. I do not like it. I find it that each chapter is far too self contained, and in general the text is contemplative in a way that I would find solipsistic if it were party conversation. It is well written. It is certainly "literature," and should be in library collections for them what likes that sort of thing, despite foolish objections to the word scrotum. What if Pancreas were substituted for Scrotum? Well, it wouldn't make any sense in the book, that's what.

Ruby, on the other hand, liked the book very much.

It occurred to be that it is curious that the ivory tower, which canonizes such stalwart genre fiction writers as Shakespeare and Milton, who are both imaginative and solidly narrative, vigorously eschews genre fiction in favor of morose self involvement. Is that a broad enough generalization of literary fiction?

Browsing is the one great act of mystery in life. It is the one activity that really has unimagined and unintended consequences. There are other great and mysterious things, many of which produce altered states of consciousness: food, music, dancing, sex, prayer, exercise. But people really know what to expect from all those things, and go looking for them. The mystery comes from the deliciousness of sensation, the un-engaged mind. Browsing is the way the universe gifts the engaged mind. By browsing, you open yourself up to finding things that you did not know you needed. A case in point: this week, on the recorded book shelves, I found both a copy of the Arabian Nights, and D'auliers Greek Myths.

I did not know that I needed to hear those two sets of stories read aloud, but I did.

Lastly: librarians worry too much about being relevant. I don't know where else to go with that, but its true.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hi! My website, the estimable electricwell, is down. I was keeping it on charter, and charter is a lousy webhosting service, and I wasn't able to update it for well over a year, so I just had them delete it.

One of the things I was proudest of in my old life- pre-kid, pre-remidwesting, pre-thirty, was learning enough HTML and photoshop to build a pretty decent web page on my own. Hardly anybody visited it: there were few enough visitors that I actually got lightheaded at a sign of visitation. This one time, in band camp, someone I didn't recognize actually subscribed for updates!

However: I started to get lost around passing values in Javascript, and style sheets, and the learning curve at this point is less a hocky stick than a wall for me. I'm not even sure I want to keep maintaining my clunky old webpage.

Here are my current options:

I am thinking of putting my campaign stuff and book reviews on a wiki, hopefully something mashable that I can put both my blogs on the front of.

I need a bumper sticker or something that says: my other blog is a gaming blog. Wouldn't it be cool if you had, like RFID bumper stickers that could actually act as links?

Back to options: I'd be tempted to go all blog, but blogs are shit for organizing. Far be it from me to think anybody wants to keep track of my corner of the world, but if they did... it should be organized.

I want something easy, cut and paste like the blogs, if possible. So I'm thinking of a Wiki.

It may take me some time to put together.

Lastly, if I put together a wiki and find someplace to host it, I need a new cool name.

Electricwell is no good, because while I was dithering, someone else has taken it.

Of all things, an actual company that sells fucking electric wells. I felt like I stubbed a mental toe when I found that out. Come to think of it, I found another blog titled whole nother, though I can't seem to find a link now. Which only proves that I suck at clever names.

What I'm thinking of now is expendable goldfish, a reference to potentially useful genetic outliers, which I kind of identify as. But in the time I am thinking about it, somebody else will probably register it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I am grumpy and anxious, but that's to be expected. It is winter, the sky is gray and so is my personality.

That said, life is good. I joined a regular writers group, and I enjoyed my first meeting. Last night, I got a killer idea for my regular Dungeons and Dragons game, a space opera, fantasy tech plotline that ties previous plotlines together with the current one (which, honestly, had been foundering) and the PCs interests, and is very scalable, so that even if my game ends soon, I will be able to run a chunk of this comfortably. It is SUITE, with a capital soo-ey.

Thing two is I got a great idea for a short story this morning, as I sat down at my desk.

Plus, my daughter is lovelier and smarter every day. She made me a Valentine spider out of pipe cleaners and construction paper. Minky is happy because we have pipe cleaners around the house again. And, of course, my beautiful wife is working on the end of a novel right now. When the women in my house are happy, I'm happy.

Last, I found an abandoned die in one of our meeting rooms. I thought somebody was playing craps, maybe the senior center computer club, but it turns out the manga group was in there, so it was probably a different sort of game altogether. It has a huge yellow pip for the one, and the four is yellow, too. It is translucent and red.

I will keep it in my office for two weeks in case someone comes after it. Otherwise, it's mine.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Stephen Baxter's Titan is sitting on my desk like a fat pile of wasted wood pulp because I had a thought about it, and am therefore compelled to say something. Never a good idea.

I think the last 56 pages of the novel were the novel. They were the fun part, the interesting part, the thoughtful part.

The other 620 pages. Not so much.

Why I stuck with it, you see, is because I've enjoyed books by Mr. Baxter before, it's about the moon Titan, which might have life on it, and the back copy suggested a conclusion of great import and subtle wisdom.

It was not great or subtle enough to justify the first 620 pages, was all.

There. I've excreted that thought. I can now donate it to the library book sale.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Last night I had a dream about Ben Stiller and a dwarf starring in a feel-good zombie plague movie. It was an unusual dream for me. I have zombie dreams regularly, a couple of time a year, and they're usually all about anxiety.

This one was sort of charming, actually. It makes me want to write the script. I'd make the dwarf the brains of the operation. Cause dwarves are cool.

I love zombie plague flicks, but the whole premise of them is totally flawed. Or at the very least, the Night of the Living Dead style premise is. Zombies are slow and stupid. They're not that much stronger than living people, as far as I can tell from intensive studies of the source material. Their strength is numbers. Seriously, could there be that many intact corpses that would pose a threat to able bodied humans with acess to long hitty things? Fire pokers, for god sakes, liberally applied, would put a stop to your average Romero-ian zombie. Fire extinguishers. Morgue locker doors would take care of most of the initial outbreak. Organized groups would take care of the rest. Viola, no more zombie mess.

Return of the Living Dead postulates a much more useful scenario, such that there is an initial vector of infection that produces zombies from able bodied living people, which makes for a much more tolerable ratio of menacing dead to able bodied human defenders. Plus, RotLD zombies are smart and quick. More like ghouls than zombies.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In a generally counterintuitive article at the WSJ Opinions, the author, John Miller, decides that:

"If public libraries attempt to compete in this {bookstore} environment, they will increasingly be seen for what Fairfax County apparently envisions them to be: welfare programs for middle-class readers who would rather borrow Nelson DeMille's newest potboiler than spend a few dollars for it at their local Wal-Mart.

Instead of embracing this doomed model, libraries might seek to differentiate themselves among the many options readers now have, using a good dictionary as the model. Such a dictionary doesn't merely describe the words of a language--it provides proper spelling, pronunciation and usage. New words come in and old ones go out, but a reliable lexicon becomes a foundation of linguistic stability and coherence. Likewise, libraries should seek to shore up the culture against the eroding force of trends."

The assumptions Mr. Miller makes are idiosyncratic. It sounds like he is proposing two things:

First, he is proposing that libraries are somehow beyond market forces. People generally decide which public services they support by how useful they find them. Mr. Miller is suggesting that by buying fewer books that our patrons want, by becoming less relevant to our community’s interests, libraries will somehow be perceived as more useful.

Second, that we could succeed as arbiters of taste. His first statement hinges on some view that our profession can decide for the general public what they want to read. Perhaps we should hand them a book at the door. "No, no. You don't want to read DeMille. Try Hemingway.”

Never mind that “For Whom The Bell Tolls” apparently wasn't on the local school’s reading lists. And that they might have more to do with “shoring up the culture” thnt we do. Does he really think the public at large pays our millage so that we can tell them what books they want? That looks like a recipe for a “doomed model” to me.

Nineteenth century librarians didn't even think novels should be in library. Mr. Miller is more permissive: he just thinks that we're wasting money on new novels.

In fact, libraries offer all sorts of information, besides those new fangled novels. Full-text periodical databases, newspapers, audio-books, business and investing resources, reader’s advisory, citizenship information, test preparation books, language CDs, meeting space… professionals who might be able to help a stumped patron navigate the many resources available to them. Is Mr. Miller really so unimaginative that he can’t think of any informational resources better afforded by an institution than the general public?

In the near future, I'm betting that many people will be making economic choices about reading material by buying in electronic format, to read on PDAs, portable readers, even cell-phones. That trend will increase over time. Thinking further ahead of Mr. Miller, as the price of computer storage falls, we can envision a time when you can carry a library of public domain classics as a freebee on your PDA. And you still probably won’t read them, much like you browse through most of the cable channels in your package at home.

So what happens in the future if we follow in Mr. Miller's thinking and advice? The library becomes not only irrelevant, but redundant.

There may be alternatives to the library's resources. Some of them may prove to be more effective, especially in the long run, than public libraries. But I'll bet that the 90% of our patron base we have registered as users, on an average day, get more use out of the 1.3 mils they pay us yearly, than they do out of the police force or fire department. This is in no way an indictment of basic services, but does point up that we compare favorably to them.

My biggest complaint with Mr. Millar’s thoughtless essay is that it rarely comes down to a choice of “Hemingway or DeMille.” His leading opening suggests that revered classics “may” be removed entirely from the library system. In fact, the greater disservice is to mid-list or small press authors, like himself, who get cut from the catalog due to disinterest.

I would be surprised if any largish library system doesn’t have access to “Charlotte Brontë, William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust and Alexander Solzhenitsyn” I bet if he bothered to look in the Fairfax County Public Library system’s catalog, they would be available yet. At the very least, we can inter-library loan them.

Librarians are doing their best to navigate the waters of utility in the age of Google: spending tax dollars wisely while still making sure that we are a service, not a warehouse. We will make sure that resources are available to you: If For Whom the Bell Tolls isn’t right there for you, we’ll Inter Library Loan it. But if your suggestions are fulminating about “them new fangled popular reading novels,” don’t be surprised that our profession doesn’t find it constructive criticism.