Sunday, December 30, 2012

Final Report 2012

Still not dead!

So, okay. I did succeed at NaNoWriMo this year. I haven't mentioned anything about it since n'yeah because I'm still not done with the book yet, which is how it should be. I'm currently at 70,000 words, give or take, and steaming on to the big final battle.

I'm going to keep writing through 2013, of course. I want to finish and then revise the NaNoNovel, and then I think I'm going to work on my short story game. I would like to submit a few complete stories this year, whether or not they get published.

I had a very lovely Christmas holiday which consisted of visiting family and talking and generally being happy. I go back to work tomorrow, then I'm off again for New Year's Day, then I'm back to work for real. My resolution for the year at the office is to manage my timekeeping properly and to avoid any psychotic episodes.

What else did I do this year? Oh that's right, I bought a house and moved into it, which still leaves me feeling bewildered every once in a while. I am proud to report that my home feels like home, and now that I'm settled in I don't think I'd trade it for any other house in the world, rickety fence and all. Next year will  bring more surprises, and if they're as nice as this one has been I'll look forward to them.

I paid attention to politics more than ever this year, and now my heart is full of hate. 'Nuff said. But I'm glad Obama won.

And now because I wasn't really planning a recap of my year when I sat down I'll do some easy product shilling.

I read some great books, I read some good books, I read some okay books. I don't think I've read any truly bad books this year, which is not a terrible thing. No Know Fear was a spectacular highlight for the generally fantastic Horus Heresy series, while Betrayer left me feeling completely frazzled (in a good way). Let's Pretend This Never Happened made me laugh, and I got some warm fuzzies rereading classics like Heir to the Empire and The Hobbit.

I'm planning to read through The Silmarillion this year. All of it. I might write more about that later, but I suspect there's nothing more terrifying a man can do when he's trying to write his own epic (or any) fantasy book. I also might write more about Ravenwing, which was a very well-written book that still had me loathing most of the cast well before the halfway point.

I have fallen in love with Two Best Friends Play!, and maintained my adoration for The Mike O'Meara Show and The Big O and Dukes. The one upside to an hour-long commute is that I can keep up with my favorite podcasts without too much trouble. I would also recommend Nerd Poker to anyone who wants to listen to a filthy Dungeons & Dragons podcast from professional comedian Brian Posehn.

I've kept up with big changes in the comic book industry, but I'm sad to say that next year will probably see me cut back on my comics reading considerably, if I don't drop it entirely. I can't afford the price and the storage space to keep up with every Earth Shattering Event (tm) that comes down the pipe. With that said, I'm going to try to keep up with Saga and Transformers: Regeneration One, at the very least; and I'm very curious to see what Dan Slott has planned for the Superior Spider-Man.

I still play video games when I can, though I rarely have enough time to get serious with them. I got my first Call of Duty game for Christmas, and I'm curious to see if my Battlefield skillz transfer over. And I'm bound and determined to get Sarah on board for a Lego Lord of the Rings playthrough.

I'm not deeply committed to a lot of television shows. I'll be watching Doctor Who, and Game of Thrones, and the finale of Breaking Bad. I'll also try to keep up with The Walking Dead, which is more difficult than I'd like. For movies, I'm looking forward to the Evil Dead remake and trying to stay optimistic about World War Z. I'll take the rest as they come. There were a lot of good movies out this year, so suffice to say The Avengers was my favorite.

Have I shilled enough yet? Do I get a check from Google or Amazon now? God this was disjointed...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I'm Going To Say This Once

I've been almost silent online about the Sandy Hook shootings. I haven't felt it's my place to comment. It was a horrific tragedy and I'm unlikely to say anything that would reach or provide comfort to anyone affected by it. (If by some chance this post does reach anyone affected by a school shooting, you have my deepest condolences.)

But as time has passed and people have started debating how we can prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again, I've been tempted more than once to get into an argument over opinions I disagree with. And, again, I've refrained, because frankly I'm not interested in getting in a meaningless fight that'll piss me off, piss somebody I like off, and end with acrimony and nothing useful coming out of it.

Then I read the NRA statement that came out yesterday, and decided that yes, I need to write something about this.

For the record, I support the Second Amendment and I'm in favor of responsible gun ownership. I have a lot of hunters in my family, who've owned guns for years (hell, generations) without incident. I was, in high school, a member of the Annapolis High School NJROTC's Rifle Team for four years, headed* the damn thing for two, and earned an Expert marksmanship medal. (And my dad likely still wouldn't trust me with a rifle in the woods. I'm not going to argue with him.) I like guns and I think they're a fine thing for sportsmen and hunters to become familiar with.

With that said… I part company with the NRA in a lot of ways. I'm not sold on the idea of owning a gun for home defense: making said gun accessible enough to be useful means that it's not locked up well enough for me to feel secure having it in the house. I don't have anything against gun control in the practical aspects: I'm fine with more background checks, I don't care what size my ammunition clip is, and I can imagine a few semi-automatic weapons** that nobody really needs to own, at least without providing significant proof that they're competent enough to handle the weapon.

Now, I didn't expect the NRA to come out in favor of gun control. But I thought they might at least acknowledge that there is a debate to be had on the issue. I was, of course, thinking of the NRA of the actor Charlton Heston, and not the somewhat more batshit one of Wayne LaPierre.

Here is the full NRA statement for your reading convenience. It starts off on a strong note, acknowledging the tragedy and the NRA's silence up until now out of respect for the victims. But then it veers over a fucking cliff and demonizes the media, the mentally ill, the media, video games, Hollywood, the media, the President, and the media amid calls to put an armed guard in every school in the country.

Um… what?

Let's start with the main point, which is the armed guard thing. A lot of schools in America already have armed guards on the property, and I'm sad to say that they don't always prevent mass shootings. Columbine is one example. Fort Hood, a military base, could be considered another. There's also the fact that it would cost billions of dollars to keep enough guards employed to do a job that, thankfully, doesn't actually need to be done all that often.

And maybe it's just me, but I'm miserable about the state of schools in this country as it is. I don't like the idea that we need to put guards and metal detectors in schools to keep them from exploding with violence. School, particularly middle school, already felt like a damn prison half the time when I was attending. I don't want to send my future children to some place with the look and feel of Blackgate.

So I'm not in favor of more guards. There was also an implication in the statement that we should start a national registry for people with mental illnesses. It's a vague idea to start with, and I'd tend to oppose it on the grounds that it would be open to abuse by employers, neighborhood communities, and anyone else who got access to it. It also doesn't actually do anything to treat mental illness.

I think that improving mental illness treatment across the country ought to be a priority now, in addition to taking a serious look at gun control. None of the gun control measures I noted above, for example, would have done a damn thing to stop Adam Lanza, who stole a gun from his mother and shot her with it before he went on his rampage. Getting Lanza into treatment earlier might have stopped him before he started. Then again, a gun safe might have done the same thing.

What we don't need to do is get another Inquisition started against the "callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry" that makes video games. Nor do I give one shit about "Splatterdays" or the race to the bottom of "media conglomerates". (Well, I do give a small shit about that last one, but Jersey Shore has been canceled.)

The entertainment industries get trotted out as whipping boys at least once a decade to answer for the crimes of mentally ill people who might have had a passing familiarity with some violent game or show. The evidence of any actual influence is always spotty at best. (There's also the First Amendment issue, which Penny Arcade covered much more eloquently than I could, per the image above.)

And it's fairly obvious that Wayne is bringing up the evils of media to deflect attention from the NRA. Why else would he keep talking about how the media is "rewarding" killers, concealing "dirty little truths", and working to "demonize legitimate gun owners"? He's trying to make it as clear as possible that the media ought to be concentrating on MTV and >snerk< Bulletstorm, and that anyone talking about the NRA is flagrantly biased against it.

Which is, to be fair, his job. But it's not in the country's best interests to pretend that we don't even need to have a debate about gun control. And it's a farce to paint the NRA as an embattled organization being assaulted on all sides.

Gun control needs to be on the table. So does providing better treatment for mental illness. I don't agree with putting more armed guards in schools, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it. Wayne said it himself: "there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children." We have a very clear problem that our leaders need to address: I encourage them to do so quickly and thoughtfully.

What we should not do is let the NRA or any other lobby put their interests before the interests of the citizens of our country. We should not let pundits and lobbyists spread disinformation, anger and bullshit to cripple even the most common-sense regulation. We should not let a desire for austerity prevent us from funding programs that have can prevent future tragedies and improve the lives of American citizens. Above all else, we shouldn't let this become yet another partisan exercise to score points for the next election.

We have an opportunity, in the face of this shooting, to take real actions to prevent future tragedies. Those actions won't be perfect; they can't be. But we can't afford to let the NRA keep us from taking any action at all.

I'm going to ask you, if you haven't already, to contact your Senators and your Representative, and urge them to act. I'm not going to be particular on what you urge them to do; as I've said, no one solution is perfect. But an imperfect solution is still better than failing to address the problem.

* In reality I was a figurehead. The program was run by Mrs. Miller, a parent volunteer who brooked no trespass of the range safety rules, i.e using a student's head as a gun rest. I salute her both for keeping us competitive and for ensuring that we suffered no injuries.

** Ignore anyone who talks about an "assault weapons ban" without qualifying what they mean. The term is ill-defined bullshit that can cover automatic weapons (which are already heavily restricted) and semi-automatic weapons (which covers any gun that doesn't require you to chamber each round by hand - that is to say, the vast majority of them).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Down With The Sickness

Ladies and gentlemen: I hate being sick.

I hate feeling like my body is betraying me. I hate feeling like I'm falling apart into my component molecules. I hate coughing and sneezing and sweating and wondering if I'm feverish.

I hate not being able to sleep. I hate taking NyQuil and feeling like I can't wake up. I hate taking DayQuil and waiting for it to kick in. I would not touch ZzzQuil with a twenty foot pole on a dare.

I revile sitting in a darkened room alone, either because the light hurts my eyes or because I don't have the strength to make it to the switch. I hate having the blinds open because the light from outside is too painful. I hate having the blinds closed because I can't see anything. I hate opening the blinds because all I see outside is fog and rain and drizzle and vehicles driving desultorily through the cul-de-sac outside.

I detest it when the dog, as loving and sympathetic as she is, insists that her bladder can't hold anything more and makes me take her outside, because if I don't she'll forget what she's out there for and start barking at the neighbors.

I am filled with loathing when, at 5:30 a.m. little Lina hears someone or something outside and launches a thermonuclear barking salvo at the intruder, which for all I know was nothing more harmful than a squirrel scratching at the back door.

I suffer when, having gone out into my backyard in my boxer shorts clutching a hammer, I discover that the back gate is indeed open, and spend long minutes circling the porch with my hammer raised while the dog relieves herself.

I swell with regret when I report this to my wife, and have to hold her while we wait for our morning alarms to go off.

I am utterly miserable when I have to call into my office and let my boss know I won't be in today, and might not be tomorrow; and that I'm going to need more time off on Thursday than I thought. I hate looking at the amount of leave I have left and seeing it drop down, down, down.

I flush with embarrassment when I realize how far off course this blog post has gotten.

Ladies and gentlemen: I. Hate. Being. Sick.

So. How are you?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo is upon us now, once again. I've said (maybe not here) that I wouldn't be doing it this year, and that turned out to be a dirty stinking lie. Oh well. It was sincerely meant at the time, but two days before November something went "twing" in my head and an idea for a book, almost fully-formed, sprung out of my head and demanded I give it my best effort. And so I am.

As of last night I've been above or at "par" (1,667 words per day) every day of this month, which is A. a massive improvement over previous years, and B. there is no "B". And part of that I credit to NaNo's usual turbo-charging of my productivity: I work best when I have a clearly defined goal and a tight deadline to get it done in. Always have, probably always will.

The problem is that every time I finish NaNoWriMo, all that motive power simply collapses on me. This is, I understand, normal for a lot of people who participate in the event. They get their 50,000 words done (or not), they say "Okay, quick break and then I finish/revise this thing", and then a year later their work is still sitting in a drawer gathering dust.

This has happened to me. Four times, in fact. Let's revisit the ghosts of NaNos past, shall we?

- Hellscraper: A haunted house story set in a skyscraper. Can you tell by the title that I tried this in college? It's the only time I haven't finished NaNoWriMo successfully. I might revisit this one day, I certainly like some parts of it, but not until I can come up with something a bit more character-driven.

- Servant of the Fae: This was inspired by my wife's attempt to explain what the Anita Blake books are about. I didn't quite get it, and came away with the idea that Anita is being repeatedly gang-raped by the cast of a Hammer horror film. And I thought to myself, "Okay, so what if Anita gets shut of all the geasa and curses and ardeur shit futzing with her head, and the Anita from book one comes back... In that case, how many monsters are going to die in really painful ways?"

I tried to answer the question, but at the time I really didn't have the skills to do it satisfactorily. It's a complex story with a lot of POV trickery and it's not at all appropriate for pantsing. I am still working on it (promise!) and I fully intend to get it ready to send out to publishers. I can't not do that, because the bastard narrative is so insistent at this point that I really can't refuse to write it. It's just going to be awhile.

Feel free to "steal the idea", by the way. (How many writers actually worry about that?) I assure you that based on that story seed, you haven't the faintest fucking idea where I am with it right now.

- Neverland: I never really had a proper title for this, it was just Peter Pan seen through a very dark lens. I did finish a story that topped out at 50,000 words (and boy did it need filling in in the middle), but I don't think I'll ever revisit the idea, mostly because Peter Pan is an intellectual property death trap thanks to Disney and the original author's decision to leave the copyright to a charity. But also, there's a comic book version of the same fucking idea called Neverland which is currently in print, and which I'm eagerly waiting for someone to sue out of existence. (Not really, more power to them if they get away with it, but it would be an interesting case.) It's published by Zenescope, the same people who do the "dark cheesecake" versions of Alice in Wonderland.

It's fairly obvious.
- The Gentleman's Society of Unholy Abominations: This was last year's, which I've talked about before. Basically a monster mashup that fell apart when I realized the Wolfman isn't public domain. That doesn't make the story unworkable, but trying to fix the problem (badly) when you're halfway through writing a story really makes it unworkable. I did get a great word count on this one, something like 100,000 words in the end, but it was sort of a festering collapse of a book at that point and I couldn't bring myself to return to it.

Aside from not checking on intellectual property laws, you'll note that my main problem with these stories is that I haven't been planning the damn things properly. Which is why I'm going over Servant of the Fae with a fine-tooth comb, making sure I have a detailed outline (scene by scene if I can manage it) before I set pen to paper again.

And yet I'm doing NaNoWriMo again this year, despite four previous failures of product. I suppose you might ask, "Is there something wrong with me?"

Well, no. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is that it is fun, a challenge that you set for yourself one month out of the year to just generate words without worrying too much about quality, at least for awhile. And even if all I generate is another spectacular failure of a novella, I have to ask: So what? I've been buried in outlining and brainstorming for so long that the need to write actual scenes and dialogue and descriptions and plot is overwhelming. The worst thing that could happen this month is that I improve my skills a little bit and end up chucking the result in a trashcan. Still a net win.

Forward, onward, and upward. Now if you'll excuse me, I've still got 40,000 more words to write.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Mythbusters vs James Cameron and Plot-Induced Stupidity

I love the Mythbusters, okay? I don't watch the show as often as I'd like, mostly because my wife isn't a fan and I have to compromise on our TV time.

But a Titanic episode? On whether Jack could have survived at the end of the movie? That compromise is going my way.

Be warned, spoilers for the episode follow. I guess spoilers for Titanic have already happened, but we're a decade out, people, go see the movie already!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Walk in the Rain

10:14 pm. Miserable weather, a stupid spitting rain that might as well be a cloud of flies.

The dog is walking me into a cul-de-sac when I hear a noise on my left. There's a woman standing in an open doorway, a complete stranger in slippers and a long shirt with wild hair, hissing at my dog.

"Oh no," I think, "what madness have I stumbled into now?" It's dark, but the woman has a mad silhouette. Is she on some drug? Heroin? Meth? I think of her coming at me with filthy nails at my face - permanent scarring. I'm not likely to fight her off with Lina's leash in one hand and a bag of shit in the other.

The dog of course thinks "Friend!" and starts running across the street. "No, Lina," I say, tugging her back, "not now." But there's no way out of the cul-de-sac without passing this madwoman again, and she's still hissing even when I'm halfway around the circle.

Then the noise stops. I look up and she's gone from the doorway. Is she following - no, a silhouette in the house, a light turning off. What in-

Then it hits me: the woman was calling her own dog, some tiny breed that I missed in the wet. Relief washes over me, closely followed by a tree dumping its load of rainwater down my neck.

Back home in the light, dry and seated with a drink at hand and the dog eating kibble, I stop and wonder what I look like on these stinking nights. A pale, half-dressed bearded figure with a blue bag in his hand, cursing and dragging against a twenty-six pound animal that's running right at you, teeth bared and straining so hard that it's choking itself? Just another lunatic stranger, passing in the night.

On Angels In Manhattan

So, Doctor Who mid-season finale. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed the episode and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. Now I'm going to do a slightly more detailed review, and talk about some of the narrative challenges I think Steven Moffat had to face while writing it. So stop reading now if you haven't seen the episode yet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh Hi

Forgot you were there. Well, not really, I just keep coming up with hideous ideas for blog posts that I should not write in a million years. Seriously, nobody needs to read yet another political rant for the next two months.

But I Just. Can't. Stop!

I've also been kind of busy in meatspace. My house now has functioning hot water pipes, repaired drywall, a pane of glass which is not cracked, two new sets of blinds, a new cubby shelf, and a brand spanking new desk which my wife kindly purchased for our five year anniversary and which I will be putting together as soon as it gets here.

Five is the Wood anniversary, I'm told. Stop sniggering. I got her a jewelry box. It looks lovely.

My current desk is one of those small-but-serviceable metal computer desks that lets you sit at a terminal and not much else. It is falling apart because it was put together shoddily (by moi), or because it was manufactured shoddily in the first place. I can believe either or both. The keyboard tray is currently sitting at a 40 degree angle where my feet ought to go. I am ready for a replacement.

Does the Goodwill take a partially-assembled desk? It still works fine as a desk. Just not, you know, as a desk with a sliding keyboard platform thing.

Oh yeah, I also rebuilt my entire home network after my venerable wireless router (God bless the Linksys WRT54GS!) began dropping connections about every other day. There is only so many times in a week I am willing to pull the plug and count to thirty. I replaced the wizened blue box with an Airport Extreme, which means Apple hardware has finally penetrated my home infrastructure. (iPods don't count.) Setup was a breeze once I remembered to power cycle my modem, and my whole network now runs on a sexy MAC-filtered WPA2-encrypted stream of secured data. (Thank God for firmware updates, or my TiVo would still have me stuck on sad sad WEP.)

All of this, of course, is a distraction from what I'm supposed to be doing, which is Writing The Book. Or more properly, Prewriting The Book.

Everyone says you should outline, except for the people who say you should never outline, and I'm done listening to them because I always come out with something that bent at non-Euclidean angles halfway through. I don't believe a first draft should be perfect, but I do expect it to be coherent enough that I don't have to re-plot the entire book when I'm done drafting it.

Here's an example: I tried pantsing a Victorian-era monster mash that included all the classics: vampire, werewolf, Frankenstein's monster, the works. Then I found out halfway through that the original Wolfman, Larry Talbot, isn't public domain, he's a Universal property. But I was already halfway through the damn book! So rather than go back and fix it from the ground up, I just made another character the werewolf. And then that didn't work, so I made him not the werewolf. Without going back and editing anything.

What I ended up with was a manuscript where one character ceased to exist halfway through, and another character ended up acting like three different people. And the same thing happened to a few other characters - they grew and evolved into completely different people as I wrote, but because I was out to get the first draft done done done, I didn't take the time to go back and fix the cardboard cutouts they were earlier in the story. So when I finally got the draft done, I was stymied trying to figure out where to start revising. "From the beginning..." Yes, well, no. I needed to note down the needed changes, which meant nailing down what the characters were actually going to be like, which of the multiple-choice plots I was going to keep and which I was going to cut...

In short, I would need to outline the damn book as if I was starting from scratch. Better, I think, to just outline the book first, then write the first draft without letting it fly out of control halfway through.

I'm happy to report this has worked for some short fiction pitches, but I'm running aground on the latest book (which is not the monster mash - I'm leaving that on the back burner until I can do the necessary Victorian research). I don't think this is a fault of technique, but just me being too unmotivated to get notes down on paper. And maybe a minor fault of technique - I'm taking plenty of notes and jotting down ideas, but I haven't quite got everything organized in a way that makes sense to me yet.

But! Not giving up. That's what they want you to do. But unless I have a few epiphanies between now and November, I'm probably sitting out NaNoWriMo this year. I still think the challenge is great if you want to prove that you can be productive, or if you feel like testing yourself. But I keep generating 50,000 words of complete gibberish that falls apart on revision. I'd rather take my time, plan ahead, and get an ambulatory first draft I can eventually coax to full health.

Even if it takes a long damn time.

Monday, August 13, 2012

You Should Be Using Authenticators

UPDATE: Dropbox just enabled two-step authentication for its cloud storage service. It's still in beta, but I'd recommend checking it out.

Hi there. Do you have an account with Google? Do you play Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo? Then this post is for you.

Don't use those services or play those games? Well you should probably read this anyway, because it's going to come up in a few years.

You need to use an authenticator.

What's an authenticator? It's a thing that makes your accounts effectively hack-proof. See, there are three things you can use to log into something:

1. Something you know.

2. Something you have.

3. Something you are.

Most websites just use the first one: if you know your username and your password, you can get into the website. That's fine, except it means that if somebody else knows your username and password, they can get into the site just as easily, and seriously mess you up. If you're in any doubt about that, just read this post from Mat Honan, who watched his entire online life (and most of his hardware) get fried because somebody got ahold of his account information.

Now, you can take steps to prevent this sort of thing: use stronger passwords, use different passwords for every account, make sure you don't release any personal information (like the last four digits of your credit card) that an attacker could use to bluff his way into your account. Those are good things to do no matter what, and I encourage them. But it doesn't change the fact that somebody could figure out what your password is and walk right into your banking information.

What's the solution? You guessed it: an authenticator.

An authenticator is something you have: a physical token that generates a random number every few seconds, in most implementations. After you enter your username and your password, a website will ask you for your authenticator code. You just enter the random number that's currently on your authenticator, and you're in. If somebody doesn't have the authenticator, they can't get into the account. Simple as that. It's called two-factor authentication, and it kicks the pants out of your old username and password combo.

(In case you're curious, something you are refers to biometrics: fingerprints, retina scans, DNA sampling, biopsying your liver for a chemical analysis... stuff like that. It does get used for high-security facilities, but it's not very useful on the web.)

Authenticators used to be pretty limited, but more web services are making them available for their customers. The big two right now are Google and, the service that runs all of Blizzard's games.

Can I be blunt? If you're using either service, turn on two-factor authentication right now.

I've been hacked before. It sucks. One thing I don't think I've mentioned before, though, is that my Blizzard account has been broken into. Twice! Jerks wanted to use it to make level one dunces and run around the World of Warcraft shouting "GOLD HERE $20!!1!" That one didn't turn out so bad, because I caught it quickly, I didn't actually play WoW at the time, and I actually got a bit of free play time once I got the account unsuspended. (And I quit again when the time ran out. WoW is a hideous time sink.)

Still, I didn't want to get hacked again. I do enjoy Starcraft quite a bit. So when I saw that Blizzard was offering two-factor authentication through a phone app, I jumped onboard. The app was free, quick to download, and worked just like I described above. And if I hadn't had a phone, I could have bought a physical token direct from Blizzard for only $6.50 that would have worked the same way.

There is no excuse whatsoever not to use one of these tokens.

Now, Google was a different case. My job doesn't permit cell phones in the office, so I assumed setting up two-factor authentication meant I wouldn't be able to check my email, or anything related to my Google account, at work. It didn't seem worth the trade-off, so I chose less security.

But after reading what happened to Mat Honan, I decided to bite the bullet and set up an authenticator. And it turns out those concerns I had were completely unfounded. See, if you don't have your authenticator on you, you can print out a sheet of one-time passwords to keep in your wallet or somewhere else on your person. You get ten at a time, and they all work the same as an authenticator (but only once - after you use one you throw it away). So if you lose your phone, or you don't have it available, you can still get into your account.

You do have to do a little extra work if you use Google Chrome, Outlook, Google Music Manager, or a few other services that aren't web-based. But even factoring those in, it took me less than an hour to set up the authenticator across all my services. And honestly? Compared to what could happen if someone broke into my email account, it's worth it.

I'm also very much hoping that other big Internet companies follow Google's lead soon. A few sites leverage Google's actual service: LastPass, WordPress, a few others I think. But I'd really love to see Amazon and Apple and Microsoft throw their weight behind this idea. Imagine! In a world... where you don't have to worry about having your email, your photos, your videos, your bank accounts compromised?

Good God! Why haven't banks jumped all over this? I mean there are limits to the problems two-factor authentication would solve for a bank; you can't fix corrupt and stupid, but how many accounts get compromised through the web in a month, let alone a year? Bankers: Get on this!

And if you're reading this, and you're using any service that supports two-factor authentication: Turn it on. Do it right now. You'll be doing us both a favor, and helping to make the world a better place. Salud.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Doctor Who Season 7 Wingnut Theory

The Doctor Who season seven trailer is out this week, and we're seeing a lot more of what's likely to occur this season. Check it out:

Awesome, but that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a pet theory of mine on how the season's going to wrap up and set the stage for the Doctor's new companion. Rampant wittering (with full-blown spoilers for seasons five and six) begins after the jump.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Status Report - Black Library Window 2012

Oh yeah! I write things. Bet you forgot about that, didn't you?

Last Saturday was the deadline for Black Library's latest submissions window. This was the last one they were accepting novels for - from now on, it's short stories or bust. So I figured it was about time I got off my ass and put together a novel pitch I felt proud of.

And I did! One novel pitch, and three short story pitches. I'm proud of all of them - less so by the day, granted, but I'm a neurotic. I do think my writing is getting better. I don't know if it's getting consistently worthy of publication, but I'll find that out in three months or so, hey?

I'm not going to go into problems I still have to get over right now, because that's shooting myself in the foot and I don't want that. But I will say that I'm getting better at planning out my work. Outlines, random notes, character sketches - all of this is seriously helpful.

I can recommend two books that are great primers on the subject of planning a book:

Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence by Roz Morris. Roz is very big on planning and walks you through all the prep work you need to do for a book.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland. This book is entirely focused on outlining, so don't expect full novel-writing advice, but it does have useful tips for putting an outline together. And they aren't the same tips Roz documents, so it's worth reading.

I've read both of these myself and they were both worth my while.

So... what am I doing now?

I am not resting on my dubious laurels. I've got a plan for a novel about fairies and the people who kill them that has been rattling around in my head for... Jesus, five years now. It's high time I got the bastard on paper, even if it sucks (again). I think I'm up to writing it properly this time, though - by which I mean last time it was a NaNoNovel I didn't plan properly, and this time I intend to outline and plan and make sure I know exactly what I'm doing when I sit down to start writing prose.

And oh my God, would Breaking Bad mind keeping a consistent volume level for its dialogue? I get that there's power in soft-spoken menacing words, but it's kind of lost if I can't hear what anybody is saying without waking my wife up with gunshots...

Sorry. This got a little stream of consciousness there, didn't it? I'm trying to catch up on the show so I'll be ready to watch it's fifth season as it happens. Fantastic writing on this thing. It got my best friend to quit watching it halfway through season two, and I dropped it for awhile at the start of season three because it made me so uncomfortable. And then I started watching it again. That's quality, folks!

So yeah. I'm also dealing with a plumbing problem that is on its fourth visit by a repairman and hasn't been resolved. My home warranty company just loooves me, no doubt. I certainly love them. Why shouldn't I? I burned through my deductible two visits ago and they haven't cut me off. Take that, leaky pipe!

...I may have been mildly intoxicated while writing this post. Which I suppose I shouldn't encourage. Drunk authors are already practically a stereotype. So here's a picture that'll get you all jumping on the latest version of Firefox.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Important Lessons of Prometheus

Warning: You can infer spoilers about the movie Prometheus from this post.

So I just saw Prometheus this afternoon. It was a very good movie - not excellent, mind, but enjoyable to watch, and if you're a fan of science fiction/horror I recommend it. But a lot of the plot seemed to be... well, idiot-driven. Basically, if somebody needs to do something to advance the plot in this movie, and it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to do it... They'll do it! Because they're morons.

Clearly nobody on the Prometheus was trained in proper archeology, biology, or sociology techniques. But I am here to help! The following is a list of rules to follow when working on a xeno (alien) archaeology dig. Follow them, and you might live. Key word might.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Mitt-McCarthy Synchronicity

I do not, strictly speaking, have time to write this post, being that I have a submission deadline coming up on Saturday and I am woefully under word count. But I rarely have anything useful to say about politics, and today seems to be an exception, so here we are.

There was an article in the Guardian last week that called out Mitt Romney for, well, lying in a lot of the attacks he's made on President Obama. You can read it here. Some of the highlights include:

- President Obama has raised taxes. Taxes have actually gone down during his term.

- Obamacare is a government takeover of healthcare. After what it went through to get through Congress, it's not even a government healthcare plan.

- President Obama's stimulus only helped preserve public sector jobs. Public sector jobs are actually way down.

And so on. You get the gist of it. Michael Cohen, the author of the Guardian article, puts it this way:
Romney has figured out a loophole – one can lie over and over, and those lies quickly become part of the political narrative, practically immune to "fact-checking". Ironically, the more Romney lies, the harder it then becomes to correct the record. Even if an enterprising reporter can knock down two or three falsehoods, there are still so many more that slip past.

It's reminiscent of the old line that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. In Romney's case, his lies are regularly corrected by media sources, but usually, in some antiseptic fact-checking article, or by Democratic/liberal voices who can be dismissed for their "partisan bent". Meanwhile, splashed across the front page of newspapers is Romney saying "Obamacare will lead to a government take-over of healthcare"; "Obama went on an apology tour"; or "the stimulus didn't create any jobs". Because, after all, it's what the candidate said and reporters dutifully must transcribe it.

Pointing out that Romney is consistently not telling the truth thus risks simply falling into the category of the usual "he-said, she-said" of American politics. For cynical reporters, the behavior is inevitably seen to be the way the political game is now played. Rather than being viewed and ultimately exposed as examples of a pervasive pattern of falsehoods, Romney's statements embed themselves in the normalized political narrative – along with aggrieved Democrats complaining that Romney isn't telling the truth. Meanwhile, the lie sticks in the minds of voters.

As MSNBC's Steve Benen told me:
"Romney gets away with it because he and his team realize contemporary political journalism isn't equipped to deal with a candidate who lies this much, about so many topics, so often."
Romney is charting new and untraveled waters in American politics. In the process, he is cynically eroding the fragile sense of trust that exists between voters and politicians. It's almost enough to make one pine for the days when Sarah Palin lied about "the Bridge to Nowhere".

Note that "new and untraveled waters" quote at the end, there. In point of fact, this style of politics has been tried before, and was at least temporarily wildly successful. From Richard H. Rovere's book, Senator Joe McCarthy, originally published in 1959:
Writing about [Senator Joseph] McCarthy in a "Letter from Washington" for the New Yorker in the early days of his attacks on the State Department, I described one of the most striking innovations as "the Multiple Untruth," a technique comparable in many respects to Hitler's Big Lie. I wrote in part: "The 'multiple untruth' need not be a particularly large untruth but can instead be a long series of loosely related untruths, or a single untruth with many facets. In either case, the whole is composed of so many parts that anyone wishing to set the record straight will discover that it is utterly impossible to keep all the elements of the falsehood in mind at the same time. Anyone making the attempt may seize upon a few selected statements and show them to be false, but doing this may leave the impression that only the statements selected are false and that the rest are true. An even greater advantage of the 'multiple untruth' is that statements shown to be false can be repeated over and over again with impunity because no one will remember which statements have been disproved and which haven't."

You will note the similarities between Mitt Romney as described in the Guardian article and Senator Joe McCarthy, the man responsible for the Communist witch hunts of the early 1950s. And while McCarthy was not an effective hunter of Communists, his political strategy was extremely beneficial for the Republican Party to use against President Truman. It only became a problem for them when McCarthy started throwing bombs at the newly-elected Eisenhower administration... and shortly after that he took on the Army and lost badly.

Still, McCarthy's "Multiple Untruth" was never properly discredited or defeated as a strategy. It simply fell into disuse... until, apparently, Mitt Romney dusted it off for the 2012 campaign.

I believe if pressed to defend his statements (rather than claim he never made them), Mitt Romney would be able to say that most of them are not, strictly speaking, lies. For example, he's said repeatedly that President Obama had complete control of Congress for two years. In point of fact, the Democrats only controlled Congress for seven weeks, the time between Senator Al Franken being seated and Senator Ted Kennedy's passing. For the rest of those two years the Senate was at the mercy of the filibuster, and would require at least some Republican support to do anything.

So Mitt Romney is not telling the truth; but he can easily say, for example, that he meant that the Democrats had a majority in both houses of Congress, which is correct. And yet his statements imply that the Democrats and President Obama had carte blanche to do anything they wanted for two years, and that's not true at all.

I don't believe that Mitt Romney could get away with this sort of thing in a televised debate against President Obama. But if he succeeds in distorting the public perception of President Obama's first term, he might not have to, especially if the economy takes a sharp downward turn in the next few months

And if Mitt Romney wins? There's been little sign that Romney is cut from the same cloth as Joe McCarthy, so he's unlikely to self-destruct in office. But he might succeed in making it easier for other politicians to tell multiple untruths without consequence, and that would be an unfortunate development for the entire electoral system.

(And while we're here, I strongly recommend reading Senator Joe McCarthy. It's an excellent account of the Senator's career, and a lot of it still seems applicable to modern politics. Unfortunately.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Once Upon A Time - Reflections on Season One

Well, Once Upon A Time has finished its first season, and with confirmation that the show will be coming back for another round of episodes, I felt like revisiting an earlier post. I liked the show then; I still do now. And I'll give them full credit, they've gotten a lot of things right. But still, there's just a few little things that bother me...

I'm writing this assuming that you've watched the whole of the first season. If you haven't, read no further. Spoilers ahoy.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Writer's Review: Dropbox vs Google Drive

If you're anything like me, you worry about backing up your writing. All sorts of things can burn you: hard drive failures, lost notebooks, actual fires, the dog ate my manuscript... anything, really.

Cloud storage is getting to be the backup solution of choice for a lot of people. Put your stuff on the Internet and you can download it anywhere! Never worry about losing your work because it's living on a gajillion servers!

I've been using Dropbox for months to backup my work. It's simple: You have a folder on your computer. You put your writing into it. If you're connected to the Internet, your work gets uploaded. Done. As long as you don't have more than 2 gigabytes of files to upload, you don't even have to pay for anything.

Then this week Google released Google Drive, which is Dropbox by Google. It works on the same principle (see folder: drop files in), but it integrates with Google Docs and comes with a whopping 5 gigabytes of storage, free. So if you're a writer, is there a good reason to switch?


It's hard to argue with 5 gigs of free storage compared to Dropbox's 2. Granted, it's very easy to get a lot of additional Dropbox storage, free, especially if you have a smartphone. And if you're just using these programs for writing, well, it's fairly hard to fill up 2 gigs of space with only text files and Word documents.

With that said, Google Drive unquestionably has more storage, cheaper, right out of the gate. And if you do get to the point where you need to pay for additional storage, Google sells it for about half the price Dropbox does.

Advantage: Google Drive


Dropbox and Google Drive sync files in fairly different ways. The basic idea is the same - file changes are uploaded to your cloud storage from one computer, then downloaded from the cloud to any other computers you've got the program installed on. But Dropbox has a feature called LAN sync, which lets you sync files across Dropbox-equipped computers on your personal LAN (i.e. your home wireless network) without reaching out to the Internet. This means you get much faster syncing if you have multiple computers at home. Google Drive doesn't do this at all: everything has to upload to and download from Google directly.

Another issue comes with resolving conflicts, where you try to save two different copies of the same file to the cloud. Say you edit a document on one computer while you're offline, then edit that same document on a different computer while you're online. When you connect that first computer to the Internet, the two files will be different, and you'll need to resolve the conflicts to make sure you've got the right version of the file saved.

Dropbox handles this by renaming the conflicted file, identifying it as conflicted and adding the name of the problem computer to the filename. This makes it very easy to figure out what happened, and to clear up the conflict.

Google Drive, on the other hand, just uploads both files and saves them in the cloud with the same filename ( but different timestamps). The duplicate files get downloaded to all computers as copies, renamed using whatever native scheme the operating system uses (i.e. test.txt and test (1).txt). The problem with this is that you can easily end up losing track of which file is which. Here's an example:

- I create a file test.txt on my laptop while I'm offline. It says "Hello".

- I then create the same test.txt file, with different text in it, on my desktop while it's offline. It says "World".

- I connect both systems to the Internet and sync with Google Drive.

- I check my laptop. There's a file called test.txt that contains "Hello", and a file called test (1).txt that contains "World".

- I check my desktop. There's a file called test.txt that contains "World", and a file called test (1).txt that contains "Hello".

- This happens:

You can see how that could be a problem.

Advantage: Dropbox


Both Google Drive and Dropbox have file versioning features. Basically if you edit a file, you can retrieve the previous version from your cloud storage for a fixed period of time.

Google Drive seems to keep your revisions pretty much forever, which is extremely handy. Dropbox can do the same thing, but only if you use a paid storage plan. If you only use the free storage, you only keep your revisions for 30 days. On the other hand, Google Drive only keeps revisions for files that you haven't deleted. If you delete a file and empty your trash, it's gone forever. Dropbox will let you reclaim your deleted files, but only for the times noted above.

Advantage: Google Drive - but only the free version

Writing Tools

I use Scrivener for most of my manuscripts these days, so it's important that my cloud backup system can cope with Scrivener's file format (really a bunch of folders containing text files and RTFs) well. On the surface, both Google Drive and Dropbox don't have any problem handling it. It's all files, after all.

Google Drive does have big one gotcha, however, which is that it wants to convert any RTF files you upload into Google Docs format, and store them like that. This is a huge no-no if you want Scrivener to keep working. A Google Doc is not an RTF, and you can't edit it like one, even if you have Google Docs offline set up. Fortunately it's very easy to disable this "feature". Dropbox doesn't have an equivalent cloud file format, so it's a non-issue.

There's also the syncing issue I mentioned above. A conflicted Scrivener file is a pain in the ass no matter what program you're using, but Google Drive has the potential to be a much bigger pain in the ass than Dropbox.

On the other hand, Google Drive does let you edit your files directly in the cloud using the well-developed Google Docs interface. If you're don't want to pay for Scrivener or Microsoft Office, this is a very good rich text editor (not as good as LibreOffice, mind, which is free). Also, Google Docs don't count towards your storage limits. Again, Dropbox has nothing comparable to this.

Advantage: Tie - it really depends on how you want to work


I haven't collaborated on my writing online, so I really can't speak to this from personal experience. However, Google Drive lets you collaborate on a per-file basis, where Dropbox limits you to collaborating by sharing entire folders with other people. This makes Google Drive easily a much more collaboration-friendly solution, giving you a greater amount of granularity in how you share files with much less hassle than Dropbox.

Advantage: Google Drive


Overall I'd say that either solution is very useful as a backup solution, if nothing else. Which one you choose is largely going to depend on how you like to work.

Google Drive gives you more space than Dropbox for less money. It has a robust collaborative editing system, and gives you the ability to create and edit files directly on the cloud. For somebody who wants to store a lot of files, or wants to work in a team environment frequently, Google Drive takes the crown.

On the other hand, Dropbox beats the pants off of Google Drive when it comes to syncing, both in speed and conflict resolution. It's also a bit nicer about recovering files you deleted, if only for 30 days, and Dropbox's storage space limitations can be overcome (and exceed Google Drive's limits by 11 gigabytes, if you work at it) without too much trouble. If you don't collaborate, and you work across multiple computers in your own house, Dropbox is the preferable solution.

I will probably end up sticking with Dropbox for now, if only because I'm already familiar with the program, and I value the syncing benefits Dropbox has over Google Drive's collaboration tools. If Google Drive improves over time, I might well consider switching later.

P.S. If you want to give Dropbox a try, please use this link to sign up. I could use the extra space.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mea Culpa

Yesterday I posted a rant about how I couldn't get my Kindle eBook covers to display properly in the Kindle for Android app. Today I found out how to fix the problem. Oops.

The trick is simply this: Download the Send to Kindle application for your PC, then send each one of your problem MOBI files to the Kindle cloud. After that, you can download your books to your Android device and the covers will show up properly. This doesn't do anything for PDFs and your file has to have a cover in the first place, but it does do a brilliant job with Black Library's eBooks.

This is neither a quick nor easy fix (especially if you have over 150 eBooks, as I do), but it does work well, and it's an added layer of backup for my Kindle books.

So, Amazon: My apologies for flying off the handle. I'll be updating my application review shortly with a higher rating. But with that said, please make the cover display a little more robust? Not having a problem is still preferable to having a workaround for a problem.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Little Rant About Kindle for Android

I apologize for the lack of updates lately... actually no, I don't, because I've been packing and moving and unpacking and fighting off swarms of killer bees. On my time off. I'll get back to irregular blogging, but you'll have to bear with me.

Right now I'm checking in to rant a little bit about Kindle on Android.

It's a brilliant idea on Amazon's part - Your phone is a Kindle! Buy books from us! - and for the most part it works fine. Great, in fact. It's an excellent backlit backup for my normal Kindle, when I'm in low light conditions or if I just want to pick up a book on the go. It even syncs between my devices so I can keep track of what page I'm up to.

If that was it: Superb. Fantastic. A five-star app for sure.

But there's more.

The Kindle only syncs books I buy through Amazon. If I buy through somebody else? No go. I have to use Calibre to convert them into a Kindle-sync-friendly format. But hey! My fault! No harm, no foul. Still a great app.

But it goes south with the covers.

A Kindle book on my phone consists of three files: the book, the cover image (JPEG format), and a little .opf file. All have the same name except for the extension. Dead simple to associate with each other.

Kindle shows your books by cover when you're browsing to read something. Full-color covers. Fantastic. I don't get these on the regular Kindle. I want to enjoy them. But this is where Kindle for Android goes DERRRRP!!!

It won't show me the goddamn covers.

Oh, yes, I get a little default blue book with the title in white text. Fuck that. I want my beautiful cover art.

It wasn't always like this. The covers used to display fine. Then there were software updates. Now they're gone. I don't know why.

I thought it was Calibre. I thought it was those off-market books I bought. Then I bought A Game of Thrones, and that was broken. And one of the books that was already broken? Suddenly the cover displays just fine. It just happened to two other books. I didn't do anything, but it started to work.

There is no fucking rhyme or reason to this. There is no tech support recommendation beyond "uninstall, reinstall, and reboot", and it doesn't work.

And as software problems go, this one is easy. Remember: book, cover, opf file. I could associate the three of them in code myself in about five minutes. Three if I'm showing off.

I've seen this problem reported at least two major versions ago. Amazon hasn't fixed it. I'm not sure they've even acknowledged it. Why should they? You're not buying your books from us, huh? Fuck you.

Meanwhile my buggy little device is awash in a sea of random blue.

Please note: I'm bitching about a very minor problem in an otherwise excellent program. It's parsing MOBI files, which is not easy, extremely well. It's clear, easy to read, and 90% of the time it just works.

But that 10% matters. Presentation matters. It's a minor polish issue, something that should be an easy fix. And it's not getting fixed.

I'm not going to stop using Kindle for Android. I sincerely hope I have to eat my words on the next software update. But until then, this five-star app?

I rate it at about two.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Badass Adventures in Real Estate: The Closing


My wife and I are buying a house.

When you're looking at a house the best way to figure out that it's not for you is to think really hard about everything you've seen and identify something you don't like. Don't care for the height of the ceilings? Pass. Don't like the carpet of mold covering the closet walls? Pass. Don't think that meth lab is Feng Shui? Pass pass pass. A buyer's market means that if you're not in a need to buy a house now, you can be certain that your dream house is going to turn up eventually.

Ours turned up in February. Right around Valentine's Day. Gorgeous two-story Cape Cod with attic space and no leaky basement to flood. Four big bedrooms, two bathrooms, walk-in closets, a back deck and a yard our dog is going to love that has a sweet privacy fence. Excellent repair, brand new roof, no signs of mold anywhere, and it's right in the sort of neighborhood we want to spend the next ten/twenty/fifty years in together.

We are buying a house.

Our realtor Georgia had been wearing on our nerves. She didn't wear her hearing aid and had to have everything repeated to her, which was doubly annoying because I mumble and I'm self-conscious about having to repeat myself to anyone. She pushed us to buy homes that were well out of our price range. She pushed us to buy homes in Severna Park, where we'd both have a longer commute and have to live in Severna Park. She pushed us into looking at a house we didn't want to live in for the third time, because the seller swore the mold was gone. She made backhanded jokes at our expense and pooh-poohed the houses we brought to her attention and never seemed to understand why we weren't willing to settle for shit.

Georgia was on vacation when we found the house we're buying. Her friend Ginger showed it to us instead. We like Ginger. She's friendly and low pressure and she's not going deaf or crazy. I intend to tip her once we've settled.

We are buying a house.

My life over the past two weeks has been a nightmare of paperwork. Contracts. Mortgage loan paperwork. Title contracts. Inspection results. The mortgage loan paperwork, again. Homeowner's insurance quotes.

I'm signing something for the fiftieth time when I think "Jesus, my penmanship sucks." I've had it pointed out to me before (and for the record I can touch type rings around that particular individual, thank you very much), but I can't even sign my own name consistently. I ought to buy a book or take a class. I have no idea what a cursive capital "Q" looks like.

We are buying a house.

We stayed under budget and we're still going to feel a nasty sting. Hidden fees keep cropping up. Settlement fees. Loan establishment fees. Title insurance, lest Don Juan come and lay claim to our property. Homeowner's insurance premiums. The dreaded property tax, which we have to face unarmed for a year before we can claim a homesteader's tax credit. Inspection fees. Survey fees. Homeowner's association dues that are suffering from 10% inflation, if the documents are to be believed.

Nobody tells you about these things when you're looking for a house. You know about the down payment and the mortgage payment, and maybe you know about the property tax. That's it. And the realtor smirks at you and tries to push you into something more expensive, knowing full well you're going to blow your down payment on closing costs and still have to take out a loan to cinch the deal.

We are buying a house.

We close at the end of the month, and we'll have three days to move everything in. We need to change our address with the post office and God knows who else. Get the power bill moved over, get the water bill moved over, get the cable and Internet access moved over on the right date (or else). We only have cell phones, no land line, so that's one less thing.

We have a ridiculous amount of things to pack or get rid of this month. Do you know how heavy books are when they're all bundled into a box? It's absurd, and I will defend the flyweight eBook from now until the day I die. I've got two four-foot stacks of computer books to get rid of that are all practically obsolete. I might do better selling them as kindling.

My wife's parents have donated boxes, my mother has a few on the way as well. We will be up to our armpits in boxes before this is all done. I'll need to learn how to drive a midsize U Haul and take apart our bed without breaking it. I'm terrified some unfortunate volunteer is going to keel over on moving day. Pizza and drinks don't make up for a heart attack.

We are buying a house.

Our current landlady has held two open houses so far and a third looks likely. The house has never been cleaner. We saw to that, and wondered why we hadn't before. It's nice to live in a house that isn't a pig sty. I can move about freely, maybe even dance in the office if I felt like it.

Our market demographic is exceedingly female. So far we've had two disinterested nonentities, one polite family woman, one proud Minnesotan, a hipster chick that reminded me of Zooey Deschanel, and a gang of five collegiates who all came to the house together to support their friend, who wants a place to live before she starts working at the local hospital. All signed the contact sheet and took applications. None have actually committed to renting the place yet. We expect the next open house on Friday.

We are buying a house.

It's going to be hard to argue that we're not adults after this. Maybe not responsible adults, but we're hardly the same couple that graduated from college together. We've gotten married, slogged through the world of jobs and office politics, gone out and lived on our own merits. We've earned a few aches and pains we didn't have before, raised a dog, fought, loved, been afraid, been enraptured, been jubilant.

Buying a house is ultimately just the next part in a very long story. And I think it's getting good.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Romney in '72

Sorry for the lack of updates - I've been distracted with buying a house, a subject I'm going to have lots to say on in the near future. Tonight's post is pure politics, though, so feel free to skip it if you want.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson is one of the best books on politics I've ever read. Thompson follows George McGovern around during his presidential campaign, almost from start to finish, and charts the whole thing in his own inimitable style.

What's really interesting, though, is how often the stuff that happened in '72 in the Democratic primaries seems to apply to what's happening right now in the Republican primaries. The following quotes are all to do with Ed Muskie, the "only man who could beat Nixon". For fun, I've substituted Mitt Romney's name for Muskie's (along with a few other subs: Republican for Democrat, Obama for Nixon, that sort of thing). Take a gander and see if any of these strike a chord:

"Romney is already finished," he said then. "He has no base. Nobody's really for Romney. They're only for the Front-Runner, the man who says he's the only one who can beat Obama - but not even Romney himself believes that anymore; he couldn't even win a majority of the Republican vote in New Hampshire, on his own turf."

One of Romney's main problems, thus far, has been that not even his own hired staff people really like him. The older ones try to explain this problem away by saying, "Mitt's under a lot of pressure these days, but he's really a fine guy, underneath."

The younger staff members have apparently never had much contact with "the real Romney." With very few exceptions, they justify their strained allegiance to the man by saying, "I wouldn't be working for him except that he's the only Republican who can beat Obama."

As late as February 15th, Mitt Romney was generally conceded - even by his political opponents - to be within an eyelash or two of having the Republican nomination so skillfully locked up that the primaries wouldn't even be necessary. He had the public endorsements of almost every Big Name in the party, including some who said they were only backing him because he was so far ahead that nobody else had a chance... which was just as well, they said, because it is very important to get the Party machinery into high gear, early on, behind a consensus candidate. And Mitt Romney, they all agreed, was the only Republican who could beat Obama in November.

The word went out early, long before Christmas, and by January it had already filtered down to low-level fringe groups... who were suddenly faced with the choice of either "getting your people behind Romney" or "crippling the party with another one of those goddamn protest movements that'll end up like all the others and not accomplish anything except to guarantee Obama's re-election."

Only a lunatic would do this kind of work: twenty-three primaries in five months; stone drunk from dawn till dusk and huge speed-blisters all over my head. Where is the meaning? The light at the end of the tunnel?

That last one has nothing to do with Muskie or Romney, but I do sympathize with Thompson's despair.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl 2012

I spent the game tweeting and drinking beer. Some of the tweets made Sarah laugh out loud, so I'm posting them up here. Consider any RT's a recommendation to follow the person linked to.


Well, clearly, some Ravens defense would be doing a better job of stopping the Giants here. #yesisaidit

Prohibition is over! Let us drink piss! #budweiser

Love the Doritos commercial. "You didn't see nothing."

RT @ChuckWendig In other news, I think Madonna turned into Mumm-Ra from the Thundercats.

RT @ChuckWendig Whoa. Ryan Gosling covered in koala bears? Well-played, Goodyear tires. #fakesuperbowlcommercials

Sweet! @sarahearle got our taxes sorted in 40 minutes, with no apoplectic rages. And we get a refund. Good year!

RT @Ali_Davis Oh, good. I was worried that GoDaddy might not still be run by fuckheads.


RT @ChuckWendig A flock of parakeets just ate the flesh off of Peyton Manning's bones. Weirdest Bank of America ad EVER. #fakesuperbowlcommercials

Avengers. Oh hell yes.

RT @TeelaJBrown Theory: increased use of dogs in #superbowl ads to combat #PuppyBowl defectors. Expect kittens swarming Madonna at halftime.

RT @ChuckWendig Wow, that Bissel Spot-Bot ad got a little creepy. But I guess it's great that it cleans up all that hooker blood. #fakesuperbowlcommercials

Madness? This. Is. Madonna!

RT @SteveMartinToGo Wow! Maggie Smith can really sing!

RT @God_Damn_Batman I’m not saying Bane should collapse the field with an earthquake generator. But it would make Madonna’s halftime show actually watchable.

Did MIA break reality or flip off the camera?

RT @sispurrier Fuckin' Sith are in fuckin' trouble when those cats stop singing.

RT @TheLewisBlack World Peace are you fucking kidding me. That made me want to go to war.

The second beer has begun. #superbowl #lightweight

RT @mattyglesias Rush Limbaugh is in the Pats' owners box, because the Patriots are evil.

Ouch! Stamos: Denied!

RT @ChuckWendig Now Batman just exploded and turned into 72 chipmunks in a Doritos ad. Did someone spike my party dip? #fakesuperbowlcommercials

And now I am chasing a dog with lint clutched in her mouth. #priorities

The wife has gone to bed, but I will see this thing through! And regret it horribly in the morning. #SuperBowl

GoDaddy: We assume everyone buying a domain name is male, sex-obsessed, and believes that there's actual nudity on our website.

RT @realfreemancbs Remember the Ravens-Pats game, Giants.

That... was the weirdest touchdown I've ever seen.

Sack! Behold the blood-curse of Huginn! #ravens

Incomplete! Giants win! Behold the blood-curse of Muninn! #ravens

And now I guess the Joker's confetti is going to kill everyone? WTF?

Hell of a game. HELL of a game. Congrats to the Giants, condolences to the Patriots, swift recoveries to the injured. #SuperBowl


So there's that. Have a good night, and I'll leave you with a bit of funny that cropped up on my Twitter feed. Somewhat true, as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I was going to write a long post about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), but I played Battlefield 3 with my buddy in Cincinnati instead. And I've been ranting about this on Twitter and Google+ for almost a month now. So I'll keep this post short.

Chuck Wendig has already captured my attitude towards these bills in his own... inimitable fashion. But he has left out a few points I want to make.

These bills won't create jobs. What they will in all likelihood do is overwork every I.T. guy in companies that have to comply with the blockade rules in the bill: advertisers, search engines, and payment processors.

They will implement Internet censorship. Internet service providers will be able to block any website they believe is "dedicated to the theft of US property", and be immunized from any retaliatory lawsuits.

And you won't be able to avoid it. Any tools that would circumvent such blocks on the Internet would be banned. These are the same tools that are used to get around Internet censorship by repressive regimes elsewhere in the world.

There are plenty of websites up today where you can learn more about SOPA and PIPA. I ask that you take the time to learn about these bills and, if you agree with me, to do whatever you can to oppose them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year, New Look

Behold! I bring you a new blog layout.

First of all, credit where credit is due. The new look is a pre-cooked blog template called The Essayist, downloaded from The only major change I've made is the ink pen, which is an image I downloaded from and resized.

I definitely think I prefer the new look. The old one was a bit... colorful for my subject matter, though it was easy to use. It also strikes me as more readable than the old format.

I'll be tweaking the layout a bit more this week, probably, so let me know if you think there's anything I should add, or perhaps take away. Suggestions to delete the entire blog will be forwarded to Cap'n Hector.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Yes yes, it's Friday the 13th and I'm just now doing a New Year's post. If SOPA or PIPA make it into law I'm sure you can have me taken down for this grievous offense.

2011's largely a blur to me right now, but some events still stand out. Going fishing with my dad in West Virginia and catching a mess of trout. Weathering an earthquake and Hurricane Irene with some good friends. Getting hacked for the first time, then getting hacked again for good measure. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage and starting my first house hunt.

And 2012... who knows what's coming up? Hopefully my wife and I will find the house for us and get moved into it before the year is half gone. I'd also like to travel out of the state again, if only briefly. I'd like to see the inside of a casino before I die, and now's as good a time as any. There's also an election to keep a close eye on, for as long as I can stand it; I'm estimating I'll break down and hide in a closet in mid-February.

Anyway. Resolutions are a big thing this time of year, so here are a few things I'd like to succeed at this year:

Lose 50 pounds. This is not a resolution so much as a requirement. I feel like crap and my weight is to blame; therefore, the weight must go.

Write every damn day. Technically I've already failed at this, but if I can spin up to writing every day by the end of the year, I'll consider this resolution fulfilled.

Cut back on the comic books. I love reading them, but they take up too much space and they're an expensive habit. Another one that needs to be evaluated at the end of the year, but I'll be happy even if I can just move to electronic comics at some point.

Nothing special here, as you can see. But I think these are all things worth doing this year, and I intend to attempt them all.

Now if you'll excuse me, Mitt Romney's tainted my blog with a campaign ad, and I need to figure out how to get rid of it.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Write What You Feel

"Write what you know." It's one of the oldest chestnuts in writing. (The oldest one probably has to do with grammar.) It's also not an easy thing to do.

Say you have a job in a patent office. (You poor bastard.) And when you write you write about the ins and outs of working at a patent office. You write about your crazy or not-so-crazy coworkers and the little stories that happen every day. You write about going home to your husband or your wife, maybe your kids or your dog, and the time you spend with them.

You write boring.

All that stuff isn't a story. The ins and outs of your job aren't narrative; they're probably a training manual. The little stories about your coworkers aren't gripping fiction; at best they're cute anecdotes, at worst they're going to turn you into a pariah and get you fired. The time you spend with your happy family is not interesting except to a genealogist.

"Write what you know" is not to be interpreted as "write what you do". You write what you feel.

You don't write about what you do at the patent office. You write about the bone-deep exhaustion you feel at eight in the morning because you were up too late again last night. You write about the panic of a deadline that's about to sail by, and the elation of nailing the bastard before he gets away. You write about the way a drop of blood looks on a TPS report after it slices your index finger open.

You don't write about your coworkers and the things they do. You write about the secret struggle for dominance between I.T. and the secretarial staff. You write about the bald spot on the back of Ed's head that looks like a smiley face, the glint of light on Olivia's lipstick when she walks just-so under the fluorescents, the purplish-red shade Donald's face turned when he gave his "exit speech" after the layoff.

You don't write about the daily events in your household. You write about the kick in the collarbone when the dog jumps onto your chest to lick your face. You write about the misting rain on your skin while you're applauding at your son's soccer game. You write about the warmth of an arm around your neck and a body pressed against yours, side by side. You write about broken dishes and screaming matches that rip your throat open and makeup sex that means you have to buy a new bed.

And you never, ever, name names. Names hurt, and anyway they aren't so important. It's impressions and emotions and thrills and sorrows and loves and hates that you want to capture, and you can never do that if you're afraid you'll hurt someone.

Write what you feel. You're the only one who can, because you're the only one who really knows.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Please Stop Trying To Kill My Dog

Just back from a walk with Lina. She's devouring food and water and is in a Corgi happiness state - in other words, just fine. She is lucky.

Five minutes into the walk (in the middle of the night) I catch her chomping on something. Tell me, is there a thing where people eat fried chicken in the middle of a grassy park area and then just leave the bones there for neighbor dogs to find? Because it sure as hell happens a lot around here.

So Lina's eating a chicken bone, which is bad news because they break apart easily under the power of mighty canine jaws and turn into pointy shards that can tear up Corgi insides.

This is a beef bone. That's different. And she was supervised.

I get the potentially-fatal bone away from Lina (no small feat - thanks dog), take three steps, and hear the tinkle of breaking glass under my feet.

Broken glass! A whole bottle's worth of pointy shards! My dog does not wear shoes!

Artist's rendition of a dog who got carried home tonight.

One explanation is that my neighbors are just slobs. That's the simple explanation, but I can't believe it. I have to assume my neighbors are actively trying to kill my dog, probably in retaliation for some Cosa Nostra shit she got up to when she was a puppy that I'll never know about.

Lina practicing Omerta.

It is clearly time to move, preferably somewhere where black-suited thugs are not waiting in bushes to grab my dog and take her into the back room with the rubber hoses.