The Chipster Zone

Friday, September 04, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 2

Part 2

So after what would have been a very tolerable 6 hour drive to Indianapolis my first observation was that the area was very flat. "The map is not the territory." Maybe, but it was certainly flat enough to be a paper map. Why wasn't the drive tolerable?  Mostly it was the cracked windshield caused by a truck-spewed rock just north of Nashville. But also the thunderstorm as I descended into a valley someplace in central Kentucky was just plain frightening. Armageddon-end-of-the-world, what-on-earth-are-all-you-drivers-doing-away-from-your-loved-ones frightening. But we all got through it -- as far as I know.

Second Panel: Atmospheric Writing

This one included Dan wells, Kerrie Hughes, Erin Evans and Elizabeth Bear.


1)      E. Bear will step into a void and fill it with her opinions. That's not all bad, but wore on me in later panels. She quoted Emma boll: "POV is everything". Also word choice as mood lighting. Give some "telling details".

2)      Erin:  let characters mood show through the POV narration. E.g. for a rustic feel: "It was darker than 2 feet down a cow's throat."

3)      But not just snark. "So, no shit, there I am driving down the road and this truck..."

4)      Use "Just in time" exposition to create atmosphere

5)      When you're juggling, use both hands.

6)      Have someone describe your story back to you after they've read a bit -- they may get the plot right but if they don't mention it's set in the South then you may have failed to convey the atmosphere.

7)      Paragraphing: an art for changing atmosphere.

Third Panel: Editing your work (Susan Morris, Erin Evans, James L. Sutter, Howard Andrew Jones and Matt Forbeck

1)      Watch out for variance in voice, and inconsistent character arcs

2)      Finish your story, then polish it. Later events may shift earlier stuff and early polish is wasted.

3)      Put it away for a week/month then attack with fresh eyes.

4)      Read your work backwards -- not maybe word for word but scene by scene to avoid getting caught up in it.

5)      When a scene just isn't working, ask: what do the characters that are present want?

6)      Talk it out -- maybe draft an email explaining -- send it or don't. Or muscle through it.

7)      Again:  Finish your story. Write or die software makes you keep writing.

Panel 4 (Hell, yes, it's still Thursday, only 2 pm) Defining Genre and Why it Matters

I will recommend that you pull your itinerary together early for at least the first day and get those tickets mailed to you with your convention badge. Even though these writing seminars are mostly free, they still had tickets. There were about 100 seats or so in the rooms and usually far fewer people than that, like 35, but if you wanted a seat up front you wanted a ticket, non-ticket holders had to wait and enter the rooms last. And picking up a packet of late ordered tickets in the Will Call line on Day One meant waiting in a line that was hundreds of yards long. No joke. But it actually moved well, less than 30 minutes to wind through much of the convention center. Still not a fun time, but I chatted with my linies so not too bad.

Steven Diamond, Django Wexler (are people really named Django?), Brian McClellan, Geoffrey Girard, Steven Long.

Geoffrey Girard is an author I hadn't heard of. He's also an English teacher in New Jersey. He started as a short story guy, winning a Writer's of the Future a decade or more back. I enjoyed his flippantry and chatted with him a couple times between sessions. I'm currently listening to his novel "Cain's Blood", a bit gory but you can see the short-story-guy bleeding through -- some chapters could stand alone.

Notes from Defining Genre...

1)      Girard: Horror doesn't sell, Thrillers sell. My novel, "Cain's Blood"... running gag joke as he held his new novel aloft several times through panel.

2)      For marketing, once committed to a genre, need to hit it 90% (can't drift too much or be too mash-up-y and get good placement at Barnes and Noble)

3)      Steven Long has an article defining essentialelements of fantasy and 6 sub-genres. I haven't read it. I expect that statement to be true a year from now. Two. Three....


I did skip my 3:00 panel -- I hit the street outside the Center and selected a food truck for lunch, had some Moroccan shawarma. Good flavor, a bit chunky.


Panel 5: Killing Off Characters: John Helfers, Dan Wells, David Farland



1)      Need to care about villains, make them real, or their death doesn't matter.

2)      Guides and sidekicks, too (Obiwan)

3)      "Fridging" a character: Green Lantern's girlfriend was stuffed in his fridge so he got motivated to be Green Lantern but was no emotional impact on reader.

4)      Killing a character can indicate danger to our protag: Indiana Jones and choosing a cup as Holy Grail (No frequency of Indiana Jones references did not seem greater than it would have been had we not been, you know, in Indiana)

5)      Good: instilling a sense of "is it safe to keep reading" -- the characters are in real and certain danger.

6)      Death can't be the only thing for main / recurring characters -- it just ain't gonna happen.

7)      Reference to Robert McKee who has theories about "Story"

Panel 6: Researching Your Story (Geoffrey Girard, Dan Wells, Thomas M. Reid, Delilah S. Dawson)

I've researched a little -- spent a night at a monastery for example. (Curiously also in Indiana).


1)      Docents at museums. Some of these geezers will talk to you for hours. And they know their shit.

2)      Have something that you explain in unnecessary detail. Covers a multitude of later sins.

3)      Have something that you don't explain enough (boldly make them assume that you, too, know your shit.)

My final activity on Thursday was "An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss" (2 hours). I didn't know Rothfuss, only vague rumblings that he is a bit bigger than life. And has a beard. I still haven't read any of his stuff (although he read a couple snippets to us). This was in a bigger room. Packed. About 300 people. Some folks without advance tix did not get in. He regaled us with stories only tangentially related to questions asked from the audience. He was good at it. And we all promised that tidbits would not be repeated out of context. And so I won't. But if you get the chance, let him entertain you. Different than, but almost as recommended as any similar event with Neil Gaiman. Inspired me enough to buy his latest book and have him autograph it, "The Slow Regard of Silent Things". I've also bought the first book on audio, but haven't started listening as yet: "The Name of the Wind". It's a tome.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

GenCon 2015 Part 1

GenCon 2015


GenCon had been highly recommended to me by the principals at Writing Excuses, specifically Howard Tayler, Dan Wells and Mary Robinette Kowal (authors all), but not as the mega gaming convention that it is -- not in my case, leastways -- but for the Writer's Symposium.

GenCon has been growing every year as the premiere gaming focused convention in the country, some 60,000 attendees strong at the Convention Center in Indianapolis. There is also a much smaller contingent of writer-wannabes. Some of these writers-in-development also love to game; or to write gaming adjuncts. There are whole novels set in Dungeons and Dragons land or in the card realms of Magic the Gathering. But here I know not what I speak of. I know more about the couple hundred who go to hear authors share their wisdom with us, mostly for free -- or more accurately "at no additional charge". (GenCon is fairly cheap as these things go, a full four day pass was just $88.00 -- but a fair portion of activities have add-on costs.)

But let's get back to the authors -- or in this case, the teachers. (I was quite happy when, one day on the dealers floor, Howard introduced me and 3 fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumna as "some of my students.") There were names whom we may not have heard of like Josh Vogt, to some of the biggest names in the SFF genre such as Patrick Rothfuss and Terry Brooks (yes, for those of you as aged as I am that is Terry Brooks author of The Sword of Shannara. Turns out he's a very nice and insightful person and not the devil incarnate that some of us thought he must be to dare imitate our favorite J.R.R. Tolkien back in 1977. By the way, MTV is bringing Mr. Brooks' book The Elfstones of Shannara to the small screen in January 2016. I'm reading my personally autographed copy now.)

First Panel: Let's Get Emotional

The first panel I attended was on "Eliciting Emotional Response". And for the most part the sessions were the typical panel format: one moderator and 3 or 4 panelists. The moderator would spark the conversation for the first 30-40 minutes and then the audience would ask a few questions for another 10 or 15 minutes. John Helfers, Editor/Publisher moderated this first session. Gregory Wilson was one panelist, among other things he runs, a podcast, with Brad Beaulieu, something I hadn't been aware of but that I plan to check out.

Here are some tidbits from this Thursday morning at 11 session:

1)      Beware the "audience insertion character" -- you may try to use a generic anyman character to get at your readers emotions but you will often be better served by creating a character that the reader wants to be, or wants to love -- or that is interesting (example: The Talented Mr. Ripley)

2)      Create 3-D villains -- they are easier to hate and possible to empathize with

3)      Readers love SFF worlds, but in the end the "dongle of flarnovar" is not what they ultimately care about.

4)      Useful characters run toward the sound of gunfire.

5)      Conflict among an ensemble cast can be fun. (Notice during the weekend, those of you who game, the people interacting at your role playing table.)

6)      The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie is less good than the first in part because Jack Sparrow is more caricature than character -- he's hard to connect to (a bit of a counterpoint to the watch-out-for-the-audience-identification-character above).

7)      Use voodoo: hurt/help the reader by hurting or helping the characters.

8)      Need highs and lows -- lulls in emotions allow the reader to recover a bit and then attain new levels: action, action, action (or emotion, emotion, emotion) tends to desensitize

9)      Movie recommendation: "Run, Lola, Run"

10)   Someone quoted Chuck Wendig: "Treat humor seriously"

11)   The cake is gone and I didn't get to eat it either

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Science Will Be Truth For Life

This article, There’s so much that science will never be able to explain from The Washington Post, was sent to me with the inference that it implies that God is lurking in the crevices of our unknowns.

It is a concise and thought provoking piece. Here are my thoughts, as provoked.

I’m currently reading, with my ears, a story that posits FTL communication. Faster Than Light. Most modern scientists think that FTL-anything is impossible – they might categorize this story I’m listening to in the “fantasy” genre, rather than the “science fiction” one. As they would anything with time travel. Here’s a simple conundrum: the earth is hurtling around the sun and the sun is circling the center of the galaxy, etc. So if I get in a time machine and travel back 1,000 years, won’t I find myself in the middle of the deep void of space, having traveled in time, but not in place? So let us not travel, but rather use books to look back a more modest distance, a hundred years or so, to a time when most scientists thought heavier than air flight (HTA-Flight?) was of dubious scientific likelihood. Today we can “fly” in things like rockets that barely even have wings.

Then there was Dr. Bruce Lerner, with his somewhat ironic surname. He was a college computer professor of mine some 28 years ago. (Wow.) He told me, without a trace of doubt, that the new IBM personal computers in our university lab had more computational power than a family would ever need. After all, most of us never do anything more complicated than balance our checkbook or figure our taxes. Except these days, 28 years later, we also like to operate realistic flight simulators, and “chat” with our friends on the other side of the planet, and watch videos. All of these take more compute power than those original PCs packed within them, Dr. Lerner.

What we don’t know is a lot. But it’s less than it used to be. Is it a rainbow that ever slips away as we approach it’s base? For my part, I hope so. In any case, whenever I want to doubt science I look no farther than magnets. They can’t possibly attract each other without touching. Not anymore than two people can. Wait.... What?

Ever more,
- Chip

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: The King of Pain by Seth Kaufman

The King of Pain: A Novel With StoriesThe King of Pain: A Novel With Stories by Seth Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fun book; a bit unusual in bouncing back and forth between the wacky world of producing over-the-top reality TV and a variety of prisoner stories. The weave is compelling and the Hollywood stuff makes we want to re-listen to Lynda Obst's "Hello, He Lied" which I remember enjoying several years ago.

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 04, 2013" >
The">">The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil">">Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4">">4 of 5 stars

You don't have to read this. Neil told me that I didn't have to read the Acknowledgements; that the story was over and that it was mostly names and thank you's. He told me just as he told everyone else, right there at the beginning of the Acknowledgements. I didn't stop there though, because some of the names I would recognize. I knew I would. So I read on. And I suspected there would be more meaning to pull out.  And I did know many of the names and I had been along (from a very great distance) on that journey of writing this book and the longer journey of his coming together with Amanda and the coming of age of his youngest daughter and all of it.  And in the end I was one of those "folk of Twitter", but by then I was already choked up again by my reading of the Acknowledgements that I didn't have to do (because Neil told me I could skip it, that I could be done now, before... before I read the names and the thank you's. But I choked up just as I did pages earlier, with the... well I'll avoid telling, but its allegorical and familiar and imperfect and nobody experiences the same experience the same. (I think Neil told me that too.) I've read the acknowledgements and now I am done with The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  (After I rant a little about how it made me feel, I felt I had to write about it, after midnight or not, but you didn't have to read it.)

View">">View all my reviews

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Letter D: Alpha-non-Grata

I think it may be too pristine of a Sunday morning to work up a good rant, but since when did the letter "d" become alpha-non-grata? Everywhere I look, everything I read, final d's and ed's are getting dropped like winning young NFL quarterbacks that can't pass. "Some examples?" you say. Okay, Katy Perry lyrics: "...I would be your girl; we keep all our promises..." I'm no William Safire, so I may get the name of the construction here wrong, but in order to agree with the conditional past tense of the copulative verb "would be" you need the same form in the second clause, i.e. "we would keep", contracted down to "we'd keep" so that the syllable count holds the rhythm of the song: "...I would be your girl; we'd keep all our promises..." , but you can't just drop the 'd, because then one clause is past and the other present tense while they are talking about the same thing!

Here's another example I saw recently "He was award a prize". No. He might be "astride a prize", if it was, say, a prize bull, but here it's intended to be used as the passive voice past participle form of the transitive verb "award", not as an adverb (there is no "award" adverb). So it has to be "He was awarded a prize". I know we slur it when we speak it and the extra ed gets lost, but come on people, not when you're writing.

One more, that doesn't have the double-d and isn't tricky: "He gave back the prize that he receive." It happened in the past, "receive" needs the final d! If he hadn't received it already then he couldn't give it back. Come on, folks, it's an easy letter to type, it's right there on the left hand home row of your keyboard; use that middle finger (and not just to point it at me). Thank you.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Made a Review of Makers

"Perry though has the better sex scene in the book, with minor but well-rounded character Hilda." ... from my just posted review of Cory Doctorow's book Makers.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

On talking to God...

" talk to God once and it changes your life. You talk to him every weekend and it's not long before you're both going, So what's new? Ehh. Yeah, same here. " -- Steven R. Boyett

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hawking No Heaven

Thoughts on The Washington Post's Stephen Hawking 'There is no Heaven...'

I haven't read Hawking's book, The Grand Design. I did read this book:
"The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" by Francis Collins

I don't really recommend it, mostly it made me more annoyed than ever at C.S. Lewis, whom the author quotes liberally. It was full of faulty arguments about how animals aren't altruistic, so people are special (there have been psychology experiments indicating the opposite) and other such propaganda.

The only one of these Washington Post essays that I've read so far is the one by Ramdas Lamb, the ex-Hindu monk. He's also got some weak arguments. (Always a red flag when an assertion includes the word "clearly": referring to the possibility of 'spontaneous creation': "but it is clearly not something that has been proven." It's either been proven or not, adding clearly is just like raising your voice, it's a threat action, not an elucidation.)

But worse is later when he tries to combine the first law of thermodynamics (preservation of energy) with the eternal identity of a soul. This is one of those kinds of arguments that only takes one counter example to invalidate: a clay vase can be shattered, and it's components all still exist as fragments of pottery, but the vase, as an entity, is gone.

If Mr. Lamb had simply started and ended with his final paragraph he would have been a winner: "... I do not care what people choose to believe, whether they are atheist or theist, whether they believe in a soul or not. What is far more important is how we treat each other. Some of the most giving and decent people I know are atheist and some of the most vile claim to believe in a God. ..."

That's the important stuff. Not as much fun as pondering about whether a Creator-God is necessary. So on that topic I'm inclined to trust Hawking that one isn't necessary. I also think that adding one only begs the question of who, then, created God? When it was a giant turtle that was said to hold up the (flat) earth, and a wise man was asked what the turtle stands on, the reply was "another turtle, and it's turtles all the way down". Gods and meta-gods all the way up, then?

These days I'm less interested in the Big Bang and more interested in the little ones. My favorite example of "magic in the small" -- sleight of hand type stuff, not disappearing the Statue of Liberty scale spectacles -- is magnets. Magnets just can't work. They can neither attract nor repel each other, there's nothing connecting them, no solid substance to push the force across. Yet they do work, they repel (or attract) across air (or space, if you can find a vacuum). Just not something that our minds can grasp, at least not mine.

And if little pieces of rock are possessed of magic such as this, then a brain and body, with it's manifold wrinkles and sinews and purposes, can surely act across distance and connect with other beings that may be unseen but are not unfelt.

So there may not be a Creator, but there is mystery aplenty.

My thoughts at 3:00 AM, somewhere in a police headquarters basement, a little north of the Hamptons, NY.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Marriages and Tornadoes and Terrorists, Oh My !

I certainly share the ambivalence felt by many over the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. I heard the news, as many did, while watching baseball on ESPN, the Mets at the Phillies (Mets 2-1 in 14 innings). There was ninth inning irony in the players’ ignorance as the crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA” after viewing their phones and twitter feeds while the athletes just played ball.

My own twitter feed started bringing in satisfaction (@DanielPink “RT @markknoller: Cheering crowd outside White House estimated at 2500.”) and angst at the President’s delay (@HeatherOsborn “I love that it took approximately 10 minutes for people to start bitching about Obama being late. I'm gonna go ahead and believe he is BUSY.”) and jokes (@TheThomason: “Obama: ‘Anybody else wanna see my birth certificate?’ Drops mic. Walks away.” Or: @CaitKitt “Also, now that we killed the dude, can the TSA stop fondling all our junk? #prettyplease” 9:54 PM May 1, 2011)

Unlike a lot of other people who first heard of OBL’s death while watching TV, but like a fair number of other North Alabamians, I was in a hotel room dozens of miles or more from home. We were avoiding the 600,000 person power outage that resulted from the “April Fury” tornadoes. Our house was fine, other than one downed tree top and one leaky window, and some slowly spoiling food as our fridge and freezers lost their cool. We are very fortunate to afford to simply drive to a Nashville suburb and check into a La Quinta with hot showers, clean sheets and breakfast. Many of my neighbors took this option, or went to relatives in nearby towns. We’re “rich” Americans. It’s incredible. But it’s also incredible how fragile our way of life is. Without electricity and Internet and gasoline and open stores and cell phones we were quickly reduced to land line phones (those of us who still have them) and battery powered radios. Hello 1952.

But those weren’t the problems that haunted me in the La Quinta in Smyrna, Tennessee on May 1st that kept me from truly processing the news of the death of bin Laden. Nor were they the problems that had kept me from gagging on the syrup drenched royal nuptials of William and Kate two days earlier, marriage coverage that censored the anti-austerity protests pervading Great Britain. I’ve gone without electricity enough in my life not to sweat it much. What was nagging at my mind was the damage from swirling storms that don’t even get names but, acre for acre, do much more damage than hurricanes. And the stories from friends and acquaintances that kept spinning out to me through the phone, the e-mail and the web (yep, wireless internet in the hotel, too).

A colleague runs a swim club with his son as a side business and it got hit; he was at the pool between storms, but went home at the urging of son and girlfriend just in time. I’m sure the pool office and bathhouses are gone. We saw what’s left of the bordering trees, snapped and twisted, from the adjacent highway on our drive home. Next to the highway we saw a house with only rafters for a roof left, the next house was just the concrete slab and debris – nothing bigger than a few feet long. Across the highway and into a subdivision a newlywed couple we know from the running community lost their house, and so far their cat. She runs about my speed, when I’m in shape. Their brick house disintegrated around the young woman, one wall at a time and even the rug she was on got sucked away (the husband wasn’t home). Their car was in the driveway and is now a neighbor’s lawn ornament, but the woman is banged up but okay. They would be staying at her parents’ home in nearby Tanner, Alabama, except that their house was also destroyed by one of the tornadoes.

A local photographer, who we also know from running, has posted an offer to provide free disks of photos she'd taken for anyone if they lost theirs in the storms.

A friend family’s daughter was in Tuscaloosa, she goes to the University of Alabama there, at her boyfriend's apartment. They are fine, but the gas station directly across the street is gone, as is the sideview mirror from her car. The neighbor of another friend’s daughter also went to Alabama; she won’t be coming home. They cancelled finals at UA, students get the grades they had, or they can schedule a final with their instructor. Tuscaloosa had one of the biggest tornadoes and it was the one to hit the most populated area. 5,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

600 people attended the funeral yesterday of a 12 year old girl who was the classmate of another friend’s son. There were 8 family members in a trailer, none escaped injury, but it was the youngest who was taken.

My office is still without power. Internet came back at my house late yesterday and is still out for many people so I don’t yet know who else has a story to tell. So I’ve been brooding on these twisters, these nameless micro-hurricanes that last for minutes rather than days, and it has kept me from digesting the death of Osama. But I know I’m glad that he, and his twisted soul, are gone.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Steve Boyett on Copyfight and Writing

Author, DJ and general renaissance man Steven Boyett recently lead a couple sessions at the Southern California Writer's Association. Fortunately he posted the audio from these discussions and they're great for those of us who seem to spend a lot more time learning about writing than writing. Here Boyett talks about the changes happening in the publishing markets as driven by the ongoing digital revolution. He's walked this walk as a podcasting DJ in the musical realm and so is more prepared than most authors as similar issues hit the prose fiction and other written media. In the second part he talks about the debacle that copyright has become, and gives some great history. He echoes some things from Cory Doctorow but takes his own slant as well; plus he pays due reverence to Lawrence Lessig and Creative Commons. Thanks, Steve.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Work of Art is a Work in Progress

Heard what turned out to be basically a bizarre advertisement on National Public Radio.  I suppose they'd call it a review, but it had the effect of me trying out the "product".  It was for Bravo TV's new reality show Work of Art.  It's a cookie cutter copy of their two prior shows Project Runway and Top Chef, neither of which I can stomach for more than a few seconds before flipping onward. 
But I was curious about the artists, and how the time pressure would work out; I generally think time pressure is both anathema and pretty necessary to the artistic process. And that part of the show was cool, seeing the artists get into their work, struggle with it, shift it and eventually become attached to it.  To the last one they ended up reasonably content with their "piece". 
Then there were the judges -- too much drama and negativity just for the sake of conflict and controversy.  They provided some useful insights, but Art is soooo subjective and here was everything from minimalist abstraction to realism.  I'm no art expert, but I did recently read Looking at Paintings: An Introduction to Fine Art for Young People after it was recommended by Cory Doctorow, so I'm aware of techniques and types and the "eye of the beholder" and that the artist cannot be held fully responsible for my experience of her art.  So how do you eliminate someone based on the "quality" of their work of art? That part is worse than watching iceskating competition... don't know if I'll stick around, but maybe, since I agree with Amanda Palmer: "...some artists try to do everything, which is impossible, I think those people are brave."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Why I read Ken Fisher's financial column

Because he speaks up when the emperor has no clothes. In his current column he strips Moody's and Standard & Poor's of much of their value:
"The big agencies have a way of warning of trouble spots (like Enron) only after the trouble is evident or of adding to a panic (like Greece's) that is already beyond any rational basis." (Mountains and Molehills; 5/28/10

Monday, May 17, 2010

Make Us Well, Macusweil

A fresh blog from an old friend: Macusweil's Mind

Observations from one man; original poetry; quotes from the quotable and others.

(I know where some of the skeletons are closeted.)

Enjoy. I plan to.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Too Young Bayler Couple Pass Four Weeks Apart

Three weeks ago I wrote about my friend, Mike Bayler, who passed away while bicycling. He was survived by his wife, Sharon Covington Bayler. Unfortunately "was" is now the correct form of the verb in that last sentence. Yesterday, in an numbing tragedy, Sharon was hit from behind by a truck while on a group ride. She died from the injuries. I'll link to the Huntsville Times blog article, but more because of the comments posted than because of the article -- apparently the facts originally reported were not checked very thoroughly.

I did not know Sharon well, but well enough to know that she was terrific. She was warm and welcoming to me, whether because I was a friend of Mike's and that was good enough for her or because she was that way with everyone, I'm not sure. It doesn't matter; I still feel like I've been punched in the gut; twice. And as down as I feel I know her family and close friends feel it more; my heart goes out to you all.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Perplexed by Parliament Non-Pundits

"Ewww, Britain may not have a clear winner in their election; whatever will they do?"
Both NPR and The Daily Show seemed aghast yesterday and today that a democratic nation like Great Britain would not immediately emerge from their general election with a clear head-of-state.  This is something I had learned twice by my 10th grade civics class.  It's a parliamentary system... with a Prime Minister (not a President)... typically they require a coalition government.  This is not unusual.  The unusual thing has been that they've had a clear majority most of the last 30 some years.  Typically it's been a multi-party system with a coalition formed by at least a couple parties in order to elect a Prime Minister and form a government.
  One criticism often leveled at parliamentary democracies is that they may be less stable than those with heads of state elected by popular vote (more or less in the US case, see Electoral College).  That's probably why I found it interesting (almost 30 years ago in that 10th grade class) that Great Britain's government was actually more stable, at least as measured by how long the head of state ruled: they were averaging around 6 years at that time, while the US was closer to having Presidents that served for 5 years.
  So, Pundits, give old England a chance to sort it out.  Nice to see a third party get a chance for a little influence; especially since its the LibDems.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rapport with a Friend

I’ve never really understood those roadside wreaths and flowered cross displays along a highway at the site of an accident; a fatal accident. Never empathized with the wreath placer, the mourner. That’s not where the victim is, not even their shell of flesh; doesn’t it make more sense to decorate the gravesite, or the home? But this week I feel a little differently. This week I sent an e-mail to an empty address. Oh, the address was still valid; the e-mail hasn’t bounced. But there is no one there to read my “so long” e-mail. I know that no one is there because my friend passed away last Saturday (I tried “died” where I have “passed away”, but I couldn’t leave it; not as a fully contextualized sentence; I need the euphemism.)

Saturday, April tenth, was a great day to be alive in north Alabama. I did some yard work under the spring sun. Mike Bayler, my friend, was riding bicycle as part of a group when his heart gave out on him. I don’t know the details. I don’t need to know the details. I know it wasn’t a prolonged thing, I know that he got to ride on his final day; something he loved to do. Mike (who was often “Mr. Bayler” to me, despite the fact that he was seven years my younger. I’d greet him that way with a nod, “Mr. Bayler.” I know too many Mikes, and it separated him from the others for me. “Mr. Patton;” he would often counter-greet me. I figured he was poking fun at my formality, but now I see that maybe he was distinguishing me from other “Chips” in his life: I see two others signed the online memory book for him at was a cyclist. He had the gear, the clothes, and he felt the joy of it. He was at one time president of the Spring City Cycling Club, but he was just as happy to be a member, to help others get started, to fix up their “rides”. He helped my wife learn to use her clip shoes; stayed with her for an entire outing, reminding her to unclip whenever they came to a stop so she didn’t topple over.

I didn’t ride with Mike. I worked with him. I traveled on business with him. He took me to howl at the moon in Orlando. The dueling piano bar, I mean. I hadn’t been to one before and not since; but it was a great time. In no way do I sing, but I sang there. No mystery why they call it “the howl at moon saloon”. No pretension with Mr. Bayler.

We also spent a couple days in Oklahoma City; shared a plate of fried cheese with hot pepper jelly at some sports bar, the Super Bowl on their big screen. The second day there Mike saw me say hello to one of the hotel housekeeping maids as we walked past her in the hotel hall, a striking young lady with oddly colored hair, an almondy-silver. I explained to Mike that the prior day I had asked her for an HBO guide, maybe the one for my room had been tossed in the trash by the prior guest. She had looked at me a bit blankly; turned out her English was less than good. She didn’t look Hispanic at all but Spanish was sure what she spoke; if she had looked more Hispanic I probably wouldn’t have tried to talk to her. So it took a minute to communicate with her; and her wrongly spaced and crooked teeth contrasted with the rest of her sharp appearance. Anyway, Mike thought I provided too much detail and kidded me about the housekeeper from Oklahoma City for years.

That project was a small one. Management had been ready to “no-bid” it, but Mike and I picked it up and made it a success, at a time when the company needed successes. In fact, Mike finished it on his own because I took a job in Pennsylvania. And when Mike was in PA on business, he visited and stayed at our house. When we moved back to north Alabama he made sure to invite us to the party that he and his wife, Sharon, were having at their house – helped me get back into the flow here.

They’d gotten married while we were up north. He obviously thrived within their relationship; seven years they were married, that seems short to me right now, but it was the rest of a life to him, and rightly spent.

I didn’t get to hang out a lot with Mike the past year or two – a couple of lunches; a few crossed paths at work. I was elsewhere during his fortieth birthday party last April, but my wife and daughter were there. I was present, however, for this April’s gathering for Mike, but it was visitation at a funeral home. Still there was quite a turnout and I was heartened to see it. I hope that his family, down from Illinois or other parts north, also took some solace in the congregation. I hope it was as obvious to them as it is to me that though he had left their home, he had made a rich life here, and touched a lot of lives here, including mine. So long, Mr. Bayler; good-bye, Mike.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Running with Little Atoms

During today's lunch run across the end of Lady Anne Lake, in addition to passing within arm's length of a four foot tall great blue heron and a 4 foot long black rat snake, themselves only separated by a couple hundred feet, I listened to Cory Doctorow's April 3rd interview on ResonanceFM's Little Atoms show. Most of the topics I'd heard from Cory before, although they were freshly iterated here: privacy, copyrights, authorship. But near the end was a subject I don't remember having heard from him before and it was worth the hearing. He gave his take on patents in terms of property. How we have a legitimate interest in things; a stake in them; even though we don't own them. His first example was your child. You don't own a child, but they are "yours" nonetheless. If someone kidnaps them or kills them they haven't stolen from you, they've actually done something worse: kidnapping or murder. Your cell phone number is another example where you may not "own" it, but you have a vested interest in it since your friends all know it; your business cards have it printed on it, etc. Your phone company shouldn't just suddenly assign it to someone else. So patents. So maybe some things, like genome sequences, or similar, shouldn't be patented in the same way that more traditional inventions are. Patents exist to help inventors get capital and to allow inventors to share their inventions without fear of losing their profit potential. Society wants inventions, and we want the insights shared so that other inventors can move to the next idea beyond. But currently patents are all the same: the inventing company gets 90 years of exclusivity -- a bit long for something like software. A big wig at Microsoft told Cory that they probably wouldn't write any less new code if they only got exclusivity for 10 years -- so why grant the other 80 years? (My synopsis is inelegant; have a listen if you're interested.)
Cory did quote the Microsofter as saying they were already writing code in "all the hours God sends", an expression I wasn't familiar with, and after chasing it around the Internet a bit, I doubt that's an expression used by a Microsoft executive. Apparently it's quite a British turn of phrase.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

No Activist Judges !? Hrmph !

"No activist judges!" That has been the refrain from the far right, from the "conservative" talk radio and Fox TV hosts, and the politicians they embrace. Well, we now have a U.S. Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and a majority that is favored by these "more moral than you" types, and this week that high court brought us one of the most revisionist decisions in decades.
Not content with the issue before them, they continued to broaden the scope of the complaint until it allowed them to override enough precedents to establish the law in the manner in which they saw fit. Don't take my word for it, Justice J. Stevens, in his dissenting opinion, writes, "Our colleagues’ suggestion that 'we are asked to reconsider Austin and, in effect, McConnell,' ante, at 1, would be more accurate if rephrased to state that 'we have asked ourselves' to reconsider those cases."

(Since some of you may be wondering which decision I'm referring to, it's "CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION", decided Jan. 21, 2010. The effect will be to remove electioneering restrictions on corporations, i.e. they'll be able to spend as much money as they want, as close to election date as they want, directly in favor or against candidates.)

Both the decision, and the opinions are available on line, and are surprising readable. In fact I was a bit surprised by the informality of some of the language. The decision repeatedly uses the expression "chilling effect" and variations there on, to refer to the law's impact on political speech. The crux of the majority's argument is that free speech applies to corporations (and unions, etc.) just as much as to real persons. I disagree; Justice J. Stevens argues this nicely: "The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its 'identity' as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. ... In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters."

Justice J. Stevens goes on to present a laundry list of precedents, some dating back a hundred years, that the court has overturned with this ruling, in violation of the principal of stare decisis, i.e. making rulings based on prior decisions. Maybe the "more moral than you" crowd will now change their mind about judicial activism, they certainly have changed it about whether it's okay to criticize a sitting President. I guess there's no reason not to be hypocritical about the third branch of our federal government. Sigh.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

St. Joseph's and the Lakota (Sioux)

I'm not sure which bleeding heart list they pulled my name from, I'm on bunches of them, and most of the stuff that I get sent as a result goes straight to the recycler. I often wonder whether my meager donations have a net gain impact versus the postage, paper and return address labels that I receive on a weekly basis from sundry do-gooders. At least the US Mail gets some business, lords know they need it. But I was glad to receive the less usual token gift from St. Joseph's Indian School. It's one of these weekly planner pocket calendars. I've used one, usually purchased at Staples or Office Depot, each year of the last 20 or more. Often I've received them as Christmas gifts and appreciated it, as they can be a pain to find in the right size, and are not cheap ($8 to $20); I did have one particularly nice one given to me that had the USATT logo on it (which year was that, Mike, 2008?).

Anyway, this year, St. Joseph's sent me a personalized one (here's a photo); and I'm using it. In fact they sent it early enough that I could tell people I wouldn't be needing one for Christmas. So I sent them a small donation. As near as I can tell they do good work for a people that, as a nation, we have treated poorly. And I am enjoying the cultural enlightenment as each month's moon is described from the Lakota heritage. February's is Cannapopa Wi (see this picture for what it means to them).

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Consuming Cory Doctorow Audio at Lunch

In addition to finishing listening to Cory Doctorow's new short story, Epoch, on my lunch run today, I also listened to his first public reading from his latest novel, Makers. Epoch is about a sentient Artificial Intelligence and the issues surrounding shutting it down. It's a good story, better told. I say a good story only because it's plot line is almost a genre in itself, from Colossus (D.F. Jones) to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke), etc. and this is a short story. But it has novel aspects and great details of the life of modern day Sysadmins -- Systems Administrators. The lingo is perfect and very much fun.

I've only read the first dozen or so parts of Makers (out of eighty-some), about economic turmoil and the reuse of technological detritus. The part he read overlapped the part I twittered in when he asked for suggestions prior to his reading appearance -- my first verified participation in a crowd sourced event! Makers is fast-paced and fun so far.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Noticeable Serendipity: Roseanne Cash Two Times

Now I realize that authors and artists sometimes have a product to pimp, or even two, so things that at first seem highly coincidental are really not so spectacular. But Roseanne Cash isn't exactly a "celeb ubiquite" (that's faux french), so when she popped up on my not-so-mainstream mass media twice last night in the space of an hour and a quarter, I noticed. First she was on public radio's World Cafe on my drive home about 9:20 with a song ("Sea of Heartbreak" from her new record. I found it curious that Bruce Springsteen was singing the harmony (I previously liked the harmony she did with her dad on "September When it Comes", but she won't be doing that anymore as The Man In Black is no longer among the living; at least until technology can repro his voice, say, 2021?).

Then I flipped to Steve Colbert at 10:30 and he was soon disparaging Bruce Springsteen's "The River" ( ) as a good candidate for use as a torture song at our Guantanamo Bay prison (wow, that makes me cringe, calling it "our" prison, but that's what it is and I feel the shame). Bruce is a pretty big name, so two mentions didn't raise my eyebrows. I flipped to soccer, Houston and Seattle still tied at zero after 70-some minutes of hard play; that's soccer.

Hey, Colbert, whatever your view of The Boss (I've never been a huge fan), he's still got some grit and some great lines: from "The River": "Is a dream a lie if it doesn't come true?"

I flipped back to The Colbert Report, and he's introducing Roseanne Cash, in person at his desk. Now I've noticed the serendipity (editorial aside: and we have our blog post title) and get engaged in their banter -- and its good, partly because Colbert is trying hard to maintain his right wing persona but his distaste for the goings-on at Guantanamo is seeping through. He signs her petition asking that our government (there's that "our" again) release the list of songs used to torture the detainees there. He signs, he says, "because it'll make it hard on Obama" (since he hasn't made good on his promise to close that facility). You can see the whole Colbert bit video at

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Capitol Steps, Falling Down

Caught a bit of the Capitol Steps latest production on NPR at noon today. It was less than stellar. They riffed on Sarah Palin to the tune of "A Holly Jolly Christmas", but it had no insight, stale jokes about Russia being nearby and such. Then they think they need to find faults with Barack Obama's performance. I think, I hope, there are other ways to find humor than just finding fault. They dissed his handling of the Boston arrest of a black Harvard professor breaking in to his own house. Sure, he gave the loonies an opening by using a slightly offensive word - "stupidly" I think it was (yep, pretty inflammatory, huh?). But the transgression was by the police, using too much suspicion and not enough parsimony. The Capitol Steps also picked up on Obama's win of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Simply removing the old regime of Bush W, Cheney, Rice, Rove and Rumsfield was enough. It's like a weeklong cloud cover of gloom and storms has been rolled back and the sun is shining on the happy valley again. That's no small feat; to turn a scorched earth atmosphere into one where hope prospers. Sure, hope is more promise than reality; but hope is more peace than oppression, exploitation, lies and torture. If that transition isn't enough for the Nobel Peace Prize, then it is indeed a noble prize; I expect he will rise to it in any case. I plan to support him as I can and push him as he needs it. Shouldn't we all?

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Guys at Delta Air Lines

As annoying as air lines can be, with their prices that go up and down depending on day of week and time of day, their silly costs to take an earlier flight, bundling and unbundling of fees like per-checked-bag and in-flight-meals, boarding inanity and on and on; Delta has, on a couple of occasions, done extra little good things that they really didn't have to, such as: I flew back from Philadelphia to Atlanta on October 5 (DL1077), and it was delayed, at least in part due to weather in Atlanta. My connection ended up a bit tight, but I made it. Based on the connection times that other passengers mentioned to me while we were still on board DL1077, I assume some of us were not so lucky. But I just received a letter of apology from Delta informing me that 2500 bonus miles have been placed in my SkyMiles account. I use my SkyMiles -- this past summer I had a free trip to Montreal, Canada on them. It won't be long before I've got enough for another adventure. Thanks for the token, Delta.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Finished Reading Ariel

And posted a quick review, here's an excerpt: "a novel of every boy's fantasy land, to meet and befriend or conquer mythical beasts; to be both a loner and to make meaningful friends and do important deeds with them ...."

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In which I am Schmap'ped

The folks at Schmap are "delighted" to let me know that
my "submitted photo
has been selected for inclusion in the newly released ninth
edition of our Schmap Montreal Guide: Chinatown".

They spotted my photo on flickr and asked if they could include it in their guide. Sure, I said.

If you could look closely enough, you would see a group of WorldCon attendees walking up the sidewalk on the left side of the photo, including authors Cory Doctorow and Larry Hodges.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

PodRunner: A Beat for Feet that Run

From the "How Cool is That?!" department on the internet: I downloaded a couple one hour long music mixes targeted for running from PodRunner. Tried it out on the treadmill this morning (it's a rainy Saturday). Pretty nifty stuff. Steven Boyett, DJ and author, posts these techno-music compilations with targeted BPM to pace your run or workout. There's a bunch of them and they keep coming, technically free, though there is a tip jar or merchandise to help support your habit. An easy way to keep yourself in fresh music; put your energy into the burn.

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Fig Tree With Green Lynx Spider

Spotted this critter in my back yard a couple days ago. I left her guarding her egg sac and my as-yet-unripened figs. Hopefully we'll get some cold weather after this rain and the fruit will go ripe. Mmmm.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Health Care and Burning Houses

I don't always agree with Dave Winer's take on the world. But we align on health care. This post from him is short and worth reading.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ariel Update

I’m currently reading Steven R. Boyett’s book Ariel and enjoying it immensely.

I did just realize that even though it was published 26 years ago, that still means that it was published after I read some similar post-apocalyptic and epic journey books like Hiero’s Journey (Sterling E Lanier) and Shardik (Richard Adams). I’m liking Ariel in part because it is chock-a-block full of literary and pop-culture allusions that are from my coming-of-age era; and because I can see Boyett’s musical avocation seeping through – not just because it’s about mythical beasts and anachronistic combat.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

We've Got To Relieve... Health Care Burdens

I was thinking about the health care morass on an airplane the other day; thinkin hard enough to jot down some notes. My thoughts aren’t all good, but this is important stuff and needs to be fixed. I heard back from my Congressman, Parker Griffith, who is a retired medical doctor. He used a Hippocratic Oath analogy: “first we need to do no harm to our current system.” I didn't swallow that cod liver oil. His is a misguided anthropomorphism – our health care system is not a human being. If you break it completely it may actually help you to rebuild it better than it was. Besides, there’s no reason to think that doctors and hospitals will stop treating sick people during a transition from one payment system to another. What else they gonna do?

We need meaningful reform. We need it on moral grounds, to help people who don’t get care for routine and treatable ailments. We need it on financial grounds, to make our businesses stronger and independent of the yoke of health insurance. We need it on equitable grounds, to stop the arbitrary nature of who has coverage and who doesn’t, just depending on which way the labor market winds are blowing. We need individual coverage that can negotiate the same rates that groups can. No more small group "death spirals".

We need to align the monetary goals of providers with healthy consumers. We need to flip the pay-per-treatment or “fee for service” system on its head. A pay-per-patient system is possible and being tried in certain places. I worry that that method incentivizes not performing needed treatments, at least in the short run. Maybe there could be monetary penalties if a treatment was skimped – this is basically the old HMO model and didn’t work out well in the US(although similar models work in other countries). The salient differences should be explored and overcome.

Or pay doctors via a salary, with bonuses for healthy patients. This seems pretty reasonable, but has a couple of pitfalls to guard against. For one, “the talent” will no longer be automatically getting paid for their high skills. Management will be seeing the cash flow (both on the insurance company side and on the hospital administration side), and they’ll rake off as big a share as they are allowed to. So it needs regulating, which is unsavory, but sane. Absolute control of the monetary pipeline leads to money-drunk plumbers -- I may have mixed my metaphors there, but unfortunately we need watchers when money is involved. And people to watch the watchers.

Health itself is not and healt care also is not and will not be, egalitarian. Maybe there is some solace for the less-well-heeled in that. That is, that everyone can fall ill or get injured, and all of us get old. Waiting for routine and typical care as a method of cost control is unacceptable. That is, back door rationing of health care through curtailed availability cannot be a solution. Apparently that is a diminishing state of affairs in Canada and the United Kingdom at this point. Their waits are often no more than ours for the same specialists. Have you tried to get an appointment with a dermatologist? Your best hope is for a cancellation to open something up -- or to look up a good poultice on the Interweb.

Extraordinary care remains another matter. Extremely expensive and experimental treatments have to be uncovered (except as part of research studies, but that's a special case). But the bar needs to be high and the decisions open and transparent. I'm sorry, it's not worth 2 million dollars to extend anyone individual's life by 6 months -- not to society (i.e. the rest of us). If there is a rich benefactor, okay, it's their money. But when it's our money, we can extend a lot of other people's lives a lot more than 6 months with $2MM.

Risk takers are a tough area for me. I haven't got that figured out. In some cases of course their health care is cheap -- if they fall while rock climbing and die, well, it's their funeral. If they only break their back, though, then it's everyone's bank account. I think in those cases they need to cough up some personal funds to help with coverage -- but which things are risky? Smoking? Of course (if you weren't already addicted in 1965). Failing to exercise? Eh. Over-exercising? Hmmm. Maybe we better hope this one comes out in the wash, that it evens out over the pool of citizenry.

Penultimately, I want to address what the correlation between health insurance and business should be: none. There's no rational connection. Health insurance should be more like the fire department; businesses can pay their share through taxes. Different businesses shouldn't pay different amounts per employee depending on the type of business they are, how big they are, etc. In the U.S., employer paid health insurance started as a differentiating fringe benefit. It's no longer effective in that role, except to stifle small businesses, consultants and entrepreneurs. And it allows large business management (and their customers) to squeeze the employees through passing on ever higher health insurance costs to the employees through higher co-pays and decreased coverages.

And finally, I find myself agreeing with some European voices that I respect, that treating the health misfortunes of others should not be a ticket to riches for anyone. It's just plain wrong.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Migraine Sufferer's Wife

We just saw The Time Traveler's Wife at the movie theater. I thought the movie was much better than the mediocre reviews that I've seen. The dialog is crisp. Rachel McAdams has a great smile. The treatment of time travel is as good as in any recent main stream movie; it's a fairly novel conceit: spontaneous, uncontrolled time travel triggered by some correlation to stress, just for one individual, just for Henry; it reminds me of my migraines -- they're pretty rare but take me completely out of the present -- I lose time to them (not so much now as before, but still sometimes). And they have something to do with stress and/or drugs like caffeine.
Also, I enjoyed the use of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as a couple's wedding song -- sounds like a terrific cover by Broken Social Scene.

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