Friday, May 31, 2013

Here You Go ...

I'm thinking this is a joke, on a par with the banana-slicer, but maybe not, who can tell these days? A holder for a Whopper™?

Are we raising a nation of people too weak to hold up their hamburgers?

It reminded me of an old story my brother used to tell, back when Burger King's ads touted that it "took two hands to handle a Whopper™!"

Local police arrested a fellow for assault, and so the tale went, this was a man who was quite well off, at least partially due to a lawsuit settled in his favor. Seems he got into an argument with a glass shower door, I don't recall the particulars, and the door shattered and his arm was cut so badly it had to be amputated.

Seems some time later this guy was out and about and got into a discussion with somebody who wanted to give him grief. According to my brother, the conversation went something like this: "Yeah, you're hot shit rich and all, you have money and cars and women, but you better stay out of Burger King!"

"Really? Why is that?"

"Cuz it takes two hands to handle a Whopper™!"

Whereupon the rich guy used his remaining arm to deck the other guy ...

I probably wouldn't have convicted him had I been on the jury, if it got that far.

Dunno if it's true, but you never let truth stand in the way of a good story. 


While all the houseworkery was happening, I noticed out front next to the driveway some mushrooms had sprung up; no doubt from the frequent rains over the past week.

The first picture shows you a view, and the second gives you a scale. That's my 11.5 planted next to the biggest of the grouping. And as it happens, my foot is almost exactly one foot long.

I kinda expected to see a hookah-smoking caterpillar perched on top one of 'em:

Caterpillar: By the way, I have a few more helpful hints. One side will make you grow taller...
Alice: One side of what?
Caterpillar: ...and the other side will make you grow shorter.
Alice: The other side of what? 

Caterpillar: The MUSHROOM of course! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Never Ending Story ...

Update: And the remodel continues: counter-tops in, new stainless steel sink; plumber back Thursday to–theoretically–finish hooking everything up. We have a water filter that complicates things a little, but that should be okay

Not real granite, the new counters, much less marble, but a synthetic stone, which is good; it was cheaper (which is not to say "cheap,") looks fine, and requires less care and upkeep.

Less care and upkeep are good things in my world.

Turned out I had to unhook the gas stove and sink, including the in-sink disposal, a thing I found out fifteen minutes before the counter guys got here. Fortunately, taking things apart is easier than putting them together, and I managed to get that finished. The stove/oven is a hybrid, gas/electric, and I'm good with gas appliances, having grown up with those. I'd never done a disposal unit, but also fortunately, there is YouTube, and what a helpful tool that is. Who knew you needed two screwdrivers at once to undo that retaining ring?

Habitat for Humanity came and took away old furniture. We are getting leaner. 

And probably meaner, at least temporarily. After the grinding and sawing–the sound of a saw chewing through slabs of artificial stone blows right past the turned-off hearing aids–and the general chaos of four guys trucking hither and yon, we were all a tad on edge. Constant noise is tiring: After the workmen left, I went out to a jam session–remind me to show the pictures of my second ukulele–came home at nine p.m. and everybody was asleep. "Everybody" here includes my sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, who are visiting for a few days, plus the dogs, who really didn't like any of it and were exhausted. 

Found a closet that got missed on the re-carpet, so that has to be done. Plumber is due in an hour or so

Eventually, we will be done. I hope. 

(Editor's Note: Oh, but not yet. Apparently the toilet we bought has a 12" rough-in and we need a 10", so that will have to be swapped out before we can continue on in the never ending story. On the other hand, we do have a working sink and I'm fairly tall ...)

Editor's Note #2: Toilet in! Sink in! Running water, hurrah!

Jack Vance

Jack Vance 

Never was and never will be another writer quite like Jack Vance, who passed away this week at 96. Though he wrote across a wide range of genres, including mysteries and early television, his fantasy and science fiction novels were where most of us came across him. He won Hugos and Nebulas and Jupiters and Life Achievements and Grandmasters, and well that he should have done. He was underrated even so, and superb. 

Nobody could make up words like Vance. The neologisms he created flowed from the tongue. You had to be able to say it aloud, I think he offered once, and there was never a problem with Vance's lexicon that way. The names looked good on paper and sounded good when you spoke them. Offhand, no effort, he just threw 'em out there and they were terrific.

The Dying Earth series was seminal–everybody stole from it, including D&D. He was a writer's writer, as good as we get in F&SF, and certainly one of my inspirations. Yeah, Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke and Bradbury and all, but right there, Vance.

He played jazz banjo and kazoo; he was legally blind since the 1980s but used a special software to keep writing. 

AdiĆ³s, Jack. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Housery Continues ...

Floor guy is coming back today–in theory–to finish the back bathroom and the baseboards. 
(Editor's Note: Well, the bathroom floor, the sander grinds away even as we speak, but he's not gonna get to the baseboards today, tomorrow.)

My sister-in-law and my niece and nephew are also flying in today from Louisiana for a visit. My niece just graduated high school and this visit is part of a trip to the west coast to go and check out the college she'll be attending in the fall, down in California. 

Say it like us hillbillies and rednecks and coonasses do: Down there in Calla-forn-ee-aay ...

Tomorrow–in theory–the counter guys come to install the new counter tops in the kitchen.  The old tops get removed with hammers and crowbars. Noise! Dust! Disarray!

Somewhere in there, the plumber will be back for his third time, to install the last toilet, and the new sinks in the kitchen and back bathroom. Habitat for Humanity is coming by to pick up the old TV cabinet. The old TV will be pressed into temporary service as an X-box monitor for the nephew while they are here. I don't expected to see him save when he comes up for food and air. We have laid in a stock of hot dogs and white bread buns.

My son came over yesterday and helped me move the TV and then hooked it up to various game platforms.

The dogs are already freaked out and nobody has even shown up yet ...

In the middle of all this, I have to get some work done the last book in the Cutter's War series. I have an understanding editor who will cut me some slack, but still, it doesn't get done unless I do it.

Never a dull moment ...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Getting Smaller

About three weeks ago, I did a post regarding the insidiousness of diet-creep; how, when you aren't looking, White Death and his best old buddy Lardo, sneak up behind you on little pig feet and all of a sudden, you look up and realize you are eating a lot of stuff you don't really want to be eating.

Well, actually, you do want to be eating it, but you know you shouldn't. Those not-paying-attention treats that just, you know, somehow manifested in the cupboard, appeared as if by magic in the pantry. Where did those cookies come from? Oh, well, as long as they are here, might as well eat a couple. Or twelve ...

So, I bucked up my resolve, having once again removed the scales from my so-so eyes, and decided to cut back on sugar and fat and–alas–beer. Not completely, you understand, one needs a safety valve or the boiler might blow out, but making each choice to step into the realm of Junkfoodia a conscious one. 

It's the unconscious eating that gets you. 

Actually, it's the unconscious anything that gets you. Mindfulness is more rewarding pretty much across the board. How does the song go? Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think ...

And by this, I don't mean carpe diem to the extend that you slip the governors and run madly down the corridors of excess, but that you be in the moment, whatever you are doing.

Um. And why am I here today? Just to point out that by choosing to dial down the junk food, looking away from White Death and Lardo, and nothing else, I've tightened up a belt notch and dropped eight pounds. Not my intent, that's just a by product, but there you go.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Eyes! I Only Do Eyes!"

Two points for the first person to get the title quote's origin ...

Few things more boring than somebody talking about their medical issues, save maybe somebody talking about their dreams, but for those following the Amazing Adventures of Stevieman, the follow-up visit to the eye guy more or less confirms what we already knew: The OD–that's the medical term for "right eye," with OS being the left (for "oculus dexter," and "oculus sinister," respectively, in case you really want to to know)–is almost certainly afflicted with another abbreviation, AMD, i.e., age-related macular degeneration. 

Doctors are loath to ever commit 100% to anything, as you may have noticed, in this age of reflex litigation. You hear the qualifiers, "probably," "most likely," "pretty sure," or "95% certain," kind of like the weather forecast. Leave yourself an out, just in case it rains anyhow ...

In the opinion of the guy shining blinding lights into the orb and viewing the scans through dilated pupils the size of dinner plates, is probably stable. Some chance it will get worse, can't say for sure, but maybe more chance it won't, so there you go ...

Go see your regular eye guy in a year or so, or if it gets worse. And unspoken: If it gets worse, we can't do anything about it yet. (Though Dan Moran posted a link to a new experimental surgery that implants stem cells in the eye and has shown promise in restoring vision. One hopes it doesn't get to the point where it becomes necessary.)

So, there you go ...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

And Your Little Dog, Too ...

Did I mention that the new toilets we are having installed–two in, one more to go–are made by the Japanese/American company Toto?

That just gives rise to all kinds of bad puns in my twisted brain, including one wherein "Kansas" gets respelled as "Can's ass ..."

Toilets aren't what you'd call major eye candy, I mean, it's a toilet, but this one qualifies for a government rebate; it uses 1.2 gallons of water and it actually works. The early 1.6er's we had were–I believe I mentioned this before–crappy in their inability to rid themselves of more than a few sheets of tissue without flushing twice, which kinda ruins the whole point.

More Things Emerge from the Murk

So the revised ego book case, with all my books, which looks really clean and neat, at least for the moment. And the ray gun my son made for me, second shelf up, something he spotted in an old toy catalog years ago. It's cast resin and hand-painted. I made the dial using PageMaker. (Three settings: Stun, Maim, Kill ...)  Ergonomical design, handle-to-body, a natural pointer, and with the narrowing grips toward the little finger end it fits the hand really well ...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Odds 'n' Ends

Still slogging through the house reboot, and came across some things I found interesting.

First, the inspirational books that have been in my rack for years: Lord of Light, The Lani People, Thongor of Lemuria, Wizard of the Pigeons, and The Elements of Style.

A lot of my reference books are going into boxes, what with the internet lurking right there if I need a handy fact. But these helped shape me as a writer, and they are worth their weight in gold. Even the Lin Carter, which is awful. That's why I keep it there, to remind myself that he made a living writing stuff like that, I surely can ...

The fascinating thing was a letter that fell out of a file, in which I got a response from the Baton Rouge Police Department, in 1970. We were still living in L.A., but about to move back to B.R., and it seems I applied for a job there; leastways enough to get a response.

I have absolutely no memory of that, none whatsoever.

What could I have been thinking? 


Most of the stuff is moved back into place. New configuration for my office, down one book case and a lot of knick-knacks packed away. Got new lamps here and there, shelves less burdened, and the walls repainted and new carpets, a much-neatened and improved space.

Not done yet, but progress is being made ...


So, the living room, after the floor and carpet guys are gone and before the stuff goes back to where it belongs, or away. I feel like somebody is going to do an intervention and we'll wind up on an episode of Hoarders: Oh, look at those old people's house. How sad is that, they live like that ... ?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Old Friends in Fiction

Let's talk a little bit about series novels; books that span an arc of multiple titles, from three or four to a score or more. As somebody who has plied those pulp lanes myself a time or five, I am admittedly biased in their favor, and I thought I might address in passing the why of that. 

It's true that a good stand-alone novel can be a treasure that needs neither sequel nor prequel. The tale is told, it is complete, and adding more would gild the lily. Lonesome Dove, say. Moby Dick. Said everything that needed to be said, and more isn't necessary.

Even though, like Dune, sometimes more is necessary to keep bread on the writer's table. 

And sometimes fans demand it. I would love to have seen a sequel to Zelazny's Lord of Light. Actually, I'd love to be the guy to write it ...

Other books can be made richer by further adventures. Lord of the Rings would probably not have been so epic jammed into a single volume. Hard to imagine Asimov's Foundation Trilogy as a single book. Travis McGee needed the room. So did Mike Hammer; George R.R. Martin has what? Eight million pages? done in the Fire and Ice saga, and the monsters haven't even come over the wall yet ...

Our culture loves expanded stories. Look at movie sequels or series television. 

It seems almost axiomatic that the first or second movie in a popular franchise is the best of the bunch. After that, bullets fly every which way. Aliens? The first one was spooky, the second one better, III and IV? Sucked. And yet, I went, even though I was sorry ...

Find a drama you love, a soap opera, sitcom, and you'll tune in week after week. If it's a cop or spy or science fiction show, the suspension of disbelief is pretty big to keep any kind of tension going, because unless an actor gets pissy and fired (or actually dies), they aren't going to kill off the star of a network show and everybody knows it. You have to pretend there is real jeopardy. If it gets too scary, you can always comfort yourself knowing they won't kill her. Leastways on network, non-cable stuff. 

Cable can take 'em out left, right, and center, and does. Sometimes they decide to do so at the end of a run, ala Saving Grace, but they do kill major characters in ways that would make NBC, CBC, ABC, and even Fox cry out and have seizures.

And where are the movies for Deadwood, I want to know? 

Beckett gets shot in the heart at the end of the season? You can bet the farm and all the red leg chickens she'll be back next year. If you have a big ensemble cast? Yeah, you can knock off red shirts or supporting characters hither and yon. But: Jim Rockford was clunked on the head enough so he must have felt like a tent peg at a traveling circus, and I never once worried that he would die from that, or being shot, or being thrown off a cliff. He was the show. 

There have been exceptions to the rule, but they few and far between, especially on the non-cable shows. 

(George Martin kills 'em like flies in his fantasy novel series. I mean, nobody is safe, including your favorites. If you haven't read them, trust me here, some of the folks you love on the HBO series die in the books. No need to say "die horribly" because that's what George does.)

In a book series, once you are hooked, you tend to look forward to the next one, even if the quality declines. And the quality almost always does decline after a certain number, which varies from writer to writer. I was told by an editor once that an SF or fantasy series was usually good for ten or twelve books, and after that, people tended to stop buying them. Some of my favorite mystery writers in a series couldn't keep me interested by the tenth book. They got into a pattern, the books flew on auto-pilot, and at some point, I shrugged and stopped going on that flight. 

Others, even though they were getting tired and repeating themselves, kept collecting my money because I was so attached to the characters I couldn't let them go. John D. MacDonald was tiring of Travis and Meyer, the villains generic psychopaths, but as long as he wrote them, I bought them. Of course, he had a level of quality below which he didn't fall, and at his worst, was much better than many other writers are at their best.

Sue Grafton lost me halfway through the alphabet, mostly because her detective kept leaving her gun home and doing stupid shit. 

After the Burke novels, I tried a couple more of Vachss books and gave up. I'd kept turning up for Burke and his extended family, but without that, the newer ones didn't do it for me, and even that series had gone down. The first five or six were lean and mean, the last few got really preachy. (We tend to do that, writers, and I include myself here. I am aware that I had fans who read my stuff for a while, then elected to stop. I understand that.)

I read all of Parker's Spencer series, even though they were after a while clones. I liked Jesse Stone better, he was a more interesting character, but Spencer and Pearl and Hawk and Susan and the assorted back-up were like having a beer with old friends and telling stories.

The point of this, I suppose, is that stories take what they take to tell them properly, and  some can be short and sweet, and other longer and drawn out. Tapas or a sit-down dinner are both satisfying, in the right circumstances. And many of us are into to the super-long form, probably because we think that if a little is good, then a lot is ever so much better ... 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hulahula Knows

Somehow, I missed the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. I knew it was coming up, and I usually don't go, but they were premiering Heartshot this year, a short film based on a story my buddy Mike Byers wrote back in the day. I was planning on dropping round to meet the director and blap! I missed it. (Mike's story was a magazine-killer, i.e., a piece you sell to a market, which then goes belly-up. Writers tend to blame themselves for this. I believe this one killed two magazines, which is short of my own personal best of three.)

Um. Anyway, I was going to get a copy of the DVD and some goodies, for having chipped in a little to the Indiegogo campaign that helped fund the movie. Sorry I missed it, but I will eventually get the DVD, which not only won the short film division at the Lovecraft gathering, but which has gotten great reviews on places like Ain't It Cool News.

You can check out their FB page here

And the Beat Goes on ...

Jude skirts the cutout underlayment, above.
Similar view, sans Jude, new underlay, below:

Below, washroom, before and somewhat after ...

Below: The hump in front of the dishwasher has been cut out for new plywood.
Interesting that we have board floors instead of plywood.

...  and the saws and hammers and scrinches go on, too. 

The dogs are unhappy. The cat disappeared yesterday when the floor guys walked in. Our kitchen stuff is in the dining room, below:

When the cat came home last night, he walked around meowing: What have you done? Where is my stuff? Why is it echoing in here?

Pretty much I relate to that.

The plumber is plumbing. Probably gonna wind up replacing our old-generation low-flow toilets, the youngest of which is seventeen, because they don't work worth, well, a crap ...

The selling point on the new ones, which aren't that spendy, is that you can flush a dozen golf balls or kid's wiggly toys down 'em. The old 1.6's struggled with two sheets of TP, and more often than not, need a second flush, which not only didn't save water, it used more.  

The original toilet is from the house's construction, 1969. Do the math, forty-four years. All of them I've replaced the works in all the tanks several times. (And if you didn't know? On ceramic toilets, the date it was made is usually stamped inside the lid or back of the tank, something I learned from a real estate agent who used it to catch people out. How old did you say the house was? Really? Odd that the original plumbing was made five years before the place was built? Business must have been really slow at the local hardware store, hey?)

There are writers who really don't like to write per se, they like to have written, if you take my meaning. Being able to point at the finished book is cool, but the process of doing it is, to them, less fun. Not me, I like the first draft the most, but I understand it; 'cause that's how I feel about remodeling. Once it is done, I'll enjoying pointing to it. Meanwhile? Not so much ...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Idle Hands/Devil's Workshop ...

Methodist Youth Camp

So the floor guys are here and there is much grinding and sawing and hammering and nails being prized out going on. 

Had our first glitch before the guy got here–the material that was supposed to be ready to pick up, having been ordered a month ago? Wasn't there ...

And, of course, the floor behind the washer is rotted out because there is a leaking drain pipe in the wall. Want a plumber in a hurry? Good luck with that. Tomorrow, earliest, and four down the list to find that one. And maybe the foundation there needs to be replaced.

This week-to-ten-day project and we're all done? Not gonna happen. Not that I ever expected it to, but ...

I could put on headphones and try to get some real work done, amidst the unhappy-because-we-are-doing-this-stuff dogs who will be behind the baby gate with me. Or hiding out back, but I think the stress level might be a tad high for meaningful work.

First, it'll be the floor guys. Then the rug guys. Then the kitchen counter-top guys. Oh, and the plumber. The week ahead will be busy, musical furniture as this-and-that goes into the garage or down the hall and then back to make room for the-0ther. We did our first round of that this morning, moving stuff around. 'Tis but a scratch on the surface ...

So, other than jumping up and down and tearing out my hair, what to do ... ? 

Recently, I did a post about The Duck of Darkness, and I mentioned the first (and only) Silverlake Writers Workshop, (a shorter and less complex version of Milford/Clarion,) at which I was an attendee, back in 1978.

Its been thirty-five years and I haven't kept track of all the other folks who were there. Some of them I still know, some I've seen book stuff on since, but I thought it might be amusing to do a "Whatever happened to ... ?" post. For my own edification, mostly, but if you want to read over my shoulder ...

Most of us were at about the same level of success, having sold a few stories each; Reaves was, as I recall, the only attendee who had sold and published a novel, with a second one about to hit the racks.

Here's the list of players as I recall in no particular order. A few notes about each one, as accurate as I can make 'em:

Pat Murphy won Nebula Awards for her second novel The Falling Woman (1986) and a novelette, "Rachel in Love," that same year. She quit fiction writing for a couple decades, and worked at a San Francisco museum, The Exploritorium, where, among other things, she wrote non-fiction. She and Karen Joy Fowler co-founded the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which was sometimes, as I recall, funded by bake sales. She has a black belt in kenpo, and lives in San Francisco.

George Guthridge has since written five novels and more than seventy short stories, including collaborations on a couple of short pieces for Asimov's and F&SF with Yours Truly. He's been nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula, and with Janet Berliner, won the Stoker Award for their novel, Children of the Dusk. After a real estate crash in which he lost a whole bunch of property, he moved to Gambell, Alaska, where he taught high school and coached students to academic championships in national competitions. Eventually he become a college professor at a university in Anchorage.

Glenn Chang, who had a Ph.D in physics, wrote short stories for various collections in the 1980s, including a novella for Robert Silverberg's collection, The Edge of Space.

Avon Swofford wrote short stories for various anthologies in the 1980's and went to work for The Monitor Institute, a business/philanthropy consulting firm. She has a black belt in some martial art, and lives in the California bay area.

Cherie Wilkerson wrote for animated kidvid in the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, and contributed short stories to various SF, fantasy, and horror anthologies. She has done comic book work on  a Nightwing/Speedy story with Marv Wolfman. Since 1996, she has been a freelance copy editor. 

Raymond Embrak moved into hardboiled noir mysteries, and now lists himself as an independent self-published author, with a number of novels available.

Evelyn Sharenov writes mostly non-fiction these days, and has had material published in anthologies and The New York Times. Retired as a mental health nurse, she worked with psychiatric patients, and posted a blog for Psychology Today. She is a poet, editor, writer, plays classical piano, and lives with her husband near Portland, Oregon.

Susan C. Petrey (1945-1980) was a Portland, Oregon short story writer. One of her workshopped pieces, "Spidersong," which was roundly panned at the Silverlake Workshop, won the Locus poll for Best Short Story, 1981; and got Sue nominations for the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She wrote but nine stories, most of which were published after her death from an accidental drug overdose in 1980; the annual Orycon scholarship to Clarion is named for her. 

Richard Kadrey has written dozens of short stories and and eight novels, including the popular Sandman Slim series, and his Wired cover story "Carbon Copy," was made into a TV movie, After Amy,  in 2001, 
starring Bridget Fonda. At the time of the Silverlake Workshop, he was still a student of martial arts–we even did a little light sparring, as I recall.

Richard Kearns (1951-2012) was a Clarion grad, (as were several other of the Silverlake crew) and wrote short stories, poetry, and was nominated for the Nebula Award. He taught journalism, worked as a writer, reporter, graphic designer, and desktop publishing consultant. He contracted the AIDS virus in 1987, became an activist for medical marijuana, taught Quigong, and was a certified group exercise teacher. 

Michael Reaves is a long-time animation writer, having written hundreds of episodes for dozens of television shows, winning an Emmy for Batman: The Animated Series. He has written novels, short stories, live-action TV, movies scripts, not a few of which were in collaboration with Yours Truly. He developed Parkinson's Disease in his forties, and blogs about it here.

Arthur Byron Cover was an early Clarion grad who went on to write a bunch of short fiction, tie-in books, original novels, and animation for television. He and his wife Lydia, also a writer, opened and ran the well-known Los Angeles bookstore, Dangerous Visions, eventually closing the brick-and-board version in favor of an online store, which he manages today. 

Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) needs no introduction to F&SF readers. He's included here because he was a teacher and mentor to several of the Silverlake crew, and at the time of the conference, was living in the same small apartment complex as Michael Reaves; he was part of the attendee flow to and from the camp. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Have a Look at This ...

This is pretty fascinating stuff,  a woman doing a performance involving a feather and some odd-looking sticks. It takes a while, eight minutes, you don't need the sound, but it is worth seeing.

Trust me. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Back Yard Small Again

The fence guys are done, just wrapping it up hauling tools away. Great job, quick, reasonable price, pleasant demeanor, can't beat that.

If you are in the Portland west side area, in need of a fence or deck? Check them out. Brothers, John and Roman, Lake Fence, and got my recommendations: Tell 'em Steve in Beaverton who looks like their brother Steve sent you ...

The Duck of Darkness

Came across this image on FB today, and had to laugh at an old memory it conjured up. The story of the Coveted Thelma Award is here, and it it, the tale of The Duck of Darkness

Basically, I was at my first–and only–writer's retreat, waaay back in the day, 1978, down in L.A. This was a homegrown version of Milford or Clarion, with a bunch of newbie writers at a Black Widow spider-infested Methodist youth camp in the hills, over a week twixt Christmas and New Year's. We brought stories, passed them around, made comments, and tried to learn how to write better as a result.

We cooked, we workshopped, we drank cheap wine, we slept in bunk beds, we bonded. 

Most of those folks did grow up to working-pro writer status, including among 'em Michael Reaves, Evelyn Sharenov, George Guthridge, Pat Murphy, Richard Kadrey, Sue Petrie, and Yours Truly. The full list is on the linked page above.

Um. Anyway, I brought a downbeat, sorta-depressing piece called The Duke of Darkness. The guy running the thing, Richard Kearns, put cover sheets on the stories before we passed them around, and retitled mine The Duck of Darkness. Which humor killed any chance of anybody reading it seriously. I was beset with comments that tended to run toward:

"Quack, quack, quack! he quacked evilly ...

Har, har, fuck-you, har ...

Pissed me off. 

This was the same workshop wherein my longtime collaborator Reaves had his name deliberately misspelled to "Reeves," because Kearns knew that pissed him off.

One of Reaves's stories got comments  like this: "Well, this is well-written and slick and all, but ..."

So, for a time, we nicknamed each other "Slick," and "Duke," and developed enough of a bond that we started corresponding and eventually collaborating. 

I don't know where that story is today, I shelved it right after the conference. Couldn't look at it ...

Meanwhile, I was into cartooning, and sometimes I'd doodle on letters I sent out. This was back in the pre-internet days when paper and snailmail were in vogue. Ask your grandfather what this means.

I did a toon on a letter I sent to Kearns, a little image of a duck in a cowled robe, an evil grin, and a reaper's axe in hand, just to show I had a sense of humor. Kearns, working at a print shop, copied the image, added my address, and sent me a ream of paper as a letterhead. Since it was way funny by then, I used that as my letterhead until I ran out or moved. I can't seem to find any of it about; too bad, it was cute.

Eventually, I made a tacky little statuette of the Duck of Darkness out of Sculpy and sent it to Reaves. The paint never quite dried, so it was literally tacky until it collected enough dust to cover it ...

We were easily amused in those days ...

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Can I Hear You Now ... ?

Got the new electronic whiz-bang ear trumpets today. 

Do I notice a difference? Did you just hear that housefly fart in the kitchen? Well, I did ...

These are the right ear aids. The one on the left above is the old one–you can see the wear where my glasses eyepiece rubbed against it for four years. The old one is a hair bigger, length and thickness, and uses a bigger battery; the new one is a bit wider, (also in understated gray, to match the hair) has a different style dome, larger, but thinner.

In the older one, the amp is in the body and the sound is conducted via air through the hollow tube. In the new one, the receiver is in the dome, and wired to the battery and Bluetooth™ stuff in the body.

The three-position rocker-switch allows me to adjust volume, and to toggle among the three channels, which can be set for a variety of environments. I have them programmed at: Normal, Restaurant, and Music.

Yep. There's a Music setting. How cool is that? 

I didn't get all the streaming gear, that will allow me to hear my TV, MP3 player or iPad, or direct connect to my phone. I don't need those, and they suck up battery juice just like Bluetooth™ does on your other stuff.

Hold on. I think there's a mouse prowling around the back door, gotta go ...

Buying Power

Ever buy a pair of Kirkland Signature™ jeans? Or Kirkland anything? If you have, and it wasn't stolen, you did it at Costco, since Kirkland is their house brand. (Name comes from the city in WA where Costco had its HQ for a year or so, back in the day.)

Sears does this: Craftsman, J.C. Higgins, Kenmore. Monkey Wards did before they went belly up. Rite Aid does it. Safeway. K-mart. Kroger. Others. 

How it works is, the store chain partners with a big manufacturer and gets a product that is the same as, or similar to, a nationally-known brand, but with their house label on it. Without the cachet of the brand name, the product can be and is sold for a big discount. 

The Rite Aid™ pre-electric shave looks an awful lot like Williams Lectric Shave™ but costs a couple-three bucks less. The only difference of any note is the label. What does that tell you?

This is a good deal for the store, the maker, and the consumer, and what it tells you? That a whole lot of stuff is way overpriced, since if you can get it at a big discount and they still make a profit, well, there you go. 

Brings us back to Costco. I'm picking up my new hearing aids today. They are spendy things, but because of Costco's buying power, they cost about 57% of what they would if I bought them retail in a small audiologist's shop. It's easy enough to check the numbers.

So if you are plunking down two grand at Costco, it buys you what $3500 does at the little hearing aid shop at the mall. You get the same tests by a certified audiologist, and that ratio is pretty close across the board in this area.

I don't begrudge those folks their living, but if you are already spending a couple grand on a  medical toy that insurance doesn't cover, that can get expensive in a hurry. 

Costco, depending on whom you ask, is either the #1 or #2 purveyor of hearing aids in the country. Figures are rubbery, but they apparently sell somewhere between half a million and a million dollars worth of the little amplifiers every day, through a chain of several hundred stores. When you have that kind of number to bring to the table, people who make these things sit up and listen. You want to hook up with us? Where do we sign?

There are, according to the estimate I read, 35 million people in the U.S. who currently need hearing aids, but only about nine million people actually have them. Big market out there, and the rock generation, the punk generation and the MP3 generation are all going to need 'em eventually because of their sins. Listen, these days I wear shooting headphones when I run the weed eater, the leaf blower, the vacuum cleaner and even the blender to help preserve what I have left. Loud noises kill your hearing. Trust me here.

My new bat-ears don't bear the Kirkland Signature™ label,, mine are from a major maker, with a model name that is exclusive to Costco. You can buy the brand elsewhere, but you can't get that model. Not that I really care what name is on it, but for folks who, for some reason, don't want the house brand, they can get the price cut without it. 

Now if we can get meds and medical care on this model ...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sneaky Pie and Skulking Beer and Vegan Butter O My!

I mentioned that I did my annual physical recently, and that the blood work was mostly okay. The cholesterol was a little high, and the triglycerides, while having dropped each time for the last six exams, are not as low as I think they should be. 

In the words of the old B&W TV Superman V.O. opening, one fights a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way ...

Or in this case, the non-American way ... of diet. We are, after all, the land of Mickey D's and Burger King and Taco Bell; the realm where we drink enough sugary soda to float ships; the place where Heaven and Earth were moved to restore Twinkies when the company who made them went under and there arose a great hue and cry from the populace: What?! No Twinkies?! 

Porky Pig has become our national logo ...

A few years back, my numbers were higher, and I determined that I was going to address them. So I did the research, altered my diet, and everything dropped, making me happy. 
(I spoke to it here, and here, if you want to see what I did.)

I had what I mistakenly thought was a pretty healthy diet and lifestyle. Not much red meat or pork, mostly chicken, turkey, fish, plus a lotta fruit, some veggies, I fasted one day a week, worked out, like that. 

Upon examination, however, I realized I had a pretty good sugar jones, and I was having a beer or two with supper more often than not, the odd glass of wine, chips, ice cream, and so on. So I stopped all that, and presto! mucho improvemento in a few months. 

And while I was congratulating myself on my discipline and fortitude, getting calluses on  my hand from patting myself on the back and all, fat and sugar and salt and beer crept in on little cat feet and took up residence once again ...

That's how so many bad habits accrue; there's no major shift whereupon you get up one day and say, "Hey, I'm gonna start a permanent junk-food marathon and pig out until I fall over in a stupor every day!"

No, what happens is, you grab a few chips and some sour cream to go with your healthy turkey sandwich. Those turkey hot dogs? They are better for you than the greasy beef-and-pork ones, right? The vegan butter is cholesterol free, so that's okay, hey? And that pumpkin pie, the sugar has been cut in half, so ... ?

The word of the day is "insidious."

So you look up one day and find that level ground upon which you have been manfully striding along and swinging your arms vigorously has become a slippery slope, and you didn't notice because the incline was so gradual and ... insidious ...

Which is not to say you can't have junk food once in a while. You need that valve or you are apt to blow a gasket. It just ought to be mindful; it ought not sneak past unnoticed. How you notice is, you determine a baseline by tracking every bit of food that goes into your mouth. Things you ate on auto-pilot unexamined can be the problems, and however hard it is to alter your diet, it starts with noticing what you are eating ...

So does that mean I am tossing my junk food out and going into total withdrawal? Nope. That opened bag of chips will get finished, but I won't buy a new bag. Those healthy hot dogs? While less fatty than the mystery-meat specials, we are talking about my normal repasts of  three dogs on buns, slathered in cheese and chili and onions? A hundred grams of fat. Three-quarters of the RDA cholesterol intake. Oops.

Burp ...

Fat is fat; it's nine calories/gram whether is is lard or olive oil, and while the solid-at-room-temperature stuff is worse, too much of the good oil is not to the way to go, either. 

Nor are most processed foods. If it's white, in a package on a shelf, probably you should eat little or none of it. 

Those smoothies and veggies are good, but they aren't enough to offset big junk food intake.

Yeah, yeah, what is the old Redd Foxx line? "Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday lying in the hospital and dying of nothing ..."

Still, I'd rather put that off for a longer while, and enjoy the benefits of good health as long as I can ...

Back Yard Gets Bigger

Before, above;
In-progress, below:

The fence guys are here today, which means that, temporarily, my back yard is going to be huge, since two of the three fences surrounding it are coming down. 

How it works is, they knock the old fences down, which in this case won't take much, since there are places you can poke holes in it with your finger. Then they dig little pits in the dirt for the new posts, this being made safer by having a utility spotter, who showed up here at dawn a few days back and sprayed various colors of paint onto the English Ivy to show the locations of gas, electric, and TV cables entering the property. The pressure-treated four-by-four posts will be set in concrete and allowed to dry overnight. Since there is no rain in the forecast until at least the weekend, that might actually happen. Come Thursday, the fence proper starts going up, and–in theory–by Friday, they are done. Shiny new cedar fence, thinner wallets at the neighbors' and Steve's house, and there you go.

The dogs will hate it, since we won't be able to let them run loose out back until it's done. 

The real upheaval comes next week, when the floor and carpet and kitchen counter and plumbing folk descend upon us. We'll have a house full of contractors, all the furniture will have to be shifted hither and yon, it will bedlam; madness, grinding, glue, and the dogs really won't like that.

The contractors will move the big pieces, but we have to unload the book cases and desks and dressers and unhook the computers and TVs and like that, which will be ever so much fun. Maybe paint some walls, too. 

The cat will vanish, the dogs will bark, and it is not my favorite thing, either; however, in theory, once they are done, our house will be much improved, the old carpets having been worn threadbare, and the floors gotten scarred and chipped and cracked and bubbled up. 

All supposed to be done in another week. Supposed to be. My experiences with house contractors here previously don't lead me to actually believe this, given that the last time we did carpets thirty years ago, plus bathrooms when we refinanced the mortgage twenty years back, neither schedule survived first contact with the hammers and glue guns ...

Ah, well. It's another first-world problem, isn't it? 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Tune Up

Last few weeks I have spent time in various places medical, having this and that inspected. 

First it was eyes, to deal with my little blind spot. After much squinting and poking and high-tech photography, the consensus was, Why, yes, you do have a little blind spot. We think we know what it is, it's Age-related Macular Degeneration, but we don't know what causes it, there's not really anything we can do about it, come back and let us check it in a month, and good luck.

Don't smoke. Eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Exercise. 

Then it was the annual visit to the family physician to see if anything I need to worry about has arisen since last time. Apparently not; this blood-work has improved; that one is a little worse; this over here is the same. Probably I shouldn't be eating so much sugar and drinking so much beer, which, I confess, I already knew, since when I cut back on those before, everything on the margin got better. (My triglycerides, which were high several years ago have steadily come down, and when I did an eight-month period of No White Death and held it to a couple beers a week? That level went through the floor ...)

Don't smoke. Eat lots of leafy green vegetables. Exercise. Cut down on sugar and beer.

Got it.

Oh, my doc said, and now that you are of an age, there are some vaccines you need. Roll up your sleeve, hey? 

I've already had the one for shingles, which I recommend if you've ever had chicken pox, because shingles is absolutely misery. Now I have a sore shoulder to help that I don't catch certain strains of pneumonia. (In the U.S. alone, more people die from pneumococcal disease each year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined.)

No vaccine is perfect, and they do have side-effects, but they do cut down the odds of catching stuff, and no, there is no link that says vaccines cause autism, I've done the research. Zip.

The fun thing here is that having connected to my medical provider electronically? I was able to get online and access the results of the blood work the same afternoon I visited the doctor. And show a side-by-side comparison of the numbers for the last seven years, too.

Then it was off to the audiologist to check the sonar. Seems it's been four years since I got a check and the last set of hearing instruments. The high frequencies have faded a little more, but mostly the other stuff has held steady. Oh, and by the by, did I know that there are much better gadgets available now and the same price or cheaper than the old ones? Try these on and have a walk about. 

Tooling through the aisles of Costco wearing the borrowed wolf-ears, I found I was able to listen in on conversations by folks two rows over; I could hear the hum of the lights overhead. Oh, and guess what? These new babies are Bluetooth™ functional. If I want, I can get a little repeater the size of a deck of cards and stream my TV, computer, iPad, telephone, or MP3 player directly into my ears.

How science fictional is that? I can sit in my chair and listen to music on my hearing aids.

The drawback is that batteries don't last as long because the doohickies are more powerful. (The receiver is in the ear and not in the body, which makes the instruments smaller than the ones I have, and thus smaller batteries that fade quicker. Maybe five days, they say. Then again, they cost a quarter each, so it might run three bucks a month to operate the pair.)

So how lucky am I? I live in a world where I have catastrophic health insurance and access to doctors and technicians who can address a plethora of health concerns. Not perfect, because some glitches can't be fixed, and the medicare and supplemental insurance doesn't cover everything, but I have choices a lot of folks in the world don't have. Plenty of blessings to count around here.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Here's a New One

Came across the term "Dunning-Kruger Effect" this morning whilst looking something up online. Normally, I wouldn't have been up so early, but the guy who came to mark the utility lines for the upcoming fence replacement showed up at the crack of dawn, so there I was ...

Um. Anyway, the DK Effect refers to the notion that Ron White's comedy show of a few years back addresses: You can't fix stupid. (And the DK Effect says, more or less, the problem is because stupid people are too stupid to know they are stupid ...)

Well, not exactly. What it points out is that there is a cognitive bias wherein people suffer from illusionary superiority in which they rate themselves above average when in fact they are not.

Darwin's line: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge."

The protocols for the theory come from test-taking, in which people with the highest scores sometimes underrated themselves, while those with the lowest scores thought they did much better than they actually did. 

And how did I happen upon this lovely term? 

Recently the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., an organization to which I have belonged for thirty-some odd years, had elections. One of the people running for President was Steven Gould, who, it was announced today, won in what is termed "a landslide."

The term "landslide" is seldom used in SFWA elections, in which voter turnout is generally in the low hundreds and the winner sometimes does that by a handful of votes.

Apparently the reason Gould won so handily was because his opponent was one Theodore Beale, a man who, if one can believe anything on the internet, has some extreme positions on various and sundry things. He sometimes writes under a pseudonym, "Vox Day," and has, according to the wiki, been a game designer and musician.

Whoever wrote the Rationalwiki seems to think the guy is a loon, unless his tongue is so firmly placed in his cheek as to require Superman to remove it:

Some quotes from that wiki, regarding Beale: 


Some of his most brilliant insights are to be found on Vox Popoli or in The Irrational Atheist. On homosexuality, he says:
Homosexuality is a birth defect from every relevant secular, material, and sociological perspective...[we must] help them achieve sexual normality.[14]
On Muslims and Brits:
You silly English twit. Limit your historically ignorant, politically correct, socialist sensitivity concerns to Londonistan and the rest of your island.[15]
His refutation of atheism:
[I]mpaired social cognition... is the hallmark of the militant New Atheists. [T]he anti-religious socially autistic crusaders... simply cannot understand that your religious beliefs, whatever they might be, are no legitimate concern of theirs.[16] High Church atheism may be little more than a mental disorder taking the form of literal autism.[17]
On race and intelligence:
It is absurd to imagine that there is absolutely no link between race and intelligence.[18]
On how to bring peace to the Middle East:
The Israeli government must announce to the world a unilateral ceasefire, balanced by the deadly promise that for every Israeli soldier killed, 25 Palestinian police will die. For every civilian, 100 non-combatant Palestinian adults will be slain, and for every child, 1000 adults.[19]
And perhaps most horrifically, on women:
Because they are the intellectual driving force of humanity, men will be fine... It is written that women ruin everything.[8]
First, there is no such thing as marital rape. Once consent is formally given in public ceremony, it cannot be revoked.
. . . If a woman believes in the concept of marital rape, absolutely do not marry her![20

Oh, my, oh, my. I wonder why he lost the election?