Monday, June 29, 2009

Sad Mac

My Macintosh is confused, and I am not much better at the moment.

I have a G4 tower, an ancient machine by today's standards, and it has served me well. There have been occasional bugs and crashes, but it has been a Volkswagon of a machine - solid, dependable, and reliable.

So this weekend, when it started up and showed flashing question marks instead of an startup volume, I knew I was in trouble.

Now, earlier in my life, this would be cause for complete panic as opposed to mild concern. We have a multi-machine household, so I got online with my PC and found the apple help site (which would have been unreachable if I had only the sick machine). It listed a few options to try before calling in the pros. First of these involved "reinserting the OS X install disk". The OS X install disk. Right.

Which I could not find anywhere in my office.

Mind you, my office is a bit of a disaster area. Disks from projects four years ago. Boxes of stuff from previous gigs. Yellow legal pads filled with notes, which I neither want to ditch or save. A limbo of knowledge, that is my office.

I spent most of Sunday looking for the disks, to no avail. I found VPN Disks for a Magic: The Gathering project that I worked on five years ago. I found the starter disks for my Mac IIvx, which I no longer HAVE (oddly, I did not throw them out). I found my unemployment benefit information. I found several earrings (all mine). ( found the pitch for a horror game WotC was going to do. I found more pens than I ever thought I could smuggle from various workplaces (and spent a half-hour seeing which ones worked and which ones didn't). And I found paperwork that may/may not have been important.

What I did not find were the startup disks. I know the G4 is now a "Legacy machine" which means that if I need to get it repaired, it will be a major process. Barring that, getting the data off the machine is a priority, as it includes all my email addresses and story ideas. In the meantime, I have the PC, but I use that in the office, and try to keep the two worlds apart from each other.

Sigh. Not panicking yet, but Sigh.

More later,

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I'd Like To Thank The Academy

The 2009 Origins Awards were presented last night in Columbus, and a project to which I contributed, Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, Volume 2, a compilation of comic stories from the series of the same name, took the Best Fiction prize. I adapted Ed Greenwood's short story, "Elminster At The Mage Fair" for the four-color page, and both Ed and I were pleased with the result. I am surprised by the win, since we were up against both Gary's last book,The Infernal Sorceress and Bob's The Pirate King.

Once we break the statue into even shares among the publisher, editor, original story authors, comic authors, and interior and cover artists, I believe that I get 1/18th of the statue. That puts me well over 50% on my personal quest to get a full Calliope of my very own.

A full report of winners is here. Particular congrats to Ken Hite for his Tour De Lovecraft: The Tales and Margaret Weis's team (including the mighty Jim Ward) for their Serenity Adventures.

Next up, the ENnies!

More later,

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tea Party

A couple months back, Oni-Anne celebrated her graduation with tea at the Queen Mary Tea Room. Here is photo of our merry band immediately afterward:

(Click to Embiggen)
FRONT ROW: Shelly, Little Elf Hat (head buried in her dad's shoulder), Wolf, Janice (Who is sane and doesn't have a blog)
BACK ROW: Anne's husband Sig, the Lovely Bride, the Humble Author, and John.

This is not news, but even I get tired of looking a Norman Rockwell portrait of Nixon after a while.

More later,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Your Art Lesson For The Day

I really like this painting:

I don't care much for the subject, though. Nixon was the first "utter rotter president" in my lifetime. And while you can pick on the post-war prezzes - FDR and HST and Ike and JFK and particularly LBJ, but Nixon was the first obvious and complete disappointment, and rattled my faith in the Presidency and left me leery of politicians for the rest of my life. Secret bombings, secret tapings, secret deals, dirty tricks, and every so often some old tapes resurface that remind us of how embarrassing he was. Plus the fact that he was anti-charismatic, a political cartoonist's dream, with continual five o'clock shadow, pinched features, beady eyes, trademark nose, and a feeling of flop sweat.

None of that is visible in this portrait, by Norman Rockwell and hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. Instead we see a relaxed man comfortable in his own skin. His sallow features are more natural, and his eyes wide, alert, and intelligent. I've seen cropped versions of the painting which just have the headshot, which is insufficient - the left-hand-to-the-chin by itself doesn't work without the relaxed right hand draped casually over the top of the couch. The empty area (negative space for those who pay attention to those things) in the upper left creates a dynamic feel for a sitting subject, and a relaxed intimacy that the man never projected in life.

And that is the power of art.

Norman Rockwell is best known for his commercial work, primarily covers for the Saturday Evening Post, and his whimsical themes and homespun Americana. Yet I've always thought he should be presented in the museums as a truly American painter with his own strengths and power. This portrait just confirms those feelings for me, and we should see more of his work in the great American art collections.

More later,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yep, That's a Paddling

So today we went canoeing on Lake Washington. Yeah, I know, those of you familiar with my previous adventures with small craft are already backing away in horror from the machine, expecting some tale of sunken ships and drowned rats.

No such luck this time, though I will admit I preferred to being kneeling in the canoe as opposed to sitting on the seat provided. Mainly because I have a rather large center of gravity and would prefer it to be as close to that of the boat itself (similar the Spelljammer "gravity plane") as possible. As a result of my caution, there was no tippage involved. So there.

In any event, we canoed around the Lake Washington Arboretum for a couple hours. It was a warm day, not too chill on the Lake itself, and the lake was filled with families celebrating Father's Day (Hi Dad!) in aluminum boats. Far to the south a line of rare thunderstorms were marching across the horizon, but save for the occasional rumble of thunder (which caused all typical Seattlites to look that direction, amateurs that we are), there was no real threat on the lake (thank you convergent flow, which kept most of the bad weather outside of Seattle).

It was also a special day in that they closed I-520, which runs along the northern end of the arboretum. And by "along the northern end" I mean through the area that consists of Duck and Foster islands, and the area where all the canoeing/kayaking/rowboating occurred. As a result, there was a sudden ABSENCE of car noise in the area, and something that I had not heard before while visiting - birdsong.

It was like visiting one of those "After Man" specials on the Discovery Channel, particularly paddling under abandoned and partially dismantled overpasses. But in this case it was "After Cars" instead - the bridge was a ghostly structure, while the water was alive with families in boats.

And alive with other things as well - turtles, ducks, a large number of blue herons, a eagle, a beaver house, and a kingfisher (with fish). And the water lilies were in bloom, creating a Monet-like landscape, in particular where the footbridges arched over the lake itself.

All in all, a wonderful experience, and one I recommend. the 420 should close more than a few times in the next few years, as they replace and expand it. And while the fate of the arboretum end is still up in the air, now is the time to check it out.

More later,

Saturday, June 20, 2009


John "That PC Guy" Hodgman at the Radio & TV Correspondents Dinner.

More later,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Steampunk Dreams

With more than just a tip of the top hat to Gil Scott-Heron and the lads at Wondermark.

The Revolution Will Not Be Telegraphed
You will not be able to stay home, old mate.
You will not be able to flee the smoke, go to ground, and lie doggo.
You will not be able to lose yourself on absinthe and opium,
Skip down to the club or the public for a quick one,
Because the revolution will not be telegraphed.

The revolution will not be telegraphed.
The revolution will not be transmitted in dots and dashes
Translated by Powell’s semaphoric boys.
The revolution will not show you stereographs
Transmitted to your handheld
Or posted broadsheet-style on the street for the plebes.
Of the Great Game and Chinese Gordon and Shaka Z.
The revolution will not be telegraphed.

The revolution will not be come to you over the mojo wire,
Distant electronic discharge accumulated on the babbage,
Quoting Jules V and Herbert G and Oscar Wilde
The revolution will not expect every man to do his duty.
The revolution will not evoke God and country.
The revolution will not lay back and think of England, because the revolution will not be telegraphed, Old Bill.

There will be no pictures of you and Bertie Wooster
Cradling a policeman’s hat, rushing down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that suspect soup tureen into the boot of a stolen lorry.
The Beeb will not be posing updates at the top of the hour,
or results from the outer boroughs.
The revolution will not be telegraphed.

There will be no engravings of the pinks at Homestead in the dailies.
There will be no engravings of the pinks in Haymarket in the dailies.
There will be no pictures of Spring-Heeled Jack in the dock at the Old Bailey, no shots of Albert in the can.
There will be no Muybridge sequence of Doctor William Gull fleeing an angry mob of consulting forensic experts and aether-linked mediums who had come to the same conclusion at the same time.

The ink-blurred protagonists of the penny dreads will not shed their copyrighted shackles and go blinking into the public square.
Aqualunged writers will not drive by and bang on the sides of their coach and fours, shouting out the numbers and roles they need,
hoping those released from literary Newgate will trade their freedom for a chance to once more play the Palladium.
No one will give a damn about what happened to Little Nell.
The revolution will not be telegraphed.

There will be no boffins providing exposition, no suffragettes in slacks smoking, no mute servant class made of dutiful coils and springs.
Its libretto will not be written by Gilbert.
Its music will not be penned by Sullivan, and it will not be sung by Lilly Langtree, nor dedicated to Emperor Norton.
The revolution will not be telegraphed.

The revolution will not be a glass-domed ticker tape unspooling
about an iron age, iron horse, iron chancellor.
You will not have to worry about the valley of death, about jam tomorrow, about standing on the burning deck.
The revolution is not a joy forever.
The revolution will not creep in on little cat feet.
It will not look where it treads.
The revolution will be a dark and stormy night.

The revolution will not be telegraphed, will not be telegraphed
will not be telegraphed, will not be telegraphed.
The revolution will be no busker’s show, Old Nick;
The revolution will be live.

More later,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hey, Hey, We're the Monks

Anathem by Neil Stephenson, William Morrow, Kindle version, 2008.

So here’s my history with Neil Stephenson's works:

Never read Zodiac or Big U. Thought the first fifty pages of Snow Crash were brilliant, but it trailed off after that. Loved the first fifty pages of Diamond Age, then drifted off after that, not finishing. So I had an idea that Mr. Stephenson wrote a great first fifty pages, then slacked a bit after getting the gig.

Then Cryptonomicon. Good book, filled with juicy bits, but now he no longer had to do the first fifty pages, so it started in low gear and stayed there for the duration. Great bits, but at the end, I had to fess up that I didn’t quite get a “what have we learned” sort of moment (OK, independent systems beat organized systems, but that’s kind of meta).

Loved the Baroque Cycle, but by this time I knew what I was getting into, so I was very tolerant of the (regular) digressions into British coinage and the anachronisms (turning Jack Shaftoe’s entrance into Paris into a Hollywood musical was inspired, but purely playing to the crowds). The series became my "vacation books" - to be lugged around when I knew I would have a lot of down time. I think it took me longer to read it than it took Mr. Stephenson to write it.

Now Anathem. Probably his best work to date. It is his best story as a story, in that it has a strong narrative flow. Also missing his more detailed digressions, sending his more detailed mathematical proofs to the back of the book and its appendices.

The book is a about aliens, monks, mathematics and philosophy. In an alternate world of Arbre, progress has halted for thousands of years at a particular level of technology, with advanced science being relegated to monastic organizations. Erasmus is a monk in one of those organizations, and we get a good feel for monastic life before something strange makes orbital insertion and all rolling hell breaks loose.

Stephenson builds his own jargon for a religious order on an alien word, and does a fantastic job, in that his jargon evokes both religious and scientific meanings at the same time. Erasmus belongs to a math, which evokes mathematics, mass, and myth, and is a member of a concent, a nice conflation of convent and concentration. Such words-you-almost-understand pepper the volume, and while it has a nice glossary in the back, by the time you reach it you know most of them through usage.

Stephenson also plays fair with the reader. We get to know things as Erasmus gets to know him, and his slightly out-of-it nature means we get a lot of background in the outside world as a result of his actions. The object in orbit kicks up a lot of dust in that outside world, to the point that astronomy is banned within the maths, then the panicky Saecular Powers bring in the learned brothers and sisters to solve the problem.

Erasmus and his fraas and suurs within the math are more rounded characters than I have seen before, and while I expected them to be merely replaceable viewpoints, they all developed into characters I recognized by the end. This goes for those in the outside world as well. There is a brief whiff of Hogwarts in some of the monkish proceedings, as Erasmus is just the young man to be in the right place at the right time, but it serves to keep the story humming along.

Stephenson also provides probably some of the best-grounded arguments against advanced technology I've heard. His Saeculars make sense in their embrace of a technology lower than they might otherwise have, and he comes up with a good excuse for how to keep technology at a slightly-advanced for 21st century level. They aren't bad guys, which also nice. And he explains why all that jargon sounds so similar to our own, and why Arbre is like our world but different.

It is an elegant, straightforward read. At first I credited the Kindle I was reading it on, but the fact is that the story pulls the reader through smoothly. The writing is almost sparse in places given the scope he has taken on. The ending verges on 2001-inside-the-monolith head trips, but in the end Stephenson delivers an excellent book that not only presents a good tale, but bulls its way through most of Terran philosopher, from Plato to Descartes to Schrodinger.

My one regret? It being electric bits, I cannot pass it along to someone else so they can enjoy. That's a downside of the Kindle, turning everyone into end users, but such is the nature of Saecular plots of the panjandrums.

More later,

Monday, June 15, 2009


I spent part of the weekend watching Iran unravel. Most of this has been on the net, since the networks and the print media have been pretty darn useless (the Seattle Times managed to get a Page-One-Below-the-Fold headline on Sunday, but had two more articles on the official meme of North-Korea-Ohmighod-its-dangerous).

The best combined coverage so far has been from the generally sane conservative Andrew Sullivan over at the Atlantic. Most of his sources are twitter feeds and cellphone pics from the sources themselves - notable in the lack of gatekeepers and filters.

My freshman year in college, I had an Iranian roommate, and as a result had front-row seats for the fall of Shah and the depredations of SAVAK. There is an extreme Animal Farm vibe in the current uprising, as the heirs to the previous revolution embrace the tactics of their former oppressors to keep their positions of power.

More later,

Updates: By Tuesday morning, the Times finally kicks in with the Iran story as the major story of the day. Andrew Sullivan turns his site green in support, and the site nearly collapses from the amount of traffic sent its way. And Twitter puts off a scheduled downtime in order to keep the feeds coming out of Iran.

Friday, June 12, 2009


So the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied and took the Stanley Cup in seven games from the hated Red Wings. Bwah-hah-hah!

And in other penguin-related news, Janna has created a customized penguin for the Woodland Park Zoo's Penguins on the March exhibit. Her Cleopenguin is brilliant!

Penguin trifecta now in play. More later,

Update: Mike Selinker completes the trifecta with this Video of a penguin going shopping. Those who bet on the penguin trifecta please pick up your winnings at the window.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"...and I hope we passed the audition."

So, I will fess up. I'm not much a fan of Rock Band and its relatives. I've played it, it is an OK way to spend time, but I haven't embraced this half-way point between air guitar and real chord progression. Maybe playing REAL guitar has ruined it for me, or that I recognize this game's real ancestor.


You heard me. Not the Pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster. Not Woody Guthrie's folk guitar, emblazoned with the sticker "This Machine Kills Fascists". Not Dylan's Gibson Nick Lewis Special (or his later Fender Strat Reissue he went electric with). The origin of the Rock Band-style game is that chirping little four-color disk that dares you to keep up with it. Heck, it even uses the same color scheme.

But anyway, I come not to praise Rock Band but to marvel at the opening cinematic for its newest version: Rock Band: The Beatles. Now being an old grump who remembers when the Beatles first landed, you'd think I'd be dubious about the entire retro operation, but I have to say it is bloody marvelous, encapsulating the groups' career, with shout-outs to the movies and public appearances.

Bloody marvelous, I say. Go check it out.

More later

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lawn Wars

There’s a hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hoe-ell! There’s a hoe-ell!
There’s a hole in the middle of the yard.

The Lovely Bride and I have our pied-à-terre in the exurbs between Renton and Kent, near Panther Lake. We have a nice bit of tree-shaded property, which is divided into the following sections - House, Lawn, Garden, Wilderness, and Driveway.

Maintaining the House is a team effort, while the Wilderness along the back property line is generally ignored by both. The Lawn is mostly my worry and the Garden is mostly the LB’s (The Driveway is a demilitarized zone, but that is a subject for another day).

Now changing these borders requires careful negotiation. While I hate mowing and weeding, I enjoy the wide expanse of grass behind the house, viewable from my office. The lawn itself is a motley collection of grasses, weeds, and wildflowers (current dominant inhabitant - buttercups). However, I am always wary about surrendering any of that space to the Garden division, so the Lovely B has been waging a “hearts-and-minds” approach to getting more space for her tomatoes, intent on putting them in the sun.

There are plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There are plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hoe-ell! There’s a hoe-ell!
There’s a hole in the middle of the yard.

The simple fact is that the lot is very shady, protected by maples, pines and spruces on all sides. While this makes it nice to avoid the prying lenses of photo satellites and Google Streetview, it does make it difficult to grow things. And while the Lovely Bride has been successful with her flowerbeds and with beans and asparagus, tomatoes have been a running battle. So finally, she wanted to install a pair of raised beds in the middle of the yard, right over the septic tank pipes.
Now, after mowing the lawn a few dozen times since February, I don’t mind losing a few more square feet to the garden. But the new arrangement involves more EDGES. And anyone who has had to mow knows that mowing is brute force, while edging is the real pain. So there were negotiations.

There are slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There are slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hoe-ell! There’s a hoe-ell!
There’s a hole in the middle of the yard.

The end result was that the two beds are going in, but leaving enough space so we could still do lawn bowling between them. And from the way she has laid them out, it looks pretty good, and does not destroy my “field of green” too much. Plus, she had to mow the lawn in order to clear the space for it all.

There are spots on the slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There are spots on the slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hoe-ell! There’s a hoe-ell!
There’s a hole in the middle of the yard.

So all this happened the past weekend, while I was striving against a massive head cold (and losing). And when I am sick, I tend to, um, sing. Bad songs, with lyrics of my own devising. And while she was toiling in the sun (because that is why the new beds are there in the first place), I was on my back porch, singing the above song, making up more lyrics as I went along.

There is moss on the spots on the slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There is moss on the spots on the slugs on the plants in the hole in the middle of the yard,
There’s a hoe-urk!! –

And that, your honor, is when she threw a tomato plant at me. Don’t know why.

More later,

Monday, June 08, 2009

Travel Book

So since I spent a good chunk of the past month out of town, it is a good time to revisit my old friend, the Kindle, and note how it has turned into the (pretty-darn-) perfect travel book.

Good points:
Portability: Let’s not quibble about this – it is easier to carry around a kindle in its case than to lug about a Neil Stephenson epic. Add to the fact that I could (when I chose to) carry a NUMBER of books and be able to cart them all around.
Anonymity: One of the things that get you to buy a book (a colorful or interesting cover) also works against you reading it in public (You want everyone to know you read that stuff? Or worse yet, it invites others to TALK to you about the book). A simple screen is very nice, and lets you read alone in a restaurant without attracting any attention – it looks like you could be taking notes on PDA.
Expandability. Finish a book? Buy a book. Talk about your instant gratification.
Battery Life: Enough to last a week, which carries it through most business trips. If you’re going to be longer away from home base, then you should bring the charger.

Bad Points:
Air travel: It is an electronic device, so off it goes on takeoff and landing. Bit of a bummer.
Accessibility: Was reading Anathem, which has a glossary and several chapters of back matter. Referring to it is a pain from the main narrative flow.
Art: OK, let us be honest - Kindle does text well, art, not so much. The screen emulates my old Macintosh SE as far as screen graphics. Even simple drawings have a case of the jaggies.
Inadvertent button pressing: I have developed the tendency to shut everything down (not a difficult thing) when I do anything else, even to carry it about. Otherwise you may leap ahead dozens of pages. I have lost my place a number of times, and had to search through numerous identical pages to figure out where I was.
Electricity: The battery can hold out for a good week, but you still need to recharge.
Lack of Sharing: Great, you finished the book and want to pass it along. No, sorry. You just have that bundle-o-bits, deadended into your machine. Not good for infecting others with the meme of reading.

End result: Not a bad thing, all in all. I'm not abandoning the Big Pile of Books next to the bed, but it is a nice thing to travel with. I suppose the next thing is to get my portable computer shrunk down as well.

More later,

Friday, June 05, 2009


So I spent a good part of May on a starship.

No, I was not shot into space, unlike the cooler game design legends. Instead, I was in another city on long-term business and living out of a modern American hotel. And after a few days, I realized that I was living on the Enterprise-D.

Now this is the Enterprise of the Next Generation. The original Enterprise of the Kirk/Spock era was a military cruiser operating in cold war era space, much like America of the era, facing hostile rivals (Klingons serving as Russians) and more highly advanced but flawed entities (Organians, Talosians, the Squire of Gothos, the Olympic gods, all filling in for old Europe). No, this was the Enterprise of Picard and Riker, which stressed more of the floating community of families on a long-term voyage than military men on a combination exploration/patrol mission.

The Enterprise hotel, then, was filled with a large multi-cultural staff of knowledgeable specialists (front desk, chefs, hotel personnel, security). My role was that of one of those visiting scientists who showed up every other week with some personal mission that may/may not endanger the ship. I and my away team (the other members of my company) would take a shuttlecraft (rental car with keyless ignition) down to the planet (to the job at hand) and return in the evening to find the starship still parked in orbit and running smoothly.

And like the Enterprise-D, the starship hotel is broken down into private quarters (that can be accessed if need be) and communal areas (bar, pool, restaurant, holodeck – hang on – that could be cable TV). There was a replicator with illusions of endless plenty (the breakfast buffet). While on the planet surface, mysterious individuals arrived and cleaned up the place, leaving it in pristine condition afterwards.

And like the Enterprise-D, there is an amateur/enthusiast approach to art and culture. Exporting culture was a big thing in Next Generation, and so too here. The lobby was filled with copies of famous bronzes (a lot of Remington), and the evenings in the bar had a blonde pianist rolling through classical numbers and showtunes. Nothing too deep, but enough to declare that culture is here (They did not need a pianist – there was a robo-piano (Data?) in the restaurant, and I started changing when I hit the breakfast buffet/replicator because if I heard Windham Hill’s Winter into Spring one more time, I would surely go mad).

Oh, and there were other teams on board, all working on their own missions. Country musicians. Brides. The President of Taiwan. I was used to being the scruffiest person in the room until the game design nerds started showing up for E3.

For my part, as a member of the visiting science team , and did nothing to engage with any of the mysterious folk RUNNING this starship. Had to rescue something from the lost and found another team member left behind (security), and get a new electronic keycard (front desk). Had to deal with alien technology (keyless remotes, strange wake-up call systems), alien foods (a set of springrolls that nuked both myself and another member of the team) and strange cultures (what is this thing about greeting you by name, anyway?)

Yet the mission ends, the data is gathered, and we are beamed back (via Alaska Air) to the home port, but the starship exists out there, for the next time we need it.

More later.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Twenty Years

(Well, THIS blog has been dropped off Beijing's Friends List).

More later,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Haunting We Will Go

Haunting Museums: The Strange and Uncanny Stories Behind the Most Mysterious Exihibits, is now out at your finer book shops and e-tail establishments. The book has been dedicated to the late Brian Thomsen, and this ignoble worthy contributed to the initial essay on the Carnegie Sauropods.

More later,