Sunday, January 31, 2010

Publishing and Throwing Elbows

So the weekend 'net has been alive with comments about the latest Macmillan and Amazon shenanigans. Here's the short version - Big Six publisher Macmillan (which, among other imprints, controls TOR books) and online book colossus Amazon are in a urination contest over pricing of ebooks. Once an impasse was reached, Amazon pulled all the Macmillan books off its site - not just its kindle-friendly versions, but ALL of them, save for those available by third parties.

On the subject itself, I don't have a lot to say that has not been said by author John Scalzi, author Charles Stross, and author Jay Lake. Jay Lake gets a particular mention for pointing out that Books are a product, Ebooks are a service. And yeah, when you think about it he's right.

But while I know a lot of author and publisher guys that are currently grinding their teeth while watching this whole thing play out, I'm instead marveling at the fact that this spat has gotten this public this fast (all hail the mighty Internets). Such distributor/publisher inter-murals are pretty common, and often involve the throwing of many sharp elbows.

Case in point, Random House and TSR. No complete history of TSR will ever be written until it takes into account the influence of TSR's distribution deal with RH and how it affected what was published. I was there, but up in the game design group, which meant I heard only the deepest of the rumblings from distant lightning strikes.

In short, starting during the "early middle years" of TSR, the company sold its games to the book trade through Random House. And this had a number of results in what you were buying and how you were buying it. The creation of the "gaming ghetto" in the big box and mall bookstores was a result of this team-up, as was the move away from boxes and towards book (less damage and shrinkage (boxes being opened and pilfered)). Random House had a department that was strongly motivated to expand our presence and TSR was trying to break into larger markets, so it was a very good relationship.

But the arrangement was not always polite. And when Random House wanted its feelings to be known, it had a very good tool at its disposal to may those feelings known.

TSR games and books were traditionally sold through a game sales model - they were non-returnable. In the book trade, that made them effectively "trade paperbacks", which was one of the reason TSR books always dominated such lists - they were trade paperbacks which looked like, and sold like, regular paperbacks. TSR-published books were considered "sold" when they shipped out the warehouse door (TSR books and games were briefly distributed by St. Martin's/Holtzbrinck, but are now distributed once more by Random House. I have no idea what the details of the current relationship are).

But TSR books and games sold through the Random House distribution had a slightly different deal - they could be returned by RH, in exchange for price breaks on future product. So every so often, trucks would appear at the TSR warehouse and offload TSR product, mixed up in huge shipping gaylords. Sometimes this was an end-of-the-year balance books thing, and sometimes it was a chance to get dented and dinged merchandise out of the pipeline. But sometimes it was used as a sign that RH was unhappy with TSR. If RH was unhappy, then we saw more gaylords of product come back.

Now for the design team, this was a chance to pick up a lot of stuff that we could use in our work - back issues of product, extra copies of things worked on, and piece parts that could be cannibalized for future designs (I have a full collection of multi-colored Ralph Kramden pieces from "The Honeymooners" game that I use for "Cosmic Encounters"). For the management, it was a regular pain in the lower back - Random House could (and sometimes did) make its wishes known with a sudden return of product and a demand for accompanying credit.

In short, it would put the squeeze on us, and since they were ALL of our book trade work, it was a very squeezy squeeze indeed.

As always, things change in time - the distributors embraced "Just In Time" delivery (which meant they wouldn't have to store as much stuff, and could charge the publisher if they did), and TSR went heavily into recycling and salvaging the returned material that was still in near-mint condition, which was the end of our literary dumpster diving. New ways were found to throw ones' publishing weight around, and this battlefield over e-publications is only the latest.

Such brawls between distributor and publisher are not horribly uncommon, though what is unusual is that it gets publicized outside the beltway of publishing itself. Usually by the time the writers find out about such things, the matter is either resolved or considered the "new normal". Seeing the thrown elbows showing up on half a dozen sites reflects a different response than is normal in such dealings, and reflects new players (such as the authors) showing up in the discussions.

In short, expect more elbows to be thrown in the future.

More later,

Update: And as quickly as the storm appears, it moves on. Here's the quote from Amazon I love -
We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.
Saying Macmillan has a monopoly over its books is like saying Toyota has a monopoly over all Prius cars. True for very specific definitions of "monopoly".

Update Update: I spoke too soon - it is now a week after the initial strike, now called #Amazonfail, and the Tor books are still not available on the Amazon site. In the meantime, Macmillan has promoting books with the tag line "Available in better bookstores, except Amazon". And the Lovely Bride has discovered that other sites, like Barnes & Noble, offer competitive pricing and lower shipping costs. Way to make people look to new sources, guys!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Local Politics

It is election time again, and if you're in King County, you've received your ballot and Voter's Guide.

What, so soon? Didn't we just have an election four months ago?

Yeah, but democracy never sleeps, and thanks to the arcane nature of how we do things out here, you're being asked to vote on a lot of small but important issues. In the case of up here in the Panther Lake area, we're being asked to replace expiring School Programs and Operations Levies (that would be Props 1 and 2 on our ballots, but they may vary for you).

I recommend voting Yes on the levy rates, for this and for similar measures, but I will add a whining complaint. We get the "choice" of properly funding our schools through ballot measures, but don't seem to get that choice when it comes to other bits of budgetary madness - I mean, when were you asked about giving the local officials a raise or tax subsidies for businesses? No, but whether your kids' classrooms get globes that don't identify Vietnam as "French Indochina", THAT you get to vote on.

It's sort of like a breed of environmentalism that endorses the idea that we only save the CUTE animals.

The other major measure for our neck of the woods is King Country Rural Library District Proposition No. 1, which, in a similar vein, is seeking to head off additional closures and cutbacks by restoring funding curtailed by I-747. Again, I am supportive of the Yes vote, with the note that this is what you end up with when you try to enforce budgetary discipline by ballot initiative. Sacnoth has more and better commentary on this issue this time out, and since the District is apparently huge, you should give it a read.

There is one element that I'm not voting on, but which is library related. There is a proposition regarding Renton Library joining the King County Library system. There may thrust of this is economic - The library doesn't have enough money, so it can join a larger group that also doesn't have enough money. A better and more cogent discussion of the entire matter can be found at Renton councilman Randy Corman's blog. I don't have a dog in this fight, and do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable to make a call either way, but if this is on your ballot, Corman's site is a good place to start.

And remind me, do we get to vote the next time we decide to start dropping bombs on people?

More later,

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jeff Takes a Holiday

And on the thirtieth day I rested. I've been involved for the past six work-weeks on a major project (more about that later), and I got it wrapped up yesterday, and declared that I was not showing up for work today (and to give you an idea of how intense it has been, the rest of my motley crew held back from the usual sarcastic remarks and wished me a nice day off).

So what do I do when I play hooky?

First thing? Sleep in. Until nine, and then only because our next door neighbor was chainsawing up wood (Thanks, Ron!). Then out to Third Place Books up in Lake Forest.

Now, TPB is a weird location for a good bookstore, part of an architecturally nice strip mall with an Albertsons, near a lake but not near much of anything else but residential. The store itself adjoins a large commons room that is used for chess, D&D, Mah Jong and general hanging out and food court. The offerings are good (Purchases: The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson, Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel). Staff is knowledgeable and polite, but I showed up for the espresso machine.

Now this Rube Goldberg device in the back of the commons is a Print on Demand operation - Order the book at the info desk, they print it up for you. Their goal is to get turnaround time in about an hour, but that's a goal, not a current result. I tested it out by ordering The Charles Fort Reader, and D'Orcy's Airship Manual. Despite opting out of the Google Books Settlement, I'm OK with seeing books from the 20's still getting the light of day.

Ordered, was told it would take a while, so I drove down to Pike Place to pick up two pounds of tea (Earl Grey, loose). And some mozzarella balls. And some rosemary garlic bread. And some olive bread. And some brats from Usingers. And had some lunch - gyros, clam chowder, crab rangoon, and some fresh donuts.

Oh, and did I mention there was a band on one of the rooftops? It is the 41st anniversary of the last Beatles appearance, so Beatles tribute/cover band Creme Tangerine played Fab Four hits from one of the balconies overlooking Pike Place. The only American on the rooftop that day, Ken Mansfield, was present and spoke about Apple Records. It was to raise funds for luekemia research. And a lot of old folk danced in the streets. Also picked up a book on the Permian extinction from Lamp Lighter Books.

Walked to the Seattle Library (yes, walked), and saw what they had that could help me my current hobby-project - researching newspapers of the mid-20s in New England. Looking for resources that can show me full pages as opposed to just articles. Staff was helpful but kept thinking I was after genealogy info.

Walked (yes walked) down to Elliot Bay Books to see it before everything shut down. It was there, with books and all, but it already feels like the guy who's handed in his resignation but is still showing up for work until the end of the week. It will be missed.

Walked back up along the sound itself (Yeah, a seawall repair would be "a good thing"), recovered my car and drove back up to Lake Forest (Via The Dreaming in the U-district, just to see if they had anything new in Cthulhu - they didn't), and got to Third Place with about five minutes to go before the books were ready. The books were - well, books. The paper stock is good, more photocopy paper than book paper, and the covers do not have the gloss finish you would see on other books. The Charles Fort Reader is massive (four original books gathered together), but the binding looks solid. The airship book (from the Library of Congress) has a generic cover stating the title and where it was printed. Sort of a restored ghost of a book, but it is pretty cool.

About five hours from start to finish - not instant gratification by any means but a good thing. I could see using this to get out-of-print nonfiction from the depths of time.

And that was my day. How was yours?

More later,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Play: So High School

Speech and Debate by Stephen Karam, Directed by Andrea Allen, through 21 February, Seattle Rep.

I'm going to be up front about this; this one did not do a lot for me. I am fairly uncomfortable with the comedy of embarrassment, particularly where those being embarrassed are generally clueless about the major wall they are about to crash into. High School is a time for such grand-scale embarrassment, and the play is the story of three kids who are extremely mature and immature at the same time, and whose reach exceeds their grasp.

The three are Solomon (Justine Huertas), would-be reporter looking to address controversial issues, Howie (Trick Danneker), openly gay and dating older men), and Diwata (Erin Stewart), insulted that her talent is not recognized (And whose favorite character from The Crucible was Mary Warren, a character who lies to save her skin). The three are bound together by a secret that each knows a piece of, and each is willing to use their piece to muscle the others. Each has their own additional secrets, weaknesses, and ulterior motives, which drive them but do not do a lot to make them hugable in any sense of the word.

At some points, I had difficulty remembered who had the upper hand on whom, and the play does unspool in fits and starts. It builds to Speech and Debate program where their goals are above their ability to deliver (yeah, very high school) that is both open-hearted and painful to watch. Embarrassment comedy.

The actors are excellent in their roles, though they are playing much younger than their true ages. But sometimes there is something the is rasp-against-the-bone irritating in watching good actors play characters that are not very good actors, and playing them very well. You see the wall coming up, and you know there is going to be no effort to avoid it.

The play itself is disjointed, separated into compartments by the various types of rhetoric and speech categories. Sometimes it works, often (for those of us unexposed to that part of high school), it seems a bit of a stretch. The characters are well-resolved to the point that you wonder why they are hanging around each other, and there are more than a few places where a character is storming out of the conversation, but you know that they will be stopped, not because of something endemic to the character, but because it is necessary for the plot for them to be stopped.

The concept of the play is supposed to embrace modern technology, but what that does is that it allows cheap leaps of logic (a student Googles a teacher's (Amy Thone) campaign contributions - googling is a punchline a lot here, even in cases where wikiing would be more appropriate). It also puts distance between the characters in that they all meet outside real life - blogs, chat rooms, cell phones, before they meet IRL, so we have double meetings throughout.

On the other hand, the Lovely Bride loved it, and in the interest of equal time, share with you some of our discussion over Delfino's pizza later. She felt it was a genuine work, which dealt honestly with the adult-children of high school, a world where there are teen moms but they will change the text of "Once Upon A Mattress" to cater to more conservative local values. She thought it a strong play, and I'm more than willing to voice her opinions and note that your mileage on this may vary.

For me, it was tooth-grindingly tough to embrace and engage with. I came out of it with a reminder of how much the rest of your life is so like high school, and how that is not necessarily a good thing.

More later,

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wine Dinner

Last night the Lovely Bride and I went to a Wine Dinner at Paulo's, which is just down Benson and the best restaurant on the hill. The even was a wine dinner sponsors by Kestrel Vintners.

What this means is that chef Paul Raftis put together a five-course meal paired with a variety of Kestrel Wines. Many of these were original creations, and were absolutely delicious. Here's the menu.

Toasted Pistachio and Cheese Arancini
Pancetta, Fresh Chile and Tomato Pizza
Pan Roasted Scampi
Wine: Lady in Red

Italian Clam Chowder
Wine: Viognier

Bucatini with Lentil Sauce
Wine: Sangriovese

Grilled beef tenderloins with roasted garlic and
shallots and mushroom brandy sauce,
served wtih Yukon gold mashed potatoes, Parmesan, and fresh thyme.
Wine: Co-Ferment Syrah, Winemaker Select

Spiced Cranberry-Pear Tart.
Wine: Late Harvest Merlot.

Translations for the culinary-impaired:
Arancini - A fried rice ball
Viognier - A white wine with a floral aroma and a buttery taste - pronounce Vin-YAY.
Sangriovese - A hearty, red table wine
Bucatini - A thick spaghetti with a small hollow center.
Co-Ferment - I think (I was three wines in at the explanation), that this is a blended syrah, a percentage of which is aged in oak, and a percentage which is aged in stainless steel. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages.
Syrah - A powerful red that can stand up to beef.

The food itself was wonderful. The Italian clam chowder was original and a fantastic white chowder, the tenderloins were succulent, and arancini was light and tasty.

I've noted before that meals where the wines are matched to the courses are an incredible improvement on those where you have the meat, she has the fish, and you split something non-controversial between the two of you. I really liked the Lady in Red, which was a blend of other wines and was extremely mellow for a red, which usually has more bite for me. The Late Harvest Merlot looked like cognac and tasted like heaven, and of course the LB ordered three bottles.

And the kitchen was particularly supportive of the LB's allergies (chicken and egg) and whipped up a non-egg arancini. Greatly appreciated.

The dinner was excellent and the company as well. Seating is at long tables, and our neighbors were a couple from Covington - he is with Boeing and she was with a now-defunct South King County newspaper. So we got a lot of local stories (including the fact that Paulo's building was originally a fast-food adjunct to the Golden Steer across the parking lot, named the Bum Steer). And it was decided that since we had been living here for about a dozen years, we had attained "old-native" status and could now complain about all the new developments going up.

In general, it was a wonderful meal, and while I am not a fan of reds, I was pleasantly surprised by the wines. It's good to try new things, and this was a good example. Plus if gives me a chance to recommend Paulo's.

More later,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Novel: Living in the Past

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, Ace Books, 1983.

How I got this book: I got to this book late in life, particularly for a book that is so seminal to a lot of things that I’ve enjoyed – steampunk, historical novels, alternate histories, magic, secret societies, and a lot. I can see why so many of my compatriots enjoy the book, but when it came out I was establishing my writing/designing career and not reading a lot of outside material, so it passed by.

Until the author was slated for a local convention, at which point I borrowed a copy from a friend, and started in. And then I knew I had to buy a copy for myself. And in the end, I was out for that entire weekend with food poisoning and missed the author appearance anyway. Ah, well.

So what about the book? Brendan Doyle is a scholar specializing in the work of the extremely obscure poet William Ashbless, a compatriot of Byron and Coleridge. He’s recruited by a wealthy madman with access to advanced tech, for the stated purpose of taking a dinner party back in time to listen to Coleridge (as a test bed for the time travel idea). Doyle gets trapped in the past and, despite early confidence that his knowledge of the future will allow him to survive 1810 England easily, he finds it is no simple matter.

The reason time travel works the way it works is because of actions by an ancient group of Egyptian sorcerers who punched as series of gates through the frozen river of time (a very nice conceit). They are also responsible for a body-switching werewolf haunting London, along with allies among a gypsy brotherhood, an organization of deformed clown-beggars, and several metaphysical elementals. So Doyle has his hands full, as he ranges between trying to change his supposed past and trying to fulfill it.

Indeed, the book keeps a lot of balls in the air at the same time, such that a plot thread or character may be lost and much be recovered later. And the book has so many potential bad guys that it needs not one, but four resolutions (one of which Doyle is not present for, another which required Coleridge to return to the narrative after a long absence) in order to fully resolve. However, through all of this, Powers plays fair with the reader – indeed part of the fun is figuring out before the protagonist where the plot is going next, and while Doyle can be a bit thick sometimes, he eventually twigs to what is going on.

I can see how this book has become a modern classic in the geek world – it is one of the first (1983) recent books that functions like a mashup, taking esoteric parts of existing histories and putting them into one place. Others have followed, but this one led the way for this type of adventure novel.

More later,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Republican Census Scam

Somehow, I have ended up on a mailing list for the Republican National Committee. I suppose it could be some friend or comrade having a bit of fun (or vengeance) for my political views (which, of course, I would never inflict upon others), but more likely it is the result of purchasing some product that conservatives tend to purchase and getting on a mailing list (I'm looking at YOU, The Teaching Company).

So I've gotten the odd robo-call or money-raising phone call (and if I get a live person, I explain that they've made a horrible, horrible mistake and try to keep the amusement out of my voice), and I get the odd bit of RNC mail, but the most recent entry was enlightening for the depths of its deception.

"Do Not Destroy - Official Document" says the envelope and the window in front said "Census Document". So its a good bet it will not get opened by real Republicans (Who, we've been told, HATE the census). But upon opening, it isn't THAT census, but rather a 2010 Congressional District Census commissioned by the Republican Party. And its a pretty hilarious document, and while I am tempted to fisk it, I won't waste more of your time except to pull a few choice quotes:
1. Do you generally identify yourself as a: o Conservative Republican, o Moderate Republican, o Liberal Republican, o Independent Voter who leans Republican, o Other ____
Leaving aside that there ARE no Liberal Republicans anymore, I think I would go with Other: SANE.
4. Do you believe that the huge, costly Democrat-passed stimulus bill has been effective in creating jobs or stimulating America's economy?
That would be the huge, costly stimulus bill that was passed under the Bush administration, right? (Oh yeah, the line about out-of-control spending is laid at the Dem's feet as well, ignoring the last eight years of drunken-sailor fiscal policy from the previous Administration).
16. Do you believe the Republican Party should continue to embrace social issues?
No, I think the Republican Party should START embracing social issues. Like that nice conservative who's fighting against Prop. 8.

Anyway, it is pretty much standard double-think boilerplate ("Do you believe the Obama Administration is right in dramatically scaling back our nation's military" - if by "dramatically scaling back" you mean "giving them more money," yeah, sure), but the the cute bit is at the end - The Census Certification and Reply section, where it begs for a hefty donation to the party. And if you DON'T want to donate, then please include 15 bucks to help defray the cost of processing the "Census Document".

It is scam, pure and simple. Your answers will not be processed, but you check will surely be cashed. The idea of wrapping this up in an official-looking document pretty much shows how little the RNC things of its cash-cows. I'm sorry, its supporters.

I get donation mail from the Dems all the time, and THEY are always inviting me to overpriced soirees and neighborhood meetings (I blame the Lovely Bride - she made a donation the McGinn). The RNC is trying to scare you here and make you pay for the privilege. And you wonder why they as a party are being held hostage by their least rational faction.

Oh, and the "census" came with a personalized letter from Michael Steele, the beleagured head of the RNC, where he says:
Mr. Grubb, to win November, the Republican Party must be better organized than the Democrats every step of the way.
Here's a hint, Mike. Wasting your money sending this type of bunco to liberals is just asking for a mocking, and shows that you guys are still the party of the Big Con. Seriously, if you want to be ahead of the Democrats, don't tell me what your plans are.

But that should be obvious, right? You don't need a census to figure that out.

More later, (And I DID shred the document, guys - come and get me!)

Update: And here I thought this was a new thing. And here I was so honored to be chosen by the RNC to represent Washington's 8th Congressional District.

Update Update: Apparently this is getting a bit more attention, from the normally conservative-friendly Politico. The money paragraph?

"Of course, duping people is the point. ... That's one of the reasons why it works so well,” said one Republican operative familiar with the program, who said it’s among the RNC’s most lucrative fundraising initiatives.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Was Troy Greek?

Let me set this whole thing up for you. I've been listening to a lot of lectures on tape from The Learning Company ("Buy something from us and get five catalogs a week!"), filling in a lot of my classical history so woefully ignored in my time as a civil engineer. And on this past Tuesday Night, Sacnoth and I attended a lecture at the UW by Professor Carol G. Thomas on Greek history. Short review here - she was marvelous on the subjects of the existence/nonexistence of Troy and Homer, but she was torpedoed by the support staff, from nonfunctional mikes to a horrible screwup at the door that turned getting into the venue into a middle-aged mosh pit.

Anyway, with all this (and re-reading the Illiad), I'm hitting a question I haven't seen brought up in serious analysis.

Was Troy Greek? Or, to be more accurate, was Homeric Troy, currently identified as "Troy 6" in archeology, a Greek city?

What most people know about the Trojan War (in addition to the big wooden horse), is that it was a fight between the Trojans and the Greeks. This sets up the two sides as equal, as two distinct nations, but that feels wrong.

In the Illiad itself, Homer doesn't identify the Greek side as greeks - instead they are the Achaeans, an alliance of city/states who come across the sea to beat up Troy for Paris stealing Helen. And indeed, most of the political action in the Illiad involves Achilles playing holdout over slights real and imagined. So the "Greek" side is hardly organized.

And as a writer, the actions and allegiances of the gods always bother me. The deities, Greek Deities, are on both sides of the conflict, and their own squabbling reflects on the battlefields as loyalties change and deals are made.

Add to that the idea that we think of Greece as the borders of modern Greece, but ancient Greece was a larger entity, with settlements along the Black Sea, in Sicily, and in southern Italy. And in Asia Minor. Heck, of the seven wonders of the ancient world, three of them (The Colossus, the Mausoleum, and the Temple of Artemus) were in Asia Minor.

And the identity of the Trojans as a individual race or nation remains a bit fuzzy. They seem to be just as localized as a Greek-style city-state. So then the question is - Was Troy Greek?

My initial answer is: It depends on what you call Greek, podner.

Our modern sensibilities do more than define ancient Greece by modern borders. It also creates the idea of a unified Greece that did not necessarily exist. The history of Greece that I've been uncovering points to regular raiding and battling between the city-states, and the city-state, or polis, is the main unit of political currency.

It is only when Greece is threatened by an outside force (Persia, or later Rome), do the city-states unify under the "Freedom for the Greeks" banner and use it as a rallying cry. And once the danger has passed, they go back to more parochial squabbling. In fact the story of the Illiad seems to be a lot more the tale of an uneasy alliance of city-states going out to pound on another city-state of similar heritage and background, than it does a campaign against a foreign foe.

So the answer to "Was Troy Greek?" seems to be "Troy was likely a city with a Greek heritage or heavily influenced and led by Greeks at the time of the Achaean siege."

I don't know if this is an original idea. Possibly someone has already proposed this in a more learned fashion, and it is equally likely someone else has come up with good reasons why it is not so. Right now it remains a theory, and if you want to take it and run with it, go for it.

Yeah, I think about these things.

More later,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Crown the King of the Monsters!

Kobold Quarterly has been showing off its candidates for King of the Monsters for the past couple weeks. There were a lot of really cool contestants, and any one of them deserves the crown.

Now comes the time, for you, the members of the Mighty Internet, to vote. Here's you chance to review the contestants and cast your vote!

It is good to be King!

More later,

Monday, January 11, 2010


OK, I'm hip-deep in some other stuff, but thing made me laugh, and the power of the Internet is such that I can inflict it on you.

Yes, it is a real promo for a Microsoft product.

More later,

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Moving to Kent

This past election, Grubb Street and the rest of the surrounding Panther Lake area voted to join the city of Kent. And this morning our new city held an open house in a local school - the school is part of the Kent school district, but the surrounding area only will become Kent by the middle of next year.

They needed to get a bigger boat. The room chosen was woefully undersized for the crowd that showed up at 10 AM. Similarly, the parking lot was packed to the gills. Supplies, and a lot of handouts, were quickly exhausted, and the officials, elected and otherwise, were pretty much overwhelmed. It was a mosh pit of locals in sweaters and seasonal jackets.

I had a sewers question (as in - we have a septic system, do we need to hook up to the newly installed sewers right now?), so I stood near a besieged Public Works rep, who was trying to provide detailed answers for a wide range of questions from new citizens who were wondering how the new deal would change/screw up their present lives. Many had specific questions for their present problems (Neighbor across the street parks in such a way that it makes it hard to get out of the driveway) as well as kinda vague, generally indignant statements (The road network is bad out here, so what are you going to do about it?).

(Oh, and the detailed answer to my specific question is, no, not yet. Unless the septic system fails, or we sell the house and the buyers' lender demands it, or there are enough local septic failures that Soos Creek Water requests it. Like so many other things, it is a bit nuanced).

A big theme was; you as a citizen aren't going to pay as much in taxes, but we as a city don't have a lot of money. The public works department has projects that have been in planning for thirty years. The police would like to establish a full-time station here (and on West Hill) but there's no funding. There was a lot of money talk in the room, usually about how the community doesn't have any.

One woman at the parks table was talking about how they didn't want to annex Panther Lake anyway but King County made them do it. Accurate, but I hope she wasn't part of the "welcome to the neighborhood" committee.

I didn't get the answer to my other question - we're changing cites, are we changing zip codes? It is a post office thing, said one councilman, but another attendee pointed out that they changed zip codes and street numbers when Renton annexed the Highlands, and it screwed up everything from postal service to Google maps. It is one of the niggling, detailed questions that I'm still going to have to dig out to get answered.

But in general, it was a manful attempt by the new city to meet the new neighbors. They have had four earlier annexations, but I get the feeling that this might be bigger than any of their previous attempts.

Oh, and I met one of the Mayor's assistants. Pleasant guy, but he didn't know about the zip codes, either.

And one last thing - I really want to get one of those public works maps. They had the nicest maps in the room. Just saying.

More later,

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Edsels of the World of Movable Type

While searching for something else, I found this poem by Clive James: The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered. It is a wonderful read, and sounds even better read by Garrison Keillor.

This poem delights writers and reminds everyone else that writers are not necessarily the nice people you assume we are.

More later,

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Memo from the Past

So I am cleaning out the downstairs game library (boxes upon boxes of comics, games, and magazines), and keep coming across pieces of my past. Some of these pieces will never see the light of day (say … the photos from the time TSR all went to the Medieval Times restaurant), but some are worth sharing. Here is an internal memorandum posted on the wall at TSR, sometime in the late 80s.

There are explanations due to the newcomers, of course. “Bud” was a cloth dummy used in the TSR display at Toy Fair one year that DRAGON editor Roger E. Moore rescued and adopted, and as such was propped up in absentee employee chairs, hung off the balcony by his thumbs, and surrounded with empty bottles of Mad Dog 2020. “Richard Awlinson” was the house name (All-in-one) created for the Avatar Trilogy, and represents Scott Ciencin, Richard Deacon & James Lowder, and Troy Denning. “Frog Keep” was an in-house joke created promoted by Freelance Coordinator Bruce Heard, who added it to the schedule whenever he thought no one was watching. This particular time he made Bud the designer and Awlinson the editor. “Unamit Ahazredit” was pun from the SPI game “Swords and Sorcery”, and a shout-out to another Lovecraftian Mad Arab.

Anyway, this appeared after "Return to Frog Keep" was added to a massive "schedule wall" we had in a meeting room. Bud was listed as the designer, Richard Awlinson as the editor. Everything else is pretty much self-explanatory.

TO: Bud
FR: Richard Awlinson
RE: Return to Frog Keep

Boy, you’ve drawn a tough one. Frog Keep was one of the most unpleasant, controversial, downright painful products that this department was ever involved with. The original concept was Bruce and Zeb’s, but it was a freelance design from a guy named Unamit Ahazredit (The Mad Arab). The resulting manuscript was so vile that Zeb went mad from the design review, and Bruce changed nationality (you knew he was originally Samoan, right?

The original version was deemed “too unhealthy for mortal man” but through a scheduling glitch was sent out to a freelance editor, who followed the “Three Check’ method of editing (Spell Check, Grammar Check, Paycheck), so the more disturbing scenes remained intact, in particular the Halfling nipple-pierecing sequence. By the time we realized that the transvestite Githyanki sex slaves were still in the book, it was in galleys, and as you know, there’s nothing we can do to change the text once it is in galleys.

Marketing manfully tried to prevent Frog Keep from coming out, but their efforts amounted to Bob borrowing the office copies and never returning them. You probably remember the scandal when it hit the shelves – all the major tabloid new shows were here, Lorraine was accosted in the streets by angry mothers, and the sexual practices of “gnoming” became a regular staple of TV talk shows. The fans, of course, enjoyed it tremendously (“Finally a project that speaks to me” was the review from White Wolf), so TSR was faced with a successful product which offended everyone.

I do not envy your position, Bud. You’ll be under tremendous pressure to clean up the sordid presentation of the first version by upper management, particularly the pansexual practices of the wizard Flintminster the Semi-Lucid (last seen crawling through the sewers of Frog Keep muttering “Anything that moves, boys, anything that moves”). By the same token, delivering anything less than a full-fledged debauch will offend the hard-core fans and result in death threats, bombings, and kidnappings by whip-wielding women wearing tight leather outfits and knee-high boots.

Hell, I’m not getting anywhere near this one. Count me out of any meetings you’re holding. I don’t even want to know you.


More later,

Monday, January 04, 2010

Rolling Stones

I know, it is all very hip and cool to declare that Global Warming is a hoax whenever is snows somewhere (Like back East. In January), but out here in the real world we are looking at large chunks of Mt. Rainier coming down the riverbeds because its glaciers are, you know, melting.

More later,

Update: Cliff Mass has more on why it is so cold back east (and why it has been so warm back here). Now comparing daily weather and glaciers is apples and oranges (they operate on different time scales), but he does offer some (eventual) respite for those in the upper Midwest and Plains.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


I've done a little housekeeping here on Grubb Street, which matches the ongoing clearing of all the old game material I keep in the archive room (the room in the basement with the "Beward of the Leopard" sign on it).

You might notice the difference in either, since I am not engaging in too great an overhaul on this site. It always bothers me when I go to a regular site and suddenly everything is changed and the backdrop is sudden pink and the fonts change. No, I'm pretty much happy with my simple arrangements here, and figure that you are as well.

Most of the changes happen over in the right hand side of the blog, where I've dropped a few blogs and sites that were not producing any new content, and added a bunch more. One major piece I've added is the "Stuff I'm Reading" header, which are sites that I find I am checking daily. They include
Kobold Quarterly - Currently running the King of the Monsters contest which I helped judge.
Cliff Mass Weather Blog - An excellent blog on weather in the Pacific Northwest, which consumes only 68% of our conversations out here.
Bad Astronomy - Sponsored by Discover Magazine, Phil Plait deals with science issues at large in addition to Astronomy, which I started reading during one of this new century's frequent asteroid scares.
Ken Levine - Baseball announcer and comedy writer who has written for M*A*S*H, Cheers, and Frasier, as well as the Tom Hanks movie Volunteers.
Mark Evanier - Well known comic book author and animation scriptwriter, best known for attaching the words to Segio Aragonnes' drawings in Groo.
Andrew Sullivan - My favorite pot-smoking gay conservative, has the best coverage of the Iran Uprising of anyone in the business. Anyone.
Edge of the American West - A group blog on history and philosophy. I don't remember how I found it, but I just keep coming back.
Making Light - A long-standing blog here, moved to this new location, this is the personal blog of Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden, with frequent quest.
Blog Lebo - A blog reporting on my original home town, Mount Lebanon, PA. Still trying to find one of similar quality for Kent, which will become my new home town come middle of this year.

I also installed the gadget (tech term) for displaying followers under the "Minions" header. In other news, I have followers. Color me surprised. I'm not sure what you get for being a follower, but if it involves me sending out t-shirts, I'm disabling the darn thing again.

And that's about it. I'll continue to tinker with the site, but generally I'm pretty happy with the way it looks, so its a keeper right now. Oh, and I'm facebooking, only because that's the new hotness, and rebroadcasting this blog on that site. And that's pretty much it for major changes for the Grubb Street blog for this year.

Now watch, we'll get brain-blast technology all of this will be old and busted-down by January 2011.

More later,

Friday, January 01, 2010

Old Year's Night

Welcome to 2010 - your flying car is in the driveway. Quick, go get it, before it gets recalled and hauled away by the black helicopters.

I could just replay the entry from January 1, 2009. We held an open house/gaming day at Grubb Street, a 12-hour celebration of games and conviviality. A lot of games, old and new were played, champagne was imbibed and very smokey whiskey was sipped (who knew whiskey had umami?), and there was a plethora of snackage. I'd say my fave game this year was Alhambra, which I got the Lovely Bride for Christmas. Now the LB and I are recovering, delighted in the fact that we had a good evening with friends and the house is (mostly) still clean.

Modern holidays are always strange, because if you look at them hard enough, there is a Lovecraftian weirdness to their history, the recognition that dark shapes from the past lurk just beneath the surface. The popular history puts the selection 1 Jan as the start of the year back into the days of the Roman Republic. It was earlier 25 March or so (near Spring equinox), but was shifted to 1 January because that is when the rulers took office. Yeah, we have 1 January as the start of the new year because it made the bureaucracy work better. Anyone whose company talks about fiscal years versus calender years knows the strangeness that results. 1 January standardized in the West with the Gregorian Calender in the 16th Century, at which time 10-14 days suddenly vanished for a lot of the locals. And Greg's calender is artifice, a scaffolding erected over the previous system to make the feast days work out.

The end of the year as party and celebration was frowned on by the Middle Ages church, who saw paganism in the giving of gifts (St. Eligius got all bent out of shape about it). Indeed, for many years 1 Jan was noted as the Feast of the Circumcision, which was changed to the Octave of the Nativity when too many of the locals couldn't get their minds out of the gutter (Now it is the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary, which by name indicates that there is not going to be any clowning around here). The entire full-fledged debauch, followed by resolutions and declarations that everything will be different, an almost mini-Mardis Gras feeling, is a very 20th Cent American thing.

I look forward to the next decade with hope. The first years of this century have been a decade of cowardice, when a very bad thing happened to our country, and we proceeded to throw all the ideals we supposedly held dear away on the promise that it wouldn't happen again. Future historians will try to encapsulate this time, define its boundaries, and show that it was, like the First Age of American Imperialism or the Red Scare, a time when we as a people lost our heads a little bit, but we are much better now. It will be untrue, of course, and we will be just as vulnerable to the madness that consumed us. Indeed the same scoundrels who thrived and profited on panic nine years ago are actively seeking to breed further fear now, and indignant that we are hesitant to dance to their tune.

We can be better, and with the new decade, we should. More later,