Thursday, June 30, 2016

Short Film: The Cat With Hands

This was described to me as "an incredibly creepy piece of stop-motion animation". I see no reason to argue.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Off to Timbuktu

Nothing for today. If you want something fun to entertain you, go check out The Search for Timbuktu over at Strange Company.

The Age of Exploration was not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A conversation with my children

Me: "So that's a dragon-type Pokemon, is it?"

Secondborn: "It is the most powerful Pokemon."

Firstborn: "It's the most powerful dragon-type Pokemon."

Me: "Is there a Pokemon that does housecleaning?"

Firstborn: "I don't think so."

Me: "Because I want a Pokemon that does housecleaning. I wouldn't even try to capture it. I'd just be like, 'No, it's okay, you can just live over here in our laundry room, and we'll feed you.'"

Firstborn: "There's a Pokemon who makes clothes."

Me: "Okay, that's pretty cool."

Firstborn: "Out of leaves. It makes clothes out of leaves."

Me: "Still pretty cool."

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Bedtime Story for Secondborn

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jason. Only he wasn't an ordinary boy, he was a prince.

A hunter. I want to be a hunter.

Hush. I'm telling this story. Now, Jason wasn't the first prince, the Crown Prince, the one who would inherit the kingdom. No, Jason was born second, so he was the Sword Prince. But even though he'd been trained to use a sword almost since he could walk, Jason actually preferred the whip.

He had all different kinds of whips. He had a leather whip, that he used to snap the branches off trees and swing over ravines. He had a chain whip that he could use in battle. And he had a fire whip, to scare off ghosts and vampires.

One day, while he was out hunting, Jason found...

...A giant, talking spider.

"My goodness," said Jason. "That's the biggest spider I've ever seen." It was quite a large spider. It was so tall that its head was level with his head. It was so wide that he could have ridden on it. And its eyes were as big as cups.

"You look pretty scrawny," said the spider.

What's "scrawny"?

It's the opposite of big.


"You can talk!" said Jason.

"Of course I can talk," said the spider.

"I'm not used to spiders who can talk," said Jason.

"Well," said the spider, "you're probably used to little spiders, and spiders don't learn to talk until they're much bigger."

I think this is the part where I get to describe what I look like.

Sure. Go ahead.

Well, Jason is wearing a knight's armor. Or, he's wearing the breastplate and the leg-pieces. And he has a sword and a cutlass.

And his whips. Don't forget his whips.

{A small head nods assent.}

"Well," said Jason, "I was just out hunting."

"You weren't hunting spiders, I hope," said the spider.

"Of course not," said Jason.

"Good," said the spider. "As it happens, I was just out hunting."

"You weren't hunting humans, were you?" asked Jason.

"Of course not," said the Spider.

"I usually hunt things like deer and rabbits, and sometimes birds," said Jason.

"I think," said the spider, "that if we hunted together, we could take down something much bigger."

"I think we could," agreed Jason.

"As it happens," said the spider, "there is a herd of grok just a little ways from here."

Do you know what grok are?

No.

Well, they're very large. They're as tall as this room, and they have big, stompy legs, and they have bone armor all over them. And they have tails with spiked balls on the end.

I think that sounds like an Ankylosaur.

Go to sleep, Firstborn. This story is for your brother. But yes, they're much like Ankylosaurs.

So Jason and the spider crept through the forest. They crept through the bushes. They crept around the trees. And they looked at the herd of grok. Now, the herd was eating grass, so they had all the big grok around the outside, and all the smaller grok -- about the height of those shelves -- on the inside.

They looked at the grok, and Jason said: "I don't think I could get my sword in deep enough to kill one of those."

"No," said the spider. "In truth, my fangs won't cut deep enough to kill one, either. But I have a plan."

What was the plan?

Half an hour later, Jason snuck back up to the herd of grok. Then he leapt out of the bushes, and he yelled at the top of his lungs: "Ai-yai-yai-yai-yai-yai-yai!" And he snapped his whip.

Now, the grok were very big, but this little creature had leapt out of the bushes at them and was making very loud noises, so they were worried. So they stepped away. But Jason followed, still yelling "Ai-yai-yai-yai-yai!" and snapping his whip. And the grok backed away a little faster. So Jason followed a little faster, and this time he took out his fire whip, and he snapped it all around him. And there was fire everywhere in the air around him.

Now, the grok were just animals, and they were afraid of fire. So they started to run away. But as they were running away, one of them ran into a very large spider web. "Quick!" said the spider. "Use your sword while it can't move!" And it dropped a few more strands of spider web around the grok to hold it in place.

Jason ran up to the grok and drew his sword. He aimed for the spot just under the arm, where the armor stopped and there was just skin. And he drove his sword straight into the grok's heart.

That night, Jason and the spider had a nice dinner of grok meat, flavored with lemons and butter.

The End.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Two Interpretations of I Don't Care About Your...

Pursuant to a conversation on Facebook (friendly, not an argument) about this graphic:

When I say I "don't care" about your gender or orientation, I mean that I'm not threatened (or disturbed, or even mildly bothered) by it. Some of the people that I know, either online or in person, are various flavors and combinations of gay, trans, Muslim, Black, Hispanic, immigrant, etc. etc. etc. None of those... identities? Is that the word I want? ...none of them trouble me. I will not measure -- or make assumptions about -- your character/value/moral worth/etc. on the basis of any of those things. That kind of "I don't care about..." is, I think, basically a good thing.

But there *is* another kind of "I don't care about..." which asserts something more along the lines of "I don't believe that we should think in those terms" or "I don't acknowledge those meaningless labels". And that kind of "I don't care about..." *is* a problem. It tries to erase fundamental parts of people's identities, and it tries to ignore some very important (and not at all "meaningless") social distinctions, or at the very least pretend that those things don't matter.

Now, I very emphatically did not mean to endorse the second sense of "I don't care about..." in reposting this meme. But I can see why my friend would find it troubling, since it could be used to mean either one.

Those things "don't matter to me" because I'm not going to judge your worth based on any of them. However, those things *do* matter to me because they're part of who you are, and I like who you are, and if you weren't those things you wouldn't be *you*. They're important to me in the context of you, but not so much as things in themselves, if that makes any sense.

But now that I think about it, the sentiment would be more precise if we substituted "worry" for "care".

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Network Security courtesy of Silicon Valley

"My feeling is, if you're the CEO of a company and you're dumb enough to leave your log-in info on a post-it note on your desk while the people that you fucking ripped off are physically in your office, it's not a hack. It's barely social engineering. It's more like natural selection."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Firstborn Grieves

"Firstborn hit me," reported Secondborn. He didn't look especially injured, but he doesn't make this sort of thing up. On the other hand, he isn't always as precise as he could be...

So, "How did he hit you?" I asked.

"Like this." He pantomimed hitting his hand with the base of his other hand.

"Where did he hit you?"

"On the hand."

Figuring that that was all the detail I was likely to get, I went to seek out Firstborn. This was on Sunday, and we were at my father's house. (It was Father's Day, but we probably would have been there anyway.) We'd just gotten everyone out of the pool and back into their clothes, but we hadn't quite gotten dinner ready. Apparently something had gone wrong in the interim.

I found firstborn in the workshop, sitting in his grandmother's electric wheelchair and sobbing uncontrollably. I really should have put it together then, but I didn't. I was just annoyed that the child was obviously too upset by whatever had happened with his brother to explain, well, anything. "Firstborn, why did you hit your brother?" I asked.

He just kept sobbing.

"All right," I said, feeling resigned. "When you're done with this, come and explain why you hit your brother."

Fortunately, my father came in just behind me, and settled down beside him, and got him calmed down enough to admit that he was -- more or less out of nowhere -- mourning the fact that his grandmother was dead.

At that point, I had a pretty good idea what had happened, but I wanted to be sure. "So why did you hit your brother?" I asked again.

"I saw the wheelchair, and I was sad, and he just wouldn't stop talking," said Firstborn.

"...And you were too sad to make the words, so you hit his hand to make him go away?" I asked, unwillingly sympathetic.

Firstborn nodded.

"...I can see that," I told him. "But you still owe your brother an apology later."

And Firstborn nodded again, and his grandfather wound up sitting with him for the next half an hour or so -- somewhere in there they moved to the couch, though -- and I don't know what all they said, but I think it was good for both of them.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Music: Deep Down Low

Posting this one mainly for the video, which is some Grade A nightmare fuel:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Everyday Nuisance Haikus

A friend of mine on Facebook started a thread in which she challenged us to produce Everyday Nuisance Haikus.

Thus far, I have produced the following:

Curs't JSON service
Won't load o'er http
my form is broken.

Typo in the code
Unable to find service
Fixed! Service restored

I wait at my desk
Send documents for updates
So I can go home

Slow with many cars
The highway inches me home.
Frustrations abound.

Uncleaned dishes wait
The laundry pile is so high
I'm a bad adult

Feel free to add your own in the comments. It's surprisingly therapeutic.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Two Possible Openings...

I'm back on Current Writing Project (and, um, hoping that a better working title suggests itself at some point). I've been working on this thing -- or making false starts on it, anyway -- for over a year. Back around Christmas, I stopped and sorted all the abortive first chapters into categories, based on how they approached the opening of the story. That was actually helpful, but I'm still not quite going.

In the process of asking around, I've gotten some really good advice about how and where to start a story. A lot of it is stuff that I swear I used to know, intuitively; but I don't live in my story worlds the way I did when I was younger. (I also find it a lot more difficult to find unbroken stretches of more than, say, twenty minutes for writing... so it's also a lot harder to immerse myself in the process of writing.)

Anyway, I'm down to choosing one of two approaches. The first is to start in the moment just after disaster has struck and the world has turned to badness, and fill in the background from there. It looks like this:

Somber stood with one hand pressed against the wall and looked at the carnage around him, thinking: Did I do this?

The room was an abattoir. The floor was soaked in blood and littered with body parts. The air was heavy with the smells of blood and fear and human waste. Somber had woken up in the middle of it. His clothes were soaked with it, his body chilled. He couldn't stop shivering. He didn't know if that was cold or shock, but it probably didn't matter. Everyone here was dead, except for him.
Did I do this? he wondered again.

It didn't seem possible. His sword, the single-edged, straight blade of the Watch, was still on the floor; the baton that everyone in the Watch carried was still in its sheath at his side. Unless everyone in the room had stood still while he cut them to pieces, he couldn't possibly have managed something like this -- even if he'd wanted to. But if it hadn't been him, then how had he survived whatever had happened?

He didn't trust himself; didn't trust his thinking. He only knew that he needed to get out of here, needed to call for help, and needed to get himself back together so that he could figure out -- or remember -- what had happened.


It's not a bad opening, I don't think. In fact, if I were building this as a video game instead of a book, it would be fine. You could put the player in the room, let him or her look around at the various body parts and realize that some of them couldn't be human, have them pick up the sword and try a few practice swings with it, before they exited the room and started trying to find their way out. You could add further clues about their situation along the way.

But I don't think I want to do it that way. No, I think I want to start a few days earlier in the timeline, to introduce Somber in what is currently his "ordinary world", and let the reader get to know him a little before everything goes wrong. That opening looks more like this:

Somber saw the practice blade coming, but couldn't get his own blade back up in time to block it. The practice blades were wooden and scribed with words of protection, so it didn't connect hard enough to crack his skull, but it still hit hard enough to send him crashing onto his back on the mats.
Standing over him, Valius shook his head. "Why are you still here? You're the worst swordsman I've ever seen. They're never going to make you a full warden."

Because this way I have a place to sleep and some income, and the Order is much less likely to find me. Why do you think I keep attending practice after I've finished my shift? Somber didn't say any of that; he just shrugged and climbed back up to his feet. Valius was still an apprentice, just as Somber was. His opinion didn't count for much, and Somber didn't like him enough to feel compelled to explain himself. That didn't mean he was wrong about Somber's skills or his likelihood of remaining with the Watch, but that was Somber's problem rather than his.

"Somber! Valius! Enough sparring!" The new voice was sharp with command, and the man speaking stepped onto the mat and moved between them without hesitation. "Valius, you're making that same attack. Somber, when he slams your blade to the outside like that, you need to stay with him and follow his blade back in. You'll have to use footwork to keep your distance -- you remember footwork, right?"

"Yes, Grandfather." It took no effort to keep his voice respectful; the man he called Grandfather might be three times his age, but he could beat Somber into the ground with or without weapons -- and he knew how to train others to his level of skill.

"Good." Grandfather put his hand out, and Somber handed him the practice blade. He only came up to Somber's shoulder, which made him shorter even than Valius, but he was solidly built. The passing of years seemed to have stripped him down to little more than muscle and bone, with a thin layer of skin over the top.

Grandfather looked at Valius. "Quarter speed. Attack."

Valius raised his sword and brought it down, stepping in with a diagonal sweep of his blade. Grandfather let his blade be pushed aside, but shifted his weight and stepped back to take himself out of the way of the return stroke. "If you do this correctly, you can follow his blade back in and take a nice cut at his wrists." He turned and handed the practice blade back to Somber. "Try it. Half speed for the first five passes. Then up to three-in-four."

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Key Seems To Be Contrast

Back on Friday, I was reading some discussion of Jennifer Crusie's latest WiP over at her blog. (Jennifer Crusie is primarily classified as a Romance author, which isn't my usual fare; but her books usually have some other things going on in them -- murder, grift, adopted dogs -- and in any case a lot of her work is so good that I'm thrilled to read outside my accustomed genres.) The whole discussion is worth reading, but I wanted to call attention to this particular comment, because it struck me (admittedly, in no small part because I'm struggling with similar issues with my own protagonist):

"For the central protagonist, the key seems to be in contrast. What’s the thing that seems to be out of place, the contradiction that people want to see explained?" (Commenter AG then goes on to flesh this out with a series of examples.)

Go read the whole thing. I'm not sure that's the only way to hook readers, but it's certainly an effective way to do it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Escalation!

So last night, I turned off my game of Portal (Yes, yes, I'm terrifically behind on my video games) and switch the Playstation over to Lego Marvel Superheroes for Secondborn. Only... Secondborn was busy bouncing around the couch. So I asked, "Are you going to play your game? 'Cause if not, I would like to set it back to Portal."

...To which Secondborn replied: "If you did that, I would do this." He then leaned forward and tickled my belly.

So I said, "If you did that, I would do this," and tickled his knees.

So Secondborn said, "If you do that, I would do this," and kicked me sharply in the shin.

I said, "Ouch," and that was pretty much it for that game.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sleep, Glorious Sleep

I've spent this week focusing on one thing: sleep. It hasn't always been successful, but I have at least made a serious effort to go to sleep early every night this week. And finally, this morning, I woke up at about 5:00 in the morning, which is to say a good forty-five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. In other words, after four days of going to bed as early as I could manage, I am finally rested enough to wake up on my own.

I'm also finally rested enough to have dreams, though I don't remember enough of the details of last night's phantasmagoria to be worth recounting.

It makes a huge and very tangible difference. My memory is much more reliable, my thinking is more flexible, and I suspect (I haven't tried it, yet) my writing is going to be vastly better, not to mention easier. I actually find all this a bit worrisome, as it says pretty clearly that I've spent the last... three months, maybe four... being massively, disablingly sleep-deprived.

Even without trying to write (and I'm still not sure if I'm ready to re-embark on any of my longer projects yet), I have a very great deal of work to do. But at least I feel like I can actually focus when I sit down to do it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dating Advice

So, here is absolutely the best and most valuable piece of dating advice I've ever given anyone:

"For the love of God, never take dating advice from me."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Music: If it be your will

Leonard Cohen:


My brother has occasionally expressed some amusement at the fact that, despite my complete lack of religious belief, I sometimes enjoy music that isn't merely religious but actually borders on being hymns or prayers. Then I look at some of the things I listen to, like this, and... I can't really argue. The imagery still works, the plea still affects me, even if I don't think there's really anything out there to address it to.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Thinking About Writing

Thoughts from other people:
Yes, I'm still hideously busy. No, I'm not getting any writing done myself. Yes, I'll probably come back to the "destined to marry a vampire" thing. No, I don't know when that might happen, or where that story might be headed. Yes, as a matter of fact, I could use a vacation -- why do you ask?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Mixed Milieus

The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long past, Gared spoke to his companions. "We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

“And what of the One Ring?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.

"Captain Pickard has taken it to Hogwarts," answered Conan, scowling grimly. "Sir Mordred will never have it now."