Archive for April, 2007

Story of the Day

Monday, April 30th, 2007

SFSignal picked up my Story of the Day site.

In a comment (a tad sarcastic to my ears), they wrote: File under: I Can’t Believe This is the First Time I’ve Seen This: The Science Fiction Story of the Day website which offers free fiction online daily.

If this is truly the first time they’ve seen this, then I think it is a good thing. It means that I am the first to give it a shot. It is hard to tell if they are being serious , though.

In my research into blogging economic models I cam across the idea of a Blog of Blogs. The first practical application was this SF story a day blog. I’ve received a couple of hundred clicks from SFSignal, so now, rather than drop the whole idea, I have to go out and find a bunch more stories (I have them lined up to May 2nd). I think I’ll have to start a little db to keep track of how many times I’ve hit a website or included an author. I want to vary this as much as possible to spread the stories around from the Pro markets to the For-the-love-of markets. So far no suggested stories. I have to see if the web form is actually working.

Abu Ghraib image in Westchester

Friday, April 27th, 2007

The county of Westchester put up a new statue in the courtyard. They kept it under wraps for a week and it reminded me of the prisoner images at Abu Ghraib.

This is a cell phone picture so it is not that great quality. That’s my thumb on the bottom. I need practice taking pics with the phone.

When they unwrapped it, it was Martin Luther King.

Car Fire On Germonds Road

Friday, April 27th, 2007

This happened across the street from me. Very cool to watch, but I feel bad for the guy who lost his car. I have a couple of videos on youtube of the firemen. I’ll add this as soon as I get them updloaded.

I made an album of about 20 pics: Car Fire On Germonds Road

Videos: Car Fire Part 1, Car Fire Part 2

Conservatism Defined

Friday, April 27th, 2007

A discussion at J’s blog lead me to a little research on the web. After 5 minutes of googling, I found a rather dated definition of Conservatism:

Conservatism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism — born of a renunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice. War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have courage to meet it. All other trials are substitutes, which never really put men into the position where they have to make the great decision — the alternative of life or death….

…The Conservative accepts life and loves it, knowing nothing of and despising suicide: he rather conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, but above all for others — those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after…

Conservatism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism;

Conservatism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Conservatism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage….

…Conservatism denies, in democracy, the absurd conventional untruth of political equality dressed out in the garb of collective irresponsibility, and the myth of “happiness” and indefinite progress….

The foundation of Conservatism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Conservatism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Conservative State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality — thus it may be called the “ethic” State….

…The Conservative State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone….

…For Conservatism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.

If every age has its own characteristic doctrine, there are a thousand signs which point to Conservatism as the characteristic doctrine of our time. For if a doctrine must be a living thing, this is proved by the fact that Conservatism has created a living faith; and that this faith is very powerful in the minds of men is demonstrated by those who have suffered and died for it.

Now just replace the word Conservatism with the word Fascism and you have what Mussolini wrote for the Italian Encyclopedia on the definition of fascism. Scary stuff.

Stella off Brodaway

Friday, April 27th, 2007

The daughter of my high school buddy, Jim Callan, is a young actress. Stella has appeared on Law and Order and had a part in the film Transamerica. She has also had a major role in a the movie “Foreign Exchange”, which I don’t believe is out yet.

Stella opens in the play “Strangers Knocking”. This is off Broadway (43rd between 9th and 10th), but is not so far off Broadway as to be invisible. She has the lead part! Stella uses the stage name of Stella Maeve.

I’ll see if I can get pictures of opening night (May 14). I don’t think I will be there as it is not a good idea to bring a large antisocial goon to your daughter’s New York theater debut, but I can loan Jim a camera for opening night. The play, when performed in Chicago with a different cast, received very good reviews, so this should be a very good experience for everyone.

STRANGERS KNOCKING, by Robert Tenges, directed by Marie Masters, takes place on the day of Sophie’s first big high school dance, as her budding sexuality throws into relief the strains in the marriage of her frustrated parents, and the rippling effects this has on all their relationships. Tenges captures the subtle tensions of the unspoken in a family.

STRANGERS KNOCKING – Show Details (This is a ticket outlet. The theater company website has not been updated in a while.)


Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Frankenstein [UNABRIDGED] (Audio Cassette)
by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Author), George Guidall (Narrator)

Audio Cassette
Publisher: Recorded Books, Inc. (1990)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1556907710
ISBN-13: 978-1556907715

When I first tried to read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, I was 11 or 12 years old and deeply into monsters. I read Famous Monsters Magazine and I had Monster bubble gum cards and I watched every monster movie that came on TV. Frankenstein was one of the best monster movies. The novel, of course, has nothing in common with the movie except the name. I can remember skipping ahead looking for the laboratory scene and the castle with the lightning bolts and not finding it. The creation of the monster in the book is a paragraph or two long.

I have since grown up a bit and, although I still enjoy the movie Frankenstein, I understand that Hollywood rarely has reason to faithfully transcribe a book into a movie. Movies are their own species and don’t have anything in common with a novel, even if they have the same name.

In college I took several classes in romantic literature. This is not the romance genre, but the literature of the late 18th and early 19th century, especially the work of Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelly, Keats and Byron. These have always been THE poets for me. I have enjoyed Yeats, Beat poetry as well as the Pre-Raphaelites, but the romantics are the last word.

Mary, of course, was first the lover and later the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the rock star poet of his day. She was the daughter of famous writers and could shake a pen when she wanted to, but Mary was overshadowed by her immensely talented husband.

I picked up Frankenstein as a book on tape and I have been listening to it on my commute. In the preface, Mary describes how the book came to be and what influence her famous husband had on the book. She states that there is not a page of the book that “HE” didn’t write. I don’t take this literally, though. Shelly’s mercurial personality would never have allowed him to spend more than a few minutes on someone else’s project. I am sure he, Keats, and Byron all read the chapters, discussed the progress of the book as Mary wrote it, and made suggestions. I am sure that Mary bounced ideas off the Poets who were staying at or near Shelly’s house in Switzerland. I don’t believe that Shelly actually wrote much of the book for Mary. There are lines in the text, even a fragment of a poem that reeks of Percy’s style, but I think the book was very much Mary’s own. There is no doubt, however, that it was, in many ways, inspired by the ideas of the poets surrounding her.

Listening to Frankenstein now, after years of reading the romantic poets, gives the book a whole new meaning. The monster that appears in the book, is allegorical and is presented as Percy would have presented an allegorical creature in one of his poems. There is no Boris Karloff character, mute and evil, with a tender side. The monster is a natural man. He is an autodidact who has to deal with his weird existence. Instead of having a conversation with God, he has a conversation with his creator, Dr. Frankenstein. The analogies are poetic and, in the context of a long novel, are treated with a heavy hand. Frankenstein feels like a Percy Shelly poem translated to a novel form.

I am enjoying the book for its great moments, but it is only a great novel in its vision. The plotting is amateurish and the writing is inconsistent. There are long periods where Mary seems to wander a bit, not knowing quite what to say next. There are episodes in the book that have little to do the rest of it. It is obvious that she didn’t have a clear vision of where she wanted the book to go when she started out and there are frequent places in the book where she backtracks or brings in a plot point out of the blue. The viewpoint has grating shifts, so that it is a story told in a letter, telling of the confessions of a rescued traveler who tells of the monster’s monologue who tells of conversations that he has overheard. Her elegant Georgian English is wearing to my ears and overly ornamented with polite turns of phrase. The Prometheus and Adam themes, favorites of the romantic poets, don’t really work well and are not consistently carried forward. Mary hints that she was reading Goethe at the time and that poet’s influence clashes with her husbands, making the book very dark and depressing.

While driving in the truck, I listen to books that I would never have the patience to read. This book is much better for having been read aloud. Frankenstein is narrated by the inestimable George Guidall. I think that he may be my favorite voice in audio books. If George reads it, it is worth listening. Mr. Guidall makes the book come alive with his dramatic reading. He has captured the gruff, but sentimental voice of the monster and the manic moods of Frankenstein. If you come across this edition, buy it.

I am on the last tape. Who wants it next?

WordPress stuff

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

I taught WordPress themes in my class last night. I’ve spent the last 10 weeks teaching these people HTML and CSS as best I can. I wanted to teach some practical stuff. The last class project was to create a custom web page using the CSS three column form. It had to be from scratch, so I added a few things that they could not do if they copied a template off of the internet. It had to be dynamic with floating left and right columns. I prefer this format and it is easy but not trivial. I wanted the class to be able to reproduce it without thinking too much.

The default WordPress theme uses a similar layout, but it is a fixed width rather than dynamic. This is not good for many applications. It wastes screen real estate and it does not scale with small screens (PDAs and Cell Phones) or large displays such as the new generation of LCD monitors.

What I did in the class was teach them how to grab a default WordPress layout and save it to disk and then fiddle with the style. You can create almost any WordPress theme off of the basic templates by altering the css file. I had them move things around, change the font and background and have a grand old time ruining the templates. (The CSS files are wacky and have multiple entries for each style. This discombobulates DreamWeaver MX, but I got the class through this hurdle.)

The next thing was to show how to fix up the four WP PHP files without destroying the presentation. This is harder because you can change some little thing and the php won’t compile. I taught them to make small incremental changes with backups so that it would be easy to fix mistakes. Most of the PHP is fairly obvious and I gave them a general method for identifying the parts and how to move them around or delete features, especially in the sidebar.

As I taught, I spent 45 minutes looking at crappy WordPress code and I can see how WordPress can be a dog. There are horror stories about how WordPress reacts to a DIGG or bookmark. A small amount of extra traffic will bring a WordPress site to its knees. There is entirely too much behind the scenes loading of files and accessing databases in WordPress.

The solution would be to rewrite the core PHP as a class and load it all at once, caching almost everything and hitting the db only once or twice per page. I don’t have the time to do anything like that. I don’t want to be the person to write another WP clone.

What I did do, is write a 20 line program that creates a static version of the home page based on the current index.php. I basically copy the index.php file to a static index.html file. It loads almost instantly. You run one program every time you publish a new post and the static page looks exactly like the old dynamic one, except for super fast loading. This applies only to the main page so that all the comments and other stuff still works. Any dynamic widgets, turn to static, but that’s not such a big deal unless you are addicted to dancing bologna on your pages.

I will use this on my WordPress installs from now on and I may even add it to the admin menu. I need to document it before it is ready for prime time. If you accidently find this page, give me an email heads up and I’ll point you to a zip of the file and a quick and dirty readme.

out of shape html geek

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I needed to make a product at CafePress for my class. I chose a variation on a geeky html theme. The t-shirt shows where my chest lives. I only had 5 minutes to do it.

out of shape html geek | CafePress

Yog’s Law

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

“The only place an author should sign a check is on the back, when they endorse it.”

There is a discussion of this over at Making Light, a blog that I read. The reason is something about a group that charges $600 for the opportunity of novelists to pitch their ideas to actual agents and publishers. I guess the agents and publishers get a cut of the money from desperate writers.

Part of the problem here is that good novels often don’t get published. There are only so many novels sold each year and a publishing house has to make arbitrary cuts, often for silly reasons. A writer can’t know whether their novel sucks or is just undiscovered. An optimistic writer does not find it difficult to plop down $600 and spend the day trying to convince real publishers that his novel is good.

Someone I know actually did this. He didn’t sell the novel, but he did partake in the seminars and classes, which he found worth the $600. The classes taught the art of the pitch as well as how to present a novel and prepare a novel proposal. The last thing you want to do in a synopsis or pitch is describe the plot. You have to turn around and look at it from the viewpoint of the publisher. Answer questions like “Who will read this?” “What makes someone want to buy this book?”. Accepting a novel for publication is a marketing decision and has little to do with the quality of the writing or the plot of the book. A pitch must address the marketing concerns of the publisher.

That is what my friend learned. He hasn’t sold his book, but is still trying. It takes years for a book rejection. You can be sure that his synopsis now is about the audience for the book, the proven track record of the author and why the book will stand out from other books on the shelf.

Making Light is quoting Yog’s Law, but forgets that writing is not a talent but a skill that is learned. Selling a novel is a process not unlike selling a used car. One pays for the skills through writing workshops (one of which is run by Making Light people), and classes. Paying for a learning experience is not a waste of time if you get something out of it.

Yog’s Law – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I’m a pixel-stained technopeasnat wretch

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

papersky has declared Monday April 23rd to be International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.

She says, in part:

In honour of Dr Hendrix, I am declaring Monday 23rd April International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. On this day, everyone who wants to should give away professional quality work online. It doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, a story or a poem, it doesn’t matter if it’s already been published or if it hasn’t, the point is it should be disseminated online to celebrate our technopeasanthood.

Whatever you’re posting should go on your own site. I’ll make a post here on the day and people can post links in comments to whatever they’re putting up on. If you are a member of SFWA, or SFWA qualified but not a member (like me) you get extra pixel-spattered points for doing this. If other people want to collect the links too, that would be really cool. Please disseminate this information widely.

Here’s my contribution, on of a flash series that I wrote about Hurricane Katrina:

Marching Saints

“Well, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold” Emma Johnston sang with a deep, almost baritone voice as the small band played. The band moved slowly, pausing at each step in time to the dirge as the funeral procession moved towards the cemetery. “Please, see that my grave is kept clean” the song ended and the band moved on to “Nearer My God to Thee.”

I held it together until Emma sang the verse, “sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly” and I started to sob. My Grandfather, Robert Henry Lederoix had been my only family for 35 years and I would miss him. The rains were so heavy and the winds whipped by so hard that no one noticed.

Hurricane Katrina had scoured the streets empty of people and the small funeral was the only activity on the old city streets of New Orleans.

As we turned the corner into the cemetery, the water was already up to our ankles in the flooded avenues. The grave was ready. The funeral home men didn’t bother with the pallbearers and just ran the coffin to the vault. The men took off in the hearse, its wheels cutting wakes in the rising water.

Father Roche read the service as quickly as he could, trying to keep the prayer book protected by his umbrella. I could not hear a word that he was saying over the noise of the wind, but in a few minutes he looked up and sprinkled the coffin with holy water. He nodded and the two workmen placed the heavy concrete cap over the low vault. By the time they had finished, almost everyone was gone and the water was up to my knees.

I shook hands with Snooky Monroe, Gramps’ best friend and he left. I was alone at my Grandfather’s grave and the water was still rising. I didn’t want to leave, but I decided that I had to. I couldn’t get more wet than I was, but I did want to get to higher ground or get across the bridge out of the Ninth Ward.

The band is supposed to play “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but there was no band because of the hurricane. You couldn’t expect them hang around in such bad weather, even if Gramps had been just about the Greatest Saxophone player in the New Orleans. There would be a memorial service after the storm had passed and the mess was all cleaned up.

Still, as I turned to leave, I thought that it was a shame that there was no brass band seeing Gramps off to heaven.

Just then, the back wall of the cemetery fell in under pressure of water. I didn’t know it, but the Commercial Canal levee had failed and water had been pouring into the old neighborhood for several hours that morning. The water rushed into the old City of the Dead and the wave caught me and threw me against a carved alabaster angel. I fell on my butt and the dirty water covered my head. I came up sputtering.

The heavy concrete lid to Gramps’s vault lifted up as the coffin floated upwards. It slid sideways off the vault and the coffin cracked under the pressure. I waded to it and tried to press it back down, letting it fill with water through the splintered wood. Gramps was in there and I wanted him to rest easy in his grave.

Nearby, other coffins burst out of their vaults. In New Orleans, people are buried above ground because the coffins float in the saturated river bottom mud that makes up most of the city. Old ornate family vaults were crumbling all around me and splinters of old coffins were pushing up through the rising water.

I ran as best as I could, with the water up to my chest, towards the street and higher ground. A coffin exploded next to me and skeletal hands raised towards the sky as a dead man’s corpse was floated up on the rising tide. To my left and right the dead were breaking free of their stone boxes as I tried to escape down the Avenue of Dreams that ran down the center of the Cemetery.

The hurricane winds, which had been dying all morning, picked up again. With a crash, the west wall of the cemetery collapsed in two places at the same time and another wave of water rushed towards me. The wind was whipping up the waves and white caps formed on the lake that used to be called Jardin de Rêves.

The winds moaned with a rising and falling tone and I heard in it the opening notes of “When The Saints Go Marching In.” A tarnished brass Trumpet, still gripped by its skeletal owner rose above the waves and the wind ran across the bell to make demonic notes. This was a musician’s graveyard and often a musician is buried with his ax. I saw a clarinet, a snare and an old guitar floating across the water towards me.

Katrina arranged the notes while a parade of the dead marched down the Avenue of Dreams. I saw in their midst my Grandfather. His eyelids were half open and as he was thrown by the waves his head was thrown back. I could see him smiling towards heaven.

I scrambled up onto an ornate iron fence and then leapt to the roof of a family crypt. As the macabre parade passed by, the doors below me burst open and four bodies, all carrying trombones flows out into the current. They added to the hurricane’s music.

As the dead floated down the current towards the river, I could hear my Grandfather’s deep voice rise above the wind.

Oh when the trumpet sounds the call
Oh when the trumpet sounds the call
Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Pet Photos Photography Contest

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Dave has another photo contest starting up tonight. This one is pet photos and I have some pictures of the damn cats to upload. Dave is still beta testing this, but the $200 in prizes is real. He advertised this one in the local pennysaver to get local participation. His model for the website is to get people who want to sponsor a photo contest. His software will provide the vehicle for the contest, but at some time in the future all the contests will be from sponsors. It is an interesting idea, the problem is how to get it to critical mass.

Pet Photos Photography Contest

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I like this stuff. I haven’t read Vonnegut in 35 years. It’s time to see what he’s been up to in the mean time. I was at a flea market yesterday and I saw a few Vonnegut paperbacks. I should have bought one. There’s an audio of one of his books on eBay. I might bid on it.

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will

Daily Science Fiction Fix

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

The story of the day blog is working correctly. At one minute after midnight each night (eastern time), I publish a link to a new science fiction story. It kicks off nicely. I also have a submission form that feeds the system. I have to manually check the submissions, but I would have to do that anyway to prevent spam from finding the blog.

I am still having trouble finding SF stories. You would think that with all of the great Spec Fic sites that there would be more science fiction. If I click on another zombies in space or cyber-vampire story I will puke.

I almost registered with the number 1 as the first i. I don’t need another website. I think it’s a darn good domain for an ezine, though. It is still available if someone else wants it. is much shorter and another good website name and that is free, too. If it is available this time tomorrow, I will register it.

Daily Science Fiction Fix

2007 Locus Awards Finalists

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Locus announced the results of its voting. Samsdot did not place in the money. It’s not my fault. I voted for J.

Locus Online News: 2007 Locus Awards Finalists