Wanderings

Anything you dream is fiction,
and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
- Ray Bradbury
April 20th, 2007

Science Fiction Story of the Day

I have been roaming around looking for SF stories for the Story of the Day blog. I have stories up until 4/26 ready to go. I have been avoiding the big sites. They get enough readers. I would rather feature small sites. I am using Ralan’s pay list to find zines. There are fewer SF zines than you might think. I don’t want to repeat a zine too often. I don’t want to rely on Martian Wave for all of my stories. I can’t use print or pdf stories so that leaves a dozen or so zines that actually have SF stories. I decided to use a few of the Hugo award nominees, but I want to spread them out. I want to use new stories if I can (or in the case of Justin’s story, not seen in a while). I am beginning to despair of finding 30 SF stories a month.

Science Fiction Story of the Day






April 20th, 2007

Job Hunting

I talked about jobs and J has mentioned that he is looking. Here are some resources for writers who need jobs. You can get some good documentation specialist, copy editor, or even full time jobs from these sources.

A great list of freelance jobs sites is at: Monster list of Freelance Jobs

The classic job boards at McMurry.com have moved around and I couldn’t find them right away. I finally found the list of boards at http://www.mcmurry.com/ right on the home page. McMurray.com is one of those well kept secrets in finding writing jobs. I can even remember finding a Science Fiction editorial assistant job on McMurry when I was helping a friend a few years ago.

Of course there is always Craigslist.org, but around here the jobs are snatched up before they appear on the list. I check Guru.com and elance.com regularly and they have lots of writing style jobs, but most of the jobs I look at on these sites are low pay.

When anyone asks me how to get a job, I tell them take a course at the local community college or educational extension in Macromedia Flash. Flash is easy to learn, requires some artistic sensibility and is very hot right now. Traditional programmers, like me, don’t have time for flash, because it is not really a programming language, but many new jobs, especially local jobs, are flash jobs. Flash is not so much a programming tool as a graphics package. It feels like using a paint program in the beginning and then you learn how to animate things. Then you learn how to make menus and create actions based on clicks. Eventually, you can get sucked into controlling the display with a simple script language, darn near programming. Flash is addictive. Best of all, flash programmers often work at home.

I am of the opinion that many writing jobs in the future will really be human interface design jobs. Writing is turning into a web publishing job where you design not only the words, but the way the words appear. I think flash is one of the great new human interface tools. It goes beyond html and adds motion, sound, and other new methods for interacting with content.






April 20th, 2007

Job Hunting

Just before 9/11 I took a job at IBM as a consultant. Consultants make more money than employees, but they don’t have any job security. I did well and was acting team leader. Then the project ended. I have worked on various consulting gigs ever since, each time taking less money because of a poor job market. Outsourcing and the collapse of Dot-Com has cut away at my earning power.

Where I work now, I am still probably the highest paid person in may department, including the boss. However, the job market is picking up and one by one all the employees are finding new jobs. I have been assigned the task of doing technical interviews for perspective new employees.

The jobs that are available pay from $55K to 65K depending on experience. Someone with a degree and some good Computer Science credits, minimal experience, a good attitude, and the ability to answer a few simple technical questions about Java can get hired. This is almost an entry level position. I would be willing to accept anyone who shows technical ability, can speak well, and smiles in the interview. I have interviewed 15 people so far and I have just 2 people that I might hire if we can’t find anyone better. There are half a dozen openings, and soon more.

I find it unbelievable that I can’t find talented people willing to work for, what I consider, decent (not great) money. When I look for a job, people scoff at the amount of money that I want and always try to offer me less. From the resumes that I get and the people that I interview, I think that I may be worth more than I thought. I am at least twice as good as the people that I am interviewing. No brag, just fact. I am going to start looking again.

The last time I went on interviews, everyone wanted a Java technology called Struts. Struts is a way of programming by configuration. Every year upper management will come up with a new method getting rid of those pesky expensive programmers. I have heard all kinds of new technologies that promise systems that program themselves over the last 30 years. The truth is that you have to think a certain way to understand how a program works. Just like a novelist has to have a novel mindset or a plumber has to have a plumbing mindset. It is not the lines of code or the number of screens that matters, it is the logical flow and that is the constant, no matter what methodology or language is used. Five years ago it was Rational Rose, now it is struts, next year there will be some other attempt to avoid paying programmers high salary and it will be a total failure.

I have used Struts and I am still a programmer. Struts is more work than it is worth in most cases. Follow Thoreau and “simplify!”; follow Strunk and “Omit Needless Words!”. I will write another system using Struts in the next month, then, I’ll put it on my resume. I need to get a more challenging job. Perhaps the challenge on the next job will be to educate management on the merits of Occam’s Razor. If I ever get a tattoo it will be the words “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” or “entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”.






April 19th, 2007

How Not to format a page

When I visit a website, I expect to be able to read the text. Ezines are written to be read. If you can’t read the text, the ezine is a total failure. All too often I have to use the mouse to highlight the text in order to read it. What the f is that about?

There was a little discussion on Speculations about a new webzine. It is called Staffs and Starships. It sounds like something that I would be interested in. I couldn’t read the page, though, so I can’t tell you.

A page, to be useful, must be usable. This is basic common sense.

I teach Web Page design and I spend most of the time trying to tell the kids what not to do. Sure there is a blink tag and a marquee tag. Yes, you can use 20 different colors and fonts on a page. Yes you can use dark backgrounds with dark text. But what good is making a page that annoys people. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.

The point of an ezine is the content, not the presentation.

bad bad page






April 19th, 2007

JJ Abrams Confirms Kirk In Star Trek XI

There is some information leaking out about Star Trek XI.

In the new issue of Star Trek Magazine, JJ Abrams finally breaks his silence….a tiny bit. Trek XI’s producer/director tells the official Trek mag “James T Kirk appears in the movie.” Although this has been the rumor and essentially working assumption, it is actually the first time that anyone associated with the film has officially disclosed any plot detail about the film. Still no word on who will actually play Kirk in the film or any other official details from Paramount, but Abrams did offer this…

I have heard rumors before, thought, that this movie will be about the early days of the crew of the Enterprise, before Enterprise. There could be lots of stuff about how the crew members meet for the first time, although Chekov and Sulu were 10 or more years younger than Kirk while Bones and Scotty were a dozen years older. I read one of those dreadful Trek novels that had Spock in it as a boy, while his father brokered a diplomatic settlement. Spock would be old even as Kirk graduates from Star Fleet Academy. It will interesting to see who is in the movie and how they reconcile ages.

They say “Kirk”, but I pray to the God of Trek that they don’t mean Shatner!






April 19th, 2007

Buzz Aldrin Plans Spaceflight Raffle

I think that I am alone among my friends, in that I would take a trip to the International Space Station if I had the money. I don’t like to fly (odd because my wife is a pilot) and I don’t like heights. I think that space flight, the way it is now depending on cash strapped Russian rocket facilities, is very dangerous.

I would go to space in a heartbeat, even if I thought it might be my last heartbeat.

Buzz Aldrin is setting up a Space Lotto system. Buy a ticket and instead of winning a few paltry millions, you get to go to space! I’ll buy a few tickets. At least now you know what to get me for Christmas.

Former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin is drawing up plans for a lottery-like contest, with space experiences for prizes, in hopes of making orbital spaceflight available to more than just wealthy entrepreneurs.

SPACE.com — Buzz Aldrin Plans Spaceflight Raffle

Note: Read Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. It’s about a kid who enters a soap contest where the first prize is a trip to the moon. He wins a surplus spacesuit, which he restores. When he meets alien space pirates, he’s ready and the spacesuit saves his life, and the Earth. It is in my top ten favorite Science Fiction stories and would make the best movie of all the Heinlein novels. If you haven’t read it, it is in your local library. I also recommend the audio version, which is a full cast recording and done very very well.






April 18th, 2007

Blackberry

My boss was wandering around, not knowing what to do with his hands because the Blackberry wasn’t working right. I expect Justine was having withdrawal symptoms. It’s a good thing that I am not anal retentive enough to own one of these. Personally, I don’t want to be more accessible.

Here’s the best of the Blackberry quotes that I’ve heard:

Last night at 11:37 PM the DoD distributed an email to all Blackberries informing them that the Blackberry service was down.

Yes, I am proud to work in government, even if it is only for a suburban county. Early this morning, our own intrepid network department sent out this message to all county blackberry users:

“* BlackBerry service hit by widespread outage in U.S.”

This reminds me of my favorite joke (by Morey Amsterdam):

There’s a man in a jail cell wearing nothing but a tall silk hat.
The warden asks him, “Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
“Nobody ever comes in here.”
“Then why the tall silk hat?”
“Somebody might!”

I love Morey Amsterdam. He wrote all the best jokes. 99% of the jokes that you hear now on TV are just updated Morey Amsterdam jokes.






April 18th, 2007

Science Fiction Story of the Day

I have a bunch of unused spec-fic domains. I’ve been letting them expire, but I held on to ScienceFictional.com. I like the name, but I just can’t figure what to do with it. I let Johnny B use it for a blog for a while. I tried formatting a Spec-Fic magazine, but it was the target of spammers to the point where it was not usable. I was rambling the other day about a Story of the Day site, so I decided to give that a try.

I have created a prototype website where each day a new feature story will show up on a blog entry. Readers can subscribe via rss and read a new story each day. I won’t publish the stories, it will be a blurb and a link to the online version of the story. I will feature a story on a different ezine each day.

In this way, I don’t have to publish the stories and I can rely on authors, editors and publishers trying to publicize their sites to give me the links and blurbs. I am half way through making a form where people can suggest a story. I then have to make a way so that I can post to the blog from the suggestion list and rig it so a new story appears every day at one minute after midnight.

I am still pondering this. One negative is that Spec-Fic doesn’t make much money. (I have had about 12,000 amazon context links served on my sites in the last week, resulting in only 45 clicks and no money!) I also want to link to stories of better quality (without actually having to read them) so I am wondering if I should limit the stories to the Ralan paying classifications. I am also of the opinion that the only people who read spec-fic magazines are authors who want to sell their stories. I used to watch the logs at atales.com and for each hit on a story there were 20 hits on the guidelines page. I want to gear this towards readers as much as possible and hope that the writers will wander in for self-promotion.

The site’s not up yet and I need some feedback while I am bulding it. Good idea – stupid waste of time – won’t work – might work but not all that useful – can’t work for good reasons? Let me know. The blog part is working, just nothing there yet, I want to see if the first post appears at midnight: Science Fiction Story of the Day






April 16th, 2007

Amy and Ward’s Trip to Paris April ’07

Ward sent me a link to his honeymoon pictures. Paris and Monet’s famous garden. Lots of very nice pictures.

Amy and Ward’s Trip to Paris April ’07






April 16th, 2007

u-publish-on-parade

Jean Goldstrom has started u-publish-on-parade. It’s funny, but I have been kicking around an idea like this for quite a while. Jean beat me to it.

The basic idea that I think Jean is pushing is a central place to provide links to and for a community of authors. There are precious few websites that let you put advertising links up. I am not sure that Jean will get too many takers, even at the reasonable rate of $5, unless she can show that she gets enough page views.

Jean is right, though, there is a real need of a site that has promotional tools for writers and publishers, especially those without the backing of big publishing houses.

Jean has started with a links page. If I read it right, she is going to run flash fiction contests in order to bring in traffic. This makes sense as a way to get the readers and writers of spec fic to show up at your site. I have often thought that SamsDot should have a flash contest every month. They have the built in readership and it would give their readers something to do in the doldrums between new editions. They have the drabble (exactly 100 words?) contests, but I am not a big fan of drabbles.

What other resources could be included in a promotional site?

1) Banner exchange for spec-fic authors, perhaps with ads more fitting as a blog sidebar. I wrote a banner exchange and have most of a text ad exchange written, so this might be a good thing.

2) A store, in the style of project pulp. I am not sure how project pulp (now defunct) worked. I would guess the best way would be to take orders and forward them to the publisher or writer, while keeping a small finders fee. If they actually kept inventory – well that’s just crazy.

3) Resources links – There are lots of lists of writers resources, so another one may not be that useful.

4) Reviews – I think there is a demand for reviews of ezines, websites, stories and other writing resources.

5) Tutorials – LuLu, and other POD sites give good instructions, but I think a well written tutorial on some of the more nuts and bolts aspects of self publishing would be useful. There should be a tutorial about submitting your first story to a magazine. It is amazing how many people can’t follow the simple directions in guidelines pages. Podcasts, RSS and other techy subjects would be good. Designing a readable author’s web page would be a cool thing.

6) Inviting editors to reject a story would be a good column. Write a generic story with obvious faults (easy for me) and submit it to editors with the request that they return, not just a rejection, but a detailed discussion of why a story would not be good for their publication. I think lots of people would like to see a story get more than the “thanks, but we can’t use your story.” sort of generic rejection and they would not mind much if the rejection happened to someone else.

7) Start blogs for “story of the day”, “ezine of the week”, “Spec-Fic poem of the day”, “week’s best Science Fiction art”. These would all get lots of interest and provide traffic to websites and authors. Sounds like lots of work, but I think that after it was started, they’d be knocking down the doors to be included.

I’ll never get around to any of these, probably. I might do some tutorials for CthreePO.com. Jean might read this and use it for inspiration.






April 16th, 2007

Rainiest Day Ever

Weekend Roundup:

It rained yesterday. It was not just a rainy day, it was the rainiest day ever in the recorded history of rain in West Nyack (don’t leave comments about Noah’s flood, that is a mythical event, borrowed from Babylonian legend that somehow made it into the bible) . I was afraid to look in the cellar, but as of about 7pm yesterday, it was dry. My amplifiers are safe.

I finished the kitchen floor. I did it in 7 weekends doing 15 to 25 square feet at a time so that the kitchen would still be usable while the thin set and grout hardened. I cut over 1000 small squares and triangles for trim pieces. I still have to wash most of it with muriatic acid so Erica can apply the floor sealant.

I finished my taxes. Erica and I earned enough so that we get only a tiny refund this year.

My brother Ward called, and after prodding him, he finally admitted that he and Amy were married a few weeks ago and his trip to Paris was actually a honeymoon. It’s about time!

I picked up Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster for 25 cents at a garage sale Saturday. It is an interesting read, but not a “how-to”. It’s a foundation for criticism. I am about 1/3 of the way through. I wanted to read it because John Shirley, on of my favorite writers, uses it in his online course. I can’t afford the course, but I was interested in the required reading. It is the text of some lectures that Forster did and it feels like a lecture as you read it. It moves right along and I am able to read it while the TV is on. This is my criteria for a good book lately. Is it interesting enough so that I can read it without getting distracted by the drek on TV. (Drek – Yiddish for dirt, trash, waste.) If I can read the book, it must be a good book. I could not read Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, but James is always slow in the beginning. I have been reading Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge for six months, but I can’t read it when the TV is on, because it is a dense book that requires concentration.






April 13th, 2007

scifi versus science fiction

There’s a discussion on Frank Wu’s blog about Sci-Fi vs. Science Fiction. Sci-Fi (pronounced skiffy by the “in” crowd) has always meant film or TV to me and is quite a bit different from Science Fiction, which I think of as literary. Science Fiction would apply to Arthur C. Clark or Heinlein or the art of Frank R. Paul, but not to Aliens III or Star Trek.

When I hear the word Sci-Fi, it usually comes from Science Fiction outsiders, and it is most often associated with horror movies. The Blob, for instance, is a horror movie that uses a science fiction element (the blob) and should be categorized as Sci-Fi. It lacks the one thing that makes Science Fiction stand out for me – A Sense of Wonder.

Sci-Fi and Science Fiction overlap from time to time. The Twilight Zone was literary – short plays – and many great Science Fiction Writers contributed to the show. I have always thought that many 1950s movies like Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Day of the Triffods had literary merit and transcended Sci-Fi. I Think the every once in a while Star Trek had Science Fiction moments as did Bab-5 and Movies like Blade Runner.

Sci-Fi has it’s good points. It is a conduit into the real thing. Science Fiction is the true religion and we should accept converts from Sci-Fi when some kid makes the jump from TV, gaming, comic books, or Film to print. Sci-Fi is still near enough to Science Fiction as to be better than most alternatives. I prefer a good book, but, as I have said many times, bad Star Trek is still better than anything else on TV.

If this sounds a little elitist, then I confess that on some level I feel superior to the Sci-Fi crowd. I am in it for the words, not the computer graphics. The words and the images they create in my head will always be far more compelling than the images on a screen. I went to a “literary” fantasy convention not too long ago and was very disappointed to find that it was all about TV and Movies.

Heinlein proposed using the term Speculative Fiction, which I use when I lump Fantasy and Science Fiction together. I like Hugo Gernsback’s original term Scientifiction, which he later shortened to Science Fiction. I don’t particularly like Sci-Fi.

“scifi” versus “science fiction”






April 12th, 2007

CraigsList Ad

(From Johnny B.) Someone paid twenty five bucks to put up this ad on Craigslist. . . I can’t tell if it is for real, but it is an stupid joke for $25.

Five writers seek up to three interns.

Five writers and editors that live in Brooklyn, Houston, Athens, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and have a combined ouvre of about twenty published books, five online literary magazines, and publication in over fifty magazines including Dazed and Confused, Punk Planet, Nerve, Noon, the Mississippi Review, the Cincinnati Review, Other Voices, Fourteen Hills, Gult Coast, American Arts & Letters, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, the Believer, New York Magazine, Time Out Chicago, L Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, Largeheartedboy.com, and many others are interested in acquiring up to three interns.

Our books have been blurbed by Miranda July, Harvey Pekar, Matthew Rohrer, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Amy Fusselman, Brian Morton, and others.

One job for one intern will be to reject every submission that one of our online magazines receives. This magazine is well-known, gets about 20,000 page views a month, and has published poetry by a winner of the National Poetry Series, as chosen by Mary Oliver. The intern with this job will be given “free-rein” to write whatever they want in their rejection. They will sign their rejections “intern” or with their name. Reading the submissions is not required or encouraged, though it is also not not encouraged.

Interns will be able to choose exactly what to put on their resume. “Personal assistant to _____,” “Associate editor of ____,” “Secretary of State of ____,” etc. Committment is on a month-by-month basis. We will endorse whatever you put on your resume as long as you have worked dilligently for us for at least one month. Tasks will take approximately 1-2 hours a day. Maybe 3 times a week.

Other jobs will be adding facebook friends for us, doing things on myspace, going into bookstores and putting flyers into books, and other things we will think of later. We take suggestions. After one month if you are doing a good job we will begin to pay you. If any of us becomes very rich we will pay you more. Almost all communication will be through email and gmail chat.

To apply please email us your resume, and type about 300 words about why you want to work for us. We want an intelligent, sarcastic, detached person who will not be afraid to talk shit about us or have us talk shit about them. Shit-talking will be widespread and oftentimes everyone will be confused who is being shit-talked, but the shit-talking will always be kindhearted. We also prefer interns who are considerate, timely, and conscious of where they spend their money, what they support, and whether or not their shit-talking is kindhearted or not.

Please email applications in the body of the email to to …….@…..com.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Five writers and editors.






April 12th, 2007

Dumb Spammers

I log attempts by comment spammers at my site Harplinks.com. I have a site where harmonica players can add links to their sites to a list of about 6,000 harmonica related sites that I’ve gathered. From the onset, I have been plagued by spammers trying to put links to everything from sneakers to gambling to drugs. I am guessing that they use some kind of automatic software run from hijacked machines. The IP address is always different. The ads links are usually different so I guess that these machines are remotely controlled by bad guys. (Please, Please, Please get Norton antivirus AND AdAware and run both every day.)

I haven’t had a spam post in six months by putting in some simple logic to catch the spammers.

1) Anyone who includes “[url=” in the body of their text is spammer. This url shortcut is used on some popular boards, but is not a feature on my sites and is a clear indication that the person is a spammer.

2) Anyone who includes the anchor tag “<a” in the body of a description is a spammer. I clearly say no links and I mean it. There is a links field. Anyone who needs to put in a long list of links in the body of the description is a spammer.

3) I look for one of about 50 different free websites like 100megsfree, 100freemb, 250m, freehostpro or blackdaddy. Anybody steering users to one of these sleazy free websites is a spammer. No website of any value has ever been hosted on these sites.

4) Next I look for the strings “forum”, “message” or “.php” in the body of the description and URL. There is only one reason to send users to a forum or a php page that’s to show them a drug ad.

5) I then check the url and description against a my standard list of drug brands, teen porn descriptors, and lending and mortgage words. I have had to add words like “Soccer” and “Vacations” to the list to keep some spammers out. I also have a list of potty words, just to keep the kids out. I recently had to add the word “Hitler” to my bad words list, due to some kiddy types trying for shock.

6) I look for .ru country domain in the email address. I have never had a legitimate user that uses a Russian email address. I guess the legitimate Russian users can get a hotmail address or some other .com address. Others that I ban are .za, .hu, .bu and several other Mideastern, African and Eastern European countries.

7) In addition to routines in my programs, I ban Vietnam IPs from all my websites using a .htaccess file. I have had repeated attacks on my website from Vietnam. I am sorry, but if you are a Vietnamese harmonica player or Spec-Fic writer, you will have to use a proxy to access my site.

I use this routine at Freenameastar.com, NameAGalaxy.com, Gthread.com and I added it to the guestbook at CCBlues.com and the Geeklog Forum at ScienceFictional.com when I still had that running.

I occasionally get a false negative, but that is rare. I tell the user that they have a spam-like word, although I don’t tell them what it is. They try again and get it right. The harplinks.com spam log shows the stupid spammers trying day after day to add their spam. You would think that they would give up if it never works. They are so easy to recognize that it is just plain stupid to keep it up.

Stupid Spammer Log