Wanderings

Anything you dream is fiction,
and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
- Ray Bradbury
August 31st, 2010

Stella on House

My friend Jim’s kid, the actress Stella Maeve, has been signed for the TV show House. House is one of my favorite TV shows. Stella will appear in a role that may become a regular gig. This, of course, depends on the producers and directors, but I have no doubt that Stella will do well. She’ll be filming this fall, but I don’t know when her episode will appear.






August 29th, 2010

Pricing Strategies

You must have noticed that Walmart charges prices like $14.88 for things and not $15. I have taught myself to say fifteen dollars when I see these kind of prices, but psychologically, I still probably still see $14.88 as less than $15.

The reason for this kind of pricing is that there are built in levels of cost that people see as cheap or expensive. The lowest level is $1. One dollar is cheap, but 99 cents is cheaper than cheap. It jumps by increments of $5 up to twenty or twenty-five dollars and then there is a break at $40. $50 is moderately expensive, but $39.99 and even $49.99 is considered affordable for an impulse sale.

The cents column obviously makes a difference, too. Walmart spends millions researching this stuff so that a price ending 88¢ or 63¢ is not a whim, but scientifically based decision. It appears like a generated price based on the cost of the item, but it is not. The pricing decision is based on years of research and has nothing to to with the store’s cost of the item.

If you sell something online, you have to be aware of how the buyer sees pricing. If the consumer is considering a sale, they probably are no longer price comparison shopping, especially if, for instance, you are selling an MP3, Book, or unique item that is not available on other sites. You do not have to set the price based on the price of similar items on other websites.

Your price can appear to be reasonable by picking one of the price barriers. If you have been selling a book for 11.50, it is quite likely that you could raise the price to $14.88 or $18.44 without reducing your sales. The price still appears low. The 88¢ or 44¢ makes the price appear that it is mathematically the lowest price that can be had for the product. A book costs somewhere less than $20. A cheap book costs something less than $15.

If you sell things online, try doubling the price and then backing off to under a number divisible by 5 and use an odd number for the cents. Do this as an experiment on a product or two that would normally sell well. Check your figures at the end of a month. You may sell slightly less, but you should make more money.






August 27th, 2010

Community College Technical Courses

I used to teach at various colleges in the evenings. I taught programming courses in Java, Visual Basic, Database, Systems Analysis and Design, and Web Design. This stopped after 9/11 when the economy tanked and college registrations went down. I have not taught any classes in several years.

I find myself in need of extra money and I’ve tried to get another adjunct gig at the local community colleges, but when I checked, the colleges aren’t teaching any technical programming courses at night. At least they aren’t at any of the local schools. I wonder if this is because of a lack of teachers or a lack of students.

The Computer Science and the Technology programs at the local community colleges is 1/4 the size that I remember. There are only a few courses offered beyond the “intro to computers” basic stuff.

I guess America will have to rely on Indian and Chinese programmers for the foreseeable future.






August 25th, 2010

Sense Checking a Story

A professor once told that I didn’t really need a spell checker. What I needed was a sense checker.

I write very fast when I am really cooking. I can knock of 2,000 words of a story in an hour. I don’t stop to fix anything; I just type on. As a result, my text is full of problems. I leave out words or even whole phrases and don’t notice. I have an idea and halfway through the sentence I get another idea and the front half of the sentence doesn’t match the second half. I like to run sentences on with lots of if, ands and buts.

My editing process is usually a spell check. I then go and make shorter paragraphs, delete anything in parentheses (I like parentheses). I then break sentences up into short declarative sentences and remove the syllogisms that pervade my prose.

Still, I get lost in new ideas and leave out words or combine different thoughts into one sentence. There are always areas in my text that don’t make sense. I can’t see these errors because I wrote them. This is a common issue in programming. Programmers can’t see their own bugs. They wrote the code and it made sense at the time so they see the sense that they remember, not the actual code. They see what the code is supposed to do, not the actual logic.

I have trouble in that my ideas about the narrative masks the actual words. I am skimming fast and my mind jumps to conclusions and doesn’t see the errors.

There are a few things you can do to find the sense errors in a story.

First, I use Microsoft Words Grammar checker. I have turned ALL of the settings in Word on, except for checking for the first person (which I use occasionally) and Comma Required before last item on list, which I consider an error (even though some editors require it).

I try to fix everything that Word detects, but I think that it is overly sensitive to passive voice. I fix the overtly convoluted passive voice instances that it detects, but leave some that might require structures that come out even worse than the passive voice.

I then use my own Weasel Words Detector, Adverb Detector, and Banned Words Detector. I try to delete all these words. The weasel words keep creeping in, even in the revisions.

I also use the online grammar checker at http://www.spellchecker.net/spellcheck/. The Word spell checker is better than theirs, but their grammar checker does a good job of detecting broken sentences. It finds things that MS Word misses. It detects lots of things that aren’t errors, though. I tried Grammatica, but it was a limited use program, kept freezing or looping, and was not worth paying for.

Next, I change the font on my story and read it again. Sometimes moving the words around due to a different style and size font makes the errors jump right out at me.

If I have time, I sub-vocalize the story – that is, I move my lips. I long ago learned to read fast by placing a pencil in my mouth and not vocalizing. I want to do the exact opposite. I want to read slow, subvocalizing every word to see how it sounds in my head. It takes about a half hour to read 5,000 words this way and I don’t like doing it.

Last, if I have a story that I think might be better than average, I ask another person to read it. Some friends are better than others at this. Erica, my wife, is very good, but she is a busy person. My friend John is a good editor, but he tries to rewrite the story. I had a few other friends who proofed my stories for a while, but stopped doing it. It is a lot of work.

If you are lucky, there will be very few errors left by the time you submit the stories to an editor. The best editors will let you know if they find any problems so that you can fix them.

Unfortunately, most editors are afraid to establish any kind of dialog with writers. Editors have to reject lots of stories and some writers are even crazier then me and send abusive email back to the them. Editors don’t want to argue when they reject a story, but a crazy person thinks that they can still prove a point when they are totally in the wrong, somehow getting the editor to change their mind. A crazy writer is a scary thing. Telling an editor that you have a gun and you know where they live will not help you sell your story.






August 25th, 2010

Hermie is all better

I am sorry that I did not post this sooner. Hermie had his private parts worked on to relieve a bad infection. It appears that an animal bit him. Hermie is a pussycat and runs away from danger so something must have chased him, possibly a racoon, or even another cat.

He was in great pain, and the vet said that he would have died soon if we had not brought him in.

He was very upset by the experience and had to be sedated for the procedure. He was all wobbly and frantic when he got home and had to wear one of those alien collars for a while.

He improved within hours and asked for food. He is now perfect. Erica brought him to the vet for a follow-up and he was a big hit. Everyone loved him and he responded well to all the attention, even licking a vet’s hand. He is home again and feeling good.

Hermie is a sad case. He was a stray and is very afraid of me. He likes Erica, but he runs when he sees me. He wants to be a lap cat, but the other cats abuse him when he comes out of his hidy hole. He must have been treated terribly. It took a long time to get him to come close enough to pet him and then he would run if anyone made a sudden move or spoke loudly.

Hermie stays underneath the kitchen table all the time. He is afraid to come out when I am home. I hope that he will calm down and someday accept me as a good cat person.






August 24th, 2010

Old Story Rewrite

Back in the mid 90s I wrote a story. I found it 10 years later on a backup diskette. I just called the story SF2. I never did find the story that I called SF1.

I wrote the story without any idea how it would go and with no plan. I just started writing about a space ship jockey traveling the asteroid belt. He finds an old soviet nuke and is attacked by pirates. It was long and rambling.

Around 1994 I spell checked it, gave it a title, and gave it away (without payment) to a website that is now defunct. I don’t believe that anyone ever read it.

I made a stab at rewriting it a few years later, and one version made it a long way through the old Baen’s magazine before it was rejected.

Yesterday I came across it because it involved a computer program and I was looking for stories for my computer anthology. It was badly in need of a fix up so I worked on it a little yesterday and again this afternoon. I cut out 1,000 words in the middle that involved a long chase that turned out to be an impediment to the story.

I now have a more cohesive story with a different hero, new characters and a different title and ending.

There is still lots of passive tense in it and lots of info-dump. I have to do a lot of explaining about why the space jockey is out there and why there is a soviet nuke there. There is also lots of neat tech that needs explaining. It is very gadget oriented SF. and many editors want social SF of what they call character oriented SF (which is mostly based on pop psychology).

I sent it out today, so now I have 5 stories waiting in various slush piles.






August 23rd, 2010

Collection of Stories

I have decided to collect all my computer related stories into one book and put it out on Amazon, iBooks, and anywhere else I can sell it. J. Irwine has been covering the bases on this, doing my research for me, so all I have to do is go to his homepage and search through the links of places he sells his books.

Title: The Girl with the Error Message Eyes and Other Stories

Subtitle: A Programmer’s Guide to Debugging the Digital Soul

12 Stories of Computers, Robots, Programs and Algorithms.

It should take abut two or three months to rewrite and format the stories. I haven’t had time to sneak in much writing at work. So far it is about 40,000 words, which is short for a collection, but makes it cheap to print. I also have to come out with some sexy cover art.

I have two stories waiting on editors, and one story coming out in a magazine in a few months that fit the theme.  I can’t use them because it would interfere with the publication rights of the ones I sold or will sell. I might revise it in a year to add the new stories.

If I sell more than a handful I will then collect all the “Weird Tales” together, then the “Hard SF”, and then the “High Fantasy”. It’s hard to believe that I have enough short stories to fill 4 (slim) volumes. Guess what relatives will be getting for Christmas instead of honey?






August 20th, 2010

Waiting on Stories

I have 4 stories out with editors.

I have one out 29 days at Card’s ezine. They respond in 30-35 days so I might hear this weekend.

I have another one out at Clarkesworld for 5 days and they respond in 3 to 6 days so I expect that one to be rejected tonight or this weekend.

I have one story out at Asimov’s and there is a story to the story. This story was renamed and rewritten with children as the main characters because I wanted to sell it as a YA story. I did sell it. I still had the original, which has some similar elements, but is really a different story. I sent it into a friend’s anthology, but he bounced it for spelling errors. I spell checked it and the only errors are in the names that I made up. Since I had the story and I had to ponder what to do about it, I sent it in to Asimov’s so that they could reject it. When it get it back from there, I’ll send it back to the anthology saying all fixed.

Another story has been out for 60 days and I sent it directly to the editor, but I don’t know the name of the publication where I submitted it. I think it is at Potter’s Field, which has a publication date of next may. If I don’t hear in another 3 months I’ll start sending out again.

I just read on the SamsDot site that they take Short Story collections. I have thought about making an anthology of my short stories, but it would be quite a bit of work for very little return. I would not get much satisfaction out of it if it did not sell. However, SamsDot, despite its small size, pushed their publications and if I could sell a decent number of books, not only would I make money, but I would feel justified somehow in making the effort.

I have a dozen stories that involve computers or algorithms. I wonder if I could come up with a real whiz-bang title that would sell a book?






August 18th, 2010

Ray Bradbury Song

Not safe for the workplace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1IxOS4VzKM&feature=player_embedded

Remember, October is Ray Bradbury Month. Pick out your books now.

I found this on delicious.com, but it was posted on IO9 – the SyFy channel of SF blogging. Don’t go there.






August 17th, 2010

Yankee Stadium

I am not a sports guy. I did, however, play little league baseball, and I like baseball. I usually limit my sports attention to the World Series, but I like to listen to games on the radio while driving. I like the narrative quality of the games. The non-violent competition and the dependence on strategy make this a fascinating game.

I’ve only been to a few games, but I have always enjoyed the spectacle of it. Yesterday I went, for the first time, to the new Yankee Stadium. I can only say that it is huge. Larry’s friend Carlos managed to score some $11 tickets up as high and as far as you can get from the actual game. It was like watching a baseball game from the rim of the grand canyon.

I took some videos, but managed to miss the better parts of the trip. (I was in the men’s room during the 7th inning stretch, and accidentally deleted the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.)

I was able to document the purchase of $6 hot dog and a $5.50 watery beer. Microsoft Movie maker crashed twice will trying to edit the movie. In the end I just linked all the videos without titles, effects, or deletions. All you get here is several minutes of raw footage from Justine’s little video camera.






August 15th, 2010

24 rejects

My story that seems will never find a home has been rejected at Asimov’s and is now off to Clarksworld. There are half a dozen more pro markets that have not yet seen it.

Clarksworld has a list of things they don’t like in their submission guidelines. I am violating two of those prohibited items:

1) “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
2) your trunk stories.

The story has a humorous sardonic ending, not really a pun, but it is sort of punnish. The story has technically never been trunked, because it has been mostly out getting rejected every since I wrote it about 5 years ago.






August 13th, 2010

Little Walter

A little Friday blues from my hero – Little Walter






August 13th, 2010

The Gernsback Delusion

Hugo Gernsback created the first Science Fiction Magazine, invented the term Science Fiction, and was a major influence on the literature of SF right up to the middle 1930s.

One thing about old Hugo was that he thought the science in Science Fiction had to be scientifically possible. If the science was not at least feasible the story was not Science Fiction, but fantasy. This strict adherence to “Hard Science” became associated with the term “The Gernsback Delusion”. Some in the SF community disagreed with Hugo’s ideas.

According to Hugo Gernsback, Science Fiction was the hook for catching new scientists. By creating interest in science and technology, Science Fiction would be way in which the science of the future would be created. Hugo’s wasn’t all that delusional and a generation of engineers and scientists got started by reading SF.

The negativity of the phrase “Gernsback Delusion” came about because some SF fans wanted to go much further than just creating light reading to interest kids in science.

There was a political battle going on at the 1937 Third Eastern SF convention in Philadelphia where the Futurians (a group of a dozen or so fans) wanted more for Science Fiction. This faction called the Michelists (after John Michel) wanted SF to create activist idealists who would change the word, not only though technology, but through idealism.

Here is the manifesto that was read and voted down at the Third Eastern.

“THEREFORE: Be it moved that this, the Third Eastern Science Fiction Convention, shall place itself on record as opposing all forces leading to barbarism, the advancement of pseudo-sciences and militaristic ideologies, and shall further resolve that science-fiction should by nature stand for all forces working for a more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life.”

The groups in favor of the Michelist text formed the Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction and actively promoted these ideals. The were accused of being communists.

So the question is this, 73 years later, is Science Fiction just trash with a touch of tech? Is SF the stuff of poorly written movies with expensive special effects? Is SF just comic books?

Or could SF be a vehicle for change? Could SF be a mirror darkly to our society so we can see how the world must change to be safer, saner and better place?

Or is this view of SF just an echo of my own liberal agenda? (As I have been accused of promoting in comments on this blog.)






August 13th, 2010

Hermie is Sick

Hermie had an infection from an animal bite on his privates (possibly one of the other cats) and he got pretty bad. Erica took him to the vet and they cleaned the wound and gave him antibiotics.

Hermie is a stray and very afraid of people. He is slowly getting better, but he is very afraid of me and hides from me when I am in the house. This is why we didn’t notice the infection earlier. He has been living with us for about a year, but he hasn’t been able to socialize. He must have been abused or else had a very bad time while living in the wild.

The trip to the vet was traumatic for him and they had to give him a shot to put him out. He is coming out of now, but he is still panicky and in pain. They cleaned up the wound, but it will be very painful for a long time. He has to be watched closely.

Erica is with him. I am at work, but I wish I could take the day off to help with him. He’s still all floppy and can hurt himself by falling down the stairs. Erica has to hold him, at least for a few hours, to keep him from hurting himself. This is nearly as hard on Erica as it is on the cat. It is good that we took him to the vet and we are hoping he heals without further complications.

He has one of those space collars on to keep him away from the wound, but I am not allowed to laugh at him.