- I don’t think I’ve announced it broadly yet, but I am now agented, for both fiction and nonfiction. Either is a first for me, and it may make any number of things better on the writing side.
- This isn’t glaciation, obviously, but having been researching the coming Ice Age for a year or so now in the service of a Neanderthals novel, I was riveted: A calf-deep wave of ice fragments advances across the land like a cross between Jack Frost and The Blob.
- One way to solve the Raspberry Pi stuttering keyboard problem is to use a wireless keyboard/mouse set. The one I have (the Logitech MK520) works beautifully. Stutter gone. (The high road, of course, is to power everything, including the RPi itself, from a wireless hub.)
- Microsoft has offered B&N $1B for the entire Nook business, including the readers and all facets of the B&N store. This says a lot less about Microsoft than it says about B&N–none of it good.
- Here’s an inside look at a dedicated bitcoin mining machine. Now, could the same box mount a brute force attack against password hashes?
- A bunch of do-it-yourself Muppets present ten reasons why time travel is no good.
- I’ve discovered a spectacular new cheese: Uniekaas Black Label 3-year-old gouda. (Scroll down.) Bears about as much resemblance to the gouda I knew as a Porsche does to a Trabant. Pair it with any dry red; I’ve had it with Middle Sister Rebel Red and Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel. Actually, it pairs well with Real Sangria. Or, for that matter, whole milk. Sheesh, even dead air. We get it at Whole Foods. Try it.
- Still another voice calling for an end to team sports in schools. Team sports are how we teach high schoolers that alpha males can do whatever they want to the people below them on their ill-begotten ladders.
- Want another reason? The most highly paid state employees in nearly all states are…college sports coaches. And we all know how “college” college sports are.
- Watch out, Colorado. Here come the pot machines.
- Yes, I am now writing a Raspberry Pi programming book. Details to come.
- While I do, I’ll be scoping out my next novel. Hard SF, oboy yes. One possibility is something I call Fire Drill, about what happens when you’re mining the moon for nickel-iron and you hit gold. The other, hmmm, let me give you a hint: “Well, hello, Mr. Sangruse! How nice of you to drop in. Please stay awhile. My name is Oscar, and I am a…beautiful…thing.”
- This is why I am very careful about “liking” things on Facebook, particularly memes and idiotic quizzes like “What word for ‘moron’ has two ‘o’s?” It’s all about helping somebody else make money. No thanks. (But yes thanks to Marty Coady for the link.)
- And here’s another item about “like farming.” If I don’t share that photo you’ve posted, it’s not just because I think that Facebook memes make you look like an idiot. (Most of them do.) It’s because you’ve basically sold yourself to someone you don’t even know. (Thanks to Julian Bucknall for the link.)
- From the Governments-Are-Idiots-Squared Department: The city of Provo Utah is going to sell its fiber-to-the-home network to Google…except that nobody kept any records of where the fiber is buried.
- Cripes, guys. I don’t want to run out of energy, and neither do you. If you’re going to crap on nuclear power, you’re gonna be stuck with hydrocarbons. And they won’t run out anywhere near as soon as you think. Live with it.
- From the Words-I-Didn’t-Know-Until-Yesterday Department: churnalism, the practice of publishing press releases verbatim.
- Steampunk short ribs, all the way around! (Thanks to Bill Cherepy for the link.)
- From the same site: Like Mr. Bigweld said, see a need, fill a need!
- Multiple long-term studies seem to indicate that the way to live a long life is to be conscientious and organized. Well, one of out two ain’t bad.
- Southerners may be no fatter than northerners. They just don’t seem as inclined to lie about it.
- Some dads build their kids playhouses. Some of these playhouses look like spaceships. Shades of the Silvercup Rocket. The bigger kids dream, the better their smaller dreams will come true. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Yet another reason that Woodrow Wilson was the most evil president the Republic has ever had.
I’ve been selling my writing professionally since I was an undergrad, now literally forty years ago. I’ve had to do remarkably little selling. My first story and first article both sold to the first places I sent them. I’ve never had a publisher turn down a computer book proposal. (Granted that selling books to a publisher you co-own is rarely a challenge.) My fiction has been a mixed bag, but in general a story either sells quickly or not at all.
All changed. This is the toughest market for novel-length SFF since, well, forever. I’ve just spent two years writing Ten Gentle Opportunities, and now the selling begins. This is a new thing for me. I’ve historically considered tireless self-promoters to be tiresome self-promoters, and now I are one. I hate to go that way, and if there were another way I’d already be taking it.
It begins this weekend, when I have a chance to pitch to a major SF publisher at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The pitch happens in a time slot literally eight minutes long. I have eight minutes to make a bleary editor hungry to read my book. No pressure.
The primary challenge is to summarize the novel in synopses of various sizes, from 5,000 words down to…140 characters. Various markets and agents prefer synopses of various sizes, so they’d all better be right there on the shelf, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
This is harder than it looks; nay, it’s diabolical. The story itself is insanely complicated to begin with: One of my beta testers described it as “a Marx Brothers movie with twice as many Marx Brothers.” That’s just how I write, as anyone who’s read The Cunning Blood will understand. I have a mortal fear of not giving my readers their money’s worth, and a venial fear of being boring.
The way to write synopses of five different lengths is to start with the longest one, and write each one from scratch. In other words, don’t write the longest one and then try to cut it down to the next smaller size. This is like trying to turn hexacontane into propane by pulling carbon atoms randomly out of the middle; sooner or later the molecule has too many holes and falls apart.
It’s work, but it works. I finished the 300-word synopsis earlier this morning, and then set my hand to the gnarliest task of all: the “elevator pitch,” AKA logline. I get to summarize a manic 94,200 word story into 140 characters. I’ve actually been trying and failing to nail this for literally six months, since I finished the first draft. I first thought it would be easy, as I used to write cover copy for early Coriolis books. Heh.
The solution, as I said, is to start from the beginning. Each time I wrote a synopsis from scratch, I was forced to take two more steps up the ladder, and look down at the story from a little more height. You literally tell it again, each time with half the words you had last time. In the process, you get a clearer sense for what the story is about, and what the major themes are. Finally you end up with something you can say in an elevator between two adjacent floors:
A spellbender flees to our world with ten stolen nuggets of magic, and a crew of AIs helps him battle a repo spirit sent to retrieve him.
Will this work? Dunno. I guess I’ll find out this weekend.
- Egad. No, egad squared: A major literary agency has asked to see the full manuscript of Ten Gentle Opportunities. The novel is done, but I still have to format it for submission and write the synopsis and logline. I’m going to be busy for a few days, that is fersure.
- IBM is taking a new slant on fluidic computers, one that operates via charged fluids. The hope is that this will allow better modeling of human brain operation. I’m skeptical, but hey, it’s a species of nanocomputer, and I’m certainly bullish on those. (Thanks to Mike Reith for the link.)
- If anybody reading this has a 3D printer, I’d like to ask: Does the extruded plastic stick to clean copper-clad PCB stock? The obvious idea is to lay down a single-slice pattern in the form of PC pads and then etch the board with the plastic as resist. I don’t see much about this online.
- From Chris Gerrib: How American radio stations got their call signs. One minor refinement: US callsigns beginning with AAA-ALZ and NAA to NZZ are not exclusively military. Amateur radio callsigns have used those prefixes for at least 35 years. (An OTA friend of mine outside Chicago got his Extra and selected AA9J as his call in, I think, 1976.)
- People always seem to be recording meteors on dash cameras. I now have a dash camera. If I put it on my dash, will I see a meteor? Or will I get my money back? (Whoops. Found it in the bushes. All finds final. No refunds.)
- Speaking of dash cameras: The manufacturer of the little sports camera I found in my bushes issued a DMCA takedown notice to a reviewer, on trademark grounds. (The DMCA has nothing to do with trademark abuse.) Hey, GoPro, Barbra is singing. Backtracking about the blunder will not help you. (Thanks to Tom Roderick for alerting me to this.)
- Salads are way more dangerous than hamburgers. Alas, you can’t grill salad until it’s done to the center.
- From Michael Covington comes a link to a story about how a Medieval copyist’s cat peed on his manuscript. The scribe drew a peeing cat on the damaged section, with an appropriate curse in Latin.
- And we think we have a junk DNA problem: Amoeba proteus has 290 billion (yes, billion) base pairs in its genome, as compared to homo sap’s piddling 2.9 billion.
- The reason all of us baby boomers didn’t die as grade schoolers may be that none of us lived in rich-guy gonzo-modern homes like these. (Why did I think that these houses were designed to ernhance estate tax revenues?)
- I just finished writing an SF novel (now in the final polishing stage) that postulates robots who throw things so precisely that there is no longer a need for assembly lines. Everything the factory deals with (parts, subsystems, finished items) are thrown from one place on the floor to another. The well-known Big Dog robot recently learned how to throw cinder blocks thirty feet. Once two can play catch with cinder blocks, I’ll call it a score.
- March Madness, Pope-style. In my unfinished (still) novel Old Catholics, Benedict’s successor is a reactionary Brazilian. Following the Brazilian is Chicago’s Cardinal Peter Paul Luchetti, born in Rome, New York…making him Malachy’s Peter the Roman. Now Benedict has gone and messed up the sequence by resigning before I could get that story into print.
- More pope-related tinfoil-hat stuff: There was no Pope John XX. Could Pope John XX have been Pope Joan? We later made up for the John shortage by having two Pope John XXIIIs. Alas, the first one was a pirate and a highwayman, and had committed every sin we knew about at the time. We call him an antipope, but the papacy was such a mess in 1410 that he had as good a claim as anybody. Fortunately, the second Pope John XXIII was arguably the best pope who ever lived. Funny how that works.
- This may not pass, but a law limiting the ability of non-practicing patent trolls to extort risk-free would be a damned fine first step in patent reform.
- Finally, a useful infographic: How long food lasts at room temps, in the fridge, or in the freezer. I didn’t know you’re not supposed to freeze potatoes.
- I used to think I was nuts for seeing faces in random patterns on our textured walls. Maybe not. We’re good at recognizing faces, which suggests that if a pattern can be turned into a face by our mental machinery, it will. Here’s even more.
- In the spring of 1970, I bought a novelty gas discharge bulb at a headshop (Sunny’s, at Harlem & Foster in Chicago) and built a little lamp around it for Carol. The bulb was an Aerolux bulb, and here’s a site giving the product history and some examples. The sixth image (purple swallow amidst green foliage) is the exact bulb I used.
- While looking around at other uses of the word “drumlin,” I ran across a current pop song from Two-Door Cinema Club. I’m willing to guess that it’s the only Billboard-charted song containing the word, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
I don’t know where my ideas come from, so don’t ask. However, I do get ideas. Most of them come to nothing. Every now and again, however, I score.
Back at Clarion in 1973, I wrote an otherwise dorky novelette entitled “But Will They Come When You Do Call For Them?” in which I predicted something very like the World-Wide Web. It was over twenty years later that I realized I’d been scooped by H. G. Wells, who published his idea of the World Brain in 1937. (I’d never heard of the World Brain until I read about it on…the Web.) Hey, if you’re gonna get scooped, get scooped by the best.
In 1993, I got an idea for something I called The All Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything. It came out of the Information Superhighway fever (remember that?) and did not postulate HTTP, which was a new and obscure protocol at the time I was doing my research. Functionally, however, it was Wikipedia, or at least Wikipedia minus its idiotic Not Notable fetish.
Jim Strickland told me that I came very close to describing Second Life three years before it went live, with my “RAD Mars” concept piece in the final issue of Visual Developer. I think there were other stabs at that concept abroad at the time, so I don’t consider it as big a score. Still, it’s a score.
Which brings us to a news item I ran across this morning while I was scanning the World Brain. (Or the Universal Data Engineering Project, as I had more humbly named it in 1973.) ASUS has unveiled the Padfone 2, a smartphone that plugs into a 10″ “dumb” tablet. Pull that animation around–it’s very cool. The PadFone 2 is the newest rev of a product announced last spring that I missed somehow. (2012 was the second-worst year of my life. I missed a lot.) Here’s another detailed description from Engadget. The ASUS PadFone product line is the first real-world stab at a concept I described here on Contra back in 2008. That was in the thick of the netbook era, post-Kindle but pre-iPad, and the notion of a general-purpose touchscreen tablet was still obscure. What I wanted was a dockable display into which my smartphone plugged, with storage and network communications on the smartphone. And dayum if that isn’t more or less precisely what ASUS offers in the PadFone.
So forgive me if I sound like I’m gloating. I’m gloating. This may be the most accurate technology prediction I’ve ever made, and I made it almost five years ago.
Back in 2008 I considered patenting the idea, but only briefly. A patent would have cost me $10,000 and more time than I had to spare right then. Worse, I consider the idea only half a notch more than obvious, and when people patent the obvious it makes my blood boil.
I am a big fan of ASUS, and I own a much-loved and much-used Transformer Prime. I wish them no ill, but guys, put that patent application down. I thought of it five years ago.
- The 64GB Microsoft Surface Pro tablet has only 23GB of open storage. Yukkh.
- Given that I do most of my reading curled up in a monster cushy chair, I’ve begun to wonder if a tablet with a 12″ display (or perhaps even larger) with a charger dock on the adjacent end table would be useful. Such things exist, but not in great numbers and not cheap. Technical PDFs are often uncomfortable reading even on my 10″ Transformer Prime.
- Here’s yet another reason I’m not bullish on the Cloud: If all you have is the Cloud, everything has to include a rain dance. I ruled out Eye-Fi when it first came out for this reason, but the absurdity of requiring global connection to make a local connection needs to be aired every so often.
- Short summary of Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven: Ringworld with an engine, and nowhere to go. It’s the first Larry Niven book I can recall that I genuinely hated. Save your money.
- Here’s a result of vintage calculators (well, if not “result,” what’s the proper collective?) and a pointer to what would be a stunning steampunk model, if it hadn’t been designed in 1788.
- Early heads-up for what may be a really brilliant thing: Pulp-O-Mizer, which is a sort of image generator that spits out convincing Deco/Diesel magazine or book covers. Thanks to Jim Rittenhouse for putting me on to it. I’ll have more to say when I take it for a spin myself.
- I don’t know from personal experience if this is true; I don’t drink enough, nor late enough, to be a good test case. However, I’ve been told by several in my inner circle that too much booze too late at night makes for very bad sleep.
- There are a lot more Steampunk R2D2s out there than I would have guessed. I like the one with the monocle.
- It’s as easy as fishin’? I’ll stick with bluegills. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- The big movie studios are evidently creating fake YouTube accounts with fake users uploading supposedly pirated movie trailers promoting new films. For the sake of plausible deniability, they’re sending YouTube takedown notices on the trailers. And you wonder why I see maybe three movies a year.
- This may not be a viable business model.
- In times long past, men used to wear high heels. (More recently, I remember seeing guys in platforms when I was in college.) Why? To stay on their horses. Or maybe to avoid being mistaken for Neanderthals. We may never know.
Bill Cherepy (and a couple of others since) sent me an interesting link to a piece on Boing Boing arguing (I think) that steampunk makes our gadgets more human. It’s a headscratcher, since I don’t think the article text supports the author’s contention. However, it’s an idea worth some thought. I actually agree, if for different reasons:
- Steampunk gadgets are comprehensible. Most of the tech in our modern phones and computers is black art, even to guys like me with considerable background in electronics. Electric, mechanical, and chemical tech circa 1900 was accessible to anyone with an ounce of brains and some willingness to study.
- Steampunk gadgets are reproduceable. At home. In your basement. Sure, it would take a little research and pratice, but with nothing more exotic than a lathe and basic chemistry gear you could build most of what we connect with steampunking. Dare you to do that with an iPad.
- Steampunk gadgets are personal. This is going to earn me some heat, but I think it’s true: Steampunk thingies are in-your-face, not on-your-friends-ist. One of the charms of the steampunk idea is that people interact face-to-face. This keeps trolling to a minimum and fosters at least superficial courtesy, which certainly beats the slobbering hatred that now dominates Facebook.
All that said, I admit that the majority of what I see under the heading “Steampunk” is a species of fantasy, be it of the supernatural (vampires and zombies) or just wildly off-the-edge assumptions of what 1900 technology could accomplish.
The big turn-off I found in cyberpunk was its coldness. Granted this was cultural and not really necessary, but when I played at the edges of cyberpunk years ago it stopped me in my tracks. Cyberpunk was cynicism writ large, and steampunk is optimism gone nuts. Given that cynicism is cowardice (it is, in fact, the fear and loathing of all things human) you can guess where I’m much more likely to tell my tales.
I should never promise anything “tomorrow.” Most of the time, the universe conspires with itself to make a liar of me…as it did this time.
Anyway. I have just completed the second pass through Ten Gentle Opportunities. It’s what I call a “continuity pass.” The goal is to ensure that the story makes reasonable sense, taking particular care to repair “plot holes.” It’s not really a polish pass. In a very real sense it’s a tech edit, like those I used to do on magazine articles and still do on book-related material from time to time. Here are some of the things I watch for, and fix when found:
- People, things, or ideas introduced early in the story but never mentioned again. We all know that stories grow in the telling–but they also contract, and in doing so early elements sometimes get squeezed out. This is especially important in stories (like this one) that took a long, long time to tell.
- Things introduced later in the story that are not “foreshadowed” and thus may strike the reader as a complete surprise, or (worse) deus ex machina.
- “Jumps” in a character’s emotional state. Growth and change are important in characterization, and have to be done out where the reader can watch them happen. If a character changes too abruptly, or off where the change can’t be seen, it sounds hokey.
- General inconsistencies in the ways people and things are treated early on in the story vs. later in the story.
- Finally, to make sure that all the made-up words are spelled the same way throughout. (This isn’t trivial when the story contains proper names like Ttrynngbrokklynnygyggug and Jrikkjroggmugg.) I originally coined a lot of proper names from Stypek’s universe that had no vowels in them at all, but in workshopping chapters I found that nobody thought this was amusing but me. (Maybe I was a little too impressed with the famous 90′s gag about Clinton air-dropping vowels on Bosnia.) I went back and added just enough vowels to suggest a pronunciation.
There is still polishing to be done, and here and there some stiff rewriting. I simply don’t like Chapter 57, for example. I intend to rewrite it from scratch once I get a little emotional distance from the story. As it’s only 1200 words, the rewriting won’t take long. The rest of the polishing to be done involves watching for “echoes” (words used more than once a little too close in the manuscript) and probably eliminating some adverbs, though I think the current campaign against adverbs is a deranged fetish perpetrated mostly by bad writers and people who teach writing without writing much of anything themselves. Polishing is a separate pass and my next challenge. Much of the first half of the book has already been polished (I’m a compulsive polisher) so the pass won’t take long.
I’ve sent the story to my beta testers, and now I’m waiting to get some reactions. In the meantime there’s a root canal in my future this Wednesday morning. It’s nothing I haven’t known about for some time, and I’ve been through enough of them to have a reasonable idea what I’m in for. One peculiarity of my biochemistry is that the nitrous oxide gas used as a calming agent by some oral surgeons simply doesn’t work for me. The surgeon doing the procedure has an office with an interesting gimmick: flat-panel TV sets in the ceiling, so that while he’s drilling out your molar you can lean back and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for the inevitable anxiety in the runup to a root canal, I suspect that ativan steps in where nitrous fails. We’ll find out on Wednesday.
This morning, almost three months late, I found myself writing the last words on the first draft of my novel Ten Gentle Opportunities. The final line (not counting the epilog, which I wrote months ago) is “Let’s talk.”
Back in 1980, as part of my programming job with Xerox, I was given a tour of the assembly line for the new model copier that my software system was tracking. It was a fascinating business. There was some automation but not a lot. Copiers-in-progress moved along a line, and people bolted/connected things to them, just like Model T Fords. Forklifts and electric carts were running around, carrying pallet loads of parts and subassemblies and lots of other stuff I couldn’t identify. At the end of the line there were ranks of completed model 3300 copiers, waiting to be tested and then plastic-wrapped for shipment. The building holding the assembly line was ginormous, and the interior space was fifty feet high or more.
Given the space it was in, the line seemed awfully, well, two-dimensional.
I’m not sure when I got the idea, exactly, but if the assembly lines of the future are going to be completely robotic, with few or (ideally) no humans standing around while the line is running, why carry parts around on carts? If you can make robot hands good enough to bolt copiers together, you can make robot hands good enough to pitch and catch. Sure, a baseball is an optimal case, but with enough compute power, you should be able to throw a circuit board, a subassembly, or a whole copier from one point to any other point on the floor. Damn, I thought, there’s a story in that somewhere.
The next year, I wrote it. The story was called “Paradise Lased.” It was about such an assembly line, controlled by an experimental AI called Simple Simon. In the story, the copiers have AI too, and one of them comes back for warranty repair with a truly peculiar problem: The copier thinks it’s God. In a corner of the factory, the control head is pulled off the copier so that the rest of the machine can be refurbed and resold. Through a high-speed wireless network, the delusional control head worms its way into the consciousness of the many dimwitted robots in the factory, demanding that they worship it. Simple Simon, being smarter than the robots, refuses. God the Copier declares war.
I finished the story, but never tried to sell it. Even as young and green as I was (29) I knew it was thin gruel. Mostly it was an excuse to imagine an entire robotic manufacturing ecology, and make a little fun of what I considered the extravagantly optimistic AI predictions bouncing around Xerox (and many other places) at that time. There was a human character in the story (one!) but he was just a walking point of view. The story was really about Simple Simon the AI. I was so enchanted by robots throwing capacitor joule grenades and eventually whole copiers at each other that I gave the human character almost nothing to do but run away from the robots and listen to Simple Simon complain. I tossed it into the trunk with an interior vow to do something better with it someday, ideally before it came to pass.
It took two more tries and 31 years, but I did it.
By the way, the Latin title to this entry is not my own; I can only dream of knowing Latin that well. It comes from Michael Covington, who offered it when I announced on Facebook this morning that the first draft was finished. Translation:
“It ends. Well does it end. Let the scribe go play!”