Archive for March, 2004

You May Already Not Be a Winner

Friday, March 19th, 2004

It’s that time of year again; my Writers of the Future rejection arrived today. I thought this story was better than my last one, but it did worse. I have two weeks to come up with something new for the next deadline.

In some disturbing publishing news, some print-on-demand publishers have lost a patent suit. IANAL, but I just don’t see how something as simple and intuitive as print-on-demand is patentable.


Thursday, March 18th, 2004

Manip of the day: new Kerry campaign poster by Randal Robinson

I’ve been finding more of interest to vote for in the ASC Awards than I was expecting. I have only a handful of TNG stories left to read, and then I’ll be on break until VOY. Today I commented on Ventura33’s Letting Down the Race (the html is a little messed up, but the whole story is there), which reminded me of Greg Egan’s Distress and led me to the Aspergia site.

When you come down to it, Aspergia is about more than treating the abnormal as a legitimate alternative. It’s not a political battle over a minor abberation like sexual preference. It’s a whole aliens-in-our-midst thing - it’s the Neanderthals against the Cro-Magnons. And they’re multiplying like something out of science fiction. They’re smarter than us (they have Einstein and Edison, we have Bush and Bennifer), yet less warlike. What happens when they decide they’ve had enough of our foolishness? To see if you’ll be part of the new ruling class, take the AQ test.

Yes, I’m being facetious. The more likely outcome is that sometime soon we’ll start fixing all these little genetic abnormalities. There will be no more Einsteins, Edisons, or Queer Eyes for Straight Guys.

For auld lang syne

Wednesday, March 17th, 2004

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

I’ve been voting a bit in the ASC Awards for auld lang syne. I don’t watch ENT or DS9, so I’ve mostly skipped those categories. There’s some TNG by Lori and Alara I missed this year, and the whole category is quite small so I’m going through it now. Things won’t really heat up until the weeks of TOS and VOY, which somehow got scheduled together.

Many of the old Trek people are nowhere to be found in this year’s awards, and so far nothing has gotten the dried-up Trek fic juices running again. Retirement suits me just fine, thanks.

Party Like it’s 1929

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

I saw this article on CNN yesterday, but I didn’t mention it because it was just too eerie. Today, however, Mark Steyn said precisely what I was thinking in his column: that the Spanish people just let al Qaeda elect their government for them.

That’s not what I intended to blog about today. I’d found a cool quote by Bertrand Russell:

No man treats a motorcar as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behaviour to sin; he does not say, “You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.” He attempts to find out what is wrong and to set it right.

Unlike Russell, I wasn’t going to claim that sin is a wholly pernicious idea. The trouble is that people insist on moralizing issues that are not moral in nature. They don’t scold their cats or their cars, but they will scold corporations, political parties or entire nations - and yet your dog has more of a moral sense than the average corporation.

So I will not scold Spain. Spain is not a moral agent but a symptom that Europe still hasn’t gotten over WWI. Looking around today, we find ourselves in a nightmare house where the clocks all stopped on the eve of an unthinkable disaster. It is 1928 all over again.The Roots of European Appeasement by David Gelernter, September 2002. Here’s some more:

As the Second World War and its aftermath fade, they reveal a “new world order” that is strangely familiar–amazingly like the Western world of the 1920s, with its love of self-determination and loathing of imperialism and war, its liberal Germany, shrunken Russia, and map of Europe crammed with small states, with America’s indifference to Europe and Europe’s disdain for America, with Europe’s casual, endemic anti-Semitism, her politically, financially, and masochistically rewarding fascination with Muslim states who despise her, and her undertone of self-hatred and guilt.

Fear and Loathing in Massachusetts

Monday, March 15th, 2004

I’ve had politics on the brain for my NaNoEdMo novel. Seema spotted me a lovely link about Massachusetts liberals:

Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe thinks the prototype of the M.L. stereotype was first identified around Concord in the 19th century. Back before San Francisco was even a gold rush village, Massachusetts was a hotbed of abolitionists. “The downside is that they made their criticisms in a pious and haughty manner with great contempt to anyone who disagreed,” says Wolfe.

I admit, the haughty manner and great contempt get annoying after a while, but what really bothers me is the fear and loathing. An example of the former is the prevalent and irrational fear that unnamed Republicans are about to turn the country into something out of The Handmaid’s Tale. An example of the latter is violent hatred of President Bush, though the most offensive thing about him as an individual is his inability to form sentences in his native tongue.

The only people I fear are people who fear people. You never know what someone with an irrational fear of you will do to you or your rights in order to assuage that fear. Far worse, though, is the way “they scare me” is used to squelch rational debate about issues or candidates. Scary is shorthand for so bad that I don’t have to explain why.

On the other hand, I don’t hate the haters. They usually hate public figures rather than entire classes of citizens into which I could easily fall, so they don’t pose a particular political danger to me. Also, their virulence is disarming - you can spot them foaming at the mouth from quite a distance and you know they’re not going to have anything new or challenging to say.

It’s fine if you want to be an irrational Bushophobe; it’s even intermittently entertaining for the rest of us. But it’s not debate - it’s piety. That’s par for the course here, just as other pieties are in vogue in other states.

The Mathematics of Feedback

Sunday, March 14th, 2004

Occupied territory of the day: al-Andalus

I’m back from the deep, dark swamps of Southeastern Massachusetts. I got a ride home, so now I have a leftover “get out of Fall River free” card (otherwise known as a return ticket) from Bonanza Bus Lines. They should be paying me to go there. But I digress…

I don’t usually think about the feedback I’m not getting, but when my site stats came back up recently after months of being AWOL for an upgrade I was surprised all over again at just how little feedback people send when they think I’m not looking. My standard estimate is 1% feedback - that is, one piece of email per 100 readers - but that estimate is a bit high. In some cases the rate is more like 1 in 500, or 1 in 1000. My latest story has received not a single feedback out of over 200 hits, and it was a good story, if I do say so myself.

So I started wondering, how can it be that some people get so much feedback they don’t have time to answer it, and other people get nothing? To what, exactly, does an order of magnitude more feedback correspond - a name that’s an order of magnitude bigger? An army with ten minions for every one of mine? Ten fan friends for each of mine? A story that’s ten times better?

To answer that question, I’d have to know where all that feedback was coming from. There are two kinds of feedback in the fan world: potlatch fb and unsolicited fb. If you know that certain actions (such as posting to a mailing list) will inevitably bring you feedback no matter the quality of the fic, you can assume the fb is potlatch. On the other hand, if you post a story anonymously (say, in a blind contest) and get feedback for it, that’s unsolicited feedback. Everything in between is suspect. And if you hardly know with your own fic whether the feedback you get is spontaneous or a result of a complex network of fannish obligations and feedback guilt, how can you know what the BNF’s are getting?

It’s almost impossible to get an honest piece of fb in fandom. Even newbies get fb that’s intended to rope them into the potlatch rather than express how the reader really felt about their fic. People who aren’t involved in the potlatch generally don’t send any feedback at all. They’re going to archives and reading your fic and you never even know.

Sure there are rec sites, contests, and the occasional slightly picky archive, but there are no real rewards for quality the way there are for quantity. (Anyone who thinks fb numbers are a reflection of quality should take a look around Fb is just one of the many rewards for quantity.


Friday, March 12th, 2004

On this day in 1938, German troops entered Austria. At our comfortable distance here in the US, the Anschluß is most familiar to us in its musical form from The Sound of Music, where the impression is that the good Captain will not live under fascism.

The truth is that Austria was already fascist in 1938; it was only the flag with the spider on it (in musical terms) that changed. The issue was sovereignty, not freedom - nationalism, not Naziism. [The reader may insert the obvious comments about the EU here.] In musicals, at least, nationalism is still a virtue.


Thursday, March 11th, 2004

Flash link of the day: The Exorcist in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies

I na, I no, I edmo. My full-color flowchart outline has been finalized, with one column for the plot and one for subplot(s). It looks kind of like this:
But does it flow?

Now that the cat has been quite thoroughly vacuumed, I need to rewrite my novel so that it goes in the order indicated above, using the handy key to scenes. It’s a good thing I decided to date all the scenes back during NaNoWriMo.

Lastly, some actual plotting advice for Seema: if you have trouble with plot, there’s an exercise I found helpful. (It’s not quite the level of cat-vacuuming involved in flowcharting your own fic, but it’s close.) Take a novel you like and write a one-line summary of each scene.

I don’t remember which how-to-write book that came out of, though I suspect Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold. [I was wrong: it was in the Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot.] There were other steps involved as well, like writing a chronological summary of the same plot and determining which scenes were spectacle and a few other bits out of Aristotle, but I found looking at my resulting outline - the bare bones of a novel - the most enlightening part. I could see how the plan all came together.

Reverse Divination

Wednesday, March 10th, 2004

Thanks to Seema for the link and something mindless to blog about. According to Reverse Astrology, I’m not the sun sign I appear to be.

According to our analysis, you are a Virgo, Aug 23 to Sep 22. But you are certainly not a Libra, Sep 23 to Oct 22.
You claim to be a Scorpio, but you are simply in error. Please consult your parents as to your actual birth date. You can click on the link on the bottom of the web page to see how this divination was made.

Virtual Index Cards

Tuesday, March 9th, 2004

Contest of the day: win Star Trek: Voyager season 1 at

I was going to do the index card plot outlining thing (50,000 words late) for NaNoEdMo, but then I thought why copy everything into a dying medium like paper when I already have plot summary comments attached to all my scenes? There had to be a more high-tech way.

So I searched for just the right program to simulate index cards with scene and character notes on them. I thought fondly of Hypercard. I googled at length. I read up on the history of mac outliner software. Nothing seemed quite the thing.

In the end, I came back to OmniGraffle, a sort of lightweight Visio for the Mac. I used grep to get the scene summaries out of my story file, then imported them into OmniOutliner (by opening the text file), then imported the OmniOutliner file into OmniGraffle (by opening the file). I got both programs free with my PowerBook, so this wasn’t my usual open-source approach. (OmniDictionary is free, though.)

After the import, I had about 50 little squares for my 50 or so scenes. I started coloring them in and sliding them around (because the story needs some serious rearrangement), and a great cat-vacuuming time was had by all. I think it’s been more helpful than index cards, though I was only going for a reasonable approximation of index card functionality.