Posts Tagged ‘musing’

The Play and the Blog

Posted: September 17, 2007 in Uncategorized
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Wanna know why I’m so bad at blogging regularly?

It’s ’cause I’ve got a terrible memory, but a finely-tuned work ethic. See, when I’m at work, I’m working on the job they pay me for, not blogging. By the time I get home, I rarely remember what I wanted to blog about earlier in the day. Yes, I have a PDA (oh, the horrors! yes, I know PDAs are passe now, but there it is) — but I have this unfortunate habit of dreaming up cool things to blog while driving, and that’s an exceptionally bad time to pull out the old PDA. Maybe I should get a tape recorder….

Anyway, I get home, and I can’t remember what I was going to blog. And it’s all because of this pesky aversion to screwing off at work.

Yeah, I know everybody does it.

Not me.

And I’ll tell you why. In my first job, I was part of a very small staff (I was the 10th employee hired) and at one point we started playing computer golf at lunchtime. Mostly, it was 3 of us development guys and the electrical engineer; the EE’s office was furthest away from the front entrance, so we played in his office. So far, so good. It was lunchtime, so why not?

One day, one of my development buddies flubbed a nasty shot, dropped the F-bomb pretty loudly, and we all joined in with our own obscenities. All of this took a couple seconds, tops — just long enough for the VP of development to walk in with a customer. He was … shall we say, a lovely shade of purple. “And this is our development staff,” he said, and closed the door quietly.

I went to my desk immediately and removed from my PC every game and non-work-related application. And I’ve maintained that separation since.

It’s ingrained in me now, that work ethic. At one point, I had a traveling job that left me at home for a couple months. I wrote my first novel — after 5:00 pm each day. From 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on the weekdays, I just couldn’t bring myself to write — that’s not what I was getting paid for. I know lots of technos who blog during meetings, do homework while at work, start outside businesses, etc. Not me. Nope. Never. Can’t do it. I just … can’t.

All this is why my posts tend to be really late at night, BTW.

I’m not trying to be prissy here, and I’m not judging you — if you have a different work ethic and believe you’re doing the right thing, good for you. But if you don’t believe it’s the right thing, if you’re rationalizing it by saying things like you’re only giving them their money’s worth and no more, if you’re continually defending your decision to people who don’t even say anything about it … if it eats at your conscience (like it did mine), do yourself a favor and just stop it now so you can live with yourself in peace.

Trust me.

Hmm. Will you look at that? Turns out I did have something to blog about after all!

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Post-9/11 Children

Posted: September 11, 2007 in Uncategorized
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Today, the blogosphere will be teeming with 9/11 reminiscing, warnings, fears of repeat terrorism, etc. Many of them will be more eloquent than I can be at this time of night, with the limited time I have before I punkinate for what surely will be a restless night, so I won’t add my own long-winded post to those millions, though I am with them in spirit.

Instead, I wanted to leave you with this thought as you make your way through your day today: As we lay our emotions bare today, and roller-coast our way through our feelings, take a moment to think about how profoundly 9/11 changed the lives of our children, and their children. My generation — the lost generation between the Boomers and GenX — we grew up without fear. The Cold War was all but over, sex wasn’t yet dangerous, and drug use appeared to be waning. We got our educations in relatively safe universities, then went to work early and earnestly in our relatively safe jobs, and came home to our relatively safe homes and families.

Our generation’s kids can’t understand that life, and no wonder. They practically get X-rayed and strip-searched just to go to school. They can’t even speak freely any more, for fear of being labeled a troublemaker, with any number of sanctions aimed at them. Firecrackers exploding outside our houses, cars backfiring as they drive by, drunk college kids shouting in a foreign language at midnight — all of these cause our kids to cringe and duck to safety instinctively. They’re afraid to travel. They’re trying their best to re-imagine the job market so it doesn’t involve physical interaction with others.

It will never be the same again.

Oh, sure, there are those that say we should just forget, that we should just move on. We have moved on — but we will not forget. That’s just naive to think we will. Have the Jews forgotten about Nazi Germany? Of course not. Have the Japanese forgotten about Hiroshima? Of course not. Will we — should we — forget about 9/11? Of course not!

But we need to better understand and prepare ourselves for the effects on our children’s lives. That I don’t think we’ve done very well. As a society, we’ve simply put together makeshift knee-jerk policies and procedures each time some wack-job comes up with a new reaction to 9/11, like cowardly shooting a bunch of innocent school kids, or cowardly blowing up a bunch of innocent commuters, or … well, cowardly killing a bunch of innocent people.

Those policies and procedures are simply masking our real fear, though, which is that the safety and well-being of our children has been threatened. Unfortunately, we’re reacting with blinders on, and we need to stop doing that if we really want to protect our children.

A few years back, it became “in” to “baby-proof” our homes, in the calm hope that it would protect our children. Of course, this was short-sighted, as it presumed our children would never go anywhere that wasn’t also “baby-proofed” — a foolish presumption if we aren’t raising hermits. For some reason, we turned our backs on the generations-old practice of simply “baby-proofing” our babies — teaching them not to drink bleach, or poke power sockets with paper clips, or run on slippery surfaces with scissors. Our ancestors’ policy protected our children just as well, but allowed us to visit our friends, too.

We’ve been trying to terror-proof our children’s environments, and it will fail just as miserably as the “baby-proofing” trend. We need to terror-proof our children, and that starts with admitting that they’re affected already, and that their lives will never be as carefree as ours were before 9/11. Only then will they be able to function normally; only then will they be able to forget their fears and live.

Taxing Receipts

Posted: September 3, 2007 in Uncategorized
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I have a love/hate relationship with Quicken and TurboTax.

I love getting things organized. I hate entering the sheer volume of receipts needed to get things organized.

I’m three-quarters of the way through my four-day weekend, and I’ve managed to reconcile exactly one of the forty statements I need to do — and it’s an easy one, too! Okay, the receipts aren’t the only thing I’ve been doing the last 3 days — just most of what I’ve been doing.

Honestly, I don’t know other how writers keep up with receipts. Maybe they simply don’t buy as much stuff that needs to be tracked. Maybe we buy too much. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t have enough time to do it all and hold down a day job that supports my family. My writing has slowed to an absolute crawl since … well, since my oldest son hit his teens.

Hmmm. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Sarah and I have had a long-standing argument with a couple of other writers we know who seem to think I’m just not committed enough. Maybe they’re partially right, but then they don’t have children, either. Truth is, I back-seated my writing habits to a large extent in order to ensure that we have a steady paycheck so we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Is it so wrong to want to maintain a level of security so that Sarah can write full-time?

I understand why so many writers never become successful while they’re actively parenting. (Oh, don’t try to bring up J. K. Rowling — she had multiple sources of government assistance!) Show me a writer who hit the bestseller lists while raising two or more school-aged kids, working at least a 40-hour week for the principle source of family income, and didn’t get any assistance of any kind — money or babysitting (we have no grandparents nearby).

Please! I’m serious here. I need someone to look up to for inspiration.

Kids are a huge time sink. Really, they are. Parenting takes time and energy, y’all — well, active parenting does, I mean. I’m utterly sick of childless writers telling us how they have pets, and they can make time to write 5000 words a day, so what’s the problem?

Yeah, well, we have four cats in the house, too, and two (or maybe four) outside that think we’re their food-givers, and we’ve had at least three cats at any given time for the last nineteen years, so I think I know a little about how much attention pets take versus children.

There ain’t no comparison. Pets are a cakewalk stacked up to kids.

Still, I don’t begrudge my boys for taking up my time. I love writing, but I’d much rather be Dad. I love geek-talking with the boys about computer mods and Neopets, watching Robert elude police on Need For Speed: Underground just days before his first driving lesson, explaining four dimensional theory to Eric, hearing Robert noodle around on the piano (I still haven’t given up on that family garage band I always thought we’d have).

I guess I’m just more committed to my family than to writing. I hope so, because I should be.

Today, the first-class postage rates went up another two cents. Didn’t they do that just last year??

This increase is more alarming, though, for two reasons:

  • The new Forever Stamp marketing is based on the presumption that rates will increase again before you’d get a chance to use up all your new 41-cent stamps! (“Buy ’em now, boys, while they’re still 41 cents each, ’cause they’re gonna cost whatever the going rate is, and right now it’s still just 41 cents!”) I can understand the reasoning, since I’ve still got the better part of a roll of 37-cent stamps that I bought the Saturday before the 2006 rate change — but, c’mon, guys, can’t you even pretend that the 41-cent stamps might be around for more than a few months?? Then again, this is the same outfit that sold me a 100-count roll of 37-cent stamps without bothering to mention that the rates were going up in two days. Geez!
  • The new shape pricing means that short-story writers sending manuscripts just got more like a 10% price increase, not the 5% increase it looks like on the surface! Say you’ve been shopping a 7000-word story. That means 28 manuscript pages, 1 cover page and a paper clip, or about 5 ounces. On Saturday, that was $1.35 for first-class postage. Remember that prior to that rate hike, it was $1.29, which meant the 2006 hike represented close to a 5% change. But with the new shape pricing, that 7000-word story is now a “large envelope”, which is gonna be $1.48, almost a 10% change. Yowch! And It’s even worse for short-shorts. A 1000-word story (a mere 1 oz) just went from $0.37 to $0.80, which is a whopping 116% change (or 216% the previous cost, however you prefer to look at it)!

They say men over 40 should have regular prostate exams, but who needs ’em when we’ve got the USPS looking out for us?

I have a business suggestion. Seriously. FedEx, are you listening? How about a mix of electronic and physical delivery, like electronic checks? We fill out an order form online with an uploaded standard-format document (heck, I can scan my signature for a cover letter), you guys print it out at the closest Kinko’s-on-every-corner to my destination, slap it in an envelope and deliver it. With a Kinko’s right there in the financial district in Manhattan, I bet you could cover NYC magazine publishers for less than USPS without breaking a sweat. How about it?

E-media As Performance

Posted: May 10, 2007 in Uncategorized
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A few days ago, someone using the moniker “John Doe” signed into the editor’s conference in the Baen Bar and posted an offer to resell at a discount his e-media purchased from Baen. This sparked a maelstrom of comments, none of them kind, and quickly branched into a discussion on DRM. (For those readers unfamiliar with E-Baen, purchased Baen electronic products are DRM-free.)

The posts brought to light a couple issues I hadn’t really considered before:

1) What exactly are the “normal” rights of a non-DRM e-media purchaser? I don’t own any e-media, but I assume there’s some kind of license associated. The general impression I got from the thread was that it’s not considered transferable, such as would be case when you sell a physical copy of a book, DVD or CD. But is that stipulated in the license?

2) Should e-media even be considered a product? Clearly, the organizations touting DRM think of e-media this way. On the other hand, the whole notion of a nontransferable product bears more of a resemblance to a consumable. So is e-media a product or not?

It seems pretty clear that we need to view e-media differently than we have been. At the heart of it, entertainment is really rented, not owned, per se. This is an idea explored a few years in the form of DIVX movies, but I think there may be the germ of a workable solution hidden in that unsuccessful implementation.

I think of traditional media as a performance, so why not e-media?

What is a “performance” anyway? I see it as the unique intersection of a presenter’s interpretation of some material and an observer’s interpretation of that presenter’s interpretation. Each of those aspects can vary from performance to performance, making each performance a different experience.

In some cases, such a reading a book, the presenter and the observer are physically the same being, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same. The observer just has a level of control over the presentation as well. For example, a reader can choose to skip long expositions he finds offensive, or skip to the end of a mystery to see who did it before returning to the middle.

The advent of DVDs has added a new twist: chains of multiple presenters. I often watch an abbreviated form of a movie I’ve seen before, by skipping past some of the chapters entirely, or moving around in a different order. (While this is technically possible with VHS tapes, it’s not very practical.)

In the music world, remixes are doing the same thing. Traditionally, a band might do a cover of someone else’s source material — clearly a case of creating a new presentation, often based on another presenter’s interpretation, rather than the source material. But a remixer uses the original presenter’s interpretation directly, and modifies it according to his own interpretation, thus creating a new presenter in the chain.

In this light, both questions can be reduced to:

3) If e-media is viewed as performance, how does that affect the rights of the observer with respect to the performance? (Do ownership rights even have any meaning in this context?)

Unfortuately, I don’t have answers, only questions.

Guitar Hero ROCKS!

Posted: March 26, 2007 in Uncategorized
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My youngest son’s best friend came over tonight for a sleepover, along with his PS2 and Guitar Hero II.  

I admit I had hopes something like this would happen when we bought him the game and controller for his birthday a couple weeks ago, knowing fully well that he would be coming over in the near future.  I’d read about Guitar Hero ever since it came out, and it sounded like a ball to play with, but we don’t own a game console of any kind (just PCs), so I’d figured it wasn’t in the offing any time soon.

Tonight I got to play with it, though, and I was impressed.  I’m a beginning guitar player, and I won’t lie to you and say it’s just like playing a real guitar, any more than playing a one-and-a-half-octave toy synthesizer with mini keys is just like playing a piano.  But it is remarkably true to the experience of playing a lead guitar.  Right down to the audience reaction to your playing.  And to the point of finger fatigue and callouses.  I’ve played piano since I was eight, so I don’t exactly have problems with fancy fingering, but I haven’t been diligent about practicing lately, and it showed.  The third time through “Carry On Wayward Son” on the medium level, I could barely move my fingers.  My final score said I hit 73% of the notes, but it felt more like 37%.

Still, it was even more fun than I’d hoped.  After you get through each song, the game tells you “You Rocked.”

Oh, yeah.  I ROCKED!

It’s Important You Don’t Stink

Posted: March 22, 2007 in Uncategorized
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I listen to Flight 26 on XM Radio at work, and I’ve been hearing this new band, 30 Seconds to Mars.  Apparently, according to their MySpace page, their current song is called “The Kill.”  I’m not entirely sure what the lyrics are, but I like the tune.  So, as I often trade new artist discoveries with my almost 16-year-old son, I had Robert bring up their site on his computer.

3 Skulls, in a “Trinity” pattern.

Pictures with band members soaked in blood.

Um.

Vampire cult band?  Color me confused.

Robert looked up after about 30 seconds and said, “There are people yelling at me.  What did I do?”

The whole incident reminded me of “Drive,” a sobriety song by Incubus a few years back.  Loved the song, especially the whole aspect of choosing  “water over wine.”  So I picked up the album.

Headbangers.

Ouch.

“Drive” was pretty much the only track I found listenable.

Which brings me to another headbanging group making the rounds recently.  Hinder.  They had this hit, “Lips of an Angel” a few months back.   You could tell by the raw, gravelly voice of the lead singer that he wasn’t used to singing ballads.  Or singing, for that matter.  Probably used to screaming.  

And, of course, there’s the completely amoral message that it’s okay to have phone sex with your last girlfriend while shacked up with your new one.  From what I’ve heard, the video doesn’t even try to maintain the illusion of reality, and the current girlfriend just smiles when she overhears the cad on the phone.

Yeah, right.  That’s the kind of self-respecting girlfriend any guy would be lucky to have.  And naturally the new girlfriend’s going to suggest a three way when he comes to bed, right?  ‘Cause we all live in music video land.

I checked out Hinder’s website and MySpace anyway, and my suspicions were confirmed.

Metal, metal, metal.  Nary a slow song beyond “Lips of an Angel.”

Then I saw them on Leno, in “their national TV debut.”  My younger son watched their — and I use the term loosely here — performance in awe.  We were very impressed…

…that they could sound so incredibly horrible for their debut!  In the movie “That Thing You Do,” Tom Hanks tells the band as they take the stage at a state fair, “It’s important that you don’t stink out there.”

Hinder missed that memo,

The lead singer sounded like he’d just come off a three-day bender of booze and drugs.  I’m talking rough here.  He sounded worse than Jim Morrison on a bad day a couple of weeks before he died.

So I was a bit surprised when I started hearing another song by Hinder on Flight 26.  Even more surprised that it was a ballad.  Where was this on MySpace a few months back?  

The new song’s called “Better Than Me,” as in “You deserve much better than me.” 

You got that right.  I remember the lyrics to “Lips of an Angel.”  No argument from me.  You’re clearly scum.

Hinder was on Leno again the other night, and I just had to stay up to watch that.  I mean, they didn’t manage to shoot themselves in the feet too badly with their first appearance — evidently, though inexplicably — so I figured that meant the lead singer got himself in rehab or something and now was clean.

Nope.  Sounded like he was still on that bender from a few months ago!  And he just couldn’t seem to find the right pitch, either!

It’s.  Important.  You.  Don’t.  Stink.

‘Cause you know what?  As a potential customer, I deserve much better than you.