Imogen Heap

I want to thank Jer over at Nyquil.org for introducing me to the music of Imogen Heap.  Check out this video:

I’ve always enjoyed songs like this, where one person does all the different parts, becoming, essentially, a one-person acapella group, and Imogen Heap has a lovely voice.  I’m now on a hunt to track down more music and videos by her.

Another Sweaty Day

The Floor of Doom is progressing.  We have laid the laminate flooring in most of the downstairs area (there remains a 3′ by 3′ square patch at the end of the hallway near the laundry room where we have to put down the transitional strip first, and I am no more excited about drilling holes into the concrete slab than I was before).  But we figured that since almost all the rest is done, we could at least lay down the quarter round so that where the floor meets the wall it won’t look so ragged.

So armed with my father-in-law’s air compressor and nail gun, I took today off work to do just that.  So far, I’ve laid the quarter round in the guest room and in the walk in closet.  It’s actually pretty easy.  I’ve never been good at taking accurate measurements, though (which is why I’m a web developer instead of a construction worker, I guess), so there are some small gaps in some of the corners, but I figure painter’s putty can take care of those.  There is also that strange room, which we call the "round room", which is more hexagonal than round in shape.  I’m not looking forward to laying the quarter round in that room, though I did buy a protractor (I haven’t owned one since I was in elementary school!) to help us measure the angles.  That should help.

The two rooms where I have laid it down actually look finished.  There’s still work to do — like the tiny little gaps in the flooring around the doorjambs because we have no idea what we’re supposed to do with them — but the rooms are finally starting to look like actual completed rooms.

Fearmongering For Your Kids

Via BoingBoing, I found this: 

Ballistic Backpack
Ballistic Bookbag.  Just in case your kids aren’t terrified enough about returning to school, you can now buy them a backpack that can help prepare them for shooting incidents.  According to the website, "[A ballistic panel] is integrated into the high quality and stylish backpack in production. A ballistic panel is similar to the traditional bullet resistant vest worn by military and police weighing a minimum of ten pounds."  The panel weighs about 20 oz, just over a pound.  These things cost about US$175.00.

My boss and I were chatting about this, and we agreed that sure, there are schools where this sort of accessory could be important, such as areas of the inner cities where rates of crime and violence are high and weapons checks are a necessity.  It seemed to us, though, that the kids who would be going to these schools wouldn’t be able to shell out the $175 for this extra protection.  My guess is that the Ballistic Bookbag is being targeted to higher income parents who are easily duped into believing that the odds of a shooting incident happening at their kids’ school is rising at the rate of about 1,000 percent per incident nationwide.  This, despite FBI studies suggesting that the number of violent incidents happening in American schools has actually gone down over the past fifty years (though media coverage has certainly gone up, as has the deadliness of the weapons involved).

I’ve never care for this sort of fearmongering.  It can turn a profit every now and then, and it’s been a time-honored tool of capitalists since Hypocriticles sold Volcano Preparedness Kits to every Roman household after the "incident" at Pompeii in AD 79.  But it bugs me, because it plays on peoples’ gullibility and actually discourages good preparation and knowledge.  Like that commercial from the Department of Homeland Security’s "Be Ready" campaign that shows a montage of children questioning what they should do if something bad happens, and a voiceover that says, "It’s always good to have a plan in case of a terrorist attack!".  I think it would be good to have something in case of a far more likely disaster: like, it’s good to have a plan in case an airplane drops on your house, or you’re struck by lightning three times in a day and then get run over by a pack of donkeys.  Family emergency plans are good to have, and I’m glad that the DHS is running ads that also educate about hurricane and earthquake preparedness, but terrorist attacks?  Fearmongering.  Fearmongering which leads to horrific decisions, and panicked support of terrible policy decisions.

Me, I think this is much more sensible:

Think about it.

Unproductivity

Last night Jennifer’s dad brought over his air compressor and nail gun and showed me how to use them, and Jennifer went out and bought approximately eight miles of quarter round for us to use as molding on our baseboards, to cover up our gaps and errors along the walls of our laminate flooring.  We had planned to spend the rest of the evening attaching quarter round, but that didn’t happen.  Instead we caught up on a couple of TV shows we’d recorded to the DVR and then zoned out in front of Food Network.

Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done at all, though I did create a template manuscript for Chapter Four and updated all my various copies (I keep copies of all my work in four different locations on three different computers — I’ll never be caught up by a computer crash or a stolen laptop unless something truly awful happens).  However, the temptation to download my latest copies and start writing here at work is awfully strong.  My boss isn’t here this morning, after all…

Spilling Words

Exactly 800 words tonight on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, bringing an end to the horror that has been the rewrite of Chapter Three.  I see another horrific process of rewriting in the future for this chapter, with one huge ass scene that demands to be broken up, but that’s a process for another day.

Onward!

New Story Online

I’ve just added a new free story to my site:  "Fookin’ Britches".  This was me trying to write an "epiphany story", just like the ones James Joyce wrote in his collection Dubliners, because every writer wants to emulate James Joyce at some point or anything.  I think this is a pretty good story, but it’s another one, like "Four Ways of Counting Blackbirds", which, because of its length (flash) and subject matter (non-genre) will probably never find a home that both pays and has a decent readership.  So I’m putting this one up on line and hoping that people will enjoy it and spread it around.

As before, if you enjoy this story (or any of the stories I have online), please mention them in your own blog.  Thanks.

(And, of course, there’s "Little Fluffy Wiggletoes", which always seems to be the most popular story of mine. Go figure.)

A Winning Streak, Continued

I’m not big into placing blame for tragedies of any sort, because it’s just tacky and unproductive.  And while I think Bush is a moron, I’m not particularly inclined to blame him for everything bad that happens, and I certainly don’t belong to the "Oh my God another disaster just happened how can we blame Bush?" crowd, I just couldn’t avoid noticing this bit of information:

Federal mine safety official’s credentials questioned

How big a contributor to the Shrub do you have to be to have the President use a recess appointment to put you in charge of, say, the country’s mine administration despite your nomination having been twice rejected by the Republican Congress?  From the article itself:

Also coming to light, is the fact that Stickler’s nomination to head the mine administration was twice rejected by congress and rejected when republicans were still in charge.

Rejected reportedly by senators who were concerned about Stickler’s safety record when he operated mines.

After his nomination was twice rejected by the Senate, President Bush gave Richard Stickler the mine safety job with a recess appointment.

It is kind of amazing, isn’t it?

The tag for my entires on politics, by the way, is "Maniacs and Morons and Robber Barons".  Because no matter who’s been elected to national office, that’s generally who you end up with in charge.  Sometimes I think the best approach for the common citizen is to do their own thing, respecting the rights and welfare of others, and hoping that the people in the government don’t fuck things up too much.

The Wizard of Oz: Moral Pauper, Devious Mastermind, or Simply Dumb?

A few months ago I wrote in this blog about my theory that Glinda, Good Witch of the North in the Land of Oz, is actually a Machiavellian mastermind, scheming and using Dorothy Gale’s serendipitous killing of the Wicked Witch of the East as the opening gambit in a plot to eliminate the Wizard and make herself the only magical power in the entire country.  Since I wrote that, I’ve read some more of the Oz books, and discovered that later plot elements confirmed my theory; once Dorothy left, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man took over the leadership of Oz until Ozma was returned to power, and once Ozma was back in power one of her first acts was to outlaw magic and witchcraft, save that practiced by her good friend Glinda.

Glinda is definitely a power mad fiend.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This time, though, I wanted to address another aspect of the Oz storyline that really bugs me.  This element I’ve only noticed in the play and in the 1939 movie, so as far as I know it doesn’t represent anything that L. Frank Baum (or his successors) wrote, but it’s in the script and the screenplay, and it bugs me.

But before I begin, I guess I should say that I really do love the movie.  The music is fun (in particular, I love the Scarecrow’s song), the visuals are spectacular, and the storyline is an elegant incarnation of the Hero’s Journey.  It’s got the Call to Adventure, it’s got the Wise Mentor, and, of course, the Return Home with Gifts.  The actors are all wonderful and the characterizations are delightful.  It really is a fun movie, and I’ve seen it often.

It’s just that the Wizard is such a schmuck.  "It’s not how much you love," he tells the Tin Man at the end of the film, "but how much others love you that matters." And the sad thing is, the Tin Man believes him.

I suppose that in some ways, it’s not all that bad a message.  In particular, it’s probably a good tool for socializing young children.  "It doesn’t matter how many people you love or how much you love them," we might say to them.  "All that matters is how much other people love you."  Frank Morgan as the Wizard of OzThis could easily help children behave at school or in public.  "Act in such a way so that people will love you," we could tell them, ensuring that they will behave properly.  And, of course, there’s the underlying subtext:  "The person who dies with the most people loving them wins!"

The trouble is, that doesn’t really work, and the number of people who love you is a horrible measure of the kind of person you are.  Remember the line one of the Princes had in Into the Woods?  "I was raised to be charming… not sincere."  With sufficient charm and charisma, even the most horrible person can get plenty of people, even thousands, to love them.  Ask Squeaky Fromme if you don’t believe me on that.

More to the point, though, I think that there are plenty of people out there who are fully capable of loving other people deeply and whole heartedly, but who are not very capable of expressing that love; and because the way they express it is inadequate, sometimes even inappropriate, in spite of years of people trying to teach them otherwise.  I’m thinking in particular of the many nerds and geeks I have known throughout my life who suffered from this problem.  Some of them were very, very loving people but just plain incapable of showing it.  Perhaps they had Aspergers.  Perhaps they were autistic in some other way.  Or perhaps they just never learned the appropriate skills.  The point is, in spite of their huge hearts, they weren’t well loved by many other people (this is actually a theme I’ve been playing with a bit in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster).

So what, exactly, is the Wizard trying to imply with his comment to the Tin Man?  He was spot on in his advice to both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, I think, so what was he trying to say to the Tin Man?  Was he being deliberately dim?  Was he trying to undermine the Tin Man’s self confidence, knowing that the Tin Man would take over leadership of Oz after he left (if so, would that put him in cahoots, somehow, with Glinda, or was he possibly trying to bring Glinda’s machinations to a halt)?  Or was he simply reflecting a worldview popular in 1939, when the film was made?

Being me, I, of course, look for the nefarious motives here.  It was all a conspiracy.  Not just one conspiracy, in fact, but a web of competing lies and manipulations which proves that even a simple place like Oz can be a web of internecine conflict which could rival the current Republican Party.

Watch the film, kids.  Enjoy it.  But remember that what the Wizard says to the Tin Man is just wrong.

Brain Jam

Busy day at work.  There were times when I thought I was really the master of Moodle and PHP, and other times when it was obvious that Moodle and PHP were taking mastery of me.  Still, it was good to be productive all day long.  I realized, though, that an application I’d built earlier this year to track our development hours has had a persistent bug for months; I think I finally slammed it today, but while doing so I discovered another, more subtle bug which I actually had to consult with my boss on.

Came home, hung out with Jennifer, then wrote 528 words on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster while watching Father Ted and The IT Crowd.  I’ve realized that a major problem I have with my writing is that I tend to feel very, very rushed, and I just want to get the story out so I can move to the next one.  But when I do that, the words all get stuck together and nothing comes out at all.  My brain is a lot like an old typewriter.  If you try to get too much out at once, what happens is that all the keys get stuck together, and nothing intelligible comes out at all.

A brain jam, in other words.

Brain jam.  Hm.  That doesn’t sound at all savory.

Today's Writing Update (and other minor stuff)

Today I added 1,956 words to The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster; and, unlike yesterday, these words were entirely original words.  I’ve been working on a new scene for Hank, bringing in some more characterization and fleshing out the bad guys some more, and adding a couple of new minor characters.  I actually want to write some more, but I feel like I’m tapped dry for the day.  Nearly 2,000 words is a pretty respectable output for one day, I think.

In other news, we finally solved the lawn circle mystery once and for all by tapping a resource which we had never thought to consult: our neighbors.  It turns out that our house’s previous owner had indeed put an above-ground pool in the back yard.  He also apparently owned a cement mixer which he was pretty fond of (this explains a couple of other mysteries: why there are drip hoses partially buried in cement throughout the yard and the strangely shaped garden beds near the back of the yard).  So when he put in the pool, he decided to also lay a circular foundation for it.  When he eventually removed the pool, he left the circular foundation in, and lay soil and sod over it.   Our lawn circle represents that very foundation.  So points go to my sister’s boyfriend, who originally suggested that underground masonry or something was responsible for the lawn circle.

Yesterday we put a pet door in the door to the laundry room, which is where we keep the cats’ litter boxes.  This has improved things tremendously in our house, though a couple of the cats were confused by the whole thing.  Tangerine took to it instantly, of course, and figured it out right away.  Azzie, on the other hand, who still gets lost in the bathtub, had to be physically shoved through it both ways before he realized he could actually go through it on his own.

Finally, it’s just after eleven o’clock at night, which means I should get to sleep, I suppose.  Personally, I hate sleep.  There are a lot of books I could read, a lot of writing I could do, a lot of movies that I could see if only my body didn’t insist on shutting down for six to eight hours every night.  I tend to stay up really late, like 1 or 2 in the morning, which means I’m utterly useless in the morning.  The only good thing I get out of sleep is a few rather vivid dreams, which can occasionally lend some neat imagery to my writing.  I know that there are drugs out there (experimental, mostly) which I could take that could reduce the amount of sleep my body needs, but that just seems wrong.  But my doctor informs me that regular sleep will help with my weight loss and depression and a host of other issues, so I suppose I’d better give it a whirl.

So, uh, good night, I suppose.