Category Archives: Just a Day in My Life

An Interlude, with Music

I really have nothing to say that I haven’t said already before. But that won’t stop me from saying it.

I’m on a social media hiatus for now. I’ve had a rough couple of days, and I found that the more I hung out on Twitter and Facebook, the worse my mood got. Especially Twitter, which is now mostly a cesspool of right-wing propaganda and left-wing reactionarianism to that propaganda.

Is reactionarianism a word? Sure it is. I declare it so.

Now, I consider myself a good liberal, but there’s only so much outrage I can sustain before it affects my overall mood. I’d rather not spent my day swinging between seething rage and hopelessness; if I’m going to have hopelessness at one end of my emotional spectrum, I’d rather have the other end be something a wee bit more positive, thank you very much. Hence, my social media hiatus. I expect it to last only a couple of weeks.


On another note, I’ve decided that I really like the music of Janelle Monáe (see pic above; if she looks familiar, it’s because she played Mary Jackson in the movie Hidden Figures). Her song “Django Jane” is pretty incredible, even if I’m not necessarily the target audience. Check it out (but beware the explicit language):

At the moment I’m listening to her album The ArchAndroid, which is a neat concept album along the lines of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here: it’s basically a love story about an android and a human. This core conceit may seem trite, but Monáe makes it special, and the whole album ranges from swing to classical to hip hop, all with pop overtones. It streams for free on Amazon Prime, so I suggest you check it out.


The writing is going well. Haven’t sold anything, but I’m doing pretty well on both Padma and The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. I’ve finished my short story “How the Old Ones Saved Christmas” and I’ve made good progress on revising a couple of other stories, and have begun the process of researching the background of a new one.

I’ve pondered setting up a Patreon. It seems like a lot of work, though, depending on what rewards I decide to offer my patrons. If I set one up, would you contribute? That may influence my decision. We shall see.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading.

A Wee Update, and A Question For You

Since I posted on the 29th, where I weighed in at over 300 pounds, I’ve lost six. I’ve also undergone the first of three Bronchial Thermoplasty procedures. Five days on, I’m still wheezing and short of breath, although the physician who performed the procedure tells me I’m actually doing quite well. It’s still a chore to walk around the block, but each day I’m getting better at it. Saturday, I was wheezing and gasping for breath and desperately reaching for my nebulizer after my walk; today I was pretty good afterwards, and while I still used my nebulizer, I was not gasping. Keep this up, I tell myself.

I’ll talk more about the procedure in my next blog post. It was pretty interesting, I think.


On Twitter tonight, I asked the following question:

It’s only fair that I start, I suppose. So here are some of my answers:

Things I Know:

  • How to write compelling fiction;
  • Writing craft and method;
  • How to program in PHP;
  • Linux; and
  • How to create and maintain a website.

Things I Wish I Knew Better:

  • The natural world around us;
  • How to write compelling narrative non-fiction;
  • How to brew beer;
  • How to program in other languages besides PHP; and
  • Hiking, backpacking, and engaging with the natural world.

Pretty decent, though short, lists, I think. What about you?

Rebooting. Sort of.

unnamedI was inspired by Wil Wheaton’s post, “Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life“. Not that my life needs rebooting, really. I’m married to my best friend, someone I really love and who makes me happy. I have a steady job which I enjoy and which challenges me. I have a home. My depression is under control for the most part. And so on. My life is mostly working, fully operational. So why on Earth would I need to consider rebooting anything?

Well, why not? There are some things I’d like to do more of. There are some things I’d like to do less of. Things I’d like to do better. Things I’d like to stop doing altogether.

So I’ve made a list of qualities, values, or attributes — adjectives — that I’d like to use to describe myself. Things I would like to be. They are:

  1. Be Curious. Explore the world around me, examine things more closely, be curious in public, and learn more. Keep learning new things. Read more (and Facebook and Twitter don’t count). Watch more documentaries.
  2. Be Healthy. Natch. I need to exercise more, and eat healthier. Who doesn’t? But if we’re to go to New Zealand (tentatively planned for 2020), I need to physically prepare for  a lot of walking.
  3. Be Creative. I like to write, and I like to think that I’m pretty good at it. I’d like to improve, of course. I’d also like to start exploring creativity in other areas. Not sure what though. Poetry maybe? I don’t think I have the patience to paint or sculpt, that’s for sure.
  4. Be Kind. A lot of people in the world have it rough. Everyone’s fighting some sort of battle. Why make it worse? Why not make it better for them? If a telemarketer calls, remember that they’re just doing their job, which they probably hate, so be kind to them, even as you explain that you’re not interested in their product and that you’re hanging up now.
  5. Be Humble. By which I mean remember that I’m certainly not the best or smartest or whatever person in the room. Being humble opens me up to listening to other people and learning their stories, because everyone has one.
  6. Be Playful. Play games. Play with toys, such as the Raspberry Pi mini-computer my wife gave me for Christmas. Just have fun with life. No one gets out of it alive.
  7. Be Joyful. The universe is amazing and full of wonder. Yes, there is plenty of suffering and pain. Take joy in helping to relieve them.

Many of these values are based in and informed by my faith (remember, I’m an Episcopalian). The overall theme, I think, is to simply appreciate myself and the world I’m in and the people who inhabit it. The motto of the Episcopal Church is, “Love God. Love your Neighbor. Change the World.”

I recognize, of course, that I’ll have problems with some of these from time to time. Sometimes I’ll slip back into depression, sometimes I just won’t have the energy to learn something new, sometimes my temper will get in the way of being kind to anyone. I will try to be okay with that, and when it happens, I will try to refocus.

Spring is almost here. It’s warm outside, and we’ve got the windows open, which makes the cats happy. Birds are singing. Overall, things are pretty cool.

On Being an Adult

It was good dal, made with more or less fresh lentils, organic onions and sweet potatoes, and plenty of spices. We’d made it the other night for dinner, and the recipe made a large amount of it. We had it for dinner on Sunday night and lunch yesterday. And the menu plan we’d made for ourselves for the week called for us to us to have it for dinner tonight.

Tonight, though, we were pretty much finished with the dal, even though we still had something like six servings left. But a menu plan is a menu plan. And after a brief flirtation with the idea of going to IHOP — today being International Pancake Day, after all — we decided to have the dal anyway. And lemon muffins for dessert. We watched an old episode of Face Off while we ate, and wished for pancakes.

And that’s the thing about being an adult. Sometimes, you have to pass on the pancakes so you can eat the healthy thing. Except that, as an adult, there aren’t other adults telling you that it’s good for you. You have to tell yourself.

Birthday Thoughts ‘n’ Things on the Seventh Day of Christmas

A Dalek in the kitchen!
A Dalek in the kitchen!

First things first: There’s a First Friday write-in at my house this Friday at 7:00 pm this Friday, January 3, 2014. Hope to see you there! If you want to come, send me an email or something and I’ll tell you how to get here.

Anyway, today’s my birthday, and I turn 46 years old. I’m quite all right with that. I freaked out a little bit about turning 40, as is traditional, and I suspect I will do so a bit when I turn 50, because I think you’re supposed to. But 46? Meh.

It’s also New Year’s Eve. The picture above shows what Jennifer and I have done so far. We inflated the Dalek that my parents had given me for Christmas, and then it invaded the kitchen. Fortunately I had my sonic screwdriver ready, and successfully fought it off. Go us! Now it’s up to the cats to deflate it with their claws. I’m sure that won’t be difficult for them.

Typically, I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I used to make them when I was younger but I usually didn’t keep them for very long. Then, in a bout of rebelliousness, I decided that instead of New Year’s resolutions, I would make March 25 resolutions — the thought being that March 25 was just as arbitrary as January 1 for that sort of thing.

Nowadays I use my birthday and the end of the year to consider the areas of my life that I like to focus on, and consider where I’m at in those areas of focus. Those areas of focus are, summarized:

Health. Physically, I’m not very good at this, but with the mindful eating I’ve been practicing I’ve been getting better. Emotionally and mentally, though, I’m pretty happy with where I am, though there’s definitely room for improvement.

Relationships. I’m still working on some basics, like returning phone calls in a timely manner. For some reason, I suck at that. But I have good relationships with my wife, my family and with my friends, both online and off-, and I’m looking for ways to make those relationships better and stronger.

Geekery. By which I basically mean learning and fun. Learning IS fun, of course, but in the “fun” column I also put gaming, reading, entertainment, and so on. It’s all geekery because I’m a geek. This coming year, I do intend to do some more learning. A lot more.

Writing. Always. This year I plan to focus on it a bit more. Maybe start submitting short stories again.

And that’s all. As I said, I don’t really make resolutions. Instead, I just like to refocus on what’s important to me.

‘Tis nearly the end of Holidailies

Best. Gift. Ever.

Return of the Kings

 

As you know, my birthday was this past Monday, December 31, which also just happens to be New Year’s Eve. Jennifer and I threw a nice party, with about a dozen and a half people, most of them friends from my writers’ groups. It was during this party that Jennifer gave me the best gift I’ve ever received, and quite likely the best gift that anyone has ever gotten (not including new babies, kittens, or other mundane things like that, I suppose). That gift was the book you see pictured above, Return of the Kings.

It’s difficult to explain exactly what this book is. It’s a short novel, about 100 pages long, collaboratively written by thirteen people, and edited by Jennifer. The novel is about… Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I will say that it includes settings, characters, and themes that I’ve written about in my own stories and novels. San Augustin. Hastur. The National Weather Service Black Ops Agency. They’re all in there. Each author wrote a chapter, adding to the chapters that had gone before. Each chapter has a distinct voice (because each author has a distinct style of their own), but somehow the novel manages to remain coherent. And the cover art, featuring Cthulhu with a pair of rubber duckies, is brilliant. I read the novel on Tuesday, and it is seriously the most awesome thing I’ve ever read. Here’s Jennifer’s account of how the novel came to be.

I was very moved when I got this gift at the party; and I’m not too manly to admit that when I saw that my late friend Leonard Pung was one of the contributors, I got something in my eye. Not every author who contributed was at the party, but I had everyone who was there sign my copy.

You can’t buy Return of the Kings yet, but once Jennifer makes a few last edits, she’ll put it up for sale on Amazon and other places. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Leonard Pung Memorial Scholarship Fund, which helps pay for students over 40 who attend the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. I’ll post here, as well as to the Twitters and elsewhere, when it becomes available for purchase.

Update: The people involved in the project were:

B. E. Johnson

Bonnie Schutzman

Dale Emery

Bull Fuller

Andrea Stewart

Amy Holt

A. K. Cotham

Jamie Thornton

Leonard Pung

Jerimiah Honer

Renee Solberg

Lynn Townsend

Erin Hartshorn

And the cover was designed by Leigh Dragoon.

I am indeed truly blessed to have such wonderful friends.

 

“History’s greatest monster”

The other day, on Twitter, author A. Lee Martinez, who has written some of my favorite books (including Gil’s All Fright DinerDivine Misfortune, and Chasing the Moon), called me “history’s greatest monster”:

Mind you, he wasn’t referring to my writing. I doubt he’s read anything of mine, aside from Tweets I’ve sent to him and the occasional email; rather, he was responding to my insistence on using the semicolon in my writing. He had said that his general advice to writers was to avoid the semicolon and to always use the Oxford comma. I responded, “You can have my semicolons when you pry them from my cold, dead, properly punctuated hands.” And it was in response to that that he uttered the epithet.

I was, of course, thrilled. The quote is now on the front page of my website. And I couldn’t help but post it to Facebook and everywhere else I could think of.

History’s greatest monster, indeed. My work here is done.

2013: A resolution or two

Merry second day of Christmas! As you know, Christmas is a twelve-day holiday, starting on December 25 and running through Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, which is on January 6.

Now for a couple of notes about Doctor Who:

  • First, I mostly enjoyed this year’s Christmas special, “The Snowmen”, though I was a bit disappointed with the resolution of the main storyline. On the other hand, I’m very impressed and intrigued by the new companion, Clara. I think she’ll make a fine addition to the show.
  • Second, I really want someone in the UK to send me a letter in March, primarily because the Royal Mail is beginning to issue these. Sure we in the US got classic movie monster stamps and Marvel superhero stamps, but Doctor Who!

Yes, I’m a fan. Yes, I’m aware that Doctor Who is a children’s show. Don’t judge me.


I don’t normally make New Years’ resolution. Why set myself up for failure? Last year I tried with a mere couple of resolutions, and while I did well with the second one, I didn’t do so well on the first. But I think I’m going to try again, just in case I’m able to refocus properly this coming year. After all, I’m turning 45 on my birthday (which just happens to be New Years Eve, so you have less than a week to buy me presents), which, being a nice multiple of five, seems like the perfect time to refocus.

So here are my two resolutions for 2013:

  1. Take better care of myself. Meaning, of course, eating better, exercising, all that stuff. I figure this means taking care of myself emotionally and spiritually as well as physically.
  2. Go easy on myself. That is to say, be forgiving of myself when I screw up. And screw up I will. I’m human, after all. Plus, I tend to have high expectations for myself, and when I don’t meet those expectations, the kobolds start knocking on my door. This resolution means not paying attention to them when they come calling.

I figure I’ll also take the opportunity this year to set some new goals and challenges for myself. I’ve already set a couple of writing goals: to complete the second and perhaps third drafts of Code Monkey!, and to finish up and publish The Winds of Patwin County, a novel in the form of several interwoven short stories, by November. I have other plans in mind. We’ll see if I get to them.

So those are my resolutions and goals for this year. I put them out there in public for the sake of accountability. If some of you will take note of them and help me remember them, I’d be mighty grateful.


One last bit of Doctor Who: Here’s the trailer for the upcoming second half of Series 7:

My first thought when I saw the Cybermen in this trailer was, “Oh Lord, not the Cybermen again.” Then I remembered that this coming year’s Cybermen episode is written by Neil Gaiman. So it will be really interesting to see what he does with them.

 

 

‘Tis the season for Holidailies

 

Excitement

So, our account at our webhost provider was hacked. That was exciting. There was a vulnerability in the version of PHP that the site runs, which allowed a hacker to insert malicious code into certain files; the result of this was that whenever someone visited our site, they ended up downloading malicious code which could trash their computer. Jennifer’s installation of Norton Antivirus on her computer caught the code and warned her before she downloaded the site; my mom’s computer wasn’t so lucky. Of course, since I run Linux, I don’t run any anti-virus software and I had no idea our sites were infected.

I spent my breaks and lunch hour on Friday going in and removing the malicious code. But when I got back to my computer that night, the code had returned. In other words, the hacker had gotten back in and was re-inserting the code. I contacted our provider’s technical support line and asked for assistance. They went ahead and patched the CGI wrapper on our site (geekspeak for they updated our server), and this should have taken care of the issue.

It should have. Except it didn’t.

The malicious code returned. Again. I deleted it. Again. And again it showed up. And so on.

The ticket I had opened with our hosting provider was still open at this point, so I updated it with the ongoing situation, and when it wasn’t replied to within an hour I called the provider on their toll-free line. Apparently, the PHP vulnerability had hit them hard; they had three hundred tickets in their abuse queue, and only one person answering them. Fortunately my ticket was at the top of the queue, so they could address it quickly. The abuse team — the one guy — found a back door script on our site that was allowing the hacker to continue to gain access even though our version of PHP had been patched. He deleted it, but told me there was really no way to find all of the potential back doors.

We ended up deleting the entire site, and restoring it from a backup dated May 6. This ended up being not that big a deal; I had to re-update all of our WordPress installations and restore a couple of photos but that was about it.

Is there a lesson here for me? For you? For anyone? Probably not, except to make sure your installation of PHP is up to date and fully patched. But even then, new vulnerabilities crop up and exploits will appear within hours of the vulnerability being announced.

Have fun y’all.

 

Outed!

I’ve been outed as a nerd. To my coworkers, to my neighbors, and to the people I go to church with. I make no secret of my nerd inclinations, but it’s not necessarily a part of my life that I share with everyone. Not out of shame, of course; just because I know my interests aren’t shared with everyone that I know.Joshua Norton and Me

This “outing” happened a couple of weeks ago. My neighbors came up to me and said, “Hey, Richard! I saw you in the paper!” The next day, a co-worker said the same thing. And at church the following Sunday, yet another person came up and told me that they’d seen my picture in the paper.

These comments took me by surprise; to my knowledge my photograph hadn’t been in the paper at all. I mean, I knew that I’d been interviewed for this article in the Sacramento Bee about “Doppelganger Week” on Facebook — “Doppelganger Week”, for those who don’t keep up with Facebook memes (doesn’t everyone?) was a week or so when people replaced their Facebook profile picture with the picture of a celebrity that they were told they resembled– and I’d sent the reporter a photograph of myself and Emperor Joshua Norton (whom I’ve been told I look like and so whom I’d chosen as my doppelganger). But the online version of the article hadn’t run my picture, so I figured the print version hadn’t either. I don’t read the print edition of the newspaper, and I’d just assumed that no one else does either.

Turns out several people do, though, and in the print edition of that day’s Bee, my photograph ran alongside the photograph of Emperor Norton that I’d sent in. A high school classmate posted a photograph of the print version to Facebook, and it’s reproduced here. So yeah, people saw my photograph in the Bee, and they kept telling me about it. And I was definitely outed as a nerd. A Facebook-using, historical-figure impersonating nerd.

I’m okay with that.

At least they still don’t know about the robot penguin on my desk.

In Other News…

Writing: The writing continues. Right now I’m editing one of my Stories of the Week in preparation for sending it out to the markets. I’m also working on a new novel, Brought to Life, which so far isn’t going very well. And, of course, Code Monkey!, my NaNoWriMo 2009 novel, is still available online in case you’d like to read it. If you do choose to read it — and bear in mind that the version online is the unedited, un-revised version — I hope you enjoy it.

Work: Work continues to be challenging and enjoyable. I recently characterized my job as “slapping bandages on broken code”, to which my boss responded that it was more like performing major surgery on broken code. In some ways, though, I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, especially one product that I’ve been hacking and eviscerating so heavily that what we use now barely resembles the pre-existing version at all. It’s a good job, pleasantly secure, and I fully intend to leave it boots first.

This website: At some point, I’ll be moving to a new domain: http://www.underpope.com. Right now, the only thing that the new domain does is redirect back to my current domain. It’s all about growing the brand, you see. I’m “underpope” in just about every online forum I participate in, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and so on, so I figured I may as well have the domain too. I’m going to take the opportunity to do a major redesign of my site, I think, so if anyone has any suggestions I’m open to them.

This blog: And while I’m at it, I’ll mention that this month marks the tenth anniversary of my blog. My very first entry was March 20, 2000. I’ll try to remember to post something of interest on that day.

And So On…

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and so it goes. Thank you and good day.