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We're All Mad Here
You can tell I'm mad because I have straw in my hair.
Ladies and gentlemen. It has often been said that the reason terrorists hate America is because they hate our freedom. The values that make this country strong, that make this country great -- these are what they fear, what they resent, what they would take away from us. These terrorists could be hiding anywhere; they could be lurking behind the innocent facade of your neighbor, or your co-worker, or your spouse.

Fortunately, the Senate is attempting to give us a bold new weapon in the war on terrorism. Earlier this week, the Senate voted 93-7 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, a 680-page document which included an interesting provision -- it defined the United States as a battlefield, and gave the military the right to hold enemy combatants indefinitely without trial. Not just non-Americans, mind you -- anyone thought to be a terrorist.

I'll reiterate. The Senate has just passed a bill which will allow American citizens, in America, to be held without trial on suspicion of being terrorists, or involved with terrorists. Some would argue that this is a wild violation of the Sixth Amendment, but these people don't seem to realize that a war is on, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

To President Obama, I say: do not veto this bill. For the good of all of us, let it pass. And as soon as it is law, send troops to capture an extremely dangerous terrorist cell, 93 members strong, in the heart of Washington, DC itself. These vicious, freedom-hating scum are attempting to strip our freedoms from us, and their vile plot must be stopped. Take them, as Senator Graham suggested, and do not read them their Miranda rights; do not give them a lawyer. Hold them humanely in military custody and interrogate them about what they were going to do to all of us.

This menace must be stopped.

Mood of the Moment: cranky disgusted
Auditory Hallucination: Songify This -- Winning

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You probably all remember the cereal featured in Calvin and Hobbes, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. It was meant to be everything that was wrong with kids' cereal, being made primarily of sugar and making a mockery of the idea that breakfast was a healthy start to the day. Obviously, it wasn't a real cereal; no real parent would ever serve their child anything quite as egregious as Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

Or so I would have assumed. According to a recent study, though, several popular children's cereals -- Honey Smacks, Cocoa Krispies, Golden Crisp, Honey Nut Clusters, Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries and Froot Loops Marshmallow -- contain almost as much sugar per serving as a Twinkie. The text on the study actually claims that they contain more than a Twinkie, but as the actual data shows them having only 14 or 15 grams of sugar apiece, I'm not willing to repeat this claim.

Please note, though, that that is about two and a half times the recommended amount of sugar a child is supposed to have per day, jammed into their cereal bowl. Honey Smacks are an astonishing 55.6% sugar by weight. Six of the 84 cereals examined had sugar as the very first ingredient. As it turns out, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs have some stiff competition in the real world.

As I was saying just the other day, I do not think that the solution here is more government regulation. Honey Smacks used to be called Sugar Smacks, and it sold just fine then, too. I do think that people ought to be told that if sugar shows up before the third ingredient on the list, it likely comprises more than 25% of the cereal they're about to ingest or feed to their children. I think the problems of sugar crashes and the long-term issues of a high-sugar diet should be pointed out, as well as the statistics on adult obesity and the link to childhood obesity. But after all that, if people want to buy a brightly-colored cereal because they like the mascot? That's their business; they know what they're getting into.

Still, though. 55.6% sugar? That honestly makes me grimace and stick my tongue out every time I picture it.

Mood of the Moment: happy happy
Auditory Hallucination: Ego Likeness -- Burn, Witch, Burn

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There's a saying that goes "any publicity is good publicity." PayPal is testing that theory out today; they've kicked off the Chanzusolmas season by shutting down a drive to send toys and money to poor children. You see, the woman running the charity, April Winchell, used a PayPal "donate" button, which evidently you're not meant to do if you're not a non-profit, despite the fact that their policies indicate it's okay.

So PayPal told Winchell she'd have to refund the donations, but that they'd be keeping the fees they'd charged. As she'd already bought the toys, she simply attempted to sell them on her site to re-raise the money; PayPal responded by freezing unrelated accounts that were also in her name, and telling Winchell that they were "through playing games with [her]" and that to resolve this she would need to "refund everything, write a letter saying [she] understood what [she] did was wrong and [she] will never do it again, and then request permission to close [her] account."

That was yesterday. By this morning, the internet hate machine was roaring full blast, and PayPal's Facebook page was flooded with derogatory comments, announcements of closed accounts and links to other online payment options. It took them until this afternoon to finally post an apology, which took the expected form: PayPal was very sorry that things had somehow gone wrong through no fault of their own, they were working with the account holder to rectify the problem and had given her a donation of their own, and they love kittens and puppies and Tiny Tim too.

Now, according to Winchell, PayPal still hasn't actually contacted her. Even if they had, though, this only fixes half of the problem revealed here. PayPal has resolved this specific issue, and will not be personally ruining Christmas for 200 children. The deeper issue, though, remains: this is a company that many of us entrust with some amount of our money, and which evidently believes it has the right to enforce secret or possibly just-made-up policies regarding what we can do with the money they're transferring for us.

PayPal's argument that they are legally required to enforce certain guidelines is all well and good, but also completely beside the point. None of the documentation they provided online gave any indication that anything Winchell had done was out of line. This was not some underhanded scheme she'd concocted, some clever loophole she'd found and attempted to exploit; she followed their procedures to put a donate button on her page, and only after she had collected thousands of dollars was she told that due to previously unstated rules, they weren't going to let her have her money.

PayPal has made no effort to address this second, larger problem. While I'm glad that they've chosen to de-Grinch and work with Winchell to get her donations processed correctly, I'm not at all sure that I care to entrust my money to a corporation that has demonstrated a willingness to seize it on a capricious whim. If they'd like to update their policies and strive for clarity, then we can talk. Otherwise, I think I'll be following some of the links on their wall and checking out their competitors.

Mood of the Moment: good good
Auditory Hallucination: Flying Lizards -- I Want Money

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I'm a fan of the theory behind government regulation. I believe that left to themselves, many industries will run roughshod across the environment; they will engage in unfair practices to squeeze out competition; and they will lie, cheat and steal to get a larger market share. Solely self-regulated industries are, in the end, bad for the consumer. It's to everyone's long-term advantage to have some external oversight.

However, there's also a point where I think it's safe to assume that the customer has been sufficiently warned about the dangers of participating in their chosen vice. I don't need a government-mandated schedule of what I am allowed to eat based on my weight. I'm glad that they've put tools out there to educate me; now it's my choice to use them or not. I'm very appreciative of the fact that my groceries have nutritional information printed on them. It's up to me to decide what to do with that information now that I have it, though. I don't need the government to slap a "FOR FATTIES" label on my box of donuts. I spotted the fact that donuts aren't good for me! I just don't care.

I bring this up because of an infographic I found earlier today entitled "Soda's Evil Twin," which warns me about the dangers of fruit drinks. Specifically, that they have very little fruit juice, and they will make me tremendously fat, and the government doesn't seem to care.

The government does care; it requires the industry to put another word after "juice," like "drink" or "cocktail." That's a pretty clear sign to any consumer that this contains little to no juice, and in case it's not clear enough, the label on the back not only lists the ingredients and the number of grams of sugar, it also mentions the percentage of juice in the drink.

The infographic quite rightly suggests that I can educate myself by reading the labels, but then goes on to recommend that I lobby lawmakers for legislation. This is wildly unnecessary, and in fact somewhat offensive. All of the information I need to make my decision is already printed on the bottle. I don't need the government to add bold text reading "PS CHUBS MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY SOME WATER." I'm not drinking Snapple because I think it's good for me; I'm drinking it because I like it.

If people are under the misapprehension that juice cocktails are anything other than liquid candy, here's what we should be pushing for: education. Teach people to be savvy consumers. Teach them to read labels. Teach them how to make good decisions. Using legislation to scare consumers away from each individual product is a waste of time, and a tactic that by definition is always a step behind. Smack high fructose corn syrup out of a man's hand, and he'll be healthy for a day. Teach him about the dangers of HFCS, and he'll be healthy for a lifetime.

That doesn't have quite the same ring to it as the original, but then again, fish have mercury and ketones in them these days, so that fishing guy could use a little education himself.

Mood of the Moment: busy busy
Auditory Hallucination: The Protomen -- Unrest in the House of Light

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Merry Firstmas! Today is the official start of the season of me complaining about people starting Christmas too early. I know some people have already started complaining about folks putting up Christmas decorations more than a month ahead of time, but call me a traditionalist -- I like to wait until December before I start to mutter.

Admittedly, it's becoming a bit difficult. Christmas decorations are starting to become more and more prevalent even before Thanksgiving; in another decade or so, we'll start seeing them by Halloween. This is really not okay. It's unfair that just one of the holidays should be allowed to monopolize 16% of the year. Occupy Christmas!

Actually, that's sort of what I'm doing today. I'm heading out to celebrate Ongoing Thanksgiving with my family; we observed Thanksgiving last week on the traditional day, and are doing it again this week with my sisters, who couldn't make it into town last week. This is a brilliant plan, as it allows much more efficient use of leftovers. No more standing at the fridge picking at dishes; there's another entire meal to be had! Although I like standing in front of the fridge picking at leftovers, so I suppose that the second meal is just in addition to that.

I think this is the correct response to Christmas's constant expansion backward through the year: just allow the other holidays to spread out, too. Let them overlap! I'll celebrate a week of Thanksgivingmas, with turkey lights hanging festively from the eaves. Valentine's Day has already eaten the first half of February; just roll President's Day up into it and let the traditions mix. Easter Fool's Day sounds pretty fantastic to me. Find the eggs! Some of them explode!

Really, I'm not certain why it took me so long to come up with this idea. It's the logical extension from Chanzusolmas; why should the winter holidays get to have all the fun? Melting pot holidays for everyone!

Mood of the Moment: happy happy
Auditory Hallucination: The Protomen -- Give Us the Rope

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Back in high school, I used to have a lot of heavy books to lug around. At one point, I put every book and notebook I was required to have for school into my backpack, and weighed it; fully laden, it was just under 40 pounds. Of course, I had a locker at school, and generally didn't need to schlep the entire pile at once, but on weekends, that's what came home with me.

I didn't realize it at the time, but apparently high school was training me to be an airline pilot. Every time a pilot boards a commercial airliner, he brings with him nearly 40 pounds of manuals, checklists, logbooks and assorted other materials -- a total of around 12,000 sheets of paper. The copilot, if I'm reading the articles correctly, hauls a copy of each of these documents as well. That's almost 80 pounds of paper per flight being transported endlessly back and forth; United alone prints off 16 million sheets of paper a year to keep these manuals updated.

Earlier this year, though, the FAA approved the use of iPads to replace these manuals. Each iPad weighs only 1.5 pounds and its manuals can be updated automatically, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in printing and fuel costs. So in exchange for increased convenience and ease of use, the airlines receive massive savings. It's a no-brainer.

However, just one thing does occur to me. Haven't we been told for years that electronic devices, like iPads, interfere with plane navigation systems, or communication systems, or something? I personally have never been clear on exactly what the threat was, but I have been told directly by a flight attendant before that if I didn't put my iPod's switch into the off position, there was a very real chance we would not reach the airport in one piece. As my iPod doesn't have an off switch, this was a matter of some concern -- or would have been, if this were really a danger at all.

As this article points out, the TSA is so concerned about terrorists taking down airplanes that they have been confiscating hand lotion and other utterly innocuous substances for years. If there was truly a way to endanger a plane with a laptop, do you really think we'd be allowed to board with them? No, the TSA would respond with its usual intelligence and begin confiscating digital watches and strip-searching grandfathers with pacemakers.

And while it's no imposition for me to turn off my iPod for a few minutes while we take off and land, I do think it's particularly stupid that while we're all shutting off our devices to make sure that they don't crash the plane, the pilot and copilot will be using these very same devices to make sure everything's on track. It's not the most useless thing required of us by air travel by far, but it's still relatively moronic.

Mood of the Moment: good good
Auditory Hallucination: Music Man -- Trouble

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NaNoWriMo is drawing to a close, and I have written precisely zero new words in my book. In my defense, I never claimed I was participating in NaNoWriMo; for that matter, my book's not a novel, so it wouldn't've counted anyway. I did finally write the ending to Manifest, six and a half years after I started writing the story. I might even post it soon! I think I'll wait a little while on that, though; I put Manifest into a book of short stories and essays that I gave as a gift in a spend-no-money gift swap, and I figure I ought to give the recipient a chance to read that before I pass it out to the internet, too. Also, I am lazy, and this is a darn good reason to continue being so.

While I may be an abject failure at NaNoWriMo, though, I am winning the heck out of NaGa DeMon. I came up with another game on Friday called Doodleus, which I have been making people play all weekend. This one requires nothing to play but a couple of dice, a sheet of graph paper and a pen, which means two things: the prototype was the easiest one I've ever made, and I could make a huge profit if I sold this to people.

I've always said that I'm too uninterested in the work to bother selling my games. I make my prototypes so that I can see if my games work the way I intend them to, and I play them with my friends. But I don't really care if people I don't know get to play my games. The games are great, and people are missing out by not getting to play them, but that's their problem, not mine. And while I do like money, I hear there's a lot of work that goes into getting a game printed, marketed and distributed, so it's not like it's free money. I already work for money; I'm not sure I want a second job.

At this point, though, I have at least 10 games that are essentially complete. At least one of them still needs to be playtested, and they all need art, but I'm starting to feel like I've got enough of a pile that I really ought to do something with them. Apparently I've reached the critical mass of games; that quantity, in case you're curious, is "too many to easily fit into a tote bag."

It's possible that all I'm going to do is turn a very cheap hobby into a very expensive one. On the bright side, though, throwing away all of your savings on a fruitless endeavor sounds like a pretty entertaining idea for a board game, so at the very least it might give me the premise for a new game.

Mood of the Moment: busy busy
Auditory Hallucination: Figure -- Beetlejuice Dubstep Remix

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It's long been known that Fox News delivers an extremely slanted viewpoint, a bias which even they sarcastically admit with their tongue-in-cheek slogan, "Fair and Balanced." It's not subtle; in a recent report, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly referred to pepper spray as "a food product, essentially." Step aside, Congress, Fox News is beating you hands down when it comes to reclassifying things as nutritious vegetables.

Unfortunately, some people don't get the joke, and continue to turn to Fox News for news. And according to a recent study, this is not merely as bad as not listening to the news at all -- it's actually worse. The study surveyed 612 adults in New Jersey and, with a margin of error of ±3.5%, found that those who got their news from Fox were less likely to be correct about things ranging from the protests in Egypt to the current leaders of the Republican party presidential nomination.

A total of five current event questions were asked, and those who said that they had gotten their news from Fox were often the most likely to get the answers wrong. They did worse on every question than those who said they had not gotten the news from any of the named sources at all. The options given were: local newspaper, local TV news, CNN, Fox, national news broadcast, MSNBC, national newspaper, talk radio, political blog or news website, Sunday morning show, NPR, and the Daily Show. That's a pretty comprehensive list; if you haven't gotten your news from one of those, you basically haven't gotten the news. This means that people who watch Fox News are worse at knowing what's going on than people who are just guessing.

In fairness, Fox is not the only anti-news out there; MSNBC viewers also regularly fared worse than those who did not watch or read the news at all. And while I think that these programs ought to be allowed to air whatever they like, it's unfair to call what they're showing news. It'd be like labeling Capri Sun "juice." It's a juice cocktail; it's made with real fruit juice. Juice is certainly somewhere in its makeup, four or five ingredients below high fructose corn syrup. But it is not juice, and Fox is not news.

Let's fix this labeling issue. All they have to do is change their name to Fox News Product, and I'll be satisfied. We've got a right to know what makes up the things we put in our stomachs; shouldn't we have similar labels on what we're putting in our minds?

Auditory Hallucination: Men Without Hats -- Walk Around in Circles

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As I assume you know by now, on Friday, a police officer pepper-sprayed several dozen seated, unarmed, peacefully protesting students. He walked deliberately down the line, spraying them in their faces from less than three feet away. He did this because they refused to move, and because he thought this was an acceptable response.

The officer is being vilified, of course, but his actions are not the root problem. This was not something like the Rodney King beating, a group of policemen who thought they could get away with a flagrant violation of the rules who happened to be caught on tape. This officer assaulted these students without provocation in the clear view of dozens of cameras. He knew he was being watched. And he expected that his actions would not draw censure.

After the incident, his police chief, Annette Spicuzza, was quoted as saying that she was "very proud" of the way her officers had behaved. She, along with two of the officers on the scene, has since been placed on administrative leave, which is a heartening first step. However, the rhetoric from the university is still a far cry from an admission of wrongdoing.

UC Davis's chancellor Linda Katehi has said that the officers "followed protocol," and has appointed a commission to study the question: "Are there changes that needed to be considered on these protocols?" The original timeline for the commission to return its results was 90 days; Katehi has since cut that to 30. I'm not certain exactly how it's meant to take a month to decide whether it's appropriate to use chemical weapons on nonviolent, nonmoving protesters. I can answer that right now: it is not. It is illegal, it is thuggish, and it is wrong.

Katehi also said, "We cannot be a place of learning when there’s no safety for the community, when there’s no calm. I will appeal personally to the students for that." The students have been calm; there has not yet been a single arrest or citation for violent behavior during the protests at UC Davis. Indeed, Katehi might have gotten a little more calm than she bargained for; over the weekend, a group of several hundred students surrounded the building in which Katehi was having a meeting. She hid out in there for several hours until it became evident that they were not going to leave, then finally walked to her car through an almost completely silent crowd.

The students are clearly quite calm. Perhaps Katehi should consider appealing to the police for calm, as well.

Mood of the Moment: angry angry
Auditory Hallucination: Flogging Molly -- Seven Deadly Sins

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There's a big to-do today about a bill currently in Congress. It's a spending bill that, among other things, blocks earlier efforts by the USDA to make school lunches healthier. The big rallying cry is "Congress has declared pizza to be a vegetable!" There are, naturally, comparisons to Reagan's attempt to declare ketchup to be a vegetable, and everyone's very outraged, except for the folks at the American Frozen Food Institute. They believe that "[t]his agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes [ed. note: by which they mean french fries] ...will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and...that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza."

I have a couple of points to make. First of all, I would like to see the AFFI spokesman read that statement with a straight face, because I can't imagine that anyone who's ever encountered cafeteria pizza could call it healthy without snickering. I'm not saying that I didn't look forward to it as a kid, but I also looked forward to sticking my head into my bag of Halloween candy and thrashing my teeth around until I'd ingested the entire haul in one sugary lump. For that matter, I'd be hard-pressed to describe any pizza as healthy; it's oiled bread slathered in cheese. It's delicious, to be sure, but not great for you.

Secondly, though everyone's up in arms about how Congress wants to make pizza a vegetable, I think they've all misread the bill. Congress wants to keep the USDA from declaring pizza not to be a vegetable. As things stand right now, pizza is a vegetable. The two tablespoons of sauce on the breadtangle already count as a serving of vegetables, as far as school lunches are concerned. This is not new; this is the way things have been.

I'm not saying that that makes it better. I'm just saying that maybe some of the energy going into the outrage would be better spent looking over the rest of the existing guidelines and finding out what else is ridiculously mislabeled. Are they counting Snapple as a serving of fruit? Could be! Remember, a balanced diet includes things that are in no way necessary or even good for you. They're there to balance out the healthy part.

Mood of the Moment: calm calm
Auditory Hallucination: Aquabats -- Pizza Day

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As you probably didn't know, this month is NaGa DeMon. As you possibly also didn't know, that's a type of horrible snake monster that crops up in D&D games occasionally. However, that's not relevant to the current usage; NaGa DeMon in this context stands for "National Game Design Month."

Initially, when I read about this, I wasn't going to participate. I've got possibly a dozen games lying around my house that are completed or nearly so, and I haven't done anything with any of them other than entertain myself. While this is a noble goal, it's not one that demands that I keep on creating. It's not like I ever sit down and decide to make a game; I only make one when I have an idea that seems like it'd be fun.

And because my mind runs mainly on mulishness, the next thought I had was about a game where warring personalities attempt to gain dominance over a brain. Therefore, I present to you:

Schizophrenia is a pattern-matching game for three to six players, I think. It should run well with as few as three, and I hope it supports 6 without taking too long; if it doesn't, I'll have to cut some of the personalities out, and as I've already named them all, that seems cruel.

The game is about one hour in a graphics program and a trip to Kinko's away from being done, which isn't bad for only being halfway through the month. I might actually get this printed and playtested by next weekend, which makes me wildly more successful at NaGa DeMon than I ever was at NaNoWriMo. Clearly, the trick is to do it accidentally. And as soon as I figure out how to write fifty thousand words accidentally, I'll be sure to let you know.

Mood of the Moment: relaxed relaxed
Auditory Hallucination: Bad Lip Reading -- Dirty Spaceman

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I'm using W for writing, and it's what's finally driven me to sign my name on the inside of gas pumps.

--Me, by way of Markov
I have a deep and abiding love for well-crafted nonsense. It's a surprisingly difficult thing to create; Penny Arcade has managed it fairly reliably with Twisp and Catsby, but they're the exception. Even well-established authors like Neil Gaiman turn to programs to help them generate their gibberish, rather than trying to craft it themselves.

Well-written nonsense tells a story almost coherently, but not quite. It is internally consistent and gives the impression that it makes perfect sense to the speaker, but leaves the reader completely unable to predict where it is going. Lewis Carroll demonstrates this best in the characters of the Bellman and the Butcher in The Hunting of the Snark. The poem itself is nonsensical, but not nonsense; certain parts of it definitely are, though. Aside from Carroll, however, I can't think of a single author or poet who managed to tell a story in entertaining, self-lucid gibberish.

This is why I was delighted to find that the gentleman behind Bad Lip Reading, whose fanciful political speeches I've been enjoying, also has music videos. (Rockin') All Nite Long is the best one, I think, at least in part because he's turned a country song into a thumping club song. The lips, as promised, match up passably well, and the lyrics nearly all make sense. Overall, it's vaguely reminiscent of Beck's "Loser," and makes me wonder exactly how Beck came up for the lyrics for that song.

I'm taking the Bad Lip Reading songs with me for the marathon this weekend. I figure I could use a dose of unreality in the middle of that course.

Mood of the Moment: amused amused
Auditory Hallucination: Bad Lip Reading -- (Rockin') All Nite Long

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This is a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. This is a nationwide test. We will begin broadcasting test emergencies in ten seconds. Please stand by. Do not leave your homes. Do not attempt to handle any of these emergencies on your own.

In Texas, you will be experiencing a drought. In California, you will be experiencing a drought. In Arizona, you will be experiencing a drought, followed by flash floods. Sorry about that.

In the northern border states, there will be rains of fish. Specifically, mackerel. All of these fish contain high levels of mercury. Do not attempt to eat the fish.

In Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas, there will be extreme boredom.

New Mexico is all vampires. Do not attempt to date them. Do not attempt to befriend them. Do not attempt to understand them. Wear garlic and stay inside at night, especially if you heard a strange noise that you believe was just the cat. It was not the cat.

New England will have a plague of darkness. This is normal for this time of year, and is unrelated to the emergencies being broadcast. An airborne pathogen will be broadcast to New England. It breaks down quickly in sunlight. Hold out hope.

In Washington, D.C., there will be a financial crisis.

In Mississippi: gays.

In Oregon: evangelists.

Other states will receive one or more of the following afflictions: fires, tornadoes, invasive species, lack of educational funding, eyeball rot, dead batteries, dirty bombs, meteorites, illiteracy, or rubber fatigue. These emergencies will be broadcast now.

This concludes the test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. All emergencies have been broadcast successfully. You're on your own, citizens.


Mood of the Moment: cheerful cheerful
Auditory Hallucination: Bad Romance Chinese Choir

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I'm working on a new product...it's called Instant Nostalgia™, and it's designed for today's fast-paced world. Everyone wants to look back on the good times and sigh, but who has the time to sit around and figure out when the good times were? It's much easier to simply reflect on whatever's just happened while it's still fresh in your mind.
Instant Nostalgia™ was fine for 2005, but in today's fast-paced world, who has the time to stop and look back at things? The past is gone, and there's no sense dwelling on it; it's never coming back.

Nostalgia's never going to go out of style, though, and that's why I've developed a new type, specifically designed for the modern world: Prestalgia™. Gone are the days of reminiscing over how good things used to be; now you can sigh wistfully and remember how great the future had it! Let backward-facing has-beens have their glory days of the past. Yours lie in the future! And unlike the past, no fancy selective memory or convenient reinterpretation of events is necessary. Instead, you can just make it all up as you go along!

Anyone can moan about how movie tickets used to be so much cheaper, but with Prestalgia™, now you can complain about how fantastic it was when all of the shows were fully immersive holograms! Up in those days, you won't have had to buy popcorn; the sensation of eating it came included with the show! And there will always were free refills, and no one ever kicked the back of your seat or talked too loudly, because everyone will have been encased in their own mucufoam sensory pod. And by God, you're looking forward to have liked it that way!

As you can see, Prestalgia™ is completely compatible with your current life, except in the small matter of grammar; the currently extant tenses are insufficient to handle its genius. They certainly don't make language these days like they will have used to, no sir. Ahead in my day, if you wanted to talk about something that was going to have happened, you just thought about it, and the automatic translators spoke it correctly for you! There was none of this nonsense with "will haves" and "been weres." It will have been simpler, and we were to be happier in those times!

Mood of the Moment: nostalgic prestalgic
Auditory Hallucination: Minerva Wartog -- Widow for One Year

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In these troubled economic times, many of us are looking for ways to supplement our income. Savings accounts are returning under 1% per year, the housing market is still in a slump, the stock market is uncertain at best and many overseas economies are poised to fail. Getting and maintaining a second job can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but I've been looking at a few freelance options that I think might prove lucrative, and I've settled on one that I think seems promising.

Incidentally, "in these troubled economic times" and its brother, "in today's economic climate," are among my absolute favorite phrases. It's up there with "in this post-9/11 world" for introductions that let you get away with pretty much any ridiculous proposal you can come up with. That said, let's get back to my ridiculous proposal.

What I've been considering is auto theft. While it's not, strictly speaking, legal, some people have cars that they're simply not using, and so it won't really cost them anything if you take that car away from them. Admittedly, it's a lot more likely that I'll steal a car that someone was using, but they can just pay it forward, and steal someone else's car. Eventually, the process will dead end at a car that no one really needed, which is essentially the same as if I'd just taken the unused car to begin with.

Now, stealing a car is potentially quite difficult, but I figure that that's mainly a matter of tools and practice. Locksmiths can come break into a car on the side of the road in a matter of minutes, so I should be able to replicate that feat. Hotwiring is basically just matching wires. Some cars are computer-controlled these days, but if the movies have taught me anything, it's that hacking something like a car's computer only takes two minutes, tops. Jeff Goldblum uploaded a virus to an alien mothership in something like thirty seconds, so how difficult can a car be?

Now, two minutes can be a long time when you're trying to furtively open someone else's car, but I figure I've got a major point in my favor: car alarms. We've become so inured to car alarms that when one goes off, the only response from people is to move slightly farther away from the source of the annoying noise, and close any windows or doors that might be in between. On the off chance that someone did come to investigate the noise, if I told them, "I'm trying to get into my car to make this stop," they'd probably come help me. In fact, I think there's a good chance that they'd do that even if I didn't claim it was my car.

I'm not really sure what to do with a car once I've stolen it, but I figure I can outsource that to someone else. It seems like stealing the car and fencing it myself is just hogging the freelance jobs. I don't want to crowd other people out entirely, after all; I want to give everyone a chance to get ahead at someone else's expense.

Mood of the Moment: amused amused
Auditory Hallucination: Metallica -- Battery

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I've got a marathon coming up in a week and a day. You might think I have been preparing for this! You might be woefully mistaken. Clearly, you might not know me very well.

Obviously, I meant to prepare for it. 26.2 miles is a long way to go! But it turns out that it's quite hot during the summer, and it takes a long time to run even a portion of that distance. And as I am lazy and don't care for the heat, this was a bad combination in terms of motivating me to follow my schedule.

I had plans to get back on the schedule in the fall. Unfortunately, I also had plans to be out of town every single weekend, pretty much, and that was a lot more fun, so I did that. I have my training schedule in front of me, along with some handwritten additions about exactly which weeks I could cut out and still fit everything important in, more or less. I just didn't really get around to following that schedule, either.

None of this is of particular importance, though. I've failed to adequately train for every race I've run, and I have yet to die during any of them. But in addition to not having ever tried to run more than a half-marathon, I have a much larger problem: I don't have an iPod playlist ready for this.

My goal time is around four to four and a half hours; my expected time is closer to five and a half or six. Even at the low end, that's 240 minutes of music I need to prepare, ranging up to 360 if it turns out I'm bad at marathoning. If you figure that the average song is about 3 minutes long, that's between 80 and 120 songs I need to scrounge up.

Now, I have that many songs; indeed, at last count, I had over 18,000 tracks in iTunes. I can't just put that on full shuffle and hope for the best, though, as they're not all good to run to. Some of them are repeats; some are comedy routines or chapters of audiobooks. Some are just plain depressing. Running music has to be carefully selected for maximum efficiency. If the BPM is too low, my pace will suffer; if it's too high, I'll run out of energy too quickly. At times, I'll want to focus on the running, and at others, I'll want to think about anything else at all. The playlist needs to reflect this at the appropriate points.

I really need to get cranking on this. Shoddy preparation for running is one thing; I can always just snarl at myself and push on when I want to stop. Name-calling does very little to inspire my iPod to play better music, though; believe me, I've tried. If I can get the songs together, though, the miles should take care of themselves.

Mood of the Moment: good good
Auditory Hallucination: The Faint -- Desperate Guys

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Back at the beginning of July, I submitted two stories to the editors of the upcoming sequel to the Machine of Death collection. I then promptly put them out of my mind, because they weren't planning on announcing their choices until the end of October, about eight and a half times longer than the amount of future I was able to believe in.

I was able to forget about them right up until the middle of October; it was about the 16th when I first went back to the Machine of Death site to see if they were going to stick to the original time frame. The site confirmed that yes, they were going to be right up against it, but they would announce the winners on November 1st. They also mentioned that they'd received nearly 2,000 submissions, with a total wordcount of over 6 times that of War and Peace. Additionally, they posted a word cloud with all of the titles of the stories they'd received, every one a death prediction. I was encouraged to go look for my own titles in there, something which I chose not to do, as it struck me as sort of obsessive.

Right up until November 1st, that is. I still hadn't received an email, so I went back to the site to find a fresh new post explaining that it was going to take another week. Worse than that, though, was that they were going to be sending out acceptances and rejections in an undisclosed pattern over the course of the week -- so it wasn't even a "check back in seven days" sort of thing. It was "check here every day in case your email went to the spam folder and everyone knows but you whether you got in or not. Oh, and hey, open up that word cloud and look for your titles; that'll kill an hour or so before you go back to wondering."

I didn't care about this for four months. I still don't care, exactly; the only thing that changes if either or both of my stories got in is that I'll be buying a print of the word cloud to hang on my wall. And yet, the fact that I'm so close to knowing makes it nearly unbearable.

I take some solace in the knowledge that well over a thousand other people are also suffering from this waiting. If I'm going to be on the edge of my seat, at least I'm not alone.

Auditory Hallucination: Eve 6 -- Inside Out

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Let's say that you are the mayor of an American city. You look out at your financial district and find, to your horror, that Occupy protesters are encamped there. Being a reasonable man, you head out to talk to them -- after a couple of weeks pass, anyway. No sense in rushing into these things.

So you talk to the protesters, and you tell them, among other things, that you "would like to invite [their] leaders to come and sit with [you]." Great! Everything's going very well. They're a bit smelly, but not violent. Now, you have a choice. Do you:
(a) Follow up on this comment by issuing an actual invitation with a date and time?
(b) Hope they realize that you just said that for the press, and ignore any attempts they make at trying to hold you to that?
(c) Send in bulldozers at 1 AM three days later to scour their unsightly encampment from the face of your city?
If you answered C, congratulations! You might be the mayor of Richmond, Dwight Jones.

I fully understand conducting drug busts or other raids on potentially violent criminals in the early hours of the morning. You want to catch them unawares; you want them groggy and unprepared to fight back. But the Occupy protesters weren't armed or violent; the nine people who were arrested were all charged with trespassing and being in the park after hours. Not one of them so much as resisted arrest.

So why was the attack held in secret, in the dead of night? If the police department was just upholding the law, why not do it during the day? Why keep it a secret from the protesters' police liaisons? This reeks of bullying, not law enforcement.

Trust in your government, says the mayor. Come and talk to us and we can "see if there are any ways that even we may be of assistance." Yes, mayor, you've certainly sent the protesters a strong message about the benefits of talking to you; unfortunately, that message is "don't waste your breath."

Mood of the Moment: irritated irritated
Auditory Hallucination: Flying Lizards -- Money

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This is the worst time of the year. It's the time right after a holiday where I come up with an idea for what I should have done to celebrate it better. I now have to try to remember this idea for the next 365 days -- 366, in this case -- in order to implement it. That's far too long to be building anticipation. I don't really believe in anything that's more than two weeks away; fifty-two weeks barely even strikes me as a real measurement of time.

Anyway, my idea is this: I want to go caroling on Halloween. I intend to refer to it as wassailing, because I think that sounds better, and I'm pretty sure it's basically the same thing, in that you wander around and sing at people. However, the entirety of what I know about wassailing comes from two places. The first is a Mystery Science Theater episode in which the bots wassail Mike with the following song:
Here we come a-wassailing, et cetera, et cetera!
If the person who you sing to can't provide the wassail
You are entitled to his debit card and PIN number
Love and joy come to you, unless you can't provide the wassail
Then severe financial penalties shall come to you
Then severe financial penalties to you.
The second is from a friend of mine who once told me that "wassail" came from the Old English phrase "vos hael," which was used to express confusion regarding why a group of people might be on your lawn singing at you and meant, literally, "What the hell?". I'm pretty sure he made it up, but it's the definition that's stuck with me.

Most importantly, though, it's occurred to me that a group of Halloween wassailers could easily call themselves "The Wassailants," which is pretty much all the motivation I need to get some folks together to do this. I figure we can sing arrangements of things like The Monster Mash, maybe the Time Warp, and probably some parodies of Christmas carols, because I do love my parodies. If I'm feeling inspired, I might even write some originals; I don't have a song for it yet, but the title "There's So Much Blood (But It's Not Mine)" keeps coming to mind.

So! In the fabulous future month of October 2012, who wants to come be a Wassailant with me?

Mood of the Moment: chipper chipper
Auditory Hallucination: MST3K -- Tubular Boobular

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I've discovered the greatest thing in spyware since Van Eck phreaking. Some folks at Georgia Tech have discovered a way to use smartphones' accelerometers, which are generally used to determine in what direction the phone is tilted, to detect which keys are being pressed on a nearby keyboard. This means that if you come into the office, set your smartphone down on the desk next to the keyboard, and then begin typing, spyware on your phone could theoretically capture your words with 80% accuracy.

Now, there are a lot of flaws in this as a spying technique. For one, the smartphone can't be any more than three inches away from the keyboard for this to work. For another, the 80% accuracy figure appears to be predicated off of the assumption that the user is typing dictionary words, which means that this would not be immensely useful for collecting passwords -- unless everyone switches over to the "correct horse battery staple" model, of course.

However, that's not the point. The point is that by detecting the difference in vibrations transferred through a desk, people are able to reconstruct what was typed with any accuracy at all. This is fantastically cool. It's amazing that anyone thought to try this, and even more amazing that it actually works -- that the devices teenagers are using to text "lol" to each other are sensitive enough to perform this sort of feat.

It is, of course, bad news for us in our eventual war against the machines. Now we know that they'll be able to send coded messages so subtle that we'll never be able to decode them; all they have to do is vary the pressure in their tapping, and we'll be unable to hear the difference. It'll be like Morse code, only if it were all dots and no dashes. We'll need a machine to analyze the pressure difference, but of course we won't have any, because they'll all have turned against us.

Perhaps we'll be able to employ blind people to use their superior sensitivity to break the machines' code. Or should we go for deaf people? I'm not sure which would be better in this case. Maybe someone who was blind and deaf, although then we run into a whole new set of communication problems. We'd better just hope that the machine war doesn't start any time soon; we've got some preparation to do yet.

Mood of the Moment: cheerful cheerful
Auditory Hallucination: MC Frontalot -- Invasion of the Not Quite Dead

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