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User Journal

Journal Journal: Gone Again!

As always, if slashdot has borked the text, just go here.
        She was gone again, shortly before my elderly cat died. I refer to my muse, of course.
        I looked everywhere I could think of, to no avail. Stolen again? I went for a walk, on the lookout for that aged black aged Lincoln with that blonde and that brunette and the kind of weird-looking driver, the ones who stole my muse before. It cost me fifty bucks to get her back!
        They had been right about the weather.
        But this time, there was no ransom note, or any other sort of clue. Almost every day I would go walking, in search for, if not my muse, an idea for a story.
        Maybe she had gotten trapped in a tavern. I went there looking for her, or an inspiration. I had no luck.
        Weeks went by with no trace.
        I was starting to get worried; had the Grim Reaper taken her, too?
        Finally I got a text message: âoeOn vacation, asshole. Iâ(TM)ll be back when you quit crying over that damned cat.â

User Journal

Journal Journal: Rossum's Universal Robots 7

Slashdot has probably borked the text although it looks fine in preview. A non-borked version is at my blog.
        Half a century ago I was reading a book by Isaac Asimov. I donâ(TM)t remember what book, but I know it wasnâ(TM)t I, Robot because I looked last night and it wasnâ(TM)t in that book. But in the book, whichever one it was, Dr. Asimov wrote about the origin of the word âoerobotâ; a story by Karel Capek titled R.U.R.: Rossumâ(TM)s Universal Robots.
        I searched every library I had access to, looking for this story, for years. I finally gave up.
        Then a few weeks ago I thought of the story again. I have no idea what triggered that thought, but it occurred to me that there was no internet back then, and since the book was so old, it would probably be at Gutenberg.org.
        It was! I downloaded it, and to my dismay it was written in Czech. So I fed it to Google Translate.
        Thirty five years ago when I was first learning how computers work and how to program them, I read of a program the US government had written to translate Russian to English and back. To test it, they fed it the English phrase âoethe spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.â Then they fed the Russian translation back in. The re-conversion to English read âoeThe wine is good, but the meat is spoiled.â
        I figured that in the decades since their first efforts at machine translation, it would do a better job.
        I figured wrong. What came out of Google Translate was gibberish. It does a good job of translating single words; paper dictionaries have done this well for centuries. But for large blocks of text, it was worthless.
        When I first saw the Czech version I could see that it was, in fact, not a novel, but a stage play. I kept looking, and found an English language version translated by an Australian. Itâ(TM)s licensed under the Creative Commons, so I may add it to my online library.
        Wikipedia informed me that the play was written in 1920, and a man named Paul Selver translated it into English in 1923. So I searched Gutenberg for âoePaul Selverâ and there it was! However, it was in PDF form. Right now Iâ(TM)m at the tail end of converting it to HTML.
        After reading it I realized that this story was the basis for every robot story written in the twentieth century, and its robots arenâ(TM)t even robots as we know robots today. Rather, they were like the âoereplicantsâ in the movie Blade Runnerâ"flesh and blood artificial people. That movie, taken from Philip K. Dickâ(TM)s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would have actually been a sequel to R.U.R., had R.U.R. ended differently.
        The Terminator was R.U.R. with intelligent mechanical robots instead of artificial life. Their aim, as the âoerobotsâ in Kapekâ(TM)s story, is to destroy all humans.
        Asimov said that his robots were an answer to Frankenstein and R.U.R. He thought the very idea was ridiculous, so he made his own robots inorganic and mechanical rather than organic, and added his âoethree laws of roboticsâ. His laws werenâ(TM)t physical laws like the inability of anything to travel faster than light, but legislation; similar to Blade Runner, where the artificial people werenâ(TM)t allowed on Earth. In a few of his books, like The Caves of Steel, robot use on Earth is strictly limited and controlled and people hate them.
        I thought Asimov had the first mechanical, non-magical robots, but I was wrong. There were fictional mechanical robots before Asimov was born. The first US science fiction dime novel was Edward S. Ellisâ(TM) 1865 The Steam Man of the Prairies, with a giant steam powered robot.
        One thing that put me off about this play (besides the fact that itâ(TM)s a play, which is far better watched than read) was that the original story was written in a language I donâ(TM)t understand. Thatâ(TM)s why I donâ(TM)t read Jules Verne; his stories were written in French, and I donâ(TM)t speak that language, either.
        I dislike translations because I used to speak Spanish well, according to South American tourists, and a smattering of Thai. And Iâ(TM)m a reader. Itâ(TM)s more than just the story, itâ(TM)s how itâ(TM)s written. There are word plays and idioms that are impossible to translate. For instance, a beautiful English phrase that uses alliteration would lose its beauty in any translation. And, there are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. I suspect that Kapek may have been an excellent writer, but Selver wasnâ(TM)t, to my mind. Little of the dialog seemed believable to me.
        But in the case of this story, even the poor translation (Wikipedia informs me itâ(TM)s abridged) is worth reading, just for the context it places all other robot stories in.
        It will be at mcgrewbooks.com soon.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Printer 5

(Illustrated version here)
        After buying copies of books from my book printer, finding errors to correct, and giving the bad copies to my daughter who wants them, rather than discarding them I realized I was stupid. It would be a lot cheaper to buy a laser printer.
        An inkjet wouldnâ(TM)t work for me. The printer is going to be sitting idle most of the time, and inkjet nozzles clog; Iâ(TM)ve had several, and all clogged if you didnâ(TM)t use them at least every other day. Plus, the ink dries out in the cartridges. Being a powder, toner has no such problem.
        So I went looking at the Staples site, and they badly need a new webmaster. This little four year old laptop only has a gig of memory, and a lot of people have far less. The poor little machine choked. That damned web site took every single one of my billion bytes!
        Or rather than firing him, make him design his websites on an old 486. Or even 386.
        So what the hell, I just drove down there; I didnâ(TM)t want to wait for (or pay for) it to be shipped, anyway, I just wanted to see what they had.
        Buying it was easy. They had exactly the printer I was looking for; Canon, a name I trusted since we had Canons and other brands at work, wireless networking, and not expensive. They had a huge selection of lasers; itâ(TM)s a very big store. I paid for the printer and sheaf of paper, and man, lasers sure have gotten a lot less expensive. I expected at least $250 just for the printer, maybe without even toner, but the total including tax and paper was just a little over a hundred.
        When I got home, of course I pulled out the manual like I do with every piece of electronics I buyâ"and it was worse than the âoemanualâ that came with the external hard drive I ranted about here earlier. Cryptic drawings and very little text. At least the hard drive didnâ(TM)t need a manual. All there is is a network port, a USB port, a power socket, and an on/off button. Plug it in and it just works. With the printer, I really needed a manual.
        Kids, hieroglyphics are thousands of years out of style and I donâ(TM)t know why youâ(TM)re so drawn to emoticons, but there was an obvious reason for these hieroglyphics: globalization. Far fewer words to be written in three different languages.
        I could find nothing better on Canonâ(TM)s web site. So I followed the instructions in the poor excuse for a manual for unpacking it and setting it up, as best as I could.
        I couldnâ(TM)t find the paper tray.
        Iâ(TM)ve been printing since 1984 when I bought a small plotter and wrote software to make it into a printer. Afterwards I had ink jets at home until now, and lasers at work. All the lasers were different from each other in various ways, usually the shape of the toner cartridge, but all had a drawer that held the paper no matter what brand of printer.
        I couldnâ(TM)t find it. Sighing and muttering, I opened the lid to the big laptop and copied the CDâ(TM)s contents to a thumb drive to install the printer on the smaller notebook. Thereâ(TM)s no reason to make two calls to tech support, because an installation screwup is never unexpected when youâ(TM)ve been dealing with computers as long as I have.
        And why send a CD? Fewer and fewer computers have CD or DVD burners any more. Why not a thumb drive? All computers have USB ports these days, and have had for over a decade.
        The installation was trouble-free but still troubling; I didnâ(TM)t think the wi-fi was connecting, as it said to hold the router button until the blue light on the printer stopped flashing. I held the button down until my finger hurt and was about to call tech support, but as I reached for the phone the light stopped flashing and burned steadily.
        Maybe it was working, but Iâ(TM)d have to find the paper tray to find out. But it had installed a manual, one I couldnâ(TM)t find. So I plugged the thumb drive back in and searched it visually with a file manager, and found an executable for the manual. Running it took me to an offline web page which wasnâ(TM)t too badly designed, but I would have far preferred a PDF, as I could put that on the little tablet to reference while I was examining the printer in search of where to stick the damned paper, instead of a bulky, clumsy notebook.
        I finally found it, and it wasnâ(TM)t a tray, even though thatâ(TM)s what the documents called it. I havenâ(TM)t seen anything like it before, and the documentation was very unclear. But I did manage to get paper in it, and sent a page to it, and it worked well.
        Meanwhile, I wish Staples would fix their web site, and Canon would fix their documentation.
        When did clear, legible documentation go out of style? Hell, the lasers we had at work didnâ(TM)t even need docs. Good thing, too, because IT never left them when they installed crap. Another reason Iâ(TM)m glad Iâ(TM)m retired! Work sucks.
        At any rate, a few hours later I printed the cleaned up scans of The Golden Book of Springfield so I could check for dirt I missed looking on a screen. I saved it as PDF and printed it from that. And amazingly, this thing prints duplex! It only took fifteen or twenty minutes or so to print the 329 pages.
        Iâ(TM)m happy with it. Man, progress... it just amazes me. But when I went to print from Open Office, the word processor Iâ(TM)ve used for years, I didnâ(TM)t try sending the print job to the printer, but it looked like Oo wonâ(TM)t print duplex.
        Then I discovered that they may stop developing Open Office because they couldnâ(TM)t get developers; the developers were all working on Libre Office.
        Damn. The last time I tried Lo it didnâ(TM)t have full justification, which was a show stopper when Iâ(TM)m publishing books. Iâ(TM)d tried it because someone said it would write in MS Word format. I was skeptical, and my skepticism was fully warranted. It could write a DOC file, but Word couldnâ(TM)t read it. Plus, of course, the show stopping lack of full justification.
        I decided to try it out again, since Oo may be doomed⦠and man! Not only does it have full justification, it has a lot Oo lacks that I didnâ(TM)t even know I needed. It appears to now actually write a DOC file that Word can read, even though when you save it in DOC the program warns you it might not work in Word.
        And it might⦠I havenâ(TM)t tested it⦠might arrange pages for a booklet. Iâ(TM)ll test it with this article⦠when itâ(TM)s longer than four pages, as it is now.
        This was all over the course of the last week as I was working on a PDF of the Vachel Lindsay book. The computer nagged me that the printer was running low on toner (it has a small âoestarterâ cartridge), with a button to order toner from Canon. I clicked it, and damn, the toner cost almost as much as the printer did.
        Then I ran out of paper, so I went back to Staples, where I discovered that the printer I had paid eighty something plus tax for was now twice that price! So I got the toner and five reams of paper.
        At any rate, I tried to print this as a booklet, and this is what came out:

        Itâ(TM)s backlit; the picture on the top left and the grayer text on the bottom right are on the other side of the page.
        But a little fiddling and yes, it will print booklets. It isnâ(TM)t Libre Office doing it, itâ(TM)s the printer itself!

        I like this printer. Iâ(TM)ve figured it to about a penny per page, and I donâ(TM)t think thatâ(TM)s too expensive, considering a page is both sides.
        And then I had this document open in Libre Office, tried to insert a graphic (the second one in this article), and it simply didnâ(TM)t insert. Maybe it doesnâ(TM)t like JPG files, I donâ(TM)t yet know. A little googling showed me that Iâ(TM)m not the only one with this problem, and none of the fixes I found fixed it. I have Open Office open now.
        And here I was going to uninstall Open Office. Iâ(TM)d better not, I guess. Iâ(TM)ll need it if I want to insert a graphic; inserted in Oo they show in Lo. Puzzling.
        A week later and Iâ(TM)ve found that sometimes it will insert a graphic, but only if you go through the menu; using text shortcuts never inserts it. And sometimes it simply doesnâ(TM)t insert the picture, and sometimes it says it doesnâ(TM)t recognize the format when Iâ(TM)d just put the same graphic in another Lo document.
        Well, Iâ(TM)m not uninstalling Open Office yet, anyway. Not until Lo solves the graphics show-stoppng bug.
â¦
        I wrote that a few weeks ago, and have been using both. Libre Office has a horrible problem with keyboard shortcuts, and those shortcuts save a LOT of time. But except for its horrible bugs, itâ(TM)s a better word processor than Open Office. So both will remain installed.
        Itâ(TM)s possible I may uninstall Microsoft Office, depending on how well Loâ(TM)s spreadsheet works. I havenâ(TM)t even fired it up yet, but Ooâ(TM)s spreadsheet is almost useless.
â¦
        The above is several months old now. Lo does lack one important thing Oo has: controls to move to the next or previous page. Not good when youâ(TM)re writing books. Also, it still has graphics problems. Often, simply opening a document in Lo removes any graphics.
        After sitting idle for a month or so, I needed to print a return label. Iâ(TM)m starting to become wary of buying anything from Amazon. Iâ(TM)d bought a new battery for this laptop a year or two ago, and the battery came from someone other than Amazon, and it was the wrong battery. I got the right battery directly from Acer.
        Then I ordered a long throw stapler to make booklets with, and staples for it. The stapler came a week later; no staples. So I bought a box from Walgreenâ(TM)s. A week later, the staples came, again not from Amazon, and they had simply thrown the box of staples in an unprotected envelope. The box was smashed, the rows of staples broken.
        Then I ordered a DVD, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I watched the first six, put the seventh in the DVD playerâ"and it was region coded for the UK! Some company from Florida sent it. WTF is wrong with people? So I needed a return label.
        It wouldnâ(TM)t print; it just hung in the print queue until it timed out. After a little digging, I found that the router had assigned a new IP address to it.
        So after a lot of googling, I gave up and cringed; I was going to need tech support, which is usually a nightmare. I wind up on the phone talking to someone with an accent so heavy I can barely understand them, if at all, who is ignorant of the product and reading from a checklist.
        I found Canon was one of those few companies that actually care about keeping their customers happy. Support was over email, painless, and effective.
        I have to say, itâ(TM)s the best printer Iâ(TM)ve ever owned.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Bar Bots

(If the text is borked, you can read it here)

Some highly paid people seem to not be very good at thinking straight... or at all.

Weâ(TM)ve all seen robot bartenders in movies: Star Wars episode one; The Fifth Element; I, Robot, etc. Ever notice that human bartenders often have a lot of screen time in movies, but robot bartenders donâ(TM)t? The reason is simple: robots are boring. Which is why we wonâ(TM)t see many robot bartenders in real life, and this real life robot bartender is going to go over like the proverbial lead balloon.

I suspect that the engineer who designed the thing doenâ(TM)t frequent bars, but likes science fiction movies, because nobody goes to a bar to drink. From my upcoming Voyage to Earth:

âoeIs Mars still short of robots?â

âoeNot since that factory opened two years ago.â

âoeIâ(TM)m surprised you donâ(TM)t have robots tending bar, then.â

âoeScrew that. People donâ(TM)t go to bars to drink, they go to bars to socialize; bars are full of lonely people. If thereâ(TM)s nobody to talk to but a damned robot theyâ(TM)re just going to walk out. I do have a tendbot for emergencies, like if one of the human bartenders is sick and we donâ(TM)t have anyone to cover. The tendbot will be working when weâ(TM)re going to Earth, but I avoid using it.â

Someone who doesnâ(TM)t visit bars inventing something to use in bars is about as stupid as Richardson in Mars, Ho! , who assigned a Muslim to design a robot to cook pork and an engineer who didnâ(TM)t drink coffee to make a robotic coffeemaker.

Just because it works in the movies doesnâ(TM)t mean it works in real life.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Sixteen: The Final Chapter 2

It's that time of year again. The time of year when everyone and their dog waxes nostalgic about all the shit nobody cares about from the year past, and stupidly predicts the next year in the grim knowledge that when the next New Year comes along nobody will remember
that the dumbass predicted a bunch of foolish shit that turned out to be complete and utter balderdash. I might as well, too. Just like I did last year (yes, a lot of this was pasted from last year's final chapter).

Some of these links go to /., S/N, mcgrewbooks.com, or mcgrew.info. Stories and articles meant to ultimately be published in a printed book have smart quotes, and slashdot isn't smart enough for smart quotes. Reviews for The Golden Book of Springfirld and Black Bead were front page articles at Soylent News only, and not a journal.

As usual, first, the yearly index:
Journals:
Random Scribblings
the Paxil Diaries
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015

Articles:
Useful Dead Technologies Redux
The Old Sayings Are Wrong
How to digitize all of your film slides for less than ten dollars
GIMPy Text
The 2016 Hugo convention

Song
Santa Killed My Dog!
My Generation 21st Century

Book reviews
Stephen King, On Writing
Vachel Lindsay, The Golden Book of Springfield
J. D. Lakey, Black Bead

Scince Fiction:
Wierd Planet
The Muse
Cornodium
Dewey's War
The Naked Truth
The Exhibit
Agoraphobia
Trouble on Ceres

Last years' stupid predictions (and more):

Last year I said I wasn't going to predict publication of Voyage to Earth and Other Stories, and I was right, it's nearly done. So this year I do predict that Voyage to Earth and Other Stories will be published. I'm waiting for Sentience to come back from Motherboard, who's been hanging on to it since last February. I may have to e-mail them and cancel the submission if it isn't back by this February
I'll also hang on to last year's predictions;
Someone will die. Not necessarily anybody I know...
SETI will find no sign of intelligent life. Not even on Earth.
The Pirate Party won't make inroads in the US. I hope I'm wrong about that one.
US politicians will continue to be wholly owned by the corporations.
I'll still be a nerd.
You'll still be a nerd.
Technophobic fashionista jocks will troll slashdot (but not S/N).
Slashdot will be rife with dupes.
Many Slashdot FPs will be poorly edited.
Slashdot still won't have fixed its patented text mangler.
Microsoft will continue sucking
And a new one: DONALD TRUMP WILL (gasp) BE PRESIDENT IF THE us!!! God help us all! (He can't possibly be worse than George H. Bush or James Buchanan, can he?)

Happy New Year! Ready for another trip around the sun?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Santa Killed My Dog!

They say that Santa's coming,
He comes 'round every year.
He comes he'll meet a shotgun slug
'cause he ain't welcome here.

Five years ago this Christmas
The fatass came around
With jingle bells and ho ho hos
And looking like a clown.

He came in for a landing
As I let out a yawn
My house is pretty little
So he landed on the lawn.

I didn't have the time to yell
As he came in through the fog;
He came in fast and and came down hard
And landed on my dog.

He looked around all furtive like
As I reached for my gun,
Then jumped in sleigh, yelled âoegiddie upâ
And took off on the run.

And so, that fatassed bastard
Better stay away from here
'cause ever since he killed my dog
I have no Christmas cheer.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Trouble on Ceres 11

I'm not even bothering to paste it, since slashdot would render it unreadably, so I'll just sent you to mcgrew.info.

I really wish they'd fix that horrible bug...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Agorophobia 2

âoeSay, Ed! How was your trip? Lager?â
        âoeHi, John. Yeah, Iâ(TM)ll have a lager. The whole trip was lousy, a journey through hell all the way.â
        âoeDidn't you fly Green-Osbourne?â
        âoeWell, yeah.â
        The bartender swore; he was a wealthy man who owned the bar he was tending and quite a bit of Green-Osbourne Transportation Company stock as well. âoeWhat went wrong on the trip?â
        âoeThose stupid talking robots. God but I hate those things.â
        The bartender laughed. âoeEverybody does.â
        âoeWhy do you have them talking, then?â
        âoeAdvertising and engineering want to point out our superior technology, including AI.â
        âoeWell, it's too much A and not much I at all. Those things are really stupid.â
        John snickered. He hated talking robots, too, but had been voted down at board meetings. The tendbot he used when it got too busy for a single bartender to easily handle heâ(TM)d special ordered, with no voice, only screen printouts and beeps. Most people thought talking robots were creepy.
        âoeWell, look, Ed, they canâ(TM)t really think. Programmers just use humansâ(TM) built-in anthropomorphism and animism. It's a parlor trick, one of our engineers explained it to me once. So what did the stupid thing do?â
        âoeIt was dinner time, the first night of the trip. I'd bought a business class ticket and somehow wound up on a first class flight... Say, did you have something to do with that?â
        John just smiled. âoeGo on, Ed, what did the stupid robot do?â
        Ed gave John a funny look and continued. âoeWell, I'd never had pork before. I thought it must be extra tasty, considering how ridiculously expensive it is.â
        âoeWell, it's environmental regulations.â
        âoeHuh?â
        âoeSure, it's why Earth buys all its ores from space miners. Mining is pretty much illegal on Earth, because poisonous pollution from mining, farming, industry, and transportation nearly ruined the Earth's ability to sustain life a couple of centuries ago. It... Oh wow. Want to get rich, Ed?â
        âoeNot particularly, why?â
        âoeSomeone will. We should build hog domes and farm pigs in them, and sell the pork to Earthians. Iâ(TM)d do it but Iâ(TM)m way too busy, what with Green-Osbourne, the bar, the brewery, and the farm I grow beer ingredients in.â
        âoeWell, I'll talk to a few folks. It would help Marsâ(TM) economy. Fill me up, John,â he said, sliding his glass across the bar. âoeUh, what were we talking about?â
        âoePork and robots.â
        âoeHuh?â
        âoeYour trip.â
        âoeOh, yeah, pork. Why is it so expensive?â
        âoeLike I said, environmental regulations. They almost made Earth unlivable a couple hundred years ago. Pigs are just too nasty to ranch more than a dozen or so in any one place there.â
        âoeWell, Earth was damned filthy, thatâ(TM)s for sure. Almost as dirty as it was heavy. Anyway, porkâ(TM)s way too expensive for me. I wouldnâ(TM)t even be able to afford pork on Earth, let alone on Mars, so since I had a first class ticket and meals were covered, I wanted to try pork. So I told the servebot I wanted ham and beans.
        âoeThe stupid thing said there was no âHammond beanâ(TM) listed in its database. So I said âNo, you stupid junk pile, ham, and, beans.â(TM) It said âThe word hamand is not in my database.â(TM) stupid thing.â
        John grinned. âoeSo what did you do?â
        âoeWhat could I do? I ordered a barbecued pork steak. It was really good! But the damned robots annoyed me like that the whole trip. The very next morning I felt like a turkey cheese omelette so I ordered one. The stupid robot said âThere are no Turkish cheeses listed in the database.â(TM) So I said âA turkey omelette with cheese.â(TM) So it says âthere are no Turkish omelette dishes listed in the database.â(TM) Stupid computer.
        âoeSo I said âI want a cheese omelette with turkey meat. A turkey omelette has nothing to do with the country called Turkey...â(TM) Whatâ(TM)s so damned funny, John?â
        John was laughing uproariously. âoeExactly the same thing happened to Destiny when we first came here, only the computer was printing it out instead of talking. Let me guess, it said âParse error, please rephraseâ(TM).â
        âoeYep, exactly. So I said I wanted an omelette with turkey meat, and it goes âThere is no meat that has come from that country listed in the database.â(TM) dumb machine! So I says âTurkey the bird, damn it!â(TM) it said...â
        âoeIt said âParse error, please rephrase,â(TM) didnâ(TM)t it?â John interrupted.
        âoeSure did. So I asked what meats were available for omelettes. It said pork, chicken, duck, turkey, and beef. So I said âA cheese omelette with turkey meat.â(TM) the idiotic thing repeated âThere is no meat from that country.â(TM) Iâ(TM)ll tell you, John, that damned thing was really making me mad by then. I finally said âDamn it, computer, I want a cheese omelette with bird meat.â(TM) it said âPlease name the bird.â(TM) I told it turkey and finally got my breakfast.â
        âoeThereâ(TM)s a trick to it,â John said. âoeTell it you want a cheese and turkey omelette and it wonâ(TM)t give you any trouble. If you would have asked for navy beans and ham you would have gotten your ham and beans. Like I said, they donâ(TM)t really think.â
        âoeNo kidding. That must the dumbest computer I ever saw. Well, the tendbot in the commons may have been even more stupid. It didnâ(TM)t know what a Cardinal was.â
        John groaned. âoeEd, thatâ(TM)s strictly the Martian name for that drink. Everybody else calls them Bloody Marys.â
        âoeOh. Why do they call them that?â
        âoeBecause thatâ(TM)s what they were called for hundreds of years before anybody ever came here, before they had space travel, even. Before your ancestors ever left earth.â
        âoeSo why do we call then Cardinals then?â
        âoeFrank Harris was responsible for the name. He was a farmer who came here from Earth and started growing tomatoes, under the âCardinalâ(TM) brand.â
        âoeBut why cardinal?â
        âoeThereâ(TM)s a bright red Earthian bird called a cardinal, so he named the bright red tomatoes after the bird. Bartenders here had never had a Bloody Mary before, because nobody here had tomatoes before Hardy brought them. So when they thought they had invented a tomato drink, they named it after the brand of tomatoes.â
        âoeHow do you know all this stuff?â
        âoeMy wifeâ(TM)s a history buff. Sheâ(TM)s been getting me interested in it, too. So what happened after you got to Earth?â
        âoeOh, man, it was pure hell, painful torture and terror. You know I've only been off Mars a few times in my life, mostly to Ceres or an asteroid dome out in the belt. But Earth... oh man. It was nothing like I'd ever experienced before. Or even imagined, it was horrible!â
        âoeFirst was the weight! That was part of what was wrong with the trip, when the robot was arguing about the turkey cheese omelette it was already getting really heavy. By the time we reached Earth I couldnâ(TM)t walk at all and had to use an electric chair to get around. How do those people live like that?â
        âoeEd, you should have been working out for months before going to Earth, especially since youâ(TM)ve never had more than Mars gravity.â
        âoeWell, I did walk.â
        âoeWalkingâ(TM)s not nearly enough.â
        âoeNo kidding, I couldnâ(TM)t even stand up there. Had to have a robot help me in and out of bed. It was torture!
        âoeWhy didn't you use a walker?â
        âoeYou have to have gravity close to Earth's to learn how to use one.â
        âoeBill Holiday uses one, and he's from Ceres. All the asterites grew up in less gravity than you did and he goes to Earth all the time, it's part of his job.â
        âoeHe would have had to train to use it, those things weigh over a hundred kilos counting the power, and training takes longer than I was going to be on Earth.
        âoeThe horrible weight was bad enough, but it was horribly scary there as well.â
        John grinned. He was an immigrant, who was born in St. Louis and had settled on Mars in late middle age. He hadn't thought of how it must be for a native-born Martian or Asterite on Earth. âoePretty scary, huh? I mean, not having a protective dome.â
        âoeWell, I've been outside the dome plenty of times, but being outside without an environment suit...â He shivered visibly. âoeGive me a shot of Scotch.
        âoeIt was night when we got there, and they used what seemed like they use here on Mars to connect the ship to the terminal. On Mars it's so passengers don't have to wear environment suits, but I don't know why they do it on Earth. Probably so us spacers would feel at home.â
        âoeWell, not really,â John said. âoeIt gets hot and cold there, and it rains. It's so passengers don't have to have coats and umbrellas. They were doing it like that before the first spacer dome was built.â
        âoeYeah, I found out about rain and cold the night I got there, and heat the next day. In the entrance way to the terminal there was a flash in a window and a loud boom a second or two later. I thought there had been an explosion.â
        âoeThunder.â
        âoeYeah, and it was really loud! I almost jumped out of my skin. Anyway, we rented a car and I told it to take us to our hotel for check-in, and the first lightning flash scared the hell out of me. It looked like a crack in the sky and made me feel like all the air would escape, and then the thunder. I've never heard anything so loud!â
        âoeYou should hear a chemical rocket with a heavy load taking off!â
        âoeI have, down here on Mars, and it's nowhere near as loud as thunder.â
        John laughed. âoeEd, there's hardly any air outside the dome. Haven't you noticed how much quieter it is outside the dome?â
        âoeThere's nothing out there to make noise.â
        âoeWell, if there was it wouldn't be loud.â
        âoeI guess. Anyway, parking at the hotel was outside, but the car dropped us off under an awning before it parked itself. Lightning flashed again, and it really gave me the willies. Then it thundered, even louder than it had before. It was so loud you could feel the sound. It was really scary!â He finished his beer and slid his glass to the other side of the bar. âoeFill 'er up, John!â
        John poured another beer for Ed as Ed continued his traveling horror story. âoeMan, all that water pouring out of the sky. It was really strange, and even the water was scary and I donâ(TM)t know why. And it was cold. Must have been under twenty.â
        âoeIt gets well below zero some places.â
        âoeHow do they live like that?â he repeated. âoeI was all right as long as I was inside, except that first night when it stormed. I hated that storm! I sure am glad we donâ(TM)t have anything like that on Mars!
        âoeThere was a bar in the hotel, thankfully, so I didnâ(TM)t have to go out until the next morning. But the storm scared the hell out of me.â
        âoeSo how did your meeting go?â
        âoeWell, I had to take the car there, meaning I had to be outside. It was fine in the dark, like a room with no lights turned on, but walking outside without an environment suit when you could see the sky really freaked me out. I finally told myself it was just a big blue dome.â
        âoeDid it work?â
        âoeNot really. It was really hard rolling around out there in my electric chair, and it was really hot outside! I never sweated before, and I hate it.
        âoeBut worse than that was bugs. Some of them bite. Some of the bugs they called âbutterfliesâ(TM) the Earthians thought were pretty. I thought they were creepy and scary.
        âoeAnd barking dogs. I never saw a dog before, and John, those things are scary as hell, just downright terrifying. And there are a whole lot of them there.â
        âoeOkay, how did the meeting go?â
        âoeLousy. Between the weight and the storm I didnâ(TM)t sleep well. And the weight, the bugs, the dogs, the outside, the heat, the storm, all of it had me so rattled I couldnâ(TM)t think straight, and we didnâ(TM)t get the contract, DA2 did. At least it was a friendâ(TM)s dome.
        âoeGive me another shot, John. Man, but Iâ(TM)m glad to be back home here on Mars. Earth sucks. Now I know what people mean by âhell on Earthâ(TM). Earth is hell!â
        John grinned again. âoeSo... I take it youâ(TM)re not going back?â

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Exhibit 4

(Non-borked version is at my web log. Slashdot, please fix your buggy code!)

        The entire universe was turned inside out and upside down and completely backwards today, and I must have been the only one to see it. It all started with an innocent looking email.

        I get a lot of emails like this one, except that the noteâ(TM)s subject line looked like a headline from the National Enquirer, or maybe The Onion. It read âoeArchaeologists Find Twenty Five Million Year Old iPhone.â Misaddressed, maybe? But it was a press release for an art exhibit.

        A few minutes after I set the mail aside is when it hit me; the fellow who sent the email had mentioned that heâ(TM)d seen my work before and knew Iâ(TM)d written about art and wanted me to see his exhibit. I had written a story, one story, ten years earlier, and the paper hadnâ(TM)t published it.

        I printed it out and went to see Frank, my boss.

        âoeWhatâ(TM)s up, Stan?â he asked.

        âoeI just got the strangest emailâ I said, handing him the printout. He read it.

        âoeSo whatâ(TM)s so weird, Stan? You must get these every day!â

        âoeWhatâ(TM)s weird is that yeah, Iâ(TM)m working on that story about the city museum, but I havenâ(TM)t even finished researching it and barely have an outline, and I only wrote one other art thing, and it was never published!â

        âoeHuh, that is weird. Why donâ(TM)t you go down and check the place out?â

        âoeYou know, Frank, I think I will. Maybe Iâ(TM)ll get a fun story out of it.â

        It was here in town, 568 Broadway, up in the eleventh floor. It was only about a fifteen minutes ride on the subway, and I rode the elevator up.

        It looked like an Apple store, only it was as weird as the email. For instance, it had strange iPhone accessories, like a case with a built-in hourglass. It was like an Apple store in some twisted alternate dimension.

        I had expected to see Evan Yee, the artist behind the installation, but nobody was there at all. Also weird. I took a few photos and left, disappointed that I had gotten no story out of it.

        I went to the elevator, and there was no elevator. Instead, there was a door leading outside, at street level. I wondered if I was going crazy, and remembered the time my mother said she had a âoesenior momentâ. Maybe I was just getting old, but I was only forty five.

        I reached for my phone as I walked outside, thinking that maybe Iâ(TM)d get some sort of inspiration from the pictures, but it was gone. Damn, that phone cost six hundred dollars! I was glad Iâ(TM)d noticed so soon, and turned around to go in â" and it was an Apple store. Between losing my phone and my disorientation when I left the exhibit, I hadnâ(TM)t noticed that there hadnâ(TM)t been anyone outside.

        By now I was sure I was going crazy. I went in anyway, and there was my phone, laying on one of the counters. I picked it up, looked around, and the place looked nothing like it had before Iâ(TM)d left, although it still looked like a weird, twisted, dystopian Apple store.

        I left again, and the street and sidewalk were bright green. I just stood there a minute, kind of dazed, I guess. By then I was pretty sure Iâ(TM)d gone stark raving mad. Maybe I was having a stroke? I reached in my pocket to call for an ambulance, and my phone was gone. I could have sworn Iâ(TM)d stuck it in my pocket.

        I went back in, and it wasnâ(TM)t an Apple store any more, just an empty room with my phone laying on the floor. I picked it up and tried to call 911, but there was no signal. I went outside again to get a signal; lots of buildings suck for phones, and it was now night; it had been morning when Iâ(TM)d gone in.

        And there were two moons. Everything else was normal, but there were two moons in the sky and there were no people.

        And my phone was missing again! Next phone I buy is going to be a cheap one. I went back inside, and it was an Apple store again, this time like any other Apple store. Again there was no one there, and again my phone was on the counter. And again, I could get no signal. I firmly gripped it in my fist and walked outside...

        And confronted a monster! A giant animal, really huge, bigger than an elephant with huge teeth and claws and feathers. I screamed and ran back inside... a cave.

        And Iâ(TM)d dropped my phone outside in my fright. Not that it seemed to work any more, anyway. Or that it mattered, since I had clearly gone insane.

        But I couldnâ(TM)t just sit in the cave. I waited a long time to make sure the monster was gone, then peeked outside. No monsters, and no phone. I went back in, I donâ(TM)t know why, and there was my phone laying on a large rock. I put it in my pocket, and noticed the cave had changed. It was huge before, now little more than an indentation in the rock face.

        I went back out, and it looked like New York in the early twentieth century, except there were no people. I hadnâ(TM)t seen a soul since Iâ(TM)d started this ordeal, except for the monster.

        And my phone was gone again. I turned around, and the Apple storeâ(TM)s sign read âoeBell Telephoneâ. I went inside and there was a bank of antique switchboards, all unmanned. My phone was laying on one.

        I put it back in my pocket and walked back out. I donâ(TM)t think Iâ(TM)ve ever been as worried and scared in my life, especially when Iâ(TM)d seen the huge, weird looking animal. This time the streets and signs of civilization were gone, and a group of wigwams was there where New York City had been before.

        I was shaking. I sat down on a log, put my face in my hands and cried like a baby. I felt like one, lost like no lost child had ever been lost before.

        Cried out, I sat and tried to think of a way out of the mess Iâ(TM)d somehow gotten myself into. The only thing I could think of was going back into the wigwam.

        There was a room filled with some very strange looking machinery, machinery Iâ(TM)d never seen before and had an idea that no one else had either. And there were people there this time! Two women, a blonde and a brunette, both wearing extremely strange looking clothing, intently poring over a complex-looking gizmo that looked like it was from some science fiction movie, and didnâ(TM)t notice my entry. I stood there speechless.

        âoeWe almost had him!â one of the women exclaimed. âoeIn the right dimension and we almost had him in the right time. It would have taken only one more minute. If heâ(TM)d just sat still a little longer!â

        âoeI canâ(TM)t find when he is now. This thing is being extra finicky today,â the other woman remarked.

        âoeExcuse me,â I said, âoeBut would someone please call 911? I think Iâ(TM)ve had a stroke or something.â

        They both whirled around at the same time. The blonde said âoeOh, no, heâ(TM)s now!â

        The brunette said âoeIt will be all right, sir. Please, take your phone and wait in the hallway until it rings. Thereâ(TM)s a comfortable chair out there.â

        âoeWhatâ(TM)s going on?â I asked.

        The blonde said âoeIâ(TM)m sorry, we canâ(TM)t say anything more without fouling things up even worse than they already are. Please, your world will be normal in a few minutes, just listen for your phone.â

        âoeUh, okay, I guess,â I said, and took my phone outside and sat down.

        Maybe fifteen minutes later I heard my ring tone, and it was coming from inside the office. I looked in my pocket and my phone was gone again.

        I wondered if someone at work could have spiked my coffee with some hallucinogen, but no... nobody at the office would have done such a thing. I sighed, wondering what strangeness I was going to see next, and went in.

        I was back at the art exhibit, and again, no one was there. I picked up the phone to answer it, but all that came out of it were some strange noises. I hung up, and I was getting a signal again! I called my boss.

        âoeWhere have you been?â Frank asked.

        âoeI got lost. I may have had a stroke or something, Iâ(TM)m going to the doctor to get checked out. Iâ(TM)ll call when Iâ(TM)m done to let you know.â

        âoeWell, I hope youâ(TM)re all right. Iâ(TM)ll talk to you later.â

        âoeBye.â

        I walked hesitantly out into the hallway, and the chair and door to the outside the building were gone, with the elevators taking its place. I pushed the button, and when the car came I stepped in gingerly wondering what would happen when I got outside.

        Outside the building everything seemed normal again, with the throngs of people and noise of vehicular traffic. I hailed a cab and took the taxi to the hospital, where they took my vitals and did a brain scan and some psychological tests. The doctor said everything looked normal, but my blood pressure was a little high and I should make an appointment with my regular doctor.

        I took the subway back to the office. As I waited for the elevator, Doris, an editor, walked upâ"and she had red hair. Oh, no, I thought. âoeYour hair!â I said, scared again.

        âoeLike it?â she said. âoeI was tired of being a blonde so I dyed it last night.â

        I could have hugged her. We took the elevator up and I went to see Frank.

        âoeFrank, do you mind having someone else check out that exhibit? I donâ(TM)t think I could give them a fair revue.â

        Frank said I looked really pale and should go home, so I went home early. I couldnâ(TM)t get this weird day out of my mind, so I just wrote it down.

        Of course, Iâ(TM)m not putting this in the paper. Maybe Iâ(TM)ll send it to a science fiction magazine under an assumed name, because thereâ(TM)s no way anyone could believe it wasnâ(TM)t fiction.

        But Iâ(TM)m getting a new phone tomorrow.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The 2016 Hugo convention 4

(Version with photos and without slashdot's patented text borking is at My web log)
        I had more fun this weekend than I have in years! Patty and I attended this yearâ(TM)s World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City.
        Patty had said that she would be at my momâ(TM)s house in Belleville around one, and I got there a little before.
        She got caught in construction work traffic in Indiana, and we didnâ(TM)t get on the road until three. Traffic was terrible, not just through St Louis but all the way there. We decided to go straight to the convention; we could check in to the hotel later.
        We got parked (finally), and went in through the light rain, which would be a hard rain later, and cold wind. There inside the building sat Dr. Whoâ(TM)s Tardis! There was a door handle, and Patty decided to see if it would open. She walked up to it, and it moved away!
        That was the first really cool thing we saw, but not the coolest by far.
        We got to the place to get our badges, and oops: I forgot the magic numbers: the membership and PIN numbers. All I could do was hope we could get in, anyway -- I had the emails from worldcon on my phone.
        It turned in not to be a problem, as they had us in their computer systems. Pattyâ(TM)s name tag said âoePatty McGrewâ, mine said simply âoemcgrewâ. A helpful lady in a scooter gave us the lowdown on everything. I asked where the nearest drinking fountain was, and she said that bottled water, soda, and snacks were free in the exhibit hall.
        I got a bottle of water and Patty got a soda. We wandered around and came across a life sized cardboard cutout of an astronaut, and someone said a real astronaut was there. There was a fellow in a business suit, the first business suit Iâ(TM)d seen and asked him if he were the astronaut.
        âoeNo, she is,â he said, gesturing towards a trim, fit, attractive black woman in a green dress.
        Iâ(TM)ve never been one to be starstruck. Iâ(TM)d met dozens, probably hundreds of celebrities while pumping gas for Disney World between 1980 and 1985 â" major league baseball, basketball, and football players; professional golfers, more than one who became irate because I didnâ(TM)t recognize them, despite the fact that Iâ(TM)ve hated that sport since my first job at age sixteen, working as a groundskeeper (âoeIf anybody has to work that damned hard for me to play a silly game, Iâ(TM)m done with golfâ); Rock and pop stars (one of whom, Cris Cross, was a complete and total jerk, but most were pleasant enough)...
        And Movie stars. My favorite movie star was Buddy Hackett, a really nice guy. Knowing he had done Disney movies, I told him if he were an employee I could give him a discount. He said he had before and may be again. âoeYes,â I said, âoeI recognized youâ and told him my favorite movie was Mad Mad World. He grimaced.
        âoeI hated that movie,â he said. âoeIt was hot, half the actors were not very nice and Mickey Rooney was an asshole and Jim Backus...â (the actor who played the rich guy in Gilliganâ(TM)s Island) âoe...was always flubbing his lines because he was always drunk.
        âoeMy favorite movie was The Love bug,â he said. âoewe had SO much fun making that movie!â He had quite a few tales about that movie.
        He said he was there to talk to the brass about an upcoming movie, which he didnâ(TM)t name but was The Little Mermaid, where he played... Iâ(TM)ve forgotten, I took my kids when they were little.
        It was a very pleasant conversation. He gave me his credit card, I ran it through the machine, the old-fashioned kind with carbon paper, returned his card, thanked him, and he drove off. I mentioned to my co-workers, who all were star-struck, who I had just served. They didnâ(TM)t believe me, so I showed them the card receipt and they all went ape-shit.
        John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd stopped by and the star-struck dummies I worked with kept pestering them and they kept repeating that theyâ(TM)d never heard of those guys. âoeGuys, if they say theyâ(TM)re not John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
  theyâ(TM)re not!â
        As they were leaving, one of them winked and thanked me. The morons I worked with seemed not to realize that the only difference between them and us was that they had better jobs.
        And then I met NASA engineer and astronaut Jeanette J. Epps at Worldcon, and for the first time in my life I WAS star-struck. This woman had been in outer space (or rather, will be in 2018)! I had a very pleasant conversation with her. She asked if I wrote science fiction, and I told her âoeyeah, but I read more of it than I write.â It seems she was as impressed by meeting a science fiction writer as I was by meeting an astronaut! At her questioning I told her Sputnik launched when I was six, I watched Armstrong land on the moon, and while living in Florida I saw every shuttle launch before the Challenger accident... and the look on her face told me no astronaut likes to think of that.
        She said she was envious, to see all that history with my own eyes. I told her I was envious of folks Pattyâ(TM)s age. âoeNow, only a select, elite few ever make it to space but by the time Patty is my age, space will be open to everyone.â
        By then, the word âoeastronautâ would be as disused as the word âoeAviatorâ is now, as everyone would be able to visit space. After all, there was no such thing as an airplane when my grandmother was born, the first airplane flight being six months later, and she flew on several planes and saw men in space land on the moon. Yuri Gagarin flew into space twenty sic years before Patty was born.
        We talked of Americaâ(TM)s inability to send people to space (I got the idea that she didnâ(TM)t like Russian rockets) and I countered that at least we could launch cargo, and would soon have our own capsule. âoeThree of them,â she said. I took Pattyâ(TM)s picture with her and shook her hand. She indicated she wanted to see us again the next day (today; the awards are presented tonight; Iâ(TM)m typing a draft in the hotel and will finish when we get home) and I assured her weâ(TM)d be back. I intend to give her a copy of Nobots if I see her today.
        As Patty and I walked off, I realized that for the first time in my life I was star-struck. This woman was not only an engineer (all the astronauts are, if Iâ(TM)m not mistaken, scientists and engineers) but an astronaut! âoeThat alone was worth the price of admission,â I told Patty with a huge smile on my face, and she was as impressed as I was.
        Dr. Epps was one of the few black people I saw there. There were more Chinese alone, and Japanese, than black people. I saw more blacks in my hotel than in the teeming masses at the convention. I met one black fellow later, an overweight gentleman who said he was an actor from New York. For all I know, he was in Hamilton.
        S/N ran a piece last week about âoeracism in SFâ and I can tell you that there are few black SF writers because black SF fans are almost nonexistent.
        The crowd was almost as Caucasian as a Donald Trump rally.
        Most of the night was that good. I took Pattyâ(TM)s picture as she sat on the throne from Game of Thrones, she took my picture with some alien Japanese monster. However, the weather got to me â" it got cold outside, and with the huge buildingâ(TM)s air conditioning it was cold inside and my arthritis started aching terribly. But the pain didnâ(TM)t stop me from having a great time.
        There was a very short man in a Jedi robe, a woman with a robotic baby dragon, and lots of booths put up by cities hoping to host a worldcon. Dublin wants it in 2019, and God if itâ(TM)s there I want to go! Irelandâ(TM)s on my bucket list, anyway.
        They were raffling stuff off, some of it really expensive stuff, so we each got a ticket.
        We didnâ(TM)t win anything.
        After the raffle we drove to the hotel, checked in, and went to our rooms.

Day Two:
        Iâ(TM)d gotten to bed about two, and since I canâ(TM)t seem to sleep when itâ(TM)s light I got up about seven. There was a strange small coffeemaker, two packets that said they were coffee, but no basket.
        So I took the elevator down to the lobby, hoping to find coffee. Coffeeless, I pushed the wrong button on the elevator and it stopped on the second floor, and there were two computers for guests. I decided to write when I was awake enough; the previous night I had regretted bringing a computer.
        Not only was there coffee, there was breakfast. I got a cup of coffee and went back up to my room to read and watch the news. Back down for more coffee and a thumb drive, and on the way back up I stopped on the second floor to write.
        No such luck, there were two young teens at the two computers. So I went back up to read some more. Patty was sleeping and wouldnâ(TM)t wake up. It was her rental car, and I considered taking a cab to the convention center, but didnâ(TM)t.
        While reading, I heard strange sounds outside the window, three stories down. Looking out through the screen, I saw the Kids on skateboards. Good, I could write!
        My coffee was empty after writing for a half hour or so, so I went back downstairs to fill my cup, and back to my room, again considering a cab. It was eight-thirty, so I called Pattyâ(TM)s phone again. This time she answered, and I informed her that she had twenty minutes to get breakfast.
        She came back up after breakfast and said she needed to lay down a little while and would be half an hour or so. She said she wasnâ(TM)t feeling well, which was understandable since sheâ(TM)d driven from Cincinnati to Kansas City the day before, and weâ(TM)d been at the convention until after midnight.
        Oddly, despite only sleeping five hours the night before, I was fine, wide awake.
        We got to the convention about eleven-thirty or so, too late to meet Dr. Epps again. But we discovered that the daytime was a lot more busy and had a lot more to see â" and buy. I bought three tee shirts, and so many books I wonâ(TM)t be at the library for months. One was Star Prince Charlie, co-written by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson, signed by its editor. At least, I think itâ(TM)s the editorâ(TM)s signature. There was all sorts of cool stuff, like the bridge of the Enterprise and a huge sculpture of the part of the Death Star that Luke Skywalker blew up, made from Legos and including Lukeâ(TM)s and another pilotâ(TM)s craft.
        The illustration here is from one of the tee shirts I bought. The title of the book the robot is reading is âoeTomorrow is Nowâ, which makes me wonder if the artist has read Yesterdayâ(TM)s Tomorrows. If so, Iâ(TM)m flattered.
        Then I met David Gerrold, who has been writing and selling science fiction since he was twelve, which is an interesting story in itself. He had written a screenplay called The Trouble with Tribbles and sent it, unsolicited, to Paramount. Paramount, like all film studios, return unsolicited manuscripts unopened.
        However, they had no script for the next Star Trek episode and were becoming panicked. They read, then after several rewrites, filmed the script. Heâ(TM)s been making a living at it ever since. The September issue of S&SF is dedicated to him, and he signed a copy of it and I bought it from him.
        There were more nerds than Iâ(TM)d ever seen at once, far more. And every one of them was smiling. I had pleasant conversations with several people, including a gentleman from the Kansas City library.
        Carrying around what felt like fifty pounds of books and short on sleep, I decided to get the car keys from Patty and put the swag in the trunk.
        I must have walked around for miles carrying that load trying to find the car. Hot and tired I was stumbling like a drunk, and when I fell down I decided it was time to surrender, and staggered back to the convention center, still hauling my load.
        I ran across the librarian, who grinned and said, as has been written in so many science fiction stories and comic books, âoeSo â" We meet again!â
        I stumbled back in and got a bottle of water and sat on a couch towards the back of the hall; my back was killing me. I tried to call Patty, but she wasnâ(TM)t answering. I was starting to worry, as my phone battery was getting low, and she had my battery charging battery in her purse. Ten minutes later, my water empty, I decided to get a beer. I tried calling again â" no luck. I sat back down on the couch again as my phone rang; it was Patty. I told her where I was and she couldnâ(TM)t find me.
        âoeDo you know where that big screen is?â she asked. I answered âoeYes, I can see it from here.â
        âoeStand under it!â I did, and she found me. We sat at a table by the screen and I plugged my phone into the charging battery. There was a heavy black man in a polo shirt, one of the incredibly few black people there. There was an engineering company logo on his shirt.
        âoeSo,â I asked, âoeAre you an engineer?â
        âoeNo, but I play one on television.â
        Patty had gone for snacks and I had a pleasant conversation with the actor, about SF in general and the convention in general.
        Patty came back with some veggies; raw broccoli and cherry tomatoes and cheese. We ate it and walked around some more.
        There were a couple dozen people in various science fiction costumes. One was a very short man in a Jedi outfit that I mentioned earlier. I could swear Iâ(TM)ve seen the guy on-screen somewhere.
        We decided weâ(TM)d seen everything there was to see there by three, so went back to the tables by the screen. It had been beaming some sort of thing that was going on in the auditorium the night before, but only a static photo now. We had a conversation with a couple of folks who looked about my age, two men and a woman. The woman and one man and I talked about science fiction and art, the other man, who was with the woman, was largely silent. Patty had gone to the restroom.
        I decided to get a slice of pizza and a beer at the Papa Johns booth, which looked like a permanent part of the place. A very small four piece pizza was eight bucks, and a pint can of Budweiser was six, twice what a Guinness was in any bar at home. But I was having too much fun to worry about my bank balance or credit card bills.
        I ate one slice, and nobody else wanted any. The three left, and a while later we made our way to the auditorium to watch the Hugos be presented. âoeToo bad we got here too late to see Dr. Epps again,â I said.
        âoeI saw her when you were looking for the car,â she said, âoebut she was with people looking busy so I didnâ(TM)t bother her.â
        We got pretty good seats toward the front, but it was still forty five minutes before the ceremonies started. I used the rest room and got another beer, this time a Corona; beer choices were pretty limited.
        Finally it started. The Master of Ceremonies was Pat Cadigan, a woman who had won a hugo decades ago, and she would have made a pretty good stand-up comedian.
        She came on stage holding a bull whip and after telling everyone to silence their phones, admonished us âoeDonâ(TM)t make me use this!â Her whip was the center of many jokes by many people on stage.
        Iâ(TM)d been disappointed since 2012 when I read The Martian that it hadnâ(TM)t gotten the Hugo it deserved, and apparently I wasnâ(TM)t alone, because Andy Wier got two of them this year. One was âoebest new writerâ, probably since it was years too late to award it for the book, and one for Best Long Version Photoplay for the movie version, that even beat Star Wars!
        Mr. Wier wasnâ(TM)t there. An astronaut in his astronaut uniform accepted the award in his place for âoebest new writerâ.
        When âoe Best Long Version Photoplayâ came around, another astronaut in uniform accepted it for him: None other than Dr. Epps! I gave her a standing ovation, but no one else did.
        I havenâ(TM)t had that much fun in years! I spent a fortune, but it was worth every penny.

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Naked Truth

(Unborked version at my web log. Slashdot, fix your buggy code!!)

        Mayor Waldo was eating his salad as he waited for the main course when he was summoned to Dome Hall for an emergency. His secretary insisted that he couldn't talk about it in public or on the phone.
        He paid for the meal, told the serverbot to keep his food warm when it was finished cooking, and returned to Dome Hall, muttering under his breath. He asked Willie Clark, his secretary, what was going on that was so important it would interrupt his lunch hour.
        âoeA body was found outside the dome, sir. We suspect murder.â
        Murder? There had been a lot of death in Marsâ(TM) hundred years of colonization, but until now there hadnâ(TM)t been a single murder, at least that anyone had known about. There were no homicides on the planetâ(TM)s surface, at least; in space the pirates would kill you the first chance they got. In space, only the Green-Osbourne Transportation Companyâ(TM)s security fleet kept things relatively calm.
        âoeWhy do you suspect murder? Thereâ(TM)s never been a murder on Mars.â
        âoeUntil now. The body was found outside the dome and wasnâ(TM)t wearing a suit.â
        âoeMaybe he was drunk and stumbled through the wrong door. I should talk to council members about assigning guards to the airlocks.â
        âoeNo, sir. Impossible. The body was found a half kilometer from the nearest lock. If heâ(TM)d simply walked through the airlock...â
        âoeHmm, yes. Heâ(TM)d have died before he went two steps and probably would have died inside the lock. Who do you have investigating?â
        âoeNobody yet, sir. The police chief called us right before we called you, looking for guidance. The coroner is examining the body and we expect her report in a week or two. The corpse had been out there a couple of days at least. Of course there was no decay, but the body was completely desiccated, freeze-dried, as would be expected.â
        âoeDo we know the cause of death? Was a dead body taken outside, or a live one out there to die?â
        âoeThe coroner is still doing the examination, sir. Weâ(TM)ll let you know as soon as we know.â
        âoeThanks, Willie. Have the police start an investigation, and have them get in touch with an Earthian police detective who has experience in solving homicides, and have our people get advice from him or her.â
        âoeShould we keep this secret? At least until we know more? The Chief thinks so.â
        âoeNo, youâ(TM)re not working for Wilcox any more, and Iâ(TM)m not anything like Wilcox was. Thatâ(TM)s why we won in a landslide, people hated his secrecy. Set up a press conference for tomorrow morning.â
        âoeYes, sir.â
        He went back and finished his lunch.

        Albert Morton was the electrician who had discovered the body. It had been the most horrible thing he had ever seen in his life, and it ate at him that there had been nothing about it on the news. Who had done this, and why? He decided to contact a newspaper the next morning. Tonight he was going to get drunk; heâ(TM)d never seen anything so gruesome, and couldnâ(TM)t get the awful scene out of his head.

        âoeSay, Ed, howâ(TM)s being Mayor treating you? Lager?â
        âoeHi, John. Yeah, and a shot, I donâ(TM)t care what. Scotch, I guess. My jobâ(TM)s sure not very fun today, weâ(TM)re almost certain that we have a murder on our hands.â
        âoeMurder? On Mars? Really?â
        âoeWe canâ(TM)t see how it could be anything else. He was found half a kilometer from the airlock without an environment suit.â
        âoeWhat killed him?â
        âoeWe wonâ(TM)t know until the coronerâ(TM)s report comes in. But it has to be murder, nothing else makes sense. Howâ(TM)s business?â
        âoeI just got mail from Dewey this morning. We captured five pirate vessels last week and got a nice big finderâ(TM)s fee from the boatsâ(TM) rightful owners. He and Charles are looking at some new propulsion systems that might be a lot more efficient than the ion engines weâ(TM)re using now. That will both lower the shipperâ(TM)s cost and increase our profits, maybe even more than when we went from fission generators to fusions. And thereâ(TM)s a lot more shipping since they found all those rare earths on Ceres.â
        âoeYour bar doesnâ(TM)t seem to be doing all that good.â
        John snorted. âoeYou know this is just a hobby, but still, it is turning a small profit. It doesnâ(TM)t usually get too busy until later at night. My brewery is doing almost too good. Itâ(TM)s hard to grow enough ingredients to brew enough of it to supply the demand. I may have to buy another building to grow more hops and barley and other ingredients.â
        A man walked in. âoeHi, Al,â the bartender said. âoeThe usual?â
        âoeNot today, John. Really bad day, Iâ(TM)ll have nightmares tonight. A lager and a shot of that white lightning you make. God damn, I ran across a dead body at work today outside the dome, and it was someone Iâ(TM)d met a few times. The poor guy didnâ(TM)t have a suit on. Not just no suit, he wasnâ(TM)t wearing a stitch of clothing.â
        âoeYeah, Ed here was telling me about it.â
        The mayor said âoeI hadnâ(TM)t heard that. They only said he had no suit.â
        The electrician asked âoeEd, why isnâ(TM)t this in the news?â
        âoeBeats me, but Iâ(TM)m holding a press conference about it tomorrow. Wilcox would have tried to keep it secret, but thatâ(TM)s why he lost the election. Was it gruesome?â
        Al downed his shot, took a sip of beer, and said âoeYou wouldnâ(TM)t have wanted to be there. John, another shot, please. Make it a double.

        Sam Woodside was a reporter for the Martian Times, one of several dozen such newspapers in Marsâ(TM) many domes. Al Morton called him the next morning, a day after the discovery, with news of the dead body that he had found. The reporter asked the electrician âoeWho was he and how did he die?â
        âoeI donâ(TM)t know, His first name was Bob, but I donâ(TM)t know what his last name was. He was an electrician, too, but he usually worked the other side of the dome from me and I didnâ(TM)t know him very well, I only met him a few times. His shop was short staffed so they assigned me on that side temporarily. Youâ(TM)ll have to ask the cops his full name and how he died. I talked to the mayor last night at Hookerâ(TM)s, and they donâ(TM)t know much yet.â
        âoeHookers?â
        âoeHookerâ(TM)s Tavern, named after a musician who lived in the nineteen hundreds. John Knolls is a good friend of mine and owns the place.â
        They spoke for another fifteen minutes without Sam learning much.
        As he was beginning to dial the mayorâ(TM)s office to get more information, another call came in. It was from his boss, who assigned him to a press conference the mayor had scheduled for the morning.
        Typical. He really wanted to write about the murder and here he had to attend a meaningless press conference. He wondered what it was about. âoeProbably something nobody would want to read about,â he thought.
        The news conference lasted a long time, even though little was yet known about the murder. The only clue had been the corpse itself, and it hadnâ(TM)t yet yielded any answers. They would have to wait for the coroner, who had possession of the caseâ(TM)s only clue that had turned up so far.
        The mayor issued an executive order that all airlocks be guarded, and that no one would be allowed outside the dome alone. Martians had to be extra cautious about everything, since the environment outside the domes was so deadly. Safety was drilled into native-born Martians from birth.
        The mayor had of course been in contact with Dome Council members, all of whom were going to present a bill making the guards and the âoenobody goes out aloneâ rule law. All had urged him to make the executive order, which would last until the council next met.
        Sam wrote the story, which was on the front page with an extra large headline: âoeGRUESOME MURDER OUTSIDE THE DOMEâ and in smaller type, âoePolice Have Few Clues, No Suspectsâ. Sam took what little information he had about the murder and skillfully stretched it to two full columns, most of which was the accounts of the electricianâ(TM)s grieving friends and family, and some of it slightly redundant.
        The domeâ(TM)s police contacted a homicide investigator on Earth, who chided the Martian for doing so little investigating. âoeCome on, man, get a warrant and search the victimâ(TM)s home and workplace. It may have been for robbery, but there are a lot of things that cause murder. Find out who he associated with, if he was having any love affairs, who saw him last. Donâ(TM)t wait for the coroner! What did the crime scene look like?â
        âoeLike there was a dust storm between when he was killed and when the body was found. If there were any footprints or wheel tracks or any other such evidence they were gone.â
        It seemed the newspaper had done more investigating than the police. The Martian took the Earthian policemanâ(TM)s advice, but still came up with little, at least at first.

        âoeHi, George, I was wondering if you were sick or something and didnâ(TM)t go to work today, you always drop by for a beer on your way home.â John poured an ale for him.
        âoeI ran really late tonight, somebody stole my tools. At first I thought somebody might have grabbed my tool box by mistake, but Iâ(TM)m pretty sure they were stolen. Anyway, I had to fill out a ton of paperwork for the insurance.â
        âoeSorry to hear that, the tools must be expensive.â
        âoeYeah, they are. Brand new tools, state of the art stuff. I was working on two panels around a corner from each other, and I had my tool chest by one panel when I was working on the other one. I closed that panel up and went to finish the side where my tools were, and they were gone.
        âoeLike I was saying, at first I thought someone must have picked the tools up by mistake, but I noticed boot prints going away from the dome from where my tools had been. So when I got back in the dome and out of my suit I called the cops. I didnâ(TM)t think anyone picked them up by mistake after seeing footprints leading away from the dome. The cops said it was possible that were taken by mistake, but I donâ(TM)t think so. Talking to the cops took another hour.â
        A man in a policemanâ(TM)s uniform came in, sat down, and ordered a shot of Bourbon and a wheat beer. âoeRough week,â he told the bartender. âoeMurder a few days ago, probable theft today.â
        âoeYeah, I heard.â
        The policeman looked at George. âoeSay, youâ(TM)re the fellow whose tools are missing, arenâ(TM)t you?â
        George answered in the affirmative and ordered another beer. Obviously a little distraught, he had drank the first one far faster than usual.
        The officer said âoethose boot prints you saw led to wheel tracks. We followed them for ten kilometers, and it looked like a space craft had landed and taken off. We think pirates have your tools.â
        George shook his head sadly. âoeDamned pirates, the tools are insured but itâ(TM)ll take three weeks to get them replaced, and I wonâ(TM)t be able to work.â
        âoeThat sucks, George. Need to run a tab until your new tools come?â the bartender asked.
        âoeThanks, John, but I have enough cash and credit to make it until I can get new tools delivered.â
        The police officer finished his beer and shot and walked home, just as Mayor Waldo came in. âoeHi, John. We had a theft today, give me the usual.â
        âoeHi, Ed. Yeah, I heard,â he said, pouring the mayor a beer and the thirsty electrician a third beer.
        Ed sighed. âoeNews travels fast.â
        John laughed. âoeWhere would you go if your tools were stolen and you couldnâ(TM)t work for weeks? You know George, donâ(TM)t you?â
        âoeYeah, hi George. Those were your tools?â
        âoeYeah, it really sucks.â
        âoeAnything I can do? Or the dome can do?â
        George laughed. âoeYeah, get a better football team, the Australians and Europeans always kick our asses!â
        Talk drifted off to sports for a while, and a thought came to John. âoeEd,â he said, âoeCould the pirates have committed that murder?â
        âoeNo, they would have taken him to their ship so they wouldnâ(TM)t harm the suit. Everyone knows how valuable a suit is. They would have just dumped the body in space.â
        âoeYou ought to dump those footballers in space,â George said dourly.
        The mayor and bartender laughed, and talk went back to sports as more people started trickling in.

        The next day the Chief of Police called the mayor with news of clues: the dead manâ(TM)s tools and environment suit were missing. Did someone murder him for his suit and tools? It looked like that was the motive, although police were still investigating the victimâ(TM)s associates. If they found that suit and those tools, they would likely find the murderer.
        Things seemed to be looking up. He usually only stopped by Johnâ(TM)s bar when heâ(TM)d had a bad day or a seemingly insoluble problem, but he decided to make an exception this time since his old friend Charlie Onehorse would be there. Charlie was the mayor of Dome Australia Two, about twenty kilometers from his dome. Old Charlie had been visiting on a trade mission.
        When he got off work, Johnâ(TM)s bar was already filling up. âoeEd!â came a voice from the gloom, as his eyes hadnâ(TM)t yet adjusted, but he knew that voice.
        âoeHey, Charlie! How did your deal go?â
        âoeAce, even though those blokes arenâ(TM)t drongos, but the deals always go well. Almost all of them, anyway. I heard your dome had a homicide?â
        âoeYeah, it sure looks like the poor guy was murdered. Had some thefts, too, but one of them looks like pirates.â
        âoeMaybe it was pirates that killed that bloke,â Charlie said.
        âoeThatâ(TM)s what John said, but like I told him, they would have just carried him and his suit away and dumped the body in space.â
        âoeYeah, youâ(TM)re right, they would have. Damned pirates, I hope they leave my dome alone. Hey, John, get a grog for Ed, would you?â Just then a robot rolled up with Mayor Waldoâ(TM)s beer.
        At the other end of the bar, John was talking to Al. Al had been telling him of the nightmarishly horrible discovery and how it was affecting him for the last few days, which he had mostly spent in the bar getting very drunk. âoeAl, I want you to meet a friend of mine,â John said as an attractive woman walked up. âoeAl, meet Tammy Winters.â
        âoeHello, Ms. Winters.â
        âoeItâ(TM)s doctor, but call me Tammy. John tells me youâ(TM)re having some problems.â
        Al glared at John angrily. Tammy said âoeLook, Al, your reaction to what youâ(TM)ve gone through is normal. Look, I have a friend who needs some new patients, could you help him out?â and handed him her colleagueâ(TM)s business card.
        âoeWell, I donâ(TM)t know,â Al said, looking at the card. âoeWhat will it cost?â
        âoeNothing, the government pays for it.â
        âoeThanks, I will!â
        Tammy replied âoeJohn, are you going to pour me a beer or what?â

        Several days later the coroner's report came back, right before the mayor was due to go home, and Mayor Waldo was puzzled. The report said the victim had a stroke; a blood vessel in his brain had burst and heâ(TM)d died instantly. But why was he out there naked?
        He decided to talk to John. John always had an answer when things got crazy.

        âoeHoly crap,â Sam said when he got the news. âoeDamn, the most sensational news in my career and it wasnâ(TM)t. How can I spin this? The boss wants more papers sold!â
        He decided to focus on the mystery of the naked corpse.

        âoeAnd your cops canâ(TM)t figure it out, either?â John asked.
        âoeNo,â said Ed. âoeItâ(TM)s still a mystery.â
        âoeChrist, Ed, itâ(TM)s as plain as the nose on your face! Look, only a few days later Georgeâ(TM)s tools were stolen, and the police say it was pirates. Itâ(TM)s simple, Ed. They were waiting for a chance to steal the poor guyâ(TM)s expensive tools and he collapsed. So they not only stole his tools, but his environment suit and clothing as well. Why didnâ(TM)t you guys see that?â
        Ed scratched his head. âoeI donâ(TM)t know, but it makes sense. Iâ(TM)ll talk to the police chief about it tomorrow.â Just then George entered.
        âoeJohn!â he yelled. âoeDrinks for everybody! WOO HOO!â
        âoeWhat happened?â Ed asked.
        âoeJohnâ(TM)s army!â
        âoeJohnâ(TM)s army?â
        âoeIt isnâ(TM)t my army,â John said. âoeMore Deweyâ(TM)s than anyoneâ(TM)s, I only hold maybe fifteen percent of Green-Osbourne.â
        George said âoeI canâ(TM)t thank you enough, John.â
        âoeGeorge, I didnâ(TM)t do anything, there wasnâ(TM)t anything I could do,â John replied. âoeWe capture pirates all the time. It earns us a lot of cash and makes shipping easier for everybody, including our competition. You just got lucky.â
        âoeI donâ(TM)t care, Iâ(TM)m still grateful. They said Iâ(TM)d have my tools back the day after tomorrow.
        âoeOh, and Edâ"they found Bobâ(TM)s suit and tools when they found my tools.â
        John grinned. âoeSee?â

        After the Mayorâ(TM)s press conference the next morning, Sam cursed. How could he spin this one without looking like a damned fool?

User Journal

Journal Journal: No good story ever started with someone eating a salad 2

It was some time last year that someone on Facebook posted a graphic that said "Beer: because no good story ever started with someone eating a salad." There are a lot of them to be found in Google Images.

So I decided to write a good story that starts with someone eating a salad, although parts of the story do take place in a bar. How good is it?

Magazines like F&SF get a thousand submissions a month, and each bi-monthly issue only has half a dozen stories. Only the very best get printed, and almost all rejection slips are form letters that all say pretty much the same thing, no matter what magazine.

Out of over a hundred rejections, I've only gotten two that were not form letters. The first was actually the first story I ever submitted, "Voyage to Earth". A junior editor (or perhaps slush reader) wrote back saying that it was a good story and well written, but the beginning didn't grab her.

The story I'm posting tomorrow, "The Naked Truth" garnered a personalized rejection from Charles Finlay, F&SF's Editor in Chief! He wrote a very encouraging letter saying that the idea of a murder mystery on Mars intrigued him and it was well written, but he didn't like the ending.

It was very nearly in F&SF. That means it isn't just a good story that starts with someone eating a salad, but a VERY good story.

I'm putting magazine submissions on hiatus until I finish "Voyage to Earth and Other Stories". I want to publish it next year, some magazines hang on to stories for a really long time ("Dewey's War" was in Analog's slush pile for six months, Tor has had "The Exhibit" since December) and if they publish one, I won't be able to publish it for a couple of years.

I have five finished stories you haven't read, three of which nobody has. I'll probably post one every couple of weeks until I run out of them. I've been working on one story, "The Pirate" (which I may rename) for a couple of months. Writing's been hard since I smoked my last cigarette last New Year's Eve.

User Journal

Journal Journal: What were they thinking?

I didn't know how much storage my "new" tablet has (hadn't looked, it's eight gigs) but reading the manual that I had to google to find (It's second-hand) I saw that it would take a 30 gig SD card, what they're calling single inline memory modules (SIMMs) these days. I decided to get one at Walgreens when I got beer.

It was a 32 GB SIMM (MicroSD, whatever) so I made sure to keep the receipt in case it wouldn't work in the tablet, but installing it was easy.

I can't say the same about getting it out of the retail packaging! It took half an hour and I was afraid of breaking the chip getting it out.

When I booted the tablet, it reported that it had installed it and reported 32 GB. That's two gigs more than the size of the part of my music collection I actually listen to. So I connected to my network drive with the same file manager II use on the phone, copied the folder holding the music, and pasted into the SD card. It took several hours.

When it was done, it informed me that third party apps didn't have permission to write to the SD card! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BULLSHIT?? So I googled, and it said that Android 4 was the reason -- except my phone is running 4 and it had no problem writing to the simm.

The tablet has a built-in file manager that will access the SD, but can't access the network drive. I started copying a few at a time... and had a thought. I wondered if that 32 gig SD would work in the phone?

It does. So right now my phone's copying music from the network so I gan get it in the tablet. Good thing the physical chip is so easy to install and remove. I have a 12 gig chip in the phone, I think I'll get another 32 gig for the phone. Maybe bigger, I'll have to google to see what it can hold. I'll give the phone chip away.

But why would they have had a restriction like that?? Anyone have a clue for me?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Well. that mess is cleaned up. 4

It was a bigger mess than I thought. Yesterday's Tomorrows looked fine on an e-reader on the computer, but when I bought that tablet I discovered it was really messed up in MobiSystems' Universal Book Reader (UB Reader). Not only was the table of contents hosed, but there were no indents on paragraph beginnings, and it was an ugly sans serif font rather than the Gentium Book Basic in the printed volumes and HTML (at least on a computer with that font installed, if not it falls back to Times New Roman).

It was, of course, from my own ignorance, both of e-books in general and Calibre in particular. I never had any interest in e-books, because you paid for something you didn't own. If I buy a book I can give it away or sell it, it's a physical thing. Not so with e-books, and the e-books usually cost as much as the paperback.

But since I was giving books away I needed to learn about them. I wish I'd bought a tablet a long time ago. At any rate, I finally got all of them straightened out. At least, I think I have, except I can'tseem to get the cover to show in the Kindle version of Mars, Ho!, and I'm still checking out the epubs in the Nook app.

There's still a few minor annoyances in Yesterday's Tomorrows. Images that are supposed to fill the page don't on a tablet. I experimented with changing the page size to 12x20 in Open Office and scaling the images, but it came out the same. Maybe I need to raise the resolution?

Reading the HTML on a phone gives no serifs. It appears that Android devices are almost devoid of fonts, from what I've googled about it. Time Magazine seems to somehow have a Times font. I'll get it eventually.

Meanwhile, I documented the steps needed with Calibre. I'll need it, since I likely won't be using that program until next year when I finish Voyage to Earth and Other Stories.

User Journal

Journal Journal: On Writing 4

I discovered the SFWA website last year, and it was a treasure trove of useful information. I'd probably have given up trying to sell stories by now were it not for that site.

There's an article by Terry Bison, one of my current favorite SF writers, titled "60 rules for short SF." Another is by a slush reader (someone employed by publishers to read and pass stories they like up to a junior editor) has an article about what you need to get her to pass it to an editor. And a whole lot more, I still haven't read them all.

I discovered that almost all of the advice and rules they pontificated on were things I was already doing. I also discovered how damned hard it was, how nearly impossible to get a good story published, because of the sheer mass of competition. There are only a dozen or two SF magazines, and they get a thousand submissions a month each, and print six each.

That's some damned bad odds.

I also learned from SFWA that if your rejection slip comes from an editor rather than a computer, you came really close to being published. I've had three! I'm not going to stop writing because I love doing it so much, but if I hadn't ran across SFWA I'd have stopped submitting them a long time ago. I am going to cut down on submissions, because I want to finish and publish "Voyage to Earth and Other Stories" by some time next year, and most of the magazines are REALLY slow at getting through their slush piles. I may keep submitting to Asimov's and F&SF since they're quick, but then again if they buy it I'll have to replace it with another story for the book.

Then late last week I was reading an article on SFWA and discovered that Stephen King had written a book about writing, called "On Writing".

King is one of the very best writers of our time, IMO. I don't like his genre so haven't read much of his stuff, but what I did read was brilliant and beautifully written, sucking you into the story and not letting go (and I don't want to be sucked into horror, I hate horror movies and books are even more intense than movies). So I opened a new tab on the browser and checked to see if Lincoln Library had a copy.

It did, even in e-book form so I wouldn't even have to go up there. Then I made another discovery -- my library card expired last month. That was Friday night, so Saturday morning I went to the library. I renewed my card, checked out the hardcover copy of the book, and started reading. I finished it last night; I'd been alternating between reading King's book, SFWA articles, Google News, the Illinois Times, and working on "The Pirate".

Another discovery: this book would be a great read even if I wasn't looking to improve my writing. It gives insights to a reader who isn't a writer on the connection between reader and writer. Kind of why you like to read what you like to read.

The first third of the book is an autobiography of sorts, and it starts with a child's pain (it IS Stephen King, after all). But from the time he reached high school until he gets to the writing part (even though the part before the writing part was about writing, too) it was hilarious. I don't nean it made me grin and maybe chuckle, I mean I was laughing so hard I had to put the book down to wipe the tears off my face. Well, I did have some pretty good pot. Anyway, If you're a reader, do yourself a favor and read it. If you live in Springfield and have a library card and a smartphone you can read it for free without even going to the library. In other cities as well, I checked last night and Belleville residents can access e-books from that library.

So this morning I decided that I wanted a copy of my own sitting on my bookshelf, because this isn't a "read once and throw it away" book. So after two frustrating hours trying to get a hardcover copy I'm flustered and frustrated and annoyed. Damn publishers and bookstores!

First, publishers. The paperback and e-book was released 3 years ago, but the hardcover is out of print. What, did Rority kidnap me last night and take me back to 1970 when books were written on typewriters and printed on presses designed a century earlier? Because now that we have computers and the internet, there should be no such thing as "out of print". Now there's "print on demand", so why should any book ever be out of print?

It's stupid.

Amazon said simply "out of stock" so I tried B&N. Their offline stores are excellent; large, with friendly, helpful staff.

Their website is a total clusterfuck to buy from. They should fire the incompetent webmaster who is enamored of flashy bells and whistles and hire someone who can design a usable interface.

First those stupid mouseover menus that open and cover whet you're trying to read. If you're doing that on your website, STOP IT!! Pissing off a prospective customer is brain-dead stupid. Where do companies find all these educated idiots?

So after navigating their awful interface to actually get to the book, there are three buttons: paperback, $11.95; e-book, $11.95; hardcover, $19.06. So once again there's stupidity, or rather, stupid greed. There is absolutely no reason whatever why an ebook should cost as much as a paperback. No paper to buy, no ink to buy, no pages to bind, nothing to ship, nothing to warehouse. An e-book costs almost NOTHING to produce and deliver once it's written.

The button for the hardcover didn't work. No feedback, it just didn't work, which is how the morons who designed the site set it up to work when an item was out of print.

By now I was annoyed and frustrated. I finally found a used copy there, and went to order it. They wanted to use an old credit card I no longer have, and it was more frustrating trying to get the damned thing to change cards.

I finally managed that, entered all the info, and it told me there was a problem with the card. IT'S A VALID CARD, DAMMIT! So I say "screw it" and call the local store. It's out of print, so they give me the 800 number.

After almost five minutes on hold a rude woman who keeps trying to interrupt me answers. I finally hung up on her, saying "fuck it, maybe one of the used stores in town has a copy."

I'll take it back to the library today. They sell books, maybe they'll have a copy for sale.

But I learned a lot from this book, a whole lot. But what he says you should do I already do, so maybe my stuff... nah.

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