Sunday, December 27, 2009


Just a piece of dialogue I really wanted to put back into the piece I'm working on now, but there's just no room, and it doesn't serve much purpose except a laugh. Posting here for your enjoyment (and so I don't lose it)

“You ever hear the story of a planet called,” he pronounced it carefully, “Ah-show-lay?”
His companion shook his head. “No, never.”
“Oh, that’s a good one. See, a long time ago when they first started settling planets, before the Colonial Confederation, there was an expedition planned to this new earthlike they’d found, and kept the location under wraps. The expedition leader was a real careful sort — the kind of person who you really need for a new colony. Well, they took their time getting ready, and people got antsy. Finally, a group of them said, forget this, and they launched their own attempt.
“Well, that pissed off the original group something awful. Purely out of spite, they launched their own attempt early, just a couple dozen of them, not well-equipped. But damn it if they didn’t arrive first by a couple days.
“You see, in those days the tradition was that the first colony on a planet got to name the whole planet. And so when the splinter group arrived, they were very unhappy to see that they’d been beat — and unhappy beyond belief to find their prize planet newly christened, ‘Asshole’.”
His companion barked a laugh.
“But what could they do? They couldn’t just turn around and leave, they didn't have the fuel and had sold their homes and burned all their bridges. They had to go through with setting up their colony. The first one packed up not too long afterward, and the second group tried to rename the planet. But by then anyone who heard the story pretty much agreed it was an appropriate name. It stuck. So what could they do? They decided that the name was spelled A-S-S-H-O-L-E, sure, but it was pronounced ‘Ah-show-lay’. And damned if they didn’t sic their lawyers on everyone who didn’t pronounce it the way they said. But the more they did that, the more people heard about the whole thing. The Assholians finally got fed up, they weren’t making much progress anyway, so they gave in.”
“So how come I haven’t heard of this place, then?”
“Like I said, the second colony folded not too long after, and the next group to take a crack at it got to rename the place.”
“What did they call it after that?”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Missing the point

So, I just cooked my takeaway salmon sashimi in a toaster oven. With the lemon, soy sauce, and wasabi that came with it, it was very tasty -- some of the best cooked salmon I've ever had. In retrospect, the very intense heat of the toast setting was just right for something like this.
(In my defense, I got back to my office and discovered that the sashimi was still mostly frozen.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Death in a Tin Can

The first draft of my latest short story is finally DONE! Inspector Crandall has his work cut out for him: there are space ships and robots and (of course) a murder. Can he solve the murder? Will his space sickness get the better of him?

Well, you can find out for yourself if you volunteer to read through it and tell me your thoughts ;)

I'm intending this piece as my submission to Viable Paradise. The word limit for that is 8,000 (this draft stands at 7,900 words). As such, I want it to be as good as I can get it by early January, while hopefully tightening it up enough that I can add things as necessary. I will also be sending this to Critters for feedback, but they work best when the piece is already reasonably polished.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Insert Tor Pun Here

(Like Tor-n or 'taking a deTor' or 'gzipped Tor file'. Something like that. I'm tired and it's too late to be inventing puns for my adoring public (let alone you lot).)

Those of you who are fans of science fiction/fantasy and like listening to audio books should have a listen to Tor's new weekly podcast. First up is one of my favorite pieces of John Scalzi's, "After The Coup" read by the author. I'm not sure why they say it's unavailable via iTunes -- I went into iTunes, and pasted the RSS link into the "Subscribe to Podcast" box, and it worked like a charm.

Tor's published some great (free!) short fiction on their site over the last year or so, and promises to continue doing so. I'm excited!

Monday, December 14, 2009

My God, It's Full of ... Puns

Just when I thought that there was no hope for artificial intelligence, my mind is blown by this. (h/t to PhysOrg) That's right: a computer that formulates and tells jokes, all based on that apex of humor, the pun. It is a little scattershot in its basic approach based on using Princeton's WordNet as a relational database / expert system (using the phonetic form to roughly judge whether two words sound similar. It seems to come up with some interesting results -- they remind me in some ways of the kinds of jokes five-year-olds tell. Some samples:

What do you call a cross between an emporium and a success?
A department score

What do you get when you cross a choice with a meal?
A pick-nic

And (possibly the best of the bunch)
Why is a bronzed handle different from a fringe benefit that is lordly ?
One is a tanned grip, the other is a grand tip

Oh my sides, they split.
(More here)

So, now we know how the inevitable robot armies intend to kill us all. I didn't think they'd be this cruel or ruthless, but I must now stop to wipe away a tear of pride. *wipe*

The software will eventually be available for download. I think that (with permission) this would actually be worth learning how to write iPhone apps.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Screw Celsius

I am in general in favor of the metric system. It makes sense, it's easy to use. But the Celsius scale (while fine for many scientific endeavors) is not appropriate for day-to-day human life.

Think of it this way: for most of us, the range of human temperature experience just fits the Fahrenheit scale better. 0F - 100F is a good range, matching quite well what many of us experience. One degree is large enough to be reasonably meaningful (with useful decades), but is fine-grained enough to not need decimals. Going outside the 0-100 range is really something: a particularly cold or blistering day.

When it comes down to it, the water cycle just isn't that relevant to day-to-day life. Water doesn't magically freeze completely when the weather hits 32F/0C, there's a considerable hysteresis going on there. Besides, you don't want your freezer right at freezing, you want it more like 20F, and your fridge below 40F. There's a distinct difference in the clothing you wear at 50F, 60F, 70F, 80F.

That's not to say that the Celsius decades are useless. They're not bad for broad generalities: -10 is quite cold, 0 is cold, 10 is chilly, 20 is warm, 30 is hot. But there's a big difference within those decades in terms of what you wear, what activities you plan, etc. When you're sitting at a desk for a long time, your preferred temperature may well be a fraction of a degree Celsius.

So, make a stand for Fahrenheit! For a more understandable people-friendly tomorrow!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Still Working...

Sorry for the radio silence lately -- I've been hard at work on the third Jonas Crandall mystery, tentatively titled "Death in a Tin Can". Yes, there are robots in this one, sheesh.

This one has a hard 8,000-word limit, because I'm planning to apply to Viable Paradise, a writing workshop in Martha's Vineyard. It's a long shot and expensive, but given the list of instructors, it's really worth it. I'm planning to use Tin Can as my application piece, hence the word count. That means it needs to be shorter than the other pieces, and hopefully better than them too.

Shorter pieces are tough for me. I don't think I ramble, but I do tend to be able to deal out the verbiage like nobody's business. This plot is, I think, easily simple enough to fit in 8,000 words, but having not really accomplished something so short yet, that makes me worry whether it will actually be any good.

Well! There's only one way to find out, right?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


In an age of print-on-demand and e-readers, there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for a book to be out of print and available only at extortionate prices. I'm looking at you, Peter Cannon and Barry Hughart: If used copies of your books are selling for $50 or more and you don't bother to make new copies available, you need to be kicked in the head. (Or your heirs do if you happen to be dead -- which is no excuse!)