Wednesday, October 29, 2008

_Ready, Okay!_ by Adam Cadre

Excellent book of odd characters in high school. The book tells you very clearly up front that a big tragedy is going to happen by the end and lots of people will die, then it goes on to make you care tremendously about these characters. The tension is unbelievable. 

After I saw a post on Metafilter about Adam Cadre's writing, I read one of his stories online (see here) and I requested Ready, Okay! from my local library. I finished it today. 

I think I'm going to put this one on my short list of books to get as gifts. It ought to appeal to anyone. I wouldn't have said the high school setting would have caught me, but the characters and the looming doom did.

There are many surprises along the way. Vonnegut said throw suspense out the window and tell your readers everything; this fellow has done something similar, but he does keep some secrets right up to the end. 

A lot of books about youngsters seem to use the idea of a precocious narrator, but I like it here better than most.  The main character develops some great insights along the way; most importantly, he learns that people aren't usually who they seem to be on the surface. 

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

She's a cat with backstory

My youngest daughter, at three years old, has been crawling around pretending to be a cat a lot lately....ever since we added a Siamese to our family. 

Today she crawled into my lap and told me she was a cat with no family. "Bad people killed my family," she said. That's more backstory -- and more morbidness -- than I'm used to hearing from her. 

Might have something to do with our recently losing our outdoor cat to a neighbor's dogs. There's a trauma. I don't think the dogs even quite knew what they were doing. I think the cat usually gets away, but our outdoor mongrel cat was getting on in years and couldn't make the jump to hyperspace in time. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

So proud

My wife was gone for four days, and I didn't resort to eating out once. 

Of course, I also forgot to send the boy to Scouts, and the girl to her Dragon Dance lesson. But still. There were three kids when she left, and three when she got back. Victory!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dear Santa

From my Kids Say the Darndest Things archive, my 9 year old's Santa letter from last year. It's the humility of it that gets me:

Dear Santa I'v
trid to be good 
but it din't realy
work anyway can 
I have a nutcracker

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It ain't December yet, but read her anyway

Metafilter posted about Adam Cadre the other day, whom I'd never heard of. His story December is well worth a's about the oddest girl in a family of odd characters. Read it and tell me if you don't find the whole thing expanding in your mind afterward:

Then it was just a matter of figuring out which story to tell first. And that was where things got sticky. Because after thinking about it for a few days I finally decided that most of the family stories just wouldn’t work. Too many of them are kind of... well... pointless, when you get right down to it. Just Julie being Julie, or Jan being Jan. Which is all good fun when you’ve lived with these people all your life, but probably isn’t very interesting to anyone outside the family. Probably? Definitely. I’d actually told most of these stories to my friends and they’d usually just go, "Umm... yeah, okay, thanks for sharing." The only story that I could remember always got a reaction out of people was—
Why, this one, of course.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tia Rosa Megathin Tortilla Chips

I like it when products have a story on the package. I've read the back of our tortilla chips many times. It's a gripping tale:

Finally! Real restaurant style corn tortilla chips!
Lots of chips call themselves "Restaurant Style", 
but taste nothing like the chips at your 
favorite Mexican restaurant. Tia Rosa Megathin 
Tortilla Chips are unique and deliver 
real restaurant flavor!

I have to admire the way the Tia Rosa folks have invented a problem that their product solves. I had no idea there were so many chips out there claiming to be restaurant style chips and falling short. Presumably there are people who buy chips, take them home, eat them, conclude they do not taste like the chips in restaurants, and rue that fact. Rue, rue, rue. I picture their faces turning brown. Like a rue.

Before this, I was unaware of the subclass of chips called "restaurant style." I did extensive research (one google request) and there are at least two other brands out there that call themselves "restaurant style chips". I have no idea what that means.  I love these Megathin chips (not merely super-thin, they're Megathin!), but they don't say restaurant to me. Restaurants vary; there's no there there -- no consistent goal to aim for.

I also like how their story is center justified. Like a poem.

Warmed up or right out of the bag, Tia Rosa Megathin 
Tortilla chips are the restaurant style chip lover's dream come true.

Is that like having the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota? You wanted to have the biggest ball of twine anywhere, but you couldn't compete in the big leagues. But you can darn well be the best in Minnesota.

The bag lists some of the company's other products, including their Megacorn Tortilla Chips. I need to try those. Do they have more corn than other 100% cornmeal chips? Because that would be a feat; I'd pay good money for that.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I've been in a bit of a funk, for various reasons, and have been valiantly trying to pull my head out, with varying degrees of success. 

It's a mean vicious circle: funk = less writing = more funk. I feel much better if I just have one good writing session. So why don't I just do MORE of that? Writing should by all logic be like crack to me.

I finished the draft of "Dragon Hunter", and was happy with that, and even happy to get back to working on "The Wonder Kid"...but "The Wonder Kid" is 60 pages long and something of a mess of contradictory ideas; I've been having trouble staying motivated to edit it. I'm not sure what to write for it next.

I perked up a bit at the idea of expanding it into a novel, which came from my wife. I would like to do a novel set in the world of "The Wonder Kid". The setting is that of a world of elves and goblins who are in conflict, and at some point the fight generates a bunch of refugees. 

Anyway: whether I'm in a funk or not, the internet generates endless interest, so here are a couple of things:

  • Adam Cadre's dissection of Stranger in a Strange Land is pretty interesting. He even explains how one can cringe at Heinlein's writing and still enjoy the book.
  • I didn't know there was a shorter contest inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest, called the Lyttle Lytton. "This story is a murder mystery -- the mystery of a murder."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Where did the thieves' guild idea come from?

I was working on my elf refugee fantasy setting tonight, and wondering about crime. I've only barely  begun to think about it, but it occurred to me that the standard fantasy depiction involves a powerful thieves' guild...which didn't really seem all that plausible. 

So I took a quick look at Wikipedia, which has an article that cites an early use of the idea by that father of novels, Cervantes. A few strokes of the keyboard revealed that the relevant story, Rinconete & Cordillo,  can be found via the Gutenberg Project, in the collection called The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes. Yes, the internet is awesome.

I've hardly looked at the story, but Wikipedia describes it as involving crime in Seville, with a thieves' guild that one advances in just like a craft guild. 

The other fun fact was that the key modern fantasy use of the idea was in the Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber.  That was an aha moment, I'd been trying to think of why the image of a guild seemed so dominant to me....Fafhrd and the Mouser's struggles against the Thieves' Guild were it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Psych, again

I've gotten a big kick out of Psych, the USA network comedy about a detective who poses as a psychic, using his observational skills to make folks think he's paranormal...and getting the local police department to pay him to help solve crimes. 

Now there's The Mentalist, a crime drama with a similar premise from the serious side. Here we have a fellow who used to be a TV psychic...who now admits he was a fake, and somehow has moved into a job as a detective. I like the fact that he's not posing as a psychic, and that he's able to talk about psychics being fakes. I like the show Medium, too, but I'm bothered by the fact that it's based on the antics of someone who really believes she is a psychic.

SPOILER FOLLOWS...spoiler only for the first episode of The Mentalist.

The Mentalist has the horrific serial killer stalking the main character thing going on, which I don't like. I mean, it neatly unifies the overall story arc. But it risks becoming an obsessive thing that limits the series. I felt like the Profiler show had a lot of that. 

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Poid t-shirt

I have been drawing simple cartoon creatures I call Poids; I made this t-shirt for my daughter, by appliqueing felt pieces to the shirt by hand. I was inspired by the vibrant colors of felt you can get these days; I hadn't looked at felt since I was a kid, but there are some nice print designs available now. I hope to do more with poids, but here's the first craft project where a poid has left paper behind.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Noguchi filing system

I read an article a couple of years ago about the Noguchi filing system, from Japan. I adopted it almost immediately and have been very happy with it. It takes care of all the papers that are hard to file or that I worry about throwing away. It's quite different from the systems usually used in Western offices. It makes filing of random papers easier, and has important retrieval benefits too.

Here are the important characteristics of the system:
  • You store papers in envelopes. Big letter-size manila envelopes with the ends cut off to make it easier to add/remove papers.
  • You use a bookcase, not a file cabinet.
  • You stand the envelopes up on your shelf.
  • You select one end of the shelf as the front side. You add new files there.
  • When you add a paper to the system, you grab an envelope, write a title at the top, and a date at the bottom, and add it at the front.
  • Every time you pull a file, for any reason, when you're done with it, you return it to the front. As a result, frequently-used files stay at the front, and rarely-used files migrate to the back.
  • Every now and then, check the back of the system, and see what files can be purged from it.
  • If a file is really old and near the back, but you can't bear to throw it out for whatever reason, you can move it to a box. These files are considered "holy files" or "dead files". I can imagine they might be records you don't expect to reference, but keep for legal or tax reasons.
When you need to find something in this system, you just start at the front and start reading titles, working your way back until you find it. You use your intuition as to the date of the file to help you find it. 

The system is supposed to be based on the principle that it's hard to predict the best way to categorize or retrieve an item up front. 

Note that I don't use the holy file/dead file part of this. My file system has so far been small enough that I just purge what I don't need, and if I need to keep it, I keep it. It's likely that in my hybrid system, things that would normally get purged off to a holy file box are already in an existing category.  

I'm not filing a whole lot of things at work anymore. Most information is in e-mail or in computer files. But I find the system useful for things like transaction information; insurance claims; benefits information; and other random things. The virtue of the system is that when you get something that doesn't easily fit into an existing category, you don't have to go make a new category. You just stick it in the file and trust that you'll find it later if you need it, and purge it eventually if you don't.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Clay robots

We got my sister a lap desk from a teacher's supply store, and it was decorated with some cute robot designs in paint marker. So I made some similar robots in clay to go with it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Arsenal of Venice

How is this for a great story setting? The Venetian naval shipyard/armory called the Arsenal pioneered mass production and firearms at early dates.

At the peak of its efficiency in the early 16th century, the Arsenal employed some 16,000 people who apparently were able to produce nearly one ship each day, and could fit out, arm, and provision a newly-built galley with standardized parts on a production-line basis not seen again until the Industrial Revolution.

The staff of the Arsenal also developed new firearms at an early date, beginning with bombards in the 1370s and numerous small arms against the Genoese a few years later.

I'm imagining a story set within this vast organization, against the backdrop of Venetian imperial aspirations. Or something. Venice is a great topic all by itself, but it particularly fascinates me how the Italian city-states were able to maintain far-flung empires.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Maker Faire is coming 10/18

Maker Faire Austin is back again October 18 and 19. We went to this event last year and had a blast. You can get a $5 discount per ticket (if you're getting day tickets) by ordering tickets online, but only if you buy by 10/3.

Maker Faire features dozens of booths showcasing the work of people who make circuits, robots, costumes, art, all sorts of things. It's about enabling people to make things for themselves.