Tuesday, May 30, 2006

For my friend in Texas....

Jen--thought you'd get a kick out of this: The Best Texas Has to Offer

I'm always amazed at how these things pop up. You start at a website, follow a link, follow another link, and about eight stops later you end up at the Top Ten Reasons To Live In Texas. I'm amazed at how much interesting content there is online. I'm amazed at how many daily writings, by people I've never heard of, are really good. Discouragingly good; I occasionally ponder the question, with all the cleverness and heart floating around online, what do I really have to offer? Why do I bother adding my tiny cupful to the vast online sea of good writing? Ego, mostly. So I'll keep doing it. But, really, there's no end to the interesting stuff already out there....
Also amazed at how easy it is to sink time into link-jumping. The internet's right here, I'm high speed, and it's so much more fun and distracting than what I really should be doing: writing.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Machu Picchu revisited

Good news -- I'm not going hiking in Machu Picchu! That's good news, because we've decided to go somewhere more local, and therefore cheaper, and I wasn't going to be able to afford Peru. We're thinking King's Canyon, in California. It's almost between Yosemite and Death Valley. It's gorgeous, much less crowded than Yosemite, and contains some serious hiking. I'm psyched!
Also a little nervous. I'm not really in shape for this sort of hiking anymore. I need to start training, NOW, to get fit for the trip. I'll have to start biking to work, rain or shine, and walking with a pack. Especially since both of the people I'm going with are experienced hikers and have kept in shape better than I have. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still in decent shape, relative to the norm. But I'm also in the worst shape of my life. I'm 30 pounds heavier than I was when I was rock climbing, and I'm 15 pounds heavier than I was when I quit hitting people. And, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, none of that last 15 is muscle. Personally, I blame working next to Cinnabon; it's easier than blaming my poor eating and exercising habits and my utter lack of self-discipline. :-)
So, King's Canyon: wish me luck!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tom Cruise, and journalism

I think I'm in the minority, but I'm actually giving Tom Cruise the benefit of the doubt. He's a celebrity poised for a tumble: divorced his gorgeous wife after an affair with another gorgeous actress, and settled down with a third gorgeous actress sixteen years his junior; member of a wacky cult; public self-righteous disagreements with other celebrities. All he needs is a drug problem, and it'd be a clean sweep. But when I first heard about him jumping on Oprah's couch, I was inclined to be on Tom's side. The very first thing that jumped into my mind when I heard about Tom on Oprah was Howard Dean. Remember his two-second "woo-hoo" that most likely cost him the Democratic nomination in '04? That's all we heard: "woo-hoo!", over and over again. If you watched Dean's whole speech, it really didn't stand out; the shout was completely acceptable when taken in context, but made for an embarrassing sound bite. So until I see the footage surrounding the couch-jumping, I'll give Tom the benefit of the doubt. I still think he's a wacko cult member. But I'll concede the couch-jumping.
Now that I think of it, I'd also like to see the minute or so of footage that preceded the six-second beating of Rodney King we all saw repeated so many times. A jury saw it and acquitted the cops of any wrongdoing; it would've been nice if the rest of us could've seen the footage too. But it's in the nature of journalism that we never see it. We think journalism is compelled to be objective, but that's an unrealistic ideal. What journalism actually is, in the for-profit media, is content designed to sell ad space. Keeping the public informed isn't part of the equation; keeping the public tuned in is. So modern journalism -- especially televised journalism -- naturally tends toward the sensational. To some extent, this is also why it's a null point to complain that the media never covers "good news". They actually do, but only if it's sensational good news. Remember how much media attention was focused on the ongoing home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa in the fall of '98? That probably qualifies as good news. Though it's still pretty minor when compared to the amount of media coverage received that same month by Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. And, in case you're convinced the media is overwhelmingly liberal, here's a quick quiz: what percentage of the U.S. population would you think knows who Monica Lewinsky is, and what she did? What percentage of the population knows who Lewis Libby is, and what he (allegedly) did? Even Dick Cheney shooting a guy in the face got less media coverage than Monica's beret and sense of style. Which surprises me; people (by which I mean, "guys") generally agree that shooting someone in the face with a shotgun is bad, whereas attractive interns performing oral sex is good. :-)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dilbert moment

Have y'all seen the old Dilbert cartoon wherein Dilbert and Dogbert go camping at Clyde Canyon? I did one of those at Eagle Creek today. We spent the day next to a medium-sized pond, maybe 100 yards across, with a little canoe dock. It wasn't until we were leaving, and I checked the map, that I realized we weren't next to the reservoir, but next to Lilly Lake. I had been wondering all day how people managed to do any real boating there....

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Space Cowboy, Gangster o' Love

This is a truly random thought. Does Steve Miller have an Assistant Pompatus of Love? Is there, somewhere in his band or his posse, a Deputy Associate Underpompatus?

Camping!

Laura and I decided at the last minute to go camping. We always have a good time "roughing" it together. I've got Monday and Tuesday off work, so we're taking off for a state park as soon as I finish my show Sunday. Wish us fun times and good weather!

More Insurance Trauma

After a close look at our storm damage, I figure we'll probably need a new roof. Probably new siding, too; repairing vinyl is hard, and I've got a lot of chips missing. So I talked to my insurance agent on Friday about what to do. I learned a lot from the conversation. For one thing, the insurance company won't write us a check, as they did for the cars. They write a check made out to us, our mortgage company, and the bank that gave us our home-equity loan. Once repairs are done, and the bank possibly inspects, they'll release the money to us so we can pay the contractors. This policy exists to keep people from getting an insurance check without actually doing any repairs, but it still sucks. It means I can't pay a contractor until after the mortgage companies tell me I can. Though I don't have any experience with this specific bureaucracy, I'll go out on a limb and guess that it's not very speedy or efficient.
I also got more bad insurance news: according to my agent, I'm not allowed to do the repair work myself. That is, I could do the work myself, but if I do the insurance company will only reimburse for the cost of the materials. So doing the work myself is functionally equivalent to doing volunteer work for my insurance company. And still paying my $500 deductible. This doesn't sound correct; I'll call their toll-free national number and ask the customer service reps if this is right. But that's what my agent says, so I'll take it on faith for now.
I was originally planning on doing the siding myself, and maybe even the roofing. Do you ever have daydreams wherein you make elaborate plans for this sort of thing? I do. It included maybe using colored shingles, which are more expensive. But the extra cost would be balanced out by the fact that I was doing the labor myself. I was also thinking that, since I was making money on the job, maybe I could even buy a few tools to make it easier. And maybe we could get some cool color of siding, too. And maybe we'd have some money left over and we'd be able to afford to pay off some debt. But it's not happening now; now we're going to try to find the money to cover our deductible, which will probably come from the vacation fund. Whine.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Machu Picchu, maybe

I've been wrestling with something for a week or so, and I thought I'd share. My friend Carl invited me to go on a hiking trip this August with him and his brother. In an earlier year the two of them hiked the Grand Canyon; this trip will probably be to Machu Picchu, in Peru. I haven't done any serious hiking for years, so this sounds like a lot of fun. It's an interesting destination, and I'm honored by the invitation. And I know I'd enjoy Carl's company for a week.
But I don't know if I'll be going. My biggest issue is the money. I don't think I can pay cash for the trip. Laura and I have the traditional American bit o' debt, and we're trying to pay it off. The thought of owing the money bothers me every day. Every time I buy something, I'm fully aware that every dollar I spend is money I'm not using to pay down our debt load. And I hate the constant awareness of debt hanging over my head. I swore last year that I'm not putting anything on credit again, ever, until all of our debt is gone. I don't care if my car breaks down (which is getting more likely all the time); I'll walk to work or take the bus before I put car repairs on Visa. And I really can't justify charging a vacation.
Also, I don't have much time for a vacation this year. The hiking trip will mean Laura and I don't get a vacation together. And we probably need one! :-)
I'm trying to weigh that against how much fun this trip sounds. I enjoy hiking. I even enjoy hiking food. I've got time for all the preparations, like getting my passport renewed, getting in shape for the hills, and maybe even boning up on a little Spanish. And I always enjoy broadening my comfort zone and going places I've never been. I'm looking into picking up some extra work on the side, but I'm not having many offers. I had some home repair work lined up a few months ago, but now that house also has hail damage, so it's all being covered by insurance. And I can't do the work if insurance is paying; I've got to be licensed, bonded, and insured, which I'm not. And I need to decide about the trip soon. Plane tickets get pretty expensive if you procrastinate.

Friday, May 19, 2006

embarrassed for Naptown

Tonight the Artsgarden hosted the Vienna Opera Ball Orchestra for a free two-hour concert. The Orchestra was already in town for the Conrad Hilton's grand opening tonight, so we were happy to provide them with an additional performance venue. We only found out about this last Wednesday; we really didn't have much time to put marketing together. My boss asked our marketing director about it, but I don't think she had a chance to do much. And, of course this is the week the Arts Council's PR guy is on vacation. So I figured we'd probably only get a few hundred people, which is a nice crowd in the Artsgarden. We set 225 chairs, with some more in reserve in case we needed them.
So I was shocked when our crowd maxed around 50 people. I'm embarrassed for Indianapolis. That a town of a million people would turn out such a small crowd to hear a world-class orchestra for free -- embarrassing is the only word that fits.
Part of the problem is the lack of marketing; not many people really knew it was going on. As far as I know, all the Arts Council's marketing staff did was to add it to our usual weekly bulk e-mail (I despise the term "e-blast"; I'm willing to euphemize the concept from "spam" to "bulk e-mail", though). And that's completely ineffective; my quick survey of four Arts Council employees turned up none who had ever actually read a whole Arts E-Blast. No kidding: even the Arts Council's employees don't read the weekly e-newsletter. I used to scan the headings, just in case it mentioned something that appealed to me, that I didn't already know about. After a few months of nothing interesting and new, though, I stopped even trying. It's just more junk in my inbox, just like it is in everyone else's. So I suspect with better marketing, we might have actually had a crowd; I just don't think anyone knew about it. Which is a shame.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Thing in the Thing

I think it's official: Laura and I have been together a long time. How can I tell? This morning, she was looking for a particular pair of pants. She said, quote, "I think they're in the thing in the thing." And I knew exactly what she meant (in this case, the first Thing was "old duffel bag", and the second Thing was "downstairs hallway"). Scary, no?
And, I've finally figured out exactly the way she likes the bed made: in what order what coverings are folded and how far, and how to arrange the pillows. It's the little things that make a happy marriage.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yet More Insurance Comedy

My problems with State Farm have crossed the line from tragedy to comedy. The latest: I just got a call from the insurance adjuster who'll be checking our house for hail damage. He'll be here on the 30th of this month. I fully expected the delay, no problem there. But when I told him we're two stories, he said his ladder isn't big enough to get on our roof. He'll be here on the 30th. To check for hail damage. To our roof. So, what, he's bringing binoculars or something? Yeesh!

Conrad grand opening

The Conrad Hilton in Indianapolis had their grand opening this morning. They actually opened for business in March, but that was just being open for business. Which is obviously different than a grand opening. For one thing, there was no fanfare. Guests just arrived, parted with piles of cash, and were permitted to stay in the hotel. It was an opening, but it wasn't, hmm, what's the word? Oh, yeah -- grand.
And grand it is. The week is rife with happenings. This morning, I saw the show by the Lipizzaner stallions they imported from Austria for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. They brought dump trucks full of dirt to cover the street for the horses (local dirt, I assume). I tend to be a little cynical about this sort of lavish display, but I gotta say it was definitely the most impressive exhibition of horses walking in circles I've seen this month. It was a lot like synchronized swimming, with horses instead of people and dirt instead of water, and of course the horses were walking on the dirt instead of swimming through it. Now that I really think about it, it was nothing like synchronized swimming. Except for the synchronization, of course. I really don't think I know enough about horses to be impressed by the routine. The horses were the younger trainee horses from the Lipizzaner stables (the rep said the older, better horses don't travel), so they didn't do a lot of the fancier tricks they're known for. The ballroom dancers were better at what they did than the horses, plus there were thirty dancers on the street and only four horses. The two lead dancers were from the Vienna Opera Ball, the rest were more local. They did a few of the elaborate dances you would expect to see at a formal ball, and it was fun to watch. Still not sure what it has to do with a hotel opening, but it was definitely spectacle.
Later in the week they're importing big-name fashion designers for a fashion show and a fancy-martini party. The dress code is "midnight chic". I'm assuming I don't have any appropriate clothing; if I did, I'd probably at least know what "midnight chic" means. I had another party a few weeks ago with a dress code described as, "Rat Pack Chic". I wore tux pants, a tux jacket, and a tacky Hawaiian shirt with a surfboard print. Why? Because I'm probably thirty years too young to know anything about Rat Pack Anything, and I was improvising. Anyway, the Conrad party sounds like radically not my kind of good time, so I'm passing up my free $150 ticket (how did I get a free ticket? Keep reading!) and spending the evening doing something I'll probably enjoy more: watching guy movies. There's another highly elaborate party on Saturday, in the style of a grand ball. The Vienna Opera Ball Orchestra is performing, and the dress code is "white tie and tails". I'm pretty sure I know what that means; in my case, it means, "visit a tux rental shop." But it's moot; tickets are $600 per person, and I didn't get a free pass to this one.
More Conrad comedy: yesterday, as I was getting ready to leave work (or possibly sneak off for a movie), the Conrad's manager came over asking if he could borrow our piano. That is, our nine-foot Steinway concert grand. Their jazz pianist arrived from New York for today's VIP luncheon and absolutely refused to play the scruffy, inferior Steinway grand the Conrad had rented for him. He came over and checked ours out and decided it would be adequate, "after some serious tuning". I should mention it was tuned six days ago. I felt some sympathy for the Conrad guys; I've had to deal with performers like that. And we're trying to be nice to the Conrad people, so we told them they could use our piano. So the Conrad hired a piano moving company to take our piano down the stairs into the ballroom and bring their rental piano up the stairs into the Artsgarden for our concert today. We didn't even charge them rental for the piano. This is why I got a free ticket to the upscale lounge party!
The thing that really surprised me: the whole reason they had to deal with all this is that they don't own a piano. It was apparently in their budget, but got axed to compensate for the minor construction cost overruns. I can't even guess how much it cost them to bring the Lipizzaner Stallions here from Austria; they can't afford a piano?

Monday, May 15, 2006

taste in authors

So, I might have to postpone my midlife crisis a while. Laura tells me that under no circumstances am I allowed to have my midlife crisis before she has hers. I'll try to keep my existential angst under wraps until I get the hi-sign from her.
On a different note, I've mentioned how much I enjoy reading John Scalzi's blog. I had read the blog before I read any of his fiction; in fact, seeing the way he writes on his blog convinced me that I should be reading his fiction. I've had the opposite experience with Orson Scott Card's web presence. I read two or three of his books, and Ender's Game was one of my favorite pieces of scifi ever, but after reading his website I find OSC himself so distasteful that I don't think I can read anything he writes. I definitely won't buy his work; I don't want to put any of my meager literature budget into the pocket of such a raving right-wing zealot. I find his politics so distasteful, I don't think I could even re-read Ender's Game with an open mind. He writes like an intelligent guy; I really don't see how he could be so socially and politically reactionary.
I had to do some serious thinking about this. After all, if the product is good, should its source make a difference? Yes, I think. We owe it to the world around us to do as little business as possible with evil companies or entities. They may not specifically be screwing me at the moment, but that's a matter of convenience for them. If making my life miserable was in their best interest, they wouldn't hesitate. It's the same with writers, both fiction and non. If an author espouses a world view that I find distasteful and dangerous, I shouldn't support that. By not reading him, I'm limiting his circle of influence. And I'm not paying him money. Capitalism in a lot of ways echoes democracy; you don't need to look further than new movie releases to see this in action. It's the same with writers. By buying an author's books, I'm voting for his ideas with my dollars.
Anyway, a huge number of authors are writing good fiction, and I've only got so much time to read. It's fair to make dislike of an author the first step in the literary triage that determines what I read.

Friday, May 12, 2006

wine scam, maybe

When my brother and I were in Europe ten years ago, one of the frequent tiny scams involved refilling expensive bottled water from the tap. If you ordered bottled water, the waiter was supposed to open the bottle at the table, as a sign that you're actually getting the water you paid for. Only once did we actually have a problem with this scam. The guy made a show of taking the cap off at the table, but he was bad at the slight-of-hand; it was pretty obvious the cap was just sitting on top of the bottle. I should mention that this happened at a restaurant in Venice whose chicken Parmesan was actually a reheated Banquet TV dinner, right down to the crappy dessert, dumped onto a fancy plate. How did we know? We were college students. We were connoisseurs of low-quality, mass-produced food.
What brought this to mind? I just heard a radio ad for a local Italian restaurant where they make a big deal out of not being pretentious, and one of their talking points is that they don't uncork the wine at the table. None of that fancy wine show here; we bring you the bottle uncorked and ready to pour. The cynical part of my brain wonders if they've got a store of Franzia in foil bags they refill their table bottles from. Heh.

MIT tech problem

I was amused by this, so I thought I'd share. We had a presentation yesterday at the Artsgarden for prospective students at the Massachussets Institute of Technology, one of the three strongest technical colleges in America. The rep, an MIT grad, couldn't make their Powerpoint slideshow work.
Not that he was an idiot. The slideshow was a bunch of still images about the arts programs at MIT, set to music performed by MIT student organizations. And because MIT people apparently can't use anything the normal way, they had written some sort of complicated script so that when a new audio track began, the presentation would automatically jump to the slide explaining who the performers were, and then jump back into the slide list where it left off. And that wasn't working right and kept freezing the slideshow and/or not letting the next audio track play.
The rep had a good line. In his presentation, he thanked Ritz-Charles catering "for providing this wonderful food, especially the little fruit kabobs. Because all food is better when served in kabob form." I thought it was funny, but then again I'm a fellow geek. :-)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

more trappings for the midlife crisis

I'm adding to the list of makeover items for my midlife crisis: I think I'll get new glasses, or maybe contacts. I went to Ossip Optometry on the Circle today to get new nose pads for my glasses, and while I was waiting I tried on some new frames. I might have to go with a different style of frame when my beard fills in; some of them were pretty cool. Maybe something more square, that seemed like a good style for me. Though it's hard to pick out glasses without my glasses; I have no idea what I look like in them. Ideally, I should get contacts first. Then I'll be able to see what I look like in glasses. Unfortunately, I'm not really any closer to affording new glasses and contacts than I am to affording a new car. Not to mention, I'm a little nervous they'll tell me I need bifocals. That's almost as bad as the grey hair and the near-constant desire to say things like, "Kids these days -- I tell ya."
On a related note, I experienced a little cognitive dissonance while trying on frames. It's almost jarring, putting on a pair of glasses and not being able to see; that's not what I'm used to. It took me a few frames to figure out what was causing the wierd feeling....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Old and grey

I decided I need a hobby. So I found one: growing a beard. It's the most low-maintenance hobby I can think of, like collecting beer cans without all the drinking and e-bay trading. I'm proud of the fact that I've apparently finally finished puberty, in that I now actually have the option of growing facial hair. I tried in my mid-20s, but after a week nobody even noticed, so I gave up on it. I suspect it'll be a goatee, or maybe a wide vandyke. I figure it'll take five or six weeks to give me an idea what I'll eventually look like, and if it's tacky I can shave it off then. I suspect it'll look dorky, but I don't really know; this is unexplored territory for me. I started twelve days ago, so I'm currently in the throes of that unattractive growth phase. I did the same thing with my hippie hair, but I did most of that in high school when I was pretty unattractive in general. Bad hair was a tiny fraction of the unpleasantness that was Jeff-in-school. Ask anyone. :-)
The beard-growing led me to an unpleasant discovery last night: some of my whiskers are growing in grey. Aaaaugh! And, last night I also noticed a grey chest hair*. Aaaaugh! I think I'm officially old now.
I turn 35 this summer, and I'm anticipating it'll be pretty traumatic. I might be approaching an early midlife crisis. I like my job, but it's pretty clearly a dead end. The same can be said in broader terms about my career in general. I'm unpleasantly near the top of the pay scale for sound guys who don't tour, and I think my life's a little too stable to start touring now. And for technical work in general, almost anywhere I could get another job would be a pay cut, at least in the short term, and we can't afford that for a while. Nobody's willing to pay me piles of cash to be an eclectic know-it-all, so that's more of a hobby for now. My best hope is that my writing improves to the point where people are willing to pay me money to do it, but my writing's pretty bad now, and I'm not really writing enough that I'm getting better. And, my car's starting to fall apart.
So I'm all primed for the midlife crisis package tour: a new look (a beard, maybe even a haircut and contact lenses), a change of career, a little red sports car, and a wild fling with a saucy babe. Laura's already agreed to be the saucy babe, so all I need is a career and a car!

*sorry if that's sharing too much.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Back 40

We spent the final month of last summer neglecting our garden. Not horribly neglecting it, but not really doing anything to prepare for this spring. And now it's payback time. Both of our neighbors have Rose-of-Sharon trees growing along our fence, and they do a pretty good job of seeding our entire yard and garden. I'm always amazed that people pay money for these; they grow like dandelions. And, for us, they are definitely weeds (defined as any plant growing where you don't want it to; the begonias in our lawn are weeds, and the grass in our iris garden is also a weed). The Roses o' Sharon are growing everywhere: the lawn, the gardens, the gravel driveway. We haven't had any pop up in the middle of the concrete shuffleboard court, but I think it's only a matter of time. I've spent a good chunk of time pulling them, and I've filled several five-gallon buckets so far. It's something you've got to keep up with; they come up pretty easily if you get them when they're small, but once they grow to around 18" tall, removing them goes from tedious to strenuous. Anyone know of a good way to get rid of them? We're trying our best to not spray any chemicals on the garden this year. Alternately, does anyone want some? I'll even mail them to you.
We're also having ground-cover issues. Wild strawberries are amazingly difficult to remove; the head of the root system is very fragile where it meets the stem, so when you try to pull them you mostly just snap off the top and leave the roots in the ground. And they spread like ivy. We've also got a whole host of the usual lawn- and garden-care problems: ants, pill bugs, dandelions, crabgrass. And we've also got ground bees. Thousands of them. It looks like they dig burrows; we see them crawling out of little mounds of mud like termite hives. I'm going to take a stab at overwatering the lawn, see if I can maybe drown them out. If that doesn't work, I might actually whip out the toxic chemicals. Laura doesn't deal well with bees, and they're seriously reducing her enjoyment of the garden.
We've got a huge variety of plants, and Laura remembers what and where they all are. I have to confer with the expert a lot when I'm weeding; I can recognize the usual host of weeds, like buckhorn and dandelions. But for anything more exotic, I have to double check and make sure I'm not pulling something important. And, some stuff grows a lot like a weed, but it's actually a good thing. Columbine, which we planted on purpose, spreads like a weed and keeps popping up in odd parts of the garden. Some of them are in acceptable parts of the garden, and some aren't; I always have to ask before I uproot any to see if it's good columbine or evil columbine.
I can also never remember the name of most of our plants. I finally know tulips from irises from lilies. I know roses and clematis and I can at least guess at which plants are hostas. For everything else, I used to use descriptive language: "That tall thing with the spiky leaves with the pink flower" (these would be poppies) or "that stuff that smells like mint" (mint, it turns out). But recently, I've started making up Latinate names for mystery plants. "Hey, honey. I think the eleomerthicus is blooming." Occasionally, I'll repurpose other Latinate words for the garden: "Do we need to trim back these australopithicenes?"

Monday, May 08, 2006

No Old Man's War

I just checked the Nebula Awards; I was shocked that John Scalzi's Old Man's War didn't win for best novel. It became less surprising after I did some quick research, because OMW wasn't actually nominated. It was nominated for a Hugo, the Campbell Award For Best New Writer, and the Locus Best New Writer award, but no Nebula. Oops. Still, I'm having fun reading the Nebula nominees. Now I've got to get started on the Hugo nominees.
Laura was reading John Scalzi's weblog the Whatever over my shoulder, and she paid me a high compliment: she said, "it's no wonder you like his writing; he writes just like you." I don't warrant the compliment, but thanks for the happy thought, babycakes!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ghost Brigades. It Rocks.

I just finished reading The Ghost Brigades, the sequel to John Scalzi's Old Man's War. Old Man's War was one of the best sci-fi novels I've read in a long time, and Ghost Brigades is maybe even better. I really liked both stories, for a pile of reasons. I like the characters, and I like the way he develops the characters. His writing is fundamentally realistic, in that he writes about actual people and the way people relate to their world. This shows up in hundreds of little ways in the books: Sergeant Ruiz's tattoo, the black jellybeans, Frankenstein's monster. And Scalzi's clever like Larry Niven was. Ever read a Niven short called "Convergent Series"? It's one of my favorites, not least because of the main character's two moments of extreme cleverness (how to summon a demon, and how to get rid of one and keep your soul). That sort of cleverness is packed into Scalzi's novels, both in the character's actions and in the writing.
Another thing I like is the world he creates. Or, more correctly, the galaxy he creates. I'm impressed with the way he invents a world, then comes up with really novel concepts within the world. He cranks out cool toys, tactics, and language. And, after defining an orthodox world, he finds a lot of unorthodox things to do with it (I'm waiting for the CDF training pamphlet, "101 Things To Do With SmartBlood".) And, after a lot of thought, I can see where almost all of it comes from. A computer named Michael dropped rocks from the moon in one of the first sci fi stories I ever read, but the way Scalzi uses it makes the concept seem original. I've seen BrainPals before, but nothing about the way they appear here is unoriginal.
The sociology of his aliens is diverse, deep, and clever, as well. He touches on everything from Eneshan socio-political structures to Rraey religious beliefs. The Obin took some serious thinking, too. And, one thing I always pay attention to in fiction is an author's use of names. Scalzi's made-up names sound nice: Obin, Eneshan, Consu. And his character names are great; the naming system for the Ghost Brigades is clever. And I got a kick out of the name gameran. Clever. So, Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades: highly recommended.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Marital advice

I tend not to give advice, but this is something important that married couples seem to have trouble with. So I'll spell it out: Give Each Other Space. It's fine to spend time apart. And, more importantly, it's fine to tell your partner that you'd like a little time by yourself. It doesn't mean you don't like spending time with them, and it doesn't portend anything bad for your relationship. If they get offended, that's their own problem. If you need space, ask for it. It's much easier than the alternative: getting grouchy when you don't get enough space and time to yourself. I recommend making a habit of telling each other when you need some time to yourself. Laura and I are good at this.
I'm mentioning this because I'm momentarily mildly grouchy. Laura had a function to attend tonight, so I had some quality loafing planned: I rented movies (Unleashed and Corpse Bride) and I had a book to finish reading. So when she decided she just felt like staying home, I experienced the shock of my nice, quiet, selfishly alone evening falling through. I always enjoy spending time with Laura, and we've had a nice evening together. It's just that I was also looking forward to an evening in different impeccably good company: mine. :-)
I just realized that I violated my own good advice by not telling her I wanted an evening to myself. Advice is always easier to give than to follow.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

an aeai

One of my little goals for the year is to finish reading all of the Hugo- and Nebula-nominated stories before the awards are actually announced. I don't think I'll make it; I'm about halfway there, and the Nebulas are this weekend. I was hoping to be able to guess which ones will win. Even without finishing them all, though, I've got an easy vote for best novel. John Scalzi's Old Man's War started me on this project; it's a really good story, and it's also good writing. In fact, I was constantly surprised at how good the writing was, especially for a first novel. How good was the writing? It's so good, it's invisible. I pay attention to the nuts and bolts of writing, and I found myself not noticing the writing. He'd say something really well, or use a really clever image, and I'd have to go back and see exactly how he did it -- the writing is so in service to the story, that all it does is tell the story without drawing attention to itself. Some of my least favorite writers are really obvious writers; The English major in the back of my head loves John Updike, but Updike's writing is the blazing sun that eclipses the tiny stars of his plot, story, and setting. It's impossible to not notice his writing; you have to do a lot of parsing to even extract the story and dialogue from the writing. Wonderful use of language that in no way drives the story or develops the characters. A lot of canon writers are that way: Hardy, Faulkner, Joyce, even Hemingway (though he's a special case; he writing is clear and beautiful, but his style's so distinctive that it stands out).
As for the rest of the stories. Some of them have been good, some have been bad. One was basically a much shorter rehash of Daniel Keyes's Flowers For Algernon. But one just gave me a funny moment. It's a novella about a Nepalese princess (I'm oversimplifying, naturally) in the year 2050 or so. It's full of Indian words: kumari, namaste, shaadi, kurta, haveli, aeai. Mostly you guess from context what the words mean: as far as I can tell, namaste is a courteous gesture, kumari is a goddess, shaadi is a social gathering, et cetera. I just figured out that an aeai isn't some sort of domestic servant. Say it aloud. It's an A.I.: artificial intelligence. I think my scifi legs are a little rusty; I didn't catch this until about halfway through the story!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Oops, time to upload

I just realized that I haven't actually published any of the last week's posts I have written. Oops.