Monday, July 29, 2013


In lieu of anything else to blog about today, I'll tell a joke:

These three ropes walk into a bar.  They sit down at one of the small, round tables and wait for the waitress to come by.  She eventually does: blonde hair, blue eyes, big breasts, wearing a tiny little uniform that showed a great deal of leg and cleavage.

"What can I get you guys?" she asks.

"Three beers, please," one of the ropes says.

She looks at them with a curious gaze.  "Are you guys ropes?"

"Yeah, we're ropes," the same one answers.

She smiles sadly.  "I'm sorry, we don't serve ropes."

One of the other ropes gets mad and stands up.  "I demand to speak with the manager."

"Okay," she breathes, and leads the rope behind the bar to a hallway.

The manager comes out, about six foot five, 300 pounds, wearing a wife beater and jeans, he growls, "What's going on here?"

The rope stands tall and says, "My friends and I come in here and order three beers and your waitress won't serve us."

The manager glares at the rope.  "Are you a rope?" he demands.

The rope almost withers in the gaze.  "Yes, we're ropes."

Sneering, the manager simply states: "We don't serve ropes."

The rope slinked back to the table and told his friends what happened.

The third rope was the smartest of the three (he was nylon).  "I'll get us the beers," he said confidently.  The other two were not so sure.

He borrowed a comb and frayed his ends.  Then he tied himself into a knot.  Going up to the bartender he said, "Barkeep, three beers, please."

The bartender looked him over and said, "Are you a rope?"

And he replied . . .

"I'm a frayed knot."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Technology Trap

Last night about 9:00 P.M. the power went out.  It was out for about two and a half hours.  Not a huge catastrophe but it was still rather hot outside and by the time the power returned, it was getting uncomfortably warm in the house.  I was, by that time, snoozing in my recliner because the family room was cooler than our upstairs bedroom.

It was rather ironic because Friday when I was driving to Seattle, I started thinking about what James Burke described in his 1978 PBS (BBC?) program "Connections" as a "technology trap."  The basic gist of which is this: we are, in our modern society, so reliant on technology to clothe, feed, house, and transport us that if that were all suddenly taken away, a lot of us would be in deep kimchee.  For instance, I've heard cities usually have about three days supply of food.  Food is brought in by trucks and trains.  Take away the trucks and trains and people will be starving.  First go the animals, then they might turn on each other.

So here I was in Seattle, 180 miles from home, assured my car would take me back when I wanted it to.  But what if North Korea set off an EMP over the West Coast.  Nothing electronic would work (cell phones, land lines, cars with electronic ignitions which is pretty much every car made in the past 30 years) and the electrical grid would go down for weeks if not months.  Assuming I could walk 20 miles per day (which, in as bad of shape I'm in, would be a big assumption) it would take me nine days to get home.  If the marauding bands didn't get me, first, that is.  So I make it home, but all the food is gone or rotten.  I don't have a garden and no clue as to how to start one.  And it take time to grow vegetables.  Most likely I'd starve to death before I found food.  Or die of thirst, or dysentery from drinking bad water.  The government would be in just as bad of shape and could not rescue you (depending on how wide-spread the EMP hit).

Our modern society and the population numbers we sustain would not be possible without all this amazing technology.  There's not much we can do beyond hardening our electrical grid against an EMP but that would cost billions that the government doesn't have.  Or, and a big enough solar flare could do the same thing and over a much wider area.

There's already been a book written about this.  But basically, you can say "bye-bye" to modern technology for a long, long time.  And a lot of people would die, either by starvation or the ensuing violence.

Almost makes you want to be a survivalist.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

There and Back Again . . . to Seattle

For a late birthday present, I went to Seattle on Friday.  I wanted a summer/tropical hat and the only good hat stores I could find online were in Seattle.  Luckily, they were all in walking distance of each other and Pike Place Market.  The drive over was beautiful until we got over Snoqualmie Pass then low clouds dominated.  They were so low I joked that they were almost more like high fog.

The low clouds got less low as we got to Seattle.  I missed an off-ramp on I-90 and so ended up going down by the football and baseball stadiums and through Pioneer Square where I got a taste of Seattle gridlocked traffic.  Finally we got to the parking garage behind Pike Place Market.  It wasn't very crowded so I figured the market would not be very crowded.

Boy was I wrong.  Living in a small town these past 14 years I was almost taken aback at the throng of people.  And there were people of many colors, sizes, shapes.  I smiled because I realized how much I missed having a diversity of people around.  We walked to the hat store I decided from internet research was most likely to have what I
wanted (and walked past another and a quick glance inside told me it wasn't going to be good).  I found a hat I really liked.  I thought about going to the third hat store on my list but the woman at this hat store said they probably wouldn't carry my size (I have a rather large head).  I'd read on the internet that someone else said they didn't carry large sizes so I decided she was probably telling the truth and bought the hat.  I really like my new hat and wore it most of the day.

Eventfully, about 11:30 A.M., the clouds burned off and we had blue sky.  And I really enjoyed people watching in Seattle.  There were just about everything you could imagine.  We saw one young man in a business suit with a purple tie.  But his hair color matched the tie.

After lunch overlooking the bay (with really slow service) and exploring the catacombs of the Pike Place Market a bit, we decided to go to Bellevue Square to have dinner.  We could go to Bellevue Square (an upscale shopping mall), goof around, and then go to dinner.  Which is pretty much what we did.  But getting there was a pain.  I thought traffic was bad getting to Pike Place.  Getting out was horrible.  Traffic was gridlocked and gridlocked on Seattle's steep hills.  I was so thankful for an automatic transmission.  At the I-5 and I-90 interchange an Tesla Roadster coming up behind me (impressed myself by recognizing it in my rearview mirror; I'd never seen one in the wild before).  Now as much as I disdain electric cars for their miniscule range, exorbitant price, and dubious benefits to the environment, I have to admit that Tesla could squirt through traffic.  Electric motors have a lot of torque whenever you need it and if the driver saw a gap, he would shoot into it.  And it was a prettier car than I expected.  Still wouldn't buy one.

Dinner in Bellevue was great, and we drove home, getting there late and tired.  But it was a fun day.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cold Calls

One reason I would never be a good salesman is I hate cold-calling.  (I understand politicians do this a lot, too, to raise money.)  But it's all part of the freelancing life.  Since I'm going to be on vacation the first part of August and I do most of my story writing in the first weeks of the month, the magazine publisher I do a lot of work for has given me both stories for July and August to do this month.  That has required me to cold call eight people.  I have so far, called six (and one won't return my calls).  I much prefer email.

I really like freelance writing. I get to talk to (usually) interesting people, I learn things, and I then get to write about them.  I love that.  But having to call a stranger and ask for their time and help is just annoying to me.

There's a philosophy of business that some people make a lot of money selling to entrepreneurs, that you should concentrate on what you love to do because that's where you'll be the most productive and the happiest.  Then hire someone to do the stuff you don't like to do such as paperwork, accounting, etc.  And try to find someone who loves doing that stuff so they're happy and productive (yes, there are people who love accounting).  But I really can't afford to hire an assistant to set up interviews for me.

There are parts I hate about writing fiction, too.  I don't like trying to market my work to publishers/agent.  I hate trying to sell my books to people.  But again, I pretty much have to do those things.  I guess if I become a best-selling author and make oodles of money, I can hire someone to do that, but in that case, I wouldn't need to do either and I'd probably stop freelancing, too.

So you people need to by more of my books!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

No Ghosts Here

I try to be a scientific thinker.  Yet, I know there are phenomena that are not readily explained by pure science.  As Steve Martin once said (jokingly), "Science is pure empiricism and by virtue of its method eliminates metaphysics."  It could be the reason science can't show that there's ESP is because there's no way to get repeatable results with such a stochastic system.  But, until science comes up with a way to prove or disprove ESP and other paranormal phenomena, I'll doubt their existence.

So I don't believe in, for instance, ghosts.

So I was getting my haircut last week and the woman who cuts my hair asked me if I believe in ghosts and I said, "No."  So she pulls out her cell phone and shows me a picture she took with what she thinks is a ghost and I think looks a lot like jpg compression artifacts that sort of form a face.  And she found another picture she didn't take that appears to have a ghostly image a child in it.  But I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Maybe."

Now, I tell people I don't believe in ghosts then I proceed to tell them that three times in my life I saw things I could not explain readily.  Once, when I was a child I was in our dark basement and I saw a floating, white face.  I remember it scared me a lot.  And once a friend and I were sleeping outside in our back yard and we saw an orange fireball shoot into the sky.  I scared us a lot.

My best ghost story is from when I was an adult, about 20 years ago.  I was living in a small house built in the thirties.  One night I got up and went to the bathroom, then I went to the kitchen and got a drink of water.  As I was coming back (with the lights off) I could see into the living room and I saw a woman in a long flowing white robe or gown walking toward the dinning room.  In my half-asleep state I wondered why my wife was in the living room and I didn't remember wearing a white nightgown.  As I walked into the bedroom, my wife came out, startling me.

Have I mentioned I don't believe in ghosts?

I think "ghosts" are the result of two phenomena of the human brain: phosphenes and pareidolia.

Phosphenes are the lights you see when you close your eyes and have them open in a dark room.  They are random and are caused by your eyes and brain sort of saying "Hey, I've got no stimulus so I'll make some up."  But we've all seen these and we've all seen shapes in them, like faces, for instance.  Which brings us to pareidolia.  This is the tendency of the human brain to make shapes out of random stimulus.  Like seeing faces or bunnies in clouds.  Or a face in random noise in a picture.  Humans want to see faces.  We are hard-wired to recognize faces with very little detail.  We all see *_* as a face even though it's two asterisk and a line.  So our brains want to take random stimulus and turn it into a recognizable shape, like a face.

And why are ghosts almost always described as whitish and vaguely shaped?  Because phosphenes appear whitish and are random and the brain tries to make them into something they are not.

So as I was walking back to the bedroom, I saw out of the corner of my eye a bunch of phosphenes and my brain, via pareidolia, turned it into the shape of a woman.

So even though I've seen ghosts twice, I don't believe in them.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo NoNo

It's July and I'm already seeing stuff about NaNoWriMo.  If you're saying "Pardon?" you must not be a writer.  That's "National Novel Write Month" and is usually held in November.  The object is to write a 50,000-word novel (or 50,000 words towards a novel because that's a pretty short novel) in November.  Why they chose November, I don't know, since it only has 30 days and a major holiday.

And, frankly, I refuse to participate.  I write when I can, and don't write when I can't.  Forcing it rarely produces good results (I will note an exception below).  When I have what I can only call "inspiration" I write.  When I don't, I can't write.  Like right now, I have an idea for a novel, but I need to figure out some science stuff and the math is way over my head so I can't plot out the novel until I get help with the math.

Now when I'm inspired, I can easily write 50,000 words in 30 days.  On my current work in progress (and so close to done I can taste it) I did the first draft of 77,000 words in 35 days.  That's 2,200 words per day or 66,000 in the 30 days a NaNoWriMo lasts.  But I was inspired (and wrote the first draft in February/March).  (Man, I need to get that thing finished up.)  But the reason I started that novel was I had these ideas percolating and I was a the local writers' group and they said, "Okay, let's write."  So I sat there, wondering what the heck to write.  And wrote the first scene of that novel.  And it turned out pretty dang good.  And from there the ideas just floooowed.  I've never written a book that fast.

In November of 2010 I tried a NaNoWriMo.  I started a novel.  But then I realized I couldn't finish it until I did a bunch of research on Romania in 1968.  That delayed me for about two months while I looked for a good source.  I finally found one and was able to finish the book in about 6 months.  That became Book of Death.

So maybe forcing works.  Maybe I'm just too lazy (or rebellious) to do a NaNoWriMo.