Friday, December 24, 2004

2004 Banished Words List

Lake Superior State University has been compiling the list since 1976, from submissions around the world. This year's list of banished words was compiled from 5,000 submissions. Here are a few more for 2005:

BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.

ASSMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.

SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

SITCOMS: Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiney.

SWIPEOUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.

IRRITAINMENT: Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them. The O.J. trials were a prime example.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file.Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

404: Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found," meaning that the requested document could not be located

GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, and subdivisions.

OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

WOOFS: Well Off Older Folks.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

Thanks to Liz Burton for her 2005 list.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Guidelines for cats

A fun page for cat lovers. I particularly like the concept of Bed Mice and Bag Mice. I also like the last paragraph, which exemplifies the difference between cats and dogs:

Humans have three primary functions: to feed us, to play with and give attention to us, and to clean the litter box. It is important to maintain one's Dignity when around humans so that they will not forget who is the master of the house. Humans need to know basic rules. They can be taught if you start early and are consistent."

Cats rule.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Killer Quiz

Ever wonder if you could spot a bad guy just by looking at his face? This quiz asks you to differentiate the serial killers from the Programming Language Inventors.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

One way to see money

When the government talks about deficit, and it's in the millions or billions, it's hard to picture what that means. We know what a dollar bill looks like --or in the case of Canadians, what a $5 bill looks like-- but what does $87 billion look like, one dollar on top of the other? $87 billion is what President Bush asked in additional funds to Congress in September 2003 in order to continue the fight in Afghanistan and Irak.

It's so large that it's almost impossible to imagine. Well, wonder no more. This is what $87,000,000,000,000.00 looks like.

And if you're interested in finding out the real costs of the war in Irak, go to to National Priorities Project Cost of War page. Now try to imagine that much money.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Pessimist's Paradise

When motivation doesn't work, why not tap into people's negativity? It's well known that people in general see black clouds much more easily than rainbows. (Dont' you hate these eternal optimists? They're not normal, I tell you) This site shows a series of posters that made me smile ruefully then laugh out loud at their truths. Stunning pictures as well.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Bravo for self-delusion

In a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, US students fared near the bottom of the countries surveyed in math knowledge, 28th out of 40 but "with the poorest showing relative to dollars spent on education". And as SciScoop goes on saying:

On the positive side (see chapter 3 of the report, "Students beliefs about themselves"), US students were reported to have the highest self-esteem, with 72% saying they were good at math. In Hong Kong, in contrast, only 25% said they did well - Hong Kong was ranked 4th of the 40 countries.

This is positive? I think these kids need a reality check. This is another example of the US attitude with which they may bring about their own demise.

In contrast, Canada was 13th. "Australia, Canada, Finland and Japan stand out for high standards of both quality and equity, with above-average mathematics performance and below-average impact of socio-economic background on student performance."

Good old Canada, safely in the middle as usual, sitting on the fence, happy about itself.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Miracle Foods

Religion can do strange things to people. Some come from genuine faith and have positive results. Some lead to exploit others or "see" things. There's the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese that sold on eBay for $28,000 and the Virgin Mary Holding Baby Jesus Corn Kernel. There's the Jesus Fish Stick, and the NutriGrain cereal that looks like ET (which sold for $1035). There's the Tennessee Nun Bun (a Mother Teresa lookalike) and the Miracle Tortilla of New Mexico, sporting the face of Jesus. Finally, there's the Aubergine Slice of India, which has been enshrined in a mosque because its seeds spell the word Allah in Urdu.

Is it only me, or do all these show a kind of desperation to feel the divine in their lives? Or maybe I'll just put my cynical hat on and say that these people are looking for their five minutes of fame.

(From Museum of Hoaxes)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

If you're reading this blog...

You absolutely must go to this page.

That's all I have to say for today.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Urban Art of John Felice Ceprano

Every year, parts of the Ottawa River become so low that its bottom is revealed. Ceprano has taken advantage of that fact to give way to his imagination. He says that the "sculptures are free-standing, unattached and temporal, dismantled by nature each winter season." Each winter, the ice topples them. As soon as the water level is low enough, Ceprano rebuilds them, looking totally different one year from the next.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Saturn's latest daughter

Thethys, one of Saturn's 33 moons, was photographed quite clearly by Cassini, just under the planet's south pole.

"This latest image in Saturn’s family album was captured on 18 October at a distance of 3.9 million kilometres from Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft. It clearly shows the Ithaca Chasma, a vast trench about 65 kilometres (40 miles) wide, on the surface of Tethys."

The Cassini spacecraft will soon launch the Huygens probe, which will hopefully pierce through the beautiful planet's dense gas cover, land unharmed, and send back pictures of the surface. And maybe an alien or two??

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Speeding outhouse

Gives throning a new definition.

"Powered by a 50-year-old, 750-pound Boeing jet turbine that Stender bought for $5,000, the “Port-O-Jet” can top 46 mph with a tailwind. “It’s not real aerodynamic,” he allows. That said, he’s beaten buddy Tim Arfons’s jet barstool two of the four times they’ve raced."

From Popular Science online.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

3D Holograms are here

3Dsolar Ltd. has introduced, on October 25, a "Holographic-like 360-Degree 3D Imaging Hardware and Screen Technology". They are using a 2D projector to create 3D images, thus making it relatively inexpensive and easy to fit into household PCs:

"The 3Dsolar device projects the Windows or MAC desktop image into the air whereby users click on icons for manipulation. Its high resolution guarantees quality output with ideal contrast, brightness and color behavior, thus enabling accurate and precise visualization without straining the eyes.

3Dsolar devices in small-scale production cost approximately US $5,000. However, the company anticipates large-scale production to reduce costs to approximately US $1,500."

Isaac Asimov, move over.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Unwrapping the mummy, virtually

Using a CT scan, radiologist Frederico Cesarani was able to take dozens of pictures of one of the fifty mummies the Egyptian Museum in Torino, Italy, is currently studying. Using techniques similar to the movies SF/X, he was then able to reconstruct the mummy's face.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's not us, it's our mercenaries

In an article on the Guerilla News Network website, PR Watch reports that Blackwater USA, a Private Military Contractor, cheered Bush's reinstatement for another four years.

Private Military Contractors? I had a vague idea that the US hired mercenaries in places where they didn't want to show their political face, but wanted to exert their influence (e.g., South America), but I wasn't aware that their use was so pervasive. The private military industry has "several hundred companies, operating in over 100 countries on six continents, and over $100 billion in annual global revenue" (From Policy Review Online)

Disinfopedia states that "since 1994, the U.S. Defense Department has entered into 3,061 contracts valued at more than $300 billion with 12 of the 24 U.S.-based PMCs."

For the most part, these arrangements proceed without sufficient if any accountability or oversight. In an excellent article warning about the growing reliance upon and political influence of PMCs, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman note: "The mechanisms by which the contractors are held responsible for their behavior, and disciplined for mistreating civilians or committing human rights abuses - all too easy for men with guns in a hostile environment - are fuzzy... They do not fall under international law on mercenaries, which is defined narrowly. Nor does the national law of the United States clearly apply to the contractors in Iraq -- especially because many of the contractors are not Americans." Specifically, in Iraq, "many of the security contractors work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, as opposed to the U.S. military, [therefore] they are not integrated into the military's operations."

It's no wonder that we see unwarranted killings such as the killing of an unarmed Iraqi by a US Marine. When the laws of war become blurred, it then becomes difficult to define what is right and what is wrong.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Breakdancing Transformer

These machines that transform themselves into a fighting anthropomorphic persona have become part of children's culture. This videoclip may be a sign that the children who grew up with transformers are becoming adults...

Hey, you need to chuckle once in a while.

From randomurl

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dating through the Ether

Lately, it seems many of my single friends have thrown themselves into Internet Dating. It hasn't worked any better for them than for Judy Wolf, who tells us of her "Reasons I Came Up with to Discontinue My Internet Dating Membership", one of the featrues at Here's some of what she says:

I'd originally thought, when I started this type of pro-active dating experience that it would work for me because I do not go to bars and when I do actually leave the house, it's to go to work, do something with my kids or to just spend time with myself.

NOW I'm thinking these are GOOD reasons to leave the house. I'm thinking I am FINE with these reasons.

It's a wild world, out there.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Currently Reading...

Brunelleschi's Dome, by Ross King, is the account of the construction of the dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, with "its immense, terracotta-tiled cupola". It is a marvel of architecture, still incredibly imposing more than 500 years later. Brunelleschi, its creator, a predecessor of Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Palladio, lived at the beginning of the 15th century. The book is also a story of his life.

Very well documented, and with pictures as punctuation, the book is easy to read even though the techniques used to erect the Dome were far from simple. King brings out Brunelleschi's genius through dozens of accomplishments, including the first crane, which enabled the masons to lift 5-ton blocks of granite up 300 feet in the air. The writing is lively, far from dry. A well-worth read.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

In Remembrance

For all those soldiers who fought for peace during the two Great Wars, and for all those after and now, who lost their lives in armed conflicts.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

What's under the surface...

...can ruin a nice sail.

Thanks to my friend Ron Purvis for sending me this picture.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Grammatical Rant

On many writers' listserv I've participated, I've been accused of being an anal language snob, because I keep insisting that, in order to showcase your abilities as a writer, you have to know not only the basic writing techniques, but you also have to be able to use correct spelling and grammar.

English is not my mother tongue, so maybe I've made more efforts at learning it properly than most natives, although I strongly feel that if you want to be a writer, knowing your stuff is the first rule of the day. Now Sarah Bunting, of the Tomato Nation, has summarized everything I feel about bad usage of grammar and spelling mistakes:

"You don't have to know how to spell everything in the dictionary, and you don't have to have the serial-semicolon rule embroidered on a pillow, but if you have reached voting age in the United States, you need to know the basics of English usage, because if you don't, you look like an idiot. No, don't. Don't start with that "grammar Nazi" business. Don't get all "nobody gives a shit about that crap" and "it's so anal, who cares" and "well, you know what I mean." I give a shit about that crap. I know it's anal, but I care, and so do a lot of other people -- people who respect you, but might respect you less when you dash off an email to the effect of "I'll meet you their"; people in a position to give you a job, who won't because you didn't proofread your cover letter and they don't appreciate your addressing them as "Deer Ms. So-And-So." And no, in fact, I don't know what you mean when you write me a hate mail that reads, "You're site sucks," because that doesn't mean anything. Because it's grammatically incorrect. Because you've substituted a contraction of a verb phrase for an adjective, thus rendering the sentence nonsensical. And it makes you look stupid, and therefore I cannot take you seriously."

She continues on by giving specific examples of usual mistakes, so she does put her money where her mouth is, and gives a helping hand to all those people unsure about usage.
Found Sarah's site via Wordlust, another fantastic blog I recently discovered.

Monday, November 08, 2004

The "Ultimate Sex Machine"

MIT's Technology Review recently posted an article about a new startup which claims to have reinvented online sex with the iVibe, a "sex toy controlled via the Internet".

What is troubling me about this article is its last sentence:

Just this summer in Alabama, three judges in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its ban against the sale of sex toys, stating that the Constitution does not include a right to sexual privacy.

As Pierre Trudeau once said: "There's no place for the State in the bedrooms of the nation. What's done in private between adults doesn't concern the Criminal Code." His caveat, of course, was ""When it becomes public or when it relates to minors this is a different matter."

When the State begins to decide on the manner in which consenting adults may exercise their sexuality, it becomes an attack on democracy and personal freedom. I'm amazed that Alabama's court decision didn't become a national issue, especially since Americans are so touchy about their freedom and their Constitution.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Oh, Oracle, a sniff, please

Came across this article on archeological discoveries at Delphi. It seems the Oracle were sniffing gas --ethylene for the most part-- which can produce hallucinations:

"Reporting recently in the journal Geology, the team said that tests on the Delphi rock and the waters of a nearby spring showed the presence of methane and ethane, which can be intoxicating, as well as ethylene, widely used as an anesthetic in the first half of the 20th century.

Ethylene, Spiller explained, produces "stages" of anesthesia. Low doses induce "disembodied euphoria, with periods of excitation and amnesia," he said. But at higher doses, "you get delirium, hysteria and a combative, agitated state," he added. Further along comes unconsciousness and, if one is not careful, death.

All of this squares nicely with historical accounts. As a high priest at the temple in the 1st century A.D., the biographer Plutarch noted that the pythia delivered oracles from a tripod in a small below-ground chamber bathed in gases carried up by underground springs."

Read the entire article here

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Profitable toenail clippings

An interesting article from Technology Review about Novartis's ability to transform the treatment of a mundane --if ugly-- disease, Onychomycosis into a multimillion profit venture. Here's an excerpt of the article:

No smirking please. Onychomycosis is an ugly fungal infection afflicting the toes of more than 35 million Americans. On occasion, it can be excruciatingly painful. More commonly, however, the disease turns toenails into unappetizing strips of calcified decay. Yech.

But what makes onychomycosis so infectiously intriguing is not its tendency to attack toenails while leaving fingernails untouched, nor its stubbornness in taking root in nail beds. No, what truly makes this parasite provocative is its profitability. In barely seven years, treating onychomycosis has grown into a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually for Novartis, one of the world’s largest pharma firms. Millions of people have paid roughly $1,000—more than $100 per infected toe—for pills made by Novartis that rid them of the evil fungus causing this unappealing condition. That’s real money.

The article goes on to state that it wasn't the efficacy of the drug that made it a success, but its marketing to the right people. Viagra, step aside.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's not my fault, it's the hormones

A case in point where reality is weirder than fiction. A woman, formerly a man, almost beat to death her (his?) former wife, then blamed it on the estrogen she (he?) was taking after a sex-change operation he (she?) had without mentioning the fact to his (her?) wife and son.

Internet's junkyard

An interesting article on the thousand of dead or outdated websites and blogs on the Internet.

It reinforces the idea of caveat emptor (buyer beware) when it comes to using information gleaned from the 'net. Because it's there, it doesn't mean it's true. People have a tendency to use the info on the 'net the same way they'd use an encyclopedia. There is an inherent danger in that, especially if you don't examine the source very closely.

Monday, November 01, 2004

How to write an internet business plan

Writing a business plan is always a scary proposition --except maybe for the precious few mutants. You have to not only forecast your profits/losses, but use the appropriate bullshit--ah, jargon, I mean. It seems that the more inscrutable the proposal is, the more chances you have of your plan being accepted. Here's a site that will help you generate the appropriate content if you're trying to start a dot com.

I submit this site knowing full well that some people will actually use the Internet Bullshit Generator. Sad but true.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Fun answers from well known luminaries such as George W. Bush, Ralph Nader, Martha Stewart, and Michael Jackson, from a new blog I recently discovered.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Happy Birthday, Internet!

Today's the day, 35 years ago, the first message was sent to another computer across the miles. Not an inspiring beginning, but man, what a ride since then!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Currently Reading...

One of the (urban?) legends surrounding Star Wars is that George Lucas got the idea of the story after reading this book. True or not, I find it entirely possible.

Campbell's book, originally published in 1949, still makes sense today. In Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell travels through dozens of myths and tales, from around the world, to trace back the similarities in the hero's quest. Campbell was strongly influenced by Carl Jung, especially on the significance of dreams and the existence of archetypes. He proceeds to show that there is indeed a thread of commonality in the images and actions of people's heros, regardless of culture, language, or religion, and how the characters surrounding our heros are a representation of ordinary life, whether external, or internal.

Once I started reading Hero, I could relate almost every scene in Star Wars to the stages Campbell describes. It's almost uncanny. It also explains why the movie was such a blockbuster: it taps into our innermost instincts.

A fascinating read, and a must for any writer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Star Wars-- The Canadian Connection

It seems George Lucas wasn't only influenced by George Campbell. He also paid homage to a Canadian film maker in the first of his Star Wars trilogy.

How not to get published

Some very good advice from a new blog on my list of faves, A piece of my mind. Elizabeth, the executive editor for Zumaya Publications (my own publisher, as it happens) explains what turns off an acquiring editor from a submission.

Elizabeth also has some other interesting stuff related to writing and publishing. Well worth the visit.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Book Release

Invisible Press just released Deborah Jackson's first novel, Ice Tomb, a science fiction thriller set in Antartica and on the Moon in 2015. Deborah is a fellow writer and member of SF Canada.

Life at the electron level

Another fantastic site, Microangela, that reveals life at the electron microscope level. The pictures have been taken and colorized by Tina (Weatherby) Carvalho of the Biological Electron Microscope Facility, (BEMF), part of the Pacific Biomedical Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Who says science is boring?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Places for Writers

Found this great Canadian website. Places for Writers has news, announcements, events, obits, etc., all related to writing in Canada.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

2004 Man Booker Prize

Allan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty won the prestigious (and financially advantageous) Man Booker Prize. Here is what was the shortlist for the prize. Here also is the shortlist for the 2004 Giller Prize, Canada's equivalent to the Booker.

Humour...the guy way

The Zero Boss pointed to this hilarious blog, A view from the bleachers. I'm not too crazy about his header picture, and it would have turned me off completely if Jay hadn't mentioned the blog, but once I started reading, I chuckled all the way.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Words on Failure

As a writer, I'm often faced with the concepts of success and failure. What makes a successful writer? Certainly not the money you make. There are too many good writers out there who are struggling, and starving. The very few who make money at it are the ones who are skewing the curve. Then, what of failure? What makes it a failure? Wordgems has famous quotes to help with that concept.

My favorite is from Elbert Hubbard: "There is no failure except in no longer trying. There is no defeat except from within, no really insurmountable barrier save our own inherent weakness of purpose."

I guess I'll keep writing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The State of Publishing

From The Mumpsimus, an excellent commentary on the state of publishing and awards via an article on the National Book Awards nominees in the New York Times.

The NYT article argues that, since the fiction nominees, in particular, are virtual unknowns by most of the popular readership, the Award will not serve the publishing world and is virtually useless.

As a writer and a reader, I have often bemoaned the lack of new, interesting voices. Instead, we are inundated with books from the same old-same old authors, reprints of past sure sellers, and vapid, sensationalistic, middle-of-the-road "new" fiction.

Of course, publishing is a business, and the big guys want the money. It seems that investing in new writers is not a thing to do, anymore, even though the sure sellers are getting older --and staler, and are not being replaced.

Maybe it's because the business people who want to sell books know nothing about good writing, and couldn't care less. And maybe it's because readers accept the mediocre, instead of demanding better. (Quality writing, by the way, does not mean inscrutable or difficult. To me, it means words, setting, characters that stay with you long before you've finished the book.) And perhaps it's the current tendency of linking "good" with "movieable": the assumption that if a book is good, it should immediately be transformed into a movie. We've seen those disasters when excellent books have been put onto the big screen: The English Patient, The Shipping News, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Chocolat, The Pilot's Wife, or even the Harry Potter books. It seems that it's now impossible for readers to use their imagination, to see their own pictures in their mind. They need to have them imposed upon them, so they don't have to get their brains working.

With the state of publishing today, Hollywood's exploiting of certain author's popularity, and the general reader's lack of demand for new and interesting material, the result is a loss of bright, interesting, challenging new voices. I salute the judges of the National Book Award who have decided to choose quality over popularity or name recognition.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A Visual Case against Genetic Engineering

Man, those pictures are scary. They remind me of the remade in China Miéville's Perdido Street Station.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The Perfect Corporation

In another life, I used to coach people who wanted to write their résumé. I used to tell my trainees that sentences such as "enthusiastic, hard-working, team player" was not only cliché but useless, since no prospective employer would ever see something like "blasé, lazy loner" on any curriculum vitae.

Huhcorp has taken the cliché and run with it, starting with its motto "We do stuff". It puts into perspective the hype, the empty words, the slight disdain, and the buzz-words the industry --especially companies with websites-- is using.

Great fun.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Last Sail of the Season

Beautiful day yesterday. Cool, but with steady nor'wester, brilliant sky, fall foliage.

Probably the last one of the season. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Best of SF

Read Vernor Vinge's Hugo Award-winning novella, The Cookie Monster, which appeared in October's issue of Analog. You can also read Catherine Asaro's nominated novella, Walk in Silence. The Hugo Awards were given on September 4, 2004.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Currently Reading...

As a premise for a story, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, by Jeffrey Ford, is fascinating. Piambo, a painter, talented but blasé, receives a commission that would solve his worries about money and leave him free to find his painter's soul again. There's only one condition: he must not look upon his subject, and paint her portrait from the stories she tells him. If he looks at her, he will be killed.

As Mrs. Charbuque unfolds her story, each tale more fantastic than the previous one, Piambo becomes obsessed with depicting her image perfectly. Meanwhile, women are dying, bleeding to death from their eyes, and Piambo begins to suspect that there is a link between his subject and these deaths.

Jeffrey Ford's depiction of 19th Century New York is vivid and typically American in vision. None here is the vague disdain bestowed by the European on the New World; Ford gives a refreshing tone to the setting.

I found, however, the rythm of the prose choppy, and the ending of the story disappointing. The denouement left me unsatisfied and forlorn. After all this time spent in Piambo's company, the last chapters fizzle out. The explanation of the deaths --which are indeed murders-- is somewhat weak, and some of the characters are abandoned mid-story.

Even with a great premise and setting, I found this book a disappointing read.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Just too spooky...

It's getting close to Halloween, or All Hallow's Eve, and already people are beginning to decorate their trees with spider webs and ghosts.

I thought I'd do my part with this short film, Cat with Hands. This is via Cold Ground. I'll never be able to look at my cat the same way again.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

What color is your beer?

A fantastic site that pictures digital images and photomicrographs of the most popular beers around the world. And if you're not a beer drinker, you can check out your favorite cocktail.

These images are part of a photogallery of molecular photography from Florida State University. Most of the photos are accompanied by extensive explanations.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Wanna get murdered?

My friend and writer colleague Biff Mitchell has come up with an imaginative way to raise funds to help him write full time: sell a character on ebay. And this character, of course, will get murdered. Supposedly by burgers. At least, that's the title of his novel. Here's what he has to say about it:

Here’s the deal. I’m putting one Murdered Character up for bids. That’s right. The winning bidder gets to be the next murder victim in my novel Murder by Burger. It’s a satirical murder mystery set in the near future. The murder victims mysteriously eat themselves to death. You can find out more about the novel at: Murder by Burger.

Blogging for Books #4

b4b.jpgThe fourth blog writing contest is underway.

Aurora Awards Nominations

Don Bassie of Made in Canada has provided a list of the nominees for the Aurora Awards.

The Aurora is awarded to the best Science Fiction and Fantasy in Canada. It is equivalent to the Hugos.

Also, Simon Rose's second novel The Sorcerer's Letterbox, has been short-listed for the 2005 Silver Birch Award, presented by the Ontario Library Association. Simon is an SF Canada colleague.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Currently Reading...

This book was mentioned on my SF Canada's list, by Dave Duncan and Nalo Hopkinson. They were so full of praise for it, I decided to pick it up.

The first thing that comes to mind with The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust is: disconcerting.

Faust uses English in a way I have never seen used before. This is not an experimental book (it's SF, by the way). I'd describe it more as poetic prose with a street smart rythm. And there is a rythm to this book, but it's not one I've ever read to. Faust's love of hip hop and his interest in Afrocentrism have obviously influenced his writing.

The setting is Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (yes, that's right). The main characters, a dishwasher and a video store clerk who call themselves the Coyote Kings, strut through life in a befuddled state of genius, frustration, and emotional survival, until they meet Sherem, a beautiful, mysterious (alien??) woman who involves them in the search for an ancient artifact that collectors and cultists alike want to keep for themselves.

The story itself is fresh and imaginative, and the insight into the Canadian Afrikan culture fascinating. Not to mention, again, the excellent prose.

Well worth reading.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The character of a face

As a writer, you imagine what your characters look like and try to describe them the best you can. Now there's a way to test your own vision of things. Max Ischenko has developed flashface, a tool very similar to what police artists use. Every item can be adjusted, and moved around the board. You can also save your work. Cool.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Boffo, or Boffin?

Ever wonder what a schlimazel is? Have you ever written a threnody? Or absorbed petrichor with a sense of total well-being? And if I told you I'm hoping for a boffo book launch, and hope that some of my boffin friends will show up, would you know what I meant and tell me it's a sure thing, and to stop this gadzookery?

If I sound like I'm not speaking English, sorry to disappoint you. I am. For a couple of years now I've subscribed to, a word service that sends a different word to my email box every day. It provides a fascinating glimpse into some of the arcane words --as well as some of the more ordinary ones-- of the English language.

English has a way of absorbing words from other languages and adopting them as is. Anu Garg, the word wizard, always gives a definition and the origin of the word, then adds a couple of examples on how to use that word.

From Australia to Zimbabwe, there are more than half a million subscribers. Highly recommended for any word lover.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Buon giorno tutti

Started an Italian class on Monday. I can tell it's going to be challenging, and confusing, but fun, too. The onus is on conversation, which will create problems for me, since I'm the kind of person who wants to know why things are said the way they are. I'm never satisfied with "that the way it is". Of course, no one's preventing me delving into the language more deeply on my own. I found some interesting sites on the Internet, especially Oggi e Domani, which has the most extensive number of lessons (free of charge) with sound files for pronunciation, both from a woman's voice and a man's voice (in this case Venus, from Botticelli, and David, from Michelangelo).

When I say I'm learning Italian, people ask me why. For fun, I reply. They look at me as if I said I love to swim outside in winter. If I'd said because I wanted to travel to Italy (which is the major reason for people in my class), then that would be okay. Even commendable. But for fun?

It amazes me how, in Canada, and probably the States as well, learning a new language is regarded as something of a chore, or an imposition, or an obligation (to keep your job, for instance, if you work in the government).

I don't know if it's a function of our Canadian bilingualism policies. If something is imposed on you, you tend to resist it. On the other hand, before we had these policies, there were no more learning of French (or English) than there is now, if it's not because you have to do it. The attitude is "Why learn French (Spanich, Italian, German), if I'll never use it? Besides, English is spoken around the world."

What most unilingual people don't understand is that, in learning another language, you get an inkling of how people from another culture think, approach problems, interact, live. And believe me, it's different. French Canadian people live and think differently than English Canadian. So do the Walloon and Flemish of Belgium, or the Basque and Castillanos of Spain. I find it exciting to get a glimpse into another culture through their language.

Even within a language there are differences. When I was learning Spanish, I was going out with a guy from Venezuela, who had friends from Colombia, Peru, Argentina. Their use of the same words had different meanings, and in turn didn't match usage in Spain. I found this fascinating. For instance, in Spain, to "coger el autobus" means to catch a bus. In Latin America, it means to fuck a bus. Ooops. As I said, fascinating, even if rife with verbal shoals.

So I'm looking forward to learning more Italian. I'll be able to jabber out the language (eventually) when I go buy my San Pellegrino at Nicastro's, or order my prosciutto without everyone around me glaring. How's that for a reason to learn Italian?

For some Italian art, visit the Galleria degli Uffizi.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Counting down...

I'm getting nervous, now. I sent the invites, ordered --and received-- the books, settled on the venue, the time, etc. What if nobody comes?

On Sunday, 3 October, I'll have my first book launch. I decided to do it at the sailing club because it's a beautiful place, and I know a lot of people there, but I've been told it's not central enough and there's no bus service, such as there is downtown.

My friend Biff Mitchell, in his current blog entry, discourages aspiring writers from picking up the pen (literal or virtual). In his words: "Forget it, you twit." I can see where he's coming from.

I think it's Lawrence Block who said that most writers wanted to have been published. The effort, the work, the rejections, the heartache are all part and parcel of a writer's life, but if, on top of that, you think you'll make a buck... forget it, you twit. After expenses, I'll be making about 50 cents per book (and that's Canadian cents).

Why do it, then?

Arrogance, I suppose. I have stories to tell, and I want people to read them. It's as simple as that. And the only way I can share those stories with the greatest number of people possible is to try to get published which, nowadays, is as easily done as pushing up rope. Even if you do get published, there's no guarantee that you'll get read.

So, if you live in the Ottawa region, take pity on a poor writer and come buy my book on Sunday, 3 October, from 3-5pm at the Nepean Sailing Club.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Currently Reading...

Since my new Jack Meter novel will somehow include mythological figures, I thought I'd brush up on Jung, who was the master of the archetype, the collective unconscious, and the one who linked myths to our psyche.

It's amazing that nearly 60 years later, his writings still make sense. One sentence struck me, in particular, in reading about the structure of the psyche: "But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie."

So many of Jung's teachings have anchored themselves into our daily lives and most of us are not aware of it. How many people seek to understand their dreams? Or will say that they're intraverted, or extraverted?

A brilliant man, and one who's still easy to read and somehow accept, in the twenty-first century.

A blog you don't want to read

My good e-friend, humorist, and writer colleague, Biff Mitchell, has started a blog . As usual, in his own twisted way, he insists that we should go read someone else's blog. Perversely, I decided to add him to my list of blogs to read daily.

Might as well start writing, Biff.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Psychology 101

Remember your Psych classes? The part about Perception? They had the classic picture of the urn that could also be perceived as two profiles, or the truncated lines that didn't look the same length or didn't appear parallel.

Well, I found this great site, Akiyoshi's Illusion pages that goes a lot farther than an urn and two profiles.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Not for the faint of heart

An entry on The Zero Boss led me to this Cybil horror show. Maybe she should change her name to Sybil and check her personalities...

Fear of Pharming

As a loose follow-up to my post on fast food, Scientific American has just published an article on the introduction of disease-fighting drugs or vaccines into plants through genetic engineering: "Scientific American: Fear of Pharming. Controversy swirls at the crossroads of agriculture and medicine."

Problem is, pollen --whether it's been genetically engineered or not, it can't know it should stay put-- travels on the wind, and is almost impossible to control.

There's enough hormones and antibiotics in the meat we eat to desensitize us and unbalance our own hormonal systems. Pretty soon, vegetarians will be able to join the ranks of the meat-eaters. Ain't it grand?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Forgiveness vs. Permission

There's a motto that says it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. I had an experience with it associated with copyright, and I'm still ambivalent about whether I should have waited to ask forgiveness instead of asking permission.

In my next Jack Meter novel, entitled Meter Made (coming out next year), I wanted to use a quote from the beginning sentences of the program The Outer Limits. So, like a good little author respectful of copyright, I contacted MGM to ask them permission to use 10 words out of the intro.

They were very nice, but insisted to know how I was going to use the quote. I sent them an excerpt. When they found it acceptable, they said they'd be happy for me to use the quote, for a fee. A mere $750. In US dollars.

That's $75 a word, or close to $100CDN.

I had known, from their website, that there would be a fee but in my naivete I thought it would be nominal, just to discourage the frivolous. But this smacks of extortion, and I'm left to wonder how much of that fee would go back to the author of these words.

Some colleagues, when I related the incident, told me I should have used the quote without permission and waited for the lawsuit, implying that I'm such small potatoes they would have never known. (True, but depressing). And if they sued, that would be awesome free publicity.

Others said I should have paraphrased, or used the quote in quotation marks --anyone can quote someone else, right?

Neither of these alternatives work for me. If the roles were reversed, and MGM wanted to use my material (yeah, right), I'd certainly want them to contact my publisher so they could milk it to the last, not necessarily money-wise, but publicity-wise.

It's also, to me, a question of courtesy. I wouldn't use my neighbour's garden hose without asking them, even if I knew they wouldn't notice, so why would I do that with the written word? The Canadian thing again, I guess.

Did I pay? No. Did I use the quote. No. I simply removed it. But by that kind of rapacity, MGM, and others like them, encourage infrigement of copyright and plagiarism. If I'd used the quote, it certainly wouldn't have hurt them; but to my eyes I would have nicked my own probity by committing an act (albeit small) of copyright piracy.

For more on asking permission to use copyrighted work, read this article at Writing World.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Go ahead, make my milkshake

Okay, if you're going to get revenge by exploding a small bomb in a McDonald's because you got a bad milkshake, you should at least do it after you've disabled the security cameras. Duh.

I know how those guys felt, though. The last time I ate at McDonald's, I got food poisoning from an ice cream cone (I know, it's not cream). Then I happened to read two incredible books that completely discouraged me from eating fast food. The first was Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by and Eric Schlosser, and the second My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki.

Fast Food Nation is a journalistic account of how fast food is prepared, from the abattoirs and silos to the franchisees.'s Editorial Review's Lesley Reed says: "Schlosser's investigation reaches its frightening peak in the meatpacking plants as he reveals the almost complete lack of federal oversight of a seemingly lawless industry." People, as Schlosser says, "There's shit in the meat." Literally.

My Year of Meats is the fictional story, based on Ozeki's research as a journalist, of a documentary producer hired by the US Beef Industry to develop a TV series on Beef to encourage the Japanese to eat (and buy) more of it. As she travels across America in search of typical American Recipes (there's a disgusting recipe on cooking beef in Coca-Cola), she begins investigating the raising of beef, from administration of hormones, to huge cattle farms. What she finds is bad enough to turn anyone into a vegetarian.

Both books, especially taken together, are real eye-openers. I haven't had a Happy Meal in three years. I haven't missed it one bit.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Blogging for Books Winners

b4b.jpgThe winners for the third installment of Blogging for Books has been posted on The Zero Boss.

The three winners are well worth reading. You can also read the top seven entries Jay had selected and passed on to Mark Falanga, this month's judge and author of The Suburban You.

Congrats to all the winners!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Currently Reading...

Okay, I admit it. I'm a moral prude. I'm also a voracious, eclectic reader, and there have been very few books that have made me morally cringe like Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by first time author Jeff Lindsay.

Despite his propensity for over-alliteration ("...very careful cold coiled creeping creackly cocked and ready..." "...swept, scrubbed, sprayed, cleaned as clean can be", Lindsay's writing flows well and the book is an easy read.

My problem with it is its premise. The main protagonist, the hero of the book, is a Miami cop who works for the police as a blood spatter analyst. He is also a serial killer. And, in his opinion, his kills are permissible, even laudatory, because he kills only bad people.

This is more than a vigilante attitude: Dexter needs to kill, and his need rises until he can't help himself. He takes great care in preparing to kill his selected victim, making sure that everything is ready. He kills with glee, and with self-righteousness. Then, once the deed is done, "I felt a lot better. I always did, after."

What troubles me about this book is that it makes murder acceptable as long as the person who gets it deserves it, and that there is pleasure to be derived in ridding the world of these people. It is a contravention of justice, by one who should uphold it.

Dexter is not an anti-hero, à la Thomas Covenant. He is the good guy, and one who justifies his psychosis with rationalization. Since this book is the beginning of a series, we know that Dexter will go on killing without retribution.

There is a frightening aspect to reading this book, and this is where my moral cringing rises its head: that readers would find amusing, fascinating, normal, the idea of a killer as the good guy.

Chill, you'll tell me. It's only a novel. Maybe, but the written word is powerful, and has a way to influence. It's sneaky that way. I'm not saying people will go out and kill others after reading the book.

All I'm saying is that it's easy --and maybe even natural-- to want bad people (the child killers, the abusers, the murderers) to be eliminated, but this "fighting fire with fire" lowers us to the same level as the bad guys.

That message doesn't come through.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Living life to the fullest

A friend of mine, Mimi Fortin, who lives in Edmonton and dreams of watching the Rockies from her backyard, sent me this:

"Today is International Very Good Looking Damn Smart Woman's Day, so please send this message to someone you think fits this description [...]

Motto to live by ...
"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body... but rather to skid in sideways, champagne (or scotch) in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming:

"WOO HOO - what a ride!"

Words to live by, indeed. Pass it on.

Weird, wacky, fun

I found this wonderful blog, the Beaver Dam French Club, that features the short writings of Ivy Dillinger, Oliver Cassidy, Victor Lembrey, Robert McEvily, Kid Nougat and Maven Quibble. Not all of it will be to everyone's taste, but the prose is quirky, young, sometimes mean, always surprising.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

A Blood Story (and not a bloody store)

Found this interesting PBS Website on the History of Blood. They start from 2500BC when the Egyptians would bleed patients to treat them, to today's concerns with AIDS. There's also a great primer on blood in the section Blood Basics.

Worthwhile spending a little time there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Art of Living

Matthew Cheney has an interesting blog entry on John Gardner, on the anniversary of Garner's death.

The first time I read Gardner's The Art of Fiction, my reaction was "You've got to be kidding". I had just begun to write, and Gardner's book was so daunting and relentless it could have completely discouraged me from trying my hand at writing. There's a haughtiness to his ideas that spurns mediocrity (but without it, how would we know what is good?)

On second read, after I'd read other books on writing like Jack Hodgkins's A Passion for Narrative, I could extract from it the essence of the message: you have no right, as a writer, not to be as good as you should be. That means work at it, you schmuck.

Three years ago, I was lucky to happen onto one of Gardner's short story collections, The Art of Living and Other Stories, with wonderful woodcuts my Mary Azarian, in a used bookstore. The stories are strange and beautiful, and fill you with awe. Here's one of my favorite starter lines, in his story Redemption:

"One day in April--a clear, blue day when there were crocuses in bloom--Jack Hawthorne ran over and killed his brother."

The image of a beautiful Spring day (yellow and blue, so bright and cheerful) makes the accident seem even more horrific. Twenty-two words, and he's set the tone for the entire story. Elegant, efficient, fascinating.

Even though John Gardner's Art of Fiction can be ruthless, I recommend it to any writer, even if only as a foray into the extreme, in the same way you might visit a contemporary museum when your favorite art is medieval painting. Regardless of whether you come out of it convinced or shaking your head with perplexity, you'll have been exposed to something that makes you stop and think. Gardner cannot but elicit a reaction from his reader. Isn't that the sign of success?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Currently Reading...

The Bookman's Promise is the third book in the Cliff Janeway series of an ex-cop turned antiquarian book dealer. As usual, Dunning's prose is elegant and rich in details about book collecting --not all old books are valuable books-- and in this one, about Sir Richard Francis Burton, a 19th Century Renaissance man and famous explorer.

For anyone who loves books --reading them, buying them, owning them-- Dunning's books are fascinating. He manages to mix suspense and a compelling story with the supposedly dreary world of the book seller, without either aspect clashing. (For those who would like a second opinion, you can read a review here)

Chili and bear...uh, beer

My friend Robyn Williams, who lives in Boise, Idaho, had to cut short her family camping trip last weekend. Here's why:

"We came home early from our camping trip this wkend because a bear ate all our food early Saturday AM (3# burger, 1# bacon, 8 eggs, 1# butter, a package of hotdogs, all the cheese, half-dozen candy bars, a large container of chili, a gallon of milk, a 12-pack of beer and a 12-pack of pepsi). Then came back two hours later for the bottle of ketchup he'd left behind. It was hysterical--there were the most precise tooth holes in the beer/pop cans, 2 exactly on opposite sides of the cans. Big old fart (4' at the shoulder) knew exactly what he was doing."

No wonder he didn't go for the humans. Who could resist chili and beer? The question is, did he have the milk aftewards to settle his heartburn, or first, as a preventative measure?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Beautiful Earth

We are back from our holiday in the North Channel. Five glorious days of water, wind, and sun.
First day, we couldn't go out in our 27' sailboat: 25 knots, gusting to 40 (that's over 80km/hr or 50 miles/hr), with over 2 meter waves. Bit much for our little craft. The next day, and all the others after, were compensation. The sky was steel-blue clear, with only a few clouds for variety. Ten to fifteen knots, half a meter to a meter waves. Perfect.

Then, a solitary anchorage, surrounded by pink granite and white pine. The water of Lake Huron is so limpid that we could see our anchor sitting on the bottom, 15 feet down.

Of all the places in the world I've visited, from Europe to South America, the Benjamin Islands is truly the most beautiful place I've ever seen. The contrasts of pink, smooth granite --sensual and calming at the same time--, blue-green water, and sky are stunning. The environment is pristine, despite the thousands of visitors every year, as if it the landscape itself prevents you from littering.

At night, an infinity of stars, the Milky Way walking over our heads. Shooting stars. Water lapping against the boat, loons calling.

We were well prepared, but our trip confirmed to us that knowledge of navigation and how to read a nautical chart is a must. The North Channel is full of rocks, reefs, and shallow bottoms, and you have to know where you're going. A GPS isn't enough. If you want to see more pictures of our trip, just go here.

Our charterer, CYC, was extremely professional. Their boats are clean, well-appointed, and in excellent --and near-perfect, for the new boats-- condition. We didn't miss even a corkscrew or a pencil. Pam and Ken and their staff go the extra mile to make your trip enjoyable and worry-free. They are located in Gore Bay, Ontario, on the North side of Manitoulin Island.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

For those who happen to read my blog, I am off for a week of sailing the North Channel. No, people, it's not in England, it's in Lake Huron. Anyone who's familiar with the Group of Seven painters will have an idea of what it looks like. Hopefully, we'll have good weather and I'll come back with great pictures, and it won't look like this (Lismer, Gale in September)

'Til 13 September.

Terror in Beslan

The Zero Boss has posted this extremely moving account of the experience of being taken hostage for three days in Beslan, Russia. Well worth the read.

I find it incomprehensible that people could do that kind of thing. There has been, throughout wars, massacres of children and women, but this kind of torture defies humanity and transforms people into a form lower than animals.

Even though there were deaths and a lot of injured (CBC indicates 200 dead and 600 injured), I am certain that the hostages saw it as a deliverance.

My question is, how did these people get to become monsters? Is it utter desperation, conditioning, brainwashing, or religious fervor?

Or, by trying to find a reason, are we trying to avoid the fact that there are plain bad people in this world?

Sticklers unite?

Currently reading Lynn Truss's book about punctuation. I must confess that punctuation is my weakness as a writer (that, and prepositions) probably because my mother tongue is French. Punctuation is done differently in another language, although the marks are the same.

It's eminently readable and makes you realize there's more to punctuation than meets the eye.

The book reminds me of one of the first articles I read about Artificial Intelligence, where it said that the biggest roadblock to AI would be context, or semantics. The article went on to give a very basic example, with the following sentence:

They are cooking apples

Without context, the above sentence could mean two different things: someone is cooking apples; or, these apples are for cooking.

I believe that this stumbling block is slowly being eroded, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Electronic Time Capsule

Ever wonder what happened in the world on a specific date? How much did a loaf of bread, a car, or a house cost? What were the hot new toys?

I found this cool site, dMarie Time Capsule, that does it well. You can also tailor the results to what you want the output to look like, and it gives a printable view. Just plain fun.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Reflections on standards

Yesterday, I was replacing my plastic shower curtain with a new one (and none too soon, I might add). As usual, I bought a real cheap one at the $2-store, since fungus grows as easily on an expensive one as a cheap one.

As I was inserting the hooks on the shower rod into the holes, it came to me: every shower curtain I'd ever bought had the same number of holes, the same width and length. Who decided that?

It turns out that there is a patent schedule for "movable closures which include means to drain, deflect, or repel shower spray water" filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Then the chicken or egg thing came to me: was there a patent on the size of bathtubs first, then one for shower curtains next, or vice-versa?

Worth pondering.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

A vision of Canada

I came across this website, An American's Guide to Canada which, although tongue-in-cheek in some places, is pretty accurate. I particularly like the page How to tell you're in Canada. The site hasn't been updated in a while, unfortunately, but most of it still applies.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Found: Habitable Planets?

Scientists from California and Texas have identified two planets outside our solar system 30-40 light years away. They are two or three times the size of Earth but with similar mass, which might mean that scientists might be able to find others near them at the right distance from their sun, making them possibly habitable.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Another reason to hate Microsoft

In an article written by Al Fasoldt on his Technofile website, he reports that an unpatched XP computer will last less than 20 minutes "before it succumbs to infections over the Internet".

I can hear the Linux and Mac aficionados gloating from here.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Light update

From Robert Runté's blog, I'm not boring you, am I?, a link he got from The Pod Bay Door, just for fun. First thing I did, of course, is send a note to DH.

Currently Reading...

Once in a while, you have to read something that makes you giggle, makes you feel good. This is the first Marian Keyes book I've read, so I don't know if it's typical of her writing, but the book's a lot of fun. It takes place in the world of fashion magazines--where the word 'cutthroat' was probably invented--and in Ireland, where fashion has a different meaning than in New York or London.

The story is not slapstick but rather sitcomesque, more Frasier than Friends. A great summer read, sitting on the boat and sipping a cool glass of white wine.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Blogging for Books

Came across this interesting idea on The Zero Boss. Every month, Jay Allen invites an author and picks a topic. People post an entry on their own blog related to that subject, with a link on Jay's blog. He then reads all the entries, selects seven of them and sends those to the author of the month, who decides on the winning entry. The winner gets a copy of the author's book as a prize. b4b.jpg

You can read the winning entry for August here.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Philip K. Dick

Found this great website on the life and body of work of Philip K. Dick, from whose stories were derived such films as Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Screamers. In the 'Writings' section, there's a really cool, previously unpublished treatment of a novel he didn't get to write before his death in 1982.

There's this fantastic quote from him, that exemplifies and describes so well why I write SF:

"I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. Okay, so I should revise my standards; I'm out of step. I should yield to reality. I have never yielded to reality. That's what SF is all about. If you wish to yield to reality, go read Philip Roth; read the New York literary establishment mainstream bestselling writers….This is why I love SF. I love to read it; I love to write it. The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It's not just 'What if' - it's 'My God; what if' - in frenzy and hysteria. The Martians are always coming."

And the sky is not the limit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Levity vs. paranoia

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has dusted off and revised the old Cold War preparation instructions to tailor them to the new era of terrorism, using the 'Net to disseminate its warnings. Disaster is now no longer the exclusivity of Californians and people living in Tornado Alley, and preparedness everyone's responsibility.

Homeland Security is using icons to remind people what to do when. Here is a reinterpretation of them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Cool music

I bought Norah Jones's latest CD yesterday, feels like home. It's very different from her first, Come Away with Me, but it still has great music (and musicians) and intelligent lyrics. The CD's mellower, more melancholy. Norah has a sample of her music on her website, so you can decide if you like her style of music before you buy the CD.

This is another interesting way artists use the 'Net, to extend their audience. Writers increasingly do this as well, with sample chapters of their books on their website, so you can decide if you like what you read. Cory Doctorow pushed this to the ult, by offering his novels as free downloads on the 'Net, even though they are published by Tor. They are released under a Creative Commons license, which reserves some rights to the author of the work.

According to him, his sales have not been affected by offering the books for free; in fact, he attributes his success to the readers' ability to download the books.

This makes perfect sense to me. Although ebooks are definitely a medium on the rise, the majority of readers prefer to read print books. People start reading the book on their PDA, like it, decide they'd rather hold the print version in their hands, go and buy it. Smart marketing.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Time to waste

Have you ever sat in front of your computer to do some work and instead tried to find a (semi-legitimate) way to waste time? Well, now you can just watch time go by.

Actually, the page is part of a really cool site that helps you understand numbers and simplify them.

These kind of pages are possible due to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, who recently got knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Taking a break

Went sailing for three hours this afternoon. Fifteen knots, gusting to 25. Nearly put the rail in the water a couple of times. Exciting.

The leaves have already started to turn, here and there around the lake. Signs of autumn not far away. Thinking of our trip to the North Channel at the beginning of September. It's starting to feel real.

For those who don't measure their speed in knots, but like to tie them, the Knots on the Web page is a great resource.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The 2003 Stella Awards

This award, reminiscent of the Darwin Award, is named after Stella Liebeck who was awarded $2.9 million in damages (the appeal court reduced it to $640K--what a bummer) when she sued McDonald's after spilling hot coffee on herself. It has become the epitome of frivolous lawsuits, but many people, thinking, no doubt, that "what's good for the goose..." decided they would try their hand at getting money for their own mistakes. The Stella Awards is the result. There were also a series of spoofs on the real Stella Awards, which are almost as believable.

Out of curiosity, I did a search on "Liebeck and McDonald's" in Google. It came up with the McDonald's Coffee Case, which explains in more details the reason for the suit. The fact that Stella received 3rd degree burns and spent 8 days in hospital for skin grafts is usually overlooked.

On the other hand, people usually like their coffee hot (or cold), not lukewarm. The temperature McDonald's served its coffee was the right one (88C) according to the National Coffee Association. So, who's right, do you think? The case will feed lawyers for years to come, I imagine.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Unpolitically correct driver education

This made me giggle all the way through, then I watched it again. Okay, maybe some people have too much time on their hands, but we all need comic relief.

For the rushed reader

Found this hilarious site, Book-a-minute SF/F. No time to read? Just pick a title. Takes a minute, maybe less. Problem is, the story's so condensed it sounds more like a Haiku than a story-line. Still, it's a way to distill a book to its most basic of basics. I particularly like the condensed version of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever, by Stephen Donaldson, one of the first SF books (series) I read.

This series was a revelation for me, simply because the protagonist is an anti-hero, totally unlikeable, but the story was compelling enough that I wanted to read on. Although I must say that I reread it not long ago, and the story didn't grab me as much as 20 years earlier.

Does it have to do with reader sophistication, or maturity, or the books themselves?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Brain Ambrosia

It's always a delight to find an intelligent, sensitive, totally delightful new writer. In the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Mark Haddon tells the story from the perspective of an autistic teenager.

Through this emotionally impaired, literal-minded child genius, Haddon succeeds not only in telling a riveting story, but also in imparting how difficult, wrenching, exhausting it is for the parents to care for such a near-adult child, and how the rest of the world perceives him.

the curious incident is not only a delight to read, but it leaves you rethinking your attitudes towards hurt kids.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Spoofing ad logos

This is for those people who hate ads, especially from those companies who try to make you think you can't live without their product, or make you think that you're somewhat mentally defective if you decide not to believe everything they say. It's also for those who object wearing clothes that advertise a product (great advertising for free, guys, good going) making you think these companies are doing you a favor by letting you wear their logos.

False Advertising is irreverent, and makes you feel a bit illicit by looking at these parodies. Fun, but somehow, it succeeds in making you think about how we get brainwashed.

My favorite is the Chevron one.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The worst poet of the English language

Found this website on McGonnagall, deemed the worst poet ever in the English language. Here's a wee sample:

ANCIENT Castle of the Mains,
With your romantic scenery And surrounding plains,
Which seem most beautiful to the eye,
And the little rivulet running by,
Which the weary traveller can drink of when he feels dry.
And the heaven's breath smells sweetly there,
And scented perfumes fill the air,
Emanating from the green trees and beautiful wild flowers growing there.

This Dundee man followed his muse for 25 years. Sort of uplifting for a writer like me. Despite all his critics (and there were many), he wrote on, and on, and on...

Stem cell research is a US election issue

An interesting article in Tech Central Station (Will Bush lose over stem cells?), which states that most Americans favor the use of stem cells from unused embryos for research such as Alzheimer's.

Morbid Fun

From Carrington Vanston, I found this funny way of saving money on tombstone design: The Tombstone Generator. Okay, maybe it's a bit morbid, but fun, nevertheless. Thanks to Derryl Murphy (Cold Ground) for pointing me towards it.

How to insult your readers

Am I the only one who's clued in? I recently started The Codex by Douglas Preston and, by page 17, I couldn't believe that Tor/Forge had published such a badly written book. Where was the editor? Where was his head?

Fine, I tell myself, maybe it's just the beginning that's bad, so I start flipping through the book, and it's still so badly written it's almost impossible to read. The language is about grade 4 level, descriptions are barely competent, the dialogues are stale and inane, the characters are unidimensional and cliché. Sentences such as "...mounting the portal and striding up to the zaguan doors, giving the doorbell a firm series of depresses", or "...picked his way through the bushes with his Ferragamo wingtips, a look of annoyance screwed into his face" are at the same level as "It was a dark and stormy night".

Am I the only one thinking this is bad writing? According to the reviews, media- and reader-wise, this is a good book. How many saps believed the hype and forked $40 for drivel with a mediocre story?

This comes from publishers selling names rather than quality writing. Preston was a co-writer with Lincoln Child for Relic, which was made into a movie that had some success at the time. I suspect they've been banking on that "fame" ever since.

There are some positives through this, however. It takes a bad book to realize there are still some really good ones out there, genre writing or not, which means there are publishers and editors who do have a brain inside their heads. Second, I didn't buy the book, it was borrowed from the Library. This is one instance where spending our tax dollars works for me.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Metered Space release

I'm really excited. Metered Space, the first in the Jack Meter Case Files series, is out. This story has has an incredible life, so far, with it being published twice as an ebook, and now in electronic format and paper by Zumaya.

Anyone who wants a bit of a teaser can go here. I have a soft spot for this story, since it started while I was participating in a writing lab on the net, and it developed from there. I couldn't let go of Jack --my protagonist-- who kept bugging me. I had so much fun writing it, because I played with words, placed inside all sorts of hidden clues and messages, and it's fun to see who gets them and who doesn't. I never took myself seriously when I wrote it, but it's really the only one of all the novels I've written that has taken off. So far.

I'm busily working on the second in the series, working the final edits. It should appear in 2005, so I can actually call myself an "author"!

I'm in!

Finally decided I'd get with the program and start my own blog. I'm sitting here, in front of my computer, for hours on end, writing, not talking to anyone, and sometimes the walls close off on me. It's not enough to just go out and say hi to people, sometimes you need to say a few intelligent things in a row.

Thank God for email, with which I can reach a lot of my friends, but why not try to make new ones, and at the same time start discussions on topics that interest us all?

On top of that, I've been looking for a way for people to contact me directly about my writing and what they like and don't like. I'm also looking forward to sharing great books I've read, music I like, and some of my sailing adventures. Should be fun!