Free story

I mentioned in a previous post that my story Graveyard printed in Metaphorosis magazine would eventually be available for free on their web site. Well, eventually is now!

Sounds like the story will also be printed in the Metaphorosis end-of-year anthology as well, so there will probably be one more post about the story. Hopefully my next writing post will be about a different story!

 

Graveyard

I have a new story called Graveyard in the November, 2018 edition of Metaphorosis magazine!

Despite the title, it is, at least for me, a fairly upbeat story.

You can buy the magazine from Amazon (print or e-book) if you are so inclined, but the story will also be available for free on the magazine’s web site later this month–they release one story a week, or something like that. Mine will be towards the end of the month. I’ll do a brief post when it hits.

The really cool cover art by Saleha Chowdhury is based on my story too :-).

 

The Monster

Frankenstein’s monster, posing with some guy in a mask:

A Dark and Stormy Night

Everyone has heard of Bulwer-Lytton’s opening to the book Paul Clifford (even if they don’t know where it came from):


“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
                       –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)


Bulwer-Lytton was one of the most well-known novelists of the 19th century (and, honestly, even Paul Clifford stands up reasonably well), but thanks to Snoopy (and snooty English majors), he is probably best known now for this sentence, and possibly not as an example of literary excellence.

For the last 36 years, the English Department at San Jose State University has run a Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, where thousands of people from around the world attempt to create single-sentence entries in a series of categories. This is this year’s winner:


Cassie smiled as she clenched John’s hand on the edge of an abandoned pier while the sun set gracefully over the water, and as the final rays of light disappeared into a star-filled sky she knew that there was only one thing left to do to finish off this wonderful evening, which was to throw his severed appendage into the ocean’s depths so it could never be found again—and maybe get some custard after.
                        –Tanya Menezes, San Jose


And this is a runner-up winner in the Crime/Detective category:


Jimmy-The-Bull lay sprawled in a puddle of his own blood, which spread out like a bright-red Rorschach test, in which Detective Williams had so far identified a butterfly, a puppy and the Eiffel tower, but was vaguely disappointed that there was nothing resembling Jimmy’s trademark bull, although the coroner had seen a giraffe, which he claimed was close enough, since it was also a ruminant.
                     –Arlen Feldman, Colorado Springs, CO


You may notice that the author of that last literary gem is yours truly! I’ve entered a few times over the years, but this is the first time I’ve had an entry selected!

Although the winners were announced a few months ago, I didn’t actually find out that I was a runner-up until a few days ago. Every year at Mile Hi Con, we have a panel called the Turkey Read-off, where the panelists read excerpts from exceptionally bad books (usually from the ’70s and ’80s, but not always). I generally also read a few Bulwer-Lytton entries at the panel, and found my entry when I was going through this year’s winners.

I believe this gives me the distinction of being the first person to read their own work at the Turkey Read-off!

(Quick ad for Mile HI Con – it is a Sci-Fi/Genre/Literary Convention in Denver, Colorado, that has been running for 50 years, with dozens of authors, plus numerous speakers, panels and other fun stuff. If you are in or near Denver in October, I highly recommend it).

Here are a few of my other entries that did not make the cut (almost certainly for good reasons):

  • It took a lot of experimentation, moving the coffins, the candelabras, the stone plinths and even the individual cobwebs until, finally, the flow of calming energy told him that everything was positioned exactly right, and that he, Dracula, was truly a master of Fang Shui.
  • Testing the grandfather paradox turned out to be much riskier than John expected, since the old man had apparently read a lot of books on time travel, and had been waiting for him at the exit of the wormhole, gun in hand, smirk on his face, and no apparent interest in exploring the physics of retro-causality.
  • William stood in his boss’s office, staring at his feet as the head bartender pulled the evidence of his thieving out of the bag where it had been hidden–lemons, limes, cherries, mint and cocktail olives all poured out on the desk, but, thankfully, after five minutes of being yelled at, his boss said that he wasn’t going to fire William–just garnish his wages.
  • The satanic ritual was coming to its close, the victim’s blood dripping slowly from the nib of the practitioner’s fountain pen, waiting only for him to choose which of the sacred stone vessels should receive the victim’s blood, and, when he wrote out the spell, which sacrificial font he should use.
  • The dame that walked into the detective’s office had a body that men would kill over, a face that could launch ships, and legs that just wouldn’t quit, which was convenient, since his office was on the 47th floor, and the elevator was broken.
  • When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s an extinction-level event, and not nearly as romantic as, say, a nice bouquet of roses.

Transcendent update

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a short story coming out in an anthology called Transcendent, some time during this holiday season (which I think means November/December?).

The book publishers have a blog, and I have a post on that blog today, talking a bit about the story and about the writing process. I think this qualifies as my first official guest post somewhere :-).

I have some other writing news as well, but that will have to wait for another blog post (here, rather than a link to another blog, although I’m now wondering if I could create some sort of recursive blog post references. Of course, that might create a black hole that sucks in the entire Internet, so might not be worth the risk).

 

A Net Neutrality Analogy

On several occasions, I’ve had to explain Net Neutrality to non-technical people, and while I can sometimes get people to understand the arguments, the abstract nature of the issues make it difficult.

Fortunately, I love analogies—particularly when I can do horrible things like rhyming analogy with neutrality along the way (although I still think that slant rhyme shouldn’t be allowed in poetry). I think I have a concrete analogy that should make sense to most people, and is a close proxy for the Internet—toll roads (so not only a concrete analogy, but one actually made out of concrete!).

Neutral Toll Roads

Consider a normal toll road. If you want to drive on the road, you have to pay a smallish fee. Every car that drives on the road is charged the same fee, but larger vehicles have to pay slightly more—usually based on the number of axles on the vehicle. Other than that, there is no difference between vehicles—if you drive a Porsche or a Subaru, if the car is blue or green, if you have a pro-Democrat bumper sticker or a pro-Republican bumper sticker—it doesn’t matter.

It also doesn’t matter where your trip started or where it is going to end—so long as you pay. Everyone is treated the same.

This is a bit like a net-neutral Internet connection—you pay a standard fee, and no matter who you are and what sites you go to, everyone is treated the same. If you have a server that generates a lot of traffic, you might have to pay more for that traffic, like the axle fee. For consumers, though, there is generally no difference (unless you have a limited plan, but even then, you just pay more for more data—more traffic).

In theory, though, a toll road doesn’t have to be neutral…

Non-neutral Toll Roads

Many toll roads are owned by private businesses. Let’s suppose that the owner of the toll road wants to make a bit more money. If so, there are a lot of different things he might do.

For example, he may assume that drivers of sports cars have more money, so might want to charge those cars more money. This could work, but people with more money are also more likely to make a fuss. “What do we get for our extra fee?” they might ask.

“Well,” says our toll road owner, “How about if sports cars pay more but can go faster?”

“Awesome—sign us up,” say the sports car drivers.

Now, though, the toll road owner has a problem. Even though he wants to allow sports car drivers to go faster, the speed limit applies to everyone—just like the speed of light applies to everyone on the Internet.

But, thinks the toll road owner—let’s call him Gerald—he seems like a Gerald. But, thinks Gerald, what if I only let sports cars go in the fast lane, and make the other lanes slower? Put in a bunch of traffic cones and make the speed limit 20 miles slower for non-sports cars?

He's kind of a jerk

Gerald

So, it is now true that the sports cars are going faster than everyone else on the road, although they are not going faster than they were before—everyone else is just going slower.

This sounds stupid, but this is exactly what a lot of Internet providers did before net neutrality rules were put in place—and is likely something they will do again now that the rules are gone.

Knowing Gerald, he’ll probably also increase the amount he charges everyone else as well—after all, he has to pay for all those extra traffic cones.

This is annoying for everyone (except the sports car drivers), but it could be worse. For example, suppose Gerald also owns a Toyota dealership. Because of this, anyone driving a Toyota is allowed in the fast lane, but everyone else has to go slower. If you really need to use that road, perhaps you’ll end up having to buy a Toyota from Gerald.

Again, this is something else that Internet providers love—“speeding” up their own traffic by slowing down everyone else.

Of course, even though Gerald owns a Toyota dealership, it’s possible that, for a fee, Honda and Ford might also get the fast-lane deal for their drivers—that’s okay for Gerald as well, since he gets paid either way. Or, perhaps, he’ll route Toyotas to the fastest lane, have a mid-speed lane for sponsored traffic, and the slowest lanes for everyone else.

Taking another road

The Road Less Traveled

Let’s take a brief detour to discuss choosing other options. One of the arguments for getting rid of net neutrality is that competition will do a better job—after all, who would drive on Gerald’s road if Peter’s road has better rules. Better still, you can just take public routes.

For roads this may not be an option—either there are no other roads, or the other roads are significantly inferior—slower or further out of the way.

For the Internet in America, 40% of people only have a single choice for broadband—there’s only the one road. As for public roads—in 20 states, municipal broadband is either blocked or outright illegal. The extra dollars that telecom companies are earning are apparently going straight into lobbying.

Making it worse

So far, we are just talking about some inconveniences, but it could be worse. What if Gerald doesn’t simply push certain brands into the slow lane, but bans them altogether? You may love your vintage Datsun truck (yes, I used to own one of those), but if you are not allowed to take it on the road, it isn’t very useful (to be fair the idea of taking my Datsun truck onto a highway would have terrified me).

So now Gerald has a couple of options—he can ban you, or he can slow you down. He can also reroute you! Maybe you are on your way to dinner at a fancy restaurant, but Gerald has just bought an Arby’s franchise, and so he forces all cars to detour next to it, and maybe sets up a traffic light that makes you wait there for a while.

If you are stubborn, you can get to where you are going, but it is always a bit harder. On the Internet, this can be much worse. Imagine if, every time you tried to go to Pinterest you were instead redirected to Amazon, or a site called PPinteresting, that is sort-of like Pinterest, but a little bit different. Close enough that you might not notice. Instead of a mohair wig, maybe you get one made out of mole hair.

Getting Political

So far, we’re assuming that Gerald is just out to make a buck, but what if he is also getting into politics? After all, the wrong party might put rules in place that stop Gerald from choosing which cars can drive on his road!

So, now, instead of just limiting traffic based on brands, he installs equipment to read your bumper sticker. If you have the wrong bumper sticker, then straight to the slow lane for you—or off the road completely. Or, how about this—if your bumper sticker is wrong, you are forced to sit in front of a billboard for the opposing viewpoint for a few minutes before you can get on the road?

Of course, not everyone has a bumper sticker—Gerald might need to search your car, look at your Facebook posts, your e-mails, your buying history, and your browsing history. He can do this because you are forced to sign a little 62-page EULA he hands you at the booth before you can enter his road.

Okay, I’m stretching things a bit, but on-line this stuff is all pretty standard. After all, the traffic is all going through your ISP, so its not hard to do all of this and much more.

Conclusion

I’ve taken this analogy about as far as I can, but, on-line there are far more evil things that I could do. In fact, this article has given me a whole long list of ideas—if I owned a telecom. And I were evil.

By the way, I don’t think telecoms are evil. That is because, unlike the supreme court, I don’t think companies are people. A person can be good or evil—a company is generally amoral. If the purpose of a company is to make money, then questions of morality just generally don’t come up in the same way.

I don’t think we would ever accept Gerald’s roads. Private toll road owners are generally constrained by state laws (net neutrality for roads?), although the prices are often set by the owners, and, in fact, there are a fair number of issues with toll roads.

Somehow, though, it seems reasonable to a lot of people to allow for far worse practices on-line.  I think that this is largely because lobbyists have done a great job in muddying the waters—implying that net-neutrality is anti-competitive, when it is clearly the opposite.

What is obviously missing is a really good analogy.

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Transcendent Anthology Cover

I have a short story coming out in an anthology called Transcendent, and they just released the cover art, which I think is pretty cool.

The anthology was originally going to be called Dreams, Nightmares, Visions and Hallucinations, which I liked better, but was probably pretty hard to fit on to the cover.

My story is called Little Choices and is probably the most depressing story I’ve ever written. On the upside, it is very short! I’ll probably write a bit more about this when the release gets closer, sometime in Fall, 2018.

Tower Bridge is Falling Down…

Okay, it’s not actually falling down, but since it is made of Lego, it is somewhat more fragile than the original.

Anna got this set for me for my birthday, and I spent somewhere between eight and ten hours putting it together. According to the box, it has 4,295 pieces (I didn’t personally count), so that doesn’t seem like too terrible a time.

Dinosaur is sold separately.

This was a fun set to put together–it didn’t have a lot of “weird” pieces, but just made clever use of relatively standard stuff. The main bridge span opens by the way:

I really like the vehicles – they aren’t just figures, but are built up of (mostly) standard pieces:

It’s been together for a little less than a week, but today it gets taken apart, since I have no good place to keep it :-(. I’ll have to come up with some random other things to do with all those pieces now…

Grandson of Man

Another silly costume for Karval Kon! Grandson of Man is my take on Son of Man, by Magritte, although possibly better known from The Thomas Crown Affair.

We didn’t get a good shot of the costume at the con, so I put it back on and we played around until we got a decent shot in the front of the house.

I did cheat a bit, and increased the brightness on the Apple logo – naturally went with the old-school version, before Apple became evil.

And, in case you are wondering, the only piece I actually had to buy for this was the red tie, which came from Goodwill!

 

This is what the original painting looks like:

Son of Man

I’m thinking that this is not a bad look for me, though–Anna took a picture of me while I was checking the picture on the computer:

Maybe I could become a spy and wear this all the time? My grandfather, who was a big fan of hats, would probably approve.

 

Going gray

For the last several years, there has been a major trend in desktop and web applications — to remove all of the bright colors, switch to single-color icons, and provide a “clean” modern-looking app.

I will not give any specific examples (for fear of being yelled at), but if you look at a lot of major applications, you will see that this trend has had a pretty major impact. The old XP-style colors are out (and old-fashioned) and clean, gray lines are the thing.

I bring this up because of a particular internet meme that has been floating around. It was started by a guy named Tristan Harris, and has been the subject of multiple articles.

The gist of the article is that if you are addicted to your phone, then switching from color to gray-scale will help–you will not feel the need to pick up your phone as much, and when you do pick it up, you will be able to put it down more easily.

Lots of people have apparently tried this and found that it works.

So, here is my question–if your job requires you to stare at a particular app most of the day, and that app has been grayified, what exactly does that do to your ability to stay interested in your work?

Just saying…

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