Monthly Archives: September 2012

My Thoughts on Mitt Romney, Person

Question from the audience:

I know you won’t vote for him, but what do you think of Mitt Romney as a person?

Well, of course, I don’t know him as a person. I know him as a construct of everything I’ve ever read about him, both positive and negative. I think my first real awareness of him came when he was Governor of Massachusetts, and the opinion I held of him at the time had its positive bits (regarding the universal healthcare he helped to institute in the commonwealth) and negative ones (his opposition to same sex marriage). Basically at the time he struck me as a standard-issue northeastern Republican, which is to say somewhat more moderate than his party as a whole.

As a matter of his personal politics, I don’t think he’s actually changed much from that, and that’s his problem. He’s a bad fit for the current GOP, with its scorched-earth policies regarding anyone who is not 100% in line with its social and political agenda, and his enthusiasm for this particular brand of nonsense is palpably muted. It seems to me that Romney isn’t an ideologue, he’s an administrator: he believes what he believes, to be sure, but I think one of the things he does actually believe in is working for the greater good. I think left to his own devices, he’d rather do something that works, than something’s that 100% politically pure. But as noted before, it’s a bad time for a GOP politician to have that as part of his political makeup.

I have rather less of a bead on Romney as a human being away from the political arena. What does come across to me is this: A man who was born to privilege, and who understands intellectually and agrees with the idea that with privilege comes a responsibility to others, but who does not necessarily understand the problems of those with less privilege on a visceral or personal level, and who is not comfortable with the idea of either having or feigning such an interest. This does not in the least make him a bad person; it makes him an insulated one, who appears to have a very sharp event horizon when it comes to personal relationships. I do not doubt one bit that he is a kind and good person to family and friends; I also believe that out beyond the personal frontier, the problems and concerns of others grow abstract very quickly. This last bit doesn’t make him substantially different from most people.

What does make him different is all that money he has, and the fact that his own sphere of struggle has never centered on its lack, or even the possibility of such a thing. This is a thing that is alien to most Americans. Some of us have been poor, some or much of our lives; most of us know someone in our family or circle of friends who has fallen on hard times, often through no fault of their own; most of us know, in a scary way we don’t like to think about, that we’re a couple of lost paychecks away from real trouble. Americans aspire to be rich, but because they’re not, they’re also sensitive to when those with wealth show obvious disconnects from the reality of their lives. Romney, unfortunately for him, presents all sorts of these disconnects in a public fashion.

Again, it doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, or that in a general sense being wealthy leads to personal failing or political insularity. There’s a fine line in the film Gladiator, in which the Roman senator Gracchus, played by Derek Jacobi, says “I don’t pretend to be a man of the people, but I do try to be a man for the people.” The United States has had its share of presidents who were for the people rather than of them: Both Roosevelts and John Kennedy fit into that mold, for example. I think Romney, through personal temperament and through his personal and religious upbringing, probably very well fits the mold of being for the people. I also think generally speaking, being for the people is more than sufficient, since I tend to judge people with civic inclinations for their actions more than I judge them for their personalities. I’d rather have a politician who does good than means well, in other words.

Romney would never be a perfect fit for me as a politician, but I don’t discount the idea that he desires to do good, and that I suspect in the end he’s not frothing ideologue. In another political time — heck, if it were 2000 and the current Mitt Romney were on the ballot rather than George W. Bush — I wouldn’t likely have voted for him, but I would have been sanguine about a candidate with the experience he has sitting in the White House. I expect in that era he could have run a campaign that lent itself better to his strengths.

2012 is a different era, however, and the GOP is different from what it was even a dozen years ago, and Romney is in himself ill-suited for his party and his time. Romney benefited from the fact that the GOP presidential field this year was manifestly the worst of any in recent memory, but it’s the last break he caught. It’s clear the GOP rank and file does not love him, it’s clear that political independents have not taken to him, and it’s clear that at the moment he’s not doing a very good job competing in an election year he could have been a solid contender. A week short of eight years ago I said here that if John Kerry could not win the presidency, he should be beaten to death with his own shoes; I have no doubt that there are folks who feel the same way about Romney.

Romney deserves the blame if he loses, but I don’t think he will deserve all the blame. At the end of it all, Romney is a reasonably decent man who could have been a reasonably decent president if it wasn’t 2012 and he was dealt the set of circumstances that he has been, i.e., a political party of ideologues who prize purity over practicality. It was Romney’s fault for, in my opinion, choosing to embrace their notions of purity over his own notions of practicality. It’s the GOP’s fault for making him have to do so. As in the end I judge people with civic inclinations for their actions more than their personalities, what I think of Mitt Romney as a person matters less than what he’s promised to do should he be elected, and to whom he’s beholden once he has been.

A Glimpse Into My Writing Brain Right Now

Just in case you’re wondering, the most annoying part of writing a novel, for me at least, is the part I’m at now, in which the entire novel is figured out, all the moving parts are in place and there are few if any surprises left for you as a writer — but the thing is still not done, because it’s not all written down. So paradoxically the moment that you stop worrying about whether the novel is going to work is also the moment you have to make sure you don’t get lazy or rush just to be done. Just because the novel will work is no guarantee you won’t still crash it through authorial stupidity.

The problem is compounded (again, for me at least) by the fact that since my brain knows the conceptual heavy lifting portion of novel writing is over, it’s begun to wander over to start thinking about the next thing (or in this case, the next possible things, as I have a a few different things I am considering for the next project), which makes the rest of me antsy to be done done done done. Which, again, means I have to be extra careful not to rush just to be done. This is why it’s the most annoying part of novel writing.

Don’t worry, this happens to me with every novel and every project. I keep myself from stampeding through the work because as much my desire to be done right now is more than amply counteracted by my desire not to write something that sucks. It’s worked so far, and it’ll work with this one too. But man, right now? So want to be done. Just thought I’d share.

Here is the Logitech Keyboard for the iPad

It arrived and I’ve been using it for a couple of days, and the verdict is: It’s all right. The keys are smaller than what I’m used to, but this is not terribly surprising, considering that they’re meant to fit into a cover for the iPad. It’s not hard to type on, however, and it’s definitely better than trying to type on the keyboard on the iPad screen (the row of numbers and a full set of punctuation marks helps, obviously).

Esthetically I like the way it looks; I got the white keyboard to go with the white iPad, so it looks all of a piece. The daughter looked at it and thought it was an actual laptop, so I suppose there’s that as well. I’ll take it with me on my upcoming trip to Austin and Washington DC and see how it does for me with actual travel. But so far, so good.

For No Especially Good Reason I Put Each Letter of the Alphabet Into My Web Browser and Posted the Link it Autocompleted To

And here’s what we got. Click or hover on the letter for the links, and don’t worry, they’re all work safe, since if I ever did any naughty searching, and I’m not saying I do, I would do it in incognito mode (i.e., not being written into my browser’s history).

AAndrew Sullivan’s site. Not a surprise, I find him quite readable, and now that Sarah Palin’s in his rearview mirror, usually sane.

BGizmodo. The “b” here comes from “,” which directs me to their blog format, which is ever so much for readable (for it and every other Gawker site) than its default layout.

CCNN. Middle of the road news although their entertainment coverage can make me cringe from time to time.

DDeadspin. This is an indication I don’t type “d” into my browser bar much, since I visit here maybe three times a year.

EEngadget. What can I say, I’m a tech nerd. I visit The Verge a lot, too.

FFacebook. Hey, everyone I know is on it, and sometimes you want to see what they’re up to.

GGoogle. I think it would be mildly surprising if it were something else.

HHulu. Another letter I don’t use much. I think this pops up because I see the occasional Saturday Night Live clip.

IIcerocket. For when I ego surf and don’t use Google.

JJezebel. Yes, I know. It’s links like these that make me a beta male.

KKnow Your Meme. This is so I don’t feel lost when I go to Reddit.

LLos Angeles Times. Because I grew up in the LA area, therefore it is my “hometown” newspaper.

MMetafilter. One of the few other places I actively comment at. I was mildly surprised that it wasn’t I wonder what this says about me.

OOrbitz. Because I travel a lot.

P: Popurls. Because I like to aggregate my online procrastination.

QQuickmeme. Look, I’m not saying everything I do online is productive.

RRhapsody. Where I listen to music online.

SSFWA. This is because I go in and check the SFWA director’s board areas because, you know, I am the president.

TTalking Points Memo. Because, among other things, Josh Marshall is a high school classmate of mine, and I’m proud of what he’s done with his site. For when I want to know just how long my flight’s been delayed!

VWordPress’ VIP site. Because this is where Whatever is hosted (and hosted well, I would add).

WWhatever. I mean, duh.

XXKCD. Stick figures are awesome.

YYouTube. Another one that I suppose is not terribly surprising, much to Yahoo’s chagrin.

ZZillow. Because occasionally I look at real estate. But only occasionally. This is another letter that doesn’t get much play in the browser bar.

Huh. That was an interesting experiment.

Today’s Assignment: Register to Vote

More writing on The Human Division today, less time here. I know. I miss you too. But I’ll miss not having a mortgage payment when I finish this thing more.

While I am gone, a question:

If you are a US Citizen, have you registered to vote yet?

If you haven’t, another question:

What the hell is wrong with you?

If you haven’t, I’m just going to leave these here for you:

The National Mail Voter Registration form (in seven different languages!) and links to election Web sites for every state, commonwealth and US Territory.

It’s important that you make sure you are registered to vote and that you know the laws of your state regarding what you need to identify yourself when you come in to vote (here’s what you need for the state of Ohio, for example). The longer you put this off, the more chance you have to be unpleasantly surprised by requirements you did not know about.

Yes, there’s an entire conversation to have about “voter fraud” and laws being passed to “combat” it, and yes, those scare quotes are there for a very good reason. However, that’s an argument to have some other time. Right now, what I want you to focus on as as a prospective voter is this: Don’t be surprised, do know what hoops your state is going to make you jump through on election day, and jump through those hoops. Don’t go to the polls unaware.

Likewise, it’s fashionable or at least common for people to present some weary affect about voting, like “I live in a red state and vote blue, so it’s not as if my vote will matter anyway” (or vice versa) or “One vote doesn’t actually matter, because elections don’t come down to a single vote, and here are the bundle of statistics I have to make that point” or “My polling place is in a church and I don’t like God seeing my ballot.” To which I say, again, what the hell is wrong with you? I live in a part of Ohio where statistically speaking seven out of ten of my neighbors vote differently than I do, and I haven’t missed a vote because I get to vote and I get my say. An election will probably never come down to my one vote, but my one vote says something about who I am as a person and as a citizen. I don’t vote for anyone else. I vote for me. You should vote for you, too. Whether your one vote is a voice lost in a chorus or a voice crying out in the wilderness, it’s still your voice.

And, yes, I will judge you if you can vote and don’t.

(I’ll also judge you if you can vote and do, but don’t bother to become sufficiently aware of who and what is on the ballot. But that’s also for another time.)

So: US citizens: Have you registered to vote yet? Let me know below.

Today’s Assignment: Recommend a New Book

I will not be about today because I must write like the wind. While I am away, to keep you occupied and amused, an assignment for you:

Tell us all about a new book that you’ve enjoyed.

For the purposes of this discussion, a “new book” is one that’s been published in the last two years, i.e., since September 25, 2010. Other than that, any sort of book you’ve personally liked and would recommend to others is eligible: fiction, non-fiction, small press, no press, ebook, graphic novel, etc. It just has to exist in the real world and be somewhere people can buy it. Book title and author, please, and also, you know, why you liked it.

Three rules:

1. It can’t be a book you’ve written (i.e., no self-promotion, and don’t make a sock puppet to promote yourself, because, dude, that’s just sad);

2. It can’t be one of my books, because it’s not as if people here are unaware of my stuff;

3. Pick one. Yes, it’s tough. But I don’t want to see laundry lists; I want to see new books you’re really passionate about. Also: One comment only (second posts to make corrections are fine but, come on, guys, that’s what the preview function is for). Don’t worry, I’ll do another one of these in December, so you can make another recommendation then.

Feel free to link to the book in the comments, but remember if you put too many links in the comment (more than three), it’ll get bumped into moderation. Don’t panic when that happens; when I take food/bathroom/RSI-avoidance breaks I’ll check the queue.

So: What new book do you want to tell the world about?

And Thus It Begins

I wrote, on Twitter:

A half hour later, from Wil Wheaton, there is this:

Oh, Wil.

(Shakes head sadly.)

Now you’ve done it.


Update, 8:54: Wil responds thusly:

To which I respond:

Oh, yeah. SMOKING GUN, baby.

Update, 9:17: I did not make this following video. But it ASKS THE RIGHT QUESTIONS:

Update, 9:37: I am determined to find answers about Wil’s underhanded political dealings with cats!

Update, 9:44: Oh, Wil’s on the ropes now:

Update, 10:14: Clearly flailing at his messaging, Wil nevertheless provides a Bizarro World-like take on events on his own site. It’s sad, really. But this is what you get when you lie down with the teh kittehs: You wake up with THE DANDER OF LIES.

My Tech Life, 2012

Three years ago, I gave an accounting of the technology I use and why, because people seem to be fairly curious about what I use and how it has an impact on my work. In the three years since I posted that piece, the day-to-day technology I use has changed quite a bit, so I thought I would give an update and what’s going on in my tech life and the reasons I have to use what I do. Here’s what I’m using now.

Desktop Computer: 2011 edition Mac Mini, 2.5Ghz Intel i5, 4GB RAM, AMD Radeon 6630M GPU, 500GB Hard Drive. The last time I did this, I referred to my desktop computer as my “primary computer,” but I don’t know if such a designation would be accurate these days. I spend a lot of time at my desktop computer, of course, but I’m equally likely these days to be working/viewing the Internet on a laptop or tablet. As time goes by I’m using my desktop for specialized things, or when I want to look at the Internet through a large monitor. There are also things I am doing less of; for example, I’m not playing PC-based videogames nearly as much as I used to, mostly because, in the last year, I’ve had less time just to chill out and shoot things. I do hope to correct that in 2013. Nevertheless, in 2012 this is where I am.

Earlier this year my former desktop died on me, and I decided not to immediately swap it out another monster rig; instead I used the MacBook Air I had, which suited me just fine for a bit. When I lost that (it was stolen, but then it was stolen because stupidly I left it somewhere it could be stolen), I decided that, for at least an interim basis, I would replace the desktop with a Mac Mini. Why? Because it was small, it wasn’t noisy, it would reduce clutter around my desk and because spending time with the Air made me fall in love with the Mac trackpad, which I now vastly prefer for my day-to-day work tasks over a mouse.

It’s not a monster machine, and in fact in almost every way is less robustly specced than my previous desktop, which is now three years old. I haven’t even bothered to play video games on it yet, and I do miss playing video games on my computer, so it’s possible I will get back to a larger, more powerful rig at some point. But for writing, Web browsing and basic photo/audio stuff, it works just fine, and at this moment that’s what I need it to do. I’m not in a huge rush to upgrade this.

Laptop: Acer Aspire One 11.6″ Netbook, AMD Dual Core Processor, 2GB RAM, 320GB Hard Drive. It used to be the 2011 MacBook Air, which I still consider the best all-around computer I’ve owned. But I lost it in May and needed a good, cheap travel-sized laptop, and I’d had relatively good luck with Acers before, so this what I got. The Air came back to me, but then I lost it again, basically because I’m an idiot. So this is my laptop for the moment at least.

It’s basic: It allows me to write, answer e-mail and do stuff on the Web. It’s okay but not great to write on and its build quality is sufficient but not memorable. The keys on the keyboard feel a tiny bit wobbly but only a tiny bit. I don’t get angry with it for not being fantastic because, you know what? I knew what was getting when I spent $250 on a laptop. It does what I bought it to do.

That said, the laptop is the piece of equipment mostly likely to be upgraded next, either to an Air again or to another kind of ultrabook after Windows 8 comes out. Basically I want to know how Windows 8 handles as an operating system (and whether Windows OS computers will stop having such suck-ass trackpads). There’s also another possibility, which I will detail below.

Tablet: Galaxy Tab 2, 7 inch. Yes, I just got the 2012 iPad, and I’m liking it a lot, and depending on how things work out with the incoming keyboard I got for the thing, it might de facto slide into the “laptop” slot for me moving forward. That said, when it comes to walking around the house with a computing device for reading the Web, fooling about on Twitter and quickly going through e-mail, the Galaxy Tab gets the nod. I like its size and it gets the job done, and the form factor is especially good for book reading. The iPad I have for business purposes (the video game I have a hand in is being developed for it), whereas the Galaxy Tab is more congenial for my daily life.

Phone: Motorola RAZR MAXX. When I went to upgrade my phone last year it came down to the Razr Maxx and the Galaxy Nexus. The Maxx had a ridiculously long lasting battery, but the Nexus had a better screen and Android 4.0. I went with the shiny and was mostly happy with the Nexus, except for its battery life, which, frankly, sucked. And then it died on me and I replaced it with the Maxx, and I have to say I’m glad I did. I really almost never have to worry about if I’m going to run out of battery, and at the end of the day I find that’s the thing I worry about most with my phone. The Nexus’ display is still better, but the Maxx’s is perfectly fine and otherwise I find nothing to complain about with the phone, with the exception that the power button is too flush with the phone, which makes it hard to activate sometimes. But if that’s your major problem with a phone? You’re fine.

Operating System: Varies. Mountain Lion on the Mini, Windows 7, iOS6 on the iPad, Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Tab and Maxx. Esthetically I like Mountain Lion, and especially the ability to flip back and forth between programs with a swipe of the keypad. Functionally Windows 7 is still substantially better for how I do things. The mobile OSes I find I don’t really care about one way or another although if you put a gun to my head I would probably give Android the nod over iOS6, and not just because of the maps but for overall functionality. But these days operating systems are much less of a deal than they were before, at least for me, not in the least because so much of what I need for computing goes on over the Internet, which is increasingly agnostic about operating systems.

Browser: Chrome (currently version 21.0.1180.89). It’s the browser that works the best across multiple platforms, and these days that’s important to me. It’s also stable and seems to handle memory management better than Firebox, my previous go-to browser. Also, I tend to use a lot of Google-based or -oriented services, and Chrome, which is made by Google, not surprisingly seems to integrate those better than other browsers. Firefox is now my backup browser; I miss its plugins but not how it would eventually cause my computers to chug. Safari and Internet Explorer I use exactly as long as it takes to download Chrome and Firefox. I acknowledge that Opera exists.

Mail: GMail: Was using it three years ago and still using it today because I am used to the interface and it works well for what I do with e-mail. And if something works, why change it?

Photo Management: Flickr. Again, something I’ve been using for a while, for the same reasons (applied to photo management) I use Gmail. I had some mild concerns for a while about how long Flickr might be around because Yahoo, its parent company, seems have made a concerted effort to mess itself up, and I was also concerned Yahoo would decide that Flickr was not part of its “core strengths” or whatever. But for the moment at least their new CEO seems to be helping. Hopefully it will not go away.

Photo Editing: Varies. I used to use the latest iteration of Photoshop exclusively, but these days I find that what I use depends on where I am sitting and how I am taking the picture. If I use my Nikon to take the picture, I’ll use the Photoshop Elements and CameraBag 2, which I have on the Mini (which has a slot for my Nikon’s memory card). If I’m using the iPad, I’ll use Snapseed or PS Touch. On the Galaxy Tab, I have Vignette, Pixlromatic or Instagram, which I also have on the Maxx, along with Flickr’s app and Perfectly Clear. I’ll also often use Aviary, which is now integrated into Flickr. Really, this category is just kind of a mess at this point.

Music Management: Rhapsody. Again, still, and again, for the same reasons as I use GMail, as they relate to music. That said, these days “music management” means something different than it meant three years ago. At this point I don’t really download music anymore. I still buy it — I think it’s important to support musicians — but I tend not to buy it to own the files, I buy it to give the musicians money. So what happens is that I’ll listen to an album on Rhapsody, if I like it I buy it on Amazon, Amazon will store it in that music locker service of theirs so I can download it later if I want, and then I listen to it on Rhapsody some more. That way the musician gets paid twice — first for the album I’ve bought and then for the streaming. I like paying people twice!

Video: Netflix. Krissy and Athena are all about streaming TV series (Krissy: Sons of Anarchy; Athena: Black Butler) and I will on occasion dip in for Asian action films (most recently: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame), and the service is ubiquitous — hell, it even came packaged in a TV we just bought. We also still do subscribe to their BluRay service, which I understand makes us old people. And get this — sometimes we even still buy BluRays. I know! It’s crazy. I also have Amazon’s streaming service because I’m a Prime member, but I use it very rarely.

eBook Managment: Nook. Mostly because I was given a Nook eReader a couple of years ago as a gift, and therefore did a number of purchases through it, but also because, well, I see no point in just handing the eBook field to Amazon (which I use for other things, however). I rarely use the Nook eReader anymore; I have the Nook app on my mobile devices now. I do also have Amazon’s Kindle, and Google Books and (on the iPad) iBooks, although I’ve bought  almost nothing on the latter because of lack of cross-platform apps. I still tend to default to Nook when I buy eBooks. What I would really like is to be able to buy my eBooks through my local indie book retailer, but that’s not doable yet.

Cloud Service: Google Drive. I primarily use this because, again, I tend to use a lot of Google services. However, I do have iCloud turned on for my Apple stuff, and as noted also use Amazon’s offerings from time to time. And I have a personal “cloud” option, namely, my Web site provider, which offers me effectively unlimited storage space on my site. This is a reminder that “the cloud” is just a silly metaphorical name for “a bunch of servers that are not in your house at the moment.”

Web Hosting: I’ve been with for I think eight years now and in that time I’ve been very pleased with their service. I have their business package, which means effectively I have unlimited space and unlimited bandwidth. The only problem I ever had, in fact, was when Whatever became a processor hog on their servers, which would time out processes before they could complete, causing me all sorts of headaches. But now Whatever is elsewhere (more on that in a minute) and in any event I’m pretty sure the problem there was me — specifically my lack of competence in setting up the blog — not them. 1and1 does its job so well I don’t even think about them anymore, which is really the highest compliment one can give a Web host.

Blog Software/Hosting: WordPress. I’ve been using WordPress for Whatever since 2008, and Whatever has been hosted via WordPress’ VIP service since October 2008, and I’ve been deeply pleased with both. I’ll have more to say about both of those on October 8, which is the day in 2008 the site switched over, but for now I’ll say I can happily endorse both services.

Word Processor: Google Docs. Which is now integrated in Google Drive, so honestly I don’t know if that’s what it’s still called, but screw it, that’s what I knew it by when I started using it, so that’s what I’m going to keep calling it. I’ve had a largely dissatisfied relationship with Google Docs over the years — the “write and edit from anywhere” proposition is largely undeniably a compelling one, but the program itself was half-baked for a very long time. But here in 2012 they’ve finally largely got it working for what I need it to do: I can write, edit and format words, it has a built-in spell-check and word count, and I can work on the same document across multiple computers and platforms just by clicking into the document. Done and done.

It’s interesting to me how important “working across multiple computers and platforms by clicking into the document” has become to me, and it, not cost issues, is why I use Google Docs more at the moment than I do my previous default word processor, Microsoft Word. It’s possible to use Word across multiple platforms, but to do so is more kludgy at the moment than anything else, in my experience. I imagine this will be directly addressed in Word 2013, which I understand is better integrated with Microsoft’s cloud offering, and so on and so forth. So we’ll see. At the moment, however, Google Docs is working for me. I am also using Apple’s Pages, which uses the company’s iCloud storage component, but it’s not my preferred word processor. I haven’t stopped using Word, I should note, but I use it for specialized purposes at the moment.

(Writers, before you try to pimp me your favorite writing tool — especially Scrivener — be aware that I try them all. If I don’t mention using your favorite, it’s because it doesn’t work for me. Especially Scrivener. Man, you Scrivener fanboys drive me a little crazy sometimes.)

Twitter Client: Janetter. It does everything I used to use TweetDeck for, before Twitter bought TweetDeck and made it suck. I understand Twitter is cracking down on third-party companies, which makes me worry about Janetter’s future. But for now, I like it better than any other Twitter client. At least on my computers; on my mobile devices, I find Twitter’s client perfectly adequate.

Things On the Previous List Not Really on This One: Video Game Management, Audio/Video Editing, IM Software, Personal Music/Video Player. As I’m not really playing games at the moment, I’m not really using Steam, my prior game management software, although when I come back around to gaming on the PC, it’s what I’ll use again. I’m playing games on my tablets and phone, but they don’t need specialized management software. I’m using Apple’s basic audio/video tools and hate them with a blinding passion and will be looking for something better (no, I’m not looking for recommendations at this time). As for IM, I’ve mostly stopped using it on a day-to-day basis, although when I do use it, I’m using Apple’s Messaging software that came with Mountain Lion. For music/video playing, those functions have been totally subsumed by my phone and tablets, and on those I use Rhapsody or Spotify primarily.

I think that’s a pretty exhaustive list, but if there’s something more you want to know, drop it into the comments.

Various and Sundry, 9/22/12

Because a Saturday is a fine time to talk about a number of things:

* Charlie Stross has an interesting post up about the diminishing marginal utility of stuff, in which among other things he speculates why people who have more money than is possible to spend in one lifetime still go out and try to get more of the stuff. My own thought about it, to use a video game term, is that we’re basically tuned and trained to level up all the time, and to keep grinding away until we do — “I’m only a 79th level rich guy! 80th level is the top!” — regardless of whether the payoff is worth the investment. Also, of course, as status seeking primates, when you stop grinding away, then you lose status, and that’s when all the other monkeys turn on you.

One thing I think a lot about these days, and which I think I’ll probably writer a longer piece on at some point, is the idea of sufficiency: Knowing when you have enough for yourself and learning to ask whether you need anything more, or even want it. This is something I have no big answers for yet, but it rolls about in my head a lot. Writing is often how I figure out what I’m thinking about something, so once I have my writing schedule clear, maybe I’ll give it a tackle.

* For those of you wondering: The writing on The Human Division is coming along nicely, and as with many things where you are trying to do something new (or at least new to you) it’s going off in interesting and surprising (but I think positive) ways. When it’s done I’ll do a post-mortem, as I often do at the end of a project, and talk a little more about it then.

* I had a lot of people ping me for my thoughts about the Amanda Palmer thing involving the volunteer musicians she asked for while on the road. Actually, my thoughts were along the line of “Oh, look, an Internet kerfuffle involving the wife of a friend of mine. I think I’ll stay out of this one.” And I think those were perfectly reasonable thoughts. I will say I approve of the way she decided to resolve the issue. I’ll also say, on a related topic, that her new album Theatre is Evil is excellent and I’m delighted it debuted on the Billboard Top 10 for last week.

* I also have been asked for thoughts on the fact that in the last week the polls seem to have swung Obama’s way, and what that means for the election. My thought on that is that it is September 22, the election is November 6 and there are six and a half weeks between now and then, so let’s not either panic or get complacent, depending on who you are and who you support (if you support Gary Johnson, dude, have another bowl and enjoy yourself, since you already know how your November 6 is going to go). There are still the presidential debates and a bunch of chances for both Romney and Obama to do well or screw up — or for news and events to take their toll or lift either of them. So please let’s not all lose our brains.

* Also, it’s my sister’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Heather!

* It’s also the first day of fall here, and this is what it looks like from my back deck:

Hope your first day of fall (or spring!) is equally pretty.

Writing on an iPad: An Update

Earlier in the week I mentioned I was trying out writing on my iPad, using a bluetooth connected keyboard, and some of you were wondering how that had worked out for me — if indeed it worked out at all. Well, in fact I wrote an episode of my upcoming project The Human Division on the iPad (roughly 10,500 words), so here’s an update.

First, some technical notes: for this thing I used my newly purchased iPad (the 2012 iteration), the Apple keyboard that came with my Mac Mini (it has a bluetooth connection) and a cheap plastic plate stand we had lying around the house. I bought myself one of the Logitech iPad keyboard covers, which are well reviewed and looks like could be useful when I travel. But as I got it in white, it hasn’t shipped yet, and it will probably be a week or so before it does. In the meantime, this setup works well enough.

I tried various word processing options, including Google Docs, my current go-to writing tool for THD, before settling on using Pages from Apple’s iWork suite. I chose it because a) it’s the best-integrated word processor for iPad, as far as I can see, and b) it now saves to iCloud, Apple’s cloud storage option, which means I can write it on the iPad and then go up and write on it some more on my desktop, if I choose. I’m not hugely in love with Pages as a word processor in a general sense, but for what I need to do (i.e., type words with minimal formatting), it does well enough.

In terms of the iPad as a writing device, it’s sufficient but not great; basically you give up a lot of fine motor control in order to work on it. By this I mean that moving the typing cursor around on the screen with your finger is a lot less exact than you can achieve with a mouse or trackpad; likewise other editing options appeared to be constrained or more rudimentary on the iPad than on a standard computer. Even something as relatively simple on a standard computer as italicizing was a longer and more annoying process on the iPad. What I ended up doing was saving a lot of the formatting and editing for when I was working on the computer. This was annoying but not a deal breaker for me, and it did signal that writing anything on the iPad, for the moment at least, will go better if you still have access to a more standard computer along the way. And I do.

If I were a person at Apple, my suggestions would be to make iPages (or, really the whole iOS) have a standard interface emulator, so I could also hook up a trackpad and have finer control over the cursor. It possible this does exist and I just don’t know how to access it, of course. In which case, I’d be happy for someone to show me how to do it (and also how to make smart quotes function on the iPad iteration of Pages, since I couldn’t figure that out, which meant I had to go and find & replace them into the document when I was done).

Now the positives: Writing on the iPad does make it easier for me to ignore the Internet, which considering the deadline I have at the moment is a major plus. It’s also convenient for me to pick up and move about the house; I ended up getting out of my office and writing at the kitchen table, which was a nice change. Since the new iPad has screen resolution better than my 24-inch monitor (2048×1536 vs. 1920×1200) on much less real estate, my typing looks fantastic on the iPad and, well, less so on my previously awesome monitor (yes, I know, I can get a better monitor! Thank you for spending my money for me). And, you know. Writing on an iPad makes me feel like I’m living in the future.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced the iPad — from a UI point of view, not a processing guts point of view — is entirely ready to replace the laptop as the best mobile computing environment for people who actually have to do, you know, work. As I said, if I didn’t have a full computing environment to do formatting and editing in, I think I would find the iPad unsatisfactory. I have some travel in the next month and if my Logitech keyboard arrives on time I’ll give going without my laptop a shot and see how it works. But if it were serious travel, like the travel I did earlier in the summer, I’m pretty sure I would be bringing along the laptop.

The Big Idea: Malinda Lo

Birds have often been painted as harbingers of troubled times. In her new novel Adaptation, Malinda Lo might say “Friend, you have no idea.” She explains why below. Watch the skies!


The idea for my new novel, Adaptation, came to me in a dream.

I know, I know. Such a cliche, right? But I swear I’m not lying. Like many writers, I keep a journal, and the morning I woke up from the dream that became Adaptation, I ran to my desk and scribbled it down as fast as I could. Here is that journal entry in its entirety:

Saturday, Jan. 11, 2009

I had a dream that would make a great beginning to a postapocalyptic novel. I was on a plane that stopped for a layover in Texas. Outside the windows suddenly these spacecrafts started shooting into the sky—like UFOs, and then hundreds of birds started falling from the sky dead. We were all very scared. Eventually it stopped and the plane took off. On the news we were told it was just an antivirus thing—killing off cancer-causing animals. Even Bill Clinton was shown standing outside in the falling birds, unharmed. Wouldn’t it be great to send a group of high school kids on a school trip where they encounter this? And although the government says it’s OK, it’s really not.

In retrospect, a few things jumped out at me upon rereading this entry. First, it took three years and nine months to turn that dream into a finished book. I had that dream before my first novel, Ash, was published. I had forgotten that this idea had been in my head for so long.

Second, practically nothing survives from that dream except two things: starting in an airport, and birds falling dead from the sky. Sadly, I was not able to integrate Bill Clinton in a shower of dead birds into Adaptation.

Third, the last two lines of that journal entry were actually my first attempts at figuring out what a book inspired by this dream could be about. I was a little startled to realize that I haven’t strayed from that initial idea. Those last two lines are exactly what Adaptation is about.

Now, getting inspiration from a dream sounds well and good, but once you’ve gotten that inspiration, you have to figure out how to turn it into a story that makes sense. Dreams can be intense and immersive; they can be fantastic and frightening. But they don’t follow much of a narrative structure, and they have tons of gaping plot holes. After deciding to turn the dream into a book, I had to figure out what happened to make those birds do what they did — and fashion a plot structure to hold it all together.

I knew in my gut that I had the beginning of a potentially awesome story. I was particularly excited about it because it had so many shades of The X-Files, which was one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Clearly, Adaptation owes a lot to The X-Files — not only its spooky tone, but the fact that The X-Files helped bring conspiracy theories and UFO sightings into the mainstream. Let me tell you: The research I did for Adaptation was equal parts totally fun and incredibly paranoia-inducing.

For instance, dead birds really do fall from the sky. Mass animal die-offs are not actually unheard of; they’re just really creepy. Additionally, birds and airplanes have had a long, bumpy history. Airport runways have to be designed to avoid common bird flight paths, because birds don’t know when a plane is going to get in their way. Planes are actually built to withstand hitting birds, and you might remember that pilot who landed his plane on the Hudson River after a bird strike. (Incidentally, that happened on January 15, 2009 — four days after my dream.)

Now it’s September 2012, and my book-that-began-as-a-dream is a reality. The idea that initially inspired it is still there. In fact, here are the first two sentences of the novel: “The birds plummeted to the tarmac, wings loose and limp. They struck the ground with such force that their bodies smashed into dark slicks on the concrete.”

The book’s main character, seventeen-year-old Reese Holloway, sees those birds out the window at Phoenix Airport, where she is waiting for a flight home to San Francisco after a disastrous showing at a debate tournament with her partner, David Li. (She also has a crush on him, but her crush goes in interesting directions. For those who have strong feelings about love triangles, pro or con, I will note that Adaptation does include one, as well as this: My love triangle ain’t like the others.)

It turns out that birds aren’t just falling dead from the sky. They’re also striking planes in large flocks, which are causing the planes to crash. Thousands are dead, and the government calls for a flight ban.

Of course, Reese and David want to get home. They decide to rent a car with their debate coach and risk the freeways instead of waiting at the airport. Just as I learned while I was wrangling the plot of Adaptation and its sequel (coming fall 2013!), Reese and David discover that the birds are just the tip of the iceberg. I hope that readers will want to find out the truth as much as I did.


Adaptation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

This is a New One For Me

I am one of the lede stories on the site. No, that’s not me in the beard. The other story you see there is taken from an interview I did earlier today with a CNN reporter about my “Being Poor” piece. Here’s a direct link to it, as it will inevitably leave the front page at some point. Even so, it’s cool to have made it there, and not because I did something horrible.

As I just noted on Twitter, one of the things that amazes me (and depresses me just a little) is how the “Being Poor” piece continues to be relevant. It’s been seven years since I wrote the thing. It’s still one of the most visited pieces on the site.

Incidentally, if you wander down into the comments, you will perhaps appreciate even more the assiduousness with which I moderate my own comment threads.

Dave and Liz and Chicago Save the World: A Short Story

As part of my duties as Toastmaster of Chicon 7, I wrote a short story for the convention, one, as a freebie and thank you to the membership, for paying their money and coming to the con, and two, as a way to boost up to the membership, most of whom were from somewhere else, some of the very cool things about the city of Chicago itself. Because, as I am sure most of you are aware, I think Chicago is a fabulous town, and well worth the time to visit and enjoy. And because I’m me, I decided to make it a little bit goofy.

The result was “Dave and Liz and Chicago Save the World,” and now that Chicon 7 is in the history books, I thought, hey: You might enjoy it. So here it is. Have fun with it. For those of you visiting the front page of the site, it’s available after the jump (if you’re first seeing this through RSS: Sorry, dudes).

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