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Ghlaghghee (and Me) in the New York Times

Because it was apparently a slow news week, with nothing else of note to write about, the New York Times asked itself the following question: “are we at a place in history where a straight single man is allowed to own a cat and not have his sexuality questioned?” Because if decades of Hollywood films have taught us anything, it’s that the only men allowed to have cats are the token gay male friends of spunky female protagonists. And Hollywood never lies or stereotypes — it’s a hotbed of liberal thought, after all — so for a straight single male to own a cat, well, see. That’s just weird.

So naturally I had to be contacted for the story, because I am famous on Teh Intarnets for owning a cat (and for taping bacon to it). And, while not actually famous for the following, I’m also known to have at least the outward trappings of heterosexuality, which is good enough for the Times (I was not asked to actively verify my straightness, which probably would have been difficult during a phone interview in any event). Since it was ostensibly a story on single men, I did feel obliged to note that I was in fact married, but since I confirmed to the reporter that I did own a cat before I got married (the late, lamented Rex), she let that one slide.

So here’s a rather silly article on straight, single men and cats, in which I am quoted and Ghlaghghee is mentioned. I’ll note to you that the New York Times actually sent a photographer out to the house, who took pictures of me and Ghlaghghee (and also of me and Zeus), but apparently we did not make the photographic cut, at least for the online version of the article. Maybe we’re in the print version. I can’t say.

Now, to be fair to Abby Ellin, the New York Times reporter who contacted me about the story, she was aware this story was, well, fluffy, which prompted the following exchange:

Abby Ellin: You know, this isn’t Watergate or anything.

Me: Nonsense. You’re about to blow this whole “straight single men with cats” thing wide open. I smell Pulitzer.

Abby Ellin: That’s not a Pulitzer you smell, it’s a cat box.

Ms. Ellin was a lot of fun to talk to. We talked for about twenty minutes about cats and men, which got boiled down to a couple of quotes because that’s the nature of a feature article with several sources. So the readers of the article miss me talking at length about the phenomenon of symbolism as it applies to repressed groups, and how these symbols lose their power the more members of a group are allowed to participate in the mainstream public social discourse, and so on and blah blah blah; I suppose the fact I just went “blah blah blah” may be why it’s not in the actual article.

But, look: these days, the way you know a man is gay is not that he owns a cat, it’s that he introduces the man standing next to him as his husband. When you have that option available, prognosticating sexuality via choice of pet seems a bit silly. Straight men have always owned cats because cat owning is not indicative of sexuality; it’s indicative of liking cats. Straight men have always owned small dogs, too, while we’re at it. My grandfather owned a pug. If you were to have questioned his sexuality, he probably would have popped you in the nose. Hey, he was an Italian man of a certain age at a certain time. What are you going to do.

As I went in knowing the subject of the article was silly, I can’t complain about the inherent fluffiness of the piece, and I think it’s a fun piece as these things go. The only thing I would note is I think the way my section of the article is put together could suggest that I inherently equate heterosexuality with “strong men” and homosexuality with shrieking ninnies. Since I know at least one gay man who is an ex-Navy SEAL, and several others who could kick my flabby ass up and down the street all the merry day long, allow me to suggest this is not a stereotype I go in for personally, merely one I know is out there and am commenting on therein. Thank you in advance for accepting this clarification, gay men of my acquaintance. Please don’t kick my ass.

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Bacon Cat Lives On

At this moment, the “bacon cat” picture is #4 on the “What’s Hot” list on Reddit.com. I suspect it’s because of this blog post on last night’s debate, over at NRO, in which bacon cat was mentioned. Bacon cat is everywhere. All hail bacon cat. I will never escape bacon cat.

The funny thing is, this might not be Ghlaghghee’s biggest media moment this week. More to come on that later, however.

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It’s an Uncanny Likeness

My author copies of Hate Mail have arrived, and I have to say the cover photo pretty much gets it:

I mean, yes, I’m wearing a little more hair than I was in the cover photo. But otherwise: Spot on, man. It’s always nice when a photo captures your true likeness, you know?

In any event, rumor is these things are moving at a pretty brisk clip, so if you want one, best to hie yourself to the SubPress site, or Amazon. Amazon’s cheaper, but the SubPress order will get you a chapbook. Your call.

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Your VP Debate Thread

No, I didn’t watch the debate: I was busy talking with Toby Buckell in front of a bunch of people in Columbus. But if the post-debate analysis consensus is to be believed, neither candidate embarrassed themself, and Biden came out on top, because he apparently knows things, as opposed to knowing talking points helpfully provided on index cards. This outcome, if accurate, does not surprise me much. And this is all I know of the debate at this moment.

However, I would not deny any of you the joy of discussing the debate here, if such would be your wont. So here you go: Add your thoughts, analysis, commentary and so on. Play nice with the other children; do not make me come and take away your toys.

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Minor Correction re: Tonight’s Columbus Appearance

The address of the bookstore Toby and I will be at this evening at 7pm in Columbus, Ohio is 1598 North High Street, Columbus, OH, not 1958 N. High Street. Please make a note of it, since I don’t want you angry at me if you can’t find it. I want you angry at Toby. Yes, it’s all his fault. Kill him and not me!

(Note: Please don’t actually kill Toby.)

Here’s a Google Maps link to the location. Oh, Google, is there nothing your technological tentacles can’t find their way into? Apparently not.

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When Sequels Do It Better

The topic over at today’s AMC science fiction film column: Why it’s difficult to make a sequel better than an original film — and how some science fiction franchises managed to do it. I give four examples; if you can think of any others, or heck, just feel like arguing with me about the subject, by all means add your comments over there. I like comments. Comments are love.

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Probably Elemental MySQL Database Questions

Okay, this one goes out to the IT geeks out there:

One of the problems I’m having these days is that whenever I use the “export” function — either on WordPress or Movable Type, which I actually do still have installed — it only exports about a tenth of the content in its respective MySQL databases. I suspect this has not a little to do with 1&1’s decision to time out processes after a certain length of time. But what this means is that I have several databases worth of content (entries, comments, etc) and no reliable way that I know of to fully extract that content, so that I might, say, combine it all into a single database so all my content will show up on the same platform (which would be useful for me, and also to folks who might, say, want to read that content).

So: if I have a database full of Movable Type-formatted data, and a second database full of WordPress-formatted data, what can I do that I can extract the data from both databases, put them into the same format (preferably WordPress Extended RSS) and then pour both pools of data into a third database without running afoul of script timing limitations on my server? Is there a way I can download the databases and do the extraction and collation on my own computer (Windows Vista box), thus not having to bother with 1&1’s pissy script throttling — without having to reformat my computer to look and act like a server? And once I have this third database, how might I plug it into a WordPress install and have the data show up as entries/comments? Is that possible aside from using the “import” function on WP (which I suspect will run afoul of the same script timing issues)?

Basically, I’d like to try to port all the entries and comments I have into a single database, and have that database populate a WordPress install, without having to pay some poor bastard to cut and paste it all (cutting and pasting which would probably not preserve comments). I’ve got a decade’s worth of stuff. It would be neither cheap nor easy to cut and paste.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Need clarification? And before you make the offer (and some of you would), I’m not actually looking for someone to do this for me right now, I’m asking if this is something I could do, easily or at the very least if I have a willingness to do some moderate hair-pulling. If the answer is “no,” or “well, it will take a lot of hair pulling, actually,” then I’ll look to hire someone. But if I can do it, then it’s probably better for everyone (don’t worry, I’ll download my databases and work from copies. Me not stupid).

So, if you have expertise in this area, fire off a comment. Thanks.

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Small Language Gripe

I’m opposed to calling bribes to recalcitrant legislators “sweeteners.” High fructose corn syrup is a “sweetener.” The Senate lardering up a novel’s worth of incentives to get the House to change its mind on a bill it bounced just days before is a goddamn bribe. Please let’s all just call it what it is. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

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AOL Journals, 2003 – 2008

America Online has decided to pull the plug on AOL Journals, the blogging initiative I was a principal of for four and a half years, effective at the end of this month, and some of the folks who had journals there (or still do, for the next month) have asked me if I have any thoughts on its demise.

The major thought is that it doesn’t actually come as a surprise to me. AOL Journals, like a number of AOL initiatives of the time, was something of a member retention maneuver: i.e., a product to give to members so they wouldn’t leave the service and go somewhere else. Since that time, however, AOL has moved toward advertising as a revenue model, so member retention initiatives don’t really matter much anymore. I personally can’t remember the last time I actually signed on to AOL; I don’t know that an actual AOL client actually exists anymore. But I do visit AOL-owned sites with advertising on them (most notably Engadget); I don’t suspect my pattern of use is remarkable.

And the fact of the matter is that while AOL Journals did have a core, committed community, that community was far smaller than the ones on other blogging software, like LiveJournal or Blogger. That didn’t put it in good stead when it came to advertising revenues (AOL started putting ads on AOL Journals a couple of years ago); there’s no point putting ads where not a lot of people are going to see them. Basically, once AOL threw its lot in with advertising as a primary revenue source, AOL Journal’s days were numbered.

This happened before with AOL; when AOL switched over from an hourly rate to a flat monthly fee, a lot of areas on the service disappeared because their business model was predicated on the previous way of making money. There were lots of complaints then, too, but at the end of the day AOL is a business and acts that way, whether the year is 1996 or 2008.

I do feel immensely sorry for the AOL-J community there, however. My understanding is that AOL is going to open up a migration path for AOL Journals to another blogging service (it looks to be Blogger, which makes sense because Google — Blogger’s parent — is a stakeholder in AOL) so people who want to keep blogging can port the contents of their blogs there and keep going. But make no mistake that it’s going to tear up the community, since people who port over won’t necessarily know how to find each others’ blogs immediately, and I suspect more than a few of these folks will either mess up the transition (one of the attractions of AOL Journals was its simplicity of use, much like the attraction of AOL in general) or simply decide not to blog anymore. It’s disheartening to be thrown out of one’s home, even if there’s somewhere else to go.

So: Not surprising, but sad all the same. I hope all the folks still on AOL-J find new homes and keep in touch with each other, and find some way to keep their community going. I think some of them will.

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Bowing to Popular Demand

Here’s the damn cat. I hope you’re happy.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but she did not miss you as much as you missed her. She was off doing, you know, cat stuff. Keeps her busy, it does.

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Two Charitable Things

Two people I know are pimping charities recently, so here’s a shoutout to them:

1. My pal Chad Orzel is trying to raise $6K for DonorsChoose, an educational charity, and he’s willing to dance like a monkey for your pleasure in exchange for your cash. Go here for all the details.

2. Mary Robinette Kowal is trying to help a friend who needs socks for at-risk teens. Yes, socks. Don’t laugh: it sucks not to have them, especially when everything else in your would has turned to crap. So if you’ve got socks to spare, here’s a place they can go. (Quick Update, 10:44am: MRK’s site is a bit glitchy at the moment, so if you can’t get through, try again a little later. Even Quicker Update, 1:18pm: MRK says it’s fixed)

Helping either of these would be a fine way to start your October.

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Your Not Exactly Deep Thought of the Day

Every time I put ham on a bagel, I feel… transgressive.

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Hosting & Tech Geekery

I’m going to talk technical neepery here, so if that doesn’t interest you, you’ll probably just want to wait for the next entry.

So, yesterday marked a year of using WordPress, and generally speaking it’s been a pretty positive experience. The last month I’ve been encountering problems with internal server errors, but I have a more than sneaking suspicion that this relates to my host provider not to WordPress itself. Some of you may recall that I found out some time ago that the reason I was having so many problems with Movable Type here last year was because 1&1 put a time limit on the length scripts could run, which inevitably caused problems with the software. I rather strongly suspect that something similar is happening again, as there’s no other reason the site should be choking and crawling as much as it is — the last month was down about 7% in terms of traffic from some of the earlier months, and had no “big posts” that would have caused congestion. So it’s not the software, I suspect. It’s the hardware.

This pretty much confirms that (dramatic but real sigh) I’m going to have to find another hosting home for Scalzi.com sometime in the near future. I do have some interesting options, which I will be pursuing, and which could possibly ultimately be of benefit to me and the site. But it’s still a pain in my ass, and it’s a shame, since up until the last month or so I’ve been generally happy with 1&1. But me having server errors every single day for the last month and them unable or unwilling to do anything about it is just not acceptable.

I don’t know that this should mean anything to you in the short run, since I don’t intend to make any moves on the site until I know where I’m going and until I can build out the backend so that when the domain transfers, you the reader have a fairly seamless experience with it (i.e., no wondering where all the content went, etc). That takes time and effort, and as long as I’m going to do all that, I might as well try to do some improvements on the site as well. So don’t expect massive changes instantly, but do expect some changes, possibly by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing what I can to lessen calls to the database, which will probably cut down the server errors a bit. The first step is that for the short term at least I’m going to close comment threads older than 14 days. 99% of comments on a post happen within the first three or four days anyway, so by and large I don’t think people will have a problem with this. But it will make a difference in the backend, since then people can see cached pages. There are other things I will tweak as well, if I can. Basically, I want to make sure you don’t have a problem getting to the site and working with it. In the short run, this means throttling the back end as much as possible. Alas.

So that’s where we are on the tech front of things.

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Xkcd Gets it Right Again: The Fiction Rule of Thumb

I post this partly to ward off having it sent to me a thousand times, but also to acknowledge its general truth. That said, Anathem wrecks this curve pretty handily. But note well, newbie authors: You are not Neal Stephenson. Hell, sometimes Neal Stephenson is barely Neal Stephenson, if you know what I mean.

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Whateveresque Registration Day, 10/1/08

If you’ve had a hankerin’ to register for Whateveresque, the Whatever reader forum, today’s the day: Registration is open until 10pm. Remember that you’ll be approved faster if I don’t think you’re a spambot; here’s how to avoid looking like one of those. And be sure to introduce yourself to others in the “All About You” topic thread.

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