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[Comments] (1) Neti Pot: I've been subsceptible to sinus problems since I was a teenager, and many's the time I've wished I could just flush that system out with salt water. The neti pot is designed to do just that, but I didn't use it until recently, probably because I also have a deep fear of having water in my skull cavities. But it works great. Sumana got me one the last time I was sick, and it relieved the pain better than useless non-pseudoephedrine-containing medicine. Since then I think it's prevented an onset of sinus sickness, and even when I'm not sick, I've found it useful for generally not feeling miserable in dry weather.

So, at the risk of having told you more than you want to know about my sinuses, I recommend checking out the neti pot. Part of me wishes I'd had one when I was a kid, and part of me knows that me-as-a-kid would never have been able to use it correctly. I couldn't even swallow pills until I was about nineteen--too squeamish.

[Comments] (1) KJ Kabza: A few weeks ago when we went to Boston, we attended a dinner party with people from Julia's writing group. It's difficult for me to imagine setting up a dinner party for my writing group; we have enough trouble all getting together for the writing group itself. Anyway, one of the people I met, KJ Kabza, turned out to be a fan of mine! (Well, a fan of "Awesome Dinosaurs".) I had a great conversation with him, and this weblog entry gives me a reason to link to his webpage so you can check out his writing.

: Random link of excellence, I don't remember where I found it and it's seven years old, but check it out: Cartridge covers from Thai Atari 2600 games.

[Comments] (1) : I haven't been writing NYCB or the novel because I've been trying to write a paper for the First International Workshop on RESTful Design. I made a great breakthrough today when I decided to just cut a third of the paper and talk about that stuff later after I fully understand the problem, rather than to improvise something and get it in before Tuesday...

Except looking at the web page, I noticed that the deadline has been pushed a week into the future. I haven't gathered enough data to be sure, but it seems like conference paper deadlines always get extended. How come they never did that in college? A week is probably not enough time to do justice to that third part of the paper, but it gives me enough of a buffer that I can take it easy tomorrow and finish the novel chapter that's effectively already finished except for little details like the words not being on the page.

This entry got longer than I expected because I discovered the deadline got changed, but here's the link I was going to appease you with: weird Chinese fake Lego. (You can tell it's fake because it's not LEGO.)

PS: If my paper is not accepted, I'll post it on Crummy for you to read. I haven't written much about web services due to novel work, but the paper should give a little insight into what's been happening at my job.

Reviews of Not That Old Science Fiction Magazines: Apex Volume 1 Issue 11 (2007): Not to be confused with Abyss and Apex. I believe Sumana got this magazine from a friend in 2008 and gave it to me so I could study the market. I studied it enough to see "Science Fiction & Horror" at the top of the cover, and then put it in with the rest of my unread magazines. I do not like horror. I realize that this says more about me than about the genre, so I will spare you my half-baked opinions and nickel psychoanalyses of the horror writers profiled in this issue of Apex. Suffice to say that I am suspicious of any genre named after an emotion. Like if comedy was just called "laughing".

That said, there was one story in this issue I really liked. Sara King's "The Moldy Dead" is one of my favorite types of story: a first contact story with no humans in it, just alien-on-alien action. The horror element is surprisingly understated, and I appreciated it on an intellectual level when it came into play in the ending. It was kind of Star Trek-ish, though (if I may damn with faint praise) more interesting than any time Star Trek ever tried to do horror. (PS: Helpful hint to space explorers. If you go to a planet looking for intelligent life, and you find only one form of life on the planet, that might be it!)

I also enjoyed the title of one of the pieces: "Cain XP11 (Part 3): Sorry About All The Blood". That was the third part of a four-part novella about a government plan to clone history's great serial killers and train them as super-soldiers, a well-thought-out plan which surprisingly goes awry.

And that's the kind of thing found in the rest of the magazine. The ads are uniformly interesting: small-press stuff with the distinctive small-press art style, and because I don't believe in the reading conventions of horror the copy just makes me laugh. ("Resurrected against his will in an unholy deal with Hell, he must now use his surgical skills to harvest the living to feed an ever-growing army of the undead.")

However, I would like to give a special shout-out to David Wong, editor of Cracked.com and author of John Dies At The End, which in 2007 was advertised as available online for free, but which since then has been trapped in a paper book. Great title! I'm getting most of my entertainment here from the titles. ("Where Evil Lurks: Special Edition") Also Alethea Kontis had an editorial about curses that was pretty interesting.

Finally a note about the cover. I don't have my camera handy but it's a brownish painting of the face of some dude who looks like an octopus (or maybe it's the whole body, if dude really looks like an octopus). Tentacles, mottled skin, big round eye, etc. I looked at this cover and thought "Man, this is why I hate horror. I'm supposed to be prejudiced against this creature just because it looks like a tentacle monster. There's probably some Lovecraft ripoff story in this magazine, instead of a cool story about aliens." But no, the cover illustration was just a picture of one of the aliens from "The Moldy Dead", a cool story about aliens.

So that was a pleasant surprise. But then I started wondering how Apex readers distinguish between a horror tentacle monster and a science fiction tentacle monster. Then while looking at the ads I figured it out: teeth. The single most reliable indicator of horror art is exposed teeth (runner-up: an open mouth without exposed teeth).

Octopus-dude's teeth, if any, are not depicted on the cover. Its most prominent feature is the eye, which you'd think would be creepier (I'd rather see a tooth lying on the sidewalk than an eyeball), but in fact it creates empathy, letting you know that this other thing is a person. In the ads in this magazine, creepy things tend to have their eyes closed, or else their eyes lack pupils.

This teeth thing is also largely a matter of prejudice (there's a funny scene in Old Man's War that makes fun of this), but I think that's how the signalling works.

: "You're a pigeon, my friend."

[Comments] (6) Commissar Joe: Shopping at Trader Joe's is like living under a really good planned economy. You can get all sorts of exotic food at pretty decent prices, but there's only one brand of everything: the store brand. The few exceptions (soy milk, energy bars) feel like imports from another country. Some of the packaging hasn't been changed in thirty years. The products come and go at the whim of unseen "experts", seemingly unconnected to consumer demand. There's an in-house propaganda publication full of over-the-top writing about how good you have it.

I made this connection on Sunday when I spent twenty minutes standing in the twelve-item checkout line.

: "Did YOU have access to books?"

Crummy.com Podcasts: Leonard and Lucian's Inaccurately Sepia-Toned Retrofest #1: On Sunday, Lucian Kahn and I had a long conversation about our respective childhoods, growing up in southern California in the 1980s and 90s. I've cut the conversation into two parts and part 1 is now available.

In this 41-minute episode, Lucian and I discuss our early encounters with the mysterious personal computer. Most retrocomputing podcasts focus on video games, but we talk about everything: school computer labs, operating systems, paint programs and creativity suites, online services, weird DOS front-ends, wooden mice, and the "turbo" button. All with no nearby Internet access, so we can spout off half-baked theories informed only by the vague ideas we had as children.

In next week's episode, Lucian will explain things I never understood when I was a kid, like fashion and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Bonus: I have bowed to popular demand and created an RSS feed for the podcast. Let me know if it doesn't work. You can also see a HTML page with the same information as the RSS feed.

Videos I Haven't Watched: No guarantees.

Audio I'm listening to while running: The Tolkien Professor. And as long as I'm straying further and further from the title of this post, an excellent poem: "Answer to an Invitation to Dine at Fishmongers Hall", with its incredibly quotable first stanza.

[Comments] (1) Deadlines: In a remix of college insanity, I have to finish a project before the Ubuntu feature freeze on Thursday; plus yesterday I had to submit my WS-REST paper and complete a novel chapter for writing group. All that's missing is the crushing angst! Oh, there it is.

[Comments] (2) Hey, Who Doesn't?:

And forty-one, a prime number, was a significant number for the Shaa, who loved primes and multiples of primes.

--Walter Jon Williams, The Praxis

[Comments] (3) Crummy.com Podcasts: Leonard and Lucian's Remedial Pop Culture: Hey, it's part 2 of my conversation with Lucian. This time, we talk about boys' and girls' fashions from the late 80s and early 90s, the styles that caused a nationwide push for school uniforms. Lucian then explains the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to me (apparently Raphael is cool but rude), and explores his lifelong obsession with being a cool dude.

I was going through a box of old stuff from my childhood and I have this thing I wrote then I was six, a list of things I like. And it's like "cats", blah blah blah, "COOL DOODS!"

Here's the direct download; here, the RSS feed.

[Comments] (1) More TV Oddities: Both from 1981, both thanks to bobtwcatlanta.

[Comments] (3) Guess The Verb! (It's "Said"): This has bothered me for a little while. In general, it's considered undesirable to use too many adverbs in writing.

He messily ate the sandwich.

But you can replace a generic verb with a fancy evocative verb that does the work of an adverb.

He assaulted the sandwich.

In fact, you can replace a whole clause (often including adverbs) with an evocative verb that conveys the same information.

He walked aimlessly around wandered the room.

Except when the generic verb is "said". Using fancy versions of "said" is "said-bookism", also considered undesirable.

"Just as you wish," he preened said.

And you can't use adverbs here either.

"Just as you wish," he said obsequiously

Hypothesis: by preventing you from describing the way someone says something, these rules force you to write dialogue that explains how it should be read.

"Just as you wish, O most esteemèd lord."


"Well," he said, "if such is my lord's wish..."

The Palace At 40 Million Dollars: Went to the MoMA yesterday with Peter Hodgson (high-quality photos coming soon). I was raving over The Palace at 4 A.M., official Crummy.com Sculpture Of The Millenium (1001-2000).

"I can't believe Alberto Giacometti did all those horrible elongated pinched statues of people, and then he also did my favorite sculpture of all time."

"You know, one of those statues just sold for a hundred million dollars. It's the most expensive sculpture of all time."

"That's awful," I said.

"Well, it means your favorite sculpture of all time probably just tripled in value."

"Great, now I'll never be able to buy it from the MoMA."

I guess I could make my own copy out of kebab skewers.

PS: I structured this entry like the weblog entries in my novel, because I was worried that the style would seem really unnatural in a real weblog. But I think it works okay.

Prime Suspect: More from Walter Jon Williams's The Praxis:

The 313-degree Shaa compass had no zero coordinate, but began instead with one, the odd number left over after factoring the prime number.

I guess that's true. Maybe the Shaa could help Bill Gates factor those large prime numbers.

Apart from prime number weirdness (and species essentialism), this is a really fun book. There was a lot of boring clan politics at the beginning, but it turns out that was setup for an examination of how totally dysfunctional is a society based on clan politics. I often suspect these authors of being secretly enamored of the petty intrigues of clan politics, but it's clearly not the case here.

Insta-update: Before posting this entry I asked Adi about the compass thing. His response:

I don't understand that statement at all. Do the Shaa simply relabel their compass? Instead of using labels of 0,1,...,360, their compass uses the labels 1,2,..,313? (i.e., their compass has a full range of motion, but simply a different scale)

If this is in fact true, then I wonder what additive identity the Shaa have chosen. From the statement you wrote, it seems as though the additive identity is 1... which can't of course be consistent with 1 working as a remainder after division by prime numbers. And the "odd number left over after factoring the prime number" does not make sense to me... Why one would use the multiplicative identity [ie. 1] as an additive identity is beyond me.

Unfortunately, by this point in the book the Shaa are all dead, so we can't ask them, and it's clear that a bad compass is the least element of their legacy of incompetence.

[Comments] (3) Satan vs. Leonard: In the late 90s I did some work on a rock opera called "Porcelain Puppy vs. Demon Dog". On the whole, it was terrible, and I never completed or recorded it, though some of the better songs have shown up in my subsequent albums ("Royal Jelly" is one). But I did record one tiny test skit to satisfy my love of overdubbing my voice with itself, and for some reason put it online.

A few years ago, Katie Bolte, student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, found this test skit and liked it enough to animate it. She emailed me about it yesterday. So check it out and relish my humiliation as teenage-me tries to do the voice of Satan in a Saturday morning cartoon. The narrator's overblown description of Cerberus is funny, though.

Original Research: Sumana is planning a trip to the extensive archive of the Museum of Television and Radio, with the goal of resolving a couple nagging pop-culture conundra that can't be resolved by Internet-based means.

Since it costs $25 to get in to the archive, we thought it would be nice to pool conundra. Bothered by something about television or radio history that, if you had access to a huge archive, could be resolved within fifteen minutes? Search the archive index to see if they have what you need to check, and post your comments here or on Sumana's weblog.

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