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Various news, provided for your amusement:

Books

Over the weekend, I reduced the price of the ebook edition of The Mars Run to 99 cents. That will be it's new permanent price. I also set it up so that if you buy the paper version you can get the ebook for free. We'll see if this spurs any sales.

Weekend Update

I did very little this weekend. It snowed all day Saturday in Chicago, so I felt no good reason to go out. I usually go out for dinner and cook a steak on Sunday, but I flipped the script on that. As a result, Sunday dinner was Cajun Pot Roast at Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe, a local restaurant. It was very tasty.

Dreams

I have a recurring dream where I'm trying to get office work done. The problem is my workplace isn't an office, rather it's some kind of house poorly remodeled into an office. Either that or it's an old open space where the battered desks are partitioned off by old furniture. In any event, to make matters worse, there's a shortage of desk space and I keep getting moved out. I wonder what my dreams are trying to tell me.

Metaphors

Jan. 11th, 2019 02:54 pm
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I've noticed in several Facebook posts that whenever I say anything disparaging about the current budget crisis, I am immediately accused of being in favor of illegal immigration.

I'm not. I'm in favor of effective solutions. Currently, most places where walls would be effective at stopping or slowing illegal immigration already have some kind of wall or fence. For the record, if there's some place that a wall would help and we don't have one, let's put one in. But running walls through the middle of the Arizona desert won't do any good. Walls merely slow people down. Without aggressive monitoring, alarms and law enforcement response, a wall is a waste of money.

But the debate doesn't seem to be about that. In one Facebook discussion, when I said going after people who hire illegal immigrants would be more effective, the other person said, "so because there are other means that work too, we just shouldn’t even try?" In another Facebook discussion, I didn't bring up the wall - I merely pointed out that Trump was at one time for taxing the rich.

It seems to be that for Trump and his supporters, the wall has become some sort of emotional talisman. In their minds, the wall in and of itself is the most important thing. It could be equipped with ladders every twenty feet and we could fire the entire Border Patrol, but a wall must be built. It's not a rational argument, it's an emotional one.
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While I contemplate my summer travel plans, here's what I'll be doing at Capricon, occurring February 14-17 in lovely downtown Wheeling Ill.

Military Culture In Science Fiction & Fantasy Botanic B Literature Thu 6:30 PM

Military characters loom large in genre fiction, starting with "military sci-fi" focused on battles, but also supplying protagonists or antagonists (or both!) to many other works. What do military characters and settings add, whether from an existing service or one created for the story? We'll discuss our favorite uses of the military in storytelling, and how a creator could best use it in something new.


Haters Gonna Hate: Reboot Edition Botanic B Media Fri 11:30 AM

Reboot. The word conjures two extreme reactions - eagerness and revulsion. Why do we, as a society, want to reject new visions of old tales? Is there a need to reject that this fills? Do we feel empowered in rejecting the new over the old? And where is the line? Why is this so much more visible in SF/F than in mainstream media? Why attack the new Star Wars, but not the new A Star is Born?

Themed Reading: Space Opera Birch B Reading Fri 2:30 PM

Authors read rollicking action adventure stories... IN SPACE! Features 4 authors in a 75 minute panel slot.
Kristine Smith
Jan Gephardt
Chris Gerrib

Things Authors Always Mess up! Birch B Writing Sat 2:30 PM

This panel allows us to share our expertise in areas like fighting, medicine, technology, and culture. What things bug you when you see them done wrong in writing? How can we fix them?

The Evolution of Monsters Birch B Theme Sat 5:30 PM

From Romero's Zombies to 28 days later, from Dracula to Twilight--how do you reconcile differences in the same kind of monsters? Does their evolution make them better or are modern interpretations of monsters just bastardizations of the original myth/concept? At what point does a monster change so much they become a new classification?
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Travel decisions need to be made, and thoughts from the wisdom of my readership are welcome. As of right now, I am sitting on an attending membership for this year's Worldcon to be held in Dublin Ireland in August. That's looking to be, well, costly.

Just to get to Dublin is around $1000 - and that for the privilege of cramming big me into small economy seat for 7.5 hours. Thus I'll arrive in Ireland cramped and zombie-like from no sleep. Then, Dublin has very expensive hotels. The bargain hotels are $200 / night. Yeah, you get breakfast too, but that's still at least 5 nights so that's another $1000. I'm thus at $2000 before dinner, booze, local transport, etc.

And I've been to Dublin. It's a nice place, but I've seen it. So do I really want to go? Helsinki was fun, and tied into a cruise and other events. London gave me an excuse to see some of Britain. But for me, Dublin would be just that, Dublin.

I'm strongly considering cutting my losses and going to Nasfic AKA Westercon. It's in Utah so it's much cheaper and unlike the underwhelming Puerto Rico Nasfic it's attached to an existing con so should be well-attended.

Again, thoughts welcome.
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Two items of note:

1) Over the weekend, I passed the exam for and thus became a certified Project Management Professional. Go me!

2) Just this morning, I pre-ordered Linda Nagata's latest novel, Edges (Inverted Frontier Book 1).

Fire!

Jan. 4th, 2019 11:00 am
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The other day I was reading this article about the destruction of Paradise California by the Camp fire. It's a long article, but what struck me is this: local officials planned for the scale of disaster that they could deal with, not the scale of disaster that was possible.

As a result, when the Camp fire hit, most of the procedures in place to deal with the fire and evacuation proved inadequate. Based on the article, we're lucky that there were "only" 86 people killed. Many people were trapped in town and had to improvise shelter.

It's easy to fault the local officials. But what they did (or didn't do) was a very typical human response. If the worst that can happen is beyond your abilities to deal with it, don't bother planning for it.

Many years and many pounds ago, I was in the US Navy. Prior to my commissioning, the Navy had seen several events, such as the USS Stark and the USS Samuel B. Roberts, where the worst case in terms of damage had happened. As a result, we had "conflagration drills." These were training exercises where everything that could go wrong did, and then we had to deal with it. These drills weren't fun, were held infrequently, but proved very helpful.

More importantly, they got us out of the mindset of not planning for the worst case.
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I've never been a big fan of going out on New Year's Eve, so it didn't take much to convince me to stay in this year. When I was a kid, my parents always went out, and so I spent the night at my grandparent's house. For some reason I think WGN always ran the movie "The Battle of the Bulge" on New Year's Eve and we watched it, then Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadian Orchestra for the countdown. In any event, since I wasn't going out, I decided to watch some pay-per-view movies. (Since Guy is dead I skipped the countdown.) Herewith are my thoughts.

Peppermint

Peppermint is a 2018 movie of the sub-genre "don't make the lead actor mad" variety. There are some nods as to motive and character as well as two nicely-done reversals, but generally Jennifer Garner, the lead actor, spends most of the movie killing bad people real good. It was entertaining but not particularly profound.

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor is another 2018 movie, based on a 2017 first novel from Darcey Bell, a Chicago-area writer. This is a bit more complicated and substantial. Blake Lively plays an adult version of her Gossip Girls character and Anna Kendrick plays a suburban soccer mom / blogger with a secret. Much betrayal and chewing of scenery ensues. Quite entertaining.
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Just before going downstate for the holiday, I saw the new movie The Favourite at my local dine-and-watch AMC theater. It was an unusual and entertaining movie.

First, a bit of historical accuracy. The movie concerns machinations between Sarah Churchill (of that Churchill family) and her cousin Abigail Hill for the favor of an ailing Queen Anne. All of these people were real and did in fact have a conflict. What's not accurate is that, in the movie, Sarah Churchill is shown as waiting on Queen Anne hand-and-foot. In reality, Sarah's frequent absences from court were a bone of contention between the two.

Having said that, Sarah in the movie and in real life was very outspoken and much more involved with business and politics then a typical woman of the era. She was also quite frank with Queen Anne, another bone of contention. Finally, Queen Anne was very sick and by the time the events of the movie occured. She had also experienced 17 pregnancies and was a widow. Most of her pregnancies had ended in miscarriages or stillbirths. None of the few live births resulted in a child living to adulthood.

The movie itself was a fascinating look at a very decadent society. It was shot in several very ornate British manor houses. Notably, on multiple occasions the camera had a fisheye lens effect, giving us wide shots when typically we'd get back-and-forth closeups. It was not your typical movie.

Also notable was the sexual relations. On several occasions, women were asked if they had been raped or discussed the threat of rape with all of the apparent concern one would show for a mild headache. It was quite striking. The Favourite is not an action movie, but very interesting indeed.
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John Scalzi, in an annual tradition, posted his social media stats on his blog. Wily Coyote, International SuperGenius at Large, in an annual tradition, promptly posted his stats while mocking Scalzi's. To me, the whole thing looks like the owner of a fried-chicken restaurant arguing with the owner of a steak restaurant over who sold the most chicken dinners.

Scalzi Incorporated's primary revenue source is book sales. Books sold via traditional publishing outlets. The blog is a sideshow, much like the sole chicken dinner on the menu at your typical steak place. Wily Coyote's primary job is political advocacy. (That's being more polite then is perhaps necessary.) He needs the pageviews. Scalzi doesn't.

The whole thing does provide an opportunity for Wily Coyote to show his ass. Alas, there are many such opportunities and Wily misses few of them.

On Parking

Dec. 21st, 2018 12:14 pm
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I had occasion to go to a holiday lunch the other day near where I work. The lunch was held at a restaurant in Rosemont which was attached to a large office complex. I discovered that parking in Rosemont is worse than in downtown Chicago (the Loop, for non-locals).

The first reason is mass transit, or lack thereof. There are a lot of people who work in the Loop. Due to mass transit, most of them don't usually need a place to park. Not so in Rosemont, which is not mass-transit friendly. There everybody needs to drive.

The second reason is a corollary of the first. In the Loop, pretty much every parking garage is open to the public. One has to pay and sometimes a given lot fills up, but if you see a lot, you can usually get in. In Rosemont, the buildings have to offer free parking for the tenants. That means large parking structures that are only open to people with a key card.

No real profound thoughts here, just an observation.
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I've occasionally expressed my dislike of the concept of libertarianism. Here's a great and funny article I totally endorse.

Just a tidbit: "I’m liberal. Regarding the term’s use as an insult – when you are ready to volunteer for a flight on Market Self-Correction Airways or have your kid to eat the Mad Cow meat and die on a ventilator with blood hemorrhaging out of his eyes, then we’ll talk."

Oil Change

Dec. 19th, 2018 04:32 pm
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My car is telling me I need an oil change. (It's got one of those oil sensor indicators.)

At my previous job, accomplishing that wasn't a problem. There was a dealership within their shuttle range of my office, and I could always get a ride from work back to the dealership. I was also able to order Jimmy Johns delivery for lunch.

None of the above applies with the new gig. However, they really don't care when I start or when I go home as long as my job gets done. I've also found that if I leave Darien at even 8:30 AM, I can fly into work with no traffic. I see a late start in my future.

On cranks

Dec. 14th, 2018 02:52 pm
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I lurk on a few right-wing sites. (A man's got to have a hobby, after all.) On one of them, the proprietor has announced he's "agnostic" on whether or not NASA landed on the moon. He's agnostic not because he has any evidence, mind you, but because he's always suspicious of The Official Story (capitalization his).

This willingness to question things based not on facts but a gut feeling is a major problem with more than a few right-wingers. I think I've addressed that problem before, but if not, I'll get around to it, right after I re-organize my sock drawer. (Actually, can one re-organize that which never was organized? Inquiring minds want to know.)

What I do want to address is the mode in which the topic of moon landings came up. Our right-winger shared a video from one of his fellow travelers. I have come to the opinion that argument via video is a strong warning that the argument is crap and the argue-er is a crank.

Unlike writing, video is a linear format. You can't easily go back to a specific spot on a video and check what was said. Emotions are more easily manipulated in videos via music and lighting. Finally, repetition is much easier in a video. If I write the same statement five times, you'll start skimming. If I say the same thing five times, you won't.

This repetition is key to the "success" of a video. By saying something a lot, some people can be convinced of the validity of the argument. It shouldn't work but it does.
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I'm trying to get to the gym three days a week. That's not enough to lose weight, but it helps. In any event, it keeps me mobile. The problem is when I get home from work of an evening, unless there is a very good reason to go to the gym, like a personal trainer waiting on me, I tend not to go. My recliner is too comfortable and the Internet beckons.

At my old job, I was a member of a gum very close to work, so I'd go there and change in the locker room. Actually, for a while, I'd take a long lunch and go work out. No such luck yet with this gig, although I drive right by my current gym on the way home. So I bit the bullet and packed a gym bag. Last night I exercised before I hit the house. Yeah me?

I'm Back!

Dec. 10th, 2018 11:49 am
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I've started a new job, which has made for a hectic few weeks. I'm posting this on my lunch break, and it will be a bit random.

A) The new job is just north of O'Hare airport. And by "just north" I mean our parking lot backs onto the back fence of O'Hare. The air traffic control radar tower is in our parking lot. That means a longer commute for me. In order to minimize the traffic rush, I've been leaving Darien at 6:30 AM and packing in a lunch. That gets me out before SOME of the afternoon rush.

B) In regards to packing in a lunch, I was never a fan of it before. Partially because my job was stressful and hectic enough on most days that I needed the break of going out. This gig is not an operational or managerial position, so I don't need the break. I'm also hopeful that packing food in means I can open a new front in my perpetual Battle of the Bulge(ing Gut). We'll see.

C) Over the weekend I finished the new book Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee. It's a biography of John W. Campbell and covers some of his go-to authors, including Issac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard. Oh, and some guy named Bob Heinlein. Very interesting read.

That should be enough content for now.
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Although I'd have been happier if the Democrats had won a few more seats, maybe even picking up a Senate seat or two, I am pleased to see that they performed as well as the polling predicted. Winning the House is a big deal and a positive development.

In the meantime, I am struck by how much the Sad Puppies affair was a preview in miniature of the Trump era. Then and now, we had triumphant Angry White Males proclaiming their perpetual victory, then when said victory proved illusive, claiming fraud, trickery or general bad conduct. In both cases, the losers then, rather then re-evaluating their position in light of reality, decided to angrily stomp off with promises to be back but with more anger. I remain amazed by the strength of the reality-blocking field employed by some groups.

In the Sad Puppies book, the Revenge of the Sad Puppies proved to be a fizzle, not a firecracker. The jury is yet out on Trump, but at least in my heart hope springs eternal. One of the keys to what success was obtained by both Puppies and Trump was to be underestimated and/or unsuspected by their opponents. Once bitten twice shy seems to be more than just an old saying.

Onward and upward.
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Thanks to the magic of pay-per-view, I recently watched the science fiction movie Attack the Block. It came out in 2011, but didn't hang around the movie-plexes for very long. I watched it and found it very enjoyable, but I think I understand why it wasn't as big of a hit as it could have been.

I'll address the popularity aspect of it first. The movie is very British. The lead characters are almost entirely London teens or 20-somethings, and they all speak in heavy accents with London slang. Understanding what they say was a challenge. Also, the block in question is what in America we call public housing and so it's a bit urban for some viewers.

Having said that, it's a really good movie. I found all the characters interesting and well-played. The plot was (for an alien invasion movie) believable and gripping. It really was well worth watching.

Seeing it now in 2018, seven years after it came out and eight years after it was made was also fun. It was the debut of John Boyega, now of Star Wars fame and an early role for the 13th Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker. I recommend checking it out if you haven't.
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It can be told - I will be at Windycon, to be held November 9-11 at the lovely Westin in Lombard, IL. Herewith is my schedule:

The Reluctant Hero - Friday, 11-09-2018 - 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm - Muller Grand Ballroom H
Katnis Everdeen, Flynn, Mr Limpet, etc. They didn't want to be heroes but they are. The role of the reluctant hero.

Wakanda Forever - Friday, 11-09-2018 - 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm - Lilac C
a discussion of African American cinema

ESP in Fiction - Friday, 11-09-2018 - 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm - Lilac C
Why are we so fascinated by the possibility? Do we want to be more than human?

Writers Workshop Section 2 - Saturday, 11-10-2018 - 9:00 am to 12:00 pm - ISFiC - Room 1612

2pm Reading - Saturday, 11-10-2018 - 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm - 1631 (Reading Room)
2pm Betty Ann Hull 2:30pm Chris Gerrib


Animal Type Casting - Saturday, 11-10-2018 - 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm - Lilac B
Hollywood and Authors type cast all the time. Why are reptiles almost always the villain? A discussion about different animals and how they are type cast.

Shaken Not Stirred - The Mystique of the British Spy - Sunday, 11-11-2018 - 11:00 am to 12:00 pm - Muller Grand Ballroom H
James Bond, Simon Templar, etc. why do we find these men so attractive?

Earth is Toast, Where Do I Go? - Sunday, 11-11-2018 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm - Muller Grand Ballroom G
The Earth is ending what SciFi/Fantasy world would you want to live in and why?
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My writers' group has just released our very first anthology, The Tangled Web. It's alive for sale anywhere finer books are sold. If they don't have it for sale, they don't sell finer books.

Actually, the book is available from various sources here. Buy one, buy many!
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I just passed my ECBA certification, which means I'm a Level 1 Certified Business Analyst. Go me!

I found this course of study more difficult than ITIL, largely because of unfamiliar terminology. In Business Analysis, we elict requirements which are then modeled, verified and validated. "Verified" and "Validated" are different things with different meanings, which can be confusing. (Trust me. I got a few more gray hairs studying for this exam.)

Having said that, what I really got out of this course is an understanding of something that had been a mystery to me, namely the dreaded Project Nope. That's the one where, as you're getting ready to roll out a solution, the client / customer said "Nope! That's not what I wanted!"

I've always been baffled by how that happens. Now I know, or at least know one place to look. The requirements for the solution have not been validated. Nobody looked to see if Feature X actually solved Business Problem Y. Now, it's entirely possible other steps prior to that validation didn't happen, but had the validation been attempted it would have become clear that there was a disconnect between what we're looking to build and what we're looking to solve.

Again, as a project manager for mumble-many years, I had an instinctive understanding that one needs to actually make sure the solution addresses the problem. What I didn't have until today was the language to say "this is what wasn't done" in a manner that could easily be acted on. You learn every day.

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