Category Archives: Rants and Ramblings

How Not To Grow a Beard Month 2008: The Halfway Point

As we approach the middle of november, the beards on display at HoNoToGroABeMo.org are…well, I don’t think words can really do them justice, so here are a few of my favorite photo submissions from the first half of the month. Many, if not all, of the photos below can be clicked for embiggening.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Bob, Day 01
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Day One: Bob kicks things off with his Creepy Stare theme, which has continued through the first two weeks.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Kris, Day 04
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Day Four: Is this really the face of democracy?

HoNoToGroABeMo: Chris, Day 06
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Day Six: Chris has already gone over to The Dark Side of The Beard.

HoNoToGroABeMo: David, Day 08
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Day Eight: I am convinced that David has only two facial expressions. This is the other one.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Nev, Day 10
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Day Ten: Nev shows off his pearly whites. In the United Kingdom, “jammyknashers” is common slang for “teeth”. ((No. Not really.)) English is a beautiful language.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Wesley, Day 11
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Day Eleven: Wesley survived this vicious gargoyle attack, but just barely.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Jeff, Day 12
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Day Twelve: Emo Jeff is emo.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Gus, Day 12
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Day Twelve: Gus is more beard now than man; twisted and evil.

Finally, we have an honorable ((“Honourable” for you, Nev.)) mention from Day Seven, featuring far, far too much Jeff.

HoNoToGroABeMo: Jeff, Day 07
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Non Sequitur: Seven Random/Weird Things. About Me.

I have been tagged by Jason Penney, and that makes me “it”, I suppose. To comply, I must do the following:

  1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
  2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs
  4. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I’m going to ignore rule number four, just because I don’t like leaving comments that aren’t related to posts.

Seven things, eh? Random and/or weird. Oh, I can handle that.

  1. FACT: I can cross my eyes independent of one another.
    Crosseyed
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  2. FACT: The first compact disc I ever purchase was from a group named Holiday Ranch. I split the cost of the CD with my friend, Eric, because I didn’t own a CD player at the time. I have no idea where that disc is today.
  3. FACT: I created my first web page in the early 1990s while working as a “lab consultant” at the Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction at Michigan Technological University. The only content I can specifically recall was a scan of an Arlo and Janis comic strip. Yes, my first web page prominently featured copyright infringement.
  4. FACT: I am a founding member of the Benevolent Order of Scrimshankers.
  5. FACT: I do not like cold Swiss cheese.
  6. FACT: I once dreamed that I was being pursued by Darth Vader, who was driving a white van and intended to cut my legs off when he caught me; it has been at least twenty years since I had that dream, but I still remember it quite clearly.
  7. FACT: I have never seen any movies in the Godfather or Rocky series. I actively avoid the latter. There is no rational reason for this; I just do.

Now, to the tagging of others.

  1. Chris Miller. This one is a total cop out, as Jason already tagged him.
  2. Nycteris.
  3. The Bearded Goose.
  4. Greg Howley.
  5. Sam Chupp.
  6. Technohippybiker.
  7. The Cynical Optimist.

HoNoToGroABeMo vs. NaBloPoMo

Beardless Kris (HoNoToGroABeMo, Day 1)Oops! I went to bed early last night and completely neglected to post anything here, which means that—two days into the month—I failed National Blog Posting Month! Boom! Done!

I suppose I could back-date a blog entry (WordPress certainly has the capability), but that would be cheating, so I’ll just bow out with what little grace and dignity I can muster.

On the bright side, not feeling compelled to post something here every day will give me more time to blather over on the How Not To Grow A Beard Month site, something I’m sure everyone is looking forward to.

As of this writing, there are a total of seven official participants in HoNoToGroABeMo, six of whom have actually posted on the site. An eighth individual has expressed interest, but I don’t know if his ID has been created yet. These are the men whose chins will transform from barren to lush in the coming weeks:

  1. Me. Yeah. Still.
  2. Bob. The Cynical Optimist.
  3. Wesley. The Cyclical Apologist.
  4. Chris. The Optimal Synergist.
  5. Jeff. The Subliminal Optometrist.
  6. Nev. The Longitudinal Psychologist.
  7. Gus. The Duodenal Cosmologist. 

It’s not too late for you and your facial hair to get in on the action! As official arbiter of the event, I will allow late entries, especially to braggarts who claim that they can grow a full beard in a week or less. It’s time to put that boasting to the test, gentlemen! Drop me a line and I’ll see that you get an account on the site!

HoNoToGroABeMo is Go!

Beardless Kris (HoNoToGroABeMo, Day 1)November is upon us and the month of blogging and beard-growing has begun! Over at the HoNoToGroABeMo site the first handful of photos and blog entries are already up; the amount of freshly-shorn cheek and chin on display is…mildly disturbing, to be honest. The question of whether the faces of the participants can survive the chill of November has led me to wonder whether the event ought not be moved to late spring or perhaps even early summer, but the die has been cast and the liability waivers signed, so the rest is left to chance, Mother Nature, and the responsible utilization of scarves.

Here’s a quick rundown on the roster so far:

  • Me. Originator of the event and first to shave.
  • Bob. The cynical optimist and creator of the HoNoToGroABeMo website.
  • Chris. My co-overlord at The Secret Lair, whose face has not seen the light of day since before the Clinton administration.
  • Wesley. Mastermind responsible for such podcasts as Volcanicast, Stargate Cafe and The Log of the Crimson Lein.

There are rumors of additional participants to come, but I don’t want to put anyone on the spot until they have officially cast their lot in on the site. If you, too, would like to get in on the hot, beard-growing action, leave a comment and I’ll see that you get an account on the official site. We’ll have an invitation system in place shortly (I hope), but as with any newfangled web wonder, there are a few kinks to work out before everything is running smoothly.

November: The Month of Months

‘Round about the last week of October, there’s usually a flurry of activity here as I announce what sort of insane challenges I’ll be embarking on in November. National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) has topped the list for the last several years, followed by National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and finally, a challenge of my own making: HoNoToGroABeMo, which is what we call How Not To Grow A Beard Month in these parts.

My attempts at writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days have been largely unsuccessful. Even when I managed the word count in 2005, I abandoned the story without a resolution; my protagonist fleeing across the desert and the man in black following. ((No. Not really.)) This year, I’ve decided to leave the writing to those with more determination (and story ideas) than I.

Blogging every day for a month was, all things considered, a walk in the park, especially when I combined it with daily photographic evidence of my inability to grow a proper beard. I was already planning to do NaBloPoMo again this year, but when my friend Bob unveiled the HoNoToGroABeMo website it was like combining two great tastes that taste great together. ((Chocolate and cheese.)) Now my genetic disinclination toward facial hair and my proclivity for aimless babble form up, becoming the Voltron of pointless, month-long pursuits! ((Form blazing beard!))

The website, if all goes well, should be operational by the end of the week, at which point anyone who wishes to join us on our mad crusade can create an account. I’m told the features will include not only a blog, but a place to post photographs of what passes for progress throughout the month. I suspect that my own attempt (futile though it is destined to be) will be chronicled both here and there, perhaps through the utilization of some manner of imported cross-posting technology.

Hire These Guys, Willya?

Okay, listen up: I need a favor. A big favor. If you’re within the sound of my blog, I need you to hire J.C. Hutchins and Matthew Wayne Selznick. Before you start in with the questions, let me throw a few tidbits at you:

  1. They’re not a matched set. I’m not talking about Salt and Pepper (or even Salt ‘n’ Pepa) here. These two guys aren’t joined at the hip or anything. But they’ve got a lot in common. Like what? How’s this for starters:
    • They’re both authors. J.C. is the guy behind the kickass 7th Son trilogy, the first of which will be available in print next year. Matt is the author of the coming-of-age superhero novel, Brave Men Run: A Novel of the Sovereign Era, which is available on Amazon.com right now.
    • They’re both podcasters. I know, who isn’t these days, right? But get this: they both released their novels as free, serialized downloads on these very Intertubes before they were picked up for publication! J.C.’s trilogy sucked me in big time, and I’ve fawned about it here before. Matt’s novel hit me over the head with a Peter Gabriel-wielded Sledgehammer (ironically, one of the few iconic eighties anthems that doesn’t appear in Brave Men Run) and I was happy to add the print version to my bookshelf at home.
    • They’re both new media geniuses. Look, let me lay my cards on the table here: I have no idea what the hell a new media genius does—I’m not even sure I’ve got a grip on what new media is—but I know that these guys can make the Internet marketing wheels spin, baby. And that’s why you want to hire them: because if you don’t, someone else will, and you’ll be out in the cold with your tired old marketing strategies and your Gold Clipper. You need to do better than that, and these guys can deliver.
  2. Of course their credentials are available on the Intertubes! You were paying attention when I said “new media geniuses”, right?
  3. Why am I shilling for these guys? Well, if I haven’t already made it clear, I enjoyed the hell out of their books. These are two of the most creative guys I know, and that kind of talent shouldn’t sit idle or there will be trouble. Also, if they’re not working, they’re going to be all over the Internets, blogging and tweeting and just generally filling the tubes with whatever strikes their fancy; quite frankly, I don’t think the tubes can handle it. So, please, won’t you think of the tubes? Put these guys to work.

Game Night, 14 October 2008: Rorschach and the Schadenfreude Pie

Game Night Badge courtesy of FreshBadge.comA couple of weeks ago, a recipe for Schadenfreude Pie appeared in my RSS reader. ((Google Reader, if you’re curious.)) Schadenfreude is a word meaning (roughly) the joy derived from the misfortune of others. When you laugh at a video clip of some dumbass taking a running leap off a shed in his backyard and almost making it to the swimming pool, that’s Schadenfreude; it’s the sort of deep, complex emotion that only a German could encapsulate in a single word and upon which only a third of the cast of Full House could build a secondary television comedy empire. ((Sorry, Mary-Kate and Ashley, this doesn’t mean you.))

The recipe for Schadenfreude Pie, however, comes from neither a German nor a Saget, ((…nor a Coulier.)) but from a science fiction author: John Scalzi. It was in Mr. Scalzi’s recent retrospective of his ten-year-old blog, Whatever, that the recipe came to my attention. I’ll leave it to Mr. Scalzi to explain how and why the seemingly disparate notions of Schadenfreude and pie—the latter of which has, apart from an incident involving blackbirds and the de-probosciseration of an unfortunate young woman, never been associated with misery in any form—came together in his recipe. Regardless of its storied origin, I was intrigued by the ingredients of Schadenfreude pie, and so decided to attempt to bake one for my gaming friends.

The pies were still in the oven when Rachel and the two Davids arrived for the evening’s activities, but were soon removed to the cooling racks while we played Rorschach, a party game in which players examine a series of inkblots and answer such questions as “Which is the cuddliest?” and “Which would keep you up at night?”. Points are scored by selecting the same inkblots as your opponents (thereby, one presumes, successfully delving into the murky depths of their psyches) or by selecting an inkblot that was chosen by none of your opponents (thereby establishing yourself as the freaky, unbalanced misfit). After several rounds of the game, it was agreed that the outcome seemed to be a tie more often than not, though we were not able to agree upon whether this indicated a sloppy game mechanic or a series of disturbing psychological trends amongst our gaming peers.

Rorschach was followed by The Great Dalmuti, a card game I’ve owned for probably 10 years or more but had never played, ((I also own—and have played, though only once—Dilbert’s Corporate Shuffle, which is essentially a repackaging of The Great Dalmuti aimed at appealing to the corporate cubicle drone crowd.)) and the arrival of Gus. The idea behind The Great Dalmuti is pretty straightforward: ((Don’t ask me what the idea behind Gus is; I’m as mystified as you.)) you’re better than all these schmucks. The goal is to rid yourself of all the cards in your hand and be declared the “Greater Dalmuti” for the next hand. Unlike most card games, which end after a winner is declared, play in The Great Dalmuti continues until the ultimate loser is determined. The second player to play all of his or her cards is the “Lesser Dalmuti”, while the last two players are the “Lesser Peon” and “Greater Peon” (and forced to pay taxes to their respective Dalmutis at the beginning of the next hand).

The game proved to be a lot of fun, but I think next time we’ll set forth some rules as to what, beside taxes, the Dalmutis can expect from the Peons. We really didn’t play up the whole caste system aspect, but I’ve heard of groups wherein the Greater Dalmuti may command the Greater Peon to fetch drinks and such, which sounds like it could add another level of fun.

Schadenfreude Pie: Sliced

Sometime during The Great Dalmuti the pie was served. Unfortunately, it soon became very evident that I had managed to burn the graham cracker crust. The pie was rather troublesome to cut (a jackhammer would have worked well) but got generally favorable reviews. It is incredibly rich, as one might expect considering that the primary ingredients are dark corn syrup, molasses and dark brown sugar, but not too terribly overpowering provided it is eaten in moderation. ((The second pie, which I didn’t eat until the following day, turned out better than the first.)) Mr. Scalzi’s suggestion that the pie be eaten with a large glass of cold milk was spot on.

To finish out the evening (and to keep from slipping into a diabetic coma), we played Carcassonne, a tile game that Laura and I enjoy but had never played with more than three people. As it turns out, six people is a good number. The game was very close: only a single point separated the victor from his nearest opponent, and the overall point spread was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen points.

I was pretty pleased with how the evening went. We introduced a new gamer to the group, crammed a lot of play into about three hours and enjoyed some dark, sweet pie without having to feel karmically guilty afterward.

Non Sequitur: Toys and Politics

There is a moment in Toy Story when Sheriff Woody realizes that Buzz Lightyear is really, truly delusional; Buzz is not merely acting the part of a Space Ranger, Buzz honestly believes that he is from the Gamma Quadrant and must return there to continue the fight against the evil Emperor Zurg. Woody, at this point, has reached the end of his rope: he has been effectively replaced as Andy’s favorite toy by a state-of-the-art plastic man with absolutely no concept of reality whatsoever. In a moment of pure, unadulterated frustration, Woody shouts, “You are a child’s plaything!”

This, of course, does nothing to convince Buzz. Woody’s outrage might as well have been directed to the spaceship-shaped box in which Buzz arrived in Andy’s room; the result is the same: Buzz continues to live his delusion.

Woody’s frustration and rage are compounded by the fact that he and Buzz are lost; far away from Andy’s room with little hope of ever returning. Yet Buzz presses ever onward, driven further away from his true home by a delusion, completely divorced from reality.

If the precise sentiment Woody expressed to Buzz doesn’t apply to the men and women who govern the United States of America, ((I’m more inclined to think of our representatives in the legislative branch as sullen, recalcitrant children than toys, but at least we’re dealing with approximately the same level of maturity.)) the degree of frustration I feel certainly does. This body purports to be, among the entire population of the country, the most suited to create the rules by which we must all live, yet they cannot put aside their bickering and backstabbing, their snide remarks and open hostility toward one another to pass a single piece of legislature in time of crisis.

I don’t know if the $700 billion “bailout” is a good idea or not.  It’s not my job to understand the intricacies of the plan; my taxes pay the salaries of people who are ostensibly sworn to do that for me. My frustration is not derived from the fact that the bill was not passed yesterday, but rather from the fact that the only thing the past week has accomplished is to elevate the rhetoric to altitudes approaching Low Earth orbit. After risking the largest single instance of collectively-strained trapezius muscles in history by calling a press conference ((News Flash: the “Main Street/Wall Street” contrast was tired and trite already last week; it’s even more so today. Please, find something original to say about this financial apocalypse or don’t say anything. Better yet, stop talking about it and start doing something about it.)) on Saturday to congratulate themselves for working on the weekend (all for the good of their country), this most august of bodies proceeded, two days later, to accomplish absolutely nothing. ((The concept of playing well with others is apparently isolated to kindergarten; it is certainly not embraced in Washington, D.C.))

I can yell all I want, but the simple, sad fact of the matter is that, like Woody, I am effectively impotent. My words will fall on deaf (or worse, deluded) ears and I will achieve the same result as if I, too, were talking to a plastic toy. The biggest difference here is that Buzz Lightyear eventually comes to grips with reality and works with Woody to find a solution to their dilemma.

That’s where Woody’s main advantage over me comes into play: he lives in a Disney movie. Just once, it would be nice if I did, too. Just once, it would be nice if the people who govern this country came together and accomplished something for the sake of something larger than themselves, and did it a measure of dignity and camaraderie.

I wouldn’t be even the slightest bit annoyed by the Randy Newman music.

The Amazon Rush: Comes the Apocalypse

As August of ought-eight was drawing to a close, a new composition by an enterprising and imaginitive young woman named Mur Lafferty was made available for purchase to those individuals with the means to connect their personal computational apparatuses to the Internets. The very idea that a woman would have not only the time to write a book—I suspect her child routinely goes unfed, her floors have not been scrubbed in weeks, and her husband rarely arrives home after a hard day’s work to find dinner a-table—but the audacity to publish it raises moral questions aplenty, ((To speak nothing of the home environment that allows a woman to become enterprising and imaginative in the first place.)) but that is an issue for another time. For the moment, let us allow that Ms. Lafferty has written and published a tale of sheerest fantasy, a yarn involving citizens who are possessed of extra-ordinary abilities, quite probably as a direct result of consorting with Satan; it might well be an allegory, but as it is told through the pen of a woman, the moral and metaphor—if they exist at all—have escaped me entirely.

I ought not dwell on the particulars of Ms. Lafferty’s fantastickal tale, for my purpose here to-day is not to discuss the merits and moral abiguities of said tale but rather the means by which it had—prior to appearing in the on-line marketplace—come to my attention. As has been previously noted, Ms. Lafferty is a woman of enterprise and imagination, and she posited that it was possible to increase awareness (and thus, potentially, sales) of her tale by giving it away to the public at no charge. Reckless seekers of thrill and vice who were savvy enough to access the Internets could, by means involving daemons named “Syndication” and “Enclosure” and “Pod-catcher”, freely partake of the tale as told in Ms. Lafferty’s own voice. In making her story thus available, Ms. Lafferty was able to ensorcell a number of unfortunates who would eventually become her pawns, a throng of adherents only too willing to transform their mistress’ every whim into reality. Despite my iron resolve, despite my nigh-indomitable will, despite my every precaution, dear reader, I was drawn into this web myself, a web that stretched the world wide.

On the day when Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript became available for purchase at on-line retailers, the authoress bade her disciples ((I hesitate to mention that they are often referred to colloquially as “Mur’s Bitches”, for the moniker gives rise to even further suspicions that Ms. Lafferty—and, indeed, those who supplicate themselves at her feet—truck with The Devil. The simple fact that her devotees do genuflect in her presence, coupled with Ms. Lafferty’s penchant for tiaras, smacks of idolatry.)) to engage in something known as an “Amazon rush”. This, I am relieved to report, has nothing at all to do with legions of Scythian warrior women; rather, it is a concentrated free-market assault on a single on-line purveyor of books: Amazon.com.

Set loose upon the unsuspecting merchant, Ms. Lafferty’s loyal flock exchanged the currency of the land for bound copies of her fanciful narrative. When the sun set upon this particular day of commerce, the rabid fanatics had propelled Ms. Lafferty’s manuscript to the very zenith of one particular column on the merchant’s ledgers: that column titled “Science Fiction”. In the space of four and twenty hours, the loyal adherents had made Ms. Lafferty’s tale a best-seller. In doing so (and, more imporantly, while doing so), the disciples had flooded the tubes—the very tubes that form the circulatory system of the Internets—with electronic missives acknowledging that they had complied with their mistress’ wishes and encouraging others—particularly the unensorcelled—to do the same.

It is important at this juncture to note that the concept of the “Amazon rush” did not spring forth fully formed from the mind of Ms. Lafferty. The tactic had been used with similar results (up to and including the flooding of the tubes) by several of Ms. Lafferty’s peers. The earliest documented case being April of ought-seven, when fantacist Scott Sigler encouraged a group of erudite and learned bibliophiles to purchase his tale of science-gone-awry, Ancestor. Mr. Sigler’s success encouraged other authors to follow in his footsteps, and ought-eight saw no less than four such “rushes” between April and August, including a cooperative effort from Tee Morris ((I include Mr. Morris here only out of a sense of duty to report the facts fully and accurately. While I hold Mr. Sigler, Mr. Harwood and Mr. Selznick in high esteem, the same cannot be said of Mr. Morris, for he is a unapologetic gadabout.)) and Philippa Ballantine ((Ms. Ballantine was the first female author of whom I am aware to rush Amazon.com, setting an uncomfortable precedent as well as a singularly unwholesome example for the fairer sex. However, Ms. Ballantine is from New Zealand, a country known for its loose morals and relaxed attitude with respect to the proper role of women, and I would expect nothing less from a country so perilously close to Australia.)) scarcely more than a fortnight before Ms. Lafferty unleashed her hordes upon the merchant.

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood Infected by Scott Sigler Brave Men Run by Matthew Wayne Selznick The Case of the Pitcher's Pendant: A Billibub Baddings Mystery by Tee Morris Digital Magic by Philippa Ballantine Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty

Each of these “rushes”, as I have previously noted, caused considerable flooding of the tubes. As men more qualified to speak on the matter than I have already attested, flooding the tubes in such a fashion can lead only to disaster. When I realized that the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of the Internets flowed were at nigh-constant risk due to these “rushes”, the scintillating threads and strands of bedazzlement spun by Ms. Lafferty began to clear from my mind and I beheld the looming peril: with the tubes so flooded, there was room for little else. In a delirious panick, I dispatched an electronic advisory to my friend and colleague, Mr. Chris Miller. In doing so, I drew back the gossamer veil that had covered his eyes and he, too, saw the threat.

Together, Mr. Miller and I resolved that we would not sit idly by in the face of the coming chaos. When my impassioned pleas to Mr. Selznick went unanswered, Mr. Miller issued a statement decrying the use of the “Amazon rush”. “The danger,” his first draft read, “is imminent; the consequences, dire. This practice must be abolished at once, not only for the good of those who will yield the brunt of the coming storm, but for those who will follow us and feel its echoing reverberations in years to come.” ((Alas, the published version of Mr. Miller’s warning does not hew so close to the truth of the matter; I suspect his tone was tempered not with cool reasoning, but with cold, hard currency. His further statements on the matter lead me to believe that the veil I so abruptly tore from his face has been replaced and is now stitched to his very flesh.))

As I write this, the debate rages on. In my desire to alert the world to the dangers of the “Amazon rush”, I may have inadvertently done more harm than good, for even now the tubes fill with comments from authors and statements issued by pundits. The demise of the Internets, it seems, may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I its unwitting prophet.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.